Monday, January 31, 2011

Weather Wars

butternut squash pasta

My dad is a competitive person, especially when it comes to the weather in wintertime. He'll call me from Rhode Island and say, "What's the weather like in San Diego?"

I tell him what I always tell him: "Oh, it's the same. Sunny and 70s."

Then, invariably, he'll say something along the lines of, "Yeah, it's was beautiful today in Rhode Island too. It was 44 degrees. It was so warm I had to take my jacket off."

Poor guy. Doesn't he know he just can't win the weather war? Search "best weather in the world," and San Diego always makes the list, along with other celestial destinations such as The Canary Islands and Cabos San Lucas.

Consider this: In January 2011 Rhode Island earned the dubious distinction of "3rd Snowiest January in History." Their weather forecast today is "High of 25. Low of 11." San Diego's forecast today is "High of 64. Low of 49." Rhode Island is expecting snow on Tuesday and "ice pellets" on Wednesday. San Diego is expecting sunny skies and high 60s.

But he's my dad, and I feel bad. So I'm posting today's recipe for Butternut Squash Fettucine with him in mind. Sweet, roasted butternut squash, earthy sage and salty Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese get whipped into a creamy sauce that clings unabashedly to thick fettucine. It's the kind of dish that fills your belly and warms your body.

I can't make it warm in RI this week, but I hope this pasta fortifies him against those ice pellets on Wednesday.

Butternut Squash Fettucine
Makes 4 servings
Printable recipe.

1 medium butternut squash, about 1 1/2-2 pounds or about 4-5 cups cooked
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus some oil for brushing the squash before roasting
1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 cup whole milk or half n' half
2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage, or more if you really like sage
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoons salt
8 ounces fettucine or other thick pasta noodles

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and discard. Brush the flesh with a little olive oil. Roast for 35-45 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool for 10 minutes before scooping out the flesh. Discard the skins. Mash and stir the squash with a spoon.

2. In a large pot over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter. Add the shallot and saute about 5 minutes until browned and softened. Add the cooked squash and milk and stir well. Bring to a slight boil. Then lower the heat and add remaining ingredients through salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes, until sauce thickens.

3. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente or firm. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of the hot pasta water. Add the pasta to the squash mixture, stirring until well coated. In small increments, add hot pasta water to thin the sauce, until desired consistency is reached. Heat through about 2-3 minutes. Taste it and adjust seasonings as desired. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with grated cheese. Serve hot.

You might also enjoy these body-warming squash recipes:
Butternut Squash Risotto with Saffron recipe from My Baking Addiction
Butternut Squash and Bacon Risotto recipe from My Guilty Kitchen
Pasta with Butternut Parmesan Sauce recipe from Simply Recipes
Butternut Squash and Crab Bisque recipe from gimme some oven
Acorn Squash and Sage Brown Butter Spaghetti recipe from Dianasaur Recipes
Roasted Butternut Squash, Turkey, and Apple Pizza with Blue Cheese recipe from Food Blogga
Butternut Squash Risotto with Rosemary, Walnuts and Blue Cheese recipe from Food Blogga

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Keep Your New Year's Resolution to Lose Weight: Eat Turkey Burgers

healthy turkey burgers

It took me a long time to like turkey burgers. Really long. It wasn't until October 2009 that I finally found a turkey burger worth eating. I haven't been able to stop eating them since.

Turkey will never be a replacement for beef, but when you're looking to lose weight, it's a delicious low-cal alternative. In fact, you can save about 150 calories by swapping turkey for beef.

Ground turkey, especially fat-free, can be dry, so adding chopped veggies and herbs will add both moisture and flavor. That's why today's Healthy Apple and Sage Turkey Burgers made with rolled oats, shallots, apples, celery and sage, are so good. Low in fat and high in protein and fiber, these turkey burgers will make keeping your New Year's resolution to lose weight a breeze.

And since a burger cannot be eaten without fries, don't forget the sweet potato fries, baked, of course.

Healthy Apple and Sage Turkey Burgers

Makes 6 burgers

1 1/2 pounds ground fat-free or 95% fat free turkey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup rolled oats, or as much as needed
2 sage leaves, finely chopped, about 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced, about 3 tablespoons
1/2 medium apple of your choice, finely chopped, about 1/3 cup
1 celery stalk, finely chopped, about 1/3 cup
6 rolls of your choice, such as whole wheat or multi-grain 

Optional Toppings: 
For each burger add:
1 slice reduced fat Swiss cheese
1 teaspoon reduced fat or soy mayo
1 teaspoon spicy mustard
2-3 lettuce leaves 
A few carrot sticks for good crunch

1. Place turkey in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add oats and chopped sage and mix well.

2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, warm 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add shallot, apple, and celery, and saute 3 minutes until just softened. Add to the turkey mixture and mix until well combined. Using your hands, form 6 equal sized patties. 

3. Cooking methods: 
Grill: To grill burgers, lightly oil grill racks and preheat to medium-high. Cook burgers 3-4 minutes without touching. Flip once and cook an additional 3-4 minutes until evenly charred and cooked through. 
Stovetop: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Avoiding overcrowding the burgers. Cook burgers for 4-5 minutes without touching. Flip once and cook an additional 3-4 minutes until evenly browned and cooked through. 
Oven: Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and cook for 30-35 minutes or until cooked through and no longer pink inside.

Don't forget to check out these posts from earlier in the week: 
How To Keep Your New Year's Resolution to Lose Weight: Eat Breakfast
How to Keep Your New Year's Resolution to Lose Weight: Eat Soup

Here are more turkey burger recipes you might enjoy:
Herbed Turkey Burger recipe from Simply Recipes
Pesto Turkey Burgers recipe from Stylish Cuisine
Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers recipe from Green Lite Bites
Grilled Middle Eastern Turkey Burgers recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Keep Your New Year's Resolution to Lose Weight: Eat Soup

Recently at my dentist's office I told one of the assistants that she looked great. Her skin glowed, her hair bounced and her body looked lean and firm. "Thanks. I'm killing myself doing that P90X program," she said.

Oh. P90X. In case you haven't heard of it, it's an intensive (some think masochistic) home exercise program that relies on cross-training: a mix of cardio, strength training, yoga, and stretching. As for the diet, it's high protein and low-to-no carbs. Think skinless chicken and egg whites. If you even fantasize about pasta or potatoes, you need to drop and do 50 push-ups.

The assistant added, "You should see my husband though. He has lost 12 pounds in two weeks. He looks amazing!"

"He's doing the P90X too?" I asked.

"No. He's on the soup diet," she said.

"What's the soup diet?" I asked.

"Every Sunday I make a big batch of turkey and veggie soup to bring for lunch. My husband has been eating the soup instead of going out to lunch, and the weight has fallen off! So now he tells everybody he's on the soup diet," she said.

Hmmm. Exercise torture or soup. Which will it be? Well, that's for you to decide. Personally, I like to exercise moderately every day and eat soup. And I not only fantasize about potatoes, I eat them too, roasted and dipped liberally in ketchup.

colored peppers

But I have to agree to that soup, whether or not you call it a "diet," does help you lose weight. Broth-based, low-fat soups, chock-full of veggies help fill you up without packing on the calories. Indeed, studies have shown that people who eat 1 1/2-2 cups of vegetable soup before a meal, consume 135 fewer calories at the meal.

Whether or not it's to keep your New Year's resolution to lose weight, remember these healthy tips when making soups: Opt for low-sodium broth-based soups instead of fattier cream-based ones. Add lots of nutritious and water-dense veggies such as leafy greens and winter squash. Make fiber-rich soups with beans which you'll digest more slowly. Boost flavor with fresh herbs and bold spices instead of salt or cheese. Choose lean protein such as chicken, turkey and tofu.

Roasted yellow pepper soup with thyme

This Roasted Yellow Bell Pepper and Thyme Soup is wonderful in many ways: it's broth-based, low in sodium and high in fiber and beneficial vitamins. The main flavor enhancer is fresh thyme, a robust, earthy, aromatic herb that is especially delicious in soups and stews. It's strong, so be sure to taste as you go. And if you choose to use dried thyme, use less, as the flavor is more concentrated.

Now, let's eat some soup and lose some weight because I really don't want to see you looking like that woman above. It's just too sad.

Roasted Yellow Bell Pepper and Thyme Soup
Makes 4 servings

If you decide to use bottled roasted peppers, then you'll need about 4 cups worth.

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 carrots, diced (about 3/4 cup)
3 celery stalks, diced (about 1 cup)
6 large yellow peppers
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
32 ounces (4 cups) low-sodium vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1. Pre-heat oven broiler. Line one large or two small rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil. Slice peppers in half. Clean out the seeds. Place cut-side down on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place directly under broiler for 25-30 minutes until peppers are covered with black blisters. Remove from oven and wrap tightly in aluminum foil, or place inside of a paper bag and close tightly. Place inside of a bowl to catch any juices that might spill out. Let sit for 10-15 minutes. The steam will help the skins peel off more easily. Remove one pepper at a time. Using a paper towel, rub the skins off and discard. If you have trouble removing the skins, then steam the peppers a bit longer. Chop peppers.

2. In a large, deep pot over medium-high, warm remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Saute onions, carrots, and celery for 5-7 minutes until lightly browned. Add roasted peppers and sherry vinegar and stir. Add vegetable broth, salt, and pepper, and cook 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in thyme. Allow to cool completely before pureeing.

3. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth, or if you prefer, a little chunky. Taste it. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return soup to pot and heat on stove top for 7-10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh thyme, if desired.
You might also enjoy these healthy soup recipes:
Winter Vegetable Soup recipe from In Good Taste
Italian Escarole and Bean Soup recipe from Food Blogga
Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup recipe from Simply Recipes
Vegetable Soup with Fennel, Cannelini Beans, and Italian Turkey Sausage recipe from Soup Chick

Don't forget to check out this post from earlier in the week: How To Keep Your New Year's Resolution to Lose Weight: Eat Breakfast.

Top photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Jon Tunn
Food photos: Susan Russo of Food Blogga

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Keep Your New Year's Resolution to Lose Weight: Eat Breakfast

X homing failure
Each year about 100 million Americans make New Year's resolutions. Most vow to quit smoking, lose weight, or save more money. About 80% of them break their resolutions by the second week and feel like failures.

It's not surprising. Making a New Year's resolution is easy. Keeping it is the hard part.  I'm here to help. If you've broken your New Year's resolution to lose weight, it's OK. What's not OK is to use that slip-up as an excuse to abandon the resolution altogether.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to lose weight is to choose deprivation over moderation. Remember, you need to eat to lose weight. That's not an oxymoron. It's true. If you slash your caloric intake too severely, your metabolism will slow down to compensate, and you'll burn fewer calories. A better approach is to reduce your caloric intake by 200-250 calories per day and to increase your exercise.

Over the next few days I'll share some delicious, simple, healthy recipes that will keep you full while helping you to lose weight. The key is to have a combination of lean protein (chicken, eggs, tofu, fish, beans), complex or "good" carbs (whole grains, fruits, vegetables), and monosaturated or "good" fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado).

skinny Mexican scramble

Today we'll start with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. When you're trying to lose weight and curb your appetite, eating a well balanced breakfast is essential. Studies have shown that people who eat a substantial breakfast with a mix of healthy protein, carbs, and fiber eat less throughout the day and burn more calores.

One of my favorite breakfasts is my Skinny Mexican Breakfast Scramble. Eggs often get a bad rap for being high in cholesterol, but they're also an excellent source of protein, and if you have only one yolk (which is the source of the cholesterol), you don't have to worry. Red bell peppers and beans add vitamin C and fiber which boost your immune system and keep you satiated, respectively. Salsa adds bold flavor with few calories while reduced fat cheese will help keep you full without packing on the fat.

So, go ahead, eat up!

Skinny Mexican Breakfast Scramble
Makes 1 serving
Printable recipe.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 scallion, finely chopped
1/2 small red bell pepper, diced
1 whole egg plus 2 egg whites
2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa
2-3 tablespoons of pinto, red, or black beans
2 teaspoons reduced fat Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella cheese
A sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro, optional
A few dashes of hot sauce, optional

1. In a small skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. Add scallions and pepper and saute 3 minutes, or until softened. In a small bowl whisk egg and whites and pour into skillet. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently move the eggs from side to side as they cook. When they are nearly done, add the salsa, beans, and cheese and stir well. Cook until eggs are no longer runny yet still soft. Sprinkle with cilantro and a couple of dashes of hot sauce, if using.

I like to serve fresh fruit, such as 1 kiwi and 1 small orange (both vitamin C powerhouses), alongside my Skinny Mexican Breakfast Scramble.

Here are more healthy scramble recipes you might enjoy:
Quick Egg White Scramble recipe from Dani Spies
Cottage Cheese Scrambled Eggs recipe from Lisa's Kitchen
Spiced Citrus Tofu Veggie Scramble recipe from Healthy Happy Life
Scrambled Eggs with Cheese and Mushrooms from Family Fresh Cooking

Top photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Alex Guichet
Food photo: Susan Russo of Food Blogga

Friday, January 7, 2011

How to Make Killer Bisquick-Free Pancakes

Two years ago. I was exposed. It was humiliating. I was caught red-handed with Bisquick. So I confessed: I cannot make good pancakes. I use Bisquick.

The good news is that today I can make killer pancakes from scratch. It wasn't an easy journey to this baking success. I went through stages of pancake grief.

First came denial: What?! Boxed Bisquick? No way! I make everything from scratch. Boxes are for semi-homemade Sara Lee, not Food Blogga!

Then came anger: Damn Bisquick. Damn IHOP. Damn the pancake Gods. Damn them all to hell!

Anger turned into depression: I'm such a loser. Every food blogger makes great pancakes. Why can't I? What's wrong with me?

Finally came acceptance: Not everyone is meant to make great pancakes. I make great pizza. Not everyone makes great pizza.

Better Than IHOP Pancakes from Recipes Every Man Should Know

After my acceptance came a request from my editor. I needed to include a pancake recipe for my book, Recipes Every Man Should Know. They would be called "Better-Than-IHOP Pancakes." That was my editor's choice. I would never have so brazenly provoked the pancake gods. So 38 batches of pancakes later, I now have my own Better-Than-IHOP Pancake recipe. They're fluffy and sweet and completely Bisquick-free.

Better-Than-IHOP Pancakes
Makes 8-10 pancakes
Printable recipe.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk (not the powdered variety)
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
Maple syrup and melted butter for serving

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, suar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla extract (if using). Add dry ingredients to wet, and whisk until just combined. It's OK if batter is a little lumpy. Let it rest for 10 minutes.

2. Heat a large frying pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Splash it with a few drops fo water: When they pop and jump, your're good to go. Lightly grease pan with butter. Pour batter by the quarter-cupful on to pan, being careful not to overcrowd if cooking more than one at a time. Leave each pancake alone until edges start to turn golden and little bubbles form on top Then, using a spatula, give it a quick, steady flip. (Remember, the first two or three are for the dog.) Cook 30-60 seconds more, or until puffed up and golden brown.

3. Repeat with remaining batter, adding butter to the pan as necessary. Serve pancakes right away, or keep in a warm oven (250 F) until you're ready to eat. Top with warm maple syrup and melted butter.

Tasty Pancake Toppings and Add-Ins:
Romantic breakfast in bed: 
*Sweet Berries: Top with fresh berries and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.
*Boozy Bananas: Saute sliced bananas in a little butter and a splash of rum for a few minutes. Spoon over pancakes and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

*Chocolate Chip: After pouring the pancakes on the griddle, top each one with a few chocolate or cinnamon chips.
*Cinnamon-Sugar Apples: Cook sliced apples in a little butter and sprinkle with cinnamon, brown sugar, and raisins.

*Maple-Bacon-Banana: Place slices of cooked maple-smoked bacon in between pancakes. Cook sliced bananas in a buttered pan until golden. Spoon over pancakes and drizzle with maple syrup.

Have you gotten a copy of Recipes Every Man Should Know? You can purchase one on Amazon or at Borders, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere books are sold. You'll also find it at Crate & Barrel.