Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nachos for Dinner! AND - It's on The PLAN

This is ONE serving in a big shallow 8" soup bowl.
When Walt and I were dating, we would often share a big platter of nachos for dinner.  THOUSANDS OF CALORIES, way too much fat.  Sadly, it had to end.  We missed our indulgent appy-for-dinner.

Then, I saw this amazing recipe at which sheared off about half of the calories. Here's a link to the original recipe: Mexican Makeover which first appeared in 2006.  I can't tell you how excited I was!    However, over the years, because I couldn't find the ingredients in my local stores (and I'm sorry, I am NOT mail-ordering tortilla chips), I've made many, many changes to the original recipe.  The end result is Yummy. Indulgent. Nachos.  Tastes-like-the-Real-Thing.  BUT - lower calorie and lower fat.

Now all that remains is the concept - and a very good concept it is!  Basically, you substitute 99% fat-free vegetarian chili for the taco meat and make a lower calorie, way-lower fat sauce and pour them over baked tortilla chips.  (Ignore the regular chips in the photo.  I sent Walt to the store.  This is his favorite brand, which doesn't come baked. You do it the right way and use baked chips.)

The sauce is super easy: 3 different kinds of reduced fat cheese melted in some light unsweetened, unflavored almond milk or soymilk.  I prefer almond milk, because soymilk develops a toasted marshmallow flavor when heated - not so good in cheese sauce. Almost unnoticable in this sauce, but I notice. It bugs me. You could substitute cow's milk, just keep it unflavored and low-fat.
This is going to melt into nacho cheese sauce.
So here's how to make 3 Huge servings:

Nacho Makeover
7 ounces (about half a bag) of baked tortilla chips
1 (15 ounce) can Hormel Vegetarian 99% Fat-Free Chili
1/2 cup unsweetened, original flavor Almond Milk
3 ounces reduced-fat shredded Cheddar Cheese
3 slices Kraft 2% Reduced Fat American Cheese
2 tablespoons neufchatel cheese (light cream cheese)
1 - 2 teaspoons Lousiana Hot Sauce, optional
3 tablespoons plain yogurt, optional
3/4 cup salsa
1 tablespoon sliced black olives, optional
few slices hot cherry peppers, optional

Place the almond milk, cheeses and hot sauce in a small saucepan.  Heat, stirring constantly, over medium low heat, until all cheeses have melted and sauce is smooth.  Keep warm.

Empty chili into a microwave safe container, cover loosely and heat 2 to 3 minutes on High, stirring once, or until hot.

Divide chips among 3 shallow soup bowls (or a large platter if preparing as appetizer).  Spoon equal amounts of the cheese sauce, chili, salsa, yogurt, olives and peppers over the chips.

Now, I don't know the nutritionals for this recipe, but I'm pretty sure I'm far better off eating this than the calorie-laden restaurant version.

Here's how it fits into The PLAN:
2.3 ounces grains, 3.2 ounces meat, 1.25 cups milk, 1/4 cup vegetable

My total allowables for the entire day:
5.5 ounces grains, 5 ounces meat, 3 cups milk, 2.5 cups vegetables

I feel indulged, I am properly fed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


These are my grandbabies, Madelyn and Asa.  Asa was born March 24th.  Maddie is two and already stepping up to her big sister role.  Their mom, Jen, said that Maddie is careful to make sure Asa always has his woobie nearby, because as his big sister, she knows how important they are. 

Maddie with her well-loved and permanently stained, but clean woobie.

I'm delighted to be a grandma again and can scarcely wait to travel out to visit.  I miss Maddie terribly and I'm so excited to meet Asa!  Here are some more photos:
My daughter, Jen, and Asa.
Proud daddy and wonderful husband Andrew.

All I can say is: God is good!  He is very, very good!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala is one of those recipes that is so perfectly balanced and so richly flavored, that I thought it would be difficult to make, so I never tried.  Until tonight.  I read through a bunch of different recipes and made up my own version with ingredients that I thought would give me the best shot at the classic recipe as served in the Chicago area in the 70's.  Sadly, I can't find that in restaurants any more.  When ordering it recently, I'm disappointed to find that they've used different wines or white button mushrooms or added sugar (???).

In making it, I'm delighted to find that it's actually one of the EASIEST and QUICKEST recipes ever.  It's a 30 minute meal.  Yes. Really.  The key is two ingredients which can not be substituted or eliminated: dry marsala wine and crimini mushrooms (baby portabellas); and a couple of SIMPLE techniques.

Technique 1: Butterfly-ing the chicken breast.  I didn't take photos of the process because my hands would be in contact with raw chicken and therefore my camera would be slimed.  Not worth it.  Read on:

If you look at a boneless, skinless chicken breast, one side is rounded and smooth and the other side is flatter and slightly rough. Place a chicken breast rounded side up on a cutting board, place your non-dominant hand flat on it.  Look and see exactly where all your fingers are and with the knife blade parallel to the cutting board, slowly and carefully cut the chicken breast horizontially almost all the way through, then fold it open like butterfly wings.  If you cut it all the way through, you have made cutlets, which also work very well for this recipe.

Technique 2: Pounding (great stress reliever!)
Put one butterflied breast into a gallon size ziptop bag and leave the bag open.  If you seal the bag, it will burst in the next step and spew chicken juice. So, yeah, leave it open.
Take a meat mallet small heavy skillet and whack it a dozen or so times until it's as thin as you want.  Pounding tenderizes the meat and makes the portion look huge. 

Combine flour, and a generous amount of salt and pepper in a wide shallow bowl.  Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat.  After pounding the breasts, dredge them one at a time in the flour.  Shake off the excess flour.  Add some olive oil and butter to the hot skillet. When it shimmers, slide the breasts into the hot oil and butter.  I could only fit two at a time, so I cooked them in batches, removing them when done to a plate.  When all the breasts were cooked and removed to a plate, I tossed 2 large cloves of peeled, smashed garlic into the hot skillet and stirred them around for a minute, then took them out and put them on the plate with the chicken.  Why?  If you cook them with either the chicken or the mushrooms (up next), you risk some of the garlic burning.

I added more oil and butter and tossed in the sliced crimini mushrooms.  They take at least 5 minutes to brown up.  Brown is good.
When the mushrooms are browned, add in the marsala wine and let it cook down to about half to concentrate the flavor and cook out the alcohol.  Then add in the chicken broth and let it cook down to half.

Push the mushrooms to the side and add the chicken breasts back to the pan.  Bring it to a simmer.  The flour in the coating will start to thicken the sauce.  After a couple minutes, lift the meat and stir up the sauce underneath.
I served it on top of FREE noodles (love my supercouponing) with the last jar of last year's green beans.

VERDICT:  A++  I should never have waited to try to make this dish. 
NEXT TIME I'LL CHANGE:  I'll double the amount of sauce ingredients.

Chicken Marsala
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
1/3 - 1/2 cup of flour (you won't use it all)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (don't pooh-pooh the EVOO - it adds rich flavor)
2 tablespoons butter (please don't use margarine)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
8 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced 1/4" (the stems are too tough to eat)
1/2 cup DRY Marsala Wine (it comes sweet or dry - use dry)
1/2 cup chicken broth (from a can or a box, but not powdered)

Butterfly and pound chicken breasts.  Place flour in a large shallow bowl and salt and pepper well, stir to combine.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil until it shimmers; add butter.  Add chicken breasts.  Cook in batches if they all won't fit.  Brown on both sides and remove to a plate.

Add the garlic to the pan and saute a minute or so.  Remove it to the plate with the chicken.

Add the remaining oil and butter along with the mushrooms.  Stir to coat the mushrooms with the oil mixture;  scraping up any brown bits on the skillet and mix it in with the mushrooms. Cook over medium heat until the mushroom liquid evaporates and they are browned on both sides, stirring occasionally.  This will take at least 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour in the Marsala wine; bring to a boil.  Allow it to reduce by half.

Add the chicken broth; bring to a boil and reduce by half.

Push the mushrooms aside and add the chicken and garlic back to the skillet.  Bring to a simmer.  Chicken will reheat and sauce will thicken. 

Serve over wide noodles.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Crock Pot Yogurt!

I saw this recipe at Crockpot Recipe Exchange and had to try it.  I love low fat Greek yogurt, but at a buck for a tiny tub, it's expensive.  I also use plain yogurt as a swap for sour cream in cooking and it's almost impossible to find in recipe quantities. So, after seeing the recipe, I thought I'll make a half recipe of yogurt, use some of it for cooking and smoothies and drain the rest to eat for lunch or healthy snacking.  Sounded like a plan to me!

I bought a half gallon of 1% milk and poured 4 cups of it into my small (3-4 quart) crock pot.  I set it to High and set the timer for 2 1/2 hours.  Once that was done, I turned the cooker off and let it sit for 3 hours without opening the lid. 

After 3 hours, the milk had cooled to around 90-110F.  I stirred in 1/4 cup live culture Greek yogurt and 6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) dry whole milk powder.  I found that in the Mexican food aisle at Walmart.  It was about $3.50 and it will last a very long time.  I'll use it in my bi-weekly bread making as well. I like that it's in a resealable container.

Then I wrapped the entire crock pot in a large bath towel and left it overnight.  I ended up with a pourable, silky smooth, mildly tart yogurt.
Pourable.  Not as thick as I imagined it would be.  But, perfect for cooking and smoothies! I poured half into a container and stashed it in the refrigerator; the other half I strained for Greek style yogurt. I lined a mesh strainer with a coffee filter, suspended it over a bowl and added the yogurt to the filter.  I covered it with a clean dish towel and put that in the fridge to drain.  A couple hours later:
I had Greek yogurt!  Oh, the things I can make! Tzaziki sauce for homemade gyros and fruit parfaits are the two that jumped to mind.  I scooped some out, added a spoon of jam.  Heaven.  Oh, my.  No graininess like in store bought.  Not overpoweringly sour.  Silky...

A couple hours later, I was notified by my lactose intolerant digestive tract that perhaps next time I should let it culture a little longer so that all the lactose was converted.  My daughter did a little research and concluded that it probably didn't stay within the culturing temperature range long enough.  I wondered if my cold-from-the-fridge yogurt cooled it too much or if the towel didn't maintain the heat.

So, next time, and there WILL be a next time, I'll a)allow my starter to reach room temperature before adding it and b)warm my oven for a few minutes, turn it off and tuck my crock pot insert, still covered, into the warmed oven to culture overnight.  I'll let you know how it goes.

If you are wondering how yogurt fits into The Plan - it counts cup for cup as milk. 

More PLANned Comfort Food - Crockpot Cassoulet

This isn't quite the French classic.  It only has one kind of meat (or no meat at all - read on).  The flavors in this simple stew are so rich and well balanced that YOU MUST TRY IT.  Seriously, you must. 

Here's how it starts:

A package of kielbasa or smoked sausage (in this case Turkey Kielbasa), some carrots, garlic, onion, beans, tomato sauce, brown sugar, thyme and red wine. To make this vegetarian, substitute another can of rinsed, drained beans for the kielbasa.

The red wine is French genius at work. Somehow, a little bit of red wine transformes "very good" into "WOW".  I am assured that the alcohol cooks out, so it's safe for the kids. The wine needn't be expensive - I used Winking Owl, which I think I bought at Aldi for under $5.00.  Three Buck Chuck works, too.  Just make sure it's something you'll want to drink, because you'll want a glass with dinner, and cooking with wine won't make the wine better.  However, if you don't drink or if you have a red wine sensivity, use an equal amount of broth.  I haven't tried it with vegetable broth, so you're on your own there.

This isn't my recipe.  Like most of my really good recipes, I found it.  Taste of Home Contest Winning are great cookbooks.  This is from 2004, which is the TOH cookbook I reach for most often.  I did, however, adapt it to the crockpot.

French Country Casserole
1 lb. kielbasa or smoked sausage, cut diagonally into 1/4" slices
4 carrots, sliced into 1/4" coins
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced into 1/4" half moons
3 (15 - 16 ounce each) cans beans, 1 each kidney, cannelini, and black, rinsed and drained
2 (8 ounce) cans plain tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine or beef broth or vegetable broth
2 level tablespoons light brown sugar, NOT packed (if you must pack, only use 1)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled

Spray the interior of your crockpot with non-stick.  Add all ingredients and mix well.
Slow cook on Low 8 - 10 hours, depending on how crunchy you want your carrots.

10 servings, 241 calories per 1 cup
PLAN numbers: 6 1/5 ounces meat, 1/2 cup vegetables