A word about weight loss

I love food.

But food and I don’t enjoy a drama-fee love affair.  We’re in a little bit of a love-hate relationship.  I love food, I hate that it is the main reason I’ve been overweight all of my life.  I’ve lost over 50 pounds in the last 3 years and I’m working to lose 20 more.  It hasn’t been fast, and it hasn’t always been easy.

I’ve lost all of the weight on the Weight Watchers PointsPlus program.  You will occasionally see mention of Point Plus values.  I lie by ’em.  And for the recipes that don’t mention the point value, well, that’s because you don’t want to know.

Plum and Walnuts Mini Cakes

The truth of the matter is that Grandma knows best… even if it isn’t your grandma.  Grandma’s, in general, know best.

I had been eyeing this recipe for Plum and Walnut Cake from Big Girls, Small Kitchen for ages.  It had been bookmarked, researched, and drooled over.  When we got  big bunch of plums from our farm share the other week, I knew it’s moment had come.  It was time to make cake!

But, wanting to make things difficult, I changed the recipe a little bit.  I mean a little bit.  Basically, I added a step of toasting the walnuts and baked the cake in muffin tins to make individual mini cakes rather than a sheet cake.  Otherwise, it was exactly the same.  Why mess with perfection?  Cara’s grandmother, Esther, had been making the cake for years.  The cake was so loved that Cara is planning to serve it at her wedding.  Why did I think I could make it better?!

The batter came together easily and beautifully, no mixer necessary.  Into the muffin tins it went.  The, into the oven.  I was feeling accomplished…

Until I looked in to check on their progress and they were overflowing.  I waited, and they abated but the end result was nearly impossible to get out of the pan.  The muffin tops…well… were quite flabby.

But when I tasted them, my oh my, there was nothing to be upset about.  Because of my changes to the recipe they were ugly but, thanks to the perfection of Grandma Esther’s recipe, they were delicious.  Sweet, nutty, almost caramel-ey, yet with a tart surprise from the plums, these Plum and Walnut Mini Cakes were unbelievably good.

And next time, I’ll just follow Grandma Esther’s damn recipe word for word.  Grandma’s know best.

Plum and Walnut Mini Cakes
Makes 24 mini cakes

Adapted from Grandma Esther’s Plum and Walnut Cake from Big Girls, Small Kitchen

Ingredients
1 cup oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cups plums, pitted, cut in bite-sized pieces

Oil muffin tin. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the oil, sugar, and eggs.

Toast the walnuts and roughly chop.

In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Pour the dry ingredients over the wet and fold in. Fold in the fruit and the walnuts.

Pour batter into muffin tins, taking care to not overfill (like I did!).  Bake about 40 minutes, until the top is crisp and brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted in comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for about 15 minutes.  Gently run a knife around the outside of the muffin tin to loosen the mini cakes.  Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.

What I’ve Been Snacking On

I have a killer sweet tooth.  I need something sweet after dinner every night, usually of the chocolate variety.  In an attempt to avoid because the size of an elephant, I try to make this nightly indulgence a small treat.  Enter my tried-and-true dark chocolate and dried apricots.

Just a square of chocolate and 2 or 3 apricots is all I need.  I nibble each, mixing them together for the perfect combination.  I get go for the dark chocolate they have by the cash registers at Trader Joe’s (3 bars in a pack) and nearly any dried apricot will do.  The more plump, the better.

One day, if I get fancy, I might go through the effort of dipping the apricot in chocolate.

But for now, it’s all crinkled wrappers and little nibbles.

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Salad

 

Poor carrots.  They are truly an under appreciated vegetable.

There they sit in the veggie draw for weeks, always playing the supporting role; the base for soup, the delivery vehicle for dip, mixed into a carrot cake if they’re lucky (but you know the true star is the cream cheese frosting, anyway.)  They are the plain-jane girl in every teen movie, sweet and lovely but not exciting enough to even be considered for a leading role.

Until now… This is the moment of transformation or the carrot.  Just like Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries or Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed, I’m giving the good old carrot a makeover and you will never be able to look at her the same way again.  The secret?  ROAST the carrot.  The high heat brings out their natural sweetness.  They’re delicious roasted with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Add some thyme and a purple onion while you’re at it.

This recipe for Roasted Rainbow Carrot Salad with Citrus Cumin Dressing from A Cozy Kitchen does a beautiful job of celebrating the roasted carrot.  I altered the recipe ever-so-slightly but didn’t change much because, dang, it was pretty near perfect the way she developed it.

And now, it’s time to appreciate the lowly carrot…

 

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Salad

adapted from A Cozy Kitchen
serves 2 generously

Salad:

1 pound carrots (peeled and thinly sliced)

1 avocado, cubed

2 ounces goat cheese, cubed

2 cups arugula

Dressing:

1 shallot, minced

1 lemon

1 orange

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.  Spread the carrots on a baking sheet.  Use 2 baking sheets if necessary, like a boyfriend or someone disarming a time bomb, THEY NEED ROOM!  If they’re too close they will start to steam and it will be difficult to get that sweet caramelized roasted deliciousness you’re looking for.  Roast for 15-20 minutes until starting to brown, stirring once.

Mince the shallot and place in a small mixing bowl.  Juice the lemon and orange over the shallots.  Whisk in the olive oil and add the cumin and salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the salad, lay the arugula in the bottom of a serving bowl or platter.  Toss with just  a bit of olive oil.  Sprinkle carrots,goat cheese, and avocado on top.  Drizzle on the dressing and serve.

Zucchini, Pistachio, and Mint Salad

Sometimes diet food gets a bad wrap.  From bland steamed vegetables to cardboard-esque rice cakes, food that’s good for you and (and your waist line) is not necessarily the food that you want to eat.

This Zucchini Salad manages to do the nearly impossible, it makes diet food decadent.  It’s straight-up, 100% good-for-you while still managing to be de-licious and fancy-feeling.  It’s basically raw zucchini, arugula, and lemon juice with just enough input from the decadence (decadence?  In diet food?!) of pistachios, cheese, and olive oil to make it worth eating.  The flavors are full and sophisticated, while the presentation makes you feel like you’re eating something lavish and naughty.

Steamed vegetables, move over.  Diet food just got self-indulgent.

 

Zucchini, Pistachio, and Mint Salad

Adapted from Epicurious

Serves 3-4

2 small zucchini

1/8 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 cup pistachios (unsalted, roasted)

1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 heaping cup baby arugula

Cut zucchini lengthwise into paper-thin slices with a vegetable peeler. Arrange slices, overlapping slightly, in in a thin layer.

Make stacks of mint leaves and cut crosswise into very thin slivers, then sprinkle over zucchini.

Whisk together oil and lemon juice in a small bowl, reserve 1/8 cup of the dressing, then drizzle the rest over the zucchini. Sprinkle with sea salt, pepper to taste.  Let stand 10 minutes to soften zucchini and allow flavors to develop.

After 10 minutes, toss the arugula in the remaining dressing and place in a mound in the center of the plate.

Just before serving, use a vegetable peeler to shave cheese to taste over zucchini then top the dish with the pistachios and mint.

 

*To adapt for vegans, omit the cheese.

Pan con Tomate

“The simplest things are often the truest.”
-Richard Bach
When you combine good bread, good olive oil, and a good tomato you get something great.  Pan con Tomato is simple but divine.
What more can be said?

PAN CON TOMATE

makes 2 servings

2 slices good bread

1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon good olive oil
coarse sea salt
1 ripe  tomato
Grill or toast the bread
Peel the garlic clove and cut in half.  Rub the toasted bread with the garlic, cut side again the bread.   Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle on some salt.
Rub and smash the tomato against the bread so that the pulp saturates the toast.
Sprinkle with more salt, drizzle on a little more olive oil, and enjoy.  Simple as that.

Summer Berry Crisp

CrispThis is the world’s best crisp recipe.  Believe me.  I’ve tried my share.

And, it’s also the easiest.

Oats, butter, sugar, flour, cinnamon.

+

Fruit, sugar, flour.

BAM.  Done.

This is the kind of dessert you can throw together in 10 minutes, bake, and serve warm to friends and they will think you are the second coming on Martha Stewart.  They will grovel at you feet.  They will break their diets and use expletives at the dining room table.  And you?  You will have barely perspired.

They key to success is to use fruit that is in peek season.  In early summer use fresh berries.  When the season starts to turn, move towards peaches and stone fruits.  By fall, you can welcome in the the apples.  Don’t be as driven by the recipe as by what fruit is overflowing at the Farmer’s Market.  I made this crisp in the height of berry season, so that’s what I used but you can substitute any fruit or combinations of fruit… as long as you stick to 4 cups.

SUMMER BERRY CRISP

makes 5 to 6 servings

 For the crisp topping:
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
2/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the berries:
4 cups fresh berries (a combo of blueberries, raspberries, cherries, strawberries, blackberries)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2.  Make the crisp topping by combining the oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the diced butter to the dry ingredients And smoosh together with you fingertips until all of the flour and oats are incorporated and it has the crumbly texture of wet sand.  Don’t go overboard with the smooshing- you don’t want to melt the butter with the heat of your hands.

3. In a 9-inch pie pan or casserole dish toss the berries with the sugar and flour, using a rubber spatula. Cover the berries with the crisp topping.

4.  Place the pan in the oven and bake until the top begins to brown and the juices are bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes.  (HELPFUL HINT: You might want to put a cookie sheet or tin foil under the pan to catch any juices that get overexcited and spill over.  The bottom of your oven will thank you)

5.  Serve warm or room temperature.  With ice cream or without.

The Best Tomato Sauce Never Cooked

Best Tomato Sauce Never Cooked

It’s summer.  It’s hot.  The kitchen is really hot.  What’s a cook to do?

Get thee to a farmer’s market!  Buy a bunch of sweet, delicious cherry tomatoes and get ready for The Best Tomato Sauce NEVER Cooked.  You don’t need to turn on the oven, no need to let anything simmer, just combine fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil and let them do their thing.  This recipe is quick but requires a lot of time to let the tomatoes and garlic marinate… which is sort of how I feel in the summer.  Just let me sit and chill out and everything will be just fiiiiiine.

The Best Tomato Sauce Never Cooked

adapted from The Kitchn
serves 4 generously

2 pints cherry or grape tomates, roughly chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
12 leaves of basil, cut into fine strips
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 pound angel hair pasta

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)

3 basil leaves, for garnish (optional)

Place tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil into a large serving bowl. Stir until combined.  Add just a dash of salt.

Cover the bowl and let marinate at room temp for about two hours.  Stir every 30 minutes or so, and get ready for the most delicious garlic smells to come at you.  Boil pasta, drain, and pour into the bowl with the tomato mixture.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add more fresh basil and some Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Enjoy warm or room temperature…outside preferably, even if it just mean stepping out on to the fire escape.