Making Zucchini Less Meh- Zucchini “Blooms” with Caramelized Red Onion and Goat Cheese

Zucchini you could bring home to mom!

Zucchini you could bring home to mom!

Zucchini is usually a filler vegetable that takes on the personality of whatever you season it with- kind of like a boring friend who always mimics the likes of the group- you don’t love them but they never cause any problems, so why not invite them to the party?

But here’s something to love about about zucchini: it’s super low-calorie and flexible. Literally, flexible. Inspired by a zucchini roll-ups, I set out to make a healthy side dish to a spring holiday feast- that still looked presentable.

Zucchini "ribbons"

Zucchini “ribbons”

A few things I learned along the way: a) This is a labor of love. It took a while… b) in this recipe don’t salt zucchini until it’s been cooked. Zucchini is 95% water and salt turns the zucchini ribbons to complete mush c) the surface area of the baking dish you’re trying to fill with blooms should be no more than 70 square inches. The vessel I used in the picture is 6 x 10″- which made about 6-8 little zucchini buds per person.

Serves 5

  • 1 Red Onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 C Water, plus 1/4 C Water
  • 2-3 oz Goat Cheese
  • 1.5- 2lbs Zucchini (about 6 medium zucchini)
  • Olive Oil Cooking Spray
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.) In a Teflon pan put the sliced red onion with 1/2 C water and heat to medium. Cook until all the water has evaporated and the onions have cooked through- about 10 minutes. Spray a few times with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to medium low, then add remaining 1/4 C water. Keep your eye on the onions as they begin to caramelize. When they start to brown, take pan off heat and add the goat cheese to the hot pan, stirring to create a homogenous mixture. Put in a bowl and set aside to cool.

2.) Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Using cooking spray, coat a 6 x 10″ baking dish.

3.) Wash zucchini and cut off tops and ends. Using a vegetable peeler (I prefer pull-peelers for this), shave all of the zucchini into long ribbons lengthwise. Reserve in a bowl.

4.) Put 1 tsp or less of goat cheese and onion mixture on a ribbon of zucchini. Roll the zucchini around the mixture, then add more strands of zucchini and keep rolling until it makes a “bloom.” Each “bloom” takes  4 to 6 ribbons of zucchini at least. Nestle each one into the dish and rinse repeat. And maybe watch a movie. Or sucker a child into thinking it’s the funnest thing ever and leave them to it. Try to pack them in there because they shrink a bit when cooked.

5.) Once your baking dish is full, spray the top with cooking spray and cook for 1 hour.

6.) After it’s out of the oven, sprinkle with salt and pepper on the top. Yum!

Calories: 99  – Fat : 5 grams –  Carbs: 9 grams – Fiber: 2.5 grams – Protein: 6 grams – PP: 3

You either get faster at making the bloom thingees, or you begin to care less...

You either get faster at making the bloom thingees, or you begin to care less…

In A Pickle

Pickles can be pretty, too!

Pickles can be pretty, too!

I wish getting back into healthy living/weight loss was a 100% empowering moment. It’s a good moment- don’t get me wrong- but it’s not 100% empowering, especially if you’re someone like me. This is a marathon I’ve signed-up for a dozen times. Thus far, each time found me a) falling to the asphalt, grabbing my ankle, and limping off to the sidelines (less common), or b) starting the race strong, but being completely distracted by a taco cart on the sidelines of the race… mmmm… delicious tacos… and before I’m done licking Tapatio off my fingers I’ve completely forgotten I was supposed to be running a race (far, far more common). When I start this anew I feel like I have to acknowledge that this is something I’m an expert at failing at. And it’s totally killing my Xena-like war cry. So I’m not gonna right now.

So yeah. I haven’t updated in a while. But I’m back. Now let’s make pickles.

These quick house pickles are delish- even for people who don’t generally like pickles in a jar. It’s a great way to enjoy veggies without a dip or squirt of ranch dressing. Recently I entertained and made a platter of heirloom carrots, french green beans, red onion, and Persian cucumber pickles. It looked very chic and took almost no effort. There were no leftovers, but the pickled onions would have been fantastic on a sandwich or a turkey burger.

For the Stuffs:

  • 1- 1 1/2 lb of veggies. This can include almost anything. Carrots, onions, green beans, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccolini, asparagus, zucchini. Run Wild!

For the Brine:

  • 1 1/4 C Cider Vinegar
  • 1 C Hot Water
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/3 C Sugar or 1/2 C Agave Nectar
  • 2 TBsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 TBsp Whole Peppercorns, give them a good smashing
  • 1-7 Cloves Garlic, Chopped (I love garlic so I used a lot)
  • 1 Bay Leaf

1.) Dissolve the Sugar or Agave into the hot water. Add the peppercorns, bay, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and cider vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

2.) Cut/trip your veggies so they’re uniform in size. If using carrots, green beans, cauliflower, broccolini, or asparagus, blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. This really helps get a nice texture and color.

3.) Pack your veggies tightly into your pickling containers of choice (I used several tupperware containers) and pour the cold brine over them. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Serving size is 1 Cup.

Eat within a week. These are not the kind of pickles that hang out in your fridge for an eternity! 1 week tops!

Calories: 60  – Fat : 0 grams –  Carbs: 15 – Fiber: 4 grams – Protein: 1 grams

(Nutrition info given for pickled carrots)

Steamed Artichoke Hearts with Lemon Chive Dipping Sauce

The antioxidant capacity for the artichoke is one of the highest reported for vegetables. Good stuff!

When I was a kid artichokes were served with one condiment, and one condiment only: Mayonnaise. Then I became a teenager and was too good for mayo. Mayo was gross. Why did my mom ever feed me mayo?!

On my Weight Watchers stint of 2006, a friend reintroduced me to the allures of artichokes as we were both counting calories and budgets. They were cheap in spring, since California produces about 100% of the US crop of artichokes we could wrangle them at Trader Joe’s for a dollar a piece. My friend would stuff their leaves with copious amounts of garlic, boil them, and then we’d dip them in spiced light butter and “ooh and ahh” like a pair of cooing Gollums. Oh artichokes, we will never be apart again!

Then Julie and Julia came out and I discovered Hollandaise sauce. I had never had Hollandaise sauce before (I’ve also never had eggs benedict. I know this is culinary sacrilege, but poached eggs kinda creep me out) but after seeing Amy Adams dip an olive-y petal into the stuff I vowed to try it. Hollandaise was dreamy and frothy buttery goodness- but oh so, so bad for you. Like someone said, “Hey, let’s take a stick of butter and add more cholesterol to it!”

So now I’ve endeavored to find a new condiment, a new yin to the artichoke yang.

This recipe serves four people. Each person gets their own artichoke- it’s artichoke law, because everyone should have a tender artichoke heart of their very own. I’ve used regular sour cream here. You could theoretically sub in a lower fat sour cream, but don’t. You’re already a hero for not using butter, no need to martyr yourself. When buying artichokes, look for ones with green leaves that are tightly packed and feel heavy. Her majesty Julia Child said, “Very fresh artichokes will talk to you when you squeeze the head- squeaky fresh, in other words.”

  • 4 medium sized artichokes
  • 1 C sour cream
  • 5-7 cloves garlic roughly chopped (be bold! The sour cream will dampen the garlic)
  • 2 TBsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 C chopped chives
  • 1 TBsp champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

1. Steam your artichokes until tender. I put mine in a large pot stem side up, add about two inches of lightly salted water at the bottom, and put over medium heat for about 40 minutes, or until you can easily pierce where the stem meets the bloom with a fork. After cooked, set them aside to cool a bit.

2. In a food processor add the lemon juice, chives, vinegar, salt, honey, and pepper. Process and put into a bowl (it will look similar to a pesto). Add the sour cream and stir in. I like portioning the dip into individual little ramekins.

Calories: 198  – Fat : 12 grams –  Carbs: 19.6 – Fiber: 5.2 grams – Protein: 7.2 grams

Note: Calories were calculated assuming everybody eats their entire portion of dipping sauce, which is unlikely. This dip would also make a good condiment to a crudites platter.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Cilantro Pesto

Yummmmm. It looks and tastes too good to be healthy. Beware of midnight munching on this…

I’ve found that as long as I manage the oil used, I can save a lot of calories by consuming Asian noodle dishes versus Italian because they tend to include a lot of vegetables and never call for butter and cheese. And let’s face it, Italian pastas taste better with butter and cheese.

My father is Japanese, and my mother is a German hailing from the Midwest. Only as an adult do I really have an appreciation for the many dishes my mother learned to cook to suit my dad’s Japanese tastes. This recipe was inspired by a dish my Mom used to cook for New Years. You can make this a day ahead as a wonderful side-dish or you can add chicken and make it the main event. As a side dish, this easily serves 6. The leftovers are almost better than eating it fresh!

For the salad:

  • One 9 oz package of buckwheat soba noodles (or 3 little “bundles”)
  • 3 medium bell peppers sliced thin, it’s prettier if they’re different colors
  • 8 oz fresh sugar snap peas
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar

For the Cilantro Pesto:

  • 1 1/2 bunches cilantro
  • 3 scallions
  • 3 Serrano chiles
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 TBsp rice vinegar
  • 1 TBsp honey
  • 1 TBsp peanut butter
  • 2 TBsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 TBsp water
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (NOT table salt)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

1.) Start with the Pesto: If you want this dish mild, de-seed and de-vein all three Serrano chiles, the more seeds the hotter it gets. Roughly chop the chiles, scallions, cilantro, and garlic. Place in food processor with vinegar, honey, peanut butter, sesame oil, water, salt, and pepper. Blend thoroughly and check for taste.

Just dump everything into a processor, push a button, then feel like you accomplished a lot today!

2.) For the salad: In a large bowl, add the thinly sliced onion with the 1 tsp rice vinegar and toss to coat. After 5 minutes add the sliced bell peppers, sugar snap peas, and chopped cilantro. Boil water in a large pot and prepare soba noodles according to instructions (It usually takes less than 5 minutes for al dente). Do not overcook buckwheat noodles- they quickly turn gummy and fragile. Drain noodles and rinse with cold water. Drain again and add to the bowl with all the veggies.

3.) With everything in the large bowl, immediately top the noodles with the cilantro pesto and gently toss until all of the noodles and vegetables are evenly coated.

Calories: 272  – Fat : 7.4 grams –  Carbs: 44 – Fiber: 5.2 grams – Protein: 9.2 grams

Roasted Asparagus with Meyer Lemon

Oh Asparagus. Bright and delicious. We forgive you for making our pee smell weird.

Ever since Alice Waters got on the Meyer Lemon bandwagon you can find them everywhere from your hand soap to your frozen yogurt. I’d like to say I fly above food trends, but I’m as guilty as the next foodie. May is the last month when Meyer Lemons are in season, and I don’t feel as guilty splurging on them.  I love how their bright lemon-y goodness is somehow more round and sweet than the conventional lemons.

Since I love all things creamy and savory, I used to forget to consider balancing acid into what I cook. Acid was for salads, and perhaps afterthought garnish for fish. Not so when you’re cooking healthy. Since I’ve begun limiting fat as a vehicle for flavor I’ve turned to acids to add a nice bright punch. It’s not the comforting “eerrrrmmmmhhhh…!”  feel you get from cheese and butter, but it’s more of a “ShakahkAH!” And in this simple asparagus recipe meyer lemon juice is a perfect accent. So yummy and quick!

  • 2 lbs asparagus (medium thickness preferred)
  • 1/2 C very thinly sliced onion
  • 1 meyer lemon
  • 1 TBsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh black ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 and position a rack towards the top.

Line a sheet pan with foil. Cut the bottom third of the asparagus stems off and place on prepped pan with the onion. Drizzle olive oil over the asparagus and onion with salt and pepper, and toss  or massage to coat evenly. Spread into a single layer and put into the oven for 8-10 minutes, making sure to shake the pan halfway through cooking. Keep an eye on it, the asparagus should be bright green and fork tender, but perfectly cooked can quickly cascade into stringy olive-colored mush.

After the Asparagus is nicely roasted, place on a dish and drizzle meyer lemon juice on top. Delicious!

Serves Four

Calories: 81  – Fat : 3.7 grams –  Carbs: 10 – Fiber: 5 grams – Protein: 5.2 grams

Broccoli Slaw

Image

Inspired by a Good Eats episode, I set out to make a healthier Broccoli Slaw! They sell a great broccoli salad in Whole foods but it’s plastered in Mayo. This uses raw broccoli that has been sliced thinly (less than 1/4″) at a diagonal. You could use a mandolin but I sliced mine by hand. I also added a good hit of chili flakes to give it a nice heat. They say spicy foods up your metabolism after a meal, but it’s probably just a bunch of hooey. Besides, who needs a metabolic reason to make something spicy?!

This has an Asian slant to it, and although I use a little honey and sugar you could theoretically substitute Splenda ( I just feel weird whisking powdered sweetener into a dressing. It just seems wrong).

Salad:

  • 1 lb Broccoli, sliced thin at a diagonal (’cause it’s prettier that way).
  • 1/2 C Red onion sliced very thin
  • 1 C Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1/4-3/4 C Roasted Cashews or Peanuts chopped (depending on how caloric you’re willing to go)

Dressing:

  • 2 TB Fresh Orange Juice
  • 1 tsp Fresh Orange zest
  • 1 TB Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 TB Honey
  • 1 TB Sugar
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 tsp Mustard
  • 1 TB Olive Oil
  • 1 TB Dark Sesame Seed Oil
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Red Hot Chili Flakes to taste

Prep all of your veggies but keep them separate. Prepare the dressing, adding the oils last. Whisk vigorously to combine. Add red onion to the dressing and let sit for 5 minutes.

Combine the broccoli, tomatoes, and nuts with the dressing. Toss to coat the broccoli well, then let it rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but preferably 3. It has to marinate a while so the salt can work on the Broccoli and give it a nice, manageable texture. Take out of the fridge at least 15 minutes ahead of time to let it come to room temperature before serving.

NOTE: DO NOT sub a bag of “Broccoli Slaw” stems for your own sliced broccoli in this recipe. This dressing wilt the little shreds until it’s an awkward texture.

Calories: 128  – Fat : 8 grams –  Carbs: 13 – Fiber: 2.5 grams – Protein: 3.5 grams

Garlic Brocoli with Sharp Cheddar

Apologies for the iPhone pic- but you can detect the hint of cheesiness lurking underneath 😉

Like most kids, I hated broccoli growing up. I remember watching Velveeta commercials when I was little, and seeing electric orange goo slather in ribbons over broccoli. Then the people in the commercial would eat the broccoli by the forkfuls, as though it wasn’t disgusting. My kiddie palate imagined Velveeta was an Excalibur of cheesy flavor that would slay all the icky bitterness of vegetables far and wide. Why oh why wouldn’t my mom buy this miracle cheese?!

She was right not to, of course, because Velveeta is quite gross. But my instincts at least were correct. Even though I like broccoli now, cheese still improves on it’s flavor. And since I can’t eat a lot of cheese anymore, I better make all that cheese count. Sharp and strong-flavored cheeses make every scant ounce pack a bigger punch. Buy a nice aged full-fat kind- It’s covering a lot of broccoli.

  • 3 Cups Broccoli florets
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 oz Sharp Cheddar, grated
  • 1/4 C Onion sliced thin
  • 1/4 C Water
  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

1.) Coat medium sized saucepan with cooking spray (make sure you have a lid handy for the saucepan, bonus if it’s a transparent lid). On medium low heat, saute onion until just turning translucent- About 4 minutes.

2.) Add water, salt, and garlic and cover until you see the mixture begin to simmer. Add all the broccoli and cover again. Once every minute use thongs to toss the broccoli in the saucepan to prevent the broccoli on the bottom from overcooking. Re-cover with lid after each stir until the broccoli is just cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Florets should be bright green and you should be able to pierce the thickest stems with a fork.

3.) Uncover saucepan and take off the heat. Quickly sprinkle grated cheddar over broccoli and toss broccoli to coat. Grind pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Serves 4

Calories: 87 – Fat: 5 grams – Carb: 4 grams – Fiber: 2 grams – Protein: 4.5 grams

Veggie Egg White Omelets and Breakfast Stratege-ery

I recognize that a recipe for an egg white omelet is kind of lame. Almost everybody knows how to make an omelet, but it’s my first posted recipe. I’m on training wheels :).

Start your morning right, and set yourself up for a week of sauteed veggies!

Egg white omelets are a filling way to start and end the day. I saute a big batch of veggies and only use 1/4 for my single omelet. The rest of the sautéed vegetables I save for easy omelets later in the  week, or even salads, sandwiches, or an easy side-dish. Just about any mix of veggies will do, just try to cut them all in a similar shape/size so they cook in the same time.

  • 4 Cups sliced veggies. (I used red onion, carrot, and bell pepper)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh herbs. (I used cilantro)
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 Tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 oz Reduced fat Cheese, grated (I used a cheddar/jack combo)
  • pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Olive oil cooking spray

1.) Slice up your veggies and set them aside in a bowl. Toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Use your hands to massage the oil and salt into the veggie mixture. This seasons every little slice, helps pull out water more quickly from the vegetables, and stretches the relatively small amount oil. The result: quicker cooking and a more luscious ‘mouth feel’.

2.) Heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add the coated veggies and saute just until tender. Throw the fresh herbs in and then return sautéed vegetables back to the bowl. Carefully wipe down the pan and put back on medium heat. Coat with olive oil cooking spray.

3.) When pan is hot, add egg whites. When egg whites are almost cooked-through, add cheese and 1/4 the sautéed veggie mixture to one side of the pan. Flip egg whites over top to create the typical omelet semicircle shape. Sprinkle salt to taste. Serve on a warm plate with Tapatio!

Serves 1