Monday, January 25, 2010


I don't cook much meat or poultry, but when my market had chicken thighs for 99 cents a pound, I grabbed a package and decided to make my mom's stewed chicken. It's tomato-based and it's easy. And delicious. And like most stews, it gets tastier every day it sits in the fridge. Oh- and before I forget, this dish is healthy to the max. Did you know that... 1 red pepper has 3 times the amount of vitamin C as an orange? I use 3 peppers. And mushrooms and tomatoes help lower your cholesterol? Plus, something I just learned, mushrooms strengthen your bones. That all sounds impressive- but the best thing is, this stew tastes great.

Elaine's Stewed Chicken

8 bone in chicken thighs, skin removed

2 tsp canola oil

1 1/2 cups onion diced

2 tsp garlic diced

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I use more, but if you're serving children, stick with 1/4 tsp)

2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

8 oz sliced button or baby bela mushrooms

3 peppers sliced (I used 1 red, 1 green and 1 yellow)

In large pot over medium-low heat add canoa oil, then onions. Cook onions on a low enough heat to soften and not brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Then add salt, pepper, Old Bay, and cayenne. Cook a minute or two more, until spices have combined with the onions and garlic. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano and crushed red pepper. Increase heat to reach a high simmer. Add chicken. I carefully tuck the thighs in, so they are completely covered with liquid. Cover pot and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook 40 minutes. Add mushrooms and peppers. Cover and cook 15 minutes more. It's done, ready to eat. Or cool and refrigerate for another time.

After cooking, I remove the meat from the bones, because it's just about falling off them anyway. Plus I think it makes a nice presentation. Serving suggestions? How about brown rice (that's what I did), but other options I like include egg noodles, pasta, mashed potatoes, polenta. You get the picture- anything that will soak up the flavorful sauce. And if the spirit moves you, add a sprinkle of parmesan on top.

Friday, January 22, 2010


When I waste food I get a case of the guilties. It's most likely generational since I grew up being constantly reminded of the "starving children in China" and my mom was often referred to as "thrifty". As you can imagine, I'm a proud member of the clean plate club and a sympathetic cooker of anything in my fridge that looks like it's on it's last legs. That was the case last week when I noticed my once crisp eggplant and zucchini had almost surpassed their shelf life, and half a Spanish onion was suffocating in the saran wrap it was covered in. I had to put these babies out of their (or my) misery and decided to roast them. Roasted veggies are a great snack and make an interesting accompaniment with sandwiches or AS sandwiches.

Roasted Eggplant, Zucchini and Onion

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees
Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil

Peel and slice medium size eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds
Slice zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds
Slice 1/2 of a large sweet onion into 1/4 inch half moons

Prep baking sheets with cooking spray and lay vegetables in a single layer on top. I used one sheet for the eggplant and one for the onions and zucchini. Spritz the top of the vegetables with additional cooking spray and season liberally with kosher salt and lemon pepper. Place in the pre heated oven for 20 minutes. At this point the zucchini and onions should be done. Remove to a dish to cool. The eggplant will need another 10 minutes to finish cooking. Turn eggplant rounds over, to ensure browness on both sides. No need to season the eggplant again. When they are soft, yet browned, remove them to the dish with the zucchini and onion to cool.

The next morning when I was putting together my feed bag for work (that line's for you Carol) I decided to make a sandwich with these good looking vegetables. I took half a slice of lavash (I told you you'd be hearing a lot about this bread), and spread about 1 T of Alouette Light garlic and herb cheese on the bread. Then I layered the vegetables to cover about 2/3 of the bread. When you're making roll ups, you don't want to cover the entire surface with your filling, because as you roll it up, the filling rolls out the back end.

Roll the lavash up, and the creamy cheese acts as a glue on the edges. Now doesn't this look yummy? It was a delicious little snack for me and could easily become a meal with a bowl of soup or a crunchy salad.

And speaking of crunchy, that was the one thing that was missing on this lovely little roll up. Not that it wasn't fabulous as is, but a little crunch would have been nice. So next time I'll try some fresh red pepper slices or a few crisp lettuce leaves. If you have any crunchy ideas, please pass them along.

After tasting and enjoying the flavors of the 3 veggies and the garlic cheese, the next thing to morph out of this combo might to be a roasted vegetable cheese dip or spread. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nutty for Oats

I've been working on another comfort dish (South Beach inspired Shepherd's Pie) but it's become a problem child at the moment and needs another test run. So in the meantime I thought I'd share a sweet new find with you.

It's a Giada recipe for Peanut Butter Granola Bars from the food network web site. I love that site because, as I've mentioned before, home cooks and enthusiasts offer helpful hints to improve the dish if there seems to be a problem. It's always amazing to me how some recipes get posted in the first place, but looking on the bright side, the comments work for me. Hey- I always like to know the good, the bad and the ugly before I try a recipe for the first time.

So here we go. First off, this is an easy recipe. You probably have all the ingredients on hand. Giada makes her bars in a 7 x 10 inch pan. I don't have one and used the old faithful 8 x 8 inch disposable aluminum. She also lines her pan with parchment paper. I don't since I'm using the flexible aluminum. The biggest problem the commenters/reviewers had was that the bars kept crumbling. The general consensus was that the one stick of butter recommended was too much. Baking time was an issue too. But all ovens are different and I watched mine very closely the first time. I also added an additional egg white to the mixture and can't remember why I did that. Maybe it was to prevent crumbling as well. Giada uses toasted slivered almonds . They were delicious in my recipe, but I have a huge jar of dry roasted peanuts in my freezer that I used on my second go-round. Equally as good and I didn't have to toast them. She also uses brown sugar, but I wanted to stick with zero calorie Splenda, so I used white. I'm sure it's better with the brown. The recipe calls for 2 cups of old fashioned oats. With the first batch I made, I used the oats directly from the container. With the second batch, I ground half the oats in my spice grinder and the end result was a lighter, less dense bar. It depends how oaty and earthy you feel at the time. Either way they were good.

Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Adapted from Giada De Laurentis

Vegetable cooking spray
1/2 stick butter
2 egg whites
1/2 cup peanut butter - I used creamy, Giada used chunky
1/3 cup brown sugar - I used white Splenda
1/4 cup honey
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup crushed dry roasted peanuts- I crush them between 2 sheets of plastic wrap with a heavy pan (they still fly all over the place)
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Prep pan with vegetable spray. Melt butter and set aside to cool. In large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Mix in peanut butter, sugar and honey. Tip: spray measuring cups with veg spray before measuring peanut butter and honey and they'll slide right out of the cups. Add the butter and mix. You'll have a very smooth mixture at this point. Add the oats, peanuts and chocolate chips. Stir to combine. Spread into prepared pan. Bake on middle rack in oven 20 minutes (that worked for me) until edges begin to browm. Let cool at least one hour before slicing. I cut my bars into 12 pieces (4 x 3), not quite square.

Re-Mix: Whenever I find a good recipe with peanut butter I try it using Nutella. You'll need to change the amount of sugar. I used 2 T of sugar instead of the 1/4 cup. You'll also want to sift 1/4 cup of baking cocoa into the Nutella, honey, sugar and butter mixture and incorporate well. I didn't add any nuts, but kept in the mini chocolate chips. These were pretty rich, and not as healthy as the others. And gooier. Much gooier.

Back to healthy-My next re-mix of these bars will be to eliminate the chocolate chips and add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and either raisins or dried apricots to the peanut butter mixture. I haven't tried this yet, but when I do, there'll be an update on the results.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fast Food

On Friday night I'm never in the mood for fussy cooking and rely on my spur-of-the-moment, creative side to come up with something quick and tasty that won't dirty a lot of pots and pans, and will make use of some of last weeks' perishables lurking in my fridge. One of my favorite quickies is flat bread grilled cheese packages. No more than 5 minutes and you're there.

Here's what I did tonight:

I took half a slice of Joseph's Lavash Bread, slathered one side with chipotle salsa, placed 3 slices of Alpine Lace Swiss cheese over the salsa, then added 2 strips of cooked turkey bacon (that I never got to use during the week). I folded the naked (empty) side of the bread over the bacon, put the flat little package into a saute pan with 1/2 T melted butter and a spritz of cooking spray and browned it over medium heat.

I grilled the sandwich for about 3 minutes per side, if that long, and that was it. Done. I sliced the package in half, garnished with additional salsa, low fat sour cream and 1/2 an avocado.

It was delish. Plus, cleanup is a quick wash of the saute pan and cutting board. Silverware and plate enjoy the dishwasher. And I'm full, and free to enjoy my evening.

The Re-Mix is fun because anything goes. 1. Start with my cheese and bacon and omit the salsa. Instead, use Dijon mustard and pickles inside. 2. I've tried lean roast beef and roasted red peppers with a slathering of boursin cheese and a slice or two of mozzarella. 3. A tuna melt is always good. I liven mine up with a layer of sriracha sauce and low fat mayo plus a cool Monterey jack slice. A few greens on the side or in the package would be nice too. And last but not least... 4. Peanut butter, Nutella. and sliced strawberries. I believe this one deserves a garnish of powdered sugar on the top. yum

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Nice Comfort

I was planning on sharing my newest discovery from the South Beach book but halfway through the post I switched gears and all of a sudden I'm back with another soup recipe. I'm on a comfort food kick, plain and simple. It's January and it's really winter now. I'm not a big fan of the cold, the snow and the general inconvenience of the season, so I'm looking for comfort wherever I can find it. And for me that would be delightful aromas wafting through my kitchen.

Comfort Food: According to Wikipedia, comfort foods are familiar, simple foods that are usually home-cooked or eaten at informal restaurants. They are foods that are often emotionally significant to a person or group of people and are sometimes related to pleasant memories of childhood.

When I was growing up, my favorite meals were the creamy, cheesy, noodly casseroles that my mom would throw together at the last minute when my dad was working late and it would just be my sister and me at the dinner table. I'm still a big fan of all tuna noodle concoctions and anything Campbell's Soup enhanced. But there are other dishes that are a little less calorie laden that give me the warmth and security I need in these cold winter months. One of these would be my dad's clam chowder. I'm originally from New York so the clam chowder I grew up on had nothing creamy on the ingredient list. We ate Manhattan clam chowder- tomato based and definately figure-friendly. My dad (who hardly ever cooked) would make this maybe once or twice a year on a lazy Sunday afternoon. He sent me this recipe in January, 1991 when I must have been craving some comfort and warmth.

He called it "Ye Olde Daddy's Clam Chowder" and looking at the stained, yellowed paper it was typed on, you know it's a recipe that's been enjoyed year after year by me. It not only conjurs up memories of my teen years, but of summers as a kid when we used to visit with relatives on the Coney Island Boardwalk, sip red chowder from a paper cup, and I'd fall asleep in the back seat of my parent's Studebaker on the ride home to Long Island.

This is a typical recipe that I would get from any member of my family- by that I mean the vague measurements, which in the long run (I think) helped me become a better cook

3 large onions
4-5 T oil
2 28 oz cans tomatoes (stewed in puree or plain tomatoes)
1 16 oz can kernal corn
3 cans chopped clams
4 medium size carrots, peeled and diced
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 package (8 or 9 oz) frozen cut string beans (remove from freezer when you start to cook)
5 slices of bacon cooked (do not cook to crisp, cook to semi soft and cut into 1 inch slices)
SEASONINGS- thyme, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper

Saute onions in oil until soft. Add salt, pepper, thyme and oregano. Add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Add small amounts of water if mixture is too thick.
Add potatoes and carrots and cook on low-to-medium heat for 20-30 minutes. Taste potatoes and carrots. They should be firm to the bite at this point.
Add drained corn, frozen string beans and bacon. Continue to simmer until carrots and potatoes are done. Add sugar until the tartness of the tomatoes is suitable to your taste.
Add clams and and their juice; the entire mixture should be heated and the flavor should be adjusted with spices, sugar etc.

Re-Mix: I don't do too much to change this recipe except add Old Bay Seasoning in place of the salt. I like the flavor it gives the soup, and there's plenty of salt in the Old Bay mixture itself. Sometimes I'll buy a bottle of clam broth and add that instead of water, but now that I'm kinda old and watch my salt intake, I leave it out more often than not. Oh- and I have to warn you, this recipe makes enough to feed an army, so I cut down on these ingredients: onions (I use 2), oil (I use 1 or 2 T) and only 1 can of the tomatoes and 2 cans of clams.

If you're not a clam lover, but like fish, this recipe makes a great fish chowder. Simply omit the clams, add the whole bottle of clam broth mentioned above, and add a pound or two of cod or haddock 15 to 20 minutes before you're ready to eat.

Thanks dad.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Souped Up

After a fabulous trip to Fort Lauderdale, my New England new year began when I stepped off the plane into the tail end of a three day snow storm.

My initial plans were to food shop, do laundry and get re-oriented for the work week. The snow put a damper on the shopping plans, so that didn't happen. Which was just as well, since I can eat like a king for weeks with what's hidden in my pantry and freezer. I've mentioned in my last few posts that I'd been reading the recipes in the new South Beach book so I decided to give their black bean soup a try. Nothing tastes better to me, or feels more comforting on a cold, snowy night than a steaming bowl of soup. And this is a quick fix I might add. The ingredient list looks long, but I promise you it's fast, tasty and a great way to use some of your kitchen staples.

Black Bean Soup (from South Beach Supercharged)

1 T olive oil (I used canola)

4 thinly sliced scallions (I diced 1/2 of a huge onion that was in my fridge-about 1 1/2 cups)

1 thinly sliced celery stalk

4 minced garlic cloves

2 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp ground cayenne (I used 1/2 tsp)

pinch of salt (I used 1/4 tsp and added more later)

black pepper (I used about 1/8 tsp)

1/2 tsp chili powder -my contribution

1/4 tsp dried oregano -my contribution

2 15 oz cans black beans and their liquid

1 15 oz can diced tomatoes (I used no salt added)

1 14.5 oz can chicken broth, lower sodium, fat free

juice of 1/2 lime

Garnishes -my contribution again: shredded low fat cheddar cheese, sliced scallions, low fat sour cream, cilantro, Sriracha sauce, lime wedges

In a medium to large saucepan heat oil over medium/low heat. Add onions, celery, garlic and spices. Cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables soften. Add black beans, tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Transfer 2 cups of the soup to a blender and process until smooth. Return blended mixture to soup pot and simmer 10 minutes more. Add lime juice and test for seasoning. This is where I added more salt. Serve hot with garnishes. SB doesn't say how may serving this makes, but I'm guessing four. And if you make it ahead, it will thicken a bit and you'll probably want to add a small amount of water when reheating.

I enjoyed this dish because it was different than most black bean soups I've had. My favorite bean soup to date is from a restaurant in San Juan (can't remember the name) that makes a rich, hearty, you can eat it with a fork type of soup. And it's SPICY. This is lighter, has no ham hocks or bacon, and with the minimal amount of cayenne and absence of jalapenos, it's probably more pleasing to the general public. And kid friendly as well. I must admit that the garnishes add a nice touch and you can be sure I helped myself to every single one of them, including the Sriracha sauce. Serve this with a crusty loaf of bread or toasted slice of lavash, and even a small salad if you like. I think you'll enjoy.