Wish Upon A Dish: February 2013

February 28, 2013

Soupreme Monday's Barley, Lentil and Sausage Soup

"Soup is good food".
Genius, no?

I wanted to school at Pratt Institute in NYC but my parents spent my college money on a trip to Hawaii. Might have been a waste of money anyways, I am no where near as creative as the chap who came up with that saying. Campbell's built an empire around that one line. Soup can heal all that ails you.

Saturday I was allowed a "ME" day and was "ordered" to eat and drink what I wanted (or didn't want) and just relax. Hmmmm, I wonder what he wants?
Whatever it is, he can have it. A day off from cooking was exactly what the doctor prescribed. I recommend a ME day for everyone. I woke up the next morning ready to cook up a storm and got so much work done. I was even allowed to sleep late and got coffee in bed. Weeee Yo!!

Hmmm, nothing yet. He has to be up to something. Ahhhhh, I figured it out.

Why was The Nudge in such a generous mood? I was in a food rut and he is well aware that while in a rut, he gets fed poorly. No matter how much we eat, drink, sleep and breath food, we all get into those times when we are tired of food. It only lasts a few days, but it feels crappy. One can only eat hot dogs and PB&J sandwiches but a few times before they crave a good comfort meal.

First recipe on the menu is this hearty healthy savory soup that I spotted over at Better Homes & Gardens.
What caught my eye was the barley (a great grain for diabetics), the lentils (have been looking for a vehicle for French Puy lentils I had), the chicken sausage and spinach. I did not have to buy a thing, my pantry came through once again.

Just so happens it's been 10° below average temps for this time of year and a warm bowl of soup will be well received. I have dinner rolls that just have to be toasted and dinner is served. Since prep was minimum, this dish came together in under 1 hour. Most of it gently simmering away on it's own with an occasional stir. I would say this recipe makes a good candidate for your slow cooker. A nice dish to come home to. If lentils are not your cup of tea, I can recommend a canned small white bean and can even vouch for black eyed peas.
This reminds me a take on Carrabba's Lentil and Sausage Soup with barley.

As my rut was slowly disappearing into the sunset, The Nudge grabbed his handkerchief and blew his nose. I smiled and I felt back to normal. Nice to be appreciated.

"Ahhhh, you missed my cooking that much dear?" "No, honey, the soup is just making my nose run".

Lentil-Toasted Barley Soup with Sausage
Adapted from bhg.com
serves 6 (1 1/2 cup) servings
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1/2 cup regular barley 
* 1 cup chopped onion (1 large) 
* 3/4 cup chopped carrots  
* 2 cloves garlic, minced 
* 2 teaspoons teaspoons ground cumin 
* 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth  
* 1 cup water 
* 1/2 cup lentils, rinsed and drained 
* 1 bay leaf 
* 14 1/2 ounce can no-salt-added diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained   
* 6 ounces cooked chicken-apple sausage links, halved lengthwise and sliced  
* 4 cups fresh baby spinach
1. In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add barley; cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes or until barley is golden. Add onion, carrots, and garlic; cook about 10 minutes or just until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin; cook and stir for 30 seconds more.
2. Add broth, the water, lentils, and bay leaf. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 55 minutes or until barley and lentils are tender. Stir in tomatoes and sausage; heat through. Remove and discard bay leaf.
3. Add spinach, stirring until spinach begins to wilt. Ladle soup into serving bowls. Serve immediately.
Nutrition Facts (Lentil-Toasted Barley Soup with Sausage)
  • Servings Per Recipe 6,
  • cal. (kcal) 245,
  • Fat, total (g) 7,
  • chol. (mg) 32,
  • sat. fat (g) 2,
  • carb. (g) 33,
  • Monosaturated fat (g) 2,
  • fiber (g) 10,
  • sugar (g) 5,
  • pro. (g) 14,
  • vit. A (IU) 4859,
  • vit. C (mg) 15,
  • Thiamin (mg) 0,
  • Riboflavin (mg) 0,
  • Niacin (mg) 3,
  • Pyridoxine (Vit. B6) (mg) 0,
  • Folate (µg) 165,
  • Cobalamin (Vit. B12) (µg) 0,
  • sodium (mg) 645,
  • Potassium (mg) 440,
  • calcium (mg) 81,
  • iron (mg) 4,
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February 27, 2013

Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta


I recently discovered EatingWell.com. Not that I did not know they existed, I knew they were out there but I never actually made a recipe of theirs. I figured I could make my own healthy recipes inspired by dishes I saw here and there that were not labeled with any of those diet buzz words. 
Sorry to say, although I had intentions of following this recipe verbatim, when I got to the whole can of tomatoes, I took a left turn and never looked back.
It's not that I don't like tomatoes and sauces they make but when I read creamy in the menu, I assumed it was creamy. So many things went wrong here and the recipe that ended up on my dinner plate started out as one thing and ended up totally different. While one day I suppose I will remake this dish as written, I liked my version, so I am posting that.

For the tomato in my recipe, I seeded and chopped 10 compari tomatoes, my new favorite winter tomato. They run from 2" to 2 1/2", come on the vine and are greenhouse grown. I buy them at Cosco, in a blister pack at a good price and they are sweet and meaty.
The creamy was a 1/3 cup ricotta cheese and grated Romano. I also added red peppers because I do not like green and I cut my breast into strips not chunks.
I omitted the bacon and used a fresh fettuccine instead of fusilli.
I really do apologize for all this subterfuge but this is a good way of showing you how to take an idea and make it your own.
While a very tasty dish, it just didn't tickle the taste buds and I suppose I was really hoping for a Creole shrimp dish using chicken. Unfortunately the Italian in me just won't stay away and I would have been better just making the chicken in the sauce without bringing the pasta into play. If you are looking for a quick, spicy but lightly sauced pasta with chicken, make this recipe. You will not be sorry. Tame enough for the little ones but with enough zing to qualify it as Cajun. This is one dish where serving a side of Louisiana hot sauce should be on the menu.

This dish will be better the day after and since it made enough for an army, the day after the day after the day after.

Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta
Inspired by eatingwell.com
6 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each

1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper

Chicken and Pasta
1 large or 2 medium boneless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
9ounce package fresh fettuccine (I bought Buitoni)


1 large sweet onion, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 red pepper, 1" slices
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup white wine
10 chopped fresh tomatoes or 2/3 cup canned diced tomatoes
1/3 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chicken with marinade and saute until chicken is just cooked. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon, leaving marinade in the pan. Add onion, pepper and garlic to residual marinade and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add additional Cajun seasoning and pepper. Cook stirring, until the onion and bell pepper are beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add wine to deglaze the pan and then the flour and stir to coat. Add tomatoes and their juice; bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce is bubbling. Add chicken to cook through. Remove from the heat. Stir in cheese.
  4. Stir the pasta into the sauce. Serve sprinkled with parsley, if desired.
Exchanges per serving:
2 starch
2 vegetable
2 lean meat
3 fat

February 26, 2013

Ultimate Baked Ziti

I started to notice something disturbing recently. When you have cooked from scratch as long as I have, and still try to remain as open to change as I can be, some things should jut not be messed with.

What could I possibly be talking about? Brand name packaged ricotta. You know them, Biazzo, Polly-O and Sargento. Pretty much nation-wide brands, pretty much all equal. At first I thought it might have been the brand, but after sampling all three of them I really got sad, no, not mad, just very sad.

Why would any company, known for it's Italian products, take something so sacred and loved because of it's creamy, curdy cheese texture and BLEND THE CRAP out of it?

I admit, before they messed with the texture, although still not nearly as good as homemade, in a baked dish (shells, lasagna and ziti), they were acceptable. Hell, lasagna made with cottage cheese no longer grosses me out, I can surely eat ones using a plastic carton of ricotta cheese and in a pinch, do........well, did.
Now for the sad....I can no longer cook with store shelf ricotta. Yup, they have finally crossed over the line for me.

Those small little balls of creamy sweet cheese caviar now feel like little grains of sand. When subjected to heat, they just don't melt. Most consumers won't even tell, but I have been eating ricotta for over 55 years and difference was not only in the appearance but in the texture, and good ricotta is all about the texture. 

Last night's Ultimate Baked Ziti dish was a lesson in a perfect example of why I can not embrace all changes in the food industry. I will gladly eat vegan cheese if I know it's fake cheese, but real cheese should act like REAL CHEESE. It just doesn't behave the way it used too, and for that, I can not forgive. Shame on you, and you know who are, for once again giving into the homogenized world we now live in, and not sticking to your heritage. Why not just have us all eat Stage 1 baby food?

There is an easy alternative.
Did you know that making homemade ricotta takes all of ten minutes, uses two ingredients and can be made in small amounts, like enough for one recipe? Yup, and if you read this, you too can easily master the art of making ricotta. I thought about not posting this but even with the store ricotta this recipe is excellent and should be used the next time you plan on baked ziti.

Ultimate Baked Ziti
makes 4 servings
* 2 cups ziti rigate
* 2 cups good meat sauce, divided into two bowls
* 8oz mozzarella
* 1/2 cup Romano cheese
* 1/4 cup cream
* 2/3 cup ricotta
* 1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
* 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
* 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
* Freshly grated black pepper

1. Put a gallon salted water to a boil and preheat the oven to 350°. Meanwhile in a large bowl, spoon in the ricotta, 1/2 the mozzarella and half the Roman cheeses, the cream, half the meat sauce and all the herbs and spices. Mix to combine.
2. Boil pasta for 8 minutes (will be quite firm), and before draining, save a cup of the cooking water.
3. Incorporate the drained pasta into the cheese mixture. It should be loose with enough moisture to make it the consistency of a chunky soup. Use the pasta water to thin it out. The pasta will need that moisture to cook to perfection without drying out. Spoon 1/4 amount into each ramekin or all, into a large lasagna pan. Dollop the remaining meat sauce down the middle and sprinkle evenly, the remaining 1/4 cup Romano cheese.
4. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, up the temperature to 400° , take off the foil and spread the mozzarella over the top. Return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the mozzarella is melted and the edges are bubbling
5. Let pasta rest for at least 20 minutes. Serve extra grated cheese if desired.

Review: Reheats like a dream, either in an oven or in the microwave. It remained moist but the edges stayed crispy. I will never make a baked ziti any other way again and at 515 calories a serving, it's a good thing.

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February 25, 2013

Asparagus, Quinoa & Corn Crepes with Poached Eggs

The Magic Pan. Ever hear of it? A restaurant dedicated to every dish using the humble, yet versatile crepe. The floor show was a large turntable of upside down pans that a cook would dip into the batter, place it back in the spot where taken (over a circular burner) and as it rotated, removed the next pan in line, flipped it over a platter, the crepe dropped off, they re-dipped the bottom in batter again and repeat this all night long. I certainly would not want that job. It would sort of be akin to this skit that put I Love Lucy on the #1 hit TV show list. Unfortunately it did nothing for the popularity of the restaurant and they closed a few years later.

What was wonderful about all that, besides the side show, was the fillings they offered. My love all things crepe never left me but am sorry to say the restaurant did so I made this salad in homage. 

Resolution this year of adding more grains and seeds to my diet have me constantly on the alert for recipes that while I know I would love to eat, would also appeal to my better half.

I decided to make quinoa crepes. Now I could have used quinoa flour but my first try went for texture with the flakes. Not sure that was a good idea, I know they had a nutty smell while frying in the pan and were pliable enough to wrap around a filling, but they were too thick to be called a crepe. Not one to throw them out, I will mess with them later in the week when The Nudge travels back to Boston.

For today I made a new batch using a mixture of AP, corn and quinoa flours (for texture & great flavor), real eggs and fat-free evaporated milk. They acted like traditional crepes but tasted way better and were loaded with all the good things that corn and quinoa give to the party. A win-win for everyone. Tag a filling of healthy spinach or in this case roasted asparagus, top with a poached egg (optional), a hollandaise or mustard sauce and you have the first of many wonderful Easter Brunch dishes.
Let's face it, anyone can roast asparagus and be like all the rest, but only a few will make something truly decadent but entirely healthy.
If you do not feel comfortable with poaching your egg, you can fry them and top each crepe with that instead. 

Quinoa & Corn Crepes
makes 6-8 crepes

* 1 cup quinoa flour
* 1/2 cup corn flour
* 1/2 cup whole pastry flour
* 1/2 milk + extra for thinning
* 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
* 3 large eggs
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* Spray oil
* Asparagus or Spinach filling
* Poached Eggs
* Hollandaise or Mustard Sauce (optional)

1. Mix all ingredients in a blender or mixer until smooth. Set aside for 30 minutes.
2. Roast the vegetables for the filling.
2. Add extra liquid if needed to make the batter the consistency of heavy cream.
3. Heat a non-stick 6" pan and spray with oil.
4. Pour 1/2 cup of batter into pan and swirl to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook until the edges start o curl and flip over for one minute. Remove crepe to dish and top with a piece of wax paper.
5. Repeat until all the batter is done.
6. Fill with vegetable, roll and place seam side down in a prepared baking pan.
7. Bake for 10 minutes at 350° and bring a pan of water to boil for the eggs (or fry them)

8. Top each crepe with a tablespoon of sauce (could use grated cheddar also) and then an egg.

Excellent tutorial on "how to poach an egg".

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February 24, 2013

Shrimp Cocktail Salad Roll

There are only a few foods that I get cravings for, that until I give in, it just does not go away.
Shrimp cocktail is one of those dishes but not any shrimp cocktail. It has to be a certain way or it doesn't get eaten. Most of the time I give up and just make it myself, I am that fussy.

I have come short of informing my in-laws that unless they give up on that ring of tiny shrimp with a bowl of watered down cocktail sauce they insist on serving at every family gathering, I will make my own and bring it. The Nudge felt the same way but he came right out and told his sister....STOP PLEASE

Luckily she agreed and now she buys the fresh large shrimp ring with the not half bad cocktail sauce.

When I make it, I do it kicked up. Jumbo shrimp (fresh caught), sprinkled with Old Bay and BAM and roasted in a very hot oven on top of lemon slices sprinkled with sea salt, pepper and olive oil.
A mere 8 minutes later, they emerge from the oven crispy crunchy salty sour spicy and oh baby, perfect.
The cocktail sauce is extra spicy with horseradish, chili-garlicy and freshly lemonized.

On a hot summers afternoon, there is nothing better right before dinner with a more than it should be ice cold dry Sauvignon Blanc.

I guess I am in stealth crave mode because I found shrimp cocktail on the menu and after I thought about it for a few minutes, I decided to keep it there but play with the delivery system and turn it into a lobster roll. I was off and running.

We all know a true lobster roll is fresh lobster, mayonnaise, maybe some finely minced celery (for crunch) served on a top split hot dog roll that is brushed with melted butter on both sides and toasted in a cast iron skillet till crunchy good. Think about it, the warn buttery toasted roll filled with a crunchy ice cold shrimp salad that is spicy, sweet, sour and salty. What's not to love about that?

Not ever making a lobster roll before, one thing I know you have to do and there is no going back...
you must brush the rolls on all sides with butter. Butter substitutes will work well here as long as you toast them immediately after. The only other thing I could think of was to use a butter flavored spray but I was not taking the chance the rolls would taste like fake butter. What I did find out, is that if you use a really good pastry brush you can get away with using a mere tablespoon of melted butter (1 teaspoon each) and well worth the extra 100 calories for the flavor alone. We'll reveal the nutritionals at the end of this post.

Shrimp Cocktail Salad Rolls
makes 4
Roasted Shrimp:
* 1/2 pound fresh x-large shrimp
* 2 tablespoons minced celery
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
* 2 teaspoons Old Bay
* 2 teaspoons Creole Rub (BAM)
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1/2 lemon, sliced

* 1/4 cup lite mayonnaise
* 1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
* 1 teaspoon Creole mustard
* 1 tablespoon Thai Chili sauce
* 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
* salt & pepper

* 4 split top hot dog rolls, sides trimmed
* 1 tablespoon both butter & olive oil
* Red leaf or Boston lettuce leaves

1. Clean shrimp and sprinkle with the Creole rub and the Old Bay. Place them in a sheet pan and drizzle olive oil evenly on the shrimp. Season with salt & pepper.
2. Heat oven to 400° and place the lemon slices amongst the shrimp and roast for 8 minutes. Remove and cool.
3. Chop the shrimp and add them to a bowl, along with the celery and tomatoes.
4. Mix the dressing together and pour over the shrimp salad.
5. Butter sides of hot dog rolls and toast in a non stick frying pan until golden brown. Repeat on both sides.
6. Place a few lettuce leaves on the rolls and scoop 1/4 of the salad onto each roll.
7. Serve with baked potato chips or cole slaw.

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February 20, 2013

Lite Turkey Cannelloni

A few weeks ago I attempted to make a pan of chicken cannelloni. There was a good reason it never made it into this blog. I have to give The Nudge credit for trying to be polite. He said they tasted fine, I thought they were dry and tough, not what I had come to expect from a cannelloni.

While manicotti most often contains a cheese filling, cannelloni uses meat. Manicotti uses a crepe (or crespelle) to wrap the filling in, cannelloni uses pasta. Do not think of cannelloni as a tube enclosing a single sausage-like lump of stuffing. Whenever I see those dried pasta "tubes" filled with a meat filling I want to scream at the TV.
We have abused and misused traditional dishes that our immigrant ancestors brought to this country long enough. It's time to start teaching the younger cooks in this country what their great grandmothers ate when they were young. The excuse that the ingredients can not be bought here worked for them so they adapted, but it just doesn't fly anymore. Nowadays you would be able to find just about everything from there, here.

So, in order to eat what I say, I am referring this dish to the all-time Icon, Italian food and recipe expert,  Marcella Hazan.

This is what she says:  
Before rolling up the pasta the stuffing mixture should be spread over it in a filmy, adherent layer not much thicker than the pasta itself. Then the dough is rolled up jelly-roll fashion with the filling evenly distributed throughout.

Now I know what I did wrong. I also made the bechamel too thick, it should be the consistency of sour cream (or Greek yogurt). Once that was solved I decided to make it healthier. Did you know that her recipe had over 1300 calories a serving. There was no way I could in good conscious, serve this as was. By using a few substitutions we can cut the fat and calories down to a livable amount.

The other thing she does is to lay each pasta sheet right in a pool of bechamel, coating the entire bottom of each, then spreading a thin layer of filling just a mere tablespoon.

I have to admit, before my disaster, many years ago, I did make a recipe that Mario Batali posted on the Food Network site and it was a huge success. While slightly different from this version, it did use both a cream and red sauce and I forgot about that. I even thought about shredding fontina on top but that really breaks all the rules.

I am sorry Marcella to mess with a masterpiece but I think even you would approve of my update (her recipe used 10 tablespoons of butter). Since we are a nation with an 'eyes bigger than stomach' mentality (and I am also guilty) and we wonder where we went wrong with rampant obesity, it's time to look at the Europeans. They eat what they want, with no dietary problems, their food is simple and easy to prepare. If we just follow their lead we can start to reverse the medical problems that, while too late for some of us, don't have to be for our children.

Lightened-Up Cannelloni
makes 4 servings of 2 each

Bechamel Sauce
* 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
* 1 tablespoon ICBINB
* 1 (12oz) can fat-free evaporated milk
* Pinch of whole nutmeg, grated
* Salt

* 1 1/4 cups low-fat ricotta
* 3 tablespoons grated cheese
* 3/4 cup cooked ground white turkey meat
* 2 tablespoons egg beaters
* Grated nutmeg
* salt & pepper
* 1 1/2 tablespoons minced onion, microwaved for 3 minutes

* 6oz cooked ground turkey
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
* salt
* 1 cup canned plum tomatoes, pureed

* 8 no-boil Barilla lasagna sheets, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes

1. Prepare the bechamel sauce by melting the butter sub and whisking in the flour. Cook for one minute and add the milk, nutmeg and salt to taste. Soon as it thickens remove to a bowl and place a plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin from forming. Clean out the pot to make the tomato sauce.
2.  Heat the olive oil and saute the onions until soft and translucent. Add the meat and saute until browned. Add the tomato puree and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the sauce to a 8x10" baking pan.
3. In a small mixing bowl, place all the ingredients for the filling and mix. Drain the pasta on a kitchen towel.
4. Place 1 tablespoon of bechamel on a plate large enough to hold one sheet of pasta (I used a small baking pan). Place the pasta on the sauce, turning to make sure it is totally coated on the bottom.
5. Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of filling onto the pasta, spreading evenly to 1/4" of each edge.
6. Using a spatula, roll the pasta up jelly-roll fashion. Remove to a baking pan that has been spread with the tomato sauce. Continue to fill and roll the pasta, placing each roll side by side in the prepared baking pan.
7. Spoon the remaining bechamel sauce over the rolled cannelloni. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes in a 400° oven. Remove the foil, top with extra tomato sauce if any, sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of grated cheese and bake, uncovered for 10 minutes.
Remove and let rest for 15 minutes.

Review: Wow, this was really good. They were light but had huge flavor and although I cut the cheese by a quarter, you do not miss it. These have now become a part of our favorites and will appear more often than once a century.

Now for the nutritionals..........

I have to say that even though I cut the calories, fat and sodium down to a livable healthy amount, these still tasted terrific, decadent, meaty and seriously creamy. I have already planned to make these again.

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February 19, 2013

Roasted Sesame Salmon and A Little Help From My Friends

Today I am under the weather a bit and it's days like this that I am happy I have a few shortcuts tricks up my sleeve.
Anyone that knows me, knows I guzzle consume lots of Campbells Healthy Request soups for lunch, especially in the winter. Four incentives, taste good, are healthy, lots of coupons and sales. When I can get them for $1.00 a can and I have coupons that take that down to $.75 each, I stock up on them. Then I call my Dad and tell him to get to the store fast.

To keep up with the Jones', they have introduced a line of Skillet Sauces made for (so the package says) Dinner for Two. Sounded perfect for us, so I took my coupon and purchased the Toasted Sesame flavor.
Get this....0 fat, 0 cholesterol, only 330g sodium and 9g carbs. With negligible sugar, only 40 calories per 1/4 cup and no artificial flavors, this was one packaged food that I could wrap my arms around. 

Just so happened I had a 10oz salmon fillet, a steam-in-the-package frozen Asian vegetable blend and fresh Udon noodles.
I will roast the salmon in the sauce, mix the vegetables with the pasta and voila, dinner is served.
Although they say it's a dinner for two, there is enough sauce in the packet for 4 servings.

Although I love my Campbells at lunch, this is one time I don't mind inviting them to dinner.

Review: While the sauce was not nearly as sweet as I thought it would be (which is a good thing), it had lots of flavor and was perfect for the salmon. I did add some shriracha sauce to up the ante. The package recommends chicken but I was glad I tasted it before using and thought it would compliment seafood better. I would highly recommend this as a BBQ sauce for grilled shrimp. As a matter of fact, since The Nudge likes it as much as I do, there will be a new packet in my pantry.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post. My expression and review of this product is just that, mine.

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February 18, 2013

Not Yo Mama's Tomato Soup

Food rut, anyone? It's that time of year when the weather makes is difficult to go out, too cold to ever get really toasty and nothing excites me. I think I need a margarita and a bunch of spicy appetizers.
Luckily The Nudge agrees with me and Saturday afternoon (after our chores of course) he is taking me over to Chili's for an El Presidente. Now that's a Valentine's gift coupon I can't wait to redeem.

With a freezer full of food I could not think of a single thing to make for dinner tonight. Now that's a food rut. Even looking through my magazines was no inspiration. Like that margarita, times like this it's best to go back to something you know will give good comfort.

When I was growing up, my mom was lots like me (or maybe I am like her?), she tweaked everything.

Back in the day, like most growing up in the 50's, we ate TV dinners, frozen vegetables and Campbell's soups. Our favorite was their Tomato, so it was only natural that when I got married I introduced The Nudge to our version. It may seem like cheating, opening a can when I can make magnificently healthy homemade soups, but this is a food emergency. I think that calls for drastic measures. Close your eyes for this next revelation, she used Velvetta cheese. Yup, a big ole hunk of artery clogging neon yellow cheese.
Hey, as kids we loved it and I know there are still lot's of peeps that use Amercian or Velvetta to get their kids to eat vegetables.

I am giving myself a break tonight but guilt got the better of me so, I made a batch of homemade dinner rolls and a salad on the side. I said I was uninspired, not totally bonkers.

So, without further ado, here is my mom's tomato soup, tweaked by yours truly.

Joan's Tomato Soup Redux
makes 4 servings

* 1 can Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup
* 1 can fat-free evaporated milk
* 1 can water
* 1 cup cooked thin egg noodles
* 1 cup smoked Gouda
* Freshly grated black pepper

Place everything into a saucepan and simmer until the noodles are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.

Review: The Nudge told me this was the best tomato soup EVER. Yup, that's right but I agree with him. The addition of the smoked Gouda was genius. I also sprinkled some balsamic vinegar and Tobasco on mine right before serving and that also elevated the flavor profile. Of all the condensed soups, the only one I will eat is Campbell's Tomato, there is just something about the spices they use that I have not been able to duplicate, so why should I. They also make a Healthy Request version but I only open a can once a year, so I used the original. Mom would have approved and she had a BS in Health Education.

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February 17, 2013

Two Potato Gratin Home Fries

Getting used to this new posting format has resulted in a slew of half finished posts on the public all this week. Everyone must think I'm hitting the hard wine sauce.
Please except my apology for not paying attention to all those new buttons, my bad.

This was a week of booboos and although not discouraged, nothing cooked worked out right. I can now see why professional cooks will sometimes prepare recipes 10-20 times before getting it just right.

Since The Nudge's confession that if he can, he orders omelets for lunch and is upset when Rupert's does not put them on the Special's Board on Thursday (I have my answer to why he schedules most business lunches on Thursday). Tonight, since he did not get one for lunch, I am making him an omelet for dinner.

Spinach, pancetta and fontina omelets to be exact and wanted to make a potato side that was different from the usual. I was going to make a sweet potato hash but when I saw this I immediately changed my mind. That gratin was a thing of beauty and totally different, mine was different but totally horrible. This was definitely one of those dishes that you make as is and by messing with the ingredients, left me with a baking pan of something that was not so good. I should have just made the hash.

What to do 30 minutes before The Nudge was expected. Since my original idea way back when was to make home fries, I cut the gratin into four sections, smashed them into a frying pan and made them nice and crunchy. They turned out better than I expected. Already cooked in a flavorful stock, I did not have to add a thing except more salt & pepper.

My blog should be about leftovers because that seems to be where most of my successes lie.
I will post the gratin recipe as written and when you have leftovers (and you will) you can make my home fries. It's a win-win for everyone.

Two-Potato Gratin
Adapted from Cooking Light
serves 8
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3 cups) 
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 4 cups) 
  • 2 quarts no-salt-added chicken stock (such as Swanson)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil 
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk 
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided 
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 3 ounces aged Gruyère cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup)
  • Cooking spray 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 ounce fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Place potatoes in a large stockpot; cover with stock. Bring mixture to a boil; cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Carefully remove potatoes from pot using a slotted spoon, reserving cooking liquid. Arrange potato slices in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan; set aside. Strain cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl; reserve 1 cup cooking liquid. Discard solids and remaining cooking liquid.
  3. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add oil to pan. Sprinkle flour over oil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Combine milk and reserved 1 cup cooking liquid. Gradually pour milk mixture into flour mixture in pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add thyme sprigs to pan. Bring mixture to a boil; cook 4 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, reserving sauce; discard solids. Stir 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and Gruyère cheese into sauce.
  4. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in bottom of a broiler-safe 2-quart ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange a single, flat layer of sweet potato and then baking potato slices over sauce. Over flat layer, alternate baking potato and sweet potato slices, in shingle-like fashion. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon chives, and chopped thyme; pour remaining sauce over potato mixture. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife.
  5. Remove gratin from oven. Preheat broiler to high.
  6. Place gratin in oven. Broil gratin 3 minutes or until browned. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chives.
Two-Potato Gratin Home Fries
Start with cold potatoes. Use of a cast iron skillet will give you the best results. Make sure it is screaming hot (preheat at least 5 minutes).
Coat the bottom with vegetable or safflower oil.
Smash leftover gratin evenly in the skillet.
Saute on one side until the edges are browned. Flip over and repeat. Place in an oven and sprinkle with a small amount of grated cheese of choice (I used cheddar).

Broil to reheat right before serving.

Review: Perfect example of something good coming out of something bad. You have got to make these. I think the next time I want home fries I will cook the potatoes in infused milk.They were excellent and a step up in the home fry arena. Tuck this idea away the next time you find yourself with leftover potato gratin.

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February 15, 2013

Deconstructed Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

This is a quick way to use up those odd and broken pieces of lasagna noodles that are always left in the box after making a traditional layers lasagna.

What I liked about this was the fact that you throw it under the broiler for 5-7 minutes until the edges get crispy, just like in a baked lasagna. Took me all of 20 minutes to make.

I boiled the torn noodles for 10 minutes, drained and cooled them. In the same pot I sauteed all the vegetables, added the cheese, a little lemon juice and wine and stirred the pasta back into the pot.

Pour the mixture into a large enough broiler safe pan, just large enough for one layer, so all the pasta is exposed to the broiler. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and broil.

Fast, easy and really tasty, you could use any vegetables you have laying around, even frozen ones.

Deconstructed Vegetable Lasagna
From the kitchen of Wish Upon A Dish inspired by Food & Wine
makes 2 servings

* 4 broken pieces of curly lasagna noodles
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 cup fresh baby spinach
* 4oz container shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
* 2 tablespoons butter
* Salt & pepper
* 1 large shallot, minced
* 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
* 1 tablespoon white wine
* 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
* 1 ounce goat cheese
* 1/3 cup pasta water
* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Boil pasta for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/3 cup pasta cooking water.
2. In same pot, heat olive oil and saute shallot and mushrooms until cooked.
3. Add thyme and white wine and deglaze the pan. Add the water, goat cheese and the spinach.
4. Toss in the pasta and add the lemon juice and butter.
5. Spread mixture evenly into a broiler safe pan and sprinkle with the Parmesan.
6. Heat the broiler to high and broil for 5-7 minutes. Remove when the pasta edges are browned and crispy.

Review: The Nudge plowed right through this for lunch. He said it microwaved wonderfully and was light but with lots of flavor and thought it was one of the best pasta dishes he's had. Go figure. I honestly thought he would say it was just "OK".

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February 14, 2013

Fat-Free Chocolate Biscotti

I am not a baker, no, let me rephrase that. I am not a pastry chef. I don't decorate. I totally respect those that can top a cupcake with the perfectly piped pyramid of icing or frost a cake with not a wrinkle.
It's just not me. As a matter of fact, I have never baked a cupcake and probably can count the times I made muffins on my right hand.
My cakes are of the non-required anything other than a loaf pan type and my tarts are only as good as the fruits I can hide cover a rustic crust with.

I have been known to underbake cookies and overbake bundt cakes. A successful dessert to me is one that someone will eat more than one serving of and like it.

I don't stink at everything sweet, there are a few successes. I can make a souffle with my eyes closed and a cheesecake in my sleep.
Knowing all this, I was surprised I have never made biscotti before now. You really can't screw up a cookie that is baked until it is as hard as a brick as long as you find a recipe with the right formula of flavors.

With Valentine's Day right around the corner I loaded up on everything chocolate, sticking to what I do well, a cheesecake and a mousse. Having a good day and with a small amount of incentive (a no fail recipe from David Lebovitz) I marched right into that road not taken. I made biscotti. Did I forget to mention, these are fat-free? Oh, yeah, baby!!

It was no mistake that the day we were expecting a blizzard, The Nudge came home one day early from his business trip in Boston. I think he caught the last flight out of Logan Int'l and pulled into our driveway at 9:30 this morning. Without stopping for coffee he was looking forward to a hot cup and I was looking forward to his review of what I thought was perfect chocolate biscotti. While his cup was heating he took a bite and said "Wow, these are really hard".
Remaining calm, I told him to dunk that baby in his coffee and than tell me what he thought. Slightly softened by the hot coffee, there was no tell-tale evidence of disintegration of cookie at the bottom of his cup as he took the last sip. See, the perfect biscotti.

Thank you David Lebovitz. You made me feel like the Queen of the Kitchen, if only for a day.

Chocolate Biscotti
Adapted from davidlebovitz.com
* 2 cups (280g) flour
* 3/4 cups (75g) top-quality cocoa powder
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 3 large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 cup (200g) sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
* 1 cup (125g) almonds, toasted and very coarsely-chopped
* 3/4 cups (120g) chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.
2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, and vanilla & almond extracts. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, then mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips until the dough holds together.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two logs the length of the baking sheet. Transfer the logs onto the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.
5. Gently flatten the tops of the logs. Beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the logs liberally with the egg. (You won’t use it all). Sprinkle the tops with the coarse or crystal sugar and bake for 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.
6. Remove the cookie dough from the oven and cool 15 minutes. On a cutting board, use a serrated bread knife to diagonally cut the cookies into 1/2-inches slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.

Once baked, cool the cookies completely then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If you wish, the cookies can be half-dipped in melted chocolate, then cooled until the chocolate hardens.

Review: These are an extreme chocolate biscotti and great with a cup of anything hot, coffee, tea or even, yes, hot chocolate.

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February 13, 2013

Pork Lo Mein

I really don't remember the last time I ordered Chinese Take Out. Has to be at least 10 years ago or more.
With my love of Chinese food and three very highly talked about take out joints right in town, that even surprised The Nudge when I told him.
What I did not tell him was that I do not do take-out because he does not like the food on take out menu's.
He simply asks me to just get him an eggroll.
He's no fun at all.

Me on the other hand, wants them all and could order enough food to last me a week and never tire of it. As a matter of fact, I do remember the last time I ate take-out and it was when The Nudge took his first business trip to Sweden.
That whole week was the first time alone since I was single. A week from hell. The shower sprung a leak and it took me two days to replace the washer (don't ask). I must have run up and down 3 flights of stairs twenty times just to turn the water back on and off. At one point it was shooting from one end of the tub to the other. When finally done, I treated myself to a bottle of wine and Chinese Take-Out for dinner. That was over 12 years ago.

I must have a mean craving for soy sauce since this is the second Asian dish in one month, both recipes coming from Cook's Illustrated.

Orange Chicken aside, this was the first time with this recipe. Let's see, the last time I made Lo Mein was probably just about as long ago as the last time I replaced a washer instead of calling the plumber.

Pork Lo Mein
Serves 6

* 3 tablespoons soy sauce 
* 2 tablespoons oyster sauce 
* 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 
* 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil 
* 1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder 
* 1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs, trimmed of surface fat and excess gristle and sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch pieces 
* 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke 
* 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth 
* 1 teaspoon cornstarch 
* 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons) 
* 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger 
* 4 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil 
* 4 tablespoons Chinese rice cooking wine (Shao-Xing) or dry sherry (see note) 
* 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps cut in halves or thirds (about 3 cups) 
* 2 bunches scallions, whites thinly sliced and greens cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups) 
* 1 small head Napa or Chinese cabbage, halved, cored, and sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch strips (about 4 cups) 
* 12 ounces Chinese egg noodles (fresh) or 8 ounces dried linguine 
* 1 tablespoon Asian Garlic Chili Sauce

1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat.
2. Whisk soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and five-spice powder together in medium bowl. Place 3 tablespoons soy sauce mixture in large zipper-lock bag; add pork and liquid smoke, if using. Press out as much air as possible and seal bag, making sure that all pieces are coated with marinade. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour. Whisk broth and cornstarch into remaining soy sauce mixture in medium bowl. In separate small bowl, mix garlic and ginger with 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil; set aside.
3. Heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in 12-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of pork in single layer, breaking up clumps with wooden spoon. Cook, without stirring, 1 minute. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons wine to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until liquid is reduced and pork is well coated, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer pork to medium bowl and repeat with remaining pork, 1 teaspoon oil, and remaining 2 tablespoons wine. Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
4. Return skillet to high heat, add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, and heat until just smoking. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Add scallions and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until scallions are wilted, 2 to 3 minutes longer; transfer vegetables to bowl with pork.
5. Add remaining teaspoon vegetable oil and cabbage to now-empty skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until spotty brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Clear center of skillet; add garlic-ginger mixture and cook, mashing mixture with spoon, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir garlic mixture into cabbage; return pork-vegetable mixture and chicken broth-soy mixture to skillet; simmer until thickened and ingredients are well incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.
6. While cabbage is cooking, stir noodles into boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until noodles are tender, 3 to 4 minutes for fresh Chinese noodles or 10 minutes for dried linguine. Drain noodles and transfer back to Dutch oven; add cooked stir-fry mixture and garlic-chili sauce, tossing noodles constantly, until sauce coats noodles. Serve immediately.

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February 12, 2013

Sausage Pull Apart Pizza Bread

I was jazzed to finally make this bread. I swear, out of all the recipes that I have been dying to make, this is No.1 on my hit list. Why would I wait a full year to make this? I think Summer got in the way.

This bread awakened a fond food memory from my teenage years.

When I was seventeen and a senior in high school, we would sneak off school property on Fridays and go to the local pizza parlor to buy pizza bread and a Coke for $1.00.
It was a Stouffer's French Bread Pizza before there was a Stouffer's.
They would cut a long Italian loaf lengthwise, spoon sauce and sprinkle mozzarella cheese on both sides and bake it like a pizza. It was pure heaven and a great way to TGIF. We were always running back to school because we were always late, but it was worth it. Back then you were not allowed to leave the school grounds unless you had permission.

This is basically the same thing but the bread is side-by-side and in slices. There are as many savory pull apart bread versions out there in the blogosphere as there are sweet. Instead of pepperoni (the odds on favorite) I used sausage meat. Hot Italian sausage to be exact. A favorite in this house and sausage of choice 99% of the time.

I do know pepperoni has it's fair share of fat (which can not be drained) which will be absorbed into the bread making it higher in fat, although yes, also tasty too.
I cooked the sausage first, drained it well on paper towels thus eliminating the extra fat with all the same great flavor.

If you wanted to use chicken sausage, slice them thin before using as they are usually precooked and won't cook like sausage meat. You could also just forgo the sausage completely, and make it the way that pizza place did 40 years ago.

Oh, yum. Doesn't this look wonderful?

Two pieces were more than enough for dinner and quite filling. Serve with extra sauce on the side.
With The Nudge in new Hampshire, I get to make a full version, eat what I want, store some in the fridge for another day and then wrap some for freezing. Pizza of any kind is not like a casserole. It does not get better 'the next day', so knowing if it's worth even saving will let you know if it's even worth making.

I did not make mine exactly as written due to shortage of space so I am sending you over to the site that I pinned this recipe from.
To see an excellent picture tutorial of the right way to do this, you need to visit Kelly's post over at her beautiful blog justataste.com.

Any good jarred sauce would be fine but nothing beats homemade if you have the time. Make extra for another day.
My recipe for the dough is different than Kelly's but just as easy to work with. I use the dough recipe from Spago, where pizza is King.

Pizza Dough
makes 1 large pizza or loaf
* 1/4 cup water
* 1 cup milk
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 1 packet dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
* 3 cups bread flour
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 teaspoon salt
* bench flour
* 9x5 loaf pan

1. Microwave milk for 1 minute. Add honey to water, mix into the milk. Add yeast, stir and let it sit for 5 minutes. Once foaming it is ready to use.
2. Place flour, salt, olive oil into a bowl of a stand mixer or a bread machine.
3. Using the hook attachment, set the machine to #2 (or knead on machine) and while machine is running, slowly pour in the yeast/milk mixture. Once everything is incorporated, turn on to #5 (start on the machine) and run for 5 minutes.
4. Remove dough and make a ball out of it. Oil a bowl and place the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. I put mine next to my baseboard heater. It should double in size in an hour.
5. Remove from the bowl onto a wooden board and roll out to a 20x16" rectangle.
6. Brush sauce over dough, then sprinkle meat and mozzarella cheese. Square off the edges and cut 5 squares across and 4 down for a total of 20 pieces. Stack them side-by-side in a loaf pan and cover the allow it to rise a second time.

7. Preheat the oven to 350° and bake for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool thoroughly before removing from the pan.
People can just pull as much as they want, or you could pre-pull the loaf and reassemble in a basket lined with parchment paper.

I wrapped the remaining loaf in foil and froze. I will defrost totally before baking the loaf in a 350° oven for 10 minutes.
I even imagine this as a bread to serve with a spaghetti dinner or go all out and use it to make a garlic bread. Now that's a good thing. Enjoy!

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February 11, 2013

Apple, Pear & Cranberry Crisp

The Nudge is a big fan of Ina Garten. He says he likes Ina, but can't watch Ina. Huh?
I admit it took me some time to also warm up to her but the recipes I have tried are written well and tested thoroughly. You can trust Ina to get it right. I am happy to see she's recently embracing other cuisines besides French and American Classics. Now Ina is a Rock Star to me.

Her Chopped Chicken Livers are a must every holiday, her bread is always on my counter, her coffee cake is great on a lazy Sunday morning with a good cup of Joe and this crisp is now our favorite winter dessert.

Always late to the program, this is one of Ina's original recipes. It reheats well, the topping stays crunchy and it's packed with flavor without being overly sweet. This is a must with ice cream and you can use any fruit combination your family prefers. I made half her recipe because it feeds an army in it's original form.
I imagine you could freeze any leftovers but why would you. It will disappear in no time. I stored mine in a container in the fridge and nuked it for 1 minute to serve.

Pear, Apple & Cranberry Crisp
Adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home
  • 2 pounds ripe Bosc pears (4 pears)
  • 2 pounds firm Macoun apples (6 apples)
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Peel and core the pears and apples and cut them into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and toss with the cranberries, zests, juices, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch baking dish.

Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

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February 9, 2013

Crawfish Etouffée/If I couldn't be in NOLA, I can eat like I am

Well, The Nudge is off on his excursion and I am well stocked with all sorts of foodie projects to keep me well entertained.
Meet my first savory dish that started off my week. Since the Super Bowl is in NOLA this year and I found crawfish in the market, an etouffée slid right to the top of my list.
The first time I tried this dish was in 1993 and our second annual Labor Day party (which was always on a Saturday). Always having a theme or country of origin for the food, everyone enjoyed trying and eating different things as well as the horse shoes and wiffle ball games. Back then there was really was nowhere to eat these international foods I was preparing. One of the best parts of doing these backyard affairs was the new cookbook I got every year.

Our first year was Caribbean food, inspired by our 10 year Anniversary cruise to, where else, the Caribbean. The second year was New Orleans, not because we were recently there, but because I wished I was. Around that time I also started watching a new TV show that was all about food. Yes, I was there for their first ever show and I still watch my favs, Emeril being one of them (but he's all but disappeared).

The cookbook for that year was Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen. I never looked back. When I make Gumbo, it's always his recipe and the etouffée is to DIE FOR. If you can't find crawfish you can use shrimp. My grocery store carries frozen cleaned tails year round and if yours does you can use them. Mine had whole crawfish and those shells and heads make an out of this world stock. I bought one pound because after removing the meat from the tails, I am hoping I will score at least a quarter pound of meat.
Etouffée means smothered and this dish cries out for rice, but I think I will make a small casuella of baked fontina polenta. If you don't want either, a small pasta like orzo or orrechiette would work just as well and if that doesn't do it for you, there is always creamy mashed potatoes. Just don't let that sauce go to waste.

Although Chef Paul made a garbage fish famous, single-handily put New Orleans on the foodie map and gave the city it's "dish" at that time (I think po'boys are THE dish nowadays), he also taught the world about spices and how to efficiently use them to enhance and make a dish.
Emeril showed me how to bake the flour for a healthy roux and that is what I did. I baked 1/2 cup in a baking pan at 325° for 1 hour or so, until it was a caramel color. When you add the water it darkens considerably so do not over bake. Your house will smell like toasted walnuts. If you aren't sure what the color should be, I took a few pics of the different stages till done, so you will know. All I did was take a 1/2 teaspoon of flour every 30 minutes and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon water until I got the color I wanted (will have the color of a penny).

You can see the one on the right is the perfect colored flour you want. Any leftover can be stored on a shelf so make more than you need.
Now we are ready to make an Etouffée.

Crawfish Etouffée
Adapted from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme
1 teaspoon vegetables
3⁄4 cup toasted flour
1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion
1⁄4 cup finely chopped celery
1⁄4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
3 cups seafood or chicken broth
2 lbs. peeled crawfish tails or
   peeled medium shrimp
1 cup finely chopped scallions
Cooked white or yellow rice, for serving

1. In a small bowl, combine salt, cayenne, white pepper, black pepper, basil, and thyme; set spice mixture aside. In a 4-qt. heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over high heat until it just begins to smoke.  Add onions and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until onions soften, about 5 more minutes. Remove pot from heat and stir in 1 tbsp. reserved spice mixture, along with celery and bell peppers.Saute until vegetables are soft.

2. In a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 2 cups broth to a boil. Gradually add toasted flour and whisk until incorporated. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat; set broth mixture aside. 

3. Stir crawfish tails and scallions into vegetable mixture and cook, about 1 minute. Add remaining spice mixture and reserved broth mixture and stir the pan to combine until glossy. Remove pan from heat and serve étouffée with rice.

Review: As always, this recipe did not let me down. Using the toasted flour instead of the traditional roux, saves a ton of calories, fat and time. I served mine on top of a bowl of Fontina Cheese Polenta and garnished with chopped scallions and a shake of Tobasco.
So perfect for Fat Tuesday.

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February 7, 2013

Chicken, Grapefruit, Fennel & Walnut Salad w/Grapefruit Vinaigrette

If you don't already know, grapefruits are excellent for diabetics.
Although grapefruit is a great source of vitamin C, many diabetics might have to avoid this fruit because of its well known interactions with many types of medications. It's also a sin that something so good for us, can be bad for us too. If there is no label on your pill bottle, check with your doctor or pharmacist to see whether you can safely include grapefruit in your diet. Hopefully a change in taking your medication from morning to right before bed will allow you to eat grapefruit for breakfast (you just can't take your pills with a glass of grapefruit juice). Keep in mind that, as with any fruit, too much can raise your blood sugar levels beyond your target range.
I could be borderline with eating too much. I love ruby red grapefruit, buy a HUGE container and every morning I eat a 1/2 cup. 
This was one recipe I was going to enjoy.
Simple, easy, a good budget meal and includes a powerhouse of health benefits.
Pink grapefruits are slightly more nutritious than the white varieties due to the phytochemicals that cause their pink color and may have additional health benefits as well.

"Each half-grapefruit serving contains about 52 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein and 0.2 gram of fat. Since grapefruit is 88 percent water, it is relatively low in calories and helps fill you up. Eating grapefruit before meals can help you limit the amount of calories you consume, potentially leading to weight loss. Grapefruit is a good source of vitamins and minerals. Each serving provides 38.4 milligrams of vitamin C, or 64 percent of the daily value; 1,414 international units of vitamin A, or 28 percent of the DV; and 310 milligrams of potassium, or 9 percent of the DV. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that's essential for healing wounds, forming cells and proper immune function. Your body uses vitamin A for reproduction, vision, cellular communication and immune function, and potassium is necessary for balancing sodium levels in the blood as well as digestion and muscle function. Although your body can't digest dietary fiber, but it plays an important role in keeping you healthy. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel, which helps slow the emptying of your stomach. It helps lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and keeps it moving through your intestines, limiting your risks for diverticulosis, hemorrhoids and constipation. A serving of grapefruit contains 2 grams of fiber, of which 69 percent is soluble and 31 percent is insoluble. This is 8 percent of the daily value for fiber. Unlike white grapefruit, pink grapefruit contains 1.745 milligrams of lycopene, a phytochemical that causes a red color that may lower your risk for heart disease. Consuming at least 25 milligrams of lycopene a day could lower your low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, levels by up to 10 percent."

Why all this info on grapefruit? I will explain.
My first savory dish using grapefruit was inspired by a recipe I saw over at Food and Wine.It paired chicken with a grapefruit glaze. With roasted fennel in the fridge, a salad of fennel with grapefruit segments and walnuts would be perfect alongside a grilled chicken breast. Something slightly more substantial than a simple glazed breast.

I pulled out my George Forman Grill and got to work. I was hungry and this sounded delicious.
Not something The Nudge would be happy with, it worked out well, him being away. I can eat all those things he doesn't like.
Grilled Chicken, Fennel, Grapefruit and Walnut Salad
makes 4 servings
From the kitchen of Wish Upon A Dish, inspired by foodandwine.com

* 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
* 4 cups mixed salad greens
* 1 cup grapefruit segments
* 1/2 cup thinly sliced roasted fennel
* 1/4 cup walnut pieces
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
* 2 teaspoons grapefruit juice
* 1 small shallot, minced
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1 tablespoon honey
* salt & pepper to taste.

Season 4 chicken breasts with salt & pepper. Spray a grill pan and heat. Grill each breast for 6 minutes (3 minutes a side or 3 minutes total in a Forman Grill).

In a bowl filled with mixed greens, add grapefruit segments, and roasted fennel. Meanwhile toast walnut pieces in a saucepan. Remove to cool.

In same pan walnuts were in, bring to a medium heat and mix in the white wine vinegar, shallot, garlic, grapefruit juice, honey and salt & pepper. Bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temp. Whisk in the olive oil. Slice the chicken breast diagonally and place over the salad mixture. Spoon the dressing over the chicken and greens and garnish with the toasted walnut pieces.

One recipe called for slivered green olives as a garnish and they made their way into my recipe and were an excellent tart component to the salad but capers would work well also. I also used a good quality rice vinegar. I love tart and sour and lucky for me, it's healthy for us.

The first time a saw a Strawberry & Chicken Salad, I wasn't thrilled with it but from now on I will probably make myself one as soon as the strawberries here are in season. I can't wait.

So, the next time you have a grapefruit left and you don't know what to do with it, make a chicken salad with it. Your body will thank you.

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February 5, 2013

Chicken Marbella

I have two Silver Palate Cookbooks on my shelf and I rarely open them. I have two favorites that I make at least once a year, the Tortellini Salad with Orange Vinaigrette and their Lemon Chicken. I should visit those cookbooks more often. They started something, well, wonderful in the food world. Way before star chef's and gourmet restaurants, those woman were at the top of their game. Until they had a food fight and did not collaborate on another book until their 25th Anniversary edition (which I heard was not worth buying).

Why bring all this up? I finally made a third recipe from their first cookbook, but not because I took it off my shelf. I received an email from America's Test Kitchen with an update on their Chicken Marbella.
I wanted to make the original recipe to see if I thought it needed an update.
This was worth making for two good reasons. It had all the ingredients on hand and it was a good Diabetic Friendly recipe.

I made adjustments to adhere to my dietary needs. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, brown sugar substitute, half the oil and wine and I added dried apricots.
When the first thing The Nudge says when he takes his first bite (and I don't think he is aware he does it) of flavors that sing in his mouth is.......whoa, I know I hit a home run. He did a whoa and a wow.

Next time, no apricots. They didn't break down and that texture just did not blend with the other ingredients.
I did not miss the extra wine or olive oil, it made no difference in the amount of sauce and cut the bad points of this recipe in half. That's a good thing.

If you are looking for a wow factor or are tired of the same ole dinner, make this dish tomorrow. This recipe is so easy, a novice can cook like a Rock Star.
You will love it, hundreds of people agree. Now I know why this recipe put Silver Palate Catering on the map.
"This was the first main-course dish to be offered at The Silver Palate, and the distinctive colors and flavors of the prunes, olives and capers have kept it a favorite for years. It's good hot or at room temperature. When prepared with small drumsticks and wings, it makes a delicious hors d'oeuvre. The overnight marinating is essential to the moistness of the finished product: the chicken keeps and even improves over several days of refrigeration; it travels well and makes excellent picnic fare."

Chicken Marbella
serves 10-12 (can be halved successfully)
Adapted from epicurious.com

* 4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered
* 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
* 1/4 cup dried oregano
* coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
* 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
* 1/2 cup olive oil
* 1 cup pitted prunes
* 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
* 1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
* 6 bay leaves
* 1 cup brown sugar
* 1 cup white wine
* 1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.
2. Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
3. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.
4. With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauce boat.
5. To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter. If chicken has been covered and refrigerated, allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juices over chicken.