Thursday, January 8, 2009

red beans and rice

Have you noticed that comfort food is also budget friendly?

Macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup use inexpensive ingredients and also remind us of home. We crave these dishes when we are sad, under the weather, or just want that warm feeling. Unfortunately, many of these comfort foods are very high in calories and fat.

For my family, red beans and rice fits the bill as the ultimate in comfort and thriftiness. With a few tweaks, it can also be quite healthy. One serving provides nearly 10 grams of fiber. No, I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy this as a child like many comfort foods. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and never tried red beans and rice until I moved to Texas. My family has adopted this, along with many other "southern" foods, as a family favorite.

My recipe uses a slow cooker. The long, slow cooking time coaxes all the flavor of the sausage into the beans. This is a full flavored dish that will leave you satisfied. Don't skip browning the vegetables and meat before adding to the slow cooker. As Anne Burrell from Secrets of a Restaurant Chef says, "Brown food tastes good!". You will easily get 8 or more servings out of this recipe.

red beans and rice

7 cups water
1 pound dried small red beans (not kidney beans)
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
10 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds smoked sausage, sliced (such as Healthy Choice)
8 oz lean ham, diced
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp paprika
1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste
hot cooked brown or white rice

Combine the water and beans in a slow cooker and turn on high. In a large saute pan, brown the onions, green peppers, celery and garlic in a little oil or cooking spray. Add the sauteed vegetables to the beans. Add the sausages and ham to the saute pan and brown, stirring occasionally. Stir into the beans along with the spices and Worcestershire sauce. Cover with the lid and cook on high for 5 hours or on low for 8 hours. Discard bay leaves; stir in green onions, parsley and salt. Serve in bowls over hot cooked rice.

"I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2000 of something." Mitch Hedberg

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Trader Joe's

I have recently become a big fan of the grocery store Trader Joe's. Unfortunately for me there is only one in the Cincinnati area and it is nowhere near to where I live (about a 45 minute drive). When I make a trip I have to be organized and shop with a list. On my first visit I spent about 3 hours wandering the aisles and picking one of almost everything. When the bill totaled $180 I knew I had gone overboard but I really wanted to try some new things and besides, I did have 8 bottles of wine in my cart. Trader Joe's is unlike your typical grocery store. It is surprisingly small and they carry few brand name products. They have one or two store brand items of almost anything you need. I think what sets them apart is that their products are of superior quality, they use a lot of organic ingredients and they are very reasonably priced, usually cheaper than name brand products at the bigger stores. According to their website, " Our logo assures that the products it is on contain NO artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; NO MSG; and NO added Trans Fats. In addition, ALL Trader Joe's private label products are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients.". If you are on a special diet, for example low sodium or gluten free, there are signs that indicate products that fit that criteria. Their very helpful website also has lists of these products. Many of their items are convenience foods which kind of goes against my desire to make everything from scratch but some things I am just unwilling to go through all the work to make, like gyozas (potstickers) and samosas. They have a good selection of gourmet cheese at very reasonable prices, beautiful fresh flowers, and a huge dried fruit and nut section. They also have a great selection of wine besides their famous 2 Buck Chuck, which is now I think about 3.49. We haven't yet tried everything I bought that first trip but here is a list of the items we have tried and love. As we try more I will add them to the list. Let me know what foods you like. I'm always open to new things and would love an excuse to make the drive :-)

Thai lemongrass chicken stix
Chicken empanaditas
Samosas (my favorite)
Gyozas (my 17 year old's favorite)
Frozen basil and cilantro
Dried hibiscus flowers
Lacey's dark chocolate almond cookies
Rice noodle soup bowls
Just Clusters ginger granola
Roasted almond butter (my 19 year old's favorite)
Smooth and Mellow blend coffee
Triple ginger snaps (my other favorite)
Tuscan style spaghetti sauce
Gyoza dipping sauce
Sweet chili sauce (I mix the 2 together to dip the gyozas in)
Italian truffle cheese
Montchevre goat cheese trio
Vinho Verde white wine
All natural peppermint toothpaste
Unscented deodorant (aluminum and paraben free)
Pure castile soap

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, January 1, 2009

saucy chicken with black bean and corn salsa

Has holiday spending depleted your bank account? Has holiday eating deposited extra into your fat cell account? You are not alone! In conjunction with my good friend at
I will be posting some budget and diet friendly recipes to help us win the battle of the bulge without breaking the bank.
This is a favorite of mine that is great for any weeknight dinner and there is always plenty left over for lunches or to freeze for later. I always stock up on boneless skinless chicken breasts when they go on sale which is quite often. The chicken can be served on a bed of rice and topped with the salsa or as a burrito filling. The combination of brown rice and the black bean and corn salsa will provide you with virtually fat-free protein and lots of fiber.

saucy chicken with black bean and corn salsa

1 - 14 1/2 ounce can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
rice - white or brown
flour tortillas (optional)
sour cream and shredded cheese (optional)

1. Puree first 9 ingredients in blender.

2. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In 2 batches to prevent overcrowding, add chicken to skillet; saute until brown, about 2 minutes per side.

3. Add sauce from blender. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer uncovered until chicken is cooked through, turning chicken over once, about 10 minutes.

4. Using tongs, transfer chicken to work surface. Continue to simmer sauce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes longer. Season sauce with salt and pepper if needed.

5. Cut chicken crosswise into thin slices. Return to sauce and heat through.

6. Serve over brown rice and topped with black bean and corn salsa or rolled up in a tortilla. Top with optional cheese and sour cream.

black bean and corn salsa

Combine all ingredients.
2 cans diced tomatoes with jalapenos, drained (I use Kroger brand but you can use Rotel as well)
1 can corn, drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro (or more), chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin
dash garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

You know how I feel about tacos. It's the only food shaped like a smile. A beef smile. ~Danielle Sanchez-Witzel and Michael Pennie, My Name is Earl, "South of the Border Part Uno/Dos," original airdate 7 December 2006, spoken by the character Earl Hickey

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

roast turkey

First let me apologize for taking so long to post. We have been very busy the last few weeks and are now entertaining relatives for Christmas.
I starting using this recipe for roast turkey about 7 years ago and it is my favorite. It does have a few more steps but it is well worth the extra effort. You will be rewarded with a juicy, flavorful and tender bird, as long as you don't overcook it. The key to a juicy turkey is to brine. For an explanation on how and why this works go to this site.

My siblings will notice right away that I fail to stuff the turkey like our father always did and they may very well disown me. We all have fond memories of sneaking a forkful of stuffing from the roasting bird while it was cooking but I prefer to cook it separately. The reason for this is if you cook the stuffing to a safe temperature, the bird will most likely be overcooked. Stuffing a turkey also increases the amount of time it takes to cook it. Sorry family!

roast turkey

1 (14-16 pound) turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 gallon apple cider
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 gallon (or more) iced water

1 apple, quartered
1/2 onion, quartered
1 cup water
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 fresh sage leaves
vegetable oil

Combine kosher salt, brown sugar and apple cider in a large stock pot, stir until dissolved. Add peppercorns and iced water. Submerge the turkey, thawed and cleaned, in the salt solution. Add more water if necessary to fully cover the turkey. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Turn turkey over half way through brining.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Combine the apple, onion and cup of water in a 2 cup size measuring cup. Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Remove turkey from the brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard brine. Place turkey on a roasting rack, in a wide low roasting pan. Pat dry with paper towels. Add steeped apple and onion along with the water into the cavity of the turkey. Add rosemary and sage leaves. Tuck back wings and truss the legs together. Coat with a little vegetable oil. Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover breast with a double layer of aluminum foil. Insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350 degrees. Set thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees. A 14 to 16 pound turkey should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving.

A three-year-old gave this reaction to her Christmas dinner: "I don't like the turkey, but I like the bread he ate." ~Author Unknown

Friday, December 12, 2008

award winning key lime pie

My husband Paul, God bless him, is not a good cook. Don't get me wrong, he's a very talented and resourceful man but cooking is not one of his many talents. Not that I'm complaining, we make a great pair actually. I do all the cooking and he does everything else. Unfortunately for him, I am not always there to cook for him. You see, he works half time in Germany. He spends 2 weeks there, and 2 weeks at home. Now according to him, he doesn't often eat out but cooks for himself most nights. He has mastered a few recipes that I believe he eats quite often. Fajitas I know is one of them. Tuna and crackers is another. Living in a foreign country can be challenging and can get quite lonely if you don't speak the language. To combat this, Paul has joined a social club in Germany. A club for people with English as their first language. They do various activities that I suspect usually involve going to pubs. One recent activity was a dessert night. Everyone was required to bring a home made, not store bought dessert. He found out about this night while he was here in the states and asked me for my recipe for his favorite dessert, Key Lime pie. He was in luck. Key Lime pie is one of the easiest desserts to make. We were not sure if all the ingredients would be available there so I bought him some graham wafer crumbs and sweetened condensed milk. "Will you need a pie plate?" I asked him. "Nope, I'll get one there". And off he went. A few days later he called home to tell me that pie plates were nowhere to be found and to ask what he should substitute it with. He settled on a spring form pan and hoped for the best. My recipe was hand written and had no pictures to help so he turned to the Internet and found this photo as his inspiration.
Now I wish he had taken a picture of his final product but I suppose he didn't know I would write about it. He also didn't know that out of 29 desserts it would win BEST IN SHOW! That's right, my husband who rarely boils water won first prize! I wish I could have been there but I suppose if I had been I would have cooked it and he wouldn't have had the chance to shine. So congratulations Paul! Now come home and make me some pie.

Key Lime Pie

Mix 1 1/2 cups graham wafer crumbs with 2 Tbsp sugar and 5 Tbsp melted butter. Press into bottom and sides of pie plate. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes. Cool.
Mix together well:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lime juice
1 tbsp grated lime zest (about 2 large limes worth)
Pour into cooled crust and bake at 325 for 15 to 20 minutes. It should be set and a little jiggly in the center. Cool.
Top with whipped cream (whipping cream or heavy cream whipped with a tbsp or so of sugar)
Freezing for 10 minutes will make it easier to cut.

A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do. ~P.J. O'Rourke

Monday, December 8, 2008

vietnamese lemongrass beef and noodle salad

This is the recipe I intended to post a few days after Thanksgiving, when everyone is sick and tired of leftover turkey. I know I was ready for something different, something completely opposite to roast meat, stuffing and gravy. This dish completely fits the bill. It's flavorful and fresh and has all the components that Asian food is known for. Hot, sweet, sour and salty. I know it's a little late to be calling this a post Thanksgiving Day recipe (I have no excuse but laziness), but better late than never right?
Some of the ingredients may be a little unfamiliar but none of them are expensive and the difference they make is well worth the cost. I found all the ingredients at my local grocery store in the produce aisle and the imported food section. Around here (Cincinnati), you should find them at Meijer, Biggs, a larger Kroger and if you are lucky to be near Jungle Jims, they would definitely have them all.

Vietnamese lemongrass beef and noodle salad

2 stalks fresh lemongrass, outer leaves discarded and root ends trimmed
6 cloves garlic
2 tbsp Asian fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp Asian sesame oil
1 pound to 1 1/4 pounds skirt steak or flank steak
1/2 pound thin rice noodles
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, washed and spun dry
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, washed and spun dry
1 recipe nuoc cham (Vietnamese lime sauce), recipe follows
1/2 to 1 English cucumber, halved, seeded and cut diagonally into 1/4 inch slices
4 green onions, sliced
2 to 4 fresh red or green chilies, seeded and sliced very thin (I wore disposable rubber gloves for this)
coarsely chopped peanuts

Make marinade: Thinly slice lemongrass stalks. In a food processor or blender finely grind together sliced lemongrass and garlic cloves. Add next 5 ingredients and blend well.
In a large zip-lock bag combine marinade and steak and seal bag, pressing out excess air. Marinate steak in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight. Turn bag once or twice.
In a large bowl soak noodles in hot water to cover 15 minutes, or until softened and pliable.
Prepare grill or preheat broiler. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for noodles.
Discard marinade and grill or broil steak 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer steak to board and let stand 5 minutes.
While steak is cooking, drain noodles in a colander and cook in boiling water 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until just tender. Drain in a colander again and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain noodles well.
In a large bowl toss noodles with herbs, cucumbers, green onions and half of the lime sauce. Divide among 4 bowls or plates. Thinly slice the steak on the diagonal and mound on top of the noodles. Sprinkle chilies (to taste) and chopped peanuts over each serving and garnish with herb sprigs if desired. Serve remaining lime sauce on the side.

nuoc cham

1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 tbsp Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 garlic clove, crushed or minced
2 small fresh red or green chilies, seeded and chopped fine

In a small bowl stir together all ingredients until sugar is dissolved.

Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat. ~Fran Lebowitz

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

stuffed chicken marsala

I often order Chicken Marsala when dining in an Italian restaurant. It's one of those dishes that I sometimes crave. Since we don't often eat out, I satisfy the craving with this recipe. The stuffing of prosciutto and fontina cheese makes it special and is easier than you would think. My trick of wrapping the cheese in the prosciutto keeps the cheese from oozing out while it cooks.

stuffed chicken marsala

4 chicken breasts
4 slices prosciutto
4 pieces fontina cheese
flour, for dredging
olive oil
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup diced onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 cup marsala wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp flour

Cut pockets into the side of the chicken breasts. Season the breasts with salt, pepper and thyme. Place a piece of cheese at one end of a prosciutto slice and roll up, tucking the sides over the cheese. Carefully stuff the roll into the pocket of a chicken breast. Repeat with remaining chicken, cheese and prosciutto. Dip chicken breasts into flour to coat. Heat a large skillet. Add olive oil and saute chicken breasts until brown on both sides. Remove from skillet. Add mushrooms, onions and garlic to the skillet and cook over high heat, adding more oil if necessary, till mushrooms are browned. Add marsala to skillet and reduce by half. Add chicken stock and put chicken back into the pan. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 5 to 10 minutes. While it is cooking, mix the butter and flour together till it forms a paste. This is called a beurre manie. Transfer cooked chicken to a platter. Thicken the sauce by whisking the beurre manie into it and cooking for a few minutes. Add fresh parsley. Serve the chicken with a long pasta like fettuccine, spaghetti or egg noodles and top with the marsala sauce.

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink... ~Epicurus