Monday, January 31, 2011

Romaine and Grape Tomato Salad with Avocado and Baby Peas

What really made the "Romaine and Grape Tomato Salad with Avocado and Baby Peas" (page 50) shine was the wonderful dressing, which, with my alterations, ended up tasting quite a bit like a Caesar salad dressing.  As written, the dressing calls for fresh garlic and shallot, some herbs, salt & pepper, white wine vinegar (I didn't have any white wine vinegar, so used unseasoned rice vinegar instead), and 1/3 cup olive oil.  Since the oil makes up the bulk of the dressing, I couldn't just leave it out without replacing it with something else. I decided to use one tablespoon tahini, plus enough water to equal 1/3 cup, and the results were fantastic!  Because the dressing came out somewhat thin, I added 1/8 teaspoon guar gum to thicken it up ever so slightly - perfection!  This dressing will certainly become one of my go-to picks, on this salad, or any other.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lasagna Pinwheels

Do you ever end up with left over lasagna noodles and you can't figure out what to do with them?  If so, you might want to try the "Lasagna Pinwheels" (page 220).  I had seven lasagna noodles hanging around, and even though the recipe calls for 12, I figured I could use the extra filling for something else later.  Speaking of the filling, this was an easy and tasty ricotta-style blend of tofu, white beans, and spinach.  I've made ricotta type fillings using tofu in the past, but never with beans as part of the mix. The final result was a heartier (and lower fat) version of a plain tofu ricotta, with a more substantial texture as well.  I really liked it, and can imagine using this wherever I would use ricotta. The pinwheels consisted of the cooked noodles individually spread with the filling, rolled up, placed on a layer of marinara sauce of your choice, then topped with more marinara sauce, and baked for a while.  I took the picture before adding the top layer of marinara sauce to show what the pinwheels look like.  (My pinwheels came out a bit larger than planned as I was  very generous with the filling.)  Happily, there are no changes necessary to make this McDougall Plan friendly, as long as you use oil free marinara (which I did) and whole wheat lasagna noodles (which I did not).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Strawberry, Mango, and Pineapple Salad with Banana-Lime Dressing

The "Strawberry, Mango, and Pineapple Salad with Banana-Lime Dressing" (page 98) was the first fruit salad I tried from this book.  Very easy to put together (all the ingredients in the salad are practically listed in the title), with the banana-lime dressing listed as optional if you have especially fresh fruit that doesn't need to be dressed.  I went ahead and made the dressing, because it just sounded so good!  This made a nice big bowl of tropical style fruit salad.  We had part of it with dinner one night, and the rest the next day with breakfast.  It kept very well in the refrigerator, tasting just as fresh and looking just as bright in the morning as it did the night before. What's not to love about fruit?  (No changes were necessary to keep this McDougall Plan happy!)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Moroccan Vermicelli Vegetable Soup

If you like minestrone, you will definitely like "Moroccan Vermicelli Vegetable Soup" (page 154).  The broth is tomato based, with onion, celery, carrot, and zucchini, plus garbanzo beans, and vermicelli for the pasta.  But this is minestrone with a flavorful twist, spiced up with cayenne, smoked paprika, and cumin.  I didn't have any za'atar, an optional spice listed in the ingredients, but when I looked it up, it seemed very close to Italian seasoning, so I used that instead.  I also added fresh minced garlic at the end of the cooking time, just because.  For reasons I can't figure out, the recipe called for a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained.  It seems to me it would add more flavor not to drain the tomatoes, so I used a 14.5 ounce can of tomatoes, with their juices.  The only other change I made was to omit the oil when sautéing the vegetables, using a little broth instead.  This is a lovely soup that tastes even better the next day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

African-Inspired Red Bean Stew

I loved the "African-Inspired Red Bean Stew" (page 254). When I looked at this recipe, I figured I would like the combination of ingredients, but I didn’t realize just how nice it would all come together.  Kidney beans, potatoes, carrot, onion, and spinach made up the veggies, and the spices included garlic, ginger, cumin and cayenne.  The recipe called for (canned) diced green chilies, but I thought jalapenos might be better for a little more zip.  The secret ingredient was peanut butter, stirred into hot broth, and added back into the stew at the end of the cooking time.  The heat from the jalapeno combined with the peanut butter reminded me of the flavor from a Thai peanut sauce, and it was delicious!  I didn't have crushed tomatoes, as the recipe called for, so I used fire roasted diced tomatoes instead, which worked just fine.  I omitted the oil when I sautéed the onion and carrot, and that was the only change necessary to keep it McDougall Plan compatible. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Brown Rice with Artichokes, Chickpeas, and Tomatoes

If you are looking for a brown rice entrée, you might enjoy the "Brown Rice with Artichokes, Chickpeas, and Tomatoes" (page 273).  Besides the ingredients listed in the title, the rest of the dish consists of garlic and spices, cooked in a broth of your choosing, with the tomatoes and parsley added at the end.  I have never had good luck cooking brown rice to a level of doneness that I like when I include anything else in the pot besides water and salt.  And usually I don't even add salt until after the rice is cooked. So even though the recipe called for the artichokes, chickpeas, and seasonings to go in the pot along with the rice, I only added them during the last five minutes of the cooking time after the rice had cooked thoroughly tender.  I omitted sautéing the garlic in oil, and just added it to the rice along with the artichokes and chickpeas. If you have a choice between canned and frozen artichoke hearts, go for the frozen - they are leagues ahead of the canned variety in both flavor and texture.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tropical Black Bean Salad with Mango

As often as I've seen recipes pairing mangos with black beans, the "Tropical Black Bean Salad with Mango" (page 76) is the first time I actually tried it.  Not because I don't think this sounds wonderful, I just don't look forward to wrestling with the mango, and they aren't always available.  I'm glad I finally took the plunge and made this salad.  The flavors are fresh and vibrant, and very complimentary.  Along with the beans and mango, there is red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno.  The dressing is supposed to include grapeseed oil, along with lime and agave nectar, plus a sprinkle of cayenne.  I left the oil out altogether and didn't miss a thing.  This might be a little zippy for those sensitive to spicy foods, but I found the heat a wonderful component of this salad.  This makes a lot, but the recipe is easy to cut in half.

Peruvian-Inspired Stuffed Potatoes

Not only are potatoes highly recommended on The McDougall Plan, they happen to be high on my list of favorite foods, as well.  But I was just a tiny bit skeptical when I read the recipe for "Peruvian-Inspired Stuffed Potatoes" (page 341) and saw raisins listed as an ingredient. I like raisins in lots of things, but never tried them in a potato before. (I thought this might appeal more to my husband, who, even though somewhat finicky, is always asking me to include raisins in anything I bake.)  Besides the raisins, these double baked potatoes are also stuffed with onion, garlic, tofu, olives, and parsley and happen to be very good! Actually it was hard to tell the difference between the raisins and the olives, not only in appearance, but in texture and taste as well.  I simplified the recipe somewhat by substituting diced green onions instead of bulb onion, and I didn't sauté any of the ingredients at all (thereby passing up the oil altogether).  I simply baked the potatoes, scooped out the flesh, mixed in the remaining ingredients, stuffed back into the potato skins and baked.  The leftovers were excellent the next day, reheated briefly in the microwave.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Couscous Pilaf

The "Couscous Pilaf" (page 278) can be served either hot off the stove, room temperature, or even cold.  I tried each way, and all three were good.  Dried apricots and cranberries lend a chewy sweetness to the pilaf, the toasted almond slivers add a nice crunch, and the veggies (carrots, peas, red onion, and parsley) add a rainbow of color.  Couscous is so easy to prepare, no cooking per se required, just add boiling water and remove from heat, covered, for about 10 minutes.  The recipe doesn't specify, but I used whole wheat couscous, and I honestly cannot tell the difference between this and the refined white flour version.  I omitted the oil for sautéing the veggies, using a little water instead.  This would be a great dish to bring to a potluck as a salad side, and it makes a very large quantity.  It's amazing how one cup of dried couscous can grow!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Polenta with Spicy Tomato Ragu

If you look at the recipes below, you will begin to see a theme.  First the Marinara Sauce, then the Basic Polenta, which were both made in preparation for the "Polenta with Spicy Tomato Ragu" (page 277).  This is very warming, very comforting, and a very tasty preparation.  The Marinara Sauce is doctored up a bit with the addition of sautéed onions and mushrooms (I omitted the oil as the natural "sweating" of the mushrooms provided enough moisture during the sauté),  plus some spices and crushed red pepper for the spicy part of the recipe.  The finished ragu is ladled over the warm, creamy Polenta.  This dish is definitely a keeper!  By not adding the oil in the polenta, the marinara, and the ragu, I ended up omitting three tablespoons of fat.  This adds up to 358 calories and 41 grams of fat not included in my version.  Amazing how it all adds up, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Basic Polenta

Polenta is one of my comfort foods.  I love it soft and creamy topped with maple syrup and soy milk for breakfast.  I like it soft and creamy topped with savory sauces for dinner.  I like it cooled until firm, then sliced and grilled or dry-fried in the skillet.  There is nothing complicated or unusual about the "Basic Polenta" (page 276) recipe in this book.  Like most polenta recipes, this one calls for oil (some call for butter or margarine) to be stirred into the polenta once it is cooked.  I omitted this step, as I always do, keeping it compliant with the McDougall Plan guidelines.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Marinara Sauce

After making the "Marinara Sauce" (page 194), I see no need to purchase canned or jarred marinara ever again.  This recipe is ridiculously quick and easy, made with ingredients you can find in any grocery store, namely canned crushed tomatoes, garlic, and fresh or dried spices.  The sauce ends up tasting like something that simmered all day, when in reality you simmer for a mere 15 minutes.  I did not cook the garlic in oil as instructed in the recipe, I simply added it in along with the other spices.  Try this!  It may become your new favorite marinara, too! Hint - use the highest quality crushed tomatoes available for the richest flavor.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sherry-Braised Baby Bok Choy

My (old) favorite way to prepare baby bok choy is to simmer it in soy sauce and sliced garlic, so the recipe for "Sherry-Braised Baby Bok Choy" (page 357) was already half way there.  Here you take whole baby bok choy and simmer it not only in soy sauce and garlic, but sherry and ginger as well.  What a great blend of flavors!  I made a couple of changes.  I sliced both the ginger and the garlic, rather than mincing then, and I omitted the step of softening them in oil altogether.  Rather, I put everything in a large skillet, covered with a lid, and simmered until tender.  Easy, delicious, and totally fat free!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chilled Cucumber Salad

The "Chilled Cucumber Salad" (page 60) starts with a basic recipe using cucumbers, onion, and dill, plus some seasonings, and dressed with lemon and olive oil.  Following the main recipe there are six variations, swapping out the dill for basil or parsley, the onion for garlic, cilantro instead of dill, lime or sherry vinegar instead of lemon and so on. (I wonder, do these variations count towards the "1000" recipes?)  The recipe as written calls for a whopping ¼ cup olive oil, but when looking over the ingredients list, I felt nothing would be lost by leaving it out altogether, without trying to replace it with anything else.  So, my version consisted of cucumbers, red onion, a squeeze of lime, cilantro, small sprinkles of salt and pepper, and served over a bed of salad greens.  This was a perfect dish to start our dinner of Mulligatawny Soup (see recipe below).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mulligatawny Soup

More cold weather, and the "Mulligatawny Soup" (page 155) turned out to be the perfect warmer-upper. The process consisted of cooking up red lentils, onion, celery, carrot, bell pepper, and hot pepper in broth, along with the curry, and other seasonings, pureeing this mixture in a blender, then returning to the pot and adding uncooked rice, then cooking that for about thirty minutes.  When the rice is done, you add coconut milk, diced apples, and cilantro.  When I add uncooked brown rice to soups, for some reason it doesn't seem to get "done" the way I like it, the way it does when cooking up a pot of just rice, so I opted to cook the rice separately, then add it to the soup.  I also added about twice the amount called for to give the soup some extra body.  I really like this soup! It is bursting with flavor, and sort of reminded me of a thin Dal, another Indian dish I am very fond of.

This soup presented me with a number of challenges, the biggest one being my husband isn't overly fond of curry, or Indian food in general.  I didn't mention to him that this soup did in fact contain curry, and was an Indian dish, hoping that if he tried it with an open mind, he might find he liked it.  And actually, he liked it more than I thought he would, but still couldn't make friends with the curry flavor.  The second challenge was the two tablespoons of oil called for, but that was easy to just omit, and I sautéed the veggies in a little broth instead.  The third challenge was trying to decide whether or not to use the coconut milk called for. Not technically forbidden on the McDougall Plan, it is quite, no, extremely, high in fat, saturated fat, no less, and the recipe called for 12 ounces.  I had heard the idea of using soy or rice or almond milk flavored with a bit of coconut extract in place of coconut milk, and thought this would be a good time to give that a try.  I used about 1/8th teaspoon of extract, plus a drop or two more in 12 ounces of soymilk, and it was actually wonderful!  I could see using this substitution in any number of recipes calling for coconut milk.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mylie's Secret Queso Dip

"Mylie's Secret Queso Dip" (page 13) reminded me of very thick nacho cheese, or even of a cheese style fondue.  I've explored lots of uncheeses since becoming vegan, especially enjoying the recipes from Jo Stepaniak in her Uncheese Cookbook, and this recipe includes the usual ingredients that give it the cheesy flavor - namely, nutritional yeast and tahini.  This is a warm dip, and requires a bit of preparation, dicing up and sautéing onions, whisking oat flour into a roux, and adding several other ingredients to end up with a thick and chunky dip (from canned diced tomatoes and chilies).  I opted to use Rotel tomatoes for a spicier version, a good choice. I left out the oil and sautéed the onion in a little water instead.  I thought the dip was extremely thick, and ended up adding about ½ cup of water to get it to the consistency I wanted.  The recipe says to add more soy milk if needed to thin it down; I used water for a more neutral flavor.  This dip does a good job standing in for nacho cheese style dips.  I used it on homemade vegan oil-free tamales, and baked oil-free corn tortilla chips.  I think it would be especially good over baked potatoes.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cashew Cream

Every December 31st my mother would blend up a batch of Grasshoppers to help us ring in the New Year, a mixed drink consisting of Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cacao, heavy cream, and ice, and it was my Grandmother whom I remember liking them best!  This year, being away from family, I was getting nostalgic for something traditional, and thought I would resurrect the Grasshopper.  Of course, I didn't want to use dairy cream, and thought that the "Cashew Cream" (page 493) would be the perfect choice. Oh, was it ever!  The Cashew Cream is actually one of six options to be used as a base for the vegan ice creams (Nice Creams) in this book, but filled in nicely for the purpose I had in mind.  It is basically equal parts raw cashews and water, blended until smooth and creamy.  Decadent, rich, and thick - almost spoonable - and definitely something to be used sparingly!