Saturday, June 23, 2007

Not So Dainty Cupcakes

Part of being a Dainty Deb is not simply the "dainty" part -- there is also a good deal of "Deb" involved. To me, being on top of one's life includes being kind to one's family. Particularly Debs are concerned with the well-being of their significant other. My husband's well-being, tragically for my daintiness, often requires Peanut Butter confections.

I'm leaving my poor husband to fend for himself for a week while I visit my brother in Manhattan. I thought it only a measure of good manners that I make him something delicious before I go... They're about 500 calories apiece, but they're pretty astonishingly delicious. They're like a cupcake version of a peanut butter cup.

Decidedly UnDainty Deliciousness (Peanut Butter Cupcakes)

Preheat your oven to 350 and line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.

You'll need:

1 1/4 C. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 C. gently packed light brown sugar
6 T. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 C. smooth peanut butter
2 lg. eggs, room temp.
1/2 C. milk (whole or soy is best), room temp.
12 oz. peanut butter morsels, divided in half
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 C. heavy cream
Mini-Reece's peanut butter cups, cut into fourths, for garnish

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter and vanilla together on medium speed, beating until blended. Add in peanuty butter and beat until blended and fluffy. Add each egg individually, beating well after each addition. Add milk, beat well. Finally, stir in 6 oz. of those peanut butter morsels gently.

Fill each cup evenly, and bake 25 -- 30 min. until golden on top and when a toothpick comes out clean. Let them cool completely -- meanwhile, you can make your own icing (see below) or cheat a little (Debs know how to cheat, gracefully, with feminine allure and without getting caught) and use store-bought. Then top with the peanut butter cup fourths.

Easy-Peasy Chocolate/Peanut Butter Frosting

*Note: This makes about double what you really need to top the cuppers with, so either halve it or have a plastic container on hand to save the remaining amount in for later. It refrigerates beautifully for up to 3 months.

Melt the remaining peanut butter morsels, the chocolate chips and the heavy cream over low in a saucepan. Stir occasionally (usually takes me about 10 min) until totally 100 % smooth. Pop in the fridge for about an hour. You want it to be cool all through, though not hardened. The best way to test this is with a clean finger stirring -- although, then you're left with a deliciously coated finger... Anyway. Once it's done, about an hour in the fridge, then you want to beat it on medium to high speed for about 3 -- 5 minutes until creamy and fluffy.

As a variation, if you'd like to make these as breakfasty muffins, you can turn them into PB&J treats: Just as you're ladling the first dollop of batter into the paper muffin cup, top each of those dollops with a tablespoon full of your favorite jelly (I like scuppernong). Then cover entirely with another dollop of the batter before baking. You don't have to ice them when they're filled with jelly and they make very enviable breakfast or lunchtime treats at any office.

Dutiful Deb Ditties:

"Ain't No Other Man" by Christina Aguilera (See, you married him for a reason. Hopefully he didn't marry you sheerly for your cupcakes, but hey. They never hurt.)

"Me and Mr. Jones" by Amy Winehouse

"If You Wanna Be Happy" by Jimmy Soul (I like the part where he defends his wife, saying "she sure can cook, baby!")

"The Man I Love" by Etta James (The man I love loves peanut butter and has the rapid metabolism of a flying squirrel. sigh.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Back and Better Than Ever! With Pastitsio!

We are NOT going to discuss all the terrible and delicious things I ate in Vegas, a veritable feast of fatness. My husband and I ate like it was our job. Buffets for breakfast, meals involving appetizers and cheese trays for dinner. I had one meal that consisted of literally nothing that was not deep fried and served with a sauce. Ye Gads. I can't believe we didn't have to be rolled home from the airport.

Like the Dainty Deb I am, though, I proudly hopped right back on the healthy-eating train as soon as we got home. Truth be told, I was feeling a bit sicky from all the grease and impending caloric reprecussions. So like the good girl I am, I waddled on down to the faithful old Teet and grocery shopped for the week, rather than giving in to the more sensible desire to order wings and lay imobile for several hours.

Because I was coming off a fat, fried and fabulous binge, though, I felt it would be in my best interest to make something fairly decadent. This recipe is for Pastitsio, and while it's creamy and gooey and delicious, it's also pretty tame: 300 calories per serving (6 WW points); 8 servings. As such, it's a nice bridge between the decadence of vacation and the good intentions to return to a sensible but tasty lifestyle of munching. Because it's lengthy, it will keep you occupied mentally and physically in the kitchen, rather than letting you (if you're anything like me) graze aimlessly and thoroughly through your kitchen cabinets. But it's not really hard, just requires a bit of concentration, which will be the best thing for a mind suddenly disgruntled by the rapid disappearance of dishes involving potato skins, fried meat and a cheese topping (an actual thing I ordered at The Peppermill).

Partway Home Pastitsio
Preheat your oven to 350 and spray a 9 x 13 bake pan. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Take out 4 eggs and let them get room temp.

Meat Sauce
1 lb extra lean beef
1 medium chopped onion
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 C. red wine
1 1/2 t. cinnamon (def. measure this -- you don't want to over or underdo the cinnamon)

Cook beef in heated skillet and add onion, browning, making sure the onion gets tender (about 10 min). Stir in sauce, wine and connamon, bring to a boil. Then reduce to medium low, cover, and simmer 30 min. Stir occasionally.

While that's simmering, make your pasta:
8 oz. dry whole wheat pasta, like bowtie or penne, cooked and drained and still hot
3/4 C. Fat Free evaporated milk
1 large, beaten egg
1 oz. part-skim mozarella cheese, in chunks

Toss all these together and set aside, covering the bowl with a towel to keep heat in.

Now, make the cream sauce (your meat sauce should still be simmering away):
Cream Sauce
1 T. butter
2 T. Flour
Salt, pepper, to taste
1 1/2 C. Fat Free Evaporated milk
1 large beaten egg, 2 large beaten egg WHITES
1/2 C. Parmesan cheese, in slices, divided

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat; stir in flour, salt and pepper. Gradually add milk. Cook, stirring with a whisk, until thick and bubbly (about 6 -- 8 minutes). Remove from heat and then VERY GRADUALLY, add the eggs and egg whites into the hot mixture (Don't pour them in too fast, or they'll scramble).

Now you got all your pieces lines up, ready to go. Layer half the pasta into the bake pan, then spread with your meat sauce and 1/4 C. of the parmesan cheese slices. Top with the remaining pasta and then pour your cream sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake, covered in foil, 20 min. Uncover, bake 15 min. more. Do a clean-knife test to test doneness and let it settle for 15 min before slicing and serving.

This dish really is rich and tasty, and all the effort is worth it because it will help reset your inner Deb clock, reminding you to take your time with food and savor the results of a nice long spell in the kitchen. Whether coming back from vacation or just exhausted from day-to-day mayhem, our little clocks get maladjusted all the time. We owe it to ourselves to fix a nice meal that melts in your mouth.

Pastitsio Pastiche
Viva Las Vegas by The Dead Kennedys (this is the raucous, funnier version that plays at the end of Fear and Loathing)
The House Wins by Ok Go
Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price
Pretty Vegas by INXS

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Risotto with Salmon or Chicken

This recipe came from the Weight Watcher's website and I love it. It originally calls for salmon, but I really like it with chicken; also, I had to double the recipe because the original was only for 2 servings, and my husband always likes leftovers for his lunchy the next day. And I serve it with a crusty whole wheat loaf from the Teet that you can just gobble up the risotto with, like a spoon. It's seven points according to WW, so it's probably around 300 calories per serving. This version serves four, about 1 1/2 C. per serving. Also, it literally takes 20 minutes to make, from stop to finish, so it's great for nights when I barely feel up to the gym, much less the task of facing fire and sharp knives in the kitchen.

Creamy Havarti Risotto
You'll need:
2 boxes risotto mix (I use Parmesan flavor; I finally located the blasted things next to the rice, not in with the other pastas... This is because risotto is an arborio rice. Hey, I'm dainty. I never said I was bright.)
4 C. water
2 T. Fat free butter spray (I Can't Believe It's Not Butter or Parkay version)
4 T. fresh chopped dill
4 oz. smoked salmon, diced, OR 1 package of no-drain chicken, already in chunks for your convenience
2 oz. Havarti cheese, grated (if it's too soft to easily grate, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes until it hardens a bit)
1 tsp. freshly grated black pepper, or to taste

Combine risotto, "butter," water and the mix packet from the box in a big ol' sauce pan. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 15 -- 20 minutes, until mostly absorbed (not totally -- should still be a little gooey).

Stir in dill, meat, pepper and cheese. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Serve it up still hot.

Paired with just bread, this is a perfect midday meal. It's easy, light, and yet warm and filling. The risotto makes you full for hours afterwards without making you feel all bloated and heavy, like some pastas can do.

IN OTHER NEWS: The Dainty Deb is taking her show on the road! That's right -- The Deb will be in Vegas until the 17th, so alas... You shall be forced to vacation with her and eat your own body weight in shrimp cocktails... NO! No! No! I mean, The Deb will be on exceptionally good eating behavior in Vegas because she will be too busy gambling all her sainted husband's money at the craps table. In between gambling, drinking and cavorting, though, she will miss you all very much. Check back in after the 17th for more Dainties!!

Mac n' Cheese, Daint-eased

Mac n' cheese actually saved my husband and I from complete starvation on several occasions. It used to be his big kitchen contribution -- he'd make mac n' cheese with frozen fish sticks. The effort struck me as sweet, even if it lacked finesse. And it was back when I was slothfully not cooking for my man.

Anyway. Here's a whole wheat version that's only 280 calories per serving and a lot better for you, what with all the whole grains and real cheese, compared to the powdered stuff that comes in a certain blue box.

Dainty Mac n' Cheese
Preheat oven to 350 and spray a large bake pan or casserole dish (at least 4 qts) with Pam or similar.

You'll need:
3 C. (uncooked) whole what macaroni (about 3 C.), cooked without oil, drained and still hot
8 oz. Reduced fat cheese (I use the 75% Reduced Fat Cabot White Cheddar, which is really good)
3/4 C. fat free evaporated milk
1 8 0z. carton fat free sour cream
1 T. Dijon mustard
splash of Worcestershire sauce
1/8 t. nutmeg or cinnamon
2 T. freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 T. crushed fat free croutons

While macaroni is still freshly hot from being drained, stir in the cheese until it melts. Then add milk, sour cream, mustard, Worcestershire and nutmeg, stirring to combine. In a small dish, combine Parmesan and crumbs for topping. Sprinkle on top and back until top is golden and the whole thing bubbles, about 30 or 35 minutes. Makes 6 servings (about 1 1/2 C. = 1 serving). This simple fare is simple easy to make and nigh on guiltless.

Easy Cheesy Singing:
"Mac the Knife" by Bobby Darin
"What do the Simple Folk Do?" from Camelot

Beef Medallions

Nothing says dinner like a steak.

It's true. Ask Homer Simpson:

Marge: What would you like for dinner this week, Homer?
Homer [eyes brightening]: Steak!
Marge: Um, steak is too expensive right now, Homey. What else would you like?
Homer: Steak!
Marge [glancing away shiftily]: Suuuure... Ok. Steak...

Anyway. These medallions are just 4 oz each, but cooked in a really delicious sauce and with tasty little mushrooms on the side. A nice, elegant meal and super easy. I can even make this on my busiest nights. I am pretty sure this recipe originally came from Self magazine.

Beef Medallions

You'll need:
2 1/2 T. olive oil, divided
4 beef tenderloin pieces, about 4 oz. each, patted dry
salt and pepper, to taste
4 oz. stemmed mushrooms
1/4 C. brandy (I've used white wine in a pinch -- it's not as rich, but it's still pretty good)
2 chopped shallots
1 minced garlic clove
1/4 C. low sodium chicken broth
3 T. light sour cream (I usually use fat free, and it still tastes good!)
1 T. fresh parsley leaves, optional

Heat 1 T. of the oil in skillet over medium high heat. Season both sides of meat with salt and pepper and then cook in heated skillet, about 4 minutes on each side for medium rare. Remove from skillet to plate and cover in foil.

Heat the rest of the oil in skillet and then mushrooms. Cook about 4 minutes until mushrooms are nice and tender. Add shallots, garlic and a pinch of salt, cooking until translucent. Pull skillet off the heat and add brandy.* Return to heat and cook until liquid is reduced, about 2 minutes. Add broth and cook until saucy, another 3 minutes. Remove from heat a final time and add sour cream and parsley, season a bit with salt and pepper. Pour over meat and serve.

Only 314 calories per serving! And it's really good. Makes you feel like your dining room is a fairly snazzy dining experience out. Pair it with a nice baked potato or some brown rice. I serve mine with Just Gus.

Beefcake Bangings:

"Mr. Big Stuff" by Jean Knight (Who DO you think you are? Oh, you're THIN and GORGEOUS!)
"Stop the Wedding" by Etta James (Stop it to eat this delicious meat)

*This, I learned the hard way, is to prevent the brandy from exploding into flames. Just trust your beloved Deb and remove it from the heat before splashing alcohol around. Remember, no matter how dainty one is, no one looks good without eyebrows.