Wish Upon A Dish: January 2012

January 30, 2012

Fish Tacos/TGIF

A Catholic home always had fish on Friday. Most still do, hopefully, for more then the religious affiliation but also because it is so good for you. Everyone knows that already but getting them to eat fish 3x a week is the hard thing. Making Friday night a tradition for fish is one step to meeting that goal. Making fun, tasty fish tacos certainly makes it easier. The kids will love them and non-fish eaters will embrace them and Mom's will do a happy dance.

The last time I made fish tacos, they were good but not great. I just don't think I had the right set-up. This time I got my inspiration from the King of the Grill, the Master of Spices and All Around Good Guy, Mr.Bobby Flay (he's this adorable skinny little Irishman with eyes you could get lost in).

I have eaten in most all of his restaurants yet own not one of his cookbooks nor have I ever prepared any of his recipes. That streak is about to end.

Fish tacos are healthy by default and since this recipe uses no cheese and lots of lime juice and cabbage, it is extremely Diabetic friendly. I stumbled on a corn and whole wheat tortilla (made by Mission, they are new) with a label I can handle and in a size that is perfect for tacos. Built in portion control I can wrap my mouth around.

I like to use Swai (aka Basa or Indonesian catfish) for my tacos. It's inexpensive, goes on sale at least once a month, doesn't flake easily and it's naturally sweet.

I halved the recipe for the tacos but not the salsa. I have plans for that. I decided on a lite ranch dressing instead of the usual sour cream for more flavor, and diced Maui onions because I forgot to save some red onion from my salad.

I was a bad girl and fried my fish in my new favorite coating because I had some left over from the Chiles Rellenos the other night, but you could use a grill or grill pan as Bobby does with his.

Fish Tacos
Recipe courtesy Bobby Flay
Serves: 4 servings

* 1 pound white flaky fish
* 1/4 cup canola oil
* 1 lime, juiced
* 1 tablespoons ancho chili powder
* 1 jalapeno, coarsely chopped
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
* 8 flour tortillas

* Shredded white cabbage
* Hot sauce
* Crema or sour cream (a lite ranch is a good alternative)
* Thinly sliced red onion
* Thinly sliced green onion
* Chopped cilantro leaves (Left out, we have the HATE gene)
* Pureed Tomato Salsa, recipe follows


Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Place fish in a medium size dish. Whisk together the oil, lime juice, ancho, jalapeno, and cilantro and pour over the fish. Let marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the fish from the marinade place onto a hot grill, flesh side down. Grill the fish for 4 minutes on the first side and then flip for 30 seconds and remove. Let rest for 5 minutes then flake the fish with a fork.

Place the tortillas on the grill and grill for 20 seconds. Divide the fish among the tortillas and garnish with any or all of the garnishes.

Pureed Tomato Salsa:
* 2 tablespoon peanut oil
* 1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
* 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
* 4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
* 1 serrano chile
* 1 jalapeno, sliced
* 1 tablespoon chipotle hot sauce
* 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
* Salt and pepper

Preheat grill or use side burners of the grill. Heat oil in medium saucepan, add onions and garlic and cook until soft. Add tomatoes, serrano and jalapeno and cook until tomatoes are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Puree the mixture with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Add the hot sauce, oregano, cilantro and lime juice and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

This might be our new GO TO fish dinner every Friday, it was terrific and even The Nudge agreed. I would say I finally got the right set-up for GREAT tacos.


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January 28, 2012

Marinade Money in the Bank

This is a smattering of antipasti dishes I have in my fridge at all times. I marinade my own artichoke hearts, baby beets, roasted peppers and roasted cherry tomatoes and they keep for up to two weeks but they never last that long.

Antipasti are, for me, the best part of a meal. At Thanksgiving, it is my responsibility to keep the platters of different antipasti full. And at some point in the procession, roasted peppers stuffed with tuna will arrive at the table. The combination of sweet, meaty peppers and well-seasoned oil-cured tuna is always delightful.
Any fresh, meaty sweet bell-type peppers are suitable and different colors make a nice presentation. Peppers are always best roasted and peeled at home, though a jar of roasted red peppers can be substituted if you are short on time.

Many years ago, in the basement of the office building where I worked, there was a small deli that made breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Once I tasted their Italian Tuna Salad, I have never eaten it any other way.

I try to make a container twice a month and The Nudge always says yes to a sandwich. Keeping my resolution to eat less bread a week, I saw Lidia make tuna stuffed roasted peppers on her PBS show and now, that is how I get a good dose of Omega-3 and a delicious carb-less option for lunch.

Before we can make our own stuffed peppers and artichoke hearts we have to prepare the vegetables.

To roast peppers (includes poblanos, jalapenos and fresnos):
Rub each pepper with oil, salt and place on a sheet pan. Roast in a 400° oven until the skins start to crackle and brown. Pinch the middle of the peppers to test for doneness. They should be squeezable but not mushy. If they flop when you pick them up, remove them immediately. Once they are equally browned place them in a bowl and cover with wet paper towels, a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap. Once they are cool, remove to peel the skins off the meat. Cut a slit down one side, open the pepper carefully and scrap out the seeds and trim off the ribs. Place back in the bowl and drizzle olive oil, minced garlic and sea salt. Place in a lidded container and top with more olive oil to submerge totally.
They are now ready to use.

Tuna Salad Stuffed Roasted Peppers
* 2-3 sweet red or assorted-color peppers (about 1½ pounds total)
* 1/4 cup or so extra virgin olive oil ( I use the oil from the tuna)
* 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
* One 6-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil (preferably imported from Italy)
* 1 taablespoon finely minced red onion (or shallot)
* 1 small anchovy fillet, drained and finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon small capers, drained and finely chopped
* 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
* 1/2 tablespoon prepared mustard
* 1/3 cup mayonnaise
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley


To make the stuffing, drain the tuna and break it into flakes in a medium-sized bowl. One at a time, mix the seasonings into the tuna with a fork: chopped anchovy, capers, vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and about ½ teaspoon salt. Stir vigorously, breaking up lumps of fish, until the stuffing is soft and fairly smooth. Add more of any seasoning to taste.

Drop a scant tablespoon of stuffing at one end of each roast pepper strip and roll it up snugly, creating a neat cylinder. Press the pepper as you wrap, so it adheres to itself and stays closed.

To serve, arrange all the rolls on a platter, drizzle a bit more olive oil all over, and sprinkle lightly with coarse salt.

If you love marinated artichoke hearts, you really should make your own.

Marinated Artichoke Hearts
* 12 jarred artichoke hearts or frozen, halved
* equal parts Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Champagne vinegar to cover artichokes
* salt & pepper
* 1 teaspoon Italian Seasonings
* 1 teaspoon Dijonaise
* squirt of agave nectar
* 1 clove garlic, minced

Drain hearts on paper towels, pressing with another dish for at least 30 minutes.
Mix all ingredients in container big enough to hold all the hearts.
Taste for seasonings, it should be piquant and make your mouth pucker (but not too much). Too much pucker, add more oil. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator. Can be doubled and tripled. I do a whole warehouse-sized jar of them.

Marinated Baby Beets
Same marinade used for artichokes but rice vinegar and 2x the agave.

There you have it. Three simple recipes for wonderful starters (or a lunch) for your next party.

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January 27, 2012

Pick a Peck of Pickled Peppers

I pride myself try as hard as I can on organizing my meal plan every week. Either by vegetables, sales or coupons (hey, I won't buy shrimp without one). That way I can take advantage of lower prices, one time preparations and much less waste.

This is what the experts would call "eating seasonal". I just call it being smart.

Unfortunately it inevitably comes back to smack me in the face haunt me and I have a freezer full of food to prove it. I just can't resist a sale. I think I need to adopt a football team.

This year I am resolved to not buying any more food until I use at least some of my freezer bounty, that was until I saw beautiful, shiny, colorful peppers just begging me to put them in my grocery bag.

For some reason at this time of year, peppers are on sale and I am the first to say "I don't care if they are hothouse, in the middle of winter all this color is sooo welcome."
And, true to form, I picked a peck.

So far this week we had Sausage, Pepper and Onion heros, healthy Sweet 'n' Sour Chicken and I made roasted peppers to share a plate with fresh mozzarella and stuffed a few with tuna fish salad (post tomorrow).

Colored peppers have more Vitamin C than an orange and this time of year we all need extra Vitamin C so buy them for more then just the sale price.

Things I love to do with them:
Stuff them whole and bake to sweet perfection. Stuff roasted ones with a tuna fish salad, wrap an omelet around them and make a roasted pepper sauce to serve on pasta. Dice a few and throw them into your rice, your soups and roll strips with leftover nobs of cheese and bake them until the cheese melts and serve over crostini (yum). All perfect for your Super Bowl Buffet.

Now for my healthy version of Chiles Rellenos......

8 peppers

* 1 cup bulgur
* 1 cup red chile pork (or picadillo, excellent recipe here)
* 12 large minced green olives, preferably stuffed with roasted garlic or pimientos
* 1 ounce Monterey Pepper Jack, grated
* 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
* salt & pepper
* 1 teaspoon Garlic-Chili sauce

Mix everything together and stuff into the peppers.
Place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Dip in egg coating and fry until golden brown on each side.
Place in a baking dish, top with cheese sauce and broil until sauce is bubbling and lightly browned.

Cheese Sauce:
makes 1 cup

* 1/3 cup 1% milk
* 1/4 cup minced red onion
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 4 ounces Monterey Pepper Jack cheese
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (I love black pepper in cheese sauces)
* 1 healthy teaspoon of white vinegar (cuts through the cheese)

Heat everything in a saucepan until melted. Trust me on the vinegar, you won't taste it but it takes the edge off anything that can be "too much". The Italians call it troppo.
Reserve to cool.

How to Roast Peppers:
1. Rub washed peppers with oil, sprinkle with salt and place on an oiled sheet pan.
Set oven to 400° and roast for 30-35 minutes, or until the skins blister and brown.
Place them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap or wax paper to steam for 15 minutes. Some people wrap wet paper towels around them, I like the bowl method.
2. Once they are cool enough to handle, but not cold, gently peel the skins off the peppers. If you are stuffing them, make a slit up the front, open the pepper, cut out the seed sack and rinse to get all the seeds out.
If you are just roasting them plain, cut the pepper into quarters, scrape the insides with the back of a knife and DO NOT rinse. I like to remove the ribs, they can be bitter. Place the strips in a container, drizzle some good EVOO over, sea salt and sliced garlic (optional). They are now ready for eating.

Chiles Rellenos
8 servings

* 1/2 cup flour
* 1/4 cup cream
* 2 eggs
* 1 tablespoon cornstarch
* 1 teaspoon salt

* 1 batch filling (recipe above)
* 1 batch cheese sauce (above)
* 1 small can Goya tomato sauce (Spanish style)

* Vegetable oil for frying
* 8 roasted and cleaned poblano peppers

1. Stuff each pepper full and press to close. Arrange on a pan and freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate for 1-2 hours. (this is important, do not skip this step)
2. In a blender, mix flour, cream, eggs, cornstarch and salt till smooth. Pour batter into a large casserole pan.
3. Heat 2-3" of vegetable oil to 375°. Dip stuffed peppers into batter, spoon to cover and gently move them to the hot oil. Fry on each side until crisp and crunchy.

This batter is the best, it adheres to any food surface and stay crunchy, even with a sauce. It does not create a thick coating but just enough to help the pepper stay together and for the sauce to adhere (otherwise it would slide right off the pepper). I just love it and you will too. Promise you will try it. I use it on fish for tacos, vegetables, just about anything I want a light crunchy crust. Use rice flour or potato flour to make it gluten free.

At this point, the peppers can be prepared ahead of time, but place it on a rack or on paper towels. When you are ready to bake, pour the tomato sauce at the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold all the peppers. Place the peppers on the sauce (OK if they are snug), spoon the cheese sauce over the tops and bake for 10-15 minutes in a 400° oven. When the tomato sauce starts to bubble, switch the oven to broiler and brown the cheese sauce.

Sour cream and hot sauce is optional. These were good, good, good, gone.

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January 26, 2012

Sweet 'n' Sour Chicken All Grown-Up

I am not a fan of 'diet' dishes especially frozen ones. They tend to be flavorless, have thick viscous sauces, have no spice and desperately in need of some loving. I know why people don't stick to diets. They taste terrible.

No reason for that, so I decided to take basic diet dishes and pump up the volume.

First remake is Sweet 'n' Sour Chicken. Can often be gloppy (the cornstarch) or bland (the sauce) and just about as good as eating a frozen dinner.

The key to a good remake is to crunchify the chicken (we all love texture), crunchify the vegetables and tickle the sauce till it sings in your mouth. I took out the obligatory ketchup and used a tomato instead. There is enough sweet in this sour for the kids. All this can be done with the same nutritionals as the boring old one.

This would be the perfect dish to make when you have all those vegetable platters left over after your Super Bowl party.

Here we go........

Pumped Up Sweet 'n' Sour Chicken
Serves 2

* 1/2 pound chicken breast meat, cut into 1/2" x 2" strips
* 2 teaspoons vegetable or peanut oil
* 2 tablespoons cornstarch (for dredging)
* gallon plastic bag

* 1/2 cup each thinly sliced green, or red, or yellow peppers, sliced onions
* handful of pea pods, julienned
* 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

* 1/2 cup drained canned crushed pineapple in natural juice (you could use fresh)
* 2 tablespoon Thai-Style Chili Sauce
* 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
* 1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
* 1 teaspoon water
* 1/2 packet (about 1/2 teaspoon) instant chicken broth and seasoning (I use Goya)
* 1 large plum tomato concassé (or 1/4 cup petite diced tomatoes, drained)
* 1/4 cup diagonally sliced scallions

* 1 cup bulgur or brown rice, cooked (optional)

1. Place pineapple, chili sauce, vinegar, soy, water and instant chicken broth granules in a blender and puree. Taste for sour and add more vinegar if you need to. You want an even balance of sweet to sour. Reserve.

2. Place cornstarch in zip bag, drop in chicken and shake to evenly coat. Pour into a fine sieve and shake the excess cornstarch off.

3. Place a cast iron or stainless steel pan on the stove and heat for 5 minutes on high heat. You need a pan screaming hot and a non-stick will not do (over 400° the coating starts to peel off, NOT GOOD). Spray with Pam and also add 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Once you start to see smoke, drop the chicken pieces in and stir, and stir, and stir. Once the chicken is cooked, add the pea pods and add another teaspoon of oil. Drop in the onions and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes on high heat until crisp tender. Add the garlic and pea pods, lower the heat and add the sauce. Once the sauce comes to a bubble, add back the chicken and any accumulated juices and heat through.

Sauce should be thick and coat the chicken, if it is too thin, just simmer for a minute, uncovered. Sprinkle with chopped scallions and serve with brown rice, or bulgur.

Each serving provides (not including bulgur):
3 Protein Exchanges
2 3/4 Vegetable Exchanges
1 Fat Exchange
1/2 Fruit Exchange
15 Optional Calories

Review: Light consistency, but highly flavorful sauce with tender, juicy chicken. Not your usual take out. I would definitely make this again. Huge flavor in a healthy dish, the nutritionals are phenomenal. The Nudge liked the nuttiness the bulgur provided but brown rice also accomplishes this.

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January 25, 2012

Braised Beef Roast with Caramelized Onions ♥ Jury Duty

I have dodged the bullet so far. I got called one year, for the first session after the Holiday break and they had so much leftover business, I was sent home after lunch.
That was the closest I got to the inside of a jury room.

In NW New Jersey you are called for a 2DayCall-in/1Trial term of service. You call in after 5pm the night before to see if your number is called.

This is my second calling in 15 years, but no trials so far. I think I am overdue and there is a good chance I will finally serve on a jury.

Working at home spoils me for dinner preparation where I can get everything done during breaks in my day. I rarely have need for many 30 minute meals but I will need them for the next two days.

Right now I have a 3 pound chuck roast in the oven, slowly braising at 325° on a mound of thinly sliced onions, studded with pancetta (called larded) and cloves. At a little over $7.00 it is a true 5 ingredient oven miracle, there will be enough leftovers to toss WITH pasta, to stuff IN pasta or to make a pretty darn good chile con carne for the Super Bowl (goooooooo Giants!!!)

This would also make a good crock pot dish. Requires no browning, no liquid and very little preparation.

Here we go......

Beef Roast Braised with Onions
Serves 4-6

* 1/4 pound pancetta or salt pork a single piece
* 2 pounds boneless beef roast, preferably brisket
* 5 cloves
* 4 medium onions, sliced very, very thin (I used a V-slicer)
* Salt
* Black pepper from the mill

1. Cut pancetta into strips and then into 1" pieces. With the fatter end of a wooden chopstick, make a hole in the meat, push a piece of pancetta and then a clove into the hole.
Continue until all the cloves are used and evenly spaced.

2. Make a bed of the onions in a heavy Dutch oven or oven-safe stock pot, place the meat on top of the onions and salt & pepper liberally.
Place a sheet of foil over the pot and place the lid on top.

3. Bake for 1 hour and turn the meat over. Repeat 3x and cook for 30 minutes more (total 3 1/2 hours). If using a slow cooker, set on low for 8 hours, high for 4.

4. Remove and serve or wrap for later day. You will get about 1/2 cup of juice which I would use for a gravy or a tomato sauce or in a pot of chili.


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January 18, 2012

Crispy Noodle Cakes with Shrimp

Know why I like the idea of noodle cakes in this recipe?

You will eat less of the noodles and more of the vegetables, but that's our little secret, OK?

Seriously, this is a very healthy dish. Years ago it was thought that shrimp were loaded with cholesterol (it is if you eat a whole pound) but 4 large shrimp has only 43mg of cholesterol and is low in saturated fat. It is also a good source of Niacin, Iron, Phosphorus and Zinc, and a very good source of Protein, Vitamin B12 and Selenium.

You could substitute scallops or calamari and I imagine, that all adaptable chicken, would also work in this dish. If you don't have snow peas, use pea pods (they freeze beautifully and stay crisp), or use carrots and mushrooms. Red pepper strips (for Vitamin C) or asparagus would also work. I would try to use a few of the Top 20 Power Foods for Diabetics which, by the way, are not just for Diabetics. This is a GREAT clean out the crisper drawer recipe.

I slice my shrimp horizontally for three reasons. I love the curl that the shrimps cook into, I love the speed and ease (easy to see when they are done) with which they cook and I like that it tricks you into thinking you have tons of shrimp on your plate.

I also like that you don't have to pick up your knife to cut the shrimp into bite-sized pieces. OK, that was four reasons but a man easily eats a whole large shrimp so for them it doesn't count (sorry guys, not necessarily a bad thing, but it is true).

If you can not get fresh Chinese noodles, substitute linguine (you want the flatness that is linguine).

Crispy Noodle Cake with Spicy Stir-Fried Shrimp
Serves 4

* Salt
* 8oz fresh Chinese noodles (or 1/4 pound dried linguine)
* 2 scallions, sliced thin
* 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
* 2 tablespoons soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons dry sherry
* 1 tablespoon Asian chili-garlic sauce
* 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 4 ounces snow peas, stems snapped off and strings removed
* 1/2 large carrot, julienned (optional)
* 1 pound extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
* 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil. Add tablespoon of salt and cook noodles until al dente.
Drain and toss with scallions. Meanwhile, whisk hoisin, soy sauce, sherry and chili-garlic sauce in a bowl and set aside (can be done early in the day and stored in the fridge until dinner, just mix noodles with a teaspoon of vegetable oil).
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet and cook snow peas (or any other vegetables) until tender, 2 minutes. Add shrimp and ginger and cook until shrimp are cooked through. Stir in hoisin mixture and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and cover.

3. Wipe out skillet and heat 1 tablespoon oil until just smoking. Press noodles evenly with spatula across bottom of skillet. Cook until crisp, about 3 minutes, then slide cake to plate, add 1/2 tablespoon oil to pan and slide noodles back into skillet. Cook until crisp. Slide onto platter and cut into wedges (I find a pizza cutter works great for this).

I made 2 individual cakes and only used 1/4 pound of noodles for both.

4. Spoon shrimp/vegetable mixture over top of cake.


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January 17, 2012

Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

This dish has been on the menu for over a week now. It's about time I finally made it, don't ya think?

This is a lightened up version of what can be a disappointing mess of overcooked broccoli, dry chicken and a bland, gloppy (I just love that word) cheese sauce. Healthy, tasty and diabetic friendly, it's a win win every time.

No soup in this casserole, don't even go there. This is a meat and vegetable toss with a light sauce and then sprinkled with Parma cheese and toasted bread crumbs and quickly kissed in a hot oven until GB&D.
Microwaving the broccoli wrapped in a wet paper towel keeps it crisp-tender and is how I always steam my broccoli (one pot Momma here, thank you).
I decided that individual gratin dishes would be the best way to go and I think a crostini of toasted garlic bread on the bottom will bring this 'over-the-top' good.
You could make a side of brown rice, bulgur or quinoa but I am in a salad mood lately.

Since chicken breasts can be bland, I infused more flavor into this dish by using a marinade of the same ingredients. You only need an hour for this so while you are preparing the crostini, steaming the broccoli and measuring the sauce ingredients, you can marinade the chicken. I would cut the chicken into pieces and then pop it back into the freezer bag with the marinade.

Away we go.....

Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
Serves 4

Chicken Marinade:
* 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1" slices
* salt & pepper
* 1 teaspoon soy sauce
* 1 teaspoon minced shallot, onion or shallot
* 1 garlic clove, crushed
* 1 tablespoon sherry
* 1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Put all ingredients into a zip bag and marinade for minimum of one hour up to overnight in the fridge. Remove 15 minutes before cooking, drain marinade and pat dry with paper towels.

* 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or butter sub) divided
* 1 onion, chopped fine, divided
* 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
* 1/2 cup all purpose flour (or 2 teaspoons cornstarch)
* 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1/2 cup dry sherry
* 1 1/2 pounds broccoli, florets chopped, stems peeled and sliced thin
* 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 oz Provolone cheese, grated (you can use any melting, flavorful cheese)

Bread Crumb/Cheese Topping:
* 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* salt & pepper
* olive oil

1. In small non-stick pan, heat olive oil and when shimmering, add bread crumbs, salt & pepper. Toast, stirring constantly until golden brown. Remove from heat, cool and add cheese.
2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400°. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to plate.
3. Add remaining butter, onion and carrot to empty skillet and cook over medium heat until onion and carrot begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour (or cornstarch), stir to combine, then whisk in broth, cream and sherry and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes.
Return chicken to skillet with any accumulated juices, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
4. Butter a slice of bread with olive oil or butter and toast in the oven until crispy crunchy. Place in bottom of gratin dish and transfer chicken to dish.
5. Meanwhile, microwave broccoli, wrapped in a wet paper towel for 2-4 minutes. Add broccoli and 1 cup cheese to skillet. Season with salt & pepper and pour broccoli mixture over chicken. Sprinkle crumb topping over top and bake in oven until heated through, 3-5 minutes the most. Watch it carefully, the bread crumbs are already toasted (I know from experience, I had to scrape a few burned crumbs off ours.
Serve hot.

Review: This was excellent. I will never bake a broccoli and chicken casserole again. The chicken was tender, moist and the sauce was just a light coating so you could taste all the vegetables and flavors. The best thing of all was, the broccoli remained al dente and I wasn't eating another plate of pasta.

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January 15, 2012

Tamales - Daring Cooks Challenge January 2012

Ever since Rick Bayless' PBS show aired (at least 7 years ago) I have had this love/hate relationship with Mexican food. Hate because I could never and still can't find an authentic Mexican restaurant in any of the surrounding cities where I lived. We wanted Mexican, we ran to NYC and Panchitos, but that was a whole day deal.
Love... because I do, you know, absolutely adore it....grrrrr

Took me many years to delve into the process of making homemade red chili sauce. Now I wouldn't think of buying it in a store. I have made many versions of enchiladas (true enchiladas) and even dabbled in a huevos rancheros or two. When we travel to the Southwest or Mexico, I order the carnitas every time, but make them at home? Never. Can you see me (or even you) frying pork for three hours in a vat of boiling oil??
I don't think so.

Tamales always looked doable. I have a pasta pot (perfect for steaming),
I researched and watched shows on making the masa, the fillings and watched Rick and Alton wrap them every which way. It really was only a matter of planning a day (they are labor intensive) to make them and convincing The Nudge he would like them, really.

I mean, come on, its slow braised chili flavored meat wrapped in cornmeal? What's not to love. Plus, it's a diabetic friendly food.

Imagine my surprise when this month's Daring Kitchen's challenge was tamales!!
Yup, I have no excuse. I have a Shop-Rite a few miles up the highway that is situated in a heavily habitated Spanish community and stocks a wide array of Spanish/Mexican foods.

Between their rich history, handcrafted flavor, and wide variety of fillings, tamales are one of the greatest special occasion foods in the world. Even the process of making tamales can be a party, called a tamalada.

So..let's start our own tamalada and meet our hostess.

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!

Maranda gave us a few recipes to make if we wanted too, and while they looked very good and tasty, I really wanted to make a pork tamale. I wanted a slow braised chili infused pork filling like I been dreaming about for years. I chose banana leaves for my wrapping material but bought corn husks in case (The Nudge always says it's wearing suspenders AND a belt).

Finding incentive was easy, I have a site bookmarked. Frontera Kitchens is my "Go To" for all my forays into the world of authentic Mexican.

Recipe excerpted from 'Mexico One Plate at a Time' by Rick Bayless
Makes about 18 tamales

For the filling:
* 16 large (about 4 ounces) dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and each torn into several pieces
* 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
* 1/4 teaspoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
* 1 1/2 pounds lean boneless pork (preferably from the shoulder), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
* Salt

For the batter:
* 10 ounces (1 1/3 cups) rich-tasting pork lard (or vegetable shortening if you wish), slightly softened but not at all runny
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 2 pounds (4 cups) fresh coarse-ground corn masa for tamales OR 3 1/2 cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2 1/4 cups hot water
* 1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
* 2 1-pound packages banana leaves, defrosted if frozen

I find that using my kitchen shears to cut open the chiles makes it extremely easy to remove all the seeds (which can be bitter) and cut them into pieces.

1. Preparing the filling. In a large blender or food processor (or working in batches), combine the chiles, garlic, pepper and cumin. Add 3 cups water, cover and blend to a smooth puree. Strain the mixture through a medium-mesh strainer into a medium-size (3-quart) saucepan.
Add the meat, 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the pork is fork-tender and the liquid is reduced to the consistency of a thick sauce, about 1 hour. Use a fork to break the pork into small pieces. Taste and season with additional salt if necessary. Let cool to room temperature.

My pork took 75 minutes to tenderize. I removed the meat and seasoned the sauce with salt, pepper and a touch of agave nectar, just to soften the bitterness of the chiles.
So far so good and it was easy.

2. Preparing the batter. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the lard or shortening with 2 teaspoons salt and the baking powder until light in texture, about 1 minute. Continue beating as you add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) in three additions. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add 1 cup of the broth. Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water (if it floats you can be sure the tamales will be tender and light).
Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should hold its shape in a spoon. Taste the batter and season with additional salt if you think necessary.
For the lightest textured tamales, refrigerate the batter for an hour or so, then rebeat, adding enough additional broth or water to bring the mixture to the soft consistency it had before.

3. Preparing the banana leaves. Unfold the banana leaves and cut off the long, hard sides of the leaves (where they were attached to the central vein). Look for holes or rips, then cut leaves into unbroken 12-inch segments (you will need 20). Either steam the segments for 20 minutes to make them soft and pliable, or one at a time pass them briefly over an open flame or hot electric burner until soft and glossy.

4. Setting up the steamer. Steaming 20 leaf-wrapped tamales can be done in batches in a collapsible vegetable steamer set into a large, deep saucepan (if you stack the tamales more than two high they will steam unevenly). To steam the whole recipe at once, you’ll need something like the kettle-size tamal steamers used in Mexico or Asian stack steamers, or you can improvise by setting a wire rack on 4 coffee or custard cups in a large kettle.
It is best to line the rack or upper part of the steamer with leftover scraps of banana leaves to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam and to add more flavor. Make sure to leave tiny spaces between leaves so condensing steam can drain off.

5. Forming the tamales. Cut twenty 12-inch pieces or string or thin strips of banana leaf. One at a time, form the tamales: Lay out a square of banana leaf, shiny-side up, and spread 1/3 cup of the batter into an 8x4-inch rectangle over it (as shown in the illustration).

Spoon 2 tablespoons of the filling over the left side of the rectangle of batter,

then fold in the right third of the leaf so that the batter encloses the filling. Fold in the uncovered third of the leaf,

then fold in the top and bottom. Loosely tie the tamales with string, ready for the steamer.

Continue until all your tamales are wrapped and tied.

I steamed 2" strips of leaf to use as patches and I had to mend 3 tamales. I steamed my pieces of banana leaf for 35 minutes and some still cracked. Having those patches made the whole process much smoother.

6. Steaming and serving the tamales: When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of banana leaf scraps or leftovers. Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 hours. Watch carefully that all the water doesn’t boil away and, to keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary.
Tamales are done when the leaf peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up. For the best textured tamales, let them cool completely, then re-steam about 15 minutes to heat through.

Working Ahead: Both filling and batter can be made several days ahead, as can the finished tamales; refrigerate, well covered. Re-steam (or even microwave) tamales before serving. For even more flexibility, batter, filling or finished tamales can be frozen. Defrost finished tamales in the refrigerator overnight before re-steaming.

Review: While I know the banana leaf method does impart a unique flavor to the tamales, I still have half my batter and mixture (frozen) and will make these again using the corn husks. I also think I will make a vegetarian filling. I will not waste the rest of my leaves, I plan on making Kahlua Pork in the near future and I will wrap the pork butt in the leaves and slow roast it. Should be yummy.

January 14, 2012

Chicken Cordon Bleu Paninis

For a week now, two Panko crusted chicken cutlets have been staring at me from the bottom crisper drawer in my fridge. Decisions, decisions, what do I do with you little sweeties?

Yes, I talk to my food, don't you?
It even answers me. When it's mad at me for the idiotic ingredients I picked, it starts to scorch. When it loves the hot tub it is gently simmering in, it gets moist and tender.

What? Don't you listen to your food? It is always telling me things. Think about it....

When you place a slice of tomato in the wrong order of importance when stacking ingredients in a dish it will squish out the side and drib on the plate. See, I told you I don't play well with a slippery piece of cheese. I need something to hold on too, like the bread, dummy!! The mayonnaise goes on top of me, not the other way around, brainless!!

I think we become more accomplished in the kitchen when we start listening to our food and think about what it is you're making, what ingredients you are using and what you want the end result to be.

Sandwiches are the perfect example of what I am trying to convey to you today. I remember an Alton Brown show where he was teaching his nephew the correct way to build a sandwich and pulled out a floor plan. Even Alton listens to his food.

Where is all this going?

I decided to use my cutlets in a sandwich but any ole sandwich, a Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini.

If you do not already know, Chicken Cordon Bleu is made with 4 simple ingredients....Chicken breasts, ham, Swiss cheese and bread crumbs. I am elevating this to another level by using prosciutto and a mixture of Jarlsburg and bleu cheeses with an herb mayonnaise spread on the inside AND on the outside of the bread.....YUM

I am telling you the next time you make basic chicken cutlets, use Panko crumbs and make extra, just for these sandwiches.

I butterflied the cooked cutlets to expose the inside to the bleu cheese and prosciutto ham. I also think a slice of prosciutto (since it is paper thin) on the top and bottom of the chicken will add more 'hammy' flavor. I stuffed the chicken and placed it into the oven for 10 minutes to melt the insides (the bread will be burnt before the heat will penetrate the insides), then built the sandwich. Spread the herb spread on both slices of bread.

Simple Herb Mayonnaise
Makes 1/4 cup
* 3 parts fat-free (or olive oil) mayonnaise: 1 part Dijon: 1 teaspoon Herbs De Provence
* Salt & Pepper
* Agave nectar

Order of ingredients:
Slice of bread
herb spread
Swiss cheese (glue)
half chicken cutlet
bleu cheese
Swiss cheese
half of chicken cutlet
Swiss cheese (glue)
herb spread
Slice of bread

You could add leaves of baby spinach or arugula and roasted pepper.

Butter tops with herb mayonnaise and place on panini grill. If you do not have a panini grill you can use a George Forman Grill or a non-stick fry pan with another pan weighted on top.

Preheat grill for 5 minutes. Bread should sizzle when placed on grill.
Cover with weighted pan or panini lid and grill for 3 minutes or until the bread is GB&D.

You could serve ranch dressing, chipotle dipping sauce or honey mustard sauce for dipping.
That sort of would be like gilding the Lilly, no?

I gave The Nudge the last of a macaroni salad in the fridge but a small bowl of soup would be great also.

Review: This sandwich was absolutely delish!! Huge sandwich with a huge flavor. I might not go out of my way to buy the ingredients to make these but I would make them again if I had these leftovers. I think you need to know that I always try to eat only half a portion, even if it is low-cal, low-fat and Diabetic friendly. The pics are what The Nudge eats and is always 1 full serving.

January 10, 2012

Stir-Fried Chicken and Vegetables with a Plum Sauce

They call them impulse purchases. I call them a craving. For some reason, although not on the menu, I found myself putting a package of fresh Chinese noodles in my cart. Usually a protein decides the dish, in this case, for some reason I had Chinese noodles on my mind.

When I crave salty, sweet, spicy and sour I immediately think Chinese. Plum sauce has a sweet and sour flavor, the Asian Chili sauce provides the heat and the soy sauce, obviously adds a salty quality. It's the perfect dish all around.

I added a crunchy carrot (to pump up the nutritionals) and some pea pods to the bok choy.

Feel free to change the amounts, whereas I always add more chili sauce, this time I reduced it to two teaspoons instead of three. (I suggest you taste the vegetables before adding any more chili sauce).

Stir-Fried Chicken and Vegetables with Plum Sauce
Serves 4
Inspiration from America's Test Kitchen

* 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 medium head bok choy, stems sliced thin, greens chopped (keep in separate bowls)
* 1/2 cup julienned carrot
* 1/2 pea pods, strings removed
* 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
* 3 teaspoons Asian chili-garlic sauce
* salt & pepper
* 1/4 cup plum sauce
* 3 teaspoons soy sauce
* 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
* 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into 1/4" thick slices
* 2 scallions, sliced thin

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add bok choy stems and carrots and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add bok choy greens and pea pods and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add ginger, 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer bok choy mixture to colander, tent with foil and let drain (important, do not miss this step).

2. Whisk plum sauce, soy sauce, vinegar and remaining chili-garlic sauce in bowl. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt & pepper. Heat additional tablespoon oil in empty skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook half of chicken until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining oil and chicken.

3. Return first batch of chicken, along with any accumulated juices to skillet with second batch. Stir in plum sauce mixture and scallions and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer vegetables to platter and top with chicken mixture. Serve.

Review: Excellent dish. I will make it again but with a little more plum and soy sauce. The Nudge wanted it for lunch today and that means he liked it.

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January 9, 2012

Pork Cutlets in a Lemon Garlic Sauce

This is the pork recipe I used and for which I made the bread dumplings.
Although the recipe called for sautéed cutlets, we like them panéed (breaded).

It does not change a thing with the recipe, you still use the garlic oil.
I butterflied boneless loin chops that I brined for 8 hours. They were tender and moist, I just love brining.

Sauteed Pork Cutlets with Lemon Garlic Sauce
Adapted from The Best Simple Recipes - America's Test Kitchen
Serves 4

* 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
* 6 garlic cloves, sliced thin
* 3 tablespoons lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
* Salt and pepper
* 8 thin-boneless pork cutlets

1. Combine oil, paprika, sugar, pepper flakes and garlic in bowl and microwave until bubbling, about 1 minute. Reserve 2 tablespoon garlic oil, then whisk lemon juice and parsley into remaining oil mixture and season with salt and pepper.

2. Pat cutlets dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Rub cutlets with reserved garlic oil and saute in a heavy pan until golden on each side (about 2 minutes each side). Tent with foil and let rest, about 5 minutes. Drizzle with sauce and serve.

Review: Very, very tasty. I love lemon and garlic and this did not disappoint. The slight sweetness of the sugar softens the edges. I will make this again.
I dotted the dumplings with butter and baked them at 350° for 20 minutes. They heated well.

January 7, 2012

Canederli - Bread Dumplings in a Napkin

When I saw this recipe on another Italian family blog, I knew they would be perfect with pork and also, get me back on track with Gnocchi on Thursday. I added a pestata to the ingredients for more flavor (just like Lidia did with hers) and wrapped it in cheesecloth instead of a napkin (I image they did not have cheesecloth when this was made back in the day). I would try to make the dumpling a few days ahead and just slice and heat in the oven while you prepare the meat.

Always looking to pump up the nutritionals, I added quinoa flakes, my new love but bulgur would be great also. Just remember they expand as they cook so keep the mixture on the moist side.

Remember these? I used them as the rolls in this recipe. Next time I make this I will buy onion rolls, it made that much of a difference.

Canederli (ca-net-erl-le) Tirolesi (Bread dumplings in a napkin)
Adapted from Scavone Family Cookbook

* 5 stale bread rolls, cut into cubes, or 500g unflavored stuffing cubes
* 13 ounces milk, warmed
* 6 eggs, lightly beaten (I used 1.5 cups egg sub)
* 3 cloves garlic
* 1/2 cup cooked onions and carrots
* 1/2 cup quinoa flakes or bulgur (optional)
* 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
* salt and pepper

Process carrots, onions and garlic to a small chop. Saute in olive oil until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Place bread cubes in a large bowl. Combine milk, eggs, vegetables, nutmeg, carrot mixture (pestata), salt and pepper and pour over bread. Add quinoa (optional).

Let sit a few minutes to allow the bread to soak up the liquid, and then gently mix with your hands to form a dough.

Mixture should feel like a loose meatloaf mixture.

Place mixture onto a 9" x 12" rectangle of three layers of cheesecloth or the width of the pan you will boil them in.

Before you form it into a cylinder, make sure it will fit into your pot. Go length-wise over the cloth (or plastic wrap) to about 1-1/2" from the edges. Roll up tightly around the dough and tie ends and middle with kitchen string, leaving enough to make a 'pull-out-of-the-water' string. I had enough for two rolls. I made one using plastic wrap rolled in foil to see if the results were the same as the cheesecake wrapped one.
I know some people find it hard to get cheesecloth.

Cook in a large pot of salted boiling water about 35 minutes. Remove from water, drain and cool. Carefully remove towels from dumplings and slice into 1" slices. Serve in place of boiled potatoes, for instance on the side of goulash, or a roasted meat with good broth or gravy.

A serving is 4 coins.

Review: They taste like a basic stuffing does but compressed. I love stuffing. The additions are endless. Sausage, sweet potatoes, cheese. The Nudge said it had a weird but delicious taste. I gave him a cold sample but heated with a good meat gravy and a simple roasted chicken breast or pork chop, these would be wonderful. I froze one roll, leaving it in the cheesecloth but first wrapping it in butcher paper and then into a zip bag (don't forget to label).

January 6, 2012

Cod with Leeks, Tomatoes and Olives

I slipped off that slippery slope of resolutions by not eating breakfast yesterday and my tummy (and my glucose) let me know that. I ran out the door to grab a few sales, thinking I would eat something at Panera's (I love their Spinach and Artichoke souffle). I tried to tell myself it was because I had no bananas but my body yelled at me anyway. When I finally got home at 3:00, dinner needed to be started and I did so on an empty stomach. No Panera's today. Not good for anybody, least a diabetic.

This morning I was not leaving this house without my Cheerios and no excuse for having only green bananas would stop me. No fruit cereal is better then no cereal.

Tonight I would make a meal to help me get back on track (and I was doing so good....sigh).

I bought a one pound piece of wild caught cod. I would halve it, use one for dinner and freeze the remainder. A simple but tasty dish, the addition of olives gives it a piquant edge that goes well with the blandness of cod. I have been trying to slowly introduce olives into The Nudge's diet but he usually moves them around his plate until I pick and eat everyone of them. Maybe this time will work?

I have seen cod with tomatoes, olives and capers all over the internet (basically a puttanesca sauce) but I like the addition of leeks. I think it lightens up, what can be a heavy sauce, for a better balance with the delicate flavor of the cod (usually puttanesca is served with an assertive fish like tuna).

Any leftovers can be used for cod cakes or for a Spanish Rice.

Cod with Leeks, Tomatoes and Olives
serves 4
Adapted from The Best Simple Recipes - America's Test Kitchen

* 1 pound cod (or any firm white fish like Mahi Mahi)
* 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced thin (half moons), rinsed
* 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
* 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
* 1 1/3 cups white wine
* 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
* 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano
* 1 bay leaf
* salt and pepper

1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium neat until shimmering. Cook leeks until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, wine, olives, oregano, bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper ans simmer, covered, until leeks are completely tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Season fillets with salt & pepper. Nestle fillets into sauce and simmer, covered, until fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf and serve.

Review: This dish could have used more spice, herbs or maybe fish stock. I should have squeezed fresh lemon juice over the fillets before serving. A good solid recipe for people who don't like the taste of strong fish. If you schedule this dish when cod goes on sale, this becomes a very inexpensive dish for the great nutritional punch.

January 4, 2012

Mustard-Peppercorn Cream Flap Steak

I may never make a dinner that takes longer than 30 minutes again.
This cut of meat was a new one for me and when I told the butcher what I wanted, the boss came out front and asked me what I was going to do with it. Seems this cut is another butcher secret and I will tell you they have the best secrets.

Could easily have fed four people and in this house, six.
After eating this, I started collecting grilled steak recipes. The meat has the texture of a filet or a rib-eye but at half the price and twice the size, this would make great steak sandwiches the next day (or tacos).

Pan-Seared Flap Steak with Mustard-Cream Sauce for Two (but serves 4)
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, April 2007

* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 1 boneless whole flap meat steak or shell sirloin steak (top butt), about 1 pound and 1 1/4 inches thick
* 1 small shallot , minced (about 2 tablespoons)
* 1 1/2 tablespoons dry white wine
* 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
* 3 tablespoons heavy cream
* 1 1/2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
* Salt and ground black pepper

1. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Meanwhile, season both sides of steak with salt and pepper. Place steak in skillet; cook, without moving steak, until well browned, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, flip steak; reduce heat to medium. Cook until well browned on second side and internal temperature registers 125 degrees on instant-read thermometer for medium-rare (about 5 minutes) or 130 degrees for medium (about 6 minutes).
2. Transfer steak to large plate and tent loosely with foil; let rest until internal temperature registers 130 degrees for medium-rare or 135 degrees for medium, 12 to 15 minutes.
3. While steak is resting, pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from now-empty skillet. Return skillet to low heat and add shallot; cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add wine and increase heat to medium-high; simmer rapidly, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom, until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 30 seconds; add broth and simmer until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Add cream and any meat juices; cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in mustard; season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Using sharp knife, slice steak about 1/4 inch thick against grain on bias. Arrange on platter or on individual plates, and spoon sauce over steak; serve immediately.

Review: Wow, what a steak, even The Nudge said he would eat this every week. You will probably have to go to a butcher for this cut, but I if you can only find a sirloin, try to get one with even marbling in the flesh.
The leftovers are planned for a ooey, gooey, cheesy Steak Sandwich next week.

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January 3, 2012

Braised White Beans 101

You can't convince people to eat more beans if you don't show them how to infuse huge amounts of flavor while slowly braising them in the oven.

So easy, so simple and so low maintenance. We all love that in cooking.

You make these beans you will never used canned white beans again. This method is for all white beans which, because they are usually used in soups and with vegetables, need a bump up in flavor.
Soaking the beans in salted water (brine) helps the skins to tighten up and hold the meat so they do not turn to mush (trust me it works). Just remember if you brine your beans, always throw the soaking water away.

Oven Braised White Beans
Makes: 3 cups
* 1 bag of navy beans, soaked overnight in salted water
* 1 large whole garlic clove or two small ones
* 10 whole peppercorns
* 1 large bay leaf
* 3 sprigs of thyme
* 2-3 parsley stems (reserve the tops for the soup)
* drizzle of olive oil

1. Place beans and aromatics in a small saucepan. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Cover beans with water level with the beans, cover pot with lid and slide into the oven. Set timer for 20 minutes.
3. After first 20 minutes, stir the beans and top with warm water if needed (always keep the beans submerged). Lower the oven to 350° and set the timer for another 20 minutes.
4. After the second 20 minutes, replace the water (I used a total of 1 cup replacement water) and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Set the timer for the last 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven, remove the herbs and bay leaf. With a slotted spoon, remove to container and pour in enough braising liquid to cover the beans. Can be kept in the fridge for 4-5 days before using.


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January 2, 2012

New Year, New Resolution ♥ Beans can save your life, literally

Sunday nights are a good time to soak beans.

Why Sundays? Because, tradition has it that Mondays are catch up days.
You know the start of a new week is time to play catch-up.
Laundry, dishes, dusting, etc and a great time to 'put up' a pot 'o beans. I have also read that if you soak them just long enough where they begin to sprout, they are packed with more of the good stuff that beans normally have. Remember that science experiment in grammar school where you took a handful of beans and placed the between to sheets of moist paper towels to watch them sprout? This is the same thing.

Beans do more for a recipe then add fiber, minerals and vitamins. The add moisture, texture and, believe it or not, like potatoes, they retain heat (go figure).

Beans have significant amounts of fiber and soluble fiber, with one cup of cooked beans providing between nine and 13 grams of fiber. Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol. Beans are also high in protein, complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron.

I cannot stress more...if you want to loose weight or are a diabetic, you need to eat beans at least 3x a week.

New Years Day is the perfect time to get started with incorporating beans into your diet.
Beans are considered good luck. Black-eyed peas in the South, favas or lentils for the Italians, baked beans in New England and black beans in the SW. They represent coins as they swell while soaking, so your pocket will forever be full. Others consider it a new beginning like the seeds planted for food.

We had baked beans with our Buffalo wings. I make mine in the crock pot using the technique that Cooks Illustrated perfected for moist and soft beans (not many have success with beans and a slow cooker) but read on and the light bulb will go off.
Problem with cooking beans in a slow cooker is the empty space. Beans need moisture to cook and will get horribly hard, real fast if not treated the right way.

By placing a sheet of foil over the beans, the moisture goes back into the beans, not into the empty space. If your slow cooker is the perfect size (meaning the bean mixture before cooking comes right up to the rim) you do not need the foil.
Simple solution for such a tough problem (get it??).

The following recipe cooks enough for a large picnic but can be divided into 4 servings successfully (amounts in parentheses). If you do not want to use (or do not have) a slow cooker, put them in an oven at 250F for the same amount of time.

Basic Baked Beans in a Slow Cooker
Serves 16
* 1 pound dry navy beans (1/4 cup)
* 1/2 cup chopped onion (2 tablespoons)
* 1/2 cup low-sugar ketchup (2 tablespoons)
* 1/2 cup Truvia brown sugar, firmly packed (2 tablespoons)
* 1/2 cup water (1/4 cup)
* 1 tablespoon ground ginger (1 teaspoon)
* 1 teaspoon dry mustard (1/4 teaspoon)
* 2 tablespoons molasses (2 teaspoons)
* 6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (2 slices)
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (1/4 teaspoon)
* 1/4 cup sugar-free pancake syrup (2 tablespoons)


Quick soaking method...
Put beans in three times the volume of unsalted water; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer gently for 1 hour. Let stand, covered, in the hot water for 2 hours.

In a bowl, combine onion, ketchup, brown sugar, ginger, water, mustard, molasses and syrup. Drain beans well and mix with the ketchup mixture in the slow cooker. Cover with foil then lid and cook on LOW for 9 to 11 hours (6-8 for small batch), until beans are tender. Add salt about 30 minutes before serving time. Try not to open the lid until halfway through the cooking time. You will loose over an hour of cooking time every time you peek.

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