Friday, July 16, 2010

Lamb Chops with Lemon Thyme Couscous and Cherry Plum Reduction

When I was a small child, I dreamed of becoming a clasically trained chef. But after watching countless reruns of Jacques Pepin, Emeril Lagasse and Julia Child, I learned that many, if not most dishes, are composed of hardly-healthy ingredients. The food tastes wonderfully, of course. But for the health conscious chef and diner, these delectable dishes are not generally an option. Luckily, you can cook equally delicious meals at home, minus the extra fat and calories. There’s no need to skimp on flavor and quality when you’re watching your weight, and you don’t need to cover your protein in butter or cream based sauces. With a little creativity, you can eat just as well as the Chefs of France, in your very own home.

My newest recipe is inspired by the concept of ‘High end-low calorie’ food. Lamb Chops with Lemon Thyme Cousous and a Cherry and Plum Reduction. The lamb chops are broiled instead of braised to cut back on fat. The couscous is whole wheat instead of nutritionally-deficient regular couscous, to offer more fiber and nutrients. The cherry and plum reduction is made of just three ingredients, and is sweetened and thickened by the fruits’ natural sugars. The lamb is rich and perfectly seasoned, the couscous is light and fragrant, and the Cherry-Plum reduction is a touch tart balanced with natural sweetness. Homemade, healthy food that you would expect to find on a pricey restaurant menu. Top Chef here I come!

Lamb Chops with Lemon-Thyme Couscous and Cherry-Plum Reduction

2 Small lamb Chops (With bone, about ½ pound)
1/3 cup Whole Wheat dry couscous
1/3 cup reduced-sodium, fat free chicken broth
8 bing cherries, pitted, quartered
1 plum, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 lemon
Black pepper
Cooking spray (or olive oil spray)

1. Season the lamb chops generously with salt, pepper and thyme. Set aside.
2. In a small sauce pan, heat a small spritz of cooking spray over low heat. Cook garlic until slightly tender and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, black pepper to taste, and about 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme. Bring to a boil, stir in couscous, a squeeze of lemon juice, and about 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
3. In a separate small sauce pan, cook the chopped plum over low heat. Use a fork or potato masher to slightly mash the plum. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the plum juice starts to thicken. Stir in the cherries and continue to cook over low heat.
4. Meanwhile, heat the broiler on medium, or about 500 degrees. Place the lamb in a lightly greased, oven safe skillet, and cook for a total of 12 minutes, turning halfway through.
5. Finally, add a pinch of black pepper and balsamic vinegar to the fruit reduction, and cook until reduced to a thick sauce.
6. Let lamb rest for 2-3 minutes before plating. Plate couscous first in a small mound and spoon the cherry-plum reduction on the rest of the plate. Place lamb chops on top of sauce, leaned against couscous. Enjoy!

Nutrition: Calories: 425 Fat: 8.6 g Cholesterol: 85.1 mg Sodium: 405.3 mg Carbs: 54.9 g Fiber: 3.9 g Protein: 34.4 g

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Peach and Berry Frozen Yogurt

I was so happy with the Mocha Frozen Yogurt, that I decided to create a new recipe. I was inspired by all the summer produce which fills my kitchen. I used fresh, juicy peaches, plump blueberries and homegrown raspberries. Although it can be quite expensive, fresh fruit truly makes a difference, so definitely use it rather than frozen fruit if you can. You can get creative with this recipe. Try using blackberries or mulberries in place of the raspberries, nectarines or plums instead of peaches, or at the last few minutes of freezing, mix in pieces of fresh strawberries. Take advantage of the wonderful produce for which summer is famous!

Peach and Berry Frozen Yogurt
Makes 25 scoops

1 cup peeled, chopped peaches (about 7.5 oz)
1/3 cup raspberries (about 2.4 oz)
1/4 cup blueberries
1 1/2 cups vanilla fat-free yogurt
1 1/2 cups fat-free plain yogurt
1/4 cup Splenda no calorie sweetener
1/2 cup fat free milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, mash the peaches and raspberries until smooth. (Leave a few chunks here and there for texture.) Add yogurts, Splenda, milk, and vanilla. Stir in blueberries. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions. Transfer to a container, cover and freeze. It melts fast, so eat it quick!

Nutrition Per Scoop
Calories: 20
Fat: 0g
Sodium: 18.2 mg
Carbs: 4.9g
Fiber: .3g
Protein: 1.3g

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Seriously Healthy Mocha Frozen Yogurt

Relish Magazine recently published a page full of low-fat, frozen yogurt recipes. While a food may be low fat, that does not make it healthy. Some recipes had over 200 calories per serving, which means this recipe can only be eaten as a treat once in a while, and you might as well eat real ice cream, cream and all. I don't want to 'make room' in my diet for anything, I want to be able to eat dessert without sizing up my belly in the mirror afterward.

I was inspired by their Mocha Frozen Yogurt recipe. Although each serving (8 total) contained only 120 calories, the recipe called for an entire pint of chocolate milk. There is nothing healthy about a pint of chocolate milk! So I set out to revamp their Mocha Frozen Yogurt, cut out the chocolate milk, the granulated sugar, and even more fat. The result? A creamy, tangy, chocolaty, coffee-y, frozen yogurt, with only 39 calories per serving- and zero guilt.

Seriously Healthy Mocha Frozen Yogurt
Makes about 11 servings (1.5 ice cream scoops or 2 large cookie dough scoops)

2 cups plain, fat free yogurt
1 cup vanilla, fat free yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup fat free milk
2 1/2 tsp espresso powder
1 tbsp + 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup Splenda no calorie sweetener
Pinch cinnamon

In a small sauce pan, heat the milk over very low heat. Whisk in the espresso powder, cocoa powder and Splenda until dissolved. Do not boil. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, combine yogurt and vanilla. Stir in the cooled milk mixture and cinnamon. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's instructions. Immediately scoop into small bowls or ramekins, cover and freeze. Enjoy!

Calories: 39
Fat: .1g
Sodium: 43.9mg
Total Carbs: 7.6g
Fiber: .1g
Sugars: 4.6g
Protein 3.0 g

Friday, July 2, 2010

Green Ways to Grow Herbs

My, my, my, how time flies. It has been over a month since my last post! June has been absolutely crazy, and my computer has been on the fritz. (Think 1 hour to upload 1 photo.) But I just received my new laptop which is much faster, so I hope to be posting more often! Thanks to all of my readers who have been checking in for new posts and asking when I would be updating Table for One. Your support means so much!
Green Ways to Grow Herbs

Look in nearly every chef's kitchen and you're sure to find one thing in common: Herbs. Across the globe and in every culture, herbs are used to flavor all kinds of dishes. A few leaves of basil or a pinch of oregano can instantly turn any dish from bland to brilliant. But herbs offer much more than just flavor. They also pack all kinds of nutrients and health benefits. For example, Rosemary contains antioxidants which can help ward of certain types of cancer. Unfortunately, dried herbs often lack the falvanoids and oils which make fresh herbs so flavorful and nutritious. But don't fret! Growing your own herb garden is MUCH easier and cheaper than you might think.

This month I've found myself falling more and more in love with nature. I've spent my days picking mulberries and raspberries, and I realized how much tastier food is when you grow it yourself! So I set out to grow more of my own food- I started an herb garden. I decided to recycle by planting my herbs in containers I found around the house or made myself. So I set out around my house, like a mad scientist, rummaging through closets, picking through our recycling and garbage cans. I got creative. After I planted my herbs, I was amazed at how quickly they sprouted! It has been less than a month and I am already enjoying fresh basil and cilantro.

Pick your herbs.
There are so many herbs to choose from, it can make your head spin! Here's a list of basic herbs as well as their flavor components and health benefits.

  • Basil: This herb is an excellent source of Vitamin K, which helps blood to clot and can help ward of certain cancers. Basil is also a good source of Iron, Calcium and Vitamin A. Basil also contains anti-inflammatory properties and can help protect your body from free-radical damage. Basil is slightly sweet, slightly spicy and has licorice undertones. This herb is commonly used in Italian cooking, and stars in Pesto and pairs well with tomatoes and mozzarella.
  • Thyme: Thyme is an excellent source of iron, maganese, and vitamin K. This herb is also jam packed with antioxidants. It has also been used medicinally to treat upper respiratory ailments. Thyme is a bit pungent and clove-like. It is savory, and a little goes a long ways. Great with all meats and roasted vegetables.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary is used to boost immune function, increase circulation and has anti-inflammatory compounds. This herb has a pine-like flavor and is very fragrant. Rosemary is great for flavoring chicken and lamb dishes.
  • Cilantro/Coriander: Cilantro, also known as Coriander, can raise 'good' cholesterol while lowering 'bad' cholesterol. It may also stimulate insulin production in diabetic. Cilantro is a spicy herb and is often used fresh in Mexican dishes.
  • Sage: Sage is closely related to Rosemary, and also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as antioxidants. Sage is earthy and minty, with a hint of lemon. Sage is a staple in stuffing! Use to flavor savory dishes such as stews, soups, poultry and fish.
  • Parsley: Parsley isn't just for garnishes anymore! This herb has properties which have been known to inhibit tumor growth. Parsley is also a good source of folate, which helps keep the heart healthy, and an excellent source is vitamins A, C, and K. Parsley is mild, slightly peppery, and savory. Use it to flavor pastas, soups, vegetable dishes, and to pair with other herbs.
  • Oregano: Oregano is packed with antioxidants. Also, it contains potent anti-bacterial properties. Oregano is also a very good source of fiber, maganese, and iron. This herb is earthy and a distinct clove-like flavor. Use Oregano to season any tomato dish, as well as poultry and fish.

You can find many varieties of seeds nearly anywhere that specializes in home and garden. Home Depot, Target, Walmart, Ace. There are many varieties of each herb, so read the description of flavor on the back of the seed packet. Make sure to check the expiration date on your seeds, they do spoil.

Pick Your Pot.

You don't need to go to Home Depot and spend big money on new pots and planters. You'd be surprised how many containers you can find around the house that can be recycled as pots! Here's a few ideas.
  • Disposable Water Bottles. We've all seen the commericals. 1 hour on the treadmill, for ever in a landfill. Although everyone should be using a reusable water bottle, many of us don't. So instead of tossing your plastic water bottles in the trash, use them for your herbs. Simply use a sharp serrated knife and cut the bottle in half. Plant your herbs in the bottom half. (You can save the top half and use it for a funnel to fill up bird feeders or a scoop for the cat food!)
  • Other drink containers. Water bottles aren't the only containers that can be recycled! Nesquick Chocolate milk, 2 liter soda bottles, Sobe life waters, (I like these, they're very sturdy) energy drinks. Just rinse out your bottle of choice and cut in half or to desired height.
  • Fish bowls. Nemo took his final swim years ago, so get out that fish bowl and put it to use! You can also use the small plastic aquariums that hold fish and hermit crabs. Get creative and add colored marbles or rocks to the bottom before filling with dirt.
  • Coffee mugs. Most of us have more coffee mugs than we really need, so pull out your Disney World 1994 and Worlds Coolest Sister mugs and get planting! You can make your herb garden look funky by mixing and matching your mugs, or more uniform by using all the same color/style.
  • Mason Jars. Next time you finish your grape jelly rinse it out and save it. Mason jars make adorable planters!
  • Egg cartons. Cut off the top of the egg carton and save the 'egg part.' Fill each hole with dirt and plant different seeds in each one!
  • Empty paint cans. Just clean out the inside- the paint on the outside gives it character!
  • Old baking dishes. Muffin tins are great for planting several different herbs.
  • Disposable Coffee/drink cups. My favorite reusable planter is a clear iced coffee cup...You know, like the tall kind from Starbucks? I have mine on my window sill!
  • Food tubs. Yogurt cups, sour cream, even peanut tins work well for herbs.
  • Get creative. Practically anything that can hold water can be turned into a planter for your herbs. Buckets, unused safe boxes, old soup bowls. Use your imagination!

Pick your dirt. The type of soil you want to use for your herb garden is entirely up to you. I like to use my own soil from my garden as often as possible. This ensures that my soil is free of fertilizers and additives. If you like, you may also use a bag of basic top soil found at any gardening our home store. Look for basic soil, without fillers or fertilizers. Remember, you are what you eat. Whatever is in your soil will end up in your food, which ends up in you. You can also save money by mixing in a bag of store-bought soil with the dirt from your yard. Whatever soil you decide to use, make sure it is very fine and moist. Make a healthy mixture of soil by incorporating ground eggshells, used teabags (not the bags, just the tea!) and compost. You'll have thriving plants without having to use toxic fertilizers.

Planting. Now the fun part! You've picked which herbs to plant, you've bought your seeds, you've scavenged for containers, you've mixed up your dirt. Now it's time to plant! If you have a tall container, fill the bottom with rocks or marbles to use less dirt. Fill the container to the top, and follow the planting directions on the seed packets. Make sure to cover the seeds with a very fine layer of dirt, so they are not smothered. Water the plants right away with a spray bottle- using a watering can will drown and dislodge the seeds, but a spray bottle will give a gentle, even mist. Water your herbs at least once a day, more if it is extremely hot outside.

Pick a spot. Your herbs are planted, and you've surely got a funky array of containers. Now it's time to decide where to put them! Each herb has different sun requirements. Some may need full sun, some may need shade, others adapt to whatever weather. Place your herbs somewhere where each herb can get the sunshine it needs. For example, a patio which is partly covered by a tree. The herbs which require full sun can sit out uncovered, while herbs which need shade can be placed under the shade of the tree. I have my herbs placed on a shelves my dad made. The plants which need most sun are on the top shelf, and the plants which need less sun are on the lower shelves.

Window sills are also a fun way place to plant herbs, especially in the kitchen, for easy access. Just make sure to water them every day, and rotate them so the entire plant gets the sun it needs.

Name 'em. I like to mark each pot by writing the name of each herb on a popsicle stick with a permanent marker. Just stick them in the dirt and you're ready to go!

Most herbs will take about 7-14 days to sprout, and will be ready to harvest in about a month. After you use your home-grown, fresh herbs for the the first time, you'll realise that all your hard work is definitely rewarding. The health benefits and fantastic flavor are unmatched, and will make an essential addition to your healthy cooking!