Saturday, January 29, 2011

Panini Sandwich & Homemade Chips

Who doesn’t love a good Panini sandwich?  It’s the perfect way to jazz up a would-be ordinary sandwich, especially in winter when many of us crave a warm meal.  The sandwich featured here is a spicy Italian Panini and it works well with a variety of things that you probably have in the fridge.  I use Boar’s Head meats and cheeses.  Knoxvillians can find Boar’s Head at Kroger.  I’m not sure if any other local grocery stores carry it.
The chips are homemade and they really make the meal.  It’s certainly easier to open a bag of chips from the store, but I love being in charge of exactly what goes into my food.
What you'll need:
Thick slices of bread (I prefer a really good sourdough)
Salami slices
Pepperoni slices
Provolone cheese slices (Muenster works really well, too)
Spicy brown mustard
Banana pepper rings
Tomato slices
Onion slices
Italian seasoning

Potato Chips
Sunflower oil

To prepare the sandwich, apply the mayo and mustard to your bread.  Start with your meat and stagger the slices so that they hang off the side just a bit.  Put the cheese on top of the meat, staggering the slices again.  Next add your onion slices, then your peppers.  Place the tomato slices on top and sprinkle some of the Italian seasoning over them.  Top your sandwich with the remaining slice of bread.

If you don’t have your own Panini press (I don’t) there are a couple of other options for you.  I use my George Foreman grill.  You can also use a cast iron skillet with a grill press.  Once your bread begins to brown, remove the sandwich.  You don’t want to overcook it.

For the chips, I use the Ultimate Mandoline from The Pampered Chef to slice my potatoes.  Some other slicey tool will probably work equally well.  I don’t recommend using a knife, though, because your slices will likely be too thick.  I cut my potatoes in half and place them flat side down into the mandoline.  The more pressure I apply, the thicker my slices are.  I try for a not-too-thick but not-too-thin slice.  First-timers should experiment to see what they like best.  Just remember, thicker slices will need to cook a bit longer.

Heat your sunflower oil on the stove top (or in your deep fryer) while you are slicing your potatoes.  Make sure the grease is hot before dropping your chips in. Add them one at a time to prevent them from sticking together.  As the chips begin to turn brown, remove them from the grease and place them on a plate lined with paper towels.

Different types of potatoes are more chip-friendly than others.  Russet potatoes are not my favorite.  Try Yukon Gold instead.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Valentine's Day Recipes

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I've recently started working as a contributing writer for Cook at Home - an online food magazine for home cooks.  Here is a link to my first official article.  I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stovetop Lasagna

If you’re like me, you love homemade lasagna but rarely have the time to make it.  This recipe offers a pretty good solution to the problem.  You get the same taste, without the time consuming hassle.
The recipe calls for ground meat.  I would typically use ground turkey in a recipe like this but I recently decided to get a little bit adventurous.  I did use the turkey, but I added some Italian sausage to give the dish a little more flavor.  Sounds tasty, right?  Right.  Unless you choose the hot Italian sausage.  I mean the kind where hot  means set yourself on fire.  I thought the whole thing was a four alarm nightmare.  I literally could not eat it.  Michael ate piles of it, though, and went back for more.  Then again, I’m pretty sure he could eat lit matches.
Here’s what you’ll need to make your own:
Lasagna noodles
Pasta sauce
Ground meat
Finely shredded mozzarella
Grated Asiago (Romano or Parm will do if you don’t have Asiago)
Fresh garlic
Italian seasonings

While browning your meat in one skillet, heat your sauce in another.  If you are using store-bought sauce, add seasonings to taste and plenty of fresh garlic.  If you’ve made your own sauce, it should already be adequately seasoned.  Next, break your lasagna noodles into pieces and lay them on top of the sauce.  With a wooden spoon, gently push them down to the bottom of the skillet.  Let the sauce continue cooking until the noodles are soft.  (They will feel squishy when you press them with your spoon.)

When the meat is ready, drain it on paper towels. When your noodles are soft, add the meat to the sauce by spreading it evenly across the top and pushing it gently down into the sauce until it is completely covered, but do not stir.  Next, add a thin layer of mozzarella and let it melt.  Then drop spoonfuls of ricotta into the sauce making sure you spread the cheese evenly across the pan.  Press the ricotta down into the sauce until it is covered.  Let your lasagna cook until it is bubbly and then spread plenty of Asiago across the top. 

Serve with garlic bread and Caesar salad.  And a fire extinguisher if you go for the super spicy version!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Panko Crusted Flounder For Two

Let’s talk about random afternoon McGuyver style meals.  Michael and I were set to leave for vacation in two days so I intentionally skipped my weekly visit to the grocery store.  I figured we probably had enough stuff to make do and I didn’t want anything going bad while we were gone.  Then Michael got hungry and I realized that we didn’t have quite as much stuff as I thought.
What I found in the kitchen was a potato, two pieces of flounder and some panko crumbs.  Talk about turning lead into gold – or miscellaneous craps into what just might be my new favorite fish dish.
Here’s what you’ll need:
2 flounder fillets (about 4 oz each)
1 really big baking potato
½ tbsp butter, plus extra
Garlic powder to taste
Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt to taste

Peel (or don’t peel) your potato.  Cut it into bite sized pieces and put the pieces in a steamer.  I have a steamer basket for one of my larger sauce pans.  You can also use an electric steamer (I have one from Black & Decker).  Either one works perfectly well.  Sprinkle garlic powder and Jane’s over the top of the potatoes.  Drop small pieces of butter in several places across the top of the potatoes.  Go ahead and start steaming the potatoes while you prepare the fish.

Pour enough panko crumbs onto a plate to cover your fish well.  Sprinkle each side of the fish with salt and pepper then place the fish into the crumbs.  Turn them over a couple of times to make sure they are completely covered.

In a non-stick skillet, melt ½ tablespoon of butter.  If your fish fillets are larger, you might want to use a little more.

Watch your potatoes.  When they start getting soft, it’s time to cook the fish.  Place the fish into the non-stick skillet with the melted butter.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on each side until the fish flakes easily with a fork and the crumbs are golden brown.

Before serving, toss the potatoes just a bit to spread the butter and seasonings. 

Serve the fish with lemon wedges and/or homemade tartar sauce (mayo, dill pickle relish & a squirt of lemon juice).

Just a little hint: you might want to think about making extra.  This stuff is super tasty!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ammonia Burgers & Other Gross Food Facts

My journey towards a healthier lifestyle began many years ago when I decided that staying thin by being smart was better than staying thin by not eating.  I immediately bought a ticket and hopped on board the 'Fat Free' train.  I could never do Atkins, because I can't live without bread, but cutting out fat grams was a piece of cake - so to speak.  The sad thing is that I was genuinely trying to be healthy. 

I spent all those years worrying about how much fat was in my food but never really wondered what else might be in there.  A couple of years ago that started to change.  I'm not really sure what triggered my new awareness, but I'm definitely glad that it got triggered.  Each new article I read was followed by a slight shift in the culinary landscape of my kitchen. I felt enlightened.  I was happy to be re-educating myself about food.  A truly healthy lifestyle was out there, somewhere.  All I had to do was just make the right choices and I would find it.  It was like a little puzzle, but not a really hard one.  At least that's what I used to think.

I learned some things recently that completely blew me away.  For example, did you know that the FDA allows a certain amount of rat poop and maggots into our processed foods?  It's a very small amount, to be sure, but it's there.  By the time I learned this, I had already transitioned away from most processed foods opting instead for fresh fruits and vegetables so that I could prepare everything from scratch.  Still, it disturbs me to know what I consumed for so many years.

The other interesting tidbit that I learned was much more relevant to me.  I had no idea that much of the hamburger meat we consume - whether it's a fast food burger or a pound of meat purchased from your local retailer - has been treated with ammonia.  The largest producer of ground beef in the world is a company called Beef Products, Inc.  When processing ground beef, BPI uses parts of the cow that would normally not be approved for human consumption because of the extremely high risk of E-coli contamination.  BPI grinds these parts into the beef and treats the mixture with ammonia gas to kill the E-coli.  You can visit their website and read all about how safe this is.  After all, ammonia is naturally occurring, right?  Hemlock is naturally occurring, too, but I won't be serving it at my dinner table.

Am I the only one who didn't know this stuff?  How could I have known?  If I'd had a clue that this was even possible, I certainly would have done some research, asked questions.  But how do you know what you don't know?  How do you know that you need to ask if your hamburger meat contains ammonia or if there is rat poop in your processed food? 

Ok, readers.  Now it's your turn. Have you learned anything about food that drastically changed your eating/shopping/cooking habits?  Or do you just not care what's in your food as long as it's fast and tasty?  Feel free to comment here on this blog.  Anonymous comments are allowed - just keep it clean, folks.  You can also email me at if you prefer.

I look forward to hearing your input and, hopefully, learning a few things.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blackened Tilapia Fish Burgers

Ahoy, Matey!  There's fish in them thar burgers! 

You bet your sweet little fins there's fish in there.  Tilapia, to be exact.  My quest for fun, tasty food without any commas in the calorie count has led me here.  The fish isn't square and there is no giant blob of white goo oozing out of the bun.  That may sound blasphemous to some, but I'm sure you'll forgive me.  In fact, one bite of this baby and you'll vow never to eat faux fish again, square or any other shape.

Here's what you'll need:

4 tilapia fillets (about 4 ounces each)
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt
½ - 1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Onion Powder
½ - 1 tsp Cajun Seasoning
½ tbsp butter
4 tomato slices
1  red onion slice, chopped
4 pepperoncini peppers, sliced
2 slices of Boar’s Head muenster cheese, halved
4 tsp mayo
4 tsp mustard
4 homemade buns (see my recent bison burger post for the recipe)

Melt the butter in a skillet on medium high heat.  Combine seasonings and rub onto each side of fish.  When the butter is sizzling, add the fish to the pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side until the fish flakes easily with a fork (cook time will depend on the thickness of the fish).

Toast the buns lightly and spread 1 tsp of mayo on each bottom half and 1 tsp of mustard on each top half.  Tear the fish and spread evenly across all four bottom buns.  Top each with ½ slice of cheese, 1 tomato slice, ¼ of the chopped onion and ¼ of the pepper slices.

357 calories per burger

Serve with a small salad and a glass of lemonade to round out the meal without a drastic calorie increase.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bison Burgers w/Homemade Buns

Is anyone else having visions of Kevin Costner crawling around in the dirt with his jacket stuffed into the back of his shirt?  Tatonka!  Tatonka!  Ok, maybe that's just me.  I do love that movie.

Did you know that bison is lower in fat and higher in protein than beef?  I learned that recently from my buddy in the meat department at Earth Fare.  It's also widely sold in stores now so you don't have to join a band of Sioux and kill your own buffalo.  I knew that already.

I don't know the name of the meat guy, but he is always so helpful.  He's made several recommendations and, so far, he's batting a thousand.  The bison has a slightly different flavor than beef, but it's tasty.  Season it just like you would ground beef.  Cooking the burgers is exactly the same, too.

The buns you see here are homemade and, like any freshly baked bread, they are super yummy!  The recipe is below.

Here's what you'll need:

1 1/3 cups of water
2 1/2 tablespoons of butter
2 2/3 tablespoons of sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons of salt
4 cups of bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of bread machine yeast
1 egg, beaten
Sesame seeds, optional

When the dough is ready, divide it in half.  Then divide the halves in half.  Keeping doing that until you have 16 pieces.  Roll the pieces into balls and flatten them completely.  Place them on a cookie sheet with 1/2 to 1 inch of space in between the buns.  Cover them with a damp kitchen towel and let them rise for about half an hour in a warm place.  Brush the tops lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds if you want.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  The buns will be light brown on top when they are done.  Cool them on a wire rack.  Wait until they are completely cooled to split them.  I recommend a bread knife or some other heavy, serrated knife.  You also need a steady hand.  I don't have one of those.  I recommend my friend Emmy.  She's a first rate bun splitter.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Black Bean Avocado Enchilada

Holy frijoles, Fatman!  The archvillian Aunt D is at it again!  This time she's whipped up a diet-friendly Mexican dish.  She may have finally foiled our evil plan to super-size the unsuspecting citizens of Glutton City!  If only we knew the location of her secret lair.  Perhaps we could catch her and strap her to a ridiculously slow conveyor belt with a vat of boiling acid at the end.

Will Aunt D succeed and save the citizens of Glutton City from eating themselves to death?  Or will Fatman and his chubby sidekick get the best of her?  Tune in next week to find out.  Same fat time . . . . same fat channel . . .

In the meantime, here's what you'll need to fight crime . . uh . . calories in your own kitchen:

4 Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain tortillas
2 avocados
2 small tomatoes
1 thin slice of red onion
2 cups of black beans, cooked
1 cup of wild rice, cooked
1 ounce of shredded Mexican cheese (I used one serving of a block of quesadilla cheese, grated)
Sea salt and lime juice to taste

Halve the avocados to remove the pit and squeeze or scrape the insides into a bowl.  Mash the avocado with a fork until it is no longer lumpy.  Dice two small tomatoes and add them to the bowl.  Chop the onion and add to the bowl.  Stir the mixture well.  Add sea salt and lime juice to taste.

On each tortilla, layer 1/4 cup of rice, 1/2 cup of black beans and 1/4 of the avocado mixture.  Roll tightly and place upside down into a baking dish.  Spread your cheese evenly over the four enchiladas.

Bake at 350 degrees until the enchiladas are heated thoroughly.  Serving size: 1 enchilada (432 calories)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Butternut Squash & Sausage Soup

Hats off to Brianne for inspiring this most awesome of dishes!  She mentioned her soup on Facebook and I became immediately obsessed with making my own.  She used a recipe from Emeril, which I immediately googled (for inspirational purposes only, of course).  Emeril is one of my favorite chefs and I've always found his recipes to be reliable.  Don't you hate it when recipes just don't work?  Me, too.  I've never had that problem with Emeril's stuff, though.  But I digress.  Enough about Emeril.  Back to the amazing soup I made.

After checking out a couple of recipes, I set out to decide what my version was going to look like.  I even dreamed about it the other night.  Yeah, I know.  That's weird.  At least I'll be able to sleep now since I finally made the soup.  Needless to say, it was a huge success.  It's also very low in calories.

Here's what you'll need:

1 butternut squash
4 cups of chicken broth
2 uncooked bratwurst or other bun-sized sausages
1 cup of 2% milk
2/3 cup of wild rice
Seasonings to taste (salt, pepper & Jane's Crazy Mixed Up Salt)

Peel the squash and remove the seeds.  I recommend a potato peeler.  The squash is hard like a sweet potato and peeling it with a knife turned out to be a bad idea.  Cut your peeled squash into small pieces and place them in a large stock pot.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. 

While the squash is boiling, cut the casing of your sausage and squeeze the meat out into a skillet.  Brown it just like you would hamburger meat.  When the meat is finished, drain it well on paper towels.

When the squash pieces are soft, use a potato masher to squish them up really well.  The squash gets very soft very fast so mashing it is quite easy.  Add the milk and stir to combine.  Reduce the heat to simmering and add the rice and the sausage.  Cover the pot and let it cook until the rice is ready.  When the rice is completely cooked, add your seasonings to taste.

You may have noticed that I provided (gasp) actual measurements this time.  I'm afraid that's an unfortunate by-product of Michael's new diet.  I can't keep up with the calorie count if I don't know how much of each ingredient I'm using.  I'm like a child forced to color inside the lines when I desperately want to scribble all over the paper.  Sigh.

The good news is that this recipe makes four decent sized portions, each of which weighs in at around 210 calories.  Michael decided that he could eat a whole pot twice a day and still have 300 calories left to play with.   Not.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Whole Wheat Pasta with Shrimp and Alfredo Sauce

Shhhh! Don't tell Michael about the shrimp.  He doesn't eat shrimp.  At least that's what he says.  The fact that he was eating shrimp the first time he told me that suggests otherwise.  Now that I think about it, that may have been the meal that won his heart.  It was fettuccine alfredo with shrimp and, when I made it, I had no idea that he didn't like shrimp.  Luckily, he quickly discovered how completely yummy shrimp is when smothered in alfredo sauce.  From time to time he still says that he doesn't eat shrimp, but I know better.

That original alfredo sauce was the traditional version - complete with all the fattening ingredients including, but not limited to, a whole stick of butter.  Yikes!  In support of Michael's efforts to be healthier in the new year, I sought out a low cal version of the alfredo sauce.  I have to admit that I had my doubts.  I mean, seriously, how good could alfredo sauce be when stripped of all the fat?  The answer is 'pretty darn'.

I found the recipe online and you can view the original here.  I say that because you and I both know that I didn't do exactly what she said.

Here's what you need for the sauce:

Chicken broth
Butter (about half a tablespoon)
Grated parmesan cheese

The amount of broth should be half the amount of milk.  Combine them in your sauce pan and add the butter.  I grate my own parm, and I have no idea how much I used.  I just grate cheese until my fingers start cramping from turning the handle.  That's a standard amount for any recipe that involves grating cheese.  I suppose you can use garlic powder if you want, but I prefer the fresh stuff.  I recommend a bunch of it.  There's no such thing as too much garlic.  Add salt to taste and a little bit of flour to thicken the sauce.  Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to let it cook slowly for a bit.  It's a bit thinner than the fattier version but the flavor doesn't suffer at all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Homemade Pizza Dough

Nothing smells quite like homemade pizza baking in the oven.  It brings to mind images of an old guy in a chef's hat tossing dough into the air with that funny Italian music in the background (you know the tune).  Well, I'm not Italian, I don't own a chef's hat and have failed miserably (repeatedly) at tossing dough into the air.  I can, however, make one serious pizza.  Just wait until summer when I can actually grow my own toppings.  Look out, Papa John!  Here comes Aunt D!!

I'm including two recipes here that came with my bread machine.  One is for a whole wheat crust and the other for a regular white crust.  Each recipe makes two 12 - 14 inch pizzas.  The pizza in the photo was made with a whole wheat crust.  I made the whole wheat version last night for the first time and learned two things about whole wheat crust pizza. 

#1 - The wheat flour really does reduce the calorie count of your pizza.  Two slices of the pizza pictured here weighs in at around 188 calories.  Not bad.

#2 - I do not like whole wheat pizza crust.  Michael gave it a thumbs up, though, so that's the score we're going to be using for the 'official record'.

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup warm water
4 tablespoons vegetable (or olive) oil
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I use bread flour)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast)

Whole Wheat
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons vegetable (or olive) oil
3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast)

As always, add the ingredients to your bread machine in the order specified by your machine.  When your dough is ready, separate it into two equal portions.  Roll each portion flat onto your pizza pan.  Bake the dough for 10 minutes at 350 degrees and allow to cool before adding your toppings.  After you've added your toppings, bake at 425 until the cheese is melted.  Enjoy!

The toppings in the photo are red onion, orange & yellow bell pepper, tomato, pepperoncini slices and finely shredded mozzarella.