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.