Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy is really a very useful book. It is full of interesting but easy recipes for almost any vegetable you would be likely to bring home from the farmer’s market or supermarket. My favorite recipe so far is this recipe for zucchini stewed to melting tenderness with onion, garlic, olive oil and Swiss chard. The texture and flavor of the long stewed summer squash is quite a revelation: luxuriously silky and delicately flavored. The flavor and texture of the chard becomes more refined as well, somehow.
Apparently, dessert croutons are a thing, lately. There are places that sell toasted cubes of cake to eat as snacks or use in desserts or salads. The LA Times recently published a recipe by Nancy Silverton which featured bread croutons as a garnish for a rich chocolate dessert (Bittersweet Chocolate Tartufo with Olive Oil Gelato and Olive Oil Fried Croutons). And there are recipes featuring fruit, ice cream or some other creamy mixture, and sweet croutons (see here and here).
Anyway, I was thinking about a recipe from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great American Desserts called Top Secret Topping. It is nothing more than plain or lightly sweetened cottage cheese, which is somehow transformed by being pureed in the food processor into a luscious creamy smooth topping for fresh fruit. Maida said she swooned when she first tried it over strawberries, and her friends couldn’t guess what it was (yogurt? sour cream? creme fraiche? cream?) (here is her original description, reprinted in Maida’s Heatter’s Pies and Tarts).
She says you can use 1% or 2%, but you really need to use 4% to get the full effect. The extra fat in the 4% makes it possible for the mixture to whip up and increase in volume. The increased airiness as well as the smoothness of the pureed cottage cheese creates the impression of creme fraiche or whipped cream.
I decided to add cinnamon challah croutons to Maida’s combination of strawberries and top secret topping. The result: a taste I can only describe as deconstructed cheese blintz. I also tried the croutons on strawberry spinach salad with my fat-free orange dressing. It was nice, but I liked the combination of creamy cheese, berries and cinnamon croutons a bit more.
The cinnamon challah croutons remind me a bit of those mock blintzes made from toast stuffed with cream cheese. Made with coconut oil, they are pareve, but taste dairy, almost buttery.
I have a friend who can’t have any fat, and I like to put rich things in my salad: oil-based dressings, nuts and sometimes cheese. So what I did was serve a deconstructed salad, a home-made salad bar, with the salad greens in one bowl and all the possible topping in little bowls all around. I went with craisins, pecans, walnuts, sliced almonds, grape tomatoes, corn, sliced mushrooms, crumbled feta and sliced roasted red peppers, but I could also have put out avocado, scallions and red onion. The fat-free dressing was served on the side.
This is a fusion of spinach salad and quinoa salad, with an equal balance of the greens and the grains. The dressing is a super simple mixture of lime and lemon juice, with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. A drizzle of honey is entirely optional, but a very nice addition to the dressing. Pecans, sliced pears, scallions and red onion add crunch and color. If you are serving this with a dairy meal, crumbled feta cheese is a delicious topping.
The spinach doesn’t get so soggy, so you can take leftovers to work the next day.
I made this for Shavuoth and served it along with a do-it-yourself salad bar, a cheese platter, roast salmon, yellow rice, stuffed shells and eggplant parmesan. Dessert was fresh fruit, plus low-fat cheesecake and regular cheesecake.
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What would you say to cheesecake that is about 200 calories per (4.5 ounce) serving? Pretty good right? I tried making my ultra light cheesecake with only fat-free yogurt cheese, sugar, eggs, lemon and vanilla, and it came out delicious. I forgot to add the flour and accidentally cut the amount of sugar in half, which ended up not mattering much, so I saved some calories there, too.
I dusted the sides of the baking pan with some crushed Italian lady finger cookies (the crisp kind you use for tiramisu). You can skip the crushed cookies, but it doesn’t add much in the way of calories (you need only 4-5 cookies) and it gives the impression that there is a crust of some kind without the heavy calorie load of a graham cracker crust. The cookie crumbs also add a little extra sweetness to what is otherwise a very lightly sweetened cheesecake.
Here is how I figure the calories:
24 ounces yogurt cheese made from a 32 ounce container of Greek yogurt: 560 calories
3.75 ounces sugar: 384 calories
4 eggs: 280 calories (about 320 calories for extra-large eggs)
5 Italian ladyfinger cookies: 110 calories
Total calories : 1,334, which yields 8 servings, each about 4.5 ounces, at 167 calories per serving. The fat should be mostly from the egg yolks, which comes to 2.5 grams per serving.
Spaghetti squash dishes usually disappoint me. A surprisingly watery vegetable, spaghetti squash releases lots of juice that dilutes its usual partner of tomato sauce. The result? Bland flavor and mushy texture that is very far from what I expect from a pasta dish.
Here is my solution: make a highly concentrated sauce based on tomato paste, with lots of garlic, wine and chunky eggplant and mushroom pieces. The squash is roasted, then put into a pan with more sauteed garlic, freshly ground pepper and lots of Parmesan cheese (like cacio e pepe!). The eggplant mushroom sauce is then layered over the Parmesan squash mixture, like you would add sauce to a base of polenta. The dilution problem is gone. With all the umami flavor from Parmesan, wine and mushrooms, the blandness is gone, too. There is really nothing to be done about the mushiness, I am afraid, but treating the vegetable like a very textured polenta makes the mushiness less of a liability.
I made this Asian flavored recipe for Swiss Chard to accompany the Lime Ginger Yams.
I just figured out how to roast yams/sweet potatoes in half the usual time. The secret is so obvious I feel so silly for not having thought of it before: You cut it in half lengthwise and place it cut side down on a greased baking sheet. I usually roast my sweet potatoes/yams for about an hour at high heat, until they are mushy soft and oozing carmelized juices. When cut in half, it takes about a half hour to cook through, and the cut side are an appealing golden brown from the caramelized natural sugars.
Wanting something a little different, I served the yams with a lime ginger sauce, inspired by a miso ginger sauce in Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. Madison’s original recipe calls for topping steamed sweet potatoes with a sauce of miso, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic and sesame oil. I didn’t have the miso or the rice vinegar, so I used tamari and lime juice.
In another recipe, Madison suggests pairing sweet potatoes with coconut oil instead of butter. I think the roast yams would be even tastier if the cut sides of the yams were rubbed with coconut oil before roasting.
I was pretty happy with the lentil mushroom meatballs adapted from OhMyVeggies, but I wanted a meatier texture. I decided to change around the recipe some more, swapping the mushrooms for tempeh to see if that helped. In the end, I fused together this recipe with the Lentil Mushroom Meatballs recipe.
The resulting meatballs did have a firmer texture, with chewy, nubbly bits that made them seem meatier, somehow.