Friday, March 27, 2015

Spinach and Cheese Gnocchi: Pretty Green Pillows of Cheesy Goodness

These light and fluffy gnocchi are not quick to make- I won't lie to you- but at least the sauce is. Anyway, sometimes it's nice to just hang out in the kitchen and get your hands into the food, right?

(By the way, you really need a food processor for this recipe.)


8 to 10 ounces of fresh spinach, or one cup of defrosted frozen spinach.
10 ounce packet of Queso Fresco Mexican cheese (or ricotta if you can't find this)
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup semolina pasta flour (regular or gluten free flour blend would work fine also)
extra flour for dusting

For Tomato Sauce:

1 slice of bacon
1 Tablespoon olive oil 
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 heaping Tablespoons of tomato paste
zest of one lemon
1/3 cup water
a splash of light sweet wine or dry sherry, if you have it
salt and pepper
a scattering of almond slices
Pecorino Romano cheese, to taste

First, saute your spinach with a little water, just to get it all wilted, then let it cool and squeeze most of the water out. You should have about a cup, but it doesn't actually have to be super exact. Add it to the food processor with all of the other ingredients, EXCEPT the flour. Once it's mashed up properly, then add the flour, and just mix that in gently with a spoon, but don't over-mix. If your spinach was watery or you had to use regular ricotta for the cheese, you may need to add a little extra. It should look like this: 

Next, you make the gnocchi by flouring your hands and forming them into little pillow shapes. Make them each about a half tablespoon sized, and handle them very gently, the dough is quite sticky so you really need to roll them in the flour to make this happen. 

Set them all on a plate and put them in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, but preferably overnight.

When you're ready, to cook the gnocchi, put them in boiling salted water and when they float, they're done. It only takes a few minutes, just like with regular potato gnocchi. 

For the sauce, chop up the bacon slice in very tiny pieces and saute them in the olive oil on medium heat in a big frying pan until they look mostly crisp. Add the onion and salt and pepper, and saute another two minutes. If you are using the wine, add it before you add the tomato paste, letting it mostly evaporate before adding the tomato paste and water. Mix it all up and let it cook for another few minutes, or until the sauce looks nice and thick (then taste it for salt and pepper- depending on your bacon you may or may not need more.) Add the almonds and lemon zest last, as well as a splash of the cooking liquid from the gnocchi if you need it to thin out your sauce, and then pour the gnocchi in the pan, and toss them gently in the sauce using a soft rubber spatula so they don't get damaged. 

Generously grate Pecorino Romano cheese on top. Yes, this is a cheese fiesta, so don't eat all this by yourself, this should serve four along with a nice salad and some crusty baguette. 

You can also just serve these with plain browned butter, onions, almonds, lemon zest and extra pepper if you want, you'll appreciate the spinach flavor even more. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Shepherd's Celery Root Pie

The recipe of the month is, again, a good low calorie dish. But it doesn't look low calorie and it definitely doesn't taste low calorie. You can make this for anyone really and just not tell them that it's "diet," and if they like this casserole type of dish, I promise they will eat it. 

I personally can't eat stupid "diet" food that personal trainers are always telling you to eat, like plain steamed vegetables with poached fish; I'd almost rather just be fat and die young. Get a registered dietitian if you want food advice, gym rats are not famous for their love of fine dining. Anyone who would drink a protein shake more than once is unqualified to tell you how to eat healthy food that is also delicious.

We could all use some extra comfort, especially when trying to lose fat/weight, and this works for me. The reason I am using celery root here instead of traditional potatoes is not just because it's only 8 calories per ounce mashed, it's because it stays moister and therefore needs hardly any added butter in order to actually taste buttery. (You know how you can put a ton of butter into potatoes and they can still have a dry texture? That won't happen here.) By the way, if you're not sure what a celery root looks like, I have a picture on this recipe: Cream Baked Eggs and Fried Celery Root


1 pound of lean ground beef, 93% lean or better (please don't use turkey, we are already substituting for potatoes, and if you take out the red meat too, well it's just not Shepherd's pie anymore)
1 large carrot, grated
1 small package of mushrooms, quartered, your favorite kind (if you hate mushrooms, substitute with a grated summer squash, but squeeze the juice out of the gratings.
1/2 small onion, chopped finely
2 teaspoons salt 
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon savory
1or 2 tablespoons steak sauce like A-1 or HP
1 large or two small celery roots (also called celeriac) peeled (like you would peel a pineapple) and cubed
2 teaspoons of butter (yes, only teaspoons)
splash of milk (about 1/8 cup)  
1 ounce grated cheese, any kind- I went trashy and used strips of one and 3/4 slices of Kraft Cheddar)

Put the peeled and cubed celery root pieces into a pot of simmering salted water and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the cubes are soft. Drain the celery root and mash up with the butter, the splash of low fat milk and some of the salt. You want about 20 ounces of this mash for your pie. Don't be cheap with the salt unless your doctor ordered you too. Dieting is not the time to cut everything out, it makes you too sad.

Saute the ground beef and onions on high heat for about five minutes until the  meat is all browned.  Add a teaspoon of salt, the pepper and other spices, the steak sauce, and the grated carrot and chopped mushrooms, and continue to stir and cook for a another five minutes, until everything looks heated through.

Pour the meat mixture first into a casserole dish, mine is about 11" x 8"

 Top this with the celery root mash, spread it out evenly and then sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are brown and the cheese is melted. This makes six servings of about 175 calories each, or four very generous servings for about 265 calories per serving. With calories this low you can afford a 140 calorie bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale with it. (I'm just saying.)

 You could be fancy and put fresh herbs on top, but frankly that takes away from the home-style feel in my opinion. If you go that route, I recommend dill or very finely chopped flat parsley.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Curly Parsley Barley

It's possible that I may have put on a few pounds. 

So I'm reaching into my annals of diet history and busting out my low calorie goodies for the New Year. Being the piggy that I am, I insist that my food always have flavor and be of a substantial portion- no celery sticks and cottage cheese for me (at least not without serious alteration.) Here is my first "diet" offering of the new year, a barley dish that's good for a low-calorie lunch (and way better than a stupid diet shake) or for a filling side dish to serve at dinner with a little grilled sirloin steak.

This recipe can be served warm or cold, but I usually eat it cold like a salad, and it's just about 220 calories per serving. It's also full of things that are very good for you, especially since they aren't cooked.


1 cup pearl barley
2 bunches of curly parsley, most stems removed, and chopped finely
2 cups of grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered (measure before chopping) 
1 or 2 large garlic cloves, chopped very fine (adjust to your own taste)
1 rounded tablespoon of pine nuts
3 ounces of crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon  of olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
juice and zest of one small lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon pepper

This makes about 5 one-cup servings (very packed cups.)

Simmer the barley in a pot of salted water for 45-60 minutes. Drain and add to the rest of the ingredients and toss everything really well together.  You can fill it out with even more tomatoes if you'd like a bigger plate of food.

You can lower the calories even further by omitting the cheese (add a little more salt if you do this), then it will be only about 170 calories per serving, but do not omit the olive oil for any reason, for that way lies madness... 
(Because of the raw garlic, I wouldn't eat this for lunch at work, if you need to talk to people at work, leave out the fresh garlic and a little Tabasco sauce and a dash of garlic powder.) 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Soft Honey Butter Cookies and Baklava Cookies

Is this picture blurry, or do I need to clean my glasses?
If you like crispy cookies, stop reading this right now. These are soft and chewy buttery-sweet cookies. If you want to bite into a cookie and get crumbs in your lap (or in your cleavage) this in not the recipe for you. 

Preheat your oven to 350 convection, or 375 degrees regular oven.


1 stick salted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup of the best quality honey you can get
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 egg
1 and 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Almonds for topping, or to mix in (optional) 
Walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and honey for baklava topping (optional)

The method is pretty standard, if you've made Nestle Toll House cookies, you can make these. Mix the butter and sugars together first, then add the egg and honey and beat for another minute. (The vegetable oil is for you to rub the inside of the 1/3 cup measuring cup with before you measure out the honey, so the honey won't stick to the cup.) 
Add the dry ingredients next and beat well until combined. 

Drop your dough onto a cookie sheet (I use some parchment paper lining because I hate cleaning pans) by rounded tablespoons. I like to use my hands to ever-so-gently roll each ball of dough and then squash it into cookie shape, so the cookies come out nice and round- you don't have to do that. (But you should, don't be lazy!)

Before you put them in the oven, you can sprinkle the tops with sugar, or if you like nuts you can sprinkle the tops with sliced almonds or add some sliced almonds to the batter. 

If you're feeling really adventurous, you could mix 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts with a teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and sprinkle that mixture on top of them to give you kind of a 'baklava' cookie, and when they come out of the oven, you would drizzle just a wee bit of extra honey on top.
Bake them for 8-10 minutes. I like to pull them out the second they are just barely cooked, when the dough is not shiny-raw looking on top, but not yet really brown on the edges. The more undercooked they are, the more you'll get the flavor of the honey; nine minutes is probably ideal, if you do ten minutes they'll be less on the soft side and more on the chewy side. Set a timer, or don't leave the kitchen! Burnt cookies are the worst.

Let them sit for one minute on the pan before you GENTLY remove the cookies with a thin spatula to cool on a rack (or paper towels of you don't have a rack). They will seem very soft while they are still hot, resist the urge to put them back in the oven, unless they are truly raw and wet in the middle.

Friday, September 19, 2014

'La Bella Polenta' and Venetian Style Appetizers

First of all, you HAVE to watch part of this video, it's adorable. Leave it to the Italians to make up an awesome song about making polenta. (By the way, I think the young woman on the far right is in the market for a husband- you'll see what I mean.)  Oh and, be warned: the song sticks in your head.

As a person who has only recently acquired the funds to travel to Europe without the assistance of my parents, I am not a seasoned traveler and therefore this isn't one of those braggy posts. I was lucky enough to stay in Venice in June, and while in general I wouldn't say it is the food capital of Italy or anything, they did have some interesting dishes. Unfortunately for us most of the famous dishes involved seafood. My husband doesn't like seafood at all (although he periodically tries it, just to make sure) and I'm allergic to shellfish. By the way, if you're ever there and you need to communicate that you have a seafood allergy you say, "Sono allergico ai crostace."

Of course pasta and gnocchi are served a lot, but they also serve a hefty dose of risotto and polenta (cornmeal mash) too. The best thing about Venetian food though is the cicchetti, tiny little happy-hour appetizers (pretty much Italian tapas.) There was salt-cod salad, truffled ham* (ridiculously good), fried cheese balls, grilled many tasty things. 
*This is truffled ham. If anyone knows where to get it in California, tell me!

Instead of crostini toasts as a base for spreads and cold cuts, they sometimes used little grilled polenta squares. I was raised in Arizona, so to me they taste a little bit like an open faced tamale. Here's my recipe:

4 cups of low sodium or homemade vegetable broth
1 cup of dark yellow cornmeal 
1 teaspoon salt (if you use water instead of broth, use 2 tsp.) 
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (use cayenne or nothing if you don't have white)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup marscapone cheese or thick cream
2 rounded tablespoons finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
a big glug of Tabasco or other hot sauce (I told you, I'm from Arizona) 

Bring the broth, salt and pepper to a boil, and add the cornmeal slowly, whisking the whole time. Stir on high for a few minutes, until the mixture thickens- like oatmeal thick. Turn the temperature down to as low as it will go and continue cooking on low for another 30 minutes, frequently giving it a really good stir with the whisk. 

Add in the butter, cheese and Tabasco at the end, mix thoroughly and vigorously, and then pour it out into a 9"x13" greased pan. Try to even out the polenta as best you can with your spatula, I ended up using a cube of cold butter as a flattener because it doesn't stick. 

Let the polenta cool on the counter for ten minutes, then put it in the refrigerator, covered, to cool completely. Cut the polenta into square or diamond shapes, and then you can either brush the shapes with oil or butter and put them on the grill, or just grill them in a non-stick pan until they are brown, but not black at all, on both sides. 

Here are some basic Americanized toppings you might want to try. Because there is cheese and butter in the polenta, I think putting cheese on top would be redundant, but you do what you like: 

-Fresh or canned salmon salad made with capers, dill and mayonnaise
-Fresh chopped tomatoes mixed with very finely diced anchovy, garlic and oil
-Prosciutto di Parma and chopped green Castelvetrano olives
-Bacon, pepper jelly and almond slices

(This one has Prosciutto, hot pepper jelly and roasted Marcona almonds)

-Roasted chiles, chicken and salsa
-Basil and sun dried tomato in oil or tomato jam and balsamic vinegar
-Thinly sliced steak cooked very briefly and covered in lemon juice, olive oil and parsley
-Leftover BBQ pulled pork and apricot jam or fresh apricot
-Cut the squares big enough to make a polenta Eggs Benedict with bacon, eggs and Hollandaise sauce

You get the idea.  
The Sacro e Profano in the San Polo neighborhood of Venice, worth a visit!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Best Fresh Summer Spaghetti Sauce

I really need to admit to you that we ate most of this up when it was hot out of the kitchen, without taking a picture of course, so this is a picture of my plate of leftovers the next day, with no garnish. On a paper plate. 'Cause I'm classy like that.

The key to this very simple recipe is good quality tomatoes, and a blender or processor of some kind. The blending is going to take the place of cooking the sauce down, you know, to get a nice smooth texture. It will be the perfect sauce to really stick to the spaghetti. Basically you are not really cooking the sauce, as much as you are just heating the tomatoes through and preserving their fresh sweetness. 

If you don't have blender of any kind, you can of course chop everything really tiny, but in that case I would cook this a little longer and I would also use a different pasta: like little shells or orecchiette, something with nooks and crannies to catch all the chunks of sauce.

5 cups (approximate) of fresh cherry tomatoes, squished in the pan or halved
1/2 a small onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt (or more- to taste)
1 dash black pepper
a handful of  pine nuts (if you don't have pine nuts, you can try other nuts or seeds, I'll bet it's still good)
1 tablespoon fresh or dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
1 tablespoon butter
1 small slice of stale bread, crumbled up, or just toast fresh crumbs in a pan (optional, this is more for added texture if needed, but it's a good idea if the tomatoes are extra watery. If you refuse to use pine nuts, you will definitely need these.)
4 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (this is not time for Permesan)

If, through no fault of your own, you do not have sweet cherry tomatoes, and you have instead chopped up some tasteless winter hothouse tomatoes, add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of sugar to the mix.

In a pot, heat up two of the tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat, then fry the chopped onion and garlic for about a minute, stirring. Add the tomatoes, spices, the rest of the olive oil, the pine nuts, and heat through for about five minutes. Blend well with an immersion blender or food processor, then put back on the heat, but turned down to low to keep warm while you make the pasta. Cook 16oz of spaghetti or capellini according to the package directions (in SALTED water), and when drained (but still wet) toss immediately with the sauce, breadcrumbs, cheese and butter. 

Don't be alarmed at all this oil and butter. Think about it, there's no meat in it, and it's five tablespoons total for a whole pound of pasta- you should be able to serve four or five people with that.

This goes with white wine of course, and I liked the Neyers Chardonnay I had with it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tomato Fritters: Clearly, I Have a Fritter Problem

Yes, I've posted recipes like this before, but usually for just squash fritters, because my garden is always overrun with squash. This year I have one solitary squash plant and, uhm, fourteen tomato plants. (They came in six packs! What was I supposed to do, throw them out?)

Anyway, I always felt like they needed Greek yogurt or balsamic vinegar or lemon or something to give the squash fritters a little more flavor and tang. I now realize that better flavor can be accomplished with, you guessed it, tomatoes. The fritters get sweet and they stay really moist inside- fully cooked but not dried out. I eat them plain now, right out of the pan, as soon as my mouth can stand the temperature.

The herbs can vary a LOT and still be amazing. I like these combos: a teaspoon each of dill and garlic powder, plus a 1/4 cup chopped chives
OR 1/4 cup each of chopped parsley, green onion and fresh mint. 

In this recipe, I went with Herbs de Provence and no onions or garlic. Rosemary is pretty strong so there's not very much. (I wouldn't use white onions or raw garlic by the way, these don't get cooked long enough.)


I cup of chopped tomatoes, without juice
1 cup of packed down grated summer squash, without juice
1/2 cup semolina flour, or all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried Herbs de Provence (or other spice combo from above)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup crumbled goat's cheese
1 large egg

Panko bread crumbs, optional

Oil for frying, I used about 1/4 cup of oil, but frankly I don't really measure. If you don't like olive oil, avocado oil is really good (or both)

More salt and pepper to sprinkle on top afterwards

Grate or food process the summer squash, one large or two small is plenty. Put the pile in a strong paper towel and squeeze the heck out of it with your hands until all the juice comes out. If you have a little more or less than a cup it doesn't really matter.

Chop the tomatoes like you would for pico de gallo. Two tomatoes, or a bunch of cherry tomatoes should be about right. Pick up the pieces of tomato, leaving as much of the juice and seeds behind as you can, and place them on a paper towel, then lay another paper towel on top and gently press to get more juice out. Again, slightly more or less than a cup doesn't matter. 

Put your veggies in a mixing bowl and add the flour, baking powder and spices and toss well with a spoon. Next add the crumbled goat cheese (to be honest I think I had more like a 1/3 cup goat cheese, but this is kind of up to you.) Add the egg last and mix well. The batter will be like chunky drop biscuit batter.

Heat the oil on medium high until it's really hot. Make the fritters about a heaping tablespoon each. I like to scoop out the batter with the spoon, but then I shape it a little bit in my hands like a flattened meatball before I put it in the pan. Fry them for at least a minute in each side. Now sometimes I accidentally turn them too soon, because I panic about how brown they are getting, but they can be pretty dark brown and they will be really good, crispy on the outside and juicy and cheesy on the inside. 
When you pull them out of the pan place them on a paper towel in a single layer to drain, and salt and pepper them immediately.

Now, if you want them even more crisp- when you are spooning and gently molding the batter into the little patties, you can then coat each side with some panko bread crumbs. If I were doing this, I would do them all first before starting to fry them, because it takes too much time to coat each one before you plop them in the pan; you don't want the cooking times of each patty to be that far apart. 

If you are avoiding red meat, you could make a larger hamburger-patty shaped version and stick it on a toasted bun with a little mayo or HP sauce. You could also serve the larger ones at breakfast with a fried egg on top (and you can be all trendy that way, it seems everyone puts fried eggs on their food these days, right?) If you're doing gluten-free just use corn meal instead of flour. If you're doing non-dairy this in an opportunity to use one of those Toffuti cream or ricotta cheeses.