Category Archives: Main Courses

Falafel, Origin Uncertain

I recently visited a local Mediterranean style restaurant, Mediterranean Cruise Cafe – http://www.medcruisecafe.com – and enjoyed the delicious falafel, among other tasty dishes.  That scrumptious meal inspired me to search for a falafel recipe.  I admit, until I started researching recipes, I was ignorant and didn’t know that falafel was essentially a garbanzo bean fritter (croquette in international settings).  I learned fava beans are also used in many parts of the world and may have been the original primary ingredient.

Wikipedia sources note that the origin of falafel is unknown and somewhat controversial.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falafel
It is thought to have originated in Egypt.  In modern times (did I really write that?), falafel is considered a street food or fast food and often served as a sandwich.  It seems the question of origin has been so passionate that it has generated accusations of copyright infringement.

I was delighted to discover that creating falafel is quite simple, especially if you bake it, rather than the traditional method of deep frying.  End result – baking is healthier and just as tasty!

I discovered various falafel recipes in my search.  Most included flour and some included baking powder.  I did find my preferred baked falafel recipe on the about.com internet site.  http://video.about.com/mideastfood/Baked-Falafel.htm

Baked Falafel

•1 – 15 oz. can garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas)
•3 cloves garlic
•1 small onion, diced
•3 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
•2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
•1 tsp. cumin
•1 tsp. coriander
•Juice of 1 lemon (about 1 Tbsp.)
•1/2 tsp. kosher salt
•1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
•2 Tbsp. flour
•1 tsp. baking powder
•2 Tbsp. olive oil

Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees.
Drain the chickpeas in a colander and rinse well.
Place the garlic in a food processor, and pulse a few times to chop it roughly. Now add the onions, the chickpeas, the parsley, cilantro, cumin, coriander, and lemon juice to the food processor. Add the salt, the red pepper flakes, flour and the baking powder.
Cover and pulse until the mixture is well combined. You don’t want a complete puree, just a mash, sort of like the texture of a chunky hummus. Now, drizzle about a tablespoon of the olive oil onto a baking sheet.
Form the falafel into 1-1/2-inch rounds and flatten slightly with your fingers. Place on the oiled baking sheet. When you’re finished, brushed the falafel with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven 15-18 minutes until golden brown on the bottom.
Turn, and return the falafel to the oven to bake another 5-7 minutes until browned on the other side.

When I made this recipe, I did not measure the olive oil on the pan and used an olive oil spritzer to coat the tops of the falafel patties.  It was definitely not enough olive oil and the cook time was much longer.  I think the longer cook time was due to using canned garbanzo beans.  You may have a different experience with dried beans.  Use best judgement on olive oil and monitor the baking.  If the patties are not getting firm, increase cooking time and/or add olive oil.  I had to do both.

I mixed up a yogurt-cucumber dressing for the falafel, but it is not my favorite – too bland.  I will share a recipe when I find a good one.

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Yes, Soup for You

As I finished the autumn leaf round-up and migrated the lawn mower to the shed for the winter, I was in the mood for a savory and comforting soup.  I flipped through a stack of hard copy recipes and found a Weight Watchers soup that I had not yet made.  Great bonus – it’s multi-grain!  I adore the nutty, crunchy, earthy flavor of wild rice (see below recipe for breakfast wild rice), so it was a perfect choice.
https://twocutes.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/winter-breakfast-mahnomin-porridge/

This is a great basic recipe that has multiple variation options.  Weight Watcher recipes are often bland, so I almost doubled the spices in the recipe.  I also used a bit of chicken broth along with the vegetable broth, since I had it available.  I did not use an instant rice mix; but, rather, cooked both the wild rice and barley in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Wild Rice, Barley, Corn, and Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

1 cup(s) water
1/4 cup(s) uncooked barley
2 tsp olive oil
|1/2 cup(s) carrot(s), grated
1/2 tsp minced garlic
3 cup(s) mushroom(s), sliced
5 1/2 cup(s) vegetable broth
3/4 cup(s) instant long grain and wild rice mix
1 cup(s) frozen corn kernels
1/8 oz fresh sage, chopped (use 1 tablespoon)

Instructions

In a small saucepan, combine water and barley. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered, for time specified on barley package directions.  Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat oil; add carrots and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in mushrooms and cook just until mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes more.  Add cooked barley, broth, rice, corn and sage to vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until rice is cooked and mixture is thoroughly heated, about 10 minutes. Yields about 1 cup per serving.

PointsPlus™ Value: 3
Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 30 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy 

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© 2011 Weight Watchers International, Inc. © 2011 WeightWatchers.com, Inc. All rights reserved.  WEIGHT WATCHERS and PointsPlus™ are the registered trademarks of Weight Watchers International, Inc. and are used under license by WeightWatchers.com, Inc.

Saturday Beans

It started about three weeks ago.  My body started sending me subtle messages – “winter is coming,” “you need to store up.”  I have cravings for carbohydrates and comfort food.  Chocolate cravings also seem to be up.  This is empirical evidence that human biology is impacted by changing seasons.  In the Upper Midwest of the U.S.A., the number of daylight hours is declining and  mornings are getting colder.

I’ve noticed that when a person pays more attention to what is consumed (food or drink),  a person also more quickly notices the effects.  I heard those subtle messages and unconsciously took action on them.  It occurred to me, yesterday, that I had to actively manage this situation to avoid certain disaster.

Beans are a logical answer.  They are an almost-perfect food – high fiber, high protein, low fat, low calories.  Black beans are a staple in my healthy eating regimen, but they were left out of today’s cooking experiment.

The goal was baked beans, but not something usual.  I surveyed the cabinets and refrigerator for ingredients and just kept adjusting.  The results slightly exceeded expectations.  The key is to taste frequently and adjust, as necessary.  I even made flatbread pizza with the resulting bean concoction for this evening’s dinner.

Here is what I came up with today – adjust to your preferred tastes.

Ingredients
1 small poblano pepper, chopped (if less heat desired, use green pepper)
3/4 large onion, chopped
1 clove hot and spicy garlic (local food artisan)
3-4 oz. Jimmy Dean reduced fat pork sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilis, drained
15 oz. can pinto beans, undrained
1/3 cup dried lentils – prepared
1/3 cup dried small red beans – prepared
1/3 cup chunky salsa (local friend)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3  teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon salt
2 slices cooked turkey bacon (just use the real thing, believe me), chopped
1 slice cooked center cut pork bacon, chopped

Sauté onion, pepper, garlic, sausage, and bacon (if not previously cooked) in olive oil.
Add all other ingredients, cover, and cook on low heat for 2 hours.  If mixture appears too thin or soupy, remove cover.

Flatbread pizza —

Spritz Flat-Out Light Original flatbread with olive oil.  Spread thin layer of reduced fat mozzarella cheese.  Spread thin layer of bean mixture.  Place turkey pepperoni slices.  Spread another thin layer of reduced fat mozzarella cheese.  Bake in oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until cheese is browned.

Food Rut

I recently realized I was slipping into food dullness, relying on the same old staples and experimenting less.  That must stop!

Cooler weather arrived this week; so, this morning,  I had a craving for a savory dish.  I wanted something simple and easy and decided to use the slow cooker.  I had the perfect main character in the freezer – pork tenderloin.  I found a pork marinade on the Food Network internet site.

My pork tenderloin was 1.5 pounds.  I used almost the same ingredients and amounts as in the below recipe, but I omitted the vegetable oil.  I also omitted the orange juice, as there was none in the house.  I added a teaspoon or so of lime juice – seemed to fit.  I also added a pinch of garlic chips from the Herb Man, a local organic grower.
http://www.herb-man.com/

I put all the ingredients in the slow cooker pot and whisked together.  The pork tenderloin was frozen, so I cut it in half and placed it in the slow cooker pot with the marinade.  I set the cooker to the low setting and left it for three hours.  It was perfectly done.  Initial testing results:  savory, sweet, tender.
This will be perfect for future sandwiches!  Primary flavors are honey, ginger, and rosemary.  I will save the marinade and try using it as a base for cooking rice.  If you aren’t into sweet flavors, reduce the amount of honey.

Marinated Grilled Pork Tenderloin

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/saras-secrets/marinated-grilled-pork-tenderloin-recipe/index.html
 Ingredients
  • 3 (3/4 to 1 pound) pork tenderloins
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

Directions

Trim the tenderloins of all fat and silverskin. Place them in a shallow baking dish large enough to hold them without crowding.

Combine the soy sauce, sherry, honey, vinegar, oil, and orange juice in a medium bowl, whisking until well blended. Stir in the rosemary, shallots, and ginger. Pour the mixture over the tenderloins. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate at room temperature for 2 hours.

Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan.

Remove the pork from the marinade, shaking off any excess. Place the tenderloins on the grill and cook, turning frequently, for about 18 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 155 degrees F. Transfer to a platter and allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile, place the marinade in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

Slice the pork into 1/4 inch-thick slices, spoon the hot marinade over the pork.

Empanadas – Wrap Your Favorite

An empanada is a small half-moon or triangular shaped pie, filled with meat, seafood, vegetables, or fruit.  It can be baked or fried.  The name is derived from the Spanish verb, empanar, which means to surround with bread.  Empanadas are hearty and portable, which make them the perfect snack or lunch.  Empanadillas are smaller versions of empanadas and are often served as tapas (appetizers).

Empanadas are commonplace in Southern Europe and Latin and South America.  The little pie traces its roots to Spanish Galicia and Portugal.  Empanadas are believed to be descended from the samosa, an Arabic meat pie.

I was introduced to Argentinian empanadillas more than two decades ago, in Spain.  My friends and I were enjoying post-siesta vino and cerveza when the establishment owner offered them as tapas.  They were marvellous!  The owner went on to explain a bit of their history and their popularity in South America.

I reacquainted myself with empanadas this week.  I was browsing the Weight Watchers internet site for new recipes and landed on one for chicken empanadas.  Memories flooded in from my first encounter.  I searched beyond the Weight Watchers site for more empanada recipes and found a myriad of variations in fillings and dough.  The Wikipedia entry describes a few of them.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empanada

The dough is about as simple as it gets – flour, salt, some type of fat (oil, shortening, lard, butter), and some type of liquid (water, milk, chicken broth, vinegar, wine).  Many recipes also include eggs.  Other ingredients include baking powder, sugar, and corn flour.  Dough preparation is like pie crust, biscuits, or any other pastry dough.  I decided to use my grandmother’s baking powder biscuit recipe (see below) with two ingredient modifications.  I eliminated the sugar and replaced half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour.  I also rolled the dough quite thin (1/8-1/4 inch), so I could cut 4 inch circles.  Delicious!

Canned diced tomatoes and legumes are staples in my kitchen and I happened to have a mixture of diced tomatoes, green chilis, garbanzo and black beans (with cumin, chili, and chipotle) in the refrigerator.  I decided that would make a fine base filling.  I sautéed some minced garlic, green pepper, and green onion and combined with the tomato mixture.  I cut up a few precooked shrimp from the freezer and added that to the mixture.  I cooked it long enough for the ingredients to warm.  Be sure to cook down the mixture to evaporate any excess liquid.

Cut the dough into 4 inch circles.  Please an ample tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle.  Use water, if necessary, to seal edges.  Fold dough in half and crimp with fork tines.  Brush with egg white, if desired.
Bake on baking sheet at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

I found the following cheese empanada recipe during my search and thought it looked and sounded fantastic.
http://www.boliviabella.com/empanadas-de-queso.html

Next experiment will be a dessert empanada – apple, pear, or both!

Grandma’s Baking Powder Biscuits
12-16 biscuits
450°F
Ingredients:
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup fat free milk

Preparation:
Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Cut in shortening until flour looks like pellets.  Form a small well in the middle of the flour and add milk.  Stir quickly with a fork, just until dough forms a wet ball.  Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together.  Knead gently with heel of your hand five to ten strokes, just enough to bring dough together.
Pat dough to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut biscuits straight down – no twisting.  Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 450°F for 10-12 minutes.

I Miss Real Pizza … Do I??

It has been over four months since I have eaten what I consider to be a real pizza.  I drool over thick crust and multiple cheeses.  Neither of which is Weight Watchers Points Plus-friendly.  The satisfaction ratio just hasn’t been high enough for me to enjoy my favorite ingredients – pepperoni, green pepper, onion, mozzarella and romano cheeses – on traditional, hand-tossed crust.

I discovered flatbread pizza and believe I may be converted.  Flat-Out Light Original is a staple food in my home.  I started simply, a few spritzes from the olive oil sprayer on the flatbread, black beans from an open can in the refrigerator, and reduced fat Mexican cheese blend.  Bake in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes or until the cheese browns.  Voilà!  The finished product is filling and doesn’t put a person in the hole with weekly Points Plus.

I now prepare a revised version of my favorite – turkey pepperoni, reduced fat mozzarella, green pepper, onion – sauce is optional.  I find I prefer it with no sauce, just the olive oil on the flatbread.

Sure, it has taken me almost 5 months to get to the point where I wonder if I really do miss the thick crust with traditional pepperoni and extra cheese.  At some point in the next few months, I’ll try the old-fashioned version again and measure the satisfaction ratio.

Tex-Mex Rice and Bean Casserole

I had this casserole three or four times in the first few weeks of my latest Weight Watchers journey. It is one of the best dishes and can easily be customized to personal tastes. I used canned corn and pepper mixture, since it was in the cupboard. I also added chipotle powder for more zing. I find most of the Weight Watchers recipes to be fairly bland. I added ground turkey breast (very lean) one time, which adds points, but sometimes I just want the flavor and texture of meat. I filled a couple of 16 oz. Pyrex dishes and stored in the refrigerator until I was ready to cook them. If you are in a hurry, you can just mix all the ingredients and microwave until thoroughly heated. The results are a bit watery, but doesn’t negatively impact the taste.

Tex-Mex Rice and Bean Casserole
Weight Watchers POINTS® Value: 4
Servings: 6
Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 40 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

1 spray(s) cooking spray
1 cup(s) canned yellow corn, drained, or frozen, thawed corn kernels
1 Tbsp canned green chili peppers, chopped, mild or hot
15 oz canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup(s) cooked brown rice, fresh or day old
3/4 cup(s) shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese
3/4 cup(s) fat-free sour cream
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp table salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp scallion(s), chopped (dark green part only)
2 Tbsp shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 2-quart glass baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine corn, chilies, beans, rice, 3/4 cup of cheese, sour cream, chili powder, salt and pepper; stir in scallions. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Return to oven and bake until cheese melts and casserole is slightly bubbly, about 10 minutes more. Let stand for 5 minutes to firm up before slicing into 6 pieces. Yields 1 piece per serving.

Notes:
Change the beans or cheese to your liking: white or black beans, reduced-fat cheddar or Monterey Jack cheeses all work well. If you want to brown the cheese more, place the dish (make sure it’s broiler safe) under the broiler for a minute or two.
© 2010 Weight Watchers International, Inc. © 2010 WeightWatchers.com, Inc. All rights reserved.