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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Operation Rescue! Plus, Black Bean Burgers.

So Taylor has decided that she wants to be a vegetarian. I think a few too many "predator vs. prey" episodes on the nature channel made her think twice about eating meat. And I can't say I blame her! Keith and I told her that we would support her decision to become an herbivore as long as she's feeding her body the fuel and vitamins it needs to operate properly. Apparently, she'd been simply skipping the meat in her meals and just eating the sides. But what about protein?! Sugary peanut butter just won't cut it in this house!

Hmmm...I've never ventured down the meatless path. I had to think about this one for a while. And in the meantime, we planned a lovely day on the boat with the kids and our dog Penny. Charleston's waterways are a beautiful network of tidal creeks and inlets. We love to hop in the boat for a day of exploring. When the tide is low, the sandbars emerge and some of the saltwater wildlife gets a chance in the sun.

Ahhh...sunshine and a slight sea breeze make for a gorgeous day on the water. Add family, tunes, and some ice cold Corona (Light, of course!) and you have what I consider a nearly perfect day. The tide was going out and we stopped at a nearby sandbar to explore. Taylor, Courtney and Penny hopped out of the boat and ran to play with hermit crabs, dig for clams and play in the sand and surf. That didn't last long, though. It only took a few minutes for the girls to discover some abandoned crab traps -- unlawfully abandoned, I should add. You see, trapping crabs is legal, but allowing the traps to shift to a place where they emerge at low tide is not. Unfortunately, these particular offenders even clipped their distinguishing buoys, leaving traps full of crabs to be buried under the sand and bake in the sun.

Fortunately for these crabs, we had animal activists Taylor and Courtney on the case! And a majority of the crabs were still alive! With the traps clipped and buried in the sand, the crabs must have surely been starving, surviving only when the tide came back in. So we started digging. Even Penny helped! It was hard work, but those girls dug for hours. "Hmmm....we need some water to pour in here to rinse the sand away. Jenny, can we use your beer bottle? Oh wait, we don't know if these crabs are 21!" Oh, precious Courtney.

We managed to save many blue crabs and stone crabs, releasing them into the water for another shot at life. It felt good. And it made me realize that if Taylor was serious about being a vegetarian, then I needed to do what I could to teach her how to do it the right way.

My first attempt? Black Bean Burgers! At first we looked in the frozen food section of the grocery store, comparing and contrasting the veggie burger section. First of all, the sodium content in many brands is as bad as the "bad" processed food. Couple that with preservatives and an exorbitant price tag, and I'm done with that option. So homemade it is! And I must say, I didn't miss the meat in my meal that night at all.

What I found is that with a very basic (and inexpensive!) base recipe, you can adapt your black bean burgers to your taste and mood. For flavor, anything goes! I flavored these with a somewhat traditional "barbecue sauce" made with ketchup, mustard, honey, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Yum! If you're in the mood for Asian food, season them with soy sauce, garlic, ginger and Sriracha. That's next on my list, because it sounds amazing. If you're in a hurry, a few tablespoons of bottled salsa will do the trick -- and don't forget the guacamole to top it off! Like I said, anything goes. Play with what you like and let me know what you come up with!

Now, here's the basic recipe:

Black Bean Burgers
Serves 4-6

2 cans black beans (14.5 ounces each), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (using whole wheat earns you bonus points!) 1/2 cup wheat bran
2 eggs

That's it! Roughly mash the beans with the back of a fork or potato masher, incorporate the rest of the ingredients and the flavorings of your choice! Grill over medium heat for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through and misting with olive oil or butter spray so they don't dry out or burn.

Serve them with some Svelte Macaroni & Cheese, Unfried Green Tomatoes, Roasted Spinach with Truffle Oil & Sea Salt, or The Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad. Voila! You'll get plenty of protein and fiber from the burgers, but you won't be asking "where's the beef?!"

I'm inspired now. Dozens of crabs lived to see another day. And I'm going to break out of my comfort zone a little bit and try more meatless main dishes. Stay tuned!

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

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Unfried Green Tomatoes!

"It's good, but it's NOT fried chicken." Oh, what does he know?! I don't know how to deep fry, and besides, real fried chicken can't taste THAT much better than crispy "oven fried" boneless skinless chicken breast. Right?

I never thought I'd marry a Southerner, let alone move to the Deep South! Never say never. I did it, and I'm so glad. I've never been happier. An especially noteworthy day in my assimilation to Charleston was the very first day I got here -- the very first day I had actual fried chicken. And not fast food, either. OH. MY. GOSH. Keith was right. My oven fried version tasted good, but it WASN'T fried chicken. I think I had fried chicken every day that first summer. And somehow, I didn't gain much weight. I didn't lose any, but I didn't gain that much, either. I think it was a glorious act of God.

Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows that fresh summer tomatoes are my most favorite food (now next to real fried chicken!). So imagine my surprise when fried green tomatoes started popping up on the menus of virtually every restaurant we went to. Green? And fried? Why would anyone ruin the potential of a perfectly good tomato like that? What is the fascination here? You can't do better than the flavor of a ripe red 'mater! You just can't.

Of course I had to try them. Well. Now this is something else entirely! Tangy on the inside, crispy and salty on the outside. And in today's world of food fusion, your classic Southern specialty takes on whatever role you give it, making it ubiquitous appetizer fare. Italian served with marinara sauce. Straight out of New Orleans with a tangy remoulade. Even accompanied by bacon and lettuce for a truly amazing twist on the BLT. They're even good naked!

OK, so now I have two new loves. Fried chicken and fried green tomatoes. Neither even remotely svelte. What's a newly Southern girl to do?! Reinvent, of course!

The true test? Keith. And he says my "Unfried Green Tomatoes" taste better than the ones we get in restaurants. And they're baked! I prefer these without sauce, but anything goes. The sauce on the ones pictured here was a puree of random ingredients I had in the fridge -- onions, apricot preserves, Sriracha, lime juice, and what else? Tomatoes! Red ones for the sauce. It was tasty, but I still preferred them naked. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

Unfried Green Tomatoes
Serves 4

2 large green tomatoes
1 egg
1 cup Parmesan cheese (shredded, NOT grated)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
Olive oil or cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mist a baking sheet with olive oil or cooking spray. Slice tomatoes between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Beat egg. Combine Parmesan cheese, panko and spices. Dip each tomato slice in the egg, then into the breading mixture, pressing to coat both sides. Place breaded slices in a single layer on the baking sheet. Mist tops with olive oil or cooking spray and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. No need to flip them.

So now I'm torn. Pick the unripe tomatoes to make this recipe, or let them ripen into their full, red deliciousness? Urg. Anyway, y'all let me know what you think!

P.S. I'm still working on the chicken. Stay tuned!

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

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's summer and I'm roasting!

Literally. Roasting isn't just for winter Sunday dinners anymore! I think roasting is about the easiest -- and tastiest! -- way to enjoy foods from any season.

This month, I've been focusing on roasting vegetables. I've put everything in that oven, from your standard fare (root veggies, Brussels sprouts, etc.) to the strange and unthinkable (radishes and even spinach -- check out the recipe below!). Roasting tends to bring out a vegetable's sweetness, so it's especially good for those that tend to be a bit bitter. Roasted Brussels sprouts drizzled with just a touch of browned butter, sea salt and chopped pecans makes an amazingly simple and light side dish that will impress your dinner guests -- even if you serve it with some summery grilled chicken! Roasting cauliflower is my favorite way to prepare it, and it couldn't be easier. One of my best new discoveries is roasted cabbage. If you haven't tried it, you must...TONIGHT. Simply cut cabbage into wedges (aim for about 8 wedges from a whole head), mist with olive oil or spray butter, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, flipping the wedges over halfway through cooking. They'll start to brown, but that's the best part!

In fact, roasting just about any vegetable is just that simple. Mist or lightly toss with just a touch of oil and sprinkle with salt/pepper/garlic powder/anything that fits the flavor profile of your dinner (Indian flavors, Asian flavors, Spanish flavors...you get the idea). Heartier veggies like carrots and other root vegetables should roast for about 30-45 minutes at about 400 degrees. I do cabbage and Brussels sprouts at this temperature, too, but I cut the cooking time to 20-30 minutes. If you want to be brave and try a more fragile veggie like the recipe below, I would suggest 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes. You have to play with your food (ha ha!) and see what works for you!

So last week I got adventurous and tried to create some healthy snacking options to satisfy my salty/crunchy cravings. Obviously, potato chips and pretzels don't fit into The Svelte Gourmet basics. I tried a bunch of things -- "chips" made of very thin slices of carrots, radishes and even eggplant. They were tasty, but the "Spinach Chips" experiment really knocked my socks off.

Roasting spinach?! Was I crazy?! Evidently not -- I can't tell you how to package and store these, as not one of the batches I made was around long enough to put away. Even the kids gobbled them up! As you know, I always have a bag of spinach on hand for The Svelte Gourmet Signature Salad we eat nightly. So I decided to throw some on a baking sheet to see what would happen. I opted to mist them with white truffle oil for a bit of indulgence -- WOW, was that worth it! The truffle flavor hits you almost as an afterthought..."hmmm....did I just have truffles? I think I did!" SO good. You can buy truffle oil in most high end grocery stores and specialty food or kitchen stores. Starting at around $15/bottle, it's a far cry from the $900/pound truffle itself! Yikes! And a little goes a LONG way. Oh, and these "Spinach Chips" would also make a tasty and very impressive garnish for your next dinner party! The paper-thin crisps almost melt in your mouth and the flavor is amazing.

Spinach Chips

Spinach leaves
White truffle oil
Sea salt

Toss spinach leaves with a few drops/sprays of white truffle oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet (they won't lay flat) and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast at 300 for about 15 minutes. Within minutes, the spinach leaves will wilt and flatten to the pan, but that's ok. When you take them out, gently remove them from the pan before they cool and become too crispy and fragile. Bon appetit!

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