Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna Rolls

On my continued quest to eat more vegetables, I turned to a tried and true recipe. I came up with this low fat roasted vegetable lasagna roll recipe during my days with Weight Watchers. (For a no carb version, try making eggplant rollatini.)Weight Watchers is all about portion control. This recipe is perfect for portion control because you only eat one roll and that's it. No picking and eating "just a bit" more!

This recipe requires a few steps but I think it is well worth it. In addition, if you're cooking for yourself, you can make 6 portions and not worry about cooking for a bit! It's great because you get a good portion of your daily required vegetable intake with the spinach and roasted vegetables.

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna Rolls - 6 portions
I use low fat ingredients but you can always replace them with the full fat ones to makes this more decadent. I do promise, however, that even with the use of low fat ingredients, this lasagna still tastes great.

Roasted Vegetables
You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Other than the zucchini and red peppers I have used here, I have also used eggplants. I used to also use low-fat Italian dressing to dress the vegetables.

* 2 red peppers, sliced
* 2 zucchinis, sliced thickly
* ½ red onion, sliced
* salt and pepper, to taste
* olive oil
* dry herbs of your choice

Place your vegetables on a lined baking sheet.
Add the olive oil and seasoning.
Mix well so the vegetables are evenly coated.
Bake in the oven at 350F until the vegetabes are cooked, about 35 minutes.
Set aside.

Before and after roasting the vegetables.

Spinach and Ricotta Filling
I use half a container of ricotta for this recipe and freeze the rest for future use.

* oil
* ½ small onion, small diced
* 1 package spinach, cooked, drained and chopped
* salt and pepper, to taste
* ½ lb of light ricotta

Heat a bit of oil.
Cook onion until softened.
Add the spinach and mix.
Season the mixture.
Set aside.

Spinach and ricotta mixture.

To assemble the lasagna rolls
* 6 pieces of lasagna, cooked
* tomato sauce, homemade or store bought
* ricotta mixture
* roasted vegetables
* low fat mozzarella, grated, as much or little as you want

Spoon some of the tomato sauce at the bottom of a 9"x9" baking dish, .
Place a lasagna sheet on a flat surface, like a cutting board.
Spread some tomato sauce over the lasagna.
Next, spread some of the spinach mixture. (To keep the filling in the rolls even, divide the spinach mixture into six before assembling.)
Then place roasted vegetables along the lasagna.
Roll up the lasagna and place on the tomato sauce.
Repeat with the remaining lasagna sheets.
Top the lasagna with some more tomato sauce.
Finally, sprinkle with grated mozzarella.
Bake in the oven for 350C until the cheese has nicely melted. (I finished mine by broiling and burn the cheese a bit.)

Steps to filling the lasagna roll.

Rolled up lasagna on tomato sauce.

Sprinkled cheese on top of the rolls.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Grandma's Chocolate Pie

I went over to my friends' T & R over a week ago. I got there right on time to see their toddler P impressively walking backwards all over the kitchen. After she got tucked into bed, we got to dig into the chocolate pie I made. R had requested a chocolate dessert and I was willing to abide.

I initially thought of making a marble chocolate cake since I remember really enjoying it when I was young. Then I found this Grandma's Chocolate Pie recipe from Homesick Texan. It was perfect since I still had a pie tart shell in the freezer from Thanksgiving and I am always happy to empty my freezer.

Gooey chocolate filling!

The chocolate filling was very easy to make. I did not have cocoa powder so I used semi-sweet squares of chocolate instead. The recipe called for 1-1/2 square; I was worried it would not be chocolate-y enough and put 4! The meringue was the hardest part for me... Let's just say I used 6 eggs when the recipe called for 2 egg whites. My egg whites just did not want to get fluffy. I hate when eggs do not cooperate! I know it helps for the eggs to be room temperature so I even dunked them in hot water (not sure if this is kosher, but it sounds logical to me...). Finally, with the last two eggs in the house, my third attempt worked. Hallelujah!

Meringue topping, pre-baking.

Golden meringue.

I covered the pie with aluminium foil to bring it over to my friends. This caused the meringue to stick to the foil. No more pretty golden meringue topping. Note to self: Never cover meringue with aluminium foil. The pie was good nonetheless. R even had two pieces! The recipe does not even seem too unhealthy. Small amount of butter and eggs, and chocolate is good for you, right?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tarte Grecque en Croûte de Riz (Greek Tart with Rice Crust)

In my attempt to eat healthy, I have been trying to eat more vegetables. I thought about this recipe because it would also satisfy my savoury cravings. Tarte Grecque en Croûte de Riz (Greek Tart with Rice Crust) was featured on a Québécois cooking show that my sister and I really enjoy: À la di Stasio. My sister L has even met the host, Josée di Stasio, during L's short stint at a high end clothing store.

This recipe is pretty healthy because the crust is made of brown rice (bring on the fibre!). Then they are layers of vegetables and feta! Finally, eggs are added which are a great source of protein. It's a very pretty dish with the layers of different ingredients and it's a great (and substantial) vegetarian dish.

Tarte Grecque en Croûte de Riz (Greek Tart with Rice Crust) - 4-6 servings
From À la di Stasio.
This recipe does not seem to be online anymore, so it's good I saved it and translated it below. It seems like Fabricia also translated it on her blog in Portguese! This recipe requires multiple steps but it's well worth it. The only changes I have made is reducing the amount of rice from 3 cups to 2, since I thought the crust was too thick. It also takes me a longer time to cook, more like an hour than the recommended 35-40 minutes.

* 2 cups cooked brown rice, or any rice you prefer
* 2 eggs (maybe reduce since this was for 3 cups of rice - use the rest in the filling)
* 5 tbsp Parmesan
* juice from ½ lemon
* salt and pepper
* 3 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
* 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

* 2 cups spinach, cooked
* 240 g (8 oz) feta, ½" slices
* 1 can 398 mL (14 oz) artichokes, sliced
* 4 eggs
* 1 cup milk or cream
* salt and pepper
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 3 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
* 1 tbsp dry oregano
* ½ cup black olives, sliced
* 1 Italian tomato sliced

Preheat oven to 180° C (350º F).
Mix all the ingredients for the crust.
Make a crust with the mixture in a square 9x9 baking dish. The crust should not exceed 1 cm thickness.
Pre-bake the crust in the oven for 15 minutes - it will continue cooking with the filling.
On the pre-cooked crust, add the ingredients for the filling: spinach, feta and artichoke.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and milk together.
Add the garlic, salt, pepper, basil and oregano to the egg mixture.
Pour the egg mixture onto the vegetables.
Cover the tart with olives and tomatoes.
Grind some pepper on top of the tart and sprinkle a bit of oregano.
Bake the tart in the oven for 1 hour.

Ready to dig in! Spinach always makes me feel like I am eating healthy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Thai Restaurant

21 John St. North (suite 302)
Hamilton, Ontario

My friend T invited me out for dinner. We picked Thai on this cold night. We were thinking of going to Bahn Thai but with the incoming snow, we decided to go to somewhere closer. My Thai is 5 minutes from my place.

T suggested starting with the calamari as an appetizer. The menu boasted it was the best calamari in the city and I might agree. It did not taste like the usual frozen deep fried fare. I especially like the sweet sauce accompanying the calamari.

Golden Calamari, $6.99.

Next up, we shared a pad thai. It was good but I still like Bahn Thai's better. We also shared a curry dish. The spicy shrimp was a generous portion of good sized shrimps with bamboos and green beans. It was not too spicy at all. I actually would have liked it more spicy but not sure if my friend T felt the same way.

Pad Thai, $9.99

Spicy Shrimp, $10.99.

With the addition of a serving of rice, this was too much food for two people, which means T's husband would enjoy leftovers! I like My Thai and it's conveniently close by. Thai food is great for sharing.

My-Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pan Fried Basa & Bamboo Shoots

I have finally written about all the food I ate in Montréal. Well, this is sort of a transition because it's a dish I had at my mom's and replicated. For the New Year, I had resolved, as usual, to eat more healthy. One of these resolutions is to eat fish once a week. I do enjoy fish but do not eat it that often. I figured making a concrete goal would help out.

I bought a bag of frozen basa filets as my mom does. Basa comes from Vietnam so you cannot buy it fresh anyway. It's much easier to eat fish regularly when it's in your freezer, ready to eat. Anyway, when I was at my mom's she simply pan fried the fish and served it with stir fried bamboo. We ate it with rice and dipping fish sauce. Simple and easy, AND healthy!

Stir Fried Bamboo Shoots
* oil
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1 can of bamboo shoots (ready sliced), drained
* salt, to taste

Heat up oil in a pan.
Add garlic and cook for a minute or two.
Add the bamboo shoots to heat through - the shoots are already cooked.
Season to taste with salt - the shoots are pretty bland.

Stir fried bamboo shoots.

Pan Fried Basa
* 1 basa filet, or any white fish
* salt, to taste
* pepper, to taste
* 1 tbsp flour
* oil

Season the basa filet to taste.
Dredge the filet in flour.
Pan fry the filet in a bit of oil on each side.
Serve with nước mắm.

Pan frying the fish.

Fish ready to eat!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Zao's Restaurant

9394 boulevard de l'Acadie
Montréal, Québec
514.387.POOL (7665)

On the Sunday before I left Montréal, we went out for Chinese food. My mom had seen an ad for $8.95 lobsters that she could not resist. We do love our lobsters! We had never been to Zao's Restaurant but it turned out pretty good. Funny story: my mom called to confirm the $8.95 price for lobsters. She asked in English because the lady only spoke Chinese and was told that the price did not apply because it was the holidays. Nevermind the ad was posted during the holidays. However, when we arrived at the restaurant and my mom asked the price in Vietnamese, it was $8.95. Was it just a mistake or because we're Asian? I don't know...

Zao's Restaurant is located next to Sharky's, a pool hall.

It was not too busy on a Sunday.

Zao's menu ranges from Thai to Vietnamese to finally Chinese. We are kind of boring people and always get the same thing. We obviously went for the lobsters since that what the reason we were there. My mom asked that we each pick a dish. Being the beginning of their no-carb diet, my sister's boyfriend picked something oh-so-unhealthy: General Tao Chicken. My sister went for the vegetable and ordered Stir fried Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli). I picked Seafood Bird's Nest that I love so much and H, my mom's husband, ordered the Beef Fried Noodles & Black Bean Sauce.

The General Tao Chicken was actually pretty good. I just don't like it when it comes in an unnaturally red sauce, I prefer it more brown coloured. The Beef Fried Noodles were also good although the portion was smaller than usual Chinese noodle dishes. The bird's nest part (made of fried taro) of the Seafood Bird's Nest was entirely disappointing. It had become hard, probably from sitting in the kitchen until someone ordered it. The seafood part was great though. There was a generous amount of shrimp, scallops (my favourite!) and tender squid. The seasoning was perfect. Next time, I would just get a seafood stir fry.

General Tao chicken, $9.95.

Beef Fried Noodles & Black Bean Sauce, $12.95.

Seafood Bird's Nest, $16.95.

When it comes to lobsters, I like eating it Chinese style best. I just like the seasoning and flavours. I find boiled lobster with butter pretty bland in comparision. So for the lobsters, we got it two ways. The first was stir fried with a ginger and scallion sauce. The second was crispy fried with salt and pepper. Both were very, very good.

Blurry picture of the lobster in ginger sauce.

Lobster crispy fried with salt and pepper.

It seems I forgot to take a picture of the stir fried gai lan. It was good, nothing unusual. We were then served complimentary orange.

Complimentary oranges.

Our verdict: My mom said she would come back again. Portions were small which doesn't mean there was not enough food. We were all very full when we left. Ready to face our 2009 diets...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mom's Recipes: Bánh Ít Trần (Mung Bean stuffed Dumpling)

Bánh ít trần is a little savoury dumpling (I think, I have never heard it translated) stuffed mainly with đậu xanh (mung beans), pork and shrimp. When I lived in Vietnam, the little restaurant that sold nem nướng (pork meatballs) also sold these. I would always buy one as a side treat.

My mom's version.

I remembered my mom making some purple ones and asked her to make some. The purple colour comes from the addition of purple yam. Purple yam is used in Vietnamese cuisine so don't be surprised if you ever see a bright purple soup made with this.

Bánh ít trần, with some nước chấm, that I would buy in Vietnam.

Bánh Ít Trần (Mung Bean stuffed Dumpling) - makes 23
The filling is similar to bánh bột lọc, with the addition of mung beans. The shell is probably more appealing because it does not have that chewiness of bánh bột lọc.

* 3 tbsp oil
* 1 small onion
* 200 g pork
* 200g shrimp
* 1-½ tsp salt
* 1 tsp pepper
* ½ lb. mung beans, cooked and mashed

Sauté onion in oil until softened.
Add pork and shrimp, with salt and pepper.
Cook until the shrimp and pork are cooked through.
Meanwhile, cook the mung beans, drain and mash.
Mix the shrimp and pork with the mung bean mixture.
Roll about 2 tbsp of the mixture into balls.

Cubed pork and chopped shrimp.

Mung bean mashed.

Rolled into balls.

For the Shell - Makes 8
* 1-⅛ cup sticky rice flour
* ½ cup hot water

Mix the flour with hot water (boil and let it cool down).
Roll a ball about the same size as the filling.
Flatten the dough with your fingers into a disc.
Cover the filling with the dough by closing it around the ball of mung bean.
Place onto 3"x3" squares of parchment paper.
Steam at low heat for 10 minutes.
Serve with nước chấm (in Vietnam, they also added some dry shrimps).

Sweet Rice Flour.

Dough made into a disc.

Placing the ball of mung bean onto the disc of dough.

Close the dough and cover the ball.

Bánh ít trần ready to be steamed.

For the purple yam dough
* ½ of the dough above
* 1 cup purple yam
* ½ cup sticky rice flour

Make half of the recipe of the dough above and set aside.
Microwave purple yam for a minute.
Mix with flour.
Mix this new purple mixture with the regular dough mixture.
Roll and cover the filling as above.
Cook and serve with nước chấm.

Package of frozen purple yam.

Close-up of the bánh ít trần.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Food for Thought: In Defense of Food

Not only did I eat an absurd amount of food during the holidays, but I also read about food. My old roommate D recommended In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. He is also the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which The Gastronomer also read.

Michael Pollan opens the book with 3 sentences to help eat healthy “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Then he sheds light on nutritionism in a way I had never thought about. As a society we’re so used to discussing nutrients, such as vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids, that we do not realize nutrients have replaced food itself.

I’m not too good at book report writing, so I’m just going to list a few points that really struck me from the book.

  • The food industry has a lot of power and can really affect the way we eat. In 1977, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs “issued a set of dietary guidelines, calling on Americans to cut down on their consumption of read meat and dairy products.” After criticism from the red meat and dairy industries, it was reworded as “choose meats, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake.” This means that dietary recommendations must be framed nutrient by nutrient, rather than food by food, so as not to offend any industry. For example, even though it was discovered that groups with higher cancer rates consumed specifically more animal foods, it was summarized as more fats in general is linked to cancer.
  • When Americans started to focus on eating right, i.e. low-fat, is when Americans started to get fatter. Most Americans only decreased their fat intake, as a percentage of total calories by taking in more calories. I thought it is interesting that most people (including me) would never eat fat on a piece of meat; however, in Vietnam, meat is comprised mainly of fat and most people there are skinny. Fat is not that evil!
  • The food industry makes more money by (over-) processing food. There is not a large margin on selling food, such as produce, as is.
  • Different native populations’ diets were studied and all were found to be healthier than the Western diet (if you’re wondering what the Western diet is: lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything except fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). It was also observed that Western diseases (such as type II diabetes) follow the arrival of Western diets. I noticed in Vietnam that the more affluent class allows their kids to eat fast food (which is more expensive) and the kids are much more chubby than their counterparts.
  • I liked the story of Weston Price (and not just because he’s Canadian), a dentist in the 1930’s who studied different diets. He found that “isolated populations eating a wide variety of traditional diets had no need of dentists.” He also found that these diets were 10 times higher in vitamins A & D than the Western diets. Processing and transportations robs food of nutrients and vitamins.
  • The book ends with specific food suggestions such as “avoid food products that make health claims” and “you are what you eat eats too”. These really made me pause and think of what I was eating and where it came from.
  • Finally, eating healthy goes hand in hand with eating ethically. Eating well is also good for the environment. Eating healthy usually comes from farming and ranching practices that improve the health of the land and water. The only exception to this is wild fish, with many species being endangered. I’m glad I didn’t go for the Chilean sea bass at New Year’s then and this is why I feel strongly about not encouraging shark fin soup.

I definitely did not mean for this to be an exhaustive list. It was also very interesting to read about how soil affect foods, and how fertilizers have been simplified to 3 chemical elements. You just have to read the book! I just find that I’m not shopping for food like I used to. I had previously thought of signing up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box and I think I will do it this summer, if finances allow it. This book was literally food for thought and it made me really think about my food choices and its effect on myself and the environment.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dinner with the Girls at Pizzeria Napoletana

189 Dante St.
Montréal, Québec

Going home for the holidays is always a good chance to get together with old friends since everyone is in town to visit their family. In my engineering class, we were only 7 girls and so became good friends. Six out of us were in town, which is rare, so we decided to have dinner together. AM, whom I saw in Banff, suggested Pizzeria Napoletana for its affordable menu and because it's a bring your own wine restaurant.

Pizzeria Napoletana is located in Little Italy and is one of the best restaurant for pizza in Montréal. This explains the people willing to wait outside in the freezing cold! Reserving may be a good idea if you don't want to wait. We were not able to get a reservation until 8 pm. Their menu is ridiculously extensive with over 30 choices each of pizzas and pastas.

I went for #31, the Minerva, with mozzarella, feta, pesto, tomatoes, olives and fresh onions. I love pizzas with pesto! I obviously did not read the description properly because I was surprised by the raw onion. I do like onion but there was way too much. I only ate a bit of onion. I do like thin crust pizzas and Napoletana's pizzas are thin!

I didn't take pictures of the other girls' meals. We were too busy talking! Everyone seemed to enjoy their pizzas and pastas though. My friend E, who now lives in Boston, came with her husband and a friend. Her husband was the only one who ordered dessert: tira misu. The tira misu looked like the authentic stuff, and not made with cake! Next time, I'll have to try it!

Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon