Category Archives: healthy

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip

 

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip on French bread slices

 

Vegetables. There’s something so terrible about them when you’re young, and something fearfully boring about them when you’re older. But add the word “roasted” to any veggie, or to any food at all really, and your brain just perks up immediately. Roasted vegetables have a rustic sophistication that conjures thoughts of that warm smoky aroma with the velvety lusciousness and richness of the texture that sets them completely apart from their un-roasted counterparts. If I could eat all of my vegetables roasted, aside from perhaps leafy greens and cucumbers for a salad, I think life would be just wonderful. Let’s not gloss over the fact that roasting vegetables could be one of the easiest, healthiest, and most bang-for-your-buck ways of preparing vegetables. Add the phrase “roasted [vegetable of choice]” to any dinner menu and it instantly kicks up the classiness of the dish by a factor of 3, which suddenly makes roasted vegetables any dinner host or hostess’ new best friend.

My friend was having a birthday potluck a couple months ago, and I was thinking about what I could bring that would be quick and easy to put together for a group of 20 people yet still be unique and delicious. I had just read about an appetizer on Serious Eats (one of those websites that I must visit at least once a day to feel complete), which was called “eggplant caviar“. It intrigued me, and sounded so simple. “Caviar”, I thought, “now that sounds classy!” But… how exactly does one get eggplant to taste like caviar? I mean one is a mild flavored vegetable that is soft when cooked right, and one is… small flecks of saltiness. I read the recipe, and decided that it really didn’t sound like it would be in any way similar to caviar, but it did give me the idea to make a dip based on roasted eggplant. I could envision the seasoned smooth pulp of a roasted eggplant being just the right consistency for spreading on crackers and slices of French bread. But how to make it more indulgent? Well, with garlic of course. And since I have been singing the praises of roasted vegetables, it shouldn’t surprise you that I decided to pair the roasted eggplant with roasted garlic, oh the roasted garlic that makes me weak in the knees! The best part? The recipe is still easy as pie. No, easier than pie by a lot, and I will show you how to roast a head of garlic anytime, with no effort at all. Wait no, maybe the best part is that it’s dip made from roasted vegetables and so isn’t bad for you. Or maybe the best part is that the ingredients cost all of $3 to feed 20 people. Or that when you run of out bread and crackers to spread it on, you can just eat it straight up. Or, or, or…oh hell, just try it :)

 

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip with French bread

 



Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Dip (serves 20)

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium globe eggplants (approx 2 lbs total)
  • 2 large heads of garlic, roasted (see below for how to roast garlic)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flakes

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the eggplants in half length-wise and rub the flesh with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

2. Place the eggplant halves with the cut side down in a large baking pan, and bake, together with the garlic (see below for preparation) for approx 45 minutes until the flesh is very soft. A knife should slip easily into the tough stem of the eggplant when they are ready.

 

Eggplant after roasting

 

3. Remove from oven and allow to cool until it can be handled. Spoon out the flesh from the eggplant halves, and place in a large bowl. Using a fork, stir and mash the eggplant flesh until it is a smooth puree.

4. Mash the roasted garlic on the side, and combine with mashed eggplant.

 

Mashed roasted garlic

 

5. Stir in 2 tbsp of olive oil, and season as desired with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. For a richer taste and texture, you can add more olive oil as needed.

 

Roasted eggplant and garlic dip

 

6. Garnish with basil and serve with freshly sliced French bread or crackers. Can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or chilled.



How to Roast a Head of Garlic

What you need:

  • 1 large head of regular garlic (not the elephant kind)
  • olive oil
  • aluminum foil
  • Optional: muffin pan, if roasting multiple heads of garlic

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel away most of the dry layers from the outside of the head of garlic.

2. Chop off the top of the garlic, such that you expose the flesh of the cloves. You may miss some of the shorter cloves, so you can break their tops open with your fingers.

3. Wrap garlic with aluminum foil, leaving the ends to meet at the top. Drizzle the top of the garlic generously with olive oil (approx 1 1/2 tbsp per head of garlic).

 

Garlic prepped for roasting

 

4. Seal the aluminum foil at the top and place in a slot of a muffin pan if using one. Otherwise, just place the wrapped garlic with the opening facing up (of course) into the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The garlic will look nicely caramelized and smell amazing.

 

Roasted head of garlic

 

5. Remove and cool slightly before peeling at the garlic and using a small fork to pick out the garlic cloves. The cloves should be soft and have a nice golden-brown color on the outside. You can mash them or use them whole in cooking as desired. So easy!

 

Roasted cloves of garlic

 


Lightened up sour cream pound cake

Catching up on a few things first that I made before my trip to China… I never realized how difficult it would be to get back into blogging once you've taken a long break heh. That plus the fact that using dialup internet to upload food photos is just a pain!

I've always found homemade pound cakes to be incredibly delicious in a way that no store-bought equivalent could match. And it was those rare moments of delight, when a co-worker or friend brought in a homemade pound cake that made me want to try my own hand at it. I have heard great things about the use of sour cream in pound cakes, so I went in search of a simple sour cream pound cake recipe. I was looking for a classic, somewhat dense cake that was moist not but greasy, and rich in that buttery vanilla flavor so typical of pound cake. Of course, the recipes I encountered all seemed a bit on the scary side in terms of the amount of butter, sugar, and eggs that were used, so I tried to find a compromise between taste and healthiness.

By cutting the butter and sugar, and boosting moistness with extra sour cream, I found the results to be a much less guilty deliciousness :) The texture of the cake was a little lighter than regular pound cake, sort of like a combination of pound cake and angel food cake, yet it was still very moist. But it was the rich vanilla butter flavor that remained that pulled everything together for a satisfying experience. I put together an effortless apricot glaze to go with the pound cake, but I actually found it to be most delicious eaten alone, especially when fresh out of the oven, when the outer crust has a light crunchiness, yielding to a warm and soft melt-in-your-mouth cake inside. Oh, it's making my mouth water just to describe it. The cake is still great after it has cooled off, though you want to keep it sealed to retain the moisture, which thus softens the crust. So choose your own adventure… or have it both ways!

Sour Cream Pound Cake                (Makes one loaf in a 6 inch tube pan: serves 6-8)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream (use fat-free sour cream for less calories, may also substitute with plain or vanilla yogurt)

Directions:
1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 6 inch tube pan.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and smooth, about 7 minutes. Beat in eggs one a a time, mixing for a minute after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

3. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into creamed mixture just until smooth. Gently fold in sour cream. Spread batter into baking pan.

4. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes in oven. A toothpick poked into the cake should come out mostly clean. Remove from oven and cool cake in the pan for 10 minutes, before inverting gently onto a cooling rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving if desired. Optionally, make an easy fruit glaze by stirring some fruit preserves with water to reach a glaze consistency, and spoon over slices of pound cake to serve.


Chili-topped garlic cheese grits

Story time! So I'm feeling under the weather this weekend. I thought I was getting another wave of allergies, but then my throat started to feel sore, and pretty soon I was feeling weak and mildly feverish. I realized that I must have a cold of some sort. Since I had slept my way through most of Friday night, I woke up at around midnight thinking about what I could make for a late late dinner / snack that wouldn't drain me of all my energy.

The fridge is mostly empty since I haven't gone grocery shopping in a while. But in my cupboard I had an unopened bag of fine ground corn meal that I bought back when I was getting my wisdom tooth out and thinking of making grits. Well I never did get around to using it, and now grits sounded pretty good to me. Looking online for some good recipes, I noticed that most of them were savory grits, with cheese, gravy, sausage, etc. Unfortunately for me, my fridge was so empty that I didn't even have the usual milk that goes into grits. I did, however, have a single slice of American cheese and a little bit of spam. I discussed the prospect of making spam grits with my boyfriend, who thought it sounded gross and could not find a single recipe for it online. I personally thought I could invent a really cool spam grits dish, but alas, when I went to prepare it, I noticed that my spam was spoiled. Great.

So by this point I was starving to death and really annoyed that I had water boiling for my grits, but nothing to put in it. Finally, I decided that I would make a light grits with garlic and that one slice of cheese, and eat it topped with canned chili, which would provide most of the flavor. I guess in that sense it sort of takes on the role of polenta haha. So let me tell you, this was an exercise in persistence. When my water was at a full boil, I poured in all the corn meal I was going to use, at once, before reaching for tongs to stir with. Bad idea. That corn meal puffed up in a matter of seconds, absorbing all the water and forming these giant clumps with dry corn meal still in the middle. No matter how hard I stirred it and added water to thin it out, the messy clump in the pot was just not edible. So down the garbage disposal it went…

The second time I got smarter and turned down the heat before slowly adding the corn meal while stirring, and everything came out just fine – it was nice and smooth, with no clumps. Plus, my favorite part is that using finely ground corn meal shortened the cooking time dramatically. I was done in just 10 minutes! Now that's a good fast meal I could handle any day :) It's also relatively healthy too, since I don't use any milk or cream for the grits, and the chili is quite good for you with all its beans. I used canned chili here for convenience, but I'm sure it would be even better with home-made chili, if you have the patience that is!

Chili-topped Garlic Cheese Grits       (serves 2)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup finely ground corn meal (it's like a powder rather than little gritty pieces)
2 cups water
1 slice American cheese
1 pat salted butter
onion powder, garlic powder, and salt to taste
canned chili
chopped raw onion for garnish

Directions:
1. Bring 2 cups water to boil in a small pot. Reduce heat to low.

2. Slowly add the corn meal to the water, while stirring constantly with a whisk to avoid lumps.

3. Cook on low for about 7-10 minutes, stirring often, and adding water as necessary to thin out the grits to your desired consistency (I prefer mine to be on the creamy, lightly viscous side). They absorb a lot of water so I think I added maybe an extra cup's worth of water before I reached a nice consistency. Season with onion powder, garlic powder, and salt to taste.

4. When grits is finished cooking, stir in a pat of butter and the slice of cheese, torn to pieces, stirring until melted and incorporated. Serve immediately, topped with warm canned chili and garnished with freshly chopped onions if desired.


Bread pudding with Apples and Bailey’s

Last Friday, for the second time in my life, I had the pleasure of trying bread pudding. We were having the usual free Friday lunch at my workplace, and the dessert options are usually fruit or cookies. Well last week the cafeteria decided to give us bread pudding as a special treat, how nice! I was a bit skeptical at first, because it looked a lot like stuffing… but after my first bite I was completely hooked and my first thought was that I must learn to make my own bread pudding! Like no other dessert I've tried before, bread pudding has a mild creamy flavor that simply melts on your tongue, and a unique soft, chewy texture that isn't at all like eating bread. The bread pudding I had that day also had some blueberries baked in, which gave the pudding a wonderful fruity sweetness, since the pudding itself is not too sweet. Just heavenly – my kind of comfort food!

So this weekend I finally went grocery shopping and restocked my fridge (which is why there haven't been any updates this past week… I didn't feel like making more eggless and butterless baked goods). Being a frugal student, I always check the clearance racks at the supermarket, just in case there's anything useful to me. This time I saw a huge loaf of sliced Italian bread on sale for just $1, because its sold-by date was that same day. Well no problem, I could just freeze the loaf and keep it for however long I want – what a steal! I wasn't actually thinking of the bread pudding when I bought the bread, but today the thought came to me and I was simply giddy with the idea that I had the perfect bread for bread pudding. The one thing I didn't have was berries or raisins, which are usually added to bread puddings, so I just used an apple instead. And it being St. Patty's Day weekend, I knew it was the perfect occasion to pull out that Bailey's Irish cream and add a little zing to my bread pudding. The stage was set!

While I was looking up bread pudding recipes, a realization dawned on me – these things aren't so good for you haha. Most recipes called for 4-6 eggs, several cups of milk and heavy cream, and lots of butter. I'm sure it makes for a fabulous bread pudding, but Mah's comment a little while back did remind me that maybe I could make a few modifications for a healthier bread pudding. And I'm proud to report that I did succeed in making a healthier version of bread pudding without sacrificing much at all :) My boyfriend, like the typical guy, was a bit wary of the notion that I'd be making healthy substitutions to a rich and creamy flavored dessert. But after taking a bite of the finished thing, he happily told me that it tasted creamy and custard-y. Success! The secret is in replacing eggs with applesauce, and using low fat milk instead of whole milk and heavy cream. Usually applesauce can be substituted for oil in muffins and breads, but it works great in this recipe in place of eggs because it is not necessary for providing leavening or structure. Of course, I didn't replace all of the eggs… that would probably result in a pretty awful pudding. So remember, no matter what you substitute, try not to get rid of all of it. I used that rule of thumb for my low-fat creme brulee, and it worked really well. Compromise means everyone is a winner right? Haha. Now I share with you how I tweaked the basic bread pudding recipe to get a tasty but not-as-bad-for-you bread pudding :)

Bread Pudding with Apples and Bailey's Irish Cream  (serves 4-6)        adapted from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients:
10 slices of Italian bread, or any bread of choice (I prefer a crusty bread)
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and diced
4 tbsp salted butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 cups milk (1%), scalded
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp Bailey's Irish cream
pinch of salt
brown sugar to top

Directions;
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9" diameter round pan, or equivalent square baking pan.

2. Cut bread slices into cubes (don't remove crust). Toss in melted butter, then mix in diced apples. Lay into baking pan.

3. Scald the milk by heating over medium heat until just starting to bubble at the edges (do not let boil!). Remove from heat immediately.

4. Beat together eggs, applesauce, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt. Slowly stir in milk. Add Bailey's Irish cream and mix well.

5. Slowly ladle the milk mixture over the bread cubes in the baking pan, making sure to coat all the bread. The liquid should come up to just short of the rim of the pan. Let bread soak in milk mixture for 10 minutes.

6. Sprinkle brown sugar over top and bake for 30 minutes, or until bread bounces back and liquid does not ooze out when pushed with a spoon. Serve warm or cooled, with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

Having tried the bread pudding both hot out of the oven and later when it had cooled off, I would say that I think I like the texture of the cooled pudding better. That's obviously a personal thing, since I like my bread pudding a bit chewier, whereas others might like it more soupy or soggy. The hot bread pudding certainly has more liquid in it, so it has more of a melt in your mouth, custard-like texture, which my boyfriend really liked. I thought the apples in the pudding were great – they complemented the cinnamon in the pudding, and added a nice little bit of soft crunch and sweetness.

Next time I would add more brown sugar to the top, since it made for a really great crunchy topping. I'd probably also double the Bailey's, since the flavor was subtle here. But I have to say, I couldn't tell at all that there had been applesauce substituting for most of the eggs in this recipe, and I think that the fact that it uses apple as a component hides the applesauce flavor very well. The bread was soft, the flavor was mild and creamy from the milk, and there was just the right amount of sweetness so as to not overwhelm the dessert. It was certainly great with some vanilla ice cream on the side… although I suppose that would negate the strides towards making this dessert somewhat healthy right? Happy eating! ;)


Oh la la… Creme Brulee

After falling head over heels for the first real creme brulee I've ever had in my life not too long ago, I decided that I would definitely have to take up the challenge of making it myself. People always talk about how creme brulee is a fancy French dessert that can cost a pretty penny at a restaurant and takes skill to make taste good, but after perusing the internet for recipes, I've discovered that making creme brulee is deceptively easy. And that made me very excited to make my own. Probably the hardest part of preparing to make creme brulee was actually getting my hands on a set of small ramekins, because I wanted to make sure that they baked up properly and looked nice. The ingredients were simple and few, and I had fun making a semi-healthy version of creme brulee that tasted identical to the full fat one. I hope you all try it sometime :)

Classic French Creme Brulee (semi-healthy, and serves 4)

Ingredients:
1/2 pint of heavy cream
1/2 pint of skim milk
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup egg substitute (I used Land O Lakes Egg Lovers, for which 1/2 cup is the equivalent of 2 eggs)
1 small pinch of salt
extra white sugar for the topping
4 ramekins (6 oz. size)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine cream and milk over medium heat until scalded (you will see small bubbles forming at the sides of the pan). Remove from heat.

3. In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, egg substitute, sugar, and salt. Temper in some of the hot cream and stir well before stirring mixture back into the hot cream. Tempering is a technique where you add a small amount of a hot liquid to a colder liquid before combining them, which works well to prevent things like raw eggs from cooking into a solid when it is mixed into a hot liquid. Make sure you remember to do it, because having egg lumps in your creme brulee will pretty much ruin the experience.

4. Stir in vanilla extract. If you want to use a vanilla bean instead, add it into the cream after you initially finish scalding it, to let the flavor release into the cream better. Just remember to strain it out before baking the creme brulee.

5. Arrange the four ramekins into a casserole dish (preferably glass, as it insulates best). Pour in boiling water using a tea kettle so that the water level reaches about 1 inch or so up the ramekins. I stopped when the water level reached the top of the outer ramekin vertical ridges.

6. Ladle in cream mixture into each ramekin until just about filled to the top. I had just enough for the 4 ramekins with maybe a few teaspoons excess. Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes or until just set. When you gently wobble the casserole dish you'll see the creme brulee tops jiggle but it will look like there is a thin film solidified on top. That's when you want to take it out!

7. Remove from oven, but leave ramekins in the waterbath to cool down to room temperature. The heat retained in the water will continue to cook the creme brulee, that's why you want to remove from the oven when it's still jiggly. After cooling, remove ramekins from water and wrap with foil or plastic wrap and put in fridge for at least 2 hours. Overnight is even better. The next morning they should look like this:

Don't worry that the tops aren't pretty and even, since you're going to caramelize sugar on top before serving it. Just don't let any hungry family members eat it in this state! Because my family did! I was so shocked when I woke up the next morning and saw an empty ramekin on the kitchen table (hence only 3 left in the picture). My parents were wondering what what heck it was and why it tasted not bad but not great either. They thought I was trying to make egg tarts or something. Creme brulee just don't taste like anything at all without the caramelized sugar top. Anyway, after you take them out of the fridge they should have firmed up, and may be a little wet on top from condensation if you put it into the fridge when it was still pretty warm. You can pat off some of that moisture carefully with a paper towel if there's too much.

8. Now to caramelize the tops! Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of white cane sugar on top of the creme brulees, to make a thin even layer. Then you have a choice of passing over them with a blow torch until the sugar on top becomes bubbly and browned or you can simply broil them about 6" from the heating element. I don't have a blow torch, so I went the broiler route, which took a while to caramelize the sugar on top and kept burning the rims of the creme brulees (because the heat goes into the ramekin and heats up the edges of the creme brulee the fastest). So I had to stop often before the centers were brown. But still, the sugar melts pretty quickly and bubbles, which is the most important part to forming a good crust on top.

9. Remove from broiler and let cool until the tops are hardened. Serve immediately.

Now, most people serve creme brulee that is cold, with just the tops warm from the caramelization. But broiling them took so long that my whole creme brulee warmed up and I thought that made the flavor and texture fabulous. It was smooth and velvety, the tops were crunchy and sweet with some caramelized sugar flavor, and the insides were creamy and luscious, with just the right amount of sweetness. They were so yummy, you couldn't even tell that half of it was lowfat ingredients. Mmmmm…

Just for your reference, this recipe should have about 340 calories per serving (per 6 oz. creme brulee). For comparison, the full fat recipe is about 570 calories per creme brulee, and the lowfat version has 110 calories per creme brulee. I literally compromised between the two types of recipes so that I could preserve the richness without clogging my arteries too badly…


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