Monday, March 26, 2012

For Goodness Hake!

Hake is great for steaming

I have noticed hake at the fish monger over the years but was never interested in trying it.  But the other day I decided to give it a try - and now, I'm a convert!  Not only is it inexpensive, but it's ideally suited for steaming. 

Line casserole dish with fresh basil

The whole thing with steaming fish is to surround it with flavors that will be absorbed as it cooks.  I'm always on the lookout for banana leaves - but they are really hard to find.  So my go-to is fresh basil.

Place the hake on the bed of fresh basil

You can let your imagination go wild when coming up with ingredients to use with your hake.  I chose some favorites - sundried tomatoes, cilantro, sour figs and yellow peppers.

I sprinkled meyer lemon zest over the top of the chopped ginger and garlic

Feel free to omit any ingredients that don't appeal to you - for example, there are two types of people in this world:  Those who like cilantro and those who don't.  So skip the cilantro if you are in the latter category. 

Finish the nest

When you have all the ingredients in the casserole dish, cover the filet with more basil and cilantro.  You want to create a cocoon for the fish to nestle in while it's steaming.  After you've through with the dry ingredients, cover with teriyaki or soy sauce and sesame oil.

Multi-task: cook your vegetable along with the fish

I have a steamer with two levels so I can cook the vegetable along with the filet.  In this case, I used broccoli rabe and grape tomatoes. 

Et viola!  Garnish with spring onions

The half pound filet of hake I used here cost just over $5.  The broccoli rabe was $3.89 - both purchased at Citarella, not known for it's thrify prices.  But even at an expensive store, I bought dinner for under $10 (take that Melissa d'Arabian!!!).  My friend Martena purchased the sour figs in Chinatown and I had the basil, cilantro and other ingredients in my pantry.  Cooking time was 5 minutes.  No matter how you slice it, that's nothing to "hake" a fist at!


1/2 lb hake per person
1/2 bunch fresh basil
1/8th cup chopped ginger
3 - 4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 tbspn meyer lemon zest (optional)
Few sprigs cilantro to taste (optional)
1/2 yellow pepper, julienned
3 - 4 sour figs, squished (optional)
1/8 cup soy sauce or teryaki
2 tbspns sesame oil (optional)
1 lemon sliced into rings
3 - 4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
Garnish with pring onions to taste


Line casserole dish with basil
Place hake filet on top
add all the dry ingredients
Save lemon rings for last, then cover with remaining basil and cilantro
Steam for five minutes
Serve and enjoy!

Note: for intensified flavor, put a liberal amount of salt in the water, along with chunks of ginger (no need to peel), garlic clovers (again, no need to peel) and lemon rinds.  No need to use salt on the hake filet - the soy or teyaki sauce has plenty of salt.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Champagne Mangos!

Early Season?

The season for champagne mangos is supposed to be May through August.  But they've started appearing at fruit stands on the sidewalks and in markets.  Perhaps it's due to the mild winter we've had.  Whatever the case, they're available.  I've seen the prices range from $1 to $1.39 per mango.  They are rich in Vitamins A, B and C - and they're delicious!  And they are much easier to peel and cut than traditional mangoes.  They are really good just by themselves, but I tried them in my Tuscan Tuna Salad.  It tasted really fresh and exotic.

Champagne mangoes add color and flavor to salads

I never would have thought of combining sesame oil with mangoes, but it works.  I can't think of a healthier lunch - cannellini beans, arugula, tomatoes, kalamata olives - it's the trifecta and then some of healthy ingredients.  And though you're being virtuous - you're also getting a delicious meal.  Give it a try!


1 can Italian tuna in oil
1 tspn champagne vinegar
1 tspn sesame oil
1/2 cup arugula, rinsed and chopped
1 cup cannellini beans, rinsed
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted
1/8 cup marinated banana peppers
1 small champagne mango, peeled and diced


Open the Italian tuna
Add contents in mixing bowl including the oil
Add beans, tomatoes, olives, champagne mango and arugula
Add champagne vinegar - test to see if it's moist enough
Add extra virgin olive oil to taste if necessary
Drizzle sesame oil over the top
Garnish with banana peppers

Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Want to Lower Your Cholesterol?

Taking a breather during class in Ravello, Italy

My transformation from chubby to lean began in 2004.  I had surgery on my ankle in April of 2004 that left me with a severe limp.  Eight months later I was still walking with a cane and had trouble getting around.  I was too young for that and decided to take action.  I knew that the Y offered free spin classes and thought that would be the ticket to strengthening my ankle and walking normally.

Exercise helped me shed the pounds,
but diet helped to lower my cholesterol

Spin did more than help me get rid of the limp - it helped me lose weight.  When I started spin class I weighed around 180 lbs.  Today I weigh 145 lbs.  But a blood test taken in 2008 showed that I had high cholesterol, despite what some have called a "punishing" workout regiment.  My overall cholesterol was 246.  My triglicerides were 89 and the HDL or "good" cholestrol was 90.  Cholesterol of 246 is high.  At the time my doctor said HDL over 40 was excellent and counter-balanced the "bad" cholesterol.  He didn't prescribe medication. 

2008 was also the year I went to the Amalfi Coast in Italy to study the Mediterranean diet.  I did it because I liked cooking and wanted to learn more.  Little did I know it would change my diet and change my life.  Today, I am doing the same workout that I did in 2008.  The only difference is my diet. 

As of this week, my overall cholesterol is 200, which is considered "good."  It's the high end of good, but that's OK with me!  It's a start.  My triglicerides are down 9 points to 80 and my HDL is 86 from 2008. 

Healthy foods like Red Snapper lowered my cholesterol

I had a jaw-dropping decrease of 45 points in "bad" cholesterol - and I attribute it all to my diet.  Before going to the Amalfi coast I had fish a few times a month.  Today it is a mainstay of my diet.  I remember during Lent in the past, it was hard to have fish on Fridays.  Today I have fish almost every night and find it delicious. 

My favorite: Grilled Tuna!

I only wish I had been checking my cholesterol in the years between 2008 and 2012.  I will get it checked at least once a year in the future.  Not only is it important to check your cholesterol, but other things like PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) for men (mine is 1.1 - anything under 4 is good).  It should also be noted that I've been to doctors (quite often) since 2008 - I just didn't go to a general practitioner.  I have skin cancer issues and see my dermatologist every 3 months (I'm a malignant melanoma surviver).  And I see my orthopedist quite often for tendonitis in my shoulder.  And the dentist twice a year . . . you get the drill!

Diet and exercise for weight loss and good health

I became strict about my diet starting in June of 2011 when I started this blog.  Since that time I've lost about 10 pounds, which I attribute to eliminating red meat (except on special occasions) and having fish practically every night for dinner.  If you're looking to lower your cholsterol and blood pressure, exercise alone doesn't do it - you have to watch what you eat as well.  In addition to my improved cholesterol, my blood pressure is 110/60.  In the past I had high blood pressure to the point that I carried nitroglycerin to ward off angina.

Look at it this way - if you have high cholesterol - it's either diet or medication.  Statins, to be exact.  Statins are to be avoided if at all possible, but if you have high cholesterol, you may not have a choice.  If you're borderline, take a look at this article - it may motivate you to living the Skinny Gourmet Guy way!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Roasted Beet, Carrot & Onion Soup!

Hardy Ingredients

It may be a bit strange to start off a posting about soup by discussing juicers, but bear with me - there's a method to my madness!

I've been investigating juicers.  I have a citrus juicer that I love and use all the time.  But I'd like to take the next step and get one that can handle vegetables like beets.  An important thing to remember when you're juicing beets:  you have to mix them with other vegetables because they are too intense on their own.  I read online that ingesting straight beet juice can end with a trip to the emergency room - it can paralyze your vocal chords, cause chills and fever and make you break out in hives.  It's recommended that you mix it with apple juice - or other vegetables like carrots.  (I also read that you shouldn't combine beets with other vegetables that are high in calcium like broccoli - it is indigestable.)  Not to scare you off juices with beets - you just have to do the research and be careful. 

Beets and carrots from the farmers market

You don't have to worry about having beet soup straight  - I've posted a recipe for beet soup in the past and it's delicious - this recipe is just something different.  In fact, I was making beet soup for the week when I saw that I had a carrot from the farmers market and an onion. I decided to experiment. 

You can boil or roast beets - it's up to you - they taste just about the same in the final analysis.  I prefer to peel my beets and, since I was incorporating the onion and carrots, I roasted them this time out.  I bought enormous beets so I quartered them after peeling.  I cut the carrot down to manageable pieces too.  I peeled and quartered the onion, too.  I covered them in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, added salt and pepper and baked them at 300 degrees for about 2 hours.  I checked on them every so often and flipped them around using tongs.  The onions cooked very quickly and I removed them after about 45 minutes and set aside. 

Veggies after roasting

I will always love plain old beet soup, but this will definitely be a permanent part of my repertiore.  The carrots and onion give the soup an added dimension.  I added zero fat green yogurt and non-fat chicken stock when I blended the ingredients into soup.  You can skip the yogurt if you want to go for the more rustic tasting soup.  Either way is healthy and delicious!

I have soup everyday for lunch along with a big salad


Since beets vary wildly in size, this is a recipe that you can eyeball - here is how it worked out for me this time around

2 large beets - peeled and quartered
1 large carrot - peeled and quartered - or you can use baby carrots
1 medium onion - peeled and quartered
1 - 1/2 cups non-fat chicken stock (you can also use plain tap water)
1 8-ounce tub of non-fat Greek yogurt (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste


Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees
Put the beets, carrots and onion on a non-stick pan
(I used my Le Creuset skillet)
Bake for 2 - 3 hours, until beets and carrots are soft (remove onion after 30 - 45 minutes)
Once beets, carrots and onion have cooled put in blender
Add the stock or water
Blend until you get desired consistency - you may need to add more (or less) liquid
Once smooth, add yogurt if desired

I portion out in tupperware and take to work for lunch during the week.  I just heat up in the microwave.  If serving at home, you can heat in a pot on the stovetop to bring out the flavors even more.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Skinny Lasagna

Veggie Lasagna - layers of deliciousness!

One of the hardest things about staying or getting skinny is to avoid favorite foods - like pasta and really yummy dishes like lasagna.  Think about it: many Italian dishes feature supporting players like pasta to showcase the real star, the marinara sauce.  I love pastas such as rigatoni because it has ridges that marinara clings to.  And who doesn't love ricotta cheese?  How can you experience the joys of these dishes without ingesting tons of calories and fat?

All about the layers - be sure to dry the eggplant before cooking by covering in sea salt and wrapping in paper towels (see Method below)

Lasagna is all about the layers.  So, instead of layering sheets of pasta with tiers of fatty ricotta I had an idea: Why not substitute some of my favorite veggies for the pasta and a smidge of goat cheese instead of a mountain of ricotta?  And meaty portobello mushrooms instead of beef?

I decided on asparagus, portobello mushrooms and eggplant but you can use any vegetable you would like.  There is a method to my madness: Instead of using a meat such as ground sirloin, I grilled portobello mushrooms.  They are really meaty and taste delicious.  I just love eggplant anyway, but it helps with the lasagna because they are good for layering.  And the asparagus fit in nicely and added some color and crunch. 

First the sliced eggplant

I grilled each vegetable briefly on my cast iron skillet - just long enough to get the grill marks. I used cooking spray instead of olive oil. Eggplant in particular can really soak up oil and your end result would be really heavy and greasy veggies. Cooking spray also has zero calories or fat. 

Next the portobellows

Finally the asparagus

Dot goat cheese among the layers

One of the great things about lasagna is the cheese.  My mother's lasagna was delicious and she didn't hold back on the ricotta.  I really like goat cheese - it has a bit of a sour taste (good sour) and spreads very easily.  Just leave the package on your kitchen counter for several hours before use.

The key here is to use the goat cheese strategically.  We're not talking about a great deal of difference in calories and fat between goat and ricotta cheese.  I used 2 ounces of goat cheese for my lasagna.  That's 140 calories, 100 of which are from fat.  The same amount of ricotta would be 214 calories, 107 of which come from fat.  I think you get more bang for the buck with goat cheese - it spreads and melts better so you cover more territory with a smaller amount.  I consider the calories in veggies and a marinara with no meat to be negligible.  I haven't done Weight Watchers, but I think they assign zero points to veggies. 

Top with Parmigianno-Reggiano

As a special treat, I grate Parmigiano-reggiano across the top.  It comes out to about a 1/4 cup which is about 120 calories.  Again, you're not putting Parmigianno-Reggiano throughout each layer - just the top.  I recommend holding off on this layer until about 20 minutes before the lasagna is cooked.  It melts very quickly and can burn.

Et viola!  A teeny slice of foccacia to dip in the marinara

So I don't feel completely deprived I have a small piece of foccacia bread on the side to dip in the marinara.  I buy a garlic parmesan foccacia from Epicerie Boulud.  It's sinfully delicious.  I get about 4 square pieces out of each one - and the leftovers freeze very nicely.  The little touches like the goat cheese, parmigianno and foccacia give you the indulgences so you don't feel deprived and still enjoy the lasagna experience. 


1 medium eggplant - partially peeled and sliced (I peel into stripes - so you keep some of the skin)
1 small bunch asparagus
1 portobello mushroom (I bought in package already sliced and cleaned)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 ounces goat cheese - at room temperature
1 countainer prepared marinara (or make your own - my recipe to follow soon!)
1/8 - 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano shredded


Several hours before cooking, partially peel the eggplant, slice, cover in sea salt, wrap in paper towels, weigh down and let stand - this will draw excess water from the eggplant.  You want the dish as dry as possible. 

Peel eggplant leaving strands of skin - cover in sea salt and wrap in paper towels

Put a heavy object on the eggplant and paper towels to help squeeze out water

You'll be astounded at how much moisture is drawn out!

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Grill the eggplant, asparagus and mushroom separtely in cast iron skillet with lines (if you have otherwise regular skillet) until grill mark appear - about 2 minutes per side for the eggplant, less for asparagus and mushroom
Set aside veggies; pour marinara across bottom of an oven-proof casserole dish
Layer eggplant, asparagus, portobello and marinara - I had eggplant and portobellow on the top and bottom and one layer of asparagus in the middle. 
I layered goat cheese on top of the eggplant and again on the top
Cover top with cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and marinara
Bake in oven for 30 minutes
Add grated Parmigianno-Reggiano over the top and bake for an additional 15 minutes

PLEASE NOTE: This dish is best if you cook and let cool for a few hours.  If you have time, cook for 45 minutes, let stand on counter, then add the Parmigianno-Reggiano and cook for 15 minutes until cheese melts.

ALSO NOTE:  Drain some of the excess moisture from the casserole dish as you go - the vegetables have lots of moisture in them - you want your lasagna as dry as possible.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sesame Oil!

Health and wonderful taste in a  bottle

According to Wikipedia, in the Fairy Tale Ali Baba and the Forth Thieves the sesame fruit serves as a symbol of wealth.  When the fruit capsule opens, it releases a real treasure: the sesame seeds.  However, a great deal of manual work is necesary before this point is reached.  That is why seasme is hardly ever cultivated in Western indstrialised agricultural areas.

I have my friend Martena to thank for introducing me to sesame oil.  It is most popular in Asia, especially in Korea and China.  I can't recall ever trying it before.  But it will be in my pantry from now on, so long as I'm able to find it.  Martena bought me a bottle in Chinatown.  I found it on Amazon for under $4 per bottle - which I find amazing given how hard it is to manufacture. 

Sesame seeds

I drizzled sesame oil on my Tuscan tuna salad that I blogged about this week.  It took the dish to a different dimension.  It is really exquisite.  So far I've only used sesame oil uncooked, though it is well suited to cooking because it has a high smoking point.  On that note, the oil has a slightly smokey flavor.  In addition to being delicious, it is packed with nutrients.  Is containes vitamin E, is an anti-oxidant and has been correlated with lowering chloesterol levels.  It contains magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, zinc and vitamin B6.  It even has anti-depressant properties.  I'll tell you this - I wasn't the slightest bit depressed when I tasted it on my Tuscan tuna salad!  Proponents encourage its use to help fight senile changes and bring about a sense of well-being.  Adherents for its therapeutic use reports cliams of feeling better than when not using it.

I'm going to continue to experiment with sesame oil in my recipes and will post my results.

Is this what Ali Baba meant when he said, "Open sesame" - open the sesame oil and let's have a delicious feast?!