Sunday, January 29, 2012

Grilled Bacon Chipotle Jalapeno Poppers

Too big for the holes, I corralled the jalapenos with foil!

Give me a little sun out there and I want to grill!  Not only that, yesterday I treated myself to this little jalapeno popper contraption for the grill...I couldn't WAIT to try it!  Isn't it cute? 

The contraption itself leaves something to be desired.  I like nice BIG jalapenos for poppers - more room for the stuffins'.  This thing must have been made for people who like itty bitty baby jalapenos that hold a thimbleful of spicy cheesy, bacon-y filling.  So I simply juryrigged a little aluminum foil "fence" to keep the peppers from falling out.  It worked!

Go out and find yourself a popper holder for the grill...I've seen them lots of places (just make sure it has BIG holes)!  Then, make yourself some of these scrumptious poppers for the Superbowl next weekend!

Grilled Bacon Chipotle Jalapeno Poppers

  • 12 large jalapeno peppers, red and green, tops cut off, seeds and ribs removed
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup whipped cream cheese
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 1 small chipotle chile canned in adobo, minced, with a little sauce, too
  • 1 large green onion, sliced thinly well into the green
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

Mix the cheeses, bacon, chipotle and spices until well blended.
Press the cheese mixture deep into each jalapeno, mounding at the top.  As you fill each, insert into a metal jalapeno popper holder for the grill. 
Move the popper holder to a medium hot gas grill, close the top and grill until the peppers are soft and the cheese melted.  Remove the holder with the peppers carefully...the metal holder will be HOT!
Serve from the holder. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ranchero Beans

Ranchero Beans

Like most societies, we Americans tend to use food to mark the occasions in our lives - happy and sad.  Sometimes, the event is both.  A retirement falls under that category...sad to see that longtime friend and coworker go, but still happy to see her begin a new phase of her life.  The "her" in this case is someone with whom I've shared a lot's of life's ups and downs, laughter and tears and a whole lot of silly giggles, too.  We'll miss you, Patt...I'LL miss you!  

Here in our office, significant events are observed with lots of homemade fact, we call it a "goody" party.  Don't know how name came to be, but I'm surmising if you bring in goodies and it's a party, then....well, you get it.  We've got an unusual number of damned good cooks in this department - Tax people can do more than just crunch numbers! 
What was on the menu for Patt's retirement party?  Lisa and Darin teamed up to bring tacos and all the fixings, Mashawn and Jeannie got together to bring hot sausage and everything to go with....then there was Penne ala Vodka, two kinds of meatballs - Buffalo and Swedish, corn dip (YUM!), pepperoni dip (double yum!), artichoke dip, broccoli salad, pasta salad, Caesar salad and far too many other dishes to name.  

Ranchero Beans to go with the tacos and Key Lime Coconut Bars were my contributions.  Ranchero Beans loaded with earthy cumin, spicy jalapenos, fire roasted tomatoes and sweet onion chunks were a good complement to the tacos.

Ranchero Beans

  • 1/2 pound bacon bits, make yourself, cut crosswise into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 14-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, ribbed and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • lots of freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large skillet over high heat and add bacon.  Fry until crispy.  Drain bacon on a paper towel.  Discard all but 1 T. of fat.
Add the onion and cumin.  Cook stirring often until onion is soft.  Add the beans, bay leaves, oregano, tomatoes, chopped jalapeno, reserved bacon, salt and pepper and cook until the flavors come together, 10-15 minutes.  

Take out bay leaves and serve sprinkled with cheese, a few pickled jalapenos, and a dollop of sour cream...or just plain.

Key Lime Coconut Bars

Tart and Sweet Key Lime Coconut Bars

For dessert, who doesn't love a tart and sweet cookie bar overloaded with coconut and a dusting of powdered sugar snow?!  Originally, I came up with this one for a Jimmy Buffet concert tailgate.  I jazzed up a traditional lemon bar and turned it more tropical, more Parrothead!  It works well for every occasion, not just a Buffet concert!  And so, it turned up at the retirement party, too. 

Key Lime Coconut Bars

  • 2 cups flour (I use Jules' gluten-free to make this GF)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 tablespoons flour (to make this GF, use gluten-free flour as above)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (to make this GF, be sure your baking powder is gluten-free)
  • 5 tablespoons lime juice, KEY LIME! (you can use the bottled kind...I sometimes do)
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut flakes
  • the zest of 1 fresh lime
  • 1 cup toasted coconut, for garnish (spread coconut evenly over a cookie sheet and toast in a 325 degree oven until golden)
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Grease and lightly flour (if you're making this GF, be sure to use the GF flour for this step)  a 9 x 13 baking pan.  

In a food processor, combine 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and the butter and process until it comes together.  Pat evenly into prepared pan.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Remove and cool the crust.  Reduce heat to 325.

Beat eggs in a medium bowl.  Add 2 cups sugar, 4 tablespoons flour, baking powder, Key lime juice, coconut and lime zest.  Stir until well-mixed.  Pour mixture over baked crust.

Bake in preheated 325 degree oven until top is firm, about 35 minutes or so.  Let cool slightly.  Sprinkle the top with the toasted coconut and then dust with powdered sugar.

Cut while still a little warm.

NOTE:  As stated above, this easily converts to a delish gluten-free recipe.  I serve the gluten-free version all the time without anyone even suspecting. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chipotle Chicken Black Bean Burgers

One torrentially rainy Tuesday night last summer (our traditional burger night) when we were forced to cook inside, I came up with this recipe.  I was looking for something healthier even back then!   

    We've done many permutations of the traditional beef burger here on Dinner Plan-it, but very few NON-beef burgers (you know I'm trying to keep things (somewhat) healthy after the over-indulgences of the holiday season). You also know I don't go crazy overboard about the health thing and I sure don't take out all the flavor along with the calories, fat and cholesterol - which is right where tonight's burger comes into play.

    By itself, ground chicken can be pretty bland and dry, but HOO-BOY can you use that to your advantage!  It's like an empty canvas just waiting to be painted with flavors instead of color...well, it takes color pretty well, too, actually.   BLACK beans...sort of a color.  GREEN onions...definitely color!  Some nice deep red chipotle peppers...oh yeah.  All nice color against the pinky, creamy hue of the chicken.  

    And the flavors we're painting with?  A nice bite of garlic, the sweetness of onion , a zip of smoky chipotles and cumin, an earthy velvety-ness of black beans...let's not forget the background of chicken(!)...all encased in a crisp crust of crunch in the form of panko breadcrumbs.  I've even found gluten-free panko!
    I have to admit that the first time I made these Mark looked at the bowl of ingredients with suspicion.  ("Ground chicken? What is this woman trying to do to me?  I'm a BEEF guy!") HA!  He loved them.  He's even requested them!  He looks FORWARD to them!  We're both looking forward to indulging in our healthy favorite tonight with some fresh, green spicy guac alongside and some bright red, juicy tomatoes.  Well, I'm looking forward to the guac...maybe someday Mark will, too.  He does surprise me sometimes!

    Chipotle Chicken Black Bean Burgers

    • 1 pound ground chicken
    • 2 chipotle chile canned in adobo, finely minced
    • 1/2 cup black beans, cooked, use homemade if you have them, otherwise canned is fine
    • 1 teaspoon cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic, or more to taste
    • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt, Janes Crazy Salt, of course, or more to taste
    • 3 green onions, sliced thinly
    • panko breadcrumbs (gluten-free to make this gf)
    • cilantro, finely minced
    • vegetable oil, enough to fry burgers (or broil - see below)
Lightly mix chicken thru onions and shape into 6 flat patties.  Dredge lightly with panko on both sides.

Heat scant oil in skillet & fry until browned & crispy on both sides and cooked through.

Sprinkle with cilantro and serve on buns with tomato and some pickled jalapenos...a little mayo & lettuce, too, if you're splurging on the calories.

 NOTE:  Alternately, you can leave off the panko and broil the patties to cut down further on the fat.  I'd suggest maybe sprinkling a little panko on the tops and spraying with a little olive oil to make them pretty.  The broiled version?  Approximately 190 calories and 7 total grams of fat.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pittsburgh Steak Salad

After.  The "before" is below.

What differentiates a PITTSBURGH Steak Salad from any other ordinary steak salad?  Your eyes aren't deceiving you, it's the fries on top of those healthy greens!  If you've ever lived in or visited Pittsburgh, that's how we like our salads...with some substance to them.  You may have heard about this little restaurant we have here called Primanti's - it's become pretty famous all over for its MAN food!  I have to state clearly that we women like the place...and the food, too.  

What makes Primanti's so popular, so unforgettable,  Fries on salads is just the beginning, their really famous dish is the Primanti's sandwich that is built on thick sliced, crusty Italian bread, piled super high with your choice of meat(s), cheese, maybe a fried egg, whatever your heart desires, but the crowning glory that made Primanti's famous?  Coleslaw and fries.  Big deal, you say...but the coleslaw and fries are piled high ON the sandwich!  Yeah.  Sweet.

So the salad above was tonight's dinner.  We made London Broil (recipe follows) out on the deck on Saturday and had plenty left to make not only salads for tonight, but there's still plenty to make some beef sandwiches later in the week.  I think we'll do them on a nice crusty roll, a little horseradish mayo, a crisp slice or two of bacon, some good sharp cheddar and bake them until the cheese starts to ooze.  Then we'll pile on some thinly sliced crisp onion and a couple red, ripe tomato does that sound?  Mmmmhmmmm.  A couple of chips on the side will make it an easy mid-week dinner.

The only thing we did wrong was in doing the grilling on Saturday.  In the snow.  Here's the "before" pic:

This is "before" - 6 3/8" of snow!

We should have done the grilling today when the temperature was 57 degrees!  And tomorrow it will be in the 30's again.  Sigh.  Love Pittsburgh winter weather....but love the food a whole lot more!

London Broil
 (Use leftovers for salads and sandwiches!)  

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 BIG lemon, juiced
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 1/2 pounds top round steak, 1 1/2 " thick, lightly scored in a diamond pattern

Mix marinade ingredients in a ziplock bag and put round steak in.  Squeeze all air from bag and marinate for a few hours or overnight, turning occasionally.
Cook on pre-heated grill until medium rare.  Slice diagonlly into paper thin slices and serve au jus.

Pittsburgh Steak Salads
  • leftover London Broil slices - warmed or cold
  • French fries, prepared - hot and crispy
  • spring greens
  • red, ripe tomatoes
  • onion - red or Vidalia, sliced paper thin
  • cucumbers - sliced paper thin
  • shredded cheddar or mozzarella - even feta
  • salad dressing of your choice
Mound the greens on a plate and arrange the veggies over top.  Top the greens and veggies with the fries, layer on the cheese - love it when it melts on the hot fries - and finally top with sliced steak.  Drizzle with the dressing of your choice.  Ranch, of course, is always good, I think I like balsamic vinaigrette the best.  
A word of just may start to require your salads with fries.  It is addictive.  And delicious. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Crab, Jalapeno and Corn Hushpuppies for the Game


To my Maryland friends....if you hurry, you can get these made by halftime!

Crab, Jalapeno and Corn Hushpuppies

  • 2  6-oz.  Jiffy or Washington cornbread mixes  (I use a box of Gluten-Free Pantry brand cornbread mix to make this GF)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (or Fage 0% fat Greek yogurt)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 t. dried thyme
  • 1 t. granulated garlic
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • 2 t. Old Bay Seafood seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 1 lb. fresh crabmeat -- claw meat is fine, picked through for shell and cartilage
  • 1/3 c. green onions, sliced well into the green
  • 2 jalapenos, finely minced
  • 3/4 c.  corn kernels, fresh, frozen or canned


  • canola oil -- enough to come half-way up the sides of a cast iron skillet

Heat the oil to 350 degrees in a cast iron skillet (or use your favorite deep fryer). 

Lightly mix the cornbread mix, buttermilk, sour cream, egg and spices and then very gently mix in the rest of the ingredients.  Do not over mix to keep these as light as possible.

When the oil is to temp, using a tablespoon, take a rounded mound of batter and gently drop the batter into the oil as close to the surface as possible.  (The closer to the oil you are, the lower the risk of being on the receiving end of a hot oil splash.  But also be sure not to get so close that you deep-fry a finger or thumb!)

Don't put too many in the pan at once, be sure there's enough room for the oil to circulate.  Let fry until the first side is done to keep the batter from falling apart, turn over carefully with a fork or other utensil and continue to fry until both sides are golden brown. 

Remove hushpuppies with a slotted spoon or spider and place on a paper towel lined baking sheet.  Keep them warm in a 300 degree oven until all the hushpuppies are done.

Serve as is (my favorite) or with an aioli made with mayo and lemon juice and Old Bay to taste.

NOTE:  I spread these out on a baking sheet, put them in the freezer and in a couple of hours transfer them to a ziplock bag.  Store them in the freezer until you have a craving....heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until hot all the way through and crispy.

The Snowstorm Made Me Do It.

Okay.  It's confession time.  That "healthy" eating bit the dust yesterday.  I blame it on the 6 3/8" of snow that fell....I went into survival mode!  My normal breakfast of 0% Fage Greek yogurt with fresh berries couldn't be accomplished.  No berries.  Cereal?  No milk.  (By the way, what self-respecting Pittsburgher neglects to hit the store in a panic for milk, bread and toilet paper when snow is predicted?!  Shame on me.)  Should I fall back just a little and have a slice of crisp bacon and a scrambled egg white in a skillet barely kissed with a little butter-flavored Pam.  No bacon.  Eek!!!! 

I was forced to scour the fridge for something, ANYTHING, to break my fast from the previous night.  Hmmm....leftover smashed redskin potatoes.  Check.  A couple of green onions.  Check.  Protein, need egg.  Check.  Oooo...a jalapeno!  CHECK!  The very last thick slice of smoked gouda...nice check.  And so, the Smoky Jalapeno Potato Cake was born.  And it was awesome.  It is now in my arsenal of what-to-make-with-leftovers file to enjoy again!

Smoky Jalapeno Potato Cakes
  • 1 C. leftover mashed potatoes, warmed
  • 1 large jalapeno, minced (2 small or medium)
  • 2 small green onions, sliced (1 large)
  • 1/3 C. smoked gouda, finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 t. granulated garlic
  • gluten-free breadcrumbs (or normal breadcrumbs if you're not doing gluten-free)
Mix all ingredients but the breadcrumbs together well.  Form into patties; coat well with crumbs on both sides.  Fry in a little oil in a hot skillet until golden on both sides and the cheese begins to ooze.  
Serve as a breakfast side dish alongside eggs or even for dinner!
NOTE:  I don't waste money on gluten-free breadcrumbs, I just save all the ends of the loaves in the freezer until I have a good bit.  Then I just give them a whirl in the food processor and store them in a freezer bag until I need some.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Szechwan Chicken and Green Beans

Crispy, crunchy, SPICY Szechwan Chicken and Green Beans.

Do you have a favorite Chinese dish?  One that you order almost every time you hit your local, favorite Chinese restaurant?  Yeah, me too.  Szechwan Green Beans was always my go-to dish….the one I craved.  Oh sure, I enjoyed General Tso’s or Spicy Orange Beef or Cashew Chicken or Honey Walnut Duck…lots of other dishes, but the one that sang that Asian siren song…the one that lured me in again and again…that was Szechwan Green Beans.

And then I developed this gluten issue.  No more Chinese food.  Well, unless you count P. F. Chang.  Not that I’m complaining about the restaurant, but it isn’t REAL Chinese.  And then.  I found a recipe for the dish I love.  And I made changes.

The only thing that was keeping the restaurant version from being gluten-free was the soy sauce.  Did you know most soy sauce is made with wheat?  So I use a wheat-free tamari sauce instead.  Actually, LaChoy soy sauce is gluten-free (but check the label – you know how things change overnight!), but I’ve never been a fan of that brand – it was Kikkoman I enjoyed.  Wheat-free tamari tastes just like the Kikkoman I loved. 

Over the years, I’ve added this and taken out that, changed pork for chicken (lower fat!), added crunchy water chestnuts for even more crunch with the al dente beans.  I turned it into what I remembered.  Fondly.  Here it is.  Oh, and if you're not eating gluten-free, just use your regular favorite soy sauce!

Szechwan Green Beans with Chicken
Approx. 8 servings
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce, gluten-free or wheat-free tamari
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2" pieces
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 8-ouncecan water chestnuts, sliced or diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
In small bowl, stir together soy sauce, wine, sugar, cornstarch, black pepper, pepper flakes, mustard, and water until sugar dissolves.  Set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet ( I use a LARGE electric skillet...if you have a wok, use it!) over high heat until just smoking.  Add beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender and blackened in spots.  Transfer to bowl.
Reduce heat to medium-high and add chicken to skillet.  Saute, breaking up chicken well.  Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly for a few seconds until distributed throughout the chicken.  
Stir sauce again, add beans back into skillet and pour sauce over evenly.  Toss and cook until sauce is thickened a little and completely coats beans and chicken.  Stir in water chestnuts and let heat through.  Just before serving, stir in the green onions and sesame oil.  
Serve immediately over rice.
(Approx. 233 calories and 10 grams total fat per serving.)

NOTE:  I love good brown rice, but hate to make it...takes too damned long and I don't have the patience.  I found frozen COOKED brown rice - just as good as P. F. Chang's! - at Trader Joe's.  I always keep it in my freezer to pull out anytime I need brown rice in a snap!

Monday, January 16, 2012

White Bean and Greens Stew

Since my mom has been putting up some healthier recipes for those of us who need to detox a bit from the gluttonous holidays, I decided I would add one to the mix. I classify this dish as..."yummy vegetarian."

This is a delicious dish with a spicy kick.  You might want to consider making this not only if you're vegetarian, but if you want to make doing meatless Monday easy. With all the protein in the beans and vitamins in the kale you won't miss the meat. 

You know those "But wait! There's more!" commercials? Yep, there's a bonus with this's cheap to make. And, even if you're not on a budget, it's just damned good.

White Bean and Greens Stew

Makes 6 servings
  • 2 lbs Kale (or Spinach) rinsed, stems removed, and cut into strips
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Medium red onion, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon dried jalapenos, less if you don't like it spicy (if you don’t have dried jalapenos you can sub in red pepper flakes)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (I usually use the onions with garlic and onions)
  • 2 cans cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 Teaspoons chile powder or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the kale for 5-6 minutes, until tender. Drain the kale well and set aside.
Wipe out the pot making sure it is dry (so the oil doesn't spatter). Put it back on the burner, heat the oil and cook the onion until almost translucent. Add the garlic and dried jalapenos and cook for another minute, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the tomatoes with the juices and the chile powder; bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Add the cannellini beans and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the cooked kale and simmer until the mixture comes together nicely. 
Add salt and pepper to taste and serve! 

This is great with good crusty bread.

NOTE:  One serving has approximately 222 calories and only 6 grams of total fat.  And it's LOADED with fiber!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Good Old (New Fashioned) Stuffed Cabbage

Stuffed cabbage - just a little bit lighter.

Whether you call it golumpki, holupki, sarma or even hand grenades, Sunday’s here in Pittsburgh sometimes come with a big ole pan of stuffed cabbage.  Yep, yet another hearty, stick-to-your-ribs winter dish to fuel your inner furnace on a cold, blustery day. 

I know what you’re thinking right now…but Linda, you said you were going to be making healthy food for a while.  And I am.  Each stuffed cabbage roll has ONLY (approximately) 175 calories and only 7 total grams of fat.   

I changed up the recipe and used half ground chicken and half extra lean ground beef to help cut the count here...I also used brown rice instead of white to help bump up the nutrition, but even without making those adjustments stuffed cabbage was always pretty doggone healthy anyway. With the cabbage and sauerkraut,  there's LOTS of fiber, too!  (Whatever happened to “roughage”? That poor word must feel neglected and uncool these days.)

Tradition in our house means serving mashed potatoes alongside…with just a little tomato-y pan juice drizzled over the snowy white mound for me, a big pat of butter for the hubby.  I’m skipping the potatoes myself, but I wouldn’t make Mark do without…besides which, I couldn’t bear seeing those sad blue eyes if I didn’t make them especially for him! 

Good Old (New Fashioned) Stuffed Cabbage

Makes approximately 18 rolls
  • 1 head green cabbage leaves, cut core from bottom, put entire whole head in large pot, core end down in about 4" of water, cook until cabbage is nearly cooked through. Drain and cool
  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 cup brown rice, the instant variety
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, fire-roasted!
  • 1 can sauerkraut, Bohemian kind or with caraway seeds or plain if you - don't like caraway seeds...I do, juice drained and RESERVED

  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 can tomato soup (To make this gluten-free, use the Heinz brand found in the import section of the grocery store.  This is from England.  It isn't condensed.)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 350.
While cabbage is cooling, mix together ground beef, rice, onion, egg, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, granulated garlic, ranch dressing mix, reserved sauerkraut juice and 1/2 a can of the tomatoes.  Mix well.
Spread the sauerkraut evenly in the bottom of a 9 X 12 (or equivalent) baking pan. 
Separate cabbage leaves.  Take 1 cabbage leaf, use about 1/4 c. meat mixture and place it at the stem end of the leaf.  Fold in sides and roll up like a burrito.  Continue doing this until all the meat is gone and the pan is full.  As you assemble each roll, place it on top of the sauerkraut.  Tuck them tightly together if you need more room. When all the rolls are neatly in place, coarsely chop the remaining cabbage leaves and scatter over the top.  

The cabbage rolls just before going into the oven.

Mix the remaining tomatoes with the wine, tomato juice, tomato soup and sugar and pour evenly over the top of the rolls.   If your baking pan doesn't have a lid (mine doesn't) cover loosely with foil and bake for 3 hours. 
Serve as is or with mashed potatoes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

BIG Heat Tortilla Soup!

How do you balance your body’s winter cravings for hearty, calorie rich, rib-sticking foods against your brain’s sensible advice to not give into those fattening urges?  A big pot of spicy, satisfying, yet healthy soup!  One way to fool your cravings is to pump up the spice and flavor…Tortilla Soup sure does the trick.

Mieke made this soup originally from a Rachel Ray recipe…needless to say, we have changed it significantly over the years.  More veggies?  Check.  Rotisserie chicken to simplify the prep?  Check.  More spices, more heat? Check, check.  (Thanks, Rach, for the inspiration!)

How does this work out as far as calories and fat?  Approximately 155 calories and 5 grams of total fat to a serving is pretty darn good.  Of course, that’s without the cheese, sour cream or tortilla chips.  Control that yourself by using 0% Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, less cheddar or the reduced fat variety and use fewer tortilla chips or even the baked ones.  Or, use nothing at all on the top.  Of course, without tortilla chips,  you couldn’t call it tortilla soup, could you?  But you can still call it delicious!

Big Heat Tortilla Soup
(If you like "little heat" cut the heat in half!)

About 12 servings

  • 20 ounces corn, DelMonte Summer Crisp or frozen corn
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 large chicken breasts, coarsely shredded - I use a HUGE rotisserie chicken from Costco and use only the breasts (if you get it somewhere else, use 4 breasts), use what's left of the rotisserie chicken for another purpose (for a vegetarian version - hello, David, this means YOU - just leave the chicken out)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder, optional, I use chipotle chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 4, then sliced across thinly
  • 1 1/2 jumbo yellow onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 chipotle chiles canned in adobo, chopped, with a little of the sauce (we like HOT, if your palate isn't as adventurous, use only ONE of the peppers, taste after a few minutes and if you can handle more heat, add more)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, I like the fire roasted kind
  • 2 cans tomato sauce, 8 ounce cans
  • 8 cups chicken stock (to make this vegetarian, use vegetable stock)

Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a big soup pot and lightly saute the red peppers.  Then add zucchini, onions, garlic and chipotle peppers.  Stir well and add seasonings.  Cook just to soften the veggies a little - don't overdo it, they'll soften as the soup simmers.  Add chicken and stir well.
Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and stock.  Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to medium low.  Add corn and simmer until vegetables are soft and tender and the flavors all come together.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve in bowls topped with chips, cheddar and a dollop of sour cream.  Remember, you can really control the calories and fat here...the soup without the toppings has only 155 calories and 5 total grams of fat per serving!

NOTE:  You can simplify this even more by using a bag or two of frozen mixed zucchini, yellow squash and red peppers in place of the fresh veggies.  So easy.  Still SO good...I know, I've done it!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Omelet Lorraine

Omelet Lorraine - all the flavor of quiche, fewer calories and fat.

Does that picture look like it's low in calories?  Hell, no.  Does it look positively delicious, filling and satisfying?  Hell, yes!  And it is.  I love a good quiche Lorraine, but diet food it ain't.  All that cream...all that buttery (but oh so wonderful) crust...nope, not diet food!  

So I captured all the flavor of the classic by pumping up the amount of spinach - more fiber, vitamins and iron, cutting back on the bacon and making sure it was cooked crisp to get out as much fat as absolutely possible, using Pam instead of butter - you won't miss it!, and keeping the cheese to a minimum...and Swiss is lower in fat than cheddar or some other could really cut the fat and calories by using low-fat Swiss! 

Serve the omelet for breakfast or dinner - don't you love breakfast for dinner some nights?  So easy!  Add some red, ripe sliced tomatoes on the side and maybe a slice of toast or a light English muffin with just a swipe of butter or a spray of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (Kimber loves it!) and it's dinner.  It fills you up with lots of protein so you don't get hungry in 10 minutes.  And it gives you all the flavor without all the fat and calories of quiche.  How many calories are we left with?  The omelet serves two....a serving is 313 calories...a serving of the classic Quiche Lorraine is 748 calories!  Not bad, eh?

Omelet Lorraine

  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 slices bacon slices, cooked crisp & crumbled
  • 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Jane's Crazy Salt, to taste

In a Pam-sprayed skillet, saute onion until wilted, add spinach and a splash of water stir until spinach wilts lightly.  Add bacon, stir together and remove to plate.

Beat 4 eggs together with the tablespoon of water and sprinkle in a little Jane's Crazy Salt (you know it's my fave seasoned salt!).  Beat well. 
Wipe out the skillet and spray again with Pam and put over a medium burner.  Add eggs to skillet and swirl to coat the bottom.  As eggs cook, gently pull the edges slightly towards the center, allowing the uncooked eggs to fill in the empty spaces around the edges.  Continue working the eggs like this until the eggs are almost set. 
At this point, sprinkle the spinach mixture evenly over half of the omelet and cover evenly with Swiss cheese.  Gently fold the bare half of the omelet over the top of the filling and continue cooking until cheese is melted. 
Gently remove the omelet from the pan and cut in half across the equator.  Makes two delicious servings!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Skittles Infused Vodka

Color your cocktails...Skittles Vodka!

Well, once again I went off the radar for a bit.  With work and the holidays, it has been a circus! One thing I did manage to do while I was missing in action was to FINALLY make Skittles Vodka!
Years ago my mom sent me an article about how to make Skittles Vodka.  For years I have said I would make it…and didn’t. A friend and I were discussing the Skittles vodka idea a few months ago - I was planning at that time to try and make Jolly Rancher Vodka instead. She said, "Nope, you  should make the Skittles Vodka! And so the plan was (again) born.
Time went by and Christmas was upon us. Pondering what to get Samantha (the aforementioned cohort), the light dawned. I decided to finally make this fun infusion for her Christmas gift! Upon opening the (heavy) package, she looked at me and asked, "Is this what I think it is? Skittles Vodka?!" Haha, yep it was! 
The colors are bright and true...kind of like the primary colors in a box of crayons. I'm imagining Sam and her boyfriend happily experimenting with the colors of the rainbow....deliciously.

 Skittles Infused Vodka

  • 1 Pound bag of skittles
  • 1 Large bottle of vodka

  • 5 empty water bottles
  • Lots of paper towels or coffee filters
  • Funnel
  • 5 glass jars or glass bottles with lids (I used mason jars)

Step one:
Separate the skittles according to flavor, you will need 70 of each flavor of Skittles. (Or you could go to one of those candy stores in the mall and buy enough of each color you want to make - no separating!)

Step two:
Place the separated Skittles into the empty water bottles. The lemon in one bottle, lime in another bottle…and so on.You get how this works.

Step Three:
Pour 8 oz of vodka into each of the water bottles over the skittles. It is best to use a funnel so that you don’t spill any vodka (yes, this advice comes from experience haha). Screw the caps on the bottles.

Step Four:
Shake the bottles some…you will see the vodka start to get some of the color from the candy now. Let these bottles sit for a few hours until the candy is totally melted. (I let the bottles sit over night…and I shook them a bit any time I walked by them to help with the process. Does that count as exercise with shake weights?)

Step Five:
You will notice that the vodka may have a bit of a white film on top…it is the wax coating on the candy - we'll strain it off later so don't sweat it.

Step Six:
Take 2 paper towels or coffee filters and place them over a bowl or the mason jars that you will store your vodka in. Now pour the vodka through the paper towels/coffee filters (strain each flavor separately into separate jars using new filters/paper towels for each color...duh). This gets rid of the white film!

Step Seven:
If you didn’t strain the infused vodka into the storage jars, pour each flavor into those jars now. Place the lids on the jars and refrigerate.

Step Eight:
ENJOY! This vodka is great just cold from the fridge (Skittles shots anyone?) or mix and experiment with some fun drinks. All of the flavors are great with Sprite!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spicy, Toasty, Cheesy Garlic Bread

Okay....since my garlic bread is in the bottom picture in the lasagna post below, you need that recipe, too.  Sorry, not trying to sabotage your diet. (BTW, see the note below for the gluten-free garlic bread version.)

Spicy, Toasty, Cheesy Garlic Bread

  •  2 loaves of good Italian or Ciabatta (the fave) , sliced across the loaf lengthwise so you have 2 slabs of bread for each loaf
  • 8 ounces fresh grated parmesan cheese (go ahead, use the GOOD stuff...Parmesano Reggiano!)
  • 1/2 head garlic, peeled
  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (you know I like MORE!)
In food processor with steel blade, process garlic until finely minced.  Then add the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth and well-blended.  Spread on bread and bake at 400 until lightly, beautifully browned.
NOTE:  For gluten-free garlic bread, spread the garlic butter on Udi's gluten-free hamburger bun halves and bake as above.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The 18 Pound Lasagna

This lasagna could qualify to be an entire island on Dinner Plan-it!  It weighed 18 pounds!

The orbit here on Dinner Plan-it has been flying pretty high in calorie, fat and all those bad-for-you categories lately....but they're so good when they're so bad! And, like some of you - maybe - I'm going to start flying at a little more sensible, healthy altitude.  Okay, the real sensibility starts tomorrow right here on the blog because you have to have the lasagna recipe from yesterday's family gathering!

If you don't want to indulge in something this rich right now, save it for after you've been good for a know, an occasional treat.  Or, cut some of the fat and calories by using half the sausage and making it turkey Italian sausage instead. Increase the amount of spinach, use low-fat mozzarella, whole wheat lasagna noodles, substitute low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese for the ricotta (give it a whirl in the blender so it's smooth) and use Egg Beaters in place of whole eggs...finally, leave off the pepperoni!  The light(er) version still has all the flavor without all the fat and calories of my original recipe.  Geez, I should have made it that way for the family!  Of course, to make this gluten-free, all you have to do is use gluten-free lasagna noodles.

Although there will be lighter recipes for a while (I'm trying SO hard to eat more sensibly), don't expect Dinner Plan-it to go all ridiculously, grimly, boringly austere.  That AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN!  We'll just share some interestingly delicious dishes that will just happen to be a little better for the heart and the waistline....with some good old regular recipes thrown in for when you NEED (i.e., I need!) to splurge!

The 18-Pound Lasagna!
(including the pan, of course) 
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 24-ounce jars spaghetti sauce, I like Classico Spicy Basil
  • 1 bag fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • 8 ounce wedge parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 2 pounds mozzarella cheese, grated - I highly suggest buying the already grated....I almost burned out the motor of my food processor and who has time to do it by hand...really.
  • 5 large eggs
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds lasagna noodles, I love the no-cook variety! (use gluten-free lasagna noodles to make this GF)
  • pepperoni

Brown sausage, drain and add drained and spinach.  Then add ONE jar of sauce.  Set aside.
Mix ricotta, 1/2 of the parmesan, 3/4 of the mozzarella, egg and lots of pepper.  Mix well.  Set aside.
Assemble.  Spray your lasagna pan well with olive oil, spoon some of the sauce (from the sauce from the remaining jar) into the bottom of the pan and coat bottom.  
Then place a layer of noodles, top with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture spreading evenly over, then 1/3 of the meat sauce.  Make 2 more layers like this and then add another noodle layer.  Top with plain sauce from the jar and then the leftover shredded mozzarella and leftover parmesan.  Top it all with pepperoni slices like you would a pizza...does this make the dish pizzagna?
Cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes; uncover and bake until beautifully browned and bubbly.  Let stand for 20 minutes before cutting so it will stay together nicely.

Hard to tell from this pic, but this of lasagna is a full 5" high. Yes, I have a HELL of a lasagna pan!

NOTE: For the lighter version, make these substitutions:
  • 1 1/2 pounds sausage = 3/4 pound turkey Italian sausage
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese = 1 1/2 pounds cottage cheese (smoothed in a blender)
  • 1 bag spinach = 1 1/2 - 2 bags of fresh spinach
  • mozzarella = low-fat or fat-free mozzarella
  • eggs = Egg Beaters 
  • lasagna noodles = whole wheat lasagna noodles (again, use gluten-free noodles to make this GF)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cornbread Salad

Cornbread Salad

As the holidays smoothly segue into football playoff season, there’s some last minute menu pondering and tweaking going on around here. An odd combination of Christmas and Steelers themes somehow simultaneously, and compatibly, will infuse our extended Jones-side-of-the-family celebration tomorrow.  Side-by-side, the Christmas tree and Terrible towels just seem to go together beautifully!  The joy of celebrating Christmas and the New Year with those we love and cheering on the team we love – all in the same afternoon – makes our annual party even more fun.  Red and green table linens festooned with Black and Gold Steelers plates and napkins work!

With several generations of Joneses (only one of which still carries the Jones name – hi Aunt Katie!) gathering around the buffet table, the menu will be football-crowd-friendly, yet appeal to all ages and tastes, the traditional and adventurous alike.  Of course, football food in Pittsburgh is food we’ve all grown up with and loved….we love pierogies and stuffed cabbage, hot sausages with peppers and onions, big, hearty sandwiches (with fries and coleslaw ON the sandwich at Primanti’s!)…and it’s always good to throw something different in there, too, to shake things up a bit. 

What am I serving?  Just as the party celebrates Christmas and football, the menu will be a combo of Italian and Tex-Mex…and other stuff tossed in just for the hell of it.  So far (and I’d better finalize this quick!), I’ve got appetizers of queso (yep, the recipe posted recently), chips and salsa – maybe guac if I can find good avocados today; two main dishes – a pepperoni-studded, sweet Italian sausage and spinach lasagna and hot sausages with peppers and onions on good crusty rolls; a simple, cool, crisp romaine salad with feta, garlic, kalamata olives and a good balsamic vinaigrette and a beautiful layered cornbread salad with tomatoes, corn, ranch dressing and black beans; and, crunchy, cheesy homemade garlic bread.  For dessert?  Fresh pineapple chunks, cool red grapes, sweet banana chunks and (gluten-free) pretzel sticks to swirl in smooth, warm, Kahlua-kissed dark chocolate fondue. 

You know, the menu is kind of like our family.  A sweet, spicy, fun mix that all gets along beautifully….and has a hell of a lot of fun doing so!  One more thing.  GO STEELERS!!!!

Cornbread Salad

  • 1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix (or gf cornbread mix - use just 1/2 of the baked cornbread) baked, cooled & crumbled coarsely
  • 1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 can corn, DelMonte Summer Crisp, drained or leftover corn on the cob cut off
  • 6 green onions, sliced well into the green tops
  • 3 large tomatoes, fresh, chopped (reserve a little for decoration) (in the winter I use the ripest Roma or heirloom tomatoes I can find!)
  • 8 ounces ranch salad dressing, made fresh from packet
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 
  • pickled jalapenos, slices

In a glass bowl (to show off how pretty this is), layer:  cornbread, black beans, green pepper, 1/2 the ranch dressing, corn, green onions, tomatoes, rest of the ranch dressing and shredded cheddar.

Chill 2-3 hours.  Garnish with reserved tomatoes and pickled jalepeno slices.

Serve with additional ranch dressing to drizzle over.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Soup to Chase the Chill!

Spicy Black Bean Soup (another hambone recipe!)

Holy cow is it ever cold outside!  Single digit windchill temps out there this morning...brrrrr.  But I didn't have to check the weather report to know the winter chill has set in.  Just look back over  Dinner Plan-it blog posts the last month...yep, soups, stews and tummy warming one-pot dinners galore.  When the weather turns cold, we turn to foods that will warm us up from the inside out.  

Do you remember Mieke used her leftover hambone for Ham and Green Beans last week?  (If you missed it, check below for that recipe.) Once we got back from Michigan, I put a pot of black bean soup on the back burner to cook at our house and put our own leftover hambone to good use. 

This is an easy soup to make if you're new to from-scratch soup making.  Deep, hefty ham flavor packed with tender beans, sweet carrots and onions, garlic and smoky cumin....there's a nice punch of heat in there, too, from the RoTel tomatoes and chipotle chile powder!

I did notice another cold weather commonality in our posts recently...there sure are a few cocktails in there to warm up with, too!  Here's the recipe for the soup....cocktails are optional.

Spicy Black Bean Soup

  • 3 cups dried black beans, picked over (I really like the fact that you don't have to soak these beans overnight before making soup!)
  • 1 ham bone, with lots of meat on it
  • 2 jumbo onions, chopped fine
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 can RoTel tomatoes & chiles
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (McCormicks has it or try Penzey's if you have one near you or substitute regular chile powder)
  • Jane's Crazy Salt to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a soup pot, bring dry beans, hambone, onion, garlic, cumin, water, and broth to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, partially cover pot with a lid and simmer the soup until beans are tender, about 2-3 hours.  Check the beans for tenderness occasionally.  Transfer hambone to plate and cool.  Cut away ham, discarding bone and fat.
Transfer 1 1/2 cups beans and 1 1/2 cups of cooking liquid to a blender or food processor and let cool slightly.  Puree the mixture and return to pot.  Stir in ham, vinegar, sugar, and Crazy Salt salt and pepper to taste and simmer.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve soup with a dollop of sour cream....we use Fage 0% fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream now.  Even my husband loves it!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chili con Queso


New Year's Day.  New beginnings....of course.  But there's another focus for this first day of the new year and to some it is far more important than fresh starts and squeaky clean, soon-to-be-broken resolutions.  That's right.  FOOTBALL! And yes, my husband can be counted among that legion of fans camped on couches across the country with a beer in hand and a phalanx of snacks spread before him.  Football Nirvana.  Do you have one of those in your house?  Perhaps, it might just be YOU!

We have a few favorites around here...wings (we especially like jerk wings!), cheesy, garlicky artichoke dip, good luck black-eyed pea Cowboy Caviar and queso and chips.  I'm making queso today.  But, I'm not going with the add-salsa-to-Velveeta variety.  Nope.  This one starts with bacon (how can you go wrong?!), adds tomatoes, fresh green onions and garlic cloves, white wine (I've used beer, too...Corona is always nice) and freshly grated Pepper Jack cheese.  If you like it spicier than the original recipe, and I do, add fresh jalapeno with the onions and garlic.  Ole!

Come to think of it, this version of Queso just might tie into the New Year theme after all.  It isn't the same old, same old queso...its fresh and new like 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!  Oh...and GO STEELERS!!!!!!

Chili Con Queso

  • 4 slices thick sliced bacon, diced
  • 1/2 cup green onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 ounce can chopped green chiles
  • 3/4 cup white wine, or beer
  • 1 pound Pepper Jack cheese, grated (the food processor makes quick work of this!)
  • 3 tablespoons constarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or granulated garlic

In a medium sized pot, fry bacon until crisp.  Saute onion in bacon fat (no need to remove the bacon...leave it right where it is) until soft and then add minced garlic.  Add tomatoes and chilies and stir well.  

Stir in wine and bring to a boil.  Toss cheese with cornstarch and garlic powder.  Gradually stir cheese into wine mixture and stir until smooth.  Transfer to a mini slow cooker or fondue pot to serve and surround with tortilla chips.

NOTE:  If you like more heat, feel free to add Tabasco or other hot sauce to taste!