Luisana

A Sunday to Savor

Ever since I got really into cooking, I’ve always made it a point to figure out the fastest way possible to make a dish. In fact, in looking through my recipe index, I think it’s safe to say most of my recipes can be made in as little as 15 minutes and most in no longer than one hour. If we’re talking about weeknight cooking, especially for those who have very little time to get a decent, healthy dinner on the table, I call that a win. Sometimes, though, isn’t it nice to just take it slow?

I was chatting with a friend last week — one who admittedly lives on egg salad and deli meat — who told me that if there was anything in this world he would learn to cook, it would be his Italian mother’s red sauce. My response, “You can do it; how hard can that be?” Turns out it’s not as difficult as much as it is a process… an eight-hour process.

While I didn’t get his mother’s recipe, my paleo-diet-rejecting self was craving pasta on Sunday — delicious, al dente, thick, pappardelle-like pasta — and nothing would go better with it than what I’m going to call Sunday Sauce. I grabbed the best ingredients I could find at the store — organic 90% lean ground beef, a can of San Marzano tomatoes (the kind Giada di Laurentiis and Mario Batali say they like to cook with), fresh oregano, shaved parmesan cheese and this delicious egg yolk pasta that cost $4 for the pound, which I’m sure you know is a lot for pasta. I got home and got to work. If you can call it work.

I decided that, in addition to cooking with a little extra love, what would be different this time is me not turning off the stove at the 30 or 45-minute mark. Nope. Instead, I would let this sauce simmer for at least three hours, and those three hours ultimately turned into five.

If you watch cooking shows, you always hear the host advising you to let the flavors hang out a bit — to let them marry, if you will. The longer ingredients sit together, the more their flavors develop in each other, if that makes any sense. Why do you think leftovers almost always taste better than the day something is made? It’s all about letting those ingredients falling in love. And fall in love with this sauce I did.

I’m sure you know you can modify the recipe to make it “fit” you. You can swap the beef for ground turkey and use crushed tomatoes instead of sauce. But in all honestly, I wouldn’t recommend changing a single thing. And if five hours sounds like more time than you have, I suggest you plan ahead. Had I not been starving, I would’ve been tempted to let this sauce go for the eight hours that inspired the recipe to begin with.

 

Pasta with Sunday Sauce

 

Ready in: at least 3 hours

Serves: 4-5

 

You’ll Need:pasta luisana

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds organic ground beef, 90% lean
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 stems fresh oregano, divided
  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze
  • 1/2 pound your favorite pasta
  • freshly shaved parmesan cheese to taste

 

Here’s How:luisana soup

1. Heat the olive oil in a large IMUSA caldero over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Cook for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.  The caldero is PERFECT for this kind of low and slow cooking!

2. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, two-thirds of the oregano (stems and all) and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.

3. Add the tomato sauce, 1/2 cup of water, balsamic glaze and a dash more salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat down to low. Cover and let simmer for at least three hours.

4. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss with the sauce. Serve, then garnish with fresh oregano and cheese.

 

I also made a spinach salad because it’s almost always impossible for me to feel as peace if I don’t eat something green with every meal. This salad, which I prepped way ahead, had spinach, reduced-fat feta cheese and golden raisins. At the bottom of the bowl, I whisked together a tablespoon of balsamic glaze, a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. I layered the spinach, cheese and raisins over it, and tossed everything together right before serving to prevent the spinach from wilting.

 

I spent the day “housekeeping,” i.e. cleaning out my closet to make room for the little shopping spree I allowed myself on Saturday. It was the perfect thing to do while the sauce cooked itself. Having gotten done with an extra 30 minutes before my dinner guest arrived, I whipped up a fresh crab salad inspired by Ina Garten, one of the Food Network hosts who taught me the most about cooking. Here is my recipe after I modified it according to my cooking style and what I had at home. In other words, after I “Fit Cooked” it. 😉 Her original is Pic’s Fresh Crab Salad with Lime Zest.

 

My Fresh Crab Salad with Lime Zest

 

luisana-blog 10Total Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat
  • 1 lime, zested
  • 2 tablespoons plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

 

In a bowl, combined the crabmeat, lime zest, yogurt, Dijon mustard, Old Bay seasoning, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with lettuce leaves, sliced cucumbers, fresh red pepper wedges or with whole grain crackers.

 

Now that’s what I call a delicious Sunday… buen provecho, amigos!

Dia de los Muertos in Guatemala

SaladA salad, served chilled, and may be made up from over 50 ingredients that include vegetables, deli meats, shrimp and other shellfish, olives, cheese and so much more. Can you guess the mystery dish?

It’s Fiambre, a traditional dish in Guatemala that is prepared and eaten yearly to celebrate the Day of the Dead and the All Saints Day, and it’s delicious!

This year, instead of waiting until the very last minute to figure out a Halloween costume, I was packing for yet another work trip to Casa Palopo in Guatemala, where they hold Dia de los Muertos festivities. It’s one of their biggest celebrations of the year and an experience unlike any other.

In case you’re not familiar with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), each November 1st, families all over Central America head to the cemeteries where their families are buried to place flowers and candles on their plots. They share meals together and leave some for the buried — beer, soda, food — it’s a celebration during which they honor the lives of those who are gone. It’s beautiful, really.

In the town of Sumpango in Guatemala, thousands gather for a kite festival. Different groups spend months building giant kites out of bamboo and tissue paper. They use scissors and glue to cut and piece the tissue paper together, and each kite usually has a message. The largest kite at this year’s festival was made by a team of 16 young men who wanted to raise awareness on preserving the environment. Like every other festival, the food is not to be missed. Mayan women are hard at work grilling “elote” in all colors, which they dress with lime versus butter, an idea I will be trying the next time I grill my own corn.Luisana

After spending the day in Sumpango, we headed to Lake Atitlan, where a boat tour to the towns that line the shore gave us an even deeper look into the country’s rich culture. It may have been my third time in Guatemala this year, but I find myself falling more and more in love with it each visit.

It’s Sunday evening, and I’m pooped, having gotten off a plane just a couple of hours ago. Still, I’m in a state of happy and can’t stop looking at the hundreds of photos I came home with. So this week, rather than sharing an original recipe, I thought I’d place the spotlight in one of Latin America’s beautiful countries by sharing bits and pieces of my trip, food not withstanding.

And if you want to bring a little bit of Guatemala into your kitchen, a desayuno tipico made with refried beans, eggs,maduros, avocado, queso blanco and warm corn tortillas is the perfect start!

DesayunoSenora- Luisana

Making It Skinny

I tend to become obsessed with certain foods, making them two or three times in just as many weeks until I move on to the next. These days, it’s a paleo-approved eggplant lasagna. How’s that paleo thing going, you ask? In the words of my sister, I’m eating “as paleo as possible.” You’ll notice there’s a little cheese in my recipe below, but you can’t have lasagna without a little cheese. (One would argue you can’t have lasagna without the pasta, but we have to make sacrifices, don’t we?)

This dish is the perfect example of what I call “making it skinny,” i.e. waistline friendly. I’ve swapped out traditional ingredients for healthier ones, resulting in a dish I can feel great about without skimping on taste. In this case, the eggplant takes the place of the pasta, saving me hundreds of calories. Meanwhile, the eggplant is almost buttery, and somehow even reminds me of my mom’s béchamel. In place of ground beef, I used ground turkey breast, which is virtually fat free and uber high in protein. The spices add flavor with none of the fat, and processing tomatoes versus gives the sauce a certain freshness.

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In cooking and eating healthier, I’ve gotten used to these substitutions and find myself enjoying the healthy versions of recipes more than the not-so-healthy kind. Here are a few that I swear by (paleo-diet aside),

  • Brown rice > white rice
  • Whole grain or whole wheat bread > white bread
  • Sweet potatoes > white potatoes
  • Ground turkey breast > ground beef
  • Spaghetti squash > spaghetti
  • Greek yogurt > sour cream

 

That’s just to name a few. And speaking of spaghetti squash, here’s my recipe for Super Skinny Spaghetti Bolognese.

Want to try going “skinny?” Check out more skinny recipes down below. Next time you’re ready to get cookin’, ask yourself what possibilities there are for making a dish good and good for you. Whether it’s one small or swap or a handful of them, these tiny moves add up and go a long way.

 

Skinny Eggplant Lasagna

 

Serves: 4 – 6

Ready in: 45 minutes to 1 hour

 

You’ll Need:egg plant lasagna

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey breast
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds plum tomatoes
  • cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

 

Here’s How:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Wash the eggplant, then cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Lay the eggplant down on large plates or a cutting board in an even layer and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick caldero over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and use a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Allow it to cook for five to 10 minutes or until fully cooked and browned. Add the onion, bay leaf, oregano, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent.

4. Wash the tomatoes and chop them into fours. Place the tomatoes in your blender or food processor to make “sauce.” Add the blended tomatoes to the caldero, season with more salt and pepper and let cook for 15 minutes or so.

5. Meanwhile, pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel; the salt is used to draw out extra moisture. Place the eggplant on a plate and microwave on high for three to five minutes, or until the eggplant is fork tender.

6. Heat a non-stick grill pan (or caldero or frying pan) over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray and cook the eggplant for 30 seconds to one minute on each side, or until lightly browned.

7. After you’ve grilled the eggplant, arrange the first layer of the lasagna in a baking dish (8 x 8). I recommend using the thickest slices as they will be the foundation of the lasagna. Add a layer of meat sauce and continue to layer until you are out of sauce and eggplant. If you have extra sauce, just freeze it for a lazy night. Sprinkle the top with cheese, then bake about 20 minutes.

8. Turn your oven to broil and allow the top of the cheese to brown, keeping an eye on it so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven, allow to sit a few minutes, then serve.

 

More Skinny Recipes-

Skinny Masitas de Puerco
Skinny Carbonara
Skinny Sweet Plantains
Skinny Quiche
Skinny Stuffed Mushrooms

Carpe Diem… Crab Cakes?

I thought I had my Sunday all planned out. Today I’d try my hand at mofongo, having received my friend (and Cooking Channel star) Ben Sargent’s debut cookbook, The Catch. And while I have every intention to make that mofongo, it didn’t happen today. I was supposed to have lunch with a friend but before that, I would hit the gym, the grocery store and the pool — a typical Saturday/Sunday morning in the life of me. Sunday afternoons I reserve for cooking and subsequently blogging about it. Crabs-luisana

At 8 a.m. the sound of a text message woke me up. It was my friend suggesting we have breakfast instead. Wait a second, I thought, you want to change the plans and throw off my entire day? It was too much to process before my cafe con leche. Alas, I caved, and got myself ready by 9:30 a.m. I figured there’d still be time to make some mofongo magic. Until the next text came in. “Grab your bathing suit, let’s hit the beach after.” Wait, what?!  The routine that is my weekend mornings flashed before my eyes.

Fast forward an hour and I was in vibrant Lincoln Road enjoying a plate of delicious Eggs Benedict at Balan’s. The sun was shining and the people watching was on point. Maybe this was an awesome idea after all. Next, we hit the beach. With all the traveling I do, sometimes I take for granted the beautiful city that I live in. Miami is a place like no other; it’s paradise, but with sabor. 

A couple hours later, when our noses started to turn a little too pink, we made our way back across the causeway. While I had every intention to stop by the store to pick up plantains, shrimp, garlic and the other essentials I needed for the recipe, I looked at my friend and said, “I have a better idea. Let’s get some wine and take out.” So we did. We picked up a bottle of delicious Spanish wine and some ceviche from my local farmer’s market. (If you live in Miami, a small company called Surf & Turf Catering sets up a tent in Brickell Flatiron Park where they serve the most amazing ceviche I’ve had here. They’re there Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Go!) There’s nothing like a plate of fresh ceviche after a day at the beach. This reminds me, I need to come up with a new ceviche recipe. Something spicy.

Moral of the story — I was really happy that I allowed myself to throw the plans out the window and just seize the day. Here’s a little salsa for you to drive my point home: Marc Anthony – Vivir Mi Vida

That said, you didn’t think I’d leave you without a new recipe, did you? Of course I did end up making it to the grocery store because a fridge with no greens makes me very sad. And in carpe diem fashion, I bought myself some fancy lump crab meat, and decided tonight would be the night I’d treat myself to some homemade crab cakes. They were everything I ever dreamed of and more.

 

Carpe Diem Crab Cakes

You’ll Need:crab cake

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 8 oz. lump crab meat
  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal (I used PAN)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • lime and cilantro for garnish

 

Here’s How:

1. In your medium IMUSA caldero, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper and cook until soft and light brown. Add the corn and cook another couple of minutes.

2. In a large bowl. combined the cooked onion, pepper and corn, crab meat, mustard, egg white, cornmeal, Old Bay seasoning and a pinch of salt and pepper.

3. In another caldero (a large one) heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Shape the crab into patties, making them as compact as you can. It should yield about two large crab cakes or four small ones. Carefully place them in the caldero and cook for about five minutes on each side. Serve with cilantro and lime wedges.

The Ugly Truth … the Delicious Fix

Last week I went to the doctor for a routine checkup, and while I am (very gratefully) good and healthy, I did have to face an ugly truth — the scale.  It had been over a year since I stepped on one, for one of two reasons. First, I liked the idea of measuring my “weight” by how good I felt about myself versus the number on the scale, a way of thinking the old me would’ve never agreed to. Secondly, I knew that between all of the traveling (how could I resist anything on my plate in a culinary mecca such as Peru?), other work-related functions, and happy hours (tapas included!) I was bound to have put on an extra pound or two. Or ten.

Pause for reaction.

That’s right. The Fit Cook has gradually, over the course of two years, put on 10 pounds. (It’s been 8 years total since my “transformation”). I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to admit this. What kind of a role model would I be if my followers found out that the girl who discovered a healthy approach to life (by cooking and exercise) had a bit of a blunder? Well, that’s just what it is — a blunder. Pre, during, or post weight loss, it’s bound to happen. You’re bound to go up and down a few pounds. And while I mostly struggled within a five pound range (we all do, right?), 10 was a bit of a wake up call.

luisiana-blog6bSo what am I going to do? Get back on track, or better said, stay on track more often. I eat very healthy for the most part, preparing all of my meals and working out at least three or four times a week – running, yoga, pilates, and, the latest one I’ve crossed off my bucket list, boxing. It even makes me wonder, “How did this happen, anyway?” Life. Like I said, it has (fortunately) taken me to a lot of cool places and social gatherings in the last year. Y todo valio la pena!  

What’s even better is I decided not to beat myself up for it. Eso no vale la pena!  Instead, I think it’ll be a better investment of my time and energy to focus on getting myself back to my happy weight, whatever that might be.

I am a strong believer in a little “kick start” and this time, I’m trying to do the “paleo” thing. If anything, I figure it’s another way of eating clean. But it means no bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sugar or alcohol —  I’m not fooling anyone here; happy hour will be my “cheat meal” — and plenty of meats, veggies, fruit, healthy oils and nuts. I can do this. And lucky for me, I love to cook, which is a huge advantage to people who want to take control of their health. (I’ll let Wikipedia fill you in on the details of the Paleo diet.)

So this Sunday, I got to doing what I do best on Sundays (and you’ll be learning more about this in a future blog post) — I set myself up for a healthy week ahead, cavewoman style!

I made myself a creamy, delicious Carrot Tomato Soup,  Veggie Frittata for One  and a new one, Stuffed Bell Peppers. blog6 In a nutshell, I sautéed a pound of lean ground beef with one onion, garlic and broccoli florets in olive oil, seasoning it with salt, pepper, and a dash of oregano. I stuffed bell pepper halves and baked it for 30 mins at 425 degrees. Use ground chicken or turkey and any chopped veggies you love to make it your own.

As for me,  I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my progress with this. For now, has anyone else given paleo a try? Would love to hear about your experience on my Facebook page.

The links above take you to my recipes, while the pictures below show you the action from this week.

Buen provecho!  And remember, now matter how big or small the set back, you’re totally capable of getting back on the ball!