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.)