Thursday, August 14, 2014

There's still time for summery pasta salads!

There is precious little of summer--and my summer break--left, but I am trying to relish every last minute of it! I have been hanging at home, organizing lots of long-neglected home repair projects. While I wait for handymen and contractors to come, I try to tend to some inside projects as well. In fact, it's only 1:30pm, and I already had dinner ready!

I made this shrimp pasta salad, adapting a recipe from Cooking Light. Before serving, I will throw some little cocktail or cherry tomatoes in there for some much-needed color and a little extra flavor. But I already tasted it, and it's YUM! I think I will make a second batch for some friends who are going through some difficult medical treatments right now. This is a perfect dish to share with friends and neighbors, because it can be served warm, room temperature, or cold.

Warm Pasta Salad with Shrimp
(Source: adapted from Cooking Light)

3 cups uncooked farfalle (I used multi-grain rotini)
1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I used the whole can, so about 2C)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used 2T)
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic (or 1T!)
2 tablespoons chopped capers (I didn't have any, so I swapped out a little minced pickled jalapeno slices)
1/4 cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon seafood or Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach (I doubled this)
1/4 cup minced red onion (I used a sweet onion)

*I also added 2 tablespoons each of chopped fresh basil, finely-shredded Grana Padano cheese (or any hard cheese of your choice), and pine nuts. Oh, and like I said, a chopped-up tomato would not be wrong in this.

Boil the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and cool to warm. Toss the drained beans in there as well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, minced jalapeno (if using capers, add those at the end), olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the warm pasta and beans with the dressing.

In a skillet over medium, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Toss the shrimp with the seafood or Cajun seasoning ad the lemon pepper. Sauté for about a minute on each side and remove from heat. Add the shrimp (scraping the goodness from the pan) into the pasta and bean mixture. Stir in the chopped spinach, onion, basil, shredded cheese, and pine nuts. Serve immediately for a warm salad, or make a day ahead and chill.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pre-Seasonal Muffins: All of the Flavor, Half of the Guilt!

I thought maybe Cyd might like a break from her daily breakfast smoothie, plus I really miss baking! So I tried to fashion a batch of low-carb, reduced sugar, maple pumpkin pecan muffins. I am very pleased with how they taste, and they are so light and tender! But they are so soft, that they kind of fall apart, at least when warm. Maybe I need to try adding a little of one of those weird binders like xanthan gum next time? An extra egg? Or maybe just a little coconut flour? (Paleo/Primal/Gluten-Free bakers, feel free to chime in down in the comments.) Anyway, these were an admirable first effort!

Low Carb/Reduced Sugar Maple Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

2 eggs (next time, I might try three)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup Stevia in the Raw
1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 1/2 cups almond flour (next time, I might try adding a 1/2 cup coconut flour)
3/4 cup pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 325, and line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, fold all ingredients together by hand until well-combined. Use a standard muffin scoop to portion batter into muffin cups, and press down any bumps on the tops with your wet fingers before baking.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick comes out clean.

Number of Servings: 12

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

CLCA Day 31: What Have We Learned?

Well, this is the day you've dreaded or longed for (because I messed up the counting and thought yesterday was Day 29--oops), Day 31 of "Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure."

Breakfast: "Green" Smoothie with Berries, Spinach, Almond Milk, and Chia Seeds
Lunch: Turkey, Bacon, Pepper Jack, and Guacamole Sandwich on a Whole Wheat Tortilla
Snacks: Pickles, Kouign Amann Pastry (uh-oh!)
Dinner: Roasted Chicken and Mashed Cauliflower with Gravy, Corn on the Cob (an unintentionally YELLOW meal, tee hee)--pictured
Dessert: Fruit and Veggie Frozen Pop

Summary: For thirty days, I promised to be in charge of preparing meals for my roomie and BFF that were lower in carbs but still satisfying, and to keep record of the journey along the way, which I have done to the best of my ability. But to what end? The biggest goal was to regulate her blood sugar better, and whereas she used to take 200-300 units of insulin a day, she has been taking only 20 units at the most since changing her eating. That's AMAZING! Also, she has lost quite a bit of weight along the way. Most importantly, she says that, except for a few things here and there (French fries, for example), she hasn't felt hungry or deprived, and she's keen to continue these kinds of dietary changes. In general, she has felt better, too, but it's been hard to really gauge that since she is still battling a persistent intestinal infection. She sees a GI specialist this week, so we hope he will be able to help her resolve her ongoing nausea and pain.

And as for me, I have learned a lot of tricks and tips to exchange lower-carb foods for higher ones in my cooking, and that it's not about entirely eliminating carbs, but making reasonable exchanges. Just look at her meals today. Even with the decadent pastry that she had as a snack (whoops!), she came in just under her daily goal of 1800 calories (=1756), and also under her goal of 150-180 total carbs (=137), because she made better choices throughout the day. As I was discussing with another friend earlier today (who was having butter chicken for her dinner), if you have your curry over cauliflower "rice," then you can go ahead and have a piece of naan bread; you should just try to avoid having both bread AND rice!

It seems very reasonable and do-able to make your goal 80/20--sticking to your low-carb program 80% of the time, and indulging a bit more once in awhile, but no more than 20% of the time. Interestingly, though I wasn't following nearly as strict a regimen as Cyd was, eating lower-carb by default and just being more conscious of my food choices, I lost about eight pounds myself--and that's after spending a week in Maine consuming my weight in lobster rolls! Ha ha.

In short (too late), I think it was a worthy experiment, one that we wish to continue going forward, especially after she consults with the new doctor this week and gets him to, ahem, weigh in on the matter. And if you're sad to see my daily low-carb food log go away, don't fret. I will continue to post meal ideas and recipes here on my blog--just not as frequently. (I start back to school again soon, and I won't have the time to do this every single day!)

Monday, August 11, 2014

CLCA Days 29-30: Nothing But a Salad to Report

"Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure" (or lack thereof), Day 29
All she ate all day was a fruit and veggie frozen pop because she wasn't feeling well. Boo hiss.

CLCA, Day 30
Late in the afternoon, I managed to compel her to eat this lovely spinach salad with grilled chicken, local strawberries, red spring onions, blue cheese, bacon, spiced walnuts, and blush wine vinaigrette. Oh, and of course, a fruit and veggie frozen pop. *sigh*

Saturday, August 09, 2014

I found heaven in the frozen foods at Trader Joe's!

I may be one of only a handful of humans in all of Christendom who has had the good fortune to savor the two best examples of kouign amann outside of Brittany, France: the DKA at Dominique Ensel in NYC (home of the Cronut--a lesser pastry, IMHO) and the signature baked good of Kouign Amann in Montreal. So I am uniquely qualified to evaluate the kouign amann sold frozen at Trader Joe's.

Are they better than the two superlative versions? No, of course not. But if those two are tens (elevens!) out of ten, the TJKA is a solid eight. And being able to bake them at home, to smell the caramelizing butter and sugar wafting out of your own oven, and to taste the decadently flaky, sweet pastry while still warm? Well, that bumps the experience up to a nine. Plus, they are only four bucks a box (less than the cost of one pastry at an upscale bakery)!

As I took my first bite, I closed my eyes, my head lolled back, and I cried out to my Creator. Now these things have no business being a part of a low-carb diet, of course, or of anyone's diet who wishes to maintain health and longevity. But as a once-in-awhile special treat, it is hard to go wrong with the TJKA. Just thought you should know gentle readers. Do with this information what you will. ;-)


Friday, August 08, 2014

CLCA Days 27-28: Farm-to-Table Fabulousness!

"Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure," Day 27
Breakfast: "Green" Smoothie with Berries, Almond Milk, and Chia Seeds (I added a half cup of spinach leaves to her regular berry smoothie--she liked it!)
Lunch: Take-Out Salad
Snack: Fresh New York Peaches and Whipped Cream
Dinner: "Protein-Style" (Bunless) Cheeseburgers
Dessert: Carrot and Tangerine Frozen Pop (Those Outshine Bars are YUMMY!)

I made my first secret raid on Janice's garden today. I snitched two zucchini, a bunch of Lacinato kale, a few Czech Black hot peppers...oh, and a handful of basil (in my pocket--not pictured). And I used half of this haul (except the peppers) in tonight's wonderful dinner.

"Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure," Day 28
Breakfast: "Green" Smoothie with Berries, Almond Milk and Chia Seeds
Lunch: (She worked though lunch. Hmph!)
Dinner: Creamy Zoodles with Leeks and Bacon and Cheesy Kale-Stuffed Pork Chop with Garden Bruschetta
Dessert: Local Peaches with Whipped Cream, Blueberry Fruit and Veggie Frozen Pop
Midnight Snack: Corn on the Cob (Tee hee.)

I spent two hours in the kitchen tonight creating a most elaborate and fabulous meal! From Bon Appetit, I made Creamy Pappardelle with Leeks and Bacon (with zoodles instead of pasta for Cyd). And then I made up an entrée: brined pork chops stuffed with lacinato kale, onions, garlic, feta and blue cheese and topped with fresh garden bruschetta.

The zucchini, kale, and the basil in the bruschetta were from the garden that I planted at my friend Janice's, the tomatoes were from the farm stand up the road, the garlic and feta were from farms that we visited in Maine, and the cream was from my local milk share. Farm to table, YO!

Kale and Cheese Stuffed Pork Chops with Garden Bruschetta

Pork Chop Brine:
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups water
4 butterflied pork chops

Kale and Cheese Filling:
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cups Lacinato kale, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup white wine (or chicken stock)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

2 large tomatoes (baseball-sized), seeded and cut into large dice
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablesoon olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the kosher salt, sugar and water and mix well to combine. Brine the butterflied pork chops while you make the filling.

To make the filling, add two tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet over medium heat, then saute the onions until tender. Add the chopped kale and garlic and cook until the kale has wilted down. Add white wine (or chicken stock) and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat. When the kale mixture is completely cool, stir in the crumbled cheeses.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the cooled kale and cheese filling into four portions. Remove the pork chops from the brine and rinse well in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Spread a quarter of the filling onto each of the pork chops. Tie up with kitchen twine (or secure with toothpicks). Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil to an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Cook the pork chops until deep golden brown on both sides. Then put the skillet in the oven and finish cooking the chops for about ten minutes (or until an internal temperature of 145 is achieved). Let rest for at least five minutes, loosely covered with foil.

Meanwhile, make the bruschetta. Chop the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil and combine in a bowl. Drizzle in the balsamic and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Gently stir everything together. Top each stuffed pork chop with a couple of generous spoonfuls of bruschetta.

Creamy Pappardelle with Leeks and Bacon
(Source: Bon Appetit, February 2013)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise
*I also added two cloves of peeled and minced garlic.
kosher salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 pound pappardelle or fettuccine
1 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

Heat oil and butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring often, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 5-8 minutes. Add leeks (and garlic, if using) and season with salt. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until leeks begin to brown, 5-8 minutes. Add cream, thyme, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 5-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving two cups of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add pasta, Parmesan, and one cup pasta cooking liquid to sauce and stir to coat. Increase heat to medium and continue stirring, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

CLCA Days 25-26 and a Quick and Easy Stir Fry Idea

"Cyd's Low-Carb Adventure," Day 25
Breakfast: Tart Cherry Smoothie with Almond Milk and Chia Seeds
Lunch: Scotch Eggs
Dinner: Grilled Chicken Breasts with BBQ Sauce, Corn on the Cob
Dessert: Gluten-Free/Low-Sugar Tart Cherry Almond Crisp

CLCA, Day 26
Breakfast: Nada. (Someone forgot her Scotch Eggs.)
Lunch: Salad in a Jar
Dinner: Chicken Stir Fry with Broccoli, Sugar Snap Peas, Carrots, Red Peppers, Green Beans, Mushrooms, and Onions in a Ginger-Mandarin Sauce--pictured
Dessert: Gluten-Free/Low-Sugar Tart Cherry Almond Crisp

I was running off to play pub trivia earlier this evening, but I wanted Cyd to have something to eat for dinner (besides her beloved cherry crisp). So I made an extremely quick and easy stir fry. I used a big bag of frozen Asian style vegetables and cooked them in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil along with a slivered onion and a couple of cloves of minced garlic. When the vegetables were tender-crisp, I threw in a leftover grilled chicken breast from the fridge that I had sliced up, and a couple of tablespoons of Brianna's Ginger-Mandarin Dressing, and garnished the finished dish with a sprinkling of white sesame seeds.

I gotta say it again: One of the best tips when you're trying to make healthier (but fast and easy) meals is to buy big packages of boneless/skinless chicken breasts, slice them all in half, marinate them as you see fit, and then grill them up all at once, stashing the leftovers in the fridge for the week. Then you can make salads, sandwiches, and stir-fries like this at the drop of a hat.