Thursday, February 25, 2010

At the end of the day ... Cheese Souffle!

Today was the first day of the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival here in Hampton, Virginia, and I was there with friends as the doors opened this morning. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing than aisles and aisles of fabulous vendors and row after row of beautiful quilts!! And when my little feet just couldn't take another step -- after more than five hours -- I came home and fixed this light and lovely cheese souffle. And there's no better way to get my kitchen creativity going than to have my souffle actually puff the way it should!!

I haven't made a cheese souffle in probably 20 years. They first came into my recipe repertoire back in the early 1970s when I fell in love with Julia Child, but they haven't been "in fashion" for many years. Maybe I'll just start my own souffle trend again!

Here's a recipe that's not difficult and is really awesome!

Begin by making a thick white sauce: Melt 3 Tablespoons butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Stir in 4 Tablespoons flour until smooth. Slowly pour in 1 cup of milk, stirring all the time. Add a bit of salt and pepper and continue stirring as sauce thickens.

To your white sauce, add about a 1/4 pound of grated cheddar cheese. I generally use a bit more than a 1/4 pound because I like it cheesy, and because I love Gruyere, I add that when I have it. Continue stirring as cheese melts.

Separate four large eggs. In one bowl with the yolks, beat them with a fork or whisk. Add a bit of the cheese/white sauce, whisking the whole time. Now pour the eggs into the sauce and keep stirring. The reason you do this is to give the egg yolks a "heads up" that something hot is coming .. it raises the temperature of the eggs so that they won't curdle when you put them into hot sauce.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the cheese mixture. Pour into greased 2 qt souffle bowl (round casserole works fine). Bake at 300 degrees F for an hour and 15 minutes. Serve immediately to raves from your family and friends :)


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Six Weeks and ...

Six weeks have passed since my internal rearranging and I've lost 36 pounds!! woohoooo!! I flipped through my closet and saw a strange pair of pants that I pulled out. Lo and behold, wonder when I bought these little lovelies! Looked at the size tag and said to Howard, "Ohhh no way for these" ... but ever the optimist I tried to slip them on. WHOA! When I was fastening the last button I realized I actually had them on!! I LOVE THIS!!!

Puppy Names

While I was in my favorite Asian market the other day, I asked the owner how to say "Black Jade" in Chinese ... why? because I thought that might be a cute name for my new little black pug. My Western tongue just couldn't get around it well enough so it kept coming out "Hey You" which isn't really a CUTE name for the ...little girl.

I've also thought about flower names like "Pansy" and "Violet" but they aren't grabbing me. My very first idea was "Dolly" cuz she's such a teeny little thing. I like "Panda" but she doesn't have any white on her so it wouldn't really make sense.

Pugs are an ancient breed from China, hence I'm seeking an oriental-type name for her. Howard suggested General Tsao, but I pointed out it was a girl ... and Moo Shiu is too porky ... Maybe "Ming"?

Help me out here!! I'm looking for suggestions!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's not all about the food ...

Tomorrow is my chosen weigh-in day and also the six-week mark since my stomach was reduced (yeah, another photo opportunity lol!!!). I've gone from liquids to mushy "heaven" and the past couple of weeks have been enjoying "real" food. I've won most of the challenges, and found a few things that my stomach rejected straight away, but overall it's interesting to say the least.

I've also really learned that it isn't just about the food. I'm working hard to keep my head around the idea that it's about getting healthier! and that includes body, mind and spirit. How fun it was on Friday to go visit health clubs in the area and hear my husband say we could join together ... something to do as a couple, but something so good for both of us! (Besides our dancing lessons which aren't doing so well hehehe.) It's about feeling so fortunate that I was able to have this surgery, and the immediate benefits to my health ... and the nights that I can sleep all the way through without those "gentle nocturnal sounds" that my husband had to get used to. Now he keeps checking on me cuz he doesn't hear my breathing lol!! All in all I'd say my spirit is really good!

But back to food. It's sometimes hard to come to terms that the lovely piece of chicken in front of me needs to be eaten in tiny bites, slowly, and only a small portion of it is going to be consumed. No more of that "clean your plate" syndrome! It's also about not feeling deprived (which I don't and haven't!) because I'm doing so well and have so much positive reinforcement around me, from friends and family, to the wardrobe that has been packed up for these past few years.

There's a wonderful blog on the web, The World According to Egg Face that has been a true gift to me while I'm learning to live a different life. Shelly has tips and hints, she tells her story with great humor, and her recipes are incredible! This month she's also giving away some great gifts -- just because she wants to! I love this blog! She's even got recipes that take care of my sweet tooth, which I thought would be the biggest hurdle in my eating journey. I guarantee that whether you're eating more or eating less, you'll find somethings that you will put in your recipe files!

Last night we went out to eat for the first time since my surgery. I was so excited to see how I would do! Had my favorite steak -- well, 3 ounces of it -- and a bit of sweet potato, and a couple of grilled veggies ... and a "take home" container ... Even managed to have a bite of their warm brownie!! It was so fun to be out with my husband like a "normal" person lol!!

What's on your menu today? I'm thinking Italian ...

Pound Cake -- Not Just for Southern Belles!

Last night my friend Kay in Nebraska had a failed pound cake :( How sad is that after all those delicious aromas from the oven!! She asked for some good recipes, and I flew to my recipe box to pull out my "perfect" pound cake. I've been using this recipe since 1973!! and it hasn't failed me yet. Hope y'all have good luck, too!

9 large egg whites at room temperature
3 cups sifted all purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 cups sugar
9 egg yolks
2 cups butter at room temperature (be kind to your taste buds and use real butter)
2 t vanilla extract (you can also add lemon or almond extract with the vanilla)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting the top

Grease and flour a 10" tube pan or bundt pan and heat oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

2. On high speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, until soft peak form. Turn into separate bowl.

3. Using the same bowl, at high speed, beat egg yolks with remaining sugar, butter, and extracts, and continue beating for about 5 minutes. Your batter should be thick and yellowy.

4. On low speed, gradually beat in egg white mixture just until blended. You can also fold in the egg white mixture by hand. Using either method, be sure to scrape the batter from the sides of the bowl so that all of it is incorporated.

5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about an hour, until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

6. Cool slightly then turn onto wire rack to finish cooling. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Slice thinly with sharp knife.

yummmmmm :)
testing ... oh wow, this is cool! I connected my cell phone with my blog so I can post from anywhere! woohooo!!!! lol!! It's the simple things for me!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine sweets for my quilter friends!

How cute are these??!! Not your everyday lollipops -- these are "cake pops". Chocolate cake balls covered in chocolate. I made a batch of them for our quilty sewathon this weekend. Don't know who had more fun with them -- me making them, my friends eating them, or Karen who won the nostalgic Singer tin that I used for the container.

I found these a while back on Bakerella's website and knew that they were in my future! Now that I've made them, I am sure they will be making many more appearances. I used red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting for the inside. The trick for me was making sure the cake was chilled enough that the chocolate coating set fast enough to keep the little balls from rolling down the stick. I think they should be a little bit smaller, too, to help with the balance. But I sure did love making them!

Check her beautiful website for a little tutorial and some more fantastic ideas!!


Tilapia can have flavor!

This mild flavored fish lent itself beautifully to my experimenting last night! I took four lovely fillets and laid them in a lightly oiled baking pan (I only use first press extra virgin olive oil!), basted them with a stroke of Dijon mustard and sprinkled a bit more olive oil on top. Finished off with a clove of pressed garlic and baked for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Never one to leave well enough alone, I decided to put a topping on it. I took some lovely asiago cheese, a tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, a few tablespoons of fresh bread crumbs. Mix all that with some oregano, basil, salt and pepper and finally a splash of fresh lemon juice. Spread that all over the fish then broiled it until brown and a little crunch.

Believe me, it was number one on the Valentine's Day menu!!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Oh baby ... it's cold outside!

My husband is tired of listening to me, so I'm turning to you ... I'm really tired of being cold! And I can't believe I'm cold to begin with! This is the winter chick! Fearless in the face of sub-freezing weather, never one to don a coat! Now I have to go buy heavy socks because I'm afraid my toes are going to have frost-bite before it gets warm again!

This week I said "enough" ... started looking at real estate in warmer places. New Orleans has some good houses, and I've found a few places I love in the Sarasota, Florida area. Other places we'll consider: Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; any place on the gulf side of Florida; Gulfport, Mississippi ... These are places we've visited and enjoyed and could see ourselves living.

If you've got suggestions, please send them this way. But hurry! I'm freezing!!

Food on my mind!

Yesterday was one month since my surgery and I'm feeling good! Down 29 pounds since I started this journey and have dropped into some clothes I haven't seen in a couple of years. Got the "green light" to move from "mushy" foods to "real" foods, with the caution to take small bites and go slowly. I'm working on coming up with dishes that work well for me (i.e., high protein!) and are tasty and healthy and things that Howard likes, too. Fortunately he's easy to please in the dietary arena!

Wednesday I roasted an eggplant and layered it with chicken and ricotta cheese topped with marinara sauce and sprinkled with mozzarella cheese. Yummmm!!

Partially peel one medium eggplant (I usually take off 1/2" strips of the skin). Slice thin. Toss with olive oil and kosher salt and roast for about a half hour.

Layer the eggplant in the bottom of a baking dish. Pound out boneless, skinless chicken breasts to about 1/4" and saute in olive oil that has some garlic in it (this is the best tasting and smelling way to cook chicken EVER!). Layer the chicken over the eggplant.

Mix a cup of ricotta cheese with an egg, fresh parsley, oregano, fresh ground pepper and 1/2 cup fresh parmesan or romano cheese. Spoon this on top of the chicken. Pour marinara sauce over the whole dish. Top with grated, part-skim mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes until cheese has melted and browned.

While my portion was less than 1/2 cup, I enjoyed every single bite!!

Ricotta cheese is rapidly becoming my new best friend!

Yesterday I bought a filet mignon as my special treat for the weekend. I'm laughing because it will probably be enough for 4 meals these days, but I can't wait!!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cheesecake - then and now

As an end to my family/friend dinner yesterday, Nonja asked if I'd make cheesecake and again I was thrilled to agree! The cheesecake I make has been a hit for over 20 years with family and friends and even strangers and it is the most versatile recipe EVER!! Because I'm trying to learn to cook "leaner", I adapted my recipe to reduce some of the carbs and fat and it still came out just great!

Basic recipe

5 pkgs cream cheese - 8 oz each at room temperature (I used three reduced fat and two regular packages)
2 large containers sour cream (I used 16 oz 0% fat Greek Fage yogurt as replacement for half the sour cream)
2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup sugar and Splenda equivalent to 1 cup)
6 eggs
Tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
Tablespoon of lemon juice (or teaspoon of lemon extract)

Graham cracker crust

Crush 2 packets of graham crackers. Add 6 Tablespoons unsalted melted butter and 1/4 cup sugar and blend. Should be able to press into pan and it will hold its shape but not leak butter. This recipe will make a 9" spring-form pan cheesecake and probably a 6" spring-form also. I generally make individual cheesecakes using 3" spring-form pans and it fills 8 of them.

First, make your crust. Press into pan and refrigerate until ready to use.
Second, mix basic recipe ingredients all together. It's ok if there are some bits of cream cheese that don't smoosh up :)

Fill your pans about 3/4 full. Bake at 300 degrees about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cakes should be set but not browned. Don't worry if they puff a little bit as they'll settle back when removed from the oven. If they are too jiggly, keep them in the oven another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and pour topping over cake (topping: large container sour cream, teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 cup sugar). Return to oven for 15 minutes. Cool cakes completely before removing from pans.

Now, here are some variations that I've made to this recipe.

Caramel pecan: Boil brown sugar, butter and cream to hard stage and stir in some pecans. Pour onto waxed paper and cool. Chop into pieces and put in the bottom of the pans before adding cheesecake batter. Pour in half the batter. Twirl in caramel sauce (make your own or use ice cream topping). Top with remainder of batter. Bake as usual.

Chocolate raspberry: Instead of using graham crackers for the crust, use some chocolate cookies. Pour in half the cheesecake batter (omit lemon flavor and use raspberry flavor or chocolate extract). Twirl in raspberry syrup (I love Melba Sauce). Grate really fine chocolate and sprinkle that over the top. Add remaining batter and grate more chocolate over the top.

Pumpkin: Use gingersnaps for the crust. Add a small can of pumpkin to the basic recipe as well as some ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon (omit lemon). This is probably my very favorite variation.

Chocolate chocolate chocolate: Use chocolate cookies crushed up as the crust (mix with butter as usual). Melt 6-8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and add to basic recipe. Omit lemon flavor.

Moussaka - Cooking for friends and family

My friend Nonja is moving away :( Husband Jay is off to Korea for a year so Nonja and the children will move to her homestead in Texas for the year before they head off as a family to Italy in 2011. As they were emptying their house yesterday, I thought fixing them dinner would be helpful and she requested some Greek food, thinking she'd go into withdrawal in Texas ...

Happy to oblige, I fixed a traditional Greek dish, Moussaka -- meat and eggplant casserole. A few of you have asked for the recipe so I'll post it here. Be warned, this is a labor intensive dish and probably uses every pan in your house hehehe ... but it is sooooo worth it!! While the dish always contains eggplant, in different regions of Greece you may find variations that include zucchini or thinly sliced potatoes with the eggplant. My version often includes potatoes that are sliced paper thin (using a mandoline). You may include them or omit them as you wish.

Begin with making the meat sauce:

med to large onion chopped
3-4 cloves garlic chopped
olive oil
teaspoon Greek oregano (yes, you can use domestic!)
teaspoon Crushed thyme leaves
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
large can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine (red wine is too acidic)
16 oz can diced tomatoes in sauce
2 bay leaves
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 1/2 - 2 lbs ground meat (lamb, veal, beef) (I use all three that I grind together)

Heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Add herbs (except bay leaves) and cook for a couple of minutes until you begin to smell the aromatics. Add the ground meat and cook slowly (you don't want the meat getting crispy, just cooked). Add the wine and tomatoes and simmer covered for about a half hour. This should not be a "liquidy" sauce, but should be able to spread easily. Remove cover and let sauce cool completely. Stir in egg whites and bread crumbs and set aside.

The sauce (you need three cups of sauce):

3 cups milk, warmed
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1-2 cups grated cheese (if you have a Greek market near you, the best cheeses to use are kefalotyri and/or myzithra) I use a combination of asiago and romano (parmesan is a bit salty but ok if you cut back the salt in the sauce)
salt and pepper
couple of shakes of grated nutmeg
2 egg yolks

Make a traditional white sauce by melting butter over medium heat (don't brown the butter or your sauce won't be white!); stir in flour until it is dissolved. Cook the roux stirring constantly for a couple of minutes to cook the flour a little. Add salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until sauce thickens. This is a "medium" white sauce so should still come off the spoon nicely, but leave a coating. Add the cheese and cook for a minute or two. Cool this completely and then mix in the egg yolks.

Ok, two parts done ... we're almost ready to put it all together.

Partially peel the eggplants -- two medium should do it. I peel strips off (one strip off, one left on) of about 1/2". Slice it thin. Layer the slices on a plate salting each layer of eggplant. We're going to release some of the moisture from the eggplant so it will cook up nicely. Let sit for about 20 minutes then rinse and drain the eggplant and pat dry. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and saute the slices until soft and lightly browned. As they cook, place in the bottom of your baking pan (at least a 9" x 13" pan -- yesterday I made three casseroles in 8" square cake pans). Cover the bottom of the baking pan with eggplant.

Put it all together!! You need another 1/2 cup or so of grated cheese and a couple of tablespoons of bread crumbs for the top.

On top of the first layer of eggplant (and potatoes if you are using them) put your meat sauce. Put another layer of eggplant (and potaotes). Pour your white cheese sauce over the entire top. Top with grated cheese and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Pop this into the oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the top is brown and it's all bubbly. Remove from oven and let sit for a couple of minutes (or not hehehe).

Hope you enjoy this!!


February 2 snack ...

I'm having a protein drink for a snack this morning. Ahhh but not just any protein! I got this great whey protein flavored cappuccino and have mixed it into a cup of great coffee. Yumm! Add a dash of sugar free caramel syrup and I have a delightful taste treat that's good for me! Did you know that sugar free syrups come in a gazillion flavors? I ordered an assorted case of Torani sugar free syrups from Kaldi Coffee Roasters ... great for everything!

Catching up the past few weeks ...

Good morning ... and Happy February -- heart month :)

It's three weeks past my gastric bypass surgery and I'm feeling great. Each day I have a little more "ooompf" though I wouldn't quite call it energy. Losing about a pound a day and focused really hard on getting plenty of water and my 90g of protein (haven't yet reached that magic number but each day I try!). I'm off pure liquids and on "mushy" foods now -- getting really inventive with things that can be "mushed" up and still be visually and texturally appealing as well as taste good!

Celebrated my 60th birthday a week ago and totally amazed at that number! How on earth did I get that old? Not that it's old, but gosh, I remember when my Mom turned 60! lol!! She was a humdinger, so I'm going to try to emulate her aging :)

Have read a lot but even got into my sewing room a couple of times. Hopefully I'll spend more time in there this month as I'm itchy to finish (and start) some cool projects.

February is Snack Food Month and I'm going to try and come up with some good (for me) snacks, and would love to have your suggestions! My friend Anne started off yesterday with baby cucumbers and cottage cheese -- yummm!! I'm not up to the cucumbers yet, but I can sure have cottage cheese! Great source of protein, too!