Half Healthy Potato Salad

or a healthful remix for hot Summer days

Summer is here and grilling weather has officially arrived!  With so many fresh veggies getting ready to sprout in the garden, it's easy to overlook the weight of the items that make up a typical grilling day spread (heavy meats, cheeses, buttery rolls, potatoes, cookies, and ice cream to name a few).  So how can you enjoy all this without the stress of healthy eating weighing you down?  By lightening up a dish or two, cutting some of the fat and calories without any of the taste.  I'm not a health nut, but I have been making a concerted effort to live a healthier lifestyle - after all a healthy body does help to make a healthy mind, and vice versa.  So I have been working on ways to improve the health factor without adding unpleasant flavors or textures to my dishes.  There have been some moderate successes, some less then pleasant meals, and here and there a truly delicious result.  One such result is my modified potato salad.

I posted a recipe last year for my favorite potato salad, and I whole heartedly stand by that recipe for all events BBQ, but as a daily side dish I would prefer it to be a tad more healthful.  So I took some advice from various chefs and adapted my recipe.  The vinegar and dill weed help to make up for the lack of relish, which very well make an appearance in this dish once we are better stocked in our house, to help keep a similar flavor profile.  Don't let the moderately healthy implications on this dish fool you, the flavors are still there - as are some of the calories and fat since I didn't opt for completely healthy on this remake.  But, it's a good compromise nonetheless if I do say so myself.  And it has repeatedly received my hubby's stamp of approval, considering how much he loves my other potato salad recipe this is a more significant statement than you might think.  Check it out:

4 med gold potatoes
⅓ of a head of cauliflower
⅔ cup of olive oil mayo or low fat mayo
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp low fat milk
1 tbsp dried minced onions
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, diced
1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
1 tsp dried dill weed
½ tsp celery salt
Salt & Pepper

1. Dice potatoes into bite sized pieces and boil in lightly salted water for 10-15 min or until they are tender enough to pierce with a fork.

2. Dice the cauliflower and steam stove-top or in the microwave until soft*

3. Puree the cauliflower in a food processor or blender and then add the mayo, milk, onions, mustard, rice vinegar, dill, and celery salt. Blend until smooth.

4. Drain the potatoes once they are tender and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the cauliflower mixture and toss to coat. Add in the celery and hard boiled eggs and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

* You can steam an additional third of the head of cauliflower and reserve from the blending process. Add this to the potatoes before the pureed mixture to add volume and increase the healthy factor.


Painless Pressure Cooker Risotto

or a flavor infused canvas for culinary delight

Risotto is a challenge.  There are many ways to make risotto, and most of them require a significant amount of hands on time for stirring, as well as well developed arm muscles.  Both of which I do not possess.  So I have been trying to find a satisfactory "short cut" or at the very least a more fool-proof way to prepare it.  I tried the pre-packaged boxes of risotto, very Rice A Roni-esque, but they were certainly not fool proof as I found it challenging to get it to come out the same way twice.  I then tried a slow cooker version - not all together bad, but it did lack the signature risotto al dente style in the end (a bit mushy for my tastes, and it did not reheat terribly well for leftovers).

So what tools did that leave me?  Aside from momentarily considering the development of a self stirring pan, much along the lines of a Whirly Pop stove top popcorn maker, I decided that my pressure cooker should at least have a shot at this.  A pressure cooker* is fantastic for the amount of time it saves in cooking tougher cuts of meat and infusing flavors into all manners of food stuffs.   So I took a deep breath, knowing full well that it could potentially result in a burnt mess if the liquid ratio wasn't right, and gave it a try.  Much to my delight, and my husband's relief,  it worked (he can only take so many failed ventures before he gives up the optimism and faith in my experiments).  It was al dente, it was flavor infused, and - best of all - it was done with minimal arm muscle strain!  If you are worried about liquid levels, you can add a half cup extra of the stock - just be warned that you may have to simmer it out at the end.  The leftovers were great reheated as is, and they also made quite delightful little risotto cakes the next day.  After this recipe, you and your pressure cooker may just feel a little bit closer, give it a try:

1 ½ c risotto
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3 c hot water
1 tsp chicken base
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp minced onion
Salt and pepper

½ c Parmesan cheese (optional)
2 tbsp Italian style bread crumbs (optional)

Hardware: pressure cooker

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in the open pressure cooker base. Add the garlic and onion, saute until the onion starts to become translucent (a couple minutes). If you are adding other hardy ingredients such as shallots, mushrooms, or leeks you can add them at this time as well.

2. Stir in the risotto (arborio rice) and saute, stirring constantly, for about 2-3 min to lightly brown.

3. In a separate container, combine the hot water and chicken base, stirring until it is dissolved fully. You can use 3 cups of chicken stock in place of the the water and base combination.

4. Carefully stir the chicken base mixture into the pot with the risotto. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover and secure pressure cooker lid.

5. Bring the heat up and cook for 10 min once pressure has been achieved (see the manufacturer guidelines on your cooker for how to identify when it is heated to high pressure). Enjoy the aroma as the flavor infusion fills your house... Release pressure, per manufacturer guidelines and carefully remove the lid.

6. Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula if you have one to stir the contents of the cooker. Add the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs if desired. If you would like a more liquid base, I would recommend leaving out the breadcrumbs. If it appears to have more liquid then you would like, I would add a little extra. Season with salt and pepper.  

You can add in any "softer" vegetables or other ingredients at the end, like sweet peas, sauteed bacon, or steamed asparagus. Adjust the seasoning and extra ingredients to your own tastes. This risotto can serve as a side dish, a platform on which to serve your main dish (either meat or seafood work well), or as a main dish when you dress it up with a few extra veggies and sauteed chicken, for example. Give it a try - there are any number of ways to make this flavor infused, relatively blank, canvas into your own culinary delight. It's simple, it's fast, and it's quite delicious in it's own right - enjoy!

* While I have been on good terms with my pressure cooker for as long as I can remember, I know that not everyone shares my affection for this oft forgotten kitchen tool, but stick with me on this one and it just may change your mind.


Italian Inspired Faux Hummus

or a figure friendly snack for hot Summer days

Trying to make more health conscious decisions isn't always easy, and the attempt in itself can cause a great deal of undue stress to anyone. So where do you find the balance for mental and physical health? I'm not quite sure... but the wisdom I have gained over the past couple months has made this very clear to me, and it is this - if it is easy, it will be eaten. Meaning, if veggies and fruits and the like are prepped in advance they have a far greater chance of ending up in my lunch or on my dinner plate than if I am trying to pull something together in "crunch time" either before work or when I get home after a rough day. So lately cucumbers have been sliced, tomatoes and mozzarella have been marinated, watermelon has been cubed, and salad has been chopped in the evening for multiple days' worth of servings at a time. That solves the side dish issue, one fruit and one veggie for lunch isn't a bad deal. But you still need some type of "protein" and, of course, some of my beloved carbs. So far this has resulted in cold pasta salad (a light mixture of veggies, fat free dressing, and feta cheese was quite good last week), a tuna fish sandwich (made with olive oil based mayo), or in a pinch - a reduced fat peanut butter sandwich. Since some days you just aren't in the mood for any of those things, I decided I needed to find a few more ideas to rotate in.

As I was searching my recipes for other options, I came across one that I made originally for my mom that would be a great asset to my pre-made daily lunches - a faux hummus. My mom is systematically opposed to chickpeas, she doesn't like the way they look or taste or even the idea of them being somehow snuck into her meal, so I had decided to make a hummus-alternative for her to have at one of my parties. Since I substituted cannelloni beans for the chickpeas, it seemed natural to make the seasoning more of an Italian style. I had to adjust some of the liquids since the beans were inherently more moist then the chickpeas, but I was quite pleased with the results. A couple more attempts, and another tweak or two later, and I am happy to say I have a dip/spread/mixture that I love!  The best part for these hot Summer days is that it requires absolutely no cooking on the stove or in the oven, definitely a plus when it feels like August in June during a heatwave - and that alone helps bring me peace of mind, and body.  Check it out:

1 can cannelloni beans (or chickpeas for the traditionalists)
3 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup low-fat ricotta
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
4 large leaves fresh basil
¼ cup olive oil (less or more as needed)
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ Parmesan Romano cheese, reduced fat

1. Drain liquid from cannelloni beans. (If substituting chickpeas, reserve 1/4 of liquid from can to add more moisture)

2. Toss all of the ingredients in the food processor and turn on low for 3-5 minutes or until smooth. Add olive oil or water, small amounts at a time, if it appears too thick. Add more ricotta (or chickpeas, if using) to thicken.

3. Adjust spices to taste, blending after to mix thoroughly.

Serve with pitas, sliced Paesano bread, or whole wheat white sandwich thins cut into quarters.