Summer Salad Ideas

After a great week away at the beach for the 4th of July, I was happy to stumble upon this article from Buzzfeed about summer fruit salads. My favorite on this list is #6- grilling fruit, especially stone fruit, is the best thing about summer! The recipe in the Buzzfeed was taken from the Healthy Foodie and it looks absolutely delicious.

Something I did over the weekend to change things up a bit was the “grill” strawberries with balsamic and brown sugar. This was great to pick at and eat after our meal of burgers and sausage on the 4th but I think it would be even better over some vanilla ice cream. This is along the same idea as the compote I posted about a few days back but the grill imparts an intense flavor that cannot be matched in any other way.

Ingredients

12 strawberries

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 packet brown sugar in the raw

tin foil

Directions

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat

Cut the stems off of the strawberries and cut them in half length-wise

Make a small “bowl” out of tin foil and arrange the strawberries in a single layer

Sprinkle the strawberries with the brown sugar in the raw and drizzle them with the balsamic vinegar

Cook on the grill for about 15 minutes until the strawberries begin the break down but still hold their shape

WW Points: 1 point per serving 

(makes 2 servings)

 

Clarified Butter

First, I want to apologize for not posting all that often recently. As anyone who lives in NYC knows, using a stove top and oven during the summer in the LAST thing you want to do because it increases the temperature of your apartment by at least 10 degrees. Once it has been hot enough, long enough there is no way your apartment’s temperature will drop below 80 degrees (unless of course you have an air conditioning unit in your common areas- kitchen, living room and hallways). Knowing that I am always on a budget, I cannot afford to have AC anywhere but my bedroom and this is why my momentum with this blog and cooking in general has decreased significantly.

OK. Now that that is out there, I will share a fun and easy kitchen essential you can make with butter. Clarified butter is used in almost all professional kitchens because it is full of flavor and it has a higher burning point than normal butter. It is so easy to make and can take a dish to the next level. Here’s how to make it:

clarifiedbutterskimWhat you’ll need:

1 1/4 cup of butter

Saucepan

Spoon

Instructions*:

Place butter in a saucepan over a very low heat. Let the butter melt slowly, do not stir the butter while it is melting

As the butter melts, it will separate into three layers. The top layer is a thin layer of foam, the middle layer contains the bulk of the liquid (weighing in at about 80% of the total), and the bottom layer is where the water and most of the milk solids are. This natural separation is what makes clarifying possible

Skim the foam off the surface of the butter, discard the foam. Be cautious to avoid dipping the ladle into the butterfat while skimming, as the fat should remain intact

Use a ladle and skim the fat up and out of the pan, making sure not to let any of the water get into the ladle

Pour your newly clarified butter to a separate container, and discard the water and small amount of remaining milk fat

If the clarified butter sits for a moment, you might notice more foam float to the top; use a spoon to remove this last bit of foam

WW Points: 1 point per teaspoon

Use the clarified butter to get a nice sear on meats, seafood or even vegetables. I made some last week and used it to get a nice brown sear on both sides of some beautiful diver scallops I got at Whole Foods. I use small mason jars to store the clarified butter in the fridge. It will keep for months so it is worth making a big batch. You’ll be surprised how often you go into the fridge to use it!

*I used this “recipe” to help me along. Here’s Allrecipes.com’s step-by-step with pictures (which helped me a lot the first time I made clarified butter)

**Photo from www.asian-recipe.com

Creamy WW-Friendly Mac n’ Cheese

Everyone knows that I love anything that Mark Bittman does. So when I ran across this recipe two years ago, I absolutely had to try it. Bittman’s article, “Creamy Cauliflower Mac“, is genius- use pureed cauliflower in place of a bechamel! Not only does the recipe call for an entire head of cauliflower, it cuts out all butter and flour from the recipe! Oh the calories you save.

Apparently, Kraft sneaks freeze-dried cauliflower powder into its mac n’ cheese so Bittman figured he would make a vegetable-heavy, less caloric, unprocessed version of this popular American dish. When I made this recipe for the first time a while back, I followed it to a tee. It was good but the dijon mustard flavor over-powered everything so, this time, I decided to tweak it a bit.

I had a busy afternoon of cooking yesterday. In addition to this delectable mac n’ cheese, I made some homemade tortilla chips (post to follow) and another batch of the Ina Garten Buttermilk Ranch Dressing. It was a good day in the kitchen- something I have definitely been missing these past two weeks or so! Give this recipe a try and tweak as needed for your family. This is by far one of the sneakiest ways to slip in a big serving of vegetables without the kids knowing! You could even amp it up a bit more by adding broccoli florets in place of some of the pasta…

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Creamy Cauliflower Mac n’ Cheese*

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish (I used Pam)

Salt

2 1⁄2 cups vegetable or chicken stock plus 2 cups water (I used the stock I had in my freezer)

1 cauliflower, cored and separated into large pieces

8 ounces elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta, preferably whole wheat (I used gluten-free quinoa elbow pasta**)

1 ⁄2 cup grated fontina cheese

3/4 cup grated cheddar

6 scallions chopped, white and pale green only

1/2 tbsp- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, or to taste

1 ⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste

Black pepper

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, separated

Bread crumbs to cover casserole

Directions

Heat the oven to 400°F. Grease a baking dish with a little Pam.

Pour chicken stock into a large pot and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and salt it (unless your stock is already pretty salty)

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(I cooked the cauliflower in just the stock before adding 2 cups of water for the last 10 minutes of cooking. This is was because the liquid level got too low. Just add the 2 cups of water at the beginning to avoid having to do this)

Cook the cauliflower in the boiling stock/water until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes

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Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a blender or food processor

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Add the pasta to the boiling stock/water and cook until still somewhat chalky inside and not yet edible, about 5 minutes

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Carefully process the cauliflower with 2 cups of the stock, the 2 tablespoons oil, fontina cheese, cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup of parmesan, scallions, mustard, nutmeg, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper (I had to do this in two batches because I only have a 7-cup food processor)

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If the sauce seems too thick, add the remaining 1⁄2 cup stock. Taste and adjust the seasoning

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Pour the sauce into a large bowl and add the partially cooked pasta, toss, and spread the mixture evenly in the dish

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Sprinkle the top with the 1/2 cup of Parmesan and bread crumbs if you’re using them. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, 15 to 20 minutes (check every 2-3 minutes after the 15 minute mark). Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings

WW Points: 9 points per serving

I made this batch yesterday and enjoyed a piece for lunch today. The fontina cheese is tangy and different and is nicely balanced out by the salty parmesan and creamy Cabot cheddar. I will definitely be making this more in the future!

*This is adapted from Mark Bittman’s version.

** Using the Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta and eliminating the bread crumbs on top make this a gluten free dish!

Van’s Waffles

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Whenever I’m in a cooking rut, I tend to move towards more prepared and frozen food (and often processed) because it is just easier sometimes. I, obviously, love to cook and very rarely do I look at it as a chore, but these past few weeks have been hard! With frozen meals you don’t have to think about what you’re going to cook and it doesn’t seem like a chore at all. Just pop it in the microwave, toaster oven, etc and a few minutes later you have a meal!

That said, if I do buy frozen food, I try to buy low-sodium, when possible, and to buy the products with the shortest (and most easily understood) ingredients list. I thought I’d share one of my freezer staples for when I am feeling uninspired, tired and really hungry first thing in the morning- Van’s Waffles!

I first tried Van’s Waffles about two years ago. I have been trying different varieties (there are 17) but mostly sticking to the “lite” or gluten free options. I have the lite waffles (pictured above) in my freezer right now and, although, they aren’t my favorite, they are only 2 points per waffle! My absolute favorite are the gluten free, blueberry waffles. They are 3 points a waffle but they are exponentially better in my opinion- you wouldn’t think that they were gluten free!

If you’re like me and need some help in the mornings on occasion, give Van’s a try. Now off to the store to get ingredients to make some (WW friendly) Mac n’ Cheese!

Utilizing Your Freezer

Cooking for one can be difficult because most recipes makes at least 4 servings. Grocery shopping can be challenging because ground turkey, chicken, etc. come in packages meant for a family. In order to save money and time, your freezer should become your best friend. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize this but it has made a world of difference in the amount of food I throw away and having convenient, healthy meals.

I spent today making a batch of my WW Turkey Chili and Slow Cooker Lasagna– both of which make about 6-8 servings each- just so I could portion them out into individual tupperware and freeze them to have on hand for the next few weeks. Both recipes freeze very well and it’s like having a homemade, healthy frozen meal at my finger tips. All I have to do is grab the tupperware from the freezer and defrost it for about 20 minutes and I have a meal ready to go!

Another great money-saver is making homemade chicken stock and then freezing it. All you need to do is save the bones from a rotisserie chicken or two (which can be frozen by themselves before you make the stock), have some bay leaves/other spices and mirepoix on hand. Top it off with some water and you’re done. Check out Ina Garten’s recipe! Portion is out into 1 or 2 cup portions, pour into tupperware and freeze! Next time you need to make some soup, risotto or anything else requiring chicken stock, you have some ready to go! I made some back in December and I have used it in a number of dishes. I just pulled some out to defrost overnight to make a chicken dish tomorrow (look for the post tomorrow afternoon!)

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Buying meat in bulk can be a great way to save as well. I had tried to freeze meat a ton of times but always ended up with freezer burn. My solution is to individually bag each chicken breast (or steak or whatever you need to freeze). Make sure you remove all the extra air from the baggies and that the meat if laying flat (this way it will defrost evenly). To finish it off and protect it even more, lay all the baggies in a tupperware and seal tightly. This way, you have individual portions whenever you need them! I also pulled some chicken out to make the recipe tomorrow!

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Utilizing your freezer to its full capacity can save you a ton of time and money!

I also wanted to add in a picture of the chili I made today. I tried something a little different by adding in about a tablespoon of curry powder. We’ll see how it goes! Stay tuned!

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