Sunday, February 24, 2013

Carrot Souffle, Sweet Potato Bake, and Corn Casserole

When we moved the last time, I culled the cookbook collection with several goals in mind: reduce the weight of the packing boxes (out goes the 30 year old hard back cookbook with complete menus involving braising meats in lard), eliminate tomes I never used but had inherited (complicated yet delicious recipes with dozens of ingredients I would have to search out), and attempt to eat healthier (good-bye fondue booklet!).
I had difficulty parting with sentimental charitable fundraiser cookbooks that included contributions from family and friends. However, I rarely prepared recipes from those heritage pages due to the above health goal, which precluded drowning vegetables in 2 cups of heavy cream (corn casserole), 4 eggs and one stick of margarine (carrot soufflé), or brown sugar/butter/eggs/juice on the sweet potatoes.

I brought the cookbooks along, and finally decided to see how healthier substitutions would work, since plain veggies aren’t all that fun either- plus, the recipes did call for spices!

The carrot soufflĂ© turned out well, minus several hundred calories! I will make it again and will reduce the sugar even further (went down from half a cup of brown sugar called for to 1 TBSP this time). As you’ll see, we’re half-way to pumpkin pie already! I started off with a bag of baby carrots, weighing in at 1 pound, exactly what the recipe called for (thankfully, without the peeling and slicing of whole carrots!). After boiling, draining and roughly chopping, I added 1 real egg, ¼ cup liquid egg substitute, ½ cup skim milk, 1 TBSP flour, 1 TBSP brown sugar, ½ tsp. cinnamon, 1 TBSP butter, ½ tsp. ginger, and a dash of allspice. I did not use a beverage style blender, but my trusty hand-held mixer instead, since it was not important to me to have a puree. Baked about 45 minutes.

The sweet potato bake also turned out well, and I’ll prepare it again. I used one sweet potato instead of the 3 pounds called for, and reduced the other ingredients in the recipe accordingly. After boiling, draining, and roughly chopping the potato, I added 1 TBSP orange juice, 1 tsp. brown sugar, 1 TBSP butter, ¼ tsp. dried orange peel (would recommend fresh), ¼ cup liquid egg substitute, and a dash each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. I baked the mixture in two mini spring-form pans, and as you can see, kept the peel on, since I actually like potato peel! I took the pans out of the oven when the top browned, but the bottom was still soft, so I’d suggest checking it with a spoon for done-ness. In a small pan, I didn’t want to over-cook it.

The corn casserole turned out yummy despite the severe reduction in fats from the recipe! Instead of 6 eggs and 2 cups of cream, here’s what I used: 1 real egg and ¼ cup liquid egg substitute, a pinch of salt, 1 TBSP sugar, 1 cup skim milk, and ½ TBSP corn starch. Next time I will use less sugar. Combine the cornstarch and milk, then add to other ingredients. Finally, mix in 1 pound of corn (I used a bag of frozen kernels). Bake for 45 minutes and check for doneness with a knife.

Whew! Next project will be figuring out how to reduce or eliminate cans of “cream of” soup from a bunch of other recipes! Do you know how to accomplish that?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Creamy Broccoli Soup with 4 Spices

I’ve had this recipe in my ring-binder for 9 years now, and finally tried one of the 6 variations on Pam Anderson’s Basic Creamy Vegetable Soup. I used to find it frustrating to pour hot soup into a blender, but now with an immersion one, it’s easy to make soup and chop the bits of vegetables up finely without the back and forth of hot liquid.

I enjoyed the rich flavor of this soup, despite my substitution of skim milk and omission of butter! The onions, garlic, and spices (dried mustard, basil, oregano, and cayenne pepper) were very satisfying. Mr. Spice is not a fan of pine nuts, but loves croutons, so I decided to top the soup with reduced fat shredded cheese and a few crunchy pieces of toasted bread. I look forward to preparing the other variations of this recipe with different spices (squash, potato, beet, cauliflower, and sweet potato).

We had a tasty broccoli soup here, as well as crab soup, asparagus soup, and potato soup. What is your favorite healthy vegetable soup?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Craft table

One of the aspects I was most excited about with a relatively finished basement was having a craft table! In our smaller space, the dining table was it. Mr. Spice had urged me to dispose of the old stereo with (gasp!) a TAPE player…as in- cassette tapes! I agreed to go through my extensive collection of tapes and cull them to the most essential ones. But the stereo is now on my craft table, where I enjoy listening to tunes from high school, which I am horrified to admit are now being played on some oldies radio stations. But I digress…

An old bulletin board was replaced by a nifty magnetized marker board which didn't require- gasp- tacs, so I rescued the outmoded but perfectly serviceable one in support of the craft table environment. It took me many years to realize that it’s ok to tear pages out of magazines and keep the nice photos/articles, and recycle or donate the rest of the magazine. It’s been neat to see the bulletin board content evolve and layer, and even better to not have large piles of magazines lying around! 

I had a large bowl with a snow theme that I only used a couple of months of the year, so I covered it with flower bulb catalogue photos of daffodils, my very favorite flower. It makes me smile every time I see it, and I don’t have to store an empty bowl for most of the year. In fact, I keep scrapbooking supplies in it!
I took several beaded jewelry making classes, and have found that the cats like to “help” a bit too much with the beads and thread. I don’t mind them sitting on scrapbook pages. What a joy it is to have space for crafting and not having to clean everything up for the sake of the dinner table being needed. 

I usually have only one project at a time on the table, and sometimes clean and organize in fits and starts. Do you have craft supply storage tips?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Spicier restaurant meals

It seems to me as though more people are dining in restaurants on a regular basis compared with past years. Growing up, I don’t remember going out to eat much more than once per month, and fast food was a special treat just a few times per year. We certainly enjoy having someone else do the cooking when we go to a restaurant, but between portion sizes being large, nutritional statistics being somewhat awful and budgeting for vacations, we’ve limited ourselves to once per week on average.

Since attempting to eat healthier, we’ve become more aware of extra salt and a richer depth of flavor in some restaurant meals. For example, I’ll buy low-fat Caesar salad dressing in the grocery store, but in most restaurants, you can’t compare the calories per tablespoon, so you enjoy your unhealthier-yet-delicious Caesar salad. I tried to make pop-overs at home, even getting a special baking tin, but they didn’t taste the same as restaurant ones (though I’ll concede it could be practice and expertise, not just ingredients!).

Does anyone else enjoy multi-ingredient salads more in restaurants than at home? Could I cut up an orange myself? Sure, but it’s much more fun to get toasted and candied nuts on a salad when “out”. Some items taste over-salted to me in restaurants, such as soups, since I tend to cook with very little of it at home- hence the local spice effort!

Finally, delicious crepes are a luxury when out and about, particularly when filled with seafood in a cream sauce! My next goal is to figure out how to make delicious healthier food, instead of simply substituting skim milk and hoping for the best (some dry mixes of pasta sauces taste fine with skim milk, but other recipes just get watery with low fat dairy). Ditto egg substitute and butter in a tub. Though my cholesterol numbers have improved with these efforts…it’s just fun to indulge every once in a while. Do you have any healthy substitution tricks with dairy? I've used canned pumpkin and apple sauce in cake mix recipes, but the savory items are more difficult for me to re-creat. Thanks for sharing any tips!