Recent Posts

Monday, July 20, 2009

Meatless Main Dish - Black Bean and Vegetable Enchiladas

My wedding day is exactly one week away (that's right we're getting married on a MONDAY – July 27 to be precise - which marks the exact day of our first date two years ago), and as the event rapidly approaches, I find it harder and harder to do ANYTHING during the day that isn't related to wedding planning. Each morning I wake up with good intentions – plans to get caught up, or maybe even get ahead on my Fall line, or maybe just to spend the day in the kitchen tinkering with some new recipes, but inevitably the wedding takes precedence and by the end of the day I realize that all that has been accomplished is a lengthening of my to-do list for the following day. So, its a good thing that last week I had the foresight to be making dinners ahead of time (to be frozen and used in the hectic upcoming days) - otherwise we'd be living off of take-out (or worse, fast food) because truthfully, it has just been too hectic here to get any cooking in.

So, last night I pulled out these black bean and vegetable enchiladas (an easy family favorite) for dinner, and while it took me little effort to prepare, it was an incredibly satisfying meal after a long day of running errands.

Black Bean and Vegetable Enchiladas
(Makes approx. 12 Enchiladas)

1- 15.5 oz. can black beans
(I prefer Goya Organic Canned Black Beans)
**Jon prefers me to use Vegetarian re-fried beans to the Black Beans, but I personally find the consistency to be too mushy when I make that substitution and so I tend to use the black beans more frequently in this dish.
1- 15 oz. can kernel corn
1- 4.5 oz. can chopped green chilies
1-2 fresh jalapenos, chopped (Optional)
1 green (or red/yellow) bell pepper, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
2- 12 oz. cans enchilada sauce (I prefer to use Old El Paso brand- Hot)
12 corn tortillas (You can also use flour, but they tend to be larger so count on having less finished enchiladas if you decide to substitute.)

First off, when using canned vegetables I always rinse the contents thoroughly before using them in my recipe. In this case, dump the beans into a small wire strainer and rinse with cold water until clean. Let the water drain and then place the beans in a small mixing bowl. Add the corn (rinsed in the same fashion), chiles, jalapenos, bell pepper, and onion. Mix together and this will be the filling for the enchiladas.

Next, cover the bottom of the baking dish(es) with a small amount of enchilada sauce (to prevent sticking). Depending on the size of your baking dish(es) this could range from a quarter can to three quarters can of enchilada sauce. I tend to make two trays of 6 using one can of sauce (in total) per tray.

Now it is time to make the enchiladas and place them neatly in the baking dish. I tend to warm up the corn tortillas (20 seconds in the microwave or in the bottom of a heated fry pan) before using them to prevent them from ripping apart as they are rolled and placed into the baking dish. Then, place a small amount of cheese into each tortillas, fill with 1/12 of the bean filling, and roll up placing the “seam” along the bottom of the baking dish. Repeat this until all the filling has been used. Cover the enchilada rolls with the enchilada sauce and the remaining cheddar cheese and then bake for approx. 30 minutes at 350 degrees (or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned and the edges of the enchiladas look “crispy”).

**Note, if you want to ensure that the peppers and onions get soft, you can saute them in a little olive oil before mixing it in with the filling.

Serve the enchiladas over brown rice with sour cream and salsa. Enjoy.Per serving (2 enchiladas): 938 calories, 53 g fiber, 45 g protein, high in vitamins A and C and high in calcium and iron.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Picnic Perfect Pie

Lately it seems I've been having a harder and harder time effectively communicating with Jon's family, particularly his mother. She is convinced that I do not like her, and has recently voiced this concern to Jon and his brother (who in turn confront me with all the things I should be doing, and the roles I should be playing to appease her) but in fact, I already do like her, and it hard for me to understand how or why she would believe otherwise.

But since I have obviously not convinced her of my liking, I ( in the only other way I know how to reach out) took her a pie and hoped that she would see this as an effort to “welcome” her to my family.

I made a simple apple pie because it is a dish I have been making with my mother since I was a child and it is something I can comfortably throw together without much thought. The recipe I use is ever changing, and I hardly ever measure any of
the ingredients for this pie, but knowing I would be posting the recipe I tried to keep a close watch on what (and how much) I was using of each of my chosen ingredients. The pie isn't the prettiest pie I've ever made ( I threw it together pretty quickly), but is was certainly one of the more flavorful.

Everyone enjoyed it, immensely. In fact, Jon's stepfather was so in love with it that when Jon's mother told me I could take the rest back home with me if I wanted he literally shrieked in dismay. Obviously, I left the pie.

Deep Dish Apple Pie
(Makes 1 Pie - approx. 8 slices)

1 Pkg. Pillsbury Ready Made Roll-Out Pie Crusts
1 bag Granny Smith Apples (approx.10 small apples)
2/3 cup Light Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, ground
1/2 tsp Ginger, ground
2 tbsp. Honey
2 tbsp. Maple Syrup
2 tbsp. Cornstarch
(Mix together all the non-apple filling ingredients – from sugar to cornstarch) ahead of time to aid in the even dispersal of spices throughout the filling.)

First, peal and core the apples. I use an apple corer-slicer combo when I core my apples, which I think saves some time. Then I slice the apple pieces in half again before tossing them into a large mixing bowl.

Once all of the apples are sliced, I toss in the sugar/spices, cornstarch, honey and maple syrup and then mix well, making sure to evenly coat all of the apple pieces. Set aside.

Coat the bottom of a glass pie dish with non-stick spray or butter and flour. Gently unroll one pie crust and line the bottom of the pie dish making sure there is approximately 1/2 inch of dough overhanging the lip of the dish. Add the apple filling into the crust creating a mound of spiced apples (sometimes I add in a few small pieces of butter on the apples at this point (before adding the top crust) for a little extra decadency.

Gently unroll the top crust and cut out a few shapes (or slits) into the center top crust. Place the crust on top of the mound of apples and use a fork (or decorative spoon edge) to press the top and bottom crusts together along the edge. Trim the excess dough (not too close to the edge of the dish).

Bake the pie at 425 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. Reduce the heat at this point and bake at 350 degrees for an additional 35-45 minutes, or until the apples are tender. Usually I'll line the edge of the pie crust with a few strips of tin foil after the first 15 minutes of baking to prevent the crust edge from burning.

Let cool for 20 minutes or so before serving.

**Advice: Serve with French Vanilla Ice Cream … mmm.

Per serving (1 slice): 202 calories, 37 grams sugar, and 5 grams fiber.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Meatless Main Dishes - Portobello/Green Pepper Fajitas

For about five years in my late teens I was a very strict vegetarian. I ate a very well balanced diet at home, and often cooked for myself. I wasn't afraid of the soy based meat alternatives, and the vegetarian dishes at my favorite ethnic restaurants to be the most appealing. To be honest, I never really had much of a reason to be a vegetarian, aside from the fact that I didn't care for the smell of cooking meat. I mean, it was never about the cruelty to animals (as for most young girls abiding by the diet), and it wasn't religious or about karma (as it was for my Dad), and it wasn't even about the speculated health benefits (as it was for my Aunt and her family). I did it primarily as an attempt to bond with my father (who has been a Vegetarian for at least 12 years at this point). It gave us something in common. Just something to share.

My reasons for doing things often seem convoluted to some, but it didn't seem like much of a sacrifice, and at the time, it was the only thing I could think of to share with him. But when I went off to college I found it harder and harder to get the nutrients I needed with the foods available from food services while abiding my a vegetarian diet, and by the second year I was giving in to the cravings for a cheeseburger, or grilled chicken sandwiches. I eat meat now primarily when my body craves it. When I find myself dreaminf about chicken wings I know its time to up the protein intake and I'll make a roast chicken (which will turn into chicken soup and chicken salad and so forth).

But, while I have been eating meat since then, Jon and I often forgo the meat in our meals simply because we like the cleaner flavors, and the lightness of the meals when the meat is left out. Tonight we had one of our regular veggie dinners: portobello and green pepper fajitas. We have some sort of Mexican inspired vegetarian dish at least once or twice a week and this one is our favorite. It is so quick and simple, but still full flavor and what more could you possibly ask for?

Portobello and Green Pepper Fajitas
(Serves 2)
1 portobello mushroom, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 onion, sliced
cheddar cheese, grated (garnish)
sour cream and salsa (garnish)
cilantro (garnish)
4-6 corn tortillas

I generally do not use any seasonings when I prepare these fajitas for dinner. We have pretty simple tastes and the juices from the portobello mushrooms are sufficient enough flavorings for this quick dish. We grill the sliced mushrooms, peppers, and onions on an electric griddle given to us by Jon's grandmother last summer. Set to 300 degrees the vegetables grill up quickly (approximately 10 minutes depending on tenderness preferences). If you want the peppers and onions soft, I recommend adding the mushroom a few minutes after the peppers and onions so that they don't get too soft.

Meanwhile, I warm the corn tortillas (you can use flour too if you prefer) in the bottom of a warmed cast iron skillet and then grate a small amount of cheddar cheese onto each tortilla. Add the grilled peppers and onions and top with sour cream, salsa and cilantro. Serve alongside rice and beans and kernel corn for a well-rounded meatless meal.

Per serving (2 fajitas - with garnishes) - 267 calories, 6 grams fiber, 10 grams protein, and High in Vitamin C

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Smoothie of the Week - Lite'n'Luscious

Yes, it is that time of the week again - time for a new smoothie recipe. This week I went a little more decadent with my selection and gave in to a luscious soy raspberry smoothie.

If your weight-loss regimen includes exercise, this is a smoothie for you. Not only are raspberries extremely low in calories, but they're also a source of potassium, which is often lost during exercise.

Soy Raspberry Smoothie

(Serves 2)

½ cup low-fat plain yogurt
½ cup fresh strawberries (I always cut the strawberries in half and remove the white core to make a smoother smoothie)
¾ cup frozen unsweetened raspberries
½ frozen banana, sliced
¾ cup plain soy milk (more or less soy milk can be used to alter the smoothie consistency to your preference – more milk will be thinner, less thicker.)
1 tsp. fresh lime juice

Combine ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately, and enjoy. To make more than two servings just make multiple batches in quick succession and serve immediately.

**Tip: To make these ahead of time, blend and store in a tightly sealed jug in the refrigerator until needed. Shake to remix before serving.

Each smoothie contains approximately 151 Calories, 5 g fiber, 7 g protein and High in Vitamin C and Potassium.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Little Bit of Home(Cooking)

Today I still find myself missing the ease of being in my mother's home. Even though it is not my home anymore, I still find myself comforted by being in her space, simply because it resonates with her, and so with me. I think a lot about our times together, just the two of us in that little apartment. We struggled a lot to get by, but I'm not sure I knew it then. I mean, I knew but yet, those times were some of the best in my life so in that respect it never mattered. The make-shift family we had then of artists, musicians, writers -- these were some of the most important friendships of my life. These people shaped my outlook on the world, and so they are with me every day that I step out into it. To all of those beautiful people --- I love you.

So in perfect homage to my mother today, I took on another of her hand-me-down recipes. A classic Italian favorite - Spaghetti with Meatballs (and Ribs).

[I tend to make this recipe in large quantities and store for later use.]

My mother taught me to cook through instinct and emotion, and so I am not someone who generally cooks by recipe. I tend to be able to just throw things together without careful measurements. This blog is one way I am attempting to archive my family recipes for the next generation. Please keep in mind as you read that all of my measurements (excluding baking) are approximations, and that I may make a particular recipe a little bit differently each time I cook it depending on who I'm feeding, or how I'm feeling. Please adjust to your personal tastes, and use your culinary intuitions to guide you.

(Makes 24-26)1 lb. ground beef
2 eggs
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. each: basil, parsley, oregano

Mix all the ingredients together by hand until evenly mixed. Press into small hand-full sized meatballs. Bake at 350 degrees until browned and cooked through, approximately 15 min.

*Tip: These can be made ahead of time and stored in batches in the freezer until needed. Just make sure to cool them to room temperature before freezing in order to maintain flavor, and minimize frost buildup.

Per serving (2 meatballs): 118 calories, 15 grams protein and High in Iron

Ribs: This time around I used one package of pork baby-back ribs and cooked them according to the package instructions which called for them to be cooked in the oven at 350 degrees for 3 hours in a shallow covered dish and then grilled (or in my case, simmered) in desired sauce until done and serve.

2 lg. (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes (I like to use ones seasoned with Basil, Oregano and Garlic)
1 sm. 6 oz. can tomato paste ( and 1 can water)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
6-8 white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tsp. each basil, parsley, oregano
4-6 cloves garlic, minced

(Per Serving (approx. 1 cup sauce): 113 Calories, 8 g Fiber, 7 g Protein and High in Iron, Vitamin C and Vitamin A)

*I didn't use all these vegetables in the version I photographed here, but I generally like to make a pretty hearty sauce. I make the meatballs and ribs ahead of time and divide the batches in half (freezing one half for later use). I then through the sauce components together into a crock pot and add the half batch of meatballs, and the half batch of ribs (sliced into single rib chunks) and simmer on low all day.

When I get home, I can throw on some noodles, crack open a bottle of wine and enjoy my masterpiece. (It is best with a thick slice of garlic bread and a small mixed greens salad (with a light garlic olive oil dressing) as a finishing course.) Enjoy!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Clams Under $10

Today, more than usual, I was desperately homesick for my mom. Living 7-8 hours away from her and my younger brothers never seemed very far, until I decided to get married --- and I don't have them here with me while I plan, and stress.

So, craving her presence I decided to fall back on the comfort of my kitchen and made a dish I learned from her so long ago ( I even remember refusing to eat this particular dish as a child, but lately I find it reminds me of home). Its simplicity is one of the best things about it – and it has very common ingredients that most of us food e
nthusiasts have lying around the house.

While I don't prefer the canned clams, they do make the dish simple and cheap, and if rinsed thoroughly they can still have a clean flavor.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce
(Serves 4)
3/4-1 lb. Linguine pasta
4 – 6.5 oz. cans chopped clams (you can also use minced clams if preferred) –
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
1 lemon, chopped with seeds and rind removed
Optional 2-4 tbsp. cornstarch

This recipe requires a little bit of work ahead of time to clean and prepare the clams. Even when working with canned clams you tend to get some grit and sand mixed in with the juice, so first you definitely want to make sure your clams (and juice) are clean. To do this, first I drain the clam juice into a tall glass (or two), cover them with foil and allow them to sit for at least 4 hours in a cool place to allow the sand to settle to the bottom. Then suck up the clean juice carefully from the top with a turkey baster and set aside in a clean measuring cup.

Meanwhile, in order to clean the clams, place them in a small wire strainer and submerse the strainer and clams into a bowl filled with clean cold water and agitate. I repeat this 6-7 times and then rinse once with the tap and set aside.

Once these steps are complete you’re ready to proceed with this recipe.

First, cook the linguini pasta according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile, cover the bottom of a small skillet with the olive oil and heat. Brown the chopped garlic in the olive oil and let sit. Add the clam juice (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups cleaned) and heat to a low boil. If you want a thicker, creamer sauce (the way my hubby prefers it) you can add a few tablespoons of cornstarch at this point and whisk while heating until the sauce remains smooth (not chunky).

Add the clams and let simmer 10 minutes. Add the parsley and lemon at the end and serve over cooked linguine.

Price Break-Down for Recipe:
For every recipe I post here there are a few items that I assume every cook will have on hand, so those items (where indicated) will not be included in the price break down. For this particular recipe I assume you have: olive oil, fresh garlic and cornstarch.

4 – 6.5 oz. cans chopped clams - $1.39 per can – $5.56 Total
1lb. package of Linguini pasta – 10 for $10 this week at my local market - $1.00 Total
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley - $0.99 per bunch - $0.99 Total
1 lemon – 3 for $1 - $0.33 Total
Total for Recipe: $7.88 for 4 servings.

Even if add a tossed salad with a quick olive oil, balsamic and herb dressing I can still pull this meal together for under $10! With that kind of savings you can even throw in a nice, but still cheap, bottle of white wine and not feel guilty about the indulgence.

If I do splurge on the bottle of white wine I will throw 1/3 cup of it into the sauce for a little extra something. Enjoy!

Per serving (sauce): 180 calories, 2 g protein, 2 g fiber, and Very High in Vitamins A and C

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday Brunch: French Country Omelet

One of my favorite parts about Sunday mornings is making brunch together just before noon and then crawling back into bed with the shades drawn to watch a movie and eat our breakfast together in bed. We aren’t lucky enough to do be able to do this EVERY Sunday, but more often than not we manage to fit it into our busy schedules. This has been a wonderful tradition of ours for probably over a year now. I know it won’t last forever, especially once we have children to turn our schedules upside down and inside out, but until that time comes I continue to relish this little piece of time spent together and hope that it will be a simple (but perfect) little something we can come back to frequently over the upcoming years.

While some Sundays we go all out with an array of mid-morning munchies, there is something to be said for creating a simple, yet hardy dish that satisfies even the largest appetite. This is one of those meals. The following omelet is a wonderful creation I first stumbled upon in Ina Garten’s book, Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics, which was given to me as a Christmas gift last year by my boss. It is based on a French dish served for lunch at the CafĂ© Varenne in Paris. We love it because it can be made in one pan and it combines meat, potatoes and eggs into one perfect omelet. Plus, it works great for either breakfast or lunch (or brunch). We often serve it with a big fruit salad, or a creamy fruit smoothie for a fulfilling and well-rounded meal.
Country French Omelet
Original recipe from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics by Ina Garten
(Serves 2-4, depending on appetite – either serve 1/2 omelet or 1/4 omelet as desired)

2 tbsp olive oil
3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
5 large brown eggs
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp fresh chopped chives
1/4 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded*
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil*
*Not in the original recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch ovenproof omelet pan or skillet (e.g., cast-iron skillet ) over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 3-5 minutes over medium-low heat until browned on both sides. Take the bacon out of the skillet and set aside to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Place the potatoes in the pan and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper. Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until very tender and browned evenly. Toss the potatoes occasionally to cook evenly. Remove the potatoes to the same plate as the bacon. Discard the fat from the skillet and melt the butter in the bottom of the pan while adjusting the heat to low. Meanwhile, beat the eggs, milk and basil together with a fork in a medium bowl. Add the egg mixture to the hot skillet. Sprinkle the bacon, potatoes, chives and mozzarella evenly over the top and place the pan in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until the eggs are just set. Slide onto a plate and divide in half (or quarters) and serve hot. We like to serve this with a big bowl of fresh fruit salad for a well-rounded breakfast meal.

Per serving (based on 4 servings):
315 calories and 18 grams protein

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Food for Thought

The problem with the traditional approach to dieting is that it is all about deprivation. It is impossible to stick with them because of the constant “can’t can’t can’t.” It ends up making you feel worse about yourself (as opposed to better) and you soon fall back into old patterns because, while they may not be healthy, they are comforting (and often easy). So, how can you ditch those bad habits (e.g., snacking when bored) without faltering? There is a trick! Turn dieting into a festival of opportunities. Make it about discovering new foods, new flavors, and new techniques. Try out new recipes, ones that you can and should eat and challenge yourself to try new ingredients, or old ingredients in new ways. And finally, once a week, CHEAT! If you allow yourself that small reward you’ll be less likely to binge (in both high quantities and high frequencies) on those guilty pleasures you just can’t resist.

If you have a favorite dish that you just can’t give up, try revamping it into a healthier version that you can feel less guilty about indulging. For me, one of those irresistible dishes is Eggs Benedict (eggs smothered in a rich hollandaise sauce over ham and English muffins). So when I came across this healthier version of my favorite breakfast in Good Housekeeping magazine I was so excited to test it out. All in all it was a
very appetizing alternative to the traditional dish. While the sauce was not an ideal alternative to the hollandaise it still had a rich buttery flavor that complemented the lighter recipe. While this recipe itself still isn’t the healthiest breakfast option out there, it does pack some great nutrients and bright flavors into an otherwise heavy cream dish.

Spinach Eggs Benedict with Lemon Butter Sauce
(Makes 4 servings)

4 slices low-sodium ham
1 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

8 large eggs

4 whole wheat English muffins

9 oz. baby spinach

For Sauce:
1 lemon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 cup low-fat (1%) milk, warmed
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Fill a tea kettle (or saucepan if no tea kettle is available) with water and heat to boiling on high.

Meanwhile, you can begin preparing the sauce. From the lemon, grate 1/2 tsp. of the rind and squeeze 2 tbsp. of juice and set bo
th aside.

In a 1-quart saucepan melt the butter on low. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Then, with wire whisk, gradually add in milk. Cook on medium, stirring until sauce thickens and boils. Once the sauce has reached a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, still stirring, for 5 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the lemon rind and juice, a pinch of salt and approximately 1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper. Set the sauce aside but keep it warm. This recipe will yield about 1 cup sauce (about 1/4 cup per serving).

Halve the ham slices and heat them in the bottom of a 12-inch skillet on medium for approximately 5 minutes, turning once. Remove them from the skillet but keep them warm.

To the same skillet, add vinegar and approximately 1 1/2 inches of boiling water. Break 1 egg into a small cup and then hold the cup at the water’s surface to slip in the egg gently. Repeat this with 3 more eggs and cook them for 3-5 minutes or until the whites are set.

With a slotted spoon transfer the eggs onto a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat this step with the 4 remaining eggs.

While the eggs are cooking, toast the muffin halves in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes or until golden. Cook the baby spinach in a nonstick pan over medium heat until just wilted. To serve, top each English muffin half with 1 piece of ham, 1/8 of the spinach, 1 egg and 2 tbsp. of sauce. Enjoy!

Per serving: 435 calories, 32 g protein, 5 g fiber

Friday, July 3, 2009

One Pot Wonders - Our Favorite Gumbo

It is a strange thing, to be trapped by a cage you’ve built around yourself. You set out with all these dreams and ambitions and along the way each decision seems like it is the best one to get you to where you want to be, but then all of a sudden you wake up one day and you are suddenly leading a life you never intended to…and there is no easy way out. I admit that is exactly how I felt when I met Jon for the first time two years ago. He was the perfect breath of fresh air; a much needed revelation. Somehow his mere proximity to me served as the perfect balance to the dissonance I was experiencing in my life and I just let myself become completely absorbed in “us” and never looked back.

Since then we’ve barely spent a day apart. We moved in together immediately (literally, within weeks of meeting). We share one car, so every day he drives me to work in the morning before starting his work day, and picks me up on his way home. Then... there is living in such close quarters (sharing a single room in various
apartments with various roommates - with various disgusting behaviors) for the past two years, which has certainly put our relationship to the test, and there have been more than a few moments when we’ve agreed that if we can survive this we can survive anything.

But, no matter how badly our day may go, we always come together at dinner time. Somehow when we sit together on the couch watch
ing Everybody Loves Raymond reruns and start to laugh, we can talk casually about everything and nothing…just seeking comfort in the sound of the other persons’ voice. The tensions of the day ease and we remember why we love each other.

Here I want to share some of our all-time favorite recipes; those soul stirring, mouth watering recipes that give a little extra spice to our life. This particular recipe is one of those great soups to make from a leftover roast chicken the night before. After the roast chicken dinner we usually divide the remnants into three leftover
containers – leftover de-boned meat, leftover fat and gravy, and left over stuffing/vegetables. This will make it convenient to pull out specific components of the leftover chicken at various points in the following gumbo recipe. There are many variations to this recipe, and any trio of meat (e.g., bacon, steak, chicken or shrimp, salmon, sausage and so on) or vegetables (e.g., corn, peppers, celery or squash, zucchini, onion and so on) can be used in exchange of the meats/vegetables suggested here. Whatever the choice(s), the final product will be so full of flavor it is bound to leave everyone wanting more.

Spicy Sausage-Chicken-Shrimp Gumbo
(Serves approximately 8-10 depending on appetites)Soup Base
1 cup leftover chicken fat (We’ve also used leftover bacon fat for a smokier flavor to the finished soup if chicken is not on hand; or butter can be used if no other fat base is available, but butter will not caramelize as well and must be cooked over a low heat for a longer period of time than indicated in the first steps of this recipe).
1 cup flour (I like to use un-bleached all-purpose flour, but whole-wheat flour will also work.)
4-6 cups chicken stock (Adjust to preference, less water will result in a thicker broth and more, a thinner broth. We often us Better than Bouillon Chicken Base to make the stock when we don’t have any homemade on hand)

Vegetable Trinity
1 large red pepper, chopped and deseeded
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (we remove most the seeds, but leave the white pulp, which is the main source of heat in the pepper)
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped celery

Meat Trinity
3/4 pound sausage, cut into one-inch pieces (generally this is leftover as well. We’ve used andouille, sweet or spicy Italian and some others for equally yummy results – We also remove the casings before slicing which is a personal preference and not necessary for delicious results.)
3/4 pound leftover chicken, both light and dark meat, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound shrimp, de-shelled, deveined and cooked

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper to Taste

**NOTE** I use the same pot to cook all the components (shrimp, sausage if none leftover etc.), leaving the flavor to build up in the oil in the bottom of the soup stock.

First, you want to create the roux (a fat and flour combination that is used as a thickening base of most soups). To do this, heat the fat over a medium heat in the bottom of a large soup pot and add the flour. Stirring continuously, continue to heat the flour/fat mixture until it turns the color of peanut butter, which takes approximately 15 minutes. If the roux starts to get too thick or sticky to stir (and to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the soup pot) add a few tablespoons of the chicken broth until it loosens up.

Once the roux has caramelized add about 1 cup of the broth, the vegetable trinity (in this case the onions, peppers and celery), garlic, chili powder, and cayenne. Stir until well mixed and then slowly add the remaining broth, then the sausage and leftover chicken, stirring continuously. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for at least two hours. The lengthy cooking time allows for the flavors to develop and be very robust in the finished gumbo.

Just before serving, stir in the cooked shrimp and fresh basil leaves. You want the shrimp to be warmed through, but you don’t want them to get stringy (or the broth to get too fishy) so we put them in at the end. Cook for 10 minutes more and then serve over cooked white or brown rice and topped with sour cream to dull the heat. Enjoy!

Per Serving:
450 Calories
24 g Protein
High in Vitamins A & C

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ripe Every Time

As the days fly by it seems like an ever more daunting task to maintain my sanity. I never feel like I accomplish as much as I should each day, and by the time I drag myself into bed my head is spinning with the ever lengthening list of things to do the next day. I always have an idea of what I hope to accomplish in a day, but by the end I can’t tell if I am setting myself up for failure by asking too much of myself, or if I’m just not pushing myself as hard as I should be to be able succeed. I am sure, ultimately, that it is a little of both. By setting myself up for failure I escape the true experience of it when it happens. If you never try… you can never fail. So I hold back and push off my goals until tomorrow… and then the next day… and then before I know it, it’s been a week and I’ve done little more than survive.

Recently though I am conscious of it, even resistant to it… and I think I am finally beginning to step out of the spiral and head for firm ground. I often use Jon as my anchor there, as a constant reminder of the importance of love, laughter and togetherness. No matter where life takes us, surely we will thrive as long as we have each other. So when I start to feel overwhelmed I try to resist the urge to isolate myself and make an effort to bring myself back to appreciating all the little things in every day, often by finding sanctuary in my kitchen. I like to put on loud and energetic music and lose myself in the rhythm of the chopping, cutting, stirring, cooking and baking. It is as if the methodic nature of the movements, the mere mechanics of it, can ease me back into a comfortable pace with myself and those around me; back into sync with my goals and dreams.

So, in the spirit of my last entry I will be going back to one of my favorite fruits for this week’s quick tip --> the pineapple. The pineapple is one of those fruits that does not continue to ripen after picking, but rather, progresses on to spoil whether peak ripeness has been reached or not. So in order to get the sweetest flavor out of the fruit you have to pick it ripe every time. But, good news! It is actually quite simple. Just take the fruit and place the base firmly in the palm of one hand. Gently tug at one of the leaves near the top center of the pineapple. If it releases easily you’re in luck and the pineapple is ripe. If it holds tight then the pineapple is likely to be under-ripe so put it back and try a new one.

Once you’ve selected the perfect pineapple try not to let it sit for too long because it will just start to spoil. Within 24 hours I’ll chop the pineapple and divide it up into containers for the fridge or freezer depending on the intended use. If the process of chopping an entire pineapple yourself seems a bit daunting, fellow food blogger the
Decadent Housewife has a fabulous tutorial on how to chop up and clean a pineapple.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Smoothie of the Week: Power Punch

For the past few months I have been (somewhat compulsively) preparing for the newest chapter in my life. On July 27 (just a few short weeks away) I will be getting married to a wonderful man who I feel very grateful to be sharing my life with. We’ve decided to take this event as an opportunity to grow and change and put forth a best effort to create the life we both dream of having together. We’ll be trying a new city, moving all the way across the country to Seattle in an attempt to find a place where we both can thrive. We’ll also be trying our luck at turning our passions, our hobbies, into lifelong careers that give us each a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment at the end of every day. We hope to build a life on foundations of happiness and compassion, on honesty and trust.

But… even lost in all these overwhelming hopes and dreams, let us not fool ourselves into believing that the road will be not be paved without some cracking along the way that will need repairing. The stress of planning (and paying for) our own wedding, for instance, is certainly shortening fuses and fostering tensions, but we ultimately rely on each other to be the one person in the world that we can be our worst around, and still be loved by, and the one person that can always make us laugh even when we’re as mad as we think we could ever be. While I don’t have a lot to base it on, I am hoping that these are the things that build a strong marriage and a strong family.

In the mean time, in an attempt to cut spending (and pounds) in the weeks before the wedding, we (well, mostly I) have begun a stricter regiment for health and beauty. I am, as you will discover, a woman with a plan, and a lack of structure (and organization) in my life makes me feel like I am suffocating. I realize that this is a trait that will be tested once we decide to have children, but in the mean time, I am inclined to put it to good use in attempt to create a business and a home during the upcoming years.

I ho
pe to document this process here, featuring the many recipes that get us from day to day, in the hopes that it will help me keep focused on my goals and dreams. Much of our life revolves around food, however meager the meals may be at times. The certain smells of home that bring the comfort of my mother’s kitchen into mine, no matter where I am in the world; the fact that we always eat dinner together and talk about our day; the fact that in group settings the crowds magnetize around the food table. To me, food is one of the major essentials of human social interaction because it is a love that must be shared in order to be truly appreciated.

I have decided to start this new blog off with one of my best (and recent additions) to our daily routine; fruit smoothies. There is an infinite array of possibilities, endless combinations, to create quick, low-fat, high fiber, high protein smoothies. Having a smoothie or two every day is great way to ensure that you are getting more of the so-called power foods into your diet. For many I will use plain yogurt as a base, and for others soft tofu; add some fruit and any juice or soy, rice or regular milk, then toss it all into a blender and press “start.” Now you’ve got a delicious, nutritious substitute for ice cream or the perfect breakfast on the go. I started having one a day for breakfast, and now Jon drinks them too (even when I put tofu in them).

As an added bonus I discovered a study from the University of Tennessee that found that people who added three servings of yogurt a day to their diets lost 61 percent more body fat and 81 percent more stomach fat over 12 weeks than those who didn’t eat yogurt, and truth be told – since adding protein-yogurt smoothies to my daily routine 3 months ago (even without increasing my daily exercise) I’ve lost 14 pounds (of my 20 pound goal toward reclaiming my pre-relationship weight of 125 pounds by the wedding day). One of my newest favorites is this refreshing tofu-based smoothie we like to call the perfect “power punch.” It is an energy elixir which is rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids which gives your brain a boost and protects against some of the negative effects of aging. Drink this in the morning after a good workout to replenish spent nutrients.

Power Punch Smoothie

(Serves 2)

1/2 cup soft silken tofu
1 – 12 oz. can pear nectar (I like to use GOYA brand)
1 cup frozen diced pineapple
1 frozen banana, sliced

1 tsp. fresh lime juice

Combine ingredients into a blender (we adore our Magic Bullet – a single serving blender with bar mug style cups that we purchased from for approximately $55) and blend until smooth. Serve immediately, and enjoy.

Each smoothie contains approximately 170 Calories, 3 g fiber and 3.5 g protein.
Delicious Intentions - Blogged