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.