Wish Upon A Dish

November 21, 2014

Lightened Lemon Meringue ♥ Thankful Food Memory - Recipe ReDux Challenge November 2014

This month's Recipe ReDux challenge was actually very difficult for me. No, not in the cooking but in the picking. When you reach my age, there are so many food memories, some long forgotten, and then factor the in-laws foodie times and all of our travels (remember we are DINKS) and I suddenly  found myself skipping all over my life. Happy to have had the chance to eat in many different places around the world with many different people, I am not sure that is what the gals at Recipe ReDux had in mind with this challenge.

Then I thought I might be reading it wrong and it wasn't about memorable foods but about a memory from a meal. I have got to slow down and read things carefully. Is everyone in the same speed zone as I am? I hope not.
I went back to the web site's description of this challenge and carefully read the words again and that's were I found the word thankful.

"A Food Memory For Which You Are Thankful

In the US, November marks the Thanksgiving holiday. But many of us are especially thankful for food memories we have shared with friends or relatives throughout our lives. Was it a special meal you ate as a child? Or, maybe it was a food you grew and harvested with your own children. Please share one of your favorite food memories and the healthier “redo” of the recipe."

Once I "got it" I knew exactly what food memory I was most thankful for....

Everyone knows the favorite foods of their family members and close friends, especially when you have shared many of them together.
While my MIL has been characterized as one of many all time fast food cooks in a large family, Sundays were the only day my FIL insisted they all sit down to dinner. It was like that, in all my friends homes during the baby boomer era. With the advent of TV dinners and city sponsored childhood sport venues, regular daily dinners were grab when you can but holidays?, they were a different animal. While my Mom was an excellent baker and she always made three pies at each holiday meal, over the river and through the woods at my in-laws, Mrs.Paul's frozen pies were the special of the day. The Nudge loved the pumpkin, my BIL was a coconut fanatic and my MIL loved lemon meringue pie and as she aged, the children made sure there was always one just for her at each family celebration.
Near the end of her life, visits to the hospice were more frequent and while she had her bad days and good days, we knew she would probably would not be at our Thanksgiving meal. On what would be our last weekend visit, I brought a slice of lemon meringue pie from her favorite bakery, not sure if she would even have the strength to eat anything. To our surprise, and a full 5 minutes of suspense, she managed to hold her fork with this huge piece of pie precariously balanced, up and into her mouth with the largest smile we had seen in a long time.

While it would turn out to be the last piece of pie she would ever eat, we were sure she knew that and she made sure she was going to saver every bite. For all the dinners and all the memories I had given her over a 40 year span, I know for sure at that one time, with that one simple piece of pie, it was one of her best food and family memories and the one I was most thankful for.

Four days later she passed away.

Once again I thank the gals over at the Recipe Dedux for showing me how important food can really be.

In memory of my Mother-in-Law, I have chosen to lighten up her favorite (and my) version of lemon meringue pie.
What I hoped to create would be a creamy, lemony, low carb, low sugar and easy-to-assemble individual free-form lemon meringue pudding parfait.

Wow, that is a mouthful in more than one way.

Research on the Intraweb produced a few recipes that while light in the fat area they were still full of sugar and more prep than I wanted until I found this totally sugar-free 2 ingredient lemon meringue pudding. It was a good start.

Don't judge me, I know I can make this whole dessert from scratch using whole foods but I did not want to. Every one's time is sparse and spread in many directions and I feel that if I can give them an easy and tasteful dessert with minimal prep and cost, I am OK with that.
I am a fan of Jello products and their sugar-free puddings and pie fillings are a fast and easy way to end the meal with something sweet. Diabetics need all the help they can get, I would love to see the ADA symbol on as many boxes as there are gluten-free, low fat and low carb, but I don't.
Not a fan of most fake sugar substitutes and their off flavors, I decided to use the sugar-free lemon gelatin and a full fat vanilla pudding and make my decision after taste testing. I also added 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice to the mix and a 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese that I pureed and added to soften the sweet and tart.

Now, one more word of advice. Low fat graham crackers compared to a box with low fat on the cover, had the same nutrition labels. Yup, just buy the Keebler crumbs and you will be fine.
Also, the crumbs will be the bottom of my individual parfaits and the added honey will give them sticky power without using butter or heat.

"This recipe has been flying around the weight watchers message boards. The whole recipe is 4 Weight Watchers points as written (all sugar-free mixes with no dairy or crumbs). NOTE: Use the small boxes of jello and pudding that serves 4, AND you must use the cook and serve pudding (no instant here). You can make this with mixes thayt are full sugar instead of sugar free and as a pie filling or a light lemon mouse (with whipped dairy product)."

Lightened Lemon Meringue Pudding Parfaits
Makes 3 cups
* 1 (3oz depending on brand) box cook and serve vanilla pudding (NO instant)
* 1 (2-3oz depending on brand) box sugar-free lemon gelatin
* 1/2 cup large curd cottage cheese (your favorite), pureed
* 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 2 1/3 cups coconut water
* 1/2 cup heavy cream,whipped to soft peaks

1. Mix cook and serve vanilla pudding with water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
2. Take off heat and add lemon jello. Mix well.
3. Pour into a quart-sized measuring bowl and let chill for 2 hours.
4. Add the pureed cottage cheese, stir and set in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours or overnight.

Day of serving, add 1/4 cup whipped cream for two servings. Fold in gently.

To assemble: Mix the honey and the crumbs until combined. Spoon 1 tablespoon into each glass followed by 1/4 cup pudding, another tablespoon of crumbs, 1/4 cup pudding and a final sprinkle of crumbs.

While the recipe makes enough for 4 full servings, I did made two parfaits and set them in the fridge till today when there would be enough light to take a decent picture. When I woke up this morning to remove them, there was only one!!

There was a gremlin in the fridge!!
Seems The Nudge had a snack before bed and somehow forgot to tell me.

November 17, 2014

Tex-Mex Au Gratin Potatoes ♥ Even the French would approve

When you marry into an Irish & English family, you better learn how to cook potatoes in 100 ways. Based on some minor sleuthing, I figure The Nudge ate potatoes in one way or another at least 5 days a week.

When I put a baked ham on the menu, in a matter of minutes I can predict I will hear "can we have au gratin potatoes with that?"

While white potatoes are on the "bad" list for a diabetic, omitting them from every one's diet is not a good thing.
I decided to see if I could bulk up on the diabetic friendly ingredients to tilt the dish in my favor without sacrificing the potato presence.

I made a list of ingredients that would pair well with potatoes and started cooking (turnip was added towards the end).
Tilted towards Tex-Mex foods with the addition of turnips, I added pepper jack to the traditional cheddar and I threw my first version into the oven.

Sometimes you hit a new recipe out of the ball park, sometimes you don't. This wasn't even a bunt.
While the flavor was good, the texture was horrible. Time for some research into the secrets of what makes a perfect potatoes au gratin.

Took me a few tries and a push in the right direction to get the right ratio but once I identified the problem the last batch was the final one. It wasn't the ingredients or the time in the oven it was the technique that was askew.
While most au gratins are made by simmering the potato slices in the cream, my first version turned out watery. The potatoes and turnips spent too much time in the cream sauce and could not absorb enough to create the consistency au gratin is loved for. Change the way ingredients are cooked before adding the cheese. That was the key to success.

My third try was perfection, and in my opinion easier. I remember watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS and many times making a potato dish, required microwaving first to remove liquid and optimize the starch molecules that were necessary to create a creamy texture in the potato before any cream was introduced. It was all about the food science.

A casserole or ramekins, your choice. I am all about the portion control so I made sure either was viable. The baking time was the same for both.

This was created for the last contest recipe but the cooking time fell well above the requirements for entries. Their loss, your gain.
No use deleting a good thing.

Let's get cooking.

Tex-Mex Au Gratin Potatoes
makes 6 servings

* 12 ounces canned or frozen corn
* 1 (6oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
* 3 medium russet potatoes
* 1 medium white turnip 
* 1 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
* 1 large clove garlic, pressed
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/8 teaspoon pepper
* 1 teaspoon chili powder
* 1 bay leaf
* 1 tablespoon butter, softened
* 4 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, grated
* 2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 475°F and prepare a microwave and oven safe baking dish.
2. Peel and cut potatoes and turnip into 1/4" slices (I used a mandolin).
3. Beat together the cream, milk, flour, garlic, chili powder, bay leaf, salt & pepper until well combined. Pour mixture into a saucepan and warm over a medium heat while you slice the potatoes and grate the cheeses.
4. Coat the inside of a large microwave/oven safe baking dish or 6 (3/4 cup) ramekins with the softened butter. Mix the beans and corn with the slice potatoes and turnip.
5. Arrange the mixture evenly into the baking dish/ramekins.
6. Cover with wax paper and microwave for 10 minutes on high. Using a small knife or skewer inserted into potatoes to check for resistance. The knife should slide in with some resistance but the potatoes should not be hard. Microwave for 3 more minutes and test again. Once the knife slides in and out without help from you, remove them from the microwave.
7. Pour the cream mixture evenly over the potatoes and bake in a conventional oven until almost all the liquid is gone. Add the cheeses and bake another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. (I used the broiler right before serving)
8. Remove and allow to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.
Can be prepared up to two days in advance and reheated before serving.

November 13, 2014

Souffled Pea Stuffed Pasta Shells ♥ When you want a little something before the bird

Yes, I am lazy or, I think I am. No one has ever called me that. They seem to think that I never stop moving.
OK, let's rephrase that. I am lazy with the things I do not like to do. You know, cleaning the bathroom, washing the floors, the windows and my least favorite, kitty litter.

Today I can add more one item to the list of "Things I have gotten lazy about."
I seriously am just not into it lately. Not happy, I think cooking might make it on the hate to do things list. Maybe I am in need of a break from the kitchen or maybe from all the kitchen antics? When I think about cooking dinner nowadays, my thoughts go to baked ham or baked ziti or even plain grilled cheese. The Nudge would never complain about those meals, he loves basic comfort foods and could eat them every night of the week.

Want to know exactly how tired I am of cooking? I agree with him about basic comfort foods, am tired of trying new challenging recipes and I actually made a tuna casserole for dinner last night. You have to read the story as to how it ended up in my oven and you will see how lazy I think I really am.

I have recently been involved in a recipe contest sponsored by Libby's Fruits & Vegetables. Took about 2 full weeks of my time. The first day I started the posting process, I read all the requirements and realized the dishes I had created (and which took two weeks) were all wrong and should never have been created. I had no choice but to run to the store and purchase more ingredients and start all over, making dishes according to the specifications Libby's required.

Last Sunday was the deadline, and come Monday morning, I saw the four previous posts sitting in my archives, pictures and recipes, all complete. Yes, I know it is my fault I wasted so much time but what was more crazy was that I started all over again.

Now you tell me, who can think about making dinner with all that contest cooking going on? I had stacks of containers of uncooked leftover ingredients in my fridge. Not something I wanted reminding me of my stupidity every time I opened that door. Then it dawned on me.....make a tuna noodle casserole. Yes, with peas and carrots and a can of tuna along with pre-grated cheeses and buttered bread crumbs.
When I got done assembling and baking, there was not one pea or carrot to be seen. I was done. I was happy and we were full.

But you might ask, where's the tuna casserole? You are right, there is no tuna casserole in this post. So what's up with that? You waste my time because you wasted your time?
I would never make you read a post without a prize attached.

Today, I am posting one of my non-contest worthy creations because it's all ready baked, photographed and eaten. Oh, and by the way, one of "the best lite stuffed shells in 30 minutes" dinner that just might change your mind about canned peas. It did mine.

Here we go..............

Processed vegetables can be boring, sometimes tasteless and soft. Not anything every person who has to make dinner under the gun didn't already know. They are, however, a must have essential item in your pantry but simply opening a can and plopping them on your table is not the best way to get kids to eat essential vegetables.

If you have been reading my blog last week you have seen what creative dishes the Recipe Redux members created in 10 minutes using pantry stable vegetables. I am in awe at their creativity and let's not forget, these gals are professional nutritionist, dietitians and nurses so they know their veggies.

Those stuffed shells at the beginning of this post? Stuffed with pea souffle. Yup, peas out of a bag.
The two of us ate 24 shells in two days, they were that lite and that good.

I am not done, there's more.

The filling for these shells can be ready before the pasta is even cooked. There are a few tricks to this dish starting with a food processor, a container of pre-grated cheese, a jar of your favorite marinara sauce and of course, a pouch of Libby's peas. Just the tricks a lazy cook needs.

While the shells bake in the oven, the table gets set and the hands get washed.

In an Italian family, it is tradition to serve pasta as an appetizer to the main meal, especially during holiday feasts, but it seems everyone gets so full that no one enjoys the main event.

These shells are light and healthy, reheat extremely well and have a built in portion control option.
These can be made ahead, covered and stored the night before to be baked as soon as everyone has their coat off and is ready for dinner. The stuffing mix ends up as a souffle, light and airy but full of flavor. I almost ate the whole first test, they were that good. And I am a fussy pasta perfectionist.

From the processor to the table, 10 minutes to prep 10 ingredients, all found right in your neighborhood grocery store. Unattended time is only 25 minutes.

One batch makes 24 shells, and with the holidays soon upon us, they will disappear. If you should have any leftover and no one has dibs, they can be frozen and microwaved for lunch.

Souffled Pea Stuffed Shells
makes 24 large shells

* 24 jumbo pasta shells
* 1 cup canned peas, drained, liquid reserved
* 2 small garlic cloves
* 1 cup 4% large curd cottage cheese
* 1 extra-large egg
* 1 cup grated Locatelli cheese
* 1 teaspoon lemon juice
* 15 mint leaves, divided
* salt and pepper to taste

4 cups prepared favorite marinara sauce, reserving 1 cup for presentation.
Preheat the oven to 375°

1. Puree peas, cottage cheese, garlic, egg, half the mint leaves, and half the grated cheese. Add the lemon juice and adjust seasoning.
2. Cook the pasta according to package directions and when done, place in a large bowl of ice water.
3. Prepare a large baking dish and fill with the marinara sauce.
4. Stuff one tablespoon of filling into each shell and carefully lay them snug together over the sauce.
5. Mince the remaining mint and set aside. 
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until sauce is bubbling. Remove and garnish with minced mint, grated cheese and a dollop of sauce.

These make an excellent first course to a holiday meal or a lunch for work.
We ate them for dinner one night (with a salad) and then for lunch the next day.

We could not stop eating them, they were that light. This is one recipe I will be making many times and share with my Dad.