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Tosca Reno hearty, healthy meal on a budget

Tosca Reno came to cooking from personal experience.

At the age of 40, she was overweight and unhappy with her life.

She took matters into her own hands, learning how to exercise and eat right to the point that she was able to compete in physique contests.

After gaining popularity from her column in the fitness magazine Oxygen, Tosca began writing books -- and her twelfth, "The Eat Clean Diet Stripped," hit shelves this past March.

As the "Chef on a Shoestring" on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," the New York Times best-selling author helped viewers get ready for the warmer days ahead with a healthy, three-course meal for four, and sought to make it on our slim budget of $40.

On the menu: Shrimp and Endive Canapés, Scallops a la Plancha with Sauteed Asparagus and Peppers, Piña Colada Mocktails and for dessert, Healthy Chocolate Pudding.

Enjoy all our "Early Show" recipes!

All "Shoestring" chefs are automatically entered in our "How Low Can You Go?" competition, in which the one with the lowest ingredients cost will be invited back to cook our year-end holiday feast - and spend as much as he or she wants!

FOOD FACTS:

Endive is closely related to and often confused with its cousin, chicory. They're both part of the same botanical family, Cichorium. There are three main varieties of endive: Belgian endive, curly endive and escarole. Belgian endive, also known as French endive, is a small (about 6-inch-long), cigar-shaped head of cream-colored, tightly packed, slightly bitter leaves. It's grown in complete darkness to prevent it from turning green, using a labor-intensive growing technique known as blanching. Belgian endive is available from September through May, with a peak season from November through April. Buy crisp, firmly packed heads with pale, yellow-green tips. Belgian endives become bitter when exposed to light. They should be refrigerated, wrapped in a paper towel inside a plastic bag, for no more than a day. They can be served cold as part of a salad, or cooked by braising or baking.(Source: Epicurious.com)

A la plancha: Food that is cooked a la plancha means grilled on a metal plate. Plancha griddles or flat tops are chrome plated which prevents reaction with the food. Some base metal griddles will impart a subtle flavor to the food you're cooking. Also, with a plancha if you use a low even heat and a drop of oil you can toast the food and caramelize some of the natural sugars in the food. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Scallops have two beautiful fan-shaped shells that are often used as containers in which to serve dishes. Though the entire scallop including the roe is edible, the portion most commonly found in U.S markets is the adductor muscle that hinges the two shells. There are many scallop species but in general they're classified into two broad groups - bay scallops and sea scallops. The muscle of the larger, more widely available sea scallop averages 1 1/2 inches in diameter and is not as tender as the smaller varieties. Though slightly chewier, the meat is still sweet and moist. (Source: The Food Lover's Companion)

Tofu, also known as soybean curd and bean curd. Custard like white tofu is made from curdled soy milk, an iron-rich liquid extracted from ground, cooked soybeans. The resulting curds are drained and pressed in a fashion similar to cheesemaking. The firmness of the resulting tofu cake depends on how much whey has been pressed out. Tofu is popular throughout the Orient, particularly in Japan. It has a bland, slightly nutty flavor that gives it a chameleonlike capability to take on the flavor of the food with which it's cooked. Tofu's texture is smooth and creamy yet it's firm enough to slice. It's available in health-food stores, Asian markets and many supermarkets. The cakes are sold in a variety of forms including packaged in water, vacuum-packed and in bulk (usually in large crocks or jars of water). Tofu, which is sometimes fortified with calcium, is very perishable and should be refrigerated for no more than a week. If it's packaged in water, drain it and cover with fresh water. All tofu should be stored covered with water, which should be changed daily. Tofu can be frozen up to 3 months. Freezing will change its texture, making it slightly chewier. The versatile tofu can be sliced, diced or mashed and used in a variety of dishes including soups, stir-fries, casseroles, salads, sandwiches, salad dressings and sauces. It's easy to digest, low in calories, calcium and sodium, high in protein and cholesterol-free - all of which makes it one of today's most healthful foods.(Source: Epicurious.com)

RECIPES

Day at the Beach Bay Shrimp and Endive Canapés

Canapés are hors d'oeuvres typically made with a base of bread or crackers and topped with a variety of savory toppings. By swapping the starchy carbs for crisp endive spears, you get a result that maintains the crunch you love without weighing you down.

INGREDIENTS:

2 heads Belgian endive

1/4 pound bay shrimp

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chives

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1/8 teaspoon/pinch sea salt

1/8 teaspoon/pinch freshly ground black pepper

METHOD:

Trim the stalk end of each endive just enough to release outer leaves. Repeat trimming ends and peeling leaves until all larger outer leaves are removed.

In a small bowl, combine bay shrimp, tarragon, chives, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Spoon shrimp mixture onto endive spears and serve.

For more of Tosca's recipes, go to Page 2.

Scallops a la Plancha with Sautéed Asparagus and Peppers

"A la Plancha" is Spanish for "grilled on a metal plate." The cooking method for this recipe - cooking dry scallops in a dry skillet without any oil - really brings out the natural flavor of the mollusks. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound wild caught large scallops

1/8 teaspoon/pinch sea salt

1/8 teaspoon/pinch freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 yellow or orange pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

2 cups baby asparagus, sliced into 3-inch-long pieces (match length of sliced peppers)

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

METHOD:

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Make sure scallops are dry, then season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add scallops to dry skillet, turn heat down to medium and cook two minutes on each side until slightly charred and tender. Remove and set aside.

Return skillet to stove and add olive oil. Add peppers, asparagus, cumin, paprika, turmeric, and onion powder. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté until tender-crisp, three minutes.

Divide vegetables equally among four plates and top with scallops.

Go Bananas Chocolate Tofu Pudding

This dessert is light, cool and creamy - perfect for when you get that craving for chocolate. It's all vegan and proof-on-a-plate that desserts don't need added sugar to be sweet.

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 x 12.3 ounces Silken Lite Firm Tofu (must be Silken)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 very ripe bannas, thaw slightly if using frozen bananas

Scant pinch sea salt

METHOD:

Heat almond milk in small saucepan over medium-high heat until hot. Whisk in cocoa powder until combined.

In a blender, add tofu, vanilla, bananas, cocoa mixture, and salt. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides of blender once or twice.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes; serve.

Kombucha Piña Colada

Kombucha is a handmade Chinese tea that is delicately cultured for 30 days or longer. During this time, essential nutrients form and combine to create an elixir that immediately works with your body to restore balance and vitality. Kombucha is believed to support: digestion, metabolism, immune system, appetite control, weight control, liver function, body alkalinity, anti-aging, cell integrity and healthy skin and hair.

INGREDIENTS:

10 mint leaves

Ice

1/2 cup unsweetened raw multi-green kombucha

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut water

1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 lime slices, to garnish

2 sprigs mint, to garnish

METHOD:

Add mint leaves and ice to a cocktail shaker. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, muddle the mint until slightly broken apart.

Add kombucha, coconut water, pineapple juice and lime juice. Cover tightly and shake vigorously for 10 seconds until well mixed.

Strain mixture into two tall glasses filled with ice. Garnish with lime slices and mint sprigs.

So, how did Tosca do in our "How Low Can You Go" competition?

Her grand total: $39.76

Our Leaders Board

1.Marco Canora $36.33

Hearth

2.Michael Psilakis $36.56

MP Taverna

3. Michael Lomonaco $36.82

Porter House