Spiced Sweet Potato Fries

March 15, 2009

sweet-potato-fries1So while winter seems to be taking a break for tonight, it wasn’t because suddenly the weather is more spring-like. If anything, it felt (and smelled) like full blown autumn. So what else was I to do than make myself some pork chops with a maple-apple glaze and some spiced sweet potato fries for dinner?

While my invented pork chops were less than stellar (honestly, a complete disaster.  They both looked and tasted like dog food), I feel the need to pass along the Sweet Potato Fries recipe, because it was incredible. I took Ina Garten’s basic recipe and made a few changes, although I think that next time I will change it again. Her recipe is incredibly versatile and you can cater it to complement almost any main dish you’re cooking. Here was my variation:

Spiced Sweet Potato Fries:

Ingredients:
2 medium peeled sweet potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp granulated light brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp plus more to taste fresh ground black pepper
nutmeg, sprinkled
cinnamon, sprinkled

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. Cut potatos into medium-sized wedges
3. Place wedges in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes and toss to cover wedges evenly.
4. Sprinkle brown sugar, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon over wedges. Place in over and bake for about 30 minutes, turning once.
5. Remove from oven and add more salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Ina’s original recipe is essentially the same as above minus the nutmeg and cinnamon. While what I ended up with was incredible-tasting, I would make some changes. First, I would toss the fries in the olive oil in a bowl before placing them on a pre-oiled baking sheet. The excess oil seemed to pool on the cookie sheet and I had to blot some off the fries. I would also have cut my potatoes much thinner to make them more crispy and less potato-y.

Here’s some variations I would try:
Sprinkle the wedges with McCormick Seasoned Salt (my favorite store-brand seasoned salt).
Sprinkle with a different spice such as paprika (hungarian) or cayenne.
Toss with minced garlic before spreading out on the baking sheet.
Drizzle with maple syrup, honey or brown sugar before baking.

In a nutshell, you can do anything with these babies! Not to mention they’re relatively fast cooking for a potato side and massively easy to do. Enjoy!

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Pepperidge Farm Light Style 7 Grain Bread

March 15, 2009

light-style-7-grain While I am someone who definitely enjoys bread, when I fix my own sandwiches I can never bring myself to eat 400 calories worth of it every single time.  Also, I can no longer justify spending at least 5 dollars on a sandwich everyday for my lunch break.  Since it’s time to start being frugal and creative, I was naturally led to one of the big staple sections of the grocery store: the bread aisle.  Let me tell you, as someone who always likes to try new brands and products, variety can be just as overwhelming as it is exciting, and the bread aisle is one of the most overwhelming sections of all.

I’m usually a huge fan of Arnold Bakery Light 7 Grain, but when I saw Pepperidge Farm Light Style 7 Grain, I decided to give it a try. Needless to say, Arnold beat Pepperidge out of the water. The Arnold bakery has a delicious, almost buttery taste and a nice soft crust that is never dried out; it has never seemed like a “light” bread to me. Even though I often toast my sandwiches, I would argue that the Arnold bread is at its best completely unheated. Alternately, the Pepperidge Farm bread had a strangely dry crust that tasted like cardboard and wasn’t the easiest to bite, so I decided to make another sandwich toasted to see if the taste or texture improved. They didn’t. The grains, while they clearly existed in the bread, were tasteless. Altogether it did not make for the moist, delicious light style bread I was hoping Pepperidge Farm would be able to put together. They should stick to items like Milanos, where the two main ingredients are butter and chocolate. They have those down to an absolute art form.

Stars: 3/5

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size: 1 Slice.  45 Calories.  0 Calories from Fat.  0g Fat.  0g Cholesterol.  90mg Sodium.  9g Carbohydrates.  1g Dietary Fiber.  1g Sugar.  2g Protein.  2% Calcium.  2% Iron.  1 WW Point for 2 Slices.

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Top Chef Masters to Air

March 5, 2009
If looks equal success, Kelly Choi will be a hit as host of Top Chef: Masters

If looks equal success, Kelly Choi will be a hit as host of Top Chef: Masters

Although not exactly news, I found out today that Bravo is launching Top Chef: Masters, where the contestants are 24 world-renowned celebrity chefs instead of unknown chefs looking to make it big. While it will have the same basic format (with Quickfires and Eliminations), both the hosts and judges are different. Kelly Choi, a New York food journalist with her own show Eat Out New York will serve as the host, and the judges will be New York magazine restaurant critic Gael Green, British food critic Jay Rayner and culinary expert and Saveur editor-in-chief James Oseland.   The Feedbag has some interesting speculations about possible contestants, including past guest judges on the original Top Chef.

I have to admit, I’m a little concerned that this won’t be the same Top Chef without Padma and Tom. We all know how much a host can make or break a show (just watch Katie Lee Joel in Season 1; the switch to Padma made Top Chef what it is today), so I hope Kelly Choi will live up to expectations. I’m hoping that because she already has her own show she will be relatively charismatic on camera. The other thing I’m worried about is the entertainment aspect. Gail and Tom are by no means shy of tearing apart the Top Chef contestants when they screw up, a fact that adds massively to the entertainment value of the show. Celebrity chefs can prove to be a little trickier. I hope their fame won’t make the judges wary of telling them when their food tastes terrible, or (even worse), I hope they aren’t so good that the entire series consists of the judges essentially salivating over and praising expertly-cooked food.

Let’s be honest, though.  This is another dose of Top Chef.   How can we be disappointed?

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Lean Cuisine Cheese Ravioli

March 5, 2009

Lean Cuisine Cheese Raviolo=i Furthering my quest for a good frozen pasta dish, I picked up Lean Cuisine’s Cheese Ravioli at the grocery store yesterday. Ravioli may qualify as the best invention ever, and if I can eat it every day for only 240 calories I would be in heaven. Lean Cuisine offered just that, saying the dish contained “delicate ravioli stuffed with Ricotta, Mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, then topped with a robust tomato sauce accented with basil, onion and garlic”. You’ve got to love it when Lean Cuisine starts using “robust” in their product descriptions.

Needless to say, the ravioli was not robust. Even though microwaving it smelled incredible, when I took it out I was disappointed to find only 6 small ravioli pieces. They were only just covering the bottom of the little plastic container! Deciding that this would be better suited as a side dish, I reheated some chicken Parmesan and served myself the ravioli to go along with it. Were I eating just the ravioli, this would be massively disappointing. I would have to eat at least two of these for them to qualify as a dinner.

As far as taste is concerned, the ravioli definitely ranked well above the previously reviewed Angel Hair Pomodoro. The pasta shell had a much better texture and the sauce was not as runny. Despite all this, they were not packed with flavor. You could taste the cheese (although the ravioli could have contained more of it) and the tomato sauce had some hint of the basil, onion and garlic. All together, though, this did not hit the spot. If you’re looking for a full meal, you’re better off going a different route. As a small side dish to something more substantial and tastier (I served myself about 2/3 of the package), it actually works decently well.  Massive reduction on the overall rating due to the serving size, though.

Stars: 3/5

Nutritional Facts: Serving Size: 1 Package.  240 Calories.  50 calories from Fat. 6 g Fat.  3.5 g Saturated Fat.  40 mg Cholesterol.  600 g Sodium.  540 g Potassium.  38 g Carbohydrates.  3 g Dietary Fiber.  10 g Sugar.  11 g Protein.  5 Weight Watchers Points.

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Lean Cuisine Angel Hair Pomodoro

March 4, 2009

Lean Cuisine Angel Hair Pomodoro

From Lean Cuisine: “Delicate angel hair pasta in a chunky marinara sauce and topped with melted Parmesan and zesty Asiago cheese”.

If I had to describe Lean Cuisine’s Angel Hair Pomodoro in word word, it would be forgettable. Craving pasta again last night, I popped this in the microwave looking forward to what I was hoping would be a satisfying, healthy alternative to ordering out from an Italian restaurant. Size-wise, this was fairly substantial for only 250 calories. Taste-wise, this wasn’t what I would call a winner. Despite subtracting 30 seconds from the cooking time, the angel hair pasta was a little overcooked and gummy (by no means al dente). The sauce, while it wasn’t incredibly watery, didn’t really taste like much at all. While the chunks of tomatoes were tasty and sizable, they were also somewhat sparse. As for the Parmesan and Asiago cheeses, I could barely tell they were there.

While I wouldn’t describe it as bad, it wasn’t necessarily good, either. There was enough pasta to make it a full meal, but the only way I would buy this again is if I needed a 5 minute side pasta dish to something more flavorful and filling. Also, its good to keep in mind that this contains a whopping 620 mg (26% DV) of sodium. Better bet? Boil a small pot of water and drop some pasta in it and add some marinara sauce. It seriously only takes about 12 minutes longer and you will be a much happier camper.

Stars: 3/5

Nutritional Information: Serving Size: 1 package. 250 Calories. 45 Calories from Fat. 5 g Fat. 2 g Saturated Fat. 0 g Trans fat. 5 mg Cholesterol. 620 mg Sodium. 470 mg Potassium. 42 g Carbohydrates. 4 g Dietary Fiber. 10 g Sugar. 8 g Protein. 5 Weight Watchers Points.

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Trader Joe’s Barbeque Popped Potato Chips

March 3, 2009
The barbeque kind looks just like these, but the bag is bright orange

The barbeque kind looks just like these, but the bag is bright orange

I am always on the lookout for a way to fulfill my desire for potato chips without giving myself a heart attack from all the saturated fat I would be consuming by eating a bag of Utz everyday.  I keep coming across various forms of “popped chips” in grocery stores lately, so when I was at Trader Joe’s I snatched up a bag of Trader Joe’s Barbeque Popped Potato Chips.  What are popped potato chips?  Not fried or baked, they’re potato chips cooked under heat and pressure until they “pop”.  Apparently this means they’re much healthier than regular chips.  Side-by-side with Lay’s Barbeque Potato Chips, they contain 30 less calories for a 1 oz serving (in the case of the Trader Joe’s chips, this translates to about 19 chips) and less than half the fat.  They are also free of saturated fat and cholesterol.  They do, however, contain 20 g of carbohydrates to Lay’s 15 .  Curious, I looked at the ingredients.  The first ones named are potato flour, potato starch safflower oil and/or sunflower oil, barbecue seasoning, onion and garlic powder.  In a nutshell it sounded like a pretty darn good combination of flavors.

Assured that these would not, in fact, kill me, I gave them a try.  In one word, these are AWESOME and not lacking in flavor like the sad cardboard excuses for potato chips that baked chips are.  Each od the popped chips has a very generous amount of the barbecue seasoning on it, giving the chips the necessary bright orange color.  The seasoning had a nice smoky, spicy mesquite flavor to it.  They are roughly the same size as regular potato chips, although they are circular and slightly thicker and airier and seemingly grease-less (they do, however, still have a fantastic crunch to them).  My only complaint is that they were a little too salty, but it did keep me from eating the whole bag.  Overall though, these were absolutely incredible and have officially become my new favorite potato chip!  I will have to try the regular store version (Popchips) in comparison.

Stars: 5/5

Nutritional Information: Serving Size: 19 chips (28g).  Calories: 120.  Total fat: 4 g.  Saturated fat: 0 g.  Total Carbs: 20 g.  Protein: 1 g.  3 Weight Watchers Points

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Marie Callendar’s Pasta Al Dente Tortellini Romano

March 3, 2009

marie-callenders-tortellini

While browsing the frozen food aisle because I was too lazy to actually cook anything, I came across Marie Callender’s new Pasta Al Dente “steamed to perfection” pasta dishes. Who was I to turn down perfection? Especially when what is promised are cheese-stuffed pillows of heaven covered in a creamy marinara sauce topped with basil and Parmesan cheese. And on top of all that, it contains no preservatives and is “authentically Italian!”. Since apparently the frozen dinners aisle had turned into a free flight to Italy, I quickly snapped up the Tortellini Romano.

I popped it in the microwave later that night to see what perfection tasted like. The dish comes with the tortellini and tomatoes inside a colander-like basket nestled inside a plastic bowl containing the sauce at the bottom.  While it seemed a little elaborate for a frozen dinner, the system worked wonderfully.  After letting the dish set for the recommended 2 minutes, I dumped the tortellini in the sauce and mixed it all together. While it was no Hungryman mega-meal, the serving was fairly substantial and satiating. The tortellini actually steamed nicely with only one or two pieces being just a little harder than the others and the tomato pieces were decent-sized, tasty and not soggy. While I would’ve liked to see a little bit more cheese inside and the sauce was a little more watery than creamy, altogether the meal was flavorful and satisfying.  If you’re craving an easy, quick, tasty pasta dish, this is a keeper.  Definitely one of the better frozen meals I’ve ever had.  Keep in mind, though, that this is just tortellini.  If you’re looking for some sort of a meat portion to your meal, you’re better off going with something else.

Stars: 4/5

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size: 1 meal. Calories: 460. Calories from fat: 140. Total fat: 15 g. Saturated Fat: 7 g. Total Carbohydrates: 62 g. Dietary Fiber: 7 g. Sugars: 7 g. Protein: 19 g.  10 Weight Watchers Points

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