Eating My Way Through

A lighter Alfredo! April 29, 2010

Filed under: Dinner — Nikki Wegner @ 5:56 pm
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I love Fettuccine Alfredo. Hands down it has to be one of my favorite things! Like if I was stranded on an island,and I had to choose one thing to eat the rest of my life,  I would pick that my mom’s fettuccine. It is that good.

The only problem with fettuccine is that it isn’t exactly healthy for you. The heavy cream, the Parmesan, sort of a caloric disaster. Though a delicious one!

I came across a recipe recently on Real Simple that sounded like a healthier version of Alfredo, with my one of my favorite types of cheese, goat cheese. So of course I had to try it!

This is my new favorite pasta dish. It was so easy and delicious. It also reheats surprisingly well for a cream-based sauce if you have leftovers and want to take it for lunch the next day, though I doubt you will have any left!

One other thing…this recipe calls for zucchini as the veggie of choice. But I am sure others would taste great too. Maybe some broccoli, squash or eggplant.

Once again, make sure you prep all the ingredients in advance. It’s always key. So zest the lemon peel, chop the zucchini and garlic while the pasta is cooking.

Lemon zest, garlic, zucchini

Ingredients prepped

Saute the zucchini and once cooked, add in the garlic. Keep stirring, you don’t want the zucchini to burn!

When the pasta is done cooking, make sure to reserve a 1 cup of the water, you will use it for the sauce.

Add the goat cheese to the pasta with the reserved water and some salt. Then add the zucchini and lemon zest.

Pasta and Veggies

Mixing in the goat cheese and zucchini

Mix everything together and serve sprinkled with remaining cheese for garnish.

Pasta with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

Pasta with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

Pasta with Zucchini and Goat Cheese (adapted from Real Simple)

12 oz linguine, 3/4 of a box

1 tbsp olive oil

1 lb zucchini, sliced into half moons

salt

2 cloves garlic, chopped

5 oz goat cheese, crumbled

1 tbsp lemon zest

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Before draining pasta, reserve 1 cup of cooking water.

Drain pasta, and return to pot.

While the pasta is cooking heat the oil in a skillet, add zucchini and 1/2 tsp salt, and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and saute for another 1-2 minutes.

Remove zucchini from heat.

Add all but 2 tbsp of the goat cheese to the pasta and add the reserved pasta water and 3/4 tsp salt.

Stir until creamy.

Add the zucchini and lemon zest and stir until all mixed.

Serve the pasta topped with the remaining cheese.

Yields 4 servings.

 

Quinoa, the mother of all grains April 26, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Veggies — Nikki Wegner @ 11:41 am
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So before I really got into cooking earlier this year, I had never heard of  Quinoa (pronounced kinwa).  After a little research, I discovered it was a grain-like seed that was cultivated by the Incas in the Andean region of South America…who knew right?

In Quechua, the language of the Incas, quinoa means the “mother of all grains.” Though it is not technically a grain, nutritionally it is similar, being high in dietary fiber. It is also an excellent source of protein, especially for all you vegetarians out there!

I made a few recipes with quinoa pre-blog, and had some lying around when I came across a recipe for a quinoa stir-fry in Self. I made a few changes, adding a couple of ingredients and swapping chicken for tofu to make it more vegetarian friendly. With this recipe I think you can basically swap in whatever veggies and protein you have on hand, and it would be great!

The first step is to rinse the quinoa. Make sure you have a strainer with very tiny holes, otherwise you will lose a lot of it! Also, the quinoa I happened to on hand was a red variety, usually it is more of an off-white or cream color.

Quinoa

Quinoa

Once the quinoa is cooking, get started with the stir-fry. Make sure to prep all the ingredients in advance and have everything out and ready because it cooks up pretty fast.

Yellow pepper, carrots, and sauce

Veggies and sauce!

Cook the veggies in a skillet, adding the garlic, ginger, lime and chili sauce mixture when tender.

Veggies cooking

Veggies cooking

Once that is mixed together and starts getting fragrant, toss in the tofu, snow peas, rice vinegar and some soy sauce.

Tofu with Veggies

Almost there...

Cook mixture until tofu is warm and has absorbed the sauce.

Add the cooked quinoa to the skillet with additional soy sauce.

Quinoa Stir-fry with Tofu

Quinoa Stir-fry with Tofu

Let it all cook together for a bit and serve!

This is a great dish to cook post-work and take for lunch the next day. It keeps really well for a day, but you might be pushing it after that, so just keep that in mind!

Quinoa Stir-Fry with Tofu (adapted from Self)

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed

1/2 tsp salt, divided

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 small carrots, thinly sliced

1 medium yellow pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

2 tsp grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 tbsp lime juice, fresh

1/2 tsp Thai red chili paste

1 cup snow peas

1 package (12 oz) firm tofu, cubed

2 scallions, chopped

2 tbsp soy sauce, divided

1 tbsp rice vinegar

Directions:

Prep all ingredients

Put quinoa in a small sauce pan with 3/4 cup water and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let cook for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork and set aside.

While quinoa is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet.

Add carrots and stir, cook until soft, about 2 minutes.

Add yellow pepper and stir until soft, about 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine ginger, garlic, chili paste and lime juice. Mix until combined.

Add to skillet, cook until flavors become fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Add snow peas and tofu, along with remaining 1/4 tsp salt, rice vinegar and 1 tbsp soy sauce.

Cook, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes until tofu is heated through.

Add quinoa and remaining 1 tbsp soy sauce. Cook and stir for an additional 2 minutes.

Serve topped with scallions.

Yields 4 servings.

 

Sweet Things: Babies and Red Velvet Cupcakes April 24, 2010

Filed under: Baking,Treats — Nikki Wegner @ 2:57 pm

Both of my bosses just had beautiful babies! And I was lucky enough to get to meet one of them last week…yay.

Cuddling with a precious little guy for an hour can do a lot to put you in a good mood. He is too cute! And his mom already looks fab.

I of course had to bring some sort of baked good with me to celebrate. I  know my boss has a weakness for red velvet cupcakes, so I thought I would try a healthier version of the recipe I found, and really, who can resist cream cheese frosting!

One thing to note about this recipe, you need a lot of mixing bowls! 2 medium and 2 large to be exact. So just be prepared for the dishes. Also, be careful with the red food coloring, you could end up with pink fingers for days.

Red Velvet Cupcake Batter

The batter is the best part!

Once the batter is ready to go fill the cupcake tins up about 2/3 full. Make sure not to over fill, because you will have a mess on your hands!

Cupcakes Baking

Cupcakes Baking

While the cupcakes are baking get the icing together. Make sure that you have a large bowl ready, if the bowl is too small you will end up covered in a dusting of powdered sugar!

Cream Cheese Frostiing

Mmmm frosting

Once the cupcakes are done let them cool completely before frosting.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

The cupcakes turned out really fluffy and the frosting was delicious, I will definitely be using the recipe again. If you have any extra frosting, and can control yourself from eating it with a spoon like I did, put it on some graham crackers for a great treat.

Red Velvet Cupcakes (adapted from Weight Watchers)

Batter

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa (can throw in more if you want them a bit more chocolaty)

1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk

1 tsp white vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup light butter, softened

2 large eggs

1 1/2 oz red food coloring

Frosting

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

4 tbsp Neufchâtel cheese, softened

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°

Prepare 18 muffin tins with paper liners

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda and cocoa; set aside

In another medium bowl, mix together buttermilk, vinegar and 1 tsp vanilla; set aside

In a large bowl, add sugar and butter. With an electric mixer on high-speed, cream together until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and add eggs, one at a time, until well mixed.

Add about 1/3 each of the flour and buttermilk mixtures to sugar mixture, and beat until just combined. Repeat until all of the flour and buttermilk mixtures are incorporated into the batter. Add red food coloring and mix well with mixer.

Fill each muffin tin about 2/3 full with batter. Bake for approx 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes in pan, remove from pan and let cool completely.

While cupcakes are baking, make the icing by combining the powdered sugar, cheese, water and 1 tsp vanilla in yet another large bowl! Beat with an electric mixer until well mixed and creamy.

Ice cooled cupcakes!

 

Glee and Risotto Making April 21, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Veggies — Nikki Wegner @ 5:20 pm
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I am sure this isn’t surprising to my friends and family, but Glee has to be one of my all time favorite shows ! Who doesn’t love  people spontaneous bursting into song and dance and jazz hands?

So last night was the much anticipated Madonna episode, and for some reason I decided it was a good idea to make risotto during it. Risotto is not the hardest thing to make for sure, but it’s hands on and involves constant stirring and standing in front of the stove, which unfortunately doesn’t have a line of sight to our TV. Tragic, yes!

I spent the better part of the first half-hour of the show frantically running back and forth from stirring to watching the musical numbers…which I am sure was an entertaining sight for my roommates.

The extra cardio was worth it though, because the risotto turned out to be very tasty! And it was a great way to use some in-season asparagus.

Instead of walking through all the steps, you can look at the recipe for that because there are a lot, here are a few tips:

  • Chop all the veggies and shred the Parmesan cheese in advance. There are a lot of moving pieces once you get going and you have to juggle a bit. I made the mistake of working as I went, and things got a bit hectic/the kitchen was a disaster.
Asparagus

Chopped Asparagus

Shallots

Shallots

  • Blanching asparagus is not hard just pay close attention to the timing! It’s actually super easy and involves putting veggies or fruit in boiling water for a specified amount of time, then quickly draining and putting in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.
Asparagus in ice water

Asparagus taking an ice bath

  • When the recipe tells you to time something or stir…do it! Your ingredients might burn/get soggy.
Risotto

Trying not to burn the rice!

  • Measure the broth carefully as you add it to the risotto, because it will only take longer to absorb if you don’t.
Asparagus Risotto

Enjoy!

Asparagus Risotto (adapted from Weight Watchers)

1/2 tsp table salt, for cooking water

1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces

Cooking spray

1/2 tbsp unsalted butter or margarine

2-3 shallots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup uncooked arborio rice

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 cups (32 ounces) canned chicken or vegetable broth

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions:

Prep asparagus, shallots garlic and Parmesan, set aside

Fill a large mixing bowl with ice water, set aside

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add asparagus

Cook asparagus for 2 minutes, drain, add to ice water, set aside

Add broth to a medium pot, simmer on burner to keep warm

Spray another medium pot with cooking spray, set over medium heat

Melt butter in pot

Add in shallots and garlic, cooking for 5-7 minutes until translucent and stirring frequently

Add rice to pot, stir and cook for 2 minutes

Add lemon juice, stirring and cooking until all the juice is absorbed

Measure 1/2 cup of warm broth and add to pot, continuously stirring until fully absorbed

Repeat until all broth is used, this should take about 20 minutes

Rice should be creamy, and chew not mushy, when you remove the pot from the heat

Add cheese, stir well

Drain asparagus in a colander, then stir into rice

Season with salt and pepper to taste

Yields 5, 1 cup servings

 

Beets…Who knew they were so great? April 20, 2010

Filed under: Salad,Sandwiches,Veggies — Nikki Wegner @ 5:50 pm
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I used to hate vegetables other than carrots, peas and potatoes.  I would hide broccoli, give the dog my tomatoes under the table, and flat-out refuse to eat anything that looked funny or I just decided to hate. I was very stubborn about my veggies. And until the past few years, I still wasn’t very adventurous.

Recently, I discovered I like beets. Who knew they were so good?

Beets

Beets...yum?

In the past, I always thought of them as the gross pink things that had a slimy texture and came out of a can at holidays. But as I am known to do, I recently sampled them off a friend’s plate at a restaurant and loved them!

They are a bit time-consuming to make, but the finished product is worth the wait. I decided to cook a bunch last night to use in sandwiches and in salads this week.

The first step in using beets for anything is to roast them. Chop off the stems and bottoms, and give them a bit of a wash to clean them up. Put them in a small baking dish with 1/4 cup water.

Beets about to be roasted

Ready for roasting

Cover with foil and roast  at 400° for 35-50 minutes, depending on the size of the beets,  until they are fork-tender.

Let cool slightly and peel off the skins with your fingers. Be careful not to burn yourself! Serve warm or finish cooling depending on what you are using them for.

Last night I made a sandwich for dinner using the beets, brie and avocado…

Beet, Brie and Avocado Sandwich

All the pieces

Sandwich

Finished product

and a salad for today’s lunch using the beets, goat cheese, dried cherries and pomegranate blueberry vinaigrette…

Beet, goat cheese and dried cherry salad

Today's lunch.

One the beets were roasted, all of the recipes are super simple! And they’re healthy too, since beets contain folic acid, calcium, antioxidants and potassium…all good things! Just watch yourself with the cheese, it’s my weakness too.

Roasted Beets (from Yum Sugar)

1 bunch beets

1/4 cup water

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°

Trim stems and bottoms off beets

Wash to remove any dirt on the skin

Place in small baking dish

Add water

Cover with foil

Roast in oven for 35-50 minutes until beets are fork-tender

Remove from oven and let cool slightly

Peel of skins using your fingers

Serve warm or let cool depending on your plan for them!

1 serving=1 cup of beets

Beet, Brie and Avocado Sandwich (own recipe)

1 beet, roasted and sliced

1/4 avocado

1 oz french brie

2 slices multigrain bread

Lettuce

Directions:

Slice beet

Spread/smash avocado on 1 slice of bread

Spread brie on remaining slice of bread

Add beets and lettuce to one slice, place the other on top to form a sandwich

Yields 1 sandwich

Beet, Goat cheese and dried cherries salad (own recipe)

1 beet, roasted and cubed

1 oz goat cheese, crumbled

1/8 cup dried cherries

2 cups lettuce

1 serving vinaigrette of your choice (I used low-fat pomegranate-blueberry)

Directions:

Combine beets, cheese, cherries and lettuce in a bowl

Toss with vinaigrette

Enjoy!

Yields 1 salad

p.s. Adding sliced almonds or walnuts would also be a great addition if you have them on hand.

 

Cookies! April 19, 2010

Filed under: Baking,Treats — Nikki Wegner @ 3:09 pm
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For as long as I can remember I’ve been baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom. It was something we would always do together, and at our house the cookie jar was never empty, so we made them a lot!

And it is also something among my friends and co-workers that I am kind of known for. My friends growing up basically demanded chocolate chip cookies upon entering my parents’ house, and I love bringing them to work for special occasions/just for fun. Our work environment can be pretty stressful, and I have found chocolate chip cookies really make people smile/brighten a day.

The recipe isn’t anything fancy, just the one on the back of the Nestle Toll House bag, but with one very important change…

Not that this is a huge secret, I am sure lots of people make this substitution, but I think it really makes the cookies fluffy and chewier. And who doesn’t love that!

So the secret is….Crisco (or vegetable shortening)  instead of butter. We substitute 1 cup of Crisco for the butter in the recipe, that’s it. Not sure if it makes them any healthier, probably doesn’t, but I feel that chocolate chip cookies are one thing you can splurge on.

Yesterday, to mix things up, I decided to use the recipe for chocolate chip cookie dough but substitute in butterscotch chips and oatmeal. My favorite cupcake place/coffee shop, Baked & Wired, makes fabulous Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies so I thought I would give it a shot.

After getting the batter ready, I added 1 bag of butterscotch chips and about 1 1/2 cups of old-fashioned oats.

Ready to be mixed

Ready to be mixed

The dough ended up a bit heavier than normal, due to the oatmeal, but with a little bit extra mixing it came together well. You can always add a little bit of water, slowly, if you think the batter is too dry.

I plopped them on greased baking sheets….

Cookies on baking sheet

Ready to bake...

And voila….

Baked Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies!

Yum!

This is definitely a recipe I will add into the cookie rotation when I am feeling the urge to bake. What I love about the combo is you get some of that sweet and salty combo, between the oatmeal and butterscotch, which is something I always love.

For those of you who just want to make chocolate chip cookies, just substitute the oatmeal and butterscotch for 1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate morsels!

Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies (adapted from Nestle Toll House)

2 1/4 all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup Crisco (or other brand vegetable shortening)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 package butterscotch chips

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats

Cooking spray

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375°

Spray 2 baking pans with cooking spray, set aside

In a small-medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside

In a large mixing bowl, combine Crisco, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla

Mix together

Add eggs one at a time, stirring in between and mixing well

Slowly add flour mixture, stirring as you go until batter is smooth

Add in oatmeal and butterscotch chips and stir well until everything is combined

Spoon onto baking sheet; make sure to spread the cookies out in case they expand

Bake 10-12 minutes depending on your oven

Remove from baking sheet and cool

Yields approximately 48 cookies

 

Cooking with Coconut milk April 16, 2010

Filed under: Dinner — Nikki Wegner @ 12:18 pm
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I love Thai food. To the point where ordering from Royal Thai, my roomies and my favorite place in Chinatown, is a regular occurrence. I usually switch off between two traditional dishes, Pad Thai and Pad See Ew, but one night I tried the Tom Kha Gai, a coconut milk based soup.

This got me thinking about cooking with coconut milk, and then I stumbled on a recipe for Thai Coconut rice with Pineapple. I had some shrimp in the freezer so I decided to try the rice, and serve it with some Lime and Garlic Shrimp. Turns out it is a great meal for a warm spring evening. Lots of citrus and sweetness with a bit of a kick.

There was a bit of an oops, I must admit.  I used frozen jasmine rice from Trader Joe’s, which is normally a great time saver, instead of following the directions and using uncooked rice. I recommend the latter, and just follow the directions.  It still turned out yummy, but I learned my lesson. Sometimes shortcuts aren’t always the best call!

To start, I added all the ingredients to the coconut milk, to boil all the flavors together.

Coconut Broth

Swapping in light coconut milk for the regular in any recipe that calls for it is a great way to cut down on calories. You still get the same rich, sweet flavor that you get with the regular stuff, so why not?

While the rice is cooking in the broth, cook the shrimp and chop all the ingredients to add to the rice.

The shrimp is super easy, all you need is a few garlic cloves, some shrimp and the juice of 1 lime.

Simmering Shrimp

The Toppings

Once the rice is cooked, add the toppings to the pot. Don’t stir, just let them sit on top. Cover, and let stand for another 5 minutes so all the flavors seep together.

Almost there...

Stir it all up, and it is ready to eat!

I was surprised how easy this was to make! New ingredients sometimes intimidate me, but coconut milk is one I will now use all the time! If you are not a shrimp lover, I would definitely try adding chicken or tofu instead, I am sure it will still be yummy!

Lime and Garlic Shrimp

1 lb shrimp (can be frozen and then defrosted, or fresh!)

Juice of 1 lime

2 garlic cloves

Directions:

Toss the lime juice and garlic in a skillet

Heat juice and garlic until simmering

Reduce heat

Add shrimp

Cook until shrimp turns bright and pink

Yields 4 servings

Thai Coconut and Pineapple Rice (adapted from Weight Watchers)

1 cup light coconut milk

1 cup water

2 tsp ginger root, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup uncooked jasmine rice

1 cup pineapple, fresh and diced

1/2 cup scallions, chopped

1/4 tbsp mint, fresh and chopped

1/2 medium lime, cut into wedges

Directions:

In a saucepan, combine the milk, water, ginger and salt

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat

Add in rice, stir, reduce heat

Cover, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes

Remove from heat

Add pineapple, scallions, mint and Lime and Garlic Shrimp (DO NOT STIR)

Cover, let stand for 5 minutes

Stir everything together, place in bowls, and garnish with lime to squeeze over the rice

Yields 4 generous, 1 cup servings