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Homemade Butter on Homemade Bread.

Earlier this week I mentioned my new cheesemaking kit. Well, “shake butter” is the first recipe in the kit…which is only slightly odd, since it doesn’t actually require anything FROM the kit to make it.  It’s SUPER simple, and requires three things:

  • A clean, empty 16-20 oz water bottle;
  • 4-5 oz heavy whipping cream; and
  • A working arm.

To make “shake butter”, you pour the heavy cream into the water bottle, close the top…and then shake…once per second…for a long time.  In fact, a backup arm to take over when you get tired/frustrated might be a good option as well.  After a minute or so of shaking, the cream will become whipped.  At which point, you’re all “WTF?  How can I SHAKE WHIPPED CREAM????”  And then you hand the bottle to your husband, and he gives it all of about 5-6 really strong whips, and BAM, the whipped cream separates into butter and buttermilk! 

You then pour out the buttermilk (save it if you like), then add some ice cold water to the bottle and give it a few shakes (this helps the butter solidify & washes off the excess buttermilk), then pour out the water.  Then cut the top half of the bottle off, and your freshly made butter comes tumbling out!

At this point, you can earn what my friend Babsy calls “hippie-cred” and add some salt, fresh herbs, citrus zest, honey, etc.—whatever floats your boat.  Or you can leave it as is.  Roll it into a small log, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and store in your fridge.

What shall we put out fresh homemade butter on?  Well, aside from the obvious answer of “EVERYTHING”, there’s homemade bread.  If you’re lazy like me, you’re a fan of “no-knead” breads.  They require more time, but they’re super easy, and this loaf was seriously good.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • olive oil mister
  • 2.75 cups bread flour, plus more as needed (I buy wheat gluten separately at the health food store, so I used AP flour with a tablespoon (per cup) of wheat gluten mixed in.  You could opt for whole wheat flour instead of the AP.)
  • 1 cup rolled or quick oats
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1.25 teaspoons instant active dry yeast (this WON’T be a whole packet, so you’ll have to measure it out)
  • 1/2 cup molasses or honey (I used about half & half)
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 1.5 cups + 1 Tablespoon cold water

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl (I used the bowl for my KitchenAid), mix the bread flour, oats, salt, and yeast together, and then set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk the honey/molasses and oil together, then add the cold water. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon (or your KitchenAid—my scraper blade worked well). Scrape down the sides as needed with a rubber spatula. If the dough seems stiff, add more cold water (1 Tablespoon at a time) until the dough is soft again. The oats are going to soak up a lot of moisture, so you don’t want the dough to be too dry.

Spray the top of the dough with nonstick spray or lightly coat with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise at cool room temperature (about 70F degrees) for 12 hours—I let it rise overnight.  The dough will rise quite a bit.

Once the dough has risen, spray a 9x5 loaf pan with olive oil.  Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir in enough more bread flour to yield a hard-to-stir consistency - I used about 1/2 cup more flour. Coat your spatula with non-stick spray or olive oil, and fold the dough in towards the center all the way around the bowl. Then, turn out the dough into the loaf pan. Brush the top of the bread with oil or nonstick spray and smooth out the surface. Using a sharp knife coated in oil or nonstick spray, slash a 1/2 inch cut into the center of the top of the loaf longways. Cover the pan with plastic wrap (that has been sprayed with olive oil—this will keep the dough from sticking to the plastic wrap)  Now, heat your oven to 200F degrees, then turn the oven off and stick the loaf inside, leaving the oven door slightly ajar.  Let rise for another 1-3 hours, or until the top of the loaf has risen about 1/4 inch above the edge of the loaf pan—watch this carefully, because if you let it rise too long the dough might spill over the side a bit.  This isn’t a big deal, but it makes for a slightly less pretty loaf, and can make it harder to get the loaf out of the pan at the end.

Once risen, move the oven rack to the lower third of the oven and heat your oven to 375F degrees.  Remove the plastic wrap and bake the bread on the lower rack for 35 minutes.

Then pull out the loaf, cover the pan in foil & continue to bake the bread for another 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool in the pan, placed on a wire rack, for about 15 minutes.  Then you can remove the bread from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

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Positively perfect when lightly toasted and slathered with homemade butter, and a side of Community Coffee.

This bread should stay fresh at room temperature, covered, for 3 days—or you can put it in the fridge, and extend that for about 2 weeks.  It reportedly also freezes well for up to 2 months.

Homemade Mozzarella!

Earlier this year I bought a Groupon for a cheesemaking kit.  It’s their base kit, but with it & the booklet that comes with it, you can make butter, cream cheese, ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella, chevre & queso blanco—basically most fresh & soft cheeses.

Those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know I did a stint as a cheesemonger down in New Orleans during grad school, where an already (perfectly natural) love of melty cheesy goodness was transformed into a bit of an obsession.  I spent my days memorizing the specific deets about over 200 types of cheese… periodically rearranging them in our display case so that for a while, they were sorted by milk type (goat, sheep, cow), then by region (US, France, Spain, Italy, etc), then by type (Swiss vs. bleu vs. gooey-stanky-French). 

I spent hours tasting various cheeses with various spreads on various crackers, determining which combinations complemented each other best, so that we could sample them out to customers together & boost sales.  I learned which cheeses went best with which wines.  I built cheese plates:

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(…and ate a lot of them too.)

But as yet, I hadn’t tried to MAKE cheese.  So, I figured it was about time.  When the kit arrived, I bought a half-gallon of whole milk, busted out the instruction booklet, and gave it a whirl.

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Unfortunately, something went awry with the first batch—I think I overcooked the curds, because it ended up super crumbly, like Feta.  It still tasted good, but was definitely NOT mozzarella. (BTW—we still totally ate it.  Crumbled on salads, pizza, tacos, even stuffed inside crescent rolls.)  So then I decided to hit up YouTube.  I watched a few different videos, and each of them made it essentially the same way—and DIFFERENTLY than what my instruction booklet told me.  Grr.

So during my second attempt (this time, with a FULL gallon of milk, since trying to make a half batch requires only 1/16 TEASPOON of rennet, and I was concerned that maybe my attempt at eyeballing such a tiny amount during the first batch might have had something to do with its failure), I pulled up this nice Canadian fellow’s video to watch on my tablet as I went through the process step-by-step.

INGREDIENTS:

1 gallon whole milk

1.5 tsp citric acid

1/4 rennet tablet (or 1/8 tsp of liquid), dissolved into 1/4 cup water

Cheese salt (non-iodized) to taste (if you use iodized salt, it can add a green tint to the cheese)

Optional: 1/2 tsp calcium chloride dissolved in 1/4 cup water (If you’re using store-bought milk or goat milk, this reportedly helps to make a firmer curd & helps the cheese retain more of the calcium when the curds form).  They don’t use this in the video and their cheese turns out fine, so I basically only used it because it came in my kit.

Directions:

In a large pot, add the milk and the citric acid and stir gently.  Heat over medium heat (around 4-5 if your stovetop goes to 10) and stir periodically until it reaches 88F (if you opt to use the calcium chloride, add it now).  If not, continue on to a temp of 95F.  You’ll be seeing some separation.  That’s normal.  IMG_5090

When it hits 95F, move it off the burner and add the rennet.  Stir for about 30 seconds—you’ll see big curds forming.  Then put a tight-fitting lid on the pot & let it sit for 25 minutes.  It’s a good time to watch Big Bang Theory, or part of Cutthroat Kitchen. :)

After the 25 minutes are up, use a mesh strainer or slotted spoon to remove the curds.  Drain as much of the whey as possible, and transfer the curds into a microwave safe bowl.  IMG_5093

Drain off the whey form the bowl, and then, using your hands (gloved if you can, though he doesn’t in the video), squeeze the curds to get as much of the whey out as possible.  He spends about 2 minutes on this in the video. 

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Next, you’ll nuke the bowl of curds in the microwave for 1 minute.  This will pull more of the whey out—just drain it off.  Turn the curds out onto a mat or cutting board and sprinkle with cheese salt—then knead!  The heat causes the curds to come together.  You can fold it over on itself several times & mix salt in as you go, to taste.  If you want to add in any flavorings (I did a few with basil & rosemary mixed in), mix that in with the salt when you start kneading.

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The more time you knead it, the more whey you’ll work out of it, so the harder it will get.  If you want a really soft mozz, you can just knead/fold a few times and then roll into balls.  You can also make little knots if you want, or ropes.

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Then you’ll need to “preserve” the cheese in someway to protect it until eating.  You can wrap each ball in plastic wrap (what I did this time), OR, you can store them in a jar of olive oil—or even seasoned olive oil to make “marinated” mozzarella & add flavor that way.

 

I’m SOO looking forward to when my tomatoes finally ripen so I can make some caprese salad!!!

Garlic Dill Refrigerator Pickles

I have a genetic affinity for pickles.  Seriously, it’s in our DNA.  My grandmother (who’s house was the primary congregation point on weekends) would buy dill pickles by the case because my cousins & I went through them so fast.  Granted…there were a lot of us.  My mom is the middle of 15 (yes, FIFTEEN) kids, a good ol’ Midwestern farm family, and there’s currently (roughly) about 100 of us cousins (when you include cousins’ kids, since we’re getting…*ahem* mature…now).  On any weekend, there were at least ten kids running through the house, eating everything in sight.  But MAINLY pickles.  We even made games out of daring one another to drink the pickle juice…which is a pretty lame dare given that we were all more than game to do it.

Family reunion, circa 1986. I’m in the middle-ish, with the barely-there set of bunny ears. As opposed to Primo, who has two sets of bunny ears.

Since I’ve been old enough to have my own paycheck and own refrigerator to raid, there are typically no fewer than 3 jars of pickles or picked items in the door.  At the moment, I have 2 jars of olives, 1 jar of pickled okra, dill spears, dill ovals, sweet midgets…and these.

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This was my first attempt at making pickles, so I didn’t want to go too crazy, lest they all turn out awful.  So I paired down the recipe to make two pint jars.  I also decided to make refrigerator pickles, rather than shelf-stable pickles, because a) I was planning to reuse some store-bought pickle jars, rather than buying mason jars, and b) I didn’t want to deal with the extra hassle of proper canning. 

I reviewed recipes, comparing differences & trying to figure out what would suit our tastes.  And I have to say, I was really pleased with the result!  Very crisp, tart, and just a hint of heat…and plenty garlicky.

I’ve portioned out this recipe so you can make as many jars as you like.

INGREDIENTS: (per pint jar)
Approx. 2 pickling cucumbers (will vary based on size), sliced into fat coins*
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
1 tsp pickling spice
2 tsp pickling salt
2 cloves garlic (I used minced, but you could use whole cloves with slits cut in to help release the garlicky goodness)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp dried dill (or one dill head)
1/2 tsp peppercorns  (can omit if your pickling spice already has peppercorns in it)
1/4 tsp citric acid (this will help with the crispness)

*When you slice the cucumbers, be sure to dispose of the “blossom end” of the cucumber, as there’s an enzyme present that will cause the pickles to end up soft.

DIRECTIONS:

First off, sterilize your jars.  We use Easy Clean since we have it on-hand for The Hubs’ home brewing.  But you can also boil the jars, or use an oven at 275F for a minimum of 20 minutes.  If you boil or use the oven method, make sure the jars cool before filling them.

In a sauce pan, combine the water, vinegar, pickling spice and salt.  Bring to a simmer.

Place the garlic, red pepper, dill, peppercorns, and citric acid into the jars, and then add the cucumber coins.IMG_4597

Pour the brine over the top, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace in the jar.

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Add the lids, and if you’re making refrigerator pickles, you can stop now!  Label the jars, let cool to room temp, and place in the fridge somewhere that you can not be tempted by them for a while.  They’ll take about 3-4 weeks to make a proper pickle, so be sure to include the date. About once a week, shake the jars to mix up the spices, lest your bottom pickles hog all the garlic.

If you’re planning on storing these in your pantry, check this “how-to”.  They can be stored for up to a year (either in fridge or pantry).

Enjoy on their own, on a sandwich, or as part of a relish tray!

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Homemade Strawberry Pie

I love the springtime/early summer.  Flowers are blooming, weather is warming up, the sun is shining…ice cream is selling like crazy…

…and of course, the pollen is everywhere, and the grass (and weeds) are growing so fast that we can’t keep up with the mowing…

But on the up side, strawberries are on sale!!!  Ninety-nine cents a pound! 

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So I stocked up.  There’s a nice big bag in the freezer for smoothies, and then…well…

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Yup.  Fresh strawberry pie.  It’s one of my faves, right up there with cherry pie…apparently I have a thing for red fruit pies.  Though, for this particular pie, I used 2/5 cranberries because I had some to use up.

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Moar red fruitz.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pie crust (homemade or store-bought), baked according to the package

egg wash

5 cups strawberries (or 4c strawberries & 1c cranberries), washed & sliced

1/4 cup corn starch

2/3 to 3/4 cups sugar, based on how sweet your strawberries are

1/8 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

1 tbsp lemon juice (I also added the juice of half an orange, because cranberry & orange go well together)

whipped cream

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-bake the pie crust (be sure to poke plenty of holes in the crust with a fork to keep it from puffing up).  During the last 5-7 minutes of the baking, lightly coat the pie shell with the egg wash to get a golden crust.  Let crust cool completely.

While that’s cooking, in a large pot combine 2 cups of the strawberries (NOTE: if you try the strawberry/cranberry combo, give the berries a quick chop in a food processor or blender), cornstarch, sugar, salt, extracts, and lemon juice over medium heat.  Stir until sugar is dissolved & the glaze has thickened (3-5 minutes; you may have to go a bit longer with cranberries to make sure they’re softened).  Let glaze cool completely.

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Once the glaze is cool, fold in the rest of the strawberries and mix gently until the berries are well coated with the glaze; then pour into the pie shell & spread evenly.

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Top with the whipped cream and decorate the top with a few extra strawberries.  Let chill for 2 hours to give the filling time to fully set.  Then….DEVOUR!!!!

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Makes 8 delectable servings!

NutriFacts:

Calories 242.6

  Total Fat 7.4 g

  Saturated Fat 3.5 g

  Polyunsaturated Fat 1.2 g

  Monounsaturated Fat 2.6 g

  Cholesterol 0.0 mg

  Sodium 121.3 mg

  Potassium 162.5 mg

  Total Carbohydrate 43.2 g

  Dietary Fiber 2.2 g

  Sugars 24.6 g

  Protein 1.6 g

Bacon & Gouda Waffles

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I started using a FitBit in January to start helping me to be more accountable for my health.  And so far, it’s my little miracle machine, and I’ve lost 15 lbs so far this year!. I wear it everywhere and check it throughout the day, making sure I’m hitting my goals for steps, miles, calories burned, etc.  I’ve also been *pretty* good about logging my calories, and the Food Journal shows you the ratio of Fat to Carbs to Protein in your summary:

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So this breakdown lead me to wonder:  What’s the ideal ratio for each of these categories?  My research all seemed to point towards the 40/30/30 ratio: 40% Carbs, 30% fat, & 30% protein.  But I’m a carb-fiend, so I’ve been finding it difficult to hit that mark each day. I almost ALWAYS end up high on the carb side. 

Then I thought—if I can find recipes or meal ideas that focus on this 40/30/30 ratio, then it should be a lot easier to hit that target.  I spent a few minutes searching for “40/30/30” on Pinterest (NOTE: this is NOT a helpful search—the search function pulls these numbers individually, so you get results like “40 recipes that cook in under 30 minutes!” and “Bake the 40 shrimp at 350F for 30 minutes”), then went over to Google.  Where I learned that the “40/30/30” ratio is also referred to as The Zone Diet (just goes to show how out of the dieting loop I am).  And fortunately, the Zone Diet people are nice enough to have a full database of recipes on their website—for free!

I pinned a few recipes that sounded tasty, including one for “Bed & Breakfast Waffles” that included Chicken Sausage in the ingredient list.  I thought, “ooh, savory waffles!  That sounds fun!”  I talked up these savory waffles to the Hubs & he was on board.  But then…I actually read the directions, and it just said to make the sausage & serve it on the side.  BORING.

So…I took the base for the waffle batter, and then decided to add some bacon into the waffles (since we didn’t actually HAVE any sausage to try to integrate into it)…and then…I saw the block of smoked gouda. 

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INGREDIENTS: (makes two servings)

1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 large eggs
1.5 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp agave syrup
2 slices bacon, cooked & crumbled
1/2 cup shredded gouda

DIRECTIONS:

Combine all of the wet ingredients and blend until smooth(ish).  Then add in the dry ingredients, and finally the bacon & gouda & mix well.

Heat your waffle iron & spray both plates with olive oil.  Then spoon about 1/2 cup of batter into the waffle iron and cook until crisp & golden (on my Cuisinart iron, I use the “4” or “5” setting).

Serve topped with fresh fruit & drizzle with real maple syrup.  These things were SERIOUSLY good, guys.  The salt & savory-ness from the bacon & cheese balanced perfectly with the syrup & slightly sweet cake.  And the use of eggs & cottage cheese in the batter helps boost the protein level in this normally carb-rich dish.

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NUTRIFACTS:
Calories: 335
Fat: 18g
Fiber: 2.6g
Carbs: 21g
Sodium: 400mg
Protein: 20.2g

Bacon & Boudin Wrapped Jalapeno Popper

This is the brain-child of myself & my coworker J.  When J started at our office, it was a few weeks before we realized we shared something in common—LOUISIANA.  His wife’s family was from Abbeville (just south of where I lived in Lafayette, if you’re not familiar with the area). What a coinky-dink!  We quickly became friends as we reminisced over our favorite Louisiana restaurants & watering holes.

We also periodically drift into discussions of our favorite make-at-home Southern favorites, which includes jalapeno poppers.  Which we of course had to take to the next level.  Boudin-filled jalapenos?  No… WRAP the popper in boudin, and THEN wrap it in bacon!

The other day, J stopped at my cubicle, absolutely giddy, and said, “I have something for you.”

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Yup.  Authentic Louisiana boudin from Richard’s (pronounced “Ree-shards, for non-locals).  J definitely won Friend of the Week.

So of course, I had to take it home, and test out our idea.

Our delicious, delicious, overkill of an idea.

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INGREDIENTS: (makes two servings)

1 link smoked boudin, split in two

2 large jalapenos, deseeded & caps removed

2 tbsp fat free cream cheese

4 slices low-sodium bacon

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

Lightly char the outsides of the jalapenos over a burner (this way the jalapenos aren’t too crunchy in the end product). Place the cream cheese into a baggie, then clip off a corner & pipe the cream cheese into the pepper.

Slice the boudin long-wise and press gently so that there’s a pocket inside.  Leave the casing on to help hold it together.

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Face the open end of the jalapeno toward the closed end of the boudin link—it’ll help keep the cream cheese from leaking out.

Close the boudin around the jalapeno as much as possible, and then use the bacon to bind it together.  It’ll take two slices per roll.

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Bake on a foil-lined parchment for 20-25 minutes (or a grill for the same amount of time), or until the bacon is crisp & browned.  Let cool for about 5-10 minutes, then dig in!

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This ended up being a celebratory meal, as I came home & found out that I PASSED MY ASBOG EXAM—so I get to apply for my license to be a Registered Geologist!!!!

NUTRIFACTS:

Calories: 410

Fat: 19.5 g

Fiber: 0.8g

Carbs: 30g

Sodium: 890 mg

Protein: 23.6g

Last weekend the Hubs & I went to the Sertoma Cajun Cookoff here in Springfield.  My awesome friend Tara got us two free tickets and I was just itching to see what was there.  I’ve thought about entering, but I wanted to check out my potential competition first.

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I’m used the the Sertoma Club’s annual Chili Cookoff, which is MUCH bigger with hundreds of booths.  So I was surprised to see only about 20 booths at the Cajun Cookoff. All the same, there was a wide variety of choices, from Bananas Foster Crepes to “Cajun Mac & Cheese” to tiny crawfish pies, gumbo, jambalaya…and a few of those “errrrr” entries where they make something that’s halfway between gumbo & jambalaya and you’re NOT really sure which they were aiming for.

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Clockwise from Top Left: Mini Crawfish Pie (yum); little-too-buttery shrimp & lobster…something (“gumbo” is my assumption, but y’all know how I feel about tomato-based gumbo); burnt roux gumbo (remember kids: if you’re making a roux from scratch, aim for the color of peanut butter, not coffee); a REALLY tasty chicken gumbo topped with fried okra; and too-blonde roux plus crunchy-rice chicken & sausage jambalaya…that for some reason also smelled like weed.  For reals.

It got me wondering:  If I enter, WHAT would  I enter?  There were no etouffees…but then again, I don’t have a “go to” etouffee recipe, and I don’t really want to deal with a full day of people asking me what “E-toofy” is.  There were only a few gumbos—but that chicken gumbo up there is a CONTENDER, I don’t think my recipe would beat it.  But I’m pretty sure I could beat the crunchy rice jambalaya…because after all, I have John Folse & his bible on my side.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken, cubed
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1 lb sliced andouille sausage
  • 1 Tbsp dry roux (or liquid roux) - optional
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1/8 cup minced garlic
  • 3.5 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • hot sauce, to taste
  • 2 cups uncooked instant brown rice

DIRECTIONS:

In a large (5-6 qt) pot [cast iron, if you have it], brown your chicken in the olive oil.  Then stir in the andouille, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10-15 minutes.

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On top of that, add the dry roux, onions, celery, bell pepper & garlic.  Continue cooking until the veggies are all well caramelized.  Then add the chicken stock/broth/whatever, bring to a boil, the reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.  Now add the mushrooms, green onions, parsley, and stir well, and season to taste w/ S&P and hot sauce. 

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Then add the brown rice, bring to a rolling boil, and then reduce heat to low, cover, and let cook for 15 minutes or until the rice is done.

Once everything’s cooked, remove from heat, stir and then re-cover to keep the steam in the pot until time to serve. Check flavors & season again to taste.

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Makes about 8 servings. 

NutriFacts:

Calories 371.3http://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Total Fat 17.2 ghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Saturated Fat 5.5 ghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Polyunsaturated Fat 0.3 ghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Monounsaturated Fat 0.4 ghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Cholesterol 54.4 mghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Sodium 1,106.6 mghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Potassium 289.4 mghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Total Carbohydrate 36.8 ghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Dietary Fiber 3.4 ghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Sugars 1.8 ghttp://assets3.sparkrecipes.com/spacer.gif

  Protein 18.6 g

Spaghetti Squash Chicken Alfredo

This spaghetti squash recipe is all over Pinterest, and I was itching to test it out.  As a kid, my absolute favorite thing on the planet was going to Olive Garden & getting the Fettuccini Alfredo.  You know…back in the day when “carbs were good for you” I had a hollow leg and had absolutely no idea what calories were. All I knew was that cheese and noodles and chicken & breadsticks and that magical salad were waiting for me and my dad during their Never-Ending Pasta Bowl special.  We lived somewhere between B.F.E. and a corn field, so a trip into “The City” was a VERY special and rare occasion. 

Of course now, I live in “The City”, and Olive Garden is there all the time…and unfortunately, I now know HOW many calories are in their fettuccini alfredo (1220, for the record)…so I tend to just stick with the soup & salad & breadsticks (especially the Zuppa Toscano—see my recipe for it here!)  But that doesn’t mean I crave it any less.

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Finally, I can indulge my need for cheesy garlicky goodness! 

INGREDIENTS: (Serves 2)

  • 1 medium-sized spaghetti squash
  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 tsp each of paprika, garlic salt, & onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp crushed dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried basil (or a Dorot basil cube)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup fat free milk
  • 1/2 Tbsp fat free cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 Tablespoons extra for topping
  • 1/2 tsp Cajun Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Crushed red pepper flakes  (optional for extra heat)

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the spaghetti squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and then place flat side down into a baking dish with about 1/2 cup of water.  Bake at 350F for about an hour.

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Once squash is cooked, use a fork to gently scrape the “spaghetti” strands into the center.

In a medium skillet spritzed with olive oil, cook the chicken over medium heat; season both sides with the mixture of paprika, garlic salt & onion powder.  Cover with a lid to help speed up cooking and to help keep the chicken from drying out.  When fully cooked, slice & set aside covered to keep warm.

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For the sauce, melt the butter in a medium sauce pot over medium-low heat. Once hot, add garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in flour, cooking for another minute while stirring. Whisk in the milk, basil & rosemary until no lumps remain.

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Once heated through, add cream cheese and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and add in the Parm, Cajun seasoning, black pepper and crushed red pepper. (NOTE: I recommend including the CRP because the alfredo is a bit sweet, and the heat from the peppers really helps cut that.)

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Spoon the sauce into each of the spaghetti squash halves. Use a fork to get the sauce down into the “spaghetti” so it’s well coated. Top with the chicken strips and extra Parmesan and place under the broiler of your oven for 2-3 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.

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Serve hot with a side salad and a slice of warm garlic toast.  We loved this because it makes two HUGE portions—that come in under 500 calories each!!!!.  Even so, it was SOOO much food that I actually had to set half aside for lunch the next day!

NutriFacts: (per serving)

Calories 456.7

  Total Fat 20.1 g

  Saturated Fat 8.5 g

  Polyunsaturated Fat 1.5 g

  Monounsaturated Fat 9.1 g

  Cholesterol 68.9 mg

  Sodium 1,071.2 mg

  Potassium 774.3 mg

  Total Carbohydrate 31.9 g

  Dietary Fiber 5.1 g

  Sugars 11.8 g

  Protein 38.2 g

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo (Pressure Cooker)

Welcome to Missouri in March—yesterday it was 70 degrees, today it’s snowing.  Tomorrow, it will be 50 degrees.  The day after that?  Locusts, probably.  But we might as warm our bellies with some delicious gumbo while it stays cool outside!

I got a pressure cooker for Christmas last year, and imagine my joy to find a recipe for shrimp gumbo in the recipe booklet that came with it!  Since then, it’s been my new favorite way to make gumbo.  The shrimp version is much quicker, but I was craving chicken & sausage instead.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any time now, you know that I love to experiment with Cajun fusion dishes and making healthier versions of dishes… but when it comes to gumbo, I’m pretty much a purist.  Oh, sure, there was the gumbo risotto that one time (which was delish), but in general, I am a stickler:

  • Nothing WEIRD in the gumbo – if it contains corn, potatoes, carrots…essentially anything other than the Holy Trinity, okra & meat, it’s not a gumbo.  Throwing okra into a soup does not a gumbo make.
  • No tomatoes.  Gumbo should be roux-based and brown.  Tomato-based “gumbos” tend to be too thin & a bit acidic, in my opinion. 
  • If you can see through it, it’s not a gumbo.  A good gumbo should be as muddy as the Mighty Mississippi. 

That being said, there are always “bends” that can be made to the rules to make a good gumbo that’s still a bit “healthed up”.

  • Quality ingredients (use organic or home-grown peppers & celery if you can)
  • Use chicken breast rather than thigh meat to save on fat
  • Use good quality chicken or turkey sausage/andouille for the same reason
  • Use instant roux to save some extra fat as well
  • Serve with brown rice instead of white.

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INGREDIENTS: (makes 6 large servings)

  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 lb chicken or turkey smoked sausage (andouille if you can find it), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 tsp olive oil (as needed)
  • 1 onion, diced (I used a mix of red & yellow)
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (I used both red & green since that’s what I had on hand)
  • 1 large stalk of celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup instant roux
  • 2.5 cups chicken or vegetable stock, unsalted (or 2 cups regular + 1 cup water)
  • 10 oz chopped okra, strung*
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 Tbsp parsley
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning (or more to taste after cooking)

DIRECTIONS:

In your pressure cooker, brown the sausage over medium heat for about 4 minutes, then remove from the pot with a slotted spoon to reserve any of the oil from the sausage, and set aside.  Add the chicken to the pot—if the sausage was very lean, add a splash of olive oil to the pot to help the chicken brown without sticking.  Cook through (about 6 minutes).  Remove the chicken from the pot using a slotted spoon.  Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, 1/2 cup water and instant roux to the pot, and cook for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables start to soften.

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While that’s going, “string” (aka sauté) your okra.  This is a step taught to me by one of my regular customers at Martin’s in New Orleans.  Okra is inherently slimy once cooked, so it’s helpful to cook some of this sliminess out before adding it to your gumbo.  Place the okra in a large skillet over medium-low heat & stir occasionally.  Eventually, you’ll see “strings” of clear liquid forming between the pieces.  Cook for about 10 minutes, then you can add it to the rest of the ingredients.  The stringing process will likely brown the okra some, which only helps add to the flavor.

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Add the meat, okra, stock, water and spices to the pot, stir, and place the lid on the pressure cooker.  Cook at high pressure for 10 minutes, then remove from heat & allow to depressurize (about 15 minutes). 

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Serve 1 cup gumbo w/ 1/2 cup of rice, with a side of potato salad (recipe coming soon), and hey, some pickled okra for fun.  And don’t forget the fresh French bread!

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NutriFacts:

Calories 380.2

  Total Fat 10.5 g

  Saturated Fat 2.8 g

  Polyunsaturated Fat 0.8 g

  Monounsaturated Fat 1.5 g

  Cholesterol 86.8 mg

  Sodium 998.8 mg

  Potassium 454.1 mg

  Total Carbohydrate 38.0 g

  Dietary Fiber 4.0 g

  Sugars 3.6 g

  Protein 33.8 g

Feaux Crab Cakes

I hope you are all taking advantage of the break in the SnowPocalypse/ SnowTastrophe/ SnowMaggedon weather!  We are loving this warm up in the weather—though it also has us scrambling to get things ready over at The Scoop since the park across the street has been PACKED!  Apparently Spring Fever is in full effect & the only cure is fresh air & ice cream. :)

With the gorgeous weather, I was craving something a little lighter…something reminiscent of the Gulf.  And, preferably something that would allow me to use the random package of Louis Kemp fake crab meat I found in my freezer.  I’m sure I bought it with intentions to make my Crab & Corn Bisque some time over the winter, but that never happened. And this weather is just too WARM for bisque!  So what’s a gal to do?

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KRAB CAKES.  That’s what we do.  Of course, crab cakes are ALWAYS like, a thousand times better when you have fresh, delicious, REAL Gulf crab meat, but sometimes, you live in Missouri, and you have fake crab meat that you got on sale.  So you make do.  But you can add a ton of fresh veggies to make up for it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb imitation crab meat (surimi)
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • ¼ white onion, diced
  • ¼ cup diced mushrooms
  • 1 Tbsp dill pickle relish
  • 2 Tbsp light mayo
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1/4-1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1-2 eggs, whisked
  • Flour for dredging (I used a combination of flour, corn meal, & bread crumbs in equal parts)
  • ¼ cup olive oil for cooking (divided—add about 1 Tbsp at a time)

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse the crab, celery & onion until diced—should be about the texture of rice.  In a large bowl, combine the mushrooms, relish, seasoning, bread crumbs (1/4 cup to start with), mayo, & 1 egg, then slowly integrate the krab/onion/celery mixture.

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If the mixture is too dry, add part of another egg.  If it’s too loose, add more of the breadcrumbs.  Then form into patties and refrigerate for at least one hour (though you can let these sit as long as overnight).

In a small skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  When ready, dredge the patties two at a time and fry in the skillet (using the small skillet allows you to use less oil for frying).  It should take about 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  When those are done, place them on a paper towel to drain off the excess, add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, and make the next batch.   Makes 8 patties.

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Serve with a New Orleans style remoulade sauce—here’s my recipe:

  • 1/2 cup light mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)
  • 3 tbsp cocktail sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tbsp Creole or Spicy brown mustard
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 green onion, diced
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning

(For the best flavor, make this sauce the night before so the flavors can fully combine.)

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Add a light salad on the side, and you’ve got a perfect meal to enjoy on your patio!