Monday, April 4, 2011

Diddy's Five Hour Stew aka Chicken n' Dumplings

This month, AFL is focusing on recipes inspired by family. Before you ask, Diddy the rock star is of no relation...but my sister Diddy is. Some of her colleagues gave her a trinket as a token of appreciation which happened to be a cute leather wrist band with "T Diddy" in stones on it. It was soooo appropriate to nick-name her that and it stuck. She is now forever, Diddy.

My sister is a fabulous cook; but, tries to keep that little fact a secret. Once, when visiting her at her home in Atlanta, GA, I was welcomed with a pot of steaming hot chicken and dumplings....something that was never served when I was growing up. Now, I request she make it for me every time we get together. On my last visit, I could not stop talking about the rich stew to my mom. I learned that she had enjoyed chicken and dumplings as a child and ate it often at my grandmother's kitchen table. "Have your sister make me some next time she comes up," she requested. Why wait I thought...I am, after all, the one pot queen...I can figure this out.

Diddy's stew is slow cooked over several hours using dark and light meat and a scratch broth. I can barely sit through a movie, so there is no way I could sit through a long slow cooking process. For Diddy's stew, she takes only one short cut: using store bought biscuit dough to make the dumplings. So here's how I did it:

Cardamom Spiced Chicken Stew with Black Pepper-Herb Dumplings
1 cup pre-cooked roasted chicken breast (roasted on the bone)
1 cup rough chopped sweet onions
1/2 cup rough chopped celery
1/2 cup rough chopped carrots
1 tbsp flour
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup chopped fresh collard greens (about one leaf)
1 tsp cardamom
3 tsp coarse pepper (black, green, and white)
1 small can biscuit Dough
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 box organic low sodium chicken broth
1 cup filtered water

In large pot on medium heat, cook onion, celery, and carrot until softened. Add flour. Stir until it cooks out. Add box of broth and water along with the pepper and cardamom. Stir frequently until flour is fully incorporated. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add chicken. Meanwhile, using about three of the biscuits (freeze the rest), flatten the biscuits using a rolling pin. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of the pepper over the dough and the parsley and roll the dough a bit more. Fold the dough over (the three biscuits will merge into on) and roll again. Do this three more times until the dough is in a smooth square. Cut into strips and then small squares and you have black pepper herb dumplings. Add corn and greens to the pot and simmer for 10 more minutes and then add the dumplings. They will float at they cook and puff up a bit. Allow the stew to cook for about 30 more minutes and turn off the heat. Cover and let sit for about 15 minutes and serve simply in a large bowl with crusty bread.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Olive Oil: The Brickhouse of Fats

These days, most Americans are making a u-turn away from anything with the word fat in it. But, not all fat is a bad thing. In fact, some fat is good--like the fat found in my oil of choice, Olive Oil. Each tablespoon of Olive Oil contains about 14g of fat. That sounds like a big number. But, of those 14g of fat, 11g are monounsaturated which is basically what is referred to as "good fat." Its similar to the fat found in canola oil or avocado oil. Its has zero sodium or carbs. Its known to raise HDL while at the same time lowering one's risk of heart disease by reducing LDL in the blood. Most of us use Extra Virgin Olive Oil which is from the first pressing of the olives. Because its not processed but once, it holds on to most of its good stuff. It also contains high levels of polyphenols, an antioxidant promoting heart health. Olive Oil naturally produces monounsaturated fatty acids and contains Vitamin E.

Mostly commonly, Olive Oils are used as an everyday cooking oil, finishing oil, or a dressing/marinade base. But, a spoonful can aid in digestion when the tummy isn't working so well. And, it a little goes a long way as a moisturizer for hair, skin, and nails. There are dozens on dozens of brands and types of Olive Oil. When choosing a bottle, don't go for the cheap stuff. The price of a good oil can be steep, but you'll know the difference when you taste it. Its worth the investment. Many good purveyors of oils host tastings, so go and try some out and learn something new about food. Feel good from the inside out...make this a staple in your pantry.

Things to try:
  • Rub in cuticles before bed to moisturize and protect cuticles from dryness and splitting
  • For dry hair, massage onto the hair and cover with a plastic cap for half hour before washing, wash and condition as usual
  • Massage on heels of feet after showering and cover with socks for smooth summer feet (men too)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Radishes Are For More Than Making Roses

When I was a girl, I used to stay up all night on weekends playing Barbies with my besties. Like clockwork, we would tip toe into the kitchen around 2 a.m to forage for snacks. We'd look around and I, also like clockwork, would go directly to the crisper drawer. Even as a young girl, I've always loved veggies. I don't know if its from eating fresh picked "cukes" from my great-grandmother's garden or the fact that my mother told me veggies would make me pretty. Either way, I've always loved them. So instead of grabbing the chips, I would choose a few radishes from the crisper and go so far as to wash them, trim them, and sprinkle them with a little salt. Of course when you are trying to hide the fact that you've been in the kitchen from your mom, you can only take a few without being noticed (so I thought). With just a few bright red radishes in a damp paper towel slightly salted, I would eat them slowly in hopes they would last forever. Turns out, mom knew I was eating them and didn't care because I was eating a healthy snack and they were a reasonably priced fresh veggie.

Today, radishes are still just as tasty and just as reasonably priced as they were back then and I still love to snack on them, but I no longer have to sneak them. Radishes are basically an edible root vegetable similar to carrots, parsnips, or turnips. Some varieties have an edible leafy green top. They come in many vibrant colors and are in season most of the year. They grow rapidly making them great starter veggies for a first time gardener. They are rich in ascorbic acid (an antioxidant), folic acid, and potassium. They are also a source of B6, calcium, and magnesium. They satisfy the craving for sweet, spicy, crunchy, and salty--if you add a little salt. They can be cooked in a variety of ways; but, I like them just as they are. You can simply wash them well, trim the ends, and snack away. They make a great addition to salads and can be added as an accompaniment to many other dishes. I like to dice them finely with a little sweet onion and mix them into a vinaigrette. If allowed to set overnight, the flavors will permeate the mixture for a pleasant surprise. Drizzle the mixture over grilled asparagus and let us know what you think.

Radish Vinaigrette
2 tbsp finely chopped radishes
1 tbsp finely chopped sweet onion
1 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tbsp EVOO
1 tbsp honey
fresh black pepper

Monday, February 14, 2011

Atkins Eat Your Heart Out!

So, one evening after work, I popped over to my favorite Safeway to pick up a few items. I love this particular store because it caters to folks who shop for small portions or those not looking to shop in bulk. What this means for me is that I can often purchase items I'd like to try in small quantities; so, if something doesn't work as I hoped it would, its no biggie. On this evening, I randomly chose an aisle to cut through to the butcher counter. I don't recall what originally caught my eye, but I found myself in the Asian foods section eyeing down a cute little bottle of organic tamari. Tamari is basically the real soy sauce. Get some. You won't regret it. Next to it was a tiny bottle of mirin. Mirin is something about which I knew nothing aside from contestants on "Chopped" using it in asian marinades and referring to it as sweet. Lightbulb. Into the cart: mirin, tamari, fresh ginger, lemon grass, and shallot. I stopped at the butcher and picked up a thinly sliced sirlion steak. While I didn't know these ingredient totally, I had a feeling they would go well together.

From this little event was born my latest creation: the asian beef salad. This little tasty salad is a great option for those looking to kick the carb habit. It is as much a healthy option as it is impressive. It's paired with a cucumber noodle salad finished in a sweet, spicy rice wine vinegar dressing. Yummy goodness. How's it done? Using a julienne cutter, julienne a cucumber--skin and all--into long thread like strips resembling a noodle. If you do not have a julienne cutter, try to achieve this simply by using your sharpest knife. (Note: get a julienne won't regret it!) Set the noodles aside in a colander so that any residual water can release. Where's the beef you say? A day ahead, cut the sirloin (or flank steak if you have it) against the grain into thin slices. Into a heavy storage bag, add the beef with two tsbp tamari, one tbsp mirin, 1/4 cup lemon grass thinly sliced, one tbsp fresh ginger finely chopped, 1/4 cup shallot finely chopped, and 2 tsp sugar. After the meat has set in the fridge over night, its ready to go. The prep is as simple as it is quick. Heat a cast iron skillet (or other heavy skillet) on high heat--be sure to vent properly. Prepare the noodles by simply dressing them in a few drops of rice wine vinegar, a touch of sugar, and a pinch of chile flakes. Once the pan is hot, add a little veggie oil and sear each side of the beef for two minutes per side. Remove from heat and allow to rest for several minutes. Once cool, plate up with just a few slices of beef per person and a pretty little mound of noodles on top (noodles equal about 1/2 cup per serving). If you're carb cutting, this little salad is a great option. This recipe is choc-full of fresh ingredients that pack lots of flavor, beautiful texture, and not a potato on the plate. Not only have we a new dish in the AFL arsenal, we also know that experimentation in the kitchen is okay! So go ye forth and cook!

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Heart You Guacamole!

The big game 2011. Safeway has an insane sale that ends the same day. I had to go. I arrived to find no available carts and lines down the aisle. Super Bowl madness. But, where there's a big game, there's an abundance of snack ideas staring you in the face. Chips here, sodas there....HAAS Avocados $1.00 each!!!!! Oh happy day. It never fails that when I want to make a nice batch of guacamole, the avocados aren't ripe enough and when I buy them in anticipation of making some when they've ripened, I just waste my time. So today, its raining ripe haas avocados at the beautiful price of $1.00 each. Heaven. I quickly pack a few nice ones in my cart and I grab a lime, a few tomatoes, cilantro, a sweet onion, and a serrano chile. I finish my shopping, despite the crowd and near empty shelves, and head home.

The thing with avocados is, if you don't know, you don't know. Many people often shy away from them because of their creamy texture. Some people find the color off putting. Others find shopping for them intimidating and confusing. But once you know, you know and there is no turning back. They are good for you as they are high in monounsaturated fat which helps good cholesterol....but, a little goes a long way here, so don't overdo it. They make great additions to a variety of salads and sandwiches. But the best thing they lend themselves to--in my opinion--is guacamole. It's velvety, salty, spicy, sweet...all that, and a bag of chips...literally. Good Stuff.

So, here's the low down on making your own "guac." First, choose an avocado which is brown on the exterior (resist the urge for a bright pretty green one). Feel it up. It should have give but not be mushy. Once you have your fruit in hand, you'll also need 1/4 cup of ripe tomato , half of a serrano chile finely diced with seeds, 1/4 cup of sweet onion finely diced, a tbsp of cilantro finely chopped, and the juice of a half of a lime. Insert your knife into the avocado until you hit the seed. Continue cutting around the fruit from one end to the next and twist open. To remove the seed, insert your knife into the seed and twist. Scoop the green goodness into a bowl and add the other ingredients. It's important to get that lime onto the avocado quickly to preserve its bright color. Add a good pinch of salt and--my personal secret--a tbsp of sugar. Mix well and pop in the fridge. I like to make guac a couple of hours before I will serve it. I try not to make more than what will be eaten the same day as it doesn't store well. Once its has set, taste for salt and adjust as needed. If your chips will be salted, consider that when adding salt.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Best Little Burger Ever....Seriously

Since my grandmother took ill this past Fall, I have made it my job to prepare family meals and ensure that there is no shortage and variety of goodies available. It has also given me a chance to try new recipes and have an audience on with to test new ideas. So when it snowed last week, it was a must that I pop into the market first, to ensure that I had enough coffee in case there was a delay the next morning and to make sure there was something good to eat for dinner the next evening. As I was leaving the market, I passed the meat aisle where a fresh batch of beautiful ground beef has just been put in the cooler. Typically, this would not attract me as I am a veggie girl for the most part; but, something about winter, snow, and family gave me the idea of a comforting meal of basic burgers, fries, and salad with the family.

But, there was nothing basic about this burger dinner. Thursday evening, street still unplowed, we sat down for Rosemary-Lavender-Black Pepper Sliders on honey wheat hawaiian rolls, Steakhouse Style Hash Browns, and a sweet crunchy slaw. Sliders are a great alternative to the big burger. Sliders offer a great way to manage portion control. A single slider may satisfy and if you want two, go for it because you've just eaten the equivalent of one burger. A burger like this, packed with flavor, makes it easy to feel satisfied without over doing it. The aromas that resonate from the lavender and fresh rosemary make simply holding the burger a delight in itself. The unique combination of flavors turns a simple weeknight comfort meal into a trip around the world. Next time its burger night in your home, think of ways to take your burger to the next level and think of adding some of your favorite unique flavors.

Rosemary-Lavender-Black Pepper Sliders (makes 6 burger or 12 sliders)
In a chopper, puree one small sweet onion, 1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, and 1 tbsp dried lavender; add puree to 1 lb of ground beef and 2 tbsp of fresh coarse ground black pepper; add 2 tsp of salt and mix; form patties and refrigerate four to six hours before cooking.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Your Salad Making You Fat?

Today I sat down for the third course of my lunch. I eat a large lunch over a period of two hours at my desk because I like the energy food gives me to get through the afternoon and it also gets me all set for my time at the gym in the evenings. My third course today was a salad. It was vibrant and fresh filled with super sweet cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, and topped with a heaping of pea shoots. Usually, I would prepare my own dressing; but, today I was rushing so I grabbed the nearest bottle of prepared dressing I could find. It was a Caesar Vinagrette. It was yummy.

As I was enjoying my salad, I began to read the bottle a little closer because the flavor was phenomenal. I wondered what was in it. When I make dressing, it usually consists of just a few simple ingredients. This bottle had over 2o ingredient, including High Fructose Corn Syrup and something called Xanthan Gum. I looked at the bottle side-eyed thinking what a sneaky thing this dressing was...masking itself as something that most people think supports healthy living. ***shaking my head*** The recommended serving size is 2 tablespoons which is just about two of those big spoons that come with the full set of flatware that most of us have had at some point. The good news is that it was low in carbs and contained only about 150 calories. All this is great if you are like me and only use a small amount of dressing. If you are a drowner or like large salads, you could be tripling the dosage of all things not so great. But that's not all...what floored me was the 16g of fat each serving delivered. Fantastic. So, you are essentially choosing salad or burger. I'd go for the burger and leave the dressing on the shelf. But if you are like me and love a good fresh salad, try making your own dressing and leave the Xanthan Gum on the shelf.

Basic Vinagrette

Reusing an old jar with lid, add one tablespoon of vinegar, two table spoons of extra virgin olive oil, one teaspoon of honey, one teaspoon of dijon mustard (or anchovy paste, or mayo), a pinch of salt, and a dash of pepper. Shake well until all ingredients are well incorporated. It will be ready to use immediately or refrigerate for the next morning. Makes one serving.