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May 29, 2006

Ham Pilau

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
2 medium bell peppers, chopped (I use red and green, but any color will do)
2 cups cooked ham, cubed
1/2 tablespoon powdered allspice
6 whole cloves
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1 small can tomatoes in juice (410g/14.5oz)
salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1/4 teaspoon of salt)
liberal dash of Worcestershire sauce

Heat the oil in a heavy pot (ideally, a casserole or Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and peppers and sauté about 10 minutes, until the vegetables have started to soften. Add the cubed ham and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir everything together. Cover the pot and bring the ingredients to a boil rapidly over high heat, then turn the heat to low and cook covered until the rice is tender (about 30 minutes). That’s it!

The ham adds a nice smoky flavor to the pilau, but you could also make the dish with shrimp, chicken, or just vegetables. If you leave out the ham, you’ll probably need to add a bit more salt to taste. Pilau holds very well, which makes it a party/picnic/potluck favorite. You can make it ahead of time, freeze it if you need to, and reheat it in the oven or a microwave.

Pilau is very easy to make, but I do have a few tips for sure-fire success. First of all, whatever you do, don’t stir the rice as it’s cooking. You can fluff it with a fork, but if you stir it, it will turn mushy—and you want separate, firm grains of rice, not risotto. Ideally, you shouldn’t even take the lid off to take a peek until at least 20 minutes have gone by. There is very little liquid in this recipe, so the rice essentially steams in the pot. But the rice will only cook if the lid is on and the steam has built up inside the pot. So sit back and relax, have a nice glass of wine, and resist the urge to poke at the rice.

You should also resist the urge to add more liquid. You will look at the single small can of tomatoes and you will look at all the rice and you will think that there’s no way on earth the rice will ever cook (I’ve made this recipe a lot, and I still have trouble believing it). But it does cook—it really, really does. If you start adding more liquid, you won’t get the firm, dry texture you’re looking for. Have faith in the steam!

If, at the end of 30 minutes or so, you find your rice is still very hard, then you can add a few tablespoons of water and cover the pot again to create more steam. But you’ll get better results if you stick to the single can of tomatoes and keep the pot covered for as long as it takes the rice to cook. If you feel you actually have too much liquid, you can dry out the pilau by keeping the pot over a low heat and cracking the lid to let the steam escape. And if you really want a moister dish, then add more liquid when you add the tomatoes—but then you won’t have any excuse to smother your pilau in yummy mango chutney.

And finally, some rice will stick to the bottom of the pot. It’s inevitable. If you’ve cooked the pilau over a very low heat, you may wind up with golden crusty bits that you can eat. Unfortunately, I usually wind up with carbonized black bits that don’t taste very nice at all. This is no big deal; just avoid scraping the very bottom of the pot when you serve the pilau—which may be hard, since it tastes so good you’ll want to eat every last bit!

Roast Pork for Two

1/4 cup each finely diced carrot, onion and celery
one large bay leaf
one piece boneless pork loin, about 500g (1lb), covered with a thin layer of fat
1 1/2 cups beef stock (I just use a beef stock cube dissolved in hot water)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 splash red wine

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F).

Layer your finely diced carrot, onion and celery in the bottom of a small roasting tray and put the bay leaf on top. These vegetables will soften and get lightly browned during roasting, which will give some depth to the gravy you’ll make with them at the end.

If your pork loin is wrapped with the strangely elasticized string that mine always comes wrapped with, take that string off. Score the fat on the loin in a crisscross pattern and season the whole loin lightly with salt and pepper. You can re-wrap your loin with fresh cotton string so that it holds its shape, but the world won’t come to an end if you don’t.

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Don’t use a non-stick pan; you kind of want bits to stick and get brown in the skillet. Put your meat fat-side-down in the pan and sear it until the outer layer of fat is brown and crispy (this is what will give you an approximation of crackling). Then sear the other sides of the loin until it’s nicely browned all around. This only takes a few minutes, and it makes all the difference between an uninteresting grey roast and a mouth-watering golden one.

Remove the pork from the frying pan and place it fat-side-up on top of the bay leaf and vegetables in the roasting tray. Rub some coarse salt into the fat and all around the outside of your meat; I use Hawaiian sea salt, which seems to have a particular affinity with pork (or maybe it’s my imagination), but any coarse-grained salt will do.

Add about 1/4 of a cup of your beef stock to the frying pan and stir it around to get up any crunchy brown bits left in the pan. Pour this stock over the vegetables in the roasting tray and add another 1/4 cup of stock to the tray so everything is nice and moist, but not swimming. Put the tray in the oven and roast the whole lot for about 40 minutes, until a meat thermometer stuck in the middle of the loin registers 63C (145F).*

Take the tray out of the oven, then take the pork out of the tray and put it on a platter. Cover the pork loosely with foil and let it sit in a warm place while you make your gravy.

For the gravy, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan. Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour, then whisk in the juices (along with the vegetables and bay leaf) from your roasting tray. Add another 3/4 to 1 cup of beef broth to the saucepan, along with a splash of red wine. Simmer until the gravy has thickened (5-10 minutes), then season to taste. You could strain out the vegetables if you want a smoother sauce, or you could puree them (after removing the bay leaf!) to get a thicker sauce, but I just leave them as they are and enjoy the texture they add.

By the time your gravy is done, your pork will be ready to go. Carve it into medium-thick slices and serve it with the gravy, some nice sauteed cabbage and roasted carrots, and a fruity pinot noir.

May 28, 2006

Hot Brie and Pesto Dip

8 oz cream cheese, cubed
8 oz brie, cubed
2 Tbsp pesto
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 oz sweet white wine (Muscat Canelli, Reisling, etc.)

Combine all ingredients in an oven-safe bowl and bake for 20 minutes at 375°. Serve with a sliced baguette or water crackers.

May 27, 2006

Oven-Roasted Vegetables

1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium summer squash, cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium yellow bell pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces
1 red onion
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 450°F. Place the zucchini, squash, peppers, asparagus, and onion in a large roasting pan. Toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper to mix and coat. Spread in a single layer in the pan. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring occasinally, until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender

Allowed on South Beach Phase 1.

Serves 4. Per serving: 170 calories, 5 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fats, 586 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber.

May 15, 2006

Smoked Ham Soufflé

Acceptable for South Beach Phase 2

2 eggs
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
1 1/2 cups (6 oz) shredded, reduced-fat extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
4 slices light whole-wheat bread, cubed
1 can (4 oz) sliced mushrooms, drained
1 cup broccoli florets or 2 spears asparagus, trimmed and chopped
4 oz lean smoked ham, chopped
1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and egg whites until frothy. Stir in the milk, cheese, bread, mushrooms, broccoli or asparagus, ham, and Italian seasoning. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Note: You can assemble it in the morning and bake it later when you're ready.

Serves 4. Per serving: 310 calories, 13 g total fat (7 g sat), 145 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrate, 29 g protein, 3 g fiber, 1080 mg sodium

May 14, 2006

Envelope Glue

6 Tbsp white vinegar
4 1 oz. packets unflavored gelatin
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (or other flavoring)

Bring vinegar to a boil in a small pan. Add gelatin and stir until dissolved. Add extract and stir until mixed. Brush on thin layer onto back of an envelope flap. Let dry. Moisten to apply.

Store excess glue in a sealed container and melt again for future use by putting in a pan of warm water.

May 12, 2006

Chinese Fried Noodles

1 pkg Ramen noodles, broken up in package
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped green peppers
1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
1 egg

1/4 cup diced cooked pork or bacon bits
1/4 cup diced tofu
2 Tbsp slivered almonds

Break noodles in half while still in package.

In a small saucepan, boil noodles in 2 cups of water for five minutes.

When noodles are done, put into a strainer, rinse with warm water and let drain for a few minutes, shaking the water out to make it as dry as possible.

While this is boiling, slice mushrooms into thin slices and chop onions and peppers into medium-sized pieces.

In a small frying pan, fry an egg in a teaspoon of oil, break the yolk and scramble or fry, then cut into small pieces.

In a larger frying pan or wok, heat a Tbsp of oil on high heat until it almost starts to smoke. If you are using meat, saute to taste before turning up heat. Throw in vegetables, mushrooms and almonds, if used. Stir fry, tossing often, for two minutes, then throw in fried egg pieces and stir fry for another 30 seconds.

Drop drained noodles on top of this mixture and quickly sprinkle with contents of flavor packet, then toss and stir together until well mixed, for a minute or so.

Take off heat immediately, serve in a rice bowl or plate and season to taste with soy sauce.

May 7, 2006

Pear Bran Muffins

These wholesome, satisfying muffins are filled with tender pieces of pear and spiced with cinnamon. They freeze well; just heat in the toaster or microwave before serving.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

1 1/2 cups whole-grain pastry flour
1 cup wheat bran
2 Tbsp granular sugar substitute
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups 1 percent or fat-free buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 Bosc pear, cored and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350° F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or lightly coat with cooking spray.

Combine flour, bran, sugar substitute, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Combine buttermilk, eggs, oil, pear, and vanilla in another mixing bowl.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just to combine; do not overmix. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool and serve.

Makes 12 servings. Per serving: 130 calories, 5 g total fat (0.5 g sat), 20 g carbohydrate, 5 g protein, 5 g fiber, 200 mg sodium

May 3, 2006

Enchilada Stacks

1 lb. hamburger meat
salt & pepper
2-3 T chili powder
garlic salt
corn tortillas
vegetable oil
shredded cheese
onions (optional)

Season the hamburger meat with salt and pepper and brown it in a large skillet. Add shortening and let melt. Add some flour and let the flour brown. Add chili powder, stir, then quickly add water. Stir, adding water as needed to reach the consistency of gravy. Sprinkle with garlic salt, stir, and let simmer for about 30 minutes, adding water as necessary to maintain consistency.

In a small saute pan heat a small amount of vegetable oil. With each tortilla, heat each side in the oil for a few seconds. Dip the tortilla in the gravy, then place on a plate. Add a little more gravy to the tortilla, then sprinkle with onions and cheese. Repeat for as many layers as you can handle. Put the plate in a warm oven for about 15 minutes.