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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For ladies who lunch....and me.

Oh my gosh. I just had the best dinner. It would be the perfect "ladies who lunch" meal. Fancy. Sophisticated. Gourmet. It's a sidewalk cafe, glass of pinot grigio kind of meal. Let's just pretend, for a moment, that I'm dressed in the hottest designer's spring line and oversized sunglasses...not sitting here in my jammies...the ones with the cute little sheep on them.

The spinach and goat cheese frittata I made tonight has become a staple weeknight meal for me. Quick and light, but still "close my eyes" good. But tonight, the salad takes center stage. Tonight, my friends, I had a grilled romaine salad with a homemade Caesar dressing.

I know I don't have to remind you (again) that your standard restaurant Caesar salad is not diet food. But I'm going to. It is not diet food! As I said recently, most restaurant salads might as well be called bowls of cheese and bacon, because that's what they are. Even the Caesar, with it's meager, yet wonderful, Parmesan and croutons can boast upwards over 500 calories -- and that's without any chicken! Yikes! You might as well order the lasagna. OK, I said it, and I feel better. And of course my Caesar dressing won't throw your diet off the wagon. Mine is a delicious, creamy Caesar with only 35 calories per 2-tbsp serving. "But dah-ling, you can't be serious," you purr in your lady who lunches voice. Oh, but I am.

And when I say grilled, I'm not talking about grilled chicken Caesar. No sir. I'm talking about grilled lettuce. Insanity. I literally had a salad consisting of half a head of romaine and some dressing...and it was one of the best salads I've ever had. For only 55 calories. So if you've never grilled romaine lettuce, you must. Tonight. Well, maybe tomorrow, since you should really make the dressing first. Look at those grill marks!

To grill romaine lettuce, split a whole head lengthwise, keeping the leaves attached. Mist both sides lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a pepper. Put them cut side down on a hot grill (gas or charcoal, doesn't matter) and grill for 3 minutes. Remove and serve immediately. WOW. The flavor is like nothing you've ever tasted.

And now for the crowning glory. Because even as good as it is, you don't really want to eat plain lettuce, do you?

The Svelte Gourmet Creamy Caesar Dressing
Serves 6

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (2% fat)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp anchovy paste (most grocery stores have this)
1 tsp salt (This may seem like a lot, but the serving size is small once you toss it with the salad and it really brings out the flavors. Adjust to taste if you like.)
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Whisk all ingredients together. If you like a creamier dressing, you can blend it with an immersion blender, but I like mine thicker. Also, this dressing gets better after the flavors have had a chance to meld, so you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge.

Paired with the goat cheese frittata and a glass of wine, this would be the perfect spa meal. In fact, if I opened a spa, this would be my signature dish. And my spa would only have pedicures, back scratching and hair brushing....because really, what else do you need?

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html. (Most of these recipes are not available on the blog.) Enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hello Sunday Dinner, Goodbye Vampires...Chicken with 63 Cloves of Garlic.

Yes, I'm serious. And if you’re an avid recipe reader like I am, you’ll know that this classic French recipe is really supposed to be “Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic.” Still, sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Of course I had to try it. Various traditional and modern versions of this recipe made it sound delicious and comforting – perfect for our after-church Sunday dinner. But really, I just wanted to see what would happen when I cooked one meal with 40 cloves of garlic! What fun!

I read several recipes, and most of them called for all the cloves from 3 bulbs (or heads) of garlic. So that’s what I used. And I ended up with 63 cloves – some normal-sized, some merely slivers, but 63 nonetheless. And they all went into the pan. What the heck? At best, the vampires will stay away; at worst, everyone will. However, I just got back from sweating my tail off at the gym, and I didn't notice people moving away from me. I think I'm ok.

This recipe was delicious. Of course I cut the calories down from the traditional recipes, which were either for a whole roasted chicken or all the pieces of one. I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my version. “There are other parts to a chicken, you know,” says my father-in-law, to which I always reply, “Not in this house!” I also cut down on the butter, gravy thickeners and eliminated the heavy cream called for in some recipes. What we ended up with was a delicious and easy meal that came together very quickly but tasted like it roasted for hours. Even Courtney liked it, though she’s now a self-proclaimed food critic and had to give it some critique. “It’s too juicy.” Fine by me, considering that between the stove top and the oven it cooked for about an hour. It was fall-off-the-bone tender (yes, I know it didn’t have a bone…but if it did, it would have fallen off) and full of flavor (it did, after all, contain 63 cloves of garlic). The best part was that a 4-ounce serving of chicken plus gravy only had about 180 calories! I served it with basmati rice and Italian green beans, and it was a lovely meal.

I know 63 cloves of garlic sounds like overkill, but when you roast garlic this way, it becomes mellow and almost nutty. Try this if you don’t believe me -- cut the pointy end off an entire bulb of garlic, exposing the tops of the cloves (don’t peel it or pull the cloves apart), drizzle the top with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap the bulb in foil and roast it for an hour or so. The cloves pop right out of the skin and you can spread them. Makes a very impressive appetizer with crusty bread and brie. Nothing like eating garlic by the clove! Delicious!

Chicken with 63 Cloves of Garlic
Serves 6

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3 bulbs of garlic, cloves separated and peeled (doesn't really matter how many you end up with!)
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup white wine
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp dried sage
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a large skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to skillet, browning for about 2 minutes per side. Remove chicken and add butter to pan. When butter is melted, add the whole garlic cloves. Sauté the garlic until it begins to brown and become fragrant (at this point, your family will start getting hungry!). Add chicken broth, wine, thyme, sage and bay leaves to the pan and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Add chicken pieces back to the pan on top of the garlic and liquid, cover, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove chicken from pan, discard the bay leaves, and blend the garlic and liquid with an immersion blender until smooth. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat with the gravy.

Hello Sunday dinner, goodbye vampires!

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

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I have broccoli in my hair!

My dear friend Angie Kurtz emailed me last week about my goat cheese post, and told me that she'd recently discovered kale chips...and could I "please experiment with more veggie snacks?"

Besides Keith, the kids, and my parents, Angie is one of the few people who knows what a question like this can do to me. Can I?! I can think of nothing more fun! Woo hoo! Veggie snacks, here I come.
Taylor and I volunteered at the church food bank yesterday, and as we were driving there, I told her my plan. "Taylor, guess what!" "What?" "I'm going to dehydrate everything in the house today! Doesn't that sound awesome?!" "Oooh, fun!" (Eye roll, followed by giggle.)

I've roasted spinach before for spinach "chips." They are incredible! I tried kale once, too, but I burned it. So I figured this would be a great opportunity to try again. So on my lab table (kitchen counter) yesterday was kale, spinach, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, rutabagas, beets, onions, apples....and half of the London broil that I took out for dinner (yay, jerky!). I thought I'd try roasting again, and I also pulled out my trusty food dehydrator. These dehydrators aren't expensive, and they're great fun. Beef jerky is one of our favorites (Keith's recipe is amazing). I had such a blast yesterday that I may just leave it out and see what else I can dry out. (Am I the only one who thinks this is fun? I sure hope not.)

Well, Angie, I have good news! With a little bit of trial and error (burning), I have a couple new veggie snacks for you to try! And I don't know if you've priced these things at the store, but the cost of kale chips and these other "all natural" vegetable chips is ridiculous. Check out this giant bag of fresh kale (pictured with my mixer for size reference) I got for $3. I roasted some, dehydrated some, and burned some and I still have half a bag left in the fridge! You'll make up the cost of the dehydrator in a couple days by making your own snacks. Plus, it goes along with the adage "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime." This is so easy, so make your own!
Here's what I found to work best:

Kale and Spinach - mist with truffle oil or olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, roast in oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes. Dehydrator works well, too, but the flavor isn't as pronounced.

Tomatoes - slice and place in single layer on dehydrator for 3-4 hours. Yummy! This works even for those winter grocery store tomatoes -- I can't wait to try this in the summer. Amazing, concentrated flavor, much like sun dried.

Bell peppers - mist with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and place in single layer in dehydrator for 4-5 hours. These will be great on salads!

Onions - whoa Nelly! Dehydrated for 3-4 hours, these are so strong and concentrated, they'll clear your sinuses. Right into the garbage! I'll try some other methods and get back to you.

Rutabagas - 4-5 hours in the dehydrator worked well. Blanch for 3 minutes first. The thicker the slices, the more leathery they'll be (versus crispy). I did some with a vegetable peeler and liked the curly end result.

Beets - first of all, put on an apron! My kitchen looked like a crime scene, but the result was worth it. I sliced these with a veggie peeler to get them as thin as possible. They came out nicely in both the oven and the dehydrator, but I preferred them blanched for 3 minutes then roasted at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Watch them closely so they don't burn! These taste a lot like potato chips, a little sweet, a little salty. So good....and pretty!

Broccoli - Blanch for 3 minutes, mist with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and dehydrate for about 4 hours (will depend on the size of your florets). SO YUMMY. I was shocked at how good and crunchy these were. Right up there with the tomatoes and beets as my favorites.

Apples - Medium slices in the dehydrator for 4-5 hours yields delicious, concentrated, apple-pie-like flavor with a chewy texture.

Jerky - choose a lean cut of beef (anything with loin or round in the name is usually lean - London broil is a top round cut). Slice thinly and marinate in the seasonings of your choice (watch the salt!), then place in dehydrator for 6-8 hours or overnight. Delicious and full of lean protein!

Phew! My hands are stained with beet juice, there are veggie shavings all over the floor, and I have broccoli in my hair. All in all, a great day! But I'd be remiss not to share my words of caution about this little experiment. What I did yesterday was simply take the water out of most of this food, therefore concentrating not only the flavor, but also the calories. This isn't really that big of a deal for leafy greens like kale (that entire 1-pound bag in the photo above only has 200 calories, so roast away!). However, see what happened to the rutabagas? Even though they have about 1/3 the calories and carbs of a potato, you probably don't want to eat all you can eat. Same goes for apples. Think about it this way -- which will satisfy you more, 20 grapes or 20 raisins? My answer will always be the higher volume of food with the lowest caloric impact, but yours might be the more intense flavors in smaller portions. Your choice, just be warned!

Pull out your dehydrators or set your ovens on low and let me know what you come up with! And Angie, I really miss you! Come visit me and we'll dehydrate a bunch of stuff. Yippee!

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