Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chicken Cassoulet

The first time I had a cassoulet or even knew that such a dish existed, was at the Westin Hotel in Boston sometime in the 80's. The chef at the time was French and had many fussy French dishes on the menu as well as some authentic, peasant dishes, one of which was a cassoulet. I was with my friend and co-worker Joe for lunch, and we were both game to try the cassoulet. Now this was a long time ago and my memory is a bit fuzzy. I remember the beans and the meat(s) in the dish, and remember the flavor of the broth dancing in my mouth. And I do remember that both our plates were licked clean by the end of the meal. But I never dreamed I could reproduce this hearty, full-bodied stew.  But this week I did. I came across a recipe for Chicken Cassoulet by Dawn Whitted from South Dakota that sounded delicious. I had to give it a whirl. Before I got in the kitchen, I did a little research and found out that Cassoulet is ususally made with pork or rabbit, and it gets its name from the pot it's cooked in- the cassole, an inverted cone shaped vessel. I cooked my cassoulet on top of the stove in my Farberware giant soup pot that has been with me for 40 years. Here's my adapted recipe of Dawn's Chicken Cassoulet via Farberware:

Chicken Cassoulet
Inspired by Dawn Whitted

Olive or canola oil
6 chicken thighs skin removed
5 chicken sausage links-I used sweet with basil
3/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 medium onion chopped
1 small green pepper chopped
3 carrots chopped- I think next time I'll even add another one or two
3/4 cup Chardonney or another dry white wine
1 head of roasted garlic- my contribution
2 tomatoes seeded and diced
1 can (14.5 oz) stewed tomatoes-I used low salt
1 can (10.75 oz) cream of chicken soup- I used Campbell's Healthy Request
1 soup can of water
1 can (15.5 oz) Cannellini beans-Dawn uses 2 cans of great northern beans
2 dried bay leaves
Also note that Dawn uses 1/2 can of tomato paste and mushrooms as one of the vegetables.

Place 1T oil in large pot over medium. Add the chicken and brown on both sides. Remove and set aside. Add another T of oil and brown sausages on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. To same pot add chopped onions, green pepper and carrots and lower heat. Add the spices from oregano to red pepper flakes. If the veggies are sticking, add another tsp or two of oil.

When the vegetables are soft you'll want to deglaze the pan. See the brown mess stuck to the bottom of the pan? That's one of the ingredients that gives this stew its flavor. Add the wine and make sure to scrape up all the brown bits of chicken so they become part of the sauce.

Now add the roasted garlic, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, cream of chicken soup, water and beans. Stir to combine and then add the bay leaves. Nestle the partially cooked chicken thighs and sausages into the creamy stew, cover pot and cook on low for one hour.

Remove cover and cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Your Cassoulet is ready. I fished out the meat and sliced the sausages into one inch pieces, and removed the bones from the chicken thighs and them in large chunks. I wanted to float some of Anne Burrell's croutons on top of my serving, but didn't have any bread in the house. I'll do that next time. And I think I might add a handful or two of baby spinach the last few minutes of cooking. Great meal with or without the croutons or spinach.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Southern Comfort

I'm feeling very southern right about now ya'll. This weekend I made Pimento Cheese, a recipe that Lynn Socko (from Texas) was kind enough to share with the folks on Just a Pinch, the recipe site I've been visiting daily. I have been hearing about this cheese mixture for years. If it wasn't Emeril talking about it on the Food Network, it was Paula Deen, Alton Brown, or any other cook/chef that spent time in the south. I now know what they've all been raving about. I made this over the weekend in no time flat. This cheese spread has it all- it's a little bit sharp and tangy, somewhat sweet from the roasted red pepper, salty from the cheese, utterly creamy, and sinfully decadent. In New England you don't find this dreamy concoction in the grocery stores, so you've got to make it at home. Lynn's recipe is simple (the only taxing part is grating the small amount of onion and jalapeno pepper), and she's been kind enough to cut the fat, carbs, salt and calories for us.

Pimento Cheese
Inspired by Lynn Socko

2 cups grated low fat cheddar cheese
1/2 cup non fat plain Greek yogurt
1-1/2 tsp shaved fresh jalapeno pepper
1-1/2 tsp shaved onion
2 T roasted red pepper- I used Pastene right out of the jar, Lynn roasts her own
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch of tumeric

The first thing I did was grate the onion and jalapeno with my kitchen rasp and deposited the pulp from the veggies in a medium sized bowl. Then I added the roasted red pepper.

Next came the yogurt.

And the black pepper and tumeric. I love that Lynn uses terms in her recipes like dashes and pinches. It gives me an opportunity to use this very unusual and unused measuring device I've had in one of my utensil drawers for years. Anybody else come across these spoons?

Now add the cheese. Mix well and serve on sandwiches, as a dip with chips or veggies, or do what I did and grill up some artisan bread for bruschetas topped with a little southern comfort. Y'all will be very satisfied.

Thanks Lynn for sharing a taste of your southern roots. You can access Lynn's blog from my blog roll. She's at Eating and Living to Tell About It.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Baked Stuffed Mushrooms

When I was doing my grocery shopping this week I stumbled across the most beautiful package of the largest button mushrooms I'd ever seen, and decided right then and there that I'd stuff them with a simple mushroom (stems), onion, breadcrumb and cheese mixture. I haven't stuffed mushrooms in ages and didn't really have a recipe, but went with my instincts and enjoyed this little concoction to the max. It makes a great appetizer or even a meal if you have it with a salad or another appetizer. As you know, I'm on the two appetizers make a meal bandwagon. This recipe is soooo simple and ever-so tasty.

Stuffed Mushrooms
serves four as an appetizer

Cooking spray
8 large mushrooms
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1/2 medium onion chopped
8 mushroom stems chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs- I used store bought Progresso Italian style
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove stems from the mushrooms and chop. Clean mushrooms by wiping them with a damp towel. 

In medium skillet over low to medium/low heat add butter and oil. Add onions, Old Bay, salt and pepper and cook to soften, about 3 minutes. You could also add ground cayenne pepper for a bit of a bite (I forgot to do that) but I know 1/4 tsp would work fine. Now add the chopped mushroom stems and garlic. Cook another few minutes and turn off the heat. Stir in bread crumbs and cheese and combine.

Place stuffing mixture into the cavities of the mushrooms and put in baking dish that has been prepared with cooking spray. Spray tops of mushrooms with cooking spray. This will help them brown up in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes. It's amazing how these little buggers retain their heat, so let them sit a few minutes before serving.

There are so many ways this recipe can be re-mixed. Add a tablespoon of low fat cream cheese or ricotta cheese. Or go Mexican and add a teaspoon or two of taco seasoning.  How about some roasted red peppers or even bottled sun dried tomatoes? I also think chopped, cooked bacon would be fabulous. And what about some fresh herbs from the garden? If you stick with one or two of the additional ingredients, you'll have yourself a fabulous little appetizer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oven Fried Sweet Potatoes with Sriracha Dip

When I first started this blog I wrote about my obsession with PF Changs' creamy, spicy Sriracha dipping sauce. I've more or less gotten over my obsession but still crave this yummy mayonnaise mixture a few times a month. And lately I've been making it without dragging out the blender (I'm getting lazy in my old age). Anyway, here's a great little appetizer or side dish you might want to try. It's ready in under and hour, and the sauce is almost as good as the original posted three years ago. By the way, Sriracha sauce can be found in the International aisle of most supermarkets. The brand that I buy is from Huy Fong Foods.

Oven Fried Sweet Potatoes
serves two

2 sweet potatoes, washed, peeled and sliced into 24 pieces. I like to cut the potatoes in half, then slice each half into six pieces
2 T canola oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 onion powder

Creamy Sriracha Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1-1/2 T Sriracha sauce
1 scallion chopped
1/2 tsp horseradish

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl combine canola oil with dry spices. Add the sliced potatoes to the bowl and coat with oil mixture. Place on baking sheet covered with foil or parchment paper. Bake 20 minutes. Turn potatoes over and cook another 15 minutes or until done.

While potatoes are cooking, make the dipping sauce. Combine all ingredients and when potatoes are done, dig in and dip away.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sinfully Good

I recently came across a recipe for a super yummy cake on my go-to-recipe site- Just a Pinch. I love that it's made with no oil or butter, plus you don't have to take out your electric mixer. You just mix it with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and 35 minutes later you've got a sinfully delicious cake. The recipe goes by the name of Preacher's Cake, but some know it as Mexican Wedding Cake. I decided to give it a shot, and agree that it's so sinfully good, you might want to call the preacher right away. I've altered the recipe a bit by using Splenda and cutting back on the actual amount of sugar, but it's still super sweet and very quick and easy.

Preacher's Cake
made in a 9" x 13" pan

1 cup Splenda no calorie sweetener (1 cup of sugar will work fine)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups AP flour
2 large eggs
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup nuts (I omitted these since there were none in my freezer)
1 can  20 oz crushed pineapple (and the liquid)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare baking pan with cooking spray and set aside
In large bowl combine dry ingredients and whisk with a fork
Add remaining ingredients and mix by hand
Pour into paking pan and bake 35 minutes
Let cool and dust with confectioner's sugar

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thai Inspired Spicy Red Pepper and Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I had half a rotisserie chicken in the fridge and was thinking about dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow and didn't want to go the sandwich route. I decided to whip together something tasty and simple. And spicy/exotic was on my mind. Asian lettuce wraps sounded right, and they're such an easy fix. I had everything on hand except my beloved roasted peanuts but decided to proceed without them.  

Sauteed Red Pepper and Chicken Lettuce Wraps

2 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup onion chopped
1 red pepper chopped, 1/2" pieces
1 jalapeno pepper seeded and chopped fine
1 glove garlic, grated or chopped

2 T peanut butter
1-1/2 T Thai red chili paste- available in the international aisle of your market (I use Thai Kitchen)
1 T fresh ginger grated
2 tsp fish sauce (also available in the international aisle)
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (less if you're not used to the heat)
2 tsp Splenda no calorie sweetener (sugar works fine)
3/4 cup lite unsweetened coconut milk (also available in the international aisle)
1/2 lime juiced

1/2 rotisserie chicken, shredded and picked clean

8-10 lettuce leaves
scallions for garnish
crushed dry roated peanuts for garnish
cilantro leaves for garnish
1 to 2 cups cooked brown rice (optional)

I always make the sauce first and let it sit a bit while I saute the peppers.

To make the sauce:
In medium/large bowl, add all the dry ingredients.

And then add the coconut milk.

Whisk until it becomes thick and a medium shade of brown. Set aside

To make the filling:
In large saucepan, on medium low heat, add red peppers, onions, and jalapenos to canola oil. Cook about 5 minutes and add the garlic. Cover saucepan, lower heat a bit and let flavors meld.  Cook another 5 minutes.

Now add the sauce and chicken and warm for 3 to 5 minutes. We're almost done here.

Get the lettuce cups ready by separating the lettuce leaves. I like to use iceberg for this type of dish because the leaves are sturdy and can take the heat. Fill leaves with desired amount of chicken mixture, top with scallions and crushed dry roasted peanuts. Other toppings that I like are thin egg noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, and even more chopped jalapeno peppers. Since I was lacking in the condiment department, I decided to make Uncle Ben's "Rice in A Bag" and added some to my little packages. Just a tablespoon on each wrap is perfect. But they are missing their chopped nuts. Next time, they'll be there.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chicken Chimichanga Appetizers. Baked and Dairy Free

I seem to be on a Tex-Mex cooking kick this month and decided I'd re-mix my ground beef chimichangas with a rotisserie chicken melange, and use as many store bought ingredients as possible. Plus I've been contemplating a dairy free diet, so I included that in the mix. The recipe turned out great. But the portions (to me) were still not appetizer size. I was looking for something about the size of an egg roll, and the 8 inch tortillas were still too big. The good thing I discovered in my little expedition was that the supermarket has everything you need to put together a healthy, quick app or dinner for yourself or your family. And I didn't seem to miss the gobs of sour cream I usually slather on top of any Mexican dish. And the Veggie Shreds (soy product) did the trick melting and tasting just like cheddar cheese, which normally wouldn't have been my cheese choice if I weren't avoiding dairy.

Here are some of the store bought products
I used to complete the dish:

Cheddar was the only selection they offered in my limited
"soy department", so I ran with it.

40% less sodium sounded good to me so I grabbed this Ortega product. Honestly, I could not tell the difference between the less sodium and the full flavor.

I don't seem to have a problem eating fat free beans, so I picked these up. There's so much going on in the chimichanga, you won't even notice the difference. I never do.

This little package of heaven is worth keeping around for anything you might be making. Plus it was a dollar off because the expiration date was coming up. Hah- I used one bag and froze the second, which you know I'll put to good use.

Oven Baked Chicken Chimichangas
serves four

Cooking spray
3 T canola oil, divided
3/4 cup onions diced
3/4 cup green pepper diced
1 jalapeno seeded and diced
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken sliced or shredded
1 pkg taco seasoning mix
1 cup re-fried beans
1 can (10 oz) enchilada sauce (you won't need all of it)
4 8 inch flour tortillas
1 cup lactose free cheese shreds
1 pkg Wholly Guacamole for garnish
Chopped lettuce, tomato and scallions for garnish

Pre heat oven to 450 degrees. Cover baking pan with foil and coat with cooking spray. Set aside. In large sauce pan, on medium low heat add 1 T canola oil. When oil is warm add onion, green peppers and jalapenos. Cook until soft and aromatic. You can add a pich of salt if you like. I did. Now add the taco mix with 3/4 cups of water. Simmer until it thickens (3-5 minutes). 

Now add the shredded/sliced chicken and combine with sauteed pepper/onion mixture.

Get out the tortillas and begin the assembly process. On each of 4 tortillas, spread 1/4 cup of refried beans down the center of the tortilla, leaving edges free of beans. Top with 1/4 of chicken mixture and 1/4 cup of cheese shreds.  

Tuck in 2 sides of the tortilla and then fold into thirds (like a business letter). Place tortillas seam side down on prepared baking sheet and brush tops with canola oil and bake 8 minutes. Flip tortillas and brush with more canola oil.

Bake another 8 minutes and remove from oven. Top with warmed enchilada sauce, chopped lettuce, tomato and scallions, and of course some cool Wholly Guacamole. And maybe a little dab of sour cream if you're not depriving yourself of dairy. I'm going to try this again with 6 inch tortillas if they are to be found. I don't think I need to post another recipe, but I'll let you know if that size fulfills my dream of the perfect appetizer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Southwestern Sweet Potato Oven Fries

I'm always trying to add sweet potatoes to my diet because they're just so darn good for you.  Sunday night I was experimenting in the kitchen and decided to make myself a little appetizer with a Southwestern flair. I had two medium sized spuds (can you call sweet potatoes spuds?) and thought it would be a healthy way to end the weekend. Before I get to the recipe, check out the sweet benefits of this hearty vegetable: Sweet Potatoes help save your eyesight, lift your mood (always a good thing at the beginning of a work week), combat cancer and strengthen bones. I love the benefits and especially the taste of this simple dish.

Southwestern Style Oven Fried Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Country Living
Serves two

2 medium size sweet potatoes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 T canola oil

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the sweet potatoes and dry well. I like to peel off the hairy, knobby, not so attractive parts of the skin, but leave on as much skin as possible to take advantage of the nutrients. I also cut off the tips of the taters because they seem to burn in the hot oven.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 6 wedges (24 pieces).

In large bowl combine the sliced potatoes, oil, and spice mixture. Toss together (I use my hands and get messy) until potatoes are evenly coated. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet (easy clean-up) and place in the middle rack of your pre-heated oven. Bake until the edges are crisp and the potatoes are cooked through, about 30-35 minutes. While potatoes are cooking, make some guacamole and get ready to dip away.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Baked Chimichangas

I think the only Tex-Mex dish I've ever posted on this blog is a black bean soup. Since I've been getting inspiration from Just a Pinch Recipe Club (so many members cook southwestern), I've become a bit braver and decided to try something out of my comfort zone- Chimichangas. Now Chimi's are usually deep fried and rather caloric, but I came across many recipes that were baked and I took some tips from everyone and came up with a recipe I really, really like.

Gound Beef Chimichangas

2 T unsalted butter
4 T vegetable oil, divided
1 jalapeno pepper diced
1 small onion diced
1/2 green pepper diced
1 pound chopped ground sirloin
1 package (1 oz) taco seasoning mix- I like the lower sodium Old El Paso
1 can (16 oz) fat free refried beans - I use Old El Paso
1 can (10 oz) Enchilada Sauce - I use Carlita medium heat
4 10" flour tortillas- I used Mission Brand, but since this was my first time buying tortillas, I had no idea what was good and what wasn't- I found these in the refrigerated section of my market
1 cup shredded reduced fat Monterray Jack cheese
Light sour cream for garnish
Cilantro leaves for garnish
Guacamole for garnish

Pre heat oven to 450 degrees. In medium sauce pan on stovetop, heat butter and 2 T vegetable oil until warm. Set aside. (You'll be brushing the outside of the tortillas with this mixture to help them brown.)

In large skillet on stovetop, heat the remaining 2 T oil on medium and add the onion, jalapeno and green pepper. When vegetables begin to soften, add the ground beef and brown until almost cooked through, breaking up the meat into small pieces as you go. Drain any fat that may accumulate and add the taco seasoning and 2/3 cup of water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened and water evaporates.

Now it's time to fill the tortillas. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with some of the butter/oil mixture. I lined mine with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Spread 1/4 of the can of refried beans down the center of each tortilla, leaving a 2" border on 2 ends. Top each with 1/4 of sirloin mixture and 1/4 cup of cheese.  Tuck in two sides, and fold in thirds (like a business letter). Put tortillas seam side down on baking sheet, brush top with butter/oil mixture and bake 8-10 minutes. Now flip chimichangas, brush with remaining oil/butter mixture and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Now you're ready to top these little muchachos with the sauce, sour cream, guacamole, cilantro and anything your little heart desires. Note**These are rather big and filling, and most people serve them with additional refried beans and rice. That was too much food for me, but I did try on the second day using half a chimichanga, all the toppings and some rice. Still a filling meal. But I must say, I liked this recipe so much that I made it twice in a week. And it will be made again. But now I'm looking into using smaller tortillas, more like an appetizer portion and not a meal. If it's not too time consuming and tastes just as delish, I'll be a happy senorita, and of course post the revise. Buenos noches.