Sunday, October 28, 2012

Meatballs and Mushroom Gravy

Jamie Beecham makes great gravy. Correction, Jamie Beecham makes the very best gravy I've ever tasted. I've been waiting to get a good enough picture to post her recipe and I'm still not happy with what I have, but this dish is absolutely to die for- good picture or not. Growing up in the north, I'd never been exposed to the gravy experience. But my friends down south are on this gravy train and know what they're doing. Jamie usually makes hers to complement pork chops or Salisbury steak. Tonight I decided to make some meatballs and let them dance around in her unbelievable sauce. If you're making meatballs, you'll get about 20 1-1/2 inch balls. If you want the Salisbury steaks, you'll get 4 hearty portions.

Green Pepper Meatballs or Salisbury Steak
1 large egg
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 T Worscestershire sauce
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 small green pepper diced
1 tsp salt
lots of black pepper (about 3/4 tsp)
1 pound ground beef

2 T olive oil
1 tsp fresh garlic grated or chopped
1 small onion thinly sliced
8 oz mushrooms sliced
1/4 cup dry red wine- I used an inexpensive cabernet
3 or 4 T flour
1/2 cup half and half- Jamie uses heavy cream, but I never have that on hand
2 cups low sodium beef broth- I've used chicken stock too, it works fine
1 tsp salt
black pepper

Whether you're making the meatballs or Salisbury steak you'll make the same mixture. In medium size bowl combine all ingredients except the ground beef. Mix with a fork until incorporated.

Now add the ground beef and mix gently with your fingers. The less you handle the meat, the more tender your meatballs or steaks will be. I formed the beef mixture into meatballs and placed on a foil lined baking sheet that was sprayed with PAM.

Place meatballs in pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake 20 minutes. While meatballs are cooking make the gravy. In large skillet on medium low heat add olive oil, then the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Cook a few minutes and season with salt and pepper.

After about 5 minutes add the wine and cook another 5 minutes. Sprinkle on the flour and cook until vegetable mixture forms a paste.

Add cream or half and half and stir. Pour in the beef stock and stir until thick. Do this over medium low heat. Add the meatballs or steaks back into the gravy and warm. You'll want to cook the gravy about 20-25 minutes.

Serve with egg noodles, mashed potatoes, rice or a crusty loaf of Italian bread. I will always choose that crusty loaf of bread, because that gravy needs a good sopper-upper. And in my mind, bread does the trick! Jamie Beecham, you are a rock star!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mini Oreo Brownie Cupcakes

I came across a recipe last week for chocolate oreo cupcakes that really got my attention. They were made with a chocolate box cake and oreo cookies. How good does that sound? Sounded right up my alley and I decided to take this idea down a notch by making mini cupcakes, but made it a bit richer by using a brownie mix that I have always been ever-so pleased with. Pillsbury's Sugar Free Chocolate Fudge. From what I can tell, this product is not available in all markets, but I seem to be able to find it consistantly at Shaw's in my neighborhood. 

Confession here...I've never made a cupcake in my life. Really never. But I thought the mini brownie idea was worth investing in some mini muffin/cupcake pans, and a good way to introduce myself to the ever-popular cupcake explosion that seems to be taking over the food network and the bakeries these days. There are a few steps here, but they're simple. And the end result is decadence beyond belief. Here's  the recipe:

Mini Oreo Brownie Cupcakes
Makes 36 cupcakes using 3 trays of 12 cupcakes each

1 bag mini oreo cookies- 8 oz
1 box Pillsbury Sugar Free Chocolate Fudge Brownie mix- I do alter the instructions on the brownie box, so you'll need 2 eggs, 3 T of prepared coffee and 1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup chopped oreos, don't chop too fine

6 oz softened butter
5 oz neufchatel cheese (low fat cream cheese) softened
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
remainder of oreo cookies pulverized- I crushed them using the edge of a jar and got an almost powder-like consistancy

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare mini tins with liners and add a mini oreo cookie in the bottom of each liner. I was amazed how nicely they fit inside.

Prepare the brownie mix according to package directions, substituting the 2 eggs (for the one they recommend) and the coffee for the water, and the canola oil. Now add the cup of chopped/chunked oreo cookies. Stir until combined. Spoon carefully by teaspoonfuls into the cupcake tins. Don't over fill.

Bake 12 minutes, remove and let cool on wire rack. When cool, remove from tins and let them continue to cool. They look good already.

Now you're ready to make the frosting. In medium size bowl, using a hand mixer, combine butter, cheese, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar.  When smooth, fold in half the pulverized cookies.

 Top each little brownie cupcake with a dollop of frosting, and sprinkle with remaining pulverized oreos. Refrigerate, and remove a half hour before serving. I think you and your guests are going  going to like these little treats.

Not only were they fun eating, I enjoyed making them. The wheels in my head are spinning for more minis I might want to make. How about pumpkin cream cheese? Or brownies with a big black cherry inside? Oh my, We've got some experimenting to do! Any and all ideas are welcome.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flat Bread Pizza

I've made a new homemade flat bread pizza for the last two days and I'm in heaven. The idea for this low cal, low carb yumminess came from Susan Feliciano, a friend at Just a Pinch. If you've tried to make flat bread pizza with lavash bread, pitas, or tortillas, you've probably found that you can't get a sturdy crust. Well Susan solved that problem with a cheesy double crust that will hold up to anything you decide to top it with. For each 8 inch pizza, you'll need 2 tortillas. This is the brand that I used and it worked out great. Plus it's high in fiber and low carb.

Here's the recipe for my pizza, but this is really a method, so anything goes. Feel free to substitue anything you like from pepperoni to pineapple. I'm sure it will hold up.

Tortilla Pizza
Makes one 8 inch pizza
At first I thought I could eat this in two sittings, but have discovered it keeps calling me back for more, so it is really a serving for one.

2 eight inch tortillas
1/2 cup low fat mozzarella cheese shredded
1/4-1/3 cup tomato sauce (I use what's on sale) or you could make your own
1/2 small onion thinly sliced or chopped
1/4 green pepper thinly sliced or chopped
2 button mushrooms sliced or chopped
pinch of dried oregano
pinch of dried basil
pinch of garlic powder
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (more if you like a lot of heat)
1/4 low fat mozzarella cheese shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated or shredded

This is a very quick fix, so get ready to eat in 30 minutes. If you're planning on making a salad to go with this, you'll have about 20 minutes to put that together.

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and give it a quick spray with PAM. On clean surface lay out your first tortilla. Top tortilla with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and spread to cover.

This picture has some cheddar on it as well as I was running low on the mozzarella and wanted to save whatever I had left to add to the top. Cover with tortilla #2 and transfer to baking sheet. Add the tomato sauce to the top of the tortilla.

Top with the onions, peppers, mushrooms, spices and seasonings. Now add the additional cheeses. Doesn't that look good already?

Bake 20 minutes. This sturdy flatbread pizza is ready to slice and enjoy. Hope you like it as much as I do.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I have been a fan of PF Chang's since my first visit about 3 years ago. It was love at first sight. So it only makes sense that I keep trying to recreate their recipes at home. The cooking project for tonight was Chicken Lettuce Wraps. The procedure is rather simple because you just brown ground chicken with a few veggies on your stovetop. But the sauces are really what make this dish memorable. I say sauses because there are two. There's the sauce you add to the cooked chicken in the pan (that's sauce#1). Then there's the sauce you add to the finished dish (#2). Be still my heart, they are both so good.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
inspired by PF Chang's

Sauce #1
cooking sauce
1 T hoisin sauce
1 T reduced sodium soy sauce
2 T oyster sauce
2 T water
1 tsp hot sesame oil
1 tsp Splenda no calorie sweetener

Sauce #2
2 T Splenda no calorie sweetener
1/2 cup water
3 T low sodium soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1/4 tsp hot sesame oil
2 T chopped scallions
2 T Sambal Olek- I like Huy Fong
1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 T canola oil
1 pound ground chicken
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 cup button mushrooms chopped- if you have exotic mushrooms around, by all means use them
3/4 cup cooked edamame

Iceberg lettuce or Bibb lettuce for wrapping

Whenever I make Chinese food I get all my prep work done first. So make your sauces and set aside. Just whisk all ingredients together in two separate bowls.

Now prepare your vegetables.

On stovetop over medium heat add canola oil to sauce pan or wok. Add ground chicken and brown a few minutes. Break up the ground meat while browning. Add ginger, garlic, scallions and mushrooms and saute until chicken is cooked and not pink anymore.

There's nothing pretty about the dish at this point. Until you add Sauce #1.

Stir in the yumminess and add the edamame.

Now you're ready to plate the dish. I used Bibb lettuce, but iceberg works maybe even better because it's sturdier. Place a few tablespoons of chicken mixture into lettuce cups, sprinkle with cilantro leaves, spoon some of sauce #2 on top and enjoy. And then go for seconds.

If you happen to have any left over chicken, here's an idea. Boil up about 6 ounces of linguini, mix with leftover sauce #2 and chicken and reheat for another meal.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This little slice of heaven is a re-mix of the first recipe I ever posted on this blog. Yikes, that was over 3 years ago! I'm always making pumpkin bread in the fall, and when I recently read Dana Ramsey's recipe for pumpkin bread that included a cream cheese center, I  hopped on the Dana bus and wanted to share with everyone who'd listen. Her recipe uses 3 loaf pans, mine uses two. And I incorporated some oatmeal in my batter, used Splenda no calorie sweetener but kept the same crunchy topping I did in the original bread. I will admit this is a bit time consuming, but absolutely worth it. You get two nice size loaves of bread, and from what I can see since last night, they won't last long. There are three basic steps: the topping, the cream cheese mixture and the actual bread batter. Give this a whirl. I made it on a work night and still got to bed at a decent time.

Pumpkin Bread with Cream Cheese Filling
makes two 8 x 4 inch loaves

1/2 cup ground oatmeal- I use my small spice grinder for this
1/2 cup Splenda no calorie sweetener
4 T softened butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 8 oz packages of nufchatel cheese softened- lower fat cream cheese
1/4 cup Splenda no calorie sweetener
1 large egg
1 T fat free half and half
1 tsp maple extract

1 cup ground oatmeal
2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 cups Splenda no calorie sweetener
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
1 15 oz can pure pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup water

Cooking spray
2 T AP flour for dusting bread pans

Prepare 2 loaf pans with cooking spray, dust with flour and set aside. Shake out any extra flour and make the crumble topping. In medium/small bowl combine all ingredients and mash with a fork until combined. Taste it, the butter and cinnamon are just an introduction of the flavors to come. You can also add a pinch of salt, that's a nice addition. Set aside.

On to the cream cheese filling. If you're not a fan of maple flavoring, feel free to substitute vanilla extract or any other extract you find appealing. The other day I saw a coffee extract in the market and I think that could be a reasonable subsitution. In medium size bowl with hand mixer combine all ingredients until creamy. I don't worry too much about eating raw eggs, so I had to give this a taste. Yummm.  Set aside and pre heat oven to 350 degrees.

Now comes the  most important part of the mix- the pumpkin bread. I am not a fussy person when it comes to baking. I'm careful about my measurements, but not so careful about what goes in first, or adding one egg at time. I believe in the dump method. The first thing I do is combine all the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl with a whisk: that would be the ground oats, flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. When combined set aside and get out a large bowl to mix the wet ingredients.

With hand mixer combine sugar, canola oil and eggs. Beat until incorporated, then add in the pumpkin puree, vanilla and water. I have at times dumped everything in at once and can't tell whether the end result was any differnt.

After all the wet ingredients have become acquainted with one another, pour in half the dry ingredients and mix on low. Now add the rest of the dry. When there are no white patches of flour apparent, you're ready to layer the bread.  In each of 2 loaf pans add half of the bread mixture. Now add half of the cream cheese mixture.

Oh be still my heart. Doesn't that look good? With a small knife or spoon, smooth out the cream cheese.

Cover cream cheese with remaining batter and add the crumble topping. I take little crumbles, drop them right on top and press them down with my fingertips. This is an important step because if they don't make proper contact with the batter, removing the bread from the pan (tipping it upside down) can be a messy experience, such as crumble topping all over the place.

Bake 60 minutes and let cool at least a half hour before removing from pans.

When cool, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.Thanks Dana for this fabulous idea. I just may try the coffee extract next time. It seems all the coffee shops have pumpkin in their brews, maybe it will work in the bread. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ricotta Filled Portabello Mushrooms Baked with Meat Sauce

I just realized that I haven't written a post in over a month. Where does the time go? It beats me, but that's no excuse. I've been cooking up a storm, just not putting it down on paper or the internet. This low carb recipe was inspired by Bonnie from Just A Pinch and it's a must try. I made it last night and it's reminiscent of lasagna without the noodles. Bonnie made her cottage cheese filled mushrooms using Tex-Mex accompaniments. I felt adventurous and took the Italian route, substituting ricotta and a simple tomato based meat sauce (Paul Newman's Tomato Basil), one onion and some ground sirloin. Simple, and simply delicious.

Baked Ricotta Filled Portabello Mushrooms
serves 2

1/2- 3/4 lb ground sirloin or any ground meat you'd use in a tomato sauce- I think a spicy ground turkey sausage would be put this over the top
1 T olive oil
1 onion chopped
Salt and pepper
1 jar tomato sauce
1 tsp ground red pepper flakes
4 Portabella mushroom caps, wiped clean with gills removed
Cooking spray
8 oz low fat ricotta cheese
1 handful of low fat mozzarella cheeze shredded
1 tsp dried basil, fresh would be great if you have it- use about 1 T of fresh
1 large egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Another handful of mozarella for topping the mushrooms

Okay, let's cook. In medium size skillet on stove top set at medium/low heat, add olive oil and chopped onion.  Cook a few minutes and add the ground meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until meat is no longer pink. Drain any fat from skillet and add your tomato sauce. Simmer about 5 minutes to let the flavors blend. Take off the heat, set aside and pre heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Now its time to tackle the mushrooms. Clean the tops with a damp sponge to remove any dirt. Most mushrooms these days are farm raised and don't need much cleaning. Now check out the underside and remove the stem and gills. I use a spoon to do this.

Line a baking sheet with foil that has been sprayed with cooking spray and place cleaned mushrooms top side up, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake 7 minutes. Flip the shrooms over and bake another 7 minutes.

While mushrooms are cooking, make the ricotta mixture. Combine ricotta, basil, mozarella, egg, and parmesan.

Remove mushrooms from the oven and reduce oven temp to 350 degrees. Now it's assembly time. In medium sized baking dish (I used a glass 8"x8") place some meat sauce on the bottom. Place mushroom caps (gill-less sides facing up) and add a tablespoon or two of meat sauce into each. Top with ricotta mixture.

Add a few more tablespoons of the meat sauce to the top of the ricotta, cover with remaining mushroom caps (gill-less sides down), and spoon meat sauce over the caps. I didn't use all my sauce, but you certainly can do that. Now add some more mozarella cheese on top and bake 20 minutes. Dinner is ready! All I can say is yummmm. Serve with a green salad and if you're not counting carbs, a crusty wedge of Italian bread.