Monday, March 31, 2014

Whole-Wheat Banana-Buttermilk Pancakes

It's been so long since I've had a chance to make a weekend breakfast!  (John's been working some crazy hours lately . . . resulting in a wacky sleep schedule for him, and little time for a leisurely breakfast on the weekend for either of us.)  This past Saturday, however, I managed to whip up a quick batch of pancakes!

We were out of eggs (!) so I quickly whisked 2 tbsp ground flax seeds into 1/4 cup of warm water and let that sit for a few minutes to thicken.  However, in my opinion, flax seeds can impart a strong flavor to what would otherwise be a delicate baked good.  Bananas and whole wheat flour to the rescue!  Pairing the flax seeds with other assertive flavors definitely masked their strong flavor; John noted that he couldn't tell there were flax seeds in the pancakes.  Score!

Whole-Wheat Banana-Buttermilk Pancakes
Makes 8 to 12 pancakes, depending on size

1/4 c warm water
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1 c whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 large, very ripe banana
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, coconut . . . any light, neutral-tasting oil will do)
1 c buttermilk
chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, and/or blueberries (optional)

1. Combine the water and ground flax seeds, stirring well with a whisk or fork.  Let stand at least 5 minutes, or until thick and gelled.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Peel and mash the banana.  Whisk in the sugar, oil, buttermilk, and flax mixture.  Whisk in the dry ingredients until well-blended.
4. Pour batter onto preheated, lightly-greased griddle.  Sprinkle tops of pancakes with chocolate chips, walnuts, or blueberries.  Cook until dry around the edges and bubbles pop all over the surface of the pancake.  Flip, and cook the second side.  Keep warm on a baking sheet in a warm oven until ready to serve.
5. Serve with your favorite pancake toppings!  (I added chocolate chips to the batch I made last weekend, and topped my share with peanut butter and sliced bananas . . . a delicious, healthy, protein-packed breakfast!)

What do you like on your pancakes?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Apple-Fennel Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

It's spring!  Well, not really . . . it's still sort of winterish in Minnesota.  Truthfully, I feel like I need to qualify this time of year as "early spring" -- the days are getting longer and the weather is slightly warmer, but you still need to check the weather every single day to figure out how to dress.  Some days, you need your wool coat, some days you need a fleece, some days you need an umbrella, most days you still need a hat and mittens.  It snowed last week, today it's going to be 60 degrees outside.  You know . . . THAT time of year.  :)

Regardless of the weather, the increased sunlight makes me feel lighter -- and consequently, I want to eat a lot lighter, too!  Planning for big lunch-sized salads a few times per week helps ease the transition, and this week's salad was beautiful and light, but still hearty enough to get me through my afternoon.

Apple-Fennel Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

Serves 1, with plenty of leftover dressing

For the Vinaigrette:
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
1/2 small shallot
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 tbsp white-wine -or- champagne vinegar
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c walnut oil
2-4 tbsp fennel fronds (optional)

For the Salad:
your favorite lettuces/salad greens (about 2 cups)
1/2 c thinly-sliced fennel
1/4 c sliced celery
1/2 an apple, chopped or sliced
1 oz walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 oz blue cheese, crumbled

1. Make the vinaigrette: combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a wide-mouthed pint mason jar, (or really any wide-mouthed jar -- old salsa and peanut butter jars work fabulously for dressings,) and whiz with a stick blender until creamy.  Alternately, you could use a regular blender and transfer to a jar or bottle after blending, or finely mince the garlic and shallot by hand, then whisk the ingredients together in a bowl until emulsified.
2. Assemble the salad: layer your greens, fennel, celery, and apple on a plate or in a large salad bowl. Drizzle about 1 tbsp of the vinaigrette over your salad, or more or less to taste.  (I find that a little goes a long way with most dressings!)  Top with walnuts and blue cheese.

I love the crispy, crunchy, creamy, nutty, sweet, sour, and bitter balance happening in this salad -- there's a LOT of flavor going on, but the flavors all compliment each other beautifully.  This is also pretty filling, given the protein in the walnuts and cheese, all of the fiber-rich veggies, and the healthy fats in the walnuts and dressing.  Definitely a lunch to look forward to!

What is your favorite meal-sized salad flavor combination?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

400-calorie dinners (vii)

Two more 400-calorie dinners we've enjoyed this week . . . 

Stir Fry:

So far, the "tricks" I've discovered to making a delicious, 400-calorie stir fry are these:

1. Use only a little oil (or cooking spray) to brown your tofu and cook up your veggies
(Let's face it . . . most stir-fries can end up a little greasy, can't they?)

2. Keep an eye on your rice portion
(I find 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup is plenty for me.)

3. Make your own sauce!
(Most commercial stir-fry sauces are loaded with salt and sugar, and probably some GMOs or other not-too-desirable ingredients.)
Here's my default stir-fry sauce recipe, in case you're curious:
2 tbsp low-sodium tamari
2 tbsp water
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Add the sauce just as your veggies finish cooking, and boil/cook the stir fry until the sauce thickens and clears.  (This should just take a minute or two.)


I followed the recipe for "Neelam's Festive Rice Pilaf," from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, nearly as written, making a few substitutions based on what I had on hand, (swapping in currants and dried apricots for the raisins and dried blueberries, and edamame for the frozen peas.)  I also gussied up some fat-free Greek yogurt with a pinch of salt, plenty of minced fresh ginger, chopped mint, and minced cilantro, and served the yogurt with the rice, as the recipe suggested.  Delicious!  The rice is fantastic on its own, (I love the sweet-salty-spicy-savory balance,) but the yogurt really makes the dish.  (Plus, most of us can always use a bit more calcium and protein on a daily basis, right?)

What are your favorite stir-fry ingredients?  I have a tendency to overload my stir-fries (and curries) with every vegetable under the sun, but really showed restraint this week.  :)  I loved the simplicity of using just red onion, broccoli, and shiitake mushrooms!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

mac and cheese interruption

I interrupt this regularly-scheduled blogging about healthy meals to bring you . . .

Mac and Cheese!  Homemade mac and cheese and I were at odds for years -- every recipe I had ever tried turned out greasy, stringy, lumpy, or otherwise unappetizing.  Cook's Illustrated, THANK YOU!  (Here is an approximation of the recipe . . . I wouldn't recommend making the changes the blogger made, though, as the evaporated milk and American cheese are both kind of crucial to keeping the sauce creamy and smooth.)  I followed the printed recipe nearly to a T, including the buttery, parmesan-rich crumb topping, (which the blogger did not add . . .) and added about 3/4 lb baby spinach to the pasta water at the end of cooking for an attempt at adding some nutrition to what I would otherwise consider to be homemade junk food. :)  (I also forgot to add the pasta water to the sauce, because I forgot to reserve any.  Does anyone else have this "problem" remembering to reserve pasta water?)  John has already requested this (sans spinach) for part of his birthday dinner . . . must be good!  ;)

I think my favorite part about this recipe, however, is that it's reasonably simple, especially for a Cook's Illustrated version.  (I often find their recipes unnecessarily complex, and only a little bit better than a much simpler version.  Not so with this one!)  The breadcrumb topping is whizzed up in a food processor, and the sauce is made in the same pot in which the noodles were boiled -- after draining, of course.  :)  No knife or cutting board required!  I love the meditative effects of veggie-chopping just as much as the next healthy eater, but sometimes, it's nice to throw a few things together and call it done, ya know?

This recipe makes a HUGE amount, (I believe the printed recipe says it serves 8, but we get more like 10 to 12 servings at our house,) and holds well as leftovers.  (Another flaw with most macaroni and cheese recipes . . . they are often awful leftover, but not this one!  Stays creamy and delicious all week long.)  I believe this would also be delicious after freezing, then thawing and baking -- score!


Saturday, March 08, 2014

400-calorie dinners (vi)

Full disclosure: I've kind of fallen off the calorie-counting bandwagon this past week.  Why?  Well, I've had a number of meals involving guests, (either at my house or out,) parties, and other fun things to attend, and calorie-counting is a little bit tedious in front of others.  :)  I've still been trying to eat healthfully and keep portions reasonable, I just haven't been weighing or measuring things.

However, I did manage two "properly" counted 400-calorie meals this past week:

Biscuits and Gravy:

Really, there's nothing even remotely healthy about this meal, except for a hefty protein dose -- fat and white flour smothered with more fat, white flour, and a bit o' tempeh.  :)  Just goes to show that even when counting calories, there's room for an occasional indulgence, right?  (Plus, this is one of John's all-time favorite breakfasts, and I had a package of tempeh in the freezer . . . hard to say no to that, right?)  I used the buttermilk biscuit recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook,  make a batch of "Tempeh Sausage Crumbles" from Vegan with a Vengeance, (using extra olive oil,) then finish the mess off with a sprinkling of all-purpose flour, and half vegetable broth/half milk.  Cook until thick, and breakfast is served!  This week, I happened to be out of regular milk, and subbed in buttermilk with excellent results.  (I did omit the lemon juice called for in the tempeh sausage crumbles, as I didn't want things to get too weirdly tangy, and John is also sensitive to sour tastes in food.)  John declared this my best batch of biscuits and gravy to date!  Woot!


Why on Earth has it never occurred to me to make bibimbap at home before?  Hands-down my favorite order at any Korean restaurant, ("no beef, tofu please!"), and a cinch to make at home.  3/4 cup brown rice tossed with 1 tsp each toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar, topped with shredded carrot, diced red onion, shelled edamame, tofu, nori, sesame seeds, a sunny-side-up egg, and a dribble of sriracha.  Heaven!  Protein-packed, too, which is guaranteed to keep me full well into the evening. A great use of whatever veggie odds and ends we have on hand, I can see this becoming a frequent repeat at our house, especially with beautiful, in-season summer produce!  (Plus, anything involving eggs is always a hit with John.)

Have you had Korean food before?  What's your favorite order?  (As an aside, the syrupy-starchy-sweet-potato bite is my favorite of those little side dish ban-chan salads!)

Monday, February 24, 2014

400-calorie dinners (v)

I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle last week for training for work -- so much fun!  I had a chance to eat at Veggie Grill three times, (it was a block away from my hotel, and well, there were so many things on the menu I wanted to try!) at Chaco Canyon with Victoria and Brent, (isn't meeting fellow bloggers you've "known" for years so much fun!), and at Chutney's Bistro with my friend Christine!  Add on the hotel breakfast daily, and a "Snowball" from Trophy Cupcakes and well, it was a tasty trip.  :)

(Victoria, what was the name of the ice cream place we went to after dinner?)

Needless to say, I wasn't counting calories while I was away.  I rarely travel, so I figured I'd give myself a vacation from that, too!  I could see how hard it would be to eat healthfully for frequent travelers, though!

Now that I'm home, I'm back at it!  Three more 400-calorie dinners for you today . . .

MORE pizza:

Half whole-wheat Artisan Bread in 5 crust, topped with olive oil, minced garlic, an entire 10-oz package of frozen spinach, dried tomatoes from last summer's garden, part-skim mozzarella, and feta.   Popeye would be jealous, vampires would run screaming.  :)  216 calories per slice!

The classic soup-n-sandwich:

Creamy Tomato-Basil Bisque, with a half grilled-cheese on the side.  332 calories as-is, (sandwich made using one slice of whole-wheat bread and an ounce of sharp cheddar, cooked in cooking spray,) or you could increase your sandwich portion to a full-size if you were looking for a larger meal.

And, my new favorite meal:

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Leeks and Sausage.  I used two links of leftover homemade kielbasa instead of the suggested Italian pork sausage; super-delicious!  I had a feeling these stuffed sweets were going to be delicious, but I had no idea they would be quite so . . . incredible.  Creamy, sweet, savory, cheesy, hearty, and filling, but still a calorie bargain at 265 calories per potato half.  Add a huge side salad for a light supper, or enjoy two potato halves for a heartier supper.


Do you try to eat healthfully when you travel, or do you indulge more?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

400-calorie dinners (iv)

Life is uncertain . . . dessert first!

I know I've read a bunch in the blogosphere over the past few years about "sugar addiction" -- what are your thoughts?  I like to believe that I have a much healthier relationship with sugar these days than in years past, but honestly, I don't see myself ever giving up sugar in its entirety.  Treats are just too special a part of my life, and I love to bake!  For example . . . 

John's Valentine's Day present, which he actually finished off before Valentine's Day.  (Whoops.  Next time, I'll know better!  Bake closer to the actual holiday.)  Husband has a weakness for chocolate and peanut butter, and I thought these cookies would be the perfect way to use up some of the Hershey's Kisses that Santa left for me in my Christmas stocking.  (Confession: I really don't much care for chocolate, especially milk chocolate!  Weird, I know.)  Natural peanut butter gave these cookies a rich, crumbly, sandy texture that was . . . incredible.  At 117 calories each, these still fit nicely into my healthy eating plan!

Since the peanut butter-chocolate kiss cookies didn't last that long, I baked another batch of cookies this weekend . . .

I'm typically not a huge fan of "light" desserts -- I feel like flavor and texture are often sacrificed, and I'd rather eat less of the "real" thing.  However, I tried swapping in a half-cup applesauce for half a cup of butter in my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe, (I did leave one stick of butter in tact,) because I believe oatmeal cookies are best when soft and slightly cakey.  HUGE success.  I also used all whole-wheat pastry flour instead of AP, which I believed also paired well with the applesauce -- whole-grain treats can get a little dry and "wheaty," in my opinion, but the extra moisture from the applesauce is a big help.  At only 86 calories apiece, they certainly don't taste "light" or lacking in anything!

And now, more 400-calorie meals we've enjoyed this past week:

Cream of Wild Rice Soup:

A Minnesota classic, which we served at our wedding just under a year ago, vegetized by doubling the mushrooms and adding a little cubed seitan instead of chicken.  (Does anyone besides me find too much seitan to be overpowering?)  The result is a nutritious, warm, comforting, and filling supper, perfect for a bitter cold evening.  (Of which we've had many this winter!  Sigh.)

Breakfast Burrito:

Fill a whole-wheat tortilla with 2 oz refried beans, 1/2 oz cheese, 4 oz shredded Yukon gold potato (hashbrowned-up using a little olive oil cooking spray in a cast-iron skillet,) one egg over-easy, home-canned salsa, and a little sour cream ... perfect for a weekend brunch or a speedy weeknight supper!

Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas:

Ok, so, one "light" food I REALLY don't believe in is reduced-fat cheese.  I mean, c'mon . . . cheese is fat!  What the heck is reduced-fat cheese anyway?  I slightly adapted this recipe, choosing to use 6 oz full-fat Monterey Jack instead of the 8 oz reduced-fat cheese called for.  This meal is relatively quick to prepare, given you're making your own homemade enchilada sauce, and even more delicious leftover.  (Somebody at work is always curious about what I have for lunch!)

Polenta and Roasted Veggies:

I threw this together one evening last week when John was working late, and boy, did he miss out!  (He was able to enjoy leftovers for lunch the next day.)  I decided to roast the veggies instead of pan-sauteeing, which freed up my attention to whip up the polenta.  Although the blue cheese does lend the polenta an unusual, slightly grayish color, this was one heck of a flavorful, colorful, healthy meal!

Stir Fry:

I find that most of the calories in stir-fry actually come from the rice . . . bummer.  Keeping my rice portion down to a 1/2 cup left room on my plate for loads of broccoli and tofu!  I had been wanting to try this recipe for "Chipotle-Orange Broccoli & Tofu" for some time.  It was . . . just okay.  The tofu and broccoli were delicious, but the sauce was nothing special.  Bummer!  I think my biggest complaint was that the citrus flavor wasn't at all present!  You'd think that something with "orange" in the recipe title would be citrusy . . . notsomuch.

Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms:

Like artichoke dip?  You will LOVE these.  Seriously, make them tonight!

And, Quiche:

I typically cut my quiche into six slices; eight slices makes for more sensible portions for me these days.  (If you still want to enjoy a heartier portion while keeping an eye on your calorie intake, I'd recommend a crustless version -- pastry is kind of a calorie-bomb, unfortunately.)  This meal was a cinch to prepare, thanks to a homemade pie crust stashed away in the freezer and some pre-roasted sweet potatoes.  John loves quiche 'cause he loves eggs, and will take care of these leftovers before I can blink an eye most weeks.


Off to make a pizza!  :)