Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crab and Veggie Pasta with Healthy Alfredo Sauce

Maria Von Trapp may prefer raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and those are all fine and good. But if I were to write a song about my favorite things, Alfredo sauce would be in it. It's hard to beat that rich, buttery, garlicky, creamy goodness.

However, since I've been trying to eat healthfully (most of the time), Alfredo sauce and I haven't gotten to hang out quite so often. Because when you're trying to cut down on calories and fat, it's hard to justify eating a plate full of pasta swimming in heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. I once tried a healthified Alfredo made with Greek yogurt and found it to be gross (and it didn't taste remotely like real Alfredo). So I resigned myself to the reality that things like Alfredo sauce just cannot be made healthy and still be good--that it should be reserved for special occasions and splurges, where you eat the full-calorie version but very infrequently.

And then this Alfredo sauce happened.

Believe it or not, it's made with cauliflower. And believe it or not, it's actually good. Now, it doesn't taste like it has a stick of butter or a quart of heavy cream in it . . . because it doesn't. But it does have this great, velvety texture and rich, creamy taste. Cauliflower, I didn't know you were capable of such greatness.

I used this cauliflower-based Alfredo sauce in a recipe that has become a standby with two of my friends from way back when. Quite often when we're together and can't decide what to cook, we land on this dish which we've always just called Crab Pasta. We use imitation crab meat (classy, I know) and have used varying combinations of mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, spinach, onion, and black olives.

I hope you enjoy!

Crab and Veggie Pasta with Healthy Alfredo Sauce
Sauce from Pinch of Yum
Yield: 4 servings

For the Sauce
1-1/2 small heads cauliflower, chopped*
3-4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch black pepper
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/8 cup heavy cream (I used half and half)

All the Rest
1/2 lb. whole wheat fettuccine, spaghetti, or angel hair pasta (uncooked)
Olive oil
1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
8 oz. lump-style imitation crab (or the real deal)
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the vegetable broth to a boil and add the cauliflower. Cook on medium-high heat until cauliflower is soft, about 15 minutes. The longer you cook it, the smoother the sauce will be. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, saute the 3 cloves garlic in butter until tender and fragrant. Transfer the cauliflower and about 1 cup of the cooking broth to a blender or food processor. Add the sauteed garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and puree until very smooth, about 3-5 minutes depending on your machine. Once the mixture is moving, stream the 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil in. If needed, add more broth or water if the mixture is too thick. When the sauce reaches desired consistency, transfer to a medium saucepan. Add cream; cover and keep warm until ready to serve, stirring occasionally.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain but do not rinse. (Note: the creator of the Alfredo sauce recipe recommends keeping 1/2 cup of the pasta water and adding it to the Alfredo sauce. I didn't do this, as my sauce seemed a fine consistency.) 

Get the skillet you used for the garlic earlier. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add the asparagus and mushrooms. Saute for a few minutes, until veggies are almost tender and asparagus has brightened. Add tarragon, remaining 2 cloves garlic, and crab meat. Continue to cook until garlic is fragrant and crab is warmed through. 

While the vegetables cook, combine the pasta and Alfredo sauce, stirring well. To serve, place pasta on a plate, and top with vegetable and crab mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

  • The Pinch of Yum blogger lives in the Philippines where the heads of cauliflower are apparently much smaller. Using 1-1/2 heads of cauliflower from my North American grocery store yielded quite a bit more sauce than I needed--enough to generously sauce the pasta plus save some extra sauce for a future use. So you could probably use just 1 head of cauliflower and be fine.
  • I will probably use more garlic next time because, really, when have you ever eaten something and thought, "This has too much garlic"?
  • If it's not quite Alfredoy enough for you, you might consider mixing traditional Alfredo sauce with this Alfredo sauce. Maybe 1 part traditional to 2-3 parts cauliflower-based.
Nutrition Information (from My Fitness Pal)
Note: For nutrition facts purposes, I figured the amount of sauce I made would be 6 servings rather than 4, and adjusted other amounts to match. So if you make the recipe above as written, then proceed to eat 1/6 of the sauce and 1/4 of the pasta, crab, and veggies, these nutrition stats should be accurate.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chipotle Swiss Egg Stacks

These lovely, simple little egg stacks are a variation on the Spicy Avocado Egg Stacks I like so much from A Couple Cooks. It's so simple it's almost not worth writing out a recipe for it.

These stacks are easily adaptable based on your preferences or what you have on hand. You can use any kind of cheese that strikes your fancy. I imagine sharp cheddar would be great with the chipotle, as would normal Swiss if you don't have Laughing Cow spreadable cheese. If you don't have chipotle, paprika would be a good substitute. But smoky, spicy chipotle is better. :-) You could cook your eggs any way you want--poached, sunny-side-up, non-runny yolks, whatever. You could even toss in some vegetables or a slice of bacon or something.

I was trying to capture the steam in this picture.

Chipotle Swiss Egg Stacks
Printer friendly; inspired by A Couple Cooks
Yield: 1 serving

1 whole wheat English muffin
1 (3/4-oz) wedge of light creamy Swiss cheese from The Laughing Cow
2 eggs
Ground chipotle powder, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Olive oil cooking spray

Toast the English muffin and spread each half with half of the Swiss cheese. Sprinkle with chipotle powder, to taste.

Cook the eggs: Spray a skillet lightly with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Crack eggs into the skillet. When the bottom is cooked, flip gently, being careful to not break the yolk. Cook for a little while longer, until whites are cooked but yolks are still runny.

Place an egg on top of each English muffin half. Sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper and more chipotle.

from My Fitness Pal

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Creamy Quinoa Primavera

Today I bring you a lovely, creamy, versatile primavera. You could make this with endless combinations of ingredients depending on what you like and what you have on hand. I love the protein and nuttiness of the quinoa, but you could easily make this with pasta or some other whole grain like farro. If vegetarian eating isn't your thing, you could add in some chicken, shrimp, or bacon.

For the veggies, I used mushrooms, tomatoes, onion, and spinach. The blog I got this from used carrot, celery, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and peas; and the original Betty Crocker recipe suggests asparagus, broccoli, carrot, or zucchini. The moral of the story: use whatever vegetables you feel like using.

This dish was tasty and filling. It was a nice amount of creaminess--just enough to feel a bit like a splurge, but still light enough to not feel heavy and artery-clogging. You could certainly adjust the amount of cream cheese and Parmesan to suit your preferences.

Creamy Quinoa Primavera

Printer friendly; adapted from Elly Says Opa
Yield: 3-4 servings

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 onion
2/3 to 3/4 of an 8 oz. carton mushrooms, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 to 2 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1 small roma tomato, chopped
1 handful baby spinach, roughly chopped
1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1-2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook until juices have been released and veggies are slightly tender. If using any crisp veggies like carrots or broccoli, add now and saute for another 1-2 minutes until crisp-tender.

Stir in garlic and quinoa and cook, stirring, for 1 more minute. Add the broth and basil (if using dried) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10-15 minutes, until quinoa is cooked and broth is almost all absorbed.

Stir in the cream cheese, until mixed throughout. Add the tomatoes and spinach, stirring to warm through and allow the spinach to wilt. Add basil (if using fresh) and Parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional cheese and/or basil, if desired.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Best Way to Use Leftover Easter Ham (Apricot Ham and Brie Panini)

Two years ago I made this Double-Apricot Glazed Ham for Easter lunch and, with some shared foodie genius between a friend and me, turned the leftovers into some killer paninis.

This year when I decided to contribute ham to house church Easter lunch, I am not embellishing when I tell you my thought process went like this: "I could do that apricot ham from a couple years ago. . . Which means I can make the paninis!!!"

Even beyond the panini potential, I'd highly recommend the apricot ham recipe to you. The apricot-Dijon glaze is what really makes this dish, so even if you want to use a different ham-roasting method or leave off the chopped apricots, make the glaze (sauce). You'll be glad you did.

Then slap some leftover ham slices between two pieces of bread, slather it with apricot glaze and Dijon mustard, toss in some brie, and grill it to crunchy, melty perfection. Mm-mmm!

After finding the ham recipe on All Recipes, I couldn't remember what (if any) alterations I'd made to the recipe two years ago, so I clicked through the reviews to see if any of them jogged my memory. Lo and behold! There was a review I had written, saying that I'd followed the recipe exactly! Thank you, two-years-ago self. Thank you.

Apricot Ham and Brie Panini


Bread of choice - I use white French/baguette-type bread
Slices of apricot ham (recipe below)
Apricot-Dijon glaze (from recipe below)
Dijon mustard
Brie cheese

On one slice of bread, spread apricot-Dijon glaze (sauce), and spread Dijon mustard on the other slice of bread. (If you spread both slices with the glaze it will be way too sweet.) Warm the ham in the microwave for about 20 seconds, and preheat a panini press or George Foreman grill. Place ham on top of bread, arrange pieces of brie on top, and top with the other piece of bread. Squish a bit if necessary. Grill for a few minutes, until cheese is melted and bread is crispy (with satisfactory grill marks, of course). Make as many or as few sandwiches as you wish.

If you don't have a panini press or George Foreman, you can get a similar effect using two skillets. Heat one skillet over the stove and put the sandwich in it. Use the bottom of the second skillet to press down on the sandwich while it cooks; flip the panini halfway through. I think I've also seen Rachael Ray use a brick--wrapped in foil and heated in the oven--to press her paninis when making them in a skillet on the stove.

Double-Apricot Glazed Ham

Adapted slightly from All Recipes
Yield: 36 servings

1 cup dried apricots
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock (or up to 1-1/2 cups if using slow cooker method)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
6-lb. fully-cooked whole boneless ham (I used a 9-lb. bone-in spiral-sliced ham)
1-2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
24 oz. apricot preserves
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tsp. grated orange peel

Place apricots and stock in a microwave-safe measuring cup. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Let cool. Remove apricots, reserving stock, and cut into strips. Mix apricots, sugar, and 1/4 cup of the reserved stock.

To bake: Place ham in a roasting pan. Bake at 325 for 2 hours. Top with apricot mixture during last 30 minutes of baking, basting frequently with pan drippings.

Or to cook in a slow cooker: Place ham, cut side down, in a large slow cooker. Pour in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken stock (this would make the total chicken stock measurement above 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups). Top with apricot mixture. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour, then turn down to low for 1 hour, basting periodically with drippings.

Heat butter in a medium pan or skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender. Add preserves, mustard, orange rind, and remaining 3/4 cup reserved apricot-infused stock. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook for 10+ minutes, until slightly thickened, stirring frequently with a whisk.

If baking, allow ham to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with apricot-Dijon sauce.