Monday, December 7, 2009

Quick, Cheap, Healthy and EASY Pasta Dish

Everyone I know right now is a little crunched for time and money. With the festive season upon us, it's hard to eat right, stay on a budget and get something good on the table in a short amount of time. All that shopping and gift wrapping, not to mention the decorating and baking, can take a toll on your wallet and your waistline!

Here's a quick and easy recipe that fits the bill. It's not hard to make, very inexpensive and good for you, too. It borrows from the flavors of the antipasto platter but minimizes the calories. I usually make a dish like this as a side dish, but adding a few slices of procuitto made it a satisfying entree for my meat loving husband. I love the new high fiber pastas in this dish -- makes you feel less guilty for eating a plate full! I adapted this recipe from one in Cooking Light and blended it with my own recipe to suit our tastes. It's a forgving recipe, you could easily add in any veggies you like., but here's a nice starting point.

Eliminate the red pepper if your family doesn't like spicy things. The recommended 1 tsp. will only a little "kick" and not be overwhelming. If you're feeling chicken, try adding 1/2 tsp. at first and then taste it.

"Antipasto" Penne
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T. olive oil

1/2 med. onion, chopped

1 14.4 oz can diced tomatoes

1 red pepper, roasted and chopped

1 T. oregano
1 T. basil

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 c. black olives

1 6 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained

4 thin slices prociutto, chopped up

8 oz. high fiber penne pasta, such as Healthy Options or Smart Choice

1/2 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided use

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat broiler. Cut bell pepper in half, lengthwise. Clean out all the seed and cut out the stem. Place pepper on a foil lined baking sheet and flatten with your hand. Broil for about 8 minutes or until pepper is blackened. Place it in a zip lock bag, seal it and let steam 5 minutes. Scrape off the skin with a knife and chop it.

While pepper is broiling, put olive oil on low in a large non-stick skillet. Add onion and garlic, and saute' until soft, about 5 minutes. Don't burn the garlic!

Add tomatoes, spices and red pepper, and cook this mixture for about 15 minutes over medium heat. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When you add the pasta to the boiling water, add the black olives and artichokes to the tomato sauce. Bring it up to a boil, then turn it down to your lowest heat and add the procuitto. Add a little salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Go light on the salt as the ham and the cheese are both very salty!

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain it well and add it to the sauce mixture, mixing well. Add in half of your grated cheese, Mix well. Serve plates and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Enjoy!

We had ours with a leafy green salad and some homemade bread, Sunday dinner comfort food at it's very best! A nice glass of inexpensive Cabernet rounded out the meal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Linguini With Red Clam Sauce

Linguini with Red Clam Sauce, plus a few bay scallops!

The weather around here has been dismal and dreary, with lots of rain and clouds everyday for about a week. Friday night was just too depressing to even think about dragging around, looking for a convivial spot to have a drink and get a plate of good food, so I decided to make one of our family favorites, Linguine with Red Clam Sauce. This recipe is not only good to eat, it is very low in calories and fat. I like to add in what ever other kind of seafood we happen to have around the house, and last night it was a cup full of frozen bay scallops (the little ones).

This is so easy and everything can be kept on hand for those nights when you forget to thaw something or you did not have time to prep a meal early in the day. The basic sauce it very budget friendly -- canned clams are always inexpensive, just watch for frozen seafood sales at the local grocery store. for the extra seafood to toss in.

Try this -- I am betting it will become a part of your meal rotation. It's a go to winner! I have often served it to company, dressed up with fresh clams and shrimp, and it's always a hit. This recipe will serve 4 - 6, depending on what you serve with it. Don't forget the salad and bread, to make it go a little farther!

Linguini With Red Clam Sauce

2 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes (get a good brand or San Marzano)

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small can minced clams in juice**

1 handful chopped flat leaf parsley OR 1 tsp. dried oregano + 1 tsp. dried basil

a spritz of fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. salt

1/4 c. dry red wine

freshly ground black pepper

1 16 oz. box linguini, cooked al dente

In a large, deep non stick frying pan, heat your oil over low heat and add the onions and garlic. Let this cook low and slow, to develop the flavor, being careful not to brown the garlic. I like to do this at least 10 minutes. Open the can of clams and drain off the juice; then, add it to the pan, reserving your clams for later. Continue to let this simmer for a few minutes. Drain the juice from the tomatoes into the pan and then crush the tomatoes with your hands and add them to the sauce. ("Why not use crushed tomatoes" you are asking? Because most of them have tomato puree added and the consistency is too smooth. Same thing with diced tomatoes, wrong consistency.) If you are using the dried herbs, add them at this point. Sprinkle in a scant tsp. of salt (don't over do the salt, the clams and juice are salty on their own) and a few gridings of black pepper. Add the wine. Turn up the heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Turn it down, cover it and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. (Start heating up your big pot of water for the pasta, so it all gets ready about the same time.)

At this point, add in your clams and a cup or so of any other seafood you like. Some to try are whole, peeled and deveined shrimp, scrubbed cherry stone clams, bay scallops or sea scallops cut in fourths. If you are using fresh seafood, just make sure it is well drained and cleaned.

Bring the sauce back to a boil, just for a few minutes, long enough to cook your additional seafood -- the canned clams are cooked. Shrimp and scallops take about 5 minutes, whole clams are ready when they pop open. Discard any that do not pop.

I have made this dish many times with just the clams, and it works fine and is delicious. However, adding the extra seafood gives it a little WOW factor. It all depends on your budget and what you have in your kitchen!

Lastly add the fresh flat leaf parsley, if that is the herb you have, and the spritz of lemon. Serve over hot, cooked linguini. Be sure to serve this with crusty bread -- the sauce is very juicy and you will want to soak it all up and not miss a drop!! It's not traditional, but I can't resist adding a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano to the top.
**Cooks note: Be sure to buy minced clams, not chopped. And be sure to follow the directions to add the juice from the can early in the recipe and the clams themselves at the very end. If you cook canned clams too long, they begin to taste like chopped rubber bands!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Here are Two Chili's to try: Mom's Chili and White Bean Chicken Chili

Everyone has a favorite chili recipe, possibly one that has been passed along through their family, or that they created on their own. Today, I bring you TWO great chili recipes, each one completely different from the other. The first one, Mom's Chili, is my own, that came to me from memories of my mom's chili, and from my Aunt Cissy, a wonderful cook, who always had a pot of chili on the back burner for hungry kids and teenagers.

The second recipe came through the family too, but from a cousin on my hubby's side of the family, and is quite different from the chili I grew up with. I hope you enjoy them both! Make the Arkansas Cornbread I wrote about earlier this month, and have yourself a chili party! That's what we do around here each fall. Have fun and happy eating!

Mom's Chili

1 lb. 93% lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
2 T. chili powder
2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
Cook all of the above together in a deep pot or dutch oven, until beef is crumbled and cooked through.
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14 oz. can Rotel original tomatoes and green chilies
6 oz. beer (you'll have to drink the other half, DARN!)
4 T. chili powder
1 - 2 tsp. hot sauce (we like Tapatio or Frank's)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
a dash of apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt + a few grindings fresh black pepper
a pinch of cinnamon (optional, to taste-- adds a little depth to the chili)
Bring this to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cook it for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

Lastly Add:
1 can drained light red kidney beans
1 can drained dark red kidney beans
1 can drained black beans
1 6 oz. can tomato paste (you may omit this if you like a "looser" chili)
Stir it all together well and bring the chili back to a boil. Turn it down and let cook at least another 30 minutes.
Will feed at least 6 - 8. Freezes well. When I serve it to company, I serve it w/light sour cream, 4 cheese shredded Mexican blend, saltine crackers and chopped green onions.

White Bean Chicken Chili
4 large boneless chicken breasts or 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed
3 16 oz. cans Great Northern Beans (you can use white kidney beans if you can't find Great Northern)
1 14 oz. jar Salsa (your favorite, "medium" heat is recommended)
2 cups chicken broth
1 8 - 10 oz. block Monterey "Pepper Jack" Cheese

If using breasts, boil the chicken 'til tender. Once cool, pull it apart with a fork. If using a rotisserie chicken, remove the skin and discard. Take off all the meat from the carcass and cut into bite sized pieces. (I like this better w/ a rotisserie chicken, I think the texture is a little better.)
Combine beans, salsa, broth and chicken in a large saucepan or crock pot. Heat on low to med. heat for at least 45 minutes, if using a saucepan. 1 - 2 hours on med/high in a crock pot. Make sure it is heated though and bubbly, before adding cheese.
Cut cheese into small chunks and add to mixture. Stir well. Reduce heat to low, and let it simmer. It should cook at least another hour in a saucepan, 2 -3 hours on low in a crock pot. Stir now and then, to distribute the cheese evenly. Don't let it get to a rolling boil after the cheese goes in -- just simmer it!
The longer this cooks, the better it gets!
Makes at least 8 bowls of chili.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Arkansas Cornbread

I love cornbread, the moister, the better. I like a little "kick" with mine too. Here is a perfect choice to make when the urge to spluge hits you! This recipe makes a lot, so it's perfect for sharing or making to give away as a gift! Goes great with chili and is a tasty snack, too. Enjoy!

Arkansas Cornbread

2 8 oz. pkg. corn muffin mix
2 c. milk
1/2 c. veg. oil
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 large onion, grated (I use a food processor or food mill for this)
2 T. sugar
1 8 oz. can cream style corn
1/2 c. seeded and chopped chili peppers ( I use a combo of the canned chopped green chilies and some hot ones)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix everything together until just blended. Divide batter between 3 greased 9" pans or use one greased 13 X 9" pan.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.
Very moist and flavorful! You can control the "heat" by choosing the peppers your family likes.

For this batch, I used the Habaneros that I grew over the summer -- just one of them-- mixed in w/a small can of chopped green chilies. Freezes well and makes a nice gift!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fantastic Fall Apples!

My family loves almost all apple desserts, but Apple Crisp is an absolute favorite around here! It's easy to make and comes out crispy on the top and juicy and flavorful underneath! Like most of my dessert recipes, this one is from my husbands' side of the family -- I got this from a special aunt and a good friend. I have made only 2 minor adjustments to her original recipe over the years. Be sure to have some vanilla ice cream to put on top!

We prefer this recipe made with Granny Smith apples, but any firm, tart baking apple will work.

Ann's Apple Crisp

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

First prepare your apples:

4 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1/4 cup water

1 T. lemon juice

Layer your apples in a 1 - 2 qt. dish and sprinkle them with the salt and sugar. Pour the water and juice over all.

Next, the Topping:

3/4 cup flour

1 T. oatmeal

1 c. sugar

1/3 cup butter, softened

Mix together your dry ingredients and cut in the butter with pastry blender, 2 knives or your hands, which ever way you like! The mixture should be course and well mixed, with pieces about the size of peas.

Sprinkle the topping over the apples, and bake for 40 minutes, uncovered. Serve warm, topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Dinner -- Herb Roasted Pork and Gravy

The weather in central Virginia has turned decidedly chilly -- it's almost like we went right from summer to winter! Now that things have cooled off around here, it's easier to think about heating up the kitchen with roasting and baking.

I always cook a nice dinner on Mondays, because I think that Monday is a tough day for almost everyone, no matter what you do! If you are working a 9 to 5 grind, then it's back to the old routine, after a leisurely weekend of football and family. If you are a kid, getting up early and heading off to school after a day or 2 off can be tough. Even if you are a full time or part time stay at home mom (like me!), Monday means laundry, cleaning up lots of messes and at my house, fixing a nice dinner to say, "Here's to a good week, Family!"

This Monday, it's Herb Roasted Pork, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Sauteed Cabbage and Red Onions and Ann's Apple Crisp (recipe here). Yummy! Try the pork and apple dessert with your favorite sides and enjoy the taste of fall!

Herb Roasted Pork

1 3 - 3.5 lb. pork roast

2 cloves garlic

4 sprigs fresh thyme

3 - 2" stems fresh rosemary

fresh ground black pepper

1 medium onion, peeled and thickly sliced

1 T. Worcestershire Sauce, for gravy

Water or beef broth, for gravy

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Now, prepare your herbs:

Wash and dry the thyme and rosemary. Remove the leaves from the stems. I am lucky enough to still have lots of herbs in my garden, especially these 2 which will withstand the cooler weather and continue to produce.

Chop the garlic thyme and rosemary. Grind in some fresh black pepper and continue to work this mixture together until it is well blended. With a small sharp knife, cut the garlic cloves into slivers. Push the knife into the pork roast and insert a sliver of garlic into the roast. Do this several times so that the roast is studded all over with garlic cloves. 

Place your pork roast, fat side up, in a heavy, deep roasting pan. Score the fat with knife making 3 or so slashes across the roast. Rub your herb mixture over the surface of the roast, making sure it gets down into the slashes. Scatter the onion slices over the top of the roast, and along the sides. Sprinkle the whole thing with salt.

Put the roasting pan (uncovered) into your preheated oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer sounds, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cover your roast. Set the timer for 1 hour and 30 minutes. The internal temp. should be 180 degrees. Remove the roast and let rest 10 - 20 minutes before carving. Occupy your time making gravy, while you wait for the roast to cool.

Here's how I make gravy: To the drippings in the pan, stir in a 1/4 c. flour (a scant 1/4 c., not packed, just lightly spooned), and mix that into the juices with a wire whisk, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan, getting up all the brown bits and onion.

Make sure all of the flour is absorbed by the juices, that way you won't get lumpy gravy. Put the roasting pan on the stove --you may need to "straddle" it over 2 burners, depending on your stove and your pan -- and turn the burner(s) on low. Pour in 2 1/2 c. water or beef broth if desired, and continue to whisk, making sure your flour is dissolving and the gravy is blending well, continuing to scrape the bottom and sides of the roasting pan. Add the Worcestershire sauce, it gives great flavor and color. Turn up the heat, and keep going until it starts to boil This takes about 10 min. but you can do this while your meat is cooling. . Add a little salt and pepper, after tasting, if necessary.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Something special to begin your tailgating!

Tailgatin' Mufalletta
It's football season! Let the fun begin!
Here is a recipe for a fantastic sandwich that travels well, keeps well and feeds the multitudes. It is my variation on a "Muffaletta", a classic from N'Awlins that my family loves. Let me give props to some research I did on the the Food Network website, which I combined with a sandwich I grew up with that we called a "Zep", short for zeppelin, that my parents discovered when we were stationed near Valley Forge, PA.

Tailgate Muffaletta

First make the dressing:

1/3 c. red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and minced

1/3 c. olive oil

2 T. jalapeno olive spread (from a jar, I used Mezetta's)

10 pitted, chopped black olives

6 green olives, with pimentos, chopped

1/4 c. roasted red pepper, chopped

a little fresh ground black pepper

1 tsp. dried oregano

Whisk together the vinegar, dried oregano and garlic. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking. Add in the rest of your ingredients

Now, for constructing your sandwich:

1 round crusty, loaf ("boule") of bread, about 1 lb., 7" diameter and 3" high

6-8 slices thinly sliced, smoked ham, such as Sahlens Smokehouse Ham

8-10 slices hard salami

6-8 slices provolone cheese

1/2 onion, thinly sliced and soaked in some cold water**

1 c. shredded lettuce (iceberg or romaine)

1 dill Kosher spear pickle, minced

Cut the top inch off the bread and set aside. Hollow out almost all of the interior of the round bottom, leaving a sturdy shell intact. Spread several T. of your dressing mixture over the bottom of the shell, and up the sides. Layer in the meats and cheeses. Top them with the onions, lettuce and pickle. Spread a little more of the dressing on top. Carefully cover with the reserved top of the loaf.

Wrap this tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 min. and up to 24 hours.

Use the bread you pulled out of the middle of the boule' to soak up the rest of the dressing mixture as a yummy appetizer!

**Cooks note: Soaking the onions takes some of the bite out of them and makes them more palatable. Simply slice them very thinly, and put them into a bowl with some cold water. Let them soak about 10 minutes, and drain off the water before using.

When you are ready to serve, cut the sandwich into pie shaped slices. They can be as thin or as thick as you need them to be, depending on how many people you need to serve. This will AMPLY serve 6 and could serve as many as 12.

And Let Me Just Say, GO HOKIES!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fresh, Simple Salsa

There is simply nothing better than fresh salsa, and it is so very easy to make. Why not try it this week, while tomatoes are delicious and inexpensive at the markets and peppers are abundant?
We have been trying our hand at growing tomatoes and peppers in our backyard in containers. The peppers were extremely successful, the tomatoes, not so much, but we did get a few. Luckily, we have a friend who had lots of tomatoes on his vines and he was very generous! In a addition to that, the local favorite Hanover tomatoes have been on sale at several Richmond area grocery stores, including Kroger and Ukrops.

Here is a very basic, simple and tasty salsa recipe. Enjoy!

Simple Salsa

4 - 5 large Hanover or farm stand tomatoes
1 or 2 Hanbanero pepper (1 makes it spicy, 2 makes it medium hot)
1 handful fresh cilantro, washed, dried and stems removed
1/2 medium onion, peeled and cut in quarters
1 tsp. sea salt
a few grindings fresh ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 T. white vinegar
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. olive oil

Bring a medium sized pot of water about 2/3 full to a full boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, get out your food processor and dust it off. Wash your pepper and VERY CAREFULLY cut it open and remove most of the seeds and the stem. Wash your hands with soap and dry them with a paper towel. DON'T TOUCH your face while handling the pepper!

When the water comes to a boil, using a slotted spoon, immerse your tomatoes, one or two at a time in the boiling water for about 15 seconds. Remove them to a heat proof bowl and let them cool. When they have cooled, take off the skins and cut out the core at the stem end. Put the onion, garlic and pepper into the processor and pulse it a few times to begin the chopping process. Add in all but one of the tomatoes, the cilantro, and everything else. Pulse the salsa til it is almost smooth then add in the last tomato. Pulse a few more times until you reach the desired consistency.

Don't leave out the olive oil or the vinegar. The oil gives the salsa a little richness and the vinegar kicks up the fresh flavor. The lime juice makes is zesty! Don't be afraid of adding the habenero, using only one or 2 and seeding the pepper keeps the extreme hotness in check while spicing up the salsa for an authentic flavor! This salsa is really good just like it is, but don't be afraid to keep going! Makes about 5 cups.

Make this your own! Add in, as you like:

1 cup. fresh, roasted corn

1 c. drained and rinsed black beans

another hot pepper or 2

3 or 4 minced oil-packed sun dried tomatoes

Friday, August 28, 2009

A movie for foodies and travel buffs alike!

Go see "Julie and Julia" this weekend! It's delightful. You'll have so much fun, and a renewed admiration for America's first celebrity chef, Julia Child. I enjoyed the flick so much, I went out and bought "My Life in France" by Julia the very next week. What's next? I've asked for "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" for my birthday in September. Julia's got me all revved up to be creative in the kitchen! What's on the menu this weekend? Real Chile Rellenos, starting out the old fashioned way, with fresh chiles. I've made them before, but used whole chiles in a can. This should be interesting. I'll take some pix and let you know how it all turns out!
In the meantime, get your Julia fix by checking out the pbs site on all things Julia:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's All Greek To Me!

Tonight, I am trying something new. An all Greek, home-made meal. The chicken is marinating in a yogurt and rosemary infused marinade, and even the spanikopita was made by me and my friend di cucina, Kathy. Working with phyllo dough is a little tricky, as it dries out very quickly. I printed off Ina Garten's recipe for "Dinner Spanikopita" and followed it to the letter. The results were fabulous! So, if you are feeling adventurous in the kitchen, check it out at Even with 2 experienced cooks working the recipe, it took us over an hour to produce about a dozen servings. We made them in a bigger size, which I think was easier, since it was our first time working with frozen phyllo dough. The chicken is also adapted from an Ina recipe. It's grilled outside, so does not heat up your kitchen. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which are fairly easy on the budget and the waistline! Don't be scared of the yogurt in the recipe. It makes the meat so juicy and delicious. I think you are going to love going Greek! Greek Style Grilled Chicken Thighs 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 4 to 6 pieces each 1 lb. non-fat plain yogurt 5 T. fresh rosemary, snipped 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced 1/2 tsp. dried oregano juice of 1 lemon the zest from 1/2 of that lemon 1 tsp. sea salt 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 1 medium red onion, quartered and separated into pieces

Mix together everything except the red onion. Let this mixture marinate in the frig at least 30 minutes, up to over night. Over a large cookie sheet, thread your chicken pieces on to a skewer (bamboo or metal, but be sure to soak the bamboo first in water if that's what you use) alternately with a piece of red onion. This is a very messy procedure! Be sure to wash your hands well after handling raw chicken and clean any surface that it touches. Preheat your outside grill or get a grill pan nice and hot. Lay your chicken skewer on the grill, turn the heat down a little and let it alone for about 5 minutes. Turn it once and grill a few more minutes till the onion starts to brown and the chicken is cooked through -- about 8 - 10 minutes total. Serve with rice or pita bread.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bruschetta, A Super Simple Summer Treat

The tomatoes are in, and when they come in, they really come in! We are deluged with gifts of tomatoes, so there are lots of tomato sandwiches at our house, and plenty of salade caprese, that classic pairing of tomatoes, mozarella and basil. It was that salad that inspired this appetizer that I made for my husband for his August birthday.

We love bruschetta, and when you are drowning in tomatoes, what could be better? The basil in my garden is lush and green, and the pairing of tomatoes and basil is simply classic, simply delicious.

Simple Bruschetta

5 medium almost over ripe tomatoes

1 clove garlic, finely minced

12 large basil leaves

pinch of sugar

salt and pepper to taste

3 T. good extra virgin olive oil

1 loaf french baguette

about 3 -4 oz. fresh mozarella (that's about 1/2 of a medium size ball of it)

Preheat your oven to 275. Thinly slice the baguette and put it on a cookie sheet. Place it in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and let it sit for 30 more minutes.

Finely chop your tomatoes and drain off a little of the clear juice. If the skins are tough, you may want to skin them first. (Very easy to do, just dunk them into boiling water, pull them out out immediately and let them cool to the touch. The skins just slip right off!)

Roll your basil leaves together like a cigar and cut them thinly -- this is called a chiffonade in chef-speak. Mix the tomatoes, minced garlic, basil, salt, sugar, pepper and olive oil in a non-metal bowl. Place it in the frig for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors come together.

Put one spoonful of the tomato mixture on top of each toast. Count how many you have (probably somewhere around 24) and cut your mozarella into that many small squares. Place one on top of each toast and run it under the broiler for 3 minutes or less, until the mozaralla is just melted.

Delicious served as an appetizer, a side dish or even a light lunch. Refrigerate any leftover tomato mixture and use it on grilled chicken or fish, or even heated up slightly and put over pasta.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Easy Appetizer

How often do you ask someone, "What can I bring?" and they say, "How about an appetizer?" and then you think, "Shoot, what should I bring?" Here is an easy one, that is light on the pocketbook and easy on the waistline. As an added benefit, it makes lots of "bites" so fits the bill whenever you need to feed a crowd. It's my variation on a old recipe from the 80's, that used to appear at every gathering, but as things do, kind of slipped out of style. It has the additional benefit of having most of it's ingredients being shelf stable. That qualifies it as a "go to" recipe in my book!

Tasty Tortilla Pinwheels

6 soft flour tortillas, 8"

1 8 oz. block light cream cheese, softened to room temp.

1 package Original Ranch Dressing mix (powdered, in an envelope)

1 4 oz. can diced green chilies, slightly drained

1/4 c. chopped and drained black olives

10 pickled jalapeno pepper slices, minced and drained

In a medium mixing bowl, combine eveything except the tortillas. A rubber spatula works best for this.

On a flat surface, using your rubber spatula, spread a scant 1/4 c. of the cream cheese mixture evenly over the surface of one tortilla. Roll it up, not too tightly, and scrape off any of the mixture that escapes at the end when you have completed the roll up. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cover them and refrigerate for at least 2 hours so the filling can firm up and come together.

Uncover the plate and slice each tortilla into 1/2" pinwheels. Serve them on a plate garnished with some fresh greens or herbs. Makes approx. 60 pieces, as you will loose a little from the ends where the tortillas are rounded off -- looks too sloppy for me, so those are the cooks' treat!

Variation: Instead of chopped green chilies, olives and jalapenos, you can make these with 1/4 c. chopped, cooked shrimp and about 2 -3 tablespoons of your favorite salsa. You may also substitute green olives for the green chilies, but that would significantly up the calorie and fat content. Roasted red peppers would be another sub for the green chilies.

Think of this as a method you have learned, and can make your own! Experiment and have some fun! Try mixing the ranch dressing mix with the cream cheese and layering it with sliced deli turkey, some sprouts and a T. of salsa for a different lunch. Let your culinary imagination take charge!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lemon Chess Pie

As you may have noticed, I like pie and I like to make them. Here is another one of my familys' favorites. It is from a very old recipe, passed down to my mother in law, from her mother in law. To keep that in perspective, and show how old this is, my mom in law will be 90 in December (I think she's proud of that, as she should be!). This pie fits the bill for lemony sweetness and once again, as I've said before, it's easy as pie. Check out the direction for "butter the size of an egg" -- that's exactly the way it was written when given to my mother in law from hers!

Lemon Chess Pie

1 unbaked pie crust

3 eggs

butter "the size of an egg" (about 1/2 stick)

1 tsp. + 1 T. flour

juice of 1 1/2 lemons

grated rind or the "zest" of 1 lemon *

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat eggs and sugar together. Add softened butter, flour, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour into the prepared pie shell. Bake for 35 minutes.

*Cooks note: Make sure to zest only the yellow part of your lemon. The white part is bitter. A microplane rasp works really well for this. This adds great lemon flavor to your pie, so don't leave it out!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cold Cucumber Soup

Another one of the joys of summer, fresh, crispy cucumbers, and all the fabulous dishes you can create with them. I have loved cold cucumber soup for years now, and it really helps me stick to my healthy eating plan. I realize that cold soup is not everyone's idea of good eating, but as far as I am concerned, when the weather turns hot and humid, there is absolutely nothing better than gazpacho or cold cucumber soup!

Cold Cucumber Soup

3 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded

24 oz. fat free, low sodium chicken broth

1 rib celery, cleaned and roughly chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 c. water or dry white wine

16 oz. fat free, plain yogurt

1/3 c. light sour cream

1 tsp. salt

fresh dill or snipped chives for garnish

In a heavy sauce pan, combine broth, celery, onion, garlic and wine or water. Bring it to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and let simmer about 30 minutes until the veg. are very tender. Remove from heat and let cool about 30 min.

Put your prepared cucumbers into a food processor fitted with the all purpose blending blade. (You may do this in a heavy duty blender.) Add about half of your broth and process until smooth. Remove half of that mixture to a large bowl and blend in half of your yogurt and sour cream. You must make this by doing it in "batches" as I have never found a processor or blender big enough to do it all at once. Pour the broth/yogurt mixture into your large bowl, and then pour half back into the processor and blend again with the the rest of the yogurt, sour cream and salt. Do this several times, until everything is fairly smooth and blended together. Don't overfill your processor or blender, just take a few extra minutes to pour back and forth till completed. Chill soup thoroughly. Serve garnished with a slice of cucumber, a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of dill or chives.

Basil, cucumbers and tomatoes, pesto...summertime!

Oh, my the joys of summertime! Fresh tomatoes on the vine, cold cucumbers and lots and lots of fresh herbs. We have been eating a tremendous amount of tomatoes, cucumbers and basil at our house this last week or two.
If you have not explored making pesto at home, you must give it a try. It jazzes up any grilled meat, is great on pasta or even just spread on bread and run under the broiler. Pesto is so versatile, it even freezes well. It's also very forgiving, pairing well with lots of different ingredients that all add up to pesto. The traditional recipe calls for pine nuts, but I find that toasted walnuts work just as well. Adding in other herbs will change it up a little, but it will still be delish Here is a good basic, lower fat pesto recipe that I make all the time.

Basic Pesto Sauce

1/2 c. packed basil leaves

1/2 c. packed baby spinach leaves

2 T. toasted pine nuts or walnuts

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 - 3 T. extra virgin olive oil

about 1/3 c. low sodium, fat free chicken broth

1/2 c. fresh grated parmesan
a little fresh ground black pepper

Toast your nuts: put them into a small, dry, non-stick stick frying pan over medium heat. Let them heat up until you start to smell them. Watch closely so you don't burn them!

In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, spinach, garlic and nuts. Pour in a little bit of the chicken broth, just enough to get things going. Start your machine, and add in the parmesan cheese through the chute or top vent of a blender. Drizzle in the olive oil and a little pepper. Add some more broth until you get the consistency that you like.

This is a recipe you must make relying on your senses -- watch how the ingredients come together and add liquid as needed. Does it look a little watery? Add some more parmesan. Too thick? Add a little more broth. Taste it -- does it taste good? Add a little more basil, fresh pepper or olive oil. Pulse the machine on and off, and scrape down the sides as needed.

The rule of thumb is that you need about 1 T. pesto sauce for each 1/2 c. of pasta. My family loves this served on spinach and cheese ravioli or over fettucine. It's great on grilled tuna too.

Feel free to expirement with this one. Try adding a few oil packed sundried tomatoes. I like to put in some fresh garlic chives from my garden.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rescuing BeBe

A few months ago, our family decided that we were ready for a new family pet. We lost our lovely Lady Lulu, who had been with us for 13 years, last November. Our family has had a lot of sad stuff over the last year, and we were all lonely without a doggie around. So, my oldest son showed me the website, and we were off and running. We found a friend through that site at the New Journey Animal Rescue. She is 3 years old, looks like an English Setter but has baby blue eyes. The vet speculates she may be part setter, part husky plus maybe a little hound dog mixed in. I don't know, but she is cute, sweet, shy and deserves a 2nd chance. BeBe came to us already housebroken and it took me one day to crate train her. She loves other dogs, is kind of afraid of men she does not know and will bark at them, and once she warms up to you, is very affectionate. If you are even thinking about sharing your life with a pet, this is a great way to go. Saving a life is very rewarding!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sad Week

Our Nathan, age 19, about a year before he died.
I have not been posting much lately, even though I've been cooking up a storm. Our family has had a sad, long week. A year ago, on June 12, 2008 our precious son Nathan passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, sadly. We miss him and love him, things are just not the same without his wicked sense of humor, his fabulous, jazzy guitar playing and his unusual and often deadly accurate outlook on life. There is a giant hole in our lives and our family, but life goes on.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lunching out with the Ladies Who Lunch

If you are heading out to lunch anytime soon, and are near Midlothian, VA check out Sushi-O on Alverser Dr. (across Huguenot Rd. from Chesterfield Towne Ctr.). This is a lovely little restaurant, and the lunch I had there was delish! The Businessman's Box Lunch special is a ton of food, with lots of different options to try. Let me say first, that the presentation of the "box" was absolutely beautiful. I played it safe and ordered the sesame chicken choice. It was great -- crispy, sesame-coated chunks of chicken, sauteed in a dark, rich, soy inused sauce. The special comes with miso soup, which was wonderful, house salad with ginger dressing (very good), mixed tempura w/veg. and one shrimp, house fried rice and SUSHI. Man, oh man, how I'll eat dinner I don't know, but it was worth every calorie! And all that was only $9.50. Don't miss this place! Looking at the beautiful food is almost worth the price alone, but the eating of it seals the deal!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Love Chocolate?

I don't eat a lot of sweets, but if I do, I like them home-made, rich and more often than not, CHOCOLATE! I like to make pies because they are, well, easy as pie. This recipe is an old family favorite. It is written exactly as it was given to me by my mother-in-law more than 20 years ago, who got it from a dear family friend.

Next time you need to bring a delicious dessert to a dinner or want to treat your own family, or are simply craving chocolate, try this. And, don't forget to buy premium vanilla ice cream to go along with it!

Chocolate Pecan Pie

1 9" unbaked pie crust, your own or purchased

2 squares unsweetened chocolate

2 T. butter

3 eggs

1/2 c. sugar

3/4 c. dark corn syrup

3/4 c. pecans (whole or pieces)

Preheat oven to 375 degress.

Melt chocolate with the 2 T. butter, over a double boiler or in a large measuring cup in the microwave. Beat the eggs with the sugar, and mix in the melted chocolate and dark corn syrup. Stir in the pecans and pour the entire mixture into your pie shell.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 - 45 minutes.

Serves 8.

Easy huh? Now you know why the saying is so true...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Summertime! Taco Salad Supper

When it's hot and humid, as it so often is here in Virginia, it's hard to think about hot food, or even heating up the whole kitchen by turning on the oven, or boiling up things on the stove. I love a salad for dinner on days like that. My family, not so much. Since it's me and a bunch of boys, if I make a salad for supper, it's got to be one that qualifies as "real food". They wouldn't call baby greens topped with goat cheese and walnuts "real food", they would call it lunch!

Several years ago, I went to a covered dish luncheon and had a super taco salad made by one of our group members. The recipe is quick and easy, can be made mostly ahead of time and is family friendly in every way. It also "holds" well at room temperature, if you are having one of those days when everyone eats when they can, in between ball games, social events and running around playing taxi service. I first made this exactly as she wrote it, but have since "lightened" it up quite a bit, so I could make it and eat it without feeling guilty. I also added more seasoning to the meat, to suit our palates. You could make it bolder or simpler, to suit your family and their tastes.

Let me say that teenagers love this salad! I have made it many times for my sons and their friends and the bowl is always cleaned out. I mix everything together except the taco chips, and leave it out on the counter (in the a.c.) and let them help themselves. It's always a hit!

Taco Salad
1 lb. lean ground beef (93% lean)

1 T. chili powder

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 tsp. cumin

Brown above ingredients, crumbling hamburger.

1 c. shredded 2% (lowfat) cheddar cheese ( I like Cracker Barrel)

1 head iceberg lettuce torn into pieces or 1 bag romaine hearts (your preference)

2 tomatoes, diced, or 12 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

4 green onions, white and green parts, sliced thinly

about 20 black olives, cut in half

1/2 bag baked Nacho Cheese Doritos, crushed


1/4 c. light mayo

1/4 c. light sour cream

1/2 c. taco sauce or salsa (your favorite kind)

1/4 c. catsup
Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Salsa will make a chunkier dressing, taco sauce a smoother one. Don't leave out the catsup, though, it makes a difference.

After browning meat and seasonings, drain off any grease and cool to room temperature. Mix lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, onions and olives in a large bowl (the "top" of a tupperware cake server is just the right size and you can use it to take along for a picnic or covered dish supper). Add meat to lettuce mixture. Add the dressing and crushed taco chips right before serving.

If you need to "hold" this salad, simply prepare all the ingredients and keep them separate to fix when you need to eat it. Keep your greens cool, the meat at room temperature for up to an hour or 2, and the dressing on ice. Always add the chips at the very last minute so they stay crunchy.

The baked Doritos can sometimes be hard to find, so when I see them, I buy them and hide them in the pantry for use in this salad. It cuts way down on the fat and calories. The original recipe did not call for light sour cream, and used all mayo. Again, one ingredient can make a big difference in the fat and calorie count, and I actually prefer the taste the way I do it.

Makes 6 main dish sized portions, or 10 side salads.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Want to try some good wine?

If you read my blog and are curious about trying the wines I wrote about a few weeks ago, go to Vino Market at 3730 Winterfield Road…(near the intersection of Huguenot Trail). They are open for business now and are having a Grand Opening of sorts this Saturday from 12-4pm. They will be featuring the wines that we have been so fortunate to try in the comfort of our own home. Check it out!! Anyway, how can a wine tasting be a bad thing? A little free fun for the weekend! Enjoy it and find your new summer wine!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spinach Stuffed Chicken

The other night, we had on the Foodnetwork while I was cooking dinner, and Rachael Ray was stuffing chicken breasts, making fettuccine and chopping up a salad. It looked so good, my husband said, "Let's make that!", so last night, I did.

Let me say right up front, that to put this entire meal together in 30 minutes or less would be pretty impressive. There was no instruction given about prepping the chicken breasts, and as soon as I pulled mine out of the package, I knew the "stuffing" and rolling part was going to be pretty near impossible, considering the thickness of the breasts. So, out came the plastic wrap and the rolling pin, and I pounded away on all 6 of them for at least 10 minutes. Then, there was the board and rolling pin clean up, very important whenever you are dealing with raw chicken. When I make this recipe again, and I will, I would buy the thin, breast cutlets that you see in the case at the grocery store. It would make it lots easier, and a more realistic portion size. The whole breast, pounded out and stuffed with all the goodies, was a large portion to consume in one meal. I amended the original just slightly, but the idea and method came straight from Rachael.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Prosciutto

6 chicken breasts, pounded, or thin chicken cutlets

1/2 c. low fat ricotta cheese

1 pkg. chopped, frozen spinach, thawed and drained

2 T. pine nuts, toasted

1 garlic clove, grated

1/4 c. freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

few gratings fresh nutmeg

few gratings of black pepper

6 slices procuitto di Parma (Italian Ham)

To toast your pine nuts, put them in a frying pan over medium heat until they are lightly browned. Watch them so they don't burn. Make your stuffing: Begin by squeezing all of the water out of your frozen chopped spinach. Place it in a bowl with the ricotta, parnigiano, toasted pine nuts and garlic. Mix it well, and grind a little nutmeg and black pepper into the mixture. Mixture will be kind of "stiff" and a little dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay your chicken breast on a clean work surface, and add a well rounded tablespoon or so of the stuffing mixture towards one end of the breast. Roll the breast up, jelly roll style and secure it with a toothpick. Wrap a slice of the ham around the rolled up chicken, so that the ham covers the opening where the ends come together. Put the 6 breasts in a 13X9" pan, coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes. They get done a little quicker than you would think! These were worth a little work and really tasty. I added the garlic to the recipe, but my family loves that taste. The nutmeg adds a lot too.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A little vino perhaps?

We've been having the most fun at our house recently. My oldest son's roomate sells wine...nice, French wine. When he does a tasting, he gets to keep and consume, at his discretion, the leftovers. Usually, only 1 - 3 people do the actual tastings he conducts. He has 11 bottles of different wines in his case, so that works out to lots of bottles that are at least half full. AND they must be consumed in a rather timely fashion.
Now, the fun comes in when he brings them to our house, in exchange for a mom cooked, home-made dinner. It's been educational as well as yummy! One thing I've discovered, is that I love a dry rose'. If you have not tried one, you should! I also like chardonnay, which I thought I did not. I just don't like the oak flavor that you get in most California chardonnays. The wine we sampled is aged in stainless steel barrels and when you take out the oak, I like it.

You can get these wines at various venues around the Richmond area (think CanCan and several others like it). The rose' I liked is Manon Cotes de Provence (pictured), and comes in a graceful, clear bottle. Another one that was a real treat, crisp and dry, was a Sauvinon Blanc: Haut-Poitou Sauvignon (pictured).

Keep in mind, I am usually a red wine only kind of girl, but these wines and a little education have changed my mind.

I highly recommend you make it a point to attend a wine tasting soon. They are all around the Richmond area, and it's a fun way to educate your brain and your palette!
**Cooks Note: I had some of the sauvignon blanc leftover from our tasting. Last night, I made salmon and used the wine as a "poaching" liquid. I don't have a big enough pan to "poach" on top of the stove, so I used a cookie sheet, with a 1" edge and laid the salmon on it. I spread 2 T. of Ken's Steakhouse Zesty Italian dressing on the top and carefully poured about 1/2 c. of the wine around the fish. I covered it w/foil and put it into a pre-heated 375 degree oven. After 15 minutes, I turned it down to 325 and continued to cook it for 15 more minutes. It was so good, moist and light. My husband said it was the best salmon I'd ever cooked, so I have to credit the vino!

What's For Dinner, Mom? part deux

What's for dinner, Mom? The dreaded afternoon question, heard round the world as the evening rolls in...As the mom of boys, it's the question that always hangs in the air, swirling around, ready to explode if there is no answer or an unsatisfactory one.

I've got an answer tonight...London Broil is on sale at Ukrops, $2.98/lb. London broil is a nice lean cut of meat that can lend itself to many dishes. Our favorite way is to marinate it and then grill it, nice and rare. You let it rest for a few minutes -- at least 5 -- and slice it thinly across the grain, like you do flank, flat iron or skirt steak.

Basic Beef Marinade

1/2 c. Wishbone Fat Free Italian dressing

1 tsp. Adolph's meat tenderizer (no msg type)

2 T. soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Put this into a large zip lock storage style bag along with your London Broil. Let it sit in the refrigerator at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Be careful not to overcook the meat. The meat is medium rare when it "feels" like the fat pad at the base of your thumb. If it feels firmer, it's more well done, softer, it is rarer. I always think it's better to slightly undercook it, than to overcook it. You can always cook it a little more plus it does cook a little after it comes off the grill while it sits to recollect it's juices. Chefs and food TV types say to "Let the meat rest".

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Once again, I find myself craving Mexican food, specifically Chicken Enchiladas Suizas from the of blessed memory Richmond fave, La Siesta. Those ooey, gooey, cheesey, rich white sauced enchiladas, loaded with fat and calories. What's a girl to do? Gotta' have 'em! So, to satisfy my craving and not break the bank -- uh, calorie bank that is -- I created this casserole, using leftover baked chicken (rotisserie from the store works fine) and some lower fat, lower cal ingredients. I also eliminated frying the tortillas briefly in oil, as most recipes call for, which helps out. I bet you are going to like this one, next time you want something rich and creamy!

Beth's Chicken Enchilada Casserole
2 cups cooked chicken, diced, skin removed
6 corn tortillas
1 c. shredded cracker barrel 2% milk low fat sharp cheddar cheese
1 c. shredded monterey jack cheese
1 can chopped green chilies, divided use 1 can 98% fat free cream of chicken or mushroom soup
1/3 c. light sour cream 
1/4 c. salsa verde
1 green onion, sliced, green and white parts
6 black olives, halved (optional)
Cooking spray

First make your sauce: In a medium bowl, mix together 1/2 of the canned chilies, soup, sour cream and salsa verde. Remove 1/2 c. of this mixture and in another bowl, mix it with the chicken, the remaining green chilies and the sliced green onion.
Cut your tortillas into four pieces. Spray an 8X8" square baking dish with cooking spray. Take 3 of the tortillas (12 pieces) and layer them in a single layer on the bottom of the dish. Dump in the chicken mixture and spread it evenly over the tortillas. Add the two cheeses. Cover this with the remaining 12 pieces of tortillas. Spread all of the remaining sauce over the top of this as evenly as you can. Sprinkle with the halved black olives if desired. Bake it covered with foil, low and slow, about 325 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour until it is hot and bubbly. Let it cool at least 10 minutes before you cut it, to give it a chance to come back together. Makes 6 big pieces. We like to serve it with fat free refried bean from the can, gussied up with a few spoonfuls of our favorite salsa and topped with some shredded lettuce. My son insists I serve guacamole with it too, but he's a growing boy and can take the calories better than his old mom!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Perfect Pizza Crust

I've tried lots of different kinds of pizza dough over the years, beginning at age 10 with a Chef Boy-ar-Dee mix at our apartment in Kaiserslautern, Germany. That was the very start of my passion for cooking. We had fallen in love with the pizza served at an Italian restaurant at nearby Ramstein Air Force Base, and I was determined to recreate it! Of course, my first efforts were soggy, but I got better and better with each try.

Making dough from scratch can be intimidating, and I am not really sure why. Maybe it's the chemistry involved...will it rise? Can I make it into something worth eating? I don't know the answer to the anxiety, but I can provide you with an almost foolproof recipe for perfect pizza crust -- not too thin, not too thick, and just chewy enough.

Believe me, it's not as hard as you think it is!!

Pizza Crust Dough

2 level tsp. dry yeast or 1 package (I buy it by the jar and keep it in the frig)

2/3 c. warm water (105 - 115 degrees)

2 c. all purpose flour, divided

1 T. cornmeal

1 T. olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

vegetable cooking spray

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large, heat proof bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 1 3/4 c. flour, cornmeal, oil and salt, to form a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes), adding enough of the remaining flour to prevent dough from sticking to your hands or the surface.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Spray top of dough. Cover, and let ride in a warm place (~85 degrees), free from drafts, about 40 minutes, until doubled in bulk.

STOP!! What? How warm is 85 degrees? What does "doubled" mean? How will I know? How can I tell if the water was warm enough? Was it too warm? Will it kill the yeast? This is too hard for me.....

Your body temp is 98.6. Water that is 105 - 115 degrees will feel warm to your fingers, but not burning hot.

In my kitchen, I have under cabinet lights that illuminate the countertops. If I put the covered bowl right under these lights and leave it about 40 minutes, I can clearly see that the dough has grown much larger. Try that. Or, put it into your oven (unheated) with just the oven light on. Again, our body temp. is 98.6, so 85 degrees is a little cooler than we are. If either of these spots feels "hot" to you, then it is warmer than you are, so a little too warm for the dough! See, it's not so mysterious, after all!!

Next, punch dough down and roll into a 15" wide circle. Spray the pizza pan of your choice with cooking spray. If you have a dough mat, like you make pie crust on, it really helps here. I find it easier to put the dough in the middle of your pizza pan, and simply pat it into place, just like you do with the packaged dough. Top with your favorites and bake according to recipe directions. I recommend that you cook it at about 400 degress for 15 - 20 minutes. Less time with less toppings, more time with heavier toppings.

Now, go for it! You CAN do this! It's easy, and really good too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's Thyme to Plant....Herbs! Flowers! Veggies!

I love my herb garden. It's so satisfying on many levels. For one thing, it's fun to create something out of almost nothing. I grow most of my annual herbs from seed. It's inexpensive to garden with seeds. I bought my Ferry Morse Basil seeds at a local grocery store for only $1.79. I will get at least 4 beautiful basil plants for myself and may have some to give away, too! To make it almost foolproof, start your seeds in a window box or large, heavy (clay) pot. That way, when it's time to thin the seedlings and transplant them, you can easily see what you are doing. If I plant seeds directly into the garden soil, sometimes it's hard to know what's coming up! If you plant some seeds right now you will have fabulous flavor for your food all summer long and plenty to save for over the winter. Stay tuned for my fresh pesto recipe that freezes beautifully!

In our mild Virginia climate, I've now had my thyme and garlic chives "become" perennials. They do die back a little in the coldest part of the winter, but after I cut them back in the early spring, they start "greening" up. This is not technical talk, I don't know if anything can "become" perennial, it's just what's happened in my garden. The garlic chives I've had now for about 7 years, and unless it's below freezing, I can cut them almost year round. They make a pretty garnish, snipped over potato dishes and add real flavor to roasted garlic mashed potatoes. Fresh thyme is nice too, and a little goes a long way.

Rosemary is a true perennial, and will become a bush if you let it. Mine is now about 9 years old. I brought it to this house from my last home, in a big pot. I use it all year round, and when I cut it back, I keep the stems and put them in the chiminea for a wonderful, aromatic experience outside on the patio. Fresh rosemary is a real taste treat on roasted chicken, in stew or roasted veggies. It's easy to grow and looks great in your landscape or garden.

For pretty summer color all season long, try planting Cosmos. They are an old-fashioned, annual flower, with dainty fern like foliage and multi-colored flowers. You will often see pink, lavender, deep rose, white and burgundy all on the same plant! They are drought resistant and can stand up to the elements. I often put them out by my mailbox, which is in a sunny, hot spot right next to the road, and they do beautifully. They make good cut flowers too. You won't often find cosmos in a cell pack at the garden center, so you've got to try seeds if you want them.

Let me say, that I believe the secret to success in my garden at least, is dehydrated, composted cow manure. I always spread several bags over the garden after I dig it up each spring. It's only a few dollars a bag, and you will reap big rewards for spreading a little...uh.....manure.

Good luck and get gardening! It's fun, it's tasty and it's exercise, too! It's a win-win situation!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Turkey Burgers

My husband really likes to cook burgers on the grill. The only thing is, I find them to be a little bland. While I can fully appreciate the ol' American favorite, cheeseburger with all the fixin's, I sometimes want something a little different. I watch a pretty fair amount of Foodnetwork TV, and if you do to, than you all know who I am talking about when I say that's she's the one who calls herself "queen of sammies", "queen of burgers", "queen of" .... how can you be "queen of" everything? Anyway, some of her recipes are good, but I must say, rarely do they really take only 30 minutes to prepare, unless you like your meat really, really rare! I took one of her weeknight burger suggestions and changed it up, not only to make it more healthy, but also to suit my own taste. Southwestern Turkey Burgers 1 pkg. ground turkey breast (most of them are about 1 1/3 lbs.) 1 handful cilantro 1/3 c. roasted red pepper 1/4 of a medium onion, yellow or red, whatever you have 2 garlic cloves 1 heaping T. grill seasoning (I used the mesquite flavor kind) 1 med. jalapeno pepper, seeded No one in my family will even try a burger with big pieces of anything in it, so I put everything but the meat into my mini food processor, and process until fairly smooth. Then, I add it into the ground turkey and mix it in with my hands (it's the only way to get everything distributed evenly). Form this into 5 patties. Get your grill hot. Grill these ( I used a grill pan on my stove ala the queen of everything) for about 3 - 4 minutes on each side. They will get a nice little crust on each side. Split 5 sturdy rolls (kaiser or sandwhich) and remove a little of the bread from the inside of the roll, making a little well to fit your burger and toppings. When you take burgers out of the pan, grill the rolls a minute or 2, cut side down first, then a quick flip, to toast them up a little. Or put them under the broiler for a minute, but I am terrible at that and always burn them Maybe I am queen of burning rolls... Toppings: your favorite salsa leafy lettuce pickled jalapenos monteray jack pepper cheese red pepper jelly cajun mayo* Use any combo of the previous to top your burgers. I choose a little salsa, a thin slice of pepper jack cheese and some leafy lettuce, chopped up. I've done the cajun mayo on one side with the red pepper jelly on the other and lots of lettuce and that's yummy too, but probably more calories than I wanted on a Tuesday night! Play around with it to suit your taste. The mayo keeps several days in the frig, and is good to jazz up a plain turkey sandwich! *To make cajun mayo, combine 3 T. light mayo w/1 tsp. chili powder, 2 - 3 drops tabasco sauce, 1 tsp. LF sour cream and a sprinkle of the grill seasoning (again, I used the mesquite kind). Stir well and let sit to combine flavors.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Springtime means...spinach!

What says spring like spinach? Doesn't it make you think of green hills and lambs frolicking? No? Well, even if it doesn't, I love spinach. It is such a versatile dish, good for you and very low in calories. After all, remember ol' Popeye? Where would he have been without his canned spinach? I am not so much a fan of cannned, but I love fresh, green, leafy spinach in salads, as a filling for fish or chicken or in a pesto with fresh herbs. Here is a recipe I made for dinner last night. It's an old one, that I got from my grandmother, who was a wonderful cook. I have lightened it up a little, cutting down on the bacon fat, streamlining some other things, adding some ingredients, but retaining all of the flavor of the original. Enjoy!

Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
4 slices bacon, slowly cooked in a frying pan until crispy
1 med. red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 T. olive oil
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. cider vinegar
10 strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 hard boiled eggs
2 T. bleu cheese crumbles or goat cheese crumbles
1 pkg. (bag or clear plastic box) triple washed baby spinach
Salt and pepper
Begin by cooking your bacon slowly to extract all of the bacon fat. Remove the rashers and save the fat. Add the sliced red onion and garlic to the pan, along with the 2 T. olive oil. Saute this while you prepare the rest of the salad. Sort the spinach, removing any longish stems or browned pieces and put it in a shallow, heat tolerant bowl (i.e. not plastic). Chop the eggs and scatter them over the spinach. Crumble your bacon and add that, too. At this point, the onions and garlic should be softened. Stir in the sugar and continue to cook a little longer, over medium heat to slightly carmelize the onions and garlic mixture. Pour this over the spinach in the bowl, add the strawberries and cheese, and toss the salad to mix thoroughly. Pour the vinegar over all of this, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and mix again. Voila, fresh tasty spinach salad. Easily serves 6 as a generous side salad, or 4 great big main dish salads.
This salad is very versatile and forgiving. If you don't have or can't get strawberries, use a chopped apple (we prefer Granny Smith) or a small can of drained mandarin oranges. Don't like fruit in your salad? I originally made this with sliced white button mushrooms. Wine vinegar will work in place of cider, or even balsamic, but it will be a little different if you use the balsamic.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lettuce Wraps

My husband and I love to sit at the bar at PF Changs and order Chicken Lettuce Wraps with our cocktail. However, not too long ago I saw the calorie count for them, and realized that they won't fit in with my current eating plan. I tried a few different lower calorie ones, but none really measured up to my expectations. Then I found this recipe, which I changed up a little to satisfy my craving for those high cal babies. Now, these wraps are made from flank or flat iron steak, which, obviously, is not chicken. Nor does it "taste like chicken" as the saying goes. What they do taste like is delicious and they ARE fun to eat, like the inspiration dish. (IF you have not tried flat iron or flank steak, you must give it a try. It is lean and very economical.) I even invented a side dish to eat with them. You can add the slaw to the wrap, or eat it separately. You may also sprinkle this with dry roasted, chopped peanuts if desired, but we prefer it without.
Korean Style Beef Lettuce Wraps
3/4 lb. flank steak, trimmed
1/2 c. green onions, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 T. sugar
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. minced garlic
1 T. sesame oil
1-2 T. canola oil (divided)
1 T. toasted sesame seeds, optional
3 c. hot cooked rice leaf lettuce for wrapping, washed and dried, separated into individual leaves Asian Cole Slaw (recipe follows)
Cut steak across the grain into 1/4" slices and then cut them in half ( it helps to put the steak into the freezer for about 5 minutes before slicing -- this firms it up just a little). Combine steak, onions, sugar, soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil in a large bowl. Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add 1/2 - 1 T. canola oil, swirling to coat (you can use less oil if you use a nonstick pan, just make sure it's deep enough). Add half of steak mixture and stir fry until browned. Remove to a clean bowl. Add a little more canola oil and stir fry the rest of your beef/onion mixture. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.
Asian Cole Slaw
2 cups slaw mix ( I like the angel hair cut, but any will work) 1 green onion, thinly sliced 1 small cucumber, seeded, peeled and cut into "matchstick" pieces dressing mixture Make your dressing first: 1 tsp. sesame oil 1 tsp. canola oil 1. T. brown sugar 1/4 c. rice wine vinegar pinch of salt Combine those ingredients in a jar or small bowl and shake or whisk to combine. Pour over the vegetables and toss it all around, then let it sit for while at room temp. Stir it now and then to distribute dressing and coat the veggies.
To Assemble Wraps: Separate your lettuce leaves. Take one leaf, and spoon about 2 T. rice down the middle. Top with about 2 T. beef mixture and a spoonful or 2 of slaw, if desired. Roll your leaf and enjoy it. Makes about 8 filled lettuce leaves. 2 main dish servings or 4 appetizer servings. Each "leaf" contains approx. 100 cal. (without the slaw), 3 grams of fat and less than 1 gram of fiber.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fettucine Alfredo! Oh, My!!

My kids love fettucine alfredo, and to be honest, so do I. I had to find a way to make it at home and make it healthy yet delicious enough to enjoy. I found it -- with the help of an old Cooking Light magazine. It's a little bit of trouble, but oh, so worth it! Good eating and NO GUILT! I've made this several times and I swear, you would not know it's not the original killer variety of alfredo sauce. Lighter Fettucine Alfredo 1 T. butter 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 T. all purpose flour 1 1/2 c. 1% low fat milk 1 1/4 c. fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided use 2 T. lowfat cream cheese 1/2 tsp. salt 4 c. hot cooked fettucine (8 oz. uncooked) 2 tsp. chopped fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley Fresh ground black pepper Melt butter in a medium saucepan, over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for a few minutes until just softened (don't let it brown or fry). Stir in flour. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk. (You are making a "white" roux base, not a browned one.) Cook about 6 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of your grated parmigiano, cream cheese and salt. Continue to stir till the sauce gets smooth. Toss the sauce with the hot pasta. Turn it out onto a platter or a large pasta bowl and top with the remaining 1/4 c. parm. Sprinkle with parsley and grind a little pepper over the top. This makes 4 1 cup servings, 399 calories, 13.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber. I often make it as 8 1/2 half cup servings so it's only about 200 cal. 7 g. of fat and 1 g. of fiber. It's very filling and rich tasting -- You may find that a 1 c. serving seems like too much! Mange'!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chicken Dinner

Do you find yourself eating the same stuff over and over? Sometimes we do that at our house, it's kind of like my creativity gets jammed up! Last night I made something I had not cooked in a long time, and I don't know why! It was so good, healthy and lite! Why did I forget about it?

Roasted Chicken with Vegetables
8 pieces skinless, bone in chicken -- I usually make 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs and 2 wings
(Don't bother trying to skin the wings, and just do the best you can w/the legs!)
5 small white potatoes, cut in half
3 medium size yellow squash, halved and then cut into 2" slices
1 large onion, thickly sliced, and separated into rings
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into 1" pieces
8-10 med. mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
5 garlic cloves, smashed and halved
1 T. herbes de provence
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. rosemary
2 T. flour
1 c. white wine or fat free chicken broth
salt and fresh ground black pepper
cooking spray or olive oil
In a small bowl, mix together the herb de provence, thyme, rosemary and 2 T. flour. Lightly grease or spray a 13X9 in baking dish. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay your chicken in the pan and sprinkle with about half of your herb/flour mixture. Top the chicken with the cut up veggies and garlic, putting the onion on last, so it's on the top. Sprinkle the vegetables with the rest of the herb/flour mixture. Pour the chicken broth in carefully, around the sides of the dish so the herbs stay on the food. Sprinkle the top with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spray it with a little cooking spray, or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and let cook about 10 more minutes. (Test your potatoes for doneness before removing the dish from oven. Sometimes it may take a few more minutes.)

This is a great one dish meal. The flour thickens the broth, so it's almost like gravy, but much lower in fat than traditionally is found. Feel free to substitute any vegetable your family likes, but keep the onion, it flavors the other veggies. I made this last night with chicken broth, since I did not have any open white wine, and it really was just as good. Serve it with some rolls -- we like the low fat crescent ones with this.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Eating Healthy Mexican

My family loves "Mexican" food. I put that in quotes because I suspect, like "Chinese" food, the Mexican food we eat here bears very little resemblance to the real thing. I learned to cook Mexican from a friends mother, an air force wife, who had just been transferred to Florida after 5 years in California. She taught me 3 basic recipes for taco filling, cheese enchiladas and chile rellenos. We could not get queso fresco at that time in Florida, at least not in our mainstream, suburban grocery store, so she substituted, of all things, velveeta cheese. I imagine because of the texture. It was while living in Florida -- I am an army brat -- that I also learned to love Cuban food. The lunch ladies who ran the cafeteria at my junior high school were all Cuban, and man oh man, cuban chili with rice, black beans and rice, cooked pork and cuban bread were the food of the day many days in that little school cafeteria! Sorry, I digress, as my point was to talk about eating healthy, mexican food. Here are some recipes that I found in a Cooking Light cookbook. I've made them both several times, and they were a big hit with my family. I've made a few modifications to suit our taste, and you can too! Have fun and be creative! Spicy Black Bean Soup 6 oz turkey sausage, spicy if you like it, if not get keilbasa, sliced 1 cup diced green, yellow or red peppers, or a combo of all 3 1/2 small onion, small dice cooking spray 14.5 oz. can of fat free, low sodium chicken broth or stock 1 (15 oz.) can of black beans, rinsed and drained juice of 1/2 lime a few drops of tabasco sauce 1/4 cup of your favorite salsa 4 T. low fat sour cream chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley Coat a non stick sauce pan with cooking spray and put it on medium heat. Add sausage, onion and green peppers. When sausage begins to brown, add the veggies get a little tender, add the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add beans and salsa, and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. When done, squeeze in the juice of the lime. Divide amoung 4 bowl, top each with one T. light sour cream and cilantro or parsley, if desired. This makes 4 one cup servings. Approx. 172 (without sour cream) 4.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber. Check your sour cream for it's calorie and fat content or leave it off. Serve it with Speedy Quesadillas 4 - 8" fat free tortillas (look for the kind with 2 or more grams of fiber in them) 1 cup Cracker Barrel reduced fat cheddar cheese 1/4 cup green onions cooking spray Coat one side of a tortilla with cooking spray and lay it in your skillet. Top with 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese and half of your green onions. Top w/another tortilla and spray that with cooking spray. Cook about 2 minutes over med - high heat and turn it over. It should be lightly brown. Remove the first one and do it again. Cut each one into 6 wedges, for a total of 12. Serves 4 people, 3 wedges each, approx. 198 calories, 5.6 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Another word about roasted vegetables

If you make the roasted veggies I've listed earlier, and you have some left, they are great to cook with. Add them to chicken broth for vegetable soup, or put them on a homemade pizza. You can also buy those flatout wraps or use a high fiber tortilla and wrap them up with a little feta cheese and some lettuce for a light lunch. Or reheat them and serve them mixed with 1/2 c. of the new high fiber pasta, another great dinner addition or light lunch. Make lots, they are really versatile!

A relative from California read my blog and sent me the following dressing recipe and a slightly different method that she uses for her roasted vegetables. She roasts hers on a wok on the grill. It's always nice to have options, don't you think?

Balsamic Vinaigrette for Roasted Vegetables
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
3/4 c. oil, olive or canola
1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
5 dashed "Maggi" seasoning*
1 T. sugar
Toss the vegetables of your choice in the vinaigrette and roast them on the grill for about 15 minutes, stirring once midway through the cooking time. 
*Maggi seasoning is a swiss condiment, similar to soy sauce. I think it's made by Knorr but I am sure you can find it on most international food aisles in any large grocery store. We used it all the time when I was growing up -- my mom discovered it when we lived in Germany.

Craving pizza?

I must admit, that of all the fast foods and take out, the one I really WANT is pizza. If you are trying to eat healthy, pizza can be a challenge. It's covered with cheese, right? For take out, the best alternative I've found is to order a thin crust veggie. Overall, it's lower in calories and fat, simply because there is less crust and no meat. However, there is that argument that this is not REALLY pizza -- no chewy crust, no gooey strings of cheese. What's a pizza lover to do? Here's a recipe that might help when you are craving ooey, gooey goodness!

Cheese Lovers Roasted Garlic Pizza

One 10 oz. refrigerated pizza crust or make your own (using 1-2 T. olive oil only!)

8 garlic cloves, roasted (method to follow)

3 oz. shredded part skim mozarella cheese

3 oz. shredded fontina or provolone cheese

1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 T. shredded fresh basil

3 large plum tomatoes, sliced

2 T. good grated parmesan cheese

First, prepare your roasted garlic. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place the whole cloves on a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle them with a little olive oil, just enough to wet them. Wrap the foil around them, sealing it up so the oil doesn't leak out. Roast them for 20 minutes, until soft and lightly browned. Now, on with the pizza. Raise your oven temp. to 425 degress F.Spray your pie pan (12" round or 13 X 9" cookie sheet) with cooking spray (use the olive oil kind if you have it). Unroll your pizza dough and press into the prepared pan. Take your roasted garlic out of it pouch, and using your fingers, press out the cloves from their skins. Place them on the dough, evenly spacing them so there is about one for every slice of pizza. Mash them slightly with the back of a spoon. Add your tomatoes, basil and cheese. Bake until cheese is bubbly, about 12 - 15 minutes.

NOTE: If you put the cheese on the very top, it will get a little brown. If you want "softer cheese" put the tomatoes on the top and add some more "free food" VEGGIES! Try mushrooms, peppers or onions for very few calories and more great taste! I like roasted red peppers and (I must confess!) canned mushrooms.

If you use the refrigerated crust and cut it into 8 slices, each slice is approx. 206 calories, with 8 grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber. Your homemade crust may be slightly more, but should still be ok if you keep to the suggested 1-2 T. olive oil.
Enjoy! And in the words of our favorite and first TV chef, Bon Appetit!