Inga's Indulgence

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Amen to Healthy Amends

A LOT has changed since last we spoke. I've returned to school to get my second degree. Guess what I'm studying. Nutrition!!! 
I know it's not much of a shocker, but I'm beyond excited to become a registered dietician, so that I can continue doing what I've pretty much been doing since I was a kid - putting people on diets ad feeding them at the same time. Except this time I'll be doing it with some important letters proceeding my name.
I'm also teaching cooking classes at, what may be the coolest place in the world, Oh My Girls! (OMG), a healthy living center for young girls. Man, I wish this place were around when I was growing up. The environment is so fun and girly, the girls are energetic and eager to cook (and eat), and I am there to teach them how to make the food that their bodies need in this critical stage of their lives. So rewarding!

Zelli, my 2-year old, is doing great. He just started daycare, and despite his spot-on rendition of the terrible, or as I like to call them, "atrocious twos," he's acquired a taste for fish, barley, and spinach.

So amidst all this excitement, I have a proposal for you guys. How would you feel if I were to share some of my newly acquired knowledge of healthy eating and diet in the form of recipes? A mutually beneficial relationship, if you will, in which I learn, I share with you (this will be my format of studying), and then I create recipes revolving around a specific area of interest or concern in the nutritional sciences. 
I'm neglecting one thing, right? The "mama" stuff around which this blog was initially structured. I'm not though, because as I'm learning, early life nutrition (even as early as in the womb) plays a very important role later in life. That's why I will continue to address baby/toddler nutrition as well as important components of a healthy prenatal diet. One last thing...where does the indulgence come in? The name of my blog, Inga's indulgence, may seem deceiving to some. It shouldn't. If you haven't already, you'll get to know that I'm all about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Knowing that I am reinforcing my family's health, my health, and hopefully yours, is perhaps as indulgent as sinking my teeth into a piece of chocolate (which you should also do on occasion, but that's a whole other post) 

So let's get to cooking already! Okay, believe it or not, the first revolutionary post of this revamped, even healthier Mama Chef will be addressing fiber. Yes, fiber. No, it's not just for your bowels. There's a reason why we are constantly bombarded with all these new fiber products and snacks, or why almost every cereal commercial makes it a point to emphasize fiber content. It's not because everyone is suffering from constipation, it's because fiber has a multitude of purposeful functions for our digestive tracts and overall health. 

Fiber is a polysaccharide (a complex carb) found in plants, that we as humans cannot digest. Weird right? If we can't digest it, what good is it? Well, where do I begin. Fiber functions as a prebiotic. This means that it promotes a good "microflora," or a healthy intestinal environment with good bacteria preventing the growth of bad bacteria that can lead to diseases. Fiber can also lower levels of cholesterol in the blood by binding it, and making it less likely to be absorbed into the blood. 
There are two categories of fiber - soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in oats, legumes, and some fruits, is like a sponge in that it absorbs water and swells up. This results in softened stool and generally makes elimination a lot smoother (no pun intended). Insoluble fiber, found in things like whole grains, carrots, celery, cabbage, and berries also moves things along nicely, but as a bulking agent. Since it does not absorb water and moves through the gastrointestinal tract pretty much intact, insoluble fiber helps to increase fecal volume. Though it does not soften stool per say, if consumed with a good amount of water, insoluble fiber functions to prevent constipation. Fiber can delay the movement of things through our GI tracts, which promotes feelings of fullness. This is a great tool for weight control and managing blood glucose levels. 

Now that we are all edumacated about all of fiber's wonderful contributions...let's eat!

The following recipe is one of my favorite go-to snacks, full of fiber, and all kinds of other good stuff. In addition to being really quick and easy to prepare, it has no added sugar, and the soluble (and insoluble) fiber in the oats and fruits makes this a great hold-you-over snack - meaning if you are busy and on the go, it will keep you full. Even if at home, where the fridge knows your name, you'll find yourself ignoring most of its pleas. I love these for what they do, my hubby loves them for their convenience, Zelli loves to munch on them because they're yummy, and I bet the girls at OMG will appreciate them for all of the above reasons, as we will be making them this week :)

 Chewy Fruit & Oat Squares
(yield: 16 squares)
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil or non-stick vegetable spray  
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 cups rolled oats (either instant or old-fashioned work)
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a square baking pan with oil.  
Stir remaining ingredients together in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly to moisten oats. Transfer mixture to prepared pan, patting down to form an even layer. Bake 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Store in airtight container for up to a week (but they surely won't last that long).


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Smokin' Good

Call me old fashioned, but as with grilling, I believe that smoking is a man's job.

Alright fine, you can call me lazy because rather than going through the gazillion steps it takes to smoke something, I choose to cheat with a nifty secret ingredient called liquid smoke. This stuff is genius, though I must admit to some rolling of eyes and raising of the nose during my first encounter with it at the market.

For some reason, seeing a bottle of literal liquid smoke triggered the same reaction that I would expect to get from let's say a bottle of liquid love or liquid brawn. I perceived a complex, smokey flavor as something that needed to be worked at, so I didn't buy into this bottle business...initially. I bought it later that day (curiosity got the best of me). And boy am I glad I did, because I'll say it again, this stuff is genius.

It all started with a craving for the smoked almonds that I used to make while working at Hudson Yards Catering. There was a separate "smoking" room where all the goodies for Blue Smoke, another joint pertaining to Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, were...well, smoked.
The almonds were my favorite, and after years of never having smoked almonds quite like those, it was time to intervene.

Cheater's Smoked Almonds
(yield: 3 cups)

3 cups almonds, unsalted
4 tbsp water
3 tbsp hickory flavored liquid smoke
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp sugar

In a large bowl, mix together water and liquid smoke. Add almonds, and toss to coat. Let almonds soak in mixture overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Toss almonds with oil, 1/2 tbsp salt, and 1/2 tbsp sugar.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining 1/2 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp sugar, and set aside.

Spread almonds in a flat, even layer onto prepared sheet pan. Bake 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. While they are still warm, toss the almonds with reserved salt/sugar mixture. Let cool completely before eating (resist the urge to nibble).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cheesecake Chronicles

It's pretty hard to make cheesecake taste bad. With ingredients like cream cheese, sugar, graham crackers, some question the baking part, grab a spoon and shoot for the bowl instead.

But more often than not, we find ourselves eating mediocre cheesecake. The reason for its mediocrity is most often the texture of the cake. Too dry, and you find yourself nudging bits of cake from the roof of your mouth; too soft, you feel like you're eating cream cheese pudding. 
Cheesecake, if done right, should be a very balanced dessert in every sense of the word. Tangy, sweet, smooth with a slight resistance from its graham cracker crust - it should be a culmination of contrasts that just work well together. 

Now if the cheesecake recipe below could afford to be any more decadent than it already is, it would have to be escorted out of the room. So I decided substitute half of the cream cheese for neufchatel cheese. Neufchatel has about 1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese, and honestly, after a series of taste tests I really couldn't detect a significant difference. So why not?! Plus, it has a higher moisture content than cream cheese which makes the texture of this cake nothing less than awesome.

Beyond Ultimate Cheesecake
(yield: 10-12 servings)

4 tbsp butter, melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
2, 8 oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature
2, 8 oz pkg neufchatel cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tbsp almond liquor
1 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

Grease a 9" spring-form pan with 1 tbsp of butter. Combine remaining 3 tbsp of butter with graham cracker crumbs. Reserve 3 tbsp of graham cracker mixture for topping, and press remaining portion into pan. Bake at 325°F for 10-12 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Combine cream cheese and neufchatel cheese with sugar. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat until completely softened. Add eggs, one at a time, and continue to mix. Add sour cream and almond liquor. Mix until completely smooth. Pour mixture into the cooled graham cracker crust.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
Wrap pan with two or three layers of aluminum foil to completely cover any cracks. Place into a large roasting pan and fill with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the spring form pan. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn oven off and let cake cool inside for another hour.

 Place chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about 1 minute, mixing every 15 seconds, until chocolate is melted. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the cheesecake, and sprinkle with reserved graham cracker crumbs. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Treat Yourself...Right

In search of an indulging treat that you don't have to feel guilty about eating, or giving the kiddies?

Chew on this - a healthy, rich, coconutty, chocolatey cookie made with my new favorite ingredient to cook with - coconut oil.

This oil is INSANELY good for you (among its areas of specialty, skin and hair enhancement, immune health and disease prevention, weight control, yadi yadi yada). And with its butter-like texture, who knew saying "SEE YA!" to our fattening foe would be so easy?

I love things that are good and good for you...feels like I won something :)

Guilt-free Chocolate Coconut Cookies 
(yield: 1 dozen cookies)

1/4 cup unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a large cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray.

Cream together coconut oil and brown sugar (use an electric mixer if you've got one). Stir in the egg, and mix until smooth. In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. Add dry mixture to the egg mixture in three increments, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop heaping tablespoonfuls of the batter and roll  into balls. Place on cookie sheet, making sure to leave enough room between each cookie. Bake 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack or plate and let cool.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

From Eh to Oh Yeah!

Dumping the white rice that is always left over after Chinese takeout dinners does not sit well with me.

I've tried extending its life in the past by refrigerating and convincing myself that it will make an excellent side. Unfortunately, after just a few hours in the fridge the rice was rendered neither excellent, nor remotely palatable (though if ground up into a paste, it would probably make for good putty to fill the cracks in your walls).

So the last time I was left with a mountain of bland white rice, I knew something had to be done. So much potential to be great, this was not the end of the road for this rice.

What I made was a stark contrast to the bland that this rice had once been. I termed it "Jazzy" Pilaf.

Jazzy Pilaf
(yield: 5-6 servings)

1/3 cup canola oil
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 tbsp nigella seeds
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3 scallions, thinly sliced  
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup garbanzo beans
5 cups cooked white rice (you can use brown rice for a healthier alternative)
salt, as needed

Place oil, cinnamon stick, nigella seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, garlic, white parts of the scallions (reserving the green parts for garnish), and red pepper flakes into a large, deep saute pan or wok over medium-low heat. Let the oil slowly come to a simmer, and get infused with all the spices. Add garbanzo beans, and saute 1-2 minutes.

Add the rice and mix well to distribute the oil and spices. Season to taste with salt. Remove cinnamon stick and garlic. Garnish with reserved scallions, and serve.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Comfort Conundrum

Oh how I love fried stuff.

It's amazing how much you can love something that you barely allow yourself to sink your teeth into. But those few moments of crispy, caloric ecstasy are just enough to...

A) remind me of everything I've been missing
B) convince me that I no longer fit into the jeans I was rocking yesterday
C) want to eat nothing but fried things for ever and ever

Sooo, what is a girl to do in this predicament? Bake.

Healthy Zucchini Mozzarella Sticks
(yield: 12-14 sticks)
These guys are crispy on the outside, gooey and cheesy on the inside courtesy of my old pal, the oven. AND they've got veg in them.
Is this what I'm talkin' about or what? This is what I'm talking about.

8 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 medium zucchini
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs, beaten with 1 tbsp water
1 cup Italian Bread Crumbs
olive oil, as needed

Grease an aluminum foil lined sheet pan with olive oil.

Slice the mozzarella lengthwise into 1/2-inch sticks, and set aside. Using a vegetable peeler, shave long, paper-thin slices of zucchini, about 1-2 inches wide. Arrange 5-6 slices in an overlapping fashion to equal the length of the mozzarella sticks. Place a mozzarella stick across the zucchini slices (perpendicular to the zucchini) and wrap tightly.

                                                   Trim off excess zucchini.

Dredge the wrapped mozzarella sticks in flour, followed by egg wash, and then breadcrumbs. Repeat with another coating of egg wash and bread crumbs. Place on prepared sheet pan, and freeze for at least 1 hour.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for 16-18 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Serve with Marinara Sauce (recipe follows).


Marinara Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 of a small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1, 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
salt & pepper, to taste

Briefly heat the oil in a medium saucepan, and sweat the onions and garlic 2-3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes.

Depending on how chunky you like your sauce, you can either leave it alone or puree in a food processor or blender.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fancy Pants

We all need a little fancy shmanciness in our lives. I'm lucky enough to get it during my cooking classes, while living vicariously through my students. During my last class, I had them prepare something French...ish, with a lot of words in the title, and boy did it live up to that title.

Seared Scallops with Parsnip Puree, Crispy Leeks, and Lemon Beurre Blanc

(yield: 6 servings)

2 lbs sea scallops
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp ground cumin
salt & pepper, to taste
1 tsp canola oil
1 tsp butter
1 tsp toasted black sesame seeds (optional)

Dry the scallops between 2 layers of paper towels. Combine flour with cumin in a shallow bowl.

Preheat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Place oil and butter into the pan.

Season scallops with salt and pepper, and dredge tops and bottoms in flour mixture, shaking off excess. Sear 1-2 minutes per side. Serve with Parsnip PureeLemon Buerre Blanc Sauce, and Crispy Leeks. Garnish with sesame seeds.

Parsnip Puree
(yield: 6 servings)

5 medium parsnips, peeled & diced into medium cubes
2 medium idaho potatoes, peeled & diced into medium cubes (same size as parsnips)
1/2 cup milk
4 tbsp butter
salt, to taste
white pepper, to taste

Place parsnips and potatoes into a large pot and fill with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender.

 Drain and puree with potato masher or ricer. Heat the milk, until simmering. Whisk in the butter, and fold mixture into parnip puree. Season with salt and pepper.

Lemon Beurre Blanc
(yield: 6 servings)

2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp creme fraiche (or sour cream)
1 stick cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
salt & pepper, to taste

Place lemon juice, white wine, and shallots into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, and continue to cook until mixture reduces and thickens, 3-5 minutes.

Whisk in creme fraiche, and cook 1-2 minutes.

Add butter, 1 cube at a time, whisking to dissolve before adding the next cube. Season with salt & pepper.

Crispy Leeks

2 medium leeks, washed & green parts removed
canola oil, as needed
salt, as needed

Fill a deep saute pan 1/4 of the way up with oil, and place over medium-high heat.

Slice the cleaned leeks into thin matchsticks (about 1/4-inch thick, and 3-4 inches long). Test the oil with one leek - if the oil begins to bubble around the leek, it is ready.

Fry leeks (making sure not to overcrowd the pan, about 4-5 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Remove from oil and let drain on paper towels. Season immediately with salt.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baby gourmet: In a Scramble!

I felt like a bad mother today. Running errands all day, time escaped me. Before I knew it, it was time for Zelli's lunch, and I had nothing.

Without child, an empty fridge was no biggie. Living off of oatmeal and crackers was an all too common theme for this busy and tired chef (plus if it meant I could shed a few, I was all for it). But since Zelli started eating solids, he's grown accustomed to eating fresh, healthy meals, and I've grown accustomed to making them on a daily basis.

As the lunchtime tune began (which goes a little something like this - "Umm..ummm..ummmmamamamam!!!), I sprinted to the refrigerator, blindly grabbed whatever was in arm's length, and made a dash for the stove. And now what? Luckily, one of the items I was skillfully balancing with my elbow was a vegetable. Zucchini, eggs, ricotta...well I'll be it, a gourmet meal in minutes. I think I'll call it a scramble.

Zucchini Scramble
(yield: 2 servings)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium zucchini
, peeled and grated
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp milk
1/4 cup ricotta cheese

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add zucchini and garlic. Cook, stirring,  5-6 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, and cook for another 5 minutes.