Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I can't help buying the America's Test Kitchen publications. They're sturdier than a magazine and well worth the price ($8 US, $9 Canadian). The summer issue of 30-Minute Suppers contained several pasta dishes, but this one caught my eye because right there in the name of the dish are foods that I love. I decided to use the recommended pasta, gemelli, because I love the twisted spiral shape. I couldn't find frozen artichoke hearts, but I always used the canned ones anyway. Instead of the 1/2 cup of mixed brine-cured olives that were suggested, I went with Kalamatas.

Serves 4
2 tbs olive oil
3 oz Genoa salami, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and sliced thinly
1/2 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb gemelli pasta
salt and pepper
4 oz smoked mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (be sure to read Taste Notes)
1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add salami and cook, stirring constantly, until salami is browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer salami to paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Add artichokes to fat in pan and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in olives, garlic, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat, cover, and keep warm.

Meanwhile, add gemelli and 1 tbs salt to boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup (they suggested 1/2, but you'll need more) of the cooking water, then drain gemelli and return to the pot. Stir in the artichoke mixture, mozzarella, and parsley, adding reserved cooking water until the consistency seems right. I used the full cup. To serve, sprinkle crisp salami over the top.
I've eaten smoked mozzarella before, so I went with this suggestion. NEVER AGAIN!!! Not only did it add more saltiness where none was needed (the salami and the olives added plenty), but I just didn't care for the taste or texture. That said, we enjoyed the pasta but liked it even more the next day as a room temperature pasta salad.  If you are watching your sodium intake, this must be a rare treat. Even the artichokes add saltiness to the dish. I will definitely make this again, but I will use fresh mozzarella and may even use regular black olives. While I love brine-cured olives, they are almost too "in your face" in this dish.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Having spent the greater part of my life in school, first as a student and then as an educator, I confess that sloppy joes are not what I think of when I'm planning my weekly dinner menu. DSO, on the other hand, has asked me to make them on several occasions.When I saw this recipe in the June issue of Cooking Light, I decided to put aside my memories of a building reeking of grease and unidentifiable smells and give it a go. I liked the idea that mushrooms extended the ground beef and not "mystery ingredients" shipped by the state to help schools extend their budgets. This is a great way to sneak veggies into your children's meals because unless they catch you in the middle of the act, they'll never guess that there's mushrooms in the ground beef.

4 servings
1 tbs olive oil
12 oz ground sirloin
2 (8 ox) pkgs sliced crimini mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
3 minced garlic cloves
1/2 cup no-salt added tomato paste
1 tbs minced fresh oregano
2 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp hot sauce
4 (2 oz) Kaiser rolls or hamburger rolls, toasted

Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat and add the oil, swirling to coat. Add the beef and cook until browned, stirring to crumble.

While the beef cooks, place the mushrooms in a food processor and pulse 10 times, or until finely chopped.

Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic to the beef mixture and cook until onion is tender, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, oregano, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and cook 5 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Stir in salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Spoon about 1 cup beef mixture on bottom half of each  bun; top with top halves of bun.

N.I. per sandwich:  439 cal, 14.7 g fat, 27.3 g protein, 49.2 g carb
This was definitely NOT the cafeteria version of sloppy joe, thank goodness. I thoroughly enjoyed my sandwich and give the mushrooms star billing in the dish. I'd be willing to bet the men in your house will enjoy this new version of an old favorite. I intend to make it again and will sneak a bit of BBQ sauce in it next time (per my sous chef's request).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


The lovely Kim from Stirring the Pot posted this tasty-looking dish a few weeks back and I immediately put it in the queue to try. I decided to halve the recipe since the queue was getting crowded and I didn't want a lot of leftovers. I also made a few changes based on what I had on hand in the pantry and our own preferences, so the recipe below represents both Kim's and my tinkering with RR's original. Please check out Stirring the Pot for the original recipe and much, much more.

Creole Meat Loaves with Trinity Gravy
Adapted from Rachel Ray's Look + Cook
Serves 2 with leftovers

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks 
1/2 cup buttermilk (milk with a tbs white vinegar does the trick)
1 tablespoon EVOO, plus more for drizzling
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
1 1/4 pound ground pork
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tsp ground thyme leaves 
Black Pepper
2 tbs grainy mustard
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
1 tbs butter
1 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken stock
 hot sauce (DSO added his after the fact; I don't eat it)
3 scallions, sliced on the bias, for garnish
For the Potatoes:
Cover the potatoes with water in a medium pot and bring to a boil, then season with alt and cook for 12-15 minutes until tender.  When the potatoes are ready, drain and return them to the hot pot and mash with the buttermilk to the desire consistency.  

For the Meat Loaves:
Preheat the oven to 375F.  Heat the tablespoon of EVOO in a medium skillet over medium heat, add one quarter of the onions and half of the garlic to the skillet, and cook to soften, 5-6 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cool.  To the cooled onion mixture add the pork, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper to taste, mustard, bread crumbs, and egg.  Mix to combine and for four 2-inch-thick loaves.  Arrange on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and drizzle liberally with EVOO and Cajun seasoning (my add-in), then roast for 35-40 minutes until firm and golden.

For the Trinity Gravy:
To the same skillet add the butter and when it has melted, add the remaining onions and garlic, the celery, bell pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook to soften, 5-6 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute.  Sprinkle the flour (and Cajun seasoning if using) over the mixture and stir for another minute.  Stir in the stock, then the hot sauce, and cook to thicken over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes.  Turn the heat to the lowest setting to keep the gravy warm.  

To Serve:
Slice the meat loaves.  Arrange the sliced loaves alongside the buttermilk potatoes and pour the trinity gravy over both.  Garnish with the scallions and serve.
DSO and I both enjoy meatloaf and I've tried quite a variety of recipes this past year. This was the first made entirely of pork and we both enjoyed it. While the sweet potatoes were delicious, we both agreed that the tasty trinity gravy would be much better on rice. The gravy was so easy to prepare and the combination of onion-pepper-garlic (I'm guessing that's the trinity) was enhanced by the ketchup and celery. It was a pleasing color and consistency and I look forward to making this dish again with the aforementioned rice. Thanks Kim for another winning dish.

Friday, May 20, 2011


I can never make up for all the years I didn't eat Mexican food, but I have found myself searching out recipes for this cuisine that translate well for the home cook. The June issue of Cooking Light had 2 recipes that I knew I had to try at once, one for our favorite part of the bird--the thigh--and the other which used chorizo, a flavor-packed sausage.

If you've ever had your grilled chicken turn out "torched," you might want to try cooking it first over direct heat to sear in the flavors, and then finished over indirect heat. Even though the marinade had alcohol and honey in it, my skinless thighs did not burn and the flavor of the marinade permeated the meat.

Tequila-glazed Grilled Chicken Thighs
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
4-6 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 lbs)
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup tequila
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water
2 tsp grated lime rind
3 tbs fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
cooking spray

Preheat grill to medium-high heat using both burners. After preheating, turn the left burner off and leave the right burner on.

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a small bowl, then rub over both sides of the chicken.

Bring the pineapple juice, tequila, and honey to a boil in a small saucepan; cook until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Combine cornstarch and 2 tsp water in a small bowl, stirring well. Add the cornstarch mixture to the juice mixture and stir with a whisk. Bring to a boil and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat and add the lime rind, lime juice, and red pepper.

Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray over the right burner (heat on). Cover and grill for 5 minutes on each side, basting with juice mixture. Move the chicken to the left burner (heat off). Cover and grill for 5 minutes on each side, or until done, basting with juice mixture.

N.I. per thigh:  241 cal, 7.6 g fat, 18 g protein, 17.7 g carb, 0.4 g fiber

Baked Black Beans with Chorizo - 6 servings
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup diced Spanish chorizo
cooking spray
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup fat free, lower sodium chicken broth
2 (15 oz) cans lower sodium black beans
1 cup chopped seeded tomato (I like salsa better, so substituted here)
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat and add the oil, swirling to coat. Add the chorizo, saute for 2 minutes, and remove from pan. Coat pan with cooking spray and add the onion and jalapeno. Saute 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt, cumin, red pepper, and garlic and saute 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Stir in broth and beans and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Mash to desired consistency. Spoon bean mixture into an 8-inch square dish coated with cooking spray. Top with tomato, chorizo, and cheese and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Top with green onions.

N.I. per 1/2 cup serviing: 189 cal, 8.4 g fat, 10.2 g protein, 19.4 g carb, 6.2 g fiber
My sous chef and I agreed that these will be terrific additions to a future BBQ. I will always use the direct-indirect heat method to cook chicken on the grill in the future. It yielded perfectly cooked, juicy chicken without any unwanted char. The beans, though they are not photogenic, are absolutely delicious. The lowfat cheese just doesn't melt well, though it saves calories. I'm sure the tequila glaze would taste just as good on a grilled flank steak or fish. In all, big props to CL for another healthy and delicious dinner.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Raspberry Almond Bars from The Food of Love

  • Whenever I volunteer to bake for some occasion, I like to make something I love to eat. A local bakery makes the most wonderful raspberry almond bars. They are deceptively light (I'm sure they have 1000 calories each) with none of that artificial almond taste. They melt on the tongue, which is why I enjoy them rarely. For our evening volunteer refresher training, I decided to make my own raspberry almond bars and found this recipe from Taste of Home. I doubled the batch, as one reviewer suggested, and cut the bars very small as they, too, are rich and buttery. The recipe below is for one batch. If you double it, bake in a 9 X 13 inch pan and add about 10 minutes more to the final baking time.

  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 pkg vanilla chips (10-12 oz), divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from heat and add 1 cup vanilla chips. Do not stir.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs until foamy; gradually add the sugar. Stir in chip mixture and almond extract.

Combine flour and salt. Gradually add to egg mixture just until combined.

Spread half of the batter into a greased 9 inch baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

In a small saucepan, melt the jam over low heat. Spread over warm crust. Stir remaining chips into remaining batter and drop by teasponsful over jam layer. Sprinkle with almonds.

Bake 30-35 minutes longer or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into 24 bars.

These bars, while not the same as my local bakery's, were rich and satisfying. They are very buttery, with a good ratio of cookie crust to raspberry filling. The white chips add sweetness, which is why cutting the bars smaller is recommended. I would definitely make these again, though I suspect they are as "dangerous" calorie-wise as the others.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


The official start of the BBQ season is almost upon us and, while I'm not planning to entertain this year, I have done so many times in the past. That got me to thinking of some of my favorite food choices for this inaugural foray into al fresco dining. I should explain that BBQ is a misnomer since most of the foods I prepare are done ahead of time in my kitchen. But since my DSO insists that no outdoor dining is complete without hamburgers and hot dogs, we do actually turn on the grill.

If you're thinking about hosting your own celebration this year, you might want to check out some of these favorites that I've posted in the past.

An easy "starter" is hummus with crackers and vegetables.


No BBQ or picnic is complete without these all-American salads.

Old-fashioned Potato Salad and Confetti Cole

One of my favorites is pulled pork on toasted buns with cole slaw. This is an incredibly easy version.

Easy BBQ Pork

I love chicken and this quick and easy version is satisfyingly sweet and moist.

Huli Huli Chicken

This cake was a show-stopper and tasted even better than it looked.

Barefoot Contessa Flag Cake

Whether you host your own Memorial Day celebration or plan to bring something to share at someone else's party, enjoy the freedom to spend the day just as you please; and please remember that we enjoy that freedom  because of the sacrifices we honor on that day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


The Food of Love
Mediterranean Lemon Chicken with Artichokes and Orzo

It's hard to believe how much I disliked oregano when I was a child. Like capers and eggplant, I've come to love this herb and associate it with flavors of the Mediterranean. This quick and easy dish is as delicious as it is fragrant. Fresh lemon juice--and even some grated zest--amp up the flavors. It's based on a recipe from Everyone Loves Chicken.

Serves 2-6, depending on size of chicken legs (mine were very small)
6 oz orzo
2 oz reduced-fat feta cheese
8 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
6 (1/2 lb) whole chicken legs, skinned (please let me know if you find these behemoths!)
salt and pepper
1 can artichoke hearts in brine, drained and quartered
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp fresh oregano leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
optional: freshly grated lemon zest

Cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the feta and olives; cover and keep warm.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Spray a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray and set over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned, 3-4 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add the artichoke hearts, garlic, and oregano to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the chicken to the skillet and add the broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook about 20 minutes, until the chicken is done.

Transfer the chicken to a plate. Pour 1 cup of the artichoke sauce over the orzo and toss well. Divide the orzo and chicken, sprinkle with the zest, if desired, and top with the remaining sauce.

N.I. based on 1 leg, 1/2 cup orzo, and scant 1/4 cup sauce:  365 cal, 10 g fat, 91 mg chol, 864 mg sodium, 32 g carb, 5 g fiber, 36 g protein
Bright, bold flavors, succulent dark meat, and just the right amount of saltiness from the Kalamatas and the Feta make this a new favorite. I believe, in retrospect, that by "whole leg," the recipe was calling for the leg and thigh. Damn! I cheated myself out of some protein. Not to worry, though; I ate 2 legs. I heartily recommend this one.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Think you can't eat burgers and fries if you're trying to lose weight or to eat more healthfully? Chef Devin Alexander, author of the New York Times bestseller The Biggest Loser Cookbook, would beg to differ. I've owned Alexander's Most Decadent Diet Ever for a few years now and am happily cooking my way through it. Unlike Hungry Girl, whose book I gave away after the first 2 recipe disasters, Alexander isn't trying to recreate fast food (my first bite of Hungry Girl's disgusting cereal-coated onion rings made me gag). Alexander's food makeovers actually taste like the real thing because they ARE the real thing. She uses fresh ingredients, a sparing amount of fat, and keeps her portion sizes reasonable.

In our second week of taking off the vacation pounds, I was craving a burger. I find that ironic since I seldom eat them, but this post isn't about what's going on inside Arlene's head. I made 2 changes in Alexander's recipe. The first was to substitute the multi grain Arnold's thin for her suggested light hamburger bun. I find the latter too similar to cardboard in consistency. So, our "buns" were a little large for the quarter pound hamburger. The second was to use 1/2 oz light cheese wedges instead of the light Swiss cheese slivers.

BBQ Bacon Cheeseburgers
Serves 4
1 lb lean ground beef (93% lean)
pinch of salt
6 slices center-cut bacon
6 reduced-calorie hamburger buns (or your preferred light roll)
2 oz light Swiss cheese slivers (or, 4 light cheese wedges)
red onion slivers
2 tsp BBQ sauce for each burger

Pack the beef tightly with your hands and then shape them into a 4 inch diameter patty. Sprinkle lightly with salt on both sides. Freeze for 5 minutes on a sheet of waxed paper to help retain the shape.

Preheat a grill to high. Cut the whole bacon strips in half and place side by side in a nonstick skillet to cook over medium heat until crispy. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate.

Cook the burgers on the grill to desired doneness. Toast the buns lightly. Add the cheese to the burger for the last 30 seconds of cooking. Place the burger on the bun and top with the 3 half bacon slices, then the onion slivers, and finally the BBQ sauce. Serve at once.

N.I. per cheeseburger as described above:  304 cal, 33 g protein, 23 g carb, 10 g fat, 3 g fiber, 752 g sodium

Italian Seasoned Fries
Serves 4
2 medium (8-9 oz) baking potatoes, peeled and cut into sticks about 1/2 inch
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs reduced fat grated Parmesan
1 tsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Optional:  1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a medium nonstick baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the potato sticks with the other ingredients, then add salt to taste. Place the potato sticks in a single layer, not touching, on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip the potatoes and bake another 8 - 12 minutes or until the potatoes are tender on the inside and have some browned spots on them, but are not completely brown. Serve immediately.

N.I. per  1/4 portion:  97 calories, 2 g protein, 19 g carb, 2 g fat, 2 mg chol, 2 g fiber, 34 mg sodium
Usually a guilty pleasure, this BBQ bacon cheeseburger tasted even better because the ingredients were fresh and it was guilt free. The fries were a pleasant surprise, also fresh and flavorful and so much less fattening than the frozen kind served everywhere. I would definitely use fresh herbs on the potatoes next time out. I ate one burger and 1/4 of the fries, and with a big tossed salad, I was quite satisfied. You can be sure we'll be making this burger again and again. Next time I'll keep the kitchen totally clean by using the side burner for the bacon. I'm sure you noticed the paper plate in my photo. Welcome to BBQ season!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Mongolian Beef

Retirement is hard work and that means I appreciate quick and easy meals that are also healthy. An old Cooking Light magazine offered this garlic-and-ginger-laced stir fry that begs for wide rice noodles to catch all of the wonderful sauce.

2 tbs low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp dry sherry
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp chili paste with garlic
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp peanut oil
1 tbs minced, peeled fresh ginger
1 tbs minced fresh garlic
1 lb sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain (I prefer using flank steak)
16 medium green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

Combine the first 8 ingredients, stirring until smooth. Heat peanut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add minced ginger, minced garlic, and beef; saute for 2-4 minutes or until beef is browned.  Add green onion pieces and saute for 30 seconds. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook 1 minute or until thickened, stirring constantly.

Yields 4 servings, 1 cup each.
N.I.:  237 cal; 10.5 g fat; 26 g protein; 9.1 g carb; 1.7 g fiber; 60 mg chol; 517 mg sodium
This slightly spicy dish had a more complex sauce than the speed of preparation would suggest. I've come to appreciate what a small amount of minced ginger can do to rev up the flavor profile of a stir fry sauce and coupled with the chili paste and hoisin sauce, this sauce was much more than your typical soy-based standard. Tracking down wide rice noodles can be a chore; if you can't find them, use vermicelli or Jasmine rice. Be sure to keep the beef on the rare side so it doesn't become chewy.