Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick and Easy Chicken and Veggie soup

I think that Chicken Soup is the best medicine! I was sick this weekend and I really wanted some homemade chicken soup. But I did not have the energy to be up trying to cook a batch of my famous chicken soup that takes hours to make and lots of effort!

I knew I had a package of Red Bird organic lean ground chicken in the fridge that needed to be used so I decided to make a quick Chicken Meatball soup. I put on a mask and scrubbed my hands ( so my family could have some soup without my cold germs :-)  and put this together  in just a few minutes! It simmered a bit and was wonderful! I even sent my sweet husband off to buy a box of organic, free range low sodium broth and he came back so happy that he found it! Anyway, this soup was delicious, even without homemade broth and helped me feel so much better.

I love the Redbird brand of chicken that is organic and their ground version is great for making this fast. I did not have to cut up chicken so this could come together easily and quickly. I did not even form the meatballs, I just used a spatula to cut the ground chicken into little squares and gently turned them to brown. You could form the meatballs for a prettier soup but this was just great and fits with the whole idea of quick and easy!!

I added all of my healing foods for a sore throat, congestion and cough....ginger, garlic, rosemary and lemon. I also included good nutrition with some sweet potato and hearty kale with the fresh goodness of parsley. Since I trying to limit carbs, I just added a little bit of pearl or Israeli couscous.I thought the round balls of couscous would go well with the meatballs.   I am normally all about the noodles in chicken soup I left them out because, I am so excited to say,  I am finally losing weight by limiting carbs and eating more protein! I could have skipped the couscous but since this is all I ate that day, I thought it would be okay to include it!

Quick and Easy Chicken Meatball Soup with Kale, 
Sweet Potato and Parsley

1 – 1 ½ lb. ground lean organic chicken, red bird preferred
1 TBSP ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste or 3-4 cloves garlic pressed
1 tsp red pepper blend or other spice
1/2 tsp each of garlic powder and onion powder

½ tsp crushed rosemary
1 sweet potato, cut into thin, small pieces for quick cooking…   plus any other vegetable you prefer.
5-6 cups chicken broth, homemade or boxed, organic, low sodium
1 cup white wine or water
1-3 TBSP lemon juice, optional
6 large kale leaves, de-stemmed and chopped into bite size pieces
2/3 cup or more chopped parsley, flat leaf preferred
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup cooked Israeli or pearl couscous or other small pasta or rice
garnish with extra parsley when serving

Brown ground chicken, breaking it into little square “meat balls” and gently turning occasionally to brown evenly. You may of course form meat balls but this quick method works for quick,easy soup J
Add ginger, garlic and spices.
Add sweet potato or any other vegetable that take a longer time to cook (carrots, potatoes, etc.). Sauté for 4 minutes.
Add broth and wine or water and lemon juice
Simmer till sweet potato is tender, about 15 minutes or so
Add kale; cook 1 -2 minutes until kale is tender. Add parsley or fresh herbs and remove from heat. Serve!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Oatmeal Pecan Lace Cookies--Delicious, Flour-less,Gluten-free and lower calorie cookies!!

These light, thin, lacy and chewy, crisp cookies are flour free so they can easily be made gluten free by using gluten free oats. They are best with butter but if they need to be lactose free they can be made with other oils. 

On top of that versatility, they are whole grain, high fiber and lower in calories than other oatmeal cookies because they do not have flour. This recipe is adapted from one my friend got from Weight Watchers, but I am not sure exactly where she got it. But I have adapted this and really love these chewy light cookies that are pretty and delightful! 

Best of all, the texture and flavor of these cookies are wonderful!!! 

Oatmeal Pecan Lace Cookies

2  1/3 cups uncooked rolled  quick oats (choose GF if needed)   *
1/3 cup old fashioned oats*
1 TBSP ground flax seed, optional
 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed      
 2 tsp baking powder    
¾  cup pecans, finely chopped or any other nuts ** 
½ tsp table salt      
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted***    
2 large eggs, beaten    
1 tsp vanilla extract   

Preheat oven to 350ºF and cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats (Sil-Pats)

Mix oats, sugar, baking powder, pecans and salt together in a large bowl until well incorporated.

Add butter, egg and vanilla to oat mixture; mix well.

Refrigerate dough for at least 45 minutes or overnight.

Drop teaspoonful of batter onto prepared cookie sheets and slightly flatten each out, leaving at least 2-inches between each cookie.

Bake cookies until beginning to brown and edges turn golden brown, about 10 to 14 minutes. Leave them in the oven util nice and brown but they do go from perfect to very done quickly so keep an eye on them.  

Let cookies stand on cookie sheets for 2 minutes then carefully place on  cooling rack until completely cooled. These cookies are best eater soon after baking but may store in airtight container with layer of wax paper between cookies if needed. Be gentle with these cookies, they are delicate.

Yields 2 cookies per serving.

*For the oats I like to use mostly quick (not instant) oats. These are chopped a bit. If you only have larger old fashioned type oats put 2/3’s of them in the blender for a quick chop. I also add old fashioned oats for texture. You could add up to ½ cup or so if desired.
If you like the cookies denser, you could put half of the quick oats in the blender for a few seconds.
If you don’t have old fashioned use all quick oats.
**You can substitute any kind of nut for the pecans. I leave almond slices whole if I use almonds. Make sure to chop other nuts finely.
*** For dairy free use  2/3 cup of non-dairy margarine like smart balance or coconut oil Or a mix of one of these with a bit of shortening or olive oil.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Crispy Beer Battered Fish

Do you ever get a craving for light and crispy, delectably fried food?  Sometimes I feel like eating perfectly fried fish-- firm, tender, moist fish nestled in a golden brown crispy crust.
I don’t often fry things but I tried out a new recipe for battered fish that was just so very good!!!  If I am going to fry fish I want it to be crunchy and crispy and this recipe creates fried fish that is golden, light and crispy.

The other day, I saw a TV cooking show, called Cook’s country, which showed how to make delicious fish tacos. I learned some things about frying that I could try on other things too, like chicken, shrimp,  veggies or tofu. They used a beer batter which was a big part of why this fish turned out so well.

I recommend looking at this recipe
 because we made the fish tacos and 
they were awesomely good!  

Today I want to share the cook’s country method of frying up perfectly battered fish, just slightly modified, because it was amazing how well this turned out. I think the batter is a big reason why it turned out so well. I love the inclusion of corn starch because it makes the fish nice and crispy. The batter is just thick enough to form a protective barrier around the fish, keeping it moist. The beer gives everything such a nice flavor! I also think that allowing the oil to get very hot (350°) and stay at that temperature kept the fish from getting greasy or heavy.  This fish is great as fish and chips, fish sandwiches or fish tacos.

I was thrilled that I was able to fry up something that was not greasy or heavy and that tasted so good. I might not make this too often, as I don’t eat much fried food, but every once in a while this is a perfect comfort food.

Crispy Beer Battered Fish

1 ½ to 2 pounds firm,white fish such as cod, haddock, halibut, unfrozen,  skinless*

Salt and pepper
¾ cup flour
¼ cup corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
Salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne or Cajun spice
1 cup beer, dark porter works well

About a quart or so of peanut or vegetable oil.

If desired,  cut clean, fresh or thawed fish into smaller serving size pieces and dry each piece with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pour oil into a Dutch oven or deep  pan to the depth of at least  1 inch or more . Heat on medium high heat until oil is 350° or so.  (Use an electric skillet with programmable  temperature or use  a thermometer)

Blend the flour, corn starch, baking powder, salt, pepper and spice in a large bowl. Mix well and whisk in beer until batter is nice and smooth.

Drop the fish in to batter. Once oil is hot enough remove fish from batter, one piece at a time, letting  excess batter drip back into bowl.

Gently add fish to hot oil, one piece at a time with tongs, briefly dragging it through the top of the hot oil to set the batter. Let it drop and add next piece. Adjust the burner to keep temp at 350°—this is very important.

As fish is nicely browned, remove it to a wire rack placed on a baking sheet in a warm oven, about 200 degrees. Continue cooking fish until it is all done.

You may use this for fish tacos, fish and chips, fish sandwich…so much better than frozen and no preservatives or additives!

* Try this with chicken, tofu or veggies, etc

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tasty And Nutritious Bran Muffins

Tasty And Nutritious  Bran Muffins

There are so many food fads that come and go. It seems that at this time, Bran muffins, which were a popular healthy muffin choice a decade or two ago, are not so popular right now. But these muffins could bump up Bran muffin's popularity—seriously they are so delicious and they have all kinds of healthy stuff in them!

So  why is it that Bran muffins one of those things we seldom see now?  For one thing, Bran has somehow fallen out of favor , perhaps as part of the gluten free craze. Yet there is still a large body of evidence that shows eating a diet that is sufficiently high in fiber is a huge health plus in fighting disease and weight gain. Some people cannot eat gluten but for those who can, bran is a great source of fiber!  Carbs are seen by some people as the enemy of weight loss and healthy eating and while we should curb our intake of things like white bread, pasta and refined flour, whole grains continue to be a good carb and part of a healthy diet.

 I think muffin themselves have become less sought after since some muffin recipes,especially commercially prepared muffins, can be deceptively high in sugar and refined flour with very little nutritional value.
If it was not bad enough that bran and muffins are less popular than they were a decade or two ago, in addition many bran muffin recipes create dry, bad tasting muffins!

 So why am I including a bran muffin recipe here? Because I want to introduce you to a wonderful little snack that is both tasty and nutritious!
My mother loves sweets and donuts and I wanted to find a tasty treat that is good for her. We could all use more fiber according to some recent research. I used to make a delicious bran muffin that everyone loved but as I looked at the recipe I realized it had more sugar and fat than I wanted. So I looked up some healthful recipes on line and then morphed them a bit with the sweet treat one I had from 25 years ago.

I found several bran muffin recipes on line that use mashed banana, and while I wanted to try that, I did not want it to taste like banana. I saw one,(which I did not keep track of where it was so I cannot post a link here) that used softened, pureed dates, which is a favorite technique of mine for sweetening cookies and cakes. Date puree also substitutes for some of the fat. I also threw in some ground flax seed  and walnuts for their nutrient value.
I had to look around to find Bran in the store but Vitamin Cottage had a nice sized bag for sale. I used some and will freeze the rest.
If you want to be cut out more sugar feel free to skip the Tablespoon of sugar and some or all of the molasses. I prefer these as mini muffins. It is easiest to use muffin liners but if you don’t have them just make sure to liberally oil the muffin tins.

Tasty And Nutritious  Bran Muffins

1 ½  cups wheat bran
¼ cup flax seed ground
¾  cup whole pitted dates
1/2 cup  orange juice or water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup low fat buttermilk*
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 medium banana)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3  cup molasses
1-2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 TBSP  brown sugar, date sugar or coconut sugar, optional

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole-grain pastry flour, Or unbleached white OR whole grain flour  or a mix of two
1/3 -1/2 cup walnuts chopped
Other add ins- shredded carrot, raisins or other dried fruit, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger

Cooking spray

*If you don’t have buttermilk, mix 1 tsp vinegar into milk and let it satnd a few minutes. Or use ½ cup milk, ½ cup plain yogurt
Preheat oven to 350°.

 Combine dates and juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10minutes. Remove from heat and mix in baking soda and let it sit for 5 minutes then uncover and let stand 5 minutes.

Place date mixture in a food processor or blender; process until smooth. Add buttermilk, eggs, banana, vanilla, butter, oil, molasses, sugar …(everything except flour, soda baking powder, spices or  nuts or add ins.) Blend on low until well mixed.

 Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife. Combine flour, bran, flax, baking powder, salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add date mixture to bran mixture, stirring just until moist. Add any nuts, seeds, dried fruit, shredded carrot  or other add ins.

Place 24 mini muffin liners into mini muffin pan or 12 muffin cup liners in muffin cups.   Coat liners with cooking spray or light oil. Spoon or use small scoop to put batter into muffin cups.

Bake at 350° for 10- 12 minutes for mini muffins or 22-  25 minutes for full sized muffins, until a wooden pick inserted in center of muffins comes out clean.

Remove muffins from pan; cool on a wire rack.

Almond –Raspberry Shortbread Cookies

So yes, Christmas is long gone and I did not put this perfect Christmas cookie up on the blog as I promised but better late than never!  I first tasted this delicious Almond-raspberry thumbprint cookie at a potluck at my friend’s house. They were such a hit and the lady who brought them told us she got the recipe off the Land O lakes website. I looked at the recipe there and made a few changes to it and here it is, a very delicate and delicious cookie that looks nice enough for parties, wedding/baby showers, teas or Christmas cookie plates!

One thing I did a little different was to add cornstarch. I like to add cornstarch to my shortbread but this is totally optional. I think it improves the texture. If you do not have corn starch, add a bit of powdered sugar which can also make the bite a bit more tender and delicate.

I also like to add almond meal for flavor and for crunch. You may omit.

Almond –Raspberry Shortbread Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (Land o lakes is perfect for this) softened
2/3  cup sugar, may use up to ¾ a cup if you prefer sweeter cookie
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup fine almond meal OR 2 cups all-purpose flour 
1-2 TBSP cornstarch, optional
2 TBSP powdered sugar, Optional
Tiny pinch of salt
1/2 cup raspberry, apricot or other jam
1 cup powdered sugar
3 teaspoons water or milk
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

1/3 cup or so sliced almonds, lightly toasted for best results (7-9 minutes at 350 degrees)
Using mixer at medium speed, Blend together softened butter, sugar and almond extract. Beat until very creamy, scraping down the bowl several times.  Add flour, corn starch and almond meal one cup at a time, and then beat at low speed, scraping bowl often. Continue to beat dough until it holds together somewhat…The dough will be dry and crumbly for a bit then become well mixed and hold together when press into ball. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm.
Heat oven to 350°F. I like to line cookie sheets with parchment paper or sil-pats.
Use small scoop or spoon and shape dough into 1 inch balls. You may  Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Make indentation in center of each cookie with a rounded ½ tsp measuring spoon or finger. (edges may crack slightly). Fill each indentation with about 1/4 teaspoon jam. Do not use more jam. Sprinkle with sliced almonds.
Bake 14-16 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let stand a minute or two on cookie sheets; then carefully remove to cooling rack. Cool completely.
Combine all glaze ingredients in bowl with whisk until smooth. Drizzle over cookies.
Immediately sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pecan pie with Maple-Brown Sugar Filling

I researched various pecan pie recipes and worried a bit over what I should put in mine. It seems that there were tales of doom for so many different pecan pie recipes…and I have tasted bad ones before and it is just sad!! 

 I could not decide if I should just use sugar, or use maple syrup or go with corn syrup, even with its bad reputation. I did not want it to be too bland (corn syrup alone) or too maple-y as much as I love maple, I wanted the pecans to be the stars. 
Since I could not seem to come to a decision, I just decided to use a bit of them all!!

I know that some of you will not want to use the light corn syrup but there is only a bit in here.  I believe it helps keep the sugar from crystallizing.  If you want to skip it try adding an extra TBSP of syrup and 2 TBSP of brown sugar.

You could use a pie crust purchased frozen or refrigerated but I will give you the recipe for super easy pie crust which you can make ahead!

Pecan pie with Maple-Brown Sugar Filling

      3 eggs, beaten
1 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
¼  cup light corn syrup
1/4-1/2  teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves or mixture of halves and pieces

      Prepared pie crust, you own* or  store bought variety ( recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350°

 In a large mixing  bowl or bowl to a mixer, combine melted butter, and brown sugar and blend well. Add beaten eggs, maple syrup, corn syrup, and vanilla. Blend well.

Stir in 3/4 of the pecans, reserving some nice looking pieces to place on top after the filling has been poured into pan.

If desired, keep pie crust from getting soggy by brushing with egg wash or egg and milk wash.
Place on a foil covered baking sheet and pour filling into pie shell. Top with reserved pecans in a circular pattern. 

Carefully put into oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until set, using a pie shield to protect crust edge if it gets too brown.  (You could prebake pie shell for 8 minutes if you desire but it is not really necessary with the egg white wash)

Let pie cool a bit before serving or serve at room temperature. It pairs nicely with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.  

No Fail Pie Crust*

3 1/3 cup unbleached  flour or pastry flour
1 1/2 c. butter flavor shortening, no transfat (Crisco)
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. very cold water
1 egg
1 tbsp. vinegar
Combine flour, shortening and salt. Mix well with pastry blender. Mix together water, vinegar and egg. Combine 2 mixtures and mix lightly with fork and/ or a wooden spoon. Separate into four pieces and roll into 4 balls. Place the dough you want to use right away in air tight covered container. Wrap the dough you will want to save for later in plastic wrap and store in a ziplock bag or airtight container.
 Refrigerate dough for at least 20-30 minutes then place on lightly floured surface or between two pieces of wax paper, plastic wrap or parchment paper.  Roll it out to the right size for you pan. You can use extra from another ball of dough if you pan is larger. Put into pie pan and trim. You max use an egg or egg and milk wash to give the crust a next exterior.
Note: This can be rolled out more than once or patched together and still comes out tender and flaky. Stores well in refrigerator for a couple weeks or freeze for a couple months .  Makes 2 smaller double crusts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stuffing with Onions, Celery and Sage

Thanksgiving Stuffing

One of my favorite thanksgiving dishes is the stuffing or dressing. But stuffing is one of those dishes that can be very different from one family’s table to the next.  While I love the way I make my stuffing I really dislike some of the stuffing that is served elsewhere. It is not that my recipe is better it is just that there is a big difference in personal preference in what people look for in stuffing. Turkey is more straightforward. Most other thanksgiving dishes can be very different and people sometimes cling to their cherished favorites with a vengeance. Stuffing can cause kitchen wars when various families come together to make thanksgiving dinner!!
The great debate—Do you like your stuffing moist and fluffy with a bit of a crisp on top OR very very  ?  I like the lighter stuffing that is never gummy or gray looking. But others think this kind of stuffing is “dry”. The key is the ratio of fat to liquid as well as how much liquid one adds. It can also be affected by ( gulp*_*) adding in giblets or other ingredients . Now as I said, this is all about personal preference, I am not trying to diss your family favorite. So I will share how to adjust this or any recipe to match your thanksgiving ideals.
In the following recipe, I use a good amount of butter and go easy on the broth until I see how much it will need. For lighter less gummy stuffing I look to butter to add moisture and just enough broth to hold it together.  This is the key to good stuffing around our table. 
But the amount of butter and broth must be adjusted to how you like your stuffing as well as how dry your bread crumbs are and other factors so taste and adjust as you cook! . Try making stuffing before Thanksgiving to see how you prefer it.

There is also a little test to help you determine what the finished product will be like.  Test it by taking a small spoonful of stuffing, just after adding broth and put it in your hand. Squeeze it lightly. For my favorite stuffing, it will stick together but just barely! So for fluffy and moist with a slightly crispy top ,the stuffing should hold together lightly yet still have noticeable texture and bread bits and not cling solidly together in a heavy ball.  If you like very moist stuffing, the spoon/ squeeze test results in a ball that really sticks together well like a dough. You may also be one who likes it drier, in which case you do not want it to just lightly stick together.

As I said, this is not my personal preference but if you like your stuffing super moist, you may add up to 2 ½ -2 ¾ cups or more broth but note that Too much broth makes stuffing gummy and heavy- beware! I believe adding more butter or even an egg is a better option for added moisture unless you are worried about the fat and calories, which is not as necessary for one holiday meal in my book!. However, some people like higher liquid content
I always bake my dressing /stuffing in a dish while the turkey rests after roasting. I never put this in the turkey, it is risky and I don’t even like it as much. Plus, I put aromatics like lemon, onion, celery and herbs inside the turkey while it is cooking. So this is technically called dressing I believe but most Americans still call it stuffingJ  

What kind of bread crumbs?

I have made this with various kinds of bread. I have used all store bought stuffing, not the cubed variety but the crumbed. I have used the cornbread varieties. You may like the cubed variety, especially if you are using extra broth. 
 I have made it with French or Italian bread or with corn bread, day old and then dried.  Most often, I mix it up with any variety of  these. 

Honestly, they are all good options and I think you should use whatever feels best to you. If you are making the whole meal for a bunch of people, store bought is your friend—it can be great! I used to cook a thanksgiving dinner for 300 so it was always store bought herb season classic stuffing all the way and they raved over it. Don’t make more work for yourself on a stressful day.

Still if you have time and want to use your own bread or corn bread that is an excellent option too. You can use a loaf or two of day old French bread or corn bread instead of store bought stuffing mix. Day old bread is better than fresh. Or use 1/2  store-bought mix and 1/2 freshly dried . . You would need about 7-9 cups of dried bread cubes. To dry fresh or day old bread cut 1/2 lb. loaf of French bread in 1/2" slices then cube into 1/2 " or smaller cubes. Dry in 250' oven for a couple hours, turning occasionally until brittle but not brown. Or toast dry, stale bread in 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes.

I think the classic onion, celery and sage stuffing with some toasty nuts is delicious but there are other wonderful things to add-in.
I love the apple, sausage variation. You may add things like peeled, chopped apple, dried cranberries, sausage, chopped fennel,  fresh herbs- I usually add parsley.   Some people prefer to add a beaten egg to dressing. If you would like to add egg, you may reduce broth or even butter a bit.

Stuffing with Onions, Celery and Sage

Recipe by Denise Birdsall
Serves about 10  
  14 oz. store bought dressing or stuffing mix-not stove-top* or cubed bread or corn bread or any mixture (about 7-9 cups)
2/3 -   ¾  cup Butter (may use more or less as desired, see above note)
1 -1½  cup Onion, Chopped
1 -1½  cup Celery, Chopped
1/2 -¾ cup fresh parsley, flat leaf preferred , optional
2 tsp sage ( use less sage and more other  herbs if you don’t like sage)
1 tsp, Salt Free Herb Seasoning (such as poultry, or herbs d’provence)
  ½ +     Tsp. each Marjoram, Thyme -- Optional
   Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup chopped Pecans or Walnuts -- Optional
   2   cups  Reduced Sodium Chicken(or veggie ) Broth,  low-fat or homemade -- more if desired but beware too much broth makes a gummy paste stuffing!!! You can always add more broth after everything is mixed or even while baking but you cannot take it out! See the notes above.

    Heat butter in large pot and add onions. Cook 5 minutes. Add celery and spices. Cook 4 minutes. Add nuts. Continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Add broth and heat well. Remove from heat and add breadcrumbs and parsley. Mix well.
Taste and adjust seasonings. If stuffing is very dry add more butter or more broth.
Put into buttered pan and cover. Bake in 350 oven for 25-35,  until soft and fragrant. 375 degrees can work too, but only bake about 20-30 minutes.    May be uncovered for last 5- 10 minutes to get crisp on top.