Friday, February 26, 2010

Once you go never go back!

Let me just start by saying...I love Mediterranean food!  I love the flavors, the variety, the freshness AND I love how healthful these foods are (in general...every culture has it's junkfood I'm sure).  I grew up in Knoxville Tennessee in a very traditional southern family.  You cooked with bacon grease whenever possible and if you had a recipe for which bacon grease was not made one up just to get your daily intake of pork fat.  My grandmother's "good old greasy ho-cakes" would practically do the back stroke off the plate.  If anyone had brought home a bottle of olive oil, they'd have looked at you like you had 3 heads!

So where did this love of Mediterranean ingredients come from?  I have to give the credit to my ex husband's parents...specifically to his German-born mother.  That woman could just flat out THROW DOWN on some chow!  She spoke 7 languages and had at one time in her young life been sent to the palace (when Yugoslavia still had a king in the time before Marshall Tito) to be the tudor of the the king's children and the children of "the court".  She cooked across ethnic lines often preparing Hungarian dishes, Slavic, German, Greek, Chezk, Polish and Russian (to name a few). 

Downtown Chicago has (or had 25 years ago..haven't been there since) an incredible market on Randolf street.  There were little ethnic shops that sold everything from pastries to cured meats, cheeses...BREADS (don't get me started...I'm drooling).  We took the "L" downtown on Saturday mornings and hit all her favorite spots; the Serbian bakery where we bought Kolachy and Roasted leg of lamb or piping hot Cevapcici right off the grill.  We'd work our way down the street stopping for great mounds of crusty fresh baked bread, sardines (which were for my father in law and kinda made me want to gag), a bottle of pure, cold pressed (stil cloudy) olive oil here, some fresh produce there.  The last stop was always the best.  The Greek shop.  There were huge oak barrels filled with olives from which you ladled your own into containers.  The feta cheese was in the cold case in gingantic 20lb blocks that the clerk fished out of huge vats of brine and would cut you off a big chunk.  The yogrut was homemade, the tzitzki too.  We went home loaded down for the week ahead. 

At home, my father in law grew the most amazing tomatoes and row after row of shining bell peppers in all colors.  We roasted our peppers on the grill and then placed them in paper bags to steam the skins off, packed them in mason jars with salted water and preserved them for winter.  The tomatoes you ate off the vines, still warm from the sun.  The pears we preserved in sweetened syrup and sometimes my father in law would make pear brandy.  But there was one place in the yard that I loved the most.  That was the picnic table underneath the cherry tree.  The blossoms rained down on your head like fragrant confetti.  I remember always picking cherry blossoms out of my oldest daughter's little curls. 

In the afternoon we sometimes made up a plate of feta cheese, kalamata olives, sliced tomatoes and onions  and some of our roasted peppers.  We'd slice thick slabs of crusty bread and pile it in a basket.  There was olive oil to dip your bread in.  We sat at the picnic table under the cherry tree and ate while my daughter ran barefoot through her grandfather's perfectly manicured lawn.  Afterwards was steaming hot Turkish coffee, fruit from our own trees and a plate of Kolachy or slices of homemade strudel.  How can you NOT enjoy food like that? 

My own grandfather is about to roll over in his grave when I say this BUT...I can't imagine cooking with bacon grease!  First of all we rarely eat bacon and when we do it's always organic, uncured bacon (usually Turkey bacon) which doesn't render any fat anyway.  Still in all...I'm scarred for life thinking about that mason jar on the back of the counter beside the stove where bacon drippings were poured (new on top of old) and kept handy for EVERY meal.  Saints preserve wonder old fashioned southern cooking has such a reputation for being unhealthy!  It was good...becuase they were awesome cooks but I really never understood that you could cook collard greens or green beans any other way other than boiled to death and drowned in pork fat. 

Today in my kitchen, my "go to" ingredients are almost always Mediterranean.  I use a lot of citrus, herbs, capers, sundried tomatoes, olives and olive oil, roasted red bell peppers, yogurt, and Lord knows I can go through some feta cheese!  I swear I think I could eat it three times a day if it wasn't for watching my sodium.  Note to self:  I just had an idea to make a goat milk feta FUDGE...I feel an experiment coming on!

I've rambled enough...time to cook!  I hope you enjoy my Fried Feta Appetizer with it's lovely Mediterranean Relish.  The Citrus Rosemary Grilled Chicken is easy, delicious and done in a flash.  Herbed roasted potatoes are browned and crispy on the outside, creamy and tender on the inside.  It's a simple meal that anyone can prepare and everyone will enjoy!

Pan Fried Feta Cheese with Mediterranean Relish

-8oz. block of feta cheese, sliced 1/4" thick
-olive oil for frying
-1 egg slightly beaten
-2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
-1/4 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-2 large roma tomatoes, seeded and minced
-1/4 cup roasted red bell pepper, drained and finely chopped
-1/4 cup pitted kalamata olive, finely chopped
-1 large clove garlic, grated or pressed
-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-1 tablespoon each minced fresh parsley and mint
-lemon wedges (optional)

1- Place egg in a small bowl and beat ligtly with a teaspoon of water.  Combine flour, bread crumbs and pepper in another dish and mix well. 
2- Dip feta slices into egg wash and then drege in flour mixture.  Set aside on a plate.  You make make ahead to this point and chill until you are ready to fry.  I recomment breading the feta at least an hour ahead and chilling; it makes the coating stick better.
3- Heat 1/2 inch olive oil in a small heavy skillet.  Add feta 3 or 4 slices at a time.  Do not crowd the skillet.  Oil should be hot but not smoking.  Fry feta slices 2 minutes or until light golden brown.  Turn and brown second side.  Carefully remove to a platter lined with paper towels.  The slices will be very soft when they are hot but will firm up as they cool.
4- Prepare relish:  Combine all remaining ingredients in a small bowl; stir to combine.  If desired you can add a teaspoon of greek dry seasoning blend.  Relish is best at room temperature.
5.  Serve with fried feta.  Squirt fresh lemon juice on the cheese if desired.

close up of fried feta

delicious Mediterranean Relish

Citrus Rosemary Grilled Chicke and Herb Roasted Potatoes

-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-1 cup orange juice
-1 Tablespoon olive oil
-2 cloves garlic, rougly chopped
-3 or 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
-1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1-Prepare marinade:  Place orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer until juice is reduced by 75%.  You should have about 1/4 cup of reduced orange juice. 
2-Place chicken pieces in a zip top bag.  Add cooled orange juice reduction and remaining ingredients.  Seal bag and toss to coat pieces.  Store in fridge for at least one hour.
3- Grill over medium coals until chicken juices run clear when pierced with a fork.
*You may make a sauce if desired by sauteeing a minced shallot in some olive oil.  Add 1/2 cup of fresh (not the chicken marinade) orange juice and reduce until thickened.

Herb Roasted Potatoes

-4 large starch white potatoes such as Idaho, cubed *peelings are optional
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
-1/4 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
-1 tablespoon each fresh minced rosemary and thyme

1-Preheat oven to 450F.  Scrub and cube potatoes (about 1" size).  Place in a large bowl and add olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder.  Toss until all potatoes are well coated and seasoning is evenly distributed.
2-Spread potatoes out in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast until fork tender, turning occasionally to brown on all sides.
3-Remove from oven and sprinkle with herbs; mix well.  Return potatoes to oven for 10 minutes to crisp up and release the flavors of the herbs.  Serve with chicken.

*I used some of the left over relish on our chicken but you can prepare the easy orange sauce if you prefer.


(c) Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grown Up Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Its a classic combination; a piping hot bowl of tomato soup and an ooey gooey grilled cheese sandwich.  My grandmother was a famous soup and sandwich chef (and I use that term loosely) when I was a kid.  She had a schedule; Chicken Noodle Soup (the canned kind) and a peanut butter, jelly and BUTTER sandwich on Monday, Vegetable Soup and a SPAM and mayo sandwich on Tuesday (I gagged a little just writing that), Tomato Soup with a Grilled Cheese sandwich (American cheese on that famous VERY white, very soft bread) on Wednesday and so on.  When I got older I was SURE I'd never touch another grilled cheese sandwich as long as I lived and we won't even get into the Spam and fried bologna phobia nor my intense fear of peanut butter mixed with obscene amounts of room temperature butter! 

When I was raising my own children I began to appreciate the wisdom of granny's lunch strategy if not the choice of ingredients.  It was a quick, filling and inexpensive lunch that a busy mom could get on the table in a flash and kids like it (which is important).  It was so easy to make nutritious homemade soups ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze them.  Why would anyone use those canned atrosities as substitute?  As for sandwiches, a good selection of fresh ingredients and REAL cheeses (I do not and never have considered a waxy little square of yellow goo real cheese) are a must.  Don't get me wrong...there is nothing wrong with a good old pb&j once in a while (sans the 1/2" of butter that squishes out when you bite down) but expanding your sandwich repertoire can't hurt right?

Tomato soup is a personal favorite of mine and this one is sweet, creamy and delicious.  It is so simple to prepare as well.  Freeze leftovers in airtight containers and you can have a piping hot bowl anytime.  The simple sandwich I serve it with is a humble grilled cheese...just taken to a more sophisticated level.

Balsamic Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Bisque

2 (28 ounce) cans organic whole plum tomatoes
1 large sweet onion, cut into 8 pieces
6 whole cloves garlic, peeled
3 Tablespoons aged Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tablespoons honey or organic succanat
1 1/2 -2  cups reduced sodium organic chicken or vegetable broth, divided
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups jarred organic roasted red bell pepper pieces, drained
1 cup organic fat free or low fat milk, warmed

1.  Preheat oven to 500F.  Drain one can of the tomatoes, reserving the liquid.  Pour the drained tomatos as well as the can of undrained into a large (3 or 4 quart) glass baking dish.  Toss in the roughly chopped onion and the whole garlic cloves.

2.  In a small bowl combine balsamic vinegar, honey, 1/4 cup of the broth, olive oil and black pepper; mix well.  Pour this mixture over the vegetables in baking dish and stir to combine.

3.  Place baking dish in preheat oven and roast uncovered for 1 hour; stirring occasionally as needed.  The mixture will be thickened darker in color when done.

4.  When roasted vegetables have cooled; spoon 1/3 of the mixture into the blender or food processor.  Add 1/3 of the reserved tomato liquid and about 1/4 cup of the broth, and 1/3 of the red pepper pieces.  Repeat two more times until all vegetables have been pureed.

5.  Pour the puree into a 3 quart non reactive sauce pan and heat though.  Do not boil.

6.  Stir in the cup of warmed milk until blended and soup is hot (not boiling).  If you soup is too thick add additonal broth to achieve desired texture.  Season with kosher salt to taste.

Prepare your grilled cheese sandwich with any cheese you like and vary the other ingredients depending on whats in your fridge.  My choice today is:

6 slices Whole Grain Italian bread, sliced
2 Tablespoons room temp butter (for grilling)
1 green tomato, thinly sliced
9 slices fresh mozzarella cheese (available in specialty cheese case)
6 slices uncured organic Turkey Bacon
9 fresh basil leaves

1.  Spread butter on one side of bread slices.  Place buttered side down in preheated skillet or panini grill.  Top each bottom slice with 3 slices turkey bacon, 3 basil leaves, 3 slices mozzarella and a couple slices of green tomtao.  Top with remaining slices of bread.  Grill until golden brown and cheese is melted and gooey.

This makes 3 sandwiches (2 for my husband and 1 for me)

The sign of a good cheese...the "string factor"

Go on and dip that bad boy in your know you wanna!!

(c)copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mango Swirl Yogurt Cheesecake

This is NOT your mama's cheesecake!  Unbelievably, there isn't any cream cheese in it at all.  It is made entirely of yogurt.  I have played around with cheesecake recipes over the years.  Any cook that's worth their salt (or sugar) has tried to make the perfect guiltless cheesecake right?  Give up because its never going to happen.  There is just no way to create something that looks and tastes like a decadant dessert and stay within my 200 calorie or less dessert rule! I came pretty close though.

Now I don't know about you but I really dislike fat free cream cheese.  Its got a wierd texture, waxy look and funky flavor.  When I looked at the label, I understood why.  It has a list of JUNK thats been added to emulsify, texturize and simulate regular cream cheese.  Like most highly processed foods, when they take something out...something nasty usually goes back in!  I know, you're saying "but some of that stuff is natural."  Ok, well so are beetle larvae that are used for their red color enhancement in MANY "natural" products but that doesn't mean I want to eat them! 

So that left me with light cream cheese.  It might be a little more "natural' than the fat free stuff...but not much and it still has more fat than you want when you are talking about the amount that you need for a cheesecake.  That is typically 3-5 eight ounce packages depending on the recipe you use.  Most recipes that I've read call for combining full fat cream cheese with either the light or the fat free variety but when you read the nutritonal info, you're still talking about four to five grams of fat PER OUNCE.  We all know nobody eats one ounce of cheesecake!  The typical serving is 6 ounces.  Do the math.

If you needed any further enlightenment; regular New York style cheesecake (with no added topping) weighs in at around 90 calories, 6-8 grams of fat, 7.2 grams carbohydrates, 1.6 grams protein, 0 fiber, and 75-100 mg of sodium PER OUNCE my friends!  I got out my calculator.  One piece of (shall remain nameless famous cheesecake joint) plain New York style comes in at 600 calories, 38 grams fat, 65 grams carboydrates, 8 grams protein, 0 fiber and 500 mg sodium.  Holy cow!

I've never been the kind of gal that plays inside the box.  So I got out my thinking cap and my apron.  Six flopped attempts and 16 quarts of Stoneyfield's finest later...I had myself an honest to goodness 100% yogurt cheesecake.  

Getting the refined sugar out was my next dilema.  That one resolved itself fairly easily with the addition of organic Agave nectar.  I just had to figure out how to compensate for the added liquid.  For the crust, I took the same concept that I use for my raw fruit pies with the addition of and egg and some unsalted organic butter.  The result is a sweet, delicious crust that doesn't have one grain of refined sugar and no gluten either!  As with many of my recipes, you'll find this one relies on organic coconut products as well.  What can I say?  I love them!

I am lactose intolerant so I know you are saying to yourself, "well yogurt is made from milk."  This is true BUT...yogurt can actually help with lactose intollerance.  The enzymes in yogurt (as a fermented food) start feasting on those lactic acid sugars and sort of pre-digesting them for you.  Stomach acids break down the cell walls of the bacteria in the yogurt and release an enzyme called beta-galactosidase which enhances lactose digestion.  It is generally thought that only yogurts with live bacteria cultures can perform this function however the jury is still out on that one.  Uhm...ALL yogurt by nature of what it bacteria!  I'm not ripping on any particular yogurt advertisement mind you...just saying.  Somebody has always got a "new and improved" version of something but there are reasons that yogurt is a super-food that supercede any trendy "live bacteria culture" commercials. 

Whether I'm just having a snack or using yogurt in a recipe, there are several things that I look for.  Number it organic?  For me that is a must with dairy.  I'll save the RBST (recumbinant bovine sominotrophen) lecture for another article.  Number two...flavor and I do NOT mean a bunch of sugary fruity junk in the bottom.  I mean how does the yogurt taste?  How pleasing is the texture?  Is it very tangy or mild?  My personal favorite for snacking is Greek style (sometimes called strained) yogurt.  I buy my yogurt straight up though...that is plain.  Even organic yogurts can have too much sugar when you buy the pre-sweetened stuff.  I generally sweeten mine with a little Stevia or just some seasonal fruit puree with no sweetener.  Last but not least is fat content.  With organic products at least you don't have to worry about what they stuck in there in place of the fat.  I use full fat, low fat and fat free all.  It just depends on what I'm using it for. 

So you are saying to yourself, "ENOUGH already...we came here for cheesecake."  Indeed, and this cheesecake will not dissappoint.  Like any other cheesecake, you can't just throw this together half an hour before your company arrives.  A good, perfectly baked, moist cheesecake takes PATIENCE and a little bit of skill.  Although if you follow the steps and don't rush you can squeak by on the skill part.

Most people make cheesecake a day ahead of when they plan to serve it.  With yogurt cheesecake you actually need to start TWO days before.  The first step is to make yogurt cheese.  Don't get excited, its not a difficult process...except for the waiting that is! 

Make yourself a simple set up of a colander lined with unbleached coffee filters placed over a large bowl.  Make sure that the colander will balance on the rim of the bowl.  If the bottom of the colander is touching the bottom of the bowl you are defeating the purpose.  You will need 2 quarts of organic low fat plain or vanilla yogurt.  If you use vanilla, your cheesecake will be marginally sweeter than if you had used plain.  Don't go with fat free on this recipe.  You need a little fat.  Stir the yogurt and pour both containers into the lined colander.  Flatten another filter and cover the top of the yogurt.  Place a small plate or some plastic wrap over the bowl to protect the yogurt from picking up fridge odors.  Stash the bowl in your refrigerator 12-24 hours.  You should get 3 heaping cups of yogurt cheese from 2 quarts of yogurt. The longer the better because you want your cheese to be thick.  You may need to pour some of the whey out of the bowl halfway through the process so the bottom isnt touching the liquid.  You can save that whey for smoothies by the way!

When your yogurt cheese is done, you can easily scrape it off the coffee filters into a large bowl.  Either refrigerate in a covered container or use right away to make your  cheesecake.  If you store the cheese, extra water will still accumulate on the top.  Just make sure you pour that off before making the cheesecake.

You can make your cheesecake any flavor you like by adding different extracts, citrus juice, zest, fruit purees, chocolate or even coffee.  I've chosen mango for this one because I had a nice ripe organic mango in the fruit bowl and it needed a home.  Yes, this does take a little time but I is definately worth the wait.

Mango Swirl Yogurt Cheesecake
(with grainless date, apricot, almond and coconut crust)

3 cups prepared yogurt cheese (see instructions in above text)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic Agave Nectar (color doesn't matter)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons organic coconut flour
2 Tablespoons organic tapioca or potato starch
3 extra large cage free organic eggs
1/3 cup oranic unsweetened coconut milk
zest and juice of one organic lemon (about 3 tablespoons lemon juice)
1 large ripe mango
1 batch  Date Apricot Shortbread Crust (recipe follows)

1- Preheat oven to 325.  Prepare crust.  Press half the crust mixture into the bottom of a greased  9" springform pan.  Bake 15 minutes; cool completely.  Place cooled bottom back into the springform ring.  Using the remainder of the crust mixture; press evenly up the sides of pan.  Chill crust while preparing filling.

2- Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.  Place yogurt cheese in a large mixing bowl.  Using electric mixer, beat in 1/2 cup of the agave and vanilla till well blended.  Add coconut flour and tapioca starch; mix well.  Beat in eggs one at a time until blended. 

3-  Combine coconut milk and lemon juice.  Let sit for 5 minutes.  It will look curdled.  Beat into yogurt mixture.  Stir in lemon zest.

4- Remove crust from refrigerator and wrap the outside with foil (just in case of leaks).  Pour cheesecake batter into prepared crust.

5- Peel and cube the mango and place in blender with the remaining 2 tablespoons agave.  Blend until you have a smooth puree.  Drizzle half the mango puree over the top of the cheesecake and swirl with a butter knife.  Store remaining puree in fridge to serve with cheesecake.

6- Place cheesecake on center rack in 300 degree oven.  Bake 1 hour; reduce heat to 275 and bake additional 35-40 minutes.  Center should still be slightly jiggly when you gently tap the side of the pan.  Insert a cake tester in the center and it should come out clean.  Do not overbake.

7- Turn off heat and open oven door.  Let the cheesecake sit undisturbed for another hour.  Remove from oven and cool on counter top until room temperature.   Remove the side ring once cake is cooled. Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight.

*It is important to follow the steps to achieve the best results.  Also, the cheesecake is best served the next day.  Even after baking, yogurt can still leach out a little water. 

Gluten Free Date and Apricot Shortbread

8-10 fresh (not dried) organic Medjool dates, pitted
8 organic dried apricots
1 cup Almond Meal
1 cup organic unsweetened dried coconut flakes
1/4 cup organic coconut flour
1/4 cup organic quinoa flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
3 tablespoons organic unsalted butter, slightly cool
1 extra large cage free organic egg, slightly beaten

1-  Place dates, apricots, almond meal and coconut flakes in food processor.  Pulse until fruit is completely chopped and mixture is crumbly but sticky.  Add the two flours, salt and baking powder; pulse until well blended. 

2- Cut butter into small pieces and sprinkle around on the top of crumb mixture in processor.  Pulse until you cannot see any chunks of butter.  In a small bowl, beat egg to blend.  Add to processor and pulse until mixture is completely blended and forms a ball. 

3- Moisten fingers with a little water and press into pan as instructed above.  Bake per instructions.

*Note:  Humidity can affect how sticky your dough is.  If it seems to sticky you may add extra coconut flour. 
**Quinoa flour is available at most healthfood stores and is a gluten free product.

Decorate your cheesecake with fresh fruits and enjoy!

16 Servings

Per Serving:  300 calories, 10 grams fat, 45 grams Carbs, 9 grams protein, 4 grams fiber, 82 mg sodium

I've decorated mine with Carambola blackberries and Strawberries

The lovely little "hearts" in the mango puree are droplets of coconut milk which I dragged a toothpick through to create the shape. does taste like cheesecake and it IS as luscious as it looks!

Close up detail of mango swirl top and crust

Now when your mother tells you to eat your got it covered!

(c) copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pineapple Chicken and Very Veggie "Fried" Brown Rice

I don't concider myself a great cook of  Chinese (American Style) food by any stretch of the imagination.  Frankly, it's just not my cup of green tea.  That is mainly because of the salt, fat and calorie content AND the dubious "other" ingredients found in your standard slop trough buffet joints.  However, I do think there are some wonderful flavor combinations to be explored and one of my favorites is the marriage of pineapple, chicken and bell peppers.  That being said, I set out to determine if a healthier, lighter version could be made.  It turns out that it CAN!
It just so happens we had it for dinner last night. 

If you are looking for the thickly breaded, deep fried nuggets of chicken in a cloyingly sweet pineapple sauce, you won't find it here.  The chicken is flash sauted and then simmered in sauce.  A small amount of potato starch mixed with chicken broth at the end thickens the sauce just enough to glaze the chicken and vegetables.

The brown rice is more veggies than it is rice.  That was deliberate.  We eat late and I try to keep my evening carbs from starches low but I still wanted a side of "fried rice".  With this recipe, I could have a generous scoop (3/4 cup) and still not exceed the mere 1/3 cup of rice I would normally eat.  The other side is one of my all time faves in the produce aisle...crisp, sweet Sugar Snap Peas.  Flash sauted and sprinkled with a few drops of Sesame Oil and some toasted black sesame seeds... they are addicting!  I have to make 1 1/2 pounds for two people.  One pound for me and the rest for my husband. 

Pineapple Chicken

1 pound organic boneless, skinless chicken breast, 1" cubes
2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup organic diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup organic diced green bell pepper
1/2 cup diced onion*
2 cloves pressed garlic
2 cups chopped organic Roma Tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cubed fresh pineapple
1 cup unsweetened pinapple juice**
2 tablespoons organic brown sugar or succanat
2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon reduced sodium tamari
1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated
1//4 cup water or reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon organic potato, corn or tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
slivered scallions
toasted black sesame seeds

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan.  Add the chicken and brown lightly.  Chicken does not have to be cooked through at this point.  Remove chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Saute the bell peppers and onion for 2-3 minutes; stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Add diced tomato, pineapple juice, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, tamari and fresh ginger.  Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and add chicken back to pot.  Simmer covered for 10 minutes.  Carefully stir in pineapple chunks; return lid and simmer additonal 5 minutes until pineapple is tender.  In a small bowl, dissolve starch in chicken broth or water.  Increase heat to pineapple chicken until it just starts to boil.  Stir in starch slurry until sauce thickens and looses it's cloudy appearance.  Stir in sesame oil for flavor.  Garnish with sliced scallions and toasted black sesame seeds. 

*It is not necessary to purchase organic garlic or onions unless you just want to.  Their pungent oils are natural deterants to pests and the vegetables are therefore not sprayed. 

**You may substitute organic canned pineapple chunks in natural juice.  Just drain the chunks and set aside while the dish simmers.  Adding the pineapple along with chicken and simmering for the full 15 minutes will just disentigrate it.  You may add the canned pineapple after the dish is finsihed and stir to heat through.
Very Veggie "Fried" Brown Rice

1/2 cup (dry) organic brown rice
1 1/2 cups water or unsalted chicken broth
2 teaspoons olive oil
about 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup organic diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup organic diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup organic celery, diced
1/2 cup organic carrots, diced
1/4 cup thawed organic green peas
1/4 thawed organic corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon reduced sodium tamari
scallions to garnish

Cook brown rice in unsalted water or chicken broth until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  Uncover rice and fluff with a fork; set aside.  Heat olive oil in large saute pan.  Add both bell peppers and onion; saute 2-3 minutes.  Stir in celery and carrots.  You will need to have extra chicken broth on the side to add to the pan since there isn't very much oil.  Cook veggies until crisp tender.  Stir in the cooked rice, thawed peas and corn, sesame oil and tamari.  Stir "fry" 2-3 minutes adding additonal broth as needed to keep rice from sticking.  Serve with pineapple chicken, garnised with scallions and black sesame seeds.

Sesame Sugar Snap Peas

This really isn't a recipe at all...too easy!  Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet.  Add desired amount of pea pods.  Saute until crisp tender.  Sprinkle with a few drops of sesame oil and sesame seeds; toss to coat.

This meal serves 6 people
 Per serving:  328 calories, 7g fat, 44g carbohydrates, 22g protein, 7g fiber, 481mg sodium

*Amounts are as close as I can figure out without professional nutritional analysis so don't hold my feet to the fire.  They are close enough for government work!

Zen Dinner


(c) copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Portobello Pizzeti

The Portobello mushroom makes a great platform for building a healthy little personal pizza.  They are large enough to hold toppings and meaty enough to withstand baking without falling apart.  Plus...they are delicious! One portobello has as much potassium as a large banana.  For those with high blood pressure potassium plays a crucial role in escorting sodium out of the body and thereby helping to decrease blood pressure.  If you take a NON potassium sparing diuretic, chronically low potassium levels can cause Hypokalemia.  Potassium rich foods include dark leafy greens, mushrooms, oranges, legumes, tomatoes, kiwi, peaches and bananas of course!  Not that this article is specifically about potassium of the best sources of potassium and my personal favorite is young green coconut water.  I'll take that on in another post soon! 

As to our recipe...there is no grain crust for these pizzeti or "little pizzas".  The mushroom caps are the "crust".  Filled with low fat, high protein ground white turkey and low sodium, lycopene rich marinara sauce; they certainly aren't missing any of the flavor!  I use reduced fat (organic) mozzarella cheese but if you have dairy allergies you could substitute a rice milk based cheese product.  Check the label for the words casein, caseinates or whey even on cheeses that claim to be non-dairy.  These ARE milk proteins and will aggrivate your dairy allergy.

Portobello Pizzeti

8 extra large organic portobello caps
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. organic ground turkey breast
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves pressed garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried Italian Herb blend
1 1/2 cups Muir Glen organic Marinara Sauce
1 cup organic reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese

*I always have homemade marinara in my freezer but I realize everyone doesn't so I wrote the recipe using Muir Glen for the sake of figuring out the nutritonal content of the dish.

**Using a dark/white ground turkey blend will significantly affect the fat content of this dish

Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat and add olive oil.  Break up ground turkey into the hot skillet and cook until most of the pink is gone.  Stir in chopped onions, bell peppers and garlic.  Saute 3-5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Season with black pepper and Italian herbs.

Stir 1 cup of the marinara sauce into the turkey mixture.

Set the prepared turkey aside and clean the mushrooms.  Wipe with a damp towel to remove any loose dirt.  Remove stems and scrape out dark "gills" with a spoon.

Place prepared musroom caps in baking dishes.  You will probably need two to hold all 8 mushrooms.  Divide turkey mixture evenly among the 8 portobellos. 

Use the remaining 1/2 cup marinara sauce to top the filled mushrooms.

Sprinkle each "little pizza" with 1/8 cup of shredded reduced fat mozzarella cheese.

Bake uncovered in preheated 350F oven for 25 minutes.  Enjoy!

Each Portobello "Pizza" has 170 calories, 4.5g fat, 250mg sodium, 11g carbs, 3g fiber and 20g protein

I generally serve 2 per person with a nice green salad
A 2-mushroom serving has a whopping 1000mg of potassium!

(c) copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gluten Free, Vegan Tropical Raw Fruit Pie

Since I needed to make this today anyway to get some pictures, I thought I'd go ahead and post it for everyone.  I've made this pie several times for cooking demos and everyone always begs for the recipe. Its so easy that its almost a non-recipe.  The key to this pie's success is the combination of flavors and chilling the finished dish long enough to be able to get it out of the tart pan. 

The inspiration for this dish actually comes from an old church supper favorite.  My grandmother made it and I'm sure many of your grandmothers made it as well.  It was a jell-o salad with crushed pineapple, bananas, marachino cherries, pecans and that dried artificial whipped cream stuff that you mixed with milk and vanilla.  There is a laundry list of things that were unhealthy about that dish but it actually tasted good.  So I got to thinking about what elements of the dish actually WERE good and came up with this raw tropical fruit pie.  Oddly enough, it absolutely does taste like the old church supper dish.  Its hard to believe that the entire thing is made of fruit and nuts (in various forms).

Anyway, give it a try and see what you think. 

The grainless date, nut pie crust can be made ahead, wrapped and stored until you are ready to use it.  The wrapped crust dough will keep for a week in the fridge.  Once it has been made into a pie, it is best used within 1-2 days.

Note:  I have used raw almond meal that I had left over from making almond milk.  I place it on a sheet pan and turn my oven on the lowest setting and dry the meal for several hours.  You need to stir it so that it dries completely.  If you don't have your own raw almond meal, Bob's Red Mill has it in 16oz. bags available at healthfood stores and some grocery stores.  However, that almond meal is not raw.

For the crust: 

12 fresh (not dried), pitted medjool dates
1/2 cup unsweetened freeze dried organic coconut flakes
1 cup raw almond meal 
2 tablespoons organic coconut flour
1/4 cup melted organic extra virgin coconut oil
pinch of kosher salt

Place the pitted dates in food processor along with coconut.  Pulse until dates are processed and mixture has formed a gooy ball.  Add almond meal, coconut flour and kosher salt to mixture.  Pulse until mixture is well blended and crumbly.  Drizzle in melted coconut oil 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing for several seconds between addtions.  Mixture will still appear somewhat crumbly but will hold it's shape when pressed together.  Press crust mixture into bottom and up the sides of a removable bottom tart pan, chill.

Tropical Raw Fruit Pie

There are two items in this pie that are not raw and they are the coconut milk and the crushed pineapple.  I have tried several substitutions but find that even though its not raw, unsweetened full fat coconut milk produces the most satisfactory results.  As for the pineapple, you CAN use fresh pineapple that you have crushed in the food processor but it has to be squeezed as dry as possible and the pie needs to be eaten within a few hours of preparation.  The longer it sits, the fresh pineapple will begin to "weep" and make the pie soggy.

1 cup unsweetened freeze dried organic coconut flakes
1/2 cup full fat organic coconut milk, refrigerated
2 large bananas sliced 1/4" thick
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 pint fresh organic strawberries, sliced
1 can organic crushed pineapple in natural juices, drained and squeezed dry
1/2 cup chopped organic pecans
additional unsweetened flaked coconut to sprinkle on top

Keep pie crust refrigerated until ready to assemble pie.   Using a spoon, remove only the creamy top layer of coconut milk until you have half a cupful.  Combine coconut milk and flaked coconut in a small bowl.  Let stand for 15 minutes until coconut is hydrated and coconut milk is completely absorbed.  Spread this mixture in the bottom of prepared crust.  Slice bananas and place in a small bowl.  Sprinkle with lemon juice and toss gently.  Lay banana slices out evenly on top of coconut layer.  Spread sliced straweberries evenly over banana layer.  Evenly distribute crushed pineapple over the top of pie.  Sprinkle pecans and additonal coconut on the top to garnish.  Chill for at least 4 hours.  To remove sides of tart pan, run a small knife around the sides to loosen and gently push up on the removable bottom until side ring comes free.  The pie will slice when it is cold. 

Make some whipped coconut cream to top the pie.  Spoon off the remaining "cream" in the can of coconut milk.  Save the watery layer at the bottom of the can for another use.  Place the cold coconut cream in a metal bowl and stash in the freezer for 15 minutes.  Add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and beat with electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Coconut whipped cream will not beat to stiff peaks.  You may sweeten with a few drops of stevia extract if desired but I find the unsweetened cream to be a better compliment to the pie.


(c) copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Way to a Man's Heart.....

Happy Valentine's Day! 

The indignities I suffer while preparing a Valentine's Day dinner to impress my husband.  I'm typing with one hand because the other is wrapped in a dish towel full of ice.  What chuckle head grabs the rim of a blazing hot saute pan to center it on the burner? I haven't burnt myself in a couple of years so I guess I was over due.

Blistered fingers notwithstanding we did indeed enjoy a beautiful, romantic dinner for two.  On the menu tonight was elegant Gruyere Chicken en Croute with a sinfully delicious White Wine and Dijon Cream Sauce.  A fresh side dish of crisp tender Balsamic Roasted Asparagus and a sweet and savory salad of Arugula, Apple and Walnuts rounded out the meal.  Using skim milk in the sauce helps to keep calories and fat down and light, crispy phyllo dough instead of puff pastry saves a TON of calories. 

We needed to conserve wherever possible because dessert was my ridiculously rich Fleur de Sel Caramel Triple Chocolate Brownies.  Having everyone sign a release of liability before serving these is probably a good idea!  I rarely make things that are this fattening but hey, its a special occasion.  The key to enjoying these over-the-top treats is PORTION CONTROL!  The recipe makes 16 small brownies.  Obvioulsy  I've presented them much larger here for the sake of the picture.  You could use store bought fat free caramel in place of the homemade but I promise you it makes a difference.  That stuff isn't real caramel anyway.  Its a chemistry experiment with artificial flavor and color.  Make the caramel a day ahead to save time and the brownies will come together in a snap!

I hope you'll give these recipes a try and that you will enjoy them as much as we did!

Gruyere Chicken en Croute with White Wine Dijon Cream Sauce

Using leftover roasted chicken or rotisserie chicken to fill these delicate phyllo packets saves time and money.  A kitchen spritzer bottle filled with olive oil makes a good lower calorie substitute for brushing the tops with melted butter.  Buy reduced fat Gruyere if you can find it.  If not, substitute reduced fat swiss.

1 (6 ounce) package fresh organic baby spinach
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2  teaspoons unsalted organic butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coursely ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely grated
8 ounces organic sliced cremini mushrooms
1 (12 ounce) organic roasted red bell pepper strips drained and patted dry
1 1/2 cups finely grated reduced fat Gruyere, Emmenthaler or Swiss Cheese, divided
2 1/2 cups diced roasted chicken breast
24 sheets thawed phyllo dough
Olive oil spritzer (use your own instead of the canned stuff with all the chemical propellants in it)
White Wine Dijon Cream Sauce
minced parsley for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 400F.  Give spinach leaves a rough chop.  Thinly slice shallots.  Melt 1 teaspoon of butter in 10" saute pan.  Add shallot, salt and pepper and pressed garlic.  Cook and stir 2 minutes or until shallot is tender.  Add chopped spinach to skillet and cook 2 additonal minutes until spinach is wilted.  Transfer mixture to strainer to remove any collected juices.  Press with paper towel to dry saute vegetables.  Set aside.
2.  Place saute pan back on heat and add remaining teaspoon of butter.  Saute mushrooms over medium high heat until tender and browned.  Remove from pan and place in prep bowl; set aside. 
3.  Drain roasted red pepper strips and pat dry between paper towels.  Roughly dice the peppers and place in a mixing bowl.  Add 1 cup of the grated cheese and the diced chicken breast and mix well.  Set aside.
4.  Unfold one sheet of phyllo on work surface and spritz with olive oil. Sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of the remaining finely grated cheese.  Repeat two more times to create a stack of three phyllo sheets.  End with cheese.  Place about 1 tablespoon of the sauted spinach mixture on phyllo, two inches from the short end.  Place 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture over spinach and top with one eighth of the mushrooms.  Fold long sides of phyllo in towards center and gently roll up.  Spray rolls on all sides with olive oil spritz and place on baking sheet seam side down.  Repeat with remaining phyllo and fillings to make eight rolls.
5.  Bake 15 minutes until rolls begin to brown.  Top with any remaining finely grated cheese.  Return to oven and bake an additional 10-12 minutes.  To serve, cut in half diagonally and serve with White Wine Dijon Cream sauce. Garnish with parsley. 

White Wine Dijon Cream Sauce

1 tablespoon unsalted organic butter
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour (you can sub spelt flour)
1/4 cup white wine
3/4 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Melt butter in a 1 quart sauce pan and add pressed garlic.  Cook over medium heat for 1 minutes.  Do not brown garlic.  Whisk in flour to form a smooth paste.  Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture smells toasty but do not brown.  Add wine and milk all at once; whisk constantly until mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly.  Whisk in dijon mustard.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make 8 chicken rolls and about 1 cup of sauce. 

Serving size: 1 roll with 2 tablespoons sauce
350 calories, 12g fat, 28g carbs, 23 g protein, 2g fiber, 600mg sodium

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

1 lb tender young organic asparagus spears
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic

1.  Preheat oven to 450F.  Discard tougher ends of spears.  Place prepared vegetables in shallow baking dish.  Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat. 
2.  Roast 5-8 minutes until crisp tender, turning as needed.

Arugula, Walnut and Apple Salad with Shaved Peccorino and Balsamic Vinaigrette

10 ounces organic baby arugula (roquette)
1 organic gala apple, peel on and thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves
shaved Peccorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Arrange arugula, apple slices and walnuts in decorative bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk dijon mustard into vinegar until blended.  Gradually whisk in olive oil until dressing is blended.  Season with salt and pepper.  Dress salad just before serving.

Makes 2 servings

My wine of preference for this meal is a Pignot Grigio.  The crisp bright notes are the perfect compliment for all three dishes.

Chicken en Croute with White Wine Dijon Cream Sauce and Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

Arugula, Apple and Walnut Salad with Shaved Peccorino

Now for dessert!

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Making this beautiful homemade caramel will take your brownies from delicious to outrageous!  It is definately worth the effort.  Make ahead and refrigerate.  Leftovers can be heated and poured over ice cream.  Have all your ingredients ready to go because this comes together lightening quick. 

1 cup unbleached cane sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted organic butter, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream (or half and half if you must)

Pour sugar in a high sided 2 quart sauce pan and place over medium heat.  You can swirl the sugar around as it melts but DO NOT STIR!  That will cause it clump up.  When sugar is completely melted and golden, take the sauce pan off the heat and whisk in melted butter.  The sugar WILL foam up so be careful.  Once butter is incorporated, add cream all at once.  Mixture will probably still foam up.  Just keep whisking until combined.  Pour into heat proof glass jar and set aside to cool.  When cooled; cover and refrigerate.  Makes about a cup and half of caramel sauce.  Caramel will become thick when chilled.

Fleur de Sel Caramel Triple Chocolate Brownies

I cannot be held responsible for any sugar or chocolate induced coma resulting from consumption of these brownies!

1 stick unsalted organic butter
12 ounce bag dark chocolate chips, divided
2 large organic eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup packed organic brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon all purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup homemade caramel, warmed
1/4 teaspoon fleur de Sel flakes
* you may substitute regular coarse sea salt if you can't find fleur de sel

1.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease 9' square baking dish and line with parchement paper.  Grease parchment as well.  If using a dark pan, reduce baking temp to 325.  Set aside.
2.  Place butter and 10 ounces of the chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler.  Make sure bottom does not touch the water.  Stir until mixture is smooth and chocolate is thoroughly melted.  Remove from heat.  Let mixture cool slightly.
3.  In a 2 quart mixing bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until combined.  Stir in vanilla.  Gradually add chocolate mixture until well blended.  Set aside.
4.  Sift together 1 cup of the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.  Add to chocolate mixture and stir until just blended.  Stir in the kosher salt.
5.  Place remaining 2 ouncs chocolate chips and walnuts in a small bowl and toss with remaining tablespoon of flour.  Fold into brownie batter.  Pour batter into prepared pan.
6.  Microwave caramel for 30 seconds to warm.  Drizzle evenly over top of brownie batter and swirl with a butter knife.  Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until pick inserted 2" from sides of pan comes out clean.  Do not overbake.  Allow brownines to cool completely before cutting.  You may drizzle with additonal caramel after baking.  Sprinkle fleur de sel on top of brownies.  Cut into 16 pieces.

Don't ask about calories, fat etc.  You don't want to know!

Serve with a lovely dry Brut.

Fleur de Sel Triple Chcolate Brownies

I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day!

(c) copyright Jill Anderson
The Homegrown Gourmet

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Fort Myers, Florida, United States