Sunday, October 14, 2012

Let Comfort Food Season begin...

Last week, we had a bit of a cold spell... I'm talking hat and gloves, down coats and scarves cold spell.  Looking ahead to the winter, it definitely wasn't as cold as the low temperatures we'll see far too soon - but still, we weren't quite ready yet for the chill.

Cold weather is, of course, an opportunity to make some yummy comfort food.  One of my favorites is Shepherd's Pie, although since I don't like lamb I never make it according to the "traditional" recipe.  I did a little research to see what the origin of Shepherd's Pie is and found out a few interesting things... the dish was first referred to as "cottage pie" as a modest meal in Great Britain, back in the late 18th century.  It was made with leftover meat, and featured a mashed potato crust both lining the pan and serving as a top crust.  Potatoes didn't make it to Europe until the 1500s, when the Spanish brought them back from the New World.  Now, "cottage pie" is used when referring to the recipe when made with beef, and shepherd's pie refers to the recipe when made with lamb.

In reviewing the recipes that are out there, there is a wide variety of ingredients to accompany the meat.  Some of the more basic ones layer meat, corn, and then the potatoes, but that strikes me as a bit... bland.  Others add a little too much gravy for my taste.  Nearly all of the recipes call for butter and milk to be added to the potatoes, and some even call for an egg (or an egg plus egg yolk) to the potatoes to help bind the potatoes and keep them together, and some recipes call for Parmesan cheese to be added to the potato mixture or sprinkled on top.  I prefer a recipe that has some of the classic flavorings - carrots, onions, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes - and I never add butter to my potatoes.

For this version of the recipe, I decided to amp up the potato layer by adding some parsnips to the potatoes; I have been using lowfat buttermilk (Kate's brand) in lieu of butter and milk in mashed potatoes for some time, and that works well in this recipe - I did add an egg, though, to help the topping stay together as a crust - it's a nice touch.  I also used the classic flavor of thyme along with some Worcestershire sauce to add depth to the "gravy".

This recipe is pretty forgiving, and is a good opportunity to use up veggies that would otherwise go to waste, like ends of celery, turnip, corn, or butternut squash.  You could also certainly substitute sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes, and then complement by adding a bit of cinnamon to the meat mixture.

So here's the recipe - it makes about 6 servings if accompanied by a veggie or salad, and 4 if on its own.  Leftovers are great for a take-to-work lunch.


  • 3-4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and diced (you can also use Yukon Gold or Red Russet - when I use these varieties, I leave them unpeeled and mash them with the peels)
  • 2-3 medium sized parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (you can use turkey breast, but ground turkey - including the darker cuts - has a slightly better flavor and the fat lends a nice "mouth feel"; a lean ground beef would also work well)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 package sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 T. dried thyme 
  • 1 t. poultry seasoning (I used Penzeys, but Bell's works also
  • 1-1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • splash of dry red wine
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 - 1 c. lowfat buttermilk
  • 1 egg

1.  Heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place potatoes and parsnips in a medium saucepan, and just cover with water.  Place over medium-high heat, and cook until both parsnips and potatoes are tender, or a fork can pierce them easily.
2.  While the potatoes and parsnips cook, heat a large skillet; spray with cooking spray.  Add the onion and carrots, and saute until the onions start to get translucent.  Add the mushrooms and combine, adding some salt and pepper and stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  If  the mixture starts to stick, add a bit of chicken broth or additional cooking spray. 

3.  Check the potatoes and parsnips - if they are done, drain them and then start to mash with a potato masher.  Add the buttermilk, about 1/4 cup at a time, and mash to incorporate; continue to add buttermilk until the potatoes are mashed smooth; add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

4.  Once the vegetables are soft (the mushrooms will shrink considerably), add the ground turkey to the skillet, and break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula so that it cooks into crumbles; stir frequently so that the meat continues to break up and cook through.

5.  Once the meat has finished cooking, pour in about a cup of the chicken broth, and stir in the tomato paste, herbs, splash of wine, and Worcestershire sauce until the tomato paste is fully incorporated.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until it thickens a bit.  Add frozen peas and stir t combine.
6. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray; pour the turkey mixture into the dish.  Add the egg to the potato mixture and stir well to combine.

 7.  Spread the potato mixture over the turkey mixture, and make some swishy shapes in the potatoes...or not.  If you wanted to get really fancy, you could pipe the potato mixture over the top with a pastry bag...but that's just another thing to clean, so save it for when you're in a cleaning mood (or when someone else is doing the dishes).  Put the dish into the oven and bake for about 35 minutes on the center oven rack, or until the sauce bubbles around the *might* want to put a baking sheet or sheet of foil on the rack underneath the dish in case the sauce really bubbles and wants to travel outside of the casserole dish...When it comes out of the oven, it will look a little something like this:

And when you put some on your plate it will look a little something like THIS!

This version of Shepherd's pie is well paired with a dry red wine; I have a French Malbec that I love, but some of the Italian reds would also work well.

Careful not to burn your tongue as you enjoy this - bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Easy weeknight chili / Back to business

Wow.  I knew it had been a while since I'd posted anything, but... November 2011?  Almost one year?  That's way too long.

So I'm here with a kind of boring post, but with a commitment to post more often...I swear!

E left for London today, and it's kind of a rainy, gray and drizzly day, so I wanted to eat something tasty and comforting, but which was healthy and didn't take too long to cook.  So...scanning the fridge, I found some ground turkey breast, fresh carrots and onions from the farmer's market.  At first I thought I'd make a Shepherd's Pie, but realized I didn't have any, I'll have to make that another night.

What I did have on hand were some black beans and kidney beans, and some tomato sauce  - so chili it was!  This went from pantry to table in about half an hour, including hands-off simmering time.  I served it over steamed butternut squash, but it would go great with steamed brown rice, or over a baked white or sweet potato.  Because I used only cooking spray there's no added fat, so the recipe is full of protein, fiber, and vitamins - you can up the vitamin and fiber content by throwing in some canned pumpkin puree.  YUM.

OK, on to the recipe:

Easy weeknight chili
Serves 4-6

1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper
1 lb. ground turkey or turkey breast
1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 T. chili powder (I used Penzeys Chili 9000)
1/2 t. ground chipotle pepper

1.  Heat a large skillet or medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray, and add onions, garlic, and carrot.  Saute until soft, being careful to stir frequently so that nothing sticks (add more cooking spray if needed).  Season with salt and pepper
2.  Add turkey, and break it up, stirring frequently so that the meat cooks and crumbles
3.  Add beans, tomato sauce, and spices and stir to combine; add a little water if needed.
4.  Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes until heated through.  The longer this cooks the better the flavors will blend
5.  Serve over steamed brown rice, steamed butternut squash, or baked potato and enjoy!  Top with sour cream or plain yogurt if desired.

TIP - you could add some canned pumpkin puree to this either in addition to the tomato sauce or in place of part of it; that would add some extra fiber and nutrients, and who couldn't use some of that!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You can do them both ways...

Hey!  Get your mind out of the gutter.  I'm talking about food here!  More specifically, I'm talking about stuffed peppers.  They're a pretty easy dish to make, but I always forget that I have them in my rotation.  A few weeks ago, I bought some ground turkey and was feeling a little ho-hum about what I would make.  I think the inspiration came to me as I was flipping through a cookbook; I couldn't stand the thought of making yet another meat sauce for spaghetti, and my thoughts turned to the Mexican flavors I love.  So I thought some stuffed peppers would be a perfect way to combine boring ground turkey and delicious Mexican spices!

I've seen a couple of different stuffed pepper recipes; some can take quite a while, particularly if you stuff the peppers with raw meat and bake them in the oven.  But I have a quick recipe, too, where you cook the meat filling in a skillet and then add the stuffing to the pepper.  I like the baked version because it allows the pepper to sweeten a little bit and the flavors seem to come together a bit better.  But, after work, do you really want to wait over an hour for dinner to be ready?  Yeah, I didn't think so.  So, here you go... Stuffed Peppers Two Ways

  • 1 pound ground turkey breast
  • 4 bell peppers
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup salsa, or 1/2 cup diced tomatoes and 1 T. chili powder
  • 1 cup shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese
Instructions:  The Long Way
  1. Preheat the oven to 400.  Spray a pie plate or other baking dish with cooking spray.  Cut the top off of the peppers (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch) and remove seeds. Cut a sliver off of the bottom of each pepper so that it can stand in the baking dish.*
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey, rice, salsa (or tomatoes and chili powder).  Divide the mixture evenly among all peppers.
  3. Bake the peppers for 45 minutes to 1 hour, using a meat thermometer to test doneness (should be 165 degrees).  Sprinkle about 1/4 cup shredded cheese over the top of each pepper and then place under the broiler until the cheese melts. 
Instructions:  The Short Way
  1. Heat a skillet sprayed with cooking spray.  When hot, add the ground turkey and saute, breaking up the meat, until cooked through.  Add the salsa (or tomatoes and chili powder) and rice, stir to combine, and simmer until heated through.
  2. While the turkey is cooking, prepare the peppers as you would in step 1 of the Long Way, and place in a microwave-safe baking dish.  Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes, or until the peppers are tender - not mushy soft, just enough that you could cut through easily with a fork or regular knife.
  3. When the peppers are cooked, drain off any excess water and fill the peppers with the turkey mixture.  Top with cheese and cook under the broiler until the cheese melts.
  4. See?  Isn't that faster?
*One note about the pepper prep, is you can cut them in half lenghtwise or leave them whole.  Up to you...

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween Riddle

So, my sister makes these amazing sugar cookies...amazing cookies in general, actually. This past weekend she brought some pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to a friend's house. They were delicious! And you know how I love pumpkin... So it got me thinking: could you substitute pumpkin for the butter in your classic chocolate chip recipe, and still get a yummy cookie? I decided to give it a go. Using the classic chocolate chip recipe (the Toll House recipe you'll find on nearly every bag of chocolate chips), I replaced the 1 cup of butter with 1 cup of pumpkin puree. I knew I'd likely have to compensate for what was likely to be a "runny" texture, so started with one egg instead of two. Then I added in the dry ingredients. With the default 2 1/4 cups of flour, the batter still seemed a bit thin. I added one more 1/4 cup of flour, and that seemed to do the trick.

The other substitutions / additions I made are as follows:

  • Replace brown sugar with sucanat (raw, raw sugar with retained molasses content)

  • Replace white sugar with evaporated cane juice (less processing)

  • Replace white flour with whole wheat pastry flour

  • Add 1 t. cinnamon and 1/2 t. ginger
(PS I'm handing these out to grown-ups that come trick-or-treating with their kids, but only those who are friends of mine ;-). I'll let you know what they think!)

The dough wasn't like a typical chocolate chip cookie dough, it was a bit sticky. So the tip I have for you is to use parchment paper on the cookie sheets, or spray with cooking spray before putting the dough on the cookie sheets. The cookies baked at 350 for 12-14 minutes and have a nice cake-y texture. As Gram would say, "the taste is there," and they have passed E's taste test (though he's hardly picky...). So I would say that to answer the Halloween Riddle, "YES you can substitute pumpkin for butter in chocolate chip cookies. But you can't call them proper chocolate chip cookies anymore, they are their own thing."

Enjoy...and happy Halloween!!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes 36-48 cookies, depending on how stingy you are with the dough)

1 c. pumpkin puree
3/4 c. sucanat or brown sugar
3/4 c. evaporated cane juice
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
2 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
9 oz. chocolate chips (semi-sweet, dark, or milk chocolate... up to you!)

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine pumpkin puree, both sugars, egg, and vanilla, and mix on low to medium speed until well blended.

  3. Add baking soda, salt, spices, and flour and mix until combined.

  4. Add the chocolate chips and mix just until incorporated.

  5. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets - depending on how big or small you make them, you should get 36-48 cookies. (Nutrition information is provided based on a 36-cookie batch)

  6. Bake for 12-14 minutes; cookies won't spread out much, but they will rise and get golden brown around the edges. Let cool slightly on the cookie sheet before moving to a cooling rack.
Nutrition information (per cookie, 36 cookies per batch): 98 calories, 2 g fat, 20 g carbs, 2 g protein, 1 g fiber, 2 g sodium

Monday, October 24, 2011

Got maple?

OK, so anybody who's not completely tuned me out when I've talked about my fall cooking and baking escapades knows that maple syrup (yes, the real stuff) is a big part of my ingredient go-to list. Maple syrup is sooo good for you, and you don't need a lot of it. You really add fewer calories cooking with maple syrup than when you add sugar. So there.

So here's a recipe that was inspired by a Cook's Illustrated recipe for perfecting pan-roasted chicken, together with my love of maple syrup.

Maple Dijon Pork Tenderloin (or chicken breasts)

1 pork tenderloin or boneless, skinless chicken breasts (between 1-1.5 pounds)
Olive oil (around 1T. or so)
1 T. dijon mustard
2-3 T. pure maple syrup
1 -2 t. bouquet garni or poultry seasoning (if you don't have either, then use some combination of sage, thyme, marjoram and similar herbs)
1 medium apple, sliced

1. Heat the oven to 400F. Remove the pork (or chicken) from its packaging and place on a plate or paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and herbs, ensuring to cover all sides.
2. Heat a cast iron skillet, or another similarly stove-to-oven appropriate pan, and when hot add the olive oil and swirl to coat.
3. When the oil has heated up just a smidge, place the pork (or chicken) in the pan - watch the heat and dial it back if it seems that the pan is too hot. After 5 minutes, turn over (in the case of pork you will make 3 rotations to cover the whole surface). The side that just cooked should be a bit golden - if it's darker then cook the other side using less time. (This step is searing the meat, all the better to keep the juices inside...)
4. While the pork (or chicken) is cooking, combine the Dijon mustard and maple syrup in a small bowl. After you've turned the pork (or chicken) the first time, baste the cooked side with the mustard-maple syrup mixture. Repeat after you turn the meat over again.
5. Once all sides of the meat have seen the "hot" side of the pan, throw the apple slices into the pan, turn off your burner, and place the pan into the oven. Make sure that you have basted the pork (or chicken) one last time before placing into the oven.
6. Cook for an additional 15-25 minutes (will really depend on the thickness of the meat) until cooked - use a meat thermometer to test for doneness (pork should be 160-165 degrees and chicken should be 165 degrees)
7. Let it rest so the juices can redistribute. Serve with mashed potatoes, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, Sauerkraut, applesauce, etc. Slice and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On a pumpkin kick...

OK, so it's officially Fall now, right? Right. Ignore the humidity and ignore the fact that I shouldn't have worn those knee-high boots today because it was too. damn. hot.

I WANT PUMPKIN. In everything. In my muffins, in my oatmeal, in my chili, in my beer, and in my smoothie. Yes, that's right - in my smoothie. So here's a little recipe I've tried that is just like drinking a pumpkin pie. No joke! It's like sipping a big glass of autumn. (ooops, be careful - you spilled some autumn on your shirt!)

You should have one tomorrow... no, really - you won't regret it!

Pumpkin Smoothie (serves 1)
8 oz. unsweetened almond milk, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, or unsweetened coconut milk (you can also use dairy milk - nonfat or lowfat)
2 scoops vanilla protein powder (I use Trader Joe's vanilla whey powder, ~140 cals. per serving)
1/3 - 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1 t. ground cinnamon
Optional: 1 T. pure maple syrup
Handful of Ice

Put all ingredients except the maple syrup into the blender and let 'er rip... the key is to let it blend long enough to ensure a smooth texture. Have a quick taste and see if you will need that maple syrup. If it tastes too "pumpkin-y" then add more cinnamon, or add the maple syrup... or just suck it up, it's good for you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

PS I love you

The change in season - from summer to fall - is a good reason to make a change in your day-to-day routine, to try something new and different. Rather than risk an adventurous haircut that may not work or get that tattoo you've always wanted but will no doubt regret the moment all the ink is on you, why not just try a new recipe or ingredient?

I have mentioned Penzeys Spices before as a source of great quality spices, but the thing I like most about them is the spice mixes they have. I've mentioned the Chili 3000 and Chili 9000 blends. Recently I got a free bottle of Northwoods Seasoning - a blend of coarse flake salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and chipotle. This new seasoning came in handy when I wanted to make barbecue sauce but didn't feel like taking the time my go-to recipe requires. Here's the Quick BBQ Sauce recipe I came up with:

1/3 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. bourbon
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 15 oz. can of organic tomato sauce
1 T. Penzeys Spices Northwoods Seasoning (or more to taste)

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer and cook, covered with the lid slightly ajar, for about 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce reduces slightly.

My favorite use for the BBQ sauce is on grilled pork or grilled chicken:
  • Marinade a pork tenderloin or chicken breasts in 1/4 c. soy sauce and 1 t. Northwoods Seasoning for at least one hour, as long as overnight.
  • Place the meat over indirect heat on a hot grill and baste top. Turn the meat over, and baste on the other side after you turn it. Turn it one more time onto the side with the BBQ sauce.
  • Grill until cooked through, then let the meat rest. Enjoy!
  • Pairs well with a mashed or roasted sweet potato and green beans.

What are some of your "mix-it-up" recipes and spices?