Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chocolate Pets De Nonne (Chocolate With Francois)

When I was a first grader in Sister Mary Flora's class, I toyed briefly with the idea of becoming a nun when I grew up. With all the worldly wisdom a six year old possesses, I was fairly certain that God was calling me to devote my life to Him and I was ready to accept the calling. Along with all that worldly wisdom however, came all the curiosity a six year old can also possess. So before I could even consider signing on the dotted line I had a few questions I needed answered. I already knew that nuns could never get married and that was just fine and dandy with me. Boys and their cooties had no place in my life anyway. I also knew that I'd be required to pray a lot and I had that covered as well. My mom made me pray constantly as it was, so I figured a few more Hail Marys every day wouldn't be a bother.

My first major question on the whole becoming-a-nun business was hair color. Sister Mary Flora assured me that her hair was green and yellow polka dotted beneath her wimple and though I just couldn't imagine having to color my hair in such a way, I figured it was a small price to pay if that was one of the good Lord's requirements. The second question was a little more delicate in nature, but it was simply something that I had to know before I could commit myself to the divine ministry. When I asked Sister Mary Flora if nuns farted, she immediately turned red and emphatically said "NO!" And that my friends, was the deal breaker. I knew then that my destiny was going to exist somewhere outside the convent.

All these years later, I really hate to call Sister Mary Flora a liar, but these little pets de nonne give evidence that her claim of nuns' lack of gaseous emissions was untrue. You see, the literal translation of pets de nonne is "nun's farts" so I'm quite certain that at some point, somewhere, some nun let one slip. And the rest as they say, is history.

This was my month to pick the recipe from Francois Payard's Chocolate Epiphany for our Chocolate With Francois baking group. I chose these chocolate pets de nonne for several reasons. The first of course, was to prove that nuns do indeed fart, but mostly I chose this recipe because pets de nonne are traditionally eaten during Mardi Gras and with Fat Tuesday rapidly approaching, maybe you'd all like to try these little deep fried dougnuty/cakey treats before Lent begins.

Chocolate Pets De Nonne (from Francois Payard's Chocolate Epiphany)

Batter:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup plus 1 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBSP whole milk
3 large eggs
5 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut in tablespoons
1 TBSP dark rum
Grated zest of one orange

For Frying:
2 quarts vegetable oil

Garnish:
Confectioner's sugar

To make the batter:

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are combined. Mix in the milk and 3 tablespoons water until a crumbly dough forms. Raise the speed to medium, and add the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure that everything gets mixed in. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth. Mix in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until well combined. Mix in the rum and orange zest, beating until the mixture is smooth.

Frying the pets de nonne:

Fill a medium saucepan with the oil. Clip a deep-frying thermometer to the side of the pan and heat the oil to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Carefully drop the batter into the oil, about one tablespoon at a time. Use a second spoon to help push the dough off the one you use to scoop up the batter. Fry 4 or 5 pets de nonne at a time for about 1 minute, or until they turn golden brown. With a slotted spoon, turn them over halfway during the frying process.
Remove the pets de nonne from the oil to the prepared baking sheet and let them drain well.

Dust them with confectioner's sugar and serve them warm. I really enjoyed these most when they were HEAVILY doused with powdered sugar. I felt that the batter itself wasn't sweet enough with just a dusting, but when I really covered them in the powdered sugar, they were delicious. Like these below....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Treats For Co-Irkers)

For someone who is not all that fond of cranberries (or so I thought,) I've been doing quite a bit of experimenting with them lately. As it turns out, I'd just never eaten them in a recipe where their flavor was complemented with other flavors that I do like.

Last fall when cranberries were plentiful in the produce department, I bought several bags and tossed them into the freezer, determined to come up with a recipe that would be both healthy and delicious. This muffin recipe is a result of my inner mind madness and is a great way to enjoy the healthy benefits of both whole grains and cranberries. The topping and glaze are optional, but I found that the additional sweetness really complemented the tartness of the cranberries.

Whole Grain Cranberry Orange Muffins

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup Splenda (or 1 cup sugar)
1 large egg
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 TBSP orange zest
1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 12-count muffin tin with muffin papers and spray lightly with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add cranberries and toss to coat.

In separate bowl whisk together the Splenda or sugar, egg, orange juice, zest, yogurt, oil and vanilla.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Do not over mix.

Divide batter among muffin cups. Top with a heaping teaspoon of topping (below) if desired. Bake for 19-21 minutes. Remove muffins from oven and allow to sit in pan for a minute or two before removing from pan to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Top with glaze if desired. I just combined a cup of powdered sugar with a few teaspoons of water until I had the consistency of a glaze that would easily drizzle off a spoon.

Topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons soft butter

Combine topping ingredients until crumbly. This makes a big batch of topping. You won't need anywhere near all of it. I always keep a baggie of this in my freezer, ready made.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Puffy Parmesan Cauliflower

How do you guys feel about cauliflower? Love it? Hate it? Neither? I guess I'm kind of from the neither camp. I eat it when it's on my plate but it is certainly nothing I'd ever conjure up the excitement to blog about. That is until today. I'd saved this recipe from Jbug's Kitchen Antics when she posted it back at the beginning of the month because it was so different from any other cauliflower recipe I'd ever seen, plus I think Jbug's such a fabulous cook that my faith in her recipe selection keeps me going back for more.

I made one minor change to June's recipe in that I oven-roasted the cauliflower florets instead of boiling the head whole just because I'm such a fan of almost all roasted veggies. If you'd rather work with the whole head of cauliflower, click here for June's instructions. Either way you cook the cauliflower, it is the topping that will make your taste buds cry out for more.

Puffy Parmesan Cauliflower

1 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into medium sized florets
1 TBSP olive oil
salt and pepper and 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 TBSP chopped parsley plus more for garnish
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
2 egg whites
Coarse salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Place cauliflower florets into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place florets in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Roast in oven for 35-40 minutes, stirring half way through so florets brown evenly. Place florets into a baking dish.

Combine the mayo, grated cheese, parsley and lemon juice. Beat egg whites in a small bowl until they are stiff. Fold into mayo mixture. Spread over cauliflower. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Broil 6 inches from the heat until sauce is puffed and golden brown, and cauliflower is warmed through. Watch carefully and rotate as necessary to keep it evenly browned.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken and Wild Rice Salad

I have a confession to make. I haven't seen a doctor since we moved to Indiana nearly two years ago. Hubby finally took matters into his own hands when he saw his physician this morning and made an appointment for me for tomorrow afternoon. TOMORROW! How in the world am I supposed to drop 25 pounds between now and 2:15 tomorrow? It'll take me at least until Friday to do that. *sigh*

I made this salad for lunch today and I suppose it would have gotten me off to a good start on losing 4-5 ounces before getting on the dreaded scale tomorrow, but someone left an open bag of peanut M&M's on the kitchen counter and ...well.... you probably can figure out the rest.

Chicken and Wild Rice Salad (adapted from Cooking Light)

1 1/2 cups uncooked wild rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and diced
1 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup carrots, shredded
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 TBSP red onion, minced
1/4 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

Combine broth and rice in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45-50 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat and drain if there is any remaining liquid.

Combine all ingredients in a salad bowl and toss with the dressing below or use a light balsamic vinegar dressing if you prefer.

Dressing:

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBSP canola oil

Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in oil until well blended.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sesame Peanut Chicken Appetizer Pizza

Now that the Colts have won their spot in this year's Super Bowl, I will most likely watch the entire game instead of just the commercials and halftime show like I usually do. As I write this, we still don't know who the Colt's opponent will be, but personally I'd like to see a match up between Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, with Manning and his gang rising victorious. Listen to me; you'd think that I actually cared!

I made this sesame peanut chicken pizza for the playoff game today, but it was really just a trial run to see if it might be something worthy of the Super Bowl. It was indeed a winner and I think I've found a brand new appetizer to take to parties. This thrills me because I get tired of always bringing the same thing.

If you're a fan of sesame chicken, you're going to love this recipe. I kept the heat down by only adding two tsps of hot sauce, but if you are blessed enough to possess an iron tongue and stomach you can up the amount to your individual taste.

Sesame Peanut Chicken Appetizer Pizza

2 packages refrigerated crescent rolls
salt, pepper, garlic powder, sesame seeds
Two cups of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 12 ounces)
3 green onions, green part only
2 (8 ounce) packages of reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature
2 TBSP reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 TBSP sesame oil
3/4 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp hot sauce (I used sriracha )
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 TBSP sesame seeds
sweet and sour duck sauce, optional but delicious

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Unroll crescent rolls and piece together on a 9X13 baking sheet. Pinch seams together and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and sesame seeds.

Bake crust for 12-14 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes while you mix the topping.

In food processor fitted with blade, process green onions until finely minced. Add chicken and pulse until chicken is finely diced. Add cream cheese, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic powder and hot sauce. Process until mixture is smooth and creamy.

Spread cream cheese mixture on prepared crust. Top with spinach, carrots, red pepper, peanuts and sesame seeds. Drizzle with sweet and sour sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. Cut into squares to serve.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars (Treats For Co-Irkers)

Missing: Large yellow sphere typically seen in the sky during daytime hours. Emits brilliant light and warmth and readily chases the blues away. Is shy and hates to be seen during the winter months. Answers to the name of Sun.

Reward: Three dozen of these oatmeal almost-candy bars and my undying gratitude.

I'm not a member of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group but I knew as soon as I saw these cookie bars all over the internet this week that I'd just have to make these treats for the co-irkers. I hope they chase away the gray and make your mouth feel all sunny inside. (that's totally dorky, I know)

Oatmeal Almost-Candy Bars (recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the oatmeal (bottom and top) layer:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsps pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned (rolled) oats
1 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

For the chocolate (middle) layer:

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) optional
3/4 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9X13 pan with cooking spray and place pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and set aside.

With mixer, beat butter on medium speed in a large mixing bowl until it is soft and creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat for two minutes, then add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each one. Beat in the vanilla. Scrape down bowl and beaters. Add the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed just until they're incorporated. Stir in the oats and the peanuts using a heavy wooden spoon or spatula.

Set aside 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the mixture and turn the remaining dough into the greased pan. Gently press the dough over the bottom of the pan. Set aside while you prepare the chocolate layer.

In a double boiler over medium low heat, pour the condensed milk, chocolate chips, butter and salt, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla, peanuts and raisins (if using.)

Evenly spread the chocolate mixture over the oatmeal mixture then crumble the reserved oatmeal mixture evenly (as best you can) on top of the chocolate.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and the chocolate layer is dull and starting to coming away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to cooling rack and cool for two hours.

Run a knife around the edges of the pan and then carefully turn the cake out onto a rack. Turn right side up and refrigerate for at least an hour before cutting.

Makes 32 bars. Can be eaten at room temperature but best when stored covered in the fridge.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oatmeal Bread

I caved. I was going through bread-baking withdrawal and I caved. I couldn't help it! I actually dreamed about kneading/needing bread last night and I was up at 5:00 this morning measuring and mixing like a mad woman. The smell of this bread baking was phenomenal and I could barely stop myself from shaking as I waited for it to cool so I could slice it and snort it eat it. Is this what it's like to be on crack? Do I need an intervention? Is there a 12-step program I can enter? Bready Ford Clinic perhaps?

Do yourself a favor and join me in my addiction. You will love the flavor and texture of this bread and get a goofy grin on your face as you pile your favorite lunch meats in between two slices and sink your teeth into a fabulous sandwich.

Oatmeal Bread

1 1/4 cups boiling water
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat bran
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 TBSP wheat gluten
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
2 tsp instant yeast

Place oats, wheat bran, butter, salt and honey in a medium mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over and stir well to combine. Let mixture cool to lukewarm (around 100 degrees)

In large mixing bowl whisk together the flours, wheat gluten, dry milk and yeast. Add oat mixture and stir well to combine. Let mixture rest for 15 minutes.

I kneaded the dough with my Kitchen-Aid mixture and dough hook for about 7 minutes. If you're kneading by hand, turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until you've made a soft, slightly tacky dough. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size. I placed mine in the oven with just the oven light on. It creates a warmer environment than my kitchen, which was really cold this morning.

Spray a 9X5 bread pan with cooking spray. Lightly grease hands and deflate dough. Turn dough onto lightly greased countertop and shape into a log. Place into prepared pan. Spray plastic wrap with cooking spray and loosely cover loaf. Let rise until it has risen at least an inch over the rim of the pan, 60-90 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake bread for about 45 minutes, tenting with foil for the last ten minutes to prevent over-browning. Remove from oven and turn onto a cooling rack. Brush loaf with melted butter if you like a soft crust. Let cool completely before slicing. (Good luck with that part!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Grapefruit, Avocado and Pomegranate Spinach Salad

I debated on whether I should even post this recipe. While I love all the ingredients individually, their marriage in this salad left me a little underwhelmed. However, just as there are those people who think that cilantro is edible, there must be at least one or two people out there who might enjoy the combination of grapefruit and spinach. As for me, I'm chalking this one up to "it all looked good on paper."

Grapefruit, Avocado and Pomegranate Spinach Salad (6 servings)

1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into 1/4" slices
6 ounces baby spinach
1 ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
2 TBSP sugar (I used Splenda)
1 1/2 TBSP raspberry vinegar
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp salt
1 TBSP canola oil
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 TBSP sunflower seed kernels
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Combine sugar, vinegar, mustard, salt and poppy seeds in a small bowl. Whisk until sugar dissolves. Gradually add oil, whisking until incorporated. Arrange spinach on a salad plate and top with avocado and grapefruit slices. Drizzle with dressing and garnish with sunflower and pomegranate seeds.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pumpkin/Butternut Squash Spelt Muffins

One of my readers (who also happens to be my niece) prefers to bake with oat or spelt flour instead of whole wheat flour so I developed this recipe for her. Hi Denise! Am I a nice auntie? Well I'd sure like to think so!

Spelt is a relative to wheat. However, it contains more protein than wheat does and that protein is more easily digested, possibly making spelt an alternative for people who have a sensitivity to wheat. And lest you've forgotten how much I move and groove on anything with fiber, spelt is an excellent source of that as well!

I used a combination of pumpkin and butternut squash purees to make these muffins. In my opinion, butternut squash, pumpkin and even sweet potato puree share similar texture and taste and all will basically take on the flavors of whatever spice combination you use in your baked goods. Feel free to use whichever of the purees you happen to have on hand.

Pumpkin/Butternut Squash Spelt Muffins

2 cups spelt flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1 large egg
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup Splenda brown sugar (or 1 1/3 cup regular brown sugar)
1 1/2 cup pumpkin, butternut squash or sweet potato puree, or any combination of the three

Topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons soft butter

Combine topping ingredients until crumbly. This makes a big batch of topping. You won't need anywhere near all of it. I always keep a bag of this in my freezer, ready made.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 count muffin tin with muffin papers and spray papers lightly with cooking spray.

In large bowl whisk together the spelt flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. In separate bowl whisk together the egg and yogurt. Add the oil, vanilla and brown sugar. Whisk to combine. Stir in the pumpkin. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir only enough to incorporate well. Do not overmix. Distribute batter among the muffin wells. Top with a heaping teaspoon of the topping mixture. Bake in preheated oven for 24-26 minutes. Remove from oven and let muffins cool for five minutes in tin before removing from pan to a cooling rack.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies (Treats For Co-Irkers)

This week's treats for co-irkers is kind of a cheat because I used a boxed cake mix. However, if you're so inclined to think I've gone all lazy and tasteless on you, you'll regain your faith in my abilities when you see that this is another Paula Deen recipe and that not only is the requisite stick of butter used, a block of cream cheese is also added to the mix to make these decadent chocolate cookies. Am I forgiven?

The reason I chose this particular recipe is because it's a family favorite and also since I've made these cookies numerous times, there was no need for me to taste the finished product to ensure their worthiness. Nary a chocolate crumb passed my lips today as I made five dozen of these babies. I'm patting myself on both my back and bodacious behind because I survived another day of temptation. YAY!

You will only need to read this recipe ONE time and you'll remember it forever. I think you'll be able to figure out why.

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies (makes 2 1/2 dozen) recipe by Paula Deen

ONE (8 oz) brick cream cheese, room temperature
ONE stick butter, room temperature
ONE large egg
ONE tsp vanilla
ONE (18 oz) box moist chocolate cake mix
ONE cup powdered sugar

In a large bowl beat softened cream cheese and butter until smooth. Scrape down bowl and add egg and vanilla. Beat well. Scrape down bowl and beaters again and add cake mix. Beat to combine. Cover dough and refrigerate for at least two hours. I made mine yesterday and refrigerated overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll tablespoons full of dough into balls a little smaller than a golf ball. Roll balls in powdered sugar to coat. Place balls on ungreased baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a minute or two on baking sheet before removing to cooling rack to cool completely. Dust with remaining powdered sugar after cookies have completely cooled.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Couscous With Butternut Squash and Spinach

If you are at all able, please help the people affected by the earthquake in Haiti by contributing to a disaster aid organization such as American Red Cross.

I had a difficult time keeping myself from eating this entire dish in one sitting. This was partly because I've been really monitoring my grain intake this week, but mostly because the combination of flavors just reached out and called to me like an overzealous telemarketer with replacement windows. Couscous, roasted butternut squash and fresh baby spinach are lovingly kissed with cumin, curry and citrus to create a wonderful salad that is a meal in itself. I have enjoyed this both cold and at room temperature. It's delicious either way.

Curried Couscous With Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach

1/2 butternut squash
2 TBSP plus 2 tsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
salt
1 1/4 cup instant whole wheat couscous
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 TBSP curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (I used Splenda)
1 1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup orange juice
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
2 green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Peel butternut squash and scoop out seeds. We'll only be using half of the squash so if you're not going to roast the entire squash, cover other half with plastic wrap and refrigerate for further use. Dice squash into 3/4" cubes. Place squash into a bowl and drizzle with two tsp of olive oil. Stir to coat. Season with salt, cumin and cayenne pepper. Stir again to evenly coat squash with spices. Place squash on prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in oven for 30-35 minutes, until fork tender, stirring after 15 minutes so squash cooks and browns evenly. Remove from oven and set aside.

Stir the couscous, cranberries, salt, sugar and curry powder together in a heat-proof bowl. Add boiling water and orange juice. Stir well and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for five minutes then uncover and fluff with fork. Stir in the remainder of the olive oil, lemon juice, spinach, green onions and pecans. Gently fold in butternut squash. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Green Beans With Mushrooms, Onions and Toasted Almonds

I know. Green beans, big deal.... right? Well let me just tell you that when you're on day ten of your new "eating program," properly prepared and delicious vegetables can make the difference between staying on track and cheating with the Cheetos you found under the couch cushions.

When it comes to green beans, I have no problem with eating the canned variety if they're a part of a soup or casserole, but when I'm eating them as a stand-alone side dish, I like them with a little snap left in them. I used my steamer basket to get these beans to the perfect point of doneness and then topped them with some sauteed onions, mushrooms and toasted almonds. They were delicious. Healthy too!

Green Beans with Onions, Mushrooms and Toasted Almonds

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
1/4 cup toasted almonds, thinly sliced

Steam green beans for 5 minutes. While beans are steaming, heat olive oil in skillet. Add mushrooms and onion and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Saute for 5-6 minutes. Add beans to skillet and toss to coat and combine. Remove from heat. Top with toasted almonds and serve immediately.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Smoked Sausage, Rice and Mushroom Soup/Stew

Rachael Ray would call this a stoup, which is supposedly a cross between a stew and a soup. But since I don't use such ridiculous words you're going to have to trust me that a big bowl of this thick hearty concoction will leave you wanting to shout "YUM-O!" Or is it "DELISH!?" Either way, grab your spoonula and dig in.

Smoked Sausage, Rice and Mushroom Soup/Stew

1 pkg (6 oz) long grain and wild rice (I used Uncle Ben's flavored with garlic and olive oil)
1/2 lb. fully cooked smoked sausage (I used smoked turkey sausage)
1 TBSP plus 2 tsp olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups onion, diced
10 oz mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp tarragon
1/4 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
3 cups chicken broth
2 TBSP corn starch
1/3 cup half & half (I used fat free)
green onions for garnish

Make rice per package instructions but do not use the butter that is recommended. Set aside.

Slice sausage in half lengthwise then dice into 1/2" pieces. Heat one TBSP olive oil in soup pot. Add sausage pieces and brown, 3-5 minutes. Remove from pot with slotted spoon to paper towel. Set aside.

Add remaining two tsp olive oil to pot. Add onions and mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper, tarragon and thyme. Saute until onions have softened and mushrooms have given up their liquid, 5-7 minutes. Add chicken broth and Worchestershire sauce. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Dissolve cornstarch in a tablespoon or two of cold water. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the soup. Continue to boil for a minute or two. Reduce heat a bit and stir in the reserved rice and sausage. Turn off heat and add half & half. Serve in soup bowls and garnish with sliced green onions.

*Disclaimer: This is not a Rachael Ray recipe. (But it's tasty enough to be!)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Portobellos and Red Onions

They say that you eat first with your eyes. If this is true, you're going to want to slap on some blinders before digging into a bowl of these veggies. Keep in mind however, that ugly is only skin deep and tasty goes clear down to the belly.

If you've never tried oven-roasted veggies, you've been missing out on one of life's most delicious and nutritious treats. Oven roasting brings out the natural sweetness and goodness of almost any vegetable and changes the taste significantly. Start first with a vegetable that you know you like and then pleasantly surprise yourself by roasting a veggie that you're not so fond of. I never cared for brussels sprouts until I started oven-roasting them and now they're one of my favorites.

One of my New Year's resolutions was to increase my vegetable intake. Below is a list of the veggies I've consumed during the past seven days:

4 cups of brussels sprouts
10 cups of baby spinach
1 head romaine lettuce
4 cups of broccoli
2 onions
4 tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper
3 portobello mushroom caps
2 stalks of celery

(I've certainly been channeling my inner rabbit, haven't I?)

Oven-roasted Brussels Sprouts, Onion and Mushrooms

1 lb brussels sprouts, stem ends trimmed, leave small ones whole and cut larger ones in half
1/2 red onion, cut into thick slices
3 portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed, cut into thick slices
2 TBSP olive oil, divided
salt, pepper and Italian seasoning
2 slices center cut bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (for garnish, optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.

Place trimmed brussels sprouts in bowl and drizzle with one tablespoon of the oil. Stir to coat, then season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Spread onto prepared baking sheet and place in preheated oven. Bake for 20 minutes then remove from oven and stir so that even browning occurs. While brussels sprouts are baking place the onion and mushroom slices in a bowl, drizzle with remaining oil and season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Add onions and mushrooms to baking sheet with the brussels sprouts and return pan to oven. Continue roasting for an additional 20 minutes until all veggies are lightly browned and brussels sprouts are tender. Remove pan from oven and serve immediately.

Garnish with bacon pieces if desired.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cinnamon Pumpkin Bars (Treats For Co-Irkers)

I don't know what cave I've been living in, but I had no idea that there was a shortage of canned pumpkin this year. After choosing this recipe I headed to the store to buy the ingredients, only to find that the store's shelves were empty. Luckily I cleaned my pantry the same day (New Year's Resolution) and found a lonely can just begging to be either sold for gold on Ebay or made into these treats for the co-irkers. You lucky, lucky co-irkers, you. I could have retired on what that one little can would have brought me on the black market. Oh wait, I am retired! (HEE!)

Before I give you the recipe for these spicy little gems, I would like to give a shout out to my friend Jbug of Jbug's Kitchen Antics. She presented me with this wonderful award and I'm ever so flattered and tickled pink. Check out her blog for some fantastic gourmet recipes. This woman can cook!

Golden Cinnamon-Pumpkin Bars (from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking)

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1 large egg
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cinnamon chips
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9X13 pan with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Turn up the heat just a bit and stir until mixture is hot and starting to bubble. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. Let cool until you can comfortably test it with your finger.

Add vanilla, baking powder, salt and spices. Beat well. Add egg, beating until smooth and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Stir in the pumpkin, flour, cinnamon chips and dried cranberries, mixing thoroughly. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake the bars for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center reveals moist crumbs. Remove from oven and let cool on cooling rack.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Creamy Tomato-Balsamic Soup With Parmesan Crisps

Do you like Campbell's tomato soup? Me too. But mostly because it's connected with some strong memories of growing up as a kid. Paired with a perfectly gooey grilled Velveeta cheese sandwich, Campbell's tomato soup was a staple in our home, especially during meatless Fridays. In recent years I've developed a taste for a different kind of tomato soup and have tried numerous recipes in an attempt to find that perfect tomato soup. I think I've finally found it.

This one is so easy to put together folks. The prep time is under ten minutes and then the oven does the rest of the work. While your veggies are slowly getting caramelized in the oven, you can be off watching your DVR of last night's Biggest Loser. (I have an early guess of who's going to win.)

Creamy Tomato-Balsamic Soup

1 cup beef broth, divided
1 TBSP Splenda or sugar
3 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 TBSP reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 TBSP olive oil
5 garlic cloves
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1 (5 oz) can fat-free evaporated milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Spray 13x9 baking pan with cooking spray.

Whisk together 1/2 cup of the beef broth, Splenda, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and olive oil.

Place garlic cloves, onion and tomatoes in baking pan and cover with the beef broth mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Place pan in oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until veggies are lightly browned.

Working in batches, transfer mixture to a blender, add remaining beef broth and blend until smooth. Return soup to heat and warm through. Stir in evaporated milk. Serve with parmesan crisps (optional, recipe following)

To make parmesan crisps:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Grate about a cup of parmesan cheese. Place about 2 TBSP of cheese in piles three inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake in oven for 5-6 minutes until melted and bubbly. Let cool before removing from baking sheet.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sourdough Bread (Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge)

As a member of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, I've been baking bread weekly (more or less) and posting about these breads in the order that they appear in the book. I baked this particular bread out of order however, because I wanted sourdough bread for my Thanksgiving stuffing. You can read about my surprisingly successful attempt here, so I won't go into the actual details of how it all went down. This repost is to put the bread in its proper order for the Challenge, but perhaps even more importantly it's to offer some information that many of you may not already know.

While basic sourdough bread is made from white wheat flour and does not contain the nutrients and fiber of a whole grain bread, it does hold value when it comes to blood sugar control. The acidic nature of sourdough not only delivers tanginess to the final product, it also mediates the glycemic impact of the white wheat flour that is used. The glycemic response is less with sourdough because the acid slows the emptying of the stomach, thereby slowing the delivery of glucose to the bloodstream. Research has shown that this anti-glycemic effect can last through to the next meal, slowing the emptying of the stomach even a few hours later. This delayed emptying also translates into a fuller feeling that lasts longer. Great news for dieters, eh?

I hope this all doesn't come off as preachy or sound like I'm a dietician. Remember, I used to think that you could get rid of some of the calories in bread by toasting it (geeze, what a dolt!) I'm just a gal trying to get the biggest bang for my caloric buck and if little tips like this have helped me, I'm hoping there are a few others like me out there who will also benefit from this knowledge.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

Day one of my 2010 diet moderation plan is nearly over and unless I find my way to the leftover Christmas cookies at some point during the night, I'm going to label it a success. If those cookies are gone in the morning, I'll obviously blame hubby or sleepwalking.

This chicken, broccoli and rice casserole is a quick and easy meal. It's a creamy, comforting blend of lean protein, vegetables, dairy and grains. Add a fruit salad for dessert and you've got yourself a completely balanced meal. I'm going to opt for some cottage cheese and sugar-free jello for my evening snack while I watch Intervention and Hoarders. Am I the only freak who watches these shows?

Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

12 ounces cooked skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed
3/4 cup brown rice, cooked in 1 1/2 cups chicken broth per package instructions
2 TBSP olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme
1 can cream of chicken soup (I used Campbell's Healthy Request)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1 chicken bouillon cube
4 oz shredded 2% cheddar cheese
4 cups broccoli

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray casserole dish with cooking spray.

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add onion and celery, season with salt and pepper and saute until softened, 6-7 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add chicken soup and thyme.

Heat broth in microwave and add bouillon cube. Stir to dissolve. Add broth and milk to the skillet and stir until smooth. Gradually add cheese and stir until melted and smooth.

In a microwave safe dish, cook broccoli and 1 TBSP of water on high for 4 minutes. Add broccoli to skillet. Add cooked rice and chicken. Stir to combine all. Pour into casserole dish and bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until bubbly and browned.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Saying Goodbye To My Fat Pants.... For Good!


You thought I was teasing, didn't you, when I told you that I'd be embarking on the diet to end all diets; the diet that will get me thin and keep me thin for the rest of my life? Rice cakes and parsley, that's all we get today folks. Chew slowly and drink lots of water in between bites. You'll feel as though you've eaten a feast, swears!

OK, of course you know I'm kidding. To know me is to know that I hate crash diets and anyone who sets unrealistic goals for weight loss coupled with a ridiculously low-caloric diet is doomed to failure. One of the initial purposes of this blog was to prove that there is a way to eat healthy and nutritious foods while still being able to experience all the flavors you love. It's about balance and learning to pay attention to your body. Eat less and eat more frequently. Make sure you get enough lean protein, low fat dairy, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Limit sugar and refined starches. Easier said than done? Of course it is. But by visiting food-related internet sites, you're obviously interested in finding a way to make it all happen. My aim this year is to focus on more nutritional recipes, so that we can all enjoy healthy living. Will you continue to see some recipes here that are not so figure friendly? Of course. My addiction to bread baking and making treats for hubby's co-irkers will remain weekly features. And I'm still committed to my monthly posts related to Chocolate With Francois. But the overall theme here is about to change, if not permanently, at least temporarily. I've got to get myself back into a healthier frame of mind. If you're interested in joining me, please do. I welcome any/all support.

And for the record, those rice cakes will never pass these lips. I had you going for a minute though, didn't I?