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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Recipe Makeover #2 - Baked Eggplant Parmesan!

Truth be told, I've never liked eggplant. Except once, when my friend Jaclyn made eggplant Parmesan. WOW. In my experience adding eggplant to recipes, it was always spongy and rubbery. But in her eggplant Parmesan, it was fried and crispy, and almost melted in your mouth. YUM.

I was reminded of this delightful culinary experience when our mutual friend Kerry told me she was making this dish. She asked me if I had any tips or tricks, and I couldn't lie. I'd never made eggplant Parmesan. Why? Because I don't fry. And for this dish to be good, the eggplant slices had to be breaded and fried. Right?

I told Kerry about the recipe makeover challenge, and she suggested I tackle eggplant Parmesan. Urg. Never one to back down from a challenge, I agreed. But I don't like eggplant! And really, "oven fried" only goes so far. I've tried adding eggplant to some of my recipes, and we always end up picking it out and eating around it. So this ought to be fun, right?

OK, I've seen lots and lots of recipes for eggplant Parmesan done without the frying. Most simply bread the eggplant slices and bake them. But I've tried this during my eggplant experimentation, and I never liked it. It doesn't taste good to me -- just something I would try to hide in the food with sauces and spices, not showcase. Boring and bland. So what else can I try?

There's also another big challenge with these traditional dishes based on -- and named after! -- cheese. Cheese is fantastic and probably my most favorite thing (in any variety), but the calories really add up. About 100 per ounce. And this dish, which I'm choosing to do in layers, will have not only Parmesan, but also mozzarella. Hmmm....so how do I get a big cheese flavor without using a lot of cheese?

Encrusting! One of my most popular recipes is the Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Olive Tapenade from the cover of my cookbook. It uses very little cheese, but has such an amazing cheese flavor! So I opted to try this technique with my eggplant slices and see how they turned out.

This time, I skipped the pan browning step and went right for the oven. Each eggplant slice is dipped in beaten egg, then into a mixture of shredded Parmesan, panko bread crumbs, and a bit of seasoning. They're placed in a single layer on a baking sheet, then baked until they turn a nice, crispy golden brown.

Wow. These eggplant slices were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They had a lovely Parmesan flavor. I finally like eggplant! The kitchen smelled amazing and I had to resist the temptation to eat these as a snack (hmmm...future appetizer recipe? I think so!). They were so good that I didn't want to completely cover them with a heavy sauce, so I kept the flavors in the sauce really fresh and light. The end result was a fantastic, cheesy, crispy, gooey eggplant Parmesan that, I think, rivals even the fried varieties.

So is it light? Is it ever! This recipe serves 6 if you're regular eaters (or have other courses, whole wheat bread, or a salad), or 4 if you have big appetites (like us). The entire recipe only has 1320 calories, so that's 220 each for 6 servings or 330 each for 4 servings. Either way, still REALLY light, easily fitting into a reduced calorie diet. And other bonus? It's also vegetarian!

So here you go, challenge met. Recipe Makeover #2 - Baked Eggplant Parmesan!

Baked Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4 to 6

For the eggplant:
1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1/8 inch slices (I used a mandolin slicer)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
olive oil for misting

Line a large colander with the eggplant slices and sprinkle with salt. Let them sit for about an hour. The salt will help to drain excess water from the slices. Pat them dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mist 2 baking sheets with olive oil. Mix the Parmesan, panko, garlic powder and oregano in a shallow dish. Dip each slice into the beaten egg, then dip into the cheese mixture, pressing to coat. Place the slices in a single layer on the baking sheets. Mist the tops with olive oil and bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking if one is browning more quickly than the other.

For the sauce:
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes (undrained)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
6 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn

In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Reduce heat to medium and saute garlic for two minutes, or until it starts to be fragrant. Add diced tomatoes with juice, oregano, crushed red pepper and salt. Simmer, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Just before assembly, stir in chopped basil leaves.

For the casserole:
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella (part-skim)
Baked eggplant slices

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Mix the Parmesan with the mozzarella. Add a spoonful of sauce to the bottom of a casserole dish, spreading to coat. Layer with some of the eggplant, followed by a sprinkle of cheese, then more spoonfuls of sauce. Resist the urge to completely cover with sauce, as we want the eggplant to stay crispy. Repeat until the eggplant slices are gone, finishing with sauce and cheese on top. For reference, I got 2 layers of eggplant out of mine in a medium-sized oblong casserole dish. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove lid and bake for another 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.

I truly hope you enjoy this recipe! Please let me know what you think, what you added, what you took out, etc. Of one thing I'm certain -- you won't miss the grease!

For more svelte recipes, The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Any other recipe challenges for me? I'm on a mission!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hot Dog Chicken...and I mean that in a good way!

I love coming up with new recipes to feed my family -- and I love blogging about them, photographing them, and sharing them with you. Nothing gives me a sense of satisfaction like making one of our standard lean proteins into something new, different and interesting. That's the feeling I got when I made and blogged about Island Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Salsa a couple months ago. Ahh, what a refreshing summer flavor -- and healthy!

That night, Courtney ate hers (the whole thing!!!), but without the salsa. And of course she didn't hesitate to share her two cents about the meal.

Courtney: "This is SOOO good. It tastes like hot dogs."
Me: "Uh...(stammer)....wha....(gasp)...HOT DOGS?!?!"

I think my heart skipped a beat, and not in an "excitement" kind of way. HOT DOGS?! I mean, seriously, I'm aspiring to make "gourmet" food healthy. Hot dogs are the polar opposite of gourmet. Right?! But it sort of did taste like a hot dog without the salsa.

So for the next month, I smiled and nodded absently when Courtney asked for "Hot Dog Chicken." Of course she didn't mean it as an insult. She really loved it and wanted me to make it again. Hot dogs. Ahhh! Not really what an aspiring foodie wants her food to be compared to.

Then last week, PBS aired Food, Inc. I admit, I haven't been all that focused on organic food, sustainable agriculture, etc. I've focused my time and energy on cutting calories and fat and focusing on lean proteins, whole grains and lots of veggies. It didn't really matter to me where it all came from. But Food, Inc. really shed some light on things. Wow. So I'm paying a lot more attention now. Not only for the health of our planet, but for the health of my family!

I've always known that processed food is bad for us. Day-glow "cheeze" powder can't be natural. And the salt! Needless to say, it's a constant battle with the kids.

Courtney: "Can you PLEASE be 'Vacation Poopsie' again this weekend?!" (Keith affectionately calls me Poopsie, and now, so do the kids...I can't believe I just told you that. "Vacation Poopsie" was the person who ate everything in sight and let the kids go a little crazy with the junk food for a week.)
Me: "No, 'Vacation Poopsie' is only for vacations. You've got regular Jenny back now. And Jenny wants to feed you wholesome food that fuels your bodies." (All of a sudden, I'm referring to myself in the third person.)
Courtney: "But I'm known for my junk food! I have a reputation to mutate!" (We're embracing her growing vocabulary. SO CUTE.) "Can you PLEASE make Hot Dog Chicken?!"

OK, hold on. What did she just say? She thinks my chicken recipe is junk food. And it tastes like hot dogs, which are the ultimate junk food. We've all heard about what goes into a hot dog, so I won't go into detail. But I'm over being offended about the comparison. In fact, I may be a genius! And so what if hot dogs aren't gourmet? The point isn't to be a food snob, anyway! And I'll admit, I do like a hot dog every now and then. Who doesn't?

So Hot Dog Chicken it is! Served with a side of Cheesy Roasted Cauliflower (recipe forthcoming) that Keith says tastes sort of like French fries. Taylor agreed. Um....either I have food makeover super powers or I've effectively brainwashed all of them. Either way...

I did some Googling, and found out that the main two spices listed in the typical hot dog's flavor profile are coriander and garlic. OK! So now I know why my Island Grilled Chicken tastes like hot dogs. I'll be keeping that in mind the next time I read a recipe showcasing those ingredients! However, if you have a picky eater, a ball park junkie, or just love hot dogs, I encourage you to try this recipe. It's really fast, really easy, and REALLY healthy. And now, every time Courtney craves a hot dog, I can feel good about it. Enjoy!

Hot Dog Chicken Marinade

1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients and marinate boneless, skinless chicken breasts in mixture for at least 2 hours. Discard marinade and grill chicken until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees.

And that's that. I want to feel good about what my family is eating, and with each new svelte recipe, it gets easier and easier. They're starting to trust me more, and Taylor even said that she was craving healthy food this weekend and looking forward to my cooking! And I guess my chicken tasted like a hot dog this time, but I'm over it. At least it's adding some variety to the ho-hum chicken breast and Courtney's eating! Enjoy!

For more svelte recipes, order The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Foraging for nettles...and other Earth Day challenges!

I used to just love to cook. Then I learned to love to cook healthfully. Now, as we celebrate Earth Day, I'm trying to learn to cook more responsibly -- both for the Earth, and the health of my family! I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I've picked up a few ideas this week that I want to share with you. Please feel free to share your thoughts on how we can all be a little bit greener in the kitchen!

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of doing two cooking demonstrations at Charleston County's Earth Day Festival. I showed a very health-minded audience how to make TSG Creamy Broccoli Soup and TSG Chicken and Snow Pea Salad with Yogurt and Tarragon (recipe in the cookbook!). What shocked me the most was the difference in eating habits and palates between the attendees at the festival and those I encounter in my every day life. Let's just put it this way -- I had children asking me for seconds and thirds of broccoli soup and discussing the flavor of tarragon. It was thrilling!

Now, as I said, I have a lot to learn. In my quest to use and eat whole foods, whole grains and ingredients that pack a nutritional punch, I'm now putting a lot more stake in sustainable agriculture. Not only is it better for the environment, the food is so much healthier for us! And while cost is a concern for many, especially in this rough economy, the good news is that the prices seem to be coming down as sustainable and organic food become more ubiquitous.

Now that spring is upon us and summer is just around the corner, it's so much easier to be a "locavore." Eating locally in Charleston isn't too hard this time of year, with home gardens sprouting, farmers markets buzzing and the ocean's bounty right here. I want to eat more fruits and vegetables, so I've been experimenting with some new recipes that will come your way shortly! It's also a great time to stop eating the processed foods from your freezer section -- for good! What I've learned recently about processed food, what's in it, what's not in it, and what it's doing to us and to the environment is enough to make me want to avoid it altogether.

I'm also going to try to reduce my footprint in the ways that I cook, too. I've always known that raw food retains more nutrients than cooked food, and I happen to love raw veggies. So that's one way to reduce the energy I use in the kitchen -- don't cook! I'm also going to start using the toaster oven when I cook for just Keith and me. In my house, the ovens run overtime, so hopefully this plan will cut down on the energy I use -- and save me some money on my electric bill!

Cut down on "disposables." Use the money I save on my power bill to buy more sustainable food. Eat from my garden and the gardens of local farmers. So what else can I do?

Now here's where I draw the line...

Foraging for nettles. Specifically, stinging nettles.

Over the past couple weeks, I've become obsessed with two great food sites -- TasteSpotting.com and FoodGawker.com. Really, these are foodie sites that are more interested in the photographs than the food itself. Food as art. So I've started cooking during the day so I can photograph my food in natural light, playing with my photo editing programs, and really getting my creative juices flowing to turn my food into art! And it worked! I've had five food photos published on the sites, driving hundreds of new readers to the blog. Hooray! Welcome, new readers!

But in the meantime, I've discovered that there are food bloggers of all kinds out there -- including those who forage for food. And it seems that you can cook and eat stinging nettles! Who knew?! Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the plant that I used to avoid as a kid because it stings you when you touch it? I think we used to call it "burn hazel" growing up, and I recently introduced it to Keith and the kids during our hike in Pennsylvania. Ouch! And people are eating this! You have to wear gloves when picking it, but apparently it's great when boiled -- and makes a really pretty picture! Amazing.

Foraging is one of those things that I just won't do. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but because I'm certain that I'll poison us. At the Fox residence, foraging in the woods is in the "do not try this at home" category. So I'll leave foraging to the more adventurous foodies! In the meantime, I'm going to be more mindful of the effect that food has on not only my family, but also the environment. Any suggestions? Happy Earth Day!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Svelte Gourmet is expanding...and not in a good way!

I'm back from vacation! And I feel awful. Really, really awful. Don't get me wrong, my trip with Keith and the kids was fantastic -- we left Charleston for a week-long roadtrip to stay with my parents in beautiful Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We did day trips from there, visiting Washington DC, New York City and Williamsburg, hitting up Hersheypark, showing the kids Amish country and hiking my old camping spot. We really had a wonderful time, we got a ton of exercise, and we feel truly refreshed. We shook off the winter cobwebs (it was an unseasonably warm 90 degrees in Pennsylvania!) and we're ready for spring. So why do I feel so terrible?

Well, I figured that just for a week, I could give everyone a break from The Svelte Gourmet kitchen. I admit, I have a tendency to get a little preachy! But this was vacation. No restrictions! My mom has the same svelte mentality that I do, but unfortunately, we only ate a couple meals at home. So theme park food plus roadtrip stops plus drive-thrus plus Easter candy plus nary a chicken breast equals what? Lethargic, puffy and miserable! I feel like I did my own "supersize me" experiment. I did a quick mental recap of our diet last week, and I realized that we ate mostly high fat meats (if you can call a hot dog meat!), fried madness (more than one funnel cake...seriously?!), and an unreal amount of sodium. And virtually no fiber at all!

Has this happened to you on vacation? Or worse, does this resemble your everyday diet? Here's how to get back on track or kickstart your summer-ready fitness plan:

1. Back to basics! Lean proteins, lots of veggies and whole grains. And a TON of water. The Svelte Gourmet basics!

2. Lay off the salt. As you know, too much salt makes me puffy, and isn't good for me internally, either. And the amount in processed foods is sickening. So no more fast food or popcorn for me!

3. Fiber, fiber and more fiber. Fiber is something I've been wanting to cover for a while now, and this seems like the perfect time to do it! Dietary fiber has so many health benefits, and is absolutely imperative to keep things...uhhh..."moving." But we all know that, right? What you may not know, however, is that dietary fiber has some amazing health benefits and may actually help you lose weight!

How? Well, there are two kinds of fiber -- insoluble and soluble. Insoluble doesn't dissolve in water and is really what helps keep things moving. It also comes with the added benefit of making you feel fuller, longer. Soluble fiber does dissolve in water, and forms a gel-like material that, according to our friends at the Mayo Clinic, can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels! Foods that are high in fiber also tend to be less dense, meaning they have fewer calories in the same volume of food (as, say, proteins and fats).

Now I'm not suggesting you go buy a canister of fiber powder to add to your food. Yuck. Both soluble and insoluble fiber can be found in many of The Svelte Gourmet basics -- whole grains, fruit, veggies and legumes. If you can, keep the skin on your fruit and veggies, as that's where a lot of the fiber is!

So how much do we need? The Mayo Clinic suggests:
- Women - 25 grams per day (under 50 years old); 21 grams per day (51 and older)
- Men - 38 grams per day (under 50 years old); 30 grams per day (51 and older)

Here are two high fiber recipes from The Svelte Gourmet to get you started. Yay fiber!

Raisin Honey Bran Muffins
Creamy Broccoli Soup

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.

Enjoy and thanks for reading! It's great to be back!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sweets get svelte!

Often, one of the first things to get axed when you're trying to lose weight is dessert. Most typical desserts are loaded with sugar, calories and fat. A modest piece of cheesecake comes in around 500 calories at the least! That's enough to sabotage any attempt at cutting calories and fat. And of course when I try to give something up for the sake of watching my weight, it's always what I crave the most. Sound familiar?

Don't despair! Quick, easy, and impressive enough for a dinner party, these svelte desserts will satisfy your sweet tooth without the guilt. Even better, I bet you have most of the ingredients in your house already! We're just going to re-purpose them.

1. Grilled fruit. I know it doesn't sound all that exciting, but wait until you try it! I find that peaches or nectarines, pears (not overly ripe) and pineapple work wonderfully for this. You could certainly grill your fruit on an outdoor grill, but I like to use something that catches the wonderful juices that are released from the fruit. A ridged grill pan on the stove top or even the bottom plate of my panini press are great. Simply heat the grill pan and place slices of fruit around the pan. In a couple minutes, the natural sugars in the fruit will be released and start to caramelize, leaving gorgeous grill marks on each slice. You should only have to flip them once. This process turns ordinary fruit into a sweet, gourmet treat. The grilled fruit is great by itself, or served over vanilla lowfat frozen yogurt. Use the released juice to drizzle over the top. Delicious, fancy and svelte!

2. The Svelte Gourmet Parfait. I'm calling this a parfait because the word means "perfect" -- and to me, this dessert is! It takes a bit of planning, since the bananas need to be frozen, but it is so simple, beautiful and yummy. First, slice one banana. Lay the slices in a single layer on a piece of waxed paper and freeze them for several hours or several days. The ones I used had been in the freezer for weeks, and they were great -- so if you have bananas in the house now (especially ones that are ripening too quickly), slice them up and throw them in the freezer for future use! After they're frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer bag for easier storage.

This recipe serves 2. Once the banana is frozen, simply puree it in a blender with 2 tablespoons of dark chocolate chips (or chunks of a bar) and 1/2 cup skim milk. Serve immediately. The result is a rich, thick, delicious parfait with less than 150 calories per serving! For a twist, add 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (only about 45 calories more per serving). Enjoy!

3. Honey yogurt. As you know, I use a lot of plain yogurt in my recipes. It's a great substitute for mayonnaise and sour cream. However, it can also be a sweet treat -- and without the artificial sweeteners of the store-bought low cal varieties! Drizzle plain yogurt with a couple teaspoons of honey, and add some fresh berries if you like. Yum! Even better, make your own yogurt! I've used the method described in Vintage Savoir Faire, and it works wonderfully. Try it!

4. Dessert panini! This will work with a variety of fillings, but one of my favorites is a twist on peanut butter and jelly. Simply spread a small amount of peanut butter on thin slices of whole wheat bread, layer it with slices of fresh strawberries, mist the outsides of each sandwich with cooking spray, and grill on the panini press. When it's done, sprinkle the top with a little powdered sugar to make it even prettier. Grilling the sandwich will turn your ho-hum PB&J into a sweet, gooey masterpiece. Substitute Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) for peanut butter for something different. Just remember, go easy on either the peanut butter or Nutella -- you only need a teaspoon! Fantastic!

5. Baked apples with oat crisp. This dessert will totally satisfy your craving for apple pie or apple crisp, without the guilt! Stay tuned for the recipe in a future blog entry...

6. Frozen grapes. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. Freeze some grapes! Just take them off the stems, put them in freezer bags, and throw them in the freezer overnight or up to several weeks. A cup of frozen grapes only has about 65 calories, will satisfy your sweet tooth, and takes a long time to eat...trust me, eating these fast will only result in a major ice cream headache!

I hope I've given you some new ideas for svelte desserts that won't sabotage your diet. What tricks do you have for healthy sweet treats? Please share with us!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. Enjoy!