misc-0051I’ve made Ratatouille several times but this was by far the best. I LOVED the tofu in it. The great thing about tofu is that it’s a flavor sponge. Knowing this, instead of just layering it raw with the veggies, I dredged it in the tomato sauce first. Since my 9″ x 12″ pan was full of granola I had to use a smaller pan. This meant that instead of having just one layer of veg and tofu, I had to layer vertically. So, I went sauce, onions, tomatoed tofu, and then scalloped zucchini, squash, and tomatoes. I added all the optional stuff. When it finished baking we actually ended up letting it sit for about 45 mins since we weren’t quite hungry. I think it made the flavors come together even more. The only thing I would change is more evenly and thinly slicing the tofu. Some of the slices were a little thick so they didn’t absorb as much flavor.

In other news, our 5th anniversary is this Saturday – I can’t believe it. Five years. We’re really blessed, we’re going to be going to my Aunt’s cabin in Ellijay, GA for the weekend. It is the same place we spent the first week of our honeymoon. We’re hoping to take a longer vacation to celebrate later on in the spring but this is going to be great! I’m busy today running errands and getting some homework done so we can enjoy as much of the weekend as possible.

Also, in the news, I still don’t have a job. If you think of me, say a little prayer.

I keep forgetting to post my Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting recipe but I promise it’s coming soon.

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So, I had to nix the flatbread. You have to try the recipe sometime but it just could not go with the Cooking for Losers philosophy. Once I figured the nutrition it was about 400 calories per serving. Now, I could have told you to only eat half of a serving but, seriously people, that is so unrealistic. So, instead I’ll recommend a few other sides for your ratatouille. French bread is my top choice to go with it because it will soak up the juices. An extra healthy option would be some grilled chicken but if you use the tofu in the dish, you won’t be in need of the protein. You could also serve the dish on top of some brown rice. A final alternative is to add a thinly sliced potato in with the rest of the veggies in the dish to beef up the fillingness. Still, you should go for the bread. When you see how few calories the dish has in it, you’ll be willing to go for the bread. If you keep whatever you add to it at about 150 calories a serving you’ll still be at or under our 400 calorie limit even if you add the optional cheese. And, let me just tell you, if you eat all 400 calories of this meal, you will be so full.

I’ll warn you right now, unless you’ve got a mandolin or a food processor that slices, this dish is pretty labor intensive. If you slice veggies while the sauce is simmering the whole dish takes about 1 1/2 hours start to finish and for an hour of that, the dish is in the oven and you’re free to do whatever.

Ok, so here’s the ingredient list again in case you missed it, I added a couple of optional ingredients that punch up the flavor a bit but are totally optional:

1 tbs olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

1 tsp basil (optional – We use this frozen stuff by Dorot that’s pretty good although it must be cooked with whatever dish your making. Fresh basil is typically added at the end of the dish but the frozen cubes need to cook to get an odd aftertaste out of them)

1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)

(The following veggies are my favorite combination but really any veggie combo works)

2 green zucchini (are there other colors?), thinly sliced (about 1/4-1/2 inch – just try to make all the veggie slices about the same size.)

2 yellow squash, thinly sliced

4 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 medium purple onion, thinly sliced

8oz sliced mushrooms of your choice or 1 small eggplant (I can’t stand eggplant so I usually do mushrooms – this time I’m going to try tofu), thinly sliced

1 tsp thyme (optional)

1 tsp oregano (optional)

Feta, Goat, or Parmesan Cheese to sprinkle on top (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the garlic and the olive oil in a 12 inch skillet or saucepan and heat over medium high. Once the garlic is fragrant, stir in the crushed tomatoes (and frozen basil, if using). Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, once it boils, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 20 minutes. (If using fresh basil instead of frozen, add after the 20 mins.) Stir in balsamic or red wine vinegar, if using. Give it a taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.

2. Pour the prepared tomato sauce (that makes a great, simple, spaghetti sauce by the way – you’ll never by the jarred stuff again!) into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish or baking dish of a similar size (I always wish I had a pretty oval one for when I make this). Top the sauce with your sliced veggies. You can be as artistic with this part as you like. I usually like a scallopped look with alternating colors but it doesn’t really make a difference how you do it. Sprinkle the veggies with the oregano, thyme, and or whatever other herbs you like (can you tell this dish is flexible?) as well as a good dash of salt and pepper. If you have some parchment paper on hand, cut a piece to fit within the dish and lay on top of the veggies. Then top the whole dish with tin foil, if you don’t have parchment, just the foil works too.

3. Bake for one hour. If using one of the cheeses, uncover the dish after 45 minutes and sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, for the last 15 minutes.

The ENTIRE THING (without the cheese) is about 830 calories if you use tofu, 730 if you use eggplant or 690 if you use mushrooms. So even if you eat 1/4 of it (which is unlikely), you’ll only be getting about 208/183/173 calories – so definitely add some cheese! By the way, I’ve never tried the tofu in it before so if you try it along with me and it’s gross I will not be blamed. It should be good though, Tofu pretty much picks up whatever flavors it is in. If you don’t use the tofu then you may be better off to skip the bread and use the grilled chicken as a side. Ok, I’ve done enough talking…sorry.

Ratatouille

January 26, 2009

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog¬†about that adorable little movie with the cooking rat. Later, I learned the recipe for the movie’s namesake. That will be tomorrow’s Cooking for Losers recipe. I don’t have time to write out the steps for making it but here is your shopping list:

1 tbs olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

2 green zucchini (are there other colors?)

2 yellow squash

4 roma tomatoes

1 medium purple onion

8oz sliced mushrooms of your choice or 1 small eggplant

And to go with my Ratatouille, some flatbread (I know, I’m not a regional chef so you’ll have to forgive me for joining France and the Middle East).

For this I’m using Bobby Flay’s recipe which you can find here. I’m sure I’ll modify it a little. Here’s the ingredient list nonetheless:

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 to 110 degrees F)

1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil, plus more for bowl

Recipes to follow tomorrow.

So, I really liked it. I had to modify a couple of things – WalMart was OUT of spinach so I used the frozen stuff. Still good. Also, I had to use egg noodles, I kept them out of the soup because we definitely had leftovers and I didn’t want them getting all soggy. If I make it again I will add carrots, this just has to be in there with the ginger. I’m going to go back and edit it. Also, the soup made way more than the original recipe claimed. This was great because I got to eat more than I expected and still stayed in the low-calorie range. Here’s how mine turned out. I’ll work on my food photo skills, I promise. I like how the zebras look like their eating it.christmas-08-cupcakes-soup-034

I’m already off to a late start, I meant to post this recipe yesterday but it’s alright. So, today is the first Cooking for Losers Tuesday – the idea is to provide healthy and nutritious recipes to eat while you enjoy watching The Biggest Loser (or that other show that’s on Tuesday nights that isn’t near as good but has much higher ratings) – guilt free! In these recipes I’ll shoot for low calorie and nutritious. By low calorie I mean under 400 calories and by nutritious I mean that it includes plenty of lean protein and veggies. I know this is probably pretty far from a good definition for nutritious but, whatever, this is what has worked for me. Oh, and by the way, I don’t believe in healthy food that tastes like crap. My cooking philosophy is a semi whole-foods type of cooking. If you’ve got delicious ingredients you shouldn’t have to do a whole lot to them to make them taste good. For example, I will never tell you to steam up some broccoli and top it with ultra low-calorie cheese – GROSS! If I use cheese, it’s the real thing and it tastes good – I just don’t use a pound of it in the recipe. Besides, I like broccoli, just give it a little sprinkle of salt and I’ll eat however much you put in front of me. But I digress. All I’m trying to say is that I am somewhat obsessed with delicious food and I also like being healthy and I don’t think those have to be incongruous.

So – tonight’s Cooking for Loser’s Recipe is Kickin’ Chicken Soup. I’ve tweaked the recipe and given it a sexier name because I can. You’ll find my recipe below which includes some spinach and less pasta and you can find the original recipe here.

This is an exciting week for me – tomorrow is both my first day of my last semester at Southeastern and the day of my interview with Regions. Please pray that the interview goes well – this would be the PERFECT job. So, after those couple of events comes another. One of my best friends of all time, Trish Reed, is coming to visit. trish-and-jess-dancingTrish and I really only lived close to one another for two years but they were some intense one. She, James, and I were on a team together in Philadelphia for a year and then the following year we continued to be roommates and became co-workers. She is one of the most amazing and passionate people that I have ever known. Trish still lives in Philly and has really given her life to the people of the city. It’s pretty outstanding. She is also one of the funniest people I know. She and I share a sense of humor as well as sensitive hearts. Most of my time with Trish has probably been spent either laughing or crying. This is what makes her a great friend. Man, I love her. I cannot wait to spend the weekend with her – it’s been years since I’ve seen her!

Ok, enough updating. Here’s tonight’s recipe. By the way, the baking will commence soon but I’m having second thoughts about cooking through a cookbook. I follow a lot of food blogs mostly through tastespotting.com. James calls it my food porn. Anyhow, I’m constantly bookmarking recipes I want to try so I think I’m going to cook my way through those. That way, I can post or link to the recipes so you can have them and I won’t break any copyright laws. I also want the chance to come up with my own recipes and share those with you. I’ve already made one of my own creations that I’ll be posting later this week.

Kickin’ Chicken Soup

  • 3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 TB. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 4-5 carrots or a couple of handfuls of baby carrots carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 – 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (depending on your spiciness bravery)
  • 1 tsp. powdered ginger (if you’ve got the real stuff, use that, I just never have it on hand)
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken broth (walmart brand is SUPER low-sodium)
  • 1/2 cup orzo pasta or 1 1/2 cups egg noodles – orzo is great because it doesn’t get soggy if you keep the leftovers – a tip I learned here.
  • 2 cups spinach torn into bite sized pieces

1. Sprinkle the the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat about 1 1/2 tablespoons (just eyeball it) of the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. When the oil slips easily about the pan add the chicken breasts. Cook for 6-8 minutes on each side. Turn the burner to low and cover for 5-10 minutes until the centers are no longer pink. You could dice up the chicken first before you cook it but I find that this yields juicier chicken. Besides, I like shredded chicken in my soup – so, depending on your preference, dice up or shred the chicken once it is cooled.

2. Meanwhile, pour 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large soup pot along with the garlic and turn the heat to medium-high. When the garlic is fragrant, add the onions and carrots and a sprinkle of salt. After about 4-5 minutes the onions should be translucent and the carrots slightly soft. Add the cayenne (start with the smaller amount) and the ginger and stir until combined. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the temp to low and allow the soup to simmer for about 10 minutes.

3. After the 10 minutes is up bring the soup back up to a boil and add the pasta. Follow the pasta’s cooking directions for the cooking times. Once the pasta is done, take the soup off the heat and stir in the chicken and the spinach. Stir until the chicken is heated through and the spinach has wilted. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste, it may need more than you think depending on the sodium content of your broth. Also, if you can take it a little spicier, add the rest of that cayenne.

One quarter of this soup, a huge serving, has about 375 calories and should be really filling it makes about 8-10 cups. Remember, as important as it is to not eat too much, it is also important to not eat too little. If you need more, eat more. This is a healthy option to give you the calories you need.

The Search

January 15, 2009

So, since I have no job and classes haven’t started back up yet I’ve spent quite a bit of time these past couple of days researching cookbooks. I’m trying to find the perfect one to cook my way through. Here are some of the criteria in no particular order:

1. Just desserts – a lot of baking cookbooks have sections for breads and savory tarts and pastries. Although these look tasty, I really want something that’s all sweets.

2. It can’t be a one type of dessert cookbook. Although I am strongly tempted by cookbooks devoted exclusively to cakes, cookies, or cupcakes I really want to broaden my baking skills so I want a cookbook with a little diversity.

3. I’m not looking for the basics. I want something that has some classic desserts but also some new twists and fun flavor combinations. As you all know, I am an America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated fanatic. It was all I could do to not buy one of their dessert cookbooks but I passed. I’m trying something new here, branching out.

4. Although I want the desserts to be interesting, I don’t want them to be interesting just for interesting’s sake. I was seriously considering a cookbook called Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Although this met criterion 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 this one almost lost me on number 4 with one recipe – Red Hot Red Velvet Cake. It sounds good – sexy name and all that but come on people – a red velvet cake with cinnamon frosting and topped with red hots. Maybe it would be tasty but there are some things that you do not mess with. Anyhow, if Baked didn’t lose me here, it lost me on number 5.

5. This cookbook should not try to impress me with hoity-toity fancy ingredients. Although the recipe for Green Tea Fortune Cookie Cupcakes from Baked was almost the sole reason I chose it I am not about to go out and by 24 fortune cookies, high quality white chocolate, and matcha green tea powder just to make some cupcakes. I’m a firm believer fancier is not always deliciouser. Some of the best desserts I’ve ever had were messy, deconstructed, and full of simple pantry basics. Baked was all about some blah-blah-blah cacao and so on.

6. I’m looking for something easy on the eyes – in particular I would like it to be cute but I would settle for pretty. I know, it’s shallow, but I will be staring at this thing quite often so I want to be entertained as I look at it. So, while it doesn’t have to be filled with pictures it ideally would have a colorful layout.

7. It should not be too long. Well, this was an initial criteria but I might have to just let this one go. Most of the ones I really like would be far too long to cook my way all the way through. But still, I’m not looking at those really thick anthology type cookbooks. We’re shootin’ for small. I’ve been particularly drawn to cookbooks published by small bakeries.

8. It can’t break the bank. Ideally, I’m looking for something that has a low list price or something cheap I can get used on Amazon or elsewhere.

So, I’m going back out today to peruse some more cookbooks. It’s a nice excuse to get out of the house. Even so, at the moment I have it narrowed down to two:

31v0ckn6ejl_sl500_aa180_Buttercup Bakes at Home meets 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. It’s close on 6 but not quite there. 51yrikacral_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey meets 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8. Although it fulfilles fewer criterion than the other, it is so strong on number 6 that it is currently in the lead. Most of the hoity-toity ingredients were various types of liquor that we don’t have on hand and I would not be likely to purchase just for one recipe. But, since it’s so long I wouldn’t mind having to skip a few. I’ll have to do that in any cookbook I get since I don’t always have the necessary equipment such as an ice-cream maker or a silpat.

My tentative plan is to get started by next week. Once classes start and I get a job (oh, please pray I get a job – ideally with Regions) I’ll have a regular day to post. Along with my baking blogage I’ll also be doing Cooking for Losers Tuesdays. (I’m still trying to come up with a name for the baking one.) James and I are big fans of the biggest loser and nothing makes us feel crappier than eating grodie caloric food while watching all these people do something good for their bodies. I’m thinking of posting a recipe on Monday if you want to cook along with us and then posting the result on Tuesday. Anyhow, I’m glad to be back to blogging, I hope you enjoy this little adventure. Once I make my cookbook decision, I’ll let you know. I’d love it if you baked along with me!

An Idea

January 12, 2009

So I’ve always been intrigued by and jealous of those who are cooking their way through a cookbook and I really like the blogs that document them. So…I think I might do it. What do you think? I still need to find a cookbook – it will probably be baking only. I also need to find a way to make sure James and I don’t eat everything we make. Maybe if I do it on Fridays and feed the leftovers to some frequent Sunday visitors. Anyhow – I think it might be a good idea.