Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 of 2010! plus, Chickpeas and Orzo

Happy New Years Eve, everyone!! I'd thought I'd wrap up the year by choosing my Top 10 meals of 2010....and share with you a new recipe that easily made the top 10, even in the last week of the year! :) Now, these are in no particular order since it is hard enough to pick my favorite recipes let alone rank them!

Pasta with Brie, Mushrooms & Arugula - a grown-up Mac & Cheese that we loved so much, it's been made at least three times since then!

Homemade Tiramisu - this was A LOT of work. Everything was made from scratch. However, the end result was beyond words. Sooo good.

Veggie Sausage Bake - one of my best original creations...It even got chosen by the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) for Aetna's Healthy Food Fight! I was sad that I wasn't able to participate but still an honor!

Chocolate Mint Bars - easily one of my favorite desserts of the year. But that may be because I'm a little obsessed with the mint & chocolate combo. 

Overnight French Toast - so easy, tasty, and just plain perfect. 

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto with Feta - such great flavor! And I'm starting to see that we really like pasta... ;)

Strawberry Sherbet - my first attempt with my ice cream maker was a complete success. This sherbet was addictive...and healthy?! whaaat? :)

"Boozy Bars" - last year's NYE dessert definitely deserves a spot on here....delicious and booozy ;)

BBQ Tofu Sandwiches - I'm ridiculously picky when it comes to tofu dishes. Seriously. But this one, was phenomenal. There's something about the combination of the BBQ tofu and the coleslaw that's just out. of. this. world. 

The last addition was made just this past week. But it was more than fabulous. This was based on a Peas and Thank You recipe, one of my favorite blogs! I used orzo instead of farro...the result was an easier, risotto-like meal that's refreshing and comforting at the same time. YUM. 

Chickpeas and Orzo
serves 2
  • 1 can (14.5oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1-2 Tb. lemon juice*
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 cup orzo
  • 2 carrots, medium-sized, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tb. non-hydrogenated margarine or butter

Preheat oven to 400&degrees; F. Spread drained chickpeas onto a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Season with salt and pepper. Roast chickpeas for 10-12 minutes on each side. 

Bring broth, juice (*depends on how lemony you want it), tarragon, and thyme to a boil in a small saucepan. Add orzo and carrots; cook until pasta is al dente, carrots are fork tender, and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Mix 1 Tb. of broth with the cornstarch and add to the orzo mixture. Stir and let simmer for 2-3 minutes, until thickened. 

Season with salt and pepper. Stir in margarine (or butter) and chickpeas. If you like the texture of the roasted chickpeas, you can just serve the chickpeas on top of the orzo mixture instead of stirring it in since stirring them in softens them a bit. 

Nutritional Information (for 1/2): 468 calories, 8g fat (2g sat), 84g carbs, 12g fiber, 15g protein

I use a non-hydrogenated margarine called Earth Balance. It has no trans fat and is a dairy-free (vegan!) butter alternative. While we are vegetarians, not vegans, I am trying to lessen some of my dependence on high fat dairy products. It has about the same amount of calories as butter but it does have less saturated fat, so be sure to adjust the number if you use butter. 

I loooved this meal. I have been craving it again ever since I made it last week. 

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie is supposed to use up the leftovers you have in your fridge. Except, I'm not one for leftovers. Normally they get forgotten about and thrown away after two weeks. It's almost always a waste of food to me. So, my shepherd's pie is always premeditated. This was one of my favorite meals before becoming vegetarian so I'm really glad I was able to translate it over for a yummy meal that is comforting and easy to prepare.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
makes 2 cups

  • 4 small russet potatoes, about 1 lb.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 Tb. butter or margarine

Wash, peel, and dice the potatoes.

Place in a large saucepan or small stockpot and cold with COLD water. I know it can be tempting to add hot water to get it to a boil faster but hot water to soon can break apart the potatoes early and then the potatoes will be gummy. Thanks AB. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until fork tender.

Smash cloves of garlic using your palm or the large part of your knife. Do not chop or mince garlic.

Slowly heat milk, butter, and garlic in a small saucepan. I added 1 Tb. cream in my potatoes because I had some extra in the fridge. Honestly? It made no difference from the potatoes I've had before. Definitely not worth the increase in calories and fat. 

Drain potatoes.

Add potatoes back to the saucepan and slowly add liquid while mashing. Add the liquid slowly and in increments. I rarely need all the liquid. Just keep mashing until they are fluffy but do not over-mash. Gummy potatoes are gross.

Season with salt and pepper.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
serves 2-3

  • 1 recipe garlic mashed potatoes
  • 6 oz vegetarian meat crumbles 
  • 1 cup pepper and onion frozen mix 
  • 10 oz frozen mixed veggies, cooked
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained (14 oz)
  • 1 cup vegetarian gravy (Imagine makes a great organic carton)
  • 1 Tb. chili powder
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tb. Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400° F. Saute the meat crumbles with the peppers & onions until thawed. Turn off heat and stir in mixed veggies.

Add tomatoes, gravy, and spices. Depending on the saltiness of your gravy, you may need to add some salt.

Transfer to a prepared baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes and Parmesan. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve!

Nutritional Information (for 1/2 dish): 589 calories, 16g fat (4.5g sat), 90g carbs, 13.5g fiber, 23g protein

Nutritional Information (for 1/3 dish): 393 calories, 11g fat (3g sat), 60g carbs, 9g fiber, 15g protein

It's amazing how much more food you can eat when you put healthy ingredients into meals. Even if you're not vegetarian, I would recommend trying this with the meatless crumbles. In dishes like this, it's hard to tell and it saves you 60 calories and 2.5g fat (2.3g sat!) while only losing 1g protein. And that's using 6 oz extra lean
(95%) ground beef, while most people would use 1/2 pound or 8 oz because it's easier.  

I'm having a really hard time continuing to exercise while it's sooo cold outside. Even though I have a treadmill inside, I have to walk through the cold to get to it. This is my problem during the winter. My body wants to go into hibernation and it's hard to fight it.

Any suggestions? How do you motivate yourself to workout in the winter?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms
from Annie's Eats
serves about 6

  • 2 10oz packages of white mushrooms, the LARGEST and most even you can find*
  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 Tb. parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tb. bread crumbs, optional

*Search the packages for the ones with mushrooms that are large and even in size. They need to be large enough to stuff and relatively the same size so they cook evenly. They make stuffer mushrooms which are already stemmed but these won't work for this recipe since the stems are actually put to use. My two packages had 19 mushrooms that were usable (only one was too small).

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a baking sheet or dish with cooking spray.

Carefully remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside. Be as careful as possible to get the stems out without damaging the caps. Wash the caps with a damp towel. Do not immerse caps in water. Arrange caps in baking dish.

I am not very good at following recipes to the T. The recipe suggests using a food processor to get a very fine chop. I kinda just do my own thing most of the I simply chopped my mushroom stems and garlic as fine as I could.  Mine tasted great and I didn't have any problems with too big of pieces so I would skip the hassle.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushroom stems and garlic. Cook until no moisture is left, about 5 minutes. (I really need to invest in an extra camera battery.)

Turn the heat to low. Stir in the cream cheese, Parmesan, and spices.

I "chopped" the cream cheese with a wooden spoon and let it soften. Then, I transferred it to a small bowl so I could stir better. This worked out well to combine everything.

Using a small spoon, fill each mushroom cap generously. Top with bread crumbs, if desired. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

I made these the night before so I did not bake them. I covered them with aluminum foil and kept them in the fridge. This worked fine! It's a perfect make-ahead addition to any busy menu.

Nutritional Information (for 3 mushrooms): 145 calories, 11g fat (6.5g sat), 7.5g carbs, 1g fiber, 6g protein

Not bad for an appetizer! My goal was a higher protein appetizer than most but one that could still be enjoyed by others there. I used real cream cheese. I'm sure Neufchatel would work just fine for less fat and calories...but I'm a sucker for real cream cheese. If you are too, you have GOT to try Organic Valley cream cheese. I almost just ate the block. DELICIOUS.

For Christmas, my mom also made a scrapbook of my life. 

Cutest. Baby. Ever. I know ;)
Bears decorating a tree with a built-in Christmas light turtleneck. I totally win the ugly sweater contest. 
I was so awesome in high school that they gave me a medal. Or it may have been for French. Either way. ;)
I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cake Balls

Last year, I made one of my new favorite desserts for Christmas. Cake balls. These lovely little balls of cake are delicious and easier to serve for a crowd. They are also labor intensive and take several hours. Just givin it to ya straight ;)

Last night, I decided to make them again this year and take you along for the ride. However, my red velvet cake recipe didn't turn out exactly as I wanted it to. Eatable but not phenomenal. Sad. But I'll still give you the basic steps :) The greatest thing about cake balls is that they can use any combination of cake and frosting you prefer. I love the look of red velvet cake balls so I've tended to stick with them. But I would love to try other flavors as well. While the cake recipe didn't turn out the best, this cream cheese frosting sure did...

Cream Cheese Frosting
from The Velveteen Baker
makes 2 cups
  • 4 Tb. (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 8 oz block cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

By the way, we only use organic dairy because of the treatment of the animals. I honestly think that organic dairy always tastes better but there are some products that are more noticeable than others. Organic cream cheese was the best cream cheese I have ever tasted. I highly recommend you use it. It had the taste of mascarpone without the price (Organic Valley at my store was $3.39 for an 8 oz block)! Absolutely excellent. 

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. 

Slowly sift confectioners' sugar into the mix. Continue beating on a low speed until smooth. 

Easy peasy! I always forget how easy real frosting is....and sooo much better than the can!

Cake Balls
from Bakerella
makes about 40-50 balls
  • 1 9x13 cake, made from scratch or from a box
  • 2 cups frosting, made from scratch or a 16 oz can
  • 2 packages chocolate bark (or white chocolate)

Bake cake according to recipe/package directions. Let cool completely. 

Crumble cooled cake into a large bowl. Add frosting.

Mix until fully incorporated.

Take by spoonfuls and form into balls. This part can be tricky because the mixture doesn't always stay together. Keep going at it, it gets easier. Plus, after they've been chilling for a while, you can always fix any shapes. Put in the freezer for at least 20 minutes, but no longer than an hour. You do not want the balls to completely freeze. If you're have to leave them overnight, transfer them to the fridge.

I was very excited to use my new Wilton Chocolate Pro that I got in my blogger kit, which I'll explain after the recipe. Keeping chocolate warm is always a trouble for me so I was very excited to try it. 

I topped my cake balls with colored sugars this year. I had the varieties out and ready to go because the chocolate hardens fast so it needs to be done immediately after dipping. You can also drizzle extra chocolate like I did last year....

the sprinkles were much easier this time around, though. ;)

Chop your chocolate before melting to make it faster and more even. 

Put the chocolate in the chocolate melter and let it do it's magic! I do have to say that I definitely loved using the Chocolate Pro. It kept the chocolate at the perfect temperature for dipping the whole time. While my cake balls weren't perfect, they were definitely smoother than last years'. 

If you don't have a chocolate melter, you can definitely just use a microwave. Melt the chocolate on 50-70% power, depending on the strength of your microwave, in 30-second intervals so that it doesn't burn. Stir between intervals. To keep the chocolate warm, I've seen AB put the bowl on a heating pad during dipping. 

Once chocolate is ready, take one cake ball at a time and dip or roll in the chocolate. I tend to sit the ball in the chocolate and use plastic spoons to pour the chocolate over. Then I tap off the excess. This leaves less crumbs in the chocolate. 

Transfer to parchment paper and top with sprinkles or colored sugar. Let harden at room temperature. Don't put in the fridge. The chocolate loses it's sheen and will crack sometimes. Trust me, it's just better to let them set at room temp. 

And there ya have it! I do not have nutritional information for these babies. I tend to just eat one and try to control myself from eating more. :) It's also difficult to provide the info since there are so many options of cake and frosting combos!

I mentioned earlier that I got the Chocolate Pro from a blogger kit. I was chosen as one of the bloggers to receive a Wilton Pops blogger kit for the Wilton Pops Blogger Contest. I have to create my own, original pop. We have an excellent idea. I'm super pumped about it. :) But Wilton was kind enough to provide all this stuff to get me started!

Wow, right?! I was so freakin excited when I opened my package! I'm so excited to start creating my own pops after the Christmas rush is over! And all bloggers are encouraged to participate, even if you didn't receive a pops kit! Put those thinkin' hats on. There's cash prizes at stake. :)

Well, I hope you all have a very, very MERRY CHRISTMAS! I'll be back on Monday with a great appetizer I'm making tonight!

Disclosure - I was provided with the products discussed in the post by Wilton for my personal use in the Pops Blogger contest. However, this was an unsolicited review and the opinions expressed are my own. 

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