Monday, January 24, 2011

Brussel Sprouts with Vinegar Glazed Red Onions

Brussel Sprouts often get a bad rap from people even before they try the actual vegetable. I thank kid shows and movies for that! I had it in my head that brussel sprouts was the worst tasting thing in the world thanks to the countless jokes that I heard on  TV.  I tasted brussel sprouts for the first time a few years ago in my culinary one class. To my surprise they were good similar in flavor to cabbage. I have been cooking brussel sprouts at home ever since. Brussel sprouts  can be cooked in a variety of ways like most vegetables but my favorite is to steam them and then saute them quickly. Along with being a quick meal brussel sprouts are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and dietary fiber. I'm thinking its time you all get with me and try them out, and to make this even better...its their peak season until February! For my Brooklyn readers Brussel Sprouts are available at most Asian/Caribbean markets for under $1.50 a pack(which serves two people). Here is my take on the popular martha stewart recipe:

Brussel Sprouts with Vinegar Glazed Red Onions

1 lb Brussel Sprouts, cored and cut in half
1tbsp unsalted butter 
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, cut in medium dice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

- Set Bamboo Steam over boiling hot water**.
- Place Brussel sprouts in Steam baskets, cover and let cook until brussel sprouts turn bright green and soften.
- Remove sprouts from steam basket and set in bowl.
- In large saute pan over medium heat  melt butter and olive oil.
- Add onions and balsamic vinegar to oil and cook until onions soften and vinegar is reduced.
- Toss brussel sprouts into onion mixture. 
- Adjust flavor with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately.

** I like to steam my veggies to retain maximum nutrients but if you don't own a steamer you can flash cook your sprouts by cooking them in boiling water for a few minutes until they turn bright green, and then placing in a pan filled with with cold water to cool.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Repurposing For A Better Planet

Repurposing means to give an already used product a new life by finding another use for it. Repurposing is nothing new within the green movement but it is now building momentum among regular joes. Repurposing can mean planting a garden in an old childhood wagon, making a patchwork throw out of old pieces of clothing, using plastic bags as packing sponge, pieces of scrap wood being turned into a dog/bird house, or turning old cans and boxes into pieces of art. With repurposing the possibilities are infinite! The most unique I have seen thus far would be flowers planted within an old tube television and a garden planted in the cups of and old bra. Giving old products a new life gives you a creative outlet and a activity to bring together friends, family, and the community. Also just think that every product you reuse means one less product in a landfill and that is is great news for our earth. Growing up in a Caribbean household I never thought of reusing something as was just a way of life. When candles in glass jars finished we stored thing is them, when biscuit tins were empty recipes were kept in them, and old bottles were kept through the year to store punche creme or sorrel for Christmas.
 Here are a few things that have been repurposed in the kitchen:
An old pie weight jar used for homemade peppersauce.
Hot Chocolate Tins...I love the retro look!
Now they hold homemade vanilla sugar and Canella Cinnamon my mom brought from Trinidad.

Along with these I have old jars holding various spices, an old pitcher as a pot spoon holder, and a old cracker tin to plant my flowers.
Here are some other cool examples of repurposing I found online:

I hope you all take a moment to see if something in your home can be given a new life before you throw it away so that along with saving yourself money you help preserve our planet.                                                                                            

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Vegan Jello

Most people associate that wobbly, see through, gel like dessert with the brand name Jell-o.  I grew up on Jello and it held a special place in my heart until I went vegetarian. Being vegetarian meant no more meat products which in turn meant no more gelatin. The most widely used form of gelatin in food products throughout the United States is derived from cow bones, pig skins and other animal parts. Since that is the main ingredient in Jell-o I chose not to eat it anymore. I went vegetarian in 2003 and from then until mid last year I never had anything resembling Jell-o. While on a shopping trip in Trader Joe's I came across the natural gel cups in difference fruit flavors which boast being vegan, gluten free, and fat free. I decided to give it a try saying that if they didn't taste good I could always get my money back. I am happy to report that they tasted just as good as regular Jello, so my vegan and vegetarian people may rejoice now!
The substitute for cow gelatin in these gel cups is carrageenan which is the gelatinous extract of the seaweed plant. Along with carrageenan the color for the gel cups are plant derived and sweetened with natural cane sugar. If you are looking to infuse your diet with more all natural products or if your a vegetarian/vegan looking to find some childhood memories in a cup you should look no further than Trader Joe's Natural Gel Cups. The gel cups come in several flavors including, peach-mango and black cherry, retail price is $2.49.

As Healthy As A Cookie Can Get...Whole Grain Chocolate Surprise Cookies

Its mid January and this is the time that people start to lapse on their resolutions a bit and get back into old bad habits. Since I am pretty much determined not to do that but still want to maintan a normal life and eat the things I love I will be trying to find the balance between good and bad in the foods I love to eat. Instead of completely giving up cookies maybe  theres a way to make them a bit healthier. I tried my experiment out on my beloved Chocolate Surprise Shortbread Cookies. I switched around a few ingredients and prayed to the baking gods that It would come out edible. To my surprise the cookies came out really tasty! My sister noted that they tasted considerably "healthier" but that they were good. So enough about how they came out let me tell you about the ingredients switch. I used majority brown sugar instead of white granulated and then I swapped out some of the regular all purpose flour for some whole grain oat flour which is way better for you in terms of having more fiber and vitamins per serving. Heres the proof.
less calories but less fiber and vitamins   
Take a moment to compare the amount of fiber and vitamins
Also note the serving size you can have 1/3 cup oat flour instead of a measly 1/4 cup all purpose, it'll cost you 20 calories but dont forget your getting more fiber and vitamins. Now for the chocolate...instead of the semi sweet bar I baked with last time I opted for a 85% cocoa Green and Blacks Organic chocolate bar.
Sorry for the crinkled look, I balled it up to throw out and forgot I didn't take a pic.

This was originally bought as a stocking stuffer for me from my mom for Christmas but this isnt your average dark chocolate, its one of the most intense chocolates I've tasted containing almost no sugar. Although I'm no stranger to Green & Blacks or dark chocolate, this was a bit much for me so I opted to use it in my baking instead. I broke the chocolate into its precut pieces and kept in the fridge until I was ready to add them to the cookie dough.
Freezer cookie balls note the darker color from the brown sugar and oat flour!
I followed  the same procedure for rolling the balls except that I didn't leave the finished balls to chill on a sheet pan, I stored the cookie balls in a bowl in the freezer for a couple minutes to cool.
When the cookies went to bake I noticed that they didnt spread as much as the original batch which is more than likely due to me switching the majority of white sugar for brown sugar, which in my opinion doesn't spread as easily. To correct that problem I just used a spatula to flaten out the cookies a bit. After the cookies cooled a bit and I bit into them I was delighted that they came out perfect...intense chocolate flavor, crunchy outside, chewy inside, and a hint of sweet. I hope you all enjoy!

Whole Grain Chocolate Surprise Cookies
makes 20 cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup oat flour
2 oz dark chocolate broken into 20 pieces

1. Combine sugar and butter in mixer until fluffy, add in vanilla and beat for one more minute
2. Add in flours and mix on medium low until combined.
3. Using a cookie scoop or your hand, scoop half of the dough you need for one cookie, add a piece of chocolate to the center then cover with some more dough to finish the cookie.
4. Continue shaping out all your cookies and lay them on a sheet pan or bowl to chill in the fridge for 15 minutes or freezer for 5 minutes.
5. While the cookies are in the fridge preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare your baking pan. (if you have a large enough fridge you can lay you cookie balls to chill on the sheet you will bake it on)
6. After 15 minutes have passed remove your cookies from the fridge and bake in the oven until cookies are browned on the edges, about 15 minutes.
7. remove pan from oven but don't remove cookies right away, allow cookies to sit for about a minute to firm up and then remove with a spatula.
8. Cool cookies on a rack and then move to cookie jar or container.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fish Pasta

Fish Pasta..Deelish!

You ever overcooked and had leftovers for days on end? Well sometimes that happens in the Pink Room kitchen...we get all hot and bothered with a recipe, make tons of it, then cant finish all before we get sick of it. Sometime after Christmas we fried some king fish but never got to finish it all and I couldn't bear to eat it the same way that I had been for the past few days so I wanted to make a completely new dish out of it. I know some of you are looking at the screen like "did she just say she had that fish for a few days??" I can assure you there wasn't anything wrong with the fish and if you buy fish on the regular you know how expensive it is, so letting it go to waste wasn't an option. I decided that making some kind of sauce and boiling some pasta would be the tastiest option for the fish. I wasn't really to sure how it would taste since I was using king fish which is a fish with a very outstanding flavor but you can use any thick cut fish that you have on hand. Also if you would like to make this recipe healthier just substitute regular pasta for whole grain pasta. This recipe wasn't hard to make and was ready in about half an hour and it was such a delicious meal. I recommend serving with a light salad and your favorite wine. Enjoy!

Fish Pasta
16oz linguine or spaghetti, cooked, with 1/4 cup pasta water reserved
3 large tomatoes, cut medium dice
1 medium onion, small dice
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp Italian herb blend
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
3 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
 1lb fish, cooked and broken into chunks

- When pasta is finished boiling make sure to toss pasta with a little olive oil to prevent sticking.
- Place large saute pan on top of medium heat, add in oil and proceed to saute garlic and onions until no longer opaque.
- Add in tomato paste and herbs, stir vigorously
- Add in tomatoes, fish, red pepper flakes, and pasta water, stir
- Lower heat and cover your pot and let it simmer for about 7-10 minutes
- When sauce reaches desired thickness, toss in your noodles and turn off the stove
- Adjust the flavor with salt and pepper, top with fresh parsley, and grated Parmesan cheese if desired
- Serve immediately

Trader Joes Reduced Guilt Kettle Chips

I just want to say that no one and I mean no one loves uber crunchy kettle cooked chips more than me! Since I was in grade school I "nommed"away at salty Deli brand chips and as all the major snack food manufacturers jumped on the kettle cooked chip wagon I decided it was my duty as an American citizen to try out every last kind I could get my hands on. Most left me dissapointed and some bamboozled me, like the UTZ brand "Grandma UTZ" chips that are fried in LARD!!!  Oh the horror...but anyway I do have some faves which include the Archer Farms varieties at Target and UTZ Natural Kettle chips. My problem with kettle chips is the grease and anyone thats eats them knows that you can moisturize your body with your fingers after dipping into a bag. My brother has seen me going hard trying to cut calories so I guess he felt sorry for me and decided to pitch in on my efforts and buy some snacks for me and my sister. My favorite out of the numerous snacks that he hauled in was the reduced guilt kettle cooked chips from TJ's. The package boast that their chips have "33% less fat than regular potato chips." I havent played inspector gadget and went about conducting actual research but I will continue eating these chips when I need a snack for a few simple reasons:

- My hands come out clean everytime
- I can recognize every single ingredient on the package...potatoes, sunflower oil, salt...THATS IT!
- No preservatives and no artificial stuff

You know what time it is people...make the switch.

Makin the switch: White Rice to Brown Rice

Cooked Brown Basmati Rice from Trader Joe's

Growing up in my house we usually used parboiled long grain fact that was the only rice I remember using. My mom was firmly against cooking plain white rice, her explanation was that it was to hard to digest and that that it didn't have any real nutrients. As a kid I just said whatever and ate what I was given but now that I am grown I realize she was completely right. White rice is brown rice on a starvation diet. White rice may be satisfying to some people but it completely lacks any true nutritional value as its stripped of  most anything good for you in the refining process. Not to say I haven't used white rice before...I have some on hand when I want to make traditional Spanish yellow rice but that is all I use it for. Now back to the brown I have had this long lasting love/hate journey with brown rice, either its taste like something I should use as compost or it cooked up way to mushy. I tried brown rice from every brand I saw in the supermarket or even the Asian grocer but it always left me disappointed and I would go running back to my parboiled rice. In an continuing effort to eat the healthiest that I can I have been trying to switch out many of the luxuriously rich, fatty food that I love for more waistline friendly versions, so even though parboiled ice isn't that bad for you I still wanted to get the most out of rice if I had to eat it which meant switching to brown rice. I know I know..I'm hearing your "blechs/yucks/ughhhs" from here but I want to tell you about another great Trader Joes find! I started using Trader Joes brand brown basmati rice, its easy to cook and fluffs up perfectly every time. TJ's brown basmati smells similar to their white variety and has the best taste of any brown rice I have eaten thus far.  I wont give you all a recipe because it depends on what amount you will be cooking and the instructions is on the package, but I will leave you with a few tips:

- You may need to add additional water to the pot to get your desired texture, only add in 1/4 cup intervals
- Keep your stove low after your initial boiling, boiling it straight through will result in a gooey texture
- add in bouillon cubes, olive oil, grapeseed oil, garlic, onions, thyme, and any variation of aromatics you like to enhance the flavor but keep an eye on the salt your adding in( I use rapunzel no salt Bouillin cubes from whole foods) 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mango Salsa

Sometimes in the winter you need a tropical escape, and since not all of us can book an ocean view cabin on a Carnival cruise ship on a whim maybe something tropically delicious can suffice. My mango salsa is usually a treat that I only make for Christmas as a dressing for fried fish but it was so popular this year that I decided to write a post on it to share with everyone. This salsa can be made any number of ways with any kind of fruit that's in season or you could even create your own combo of vegetables. My family also uses it as a dressing for salad in lieu of traditional salad dressing. This is one of the easiest, tastiest things anyone could make. I think this can be a great recipe addition to any healthy new years resolution eating plan. From my home to yours...Enjoy!

Mango Salsa

1 mango (just ripened), cut small dice
3 tomatoes, peeled and cut small dice
1 red onion, cut small dice
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
3 bell peppers, small dice
juice of one lemon or lime
2 Tbsp grapeseed or canola oil

- Place large saute pan under medium heat and when hot add in oil.
- When oil shimmers place garlic and onion in the pan and simmer until onion is no longer opaque.
- Now add in peppers and saute for 2 minutes.
- Immediately add in tomatoes and saute for another 1-2 minutes,  finally add in mangoes and lemon juice.
- Finish with salt and pepper.

Barley Oat Pancakes wit Apples in Caramel Rum Sauce

So its January and that means everyone is 7 days into their new years resolutions. The number one resolution amongst Americans is always to "Lose Weight!" I guess that's explains why the gym is packed like money was giving away in there and it also explains why every other advertisement on television is for some form of diet product. In an effort to aid my own fitness efforts I will try to post more diet friendly recipes. While doing some shopping in Whole Foods the other day I wandered into the baking aisle( I know I cant help myself) and came across some barley flour from Arrowhead Mills and it had a recipe for barley oat pancakes. I was shopping for healthier eating options and i thought this would be a great way to make traditional pancakes a little better for you. I picked up the ingredients I would need to make it and headed out the aisle. Yesterday I tried out the recipe on the back but I must say that I cheated a bit and used buttermilk instead of regular milk because I had  extra from Christmas that I didn't want to go bad and throw out, It gave the pancakes a thick fluffy texture and a slight tang. I will post the given recipe on the blog but I'm sure you can use whatever milk you like such as soy or almond milk. Ok so now on to pancake when my first taster (my sis) took a bite she wasn't fond of my new healthy option...gosh its so hard pleasing a pancake purist! My sister suggested I add something to make it more appealing. I didn't have anything other then pancake syrup to dress it with but then I remembered a apple was sitting in the fridge and I had an "Ah Ha" moment and that's when I said I would pair it with apples in a caramel rum sauce.  Caramelizing fruit is something quick and easy to do and can dress up pancakes, french toast, or any breakfast food.  I was also excited to be using the REAL cinnamon that my mom bought back from a recent trip to Trinidad and Tobago(we all know that the widely available cinnamon in most stores is not real cinnamon but a cheap Asian variation that's no where as good as the real thing). Well I could "blah, blah, blah" about these delicious pancakes for hours but its better if I have someone to discuss it with so without further ado here is the recipe so that you all can try it out and we can talk later.

Barley Oat Pancakes
makes 1 serving of double stack pancakes
1/2 cup Arrowhead Mills barley flour
1/2 Arrowhead Mills cup oat flour
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

- Heat Oven to 200 degrees and line a small pan with a sheet of parchment paper
- Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until combined
- Cook on lightly oiled medium heat skillet, turning once when edges begin to dry and bubbles form on the surface. This recipe can also be placed in a waffle iron and cooked according to manufacturers directions.
- Place finished pancakes on baking sheet and allow to stay warm while you start to caramelize apples.

Apples in Caramel Rum Sauce
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into half inch segments ( I used granny smith)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cinnamon
1 tsp amaretto
1 tbsp rum

- Heat a sauté pan under medium high heat and add butter
- When butter is melted add apples to the pot and and coat with butter
- Add in sugar and cook apples until fork tender
- Sprinkle lemon zest and cinnamon over apples, mix in
- Finish with amaretto and rum, cook one minute more or until thickened
- Turn off and serve on top of the pancakes.

Food Photography and Weekday Lasagna

I really love that food photography amongst the foodie blogs are up there with the likes of fashion photography(at least in my head).  Most of the blogs I follow post amazingly tempting photos of the dishes that they prepare and even if its something that I don't eat..the photo alone opens my appetite. The photos on these blogs are usually taken with a DSLR camera and other high tech equipment that I simply cannot afford right now. I always loved photography but an expensive camera isn't in view for me right now unless Aladdin and his genie makes a pit stop at my house. I have already scoped out a camera that I think would be well suited for me(the Nikon D3100) and hope to be able to buy it sometime this year and take a photography class just to get my feet wet with professional photography...Until then its just my old canon point and shoot or my cellphone camera. I try my best to make the most of it by taking photos in natural light and using some background props and so far the response has been great so I guess I'm doing something right. So I'm hoping my readers will bear with me until the upgrade happens.
Thanks so all are a swell bunch :)

Hey hey hey, that doesn't mean I wont leave you without a recipe today. The catch is that It has no photo but that doesn't mean its anything less than delicious. The recipe is for a quick yummy no meat lasagna. I don't really make lasagna but I wanted to experiment by using some marscapone cheese that was getting ready to expire soon. Marscapone in appearance is similar to cream cheese but in taste its like cream cheeses cousin that lives in the Hampton's and flies by private jet. Marcapone should be available in the specialty section of your dairy isle but I bought mine from my local Trader Joe's.
When it comes to lasagna I'm use to my sisters richer version of spinach lasagna that is so rich it gives you "the itis." I wanted something lighter and quicker for everyday and this recipe hit the spot. It had great texture and mouth is watering just thinking about it.  I hope you all decide to try it out..its superb!

Weekday Lasagna
half pack or 16 noodles of lasagna, boiled
32oz(1 1/2 bottles) marinara pasta sauce
16oz ricotta cheese
8oz marscapone cheese
16oz mozzarella cheese, grated

-  Spray a rectangular casserole dish( I used 14x9) with cooking spray and put a light layer of pasta sauce on the bottom. Also bring oven to 380 degrees.
- In medium bowl mix mozzarella with marscapone cheese, the mix will be clumpy its fine.
- Layer casserole dish with four pasta noodles and spread a layer of ricotta over them. Scatter the several clumps of the mozzarella cheese on top and then finish with a layer of pasta sauce. Repeat this step two more times.
- For the last layer of noodles just remaining pasta sauce and cheese mixture on top. If you have grated Parmesan on hand that can also be spread on top.
- Place lasagna in oven and bake until browned on top about 30 minutes.