Monday, December 31, 2012

What are you doing New Year's?

We're staying in.

First course: Cauliflower soup with truffle oil

Second course: Beet salad with goat cheese, pecans, olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Main course: Filet mignon with baked potato, sauteed mushrooms, and braised carrots

There's still champagne and a chocolate raspberry cake from Whole Foods to come, but I don't think I'll be sufficiently coherent to post them.

So, Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Just Saying

I believe there is a special place in Hell for restaurateurs who write "hash browns" on their menu when what they serve is home fries.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lentil Soup

So what do you have for dinner when you were too lazy to go to the grocery store during the day, but by dinnertime it's 40 degrees and raining so you don't want to go out, and you have to eat something but there isn't even bread left for sandwiches, so you have to make something out of whatever you can scrounge from the fridge and the pantry?

Lentil soup.

1/2 cup each chopped carrots, celery and onions
6 cups water
2 chicken boullion cubes
1/2 pound dried lentils

6 servings, 150 calories per serving

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

I'm still in comfort food mode here, hoping that my cold goes away before I have to get on a plane on Sunday. Tonight's meal was chicken pot pie.

I poached the other half of the chicken breast that I'd used on Monday. Made a cream sauce with a butter and flour roux, chicken broth, and cream. Added the poached chicken, plus some sauteed onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, and frozen peas. Covered with a (thawed) frozen Trader Joe's pie crust and baked for 30 minutes at 400.

Not low-fat, so I ate a small portion. But it was creamy and rich and comforting. The cold doesn't stand a chance.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chicken soup, Asian style

We all have a cold that we picked up this weekend - the only thing for it was some spicy chicken noodle soup.

I simmered store-bought chicken broth with star anise, cinnamon, onions, ginger, and red pepper flakes for about 45 minutes, then strained it. I cooked udon noodles separately. I sliced half a chicken breast thinly and simmered it in the strained broth for a few minutes until it was cooked through. Then I put some cooked noodles into a bowl and added broth with chicken on top.

Added to the bowl from this plate of garnishes:

I can't say it cured the cold, but it made it much easier to live with.

1/2 cup udon noodles, 2 oz. chicken breast, broth and herbs: 175 calories

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Out to Dinner: AZN

Saturday night we tried a new restaurant for dinner - AZN, recently opened in Piedmont Town Center. AZN describes itself as "upscale pan-Asian", and the prices reflect that - appetizers in the $10 range, cocktails $9 to $11, and entrees from $12 to $30. We got there at 7:15 and the restaurant was about half full. It filled in some as we ate and was nearly full by the time we left. Service was uneven at the beginning of the meal, with people who appeared to be managers circling the dining room every couple of minutes but inexplicably not noticing that we needed drink refills. For some reason, once the room started to fill up, the managers and servers became more attentive and we had no further issues.

I started with a vegetarian sushi roll.

This was excellent. It had cucumber, avocado, carrot, pickled turnip, and pickled burdock root (along with one or two things I don't remember - I should have taken notes). The pickled vegetables gave it brightness, and the flavors blended very well. I enjoyed this much more than my vegetarian roll at Cowfish last week. The roll was more compact and easier to eat, with a better ratio of rice to filling. Also, this roll had a seaweed wrap, unlike the Cowfish roll which was wrapped in flavorless soy paper. I didn't realize it until I ate this roll, but I really need that seaweed flavor in a sushi roll - it just doesn't seem quite right without it.

My main course was Cantonese roasted duck.

I enjoyed this, and brought about half of it home - duck is rich and heavy! The meat was moist and flavorful. It was served with flour tortillas, cucumbers and scallions, and a sweet dipping sauce. My only quibble would be that I like duck better when the fat is completely rendered out of the skin - this had about a 1/4 inch layer of fat under the skin, which is a texture I'm not fond of. However, I think I'm an outlier in this respect - most people who like duck like it the way they served it. On the whole, we enjoyed our experience at AZN and would definitely go back.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Out to Dinner: Big View Diner

Tonight's dinner was at Big View Diner, one of my favorites for a casual meal.

Yes, the dreaded diner diet plate - chicken salad, cottage cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and fruit. But here it's not dreaded, because Big View does such a great job. The chicken salad is light, made with sour cream instead of mayonnaise so it doesn't get that stodgy texture. And I'm not sure how the folks at Big View do it, but they have flavorful tomatoes all year long. Big View serves a lot of big food - giant sandwiches, big platters of appetizers and entrees, and monster-sized desserts - it's all good. But it's nice to know it's possible to keep it healthy there as well.

A pocketful of breakfast

This morning's breakfast:

Mini whole-wheat pita pocket filled with:
1 egg
2 mushrooms, sliced
1 2% Kraft Single
all scrambled together

200 calories

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stir-fry and more

Tonight's meal is mostly from the frozen section of Trader Joe's.

1/2 cup vegetarian fried rice (frozen): 80 calories
1 cup tofu/mixed vegetable stir fry (made with extra firm tofu, frozen vegetable mix, and Trader Joe's General Tso sauce): 180 calories
1 chicken egg roll (frozen): 160 calories

Lynx to Food: Tyvola Road

Today's Lynx to Food is a visit to the venerable Charlotte institution Bill Spoon's Barbecue, which has been serving up delicious 'cue for nearly half a century. Their slogan: "We Cook The Whole Pig - It Makes The Difference". Unfortunately, dim lighting meant that my photos did not come out, so no pictures with this entry. I had a pork barbecue sandwich and unsweet iced tea. The sandwich at Bill Spoon's is definitely one of the best in town. The pork is very finely chopped, mildly smoky, and only lightly seasoned with Spoon's vinegar-pepper sauce, which allows the rich flavor of the pork to dominate. (There's more sauce available on the table for people who prefer to spice it up.) The pork is topped with mild white cole slaw. Presentation at Bill Spoon's is decidedly no-frills -  the pork sandwich came on a small paper plate, the tea in a red Solo cup - but when it comes to great barbecue, who needs anything fancy?

I can't pretend that a barbecue sandwich is health food, but I didn't order any side dishes, so at least the 'cue wasn't augmented by mac'n'cheese or french fries or - sigh - sweet potato pie.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Turkey Mole

I unearthed some of the Thanksgiving turkey that I had stashed in the freezer for tonight's dinner.

Turkey in mole sauce (Dona Maria brand),  refried beans, rice, pineapple, and avocado. I haven't done the math on this meal, and I know the mole sauce is pretty high-fat, so I just took small portions and hoped for the best.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Out to Lunch: The Cowfish

Today's post-shopping lunch was at The Cowfish, a popular South Park establishment which offers sushi, burgers, and "burgushi" - sushi rolls with burger fillings. I had a Soy Vegan Roll:

The outer wrapping was soy paper, and the fillings were lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, beets, and mango. This is a great place, as much for the fun vibe as the food, and since we were there at 3:00 pm we didn't even have to wait.

A little bit of everything

I love meals that are made up of lots of little bites of different things. Tapas, meze, antipasti... I love them all. I also occasionaly enjoy meals that are more about shopping than about cooking.

Here we have: Mixed greens, tomatoes, watermelon and honeydew, salami and ham, tzatziki, hummus, couscous salad, pita bread, crackers, four cheeses, and a chocolate bar. All purchased from the good folks at Whole Foods.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dessert for Grownups

The kid's asleep, the fire is lit, Joni Mitchell's on the stereo, and it's time for me to relax.

1/2 oz. each Belletoile and Cambozola cheese
2 Carr's whole wheat crackers
1/2 oz. Trader Joe's Pistachio Toffee
3 oz. port

450 calories

Surviving the Chain Restaurant

In an ideal world, my restaurant meals would all be taken at quirky local places with delicious local products. Of course, that world is not the one I live in, particularly with a kid in the mix. We went tonight to one of his favorites - Red Robin.

How does a dieter survive a restaurant where the burgers routinely top 1000 calories, and even things that sound like they could be healthy - like a Caesar Chicken Wrap or a Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad - are laden with calories and fat?

One redeeming quality that a lot of big chains have is a website with nutrition information. When I plan to go to places like this, I look at the menu online and decide what to order while I have the information in front of me.

With that in mind, I ended up with a Simply Grilled chicken sandwich, with a lettuce wrap instead of a bun. (The grilled chicken breast is hiding under the tomatoes and onions.) Switching lettuce for the bun took that one down to 175 calories from an already not-too-bad 400. Also, I got cole slaw for a side instead of fries. I love fries, but if I'm going to splurge on them it's going to be someplace that has really good fries, which Red Robin's aren't. (My fries of choice in Charlotte are actually fried Tater Tots at Bad Daddy's Burger Bar.) I did sneak a fry from my son's plate - it is a widely-known fact that anything stolen off a child's plate has no calories in it.

This meal was reasonably tasty, and with the calories I saved on junky fries and squishy bread, I can have dessert tonight. (I'll be back with an update later.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pizza Gets Personal

I love homemade pizza in all its forms. If I'm not going hog wild and making a deep dish, I like to make individual-sized pizzas so each person can have exactly what he or she wants.

Tonight's pizza:

4 oz. pizza dough (Trader Joe's)
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 oz. fresh mozzarella
1/2 oz. prosciutto
5 kalamata olives, halved
3 mushrooms, sliced
2 artichoke hearts, quartered

4 slices, 150 calories per slice
I'll eat half tonight and half for lunch tomorrow.

Stir-fry Lunch

Today's lunch was a vegetarian stir-fry:

4 oz. extra firm tofu
5 oz. mixed vegetables
(Pro-tip: if you're cooking for one, buy cut-up vegetables from the salad bar at the grocery store. It's more expensive than buying the whole vegetables, but less expensive than throwing away all the broccoli and celery that went bad because it never got used up)
1 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. sriracha

230 calories

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lynx to Food: Archdale

Lynx to Food visits the Archdale stop.

First, shopping at Payal Indian Grocery and Spices:

Then, lunch at Doan's Vietnamese restaurant:

Pho tai (beef broth with rice noodles, thinly sliced beef, and fresh herbs):

Accompanied by delicious freshly-squeezed limeade:

This was my first visit to this restaurant. The staff were very nice and friendly, and the pho was excellent. I'd definitely go back and try some of the other dishes as well - everything on everybody's table looked good.

Breakfast Burrito

Another one for the tastes-better-than-it-looks file:

8-inch flour tortilla
2 oz. shaved beef (i.e., leftover pot roast)
2 tbsp. salsa verde
1 tbsp. light sour cream
265 calories

Monday, December 3, 2012

Indian Style

Dal Makhani (black lentils and kidney beans in a spicy cream sauce) and Mutter Paneer (fresh cheese and green peas in a spicy sauce) with brown rice.

How did I learn to make these exotic delicacies? Easy! I bought these spice mixes at an international grocery store, and followed the instructions on the back.

Sunday night comfort food

Pot roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, and braised carrots with dill.

4 oz. beef: 250 calories
1/2 cup mashed potatoes: 100 calories
1 cup carrots: 50 calories
1/4 cup gravy: 25 calories

Friday, November 30, 2012

Out to Dinner: 18 Asian Sushi Bar

Tonight's dinner was at 18 Asian Sushi Bar in Blakeney.

Salad with ginger dressing:

Chicken noodle soup:

Garden roll (avocado, carrot, cucumber):

Breakfast Quesadilla

Good morning!

1 8-inch flour tortilla
1 egg, scrambled
Sauteed onions and mushrooms
1/4 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
Served with salsa verde and 1 tbsp. light sour cream

300 calories

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chicken in Red Wine Sauce

I was going to call this "coq au vin", but it wanders so widely from the traditional recipe that it probably shouldn't be called that. One member of the household remarked that "The chicken was better than it looked." High praise indeed! I cooked the chicken in the pressure cooker, so it only took 15 minutes under pressure, and it was tender and juicy.

1 tbsp. butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped carrots
4 chicken leg quarters, skin removed
1 cup red wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp. tomato paste
8 oz. white mushrooms, quartered
8 oz. carrots, cut into chunks
8 oz. frozen pearl onions
2 tbsp. cornstarch in 1/2 cup water

Melt the butter in the pressure cooker, and saute the chopped onions and carrots for 5 minutes with the lid off. Add the chicken, wine,  chicken broth and tomato paste, and cover the pressure cooker with its lid. Cook on high heat until the cooker comes to pressure, then lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, saute the mushrooms, carrots, and pearl onions in a non-stick pan with cooking spray. After the chicken has been under pressure for 15 minutes, release the pressure and open the cooker. Remove the chicken and put it in a 200 degree oven to keep warm. Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and boil to reduce by half, then thicken it with cornstarch mixture. Add the cooked mushrooms, onions, and carrots to the sauce, and serve it over the chicken.

I have not done the calorie math on this recipe, but with the skin off the chicken and little added fat, it's probably not too bad.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sneaky Snack

Remember that innocent-looking packet of fruit and nut snacks I bought a few days ago?

The nutrition label says it's 160 calories per serving, but apparently there are 2.5 "servings" in that tiny bag. Here's what a serving looks like:

Also the second ingredient is neither fruit nor nuts, but "sesame sticks" - sugary crackers.

Caveat emptor.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The best-laid eggs... er, plans

This was supposed to be a perfectly circular poached egg perched on top of a circle of avocado slices, atop a circle of toasted white bread, in a neat little column.

Oops. It still tasted good though.

1 oz. white bread: 75 calories
1 oz. sliced avocado: 47 calories
1 egg: 70 calories

Monday, November 26, 2012

Baked Chiles Rellenos

I cooked dinner with some of the ingredients I got from Compare Foods today.

Baked Chiles Rellenos:

Peppers and filling:
4 poblano peppers
4 oz. shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
4 oz. queso fresco, crumbled
2 green onions, minced
1 egg
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup water

Roast poblano peppers over a gas flame or under a broiler until they are black and blistered all over.
Let cool in a 1-gallon Ziploc bag, and then remove the skins under running water. Cut a slit in each pepper and remove seeds and ribs.

Mix the cheeses and green onions together, and stuff the peppers with the cheese mix. Coat the stuffed peppers in the batter. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Makes 4 chiles rellenos, 230 calories each.

Served with yellow rice, refried beans, and a salad of tomato and avocado with lime juice and cilantro.

Out to Lunch: McAlister's Deli and TCBY

Today I was doing some errands in Blakeney and stopped for a quick lunch at McAlister's Deli. I had their "Choose Two" option with a cup of chicken tortilla soup and a veggie spud.

Chicken tortilla soup: 200 calories
Potato: 390 calories

I then went next door for dessert at TCBY, one of the many local self-service frozen yogurt stores. I like this because they charge by weight, so if you want a small taste, you pay a small price!

I had fat-free fruit punch flavored sorbet, with a small spoonful of waffle cone bits and a small spoonful of granola. The whole thing was 3.2 ounces, which had approximately 75 calories, and cost $1.57.

Lynx to Food: Sharon Road West and Arrowood Road

Today's episode of Lynx to Food brings us to the Sharon Road West stop, where the sum total of food establishments is two convenience stores and a Papa John's pizza. I didn't choose to eat a meal at any of these places, but I did buy these:

in honor of Sharon Road West being the closest Lynx stop to the Lance snack factory.

I then proceeded to Arrowood Road, where I paid a visit to Compare Foods.

I got poblano peppers, limes, cilantro, green onions, and queso fresco for about half the price I would have paid at Harris Teeter. The three things at the top are frozen fruit purees - mango, blackberry, and tamarind. I'm going to try using them to make syrups for cocktails or to add to sparkling water.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving wrap-up

Take-aways from this holiday meal:

This was the first time I brined a turkey, and I'm not going to do it again. The turkey was saltier but not appreciably juicier, and the whole thing was kind of a pain. I've made better turkeys without such a hassle.

Gravy and stuffing were spot on - I'll continue to do turkey stock in advance.

I seasoned the carrots with a spice mix called "Tagine seasoning" - in other contexts it might have worked but in this one it ended up tasting too much like pumpkin pie. (I should have known, given that cinnamon and ginger are in that mix along with cumin, paprika, and cayenne.) I'm sticking to unsweetened carrots with dill, or carrots sweetened with maple syrup from now on.

The big winner was the mini pecan tarts - the flavor of pecan pie without the leftovers hanging around to tempt me. I ran the recipe through a nutrition calculator - they're 210 calories each! Not bad!

A Yankee in the South

I read somewhere a few years ago about the way to identify a Yankee. The saying was, if you ask a southerner, then a Yankee is a northerner. If you ask a northerner, a Yankee is a New Englander. If you ask a New Englander, a Yankee is a Vermonter. And if you ask a Vermonter, a Yankee is someone who eats pie for breakfast. I'm from New Hampshire, not Vermont, but I proudly claim my Yankee heritage.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Feast

Roast beast:

On the plate:

Appetizer time

Time to start munching:

Life is uncertain...

Make dessert first.

The pumpkin pie recipe is the one on the back of the Libby's pumpkin can. The other things next to it are mini pecan tarts in phyllo dough. It's a riff on this recipe for pecan pie bites from Southern Living. I made these because I like pecan pie but don't want to have a whole pie to eat all weekend.

1 cup chopped pecans
1 egg
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. melted butter
6 phyllo sheets
2 tbsp. melted butter

Beat the egg, mix in sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, 2 tsp. melted butter, and pecans. Layer the phyllo dough, brush each sheet with melted butter. Cut the stacked phyllo into 12 pieces and put 8 of the stacks into a standard muffin tin (The filling as I made it only makes enough for 8 tarts - I thought it would make 12 so that's how I cut the phyllo dough. Those squares are the right size to fit into the muffin cups.) Fill the cups with the filling, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

I said the recipe makes 8, so why are there only 7 on the plate? Well, this is the first time I've tried to make these, so I had to test one just to make sure they came out well.

They're delicious.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving prep: Turkey in the brine

Turning the turkey in the brine, observed by a curious cat.

For my brine I used a gallon of water, a cup of salt, and a cup of maple syrup. We'll see tomorrow how it comes out.

Out to Lunch: Malaya Kitchen

Today's lunch was at Malaya Kitchen in the Arboretum. No pictures because I forgot my camera. (Bad blogger!) I had tofu in garlic sauce with brown rice. This was delicious - savory, sweet and very spicy. It had broccoli and red bell peppers stir-fried with the tofu, and the garlic sauce had lots of red pepper flakes. One thing that sets Malaya Kitchen apart from other strip-mall Asian restaurants is that their lunch special comes with a salad (a small bowl of iceberg lettuce with ginger dressing) and the portions are substantial but not overwhelming. It makes a nice change from the default greasy egg roll and pile of fried rice that many places give you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving prep: Cranberry sauce

Just a small tweak from the recipe they put on the back of the cranberry bag:

1 12-oz bag cranberries
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur

Leftover Lunch: Meatball sub

5 meatballs: 125 calories
1 slice 2% provolone cheese: 60 calories
2 oz. sandwich roll: 170 calories

Monday, November 19, 2012

Another lazy night

Pasta, meatballs, tomato sauce, and salad:

Frozen meatballs, 8 cocktail size: 210 calories
Whole wheat rotini, 1/2 cup: 100 calories

Thanksgiving prep: Turkey stock

I always make turkey stock before Thanksgiving so that I have it for gravy and stuffing.

5 pounds turkey legs
2 carrots
2 celery ribs
1 onion

Into the oven for 1 hour at 400:

Then into the pressure cooker for 30 minutes under pressure:

Strained through a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer and ready for the refrigerator: