Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sausage, Mushroom and Spinach Polenta Lasagna

 I really like polenta. It must be because it reminds me of my Louisiana grits-eating roots. Polenta and grits are essentially the same thing: cornmeal. The only difference is grits are treated with an alkali like lyme, which makes them white, and polenta is left in it's natural yellow state. They are virtually interchangeable, and both lend themselves well to cooking with milk and cheese, creating a creamy, comforting dish. I liked the idea of polenta lasagna because it seemed  a bit easier than having to boil lasagna noodles and fussing with lining them up in a pan. You just cook up some polenta, and pour it layers with a sauce mixture, add some cheese, and pop it into the oven. I searched out some recipes and ended up basing it loosely on this Rachael Ray recipe, adding spinach, extra spices, and changing the ratios a bit.

This reminds me a tiny bit of one of my favorite esoteric cajun dishes: grillades and grits. Cheap cuts of beef are braised in a tangy, richly spiced red wine-infused roux, and served on top of creamy grits. This dish has a similar balance of tangy sauce (this time from balsamic vinegar), rich meat, and creamy cornmeal.

I'm in love with this polenta/grit casserole idea, and I'm eager to try out other possibilities. It's easy to make, stores and freezes really well, and is gluten free! Sub in kale or collard greens for the spinach, try chorizo or andoullie instead of Italian sausage, or skip the sausage entirely and add extra mushrooms for a vegetarian dish. If you want to go a little further afield, you can make Tamale Pie or Chili Lasagna (whatever you want to call it). Layer chili with polenta and top with cheddar or pepperjack cheese.

Sauce mixture

1 T olive oil
10 oz crimini or portabello mushrooms, sliced
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
3 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t basil
1/2 t oregano
red pepper, black pepper, salt
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 lb frozen spinach

1 quart or water or chicken broth, or some combination of the two.
2 cups milk (low-fat or skim is fine)
2 cups instant polenta
1/4 cup parm
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheese, such as an Italian mix or mozzarella, low fat is fine

Preheat oven 400°F.

Heat a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium high-heat. Add olive oil and mushrooms. Cook for a few minutes until browned. Remove and set aside. Add sausage and break it up into small bits with the back of a spoon as it cooks and browns. Remove and set aside. Brown the onions and garlic. Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer 10 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, bring water and milk for polenta to boil. Add the polenta in a steady stream, stirring constantly for the first couple of minutes. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water if needed to keep polenta thick but creamy and stirrable. Turn off heat, add parm, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spray a 3-quart baking dish or lasagna pan with nonstick spray and pour half of the polenta into the bottom of the dish, spreading it out to cover the entire bottom. Top with half of the sauce mixture, then half of the cheese. Repeat. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes. Serves 8-10.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry) with Spinach

I recently spent a couple of weeks in London, and I was incredibly impressed by the Indian food there. I ended up eating Indian at least once a day. When you think about it, the British are not really known for for their cuisine, and they had to colonize India just to get some flavor into their food. The Indian food there is far superior to that in the states--spicier, more richly flavored. The British have been enjoying Indian food long before it became popular in the US, so they have a more sophisticated palate when it comes to that cuisine, and they have a larger, more established Indian population. A few days into my London trip, I had a fantastic chana masala (chickpea curry) at an Indian restaurant, Masala Zone, that I was dying to replicate at home. In fact, for the rest of the trip, part of me could not wait to get home so I could make it. It's a traditional Indian curry that I've had before, but this dish was far better than any other I've tried. The nutty chickpeas were stewed in a thick, almost caramelized tomato sauce that was rich with warm spices.

The recipe I came up with hit all the same notes as the one from Masala Zone. I really like the simplicity of this dish. It is one of the healthiest, cheapest, and most flavorful recipes I've made. It probably costs less than $4 to make and feeds at least 8 people. It will accommodate almost any food restriction. Having a dinner party and one of your friends is allergic to gluten and the other is lactose intolerant or vegan? This is your go-to! To push the health factor further, I tried adding frozen chopped spinach to the leftover curry the next day, and it was amazing! The spinach seems to mellow out the acidity of the tomato and makes for a very well-balanced (in taste and health) dish.

Chana Masala with Spinach
1 lb dried chickpeas, soaked 8-12 hours overnight, or 3 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained
1-2 T butter (depending on how decadent you want to be)
2 medium onions, diced
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger
1 bay leaf
2 t cumin
2 t paprika (optional)
1 1/2 t ground coriander
1 t cayenne (I like really spicy things. A normal person would probably want 1/2 t)
1 t turmeric
3/4 t ground cardamom
3/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1 t salt, or to taste
black pepper to taste
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
10 oz - 1 lb frozen chopped spinach (optional)
pinch sugar, to taste

If using dried beans:
Drain bean soaking water, barely cover with fresh water in a large pot or dutch oven, and simmer. In a separate skillet, sauté butter and onions on medium heat until they are soft and caramelized. Add garlic, ginger, and spices, and cook, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes. Add tomatoes and saute for a couple more minutes, until it thickens a bit. This gives it that rich, caramelized flavor I loved at Masala Zone. Add this mixture to the beans in the dutch oven. Simmer approximately 1.5 hours, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, adding more water if it gets dry. Add spinach, if using, 15 minutes before end. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of sugar if needed.

If using canned chickpeas: 
Make the spice and tomato mixture right in the dutch oven, then add chickpeas and remaining ingredients except spinach, if using. Simmer 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add water if mixture gets too dry. Add spinach, simmer 15 more minutes.

Makes approximately 8 servings.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Three Ingredient Creamed Spinach

This is my favorite creamed spinach. It's from my mom, who loves easy recipes. It is a staple side dish in my house, and I often bring this to Glutenless Goddess's Thanksgiving potluck.

I have also been known to eat this as a spinach dip. Just serve with pita chips, Triscuits, or crusty bread. You can add some artichoke hearts and sprinkle some cheese on top if you want to get fancier with your dip. My spinach and artichoke pasta is essentially just this creamed spinach plus artichokes and cheese on pasta.

Three Ingredient Creamed Spinach
about 2 lb frozen chopped spinach
1 8 oz block low fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
season with whatever you like: salt, pepper, etc. I like to do 1/2 t garlic powder and 1 t Tony Chachere's

Defrost and heat spinach in the microwave, about 8 minutes, stirring partway through. Drain liquid, and stir in remaining ingredients. It takes a bit of effort to get the cream cheese to incorporate. Just stir it in a bit and microwave for 2 more minutes to soften. Stir again until everything is incorporated.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Leftover Turkey Jambalaya

It's officially a tradition (2 years running)! Glutenless Goddess hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for our friends and brines a turkey using my recipe. At the end of the night, she lets me take the scraps (a couple of cups of dark meat and the carcass). Then, the next day, I invite everyone over to my place and make a giant pot of jambalaya with the leftover turkey and stock made from the bones.

I really like the idea of using every last bit of the turkey and creating something that really takes advantage of its flavor. I use my usual brown rice chicken and sausage jambalaya recipe, and just sub in turkey meat and turkey stock for the chicken and stock. It is really the best jambalaya I've made. Turkey is even better than chicken in this recipe because of its extra richness and slightly bolder, gamier flavor. Dark meat is best in the jambalaya because it stands up to lots of cooking without getting bland or dry. Plus, most people prefer white meat (not me!), so there's always lots of dark meat leftover.

I'm going to bestow one of my favorite tips upon you: make stock in a slow cooker. The best thing about this stock is it's virtually free, made with stuff most people throw away! It takes one minute to set up. All you need is bones and water. A turkey carcass should just about fill up a medium to large stockpot. I do this with chicken too. In that case, I hoard chicken carcasses that I've roasted in the freezer until I've accumulated 2 or 3. You might have to break the breastbone down or smash some of the big pieces into smaller pieces. This is only mildly disturbing to do. The object is to squish down the bones enough so the lid will close and you can cover them with water. Many stock recipes call for adding aromatics like onion, garlic, and herbs to your stock. I prefer to just cook bones and water and have a neutral-flavored stock. I can add whatever flavors I want when I add it to a dish. Set the slow cooker for as long a time as you can wait. After it stops cooking, leave the cover off for about an hour or so to let it reduce and cool. Then strain and skim off the fat. Freeze in baggies or containers in manageable increments of a cup or two.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Super-Pumpkin Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

It's fall, which means it's time to use the oven again! In fact, this is my second baking post in a row, which is quite a record. (I am usually a cooker, not a baker.) Fall also means a welcome onslaught of pumpkin desserts. I am a fan of incorporating tons of this healthy canned veggie into anything I can think of. Just look at my pasta with pumpkin cream sauce or my three-ingredient whoopie pies. Problem is, most pumpkin breads and cookies are mostly flour and sugar, with just a token amount of pumpkin. I set out to make a healthy pumpkin cookie that was more veggie than any other ingredient. My confidence came from my knowledge that a whole can of pumpkin mixed with a box of cake mix will substitute for the eggs, oil, and water that is usually required to make a deliciously moist, fat-free dessert. I looked up some pumpkin cookie recipes online and substituted in more pumpkin for the butter or oil that were normally called for. Then I added even more. 

What you have here is a delicious, rich-tasting, moist, and slightly muffinlike cookie. It's a delicious way to get your veggies with dessert, or it could be a breakfast cookie--a portable way to get your oatmeal and a serving of veggies in the morning! My husband even likes them, and he is usually wary of pumpkin-related things.

UPDATE: When I first posted these in 2011, I used to make these cookies using juice or milk instead of oil. I have now decided that I prefer the texture when using a small amount of healthy oil or nut butter, which changes from a bit gummy in the middle to richer and creamier. Try it out and see which you like better. This recipe is very flexible!

Super-Pumpkin Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup (130 g) oat flour (or just whizz some oats in a food processor until flour-like. Measure AFTER grinding) or whole wheat flour
1 cup (100 g) old fashioned oats
2 t baking powder
1 cup sweetener of choice (sugar, brown sugar, Splenda, etc)
1 T ground flax or 1 egg
2 t cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/8 t salt 
handful dried fruit, nuts, and/or seeds (optional). I like dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds)
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1/3 cup milk, water, juice, oil (e.g. olive, coconut), or nut butter of choice (e.g. almond, cashew)
1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 375. Mix dry ingredients and add wet. Mixture will be very thick. Drop by the spoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Bake approximately 25 minutes, until center is solid but moist. Makes about 20 cookies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Honey Cardamom Scones, Chai Scones, and Earl Gray Tea Scones

Honey Cardamom Scones
There is something so special about having warm biscuits or scones in the morning. I have them for breakfast often because I usually take some help from Bisquick. I also cook them in the toaster oven, which preheats quickly and doesn't heat up the whole house. I also love to add chia seeds to my scones. They add a poppyseed-like texture and a bit of extra nutrition. I like to make 5-6 giant scones out of this for a hearty breakfast. Here are some variations I love:

Cardamom is one of my favorite spices. It has such an exotic, spicy, flowery quality to it. My honey cardamom scones really showcase its flavor well.

Honey Cardamom Scones
2 cups Bisquick or other biscuit mix
1 t ground cardamom
pinch of salt
1/4 cup honey
1/2-2/3 cup milk of choice (to get dough to the right consistency)
Optional add ins: chia seeds (I like 2-3 T), chopped pistachios, pumkin seeds, or golden raisins

Mix dry ingredients together and then combine with wet. Drop biscuits onto cookie sheet and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.

These scones are made with whole tea leaves! I love the delicate spices that Chai or Earl Gray teas bring to these snacks. 

Chai Tea or Earl Gray Tea Scones
Fresh out of the toaster oven!
1/2-2/3 cup milk of choice
Contents of three bags Chai or Earl Gray tea (or 1T and 1.5 t loose tea, ground finer in a mortar and pestle)
2 cups Bisquick or other biscuit mix
1/4 cup honey, sugar, or Splenda
Optional add ins: chia seeds (I like 2-3 T), chopped walnuts, pecans, or golden raisins

Empty tea bags into milk and heat until just simmering in microwave or on the stovetop. Let steep and cool for a few minutes. Add wet ingredients (tea leaves and all) into try ingredients). Drop biscuits onto cookie sheet, and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

Who doesn't love spinach and artichoke dip? Glutenless Goddess shared a recipe for it with me that we are both obsessed with. (One of us really should post it one of these days...) I wanted to turn that spinach and artichoke dip into a meal, so I modified it slightly and poured it over pasta! This recipe is super simple, and you could serve it straight off the stovetop, or sprinkle more cheese on it bake in the oven for a few minutes. It's really creamy and satisfying, and probably better for you than your average mac and cheese since it involves spinach, whole wheat pasta, and low-fat dairy.

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

16 oz frozen spinach, defrosted in microwave
13-16 oz whole wheat pasta (I used fusilli, but any short, robust pasta shape would work, such as penne, bow-tie, or shells)
8 oz package of low-fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella or Italian mix cheese

1 cup milk

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 t Tony Chachere's seasoning or other seasoned salt
salt and pepper to taste
1 12 oz can artichoke hearts

Defrost spinach in the microwave for approximately 6 minutes, until warm. While pasta is boiling, dump all ingredients except pasta and artichoke hearts in food processor, and process until spinach is finely chopped and ingredients are well-mixed. Add artichoke hearts and pulse a couple times until they are roughly chopped. When pasta is al dente, drain, and combine with sauce mixture. If the mixture is too try, just add a bit more milk. You can just heat this on the stovetop for a few minutes and serve, or if you'd like a baked pasta dish, just pour it into a baking dish, top with some additional cheese, and bake at 400 for 15 minutes, or until the center is hot. Serves 5-6.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chicken and Veggie Brown Rice Biryani: Instant Pot and Stovetop versions

I think my love for biryani comes from growing up in Louisiana and eating jambalaya. Biryani really is the jambalaya of India. Vegetables and sometimes meats are cooked together with warm Indian spices, and rice is cooked in this mixture, soaking up all the flavors. Much like when making jambalaya, it is crucial to get just the right ratio of rice, liquid, and seasoning so that the rice absorbs all the liquid as it cooks to create fluffy, perfectly seasoned rice.

I use brown basmati rice in this recipe. Basmati is that delicious, ultra-long grained rice that is typically served with Indian food. Before cooking, it should be rinsed to remove excess starch, and soaked for up to 30 minutes, which helps it to cook more evenly. It's also important to avoid stirring the rice as it cooks. Doing so will break the long, delicate grains and turn it gummy.

Most traditional biryani recipes call for parcooking the rice separately from the other ingredients, and mixing it together halfway through. I wanted to streamline my recipe, because I love the simplicity of a one-pot meal. To keep it healthy, I add a lot more vegetables than a traditional biryani. I like to add peas and cauliflower. The cauliflower is a real dark horse in this recipe. I'm normally not a huge fan, but in this dish, it steams in the spicy broth and becomes nutty and creamy.
I like to serve my biryani with a simple cilantro chutney.

Update: now that I have my Instant Pot, I am in love with this recipe all over again. The Instant Pot really excels in cooking rice dishes to the perfect consistency quickly. 

Chicken and Veggie Biryani
2 cups brown basmati rice
1 T butter
1.5 lbs chicken thighs, bone in or out
1 large onion, diced
4 jalapenos, diced
1 T minced garlic 

2 t minced ginger
1 1/2 T garam masala (or make your own: 2 t cumin, 2 t coriander, 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/2 t cardamom, 1/4 t cloves)
1 t tumeric
2 bay leaves
1/4 t chili flakes (omit if you don't want it spicy)
lots of black pepper, to taste
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 1/2 t salt
1 t sugar or splenda
3/4 lb cauliflower florets
1 1/4 cups chicken broth

2 T lemon juice
1/2 lb frozen peas

Stovetop version: 

Rinse rice and soak while prepping the rest of the dish, approximately 20-30 minutes. In a Dutch oven, melt butter and brown chicken. Remove and set aside. Saute onions, jalapenos, garlic, and ginger until caramelized. Add spices and saute, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients except rice, peas and cilantro chutney. Cover, bring to a simmer, and pour in drained rice. Return to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to very low. After 50 minutes, stir and check the rice to ensure it is cooked through. If not, cover for a few more minutes until rice is cooked through. Remove chicken and shred it gently. Pour in frozen peas (don't worry, they will warm up instantly) and stir gently.

Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker version:
Rinse rice and soak while prepping the rest of the dish, approximately 20-30 minutes. In the Instant Pot, melt butter and brown chicken. Remove and set aside. Saute onions, jalapenos, garlic, and ginger until caramelized. Add spices and saute, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients except peas and cilantro chutney and stir. Set Instant Pot to manual pressure for 20 minutes. Use natural pressure release for 5 minutes, then release pressure manually. Remove chicken and shred it gently. Pour in frozen peas (don't worry, they will warm up instantly) and stir gently.

Simple Cilantro Chutney (optional):
1 T lemon or lime juice
1 bunch cilantro, stems included, brown ends removed (cilantro stems are soft and flavorful, so waste not want not!)
pinch of salt 

While biryani is cooking, put cilantro chutney ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve with cilantro chutney. This makes a lot; serves approximately 10 people.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Homemade popsicles, for your health!

My husband is making an effort to eat healthier and lose weight. The mainstay of this plan is to eat more of my homecooked food and go out to eat less. Just from eating my cooking and watching his portions, he's already lost 10 pounds last month! You can find some of the recipes I've been making by clicking the "healthy" label on the right side of the blog.

Creamsicles and pomegranate popsicles
We crave dessert after dinner, so we were trying to come up with low calorie things to satisfy our sweet tooths. My husband came up with the brilliant idea of homemade popsicles. Remember when you were a kid and your mom would freeze fruit juice in a cup with a popsicle stick? We bought popsicle molds like these and have been experimenting with freezing all sorts of fruit juices, smoothies and teas. There is something about the fact that popsicles are solid and take a while to eat that makes them infinitely more satisfying than what amounts to about half a cup of fruit juice. Plus, they're so much fun! Here are some of the wacky ideas we've come up with!

Fruit juice popsicles: orange, pomegranate, cranberry, pineapple, etc., or any combination

Smoothie popsicles: freeze my Orange Julius smoothies to make Creamsicles, or you could do strawberry banana, etc.

Kool-aid or Crystal Light popsicles: mix up any sugar-free drink mix flavor and freeze it.

Pudding pops: remember these from the 80's? Jello makes low calorie sugar-free flavors. My husbands' favorite is chocolate and banana pudding blended with a banana.

Sweet tea popsicles: one of my proudest inventions. Sweeten your favorite tea with Splenda and freeze. So refreshing and low calorie

Chai popsicles: add a touch of milk and sugar to chai and freeze.

Coffee popsicles: same idea as the chai ones

You get the idea. Share your ideas for homemade popsicles with me!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creamy Potato, Sausage, and Kale Soup

Ok, I'll admit it. This soup is based on that Zuppa Toscana soup that you can get endless bowls of at Olive Garden. I will indeed eat endless bowls of that soup, and I have to give it props for introducing me to kale. Here is a healthier take that you won't feel guilty about craving.

I'm sure theirs involves whole milk or heavy cream, while mine has just a few cups of low-fat milk. Sure, it has sausage, but I make up for it health-wise with tons of kale. I love the kale in this recipe. Combined with the creaminess of the potato and saltiness of the sausage and parmesan cheese, it is mild and fresh-tasting. It's the perfect meal for a chilly fall night when all you want to do is eat soup for dinner. Although I am partial to Italian sausage in this soup (and I don't even usually care for it that much), I think this would be a fantastic vegetarian soup if you cut out the sausage. If you do opt out of the sausage, I recommend extra parm to get that salty, umami flavor.

Creamy Potato, Sausage, and Kale Soup

1 lb fresh Italian sausage
2 medium onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic
5 medium russet potatoes, unpeeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 t thyme
salt to taste
crushed red pepper
black pepper
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups milk
1 lb kale, tough ribs removed, chopped (I like to buy bags of precut kale in the produce section as a timesaver)

Garnish with Parmesan cheese

Remove sausage from casing (if present) and brown in a large pot, breaking into small pieces. Remove and set aside sausage. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add chopped potatoes and spices and cover with broth and water. Cover and cook for approx 10 min, until potatoes are soft. Add sausage and cook 10 more minutes. Add milk. Once milk simmers, add kale, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Serves 8.

Lasts in the fridge for 4-5 days and freezes well.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Orange Julius Smoothie

The other day my husband told me he was craving Orange Julius. Apparently he drank them all the time as a child. I, on the other hand, can't even remember if I've had one. We're trying to eat healthier, so I set about to re-create a healthy orange julius (or as I liked to think of it, a creamsicle) smoothie. Based on five minutes of internet research, I learned that Orange Juliuses are just milk, orange juice, sugar, vanilla, and ice, with the option of a banana blended in. (Apparently they used to offer the option of blending in a raw egg!) I decided to make a smoothie out of frozen orange juice concentrate (since it's already icy), skim milk, vanilla yogurt (to thicken it), and banana. I really had no idea what I was aiming for with this recipe, since I don't remember what the Julius tastes like, but my husband said it was dead on, and I thought it was delicious!

Orange Julius Smoothie

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

6 ice cubes
½ cup water  

2/3 cup milk
1 6 oz container vanilla yogurt
1 banana
sweetener to taste (I like Splenda)

Blend and serve! Serves 2.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Chicken Palak Curry

    I am really obsessed with curry. I have tried and tweaked probably a hundred recipes, most far more complicated than this one, but my chicken palak is my all-time favorite. It's simple: chicken curry with spinach, but tastes like so much more than that. Something about the addition of spinach into the spicy, tomato-based curry mellows it and really rounds out the flavor.

    This recipe is very versatile. You can make it on the stovetop or in the slow cooker. To keep it really simple, you can use store-bought curry powder. My favorite is Sun Brand Madras curry powder. It comes in this cute old timey tin that keeps the light out, is cheap, and has a well-balanced flavor. You can find it in the spice section of most grocery stores. Note that it contains salt, so be careful not to add too much extra.

    As with many of my recipes, I use pumpkin puree to thicken the sauce--it's low carb and adds more nutrition to the recipe. Pumpkin has a very mild flavor, and with all of the powerful curry spices, you can't taste it at all. You may omit it if you prefer. Your sauce will just not be as luxuriously thick.

    Note: I've started having trouble finding the Sun Brand curry powder, so I have posted my homemade curry powder recipe after the original.

    Chicken Palak Curry
    2 lb chicken thighs
    approximately 4 T curry powder, to taste (I like Sun Madras curry powder) OR entire batch of homemade curry powder (recipe below)
    2 medium onions, diced
    1 bell pepper (optional)
    6 cloves garlic, minced
    black pepper, to taste
    red pepper, to taste
    28 oz can crushed tomatoes
    3/4 cup (half a 15 oz can) pumpkin puree (optional)
    1 cup chicken broth (omit if using slow cooker method)
    2 t salt (less if using Sun curry powder because it contains salt)
    pinch of sugar, to taste
    10-16 oz frozen chopped spinach (depending on how much you like spinach)
    1 cup Greek yogurt (optional)

    Stovetop method
    Marinate chicken (optional): Place chicken in a plastic bag with half of the curry powder, squish it around to mix, and marinate for a few hours or overnight. If your curry powder does not contain salt, you'll need to add some to the mix.

    In a large pot sprayed with cooking spray, sear chicken on both sides. Remove and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Saute onions until golden. Add garlic, bell pepper if using, and spices. Saute for a couple minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients except spinach and yogurt. Simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Add spinach and cook 15 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt if using. 

    Crockpot method
    Cut raw chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces and place in Crockpot. Add remaining ingredients except chicken broth, spinach and yogurt to the slow cooker and stir. Cook on low 7 hours or high 4 hours. Once cooked, stir in spinach (the carryover heat will warm it), then stir in yogurt if desired.

    Serve with brown basmati rice, cauliflower "rice," or naan.

    Homemade Curry Powder (Use entire recipe for Chicken Palak Curry)
    2 T cumin
    1 1/2 t coriander
    1 t turmeric
    1 t fenugreek
    3/4 t cayenne pepper
    3/4 t cinnamon
    3/4 t cardamom
    1 bay leaf (optional)

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Mulligatawny Soup

    My husband was away last week, so that meant that I "splurged" and made all my fave foods that he doesn't like. Strangely enough, my "splurge" week meant that I was eating generally healthier, cheaper food, with little or no meat, compared to what we normally have. This is because my husband is the type of guy that thinks it's not a meal unless there is meat in it, and while I love bacon as much as the next girl, I definitely feel that there are meals that are not improved by the addition of meat. Usually, when he's gone, I make my Pasta with Pumpkin Cream Sauce. But to continue the exotic spice bender I'm apparently on right now with all of the Indian and Ethiopian food I've been cooking, I decided to make Mulligatawny soup. 

    Look at these gorgeous red lentils!
    Mulligatawny, much like Chicken Tikka Masala, is a fake-Indian British creation. And perhaps because it doesn't have authentic roots, it can come in a million different forms, as long as it's some sort of spicy, creamy soup. Mine was inspired by the Mulligatawny at India's restaurant in Baton Rouge, which has a base of a red lentils, and is finished with a touch of cream. I love red lentils. They are a milder, gentler lentil with less of that dirty-earthy flavor that brown lentils have. They are an amazingly bright orange color when raw and mellow to a warm orange brown when cooked. It was just the delicious, spicy, meatless "splurge" I was craving.

    Mulligatawny Soup
    1 T butter
    1 large onion, chopped
    ½ lb carrots, chopped (optional)
    7 garlic cloves, chopped 
    1 T minced ginger
    2-3 jalapenos, diced The last time I made this, I streamlined the recipe by omitting the fresh jalapenos and adding a can of Rotel, which provides spicy jalapenos and delicious acidity
    1 can Rotel tomatoes (tomatoes with diced jalapenos)  
    2 t ground cumin
    2 t ground coriander
    1 t turmeric
    1 t cayenne pepper (watch out, I like things spicy!)
    1/4 t cinnamon
    1/4 t cardamom

    1 t salt, or to taste
    8 cups water, vegetable, or chicken broth, or some combination thereof
    2 bay leaves
    1 lb, approx 2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed
    pinch of sugar

    Greek yogurt

    In dutch oven or stockpot, saute onion and carrots, if using, in butter. When softened, add ginger, garlic, and spices, and saute, stirring frequently, for a few minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except garnish, and cook for 30 minutes, until lentils are tender and start to fall apart. Remove from heat. I like to blend half of the soup to thicken it and make it creamy. Experiment with blending more or less to your taste. Stir in yogurt and serve. Serves approximately 6 people.

      Thursday, August 18, 2011

      Black Bean Salsa Salad

      What do you do if you love salsa and want to make it into a meal? Make Black Bean Salsa Salad! I've posted before about my love for make-ahead salads that make a complete, no-cook vegetarian meal. You can eat this as a salad or scoop it up with chips like a dip. It also makes a great taco/burrito filling. 

      Black Bean Salsa Salad
      2 16 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained

      4-5 tomatoes, diced into bite-sized pieces

      1 medium onion, diced

      2 cloves garlic, minced

      1/4 cup chopped cilantro, about half a bunch

      1/2 bag frozen corn, thawed (optional)

      salt or Adobo seasoning to taste (I usually put 2 t on the veggies, let them sit for a few minutes, then drain the excess water off before adding the remaining ingredients)
      2 T pickled jalapenos, chopped, more or less depending on your taste
      1 T lime juice
      pepper, to taste

      Mix everything together. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Chill. Keeps in the fridge for about 5 days.

      Saturday, August 6, 2011

      Ethiopian Chickpea Wat

      I decided to try something adventurous today and cooked Ethiopian for the first time. I love the combination of aromatic, rich spices in Ethiopian food. Ethiopian cuisine actually uses many of the same spices used in Indian cooking, but in different ratios, blended together to form a spice mix called berbere. This chickpea wat, or stew, turned out really delicious, with a well-balanced, heady blend of spices, and was easy for me to put together with ingredients I already had on hand (given that I have a pretty well-stocked spice cabinet from my Indian cooking). Aside from the several spices to make the berbere, this recipe is very simple-it's just a stew of chickpeas and tomatoes dolled up with some exotic spices. It's vegetarian and healthy. It will keep for several days, freezes well, and only gets more delicious over time.

      As I usually do when cooking something for the first time, I did some internet research and found a few recipes from which to build my own hybrid recipe. All Ethiopian wats start with a lot of chopped red onion that is cooked until it caramelizes. The Whole Foods site had an interesting recipe for an Ethiopian-style stew that involved roasting chickpeas to mimic a traditional wat that is made with roasted ground chickpeas. I'm a big fan of roasted chickpeas as a snack, so I decided to incorporate that into my recipe, but that is an optional step that could easily be skipped to save time.* Unlike the Whole Foods recipe, I blended half of my soup to thicken it and make it more like a wat made out of ground chickpeas. Ethiopian food is normally served with injera, a spongy, crepe-like bread made out of teff flour. Since it's difficult to find teff in the US, I just substituted store-bought naan and called it a day. I think pita, lavash, or even flour tortillas would also work. It would also be delicious served over rice.

      Chickpea Wat
      3 15 oz cans chickpeas or 1 lb dried chickpeas (soaked overnight)
      1 T butter
      1 large red onion, diced
      1 T minced garlic
      1 T minced ginger

      Spice mix (berbere):
      1 T paprika
      1 t cayenne (I like really spicy things. A normal person would probably want 1/4 t cayenne)
      3/4 t cumin
      1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
      1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
      1/2 t ground coriander
      1/4 t cinnamon
      1/4 t ground cloves

      salt to taste
      1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
      10 oz frozen chopped spinach (optional)
      2-3 cups veggie or chicken broth, until consistency is to your liking

      To roast chickpeas (optional):*
      If using dried chickpeas, soak them overnight. Drain, rinse, and towel dry chickpeas. Preheat oven to 450. Toss with olive oil, and spread out on a large, rimmed cookie sheet. Roast approximately 30 minutes, until they are browned, stirring occasionally.

      In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté butter and onions on medium heat until they are soft and caramelized. Add garlic, ginger, and spice mix, and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes. Add chickpeas and remaining ingredients, and simmer together for 30 minutes, if using roasted or canned chickpeas. If using dried, soaked chickpeas, add enough liquid (water or more broth) to cover, and cook approximately 1.5 hours, until they are tender.

      After cooking, I blended half the wat to thicken it. This is optional. You could leave it as is, blend part, or blend all of it. Experiment with it to see what you like--pull out a bowl's worth and start blending and tasting! Makes approximately 5 servings.

      *After making this recipe a couple of times, I've decided that it is just as good without roasting the chickpeas, so I skip that step.

      Sunday, July 31, 2011

      Green Chicken Curry

      Ok, I admit it. I watch Food Network. A lot. Whenever I need to turn my brain off, it's great to stare at content-less food shows. I also enjoy watching food tv while eating and planning my next meal. Today I bring you a recipe from an old episode of the Next Food Network Star. What better way to turn off your brain than watch reality tv with shots of food porn mixed in? I bookmarked this recipe for Green Chicken Curry from my favorite winner of the Next Food Network Star, Aarti Sequeira, and finally got around to making it. I love Aarti's show! She is so lovely, and I really love learning about Indian food from her. She's had a recipe blog since before her Food Network stint. On it you can track her transition from food blogger to Food Network star and find food-related tips and stories.

      This curry is unlike any I've seen before, and one of the best I've had. You know the mint-cilantro chutney that is served with Indian dishes? This chicken curry is essentially chicken simmered in that chutney (which is why it is bright green). It's pretty easy and doesn't involve a lot of chopping since you just throw most of the ingredients in the blender. I made a few changes to the recipe, and posted the version I made below. I found that the recipe posted on the Food Network site was a little bland (I'm blaming that on pressure to tone down the flavor for American palates), so I added a few jalapenos to the sauce, extra spices, and used chicken broth instead of water. I also supersized the recipe and added some spinach to bulk it up and intensify its greenness because the first time I made it, my husband was disappointed that it only made three servings (ok, maybe we both had seconds).

      Green Chicken Curry
      Masala Paste:
      2 bunches cilantro, with just the very ends trimmed off
      8 oz frozen spinach
      2 onions, coarsely chopped  

      7 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
      1 t fresh ginger
      2 large jalapenos, coarsely chopped (if you like it spicy)
      approx 1/2 t salt, to taste
      black pepper, to taste
      enough chicken broth to make the blender work, about 1/4-1/2 cup

      Remaining ingredients:
      1 T oil
      1 1/2 T cumin
      2 t ground coriander
      1 t ground turmeric
      2 pounds chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
      1 cup chicken broth
      1 can Rotel tomatoes
      1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar 
      1/2 t cinnamon 
      1/2 t cardamom
      1/2 t sugar, or to taste

      Serve with brown basmati rice

      Add the masala paste ingredients to a food processor or blender. Add the cilantro, stems and all (but trim off the very tips if they are brown). Cilantro stems are very tender and flavorful, so adding them is a good way to stretch the sauce and reduce waste. You may need to do this in a couple of batches.
       Puree on high until smooth.

      In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
      Add the spices and toast for 30 seconds. Pour the masala mixture into skillet and kind of fry it, stirring often until it deepens in color, about 4 minutes.

      Add the chicken, stirring to coat every piece in the masala. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring often
      . Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is tender and sauce has thickened slightly, about 25 minutes. Serve with brown basmati rice.

      Sunday, July 17, 2011

      Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

      Growing up in Louisiana, I was always picky about my red beans and rice. The best red beans and rice I've had are the ones at the Chimes in Baton Rouge. The beans are tender and creamy, the flavor rich, smoky, and porky. When I moved away for grad school I realized I had to come up with a recipe like the Chimes' using ingredients I could find outside of Louisiana. 

      I think one of the most important things about cooking red beans is cooking them long enough that the beans start to break down and make the sauce creamy. I add a lot of ham flavor by adding it early on and letting the ham give up all its flavor to the beans. This is another big batch meal, perfect to feed a crowd or to freeze into individual portions for later.

      The tweaks:

      I add two optional nontraditional ingredients: diced tomatoes and chipotles in adobo. The tomatoes cook down into the sauce so no one would know they’re in the beans, but they enhance the beautiful red color of the dish, make the mouthfeel of the sauce a little lighter, and add a hint of acidity to wake up the flavor. The chipotle enhances the spicy, smoky flavors of the dish. Garnishing the red beans with fresh green onions brightens the flavor and adds color. 

      Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
      2 lbs bag red kidney beans
      1 lb ham. Doesn't matter what kind--can be a ham steak, part of a ham roast, or ham bone. It's just for flavor and will be removed at the end.
      2 T Tony Chacheres Cajun seasoning
      1 lbs smoked pork sausage. My favorite is Savoie's Andouille, but in Boston, I subbed in Portugese Chorico. In Oregon, I use Zenner's Cajun sausage. Chorizo or kielbasa would also work.
      2 onions, chopped
      half a head of celery, chopped
      3 bell peppers, chopped
      7 cloves garlic, chopped
      1 T Worcestershire sauce
      3 bay leaves
      ¼ t thyme (optional)
      1 15oz can diced tomatoes (optional)
      1 T chipotles in adobo, minced (optional)
      1 t liquid smoke (optional)

      1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
      Tabasco Sauce

      Rinse beans and soak in a large bowl, stockpot, or dutch oven with plenty of water for 6-12 hours. Drain and add enough fresh water to just barely cover the beans. Add ham and Tony Chacheres to beans, cover pot, and bring to a simmer. While simmering, brown (almost blacken) sausage in a skillet (preferably cast iron). Add to beans. Brown veggies in skillet and add to beans when they are done. Add remaining ingredients except garnish to beans. Simmer uncovered for about 2 1/2 hours, keeping water level just above beans. until beans dissolve slightly and become creamy. Remove and discard ham before serving--it has given up all of its flavor to the beans, and is no longer tasty. Serve with brown rice, Tabasco sauce and fresh chopped green onions.

      Magical 4-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

      These cookies really are magical. Even though they contain no flour of any kind, they have a delicious, chewy, crumbly, cookie texture. Because they are almost pure peanut butter, they have a really rich peanut-buttery taste. I have to admit, though, the real shocker about this recipe is that I got it from Paula Deen, queen of unhealthy food, but if you use Splenda, they are actually a pretty healthy, low carb, gluten free, protein-rich dessert. 

      I have a thing for super-easy, kind of healthy desserts with very few ingredients, like my Three Ingredient Whoopie Pies. These are super easy to whip up whenever a craving strikes. You could also turn these into PB&J thumbprint cookies by squishing a dent into them before baking and filling with jelly or squishing a Hershey's Kiss a couple of minutes before the end of the cooking time. 

      **New development: We discovered that these turn into delicious CHOCOLATE peanut butter cookies when you add cocoa powder!

      Magical Peanut Butter Cookies

      1 cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth
      1 cup sugar or baking Splenda. I like to do half and half
      1 egg
      1 t vanilla

      optional: 2 T cocoa powder

      Preheat oven to 350. Stir all ingredients together. Roll dough into 1" balls and place on cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Flatten the dough balls with the tines of a fork to make a crisscross pattern (like the one in the photo). Bake 10-12 minutes. Cookies will still be soft when you remove them from the oven. They will firm up as they cool--trust me on this one! If you bake them until they are firm straight out of the oven, they will turn into sand when they cool.

      Monday, July 11, 2011

      Chicken La La

      The first Greek restaurant I went to (and continued to frequent until it was sold to a Jamaican family) was Aladdin Cafe in Baton Rouge, LA. It was a small storefront in a strip mall, but it was really something special. The only two people working there were owners--a husband and wife team. The husband (whose name I wish I remember) worked the front of the house. He always remembered us and welcomed us in. His favorite description for their food was "feel like home" (sic). The wife cooked magical things in the back. My favorite dish was something they called "Chicken La La," marinated nuggets of grilled chicken breast that were always savory, and never bland or dry. They were served nestled into a bed of hummus. The significance of the name has always been a mystery to me, and they would never divulge anything about their recipe. Looking back, I wonder if it was a variation on Chicken Souvlaki, (the name even has a "la" sound in it) but this is far better than any Souvlaki I've tried. I've always found Souvlaki to be really dry and bland.

      This is my effort to re-create Chicken La La, based only on my ten-year old memory of the flavor, and some food creativity. I am pretty convinced that Worcestershire sauce was a dominant ingredient, so it forms the base of the marinade, along with a supporting cast of delicious Mediterranean flavorings. I'll probably never know how close my recipe comes to the original, but I do know that this is one of the most delicious chicken recipes I've had. The intense marinade kind of acts like a brine, imparting moisture and flavor all the way through the chicken. This would also make a great marinade for the grill. My favorite way to serve it is like they did at Aladdin's Cafe, on top of hummus, with a greek salad on the side. With the leftovers, I love to make Greek wraps with Chicken La La, White Bean HummusGreek Chickpea Salad, and maybe some feta and leafy greens on a flour tortilla.

      Chicken La La served with White Bean Hummus and Greek Chickpea Salad

      Chicken La La
      3 lb chicken breasts cut into approximately 1-inch sized pieces
      1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
      1 T olive oil
      2 T balsamic vinegar
      1 T lemon
      2 1/2 t garlic powder
      1 t oregano
      2 t salt
      1 t black pepper

      Put all ingredients in a large plastic bag and massage everything together to mix. Let marinate in bag in the fridge for 6-12 hours. Saute in a skillet over med-high heat with a small amount of olive oil until cooked through and browned.

      Sunday, July 10, 2011

      White Bean Hummus

      I have not been able to bring myself to buy tahini since the last time I moved and cleaned out my fridge. Tahini is the oily sesame paste used in hummus to give it that creamy, luxurious texture. But it's always been such a unitasker in my kitchen. Believe me, I have made some delicious hummus with tahini in my day. But since I haven't had it around lately, I thought I would try something different. I could have just blended some chickpeas and garlic with olive oil instead of tahini, and I'm sure it would have been tasty, but I would have felt like it was missing something. I wanted to make something new. Not a makeshift hummus, but something that was good in its own right. 

      This white bean hummus has rich Mediterranean flavors of olive oil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. White beans are starchier than chickpeas, so they make a creamier puree. I love this as a dip for Triscuits, bread, or crudites, or as a spread on sandwiches or wraps, or as sauce for meat.

      White Bean Hummus
      2 15 oz cans white beans (such as cannelini or navy beans)
      2 cloves garlic, minced
      3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
      4 T lemon juice
      1/4 t each dried rosemary, thyme, and oregano
      salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

      Blend together with a food processor or immersion blender. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

      Greek Chickpea Salad

      Here is the perfect summer salad, full of fresh, beautifully colored veggies. When it's too hot to cook, this is a great no-cook summer meal. The salad has the flavors of a classic Greek salad--fresh cucumber and bell pepper, juicy tomatoes, and briny olives, with the addition of protein-rich chickpeas, making it a complete vegetarian meal. It also makes a great side dish to bring to dinners and potlucks.

      Unlike most salads, you can make this one ahead of time, and it only gets better as the flavors marry. I like to make a big batch of it and eat for days. (Let that be a warning to you that this makes a lot of salad! Feel free to halve the recipe.)

      Greek Chickpea Salad
      1 bell pepper, chopped into bite sized strips
      3-4 tomatoes, diced
      1 cucumber, diced
      1 small onion, diced
      salt to taste (I usually put 1 t on the veggies, and then drain the excess liquid)
      1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced
      1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
      1 t minced garlic
      1 t dried oregano
      black pepper to taste
      2 T lemon juice
      2 T olive oil
      handful of fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
      4 oz feta, crumbled

      Stir all veggies and salt together. If you have time, let sit in fridge for an hour. Drain excess liquid. Add remaining ingredients except feta. Mix and chill until ready to serve. Sprinkle with feta when serving. Lasts for several days in the fridge.

      Sunday, July 3, 2011

      Herb-Crusted Salmon

      I love salmon. It is the king of the fishes. Flaky white fish like cod and tilapia bore the hell out of me. Give me a fish that has flavor and tastes rich and fatty. Salmon is also my favorite sushi fish. So when I cook it at home, I keep it quite rare in the middle. This recipe is impressive as hell, but really simple and quick. I coat a thick, skin-on salmon fillet in herbs and spices and then sear it quickly, resulting in a flavorful, browned crust, crispy skin, and a luxuriously moist, rare center.

      Herb-Crusted Salmon served with Savory Zucchini Bread

      Herb-Crusted Salmon
      .75 lb salmon fillets (to serve 2 people), blotted dry with paper towels
      sprinkle of soy sauce
      mustard powder
      Trader Joe's lemon pepper seasoning
      dried dill
      Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning
      black pepper

      Remove excess moisture from salmon by patting with paper towels. Sprinkle a few drops of soy sauce on each side and rub in. Sprinkle seasonings liberally on both sides. Don't worry about putting too much spice. It's hard to overdo. The salmon can handle it. Spray a nonstick pan and the salmon itself with non-stick spray to prevent sticking and ensure the herb crust will stay intact. Heat pan to med-high heat. Place in pan skin side up, and cook for 2 minutes. Flip so that the skin side is facing down, and cook for 3 minutes. Serve with lemon.

      Savory Zucchini Bread

      This recipe falls somewhere between a quick bread and a veggie casserole. Bisquick forms the base, giving it a fluffy, dressing-like texture. It has tons of fresh zucchini, a healthy dose of parm, and a can of Rotel tomatoes to spice it up. It's perfect on its own or as a side dish to serve with chicken or fish, like my Herb-Crusted Salmon. It's great to bring to potlucks because it tastes good with everything, and can be served warm or room temperature.

      Savory Zucchini Bread
      1 1/2 cup biscuit mix (I like to use Bisquick Heart Smart mix)
      1/4 t salt 

      1/4 t garlic powder
      1/4 t dried oregano
      1/4 t dried basil
      1/4 t black pepper

      1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
      1 can Rotel tomatoes, undrained (could substitute another type of diced canned tomatoe if you prefer)
      2 eggs, lightly beaten
      2 lbs zucchini, thinly sliced
      additional Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

      Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl; mix well. Then add wet ingredients and mix. (Mix will not be uniform since it will have chunks of zucchini in it. At this point you may worry that there is not enough moisture in the recipe. It's fine. I promise. As it cooks, the zucchini will release the perfect amount of moisture to cook the Bisquick properly.) Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick spray,
      pour mixture in, and smooth the top with a spoon. Sprinkle a little extra parm on top. Bake at 400° for about 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cut into squares and serve. Lasts in the fridge for several days and gets even better the longer it sits!

      Tuesday, June 28, 2011

      Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Chicken

      Shoyu (or soy sauce) chicken seems to exist in some form in many Asian cuisines. The first time I had it was at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, and it was called soy sauce chicken. In Hawaii, it's called shoyu chicken, as shoyu is the Japanese word for soy sauce. It is simply chicken thighs braised in five spice-infused soy sauce. The chicken turns a dark, rich brown color, and absorbs the perfect amount of salty soy sauce and warm five spice, while the sauce is enriched with the broth from the chicken. I like to add frozen pineapple juice concentrate (I've written before about my love of cooking with frozen fruit juices here and here), which provides just the right amount of sweetness and acidity, and hey, it's Hawaiian! It makes plenty of sauce to pour over rice or noodles and veggies. It's a simple, exotic tasting one pot meal that only requires a few ingredients, plus it can be made on the stovetop or in a slow cooker!

      Shoyu Chicken

      1/4 t five spice
      1/2 t black pepper
      1/2 t red pepper flakes
      1 T minced garlic
      2 t minced ginger
      1/2 cup soy sauce
      1/3 cup froz pineapple juice concentrate, or 1/4 cup rice vinegar plus 2 packets Splenda or 2 t sugar
      4 lbs chicken thighs (bone in or out, skin removed)
      1/4 cup water (omit if using slow cooker)
      2 T cornstarch mixed with enough water to make a slurry

      Stovetop method: Stir all ingredients except cornstarch together in a large saucepan. Cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove chicken from broth and set aside. Separate fat from broth. (I use a fat separator, although you could just skim it. Return broth to saucepan and pour in cornstarch slurry. Simmer for a minute to thicken. Return chicken to pot and coat with sauce.

      Slow cooker method: Dump all ingredients except cornstarch slurry into slow cooker. Cook for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low. Remove lid and skim off fat. Stir in cornstarch slurry, cover, and cook for another 5 minutes, until sauce has thickened.

      Serve chicken with rice or noodles and steamed broccoli, and pour sauce on top.

      Sunday, June 12, 2011

      Pulled Pork Jalapeno Poppers

      I wanted to highlight one of my favorite applications for my Low Fat Crockpot Chipotle Pulled Pork that I posted below. Pulled Pork Jalapeno Poppers! Need I say more? The best thing is, the poppers are baked, not fried, so they are, like the pulled pork itself, relatively healthy.

      This is really a non-recipe. You can make as much or as little as you want. You can also use this same technique to make other kinds of jalapeno poppers: bacon and cheese poppers or cheese and mushroom poppers. Just to give you a sense of the proportions, I used:

      12 fresh jalapenos

      1 cup pulled pork
      6 oz shredded low fat cheddar or jack cheese, a handful reserved

      Preheat oven to 400. Slice jalapenos in half and scoop out the seeds and ribs with a spoon. You should be left with little hollow jalapeno "boats". Put the jalapenos in a large pan in the oven for 10 minutes to parcook. Meanwhile, stir together the pork and most of the shredded cheese. After 10 minutes, remove the jalapenos from the oven and stuff them with the pork mixture. Top each with a little extra cheese. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, until filling is heated through and bubbly. Makes 24 poppers. Try serving with sour cream, ranch, or blue cheese dressing.

      Low Fat Crockpot Chipotle Pulled Pork

      I grew up in the South, so I dream about pulled pork. I have perfected a super simple, delicious, and healthy recipe for it.

      The tweaks:
      Pulled pork is traditionally made by slow smoking a fatty cut of pork like shoulder or picnic. As it is slow smoked, the fat and connective tissue melt, making the meat flavorful, juicy, and fall-apart tender. Instead, I use a very lean cut of pork such as pork sirloin. Instead of smoking it, I just drop it in the slow cooker, which keeps it moist and tender. Since the juices from traditional smoked pulled pork tend to run off the meat into the smoker, it loses a lot of flavor and moisture that way. By retaining the broth that develops in the slow cooker and stirring it into the meat, I dare to say that my pulled pork ends up being moister and more flavorful than the traditional kind, all with much less fat. 

      The best part about pulled pork is the smoky flavor. I add chipotles in adobo to impart a spicy smokiness. I am also a huge fan of liquid smoke, and I add that as well to boost the smoky flavor, but that is optional. It's a natural product that is essentially the condensation produced from smoking wood. I love to add it to steaks, burgers, and pork. 

      I also like to add a little apple juice concentrate to add some natural sweetness and tang, but you can substitute sweetener and apple cider vinegar if you prefer. I've written before about cooking with frozen fruit juices. I always keep some on hand in the freezer.

      Pulled pork on a biscuit--breakfast of champions
      The goods: 
      This pulled pork is so easy to make and really quite healthy since the meat is lean. I like to make a lot and freeze it in individual portions. It is extremely versatile. You can go traditional and serve it on a bun with coleslaw (or my pickled veggie slaw if you hate cabbage like my husband does). I've gotten creative with it and filled jalapenos with it for pulled pork poppers, put it in burritos, nachos, empanadas, pupusas, panini, or lettuce wraps. I like to put some on a biscuit, maybe with an egg, for breakfast.

      Low Fat Crockpot Chipotle Pulled Pork
      2 onions, roughly chopped
      6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
      4-5 lbs pork loin or sirloin roast, with or without bone
      salt and pepper or Goya Adobo seasoning to taste (I do about 2 t of Adobo seasoning)
      1 can chipotles in adobo, mashed with a fork in the can
      3 T tomato paste
      3 T apple juice concentrate or 
      3 T apple cider vinegar plus 2 T brown sugar or Splenda
      3 T Worcestershire 
      1 t Liquid Smoke, optional

      Place onions on the bottom of the slow cooker. Dump everything else on top. Cook 5 hours on high or 8 hours on low. Once cooked, reduce the sauce by removing the meat and cooking on high with the lid removed. 
      Meanwhile, shred pork with two forks. Stir it back into the sauce. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools and the meat absorbs it.

      Monday, June 6, 2011

      Tortilla Soup and Mexican Brown Rice

      I have always loved the tortilla soup at Superior Grill in my hometown of Baton Rouge. The broth is rich with chicken flavor and packed with guilt-reducing vegetables. Plus, you get to stir cheese and Mexican rice into it!

      I discovered how to make tortilla soup by accident, just when I needed it the most. My husband and I were visiting Baton Rouge for the holidays and staying at my mom's. We had too many drinks at Slinky's on New Years Eve, and woke up with terrible hangovers on New Years Day. We rolled out of bed around noon, and smelled what we could have sworn was Superior Grill's Tortilla Soup. But why did my mom's house smell like it? Turns out she was braising chicken breasts in diced fire roasted tomatoes for lunch. As we soothed our unhappy stomachs with the nourishing broth from her lunch, I realized that this would be a viable base for a tortilla soup recipe rivaling Superior Grill's. A few days later, I worked out recipes for a healthy and flavorful tortilla soup and simple, flavorful Mexican brown rice.

      I crave this in summer and winter alike. It is light and fresh enough for a summer soup, but it is hearty enough to warm you through the winter. I always try to have an emergency supply in the freezer in case someone wakes up with a hangover or a cold.

      Tortilla Soup

      1 t olive oil or some Pam spray
      1 onion, diced
      1 lb carrot, chopped into bite-sized pieces
      6 ribs celery, chopped into bite-sized pieces

      6 cloves garlic, minced
      1/2 lb bell peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
      1 lb zucchini, chopped into bite-sized pieces

      1 1/2 t dried oregano
      1 t Goya Adobo seasoning or salt to taste
      black pepper to taste
      2 cans diced fire roasted tomatoes
      1 32 oz carton chicken broth plus 2 cups chicken broth or water
      1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts (you can either chop them into bite-sized pieces and add them to the soup towards the end of cooking, OR leave them whole and poach them in the soup, remove them at the end and shred them with two forks, and return to pan. I personally prefer the texture of chopped rather than shredded chicken.)

      Garnish (all are optional):
      touch of lemon juice (it's a great flavor enhancer. I swear it makes the soup taste more "chickeny")
      low fat cheddar or jack cheese, grated

      tortilla chips (duh!)
      Mexican brown rice (see recipe below)

      In a stockpot, saute vegetables until softened. Add remaining ingredients. (If you decided to chop your chicken beforehand, wait until the rest of the ingredients come to a simmer before adding.) This prevents it from overcooking. Cover and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until veggies have softened and chicken is cooked through. 

      Mexican Brown Rice

      4 cups water or chicken broth
      2 T tomato paste
      3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
      1 T Goya Adobo seasoning (or 2 t salt)
      1 t dried oregano
      red pepper flakes to taste

      black pepper to taste
      2 cups brown rice

      Bring all ingredients except rice to a simmer. Once simmering, stir in rice and cover. Cook on low heat for 45 minutes.