Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shaping Up Chips and Salsa

Since beginning P90X, Bill and I have overhauled the way we eat. Now don't be mistaken. We're not on "diets," per se. That term seems so temporary, as if you're cutting back for a period of time to reach a stated goal. For us, this isn't about seeing certain numbers on the scale. Instead, it's about being able to finish this program without feeling like we want to die.

I'd say what we're experiencing is more of an awakening of sorts. An opening of our eyes to lighter, fresher, better-for-you foods. We cut out tons of fats and sugars and introduced way more fruits and veggies. And while we'll probably be a bit less strict about it when our 13 weeks of P90X is up, I think this is a lifestyle we've adopted now and a habit that will be (I hope) hard to break.

While it really has gotten easier to curb cravings after a while, every few days we still find ourselves engaged in a self-pity fest over the foods we miss the most. For Bill, it's simply pizza. For me ... well, it's a lot of things. But sitting on the patio at a Mexican restaurant indulging in chips and salsa and margaritas ranks right up there.

The salsa on its own isn't the problem. It's those fried tortilla chips and those sugary sweet, calorie-loaded cocktails. I'm still working on finding the right "skinny" version of my favorite cocktail, but at least I've perfected a better-for-you version of the best snack on the planet. All it took was a leftover package of some flour tortillas, some cooking spray, a sprinkling of salt, and a very hot oven. Oh, and the best salsa recipe ever.

Bill and I polished off an entire platter of these baked chips and roasted salsa sitting on our backyard patio this afternoon (sans margaritas, unfortunately).

Baked Tortilla Chips and Roasted Salsa
For Chips
4 to 6 small or medium flour tortillas
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons salt

For Salsa
2 Roma tomatoes
1 jalapeno pepper
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lime
Salt, to taste

Preheat broiler and line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place tomatoes, jalapeno, and garlic cloves on prepared sheet. Roast 16 to 20 minutes, turning once halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray large baking sheet with cooking spray. Using a pizza cutter, slice tortillas into wedges. Place wedges evenly apart on prepared baking sheet. Spray liberally with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, turning once or twice for even browning. Remove from oven when chips are golden and crisp.

Remove skin from tomatoes, jalapeno, and garlic. In a small food processor, pulse jalapeno and garlic. Add tomatoes and pulse until evenly broken, about 5 or 6 times. Place mixture in small bowl and stir in onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. You'll be tempted to eat it with a spoon, but I promise it's tastier with the chips. Enjoy!

Oh, and in case you're curious, each 1/4 cup serving of salsa has about 23 calories. And depending on the type of tortillas you choose, 8 chips will have approximately 110 calories.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recreating: Potato Crusted Halibut

Preparing for my mom's impending move to Milwaukee has been nothing if not sentimental. It's the reason for me yammering about things like Pound Puppies and Popples, Lisa Frank and Lipsmackers, and getting embarrassingly teary-eyed over boxes of Trolls and Beanie Babies while the house I grew up in is cleared out and packed up.

Behind all that junk, though, there are a lot of memories. But those memories aren't all of material things ... They're also of time spent around favorite tables, in favorite restaurants, with favorite dishes, enjoyed with your favorite people. Some of the memories are almost long forgotten, tucked away for safekeeping. And some of them are newer, fresher, reminding you that memory making is a process that endures forever and there are many yet to be made.

Now that I know the tucked away memories have a slimmer chance of being recreated in the same places, I have to begin bringing them into my own kitchen. So out come to recipes (or as close as I can come to the originals), some old, some new, some homemade, some not. These are the foods that will remind me of home, long after "home" is no longer the city by the Bay.

This particular dish is a more recent find from one of our favorite restaurants in Walnut Creek (a not-quite-home city that I'm sad to leave behind simply for the shopping!). Stanford's served an amazing halibut special, crusted in a potato-fennel mixture and served over a bed of rice that sat surrounded by a delicious river of tomato sauce. I'm glad to say that on my very first attempt, I recreated an almost perfect version ... and will be doing so many more times to come!

Potato Crusted Halibut with Red Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
1 small russet potato, peeled
1 lb. halibut fillets, skinned
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

To prepare sauce, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add Italian seasoning and cayenne and stir to combine. Add tomato sauce, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, cover, and turn heat to low.

Shred the potato on a box grater (try to avoid shredding your knuckle, like I did!). Pat potatoes dry between paper towels. Pat halibut dry with paper towels. Spread 1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise over the top of each fillet. Press each fillet, mayonnaise side down, into shredded potatoes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. When hot, carefully place each fillet, potato side down, in skillet. Cook, without moving, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and place in oven, cooking another 6 to 8 minutes until halibut is opaque and flakes easily.

Serve fillets over a bed of rice surrounded by sauce.