Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lightened-Up Warm Antipasto Pasta Salad

I recently watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen where they made an Antipasto Pasta Salad. I loved their technique and how they used the dressing to marinate and cook mushrooms. Although, I didn't use mushrooms in this recipe, since I forgot to buy them, (ugh!), I still want to try their method of cooking them right in the dressing. They made a dressing of red wine vinegar, EV olive oil, mayonnaise, some juice from a jar of pepperonicinis, and spices.

They bring a small amount of this dressing to a simmer in large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the mushrooms until they release their juices and are lightly browned or about 8 minutes. Doesn't that sound delicious? Who would have thought of cooking mushrooms in a dressing? I think I am going to try making mushrooms like this soon, just for a side dish.

Anyway, I lightened up their recipe and decided to make it a warm dish. Since the weather was still sort of cool in the New England area, I wanted something that would warm me up.
But it can easily be served at room temperature or cold as well.

You can use what ever cheese you have on hand and also play around with the meats as well. I chose turkey because it is so light, but even chicken or ham would work here and still be light.

Lightened-Up Warm Antipasto Pasta Salad
Inspired by America's Test Kitchen

4 ounces sliced turkey pepperoni, cut into 1/4" strips
1/2 lb. roasted turkey breast halved and cut into 1/4" strips (I bought one - thick cut slice of Boar's Head Oven Roasted Turkey breast)
7 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon juice from a jar of pepperoncinis (optional)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound campanelle or fusilli, (I recommend Barilla)
3/4 lb. broccoli, cut into small florets and stems peeled and cut into 1/4" thick slices
1/2 avocado, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4" strips
12 ounces roasted red peppers, drained, patted dry and cut into 1/4" strips
1 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, mayonnaise, pepperoncini juice, garlic, red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Transfer 1/3 cup of dressing to a separate small bowl and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, steam or boil broccoli for about 5-6 minutes, or until crisp tender.
Drain and add the 1/3 cup of reserved dressing to the same pot, bring to a simmer and toss in the broccoli. Cook on low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer to large bowl.

Cook pasta according to package instructions or until al dente. Drain pasta, return to pot, and toss with remaining dressing.

Add turkey, turkey pepperoni, cheddar cheese, roasted red peppers, avocado, parsley, and pasta to broccoli and toss well. Season with additional salt and pepper. Serve at warm or at room temperature. Salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Peanut Butter Pretzel Blondies

Oooey Gooey Peanut Butter Crunchy Pretzel Goodness!

I don't know about you but I love those peanut butter filled pretzels. I could eat an entire bag in one sitting. My friend JoAnn at work introduced me to them and I never looked back. So when I saw a recipe for Peanut Butter Pretzel Blondies over at Veggie Girl's Blog, I just had to try it!
It was perfect timing too, since it was JoAnn's birthday and I wanted to make her a tasty treat.

I have to say that I have never baked using a gluten-free recipe before since I don't have a problem with gluten. But for anyone who does, Veggie Girl can hook you up with some awesome recipes. I can say this with certainty now because I finally got a chance to try one of her creations!

I was kind of wondering how they would turn out, seeing that I'm used to using eggs and butter in a lot of my baked goods. I did change the recipe a bit since I don't have gluten free flour; I used all purpose flour. Also, I didn't have any peanut butter filled pretzels on hand so I followed Veggie Girl's recommendation to use crushed pretzels and peanut butter. All I can say is "HOLY YUM" to quote Veggie Girl ;) They were absolutely fantastic. The texture of the outside was nice and crisp and the inside was moist and chewy. The crushed up pretzels softened a bit inside the batter, but still provided a little crunch. Plus I added some crushed pretzels to the top for more crunchy texture. JoAnn LOVED them.

Thanks Veggie Girl for your creative and yummy recipe.

And next is JoAnn's taste testing video review of the blondies...
Since she chose to remain anonymous, enjoy the voice review!! haha! :)

Peanut Butter-Pretzel Blondies
Adapted from VeggieGirl's Peanut Butter-Pretzel Blondies

6 ounces (1 single container) Vanilla So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt -it's gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free (Veggie Girl's recommendation)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup natural sugar
2 teaspoons Plantation brand of blackstrap molasses (Veggie Girl's recommendation)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 1/2 cups salted pretzels rods, crushed into small pieces (divided use)

Preheat oven to 350°F .
Line an 8"x8" baking pan with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Mix together the yogurt, canola oil, sugar, vanilla extract, and molasses in a large bowl.

Add in the flour, baking soda, 1 1/4 cups crushed pretzels and peanut butter. Mix well.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of crushed pretzels. Press the pretzels gently into the batter.

Bake for about 32-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the blondies comes out clean.

Makes 16 blondies.

Light and Crunchy Pepperoni Pan Pizza

Deep Dish=Delish!
In an effort to keep with my light and healthy theme, I recently adapted a recipe for Pepperoni Pan Pizza from America's Test Kitchen. I know that America's Test Kitchen pain stakingly tests each recipe that they create many times so that we don't have to, but I decided to change it in order to lighten it up a bit.
The technique is all America's Test Kitchen. The ingredients are very similar, only I swapped the pepperoni to turkey pepperoni and used less cheese. I did change a few other things, but for the most part it is basically the same. The result is just what America's Test Kitchen said it would be...A super crispy crust and a tender inside! It was delicious, but don't take my word for it...For a variation add some sliced black olives, as suggested by Amy, one of my taste testers!

Speaking of taste testers, I have added a fun and exiting new dimension to my blog (for this post anyway). Video taste testers. I figured it would give you all the chance to see how light and healthy food can still be delicious. Of course I told my taste testers to remain totally honest and say whatever they think about the food. AND THEY DID. In this post they tasted the lighter version of Pepperoni Pan Pizza for the first time. The first bite they took was on tape, no editing, no prompting, just real time, honest to goodness tasting. Check it out...

Just to fill you in on what happened after the video, my tasters gobbled up 2 more slices of the pizza and raved about how delicious it was. (I should have waited til then to video them, haha). I think by then their rating went to a 9 1/2!
My mom was the third taster and must have told me about 5 times how delicious it was. She will be my video taster in future posts, although she may wear a disguise because she is camera shy (hahaha).

Light and Crunchy Pepperoni Pan Pizza
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 package instant yeast
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 6 tablespoons (for pans)
¾ cups + 2 tablespoons skim milk (200 ml)
48 slices turkey pepperoni
1 1/3 cups tomato sauce (recipe below)
1 2/3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided equally
Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 26 oz. can kitchen ready tomatoes (or crushed) I used Pastene Kitchen Ready
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste

Heat oven to 200 degrees or lower. Once the oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off. Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to each of two non-stick 9-in cake pans; tilt the pans to cover only the bottom with the oil.

For sauce: Add garlic and tablespoon of oil to a cold medium saucepan. Turn on heat to low/simmer and cook for about 5 minutes until garlic is fragrant. Add in tomato paste and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add in tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir and cook on medium low heat anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour, or until the sauce is thickened. Set aside to cool.

For dough: Add milk to a glass measuring cup and place it in the microwave for around 40 seconds on high. Check temperature with an instant read thermometer. It should be around 100 degrees (but no more than 110º). Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and sugar to the milk.

Add flour, yeast, and salt to stand mixer. Attach dough hook and mix on low speed. Slowly begin to add the milk mixture. Once dough comes together and most of the flour is incorporated, increase speed to medium-low and mix for about about 5 minutes. The dough should be shiny and smooth.

Lightly flour a work surface, kneed the dough 2 to 3 times and shape dough into a ball. Place dough in previously greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the warm oven for about 30 minutes. It should be doubled in size. Remove from oven.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Transfer dough to lightly floured surface, cut in half and gently shape each half into a ball. With a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 7" round. Gently place dough round onto your fists and move the dough around in a circular motion until each round measures about 9 ½ inches in diameter. The dough should be slightly thinner in the center and thicker around the edges.
Very gently place the rounds into oiled pans, being careful not to get oil on the top. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and set them aside (in a warm place, but not in oven) for about 10-20 minutes.

In the meantime, line a plate with paper towels and place half of the pepperoni in a single layer. Cover the pepperoni with paper towel and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove pepperoni, discard paper towels and repeat same process with remaining pepperoni.

Add 2/3 cup sauce on each dough round, being sure to leave a ½ inch border around edges. Add equally divided cheese to each round and top each with 24 slices of pepperoni. Bake for 20-24 minutes or until the edges are browned. Let rest in pans for 1 minute. Using a non-stick spatula, transfer pizzas to cutting board. Slice into 8 pieces and devour.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes

For Valentine's Day or Anyday, even St. Patty's Day ...

St. Patrick's day is known for all the traditional fare, such as corned beef and cabbage, beer and green eggs and ham (or is that Dr. Seuss?). And I probably should have done a post on Irish Soda Bread, but I figured any holiday is worthy of these delicious cupcakes! Who wouldn't want to bite into a heavenly strawberry cream cheese filling on any day of the week for that matter? Besides, I made them on Valentine's Day and forgot to post them til now. So now that you know the truth, all I can say is that these cupcakes were really delicious. Not only that, they were a cinch to make.

My inspiration came from a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for Strawberry and Mascarpone Filled Cupcakes. She used boxed cake mix. Yes, you read right, Giada used boxed cake mix. So I figured if Giada can do it, by golly, so can I. (hehehe) ;)

Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes
by Mixed Salad Annie

1 box French Vanilla cake mix
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 (8-ounce) package low-fat cream cheese (neufchatel cheese), room temperature
1 cup fresh strawberries, or 1/2 cup thawed and drained frozen strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Make the cupcakes following the instructions on the box, adding in the 2 teaspoons of almond extract along with other wet ingredients. Bake as directed; let cool and set aside.

Using a immersion blender or food processor, combine the cream cheese, strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and lemon juice. When the mixture is smooth, transfer to a pastry bag. Using a small tip, carefully squeeze the mixture into the top of each cupcake until you see the cupcake form a slight bulge. Do not try to overfill the cupcake because it will burst open. (I learned from experience!) Finish off each cupcake with a small squeeze on the top and sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Date Cranberry Orange Crumb Bars

A Good For You and Easy To Make Bar!

Whole Grain Oats and Wheat Germ Crust...

Delicious & Healthy Date Cranberry Fruit Filling...

Simple and Easy to Prepare...

I Highly Recommend It :)

Date Cranberry Orange Crumb Bars
Adapted from Dole®

1 pkg. (8oz) dole chopped dates
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup dried cranberries, divided
1 Tbls. grated orange peel
1 1/2 cups oatmeal
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
3/4 cup smart balance buttery spread, melted

Cook dates in water in a small sauce pan for 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup cranberries and peel.
Combine oats, flour, wheat germ, sugar, baking soda and salt in bowl. Stir in melted spread until combined.
Press 2/3 of oat mixture onto bottom of 8" or 9" square pan.
Spread date filling over crust. Add remaining cranberries into oat mixture and cover the date filling. Press down firmly with spatula. Bake at 375 ºF for 25 minutes or until light brown.

Banana Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Great Alternative to Banana Bread!

The classic dilemma that every good penny pinching frugal cook faces: What to do with all those over ripe bananas that you bought on sale. Of course banana bread is the first thing to come to mind, but sometimes it's good to challenge the usual way of thinking...

Since cookies are always on my mind, it wasn't a far stretch for me to think; What about Banana Biscotti? So I looked on line and found a recipe from Cooking Light which I changed up a bit. It is a good recipe but I knew it would need some enhancing after reading some of the reviews. The banana extract is essential even after increasing the amount of banana. If you don't have banana extract than I would suggest adding more pure vanilla.

The cookies were really good and actually tasted like you were eating a crunchy version of banana bread. And with only ONE TABLESPOON of oil in the whole recipe there is no need to feel the least bit guilty eating more than one! Good thing for me because the addition of the chocolate chips really make them absolutely addicting!

Note: If you still have ripe bananas left, just peel them, place them in a plastic freezer bag and freeze them. Just take them out of the freezer the night before you plan on using them and thaw them in the fridge. Or you could even keep them frozen and use them for smoothies!

Banana Chocolate Chip Biscotti

adapted from Cooking Light

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2/3 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 2 bananas)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon banana extract
1 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Sift flour into a medium bowl. Combine the flour, baking powder, vanilla powder and salt. Combine banana, oil, sugar, banana and vanilla extracts ( if using), and egg in a medium bowl; stir in flour mixture and pecans (dough will be sticky).

While still in bowl, divide dough in half. Spoon each 1/2 of dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet; shaping each 1/2 of dough into 2 (8-inch-long) rolls with a rubber spatula. Flatten to 1/2-inch thickness.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes. Remove rolls from baking sheet; cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Cut each roll diagonally into 12 (1/2-inch) slices. Place slices, upright, on baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 300°; bake 30 minutes (cookies will be slightly soft in center but will harden as they cool). Remove from baking sheet; cool completely on wire racks.