Friday, July 1, 2011

Absolutely Delicious..... and Healthy, too!

Lately, I've been having quite the experience with Spa and healthier cooking versions of dishes. No, it doesn't mean I've abandoned my sauces and other tasty tidbits, it just means that I've been working on "other" things to add to my repertoire...... If you're familiar with the Canyon Ranch Spa and other such culinary tendencies, then you know what I mean.

Converting beloved dishes, or trying to if you're into this, into lighter / healthier versions can be a challenge, especially if you've got dietary or nutritional requirements to incorporate into this at the same time, like Diabetes, Hypertension, Salt-free, Gluten-free, Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw Foodists, etc, etc, etc.... and while more than ever before there are options for all of these, sometimes it's very hard work to try and come up with satisfying and tasty results. If you've been reading the news of late it seems that more and more vegetarians are abandoning their lifestyle and once again joining the ranks of us "animal eaters", (or as a cooking school chum liked to call us "cruel cooking types"), due to the "cruelty free" production of meats, fish and seafood that are now available. So, wherever your tendencies lie, there is an answer for you!

But getting back to semi-normal kind of cooking (organic & natural, healthier and lighter versions), here are a couple of recipes you might enjoy trying. I can state that they are high on flavor and deliver very satisfying results and easy to make. Intrigued?

Vegetable Lasagna with Parmesan or Garlic Sauce.- Thick, tasty sauce with plenty of vegetables. You won't miss the meat or anything else. Wonderful presentation too. Vegetables used are just a guide, change them for any you prefer, this is a very versatile recipe.

4 cups cooked vegetables (choose your favorite), I like Portobellos & Asparagus.....
4 1/2 Tbls Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread (or butter)
1 medium-large onion, chopped
Salt & Pepper as needed
1 pkg No-boil Whole Wheat Lasagna Noodles (or your regular ones, cooked & drained)
2 1/2 cups milk substitute (Rice Dream, Almond Milk or regular milk)
1 cup chicken broth (from organic chickens or your choice), low salt
6 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife (or see Garlic Sauce)
4-5 Tbls flour (gluten-free, Rice, Whole Wheat or your choice of thickening agent), natural
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese, organic
1/2 pound Fontina (or provolone) cheese, grated (2 1/2 cups), organic

Have your vegetables ready, they should be cooked and seasoned and taste good on their own. Asparagus should be blanched, Portobellos stir fried, etc. Reserve. I cook Portobellos with onions and garlic, S&P.....

Heat 2 Tbs. butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add onion; cook until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside. (This is optional if you like, I just add it to my veggies)

Mix 1 1/2 Tbls salt and 2 quarts very hot tap water in a lasagna pan. Add noodles and soak until soft and pliable 8- 10 minutes. Drain and stack loosely. Noodles tend to stick together as they dry, but pull apart easily, I prefer to leave some liquid instead.

Make Parmesan Sauce: Heat milk, broth and garlic until steaming hot. (slowly heat in saucepan over medium-low heat.) Fish out garlic; discard. (I leave it in...) Melt 3 Tbls butter over medium heat in saucepan; when foaming subsides, whisk in flour and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until well blended. Pour in milk mixture all at once and whisk vigorously until sauce is smooth and starts to thicken. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat; place plastic wrap directly on the sauce's surface.

If you're making Garlic Sauce instead: In saucepan, melt some butter & flour in the same amount, I use 4 tbls each and stir over med-high heat (watch it) for at least 2-3 min to cook the flour taste. Have 6-8 garlic cloves, through a garlic press, ready. Once the butter mix is ready, add the pressed garlic cloves and stir 1-2 min but don't allow to burn. Add the hot milk and whisk to prevent clumps. The mixture will thicken soon, keep whisking. Once it's thicker, add salt and pepper, taste and insure seasonings are good.

Adjust rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400-425 F. Put 1/4 cup of the sauce on bottom of baking dish. Place noodles to cover bottom, 2/3 cup sauce, 1/4 of the onions, 1/2 of one of the cooked vegetables (alternating layers), 1/2 cup Fontina and 2 Tbls Parmesan. Then do it again using the other vegetable. The final-top layer is remaining noodles, sauce and cheeses. You can see how many variations of this you can make, with or without meat, poultry, fish or seafood too. Change out the cheeses, etc.....

Seal with foil and bake until bubbly, about 35 minutes, you're just reheating mostly. Remove foil, then broil until cheese is golden brown, 5-7 minutes longer. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving. (This is a must or it won't serve well). You can also do it all ahead, freeze and bake when you're ready, it will take longer in the oven of course and I would lower the oven temperature some if you do this...).

Crispy Asian Vegetable Salad with Ginger-Carrot Dressing.- This can be a main dish or a side salad depending on the quantity of the ingredients. Amazing flavor!

1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 cup red onion, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups brocoli florets
1 cup snow peas
1/2 cup zucchini, sliced thin
1 cup mushrooms, sliced thin
1 1/2 bok choy, chopped
1 cup jicama, peeled and sliced in thin sticks (batons)
1-2 Romaine Lettuce (or your choice), torn in bite size pieces
1-2 Tbls vegetable oil

In a large pan or wok over med-high heat, add the oil and swirl around. Add the carrot, red onion and broccoli and stir fry for about 30 seconds. Add snow peas, zucchini, mushrooms and stir fry for another 30 seconds. Add bok choy and fry until all vegetables are tender yet "al dente".

Add lettuce to a large salad bowl, top with the stir fried vegetables and top with the dressing. Toss quickly to preserve the lettuce. Serve at once.

GINGER-CARROT DRESSING.- I have this on hand and use in many ways.... you will too!

2 Tbls carrot, grated
2 Tbls ginger, grated
½ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime (or lemon
1-2 tbls Low Salt Soy Sauce
1-2 Tbls garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp Dijon Mustard
1-3 Tbls Honey, to taste
Salt & pepper if needed and to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl except the olive oil, once the rest are mixed, begin adding the oil in a thin stream while whisking until well incorporated.

Sweet Potato Cakes with Crispy Slaw.- Another healthy option you can try! Pretty great!

1 lb Sweet Potatoes, cleaned, pierced with a fork
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped small
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped small
1/3 cup red onion, chopped fine
2 Tbls cilantro, chopped fine
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp cumin, ground
2-3 tsp sugar (Splenda or other substitute)
1 Tbls lime juice, fresh squeezed
1 cup breadcrumbs, dry
1 cup pecans, toasted & chopped fine

For the Slaw:
2 med Jicamas, peeled and cut into fine sticks (julienne)
1/3 cup red bell pepper, chopped fine
1/4 cup green onions, chopped fine
2-4 Tbls mango, peeled
1/2 Tbls lime juice
1/4 cup pineapple juice
salt & pepper if needed
2 tsp sugar (or substitute if needed)

In blender add mango, lime & pineapple juice, salt & sugar and process, make slaw.
In a bowl, add jicama, red bell pepper and green onions and toss. Pour the dressing that's in the blender over the vegetables and toss well. Reserve.

In a preheated 375F oven, cut the ends off the sweet potatoes and cover with foil. Bake about 45 min or until soft and then let them cool, peel and mash until they are smooth. Put these in a bowl and add the red bell pepper, onion, cilantro, seasonings and lime juice, and half the breadcrumbs and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

In another bowl put the remaining half of the breadcrumbs with the nuts and mix well. Using the sweet potato mix, form into 1/4 cup balls, roll in the breadcrumb & nut mix and then flatten into cakes. Heat a non-stick pan and add a very light layer of oil and heat. Fry cakes on one side until golden, then turn and cook the other side. Place some Jicama Salad on the plate and lay a couple of the sweet potato cakes on top of the slaw. You can drizzle some of the dressing around the plate.

I'm sure you can convert some of your tried and true recipes to healthier versions of themselves without loosing out on flavor yet making them better for you. I have to admit that I sneak the healthier versions into my husband's meals and for the most part he's liked all of them and didn't even notice the changes, so every now and then I continue to add to my recipes newer and better versions of dishes while contributing to our good health. Not hard to do at all and my guys are fierce carnivores! lol.... I hope you have access to Farmer's Markets where you are or organic growers and cooperatives in your neck of the woods so that you too can take advantage of better quality products. We've now got 4-5 organic fairs and markets here, during the Summer and Fall Seasons and if you can survive the outside temperatures (since they're all open air markets, except for Mario's, Yikes!) Mario Batalli now has one too, an organic come together which is becoming a reality for local Chefs.... might not be too bad, heh? Drawbacks? Expensive!!!! But you can see how hungry people are for something like this and while there are quite a few Whole Foods here (Ginormous and we call them Whole Paychecks.... this is still reserved for the "have" people since prices are NOT cheap at all... maybe someday...) Talk soon.....

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