Category Archives: Side Dishes

Thankful for Thanksgiving Side Dishes

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I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is a little over a week away (Hanukah too!). Leave it to time to keep on ticking. We’re heading to my parent’s place in Charlottesville, VA, and although my mom is taking charge of the turkey and then some, she asked me to take care of a couple side dishes and one of the desserts since we will be feeding a small army. I knew I wanted to make one of the side dishes as healthy as possible and keep one traditional, however, I wanted both to be packed with thanksgiving flavor. Thus, I decided to go with cauliflower mash with garlic and chives for the healthy side and stick to sweet potato casserole for the authentic side. I had to do a practice round because, well, I’m a perfectionist and I don’t want to show up to Thanksgiving unprepared. Both side dishes were delicious and I can’t wait to share them with my family (and now you).

I live by the quote, “everything in moderation, even moderation.” I find Thanksgiving embodies the saying because we all know Turkey Day is meant for ridiculous amounts of eating—and giving thanks, of course. Although I’m fine with doubling (or tripling) my caloric intake for one day out of the year, I’m still the type to cut out unnecessary calories by trying lighter variations of traditional dishes. And that’s exactly what I did with my garlic and chive cauliflower mash. By using lighter ingredients, the cauliflower mash comes out to 334 calories for the entire dish and 83.5 calories per serving. Regular/traditional mash potatoes have a caloric count of 748 calories for the entire fair (three cups of potatoes plus other ingredients) and 187 calories per serving. It doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving for me to be thankful for cutting over half the amount of calories without sacrificing the taste.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some holiday dishes that should not be tampered with. Sweet Potato Casserole is one of those said dishes. The first time I had it was a recipe of my aunt’s and I thought I had accidentally dipped into a dessert instead of a potato dish. Sweet potato casserole is so amazing because it’s full of complimenting flavors that are enjoyable regardless of what time of the year it is. My recipe is very traditional and consequently not so healthy, but sometimes a girl just needs to live a little. The pecan streusel topping is the proverbial cherry on top—seriously, I could eat the candied pecans all day like it was my job. The sweet potato casserole puts all other casseroles to shame. Sorry I’m not sorry (especially to all those green bean casseroles vying for attention).

I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving. And remember, Thanksgiving side dishes are anything but!

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Chive And Garlic Cauliflower Mash

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Ingredients:

-1 medium cauliflower

-1 to 2 cloves of garlic, chopped (if you want more of a garlicy flavor, I suggest 2 cloves)

-3 cups of chicken broth (low sodium)

-2.5 cups of water

-1 tsp salt for the broth

-2 tbsp fat-free half and half

-1/4 cup whipped cream cheese

-1 tbsp margarine

-1.5 tbsp fresh chives, chopped

-Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

-Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

-Chop the stalks off of the cauliflower and place the florets in a medium sized pot.  Cover the cauliflower with the water, chicken broth, chopped garlic, and salt and bring to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and let cook for twenty minutes.

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-Drain the cauliflower in a colander. It’s important the cauliflower is as dry as possible, so let the liquid drain for at least five minutes.

-Once cooled and drained, place the cauliflower back in the pot. With a masher, mash the cauliflower until the consistency resembles that of mashed potatoes.

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-Place the pot of cauliflower on a burner on low heat and stir in the half and half, cream cheese, and butter. Stir until the cream cheese and butter are melted and well incorporated.

-Add in the chives and salt and pepper to taste and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated and cook on low for about five minutes.

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-Grease a baking dish and carefully pour/spread the cauliflower mash evenly into the baking dish.

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-Bake for approximately 15 minutes.

-Let cool for at least five minutes before serving.

-Lastly, enjoy!

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Sweet Potato Casserole

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Ingredients:

Sweet Potato Mixture:

-2.5 lbs sweet potatoes (5 smaller sized sweet potatoes)

-4 tbsp packed dark brown sugar

-2 eggs, lightly beaten

-1/2 tsp cinnamon

-1/2 tsp ginger

-Pinch of nutmeg

-1 tsp salt

-2 tbsp melted butter

Pecan Topping:

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-1/2 cup flour

-1/3 cup (5 tbsp) melted butter

-1 cup pecans, chopped

Directions:

Sweet Potato Mixture:

-Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

-With a fork, pierce each sweet potato at least three times (I pierced three times on the side facing up and once for the side making contact with the baking sheet).

-Place on a baking sheet and cook for about 45 minutes.

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-Once cooked, let the sweet potatoes sit out and cool for at least ten minutes before skinning them.

-Lower your oven to 350 degrees.

-Once cooled, cut the root end off of the potato and remove the skin from the sweet potatoes. I just cut the sweet potato length wise in half and the skins peeled off very easily.

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-Place the skinless sweet potatoes in a large bowl and with a masher, mash the sweet potatoes until the mixture is smooth.

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-Pour in the melted butter, eggs, sugar, spices, and salt and whisk together until all the ingredients are well incorporated and the mixture appears creamy and smooth.

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-Butter a baking/casserole dish.

-As evenly as possible, spread the sweet potato mixture into the baking dish.

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-Set aside (the rest of the directions are listed below).

Pecan Topping:

-Place all of the topping ingredients in a bowl and mix/stir together until the ingredients are well incorporated.

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-Sprinkle the topping over the sweet potato mixture.

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-Bake the casserole at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

-Let cool before serving.

-Enjoy!

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Getting Crazy With Caprese

I love to garden. I have one major problem, though, and that’s the fact that I have no outdoor space to work with whatsoever. When we were signing the lease to our apartment, I knew very well that we were asking for the bigger apartment with no balcony – and I’ve subsequently suffered from renter’s remorse since winter passed. When walking around my neighborhood, I regularly endure pangs of jealousy every time I spot a balcony filled with various plants, flowers, and herbs.

A few months back, I took the problem into my own hands and decided to turn one of our windowsills into an indoor basil garden. I repotted two small basil plants and placed them on our windowsill where there is a decent amount of sun exposure. They suffered the first week, but I mothered them back to life and they have burgeoned into quite the impressive personal fresh basil supply.

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Lucky for me, I have a ten-day vacation that starts in less than a week.  This doesn’t bode well for the basil plants, however, as they will be left alone without anyone to water them. It doesn’t take a botanist to deduce their fate. Consequently, I decided to use most of the basil and make a huge batch of pesto; but I still had a bunch of extra basil leaves that I didn’t want to go to waste. Thus, a caprese (tomato, basil, and mozzarella) themed dinner popped into my head and I just went with it and prepared caprese cauliflower mash and caprese stuffed chicken breasts.

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The stuffed chicken breasts turned out amazing. They tasted delicious and gave the dinner an elegant ambiance that isn’t often present in my cooking. As for the cauliflower mash, well, I hate myself for not cooking it years ago. It was scrumptious. The consistency wasn’t as thick as mashed potatoes, but the taste was just as flavorful and satisfying. The best part was how many calories were saved: Three cups of plain mashed potatoes (with margarine) comes out to around 732 calories, while three cups of plain cauliflower mash (with fat-free half and half) comes out to only 114 calories. That’s a savings of 618 calories, which is more than most meals! The cauliflower mash was simple to prepare and it’s a recipe that I will certainly be reusing.

Caprese Cauliflower Mash

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Ingredients:

-1 medium cauliflower

-2.25 cups of chicken broth

-1 cup of water

-3 to 4 cloves of garlic, chopped

-1 medium white onion, chopped

-1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

-2 cups of freshly chopped basil

-3 tbsp fat-free half and half

-1/2 cup of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese

-3.5 tbsp of parmesan cheese

-Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

-Chop the stalks off of the cauliflower and place the florets in a medium sized pot.  Cover the cauliflower with the water, chicken broth, and a dash of salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and let cook for twenty minutes. Drain the cauliflower in a colander. It’s important the cauliflower is as dry as possible, so let the liquid drain for about five minutes (I let it drain while the garlic, onions, and tomatoes cooked).

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-While the cauliflower is draining and cooling, sauté the garlic and onion in a pan on medium heat for about five minutes. Add the quartered cherry tomatoes and a dash of salt and pepper and let cook for another couple of minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened.

-Once the cauliflower is drained, place the contents back in the pot, add another dash of salt and pepper, then take a masher (or a fork, it will just take longer) and mash the cauliflower until the consistency resembles that of actual mashed potatoes.

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-Put the pot of cauliflower mash back on a burner at low to medium heat. Add the three tablespoons of half and half and continue to mash together.

-Stir in the cooked garlic, onions, and tomatoes with a spoon.

-Add the cheese and freshly chopped basil and stir together. Let cook for about 10 minutes to let the cheeses fully melt and so that any leftover liquid can steam off.

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-Let cool for a couple of minutes. If desired, add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy (guilt-free).

Caprese Stuffed Chicken Breasts

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Ingredients:

-2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

-2 cloves of garlic, chopped

-2 Roma tomatoes, sliced

-Approximately 4 large fresh basil leaves per chicken breast

-2 generous slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella

-Two toothpicks

-Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees and rinse the chicken breasts.

-In order to get the chicken breasts thin enough to fold, they need to be pounded with a meat mallet (or rolling pin). Pound them to your desired thickness, but remember to pound the chicken breasts evenly so they cook uniformly. I pounded mine fairly thin because I didn’t want the chicken to overpower the taste of the caprese stuffing.

-Pounding meat can be a messy ordeal, but if you wrap the meat in saran wrap or parchment paper and pound it on a cutting board, the mess can be kept to a minimum. Sprinkle the flattened meat with salt and pepper.

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-Once the chicken breasts are flattened to the desired thickness, it’s time to assemble the caprese stuffing. Place a few slices of roma tomatoes on one half of the chicken breast. Proceed to add the garlic, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste.

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-Fold the top part of the chicken breast over the caprese, and with a toothpick, secure the chicken breast.

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-Sprinkle the stuffed chicken breast with salt and pepper, place on a cooking sheet covered in foil, and cook for approximately 30 minutes (cooking times vary depending on oven and size of chicken breast).

-Let cool for a couple of minutes and enjoy!

Buon appetito!

Conquering Quinoa

The first time I came across quinoa was in 2010 while working as a live-in nanny. My then boss had a container of the stuff tucked away in her pantry with the rice and pasta, and there it stayed for the two years I lived and worked in the house. I regularly prepared dinner for the family and was never asked to cook with it, so I figured it wasn’t worth my time. Quinoa was like açaí berry – too difficult to pronounce, and therefore too difficult to prep and eat.

While out to lunch one day a few years back, I ordered a colorful vegetable quinoa salad because I was tempted by how delectable it looked. Never, ever judge a book by its cover. It was one of the most terrible things I have ever tasted. It felt like eating tiny pearls of stiff cardboard. Needless to say, I didn’t finish the quinoa and pledged to never eat the stuff again (I was later informed by a quinoa lover that it wasn’t prepared properly). I kept true to my promise for over three years, but all that changed last night.

After hearing my aunt – whom I trust when it comes to all things food – regularly rave about quinoa and its health benefits, I knew I had to attempt cooking this trendy, hard-to-pronounce, ancient, grain-like seed (it’s not actually a grain, but a plant). The nutritional incentives of quinoa are reason enough to incorporate the food into one’s diet. Not only is it low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but quinoa is also a good source of calcium and is gluten-free. Since I already had the one unfortunate experience tasting quinoa, I opted to personalize a recipe that included some of my favorite ingredients: garlic, onions, and cheese.

The final result was a success! The cheesy quinoa was so tasty and tender, and there was nothing cardboard about the dish. I was so impressed with the outcome that I immediately called my mom to brag. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful and delicious relationship.

Cheesy Garlic Quinoa

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Ingredients (Adapted from: http://canopi.com/beauty-the-beard/2013/4/9/parmesan-garlic-quinoa-youll-never-eat-mac-cheese-/?_szp=275456)

-4 garlic cloves, chopped

-1 large white onion, chopped

– 1.5 cups of low sodium chicken broth

– 1/2 cup of water

-1 cup uncooked quinoa

-2 TBSP fresh basil, chopped

-1/3-1/2 cup of mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan cheese blend

-Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

First, the quinoa needs to be washed. Place a large bowl in the sink and pour in the quinoa. Fill the bowl with water until the water is one inch above the quinoa. Stir the quinoa/water mix around for a few seconds with your hand and then let the mixture settle. At this point you should see a few grains/ other stuff float to the top of the bowl. Next, place the bowl under the faucet and turn the water on. The idea is to overflow the bowl as you gently mix the submerged quinoa around with your hand, allowing the bad quinoa (which rises) and other leftover parts to float out of the bowl. The good quinoa will settle. Do this for about a minute or two or until the water starts to turn clear. Drain, and the quinoa is ready to use.

In a pot, brown the two cloves of garlic in a TBSP of olive oil and a dash of salt on medium to high heat. Add 1.5 cups of the low sodium chicken broth and 1/2 cup of water to the pot. Stir in one cup of quinoa, cover the pot, and bring to a boil.

Once the contents of the pot are boiling, turn the heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes. There may be liquid still in the pot, but quinoa is ready when the seeds develop a light ring on the outside. You will know it when you see it, so make sure you periodically check the pot – overcooked quinoa hardens and becomes difficult to chew.

While the quinoa is cooking, sautée the other two cloves of garlic in two TBSP of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a pan. Add the chopped white onion and two tablespoons of fresh basil and cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes. Once cooked, turn the heat to low to keep warm.

Once the quinoa is cooked, scoop it into the pan with the onions. Turn the heat to medium and add the cheese. Let the contents cook for about two minutes – or enough time that the cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

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Skinny Fried “Rice”

One of the reasons I love to cook is that food is incredibly adaptable and easy to make your own. Yes, one has to stick to the basic chemical elements and science of cooking, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with and modify recipes.

Like any normal human being, I love to eat, but my metabolism isn’t getting any younger. Consequently, I’ve been delving into different ways to cook healthier versions of not-so-healthy dishes. A few months back, I came across cauliflower fried “rice”. Yes, I mean Chinese fried rice, but rice is not an ingredient – cauliflower is its replacement. I quickly waved off the recipe after remembering the countless dinners where my mother tried to force feed the vegetable to my brother and me.  It never worked – up until this past Monday, I had never before purchased cauliflower.

Leave it to Pinterest to change my ways. A recipe for this so-called fried rice caught my eye, literally. The blogger with the recipe made a point to say that the cauliflower fried rice fooled even her children into thinking they were eating the real thing. Kids duped by food? This had to be too good to be true. I was happily convinced to attempt this healthier version of one of my favorite Chinese foods.

I know it sounds unappetizing, but the cauliflower fried “rice” was delicious.  The texture was different from regular fried rice – it was more like eating fried couscous – but it didn’t feel like a contrived side dish one eats just because it comes with a healthier incentive. And what was the biggest plus of all? Oh, you know, just saving around 645 calories! Yes, you read that right. The recipe calls for three cups of cauliflower at 75 calories, instead of three cups of rice at 720 calories. It was the first time I didn’t feel guilty about eating all of my fried rice. There was only one drawback: no fortune cookies.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

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Ingredients (Adapted from http://www.familyfreshmeals.com/2013/03/cauliflower-fried-rice.html):

– 3 cups of shredded raw cauliflower without the stalks (use a food processor or cheese grater)

– 1 cup of frozen peas (I added extra because I love peas)

– 1/3 cup of shredded carrots

– 4 garlic cloves, minced

– 1 medium white onion, diced

– 2-3 TBSP of canola oil

– 2 eggs scrambled

– ¼ cup of panko breadcrumbs

– ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce, or to taste

Directions:

-On medium heat, sauté the garlic and onions in oil for about 5 minutes or until golden and tender.

-Add the peas and carrots to the pan and let cook for about 3 minutes. Stir well.

-Add the cauliflower, panko, and soy sauce. Cook for another ten minutes while periodically mixing the contents of the pan. Mix in the scrambled eggs and let cool for a couple of minutes.

Since the cauliflower fried rice was part of dinner for meatless Monday, I paired the dish with an Asian slaw salad topped with a honey vinaigrette dressing.

Asian Slaw with Honey Vinaigrette Dressing

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Dressing Ingredients:

– ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt, plus a dollop of light mayonnaise

– 2-3 TBSP of Dijon mustard

– 4 TBSP of honey

– 2 TBSP of rice wine vinegar

– 2 tsp of vegetable oil

– 2 TBSP of water

Salad Ingredients:

– 1/3 cup of chow mein noodles

– 1 Package of Asian slaw salad

Directions:

Place all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor and mix for about 15 seconds, or until well blended. Pour over salad and top with the chow mein noodles.

Enjoy!