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The Olympics are in full swing here in Vancouver. Every morning when I go downtown to my place of work, I am amazed at all the people in the streets, at the lines for the various pavilions. It’s an exciting time for the city. You can feel it in the air. But my life is so hectic that I haven’t yet had a chance to partake in the festivities. A part of me doesn’t really care, but another part wonders if I’ll be sorry later. To be perfectly honest, sports don’t interest me all that much and the Olympic Games, whether summer or winter, hardly at all.
If I’m drawn to anything about the Games in Vancouver, it’s the food. There are some pavilions that I definitely want to check out. I want to see what the world is cooking. And I plan on going to the French Quarter on Granville Island very soon.
In the meantime, I’ve made turkey.
Today is one of those days when I actually have a little time to myself and I chose to spend some of it in the kitchen, whipping up some dishes to tide me through the week. A lot of it will go into the freezer, as do a lot of the things I cook. Cooking in batches makes my life a lot easier.
I love having slices of this turkey meatloaf on hand for dinner, or tucking it between a couple of slices of bread for a delicious sandwich at lunch. For all its leanness, it’s surprisingly juicy. Plus it’s so easy to put together.
This recipe is adapted from Chef Michael Smith from the Food Network in Canada. His recipes are accessible and down-to-earth yet full of robust flavors.
Michael Smith’s Turkey Meatloaf
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 pounds of ground turkey
1/2 cup milk
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 can (156 ml) tomato paste
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dried thyme or oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Saute oil and onion in a skillet over medium-high heat until they are golden brown. Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue sauteing until the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly browned.
3) Mix the turkey, milk, breadcrumbs, egg, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce, thyme and mushroom mixture in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper
4) Press the mixture into a loaf pan or an 8×8 baking dish. Bake until firm and lightly browned on top. An instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meatloaf should read 165 degrees.
Rocket. Also known as arugula. I love both names. Every time I say them my mouth wraps around the vowels with delight. I call this salad rocket salad because it sounds better than arugula salad. Rocket has a forcefulness to it. It sounds like something that will go off in your mouth, exploding with a million taste sensations.
A week ago, I was a stranger to this peppery lettuce. I’ve never been much of a greens girl–at least of the leafy variety. If I’m going to eat salad, it’s usually a Caesar. Or a spinach salad loaded with bits of bacon and egg and a good dollop of creamy dressing. However, one of my goals in writing this blog has been to expand my repertoire; lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to step outside the box and make things I ordinarily wouldn’t make, and consequently, eat things I ordinarily wouldn’t eat.
Now I wouldn’t classify myself as a picky eater. Like a lot of people, most of what I eat falls in the no-man’s-land between love it and hate it. I don’t dislike salads, they just don’t move me.
I’m slowly starting to change my mind, mostly because I’ve realized how great salads can be with a little bit of fruit. Adding a bit of pear and blue cheese to a bed of baby greens or some strawberries and pecans to some spinach leaves can make all the difference.
With a bit of experimenting, I devised this little salad, which makes a lovely lunch on a summer’s day. The caramelized apples add texture and sweetness, creating a sublime foil to the peppery bite of the arugula. A goat cheese studded with figs gives it even more character. It infuses the vinaigrette with a creaminess, minus a lot of calories, and is perfect spread on a French baguette sprinkled with a bit of olive oil.
Rocket Salad with Caramelized Apples and Fig Goat Cheese
for the salad
6-7 ounces (200g) arugula
4 ounces (120g) fig goat cheese
6 ounces English cucumber
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
finely chopped red onion
for the dressing
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
squeeze lemon juice
1) Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and apples. Cook the apple slices until golden brown and set aside.
2) Cut the goat cheese into slices with a piece of dental floss; this will keep the disks from crumbling and falling apart as you cut. Slice the cucumber lengthwise on a mandoline to create thin, even strips.
3) To make the dressing, place all of the ingredients in a glass jar with a lid and shake vigorously. Toss the arugula with the dressing and arrange on 4 plates.
4) Arrange the cucumber slices and goat cheese on top of the arugula. Top with apple slices and a sprinkling of red onion. Serve immediately.
Although I absolutely adore shellfish without exception, I’ve never been a great lover of fish. It’s not so much the fish itself, but the act of eating it. Picking through every sliver of my meal looking for tiny bones or chewing with the fear of choking on one that I might have missed takes a lot of enjoyment out of the act of eating. Truth be known, my favourite fish is the kind that is deep fried in thick batter, doused with tartar sauce, and served on newspaper with a pile of crispy fries. Not exactly what doctors mean when they tell you to get more fish to up your intake of omega acids.
Which is why I came up with this recipe for fish cakes. Crab cakes have long been one of my favourite appetizers and I sometimes make a large one and have it alongside a salad for dinner. But I have found using frozen fish fillets or even salmon from a can can make a lovely and healthy substitute. They don’t need to be cooked in much oil and you can add any number of spices or flavorings. I like green onion and chopped parsley. The trick to keep them from falling apart is using equal parts of fish and mashed potato and to refrigerate them for awhile before frying.
I serve these with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce cut with a healthy dollop of mayonnaise.
12 oz (350g) potatoes, cooked
12 oz (350g) boneless fish fillets, skinned
1/2 cup (60g) fine breadcrumbs, divided
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon horseradish or cocktail sauce
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 scallion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1) In a food processor pulse the fish, lemon juice, horseradish, and mustard until fish is finely chopped.
2) Mash potatoes with a fork and add milk and olive oil. Add potatoes to fish mixture and pulse to combine. Follow with 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and the herbs, garlic, and onion. Add salt and pepper. Pulse for a few more seconds to make sure everything is well blended.
3) Refrigerate mixture for at least 30 minutes. Heat a bit of olive oil in a non-stick skillet (about 2 tablespoons) on medium. Form into patties and dip into the remaining 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs. Fry fish cakes on each side for ten minutes, or until they are cooked through and a deep golden brown.
There’s not a lot to say about yams. They’re healthy. They’re versatile. You can boil them, fry them, make pie with them. They taste great salty or sweet. You can even eat them with marshmallows. What’s not to love about yams?
I have an obsession with potatoes–particularly fries. If I had my way, I would eat fries every day. Especially the ones at McDonalds. You may beg to differ, but as far as french fries go you can’t get much better than Mickey Dee’s. A cone of Belgian frites comes in a close second. Lately though, I’ve been quite taken with the yam fries that have popped up on restaurant menus everywhere. The combination of the sweet, mealy interior contrasted against a crispy exterior and dipped in a tangy aioli is downright addictive.
I’ve been making these yam frites in the oven whenever I have a hankering for those restaurant style ones. I can plow through a whole bowl of them and still feel virtuous. There isn’t really a recipe. You just cut up a yam, toss it with a teaspoon of olive oil and some salt, and bake at 400F until crispy and golden on the outside. I’ve been cutting mine thinly, which makes some of them come out soft. For a sturdier fry, cut the yam into large strips.
Lemon Pepper Aioli
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon pepper
salt to taste
Add all ingredients to a small bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork. Great with fries, fish, steamed vegetables, or on roasted asparagus.
I’ve never been an ardent fan of the All-American hamburger. The meat is almost always too dry and lacking in flavor, requiring a dousing of mustard and ketchup to make it palatable. I am, however, a lover of a different kind of hamburger. It’s called pljeskavica and can be found in Balkan countries like Serbia, Croatia, and Bulgaria. The cuisines of these countries are a mishmash of German, Hungarian, and Turkish influences, due to their domination under the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. My family are ethnic Slovaks from Serbia. Our cooking is even more varied due to the influence of both the Slovak and Serbian cultures. We eat all sorts of dumplings and stews, as well as bake with phyllo and grill a lot of our meats. Whenever I go to Serbia, eating pljeskavica is one of the things I look forward to the most.
Pljeskavica is served in most restaurants and on city street corners, the way vendors serve up hot dogs in North America. It’s a meat patty typically made of a combination of beef, lamb, and pork. The bun is not your typical hamburger bun, but something between a bun and a Georgian baguette. You can garnish it with mustard and mayo, of course, and chopped onions are de rigeur. The best part is the cheese, called kajmak, similar in taste to feta but creamier–almost like a spread.
Since I live in the city and don’t have a balcony, I can’t grill my own pljeskavica at home. When the craving gets to be too much, I drive out to the suburbs to a restaurant called the Balkan Grill, the only Serbian restaurant we have here in Vancouver. The meat patties served there are the size of your head; three people can eat one of them. At this restaurant they stuff them with feta cheese. This is how I got the inspiration for this little burger here.
At home, I make my own version with lean ground turkey meat. Yes, it’s lower in fat, but it’s also juicy and I like the taste. I just fry the burgers up on an oiled cast iron pan for about 20 minutes. I have tried baking them but that made a lot of the juices and cheese run out.
This recipe also calls for something called Vegeta, a seasoning mix for meats, soups, and vegetables. It’s produced in Croatia but every European deli I’ve ever been to in this country carries it. It’s a very popular product across Europe. It’s an optional ingredient, but it does boost the flavor. It also contains a lot of salt, so if you skip the Vegeta, you will need to add more salt than this recipe calls for.
This recipe makes 4 small burgers. Pljeskavica is usually much larger than a regular hamburger, but thin.
Turkey Burgers Stuffed With Feta
1 pound (1/2 kilo) lean ground turkey meat
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Vegeta seasoning
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1) Mix all of the ingredients except the feta in a mixing bowl until well combined. Divide the meat into 8 chunks. Roll 1 chunk into a ball and then press it out into the shape of a patty in the palm of your hand.
2) Press the feta on top of the meat patty. Take another chunk and form a patty with it as well, and then press on top of the feta covered one. Repeat with the rest of the meat.
3) Fry on medium heat for about ten minutes, until well browned. Flip over and fry for another ten minutes or so. Make sure that the meat is well cooked. If you cook it on too high of a heat it might burn on the outside but might not be done on the inside.
In restaurants, pljeskavica is typically served with Greek salad. I also really like it with a salad of cucumbers in yogurt. I find the turkey burger is great with both. Once you have a burger stuffed with feta, you’ll never want a regular one again!
I am a creature of habit. This seems like a strange admission to be making because until lately, I’ve never considered myself one. I like my fair share of excitement. I like discovering new things and going to new places. I’m not afraid of change. To admit that I’m a creature of habit makes me sound like a dullard, I fear. Someone who is so set in their ways that the prospect of change seems like a frightening proposition.
The fact is, sometimes we don’t avoid change things because we fear it. Sometimes we simply like things just the way they are. Take breakfast. The odd restaurant brunch non withstanding, I’d be hard pressed to remember the last time I had anything but cereal for breakfast. To me, cereal is perfect breakfast food. I’m not talking about your average box of Cheerios, or any of the hundreds of sugar laden cereals lining the grocery store shelves these days (Mark Bittman calls most cereals “miniature cookies in a box”). I like some of the cereals put out by Lifestream and Kashi, which are made from whole grains and have a high fiber content. But my favourite cereal, hands down, has to be granola. A good granola is light and crispy yet filling, delicious with milk or yogurt, topped with any fruit, or even eaten plain, as a snack. Unfortunately, most of the brands available in the supermarket fall short. They’re loaded with refined sugar, loaded with bad fats, and not at all tasty. You could buy artisan granola at stores such as Whole Foods, but they’re woefully expensive. I have found it’s easier to make your own. That way you can save a few bucks, tailor it to your tastes, and always have a fresh batch around. It’s so easy to make and much better than any granola you can buy in the store, in my opinion.
I make my granola low-fat. Okay, it’s not super low-fat because I add quite a lot of nuts. But nuts are healthy, as are the ground flax seeds I use in addition. I find they give the granola an extra nutty flavour, though you might want to halve the amount I use in my recipe, or skip them altogether if you don’t like the taste of them. Instead of using oil, I add egg white to the recipe for binding.
My recipe here is a guideline. You can mix up the variety in the nuts and dried fruit, add more fruit…whatever you like. This is just a starting point.
Homemade Low-Fat Granola
5 cups (450g) rolled oats (not quick)
1 cup (100g) slivered almonds
1 cup (100g) pecan pieces
1 cup (100g) dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins (50g)
1/2 cup (125ml) ground flax seeds
1 cup (100g) flaked coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 egg whites
1/2 cup (125ml) honey
1 tablespoon canola oil
1) Preheat oven to 400F. Toss the oats, nuts, cranberries, and raisins in a large bowl with the flax seeds, coconut and cinnamon.
2) Beat egg whites together with the oil and pour into granola. Add the honey. Mix until very well combined.
3) Spread granola out on a pan lined with parchment paper. You might need 2 pans to ensure the granola has enough space to cook evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, mixing up the granola with a spatula after 15 minutes. Cool.
Store the granola in the fridge in an airtight container, otherwise the flax seeds–and eventually the nuts–will go rancid.