the 500-calorie dinner: hoppin’ john, summer squash soup, and watermelon yogurt ice

Tired of dieting but must eat! These recipes came from Eating Well’s dinner menus which offer a main dish, a side, and a dessert, all for 500 calories. What a bargain! Now I’m starting the sequence with dessert, a cool delicious ice, because dessert takes the longest time to make, in fact! The second recipe is a light soup. The third one is a variation on the southern dish Hoppin’ John, and it is made with lean pork chops rather than with bacon or salt pork.

Watermelon-Yogurt Ice
This is so refreshing! Especially on a warm night in the Teeny Tiny Apartment.

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups diced seedless watermelon, (about 3 pounds with the rind)
1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice

1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan.Cook,stirring,over high heat until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a glass measuring cup and let cool slightly.
2. Puree watermelon in a food processor or blender,in 2 batches,pulsing until smooth.Transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in the cooled sugar syrup, yogurt and lime juice until combined. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into another large bowl, whisking to release all juice. Discard pulp.
3. Pour the extracted juices into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturerʼs directions. As an alternative, pour into a shallow metal pan and freeze until solid, about 6 hours or overnight. Remove from freezer to defrost slightly, 5 minutes. Break into small chunks and process in a food processor, in batches, until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately or transfer to a storage container and freeze for up to 2 hours.

For one 1/2 cup serving: 74 Calories; 1 g Fat; 0 g Sat; 0 g Mono; 2 mg Cholesterol; 16 g Carbohydrates; 2 g Protein; 0 g Fiber; 21 mg Sodium; 155 mg Potassium

Golden Summer Squash and Corn Soup
This soup reminds me of the classic Chinese corn soup. It was rather bland so I suggest adding salt and pepper to taste. And a dash or two of hot sauce like Sriracha! Makes 4 servings.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, chopped
2 medium summer squash, (about 1 pound), diced
3 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme or oregano, divided
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 cup fresh corn kernels, (tinned is okay)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash or two of hot chili sauce, optional but recommended
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook,stirring,1 minute.Add squash and 1 teaspoon herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash starts to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the squash is soft and mostly translucent, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)If you have an immersion or wand blender, then puree the soup in the pot.
3. Return the soup to the pan and stir in corn. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat; stir in lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add hot sauce, if using. Serve garnished with the remaining 2 teaspoons herbs and feta or goat cheese.

For a scant 1 cup serving: 111 Calories; 6 g Fat; 2 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 6 mg Cholesterol; 13 g Carbohydrates; 5 g Protein; 2 g Fiber; 462 mg Sodium; 497 mg Potassium

Blackeyed Peas with Pork and Greens
This one was quite tasty. I added 2 extra cloves of garlic; you can never have too much garlic. Remember not to overcook the pork or it will get tough.

1 pound boneless pork chops, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup instant brown rice
8 cups roughly chopped kale leaves, (about 1 small bunch), tough stems removed
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, preferably hot
1 15-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained

1. Toss pork with salt and pepper.Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.Add the pork and cook, stirring, until just cooked through, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
2. Add onion,tomato paste and rice to the pan and cook until the onion softens,about 4 minutes. Add kale and garlic and cook until the kale begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in broth, vinegar, paprika. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until the rice is done, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved pork and black-eyed peas and heat for 1 minute.

For one serving (1 1/3 cups): 281 Calories; 8 g Fat; 2 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 45 mg Cholesterol; 32 g Carbohydrates; 22 g Protein; 5 g Fiber; 405 mg Sodium; 740 mg Potassium

the couple’s frittata

I found this recipe in the New York Times magazine last Sunday for herb and olive frittata. I thought they sounded like husband and wife so I called it the couple’s frittata. I picked up all the fresh herbs (organic no less) at Whole Foods then found out, after consulting the menu, that I forgot the olives. A second trip to the market solved that problem. Then it took me 30 minutes to prep and chop up the herbs. That was indeed the drawback to this little recipe is how long it takes to prepare the ingredients. It cooked up without a hitch but the taste was too bland for my liking. Either I have to put in a whole lot more herbs or I should just chop up a “country pepper” and throw it in like any Jamaican would.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped black olives, preferably oil-cured
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or thyme
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
salt and pepper

1. Put the oil in large 10 inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3-5 minutes.

2. Add the olives and herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and become dry, 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together flour and milk until well combined. Add flour-milk mixture to the eggs, along with some salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.

3. Turn heat to low and pour the egg mixture into the skillet, using a spoon if necessary to evenly distribute the herbs and olives. Cook, undisturbed, until the eggs are just set, 5-10 minutes. You can set the top further by putting the pan in an oven at 350˚F for a few minutes or by putting it under a broiler for 1-2 minutes. What I did was ease the bottom up with a pancake turner and flipped the frittata over onto a plate. Then I slid the frittata back into the pan to continue cooking upside down. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. With lots of hot sauce. Like Sriracha.

Makes 4-6 servings

agua fresca: fruit-infused water

I wandered into the Home Goods on Columbus Avenue to get out of the rain on Sunday afternoon. I found this pitcher called a fruit-infuser. If you’ve ever had Hint water at Starbucks you’ll know what this is. Like everything at Starbucks, fruit-infused water is expensive. You could make your own espresso at home but part of the Starbucks experience is enjoying it at one of their tables. However, why would you pay for water? That’s why making your own fruit-infused water is not only fun, well, you’re saving money too!

The infuser pitcher comes with two tubes. One is filled with water then frozen and is used to chill the pitcher’s contents. The other tube is the one you see here. It has slits all over it. To try it out, I bought some strawberries (They were on sale 2/$5.00 too). I cut up the strawberries and put them in the tube. The tube goes in the pitcher then I filled it up with filtered water. Then I put the pitcher in the fridge and waited. I had to go on the internet to see how long it takes to infuse the fruit in the water. One website Bohemian Revolution, said two hours. After two hours, the drink was lightly flavored and barely colored. Delicious and refreshing poured over ice cubes. After six hours, the water had turned the color of rosé wine and the strawberry flavor was intense. So good.

ackee and salt fish

Ackee and Salt Fish is undeniably Jamaica’s national dish. Whenever I go to my mother’s house, I will eat this dish. I think she makes the best ackee and salt fish. Now, ackee is a very strange fruit that was imported to the island from West Africa. The closest I can describe its look and taste is resembling scrambled eggs but without any salt or flavor.  The ackee has a history. Indeed, when I was growing up stories would pop up occasionally in the Daily Gleaner about so-and-so getting sick from eating unripe ackee. The pods must be allowed to open naturally otherwise the fruit is poisonous. There is even a book titled The Deadly Ackee and Other Stories by Joan Hess.

In days gone by, my mother used to have to prepare fresh ackee because the convenience of tinned ackee wasn’t available. Now, tinned ackee is available at Caribbean grocery stores all over the US and Canada. I just discovered that it’s available on too. You can get everything from Amazon! I’m glad because now I don’t have to take two trains and a bus to get to the Caribbean store in Brooklyn! I can have my ackee fix without leaving Manhattan.  I brought two tins of ackee with me from Canada to make this, my mother’s recipe. I’ve put up the other one for when the craving hits me again.

1 18 oz tin of ackees, drained
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup bacon, diced
1/4 cup salted fish (bacalao is okay, cod is recommended)
1 whole scotch bonnet pepper, finely diced with seeds
Black pepper
1 Scallion, sliced thinly,  for garnish

In a small saucepan, put the salted fish and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and drain the fish. Let it cool slightly. When it is cool enough to handle, shred the fish with a fork. Set aside.

In a 10 inch skillet fry the bacon until crisp. Drain bacon on a paper towel. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon oil. Over medium high heat, fry the tomatoes and onion in the oil in the pan until wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Add the shredded fish and the scotch bonnet pepper, stirring to heat through. You can use less pepper if you wish but in my experience, the scotch bonnets here do not have the heat of the “country peppers” at home.  So don’t be afraid to use the whole thing. It will add flavor to the dish.

Sprinkle the drained ackees straight from the tin all over the top of the tomato mixture. Turn the ackees and the salt fish to heat through, being careful not to break up the pieces of the fruit as much as possible. Sprinkle black pepper generously over everything. Sprinkle the scallion on top.

In Jamaica, we eat ackee and salt fish with johnny cakes (a kind of fried biscuit) or bammie (cassava cake). It was so hot today I didn’t want to fry up any johnny cakes, so I baked scones. They were slightly sweet. Biscuits would have been better. Toasted bread would do if you didn’t want to wait for the biscuits.

fruit smoothie

It’s soo-oo hot that we need to cool down! This smoothie is thick enough to eat with a spoon. To suck up through a straw it can be thinned with milk or juice. It is so easy to make!


Serves two.

6 cubes of ice, crushed
1 cup plain or vanilla flavored lowfat yogurt or juice
1 frozen banana, chopped into chunks
1/2 cup each blueberries or strawberries
Juice or milk, as needed, to thin the mixture

In a blender, crush the ice. Add the yogurt or juice and blend well. Add the banana and process until smooth. Add berries and process until smooth. Add milk or juice and stir, pushing down the mixture.


chicken and fennel meatballs

I liked the fact this recipe said to pinch off a bit and cook it up, taste it, and adjust seasoning. And that’s what I did.  I increased the amount of fennel, black pepper, and garlic, and I used egg whites instead of whole eggs. It wasn’t bad. I didn’t make the salsa verde because I couldn’t find the tinned tomatillos. Instead I bought a jar of Classico Cabernet Marinara and threw into it some leftover broccoli. This recipe comes from a Canadian magazine City Thanks for the magazine, Ardis!

Serves six.

Extra virgin olive oil/cooking spray
2 lb ground chicken
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon kosher or coarse salt
1/2 cup finely chopped bacon (didn’t say cooked or raw, so raw it must be!)
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped (sub cilantro)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white wine
2 egg whites

Salsa Verde
1 can tomatillos
2-3 serrano chilies, seeded and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
salt to taste
olive oil to drizzle

Spaghetti, cooked (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Drizzle a medium casserole dish with olive oil and set it aside.
  2. Place the chicken in a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix the ingredients together with your hands until they are just combined, making sure not to over mix. The mixture should feel slightly tacky and wet. Pinch off a small piece, flatten it out and cook it in the oven. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the mixture accordingly.
  3. Form the mixture into 1-1/2-inch balls and place them in the prepared casserole dish. Bake the meatballs, rotating the dish halfway through cooking, for 20 minutes until golden brown and fully cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the salsa verde. In a blender, purée the tomatoes. Then add the chilies, cilantro, and salt. Continue to blend until the cilantro is finely chopped but not completely puréed. Transfer the meatballs to a sauté pan, our the salsa verde over them and warm through. Serve drizzled with olive oil. Eat with cooked spaghetti, if you wish.

strawberry pavlova

Today is John’s birthday. I thought I would make him a white cake, his favorite, and a pavlova, as I discovered this summer, is really easy to make. A pavlova consists of a baked meringue disk topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. This recipe was originally from which I adapted. I also used strawberries instead of kiwi.

4 egg whites
1 1/4 cups white superfine (caster) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar, optional
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced (6 kiwis, peeled and sliced, in original recipe)

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw a 9 inch circle on the parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until thick and glossy. Over-beaten egg whites lose volume and deflate when folded into other ingredients. Be absolutely sure not a particle of grease or egg yolk gets into the whites. Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently fold in the lemon juice and cornstarch.

3. Spoon mixture inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Working from the center, spread mixture toward the outside edge, building edge slightly. This should leave a slight depression in the center.

4. Bake for 1 hour. Cracks will form in the meringue. Cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar. Transfer to a wire rack. The meringue disk can be made a day ahead, cooled, then wrapped airtight in plastic.

5. In a medium bowl beat heavy cream on high speed. Sweeten, if desired, with two tablespoons sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Set aside. Carefully remove the paper from the cooled meringue disk, and place meringue on a flat serving plate. Using a large pancake turner will help as the meringue is fragile. Fill the center of the meringue with whipped cream. Top whipped cream with strawberries slices. Chill until ready to serve.

foodie meets beefsteak

Look what I ate!

Since moving back to the States, part of my adjustment  is getting to know steak again. A rib-eye steak is a great re-introduction to the species. I sprinkled the steak with bit of Montreal steak spice on both sides and grilled it over  indirect heat for 10-12 minutes (5-6 minutes per side). What you see here is the result served with spaghetti squash and broccoli.