Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chicken and Cheddar Casserole

The conversation at my house last night:

“Gary, what do you want for dinner tonight?”

“I don’t know. What do you want?”

“Oh, I don’t know. What do you want?”

Sound familiar?

I named off some possibilities, but nothing moved us—until I asked, “How about a casserole?” Yes. I had finally answered the dinner quiz question. Gary loves casseroles, and so do I every now and then. I guess they remind us of the comfort food of our childhood. Instead of using a processed cream soup, I made an easy, all-natural cream sauce. I used whole milk, but you could go healthier by adding a lighter milk, or you could go all-out indulgent and use half-and-half or cream. I opted for brown rice, and instead of the traditional bread crumb topping, I added sliced almonds for a little crunch.

Chicken and Cheddar Casserole

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups grated Cheddar cheese, divided
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
3 cups cooked white or brown rice
3 cups cooked chopped chicken
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Sliced or slivered almonds (optional)
Sliced green onions (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and garlic. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring to prevent garlic from burning. Add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Pour in stock, and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens. Add milk, 1 cup of the cheese, and season to taste. Cook until cheese is melted. Add chicken, rice, and parsley.

Pour mixture into a casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes until casserole is bubbly. Top each serving with almonds and green onions if desired.

Gary went back for seconds—three times.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Grown-Up Salisbury Steak

My friend, Theresa, is a natural foodie. She knows the good stuff, and I’m always happy when she shares one of her tasty recipes with me. The most recent is this scrumptious Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy. It's not like the Salisbury Steak of my childhood—something I avoided in the school cafeteria lunch line—or the soggy, meat-like substance bathed in greasy gravy that I remember from the Piccadilly. Instead, this tastes truly steak-like—a nice combination of simple ingredients that bring out only the best in a comforting beef dish. A grown-up mushroom wine gravy replaces the old, oily version. This recipe will make you forget all about the the lunch-line’s version of Salisbury Steak.

I used extra-lean, local, farm-raised beef. I seared my patties for only two minutes on each side—lean meat takes less cooking time, and medium rare in the middle is just right. If you’re using a fattier meat, try cooking for 3 minutes on each side.

Thank you, Theresa! Keep those good recipes coming.

Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy

1/3 cup diced onion, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. ground beef
Olive oil

1 tablespoon butter
8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 ¼ cups beef broth
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Combine ¼ cup onion, pepper, salt, garlic, and beef. Shape into four ¼ pound patties. Season again lightly with salt if desired. Add about 1 tablespoon oil to a skillet, and heat over medium high heat. Cook patties 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from heat.

Melt butter in pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, and sauté for 4 minutes. Stir in wine and remaining onion, and cook 2 minutes. Pour broth into pan, and bring to boil. Add some of the hot broth to the flour in a small bowl, and stir to paste consistency. Add back to pan, and cook 5 minutes or until thick. Add patties and vinegar to pan, and cook for 2 minutes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Light on the Mayo Chicken Salad

Throw away all your other chicken salad recipes. Don’t chop any onions—or halve any grapes—or boil any eggs—or toast any nuts. Oh, and while you’re at it, forget all the guilt you always felt eating fatty “salad” spreads. Instead, try this easy, light, flavorful alternative.

You won't believe how good this chicken salad tastes—seriously.

Light on the Mayo Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked diced chicken
1/2 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt (Fage is my favorite)
1 celery stalk, diced
1 tablespoon good mayonnaise
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Chicken stock (if needed)

Mix all ingredients together until well blended.

Tip: If your chicken salad is thicker than you prefer, and you’d like to thin it out a little, add a splash of chicken stock.

Serving suggestion: If you haven’t tried flourless Ezekiel bread, check it out. It’s made from organic, sprouted whole grains and legumes—no sugar added.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle both sides of bread with a bit of olive oil, along with a sprinkle of kosher salt, if desired. Toast bread 10 minutes on lowest rack until browned; turn over and toast another 10 minutes or until desired brownness. Remove from oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes. Top with fresh spinach leaves, followed by a layer of chicken salad. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with kosher salt and pepper before serving.

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Silk Purse

Last night, I had one of my occasional flops in the kitchen. No one’s perfect, and I am certainly no exception. I had plans for a fresh, vegetable sauté to eat alongside a chicken and rice casserole. After I finished my concoction, Gary took one bite and said, “Kinda mushy, isn’t it?” He was right. I had overcooked my sauté into a mushy mess.

Plan B: pureed vegetable soup!! A delicious accident.

Squash, Tomato, and Red Pepper Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ of a medium yellow onion, diced
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 small-medium zucchini or yellow squash or a mix, chopped
½ of a red bell pepper, diced
4 ounces fresh white mushrooms, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
Fresh basil leaves, chopped
Chicken Stock
Honey or agave nectar (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, along with a sprinkle of salt. Sauté until the onions soften, about 3 minutes.

Add the chopped zucchini and squash, plus a sprinkle more salt, and sauté until they begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add red bell pepper and mushrooms, and, you guessed it, another sprinkle of salt. Cook for about 6-7 minutes until veggies are fork tender.

Add the tomatoes and stir. Cook another 2 minutes. Stir in chopped basil, and remove from heat.

Remove from heat, and allow vegetables to cool. Add mixture to a food processor or blender, and puree to desired smoothness, adding chicken stock to loosen the mixture. Transfer vegetables back to the skillet or a pot. Heat over medium-low heat. Add more chicken stock or water until soup is desired consistency. Season to taste. If you like, add a little honey or agave nectar for a note of sweetness.

Tip: Seasoning in layers—lightly after each addition—will result in better incorporation and more consistent, deep flavoring.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Peanut Butter Banana Grape Smoothie

I love smoothies, and here’s my new favorite. Full of healthy ingredients, this sweet, creamy treat is filling and perfect any time of day. Don’t skip the Greek yogurt—you’ll find it adds a richness that regular yogurt can’t match. The key to this smoothie is frozen fruit (you don’t need ice that can dilute your smoothie). Peel and quarter bananas; pick and wash red or black, seedless grapes. Place fruit in separate freezer bags for ease and convenience.

All natural, no added sugar, healthy—just perfect.

Peanut Butter Banana Grape Smoothie

¼ cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt (I prefer Fage)
1 banana (4 quarters)
1 generous handful frozen grapes (red or black seedless)
1 heaping tablespoon natural peanut butter
½ cup milk of your choice (I love fresh from my hometown dairy. Don’t feel guilty using whole milk—it’s only ½ a cup.)

Add all ingredients to blender, and puree until smooth. This will be a THICK smoothie. Makes one generous, decadent, naughty-tasting serving. You won’t believe it’s actually good for you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Spicy Sweet Potato Salad

Sweet potatoes play more of a starring role in my recipes these days. I love a traditional potato salad, but I wondered how this favorite of mine would taste with less white potatoes and more orange ones. Greek yogurt replaces some of the fattier mayo in my recipe, and jalapeno peppers make it nice and spicy.

Spicy Sweet Potato Salad

2 sweet potatoes
½ lb. red potatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper
¼ cup red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ large jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (or more to taste)
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup good mayonnaise
½ - 1 teaspoon curry powder (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons parsley or cilantro, chopped
Black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Clean potatoes (I don’t peel my sweet or red potatoes), and dry. Cut sweet potatoes into ½ inch dice. Quarter red potatoes, or cut smaller if potatoes are larger. Arrange on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Mix garlic, jalapeno peppers, lemon juice, Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, curry powder, parsley/cilantro and pepper.

Place potatoes in a bowl, and add yogurt, mayo mixture. Toss gently, and season to taste.

Serve warm or cold.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mexican Shrimp and Black Beans

Here’s a delicious way to serve shrimp if you’re looking to get away from the standard shrimp with pasta, or shrimp with butter, or fried shrimp, or mayonnaise-based shrimp salad. You get the idea. It’s a healthier option, full of exciting flavors and textures.

Mexican Shrimp and Black Beans

1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined; tails removed
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Chili powder

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup purple onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
¾ teaspoon oregano
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

2 avocados
Cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Cooked brown rice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place shrimp on a baking sheet. Drizzle with about ½ tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with desired amount of salt, pepper, and chili powder. Roast for 6-8 minutes, just until shrimp become pink. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine beans, onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, oregano, cumin, lime juice and kosher salt.

Halve avocado, and remove pit. Slice avocado in shell in about ½ inch cubes. Remove cubes from shells, and add to bean mixture. Slice desired amount of cherry tomatoes, sprinkle lightly with salt, and add to avocado and beans. Add cilantro and shrimp, and lightly toss everything together. Adjust seasoning.

For each serving, top desired amount of brown rice with shrimp and bean mixture. Top with cherry tomatoes and a good drizzle of olive oil.