Pasta with Slow Baked Tomatoes, Olives and Goat Cheese

Sometimes simple things are the best. One of my favorite “go to” meals is an easy one; pasta with raw chopped tomatoes, sliced Kalamata olives and goat cheese topped with a little high quality grated parmesan. For the pasta, I usually choose farfalle. I love the chewy texture with the fresh ingredients.

Sometimes, though I take this meal to the next level. I slow roast the tomatoes. I originally saw a recipe for “Very  Baked  Tomatoes” in The Café Beaujolais cookbook by Margaret Fox and John Bear (who eats there a lot!) I ate at Cafe Beaujolais http://www.cafebeaujolais.com/ years ago when I was in Mendocino for a pottery class. 

I must admit, there's was the recipe I used for years. The only difference now is that I guess at the amounts, the cooking temperature and the time.

The original recipe calls for plum tomatoes. They really are the best because they are more meaty than juicy, but I don’t have them on hand often. More recently I buy grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or Campari tomatoes.  I make this recipe when I need to use them up or they will go bad.

Tonight was the first time I tried the Campari tomatoes. They may not be the best because they are more watery and seedy than Roma’s but it works just fine with me.

So how do you make them? Well I use my toaster oven. I preheat it to 250. I have looked at a lot of recipes; some bake them at 200 degrees, some 350.  The Café Beaujolais version says 325. I baked mine at 250. Sounded slow to me!

While the oven is preheating, I  slice the tomatoes in half and place them on a baking tray cut side up. I drizzle  a little olive oil over each half,  chop up some garlic and distribute the pieces over each half  and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs from my garden. I almost always include rosemary and sometimes thyme. Dried herbs may work too but I prefer fresh.  I might also sprinkle a bit of sea salt or pink salt over the tomatoes. Sometimes I don’t so you don’t have to.

That’s about it for the preparation. All you have to do then is bake the tomatoes until they break down, collapse and caramelize.  I think the original recipe says bake at 325 for 2 hours but that is for the Romas, which are larger than the Campari tomatoes. I think I baked them for  about an hour.  The toughest part is waiting, watching and smelling the garlic and herbs as the tomatoes cook. (oh, and I am sorry  I have no pictures. I ate them too quickly)

Once the tomatoes are done you have choices. One night I just ate them as a side dish with a piece of halibut. Tonight, I made my favorite meal. I cooked up some pasta, drained it and put a serving amount (1 cup) in a bowl. While still hot, I threw in small pieces of goat cheese (maybe ½ oz or less for one serving) chopped black Kalamata olives (tonight just black olives because that is what I had) and the yummy tomatoes.

This  would be perfect but tonight I threw it all back in the pan after adding a small bit of sherry and some of the juices from the tomatoes. I heated it until all the cheese melted and the tomatoes broke up further making it a nice cheesy, tomato sauce. A sprinkle of Parmesan finished the dish.

Dinner served. Patron happy and well fed.

Some other ideas I haven’t tried but may;

The tomatoes chopped in an omelet or with scrambled eggs, a little fresh spinach and some feta.
Brushetta with slow baked tomatoes, perhaps?
Panini with slow baked tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

 You can be creative once you realize how tasty and versatile they are. I hope you will try these. They are a great use for the times when you know you can’t eat another salad and the tomatoes are at risk of going bad.

It would make me happy to know you have tried these and commented on how you liked them. I do hope you enjoy them!


Winter Warmer Portuguese Style Kale and Sausage Soup

Are you tired of cold weather? Well I sure am. I am a Florida girl at heart so I don't adapt well to snow, ice and cold. When the weather outside is frightful, my solution is to cook, sometimes bread but always soup.

Years ago I worked at a health food store. I was their soup chef (or in line with Seinfeld, let's say the soup Nazi!). It was a designation I gave myself because I was in charge of our "soup of the day".

Today it is warming up here and the sun is shining, but earlier this week it wasn't all that pretty or warm. I decided it was a "soup of the day" day. The soup, my version of Portuguese Kale and Sausage soup...vegetarian style. Kale is now considered one of the super foods. It benefits immune function, assists in the prevention of heart disease, stroke and also age-relate macular degeneration http://www.discoverkale.co.uk/health-benefits/lutein/)

In place of the traditional potatoes, I used white beans. (Did you know it is recommended that you eat 4 1/2 cups beans a week? They are a good source of fiber and help regulate blood sugar http://www.prevention.com/food/food-remedies/type-2-diabetics-can-improve-their-blood-sugar-beans).

I also used Tofurkey Italian sausage but you could just use beans and keep the sodium count lower http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2010/11/battle_of_the_v.php. If you are a die hard carnivore, use traditional Linguica sausage, Chorizo or a good quality, lean Italian sausage instead of Tofurkey.  This makes about 3 servings but you could double the recipe for a family meal.

 I must say, I really enjoyed this soup. In fact, I made it in the morning and ended up having it for breakfast!  A nice slice of wholegrain and seed toast would be a great accompaniment. This makes about 3 servings but you could double the recipe for a family meal.

I haven't had my breakfast yet and all this talk of soup has made me hungry. I guess it is another Portuguese Kale, Sausage and White Bean soup morning!

Here is how I made it:

 Portuguese Kale, Sausage and White Bean Soup

2 tbl+ 1 tbl olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 large stalks celery, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
4cups  plus 1 cup organic vegetable broth, divided(low sodium is healthier)
(I used a mix of vegetable broth with a little mushroom broth just because I could!)
3 cups, stemmed  kale torn into pieces (or more if you wish)
1 15 ounce can low sodium cannellini beans, drained (I run water over them to get the goo off)
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper or to taste
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 links tofurkey Italian sausage
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, swirl to coat the pan. Add onion, carrot and celery. Saute about 5 minutes until tender. Add garlic and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook another minute. Stir in 4 cups of the vegetable broth and kale, bay leaf and smoked paprika. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer a few minutes until the kale is crisp tender.

Meanwhile slice sausage in 3/4 inch pieces and saute in  the remaining olive oil until the sides are browned (if using real sausage, cook thoroughly, then drain)

Add the additional 1 cup of broth, cannellini beans and ground black pepper and sausage to the vegetable mixture.  Bring it to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 more minutes. Add the remaining salt, fresh rosemary and Parmesan cheese. 3 servings


Fish with Black Bean Sauce

 I started a nutrition class the other day and I am enjoying it.  A lot of what I have learned so far is really information I learned in the past but it is nice to hear it again.

The timing is right because I have been trying to focus on eating better. Over the holidays, I got depressed. Out of character for me, I gained 6 lbs.  I am now at the second highest weight I have ever been, in my life.

Part of the class is a three day food diary. I am using My Fitness Pal to log my exercise and food. I am enjoying it. It has helped me focus more on the areas I need work.  My diet is still healthy but to get back to my “normal” weight, I have to focus on the part of my diet that can get me there. 

For instance, I eat a snack with raw cashews, olive oil and Sriracha chili. Well nuts and olive oil aren’t bad, but they do bring up my daily calorie count. For now I will moderate my snack.

Years ago I made a recipe I really enjoyed for Fish with Black Bean Sauce.  It calls for the use of fermented dried black beans. I used to be able to get a little jar of them at the grocery but I haven’t found them in years. Convenience has taken them off the shelf and replaced them with processed  prepared black bean sauce.

I have searched for them for years and finally went to the Asian store, H Mart and found them. What a great time to make this healthful dish.  I ran to my book shelf to grab the recipe in “Keep it Simple” to find out, it wasn’t in that book.

After running through my cookbooks, I finally found the recipe in   “Chinese Cookery” by Rose Cheng  and Michele Morris. http://www.alibris.com/Chinese-cookery-Rose-Cheng/book/1067788

I really enjoyed my meal and it was pretty darn healthy.  I did a few things different. I used whole fish filets of flounder. I didn’t cut them in pieces because flounder is very delicate and thin. They would have disappeared and overcooked. In fact, I adjusted the cooking time and just checked the fish until it was done. I steamed it for about 15 minutes.

I also did not put the fish in a baking dish. I put my metal vegetable steamer in the wok after spraying it with non stick spray. I put the fish directly on it.

I also forgot to dry the fish before adding the additional ingredients. That was a no no, so if you make it, remember that step.

If you don’t have an Asian store around, I found the black beans on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Mee-Chun-Salted-Black-Beans/dp/B0000D15WD/ref=pd_sim_sbs_gro_5

They smelled a little funky when I was chopping them, but they were delicious cooked. I served my fish with brown rice and stir fried broccoli and red bell pepper.  It made a very nice meal.
Hot jasmine tea might be nice with this or even ice tea(my choice). Then again you could try Bergamot Ice Tea Cocktail with it. I bet that would be good too. http://bakedbree.com/bergamot-iced-tea-cocktail Note: there is an error in the recipe. It isn’t sugar and sugar. It is sugar and an equal amount of water to make the simple syrup.

I hope you will try the Fish and Black Bean Sauce. I would love to hear what you thought of it.
Now I will just have to figure out what to do with the rest of the black beans!

Have a great week!

Fish with Black Bean Sauce

1 lb fresh white fish, boned, filets

1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons salty black beans, rinsed, minced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
About 8 cups boiling water
 1 tablespoon chopped dried hot red pepper or shredded green onion

Cut fish into 1 ½ x 2 inch pieces. Mix marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Add fish; mix well.
Let stand 15 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels (Remember this step!)

Add sesame oil, vegetable oil, sugar, soy sauce, cornstarch, black beans and garlic to fish marinade; mix well.

Pour 4 cups boiling water into a walk or large pot. Place fish pieces in a shallow baking dish in a steamer on a steamer rack over boiling water.Cover steamer or baking dish. Steam over high heat 20 minutes, adding more boiling water as needed.

Remove wok from heat and cool about 1 minute. Remove fish pieces and place on a small platter. Sprinkle with chopped red pepper or shredded green onion. 
Makes  4 servings.

Author: Chinese Cookery By Rose Cheng and Michele Morris HP Books


2014 Get it going

Well here we are at the end of 2013. It was a topsy turvy year for many including me. Tomorrow is a new year, a new day and the chance to better your best. I have proclaimed it the take care of Sheila year for me.
Let me first say that although I have had my challenges in 2013, this year has been  full of blessings for me too. Still and all 2014.....bring it on!!

I started my 2014 transformation a few days early upon my return from Florida. I cleaned and organized my closets, went grocery shopping for "healthy" food and started putting together thoughts as to my resolutions and goals for 2014.  I made some vegetarian black bean chili with wheat berries, spent some time with friends, had a manicure, pedicure and massage, renewed my workout goals and today had a great healthy lunch.

I had lunch with a friend in Arlington yesterday at a Lebanese Restaurant he frequents called Shatila.  The restaurant atmosphere could use some improvement but the food is darn tasty.

This was my second visit. Both times we had the sampler with Hummus, Baba Ganoush and Tabbouleh. All were delicious and filling.

Since I had parsley in my fridge left over from my cancelled Christmas party (iced out), I decided today to try my hand at a similar lunch.

I had tasted the Baba Ganoush awhile back at WholeFoods and really liked it. The company is "The Mediterranean Chef". In fact, I met the owners at the tasting.

So for lunch today I picked up the Baba Ganoush at Wholefoods then made my own tabbouleh. I cheated a bit by looking at the ingredient  label of tabbouleh Wholefoods sells (same company). I tried before to replicate the Baba Ganoush and failed miserably but felt confident I could succeed with tabbouleh.

So here is what I did:

I took two handfuls of parsley, washed and dried it. I removed some of the larger stems and chopped the rest roughly. To that I added a pinch of dried mint (fresh would be better. I am sure!) a few sprinklings of dried dill weed, minced white onion, minced tomato, minced cucumber (both tomato and cuke seeded)  and a pinch or more of salt.  I then mixed in a little olive oil and lemon juice.  That was it.

Now traditional tabbouleh has wheat.  I liked Shatila's version without it. In their version healthy parsley is the star.  This is very healthy and without the wheat....maybe some of you gluten free folks can enjoy it sans pita bread!

I am not a non gluten person so I ate my meal with whole wheat pita from The Baklava Bakery in Arlington. A little bit of Greek feta and some olives rounded out my meal. Dessert was a few slices of Cara Cara orange.

I wish each of you a happy, healthy New Year filled with clean eating and exercise.  2014....we are ready for you!


Don't like Brussels Sprouts? Try this and help those in need too.

I had a friend in from Florida just before Thanksgiving. Since being a vegetarian, Turkey day does not excite me, I decided to include him in my holiday meal.  In that I bought Brussels sprouts on the vine and used some to roast. We didn't use them all so I was stuck with figuring out what to do next.

A group I am in posted a  note that they would like the members to contribute food for a local women and children's shelter for their Thanksgiving meal.  This particular shelter supports those immigrants that have been victims of human trafficking.  All I could think of is how lucky most of us are and how important it is to help these women and children.

Brussels sprouts are not a favorite for many so I thought I would try something different. Searching the blogsphere I found a recipe that fit the bill,  Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pistachios, Cranberries & Parmesan http://www.cookincanuck.com/2013/11/shredded-brussels-sprouts-recipe-pistachios-cranberries-parmesan/

I had all the ingredients so I thought I would try it.  I didn't want to use the pistachios so I looked up an alternative. Honeyed Walnuts with Rosemary.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/brussels-sprouts-with-candied-walnuts-and-green-apple-recipe/index.html

The combination worked perfectly and I liked it so much I had some for breakfast. The good thing about this salad is that it tasted more like cabbage and less like sprouts. I think even non brussels sprouts lovers may still like it.  The best thing about it though is that it went to the local women's shelter and made their holiday a little less lonesome, knowing that people care.

I hope you will try the recipe, whether you use the pistachios or the honeyed walnuts it will be good. Please also support your local women's shelters. These women and children need to know we care for and support them in keeping them safe.

Safe and happy holidays!


"The Ranch" revisited

Life has gotten a bit boring for me these days. Between office work and the gym at night, there hasn’t been much time for socializing. Still I have been trying to find healthy choices for my meals, especially since I sit all day at work. Something I am not used to and don’t love.

I don't love sitting or being in an office all day but I like working for a travel company .I  get to dream of the trips I would like to take and maybe some day can see those dreams become reality.

My last favorite trip was to Rancho La Puerta Spa in Mexico.  http://www.rancholapuerta.com/ As food goes, The Spa serves vegetarian food most of the time, though they did have fish one night. They don’t sugar up the food, so fruit breads are only slightly sweet as are most things that in the “real” world would be sugared up.

The best part of the trip was the hike to their organic garden, picking the fresh organic produce, cooking and eating dinner with some wonderful fellow spa visitors and our morning hike to the organic garden with Breakfast.

One thing I learned about myself by going there was that some of my sugar cravings, at home, were because I didn’t eat enough calories during the day. At the Spa they encourage you to eat their fresh, organic, nutritionally dense offerings and to eat well.

I ate a lot and I actually lost weight. Now you might say it was because I was exercising all day, but if you saw how much I ate, you would realize the food had a lot to do with it.  I did miss sugar but not as much as I thought I would.

So, when I saw the Facebook posting about culinary week at “The Ranch”, it inspired me to buy their cookbooks. Not one cookbook. I bought three of them. 

So far I have made one recipe…twice!! I love it and outside of it being higher in sodium than is good for some people, I find it quite healthy too. http://www.cookstr.com/recipes/mixed-seafood-steamed-in-parchment-with-shallots-and-white-wine

The recipe would be fantastic for a company meal. The fish and vegetables are baked in packets. Opening your packet at dinner is like opening a gift.

I bought the fish at WholeFoods. Adjusting the ingredients for 1 serving, I bought 4 oz of wild caught Salmon (I removed the skin but you can have them do it), 4 large shrimp and 2 large Sea Scallops which I cut in half.  The seafood is marinated and the veggies are also marinated separately.  In the original recipe they use dill and parsley as the herb blend. I included Tarragon (Mexican Marigold Mint as a Texas substitute) in one packet and Spearmint in the other along with the dill and parsley. I loved the Tarragon, an herb I rarely use.  Fresh herbs are the only way to go. I can’t imagine using dried with the exception of the dill.

This was a wonderful meal and the amount I made created 2 packets, one for the next night.  Opening the packets, the fish and veggies had a magnificent fragrance and the packets were filled with a tasty juice that mixed well with the quinoa I made as a side dish (brown rice, wheat berries and barley the second time).

My dinner entailed a glass of white wine (opened for the marinade), my little packet of goodies, the quinoa and slices of orange and grapefruit for dessert. The only thing missing was a partner to share it with or if not that, a table of new friends like I had during dinners at “The Ranch”

I hope you will not only try this dinner, but consider taking a fit trip to Rancho La Puerta Spa. I had an amazingly fun and healthful visit. I “will” be there again. Of that I am sure. http://www.rancholapuerta.com/2013/07/01/taking-the-ranch-home-how-friendship-beauty-and-wellness-inspired-new-ways-to-bring-the-ranch-home/


Chocolate and Coconut a winning popsicle

I haven't been posting much these days because I have been busy. I took on a 6 month Recruiting contract. Between working at an office for 8 hours, then going to the gym after, I have been eating a late dinner and crashing every night.

I haven't worked an in  office job in 4 years and I had forgotten how absolutely bad for your body sitting all day is.  The last time I worked in an office I gained 6 lbs. I was determined not to let that happen this time, but I am noticing my pants aren't as loose as they were.

 So I have been eating ice cream in the evenings. Not a lot. I buy those mini Ben and Jerry's or Hagen Daz containers. I normally only eat a few bits...but it adds up.

I wanted to try a more natural approach so I looked on line and found a number of postings for Popsicles made with Magic Chocolate (thing Dairy Queen)coating and Coconut.  They sounded fantastic so  I combined a number of recipes I saw and came up with my own version. Tryed them today and they are quite tasty.

The recipe calls for full fat coconut milk, so it probably isn't low calorie. I rationalize it by  making them in the smaller popsicle molds. Please excuse the pictures. I am not a food photographer, just s girl that likes to try new recipes.

Here is my version:

Coco-chocolate popsicles

1 can of coconut milk
1 tablespoon of agave syrup or honey (or to taste)
1/2 cup of coconut flakes( I used sweet)
¼ of a lime
½ tsp coconut extract
1-2 tsp coconut rum (optional)
Some toasted coconut flakes for the shell
1/2 cup of Hard Shell Chocolate

Pour coconut milk into a glass measuring cup so you can pour the contents into popsicle molds. Add agave syrup to taste and sweetened coconut (or unsweetened if you prefer) and stir. Squeeze a little lime in, but not too much. Taste and add more rather than overdo it. Add coconut extract and coconut rum if using. Pour into molds. Place lid on molds. Add sticks through the holes.
After Popsicles are frozen, take them out of the molds and dip ends into Hard Shell Chocolate. Quickly sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on the chocolate. Let harden, then eat!
You can use sprinkles instead of toasted coconut to make them more festive, but I love toasted coconut so that is my choice.

Note: I sat them on top of the Popsicle molds stick side down until hardened. You can wrap them and freeze them after that.

Chocolate Hard Shell

2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cold pressed  unrefined
coconut oil

Heat chocolate chips in the microwave in a microwave safe glass bowl (I used the measuring cup) in 30 second increments until melted, stirring in between each time.

Whisk together the chocolate and coconut oil until smooth

Remove from heat and let cool completely before applying to Popsicles