Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Oven-fried eggs

I’m going to resist the temptation of blogging about Thanksgiving Day menus and recipes today. It’s hard because TD (Turkey Day for me) is my favorite holiday of all and I usually go out of my way to make sure I get all the food I want, prepared just the way I like it. Come to think of it, there’s very little thanksgiving and a whole lot of “Me, Me, Me-ing” going on around the turkey and the almost obscene quantities of food I want it surrounded by. So for my sanity and especially yours, I’ll stop now and move on to other topics. Believe me, it’s for the best.

This past week we hosted a fairly big party during the weekend, which translates to “our time was consumed by party prepping”, which in turn is my very lame way of saying I didn’t make anything worth blogging about all week. Don’t get me wrong, there was really good food at the party. Some of the headliners included “liver-mouse with shallot confit and orange marmalade”, “onion pie”, and “pork loin stuffed with figs and apricots”; all these coming from one of our newest additions to our cookbook library (Talk with Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook, by Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh). These dishes were accompanied by our “now classic”, and my favorite, Amish-style corn pudding. Every single one of these dishes was absolutely amazing. I didn’t cook a single one of them; my partner did. Feeling ashamed I wasn’t cooking anything, I made pecan-and-chocolate chip blondies by tweaking the recipe on a previous blog post. The blondies had very good company; our friends brought Oreo truffles and double chocolate coffee cookies with toffee bits. Not to mention the centerpiece of the dessert section, an awesome lemon-cream coconut cake that kicked some serious a**, courtesy of Calin’s mom. Yumm! It was a great party.

Going back a few days before, I got stuck in several conversations where people discussed why they felt like they couldn’t change their eating habits. I’m not going to lie; sometimes they were talking to me, and sometimes people were just talking amongst themselves and I overheard their conversations. To set the record straight I’m not into spying dieters, but there are just too many loud people with over-sharing tendencies, so I might as well count myself as a participant of their conversation. Either way, the cost of “healthy food” and lack of time, especially for breakfast, were the top two reasons I heard from most of these people. I can eat good food on any budget. It will be the topic of another post in the future, I promise. Lack of time though, seemed ironic to me since I could have had breakfast ready and eaten in the amount of time it took these guys to complain about not having time. IRONY!

So today I wanted to offer an example of an easy breakfast that takes very little of your precious time to both make and eat. Still, it will keep you satisfied, it’ll be good for you, and you will actually enjoy it. Before that though, I would like to argue that everyday breakfast doesn’t have to be big, or fancy. A toast with fat-free cottage cheese or with peanut butter and jelly would do the trick. There’s nothing wrong with just having a cup of non-fat yogurt with some fruit or having an English muffin with some reduced-fat cream cheese, both of which I find satisfying yet they are about 200 calories. Trust me, you can spare a good five minutes to eat something as simple as whole grain cereal with reduced-fat milk; come on, you're worth it. I personally don’t like having the same thing for breakfast every day. If you are like me, consider yourself lucky; I just gave you 5 different ideas for breakfasts that require no effort, so they won’t take time away from your morning.

I prefer eating hot breakfasts, such as hot cereals, pancakes, toasts and eggs. I feel like eggs make great, if not the best, breakfast. Not only they are nutritionally rich, but they are delicious, they are inexpensive and they can be prepared in several different ways, all of them delectable. Of course, if you are in a hurry you can skip the deviled eggs and the omelets, and try more time-effective ways of preparing them. Often times I boil eggs while prepping my lunch. The only additional time you’ll have to invest is the time they’ll take to peel. How about fried eggs? I love fried eggs, and I’ve gone through great lengths to cook them with as little oil as possible. I realized that I could get away with using almost no oil and while using my time effectively by “oven-frying” my eggs. I use cooking spray on an oven-save dish, pour the eggs and lightly spray them with cooking spray as well. Then I bake them for up to 18 minutes for perfectly cooked eggs. During that time I either prep my lunch, or I shower and get ready to go to work. The best part is that I can eat straight out of the dish, so I don’t have to deal with a dirty frying pan afterwards. I love it.

On the road shortcut

Nutritional info per serving (2 jumbo eggs): 218 calories, 0 g carbs, 16 g fat, 16 g protein

Cooking spray
2 jumbo eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil an oven-save dish with cooking spray. Add the eggs without breaking the yolks. Lightly spray the eggs with cooking oil. Bake at 350F 15-18 minutes, depending on the desired consistency (softer yolk starting at 15 minutes, hard yolk 18 minutes).  

Note: Calories were calculated using “5 seconds" of total spraying).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Potato Leek Soup

I’m really happy to say that though I’ve had my share of stress recently, I’ve successfully managed to accommodate pockets of really awesome moments that I’ve spent with some of my closest friends and family. Dinners, drinks, shows, or just some simple quality time, have kept me sane, and have managed to keep my social skills somewhat sharp and working. You would not believe the amount of extremely smart people I’ve met throughout the years who are just not capable of behaving properly in public, and even worse, they manage to somehow wear their bad manners and tasteless personas as honor badges wherever they go, expecting people to actually respect them for it. I'm like: "Sure, you are a jerk, you don't know how to eat, you smell bad and you have no etiquette, no common sense and no common courtesy; I think we owe you a Nobel Prize or something… not". Come on, man, get a grip. Anyway, to prevent me from heading in that awful direction, I strongly believe that it is imperative to make time to enjoy real life, with real people, outside of our specialized, technical and unfortunately too cultural-loose working environment.

If unplanned, going out to dinner could result in me not using some fresh ingredients for a few days, thus increasing their chances of going bad before I get a chance to cook them. Oh, who am I kidding? The real problem is that I’m driven to overbuy produce once in a while by the good prices and the high quality of the veggies at my local market. To make things worse, if I don’t shop with a shopping list (which I never do) I may forget and either re-buy something I already have or I'll  buy too much of something new. Forgetting what I have is a little too easy mostly because I store them in the fridge's drawers and I just can’t see them all the time. Cheese and cold cuts also go in drawers, and hence can go in the forgotten category as well. I hate it when food goes bad in the fridge, and I’m done letting food go bad.

During different dinners last week, I used several “endangered” items before they would go bad and die on me. I started by making pizza to use some cold cuts as toppings before they expired. It was a real experiment in recycling (food). I made the dough from scratch but instead of making a tomato sauce (or using a canned one) I used the leftover sauce from a sweet-and-spicy chicken we made a few days before. Half the pizza was topped with salami and the other (healthier) half with turkey breast. I added Gruyere cheese and baked that puppy. Bam! Pizza for dinner, for the price of nothing (not that pizza is expensive to begin with) and with great control over calories and nutritional components. My turkey half was amazingly good, and around the 500 calorie mark for the whole thing. The salami half was closer to 700 hundred calories, not bad at all for such a big portion.

A few days later, I decided I need to cook the asparagus and cranberries before they would go bad. To be honest, the asparagus was bought just two days before, but I was afraid of leaving them in the fridge and forgetting about them, mostly because they were freshly picked (according to the farmer’s market.)  I had leftover braised chicken quarters from the day before, so I thought I could reuse them (by just reheating them.)  I made a cranberry sauce (with bourbon and orange liqueur) to pour over the chicken. Then I just blanched the asparagus for a bit over a minute, and served with canned (yes, canned) applesauce.  I only had two words to describe it: Too Good!

Last but not least, I made the dish I’ll be sharing with you today. I buy 2-3 leeks almost every week, and when I looked in the fridge I noticed I had some leeks from the week before. Turns out I also had some week-old potatoes. Their time was finally up. I thought it would be only natural to make something out of the two ingredients combined, and the obvious candidate was a potato-leek soup. I’ve never made one before, but I reasoned that I had the 2 main ingredients I needed and there’s not much that could go wrong. I went ahead and sautéed the leeks in butter and oil, I added the potatoes, salt and a combination of chicken broth and chicken stock for about 30 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of simmering, I added lowfat sour cream to add extra creaminess and sour notes to the soup. Then I just transferred the soup to the blender and listo. I garnished the soup with parsley and digged in. It was creamy and rich, yet not heavy. The flavors were complex even though the ingredients were simple. I particularly loved the sour and almost acidic notes from the sour cream. I'm proud of this delicious, yet inexpensive soup! Cheers!

On the road shortcut
Nutritional info per serving (4 servings)
243 calories, 43 g carbs, 6 g fat, 9 g protein

2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil)
1 teaspoon butter
2 leeks
5 medium sized red potatoes
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups chicken stock
Salt (to taste)
½ cup lowfat sour cream
     Prep the ingredients
Wash the leeks very well (take into account that dirt sometimes gets trapped between the layers). Discard the upper green portion (where the leaves start to separate as individual leaves). Cut them lengthwise in half, and then chop them (about ¼ inch).
Peel the potatoes, cut them in half, and then into 1 inch cubes.
Heat up the chicken broth and chicken stock.

  Cook the soup
Heat the oil and butter in a stockpot over medium or medium-high heat. Sautée the leeks in the butter and oil for about 7-10 minutes, turning them often to keep them coated in the oils.
Add the potatoes, a pinch of salt and a combination of hot chicken broth and chicken stock. Simmer covered for about 30 minutes.
During the last 10 minutes of simmering, add the lowfat sour cream.
Transfer as two batches to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree the soup. Taste and decide if more salt is needed. Serve hot and garnish as desired.