The Lighter Side: Shrimp & Cilantro Wraps

One of the obvious hazards of being passionate about cooking, eating and food blogging is that periodically it is likely to catch up with you. It has caught up with me recently, so I am making an effort to exercise more, eat less, and come up with some lighter and healthier recipes so that I can still enjoy my meals but consume fewer calories and less fat. Which is a little more challenging; it’s easy to make things taste good when you have free rein with butter, cheese and myriad other high-fat ingredients to choose from. It requires more creativity when you don’t! Here is one of my first “lighter fare” attempts… Shrimp and Cilantro wraps, at under 240 calories each.

1 whole wheat tortilla
5 large cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup baby spinach leaves
cucumber, thinly sliced
yellow onion, thinly sliced
chili oil (optional)
pepper
salt

On a whole wheat tortilla, place the shrimp, onion and cilantro. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Scatter cilantro, spinach leaves and cucumber over the shrimp and drizzle with chili oil for a little spice (if desired.)

Roll up and serve.

Shrimp and Cilantro Wrap (cut in half)

Decadently Simple Mac ‘n Cheese

Macaroni (or Penne, in this case) and cheese is traditionally a winter dish…. but comfort food is always in season. This week I was in the mood for it, but not the orange-powder-in-an-envelope variety. I came up with this version, which is relatively simple to make, yet extremely rich, creamy and luxurious. The individual ramekin-sized servings make it a great first course or side dish, and lend a little bit of elegance compared to the typical casserole dish format.

Decadent, easy-to-make weeknight mac 'n cheese


Ingredients:
1 lb. Penne pasta or similar
5 oz. double cream Gouda
5 oz. Gruyere
5 oz. Raclette
5 oz. low-fat cream cheese (there’s always room for irony, in any good story or recipe!)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
2 T. fresh chives, chopped


Preheat oven to 350F.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.
While the pasta is cooking, grate the Gouda, Gruyere and Raclette, and set aside.
When the pasta is done cooking, and drained, place it in a large bowl, and toss it with the cream cheese, Gouda, Gruyere, Raclette and the chives.

Divide among eight ramekins (or 10-12 if you prefer smaller servings.)

Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top of each serving, and place ramekins on a baking sheet.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops are nicely browned.

Pretzel Knots: Crispy, salty, highly addictive…

These pretzel knots – recipe adapted from Wolfgang Puck’s, as served at his Las Vegas steakhouse, Cut – are sort of a cross between a pretzel and a dinner roll. Salty, crusty, and soft inside… a pretty irresistible combination, in my opinion!* As written below, the recipe makes about eight knots.

It's a pretzel, it's a roll, it's... delicious...

I particularly like to make sandwiches out of these; I always freeze a few to have them reserved for just this purpose. Simply cut one in half, spread with a little butter and spicy mustard and add a couple of slices of Jarlsberg (or your preferred cheese/meat)… heaven!

*As an added bonus, the liquid in which you poach these only calls for 1/4 cup of amber beer, which of course means you have an excellent excuse to drink some beer during the process. Mmmm… Pretzels and beer…

Ingredients:

Dough
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 F)
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar (packed)
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray

Poaching Liquid
8 cups water
1/4 cup amber beer
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup golden brown sugar (packed)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-2 tablespoon pretzel salt or coarse sea salt
Directions

To make the dough:

Place 1/2 cup warm water in medium bowl. Stir in yeast; let stand until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Add buttermilk, both sugars, and vegetable oil; mix well.

Mix flour and salt in processor. With motor running, add yeast mixture and process 2 minutes. Spray large bowl with nonstick spray. Scrape dough into bowl (dough will be very sticky). Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with nonstick spray; cover bowl with plastic, sprayed side down. Let dough rise at room temperature until puffed and light, about 1 hour.

Knots formed, preparing for room-temperature rise

Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, then spray parchment with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Spray hands with nonstick spray. Divide dough into 8 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, roll into an 8- to 9-inch long rope. Tie in a knot, leaving 1/2 inch of 1 end sticking up through center. Tuck other end under, if needed (each pretzel will be about 2 3/4 inches in diameter). Transfer pretzels to prepared baking sheets, knob side up. Cover pretzels with plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick spray and let rest at room temperature, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While the dough is resting….

Preheat the oven and make the poaching liquid.
Place 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; set to 450°F.
Bring 8 cups water, beer, baking soda, and brown sugar to simmer in large wide pot (liquid should reach depth of at least 1 1/2 inches).

Carefully lift each pretzel (working in batches of two at a time) and invert into liquid in pot. Poach for 10 seconds. Using skimmer or slotted spoon, turn pretzels over; poach 10 seconds longer. Lift from poaching liquid, allowing pretzel to drain well. Transfer back to prepared sheets. Brush with vegetable oil and sprinkle with pretzel salt.

Bake pretzels 15 minutes, until they are deep brown. (Rotate baking sheets halfway through baking time.) Transfer pretzels to rack; let cool to room temperature.

All done and ready to be dinner rolls, sandwich rolls or just a good accompaniment to a beer!

Can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature, or seal and freeze for a later time!