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…

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Swimming in Judgement

Fun Fact: in my nighmare that's always mint chocolate chip...

Fun Fact: in my nightmare that’s always mint chocolate chip…

I live in Los Angeles, California- arguably the epicenter of vanity. As an overweight woman, there’s a thin layer of loathing that I sometimes feel from men in this city. “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be hot. Everybody here is supposed to be hot for my viewing pleasure.” Sometimes the guy giving me that look has bigger boobs than me.

When I topped 200 lbs one of my first paranoia-driven nightmares was that, while taking in the sights of the Venice Boardwalk or the 3rd Street Promenade, my ass would be featured as “camera-about-town” stock footage of the obesity epidemic.

You know how the segment goes:

  • 1.) A 90lb Anchorwoman declares a new study has found being fat is even worse than previously believed.
  • 2.) An Anchorman gasps, and both talk as if fat people (and not obesity) are, themselves, a contagious disease that is costly and unstoppable.
  • 3.) Cut to the fat-asses-walking-down-streets montage footage. With heads cropped out. Y’ah know. For their dignity.

In my worst nightmares the cameraman would catch me waddling around one of these tourist attractions EATING SOMETHING.

To onlookers, a smoker isn’t a smoker until she has a cigarette in her hand. An alcoholic isn’t an alcoholic until he’s stumbling out of the bar reeking of booze. The nose-picker isn’t a nose picker until his finger goes a-digging. But people don’t need to see you stuffing your face with a fistful of cake to know you’re overweight. Your vice is inescapably apparent and is open season for everyone’s judging enjoyment.

I’m especially wary of this kind of judgement as I start lap swimming. Do you want to know what courage is? It’s being obese in a bathing suit. In public. During daylight. But screw it! I’ve decided that the public’s interest in how I look in my bathing suit probably breaks down like this:

And we can't let the Jerkfaces win.

And we can’t let the Jerkfaces win.

So I’ll dive in and start swimming again. And maybe I’ll look forward to a time when a news story featuring stock footage of my ass won’t be about obesity, but about terribly unfashionable pants instead.

Red Lambrusco Ice Cream with Blackstrap Molasses

Wine and Chocolate. What’s not to love?

It’s a little early to celebrate, but I’ve done at least 45 minutes of exercise every day for the last week. I am sore. Very sore. But it’s an invisible battle wound that I’m proud of, and on Weight Watchers it gives me enough activity points for me to splurge on something wonderful: Lambrusco Ice Cream.

Lambrusco is the name of a wine grape, and also a sparkling dolce (sweet) wine that you can get at Trader Joes for $4.99 a bottle that is made from the grape. It comes in both white or red, and I’m a big fan of the red, it has about the same amount of alcohol as regular wine but is sweeter and with that nice bubbly kick. As I’m not much of a drinker (It tends to make me sick quickly), I often find myself with a half bottle of leftover wine that I don’t want to waste.

So I made it into an ice cream.

Ice cream is one of my favorite desserts, almost solely because it’s convenient. If I’m entertaining I can make it even a week ahead and come up with any flavor my little heart desires to compliment the meal, and I can easily portion it out. Also, it keeps for a long time in the freezer so it doesn’t have the visual siren call of cookies or pie, who seem to beg me to not let them go to waste. 🙂

Recently a good friend gave me an amazing book called “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home”, written by Jeni Britton Bauer. She has dedicated her life to ice cream, and in turn she has a dedicated following of ice cream lovers everywhere. Her book has many wonderful recipes I might attempt to lighten and post in the future, but almost all of them have their foundation in an ice cream “base” that she has perfected. Once you have this down, coming up with your own flavors is a snap.

I’ve tried to cut most of the sugar out of this but I will warn you that this recipe is not light on the fat. As long as you stick to the 1/2 C portion it’s well worth the calories. The blackstrap molasses is optional, but it gives it a great brown surgar-y flavor without adding very much to the calories.

  • 2 C Whole Milk
  • 1 1/4 C Heavy Cream
  • 1 1/2 oz Cream Cheese
  • 1/2 C Granulated Splenda, or 12 packets
  • 2 TBsp Blackstrap Molasses
  • 1 1/2 TBsp Light Corn Syrup
  • 1 slightly heaping TBsp Cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 to 2 C Lambrusco, or other sweetish read wine

1. Drink half a bottle of Lambrusco, or finish 1 and a half bottles with a few friends. Pour the wine in a small saucepan and put on medium heat. When it starts to boil vigorously reduce heat to medium low and simmer until reduced to a 1//4 C (it should be bubbling almost like caramel and thick).

2. Take the Lambrusco off the heat and pour the Lambrusco syrup into a large bowl. Add the cream cheese, corn syrup, vanilla, and molasses and whisk until smooth.

3. In a separate small bowl put 2 TBsp of the milk with the cornstarch and mix until smooth to make a slurry. Set aside.

4. Put the rest of the milk and cream into a saucepan on medium heat and bring to a boil for four minutes. Off the heat, add the cornstarch slurry and cook for another minute until slightly thickened. Then take off heat.

5. A little bit at a time, slowly add the hot milk to the cream cheese and syrup, whisking vigorously so there are no lumps in the cream cheese and the consistency is smooth. Add all of the milk in, then add the Splenda. Whisk.

6. Transfer mixture to a Ziploc bag and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or until you’re ready to run  the ice cream maker.

7. After refrigerated, cut a hole in the corner of the bag and pour into your ice cream maker. Churn, baby Churn!

This would be great with a dark chocolate sauce (like my 64 calorie chocolate sauce that goes with everything) or stewed spring cherries on top. Serving size is 1/2 C.

Calories: 186  – Fat :10.5 grams –  Carbs: 15 – Fiber: 3 grams – Protein: 3 grams

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.

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