100orLESS Soups: Cream of Asparagus

22 12 2009

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While this is completely seasonally irrelevant, I couldn’t wait to post this recipe  when I thawed and then microwaved a batch I had prepared in late Summer.  Much to my surprise, the texture had not changed at all.  This wouldn’t be all that much of a shocker if it were full of heavy cream, but the “cream” in its title refers mostly to its smooth texture and the addition of a little low-fat sour cream.  It wouldn’t easily fall into the 100 calorie or less format otherwise.

Why anyone would want a pasty-white, flavorless cream soup when they could make this verdant, robust homage to the loveliest of vegetables, I do not know.


Cream of Asparagus Soup

4c vegetable broth
1 small yellow onion
1 1/2lb asparagus
1 stalk celery
6oz cooked potato (Dutch creamers yield the best texture)
5T light sour cream
white pepper

I am almost ashamed at how easy this one was.  Bring the broth to a low boil in a medium pot.  Dice the onion and celery and add them to the broth.  Cook for about five minutes and toss in the asparagus–chopped however you’d like.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until the asparagus is tender but still bright green.  Six or seven minutes should be plenty of time.

Next, toss the whole enchilada into your food processor with the potato—I highly recommend putting it through a ricer—and sour cream.  Whiz it up on high for a good two to three minutes.  Make sure you leave a vent for the steam to escape or you will look like an Exorcist extra.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Be careful, white pepper can be sneaky.

This soup is perfect as is, or with the addition of a cooked asparagus tip or (if you’re feeling super-luxurious) crab meat garnish.

(Recipe makes 6 8oz servings.)

Nutrition Facts for 1 8oz serving:

Calories: 74

Total Fat: 1.3g

Cholesterol: 3.6mg

Sodium: 550mg

Total Carbs: 13.4g

Dietary Fiber: 2.7g

Protein: 3.5g

(Nutritionals generated by SparkRecipes.)


Winter Lamb Stew

14 12 2009

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This week I was feeling adventurous at the farmers’ market and picked up a pound of lamb leg cubes in addition to my typical winter root veg bounty.  I’m usually not one to purchase a protein without a plan, but it was so stunning I simply could not leave it there.

The gentleman at the Loncito’s booth assured me the best possible accompaniment would be the turnips four stalls down, so I grabbed some of those as well and pondered my options.  Stew seemed a natural application.

Now, I realize lamb is not the most risqué meat out there, but I’ve barely dabbled in it—and never very successfully—so I thought I’d go the simple route and use the basic stew method I usually use for beef.  The results were pure magic.


Winter Lamb Stew
(again, these measurements are rough approximations)

1lb lamb leg cubes
1/4c fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, diced
2c red wine (I used a big, spicy Shiraz)
1t poultry seasoning
1/2t dried thyme
1/4t freshly-grated nutmeg
1 large sweet potato, 3 large carrots, 4 parsnips and 2 medium turnips, all in generous chunks
2c water
1T chicken base
1T cornstarch

First, I salted, peppered and browned the meat. Most recipes call for oil to achieve maximum caramelization, but I generally find that when you’re stewing, this is unnecessary. A searing-hot pan did the trick nicely. I the added my onions and tomatoes and cooked for about five minutes—until the lamb was mostly-cooked and the veggies had softened.

Next, I added the wine, poultry seasoning, thyme and nutmeg and brought the mixture to a boil. I reduced it to a simmer and let it go for a little over an hour.

Normally, I would have added all the veggies in much earlier and tossed the whole thing into the oven for ease of cooking, but I thought I’d try something different this go ’round, and it payed off in spades.

Once the meat was tender I added in the chunked carrots, sweet potato, parsnips and turnips, and covered with a water/chicken base broth approximation. I simmered for an additional 20 minutes. Given the relatively short cooking time as stews go, the broth was thinner than I wanted. I made a quick slurry of cornstarch with a few ounces of water, mixed it in and brought it to a boil. Tada! Stew!

What made this batch so remarkable was the way the flavors of the root vegetables not only remained individually intact, but also added to the sweetness and overall complexity of the broth in a brilliantly unexpected way.

I served each bowl with a scoop of nutty, brown rice. Barley would be lovely, too—it definitely needs a hearty grain.

Spicy Cherry Truffle Biscotti

11 12 2009

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So, I’ve been sick for going on four weeks, which has severely limited my ability to smell, taste, and therefore cook anything remotely tasty.

My solution for the palatially-challenged: chiles.

Inspired by Chocolove’s Chilies and Cherries in Dark Chocolate Bar, these biscotti deliver a captivating mix of sweet, tart fruit, gentle heat and velvety cocoa that morphs playfully during each bite.  Do not be afraid—think Mexican hot  chocolate meets cherry cordial.  It’s just lovely.


Spicy Cherry Truffle Biscotti

1/2c butter, softened
1c sugar
3 eggs
1t vanilla extract
2 1/2c flour
1t baking powder
1/4t salt
1/2c cocoa powder (Valrhona is my favorite for maximum chocolate intensity.)
1T light ancho powder
1c dried tart cherries, halved
1/2c bittersweet chocolate chunks (Chips will work too, but your favorite bar of baking chocolate given a couple of good whacks with a mallet or wine bottle will prove richer, and more elegant.)
1t cayenne pepper

Assembly is classic-cookie-method-style. Cream the butter and sugar together and blend in the eggs and vanilla. Mix your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa and ancho) and beat into the wet base in batches of about a cup at a time. Toss the cherries and chocolate with the cayenne and mix these in with a spatula or, if you’re feeling frisky, your hands. The dough should be pretty dense, so this takes a little muscle.

Halve the dough.  Form each half into a ten inch log and lightly flatten as you place them  on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet.  For an extra zippy batch, you could sprinkle the tops with chile-sugar at this point!

Bake the logs at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the top has cracked and the cookie feels fairly stiff.  As soon as you take them out of the oven, transfer them to a wire rack to rest for at least an hour.  They need to be completely cool to the touch.

Using a serrated knife, slice the logs at a slight angle to create individual biscotti. Put them—cut side down—back on the lined baking sheet and cook them again (hence, BIS-cotti) for 10-15 minutes on each side at 250 degrees.  Any hotter and the cherries might burn.  This is not so tasty.

They won’t feel completely hard when they come out, but should be dry and firm.  They’ll taste more like regular cookies if you just have to munch on one right away, but after sitting out overnight, they’ll cure into perfectly crunchy treats.

Mix it up and try different fruit/fire combinations: mango with chipotle, blueberries with pasilla or even just cracked black pepper.  Or go more savory with peanuts and pepitas for a mole-style flavor.

Sensible Fast Food

26 11 2009

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As a trusted purveyor of espresso beverages, I find myself cringing when people opt for nonfat milk but insist on keeping the whipped cream–“It’s the best part” they say.

This started me thinking, which choices really do make the most difference when eating out?  Does it really save on fat and calories to go for the fuller fat milk and leave off the clearly-decadent sugar/fat topping, or is it really an even trade?

I was somewhat shocked at the results.

Where I work, a 16oz cafe mocha with nonfat milk and whipped cream has 290 calories and 10 grams of fat, while going for the standard 2% milk sans whip nets you 260 calories and 8 grams of fat.  The best choices, clearly, are nonfat/no whip (220/2.5) or nixing the chocolate altogether—a 2% latte (190/7) or a nonfat latte (130/0).

If my thoughts on this are so relatively off-base, I thought, then what other misconceptions do I carry with me to the counters and drive-thru windows that I inevitably encounter on my day to day food life?

Salad always sounds like a good choice when trying to avoid fast food perils.  The next time you go to Wendy’s, consider this: their Mandarin Chicken Salad (with all of its trimmings) has 550 calories and 25.5 grams of fat, while a single burger with everything has only 470 calories and 21 grams of fat.  A grilled chicken sandwich (350/7) or chicken Go Wrap (250/10) affords you the addition of a small chili or Frosty–and think of all the additional protein you’ll be getting!

I’m also stymied by the differences in Chinese food nutritionals.  I look at the menu of my favorite Asian cafe and see “Sweet and Sour Chicken” and think “No…bad…fried,” but in reality, that option has only 360 calories per serving (two to a dish) and 10 grams of fat, compared to 450 and 21 for the seemingly innocuous–or at least comparable–Orange Peel Chicken.  The lesson here: know your stats before you order.  I know I have chosen the fattier version time and time again because of assumptions and misleading veggie content.

And now, for pizza.  I had thought I would have to save it for pig out days exclusively, as clearly it would be super-fatty and unhealthy at all times.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not ever going to be the most nutrient-rich choice, but the good news for me: giving in to pepperoni over a vegetarian option isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

That’s right; you heard me correctly.  The key difference is in the crust.  Choosing a thin crust over hand tossed—at least at Dominos—saves you 34 calories per slice (1/8 of a medium pie).  And the difference in fat on a thin crust slice between salty, resplendent pepperoni and garden nonsense is only 3 grams.  Hooray!  The key, then, is portion control.  Just make sure you have plenty of friends (with better hand-eye coordination than you) nearby to snag the last piece out of the box, and a good portion of sensibly-dressed salad to fill in the gaps.

These tenets hold true of any dining out experience.

Have a plan.  Sure, it’s less exciting to arrive with your full meal planned out in advance, but at least you’ll know you won’t be tempted by the pitfalls that lurk ahead.

And, most importantly, everything in moderation.  You can have burgers, and pizza, and beer and cheese—oh dear, now I’m dying for a cheeseburger—as long as you fit them in to a decently-rounded day or week.

Best of luck navigating the fast food jungle!

100orLESS Soups: Mineste (Beans and Greens)

21 11 2009

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Few things warm you on a wintry day like a hot bowl of stick-to-your-ribs soup. Mineste, a variation on “Minestrone” or “the big soup,” fits the bill perfectly. You can make countless variations of this classic using whatever you have on hand: beans, rice, pasta, various stocks, veggies, etc., and can even take it in a totally non-Italian direction. Try it with collards, ham and black-eyed-peas for a savory cornbread accompaniment.


Mineste (Beans and Greens)

1 1/2oz pepperoni or other dry Italian sausage or meat
6 cloves garlic
1/4t crushed red pepper
8oz chopped kale
1/2t black pepper
1/2c dry white wine
2c water
4c chicken broth
15oz can cannellini beans, drained

Start with your sausage. I take it all the way down to a brunoise for maximum flavor spread.  Add it to a medium pot over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until most of the fat renders out and the bits are crispy.

At this point, you must make a decision.  Crispy garnish or softer flavor base?  If you choose the former, strain the pepperoni out with a slotted spoon and reserve for later.  If the latter, leave it all in the pan.  You may decide to add some salt later if reserving the meat for garnish as this is where a good bit of the soup’s seasoning comes from.

Mince your garlic and add it to the pan as well as the crushed red pepper.  Saute for 2-3 minutes until toasty.

Remove the thick ribs from the kale and chop the leaves into 1 inch pieces.  Throw it in the pan with the garlic, add the black pepper and wine, and stir to coat.  Turn the heat up to medium high and cook, stirring, until the greens have fully wilted.

Add your water, broth and beans and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes to an hour.  The longer you let it go, the more the beans will thicken it.

If you’ve reserved the pepperoni, add it to each serving as a garnish.  You may want to crisp it up for a few seconds in the microwave on a paper towel.  Otherwise, garnish with a crack of fresh black pepper.

(Recipe makes 8 8oz servings.)

Nutrition Facts for 1 8oz serving:

Calories: 99

Total Fat: 2.9g

Cholesterol: 10.3mg

Sodium: 850mg

Total Carbs: 6.1g

Dietary Fiber: 3.4g

Protein: 5.2g

(Nutritionals generated by SparkRecipes.)

Meet: Gourdough’s

21 11 2009

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In the latest wave of Austin trailer eateries, there is a clear standout.

Gourdough’s (Big. Fat. Doughnuts.) at 1219 S. Lamar Blvd. stands at the epicenter of an intoxicating cloud perfumed with pure, clean grease.  With offerings from the classic Naughty & Nice (cinnamon and sugar) to the Mother Clucker (topped with honey butter icing and fried chicken strips), there is something here for the most Spartan and adventurous doughnut-lover alike.

My first taste simply had to be the Flying Pig. Blanketed in super-sugary maple syrup icing and crowned with thick, crisp (but tender) bacon, it marries the best of salty and sweet. Each hamburger-sized doughnut is made to order, and thus arrives piping hot. My greatest joy in the Pig was experiencing its changes in texture as I lazily made my way through each bite. What at first was a pool of languid, syrupy topping became a sturdy crust. The soft, steamy dough began to resemble a fried biscuit, and the bacon—oh, the bacon.

At $3.25 (+ $1 for the meaty options), these glories may seem pricey at first, but these are not grab-a-dozen-and-hope-some-are-still-there-when-you-make-it-to-the-office fare. Each is easily a meal.

My next highly-anticipated conquest: Porkey’s–topped with Canadian bacon, cream cheese and jalapeño jelly. Or maybe the Sailor Jerry—“think rum cake.”

Other kickin’ doughnut purveyors:

(Please comment with your favorites—one girl can discover only so many.)

NYC-The Doughnut Plant
Portland-Voodoo Doughnuts
Chicago-Old Fashioned Donuts
Houston-Christy’s Donuts
San Fran-Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop

Tipsy Cranberry Sauce

19 11 2009

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I’ve been diligently putzing away at my early Thanksgiving feast, and it seems terrible not to post something about the greatest American food holiday.

When it comes down to it, to me, there’s little revolutionary about my bird or most of my trimmings.  The best way to bake the bird is the way your mom did, and no fu-fu stuffing can rival the stuff you ate way too much of as a child.

But, I assure you, you will never find a better cranberry sauce than mine.


Tipsy Cranberry Sauce

1 16oz package frozen cranberries (Don’t be fooled into thinking fresh is better; it’s just not true.)
zest and juice of 2 honey tangelos (or clementines or valencias)
1/2c sugar
1/4t of salt (At least go with Kosher, but if you’re feeling fancy, I HIGHLY recommend Gusto Mundial hibiscus flor de sal.)
1/2t grated high oil (Saigon) cinnamon
1/4 Grand Marnier

Bring cranberries, juice and zest to a happy simmer over medium-high heat. Stir in sugar, salt and cinnamon. Reduce to medium and cook until berries are about half-popped. Use your spoon to smoosh most of the remaining berries—carefully, unless you like fuchsia splotches on everything.

Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for five to ten minutes. Give it a good stir to release more heat and let it sit for another bit. Reward its patience with a stiff drink; stir in the Grand Marnier.

Chill, and spoon onto just about anything.  Even turkey.