Lemon-Herb Dressed Vegetables

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Confession: I have never LOVED vegetables. I like them just fine. But you know how some vegetarians are in love with vegetables and could sustain themselves entirely on just plain vegetables? I’m not one of those people. I like carbs, and cheese, and chocolate, and all of those delicious-yet-terrible-for-your-diet things. Veggies just don’t rank that high with me. There are a lot of things I’d rather munch on.

But with the right vegetables, cooked the right way, with the right herbs, vegetables can be the most glorious accompaniment to any meal, or even a light lunch. These grilled vegetables are deliciously paired with a bright lemony herb dressing. It’s perfect for the unusually warm not-quite-autumn weather we’ve been having lately!

Lemon-Herb Dressed Vegetables
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
2-1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large zucchini, sliced into 1/2″ thick discs
1 large yellow squash, sliced into 1/2″ thick discs
1 red onion, sliced into 1/2″ rings
(see notes)

  1. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Cover with non-stick aluminum foil.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, basil, salt and pepper. Set dressing aside.
  3. Lightly spray vegetables with cooking spray, and grill until cooked through and slightly charred.
  4. Gently brush warm veggies with dressing. Serve warm, with extra dressing on the side, and garnished with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Notes:
Other yummy veggies that you can include in this dish are grape tomatoes, bell peppers and any other squash.

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Berry Poppyseed Salad

I don’t know why, but today, I came home from work and was starving! I have a wonderful dinner planned (which I will post about later on tonight), and I needed something light and easy, that wouldn’t ruin my appetite later, and fast — before I got too HANGRY. I went to my go-to salad for a quick fix. It was just enough to fill me up until dinnertime, and to prevent me from munching while I cook.

Berry Poppyseed Salad
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 0 minutes

Ingredients
Salad
12 cups baby spinach
2 cups strawberries, sliced
2 cups blackberries
1/4 cup almonds, sliced and unsweetened
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese

Dressing
1 cup fat free mayonnaise
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup Splenda, or other sugar substitute
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 Tbsp poppy seed
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)

  1. In a large bowl, toss together all salad ingredients.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined.
  3. Lightly dress salad with dressing, and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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Baked Cauliflower and Avocado Mash

My best friend, Elena, came over last night for dinner and to take lovely photos with her fancy camera of my food. How lucky am I to have such a generous friend! We spent the night laughing and “hashtag”ing everything a la celebrity BFFs Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake (see below for the video!).

As a side dish, I wanted to experiment with this wonderful head of cauliflower that I bought from the farmer’s market this week. I knew I wanted something creamy, especially since the Spaghetti Squash “Mac” and Cheese screamed “comfort food.” I figured an avocado, with all its green, creamy goodness would be a great addition to the dish!

Baked Cauliflower and Avocado Mash
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
Cooking spray
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced
1 avocado, cubed
3 Tbsp lowfat Greek yogurt
4 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, shaved and divided
1 Tbsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a baking dish.
  2. Rinse and drain cauliflower, and place into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with a microwave-safe lid or plate. Microwave on high for approximately 5 minutes, or until very tender. Set aside to cool.
  3. In the meantime, spray a saute pan lightly with cooking spray. Saute garlic and onions on medium-high heat until soft and translucent. Remove from heat.
  4. Combine cauliflower and avocado in a large bowl. Using a fork or potato masher, mash and combine the cauliflower and avocado.
  5. Stir in garlic and onions, Greek yogurt, 2 Tbsp Parmesan, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper. Mix until well combined.
  6. Pour mixture into baking dish. Top with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.

SONY DSCPhotography by Elena Irizarry

Spaghetti Squash “Mac” and Cheese

Name one thing more delicious than macaroni and cheese. I’d think you’re hard-pressed to find a more delicious and satisfying comfort food. When I was a little girl, the only thing I’d eat other than super cheesy grilled cheese sandwiches was super cheesy macaroni and cheese. And chocolate cake. But that’s totally a different story.

And then I grew up, carbs became a national enemy and my metabolism came to a screeching halt.

About a decade ago, my mom joined Weight Watchers and learned about this “amazing” squash that mimic spaghetti when cooked. How wonderful, she said, that we could eat spaghetti without actually eating spaghetti! I looked longingly at the boxed pastas in the grocery store, and flatly said “no way.”

This is just another example about how my mother was always right.

I was re-introduced to spaghetti squash a few years ago, during the first fall that I lived in an apartment with a real kitchen. And boy oh boy, was it yummy! And unbelievably time consuming. I spent an embarrassingly long time just trying to cut the squash in half (it’s really hard, okay?!) and then I cooked it for over an hour in the oven. I was hungry and bored and angry at a stupidly beautiful yellow squash.

So, I did research, and found out, you can microwave those things. WHOLE. Yes. Incredible. And it’s just as delicious as it is cooked all other ways.

And it’s delicious covered in cheese.

Spaghetti Squash “Mac” and Cheese
Serves 6
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
1 large spaghetti squash, or 2 small spaghetti squashes
Cooking spray
1 Tbsp light butter
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 cup onions, sliced
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cup lowfat milk
3/4 cup low sodium vegetable broth
1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh baby spinach
2 Tbsp shaved Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly spray a deep baking dish.
  2. Using a sharp knife, poke several holes into the squash. Microwave on high for 10-15 minutes, or until the skin becomes soft. Allow it to rest for an additional 5 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, melt butter in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Saute garlic and onions until soft and translucent.
  4. Add the flour to the saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook for about 1 minute.
  5. Stir in the milk and broth, and stir to combine, making sure to break up all of the pieces of flour. Add red pepper flakes and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium, stirring frequently until sauce becomes thick.
  6. Remove from heat and stir shredded cheese into sauce until melted and well-combined. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  7. Carefully slice squash in half (see notes). Spoon out seeds and discard. Use a fork on the cooked flesh to make spaghetti-like strands. Gently blot the strands with a paper towel to soak up the excess moisture.
  8. Toss the spaghetti squash strands, cheese sauce and spinach together. Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 375°F for 15-18 minutes, until cheese becomes bubbly.

Notes:
When you cut into the squash, be prepared for a flood of water and steam!

SONY DSCSONY DSC
Photography by Elena Irizarry

Hard Boiled Egg, Mixed Fruit and Cottage Cheese Breakfast On-The-Go

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I had about 2 minutes this morning to pack my breakfast and get myself out the door, so I threw together a protein-packed breakfast to get me through the day. I wake up so early in the morning (5:30am ugh) and don’t have much of an appetite until later on in the day, while I’m at work. So instead of getting a fatty, greasy breakfast from the cafeteria at work, I like to bring something healthier and more balanced. If only getting through the work day could be so easy!

Avocado, Mango and Black Bean Salad

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I am obsessed with avocados. Literally obsessed. I wish I could remember the first time I had an avocado, because I’m sure that I was completely unaware of how much more delicious life would be from that point forward.

I remember the first time I ate a mango, though. I hated it. I was visiting my aunt and uncle during the very peak of mango season, and I refused to take more than one bite of the chilled orange fruit. My mother was appalled, but she blissfully ate my share. I think on some level she was happy about it too, because it meant more sticky, sweet, juicy mangoes for her.

Then, last year, I sat at my cousin’s dining table with her then 2-year old daughter, who was cheerfully naming every color and letter and number she knew. My cousin made a beautiful spread of food for lunch, and on the side: mangoes. With much urging, and several not-so-subtle “mmm this is soooo good. You have no idea what you’re missing!” comments, I scooped a small piece of mango into my spoon. How incredible that first bite of mango was! As I furiously ate the rest of the mango slices, with deep orange juices covering my mouth and fingers, I begged my cousin not to tell my grandma how much I liked mangoes now. You see, I’d been refusing mangoes since I reached India, and my grandma kept trying to convince me otherwise.

Well, my cousin told my grandma, who was more thrilled than anyone else. But what ensued was sheer mango chaos. At every turn for my remaining time in the country, my grandma had a plate of mangoes just for me. I’d get out of the shower, and there would be a plate of mangoes waiting for me. After lunch? Mangoes. While watching TV? More beautiful mangoes. It was mango overload. And I loved every minute of it.

Now for the recipe. This salad is a mix of the things I love so dearly. Creamy avocados, sweet mangoes, earthy black beans, and bright lime — all combined in under 5 minutes! Give me a big bowl NOW.

Avocado, Mango and Black Bean Salad
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 0 minutes

Ingredients:
15 oz no salt added black beans, rinsed and drained
2 mangoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (see notes)
2 avocados, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 jalapeno, finely sliced (see notes)
3 Tbsp lime juice
Salt, to taste
Cilantro (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Serve chilled.

Notes:
Mangoes aren’t in season? Try adding peaches instead! Any soft, sweet, juicy fruit will provide excellent contrast to the creamy avocados.
Add more or fewer jalapenos to your spiciness preference.

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Breaking B[re]ad…

See what I did there?? Okay, I might be too obsessed with the upcoming Breaking Bad series finale…

Anyway.

I’ve thought of blogging at length: several hours spent considering how and what and when and why I would blog, and with whom I would share my posts. And, thanks to Pinterest, I’ve spent several more hours pouring over others’ blogs, collecting recipes inevitably forgotten about on my expansive pin board. Oops.

Recently, I shared a few recipes with my older brother. He’s a new dad to the most precious little girl I’ve ever known, a weekly business traveler, and more recently, diagnosed with high cholesterol. He gchatted me in a tizzy — what should I do? What should I eat? I need to exercise more and more and more and more! Obviously, my reaction was to make him a detailed 20-slide PowerPoint presentation on moderation, goal setting, and making small changes.

What makes me an authority on the topic? Well, nothing really. Maybe experience? 13-months ago, I started an incredible journey to become healthier. It hasn’t always been easy, and I’m not done yet, and honestly, I haven’t always been 100% compliant, but I’m getting there, one step at a time. My goals were simple: lose weight and get in shape. I read dozens and dozens of articles online (I’m an academic, what can I say?), and started tracking all of my food, water and exercise, and cutting out daily post-dinner bowls of ice cream.

I think “dieting” is hard for everyone. I don’t think that it was quantitatively harder for me in anyway, but it was not without its challenges. As a life-long vegetarian, a notorious picky eater, the owner of the world’s largest sweet tooth (unofficially), and a lover of eating out, I had several hurdles in my path. To make things more challenging, I started my journey just weeks before my birthday, which unofficially starts the holiday season. Uh oh. And just for fun, one MORE challenge: a hungry boyfriend. Double uh oh.

So with these challenges in mind, I got started. And with support, tenacity, and a few cheat days, I have made significant progress…and without a grumbly stomach. I’m not yet at my final goal. But I’m almost there. I’m 80% to my goal, and I ran a 5K (slowly) with my best friend over the summer. I can fit into several of my old clothes, and the last pair of pants I bought? FOUR full sizes smaller than my old pants. It’s pretty cool to see the before and after pictures, which I’ve included below.

To make a long story short, my purpose with this blog is chronicle my journey, and provide information and yummy recipes to whoever stumbles upon my site. Even if the only people that see the site are related to me — if they can get anything out of it, I’ll be happy. I’m looking at you, Dad.

Anyway, let’s eat.