Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shrimp and Butternut Squash Pasta

More and more request for healthy recipes seem to be coming in.  I'm proud of all my friends and clients who are sticking to their weight loss goals.  The freezing temperatures and cold nights leave us all wanting comfort food. recently conducted a survey of favorite comfort meals: Meatloaf, Chicken Pot Pie and Macaroni and Cheese topped the list.  What are your favorites?

Growing up the only Mac n Cheese I had was southern style.  Lots of eggs, cheese and milk -- it just seemed too dense without enough cheese flavor.  Later in college, I began eating the box mac n cheese because it was inexpensive.  Occasionally, I would turn it into a rounded  meal by adding broccoli or peas and chicken (if the budget would allow). Now cooking for my clients, I'm always on the look out for ways to give them ewwy gooey Mac n Cheese, but without all the fat and calories.  I've been testing two Mac n Cheese recipes this week - this one is the more grown up version.  I used a puree of butternut squash and 2% milk to add creaminess.  Then I used a mixture of Parmesan and Romano cheeses not only are white cheeses are naturally lower in fat but they also provide a sharp-flavor that goes a long way.

Shrimp and Butternut Squash Pasta

1 lb butternut squash, trimmed and cubed
1 lb. of shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. of your favorite pasta

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 cup stock, chicken or veggie
3/4 to 1 cup 2% milk or fat free half and half
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves or sage
1/4 cup grated Parmesan and Romano


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butternut squash, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Saute until the squash is golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is very soft, another 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the squash mixture to a blender or food processor and puree.

Meanwhile, warm the remaining olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook until just pink, about 3 minutes.

In a large pot over low heat combine the cooked pasta, pureed squash mixture, and 3/4 cup milk or half and half. Stir to combine. Add the remaining 1/4 cup milk if the sauce needs to be moistened. Add the cooked shrimp , basil, and cheese. Stir until warm and serve.

OPTIONAL:  If you like a baked mac n cheese, then reserve the 1/4 cup of cheese.
Pour pasta mixture into a baking dish (lightly sprayed with cooking spray), top with cheese and bake until the cheese is bubbly and melted.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creamy Beef and Broccoli Noodle Bowl - Pressure Cooker

As I mentioned, Georgia was recently hit with a winter storm.  Street are filled with snow that have turned into ice and extreme cold temperatures.  Icy conditions have made traveling on the roads treacherous.  We are now forced into having a snow day or three.  The snowy weather is a foreign concept for this girl.  I grew up in the Middle East and then moved to sunny and humid Florida.  On Sunday (the morning before the snow storm) I was scheduled to cook for a client.  The grocery store was decidedly empty of all major first thought was come's not that serious!!  Well, day 3 of being stuck inside, I wish I would have stocked up on a couple of staples.  No matter, I'm a personal chef, I will cook up what I have on hand. 

In the fridge, I had a half packet of beef stew and small head of broccoli.  The pantry is full of pasta, rice, dried beans, tomato sauces, spices, so I'm in pretty good shape.  I decided to make a beef and broccoli noodle bowl.  Warm, comforting and super quick since I will be using my pressure cooker.

Creamy Beef and Broccoli Noodle Bowl


1/2 lb beef stew
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Hungarian Paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Sherry or apple juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1/2 lb. angel hair pasta
2 cups water or beef broth
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets


In a large pot, boil the water for pasta, salt it, and cook spaghetti according to package directions to al dente.  3 minutes before the pasta is done, toss in the broccoli and cook for a few minutes till pasta is done.

In a small bowl, mix flour and spices (garlic, salt, pepper, paprika).  Toss beef into the flour mixture.  Set aside for 3 minutes and then toss the beef into the flour mixture once more. 

Heat pressure cooker, then add oil and heat until it glistens.  Add the coated beef and brown on both sides.  Then add sherry, broth or water, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Close cover and bring to high pressure, then pressure cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, reduce pressure, and remove cover.   You will notice that the broth has turned into a light sauce.

Drain pasta and broccoli then add into the beef and sauce.  Serve in bowl and top with Parmesan cheese or roasted almonds.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mung Bean Soup ~ Cure for the Common Cold

A few days ago, my friend Chef Alison posted the following article about Turmeric.
Over the weekend, my immune system seemed to be taking a dive.  I was feeling run down and I knew it was time to stop it before it settled in.  Normally, at the first sign of a cold I start craving spicy foods.  This started when I was in college and I needed relief from a sore throat.  I would gargle with warm salt and cayenne water.  Since my cold was caused by germs then why, not burn them out with cayenne?    Organic farmers have used a cayenne solution to ward off bugs from their plants and vegetables so I say why not use it to ward off cold bugs?  Ok, so it's not exactly a scientific theory, but it works and is much less expensive than OTC cold remedies.  
I wanted a nice warm soup using ingredients I have on hand because 1. I don't feel like going to the grocery store and 2. It's snowing in GA and I don't want to drive in it (I'm a desert girl - I don't mix well with snow).  In the end, I decided to go with an Indian inspired soup.  I pulled out my Indian spices: turmeric, cayenne, Indian Chili powder, mustard seeds and dried chilies.  Turmeric  is one of the strongest antiseptics known to man so I thought it would be a great addition.  Traditionally, it has been considered good as an expectorant for children’s irritating cough, dissolved in milk. Grandmas across Asia recommend a glassful of milk with two teaspoonfuls of turmeric to asthmatic and bronchitic children. It is said to have the ability to clear phlegm and reduce spasms of asthma. Turmeric powder combined with caraway seeds or bishop’s weed is considered an effective cure for colds in children. 

There is very little that is more comforting for the chilly, snowy weather than a combination of beans (lentils or mung beans) combined into a thick nourishing soup with warming spices. Quick and easy to make--this is a great soup for those who enjoy Indian creations, you will not be disappointed.   

This recipes is loosely based on a recipe from 660 Curries.  I no longer own this book, but I feel I must give credit because their version was my inspiration.  Also, I apologize I didn't take too many photos because I was feeling run down. 
Mung Bean Soup ~ Cure for the Common Cold

1 cup of mung beans
a few teaspoons of oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafetida ***

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 Tablespoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 small onion, chopped
1/2 Tablespoon dried red chilies
1 teaspoon
Indian Chili powder
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
a small handful of
dried curry leaves
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, chopped
1 can of coconut milk
juice from one small lime
salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste


In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Stir and fry until the mustard seeds turn grey and begin to pop. Now add the turmeric, cayenne, ground cumin, ground coriander and asafetida. Stir and then add the onion, green chilies, curry leaves and ginger. Stir occasionally and fry for a few minutes. 

Soak the mung beans overnight in enough water to cover the tops. Drain and transfer to a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer covered until the beans are tender - roughly 20-40 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Now add the celery, carrots, and onion - cook for another few minutes. 

Add the cooked mung beans to the pot, along with the coconut milk, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and roughly 1 cup of water. Bring to a partial boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 5 - 10 minutes.

Serves 6

The soup definitely did the trick.  I woke up on Sunday feeling refreshed and no traces of a sore throat.   Obviously, I'm not a medical doctor, but sometimes its good to try folk remedies.  For centuries cayenne, turmeric and even asafoetida have been used to cure the common colds.  Why not try it before reaching for Nyquil?

***  Asafoetida has broad uses in traditional medicine as an antimicrobial, with well documented uses for treating chronic bronchitis and whooping cough, as well as reducing flatulence.

COOKS NOTE: if you don't have mung beans, feel free to use lentils (red, green or French Lentils).  You can also use chickpeas, navy beans, etc.  
All the spices can be found at your local Indo-Pak store.  There are several in the Marietta/Kennesaw areas.  Or visit our online store to order your spices.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Asian Bistro Chicken Wraps

If you indulged as much as I did at over the holidays, you will more than likely be looking for something nice and light.  I’ve been working on updating and testing new healthy options for the new year.  January is a great time to start fresh and forget old habits.

I have been looking forward to tonight’s dinner:  Asian Bistro Chicken Wraps.  These are a take on PF Changs lettuce wraps.  I’ve seen many versions of this, but I wanted something that didn’t use all that sugar.  I made some substitutions to suit our palate.  Instead of white sugar, I used local honey.  In place of ground chicken, I used regular chicken cutlets and used my food processor to do my chopping and shredding.   This recipe also calls for mushrooms.  Most of my clients seem to think they don’t like mushrooms; however, in every case, when the mushrooms are chopped finely they NEVER know they are there. 

A double batch is a good idea for these lettuce wraps.  The left-overs are great for a light snacks or lunch the next day.  Lettuce wraps are ALWAYS a hit at parties!!  Please don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list.  Most of these items should already be part of your Asian pantry.  

Asian Bistro Chicken Wraps
4-6 servings

Stir Fry
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8oz can sliced water chestnuts
1 cup of mushrooms, use whatever is on sale
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
6 large leaves of iceberg lettuce or Boston lettuce

Pouring sauce:
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Dijon or hot mustard (whatever you have on hand)
1-3 tablespoons garlic chili sauce

Using a Mason jar; combine the ingredients for the pouring sauce. Mix well and refrigerate this sauce until you're ready to serve.

Sauce for the stir fry mixture:

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice or white wine vinegar

Combine ingredients for the stir fry sauce. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix garlic powder, sweet paprika, sea salt, and black pepper.
Sprinkle the chicken breast with mixture. 

Add half of the oil to wok or large frying pan. Heat oil over high heat until it glistens, about one minute. Add chicken and saute until cooked through, about 6 minutes.  Remove chicken.
Once the chicken cools, add it to the food processor, and pulse to shred the chicken.  Set chicken aside.

While the chicken is cooking, combine the remainder of your stir fry ingredients.  In the bowl of your food processor:  pulse the onions, garlic, mushrooms and water chest nuts. 

I finely chopped my mixture as most of my customers have an aversion to large chunks of mushrooms.

Using the same wok or frying pan, heat the remaining oil.   Stir fry the onion mixture for 3 minutes.  Then add in the chicken and stir fry sauce.  Cook for another 3 minutes until the sauce is incorporated.

Serve with lettuce (Boston, Bibb or Iceburg) and La Choy crunchy noodles.