Saturday, February 28, 2015

Food Friday - Guilt Free Eating

from Tracey G

Orzo Pasta Salad

Still trying to stay in the better-for-me mindset. And this recipe covers that pretty well. Yes, there's fat involved but it's olive oil, a good-for-you fat. This is just one of those things that came into my mind by being pulled from a few different recipes using orzo as the basic inspiration when I was needing some recipes that were flavorful but not too hard on the heart and body. I twisted it and turned it a little bit until I got it the way I wanted it :-) It couldn't be simpler, and is always fresh tasting - never heavy like a traditionally dressed pasta salad. 

I think it's the clean combination of fresh lemon juice (and it has to be fresh, it's the only way to go! :-) ) and the olive oil that keeps it bright. And with the using of the lemon juice, a lot less salt can be used - even none if you so desire, making it even a little bit better for your heart along with the olive oil. ;-) But for the salt addition, the only salt I use is kosher - the flat flakes allow you to use less, as the flavor is spread out over the flake, instead of in salt granule therefore you get the salt flavor without all the salt. When I was taking care of my mom, between the renal diet and the CHF heart diet she was on, I learned to use very little to no salt when I cook, so when I cook my pastas, I never add salt to the water. I'd rather save the salt flavor for somewhere I can taste it - not on a pasta that's buried under a sauce etc... Lemon juice is a wonderful alternative to salt, and lemons became a staple in the house for her to squeeze onto her foods instead of salt and it worked really well. There's something to the sharp brightness of the lemon juice that can mimic that salt experience without the salt. 

The Greek in me also adds some Kalamata olives occasionally (as the above garnished photo shows ;-) ) and feta cheese. The feta makes a wonderful addition, the flavors all work together. Shoot, even red bell pepper would be great in it if you don't want the tomatoes, and you still get that bit of red to liven it up - or really get crazy and use both red pepper AND tomatoes! LOL 

Once again, my "recipe" is more of a method, fully customizable to your tastes, don't be afraid to add your own twist to it! 

This pretty much sums up the ingredients, minus the olive oil and salt :-) Summertime makes this salad even better with all the fresh veggies that are out there and in season!

After the orzo gets cooked, drained, rinsed in cold water and then while it's draining again from the cold water rins, I get my dressing put together. The lemons can be temperamental, as I was reminded of again today - instead of it taking the usual 2 lemons to get my 1/2 cup of juice, it took close to 3, just had some not-so-great lemons today. Glad I bought extra just in case! And I do like to combine my seasonings with the acid first - even when making a vinaigrette or a marinade, the seasonings get mixed/dissolved into the acid, be it vinegar or lemon juice. Things combine much better when I do it that way, then add the oil/fat of choice. Adding in the fat before the seasonings doesn't allow them to mix in very well as they won't dissolve in oil. ;-) So, whisk the salt and garlic into the lemon juice, when well combined, whisk in the olive oil. When I'm making my dressing, I like mine to be more lemony so I usually only use about 1/3 cup of oil to the 1/2 cup of lemon juice - this is another thing to do as to your tastes - if you want it less tart/lemony, use a bit more oil etc. It does mellow out the following day, so that's just something to keep in mind ;-)

I like to use my Microplane grater for the garlic. I used to use my press, but this seems faster somehow and I know it's easier to clean, lol. I prefer though to have the garlic this way, instead of minced - either grated or pressed, that way you don't bite into a good sized piece of garlic, because even a smallish minced piece can pack a big a garlicky punch, lol. Alternatively, if you don't have either a grater or press, you can use a knife - mince your garlic well, sprinkle with a little kosher salt (the salt also seems to mellow the flavor of the garlic) and then mash with the back of your knife until you have worked it into a paste. 

I make sure I get my orzo into a bowl large enough for easy mixing, there's nothing worse than mixing and having things jumping out of your bowl, lol. At this point I, I mix my dressing into my orzo, then add the vegetables.

Once I add in the vegetables in, I then mix them up well until they're combined fairly evenly and are coated well with the dressing. 

That's it! I then usually transfer to a smaller bowl for storage, cover it well and pop it in the fridge if I don't use it right away. :-)

And here's the "recipe" (again, I had to write it as I went along since this was one of those things trapped in my head only! LOL)

Orzo Pasta Salad

16 oz pkg orzo pasta
1 English cucumber, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 of a red onion, chopped
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, left whole or halved

1 garlic clove, grated or pressed through a garlic press (alternatively could be minced and mashed with the back of a knife and a little kosher salt)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp kosher salt (optional)
1 1/2 - 2 lemons, juiced to equal approximately 1/2 c juice
1/3 - 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil

Cool orzo according to package directions, drain, rinse with cold water and allowed to drain again. 

While the orzo is draining, combine the dressing ingredients: mix the lemon juice, garlic and kosher salt, until salt is dissolved. Whisk in the olive oil. 

Put the orzo in a big enough bowl for easy mixing/combining of ingredients. Pour the dressing over top, then add the cucumber, onion and tomatoes. Stir well to coat. Refrigerate or serve immediately. After being refrigerated, stir before serving.

from Kris B.

I am in the midst of week two in my quest towards a smaller butt.  And, I am happy to say, it is going far.  I hope that all of you don't mind a few weeks of lower calorie recipes as Tracey and I strive to drop a few extra pounds.

As I confessed last week, I am a serious carbohydrate addict, so any eating plan that avoids carbs completely is never going to work for me.  As a compromise, I have to work to find meals and snacks that still allow for my carb fix but don't send the scale tipping in the wrong direction.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing; it is not just sweet carbohydrates that I love, though they are mighty tasty, but also crackers, beans, rice, noodles…and so on…

As far as ethnic cuisines go, Asian is my favorite, because, well, it contains lots of rice and noodles.  Generally, I don't cook a lot of Asian food;  it is much easier and tastes much better when we go out to eat.  But, we all know that eating out can be a major stumbling block when we are trying to carefully monitor all that we put into our bodies.  I have been on a search to find a simple make-at-home, but still-tastes-good, healthy Asian noodle recipe.  I have tried several that have been OK, but I think now I have found THE ONE!  And as a bonus... It is actually a Weight Watchers recipe!!!  Needless to say, I am one happy eater right now.

This recipe is all about "hitting the bottles" in the pantry and fridge to make a flavorful sesame sauce...

...and then adding it to a few fresh ingredients.  

Sesame Noodles with Chicken are quick, easy, and, best of all, really good!

Weight Watchers Sesame Noodles with Chicken

1/2 pound of skinless, boneless chicken thighs cooked and cut into thinly sliced strips
8 oz whole wheat udon noodles (In a pinch you can use whole wheat spaghetti.)
1/2 Cup chopped scallions
Shredded carrot
Chopped cilantro for garnish
2 tsp sesame seeds

For the sauce:
3 TBS rice vinegar
3 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS hoison sauce
1 TBS dark sesame oil
2 tsp chili sauce with garlic
1 1/2 tsp honey

Cook the noodles as directed on the package.  Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking liquid and then drain the noodles.

Place the noodles, cooked chicken, and scallions into a large bowl. Mix gently.

In a small bowl, combine the reserved water from the noodles, vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oil, chili sauce, and honey.  Whisk together until thoroughly combined.

Pour the sauce over the noodles and chicken.  Gently toss until the noodles are coated.

If desired, mix in some shredded carrot to add a little color.  Top with sesame seeds and cilantro.  (You may notice no carrots.  I forgot to add them before I took the photos:-))

Sesame Noodles with Chicken can be enjoyed as either a hot or a cold dish.

There is no question about which of the two of us is the better food photographer.  It has quite the learning curve, at least for me.  And though I obviously still have much room for improvement, I have actually learned a few things in the past six weeks since we began Pixels, Plates, and LOLS!.  Since at my core I am a teacher and my job is to impart knowledge and perhaps a little wisdom, I am going to take this opportunity to share what I have learned thus far:
  • The better your camera (and your ability to use it), the dirtier your kitchen seems to be.  An odd correlation, but oh so true!  It is amazing how those crumbs and spots appear.
  • Don’t try to photograph the dinner that you are making at the end of a very long work day when you are already hungry and ready to eat before you even start the process.  This is the method to madness, frustration…and inadvertently omitted ingredients.
  • There is no good angle or light that will make raw meat photograph well.  There just isn’t.  Cooked meat is only marginally better, in my opinion.
  • A surprising amount of food and its ingredients are brown.
  • Kitchen tools and appliances are rather fascinating through a macro lens.
  • I never thought that noodles would be so interesting to photograph.
  • Bad food photography is the worst kind of bad photography.

That’s where I am right now.  I know that there is so much more for me to learn!

Have a great and healthy week.  
We'll see you in March!

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