Easy Lentils

IMG_6246I’ve had lentils sitting in my pantry for a long time. Last week, I need a quick, easy and nutritious meal to take to work with me so I decided to give them a try. Lentils are a great source of protein- about 30% of their calories come from protein which makes them the third highest legume in protein content. Adding some fresh veggies is the perfect way to get a well-rounded meal that keeps in the fridge for a few days!

I had some vegetable broth left over from making the WW Asian-Inspired soup a while back that I was able to pull out of the freezer and use instead of water while cooking the lentils. This is also a great way to use up extra veggies you have in the fridge!

Ingredients

1 cup dried lentils

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 bay leaf, 1 garlic clove, or other seasonings (optional)

1/4 – 3/4 teaspoon salt

Vegetables, chopped (I used asparagus and red bell peppers so there would be a few different colors)

Directions

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Measure the lentils into a strainer or colander. Pick over and remove any shriveled lentils, debris, or rocks. Thoroughly rinse under running water

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Transfer the rinsed lentils to a saucepan and pour in the vegetable or chicken stock. When I am making a dish with a vegetarian protein, I like to keep it all vegetarian. If you want another layer of flavor, use a chicken stock. Add any seasonings being used, reserving the salt

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Bring the water to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. You should only see a few small bubbles and some slight movement in the lentils. Do not stir- this will make them turn to mush! Lentils are cooked as soon as they are tender and no longer crunchy

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Strain the lentils over a bowl so you can use the reserved stock to cook any vegetables you may want to add. Remove any seasonings. Add the stock back into the saucepan and bring back to a boil

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Boil the asparagus in the vegetable stock for 8-10 minutes (or until it is at your desired tenderness- I like mine a little crunchy). Strain the asparagus and add cooked lentils, asparagus and raw chopped bell pepper back into the pot to combine

WW Points: 6 points for half the recipe

Fried Green Tomatoes

I mentioned yesterday that Nick and I bought green tomatoes on Monday so I decided to tackle making fried green tomatoes for the first time ever! I did some research (as always) before choosing a simple recipe from a blog called “Pretty Tasty Things.” I pretty much left this recipe alone other than adding in a little cayenne to the flour for some extra heat.

Whenever I batter and fry anything (which isn’t all that often), I look for a batter that uses flour and buttermilk as part of the dredging process. The flour is a perfect first step because it helps coat whatever you are frying so you get a true batter around everything. The buttermilk helps create the next step of the barrier and gives the outside layer some moisture to adhere to. The cornmeal and bread crumb outer layer creates a crunchy bite. So when I saw these in this recipe, I had to try it!

This recipe is relatively easy but the dredging can be a little tricky. I found using a fork to flip, cover and move the tomato slices from bowl to bowl was the easiest way. You can use your fingers but be careful to use one hand for the dry ingredients and one hand for the wet ingredients so you don’t end up with a gloppy mess!

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Ingredients

3 green tomatoes

1 cup of flour

1 cup of plain bread crumbs

1 cup of yellow cornmeal

1 cup of buttermilk

salt and pepper

cayenne

vegetable oil

Directions

Rinse and pat dry the green tomatoes. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch thickness. Season both sides with salt.

(pictured above)

In three separate bowls, add flour to the first one with some salt and pepper, buttermilk to the second, and combine the breadcrumbs and cornmeal in the third.

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Taking a slice of tomato, lightly coat it in the flour, coat both sides with the buttermilk and then dredge into the breadcrumb/cornmeal mixture. Repeat process for all the slices.

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Heat a large skillet on medium heat with vegetable oil about 1/4-inch high. Once the oil is hot, gently place 5-6 slices into the pan. Let one side turn golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side, before turning it over.

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Remove and place on a baking rake to drip the excess oil. I kept mine in the oven until all the slices were fried (at 170 degrees).

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WW Points: 5 points for 2 slices

Don’t forget to try them with the buttermilk ranch dressing from yesterday’s post!

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers- The Recipe

Lauren hosted a Cinco de Mayo party yesterday and I was in charge of bringing an appetizer. I wanted something delicious and different than guacamole, salsa or 7-layer dip. I also wanted to keep the cost down as much as possible because I just paid rent! When I stumbled upon this recipe, I knew I had to try it. The thing that caught my eye immediately was there are only 3 ingredients! I only changed a few things so here’s how I did it:

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers

10 medium fresh jalapeno peppers

4 ounces light cream cheese, softened (original recipe calls for full-fat cream cheese)

10 bacon strips, halved

Directions

Cut peppers in half lengthwise

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Remove seeds, stems and center membrane

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Stuff each half with about 2 teaspoons of cream cheese

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Wrap with bacon and secure with toothpick

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Place on a broiler rack that has been coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until bacon is crisp (I put them under the broiler for an additional 2 minutes to get the bacon extra crispy). Remove toothpicks. Serve immediately. 

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Yields 20 appetizers

WW Points: 1 point per popper (whole recipe is 22 points)

Goi Cuon- Vietnamese Shrimp and Pork Summer Rolls

I mentioned last week that I ventured down to Chinatown to get some groceries to make Vietnamese food. Well here is the post (finally!). I apologize for not getting it up sooner- I need a little break from the computer but I have lots of fun stuff to post this week from my culinary adventures this weekend.

Lauren and Colleen are my two closest girlfriends in New York. I see Lauren regularly (it’s not unusual to see her more than I see my boyfriend in a week) but it had been a while since the three of us had had a girls night together. I invited them over to teach them how to make an easy Vietnamese appetizer and to enjoy some wine and dragon fruit. All I did was prep everything before they got there and had it all set up on the table for whenever they wanted to sit down and eat.

I made Goi Cuon from this cookbook once in college and it can be kind of labor intensive because you have to be patient with each and every roll. Honestly, after that first time I felt kind of defeated until I tasted them. The work is worth it! I also noticed what a difference the proper ingredients make. I know it can be hard to find garlic chives (very different flavor than a regular chive), Asian mint (it’s a lot spicier than regular mint) and perilla (also called shiso). You will definitely need to find an Asian market for the vermicelli and rice paper (unless your grocery store has an extensive international foods section) but the herbs can still be hard to find. If you are in a bind, just grab regular chives and mint and skip the shiso (I didn’t add any in when I made them). The flavors will be a little different but still delicious!

I’m happy I thought of having Lauren and Colleen make their own rolls for a few reasons:

1. I didn’t have to stress out about making 12 of these ahead of time

2. It was kind of like a cooking class and they both learned how to assemble them on their own

3. They both agreed that it was pretty easy and I think they enjoyed them a little more because they appreciated the work that goes into making them

I hope you will try to make these at home. They are beautiful to set out for a dinner party and will be sure to impress everyone! And, I promise, once you’ve made them twice, you will have the process memorized and it will feel like a breeze every time after that!

Secrets of the Red Lantern; stories and Vietnamese recipes from the heart

Pauline Nguyen with recipes by Mark Jensen and Luke Nguyen

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Goi Cuon– Vietnamese Summer Rols

2 3/4 ounces dried vermicelli

18 sheets of 8 1/2 inch rice paper

18 cooked small shrimp, peeled and sliced in half

4 1/4 ounces cooked pork neck, finely sliced*

1 cup firmly packed shredded iceberg lettuce

1 bunch perilla (shiso)

1 bunch mint

1 bunch garlic chives

Hoisin dipping sauce (recipe below)

Add noodles to boiling water and bring back to a boil. Cooke for 5 minutes. Turn off the hear and allow the noodles to stand in the water for an additional 5 minutes. Strain and rinse under cold water, then leave to dry. For this recipe, it is best to have cooked and strained the vermicelli at least 30 minutes prior to rolling. This allows the noodles to dry off a little and stick together.

To assemble the rolls, cut six sheets of rice paper in half. Fill a large bowl with warm water and dip one whole sheet of rice paper in the water until it softens, then lay it flat on a plate. Dip a half sheet of rice paper in the water and lay it vertically in the middle of the round sheet. This will help strengthen the roll and keep the filling from breaking through. In the middle of the rice paper, place three pieces of shrimp in a horizontal line approximately 1 1/2 inches from the top.

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Below the shrimp, add some pork, lettuce, perilla, mint, and vermicelli.

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To form the goi cuon, first fold the sides into the center over the filling, then the bottom of the paper up and over. Roll from bottom to top to form a tight roll, and just before you complete the roll add two pieces of garlic chive so that they stick out at one end.

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The final product

WW Points: 3 points per roll (no pork)

*I do not use the pork neck. I find that they are just as delicious (just not as authentic) without it and it saves some points!

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Hoisin Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup of hoisin sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon roasted peanuts

1 red bird eye chili

In a saucepan, combine the hoisin sauce and the rice vinegar, place over medium heat and stir in the milk. Continue to stir until just before boiling point is reached, then allow to cool. To serve, chop the roasted peanuts and finely slice the chili to garnish the sauce.

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The dipping sauce will last up to one week stored in the refridgator.

WW Points: 2 points/serving (makes 6 servings and this is using fat free milk)

Total WW Points for suggested serving: 11 points (3 rolls and one serving of dipping sauce)

And here are pictures of the dragon fruit stand in Chinatown and it all cut up for dessert. I ate dragon fruit almost every day for breakfast when we lived in Vietnam. Think kiwi meets pear meets watermelon. It’s mild, not too sweet and very hydrating and refreshing! The biggest difference between dragon fruit in NYC and Vietnam? Price. I got one fruit for $6 in Chinatown whereas the same fruit would have cost about 45 cents on the streets in Saigon!

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Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead ferns are very sought after in the culinary world. They are not usually cultivated but rather harvested by individuals. They have a very short season of only a few weeks in the early spring. I have had them a few times before but had never cooked them before yesterday! Like most fresh, seasonal produce, you don’t have to do a whole lot to make them taste delicious.

IMG_5511Fiddlehead Ferns

1 cup of fiddlehead ferns

1 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Directions

Wash the fiddleheads by putting them in a colander and dunking it into a bowl of cold water. Swish them around a little bit to make sure you get rid of any dirt that may be caught in the spiral. Remove the colander from the water.

Fill a pot with cold water and pour the fiddleheads into the cold water. Bring to a boil and cook the fiddleheads until they all raise to the surface (about 5 minutes).

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Mince your garlic while the fiddleheads are boiling

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Heat the 1 tbsp of olive oil in a saute pan and add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes

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Add the cooked fiddleheads and saute until they brown on the edges

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Serve with your protein of choice!

WW Points: 3 points for the entire serving*

*the only points come from the oil so you can eliminate this by using a PAM spray if needed.

Creamer Potatoes- The Recipe

I posted a picture Thursday night of the creamer potatoes I made for dinner at my parents. This is such a simple side dish and this is an inexpensive way to make a meal look extra fancy.  When my mom and I were at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market Thursday afternoon, I stumbled upon a medley of small potatoes. I am a firm believer that you eat with your eyes first and, therefore, anything you can do to make your food look pretty will also help it taste better! I noticed some tiny red and white creamer potatoes sitting next to some long, thin, purple fingerlings. I grabbed about a 1/2 pound of each. All of them cost less than a dollar per pound!

When I got home, I went straight to prepping them. Here’s what to do:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees or turn your grill on to medium high heat.

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Wash and scrub your potatoes to get rid of any excess dirt. Make sure to dry them completely.

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Cut the potatoes so that they are all roughly the same size. Put all the potatoes in a large zip lock bag. Add roughly 1 tbsp of oil to the bag. You may need a little more. All the potatoes should have a nice coating of oil on them.

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Finely chop the fresh rosemary and add to the bag.

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Add salt and pepper.

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Shake vigorously until the rosemary, salt and pepper evenly coat the potatoes.

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Gently pour the potatoes onto a sheet of tin foil (the sheet should be long enough for all the potatoes to lay flat and have about 2 inches of extra foil around all the edges). Top the potatoes with another sheet of foil and fold the sides over to make a little packet of potatoes.

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Place the foil packet directly on the oven rack or on the lower level of your grill. Check after 30 minutes (could take up to 45). The potatoes should be tender but not falling apart.

Enjoy!

WW Points: 4 points/serving (1/6 of whole dish)