Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brazilian Embassy in Washington, DC

The temperature has been in the teens in the DC area... The winter has really set in. I am planning my upcoming trip to Brazil (yeah, sun, warmth, beach!) and had some documents to take care of. Among the three of us -- me, my husband, and my son -- we applied for 1 passport, renewed 1 passport, visa, and birth certificate. We spent a couple of hours at the Consular Office behind the Embassy. It took so long... we needed copies of everything, pictures, money orders... When we left the building I was so excited because we were able to apply for everything at once, only to find a parking ticket on my windshield. Apparently, the side of the street I parked on is reserved for Employees of the Italian Embassy. It upset me for two reason, first there isn't enough parking spaces near the Embassy - in fact the spot where I parked was the only one available at the time, second because the sign that says that parking isn't allowed is a tiny thing on the corner.

The trip to the Embassy Row is always pleasant nonetheless. "Embassy Row" in Washington DC is a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue extending out from Dupont Circle, toward the National Cathedral, along which you can find many (but not all) of the District's foreign embassies.

Knock Off Italian Food

Being on a diet doesn't mean that I am depriving myself of good food. Low-fat and Low-Calorie diet is all about serving sizes and cutting calories by replacing ingredients. A good example is my knock-off Italian meal. I made Bruschetta with whole wheat bread, tomatoes, basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, and just brushed the bread with a drizzle of olive oil. Instead of a pasta dish, I made Spaghetti Squash with Low Fat Bechamel Sauce and Lemon Shrimp. It was a very satisfying meal. The word Diet never crossed my mind the entire time. To make Spaghetti Squash, cut it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, bake at 400 degree F oven for 45 minutes or until tender. Scrape the spaghetti-like strands with a fork and serve with your favorite sauce. It tasted very much like angel hair pasta with a much lower calorie content.

- Spaghetti Squash - 75 calories in 8 cooked ounces without sauce
- Angel Hair Pasta - 300 calories in 8 cooked ounces without sauce

Guilt Free Pleasure

I am hooked! I found these sauces, preserves, and mustard in my local gourmet grocery store. I have been using them ever since on so many things. Most of them are very low in calories and have an amazing flavor. The brand name is Robert Rothschild Farm. I love their Hot Pepper Raspberry Preserve with Brie Cheese and fresh baguette. My absolute favorite now (because I change my mind often) is their Ginger Wasabi Sauce. I use it as a dipping sauce for hard pretzels and combined they are a healthy appetizer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Featured Article From The Washington Post

At Google, Hours Are Long, But the Consomme Is Free

Foie gras egg rolls. Just-shucked oysters. Bay scallop seviche. This is the lunch menu at Google. And it is free if you work there. That goes for breakfast and dinner, too.
The world's most pampered employees feast on meals prepared by chefs hired from some of the top Bay Area restaurants. Just before noon, workers are e-mailed the daily menus at 11 themed "cafes" scattered across the company's suburban campus. MORE

Monday, January 22, 2007

First Snow of the Season

Yesterday we had the first snow of the season with accumulation of about 2 inches. The weatherwoman called for flurries so I wasn’t expecting much but stayed in anyway. As I am on top of a 12-foot tall ladder replacing the curtain rod in my living room I see the first few flakes coming down through the glass sliding door. But it wouldn’t stop. The flurries turned out to be 2 inches of snow and later some ice. It’s always relaxing to stay nice and warm inside the house, watching the slow-falling flakes. Monday morning is a completely different story though. Before I left for work I shoveled my sidewalk and cleared my car… I could definitely use this time for something more productive. I guess I can’t complain. It’s almost the end of January and that’s the first snow of the season.
Yesterday I planned to catch up with a stack of magazines, relax, have something hot to drink but I didn’t have enough time. My baby was extra-ultra-whiney yesterday and I had tons of things to do around the house. We had lunch at 3 pm and didn’t have a chance to relax until 9 pm. But I did relax; hubby and I watched some TV with a big bowl of popcorn. Why do we have a 5-day work week and 2-day weekends? Argh.

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

My coworker P. gave me a box of Island Rose Rum Vanilla Tea. It brews a dark tea with sweet aroma. The dark rum is very distinctive and it’s unbelievable how flavorful a small teabag can be. Thanks P! I needed the extra caffeine this morning.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dieting, Dieting, Dieting…

Can somebody explain why I can easily put on 2 lbs in a weekend but it takes me forever to lose the same 2 lbs?! Hubby and I have been dieting since January 02nd. We are on a special program where we have food delivered to us. It’s tasteful, fresh, and nutritious. I figured the pounds would melt away in a month. Wrong! My husband is losing on a much faster pace than I am and he’s eating more. How can that be? I lost a mere 3 lbs in 15 days. Oh well, better than nothing at all. My poor husband gained “sympathy” weight during my pregnancy and we are trying to shed some pounds before we go on vacation in March. I got a pedometer this week. I know I am very active during the day and I am trying to achieve my walking goal of 10,000 steps a day. I walk to and from the subway station to my car and in the building where I work. Today is my first pedometer day (actually the second, the first day I removed the battery trying to open the pedometer and zeroed it before I could read the stats!). I would love to join a gym right now but I just can’t find the time to exercise. For now, I am eating healthy and staying active. If I can achieve my 10,000 steps a day I will try to introduce some Power Yoga and Pilates from DVDs I purchased. I am setting mini-goals to avoid getting overwhelmed by something unattainable. We’ll see what happens. Wish me luck!

Light Cookies and Turkish Coffee

Our friends Y his wife K and their daughter J invited us for lunch in their new home last Sunday. I was looking forward to spending a nice afternoon with them, watching the kids playing together (their daughter is only 5 months older than my son) and eating his famous Pasta with Clam Sauce. I baked some light cookies for dessert. I found two recipes for light and low fat cookies and loved them. Y and K just moved to a new and much larger house in a quiet neighborhood. The house is beautiful, very spacious, and their newly renovated kitchen is gorgeous.
When we got at there, we went straight to the kitchen. I gave him a hand making bruschetta while he taught me to make the clam sauce. This is definitely my kind of get-together. We all took our shoes off, I helped in the kitchen, and the kids played on the floor. After lunch we had dessert with Turkish Coffee. The cookies were chocolaty and light. They went really well after the mouth-watering clam sauce. Y brought Turkish Coffee from a trip to Jerusalem he returned from last week. It’s very flavorful, strong, and thick and unlike any other coffee I tasted before. The coffee beans are finely ground with cardamom. The coffee is prepared in a very specific way and served in espresso cups. My husband and I are hooked. We are going to some ethnic stores to look for more Turkish Coffee soon.

Chewy Chocolate-Coconut Macaroons

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup sifted cake flour
2 tablespoons sifted unsweetened cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flaked sweetened coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 250º.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place unsweetened chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high for 30 seconds and stir well, repeat the process until completely melted.
Combine flour, unsweetened cocoa, and salt in a large bowl. Add coconut, and toss well. Stir in melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and sweetened condensed milk (the mixture will be stiff). Drop 1 tablespoon 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheet. Bake at 250º for 45 minutes or until edges of cookies are firm and center of cookies are soft. Remove from oven, and cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove the cookies from the parchment paper, and cool completely on rack. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 3 dozen cookies (serving size: 1 cookie - 84 calories)

Mini Chocolate-Chip Meringue Cookies

3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3 tablespoons semisweet chocolate minichips

Preheat oven to 300°.
Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt at high speed of a mixer until soft peaks form. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sift cocoa over egg white mixture; beat until mixed. Fold in minichips.
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a pastry bag, pipe 1 inch rounds of meringue onto prepared baking sheet. Bake at 300° for 40 minutes or until crisp. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 4 dozen (serving size: 1 cookie - 22 calories)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Petit Apetite Cookbook

I just received a box from Amazon. I love to get home and find a box on my doorstep waiting to be opened! I ordered some DVDs, books, and a cookbook for my little man. I haven't had much time to cook his meals myself and he's eating a lot more Gerber food than I would like but I am hoping to change things around. As he gets older -he just turned 7 months old - he is starting to expand his horizons. He has had lots of fruits, vegetables, and just started on poultry. So far so good. He loves everything. It's hard to keep him away from our food. He opens his mouth when he sees a spoon, even when I am having food.
The Petit Apetite Cookbook offers a healthy approach to baby food prepared with organic and fresh ingredients. I am really excited to begin making wholesome food for my little one.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Snack Away

Snacks can be an important part of a healthful diet. They can help you manage weight, hunger, health, and energy. They can also help you gain or lose weight. Eating a small healthy snack between meals helps with weight loss by keeping cravings down and preventing excessive hunger that will lead to overeating. The following are my favorite snacks. They are low in calories and high in nutrients but keep balance and moderation in mind.

Protein Boost
Tuna salad (tuna in water and low-fat mayonnaise)
Sliced hard-boiled eggs
String cheese (Part-skim)
Yogurt (light)
Nuts: almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts (dry-roasted, unsalted nuts)
Seeds: pumpkin, sunflower
Edamame (soy beans with sea salt)

Applesauce (no sugar added)
Granola bar
Raw vegetable sticks (celery, carrots, cucumber)
Fresh or dried fruit

Rice or popcorn cakes
Popcorn (low-fat)
Dry cereal
Soy or rice crisps

Toasted whole-grain English muffins
Soups (low sodium)
Egg white omelet topped with salsa

Cocoa (sugar free made with low-fat milk)
Herbal teas (decaffeinated)

Sherbet or sorbet (water-based)
Frozen Yogurt (low-fat)
Jell-O (sugar-free)
Pudding (sugar-free)
Angel food cake

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Start Off 2007 On The Right Foot

I'm going to start this post with a four-letter word: Diet. As much as I avoided it, I have to face it now and get it over with. My baby is 7 months old and I am still carrying the extra pregnancy weight. I am astonished that I didn't gain any more weight during the holiday season with all the baking. So to start off on the right foot on 2007 I made a resolution to eat healthier, shed some pounds, exercise, and set a good example for my son.
I used to be a gym rat, exercising 5 times a week, cooking healthy, going on hiking trips, and then we moved to the suburbs to start a family... To make a long story short, both my husband and I gained considerable weight after we moved to our place in the suburbs of Washington, DC in 2005. First of, we spent almost one year renovating our townhouse. I was so into Home Remodeling/Decorating Shows that I Tivo'ed everything that was on TV. Back then I was more worried about picking the right paint color than the food we were eating. We spent endless days in and out of home improvement stores and had no time to cook. We ordered most of our meals during that time. Now it's time to change things around here. I found a diet program where you order the food and they deliver to your door. You can choose from low-carb, low-fat or vegetarian for a 1200 or 1600 calorie a day program. I chose low-fat and 1200 calories a day. I still have a couple of snacks a day outside of the program. It has been a great way to kick off my diet. The food tastes fresh and homemade and there is so much variety that I don't get tired of anything. It doesn't feel like a diet. I have been eating pasta dishes, seafood, vegetables, Mexican food, sandwiches, and dessert. My favorite meals are breakfast, there are muffins, omelets, juices, yogurts. For a while my blog will be all about healthy choices, cooking light, and exercising. We'll see how long it will last...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Missing my hometown...

Happy New Year to all of us!

I'm homesick -- which is becoming quite frequent during the winters in the US. This time of the year my hometown, Rio de Janeiro, is exploding with excitement, people, and fun. It's summer there, the days are longer and there is so much to do. We spend a big chunk of our days just hanging out at the beach, sipping coconut water straight from a green coconut with a long straw, soaking the sun and enjoying ourselves. So, what was the better way to replicate the sun-filled Brazilian days? Food! Better yet, cooking and eating something would bring me deep memories of the days I spent at the beach when I was growing up. Then I chose a very simple dish that is sold by street vendors and beachfront restaurants -- Garlic Shrimp. The smell of the Garlic and Shrimp brings back a sensation that the sun is shining and there is a salt warm breeze along with the food. Back to the dish, it's very easy and quick and tastes amazing.

Brazilian Garlic Shrimp

12 cloves garlic, cracked away from skins
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 pounds, jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Black pepper

Process garlic in food processor to finely chop. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and butter. Add garlic and crushed pepper flakes to oil and butter. Season shrimp with salt and toss to coat. Add shrimp to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until pink and heads curl to tails. Add black pepper, to your taste. Serve immediately.

New Year's Eve

We decided to stay home this year. We are 5000 miles away from the best firework display in the world - Copacabana Beach! So what's the point... When we don't spend the holidays in Rio de Janeiro, we usually have dinner at a nice restaurant in Washington DC. However, this year we have a little man who gets really cranky when he's up past his bedtime. We stayed home with a good bottle of sparkling wine and good food. I didn't have much time to cook and didn't want to try something new that we might or might not like. I went with two of our favorites -- Fillet in Puff Pastry and Mushroom Risotto. We put the baby to bed around 8 pm and cooked our dinner. After dinner, my husband and I exchanged newsletters. We started this tradition the year we got married. We write a newsletter to each other, describing the highlights of the year. We don't share them with anybody. We are going to keep them all for our boy when he gets older. This year we re-read all the newsletters after the 2006 one. I'm so glad we have them, I would have forgotten some of the things if we didn't have in writing. We laughed, reminded one another of things we did, had some more sparkling wine, and best of all - I had as much fun as I would have had watching 24 tons of fireworks at Copacabana Beach.

Fillet in Puff Pastry with Red Wine Sauce

6 fillet steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
1 pound mushrooms, finely chopped
4 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds puff pastry
1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water, lightly beaten, for egg wash
Red Wine Sauce, recipe follows

In a large skillet, over high heat, saute steaks in 3 tablespoons butter for 30 seconds on each side. Set aside to cool completely.
In the same skillet, with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, cook shallots and mushrooms until all liquid evaporates. Add cream, salt and pepper. Reduce over moderate heat to a thick puree. Cool. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Divide pastry into 6 equal portions. On a lightly floured board, roll out each portion to a rectangle approximately 6 by 12 inches and 1/4 inch thick. Place each steak on one side of a pastry rectangle, leaving enough room to fold over.
Top each steak with mushroom puree. Brush edges of the pastry with egg wash and then fold it over and shape it to the contours of the meat. Cut away excess pastry and decorate as desired. Glaze the tops of the pastry with egg wash.
Bake the steaks 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
Arrange each on a heated plate and garnish with watercress and red wine sauce.

Red Wine Sauce:
1 cup Red Wine
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves
1 cup veal stock
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
In a saucepan, bring wine, shallots, and thyme to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until only 1/3 cup remains. Add the stock; continue to reduce, over medium heat, until slightly thickened. Whisk in the butter. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.