Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dinner in “Umba” Land

It’s Latin Aerobics that starts with a “Z”, and ends with an “Umba”—a trademark that has generated exercise classes everywhere, with health club owners tiptoeing around copyright law unless they’re official paying members of the *Umba movement. Just plugging my zipcode into their ditch-the-workout-join-the party finder yielded 846 results in my town alone. Before I knew it, I was thumbing through the recipes in my tighter tummies and butts chapter from GORGEOUS, and getting in the mood for a little salsa in my food, with strains of meringue and flamenco as dinner music.

Umba-Land—we’ll just call it that for now—was inspired by a Columbian dancer the day he forgot his music on the way to the studio, and decided to improvise with the stack of cassette tapes in his car. Soon he had his students sashaying and shimmying to choreography that mimicked everything from hip hop to the martial arts. Watching Umba-Land’s creator talk about the dance movement is something to see. He’s said that the people who do it have thanked him, crediting the exercise with beating cancer, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and helping with income when some begin teaching Umba themselves.

I’ve also read that if and when you join the Umba movement, you should ensure that class size is under control (no more than 18) and that an experienced instructor who’s familiar with Umba moves is there to supervise. It seems that physical therapists have rushed to the aid of some who pulled a muscle or tore this or that, rocking a Bollywood beat, or some other component of this fun dance. I was excited to pull recipes from GORGEOUS that are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates that give Umba enthusiasts that extra kick in an hour long session—which, you’ll be happy to know, burns somewhere between 500 and 1,000 calories! What a nice way to go into the holidays, when you know those Thanksgiving and Christmas pounds are on rush delivery to your hips.

A Spicy Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Menu that Says Hello Heat, Goodbye Fat!

I found a site, compliments of PBS that delivers caliente musica, perfect for dancing around the kitchen and preparing high energy dishes for a whole day when cardiovascular exercise is on the menu. For breakfast, get out some chopped fresh cilantro, red bell pepper and your favorite hot sauce to whip up Easy Mexicali Breakfast Tacos. They pack an antioxidant rich punch and have just 130 calories each! Think about it—that’s less than your average container of yogurt.
For lunch, try the Spicy Tuna Dinner Salad with Balsamic Dressing; with the addition of lean tuna—a good omega-3 rich fat, and white beans, excellent protein, fiber and carbs—holy frijoles, you’ve got yourself a healthy meal, made savory and spicy with all that lime infused chili sauce and yummy garlic. Five-Spice Beef Wraps With Orange Ginger Dipping Sauce for dinner pleases the meat and potato loving crowd every bit as much as those who feel deprived unless you bring on the heat. I won’t reveal what the spices are now…you’ll just have to click on the recipe link or scroll down to find out. In any event, if you eat everything proposed here for Umba Day, you will have enjoyed every last morsel of what doesn’t even add up to 1200calories—for the whole day! Now you can go ahead and eat like you have a wooden leg over the holidays—in which case I hope you’ll check my blog for decadent fare!

Easy Mexicali Breakfast Tacos

Makes 2 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

2 green onions, thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
½ large red bell pepper, seeded and diced (about ½ cup)
1 large egg
3 large egg whites
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 tablespoon reduced fat sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Heat a skillet, coated with vegetable oil spray over medium heat. Add the green onions and red pepper and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Whisk together the egg and egg whites. Pour this mixture into the skillet and cook until set, about 3 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper,

To serve, heat the tortillas in a microwave oven until soft. Divide the egg mixture among the tortillas. Fold in half, taco style. Garnish with sour cream and cilantro.

Five-Spice Beef Wraps with Orange Ginger Dipping Sauce

Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

For the dipping sauce
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 medium orange (about 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons all natural sugar
1 (1-inch piece) ginger, peeled and grated (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon prepared chili sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the beef
1 (1 pound) flank steak, cut across the grain into thin slices
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup dry sherry
2 large shallots, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
Zest of ½ medium orange (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon prepared chili sauce
1 (4-ounce) can whole water chestnuts, drained and cut into 24 slices
1 bunch (6 to 8) green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal (about ½ cup)

For the wraps
8 large Boston lettuce leaves
½ cup chopped peanuts
1 large carrot, shredded (about ½ cup)

Pour the rice wine vinegar, orange juice, sugar, ginger and 1 tablespoon chili sauce into a pan over medium heat. Stir and simmer until reduce and thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Toss the flank steak with Chinese five-spice powder and sesame oil. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook until the meat is golden on the edges, but still pink in the center, about 5 minutes. Pour in the sherry, shallots, orange zest and 1 tablespoon chili sauce. Cook, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes more. Stir in the water chestnuts and green onions.

To serve, pour the meat into a serving bowl. Place the lettuce leaves and condiments alongside. Pour the dipping sauce into a bowl. Invite your gang to create their own fabulous wrap.

Spicy Tuna Dinner Salad with Balsamic Dressing

Makes 4 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

For the dressing
4 medium cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
¾ cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the tuna
Juice of 2 medium lemons (about ¼ cup)
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 tablespoon Chili powder
1 (1-pound) tuna steak
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes or mixed baby tomatoes
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

For the salad
1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn (about 8 cups)
1 (15.5-ounce) small white navy beans, drained

Place the garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, Balsamic vinegar and cilantro into a blender. Pulse to emulsify. With the machine running, slowly add ¾ cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix together the lemon juice and marmalade. Brush this mixture over the tuna. Sprinkle with Chili powder. Marinate the tuna for 15 minutes. Cut the tuna into 2-inch chunks. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Sear the tuna until golden, about 2 to3 minutes. Turn and add the tomatoes and onion. Cook until the tuna is seared on both sides, but still rare in the center, and the tomatoes have begun to turn brown and the onion begins to soften. Remove from the heat.

To serve, arrange the lettuce onto 4 dinner plates. Sprinkle the beans over top. Place the tuna and tomatoes onto the salad. Drizzle the dressing over all.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The No Pumpkin Left Behind Bakery

I haven’t done any baking yet, but as you can clearly see my items are all laid out, and this year gives cause for both trepidation and eagerness to try something I can’t believe I haven’t tried before: making my own pumpkin puree.

I’ll admit it’s the one item I don’t—or didn’t in previous years anyway—mind phoning in; after all, the ingredient list on the back of the can features just one item, “pumpkin”, so you know it’s as pure as the driven snow that’s just a few weeks shy of blanketing us this season.

But let me tell you what’s driving me. I got the idea to make my own pumpkin puree from a new Slow Food Movement Challenge, called “October Unprocessed.” For anyone who’s game, that means that everything you eat should and can—for not too much money—be made from scratch. I think that’s a great idea, except for a cheat day on October 31st when ripping into a Fun Sized Snickers doesn’t seem like the worst of crimes. I won’t tell if you won’t, and just to put this out there now: I do intend to decorate my purest pumpkin desserts with a little candy corn—which is just for show and comes right off, leaving your icing intact.

So there’s that…and the second driving force to gut, bake and scrape 2 smallish pumpkins until my best friend Mr. Food Processor can render them into a creamy paste, is my excitement over kitchen gadgets, or KMHs. To the uninitiated, that’s a Kitchen Must Have, and I’m writing a new cookbook right now that encourages their avid use. From deep fryers, chicken rotisseries, mandolins and food mills, I am all about the KMH. They can cost a lot, yes, but in no time at all they’ve paid for themselves by giving your family superior food and MORE of it. The particular beauty of making your own puree is that you get to keep the pumpkin seeds and roast ‘em later on!

My Homemade Pumpkin Puree (click the link to find out how to do it; I’ve gleaned together my own recipe by reading over scads of others and perfecting my own technique! I’ll post news ASAP on how effective it is. But I can tell you now that it SOUNDS easy!) calls for two midsized pumpkins, and from what I understand they’re going to yield several Ziplock bags of puree—way more than I need for the baked goods I plan on surprising my loved ones with this month. After I use a fraction of the lovely, sweet smelling autumn colored stuff for Pumpkin Apple Muffins and Pumpkin Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting, I’ll have enough left over to freeze for other pumpkin treats further down the road. Plus, I’ll have the added pleasure of getting back with my readers on Facebook and Twitter to let them know if there was much of a difference between the pumpkin confections I’ve made with canned puree vs. the real deal that I mashed up myself.

Can you stand the suspense?

My senses are going to go wild with the scent of ground ginger, clove, cinnamon and allspice. I might actually turn into a pumpkin if I served it with TOP NANA’s seasonal hot toddy of “Pumpkin Pie in a Cup.”

Am I out of my gourd? Stay tuned to find out!

My Pumpkin Puree

1 medium sized pumpkin

Yields: About 18 ounces of puree (equivalent to 2 cans of pumpkin)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Wash the pumpkin and, with a large knife, cut the stem off. Cut the pumpkin in half so that you can see the seeds and strings; scoop them out with a big spoon and set the seeds aside for roasting later.

Cut the seedless pumpkin into 6 to 8 pieces and arrange, skin side up, on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil.

Bake for 45 minutes and check with a fork to see if the pumpkin is soft. Wait until the pieces cool and then scrape the pumpkin meat away from the skin. Discard the pumpkin skin.

Working in batches, place the pumpkin into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. You can also mash it with a potato masher, adding up to 3 tablespoons of water if the mixture seems to dry.

Store any excess puree in a ziplocak freezer bag for later use.

Pumpkin Apple Muffins

Servings: About 16 muffins
Preparation time about 10 minutes plus baking

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup pureed pumpkin
2 eggs
½ cup canola oil
1 medium apple, peeled and finely diced (about cup)
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a muffin pan by lining with paper cups or coating with vegetable oil spray.
In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the sugar, pureed pumpkin, eggs and oil until well blended.

Stir in the dry ingredients.

Stir in the apple pieces.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Sprinkle the muffins with confectioners’ sugar.

Pumpkin Brownies With Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 12 to 18 brownies
Preparation time: About 15 minutes, plus baking

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups pureed pumpkin (or 15-ounce can of pumpkin)

Cream Cheese Frosting recipe follows
Candy corn for decoration

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 13X9 inch baking pan by coating it with vegetable oil spray and dusting it with flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixture, combine the butter and sugar and cream together until smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix.

Stir in the vanilla extract and pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Spread the batter into the pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the brownies comes out clean.

Cool the brownies and spread the frosting on top. Cut into squares and sprinkle with candy corn to serve.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon cream
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the cream cheese, sugar, cream and cinnamon, and mix until fluffy.
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