Friday, November 23, 2007

Smoked Sausage and Apple Whole Wheat Dressing

Coconut Curry Soup w Tofu Mushrooms 010

Dressing is probably my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. It's really just a medium to carry gravy to my mouth without me tipping up the gravy boat like a total slob. However dressing is a malleable medium, capable of reflecting infinite textures and flavors. I can never get bored with dressing.

This particular dressing is, well, kinda healthy. It utilizes whole wheat bread -- crust and all -- and no egg or added flour for a “binder” so it has a “hearty” texture. The dressing is somewhat crumbly, although not dry. Nor is it dense like cornbread dressing. Great for soaking up gravy!

I used a tasty smoked beef sausage that's pretty low in fat content. I also used organic apples with the skin on for added texture and flavor, home made low-fat chicken broth.

One little pinch of cayenne pepper helps carry the flavor of the sausage with a minute amount of heat that is barely noticeable. If you want you may omit it entirely, but it was a nice subtle touch, and cayenne is one of those good-for-you “super foods” that I try to sneak into everything. The health impact of cayenne, like most “natural” supplements, is cumulative over time, so a little every day adds up over a lifetime.

The maple syrup I used for a glaze was an all-natural grade B variety and rather viscous so a little goes a long way to lend just the hint of sweetness to the crust of this rather savory stuffing.

I did add 3 tablespoons of butter, but that was just on general principle. I love butter. It's totally optional if you want to stay low-fat.

Smoked Sausage and Apple Whole Wheat Dressing

1 small yellow onion
1 cup diced smoked beef sausage
2 cups sweet apples, diced (gala or fuji apples)
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 pinch cayenne
8 slices whole wheat bread, lightly toasted
1 ½ cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp butter or cooking oil
3 Tbsp butter (optional)
2-3 Tbsp maple syrup
Salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Tear bread into roughly 1-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl: crumbs, crust and all.

Over medium-high heat, sauté onions and sausage with 1 tablespoon of butter until the onions become tender. Add thyme and apples, and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the apples start to become tender. Season with cayenne pepper and transfer to another dish.

Return the pan to the heat and add chicken stock, scraping up any brown bits from the pan. When the stock comes to a simmer, turn off the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of butter until melted.

Pour chicken stock over the bread and stir in the apple-sausage mixture. Mix thoroughly so that the bread becomes moist (if you need more moisture use more stock, water or apple juice) and transfer to an oven proof baking dish (9” round or smaller, or small-to-medium loaf pans). Pack lightly with the back of a spoon and brush with maple syrup.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thai Coconut Curry Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu

During the holiday season there is a lot of roasted, braised, baked and stewed food available. Rich, sumptuous decadence is the theme of the season. In fact, it was while making a sausage dressing and marinating a bird on Thanksgiving Eve that I made this light, yet satisfying soup for dinner.

I think subconsciously I wanted something fresh and light, and while this soup still packs plenty of flavor because of the spiciness of the Thai red curry paste, it didn’t leave us feeling weighed down. It is made of several of the same ingredients as the popular Thai soup Tom Ka Gai, or Coconut Chicken Soup, but it doesn’t require ingredients you may not typically stock, like fish sauce. Actually, instead of fish sauce, one of those condiments I always mean to purchase but always forget when I’m at the market, I used a generous splash of another fermented product, good old soy sauce. We all have about 20 packets of this stuff (and duck sauce) stashed in a drawer somewhere from all that Chinese take-out, right? Well here’s your chance to use it!

I have an organic miso tamari sauce would work really well here too, as would any similar fermented and salty flavoring sauce. Just a few splashes will do because the point isn’t to taste the condiment as much as to experience the depth of flavor just a dab will provide to the soup.

A note about the tofu: I used firm tofu and cut it into 1-inch strips, then added it in the last 5 minutes of cooking so that it wouldn't fall apart and crumble into the soup essentially making a mess of something that was supposed to be clean tasting. Also note that once the tofu was added I didn't boil the soup or do too much stirring. It can sit, warm, like this for a while if you need to do other things before serving your soup, but know that the longer it sits the higher the risk of the tofu breaking up. Even more so if you use silken tofu.

Thai Coconut Curry Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu

1 can coconut milk
½ cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
1 tsp Thai red curry paste
½ pound button mushrooms, quartered
1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1 inch strips
salt to taste
soy sauce to taste

In a medium sauce pan, combine coconut milk, water, garlic and ginger. Bring up to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Stir in curry paste and mushrooms, season with salt and soy sauce to taste, and simmer for 5 minutes. Gently add tofu and continue cooking on a med-low heat for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls, top with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kale in a Spicy Sundried Tomato Broth

For this dish, I borrowed a little spiciness from Jamaica and some sweetness from the Mediterranean sun. This dish was darned tasty in the 10-15 minutes of preparation and cooking, but it was even better when re-heated and served for dinner the next day.

This dish is low in fat (almost non-existent), vegan (not just vegetarian) and ready in 10 minutes thanks to two prepared condiments stocked in my fridge -- mild jerk paste and sundried tomato puree. And thanks to kale as the main ingredient, it’s mind-blowingly healthy. But don’t worry, I wouldn’t bother mentioning it if it wasn’t delicious. Or as Michael described it (and he’s a Southern-bred greens connoisseur): “fantastic.”

I mention how much I love kale at least once a week. And today I’m excited to share with you a different presentation of the deep green leafy vegetable that provides more nutritional value for fewer calories than almost anything I can think of.

photo from Live Earth CSA Farm in California
Being from the South, greens are a staple on the table. Collards, mustards, turnips and kale turn up at ever major gathering from Sunday dinner, to holidays, to weddings and funerals. However, the typical boil-it-to-death approach of traditional Southern greens has gone out of vogue with the younger set, and greens have found themselves being used as wrappers for sausage stuffing, as parsley replacements in tabboulleh made with quinoa and collards (I’ll have to post that recipe eventually) and even quick sautéed with garlic and lemon juice (one of Michael’s favorites). And those are just some of my “nouveaux Southern” uses for greens.

Quick background on kale: it’s a leafy member of the Brassica family which includes cabbage, brussel sprouts and collard greens. Kale is one of those fantastic vegetables for new gardeners because the plants are very hearty, easy to grow and withstand frost.

It is considered one of the “winter greens” but is available year round in most markets -- even pre-washed and cut for those in a time crunch.

For in depth information and a detailed nutritional profile on kale visit The World’s Healthiest Foods website. For those taking certain medications or suppliments, or with thyroid problems or iron/calcium/vitamin K absorption issues due to prescription meds, you need to monitor your intake of vegetables such as kale, so please do your research accordingly.

Kale in a Spicy Sundried Tomato Broth

½ pound kale, washed, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp mild jerk paste
3 Tbsp sundried tomatoes in oil, minced or pureed
3-4 cups water

Combine water, jerk paste and sundried tomatoes in a medium pot and bring to a boil. In batches, add the kale, adding more as the greens wilt down. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until desired doneness, at least 10 minutes or longer if you like more tender greens. This is delicious reheated and served the next day, once the flavors have had a chance to meld together.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Garlic Stuffed Pork Roast with Cranberry Glaze

This is an easy roast, especially for those who don’t cook. I mean, let’s face it. Just the word “roast” sounds impressive, reminiscent of some long-lost housewifey tradition or closely guarded chef’s secret stuffed in a kitchen vault somewhere. But don’t be intimidated. A roast is just a big piece of meat that can pretty much take care of itself while you take all the credit.

Say you have guests coming over. You can’t cook and you were thinking of grabbing a rotisserie chicken from the local market. Don’t do it. With this roast you can look like a pro, and it takes no skill whatsoever, yet it’s delicious and smells divine.

This is a 2 pound pork ribeye roast, and can feed 6 adults if sliced and served with sides. If you’re just two guys eating, you’ll probably both eat half – go on, admit it. I picked it up at Wally World of all places, so you know we’re not talking anything that’s hard to find or a special trip to a butcher. If you get a better cut of meat, good on ya, but it’s not necessary.

You can see the little blue pop up thermometer in there – it makes cooking this thing foolproof. When it pops up, the roast is done. That’s it!

Ok now here’s how we take this blank slate and “trick it out” so to speak. I worked from the bottom of the roast, not the side with the popup thermometer, and using a sharp knife I essentially stabbed the roast. Or more specifically, in regular intervals about 2 inches apart I cut deep slits into the roast, and inserted large chunks cut from about 5 healthy cloves (not heads) of garlic (peeled, of course). The end result is the meat is studded throughout with chunks of garlic. Use less if you don’t just love garlic, because 5 cloves for this little roast is a LOT. You have been warned.

Now here’s where we Pimp My Pork. Thickly slice one medium yellow onion and place it in the center of a roasting pan to make a nice bed for your roast. I like to use a perforated pan or rack placed in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet. The roast does drip but not much. To make clean up easier you can line the pan or sheet w/ aluminum foil but I never think to do this until I’m washing the darned thing after the fact. Anyway, top the onion “bed” with plenty of fresh thyme sprigs, and don’t even bother “stemming” the thyme; just lay them as-is on top of the onions. Now place your roast on the “bed” and season generously with salt, pepper and cumin (don’t have cumin, don’t worry about it). Top with “stemmed” thyme, about 1 teaspoon. Don’t have fresh thyme? Don’t sweat it. Use dried. Use some of that groovy ubiquitous “Italian Herb Blend” that goes with everything. Remember, this is easy and foolproof.

Ok into a 350 degree oven she goes for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the pop up thermometer pops up. Resist the urge to open the oven door for at least an hour if you have a roast in the neighborhood of 2 pounds (or 1.79 pounds, as in this case). This is the best part, because while it’s cooking away, you have an hour to do something else. Make side dishes, go get dressed and set the table, clean up the kitchen so it looks like you never broke a sweat, wash the car, call your mother, start some laundry, read some books to the kids … whatever you gotta do. Set your oven timer and you’re off the clock for an hour. When the hour is up, make the glaze. It takes all of five minutes.

This glaze, and others like it, is the best use of that cranberry jelly that’s stocked sky high in supermarkets around Thanksgiving. This time of year Michael starts buying this stuff like it’s going out of style, although I’ve never seen him actually EAT it, so it’s usually in my pantry and I just have to check for expiration dates (does it expire?). Put 3 tablespoons of cranberry jelly (or orange marmalade if you have it instead) in a small pan, add ¼ cup of orange juice and over medium heat, stir until it all blends together. It should have a consistency slightly thicker than pancake syrup. That’s it. If you want, you can add some dashes of ground ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper etc. But I wanted the garlic and thyme to really stand out on this roast so I left it as is.

Once your pop up thermometer pops up, spoon this glaze all over the top of the roast, and put it back in the oven. Crank up the temp to 500 degrees for 3-5 minutes. The roast is probably done to about medium now, or possibly a little more. (From my restaurant experience of serving hundreds of pork loins I can speculate that most people don’t eat medium rare pork, but if that’s your preference, glaze it at one hour and pull it from the oven as soon as the thermometer pops up.) Pull the roast out of the oven and let it sit on the cutting board for a good 5-10 minutes so the juices distribute evenly throughout the meat, or at least that’s what we’re taught in culinary school. Discard the onion and thyme “bed”.

Now when you slice this, use a long sharp knife and cut across the grain using long slow strokes. Not only do you get nice slices that way, but it’s more dramatic when you’re slicing at the table for presentation. All eyes will be on you, and each slice will fall down dramatically, studded with garlic and filling up the room with fantastic aroma. You will look like such “da man” or “da wo-man” and your guests will actually start to introduce you as a “great cook” at parties.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Grilled Lamb in Rosemary-Tomato Broth with Crispy Curry Chickpeas

Around here we love our grill. What a great way to cook meat. Honestly, if it weren’t for our grill – a little cast iron kettle-style job – we probably would be vegetarians. Well, almost vegetarians.

What makes grilling so fantastic (besides being a low-fat cooking method that just happens to keep the house cool in the summer months and lets you keep an eye on the kids playing outside as you simultaneously knock out dinner) is the infinite flavor possibilities present when you learn how to marinate meat. Experimenting with fresh herbs, fruit juices, vinegars, oils, and a plethora of aromatics, condiments and spices is the part we look forward to most.

And we’re such grill nerds that we eagerly look forward to that first slice of still-warm meat that’s resting on the cutting board after a stint on the grill. Will the gentle acid of pineapple juice be enough to tenderize the meat? Did the hint of fresh oregano disappear into the tang of lemon zest? Were the coals hot enough to sear off the fat leaving lean, tender flesh behind without charring? Only that first bite will tell…

Sometimes, the next day there isn't enough leftover meat to make it fair for one or the other of us to eat it without feeling guilty. Especially if it was a particularly good marinade, cut of meat or grilling job. That was the case with this one lonely lamb shoulder chop. Michael made the marinade this time and described it as “a light jerk.” I have no idea what all went into it, but it was delicious. Today, however there was only one lonely lamb chop left and it would’ve been wrong of me to eat it in Michael’s absence. What to do? Make “stoupili” – my silly word for soup-stew-chili dishes.

I actually bought the lamb to make a stew, so I went ahead with my plans knowing that the lamb now had a delicious smokiness to it from being grilled and just the hint of spice from the marinade.

That inspired me to make some Crispy Curry Chickpeas to adorn the stew, which has a light yet rich tomato broth, given depth from the shortcut of caramelizing just a couple of spoonfuls of jarred spaghetti sauce (something that’s always in my fridge).

Some staple veggies went into building the base of the sauce as well, you know… carrots, onions, garlic. And at the end, for freshness’ sake I threw in a scant amount of thinly sliced kale leaves and a thickly cut zucchini. When it comes to adding zucchini to soups, sauces and the like, I like to add it toward the end and cut it larger than the other ingredients because few things are less appetizing than wimpy, slimy overcooked squash. Ew.

With only one cup of water added to this stew, it’s another thick and hearty batch of goodness, but with distinct, clean flavors, thanks to the addition of fresh rosemary and the short cooking time – from first slice to plate up it probably took me 30-45 minutes and that’s because I was ad-libbing, I’m a slow improviser. The body and depth of the shortcut tomato broth really compliments the smoky grilled flavor of the lamb.

Serve with a nice earthy grain like bulgur or brown rice and this is one solid meal that is low in fat, particularly if you are moderate with the Crispy Curry Chickpeas.

Grilled Lamb in Rosemary-Tomato Broth

1 yellow onion, small dice
1 medium carrot, small dice
1 healthy sprig rosemary, stemmed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 roma tomato, diced with juices
2-3 Tbsp spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
1 ½-2 loose cups cooked, diced lamb
2 large kale leaves, ribs removed, sliced into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
1 zucchini, medium dice (to retain firmness when cooked)

Sauté onion with carrot until onion starts to become translucent. Add rosemary and garlic and cook until garlic is tender. Add tomatoes and spaghetti sauce and cook until the mixture begins to caramelize slightly. Add water and lamb. Season with a little salt and pepper and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add kale and zucchini and cook 10 more minutes. Serve with brown rice or cooked bulgur and top with generous amount of Crispy Curry Chickpeas.

Crispy Curry Chick Peas

1 can chick peas, rinsed and dry
curry powder
crushed red pepper

Heat 2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil over med-high heat. CAREFULLY add the chickpeas (any residual moisture will make the hot oil splatter) and the spices. Fry the chickpeas until crispy being careful not to burn them. It should take 5-10 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and season with salt while still hot. These make a great snack. Salty and crispy like nuts, but with a spicy warmth and peppery kick!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Post Birthday Miso Soup

So yesterday was my birthday and I turned 30 again! It was a very low-keyed day with “my boys” – we let our son play hooky from his day care so he could hang out with us... lounging around, eating pizza, watching DVDs and, eventually (after Jr’s bed time), jamming to loud music while swilling vodka tonics.

Well the latter lead to the signature leftovers of general malaise and tummy yuckiness typical of a late night of over-indulging. I probably could’ve muscled through with a breakfast of some fried protein and carbs and a strong cup of coffee… which leads me to my downfall. We’re uncharacteristically out of coffee, and without coffee I can’t do anything.

So fuzzily I shuffled into the kitchen craving soup – nourishing, hot, soul-satisfying soup – and this recipe is the end result. This soup came together in the time it took to boil water. How’s that for quick and easy? The ingredients were just whatever was hanging out in the fridge, which just goes to show you that ANY vegetables, meat, eggs, noodles, rice… ANYTHING will work in a miso soup.

"What’s miso?”you ask. My short answer is it’s an essential ingredient for making idiot-proof and flavorful soups. The official answer is that miso is a paste typically made from fermented soy beans, though other grains are sometimes used, commonly found in Japanese cuisine, though I think I’ve had miso in Korean soups as well. Miso comes in several varieties which vary in color from dark brown to red to white, with corresponding flavor intensity. In general the lighter the miso, the milder the flavor. The nuances of miso are subtle, generally earthy and slightly aromatic, but one common thread is that it lends saltiness and for that reason is used as a seasoning agent. You can find miso in the refrigerated section or in the produce section of most well stocked supermarkets. I keep some in the fridge because it has a long shelf life and just a couple of spoonfuls can quick-start a soup in the time it takes to boil water. No muss, no fuss. It’s the perfect shortcut. Think of it as bouillon with Asian flare…

As for miso’s health benefits, Nutritionist Sue Gilbert had this to say about miso: “Japanese scientists have found that miso may prevent stomach cancer. Men and women who ate a bowl of miso soup a day cut their risk of stomach cancer by two-thirds. Soy bean protein -- whether in the form of tofu, miso or soy milk -- seems to have an anti-breast cancer effect as well. Miso has reduced the occurrence and growth of breast tumors in animals.”

Ok back to my Post Birthday Miso Soup. In less than 10 minutes I went from slicing a carrot to slurping from a big hot steamy bowl of home made goodness. The key to this quick soup is to cut your vegetables either very thinly or very small so that they flash cook in the hot water.With some foresight I might’ve boiled off some noodles to go in there, but, well… like I said, my birthday was yesterday. I did manage to squeeze in some fresh lime and topped it off with cilantro and those two flavors, plus a generous splash of hot sauce really did the trick. This stuff was good, and pretty, and even nutritious! Not bad for a chick with a hangover, eh?

Post Birthday Miso Soup

½ medium carrot thinly sliced
½ medium zucchini, quartered and thinly sliced
½ cup cabbage, thinly sliced or pre-shredded
3 cups boiling water
1 heaping teaspoon of red miso paste
2 scallions, green tops only, sliced
2 splashes of soy sauce
½ lime, juice only
couple-few dashes of hot sauce

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add carrots, zucchini, cabbage and miso. Let boil for a couple of minutes just until cabbage starts to wilt and get tender. Turn off the heat and add soy sauce and scallions. Spoon into two bowls and top with a squeeze of lime juice, fresh cilantro and hot sauce to taste.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Italian Sausage with White Beans and Kale

This falls into that category of stew-soup-chili that I like to call “stoupili” … because I’m a silly person. From start to finish this one-pot meal takes less than 30 minutes, yet it's nutritious and gives that stick-to-your rib satisfaction I crave this time of year in particular. Amazingly, it's also a low fat, high fiber and well just all around darned good recipe that's easily modified to please any number of palates.

Using just a cup of stock will yield a hearty stew-chili type of result, but if you want something brothier (is that a word?) and therefore lighter, add more stock.

Use any kind of canned white bean, winter green, and sausage that you like to add texture or flavor, and to control the heat and the fat content. Canned beans bring quick, convenient, heart-healthy fiber to any meal, plus they are a lean source of protein, and if you rinse them you decrease their sodium content.

I use sweet Italian style turkey sausage in this dish because it’s very low in fat and I can control the spice if I’m serving the family – kids and spicy often don’t mix. This particular lean turkey sausage claims to be 71% lower in fat that regular pork sausage.

Also I use kale here because it is one of my favorite greens, but fresh swiss chard would also work, as would spinach thrown in at the last minute (or frozen thrown in earlier). Greens bring calcium, Vitamins A&C, cancer fighting cartenoids (rich plant pigments) and folic acid to the dish.

Italian Sausage with White Beans and Kale

3 sweet Italian-style turkey sausage links, removed from casings
1 small bunch of kale, rinse, stems removed, and chopped
2 cloves garlic. minced
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tsp fresh thyme (or to taste)
1 cup low-fat chicken stock (veg stock, or water will work too)
1 can white or navy beans (rinsed)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Heat 1 tsp oil and add onion, stirring occasionally until tender. Add garlic, sausage and thyme and stir to break up the sausage. Saute until sausage is browned (there should be virtually no fat in the pan if you’re using turkey sausage, but if there is, strain the fat off and return ingredients to the pan to continue cooking). Add 1 cup of chicken stock, kale and white beans. Add cayenne pepper, stir to incorporate, cover and let simmer over med-low heat for 5 minutes or until kale is tender.

You may add more liquid to make a soup, or you may let simmer longer if you like your kale more on the tender side. Depending on the size and tenderness of the beans, you won’t want to stir this too much b/c you may start to break up the beans. Serve in soup bowls or cups, topped with fresh thyme sprigs and herb-garlic toast.