Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Macaroni and Cheese with Carmelized Onion


Who doesn't love rich, creamy macaroni and cheese? Unfortunately, this is typically a fat-laden, high calorie dish. Not so this Weight Watchers version, which is a hearty casserole but comes in at just 7 Point Plus per serving,

Serves 8
1 large onion, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 tsp salt
olive oil nonstick cooking spray
8 oz cavatappi (*the recipe called for whole wheat pasta, but I just can't)
1 (15 oz) can evaporated fat-free milk
1 large egg
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp water
2 cups shredded reduced-fat, sharp cheddar cheese (I like Sargento's)
1 cup fat free cottage cheese (I like Axelrod)
1/4 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a 7 X 11 baking dish with the nonstick spray.

Place onion on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt and lightly spray with nonstick spray. Bake until onion is tender and lightly browned, 20 minutes. Stir once halfway through cooking.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.

Cook evaporated milk in small saucepan over low heat just until warmed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in egg. Stir together mustard and water in small cup until mustard is dissolved. Whisk into milk mixture.

Add milk mixture, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, remaining salt, and pepper to pasta and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, just until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.

Transfer to prepared baking dish and sprinkle with onions. Bake until heated through, about 10 minutes.
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TASTE NOTES
As my photos attest, I overcooked the onions slightly, but this turned out to be a good thing since they were really carmelized. While the serving size is about 3/4 cup, the dish is very filling. I was happy with just one serving and a large salad, but even 2 servings is not very high in calories. (N.I.:  262 cal, 7g fat, 9g carb, 3g fiber, 20g prot.) The dish was so good, I'm making it as a side dish to a spiral ham next weekend.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Slow Cooker BBQ and Cola Pork



Pulled pork, BBQ pork, shredded pork--no matter what you call it, I'm in. This pork is as delicious on a bun with cole slaw and pickles as it is over cornbread or cheese grits.

The fact that it has 3 ingredients, requires no prep work, and cooks all day unattended is a bonus.






Serves 6-10
cooking spray
1 (3 to 4 lb boneless pork shoulder roast (Boston butt), trimmed
1 (18 oz) bottle BBQ sauce
1 (12 oz) can cola

Lightly spray a 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place roast in slow cooker; pour BBQ sauce and cola over roast. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 - 10 hours. (I cooked it for 8 hours.)

Transfer pork to a cutting board and shred with two forks, removing any large pieces of fat. Skim fat from sauce and stir in shredded pork.
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TASTE NOTES
On a toasted potato roll topped with cole slaw and pickles, I was immediately transported to summer (I wish).  There is plenty left over to be made into quesadillas before freezing some to be served with cornbread or cheesy grits some night when there's no time to cook. If you trim and skim the fat and watch portion size (and use diet cola), this pork fits into a healthy eating plan.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rosemary Garlic Chicken Quarters



This is another of those slow cooker meals that needs a little attention before it goes in the pot. That little bit of attention really pays off in terms of flavor. When you brown meats and poultry before simmering it in the slow cooker, there is a depth of flavor that develops as well as a more visually appealing presentation. Simply pat the meat dry with paper towels before seasoning, then heat a heavy stainless steel or cast iron skillet with the oil added over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes until the oil is shimmering. The meat should sizzle as soon as it hits the pan. Don't crowd the pan or the meat will steam. Don't turn the meat until the bottom is well-browned and it releases on its own.

6-8 servings

3 large carrots, whole, plus 3 more large carrots sliced on the diagonal
5 lb chicken leg quarters
2 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp pimenton (sweet smoked paprika)
2 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
12 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 tbs olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 lb baby Yukon gold potatoes, halved
OPTIONAL:  1/4 cup Marsala

Place 3 whole carrots on the bottom of the slow cooker.

Remove skin and excess fat from the chicken. Stir together the rosemary, paprika, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper, then rub it all over the chicken.

Saute garlic in 2 tbs oil for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Cook the chicken pieces a few at a time, about 3 minutes on each side, or until browned. Transfer to the slow cooker on top of the whole carrots. Add broth and garlic to the pan drippings and cook 1 minute, scraping up loose particles on bottom of skillet. If you wish, add the Marsala during this step. Pour over chicken in slow cooker.

Cover and cook on high for 2 hours.

Toss potatoes and sliced carrots with remaining oil, salt, and pepper and add to the slow cooker. Cover and cook for 2 more hours.

Transfer chicken and vegetables to a serving platter. Pour juices through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl; skim fat from juices and serve immediately with the chicken and vegetables.
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TASTE NOTES
I eat a lot of chicken prepared in a lot of different ways. This chicken is right up there with my Sunday roast chicken and my "Bud's" Mediterranean style chicken. The flavorings came together perfectly; the chicken was moist; the potatoes were creamy inside. In all, a perfect dish that I'll be making again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Braised Country-style Pork Ribs


I adore short ribs and order them whenever I find them on the menu. I've eaten them with polenta, with mashed potatoes, with risotto. I've had Asian style, Italian style, wine infused, and have mostly enjoyed what my favorite restaurants have to offer. I've made them at home in the slow cooker as well as in the Dutch oven. You might say I haven't met a short rib I haven't liked. So when I caught an episode of Food Network TV which featured a less expensive cut of meat, country style pork ribs, in a similar preparation, I decided at once to try them.

Of course, I made a number of small tweaks here and there to suit my taste. Here's the recipe I used.

Serves 4 - 6
4 1/2 - 5 lbs bone in country-style pork ribs (sometimes called pork loin spareribs)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tbs olive oil
1 carrot, minced
1 rib celery, minced
1 large onion, chopped finely
4 tbs sun dried tomato paste (look for it in a tube in the Italian food section of your grocery)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
3 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pat the ribs dry and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbs of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat and brown the ribs on all sides, working in batches. Remove the ribs as they brown and set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tbs oil to the Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrot, celery, and onion, as well as some salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes to remove the raw flavor.

Pour in the cider vinegar and the red wine to deglaze the pan. Scrape up the bits of fond, then add the red pepper flakes and the bay leaves. Return the ribs to the Dutch oven and add enough chicken stock to reach halfway up the sides of the ribs. Bring the pan to a boil, then cover and place in the oven.

Braise the meat for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the cover and cook for another 1/2 hour to allow the liquid to reduce a bit and the pork to brown.

Serve over mashed potatoes or polenta.
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TASTE NOTES
The smells from this dish will make you move up your dinner hour. I could barely wait to eat the smell was so tantalizing. These ribs are truly fall-off-the-bone tender, yet they are moist and can be cut with a fork. The ribs are large, so one or two will satisfy most appetites. Served over mashed potatoes with a bit of the reduced cooking liquid spooned over the top, this is a dish that's comforting and satisfying. The flavors are deep and delicious and I'm quite certain the leftovers will make delicious sandwiches.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Triple Chocolate Buttermilk Pound Cake



If I needed proof that you eat with your eyes first, the cover shot of Southern Living magazine with this gorgeous pound cake gave it to me in spades.

Ingredients

CAKE
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tsp espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup 60% cacoa morsels
shortening

CHOCOLATE GLAZE
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate
3 tbs butter
1 tbs corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

BUTTERMILK GLAZE
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tbs buttermilk (and up to 1 tbs more)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preparation

1. Prepare Cake: Preheat oven to 325°. Whisk together flour and next 3 ingredients. Beat 1 1/2 cups butter in a medium bowl at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yolk disappears. Combine 1 1/4 cups buttermilk and next 2 ingredients. Add flour mixture to egg mixture alternately with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed after each addition. Fold in bittersweet chocolate morsels. Pour batter into a well-greased (with shortening) and floured 12-cup Bundt pan. Sharply tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles.
2. Bake at 325° for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on rack.
3. Prepare Chocolate Glaze: Combine semisweet chocolate morsels, 3 Tbsp. butter, and 1 Tbsp. corn syrup in a microwave-safe glass bowl. Microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until morsels begin to melt, stirring after 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Stir in 1/2 tsp. vanilla.
4. Prepare Buttermilk Glaze: Whisk together powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. buttermilk, and 1/4 tsp. vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Add up to 1 Tbsp. buttermilk, if desired. 

Drizzle glazes, one at a time, over warm cake. Makes 10-12 servings.
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TASTE NOTES
This is one of those OMG desserts. I love pound cake, mostly because it is so dense. This cake, while still a bit warm, reminds me of lava cake. A small slice is all you want--and a good thing since it is a whopping 20 WW points (roughly 800 calories) a slice. The glazes take no time at all to make and the trickiest part of the cake is making certain to generously grease the bundt pan with shortening, then flour as generously. The first cake (above) came out after I ran a knife around the edge and worried it out. The second cake (below) was much harder to get out and almost ended up on the floor. I'm due to buy a new bundt pan which I'm hoping will resolve the problem, but do be sure to grease and flour and let the cake cool thoroughly.

I made this cake for company and had half a slice. I'm grateful that I'm lactose intolerant because otherwise I'd probably have finished the rest instead of sending it home with them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Empanadas (Beef Turnovers)




Every culture has its variation of stuffed dough/pastry. Empanadas are discs of pastry packed with meat or other fillings. They can be appetizer or main dish. Most often, I bake them (for health purposes), but as I was making these for a party, I decided to go full throttle and fry them (as they are intended to be). You can certainly make your own pastry, but Goya and a few other companies make perfectly delicious, frozen, ready-made discos. I've adjusted this recipe for personal taste and quantity.

Makes 20 large empanadas

1 tbs olive oil
1 1/4 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
12-16 pimento stuffed green olives, sliced thinly
4 tbs. sofrito (Goya makes this product)
1 packet Sazon with coriander and annatto
4 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
2 pkgs discos (I use Goya)

corn oil for frying

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. Add onions and cook until soft, 5 minutes more. Stir in tomato sauce, olives, sofrito, sazon, garlic, and oregano.  Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until mixture thickens, about 15 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, using a rolling pin, roll out discos until they're 1/2 inch larger in diameter. Spoon a heaping  tbs or so of meat mixture into middle. Moisten around edge of disc with water, and pinch to seal closed or close with a fork by pressing tines all around the edge (my preferred method). You want these to stay closed while frying. You don't want to overfill these or they'll burst when frying. In reality, there's a lot more pastry to filling.

Fill a deep saucepan (or deep frying) with oil to a depth of 2 1/2 inches. Heat oil to 350 degrees and cook empanadas in batches until crisp and golden on both sides (frying 2 minutes on each side works for me).

Transfer to paper towels to drain. You can eat immediately or cool and reheat in a hot (400 degree) oven for approximately 10 minutes).
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TASTE NOTES
I absolutely adore the taste of these, but I'm hot happy with the ratio of pastry to filling. I'd prefer the size to be half of what it is using the ready-made discos. I guess the only solution is to make my own pastry in the future. While these taste wonderful baked, nothing beats the taste fried. I have a fantastic deLonghi deep fryer (it was a gift because I almost never fry) which has now been used a total of 3 times that made frying a snap. These were a hit at the party, so you may want to give them a try.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beef and Pasta Soup


It's the final night of our Trifecta* and I'm looking forward to another winning ticket. Nothing beats soup on a cold, wintry night and we've been having plenty of those lately.

*this recipe uses leftover Merlot Pot Roast (recipe here)

Yield:  about 8 cups

1 cup chopped onion
1 tbs canola oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 (8 oz) package sliced mushrooms
2 cups chopped Merlot pot roast
1 cup vegetable mixture from Merlot pot roast sauce
1/2 cup uncooked acini di pepe (or other small pasta)
32 oz beef broth (this is what the recipe called for; I used strained leftover gravy from night 1 and enough beef broth to make the 32 oz and I highly recommend this as the flavor is so much better)

Saute onion in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat  (about 5 minutes). Add carrots and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 - 10 minutes longer, until mushrooms are tender.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5-6 minutes or until acini di pepi is al dente and soup is thoroughly heated.

Served with a homemade seasoned croutons.
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TASTE NOTES
I loved the pot roast. I loved the shepherd's pie pot pies. BUT, this soup got first place in my book. It was so rich and flavorful because I strained the leftover gravy and used that with beef broth to equal 32 ounces instead of just using beef broth. It had fresh vegetables as well as vegetables that had cooked along with the roast. It had pasta and that wonderful shredded beef. It reminded me of that elusive beef soup my mom used to make and which I've tried many times to replicate. I do think she may have used boneless chuck. I will make all 3 of these dishes again, but this soup will always be the clear winner.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Shepherd's Pot Roast Pies






It's Night 2 of our Trifecta*, time to turn that delectable pot roast into an entirely new meal. This meal will take less than 20 minutes to get into the oven. I added some sauce to the original recipe, though you can omit it or serve some sauce on the side.

*this recipe uses leftover Merlot pot roast (recipe here)

Serves 6 (bake both and freeze one for another night)

1 (14.1 oz) package refrigerated piecrusts
2 cups prepared mashed potatoes (you can make your own or buy them already made)
2 cups chopped Merlot pot roast
1/2 cup cooked carrots (I saved some of my glazed carrots from the night before)
1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
1/2 - 3/4 cup sauce from the Merlot pot roast
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unroll the first piecrust onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread 1 cup potatoes over half the crust, leaving a one inch border all around.

Toss together the pot roast, carrots, peas, and sauce. Spoon half the mixture over the potatoes.

Whisk together the egg and 1 tsp water and brush a small amount of the egg mixture around the edge of the piecrust. Fold dough over filling, pressing and folding edges to seal.

Repeat with remaining crust and mixture.

Brush tops of pies with remaining egg mixture. Cut small slits in top of each pie for steam to escape.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes or until crusts are golden brown and crisp.
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TASTE NOTES
Easy peasy and delicious! There was the perfect ratio of crust to filling and the addition of the sauce was a good one. I had hoped to freeze the second pie, but tried to move it before it had cooled and it broke in half. It made a yummy lunch the next day.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Trifecta of Slow Cooker Dinners



I may be a diehard New Yorker, but I have a soft spot for the South. I've probably seen Gone with the Wind a few dozen times. Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite authors. And, I've never met a plate of fried chicken I didn't like. It isn't surprising, then, that one of my favorite magazines is Southern Living.

I recently bought one of their special collection magazine cookbooks:  Slow Cooker Suppers. There are many dishes waiting to be made, but what caught my eye was the Merlot pot roast which is then repurposed as Shepherd's pot roast pies and, finally, as beef and orzo soup. I love the idea of a master recipe that can be repurposed easily. Most recipes for 2 servings are rather pedestrian, yet I don't enjoy eating the same meal 3 nights in a row. The little bit of effort expended for the master recipe was time well spent as all 3 dinners were encore worthy.

I'm going to post the master recipe here and will follow up in the next 2 days with the leftover meals. I've made a few small changes based on my experience with this preparation that will streamline it and improve it.

Merlot Pot Roast

1 (3.5 - 4.5 lb) boneless chuck roast
4 tbs olive oil, divided
2 tbs smoked paprika
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Kosher salt
4 carrots, minced*
1 cup celery (3-4 stalks), minced*
1 medium onion, minced*
4 garlic cloves, minced*
2 cups Merlot (or your favorite red wine)
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained

A mince is finer than a chop. Minced vegetables are added to flavor the sauce, not to be a principal ingredient in a dish. I suggest judicious use of the food processor to save time. Just be sure not to pulverize the veggies.

Coat the roast with 1 tbs olive oil. Combine paprika, salt, pepper, and rub mixture all over roast. Let stand for 10 minutes.




Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the roast and cook 5-7 minutes over medium heat, turning it to brown on all sides. Place the roast in the slow cooker.

Heat remaining 3 tbs olive oil in Dutch oven. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute for 10 minutes until tender. Remove from Dutch oven with slotted spoon and place on top of roast.

Wrap the sprigs of oregano and rosemary in cheesecloth and tie. I added this step because they will cook apart and will be impossible to remove from your sauce.

Add wine and your wrapped sprigs of herbs to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes to reduce the wine by half. Be sure to stir the bottom of the pot to loosen browned bits from bottom of the pan. Stir in tomatoes; pour mixture over roast.

Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or until tender.

Remove roast to a cutting board and discard the herb sack. Pour the juices into a 2 quart bowl. Let stand 10 minutes, then skim fat from top. Slice 1/3 roast. Pour juices and vegetables over the roast when you serve it. Serve with creamy polenta or mashed potatoes. If I didn't watch my weight, I'd have had a loaf of buttered Italian bread to soak up the incredible sauce.

Shred the remainder of the roast. You will need 2 cups of the beef to make the pot pies and 2 cups to make the soup. If there is more left over, it makes great sandwiches, particularly with some BBQ sauce. Be sure to save the leftover gravy with vegetables for the soup.
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TASTE NOTES
The preparation for this master recipe takes between 30 and 40 minutes, but is well worth it. The house smelled incredible while the beef cooked and the beef literally fell apart. The sauce is so flavorful, I wish there were another use for all that will be left over (you will use some for the soup). I served the pot roast with creamy polenta and glazed carrots. It was sublime!


Monday, February 16, 2015

Classic Scalloped Potatoes


Who doesn't love scalloped potatoes, a comfort food if ever there was one. Many people give up after trying to make them and having them come out uncooked. The secret to perfect scalloped potatoes lies in using a mandoline to slice the potatoes paper thin. No matter how good your knife skills, you just can't slice them thinly enough without this simple kitchen tool.

This recipe lightens up the dish by eliminating any fat in the roux (substituting fat free chicken broth for butter) and using nonfat (or, if you choose, 1%) milk in place of cream. No taste is sacrificed by making these substitutions.

Serves 8  ( 5 PP per serving)

2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced on a mandoline
1/2 cup fat free, low sodium chicken broth
1 tbs all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups nonfat milk
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 2 quart baking dish or shallow casserole with nonstick spray.

Whisk together broth and flour in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Add milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and raise heat to medium-high. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly until slightly thickened. Remove sauce from heat.

Arrange half the potatoes in prepared baking dish, slightly overlapping slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half the Gruyere. Arrange remaining potato slices on top. Pour white sauce evenly over potatoes. Set aside the rest of the cheese.

Bake uncovered for 25  minutes. Press down on potatoes with a spatula to completely submerge potatoes in sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake until potatoes are tender and top is browned, about 25 minutes longer.


Let stand for 20 minutes before serving.

NOTE:  These potatoes can be baked up to 2 hours ahead. Cover with foil and set aside until about 30 minutes before serving time. Bake the gratin at 350 until heated through, about 25 minutes.
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TASTE NOTES
Because  scalloped potatoes are so rich, a mere 1/8 of the dish is a perfect portion size. Gruyere cheese is pricey, but you can freeze leftovers (wrapped well) or eat it out of hand. It has a wonderfully nutty flavor that really can't be achieved with any substitution. I served these with pork chops and glazed carrots tonight and they'll make an encore appearance with meatloaf tomorrow night. They would probably be wonderful topped with a fried egg, too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chocolate Chess Pie (Fudge Pie)



Just in time for Valentine's Day, this classic southern dessert has all the ingredients of chess pie with the addition of chocolate. It's a cinch to whip this up, particularly if you use ready made pie crust rolls (I won't tell, if you don't ).

Ingredients

9 inch pie crust (homemade or ready made)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 T Dutch processed cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbs unsalted butter, melted

whipped cream for serving
OPTIONAL: chocolate shavings

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pie crust (ready made sheets work fine) into 9 inch glass pie plate, pressing into bottom and sides. Crimp crust, then bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and make filling.


In the bowl of an electric mixer place sugar, cocoa powder, salt, beaten eggs, vanilla, and butter. Use the paddle attachment to blend until creamy and smooth.

Pour into baked shell and bake for 45 minutes or until filling is set around the edges and still a little "jiggly" in the middle. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.


Top with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.
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TASTE NOTES
Rich, decadent, creamy, chocolate--this pie has everything I need in a dessert plus whipped cream. It was absolutely delicious, but I know it would be even better with homemade pie crust because I find the ready made ones a bit skimpy. However, I needed a dessert to bring to dinner and this fit the bill quite nicely. Oh, and if you read or saw the movie version of The Help, this is the basis of Minnie's infamous pie. Nuff said.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Old-fashioned Tamale Pie (slow cooker recipe)


While many recipes for the slow cooker can be categorized as the "dump it and leave it" variety, with a small investment of time, you can make meals whose flavors are really developed and that taste as though they took much more preparation. This old-fashioned tamale pie is a case in point.

You can streamline the preparation time by using a rotisserie chicken, or, you can take advantage of a sale on boneless, skinless chicken breasts and prepare your own. For years I poached chicken in water or chicken broth. While it's a perfectly good way to prepare chicken for a recipe that calls for cooked chicken, a few years ago I began roasting it as suggested in one of Ina Garten's cookbooks. I've now replaced that methods with a combination approach of dry heat and moist heat cooking that yields the most flavorful chicken (see method below).






Serves 6 to 8 (13 PP for 6 servings; 10 PP for 8 servings)

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup instant polenta
salt and pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I use 2%)
1 tbs unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
1 tbs vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbs chili powder
2 tsp cumin
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1 (15 oz) canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can creamed corn
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce
2 tbs Minute tapioca

Instructions
Combine the water and the instant polenta and 1 tsp salt in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave until most of the water is absorbed, 6-8 minutes. Stir polenta thoroughly, then continue to microwave, uncovered, for another 2 minutes. Stir in cheddar and butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cover to keep warm.

Microwave the onion, garlic, chili powder, and cumin in a microwave safe bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.

Stir chicken, beans, corn, enchilada sauce, and tapioca into slow cooker. Spoon cooked polenta over the filling, smoothing into an even layer with a spatula.

Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, until casserole is heated through. Let casserole cool for 15-20 minutes, then serve.

Easy Poached Chicken

Pat 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay breasts in skillet and cook until well-browned on the first side, 6-8 minutes. Flip breasts, add 1/2 cup water, and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until thickest part of breasts registers 165 on an instant-read thermometer, about 5-7 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, let cool slightly, then use the tines of two forks to shred into bite-sized pieces.
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TASTE NOTES
I've been making a lot of Mexican food lately and I've been very happy with the results. If you like Mexican food and eat it out, you might have noticed that many dishes contain the same ingredients and tend to have very similar flavor profiles. I haven't run into that same issue with the dishes I've been making at home. Yes, chicken is my go-to protein and enchilada sauce and black beans are frequent guest stars. Despite the repetition of key ingredients, I've found the dishes to be unique and don't feel as though I'm eating the same thing. This casserole has bright flavors, a good variety of textures, and can be seasoned more aggressively, if that's your fancy. I could also see this recipe working well with shredded beef. I'm looking forward to the leftovers. I have to confess--I wish I'd doubled the polenta!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Silver Palate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


One of the first serious cookbooks I ever bought was The Silver Palate Cookbook. I still have it and occasionally pull it out to make an old favorite. So I was happy to find a new "thick and rough" oatmeal by The Silver Palate in Shoprite a few weeks ago. While it won't replace Irish oatmeal as my favorite, these cookies, a bit thinner and chewier than the ones I usually bake, are definitely worthy of an encore.

Makes 4 dozen cookies (I've made a few minor tweaks)

1 cup unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups uncooked Silver Palate Thick and Rough Oatmeal
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  In a smaller bowl, stir together 1 cup flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Add mixture to the butter, then add brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla to mix. Blend 1 - 2 minutes, or until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Stir in the oats and the remaining flour. Fold in the raisins.


Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. I use silicone mats on my cookie sheets and highly recommend them. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

Cool on a wire rack.
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TASTE NOTES
WARNING:  These cookies are highly addictive. I do think I overbeat the cookies because they spread more than they should have. Despite that, they were so good, chewy and rich with the taste of cinnamon and brown sugar.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lightened-up Turkey Pot Pie



When I was growing up, having a pot pie was a special treat. I remember having to wheedle my mother into buying things like pot pies or Swanson's fried chicken TV dinner or, my favorite of all, Chef Boyardee ravioli in the can. Yes, I confess, these were foods I loved; sadly, I didn't get to eat them too often. I've made my own potpies from scratch before, but they aren't usually Weight Watcher friendly. Not until now.

I perused potpie recipes in my cookbook collection as well as online and putting together an idea from here and there, this is what I came up with.

Servings:  6 (6 PP per serving)
Ingredients
§                1 small onion, finely chopped
§                10 oz mushrooms, chopped
§                2 stalks celery, chopped
§                1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (I like the ones with green beans, corn, peas, carrots)
§                8 oz leftover turkey (or chicken), diced
§                2 tbsp  flour
§                1 tbsp light butter
§                1 cup fat free chicken broth
§                1/2 cup fat free evaporated milk
§                1 tsp salt
§                1/4 tsp black pepper
§                1 tsp dried thyme
§                1 can reduced fat crescent roll dough

Instructions

1.             Preheat oven to 375 and spray a 10” pie plate with cooking spray (butter flavored is best).
2.             In a medium sized pot, melt butter over medium high heat. Add in onions and celery and cook     until tender, about 5 minutes. Add in mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in broth, chicken, vegetables, thyme and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer on medium for about 15 minutes.
3.             In a small bowl, whisk together the evaporated milk and flour. Pour into chicken and vegetable mixture and continue to cook on medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.
4.             Pour mixture into prepared pie plate, and arrange crescent roll slices around the outside edge, leaving the pie open in the center. Do this by lining up the long side of each roll with the edge of the pie plate. Place the first 4 triangles down, then fill in the spaces with the other 4.
5.             Place into oven and bake until the crust is golden brown, and the center of the pot pie is bubbly, about 15 minutes.
6.             Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

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TASTE NOTES
It's hard to believe that something made with so little fat could taste so good. The ratio of turkey to veggie was balanced as was the ratio of sauce to crust. My only issue with this dish is it's very difficult dividing it into servings. I'm going to buy some individual mini aluminum pie plates next time and make them up that way. They'll be easier to serve and I can pop a few into the freezer for another night.