Tuesday, January 26, 2010

spiced okra

I think okra is one of the best vegetables in the world...maybe the best.  (You can tell I grew up in Oklahoma, huh.)  But, as much as I love okra, I'm hesitant to cook it without frying it.  I'm sure you can imagine why.  If you know anything about okra, you know it can get disgustingly slimy when cooked the wrong way - even if it tastes good, just looking at it will turn your stomach.

I have been determined to figure out more ways to cook okra without frying it - ways that won't end up slimy.  As of today, I've come up with at least one solution...and my husband LOVED it!  I've cooked it two ways - the way I'm presenting below and also by adding meat and making it a main dish.  Both ways were great.

This okra is healthy and really spicy.  And it's remarkably free of slime.

First mix together the following - 2 1/2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can omit this if you are afraid of the heat), 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon dried basil, and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper.

Toss 2 cups of frozen okra (no thawing needed) and about a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet.  Heat on medium and start stirring.

Toss the mixed spices in with the okra and stir everything together.  Add a teaspoon of minced garlic.


Once you've got the okra good and coated with the spices, add 1/4 cup of water.  Continue cooking until the liquid is completely dissolved.  At this point, check your okra.  If it's still too crisp, add another 1/4 cup of water and continue cooking until water is dissolved.

Continue cooking with small amounts of water until your okra is tender.  Serve with a large glass of water - it gets spicy!

Spiced Okra
  • 2 cups frozen okra
  • 2 1/2 t. paprika
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 1 t. minced garlic
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 t. dried oregano
  • 1/4 t. dried basil
  • 1/4 t. white pepper
  • 1 T. oil

Put okra and oil in nonstick skillet on medium heat.  Add spices and stir.  Add 1/4 cup water and cook until liquid is dissolved.  Check okra; if it's not tender enough, add another 1/4 cup water and cook until liquid is dissolved.  Continue until okra is tender.  Serves 4

Nutrition: 58 cal, 4g fat, 0g sat fat, 0mg cholesterol, 3mg sodium, 6g carbs, 2g fiber, 2g sugar, 1g protein, 20% vit. A, 16% vit. C, 6% calcium, 4% iron.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

hearty potato soup

 On Monday, it rained.  On Tuesday, it rained and blew.  On Wednesday, it rained and blew and hailed.  Today, it just rained.  Needless to say, it's cold and wet here.

In this kind of weather, there's nothing like soup to warm the soul.  I'm a huge fan of soup, as you've probably noticed, and I particularly like this one.  It's creamy, hearty, filling, and perfect with a side of bread or served as a side with a grilled chicken breast.  It just does an amazing job of warming you up.

So here are our main players - potatoes, carrots, and celery.  You can modify the number of each that you use, but I suggest something along the lines of 6 medium potatoes, 3 carrots, and 5 celery stalks.  Peel the potatoes and carrots, rinse everything off, and then dice everything (see below).

Put these veggies in a large stockpot with 2 quarts of water (yes, it's important to measure the amount of water you use - you'll see why).  Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.  Once it's done cooking, you want to drain the liquid out, but don't throw it away!  Save that veggie stock!  My suggestion for this is to put a strainer inside a large mixing bowl and just dump everything in there.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Sorry about that.

While those veggies are cooking, chop up some onion (I used half of a large onion).

Dump the chopped onion in a skillet with a few tablespoons of butter.  The recipe technically calls for 6 tablespoons, but I'm of the opinion that you can use as much as you feel necessary.  I don't even measure...I just dump it in.

Saute the onion in the butter until it's soft.  Then stir in about 6 tablespoons of flour, at least one teaspoon of salt (I generally use 2), and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper.

That's a horrible picture!  Ick.  But, as you can see, the flour more than soaks up the butter.  So we need liquid.  Slowly...slowly...add 1 1/2 cups of milk (or milk substitute) to the flour mixture and stir it up.  I used almond milk.  Your goal is to get a smooth, creamy sauce going.  Don't be afraid if at first it looks lumpy.  It won't stay that way.

When your flour and onion mixture looks nice and creamy like this, add it to the stockpot with your vegetables and stir it up.  Now, here's were that reserved veggie liquid comes in.  Slowly...slowly...add the reserved veggie liquid.  Continue adding liquid until the soup is the consistency that you like it (you will most likely not use all of it).  Heat it all through, stirring to make sure you've got it all combined.  Then serve it up!

Hearty Potato Soup
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 5 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 6 T. butter
  • 6 T. flour
  • 1-2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

In a large kettle, cook potatoes, carrots, and celery in water until tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain, reserving liquid.  Meanwhile, saute onion in butter until soft.  Stir in flour, salt, and pepper; gradually add milk, stirring constantly until thickened.  Gently stir in cooked vegetables.  Add 1 cup or more of reserved cooking liquid until soup is desired consistency.  Serves 8.

Nutrition (calculated using 6 T. Smart Balance Light and Silk soymilk): 287 cal, 5g fat, 1g sat fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 734 mg. salt, 55g carbs, 6g fiber, 5g sugars, 6g protein, 77% vit. A, 34% vit. C, 13% calcium, 8% iron.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

chicken fried chicken with gravy

 While traipsing across Oklahoma over Christmas vacation, I got a hankering (that's what we call a craving where I'm from, for all you Californians who don't know the word). :-)  The hankering just grew when my husband and I went to the Cracker Barrel (for all you Californians who haven't heard of it, it's only one of the best country food restaurants known to man).  I kept eying the chicken and dumplings, fried okra, chicken fried steak, fried apples, and cobbler...but in the end I ordered something much more boring to keep it healthier.

It was a bummer.  And it put me on a mission.  I determined that when I got back, I was going to figure out how to make something that tastes Cracker Barrel amazing but is a little lighter.  I think I did it!

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present...Chicken Fried Chicken. 

Sprinkle 4 thin chicken breasts (of similar size and thickness) with salt and pepper.  Let those sit and stare at you while you prepare the breading (I swear, sometimes I think chicken breasts have eyes).

Now, the best breading I've ever had used a sleeve of crushed Saltine crackers.  I didn't go with those this time - mostly because they weren't in my pantry.  What was in my pantry was Chex cereal.  I figured it was the perfect time to improvise!

For the breading, I put eight cups of Chex cereal in the blender and let 'er go (I used mainly corn Chex, with a little rice Chex tossed in).  Then, I combined the crushed cereal with 1 teaspoon of seasoned salt, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, 3/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon ground red pepper.  This makes a TON of breading - I suggest saving half of it for later.

The breading should look like this...

NOTE: If you do have a sleeve of Saltines and want to use those instead of Chex, reduce your seasoned salt to 1/2 teaspoon (since Saltines have enough salt of their own).  Otherwise, keep the same ingredients.

Now we get to the fun part - tossing it all together!  This is also the part where we are going to get innovative about cutting calories.  Most restaurant versions of this dish are incredibly high in fat and calories (Applebees' version has 806 calories and 19.7g fat).  I imagine that most of the heart-clogging qualities of this dish comes from being dipped in whole buttermilk and deep fried.

We're not doing either of those things.  We don't like clogged hearts. :-)

Instead of deep frying, we're going to use the oven.  You'll want it preheated to 350 degrees.  Instead of buckets of oil, we're just going to use a teency weency smidgen.  To be precise, pour into a glass baking dish as little oil as you need to just barely cover the bottom (no more than 2 tablespoons).  My vote is peanut oil - it handles heat much better than the others and adds a nice flavor.  Other veggie oils will do, though.

Instead of buttermilk, we're mixing up a different concoction.  In a bowl, whisk two egg whites with about 3/4 cup skim milk or dairy substitute (I used rice milk).

Get all of your equipment in one place.

Dip each chicken breast in the breading, then in the egg white mixture, and then back in the breading.  Make sure it's good and coated.  Then place in your baking dish.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes, and then flip your chicken over (be careful not to take off the breading on the bottom!).  Bake for another 10 minutes or until done.

While your chicken is baking, you'll want to make the gravy.  My directions on gravy are not very precise because I never make it the same way twice.  In fact, my mother has told me that I need to work on my gravy making skills...but I've rarely been disappointed in my efforts.

Melt a few tablespoons of butter (I used Smart Balance Light) in a saucepan.  Add some flour (I use about a quarter cup) and mix with the butter.  Slowly...very slowly...add milk (or some variation thereof) to the flour mixture, whisking and mixing as you go.  Bring everything to a boil - it will thicken up.  Add more milk until the gravy reaches the consistency you desire.  Add fresh ground pepper and seasoned salt to taste.

I hope you try this and enjoy it...I sure did.

Chicken Fried Chicken
  • 4 thin chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • peanut oil
  • 8 cups Chex or 1 sleeve Saltines, crushed
  • 1 t. seasoned salt
  • 1 t. fresh ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. ground red pepper

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Mix together in one bowl breading ingredients.  In another bowl, whisk together egg whites and milk.  Dip chicken in breading, then egg mixture, then breading again.  Place in a glass baking dish barely coated with oil.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes; turn over, then bake another 10 minutes or until done.

Cream Gravy
3-4 T. butter
1/4 cup flour
1-2 cups milk
salt and pepper

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add flour and mix well.  Slowly stir in milk and bring to a boil.  Add more milk until gravy reaches desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

country style green beans

In life, there are green beans...and then there are green beans.  While I generally settle for straight-laced green beans, they never hit the spot like green beans do.  And by green beans, I mean the style of green beans I'm about to share.  I give all the credit to my mama...she's the one who taught me how to make them this way, and as far as I'm concerned (though it's probably not true) she's the one who invented them.

The first step actually has nothing to do with green beans.  Cut up some bacon into small pieces and fry it up in a skillet or saucepan (did I mention that this was not a vegetarian dish?).  We used turkey bacon and cooked it in a large nonstick skillet that was actually probably too big, as you'll see in a second.  If you ask me, this dish tastes better when cooked in cast iron, but I really have no proof for that.  And since I don't have cast iron, I'm sticking with my skillet.

Once your bacon is good and cooked, add some chopped up, peeled potatoes.  Then, on top of the potatoes, put a large can of green beans (undrained).  Simmer until the potatoes are tender!

 Now, the reason I said that our skillet was too large is that all of the liquid simmered out before the potatoes were done.  No biggie - we just added water.  But, cooking everything in a smaller saucepan would have eliminated that problem.

There are several nice things about this dish.  The bacon adds flavor.  You are getting a vegetable that tastes WAY better than a vegetable.  And, you can put as much of each ingredient in as you want (just make sure the potatoes have enough liquid to cook).

For that last reason, I am including no nutritional info.  I'll just give you one last tip...this tastes good on its own, but it tastes amazing with a little Cajun seasoning. :-)  Beans up!

Monday, January 4, 2010

chicken noodle soup

 I have a cold.  I spent a wonderful New Years with family in Oklahoma, where I enjoyed the cold and the snow.  But the minute I landed in California, the sniffling commenced.  I seriously think I may be allergic to the West Coast.

As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing better for a cold than a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup with a slice of cornbread.  I like this recipe because it's surprisingly flavorful for the small amount of ingredients that go in it, and it's a snap to fix.  The smell of this soup filling my house has made me feel better already. :-)

First, chop up a small amount of onion for flavor, a few carrots, and a few celery ribs.

Toss these in a pot with some minced garlic and about a pound of chicken breasts, cut into small pieces.  Saute the vegetables and chicken in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter (I used Smart Balance Light - it's dairy free).

After 5 minutes of sauteing, stir in 1/4 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon basil, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, and a few shakes of black pepper.

 Then add 3 cans of chicken broth (14 1/2 oz. each) and 1 (14 1/2 oz) can of diced tomatoes, undrained.  Stir everything together and bring to a boil.

Once you get the soup good and boiling, lower the heat and put a lid on it for an hour.  After it's good and simmered, stir in a handful or two of pasta.  I generally throw in spiral pasta, but this time I used up some bowtie.  Simmer for another 15 minutes or so until the pasta is done.

Quick Method:  I know that not everyone has the time or inclination to sit around for an hour and wait for their soup to simmer.  If that's you, and you've got some pre-cooked chicken, then try this method.  Saute only the veggies.  Add the flour, spices, chicken broth, and diced tomatoes, and bring to a boil.  As soon as your veggies are tender, throw in pre-cooked chicken and the pasta and boil until done.

Chicken Noodle Soup
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 3 cans (14 1/2 oz. each) chicken broth
  • 1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 6 oz. pasta

In a large saucepan, saute the chicken, onion, celery, carrots and garlic in butter and oil for 5 minutes.  Stir in the flour, basil, oregano, and pepper until blended.  Gradually add broth and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Return to a boil; stir in the pasta.  Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 12-15 minutes or until pasta is tender.  Yields 9 (1 cup) servings.

Nutrition: 193 cal, 8g fat (3g sat), 36mg cholesterol, 652mg sodium, 16g carbs, 2g fiber, 15g protein.

Note: I modified this recipe off of the recipe for Curly Noodle Chicken Soup in Taste of Home's Light and Tasty 2003.  I used their nutritional calculations.
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