Oct 28, 2011

Portobello, Shiitake and Fontina Quesadillas

I’m baaaaaaack! And I have news. Life-altering news. News that changes everything. News that explains my unannounced, yet totally necessary 8-month blogging hiatus. I’ll give you a hint: Lately, I’ve been craving strange food combos like avocado ice cream, sweet potato burritos and garbanzo bean cupcakes. And that's because I'm...I'm...vegan! (Sorry mom and dad...not pregnant yet!) 

It may seem from far left field, but, in fact, since mid February I’ve converted over to a vegan and mostly processed-free lifestyle. (What??!!!)

How does a lover of all things butter and bacon find herself ordering oatmeal at brunch? What on earth would propel a notorious fruit and veggie HATER to scarf down carrots, beets and greens by the pound? With a smile I might add? And how can a self-proclaimed cheese connoisseur dare consider replacing her beloved mozzarella with cheese made of cashews and seeds?

Well, let me tell you a little story.

It all started one snowy flu season day when the hubs and I found ourselves complaining to our doctor once again about our laundry list of health problems, from acid reflux and allergies to high cholesterol and every cold/flu virus in between.

Our doctor, who’s healed himself of multiple diseases and many of our issues through a natural, plan-based lifestyle instead of pill popping, told us we might want to consider nutrition as a pathway to health. Go figure!

He handed us a documentary called Eating, a book called The China Study and a page of website references to get us started down the right track. But with words like “vegan,” “raw” and “no milk” popping out all over the place, I did what any self-respecting carnivore would do – rolled my eyes and shoved it all in a drawer with a “forget that! I’m not giving up pizza!” 

And so the holidays came. We downed mountainous amounts of buffalo chicken cheese dip, stuffed our faces with Polish pierogis, and popped buttery Christmas confections like pills. And we felt the way we always do. Like crap.

So, after we packed away the holiday decorations, we unearthed the documentary. And let’s just say, the truths that were revealed about nutrition were so shocking, so eye-opening, I almost choked on a mouthful of mac ‘n cheese. (For anyone that’s interested, the new movie Forks Over Knives is an excellent, more updated take on the same subject.)

And so, Pandora’s box was pried wide open, and I became a research hound, scouring the web, documentaries and anything I could get my hands on about nutrition and food. And statistic after statistic, the truth was all too real: meat and dairy are just not good for you. Especially not in the large amounts most Americans like myself considered normal. (For far too many reasons to fit into this post lest it turn into a novel. That is for another time, friends.)

So, in the dead of winter, while friends and family shook their heads in disapproval, we stopped eating meaty, melty comfort food and started scarfing down smoothies and salads. And more salads. And more smoothies. And copious amounts of hummus. After all, what else do vegans eat?

Desperate for delicious food, vegan blogs became my life source. Then I bought a couple vegan cookbooks. And a juicer. And slowly, but surely, I began learning to cook all over again. My food processor has never seen so much action and my knives are delightfully dulled thanks to all the crunchy colorful produce that fills our fridge.

And although we may be a mere dreadlock away from full hippy-dom, we feel absolutely amazing. We’ve both lost weight (I’ve lost over 20 lbs to date) have replaced our after-meal groggyness with bounds of energy, and we’ve managed to dodge EVERY cold and flu that’s infected our office. That is a miracle in iteself, let me tell you. My acid reflux has improved without meds, Luke’s allergies have subsided, and I’m guessing that when we get his cholesterol re-checked, we’ll both be floored.

And the best part? We both LOVE the way we’re eating now. I’m finding some truly delicious, natural plant-based recipes, and I’m not sure I could ever go back to my old meat ‘n cheese ways. 

But my blog, well, I guess in all this lifestyle changing, cheese denying enlightenment, was begrudgingly moved to the back burner. First, I had to figure out what the heck I was doing. Where I stood. What kind of food I was going to live off. You know, the basics. Then I could get back to sharing recipes with the world.

But just what on earth do I do with the 20 or so posts I have left on this blog, none of which are vegan? And far from it at that! I’ve already made all the food. Taken and tweaked hundreds of photos. Should I just trash them? What a waste! But would I be a hypocrite for posting recipes I don’t eat myself? Can you see my dilemma?

After a long mental battle (seriously, I’ve written and re-written this post about 12 times, each with a different outcome), I’ve decided that I will post the rest. Because not everyone is a vegan. And even I cannot be as strict as my health would want me to be. A taste here and there is inevitable in today’s world. And to stay sane.

But most importantly, because this blog was such a huge part of my life for over a year, and I can’t bear to just throw away months of work. Those recipes and photos were practically my diary, and just browsing through them brings back memories of meals made with the hubs and new experiences in the kitchen.

But I do have plans for a new vegan blog. Because I think that along this journey through veggie land, I found my real food passion. I just have to learn my way around the beans and legumes a bit more. But for now…there will be lots of deliciousness coming your way.

Like these quesadillas. And while they may not be vegan, they are vegetarian, so that's a plus. Filled with fresh chopped Portobellos, shiitakes and fontina cheese, they’re heavenly and far better than your average chicken and cheddar.

Aside from the somewhat tedious shroom chopping, they’re a breeze to throw together, and taste wonderful with a side of salsa or guac. They remind me of a delicious wild mushroom quesadilla I had in Santa Monica. Definitely a tasty way to change things up. I suggest you double or triple the batch, because at only 58 calories for two wedges, you can afford (and will want) to eat seconds and thirds. (And fourths and fifths!)

I know I definitely have plans on making these again. Only this time…I’ll use a little soy cheese.

Portobello, Shiitake & Fontina Quesadillas
Cooking Light, MAY 2007
Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 2 wedges)

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeño pepper
2 1/2 cups finely chopped portobello mushroom caps
4 cups finely chopped shiitake mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 (8-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded fontina cheese, divided (Or Daiya non-dairy mozzarella style shreds)

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and jalapeño; sauté 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and salt; sauté 5 minutes or until moisture evaporates. Remove mushroom mixture from pan; keep warm.

Wipe pan clean with paper towels. Return pan to heat; add 1 tortilla. Cook 1 minute; turn tortilla over. Arrange about 1/3 cup mushroom mixture over half of tortilla; top with 1 tablespoon cheese. Fold in half; cook 30 seconds on each side or until cheese melts and tortilla is golden. Repeat procedure with remaining tortillas, mushroom mixture, and cheese. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges.

Nutrition Info: Calories 58 (48% from fat); Fat 3.1g (sat 0.7g,mono 0.3g,poly 0.1g); Protein 3.8g; Cholesterol 4mg; Calcium 0.7mg; Sodium 232mg; Fiber 2.1g; Irom 0.7mg; Carbs 5.5g.

Feb 13, 2011

Monkey Bars

Snack cakes. Arguably, two of the best words in existence, melded together to make one irresistible munchie. Unfortunately, they have a bad wrap, thanks to dummies like Ding Dongs and Ho Hos.

But can you blame them? Whoever bestowed the names "Twinkie" and "Ring Ding" did no favor to make them sound appetizing. In fact, they don't even sound like food. And according to some sources, they're not. 

In his book "Twinkie, Deconstructed," Steve Ettlinger discloses that 5 of the 39 (39!) ingredients in a Twinkie come from rocks. So America's beloved cream-filled sponge cakes not only don't contain cream of any kind, but are stuffed with ingredients mined from oil fields and phosphate mines. What?!

But snack cakes don’t have to be the plastic-wrapped, preservative-packed nuclear war-surviving carb cakes that fill the lunch boxes of America. They can be homemade, nutritious, and heck, even spiked!

This here, is a snack cake for adults: A moist, spiced banana bread-like cake speckled with rum-soaked raisins and walnuts and dusted with sweet powdered sugar. Just peaking over one hundred calories a serving, they're a deliciously guiltless way to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

And the best part about adult snack cakes? Aside from the lowered risk of bully thievery, you can eat them whenever you want, although they really shine alongside a mug of morning Joe.

So put down that indestructible Twinkie and pick up something healthier. Something made with real ingredients that doesn't need faux frosting swirls to be enjoyed. Just a fork.

Monkey Bars
Cooking Light, October 2001
Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1 bar)

1/2  cup  raisins
1 1/2  tablespoons  dark rum or apple juice
1  cup  all-purpose flour
1/2  teaspoon  baking powder
1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
1/4  teaspoon  salt
3/4  cup  packed brown sugar
1/4  cup  butter, softened
1/2  cup  mashed ripe banana
3  tablespoons  low-fat buttermilk
1  teaspoon  vanilla extract
2  large egg whites
1/3  cup  chopped walnuts
Cooking spray
1  tablespoon  powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine the raisins and rum in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high for 1 minute, and set aside. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and the next 3 ingredients (flour through salt) in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Set aside.

Combine brown sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add banana and next 3 ingredients (banana through egg whites), beating well. Add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in raisin mixture and walnuts.

Spread the batter into an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until golden. Cool the bars completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 135 (31% from fat), Fat: 4.7g (sat 2g,mono 1.1g,poly 1.3g), Protein: 2g, Carbohydrate: 21.8g, Fiber: 0.9g, Cholesterol: 8mg, Iron: 0.8mg, Sodium: 136mg, Calcium: 27mg.

Jan 20, 2011

Mini Meat Loaf Muffins


Ever wonder what men do when they find themselves alone when the clock strikes dinnertime? After a little research, I've discovered that you can basically classify men into four groups based on the answer to this very question.

First, you've got "The Freak Out," who, in a sweaty-palms panic, dials for emergency pizza or Chinese (or both) to ward off starvation with greasy goodness. You'll find him glued to a couch at colleges and bachelor pads around the world. 

Then there's "The Settler." Thanks to a traumatizing grocery store experience where he accidentally brought home tofu hot dogs and baked Doritos, this man insists that a meal can be made without leaving the house. Thus he will dine on milkless cereal, Fritos covered in ketchup and a beer. 

Next is "The Cook," with an emphasis on those quotation marks. Although his intentions are good, after hours in the kitchen and a few dozen dirty bowls and pans, he'll eat something to the effect of an undercooked pork chop, microwaved tater tots and brownie batter. (Men can’t rationalize waiting thirty minutes for something to bake that’s perfectly tasty in five.)

And finally, there's the "The Unicorn," or so called by his friends who don't believe in his existence or his frivolous dinnertime stories. Supposedly, when alone, he prepares a delicious meal from scratch, complete with non-canned sides and *gasp* a homemade dessert!  

Now, for all you single ladies picturing a shirtless, apron-clad cutie donning a “Mr. Perfect” embroidered chef hat, take a cold shower. Those unicorns only exist in food blogs and reality cooking shows. And in Paris.

We're talking about everyday unicorns. And they're never single. Never. Because that delicious, homemade food was prepared in advanced and left by no other than...their loving wives. 

And if you happen to be a wife, like me, who from time to time finds herself flying across the country for work or a wedding, or you simply like the idea of a weekend with the girls, these little mini meatloaf muffins are the perfect stash-away meal for your man. They're quick to make, packed with protein and nutrition (also a sneaky way to make husbands kids eat carrots) and wonderfully freezable.

To save your homemade love for later, bake and let cool, then wrap each serving (two muffins) in plastic wrap and store in freezer bags in the freezer. When your hubby gets hungry, a quick nuke in the microwave is all it takes for a full belly. Alongside a salad and some homemade cookies or his favorite pie, he's set for a while. At least until breakfast. Thank goodness for Pop-Tarts.

P.S. I'm back! I've enjoyed the most wonderfully long Florida/Bahamas vacation, and a lot of nice time with family. But I'm back in the kitchen...and back in blog land with lots of great recipes to share. Stay tuned!

Dinner Meat Loaf “Muffins”
David Bonom, Cooking Light, MARCH 2006
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 2 "muffins")

1  teaspoon  olive oil
1  cup  finely chopped onion
1/2  cup  finely chopped carrot
1  teaspoon  dried oregano
2  garlic cloves, minced
1  cup  ketchup, divided
1 1/2  pounds  ground beef, extra lean (raw)
1  cup  finely crushed fat-free saltine crackers (about 20)
2  tablespoons  prepared mustard
1  teaspoon  Worcestershire sauce
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
2  large eggs
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, chopped carrot, dried oregano, and minced garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Cool.

Combine onion mixture, 1/2 cup ketchup, and the remaining ingredients except cooking spray in a large bowl.

Spoon the meat mixture into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Top each with 2 teaspoons ketchup. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160°. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Nutritional Info: Calories: 276 (28% from fat), Fat: 8.6g (sat 3g,mono 4g,poly 0.8g), Protein: 28.7g, Carbohydrate: 21.7g, Fiber: 1.8g, Cholesterol: 131mg, Iron: 3.9mg, Sodium: 759mg, Calcium: 48mg.
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