A Little Word on Beets – [The Mouthful Morsel]

The Mouthful Morsel, The New Bite

It’s been a busy semester, and unfortunately, it’s easy to slip into simple cooking routines. I know a quick fruit and yogurt parfait will fill me up in ten minutes or less, and an apple in the purse keeps me from stopping when I don’t have the time. But the weekend is here, and with it comes my first Mouthful Morsel – a whole weekend of new foods, great recipes and restaurants you can’t miss. Because sometimes, when you find something great, a quick little bite just isn’t enough.

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Definitely a case of "don't judge a book by its cover." Underneath the rough exterior skin is brilliant red vegetable you'll be going back to for seconds.

The beet, my friend, is my latest food crave.  Beet salads, borscht, and maybe even some beet and chocolate muffins are just some of the ways the beet can be transformed into your next bite. The vibrant color and earthy texture of these root vegetables make them a great addition to any culinary arsenal, and their high levels of antioxidants and nutrients, such as iron and fiber, as well as their low-calorie profile (only 75 calories, approximately, for a cup of sliced beets) are just a healthful bonus for this super root. Roasting beets is the easiest way to get to square one.  Eat them straight out of the oven, or check back tomorrow for part two of this Mouthful Morsel.

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A little aluminum bag for roasting beets ensures even cooking. It also keeps the beets from staining everything instantly.

After washing any residual dirt off the beets, drizzle a little olive oil over them and a dash of salt. Fold them inside a piece of aluminum foil and turn up the edges, to create a cooking pouch.

Depending on the size and freshness of the beets, your cook time will vary. At 375 degrees Fahrenheit, I cook my medium-sized beets for approximately 45 minutes.

When the beets are tender, allow them to rest, before peeling back the skin.  After roasting, the skin should easily pull away, but a paring knife will help keep your hands clean and may expedite the process.

A Little Warning: Beet juice stains, and gets everywhere! It’s a lovely color, but you don’t necessarily want it permanently on your bamboo cutting board or under your fingernails for the weekend. I use a rag or paper towels to handle the beets while I halve them, quarter them, and then cut into thin slices.

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There's something to be said for that first moment when you open the foil pouch and release the sweet, earthy smell of home-roasted beets.

Tomorrow, I’ll share one of my favorite, quick and simple beet-based meals, and I’ll end this Mouthful Morsel with a trip to a fantastic Cambridge eatery you have to try: dietary restriction or not.

When a little bite turns into a big culinary adventure, sometimes it’s worth taking the extra time to write it down, and chew it over.

Until tomorrow, I’m off to find another little bite!

Melanie

Where To Bite French Cambodian – The Elephant Walk [Boston, MA]

Where to Bite

Whether you’re in Cambridge, Boston or Waltham, The Elephant Walk is the perfect place to meet with a group of friends. Accommodating the carnivore, the vegetarian, the vegan and the gluten-free with their extensive menu, there is guaranteed to be something for everyone.

This restaurant offers a variety of traditional and contemporary French and Cambodian cuisine, including items like salade de feta au concombre, right along side the nyoum trasak.

My first Elephant Walk experience was at the Boston location, off the Saint Mary’s train stop just past Kenmore Square. At 900 Beacon St., you’ll find a brick building with wide, street-facing windows. Inside is an elephant, funky space -The Elephant Walk. http://elephantwalk.com

Wide variety and unique ingredients make for an exciting culinary experience. A great place to meet with friends, no matter what dietary restrictions you all may have.

Recommended Dishes: My dinner, pictured above, was a vegan Cambodian dish, the Somlah Kako. Somewhere between a soup and a one-pot dish, this bowl was overflowing with vegetables, most notably buttercup squash, baby bok choy and asian eggplant. All this is cooked in a predominantly lemongrass broth.

The Not-So-Good Bite: The average entree at The Elephant Walk costs between $15.95 and $23.95. Certainly, it’s not outrageous given the quality and complexity of the food and the atmosphere. Yet I cannot suggest this as the place to stop for a quick, cheap bite.  If The Elephant Walk is calling your name, make it a night out, splurge, and get an appetizer to start.

The Good Bite: The menu definitely requires a little extra energy than most, but the payoff is worth it. In addition to vegetables and lemongrass broth, my dish contained galangal and toasted rice powder – two ingredients that left me a little befuddled. But the waiter was able to answer all of my questions, and the chefs certainly know what they’re doing.  At The Elephant Walk, the key to a happy meal is trust. Trust, and you will receive something delicious and diet-friendly.

The Best Bite: As I mentioned before, this is the place where everyone can come and be satisfied. Unlike many excursions into the realm of vegetarian dining, my boyfriend was not forced to eat tofu or copious amounts of vegetables. Instead, he was able to eat his braised spicy lamb in harmony, alongside my vegetable soup. The menu also specifically caters to vegan and gluten-free restrictions, and many dishes can be modified to satisfy other specific requests.

In a world inundated with dietary restrictions, lifestyle specifications and culinary preferences, picking the restaurant for a night out with friends is never as easy as it used to be. Gems like The Elephant Walk make eating out a relaxing experience for everyone involved, and there’s just no price you can put on that.

Next time, look for a word from my home state, Connecticut, where I’m off to find another little bite.

Melanie

Balsamic Cabbage Slaw – CYOB

Create Your Own Bite

In addition to being very low cal, this slaw was incredibly easy to throw together, and made for a side dish.

Create Your Own Bite #2:

Balsamic Cabbage Slaw

1/2 Head of Green Cabbage

1 Medium Red Delicious Apple

1/2 Cup of Celery

1/4 Cup of Maple Grove Farms Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette

This recipe makes approximately four, 1 cup servings. Estimated calories: 60

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, all! Boston is definitely expressing its holiday spirit today, and I decided to join in on the fun, in my own way.

While walking home through Haymarket, it occurred to me that tonight would be a great night to grab a head of cabbage and make a healthy and delicious bite for dinner. My good friends were having me over for a tofu and peanut stir-fry (which was delicious!) and I wanted to contributed a fresh, light side.

After sorting through a number of online recipes, I came up with a quick, simple salad that combined some of my favorite elements from different salads and slaws.

Finely chop the cabbage, thinly slice the celery (approximately two large stalks) and cut the apple into matchsticks. The sweetness of the apple cuts the bitterness of the cabbage, and this raw preparation is a healthy way to enjoy how these ingredients interact.

Finish off this slaw by tossing in a generous quarter cup of the balsamic vinaigrette. I love Maple Grove Farms dressings – they have a wide variety of fat free flavors , including Vidalia Onion and Lime Basil, for only 10-40 calories for 2 tablespoons.

All night, I’ve been brainstorming a number of variations on this dish, including a warm preparation, by giving the celery and cabbage a quick sauté, before adding in the apples.Also, I imagine this would taste great with a handful of dried cranberries, and a toss in Maple Grove Farms’ Cranberry Balsamic Dressing.

What twists can you take on this recipe? I have a half a head of cabbage left over in my fridge, and I’d love to take a new approach the second time around.

Off to find another little bite,

Melanie

A Little Word on Tofu Shirataki

The New Bite

Gluten-free, vegan, and only twenty calories per serving makes Tofu Shirataki noodles one of my favorite new bites.

It’s been a very busy week here, between work and midterms, and thus my regrettable absence from the blogosphere.

Eating right takes time, and it’s hard to stay healthy when what you really need is a fast meal to get you from one obligation to the next. That’s just one of the reasons I’ve been eating so much Tofu Shirataki these days. Highly recommended to me by my roommate Heather, and Giuliana at Lovely Healthy, this noodle substitute is certified Guilt Free, and super easy to cook up.

Each bag comes with two servings of noodles, but even if you find yourself devouring the entire bag, you’re only banking 40 calories.

I cooked a serving up for dinner last night, which means draining the noodles and microwaving them for one minute to remove the “authentic aroma,” which is definitely off-putting at first but forgivable.

A quick sauté in some I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I use on basically every bite because it’s zero calories and zero trans fat, and a dash of salt and black pepper are all these noodles really need.

It’s important to note that the texture of Tofu Shirataki is distinctly unique from pasta.  For this reason, I typically cook these in Trader Joe’s Island Soyaki sauce, and make a stir-fry with baby corn, green bell pepper, onion and broccoli. I find this flavor profile works well with any remaining “authentic aroma” that the microwave missed.

Nonetheless, last night I opted for the traditional spaghetti, marinara and parmesan combination.  A quarter cup of Trader Joe’s Traditional Marinara,  a half a cup of Tofu Shirataki, and teaspoon of grated parmesan cheese will just get you to 55 calories.

A home cooked Italian dinner for a quarter of the calories.

Adding baked tofu is a good way to add protein (and healthy calories) to this meal.  Also, don’t hesitate to use the Tofu Shirataki as a vehicle for a more indulgent sauce, that might otherwise make for a guilty meal.

Here’s to the beginning of the weekend, where I will have more time for writing, eating, and enjoying every little bite!

Melanie

A Little Word on Guiltless Gourmet

The New Bite, The Traveling Bite

Feeling inspired by my recent trip to New Mexico, I've been whipping up healthy home nachos with Guiltless Gourmet tortilla chips.

This morning, I woke up in Albuquerque, and now I’m writing this post from the hearth of a fireplace in my hometown in Connecticut.

Aside from the mountain-scapes and unseasonably warm weather, I’m really going to miss the bold flavors of Southwestern food that I always struggle to find on the East Coast.  Even the best Mexican restaurants seem to shy away from embracing the heat, spice and burn you can find in the Southwest.

It will take a few days for my palate to adjust to the milder spices, but in the meantime, I’m going to indulge in my take-home treat.  Admittedly, one of the great things about vacations will always be the souvenirs.  In addition to some vintage sterling jewelry, I picked up this local find – El Pinto salsa, made in Albuquerque, and full of jalapeno and green chile peppers.

Salsa is always a staple product in my pantry. Very low in calories (only ten or fifteen per two tablespoons), and easily made vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, salsa is a great way to spice up a dull meal, or snack guilt-free.  That’s why I can’t get enough of Guiltless Gourmet Tortilla Chips. You can have almost twenty tortilla chips for no more than 125 calories, regardless of the flavor.

My favorites are the Chipotle and Spicy Black Bean.  If cross-contamination is not an issue, some of these varieties are gluten-free, too, which is an added bonus.

Brands like Guiltless Gourmet make healthy snacking possible. A serving of these chips with a jar of authentic El Pinto salsa (I recommend the Chipotle) make for a great Southwest bite.

Satisfy your craving for a spicy bite by turning this snack into a Mexican meal.  One serving of Guiltless Gourmet chips with a generous helping of salsa won’t top more than 150 calories.

Add a teaspoon of fresh, homemade guacamole salad (guacamole mixed with shredded lettuce and extra tomatoes for added texture, and to spread out the calories!) and serve up a crunchy, crispy, spicy lunch for under 300 calories.

The best souvenirs are the ones that never run empty, and new recipes, products or culinary interests are always valuable bites to take away from any trip.

I’m home in New England, but as always, I’m off to find another little bite!

Melanie

Where To Bite Thai – New Mexico [The Traveling Bite]

The Traveling Bite, Where to Bite

Thai Vegan's mantra is "Healthy First," but they don't sacrifice flavor in the process.

http://thaivegannm.com

As I said the other day, engaging with authentic, regional flavors is one of my favorite parts of traveling to new places. But sometimes, following locals to their favorite neighborhood spot is just as worthwhile.

Because I already love Thai food (remember Chili Duck?) it wasn’t hard to convince me that Thai Vegan would be a hit in my book.  With a tagline like “Healthy First,” I had high expectations for this small, nondescript restaurant in a strip mall at 5505 Osuna Road NE, Albuquerque.

I was not disappointed. Every dish is vegan, and in one of those rare and golden culinary moments, I was able to select something from the menu because it appealed to me above all others – not because it was the only thing I could order.

Among the traditional Thai dishes and flavor profiles are some very unique offerings, like the mysterious PET.

Recommended Dishes: At first, I was tempted to try the Pad Woon “Zen,” because I was curious to compare Chef Pat Phomnoi’s version with my Chili Duck favorite. But there were a number of interesting, unconventional preparations that won me over.  The PET, “Pumpkin, Eggplant, Tofu” was a fresh, satisfying dish that filled me up without weighing me down. The steamed curry dumpling dish is a perfect appetizer for a large group, and the enormous salads are, extraordinarily, large enough to serve as a main course.

The Not-So-Good Bite: I expected to see more variation in food preparation at Thai Vegan, because the restaurant’s claim to fame is providing healthy options. That vegan food is always healthy is an inaccurate assumption, because anything deep fried or stir fried or pan fried could be made healthier.  That being said, a majority of the menu items were described as one of the above.  If my experience with the PET is any indication, however, Thai Vegan is very accommodating, and can transform any of those dishes into a healthier version of itself.

The Good Bite: The bright side of the Not-So-Good Bite is as I said, the flexibility that Chef Phomnoi has with his menu. Typically, the PET is stir-fried, but my request to have the dish steamed was easily fulfilled.  I was fortunate to snag this dish as a lunch special, which gave me a side of brown rice, a salad, and a spring roll.  Here, I made my second “healthy first” request, substituting the spring roll for the freshy roll, which is made with rice paper and served raw.

The Best Bite: Just to reiterate, the best part about Thai Vegan is that everything is vegan. Want to try the Orange Chicken? This dish is prepared with soy chicken. Craving pork chop? Chef Phomnoi serves this up with a grilled soy bean chop topped with BBQ sauce and pineapple. Soy fish, soy shrimp, soy pepper steak or soy chicken nuggets can be added to any dish, and the patties are based on soy, legumes, wheat, or tofu, depending on the burger bite you crave. For those of you who prefer protein in the form of a tofu cube or peanut sauce, these veggie-staples are always an option.

As a vegetarian, the chance to choose is a scarce, fleeting occasion.  Whenever this opportunity arrises, I raise my Iced Thai Tea in gratitude.  Thank you, Thai Vegan. Now please, come home with me to Boston.

Off to find another New Mexican bite,

Melanie

Where to Bite – New Mexico [The Traveling Bite]

The Traveling Bite, Where to Bite

This week, I have the great pleasure of writing from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  And if there’s one thing I love as much as the fair climate and stunning scenery, it’s the fun and fiery southwestern cuisine.

Anywhere I visit, I make it a priority to seek out local eats. I find what’s fresh, unique, and authentic to the area, because there’s no better way to immerse yourself in a new place than by indulging in the neighborhood flavors.

Albuquerque’s historic Old Town is a must for any first-time visitors. Full of fun shops, boutiques and eateries, Old Town is a tourist spot still worth doing. It’s here that I found The Church Street Cafe, housed in one of New Mexico’s oldest structures at 2111 Church Street. This restaurant is a perfect place to begin a culinary exploration of New Mexican cuisine and traditional southwest flavors.

A Traveler’s Tip: By no means does the food here win out as the healthiest in all of Albuquerque.  But if ever there was a time to indulge, a vacation is certainly it. Sampling authentic fare can be a decadent experience, but there are always ways to slim down even the greasiest, guiltiest grub.

Start off your meal with Church Street's hearty guacamole. This dip is packed with lettuce, olives, tomatoes, and more than a dozen essential nutrients from the avocado.

http://churchstreetcafe.com

Recommended Dishes: The best way to try a new cuisine is to sample it all. Aside from ordering every item on the menu, however,I suggest the, which comes with a tamale, a chile relleno, an enchilada, red or green chile, beans, sopapillas and a side.

What's a vacation without a little dietary transgression? Nonetheless, there are some easy ways to turn this caloric nightmare into an delicious, almost-innocent dish.

This dish is a great way to experience a variety of quintessential New Mexican dishes. In particular, don’t miss the calabacitas side. This light, vegetarian option is a delicious New Mexican dish made primarily of zucchini squash and corn.

The Not-So-Good Bite: Some cuisines are just not easy to transform into healthy meals. When I ordered the Combination Plate, it came buried under melted cheese. Fortunately, it was easy enough to peel off the thick layer of shredded cheddar to reveal the part of the meal worth the extra calories. As is so often the case, the portions are also overwhelming. I split this with my mother, but if you don’t have a veteran-vegetarian with you, go ahead and order it anyway.  Just cut the tamale, enchilada, and chile relleno in half and part with one of the sides. Enjoy half now, and keep the remainder to look forward to tomorrow.

The Good Bite: The Church Street Cafe was flexible, and worked with me to make healthy substitutions. To start, I traded he quelites, (sauteed spinach with jalapeno, onions, and other traditional spices) for the beans, and requested that the enchilada be stuffed with the sauteed spinach, rather than the traditional vegetarian options – cheese or sour cream. I might also suggest requesting that the chile relleno be baked, instead of fried.  This, on my part, was an afterthought, but you never know what a restaurant is willing to do to accommodate until you ask.

The Best Bite:  Once again, I am bowled over by restaurants with vegetarian-friendly menus. The green chile, which is definite must at Church Street, has a vegetarian preparation, and the menu features items such as vegetarian fajitas, a grilled vegetable sandwich and a vegetarian sandwich with sprouts, avocado, mushrooms, and bell peppers, and all the authentic New Mexican dishes such as calabacitas, quelites, and corn tamales which are naturally healthy, green and meat-free.

No matter where you are, taking the time to try a regional, ethnic, or foreign cuisine is an important part of learning about the locale. What’s more, making smart substitions can quickly take a guilty plate and make it healthier, without losing the opportunity to sample something truly unique.

Off to find another New Mexican bite,

Melanie