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After eight months of daring baking, Thanksgiving, a Christmas party, gallons of cream, pounds of chocolate, and bricks of butter, I had to take a cold look at my jeans I was having trouble buttoning.  No, the jeans weren’t shrinking in the wash – it was the almost 8 pounds I have gained in the past year.  So, I, along with millions of others, decided to shed those extra pounds this new year.

I dusted off my old Weight Watchers cookbooks and decided to try this recipe from In One Pot, a surprisingly good cookbook for those trying to lose weight while still wanting to cook with real ingredients (translation: nary a condensed cream of anything soup to be seen).  I decided to try this orzo recipe since it is similar to a mushroom risotto I blogged about a month or so ago.  Orzo is an easy alternative to the constant stirring risotto requires. 

CREAMY ORZO WITH CHICKEN AND MUSHROOMS
Adapted from Weight Watchers In One Pot
Yield 6
1 C. serving = 5 points

1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 minced garlic clove
3/4 lb fresh shiitake, crimini or baby bella mushrooms, stems discarded, caps sliced
1/3 C. dry sherry
2 C. low-fat milk (1%)
4 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 C. cooked orzo
10 oz. cooked chicken breast
1/4 C. chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in large non-stick skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until lightly brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Add sherry and cook until it evaporates, about 1 minute.

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Combine milk, cornstarch , salt, pepper and nutmeg in  a bowl until smooth.  Add the milk mixture into the skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 3 minutes. 

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Stir in the orzo and chicken.  Cook, stirring occasionally until heated through for several minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. 

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I’ll admit it – I grew up eating spaghetti sauce from a jar.  This is to be expected from a first generation immigrant like my mother who thought Ragu was how spaghetti was supposed to be prepared (well, that along with kimchi.  Can I get a witness from my Korean-American peeps?)  I was set straight by my husband, who grew up eating macaroni and gravy prepared by his Italian family from the Bronx (that would be pasta and marinara sauce).

I’ve been making turkey meatballs even since I my son was born, trying to shed those baby pounds.  While low-cal substitutions usually mean a less tasty result, I truly feel these meatballs are just as tasty as ground beef meatballs.

Turkey Meatballs
(yields about 18 1½” meatballs)

1 1/3 lb. ground turkey
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 C. breadcrumbs
1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
fresh ground pepper

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Puree onion and garlic in a mini-chopper or food processor.  Combine pureed onion, garlic, ground turkey, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until well combined. 

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Roll mixture into 1½” balls.  Heat mium skillet on medium high and brown meatballs on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. 

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Add to pot of hot marinara sauce (see below) and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with pasta of your choice with grated parmesan cheese.

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Marinara Sauce

28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
2-3 tsp. dried basil

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium high.  Add minced garlic and saute until golden.  Add can of crushed tomatoes, sugar and basil.  Mix and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes. 

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The mercury is hovering above the 90 degree mark and the humidity is palpable.  Ahhh, time for … a steaming bowl of chicken soup?  Yes, Koreans eat a special chicken ginseng soup on the hottest days of the summer, which counterintuitively is believed to cool and rejuvenate the body.  According to tradition, sam gae tang replenishes the body of essential nutrients while sweating out the toxins.  So in sweltering weather, the hotter the soup, the better.  (We’re an ornery people).

I like to eat sam gae tang both in the winter and the summer, especially if I feel a cold coming on.  And when they’re sick, both my husband and children can only palate a bowl of chicken soup to nurse them through a cold – it’s Korean penicillin and cold-eeze, all rolled into one. 

To be honest, I never cook sam gae tang with the ginseng root since it is commonly believed that ginseng is potentially harmful to young children or to people with hypertension.  While neither I nor my husband have high blood pressure, my mother does and never uses it in any of her cooking, and consequently, neither do I.  I did include some in this batch since I thought it was only proper as the name of the soup is “chicken ginseng soup.”

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Precooked whole chestnuts may be hard to come by in some areas, but try your local Asian market.  I get a vacuum sealed packet (back of above photo) for $.99.

Korean Chicken Ginseng Soup (Sam Gae Tang)
serves 3-4

3 Cornish game hens, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 C. glutinous sweet rice, rinsed and soaked in water for an hour (chap ssal)
8 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
8 dried jujube red dates
8 precooked or dried chestnuts
2 fresh or dried ginseng root
salt and pepper
6 round coffee filters
kitchen twine
3 toothpicks
2 scallions, sliced

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Place about 1/4 C. of pre-soaked glutinous sweet rice in a coffee filter, being careful to leave room as it will expand during cooking.

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Place one garlic clove, jujube date, and chestnut inside the Cornish game hen’s cavity. 

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 Follow with a bag of glutinous sweet rice.

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Close the cavity up with a toothpick.

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Place stuffed hens, ginseng, remaining garlic, jujube dates, chestnuts, 3 remaining packets of sweet rice and enough water to cover the hens in a large stock pot.  Bring to a boil and skim off fat and foam.  Lower to low heat, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.

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Season the broth lightly with salt and discard the ginseng.  Ladle the soup into large bowls, including a whole chicken, jujube, garlic, chestnuts and an extra packet of the cooked sweet rice per bowl.  Garnish with sliced scallions.  Serve with salt and pepper mixed in a small bowl on the side so you can dip the chicken directly into the seasonings.  Kim chi is also a must.  (An empty bowl for the skin, bones, date pits and coffee filters is helpful).

I hope you give this soup a try and if you’re not up for chicken soup in the summer, give it a whirl this winter.  I know you’ll love it.

We are well into the dog days of summer here and this dish is the perfect solution for a quick, easy, light and cool dinner.  I love making cold soba noodle salad after a day at the pool or when the mercury rises above 90 (the two usually coincide as it did today).  Soba noodles are Japanese buckwheat noodles, higher in protein and fiber than wheat or rice noodles.

This is Korean comfort food, amazingly simple to make yet so satisfying.  I like to eat it without meat, but one can easily add some shrimp, pork or even sashimi.  One key ingredient that may not be easily accessible to all is fresh perilla leaves, available at most Asian grocery stores.  Perilla is a member of the mint family and is not unlike arugula or fennel with a strong, unique flavor all its own. 

Perilla – a staple of Korean summer recipes

In addition to selling it in small packets in the produce section, Korean grocery stores often sell perilla in pots in the late spring/early summer. Once planted in the ground (full to partial sun), you won’t ever have to buy another perilla plant again. The plants go to seed in the early fall and will self-propagate.  By next summer, you will have a profusion of perilla plants growing in a 5 feet radius around the original plant.

 

Soba noodles usually come in pre-measured single serving bunches.

 

SOBA NOODLE SALAD

(serves 4)

4 bunches of soba noodles
10 perilla leaves, sliced thinly
2 C. mixed baby greens
1/4 – 1/2 thinly sliced red onion
1/2 C. soy sauce
1/4 C. vinegar
1/4 C. + 3 Tbs. sugar (more or less to taste)
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. water
crushed toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Cook soba noodles according to package directions.  Rinse under cold water and set aside.   Combine soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, olive oil and water in small bowl.  Whisk until well combined. 

 

Toss greens, perilla, onions and noodles in dressing.  Garnish with crushed toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

 

 

 

Fish Tacos

April 27, 2008

My husband and I recently had our cholesterol levels checked and while mine was a healthy 169, his was just beyond the normal range (as in one over the cut-off).   Consequently, he’s been interrogating me on the fat content of our meals, requesting fish and other foods that will lower his cholesterol levels, and shunning anything that could raise it.  It seems we will be on a cheese and red meat hiatus for the coming months.  I decided to make grilled fish tacos for dinner since it pretty much covers all the bases:  low in fat, high in omega-3 fatty acids, fresh and delicious.

 

 Just what the doctor ordered:  grilled fish tacos

 

Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa

(serves 4)

1 – 1 1/2  lb. white fish fillets (I used striped bass, but any firm flaky white fish will do like talapia, mahi mahi, halibut, red snapper, etc.)

3 Tbs. canola oil

1 Tbs. chili powder

juice of 2 limes

1 chopped jalepeño, seeds and veins removed

1/4 C. cilantro, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

8 tortillas (I used wheat, but corn also works well)

 

Whisk all ingredients (except fish and tortillas) in a shallow bowl.  Add fillets and marinate in the refigerator for at least half an hour.  (This tastes best grilled, but can also be broiled in the oven or pan grilled.)  Take fillets and place on hot grill.  Cover and cook for 4 minutes or so.  Turn over and cook for another minute.  Remove and let stand for a few minutes.  Grill tortillas for about 30 seconds on each side.  Flake with fork and serve on warm tortillas and top with mango salsa.

 

Mango Salsa

2 ripe mangos, diced

1/4 C. finely chopped red onions

1/4 C. chopped cilantro

1 finely chopped jalepeño (optional)

juice of 1/2 a lime

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate.  Serve on fish tacos or with chips.  Or both.