Filling under 500: Asian-Inspired Veggie-Loaded Chicken Noodle Soup

As some of you may know from life outside the blogosphere, my husband just won a Biggest Loser competition at his workplace. Other than the $350 prize, the main benefit of this was that he got to walk around all week saying “I’m the biggest loser!!!” Yep, he’s a funny one.

He did things the “usual” healthy way– exercised more, ate healthier. He isn’t much of a fan of any of the traditional healthy things– exercise, fruit, vegetables, lean meats, or whole grains, so this was a BIG challenge for him. He worked really hard, learned a lot of new things he liked, and lost 33 lbs in 3 months, or 15% of his body weight. As most people I know are struggling to maintain a healthy body weight and get all the nutrients they need, I thought I’d write a once-a-week series with filling meals we made for dinner while he was on this diet– they’re easy, fast enough for weeknights, packed with vegetable, lean protein, and whole-grain goodness, and delicious enough that a *very* skeptical meat and potatoes man looked forward to them.

I hear rumors that some people clean bowl rims before photographing.
Not me. Clearly.

What worked for him:

  • Every weekday: 2 c of fruit salad and a hard boiled egg for breakfast; a hearty salad (lettuce, diced tomatoes, red onions, mixed peppers, cucumbers, chicken, bleu cheese crumbles, egg whites and balsamic vinegar (no oil)) for lunch; a 1-200 calorie snack (Fiber One bars, nuts, dried apricots, rice cakes, etc.); and a filling, well-balanced under 500 calorie dinner.
  • Weekends: At least 1 “splurge” day not worrying about calories. Any restaurant visits happened on these days. The majority of foods consumed were still healthful, but they weren’t so regimented. Proof that splurge days worked for him: his biggest weight drops always came over the weekend.
  • 3x a week: Couch to 5k exercise program (he loves the iPhone app)

Why yes, I did eat half before taking this photo on my iPhone.

Now, onto the soup. This soup is my favorite soup to eat when I’m sick– between the comforting broth, the sinus-clearing spice and the throat-soothing noodles, it’s just what the doctor ordered. Of course, in theory, takeout would be better… and I do live in Brooklyn… but noone in delivery range makes acceptably delicious soup, so I’m forced (woe is me!) to make my own. Of course, it’s good when well, too.

The broth for this soup MUST be good. Nothing’s pureed into it, so if it isn’t a broth you like drinking, don’t bother. You can make perfectly acceptable vegetable broth in half an hour, great chicken broth in an hour, or make your own vegetable bouillon to store in the freezer, though, so don’t despair! Everything else is flexible, making it a great eat down the pantry dish. The basic rule is: if it would go in a stir fry, it goes in this dish. The recipe is easily scaled, infinitely flexible, and you can down two giant bowlfuls without cracking 400 calories. My favorite versions of this soup have chicken, soba noodles, and cabbage… but really, anything goes. The recipe below is for my favorite iteration.

Asian-Inspired Veggie-Loaded Chicken Soup

2 bowls– serves 2 sick patients or 1 hungry person (nutrition values are for the entire recipe.) Scales well.

2 t sesame oil (optional, can substitute any other oil)
2 oz boneless raw chicken, cubed
1/4 onion, diced
1-2 stalks thinly sliced celery
1/2 carrot, thinly sliced (or ~4 baby carrots)
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1″ nub of ginger, minced
2 scallions (white and green parts divided)
1/3 c snow peas, cut into small pieces
1/3 c red pepper, cut into small pieces
1/2 c cabbage (I like napa)
3 c chicken stock
1.5 oz soba noodles (I’ve used rice and egg noodles w/ great success as well)
1 t low sodium soy sauce
1/2 t hot sauce
2 t lime juice
1/4 c cilantro, minced

In a soup pot, saute the chicken in sesame oil (if needed) over medium heat until just cooked through. Remove to your soup bowl.

Sautee ginger, garlic, onion, celery, carrot, and the white part of the scallions– basically, all aromatics and slow-cooking/ hard vegetables– over medium heat until the onions start to shrink down and the mixture is fragrant. 3-4 minutes. Add all other vegetables and cook until they start to soften, another 2-3 minutes. Toss in the cooked chicken and stock and bring to a low boil. Add noodles and cook on until soft enough to eat (for soba, ~5 minutes). Add soy sauce, hot sauce, lime juice, and cilantro to taste.

For extra credit, use more than 1/2 teaspoon of this stuff. Phew!

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 1098 g
Amount Per Serving

Calories                              Calories from Fat

360                                     21
% Daily Value*

Total Fat            2.3g                                  4%

Saturated Fat  0.6g                                   3%

Trans Fat           0.0g

Cholesterol       33mg                             11%

Sodium             891mg                           37%

Total Carbohydrates 57.5g                19%

Dietary Fiber  6.7g                                27%

Sugars              9.8g

Protein             29.4g

Vitamin A 169% Vitamin C 162%
Calcium 13% Iron 29%
Nutrition Grade A
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet

Meal Plan: 1/23-1/29

Because I shop weekly, hate waste, and am only feeding two people (read: expensive veggies & dairy spoil if I don’t use them promptly, which makes me unable to justify buying the brands I like), meal planning is more a necessity than a goal for me. It also keeps me from losing my temper and calling for bad takeout when I get home from work with only half a brain left, and makes it easy for me to work in new recipes when I feel so motivated. I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the last year, mostly by following three simple rules:

  1. Plan more perishable stuff for earlier in the week
  2. Leave holes in the plan for meals out & leftovers
  3. Make sure some meals are interchangeable in case you’re just not in the mood/ are too busy for a particular meal’s prep on the correct night.

Of course, there are other guidelines I try to follow: make sure at least some things on the list are in season, base meals around what’s already in the pantry or freezer (so that it doesn’t look like a hoarder lives in our apartment), balance heavy and light components, and choose faster prep for gym nights so I don’t pass out. But the original three rules take care of almost everything.

Here’s what I’ve got for this week (note that two things, beef stew and quinoa salad, make enough that I can freeze them and take them for lunch next week. success!):

Sunday:

Breakfast Pancakes, cherries
Lunch Leftover cabbage-soba Soup
Dinner Ravioli with asparagus and prosciutto, cucumber salad
Snack Pie! (Brooklyn Pie Contest)

Monday:

Breakfast Fruit Salad
Lunch Baked yams
Dinner Chicken bites, brown rice, pepper salad
Snack Oatmeal w/ Peanut Butter

Tuesday:

Breakfast Fruit Salad
Lunch Lemon sorrel soup, carrots
Dinner Out– orthodontist
Snack Clementines

Wednesday:

Breakfast Fruit Salad
Lunch Out
Dinner Tacos, guacamole
Snack Clementines

Thursday:

Breakfast Fruit Salad
Lunch Baked acorn squash
Dinner Artichoke, quinoa salad w/ green beans, tomatoes, and peppers
Snack Pear-Lemon Muffin

Friday:

Breakfast Fruit Salad
Lunch Baked acorn squash
Dinner Out
Snack Pear-Lemon Muffin

Saturday:

Breakfast Fruit Salad
Lunch Baked Yams
Dinner Beef-vegetable stew, brussels sprouts
Snack Pear-Lemon Muffin

Sunday:

Breakfast Bagel
Lunch Out-Party
Dinner Leftovers
Snack N/A

“Thin Mint” Ice Cream (A Girl Needs Calcium)

If you’re following along at home, you’ve just made so much almond cake that you’ve become quite well acquainted with your neighbors and you’re now on the Christmas card list of every friendly person you passed for a week. You also, sadly, have what feels like a million egg yolks.

I can fix that problem– and any other besides lactose intolerance– with ice cream.

The first time I had thin mint ice cream, it was the Edy’s/ Dryer’s variety, and it was so good that I nearly made myself sick– I would have been very sick indeed, if I didn’t store my desserts in a second stomach, a location commonly known as Jupiter. It was that good. Luckily, I’ve had an ice cream maker and David Lebovitz’s brilliant book “The Perfect Scoop” for a few years now, and I can make an even better version, upgraded with local/ organic/ fair trade/ happy/ fuzzy ingredients as my heart desires, in about an hour.

A note about the thin mints: as a former Girl Scouts employee, I’m a little bit worried that they’ll take back my paycheck for saying this… but I like Back to Nature’s Fudge Mint cookies even better. Keebler’s Grasshopper cookies are a distant but more easily accessible 3rd in my book, still beating out just about any other commercially available cookie.

Thin Mint Ice Cream
Inspired by David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Ice Cream in “The Perfect Scoop”

2 C heavy cream (I like Ronnybrook)
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process preferred
5 oz GOOD bittersweet chocolate, chopped into easily meltable bits (semi-sweet is too sweet for me, but might not be for you)
1 C milk (whole preferred, but I’ve never failed w/ skim)
3/4 c sugar
pinch salt
5 large egg yolks (fresher is better)
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/8 t mint extract (optional)
2 c crushed cookies

Warm one cup of cream with the cocoa powder in a medium pot, whisking thoroughly. Bring it to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30 seconds. DO NOT STOP WHISKING. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped chocolate, stirring until melted. Add the other C of cream. Pour into a large bowl; if you’re not as lazy and dish-averse as I am, you can strain it as you transfer.

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in the original pot. In a separate container, mix the egg yolks together, and add a little bit of warm milk into them, stirring constantly. This will temper the eggs, aka keep them from turning hard boiled when you add them to the warm milk mixture. Add the egg-milk mixture into the pot and stir on medium heat with a whisk or spatula, scraping as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. I like it to get to a warm custard texture before I stop, but that’s really up to you; you’ll get slight texture variation in the finished product depending on how long you let it go.  Pour the custard mixture into the chocolate mixture, straining if you’re a strainer kinda person, and stir in the extracts.

Stir until cool– over an ice bath or in a sink of cold water or every few minutes in the fridge for a little while.  Chill in your fridge for as long as you have patience or overnight, then freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. In the last few minutes of freezing, toss in the cookies.

Eat. Omnomnom. And invite me, please.

Marzipan-Cherry Goodbye Cupcakes

We had a little bit of good news last week; my husband survived substantial layoffs at his company. It’s only a little good news, though, as nearly half of his beloved coworkers did not. He’s a sensitive guy, and the four consecutive weeks of firings really got to him– so we were happy when the new year came and, with it, the announcement that no more were forthcoming.

 

When DJ’s especial favorite supervisor left, he requested marzipan cupcakes as a going away gift. I thought, of course, of the trusty recipe I mentioned in my last post for almond cake. Of course, almond + sugar = marzipan, so it qualified– but it didn’t seem *special* enough when reduced to cupcake form… so after adapting the recipe for cupcakes (halved it, filled the cups just over half full, and baked at 350 for 18-20 min) , I decided to fill it with cherry jam and top with a candied cherry. This cake is surprisingly light and fluffy for something almond flavored, so the candy texture and flavor of the cherry products heightened the marzipan effect.  The husband assured me that they did *not* look too much like boobs (what?! I worry!), and off they went… and none came home. Even his greatly-reduced office (18 people) was able to polish 24 cupcakes off before 2. Not bad for a non-chocolate dessert.

Parmesan or Romano-Cracked Pepper “Cream” Crackers

Have you ever had a crush on someone you’ve never met? You read something they wrote, you get a glimpse into their life, their passions, their creativity… and suddenly you’re just a little bit… well, smitten (gosh, I wish I had a better word for that, given what I’m about to say.)  That’s how I feel about Deb of Smitten Kitchen. I’ve been reading her blog for longer than I care to admit, starting out as an iVillage reader and moving on to TheSmitten from there. She lives in my city, is made entirely of magic, and is the first person I ever heard of who baked her own wedding cake– giving me the guts to volunteer to bake my friends’ cake a few years later (using, incidentally, the same frosting recipe.)  Her recipes always come out perfect for me, every single time– and I always get requests to make them again and bring them places.

This is a very long-winded way of telling you that last week, when I was making tomato soup, I craved parmesan-pepper crackers and Deb rescued me. I don’t think she intended to– I saw nothing fitting the bill on her website– but way down deep in the Google results, I her recipe for Parmesan Cream Crackers… and decided that was close enough. Modifications were needed, but I knew she wouldn’t have posted the recipe if it wasn’t The Right One. I swapped out cream for buttermilk because that’s what I had and Romano cheese for Parmesan cheese because I vastly prefer it– and then I added a spoonful of freshly cracked pepper. It took less than 5 minutes to put together *and* roll out, and when I took my second batch to a potluck the next week, three people asked for the recipe. It’s that magical. Also, a really good way to use up any pregrated cheese you have that’s about to go bad. Just don’t use that dusty “cheese” in the green foil tube. It won’t taste any better cooked.

Romano-Cracked Pepper Cream Crackers

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Parmesan Cream Cracker recipe
Makes 24 2.5″ round crackers

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely grated Romano cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1″ chunks
1 t freshly ground pepper
salt and pepper for sprinkling on top

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with foil or parchment paper. Pulse flour, salt, cheese, and butter in a food processor until they are combined (I used my mini and it was the perfect size.) Add buttermilk and pepper and pulse until it comes together to form a dough. One time I needed a teaspoon more, but the other two times 1/4 of a cup was perfect. A mystery. Roll the dough out to 1/4″, then separate into crackers however you see fit. Arrange on the baking sheets in such a way that each has at least 1/2″ of room surrounding it; they don’t grow too much. Pierce the crackers several times each with a fork to avoid big puffy burnt pockets, then sprinkle the tops lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake until somewhat browned, about 12 minutes. Cover loosely, if at all, and if you put them into an airtight container, leave a paper towel in the container to help absorb any moisture floating around– they lose some of their crispness over time.

10 Recipes I Overused in 2010

Like most people who love food, writing, and reading enough to keep a food blog, I read– and cook– from many, many different food blogs. Here are 10 blog-sourced recipes that I make so often that I can make them without so much as glancing at the original post.

1) Margarita Cookies: My number one most requested recipe. I showed up at a potluck today with parmesan-cracked pepper crackers (recipe to be posted soon) and gingersnaps, and the reaction from my host was “Oh my goodness, these are amazing! But the margarita cookies are my favorite thing you make.” Everyone’s always happy to receive one, they’re a hit at parties, and they’ve proven successful at luring even avowed Manhattanites to Brooklyn. Success!  ( I’ve made some modifications to this one over time– I use 4 T of tequila, half the orange zest, and an extra egg yolk– but it’s good as written, too.)

2) Spicy Chicken Bites— If chickens go extinct in 2011, it’s probably our fault. I discovered this recipe a month ago, and my husband has requested it 6(!) times since. I left it off the menu one week because we were out of chicken, and he sulked at dinner time every day that week. Great served over brown rice with a cucumber salad on the side.

3) Almond Raspberry Cake with Swiss Buttercream: I first made this recipe for my friends’ wedding cake over a year ago, and it’s been requested steadily ever since. Light, nutty not-too-sweet 3-layer cake filled with raspberry jam and topped with the most delicious, fluffy temperature-stable buttercream ever. This frosting has been my default anyplace buttercream is called for. Please make it even if you don’t make the cake– trust me.

4) Beef with Snow Peas: A Pioneer Woman Classic, this one’s an easy sell to pickier eaters. You can add lots of stuff to the base– I always add ginger, garlic, scallion, and red pepper flakes– but it’s fundamental appeal is that it’s easy, fast, and super-basic. It works with other meats and vegetables too, using the same method.

5) Lemon Sorrel Soup: I should probably start out by admitting that in the 8 years I’ve known my husband, this is the only thing he’s refused to eat after taking the first bite. Ever. He mocks me terribly every time lemon or sorrel enter the house because in his eyes, this is my only culinary failure ever. That being said, he’s wrong. It’s delicious, easy, fast, and gives me a reason to motivate myself to go to the farmers market even when there are 2′ of snow on the ground. Sour, savory, rich, and light, all at the same time. I don’t mind that he hates it– more for me. I usually add in a little rice and omit the mushrooms, but that’s a matter of personal preference.

6) Green Bean Stew with Meat: Another easy, healthy one-pot meal, this is the first recipe I made from Almost Turkish, and like everything else on there, it’s a winner. Unlike everything else, everything in it has a permanent home in my pantry/ freezer, and it’s so stupidly simple that I can make it in my sleep. It also freezes well and the leftovers are fabulous to take to work for lunch.

7) Camarones al Ajillo: I love garlic… a lot. Probably more than is healthy. I even occasionally threaten to marry it when I grow up– so when I resolved in 2010 to eat more seafood, a food group I historically have tolerated at best, garlic was the obvious security blanket. This recipe is delicious enough that noone minds repeats, goes from unprepped ingredients to table in less than 10 minutes, and goes great with just about anything– my favorite is couscous and asparagus.

8 ) Brown Butter Spoon Cookies: These were bookmarked for about two years before I finally got around to making them for two reasons: 1) making brown butter sounded like an enormous pain in the butt and easy to screw up (not true!) and 2) they’re supposed to age for 2 days before you eat them (!). I finally gave up and made them when I was looking for good Christmas cookies to ship (always nice when aging is a plus for those.) I tried one unaged and it was fantastic– so much so that I promptly made another batch to try them aged. And another. And another. So good. Not hard, only one pot to clean, and the only part that’s at all annoying is shaping them. Worth it!

9) Easy Sesame Noodles: I make this all the time– it’s my default lazy and starving dish, to be made when the cupboards feel bare, I’m uninspired, and too hungry to fuss. I usually make it with soba or rice noodles instead of spaghetti, and often add some fresh ginger to it. It’s infinitely variable, as any number of raw or stir-fried vegetables taste good tossed in, and you can top with any meat / fish/ tofu you’d like for a little more substance.

10) Skillet Sizzled Buttermilk Cornbread: The only cornbread I will willingly eat– and if you don’t have a skillet that’s oven-safe, you can melt the butter in a pie plate in the oven while it’s preheating and it comes out just fine. Enough said!

Easy Sunshiney Lemon Pasta- for Gray Days

As I mentioned in my last post, I finally gave in and bought Meyer lemons for the first time this month. Easier than I thought, actually: Freshdirect suddenly has them, and who am I to argue with that? I threw a few pounds into my order and hoped for the best. They were delivered just before Brooklyn got 2′ of snow dumped on it, so I had several snowed-in days to experiment.

The first thing I did was make Meyer lemon curd. I know that here’s the place where I’m supposed to gush about how awesomely superior Meyer lemons are to other lemons and blah, blah, blah, but honestly– I couldn’t taste the difference in the curd. It was delicious– as lemon curd always is. However, it wasn’t until I tried it squeezed over my pasta that I could really taste the difference– it’s much mellower than I’m used to, but just as bright. I made up a super-quick recipe that would highlight the flavor– and liked it so much that I made it three days in a row! You can prep and make the sauce in its entirety in the time it takes spaghetti to cook with time left over– and if you choose to make it with angel hair, you can just start it while the water is heating up. I was out of strands, so I used super-fancy unlabeled pasta from a gift basket a friend gave us this time. Strands are better, but anything will work.

As you can see, I tossed a giant handful of basil on top. I was able to get microbasil from a stand at the farmer’s market this week– it was just so cute! Yep, it was an impulse buy, but a nice treat when it’s super gray out; any sweet herb will work in its place, or you could leave it out and the pasta would still be delicious.

Before the recipe, a quick note on my conflicted feelings about Freshdirect: I feel horrendously guilty having my groceries delivered. I have no kids, after all, and individual items are way more expensive. However, I justify it in the following ways: it’s really hard to get fresh produce and high quality meats within easy carrying distance of my apartment (within a mile or so, as I don’t have a car), and being able to see the total in my cart before I check out each week makes it much easier for me to stay within my budget– so I actually spend less in the end… so long as I remember to leave room for the farmers market.

Meyer Lemon Pasta with Basil

(serves 1, but easily scalable)

3 oz dried pasta of your choice
1/2 T butter
1/2 T olive oil (or other neutral oil of your choice)
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 Meyer lemon, separated into juice and zest (or half the equivalent amount of standard lemon)
1 T dairy liquid of your choice (I’ve been using buttermilk, but cream, sour cream, or milk would do fine)
1 T parmesan or romano cheese
1/4 c fresh basil or other sweet herb
Pinch freshly ground pepper

Boil  salted water. Put the pasta in the pot and stir once.

On medium-low heat, melt butter and oil in a mid-sized saute pan. Add crushed garlic and cook ~1 min, until fragrant but not brown. Add lemon zest and stir, then lemon juice. Turn off the burner, but don’t remove the pan.  Add dairy liquid. Stir. Reserve 1/4 c of cooking water for the pasta pot.

When pasta reaches al dente, drain, then dump into the pan with the lemon sauce. Turn the heat on low and toss until the pasta is coated. Add the cheese and pepper, then toss again. If more liquid is needed to coat the pasta evenly, add from the reserved cup, 1 T at at time. Turn off the heat, then toss in your herbs. Toss once more, then serve.