Healthier Carbonara

Cutting up bacon

Cutting up bacon

To finish off this week, I made a healthier carbonara for my mom for Mother’s Day. Healthy carbonara may seem like an oxymoron, but in reality it is possible.

I found a recipe online, and mostly followed it to a T, but I did add my own finishing touches.

I began by boiling water for the pasta. Usually I would use whole wheat pasta from my local, family-run pasta store, but my mom prefers normal pasta. Because it was Mother’s day, I felt like it was important to make it with her in mind.

While the water was boiling, I began to cook the bacon. Both my mom and I both really like crispy bacon, so I made sure to cook it a little longer than the package stated. I also added some onions into the skillet with the bacon, just to add some extra crunch. Then I boiled the frozen peas. While the pasta was cooking, I combined the 2 eggs and parmesan cheese.

Bacon, onion, and peas

Bacon, onion, and peas

I added the peas to the bacon and onion skillet. Once the pasta was finished, I drained the pasta and then added it into the large saucepan with the bacon, onions, and peas. Then I simply added the egg/parmesan combination and mixed it around, so the pasta was covered thoroughly.

Lastly, I added a bit of chives and some pepper.

The final product was delicious, and even my mom who is often a harsh critic said that I should save this recipe for future use. We had so much that we had some for dinner tonight also.

Finished carbonara!

Finished carbonara!

Grades:

Health: B-. It’s still not that healthy, but it does avoid the heavy creams that are often in carbonara. It’s healthier, but still not really healthy.

Taste: A+. This is probably my favorite dish of the week.

Cost: A-. Bacon is a bit expensive, but everything else was pretty affordable.

Overall: B+. It is extremely tasty, but this is probably not something I should be eating every week.

 

 

Pesto Pasta with Chicken and Asparagus

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Cutting up cooked asparagus

For this dish, I began by remaking the pesto that I had originally used in my pesto chicken melt. I decided to make this dish because I wanted to experiment more with pesto. This time when I made the pesto, I didn’t use as much parmesan cheese, because last time the cheese overpowered the basil and pinenut-y flavor.

While I was making the pesto, I began to boil the water to cook some noodles. While the water was boiling, I took my chicken out and cooked it in a pan over a medium-high heat. Once the chicken was done, I sliced it into thinner slices. Then I threw some pasta into the boiling water. I took my fresh asparagus and put it onto a grilling pan. I let the asparagus cook for about 8 minutes, and flipped them over half way through.

Then I simply combined all of my ingredients together. My mom and I both agreed that this is a great dish if you’re in a rush. Especially if the pesto is already made, this can be done in about 20 minutes, which is great for late-nights or nights when you don’t really feel like cooking.

Finished dish

Finished dish

Grades:

Health: A-. Easy on the cheese. Of course it is pasta means carbs, but as long as it’s not every day – it’s fine.

Taste: A. One of the best dishes I’ve made so far.

Cost: B+. Pine nuts in the pesto are very expensive, but besides those everything is pretty affordable.

Overall: A-. I really, really like this dish.

 

 

Zucchini Pasta

I’m a huge fan of pasta. This week I am going to be focusing on different pasta dishes.

I started this week by attempting to make zucchini pasta. I looked up many different recipes for zucchini pasta and they all differed slightly, but all included zucchini and salt. Some of the recipes had you actually cook the zucchini while others proposed eating it raw.

Salting the zucchini

Salting the zucchini

I began by peeling the skin of the zucchini off. While the skin has extra fiber, I wanted the texture to be as close to pasta as possible, so I didn’t use the skin. Then I continued to slice the rest of the zucchini into long, linguine-like slivers. Next I used sea salt to cover the pasta and drain out the excess water. I waited 10 minutes for all the water to drain out and then used multiple paper towels to soak up the excess water.

In a skillet, I used about half a tablespoon of olive oil. I placed the zucchini into the skillet and stirred it gently. I let it cook for about 5 minutes, before it started browning.

I finished it off by putting just a little bit of tomato sauce on top and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Overall, I have to say, I was disappointed. I suppose I had used to

Finished zucchini pasta

Finished zucchini pasta

much salt in when trying to dry the zucchini, but I really tried to be cautious. The zucchini came out very salty and did not have a very pasta-y texture. While it was edible and I did eat it for dinner, I don’t know if I would make it again.

Grades:

Health: A-. Everything is good, but just make sure the cheese is in moderation. Also, the salt content is pretty high if you are too heavy handed with the sea salt.

Taste: B-. As I said, it was edible, but still it had a strange, crunchy texture.

Cost: A. I was able to purchase 2 medium sized zucchinis for less than 2 dollars. The amount of 0live oil, sauce, and cheese I used was negligible.

Overall: B. The taste just doesn’t really make me want to make this again.

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

I have always loved shepherd’s pie, and while it is healthy enough, I wanted to take it one step further.

Turkey cooking

Turkey cooking

I started off by buying local ground turkey and cooked it in a small skillet. I simply cooked it with some cooking spray and a bit of water to keep the turkey moist. At the same time, I put three sweet potatoes into the oven and allowed them to bake. Once the turkey was cooked thoroughly, I began cooking the vegetables. For this specific shepherd’s pie, I decided to use carrots, corn and peas. If I wanted I could have also used string beans or celery, but I decided against it.

While the potatoes continued to bake, I took the turkey and put it into the two individual-serving size dishes. I had made too much turkey, so the dishes were overflowing a bit. I then added the vegetables that I had just cooked and mixed it in with the ground turkey.

Baked sweet potato

Baked sweet potato

Lastly, I took the baked potatoes, I sliced them open and used a spoon to extract the sweet potato goodness!

Because all of the ingredients were already cooked, I simply put the two dishes into the oven for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees and then for 5 minutes just broiled the top to give it a bit of char.

While this was a good dish, it was a bit dry and I definitely did not like it as much as a normal shepherd’s pie. Overall, the vegetables did make it pretty tasty and the sweet potatoes were baked to perfection.

Turkey shepherd's pie

Turkey shepherd’s pie

Grades:

Health: A. Everything is pretty healthy. The sweet potatoes were organic and the turkey was local.

Taste: B. It was too dry for my taste

Cost: A-. Everything was pretty reasonable.

Overall: B+. I may make this again, but only if I was desperate. I guess turkey just doesn’t retain the moisture needed for this kind of dish.

 

Healthier Fish ‘n Chips

I love fish. It can be prepared so many ways and contains so many important nutrients including omega-3s which can help keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk for stroke and arthritis.

Breaded fish

Breaded fish

This was the first time that I ever cooked fish, so I didn’t want to do something too difficult. Still, I bought fish at the farmers’ market and cut it into small slivers. In other bowls, I filled one with egg whites and the other with whole wheat panko breadcrumbs. Similarly to the breaded chicken for my General Tso’s chicken, I dipped the fish into the egg whites and then made sure to thoroughly coat all sides of the fish. Then I laid them out on a lightly greased pan. Once I had repeated these steps about 8 times, I put the fish into the oven at 450 degrees for 12 minutes.

Potato chunks

Potato chunks

As the fish was cooking, I cut up potatoes into small chunks. I lightly sprayed them with olive oil. Once the fish was done, I cooked the potatoes for about 20 minutes.

I added some carrots and some parsley. I cut up a lemon to give the fish a bit more flavor.

I am very happy with how this meal came out. In all honesty, this is probably one of my more successful meals, and definitely something that I can do all on my own.

Yum!

Yum!

Grades:

Health: A-. Overall really good, but potatoes are full of carbohydrates and could be substituted with lower carb Popchips, or another healthier chip alternative.

Taste: A. One of the best meals I’ve made so far.

Cost: B+. Fish is pretty expensive, but everything else is pretty cheap. Not too bad.

Overall: A-. Really enjoyed making and eating this. As did my mother.

 

Sushi Making!

This week I attempted to make sushi. The rice is the most important part of making good sushi, so I started by learning about the different types of rice and learned how to cook it.

Cleaning rice

Cleaning rice

I began by following Helen’s recipe on her site, Beyond Salmon. Thanks Jacob for recommending her site for the rice cooking technique. I followed to a T, because I was worried that my rice was not going to come out right. I rinsed the rice in my sieve at least 5 times, until the water came out clean. I added the rice to my pyrex dish, but I only had a 8 by 6 dish, not an 8 by 8 like the recipe asked for. I brought the two cups of water to a boil and then added it to my rice in the pyrex dish. Then I covered it with aluminum foil and put it in my oven for 20 minutes.

While it was cooking, I made the finishing dressing, by combining the vinegar, mirin, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. I made sure to not let it boil, and let it heat up just enough to let the sugar melt.

Once the rice was done, I transferred it into a large bowl and then added about 3/4th of my dressing. Then I put damp paper towels on top of the bowl and let it sit while I prepared the sushi add-ins.

I sliced an avocado, cucumber, and tuna and salmon. My mom is a big fan of tuna, while I prefer salmon, so I bought small amounts of both.

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Attempting to roll

Now it was the time of  truth. I took out my nori and spread some rice around the entire sheet. Then in the center I placed down some fish, cucumber and avocado. Then I began to roll, which actually wasn’t has difficult as I thought it was going to be. I made about 8 sheets, which was way too much, but I bought too much fish that I didn’t want to waste.

Then I dug in. The rolls were pretty good, but for some reason the texture of my rice seemed a little off, which was disappointing. This is the first time that I ever made sushi, so I understand that I may need to practice. Next time, I may try to cook my rice in a rice cooker and see how it comes out. Besides the texture of the rice, it was good. Even my mom said it was pretty good, and she eats a lot of sushi. I am definitely going to try to make sushi again, but as I said I may try to use a rice cooker next time.

YUM!

YUM!

Grades:

Taste: B+. I wish I could rate this higher, but the rice was a bit off putting. Rice cooker next time.

Health: B. Rice isn’t really healthy, but this can be a once in a while food. Maybe I’ll try brown rice next time to try to add some fiber?

Price: C+. In reality, it’s actually about the same price to just order sushi at a restaurant. It was definitely an experience to make it, but the fish is pretty expensive.

Overall: B. I enjoyed the experience of making this, but I would probably only make this once or twice a year. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not all that cost effective compared to restaurant made sushi.

General Tso’s Chicken

After watching The Search for General Tso’s on Monday, I was inspired to make my own, semi-healthier, version.

I began by researching recipes. Most of them had a recipe for a very thick, sugar-heavy sauce. This was the complete opposite of what I wanted. My goal was to find a lighter sauce and also figure out how to sweeten the sauce without using flat out sugar.

Ultimately, I found what I was looking for: apricot jam. It had just enough sugar to give the sauce a sweet taste, but was not too overwhelming.

This is the recipe I used:

1/4 cup of all-purpose flour

3 large egg whites

1/2 cup of Panko bread crumbs (but you can use any bread crumbs you have)

1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 2/3 cups of water

1/4 cup of soy sauce

1/4 cup of apricot jam

2 tablespoons of cornstarch

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

small pinch of red pepper flakes

Breaded Chicken

Breaded Chicken

I began by preheating the oven to 475 degrees. I took a pan and lined it with aluminum foil and sprayed it with vegetable oil (I need to look for a better alternative in the future). Then I cut the chicken into 1 inch pieces. I poured out the flour, egg whites, and Panko breading into three separate bowls. Then I dipped the chicken in the flour, then egg whites, then Panko. Then I put the pieces of chicken on the tray and sprayed it with my cooking spray. I let the chicken cook for roughly 14 minutes, and flipped them over halfway through.

As the chicken was cooking, I combined the water, soy sauce, apricot jam, and cornstarch together in a large bowl. Then I poured the mixture into a saucepan. I brought it to a simmer and then let it sit until it began to thicken. Once it was thick enough, I turned the heat off and covered it with a lid.

Sauce

Sauce

Once the chicken was done, I took the pan out of the oven and placed the chicken into the sauce. I coated the chicken and then it was time to eat!  I had already made some rice and was ready to see how this dish came out. The smell of the sauce was already amazing, so I had a feeling this one was going to be good!

Well it turns out it was good, really good. Definitely something I would make again and it uses far less ingredients than an average General Tso’s.

With sauce

With sauce

Without Sauce

Without Sauce

Grades:
Taste: A. Amazing. While it is a little different from “conventional” General Tso’s, it really is pretty great.

Health: A-. What can I say, soy sauce is extremely salty, but otherwise everything is pretty healthy.

Price: A. I had all of these ingredients already (besides the chicken), but this can serve multiple people and is probably even cheaper than buying it from a restaurant if you shop at the right places.

Overall: A. I really enjoyed both making this dish and eating it.