Friday, March 25, 2011

No bake, guilt free, pie

By most popular usages of the term, sugar free, fat free pudding is "guilt free". In fact its not only guilt free due to its sugar free, fat free status - it also delivers a serving of milk, a good source of calcium, vitamin D (if fortified milk) and lean protein.

But that's not guilt free enough. OK its not "bad" for you, and its even sort of good, but I like to live by a 2 positive/1 neutral (or 3 positive/1 negative) rule. That is to say a prepared food should have 2 pluses going for it for each neutral. In this case, its only 1 plus (milk) and 1 neutral (fat free).  I can’t really consider any laboratory creation, as packaged, powdered, made with unpronounceable ingredients product to be “good” for you.

So inspired by personal rule and my flavor selection (cheesecake) I made a healthy no bake crust for myself. It’s something I've been working on for a while now and I think this time I pretty much have it down.  Honestly, I like it better then the modern classic graham cracker crust most people use.

And I believe it happens to be gluten free.  I’m not on a gluten free, or even low gluten diet, but gluten is something many people have to worry about so I thought this distinction was pretty nifty.

I use 5 minute oats and slivered almonds. I don't think either make a big difference but thought it worth mentioning (although for a truly gluten free version, use oats you know for a fact to be gluten free as I’ve read some conflicting info).  I toast the oats in my big cast iron skillet, dry. And I use XlyoSweet sweetener, a low calorie sugar alcohol made from the fibrous part of plants (corn cobs and birch trees, YUM!) The flax gives it a nice nutty flavor, which blends well with the almond and of course increases the healthful factor significantly.

My raisins were kind of old so I soaked them in hot water for about 5 minutes. The moistness is key. Definitely strain them though, if you soak yours. Moist is good, too wet is bad.

The "cinnamon mix" is a blend I keep on hand at all times. Its 3 tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt. It’s great to use just about anytime, for savory or sweet foods, and really added that extra something to this recipe.

No Bake Crust
1/2 cup 5 minute oats, toasted
1/4 cup almonds
1 tbsp flax meal
1 tbsp sweetener
1/2 cup raisins
Sprinkle cinnamon mix
Pinch of salt

Put the dry ingredients in a food processor and process for about a minute. Add the raisins & process for another minute or so. Press into custard cups.

Fill with instant pudding, prepared as directed on the box, or any pie filling appropriate for a no-bake pie crust that you might like. 

It’s so good, and it’s actually good for you, delivering whole grains, healthful oils, fiber and protein. The raisins keep it sticky and moist as well as adding to its sweetness and the toasted oats and flax make for a good depth, with the smooth almond flavor to balance it all out.

Friday, March 18, 2011

St Patrick's Day

This year was the first in more then I'd care to admit that I missed the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade. I was bummed to say the least. It was a long day at work, and I had a headache and I tore my skirt. I went home tired, paradeless.

I needed to at least have a good, and St Patrick's Day inspired, dinner to restore my spirits. But not the fatty, salty Americanized popular fare: no corned beef for me, thanks. It’s a silly tradition - in that it’s not a particularly Irish food. Go to Ireland and try to find somewhere that serves corned beef & cabbage. You won't find it... Although as fatty and salty as it is, I wouldn't blame you for trying pretty hard. Real Irish food is awful. Any society that was happy to eat only potatoes was not coming from a place of great culinary tradition. There is a reason why you never hear much extolling the greatness of Irish Cuisine. Heck even Irish eateries in the US serve American food like burgers and grilled chicken Caesar salad. And before you get all huffy thinking "no! They always serve traditional Irish shepherd's pie!" I ask you think about what a "shepherd" is... They aren't shepherding cattle to make pie with ground beef like the American’s do. They herd sheep.

But true Irish shepherd's pie with lamb isn't as good as American shepherd's pie with beef, because somehow the Irish, with their magically undelicious cooking skills can make awesome lamb taste downright awful.  And check the ingredients label on that “Irish Soda Bread” you picked up at the grocery store.  Does it list yeast?  Yeah?  Then it is not actually traditional Irish soda bread, which is leavened with baking soda.  It’s simply another example of Americanizing, and improving, traditional Irish poison food.

The Irish do make one thing perfectly though. No American, or any other culture’s for that matter, versions comes close. I am of course talking about Guinness.

Give me a tall glass of black with a creamy head on top, any day. I love most beers and can always happily find one to suit my mood, and meal, if I'm eating while drinking. But if a place has Guinness on tap I look no further. Hands down, it’s my all time favorite. And I’m not alone – Guinness is and has long been one of the most popular beers on the planet.

And handy fact – not only is it an excellent source of iron, Guinness, ounce for ounce, is a light beer. It's got less calories then a Bud or Coors, Corona or Miller. And its not because it’s a stout, most stouts are very caloric. Heartland Brewery, which has locations throughout NY, has a wonderful oatmeal stout, as does Murphy's, an EU brand (its "Irish Stout" but owned by a Dutch parent company, Heineken). Both are super high in calories. But not so Guinness.

I made a marinade out of one of my Guinness Extra Stouts - a thoughtful gift from my beau the first time he came to my home, but I prefer Drought; Guinness is stout enough without the extra.

While my chicken marinated I boiled some cubed potato. I dredged the chicken at the last minute. It formed a lovely crust but it all fell off so I'm not sure if it was a good idea or not, but then again it shielded the chicken itself from the cooking surface of my lovely cast iron skillet, resulting in a soft, moist, evenly cooked chicken with no tough exterior. The flaked off flour crust tasted like crunchy chicken skin, which was nifty and gave me something to munch on while I made my gravy.

I strained my potato & pan fried it along with the chicken. After the chicken & potato were cooked I deglazed the pan with some Guinness and thickened the gravy with slurry made with Guinness.

And then finally I made myself a beautiful black & tan. It wasn't my cleanest line ever but it was a decent effort. I used a Sam Adams dark lager, because that's what I had, but ale would be traditional. I personally think Killian's and Guinness make the best black & tans, and certainly the prettiest, but really feel free to use whatever beer you like for your “tan” layer.

I make my black & tan with a special wide flat Guinness spoon, with a handy notch to steady it against the glass, but any spoon will work. First pour in your lighter beer. Fill the glass half way. Don't worry if there's a head on it. Balance your spoon on the edge of your glass, concave side down, curved side up. Slowly pour the Guinness over the spoon so it floats on top of the first beer. Take a moment to appreciate its beauty before drinking.

Guinness Chicken with Potato
1 bottle Guinness Extra Stout, divided
Several splashes hot sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
Salt & pepper
Skinless chicken breast
Whole wheat flour, divided
Butter & olive oil
2 small potatoes, cubed

To make the marinade whisk together some Guinness, oil, hot sauce, brown sugar, salt and pepper.  Add your chicken and let sit.  Chop your potatoes and boil them in salted water.  Melt some butter in some oil in your skillet over medium high heat.  Take the chicken out of your marinade and dredge both sides in flour, then add it to the pan.  Strain your potatoes and add them tot eh pan as well.  Let them all cook together, occasionally stirring/flipping the potatoes so they brown evenly, and flipping the chicken to allow for cooking about 7-9 minutes each side.

Once you have removed the chicken and the potatoes from the pan, pour in some Guinness and use a spatula to move it around, scraping up any yummy bits stuck to the bottom.  In a small bowl mix a small amount of Guinness with a few spoonfuls of flour to form slurry.  Add this to the simmering Guinness in the pan, stir and allow to cook several minutes until a nice thick gravy has formed.  Salt to taste.

Pour your gravy over your chicken and potatoes and make your self a black & tan and enjoy. 

It’s not “traditional” Irish food, but its Irish inspired.  And unlike actual Irish food, it’s edible.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

CSA 28: No Guilt Pasta

Last night was pasta again, but this time no guilt. Along with the standards of [high protein] pasta, tomato sauce and grated cheese, I included my seasonal veggies. One red turnip was chopped and boiled with the pasta and a serving of curly leaf kale and baby spinach was mixed into the sauce. I also threw in some not so fresh herbs that were in the fridge too, since they really needed to be used.

I tossed the kale into the boiling water for the last minute of the pasta & turnips cooking. Stirring the pasta and vegetables, it looked so fresh and tasty - I considered for a moment not adding tomato sauce, of just enjoying it as it was. But no, it needed the tomato.

I realized then, in my reaction, the importance of preserving summer fruits. I had so many tomatoes last season and I didn't learn to can, which bothered me (and is certainly on next summer’s agenda). But no worries, Classico (one of the few sugar free commercial pasta sauces out there) is readily available in nice reusable mason jars, so I can still grab some of summer, albeit a bit processed. Winter vegetables are so repetitive, so slow cooked, so starchy, so solid.  Even winter greens like kale, is a tough, heavy duty vegetable compared to
delicate summer produce.  Summer vegetables are lighter, fresher, juicier. After weeks of turnips and potatoes and beets and carrots and sweet potato, I wanted a vegetable that started off squishy.

Plus adding tomato sauce adds healthful bulk to the meal, making it heartier, and more filling while adding nutrients.

I mixed the pasta, the veggies, the sauce, some herbs, and some freshly grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese into one big jumble. It was delicious.  And easy.  And carried no guilt over the huge pile of vegetables in my ‘fridge.

No Guilt Pasta
1 serving pasta
1 turnip, chopped
Bunch of curly kale, stemmed & chopped
Handful baby spinach
Herbs (thyme, sage, parsley)
Salt & pepper
1 cup tomato sauce
Fresh grated Parmigiano - Reggiano cheese

Boil pasta and turnip in lightly salted water. When they are just about done, add the kale so it gets about a minute or two to boil. Strain. Add sauce to the pot, over low heat. Add herbs, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Mix in pasta and veggies. Mix in cheese. Serve.