Friday, June 29, 2012

Chocolate Zucchini Snack Cake

I was in detox this week.

It’s not what you think.

It’s actually the quick start program of the Flat Belly Diet that I like to do once a year to “cleanse” my system.  During the four Jump Start days, you have to drink at least 2 liters of “Sassy Water” per day which is water infused with ginger, cucumbers , lemon and mint.  The ginger calms and soothes the CI tract, the cucumber and lemon provide fiber and potassium, and the mint adds flavor and color.
The food selection during the four Jump Start days is pretty limited, but my reward for the discipline required to stick with the program is feeling healthier and less bloated.  Armed with this new found svelteness also comes the motivation to trim those extra three or four pounds that, if left unchecked could turn into eight or ten pounds.  After completing the Jump Start, I eagerly anticipate preparing one of the many amazing recipes in the Flat Belly Plan book, like the Chocolate Zucchini Snack Cake. 
I put younger daughter on detox as well.

I think she just may pass out on me due to lack of (her ususal) food.
I did not have any whole wheat flour left, so I substituted buckwheat flour, which (I think) made for an even healthier version of this snack.  You might think that buckwheat is a grain…not true; it is a fruit seed related to rhubarb, and does not contain protein glutens, so it is often eaten by those with gluten allergies.  I make pancakes with buckwheat flour and you can read about that here.

 Here is a photo of my cake.
Here is a photo of the cake in the recipe book.  As you can see, the buckwheat flour made for a much darker, much more dense cake.

Chocolate Zucchini Snack Cake

1 ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs (I used an egg white substitute)
½ cup sugar
½ cup low-fat vanilla yogurt (I used FAGE Total Greek Yogurt, plain)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups shredded zucchini
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided.  I used Scharffen Berger Bittersweet Artisan Baking Chunks.

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat an 11" x 8" baking pan with cooking spray.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Whisk the eggs, sugar, yogurt, oil, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Whisk in the zucchini and 1 ½ cups of the chips. Stir into the flour mixture just until blended. Spread into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

4. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining 1 ½  cups chips over the cake. Spread with a small spatula as they melt to form an icing, placing back into the warm oven, if needed, for about 1 minute.
I tried a little piece…it’s different, but really good.  

Nutrition Info Per Serving (1/12 of cake):  361 Cal, 5 g pro, 47 g carbs, 17 g fat, 4 g fiber, 175 mg sodium

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Hydrangea Plant

I have a beautiful hydrangea plant in my yard.

It used to be blue.

Now it’s pink.

I know it’s not my imagination because when I bought it, I remember thinking that it was the most beautiful shade of blue ever.  So I decided to figure out why and how the color of the flower could change once planted.

Architect suggested I research why and write this post because I was complaining about lamenting the color change....perhaps to shut me up.

I am not a horticulturalist so following my extensive Internet research I found that the color of a hydrangea is determined by the pH level in the dirt and by adjusting the pH (potential Hydrogen) acid/alkaline balance you can turn your budded beauty into a chameleon.  

I read that it is much easier to change a hydrangea from pink to blue than it is to change it from blue to pink so I guess I am lucky in that regard!  A blue hydrangea means the soil contains aluminum and it is easier to add aluminum than to extract it!  

To change the color of your hydrangea to BLUE make a mixture of water (1 gallon) and aluminum sulfate (1 tablespoon) and feed to the plant.  In order for this to work, the pH in the soil must be low.  To check the acidity, scoop some soil into a container. Then, add a half-cup of vinegar. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it has high acidity…thank you!

Apparently burying steel wool under your blue hydrangeas will make the blue more vivid.  Who knew, but I guess that makes sense.

To change the color of your hydrangea to PINK adjust the amount of aluminum in the soil by adding dolomitic lime (limestone that is partially calcium magnesium carbonate) several times a year or fertilize with phosphorus to keep aluminum away from the hydrangea.

Both aluminum sulfate and dolomitic lime are available at your local garden center.

Does Home Depot count as a garden center?

To change the color of a white hydrangea….well, you can’t change the color of a white hydrangea.  Sometimes a hint of green or pink will peek through but that’s because it’s what the plant wants to do.  Nature rules.

And the root of hydrangea – hydra – indicates that the plant requires a lot of water to maintain its vibrant petals!

Your hydrangea should be at least 3 years old before attempting any color modification.  BTW…these are not abracadabra alterations… just as when a woman changes her hair color, to maintain the hydrangea color of choice, you must continue the regimen several times per year.

Maybe we should just be happy with the color we have.  Of the hydrangea, I mean.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rigatoni Swarthmuzzi

My girls and I occasionally go to Bertucci’s.

We let others come with us from time to time. 

There are several things we routinely the Caprese Salad, Shrimp Rossini, an Appletini and the Rigatoni Abruzzi. I really like to recreate meals I enjoy when we eat out so I'll make meal recreation a weekly series this summer since my dinner group is taking a hiatus.

So, while driving home from work tonight I stop at Trader Joe's to get the ingredients to recreate the Rigatoni Abruzzi...Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage, Tomato Basil Sauce, Roasted Red Peppers and rigatoni.

I almost died in the parking lot but that’s a different story.

While the pasta was boiling, I threw the sausage on the grill, then I sliced the peppers and added them to the sauce and let that simmer for a bit. When the sausage was grilled to perfection (not really, but, you know what I mean) I sliced them into bite size pieces. I drained the noodles, mixed every thing together and served with shaved parmesan cheese on top.

Easy as could be and so good! Just like at the Bertuccis...and two-thirds the calories per serving!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Glazed Coconut Lemon Bars

It was Architect’s turn to host dinner…I had a function to attend after work and told my culinary cronies not to hold dinner for me.  I arrived almost an hour late and to my complete delight, they waited for me.

What nice friends!

Boy, am I glad I did not miss dinner! Architect served the most delicious smoked salmon served on a bed of French lentils.  She got the fully prepared salmon - wrapped in a tidy, hermetically-sealed package -- at Traders Joes. 

After preparing the lentils with sautéed onions, orange peppers and parsley, she placed the salmon on top, drizzled on some lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, capers and sage leaves and we were ready to enjoy a lovely dinner just perfect for an early summer evening!

My assignment was dessert and, considering the imminent arrival of bathing suit season, I decided to make something delectable but also waistline friendly.  These little bars of lemon lusciousness are only 110 calories per 2” bar!

You might think that delectable and waistline are mutually exclusive. Not in this recipe that uses an egg substitution product and a low-fat and cholesterol free version of Bisquick! I did not use as much coconut as the recipe suggested since coconut can get a little pricey in the calorie and sodium department!

Glazed Coconut Lemon Bars

1 cup Bisquick Heart Smart® mix
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons firm butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup flaked coconut
1 tablespoon Bisquick Heart Smart® mix
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup fat-free egg product

Lemon Glaze
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1.  Heat oven to 350°F. In small bowl, mix 1 cup Bisquick mix and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar. Cut in butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through mixture in opposite directions), until crumbly. Press in ungreased 8-inch square pan.
2. Bake uncovered about 10 minutes or until light brown. Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix all remaining bar ingredients. Pour coconut mixture over baked layer.
3.  Bake about 25 minutes longer or until set and golden brown. Loosen edges from sides of pan while warm.
4.  In small bowl, stir lemon glaze ingredients until smooth; spread over bars. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into bars.

These are so incredibly good!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spring Pea Soup

We had dinner at Foodie’s on Wednesday.

She pulled a rabbit out of her hat.

The crab she planned to use for the soup she made was not as fresh as it should be. Fresh crab should smell sweet and this crab had a strong, fishy smell, so she improvised with chopped artichokes, diced peppers and peas instead! We didn’t know the difference. It was all good.

The inspiration for this ladled goodness was the Spring Pea Soup she had at Stateside, her new favorite restaurant located at 1536 E. Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. The name Stateside is perfect for this quaint 28-seat (plus 12 bar stools) gastropub because the mostly small-plate menu focuses on locally-sourced products and showcases ingredients and techniques common to the United States….food and spirits. I love that the building used to be home to a dry cleaner!

The Spring Pea Soup at Stateside is served with lump crab salad, mint, and garnished with yogurt. Although Foodie’s makeshift version featured delicious substitutions, we all agreed that the soup would be amazing with the crab salad, or perhaps even a surprise (and sunken) crab cake!

Spring Pea Soup

1. Sauté leeks, onions and shallots in a little butter…mix it up but ½ cup total. Add 2 cups of chicken broth cook for 40 minutes.

2. Add 3-4 cups of fresh shelled peas and cook for a few minutes more. Puree with an immersion blender and then strain the mixture through a sieve….catching all the chunky stuff and leaving behind the velvety liquid.

3. Add chopped tarragon and mint (to taste), 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/8 cup heavy cream.

4. Place chopped artichokes, peppers and peas in a bowl and ladle the soup on top. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt) and a sprig of mint!

The soup can be served warm or cold…Foodie served it cold.

We also enjoyed a great Malbec from Argentina (I should have brought a U.S. wine to complement the theme!) and fresh strawberries (locally grown) with cream for dessert.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is younger daughter...guest posting.

I was hankering for some dessert on Sunday and all mom had in the house was six-month old Oreos, and McVities Digestive Wheat Biscuits.  As usual. 


So I decided to make Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from scratch.

I found the recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal can or box or whatever it’s called.  Mom took photos for me.

Making oatmeal cookies is a great way to use the half can/box of oatmeal in your cupboard that you can’t bear to throw away.  Plus, oatmeal reduces cholesterol…or so the can says.

Use a small ice cream scooper to gather up the perfect amount of dough to plop it on the cookie sheet right where it belongs.

Vanishing Oatmeal (Chocolate Chip) Cookies
(makes 4 dozen cookies)

½ cup plus 6 tablespoons of butter, softened
¾ cup of firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups of quick oats
1 cup of chocolate chips or raisins

Heat oven to 350°. 

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed using a mixer, until creamy.

Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.

Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well.

Add oats and mix in by hand.

Add chocolate chips or raisins.

Drop dough on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet then remove to wire rack. 

 Some of these cookies got a little bit too friendly while in the oven!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Grilled Branzino

We had dinner at Singer’s house last week.  We spent a lovely evening dining on her porch sipping fruit-infused prosecco as the sun peaked through the wisteria-laced pergola.  Our gracious hostess was busy preparing the pièce de résistance.

We could not wait to eat.

She made grilled branzino, European sea bass.   This little silver fish with a white belly typically weighs about two pounds. Its low in fat and the white meat is firm and tasty with very few bones that are easy to remove.

Branzino, also known as spigole in Italy, lubina or róbalo in Spain, and loup de mer in France can be baked, poached or grilled.  Singer grilled her two little treasures for 10 minutes on each side after rubbing each with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper and filling the cavity with herbs.  She presented the whole fish slathered with a simple parsley verde.

For the parsley verde mix together:

1/4 cup of lemon juice
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
Bunch of chopped parsley
Dash of hot pepper flakes
Dash of kosher or sea salt

Drizzle on fish before serving.  This sauce perfectly balanced the sweetness of the fish.

To serve the branzino, cut off the tail and place a slit near the head. Carefully insert a paring knife into the back and gently pull the flesh away from the backbone. The bones of this fish are very soft and some dissolve during cooking, keeping the meat flavorful and moist.

This is fancy (but easy) fish eating indeed…definitely not the boxed fish-fare served up courtesy of some craggy old dude in a yellow rain slicker!

We also had roasted potatoes, field greens, fig, cherry and blue cheese salad and a luscious bottle of red wine.  For dessert…fresh strawberries with coconut gelato. 

A perfect late spring evening.