Leftover Veggies Pizza

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My refrigerator is often like a jungle of commestibles, plastic and tin cans, a dense, Amazonian jumble of meals, future meal ingredients, and condiments, where no light gets through.

Sadly, from time to time, I lose something in this food jungle. I hate wasting food, but like everyone else, it does happen from time to time. I’ve been trying a little harder lately to avoid being wasteful, and the recipe I have for today is one of the things I’ve done recently toward that.

I found myself with roasted tomatoes, from this sophisticated BLT idea (though I adapted it a bit to make it more flavorful; see below). I also had extra sauteed kale (again, see below). I took these leftovers, placed then on a garlic pita, topped then with an ounce of mixed Italian cheese, and had a sublime vegetarian pizza.

Roasted Tomatoes Recipe

Four medium-to-large, or 8 small tomatoes, sliced. (The original recipe called for Roma tomatoes, but the regular ones I had on hand did just fine. I’d cut the Romas into thirds, and regular tomatoes into quarter-inch slices.

1T olive oil

Salt, garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste

Put the sliced tomatoes in a bowl. Top with the oil and spices and mix thoroughly.

Place the tomato slices on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Place in an oven heated to 250; roast for 2 to 3 hours until desired doneness. (Mine weren’t super-dry like sun-dried tomatoes; I left in a smidge of liquid.)

Sauteed Kale Recipe

1/2 bag washed kale (next time, I’d remove the thick stems)

1/2 large onion

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1 T olive oil

1 c fat-free chicken broth

Heat the olive oil, and add the garlic and onions; cook until the onions are translucent. Add the kale in handfuls at a time. When some has wilted, add the chicken broth. Simmer until desired tenderness. (I left mine a bit crunchy still.)

Notes: if you wanted, you could add a couple slices of center-cut bacon or grilled or roasted turkey or chicken. Turkey ham our pork loin would also work.

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How to Make a Turkey Disappear: Salads, Etc.

I gushed last week about the turkey smell in my house that had me daydreaming about tasty meals. Well, that turkey is a distant memory. I have to say thank you to my family for helping me to gobble up the gobbler!

I made several salads with the turkey and had some other ideas that I didn’t get to execute, but will definitely do it next time. Here goes on where the six pounds of turkey went…

ImageCranberry Blue Cheese Turkey Salad

  • 2 oz turkey
  • Salad greens and veggies of your choice
  • 1T pecans, crushed
  • 2T dried cranberries
  • 2T light or fat-free blue cheese dressing

Mix, eat, and enjoy!

Fajita Turkey Salad

ImageGrill some peppers and sliced onions, or, while closely monitoring them, char them in the oven set to broil.

Add some to:

  • Salad greens of your choice
  • 2-3 oz. turkey
  • 2T guacamole
  • 2T fat-free Greek yogurt
  • (You could also add cheese; if you do, go with 2 oz of turkey.)

Satay Turkey Salad

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  • 2-3 oz turkey
  • Broccoli slaw
  • 1/4 c peanut sauce
  • 1T peanuts, crushed (measure 1T of peanuts and then crush them)

Mix the turkey, broccoli slaw, and peanut sauce. Top with the peanuts.

Turkey Club Salad

  • Salad greens and vegetables of your choice
  • 2 oz. turkey
  • 1/2 c whole wheat pasta (I went with rotini)
  • 2 slices bacon (center-cut pork bacon or turkey bacon), cooked
  • 2T light or fat-free ranch dressing

Mix all ingredients together and enjoy! (You could also add 1/2 oz. of cheese; I’m thinking a sharp cheddar.)

Buffalo Turkey Salad (I didn’t make this one, because I ran out of turkey, but here’s the idea I had!)

  • 2-3 oz turkey
  • 2T light or fat-free blue cheese dressing
  • Cholula garlic hot sauce to taste

Add your turkey and salad greens to your bowl/plate. Mix the dressing and hot sauce together; add on top of the salad. Top with 1T of sunflower seeds or a serving of garlic croutons. And/or add 1/2 to 1 oz of cheese–mozzarella or cheddar.

So, obviously a handful of salads doesn’t make a big ol’ turkey breast disappear. How else did my family help me make it disappear? These recipes offer light options and heavy options to accommodate all eaters in your household.

Turkey burritos, tacos and nachos:

  • Go heavy with a large flour tortilla, rice, turkey, cheese and a good hot sauce (I used Cholua lime hot sauce).
  • Go lighter with a smaller, fat-free flour tortilla, 2 oz. turkey and 1/4 c fat-free refried beans (or turkey and grilled peppers and onions), cheese and hot sauce.
  • 2-3 oz turkey, 1 oz. cheese, and salsa verde (all ingredients split between taco-sized corn tortillas).
  • 2 oz turkey over 1-1.5 oz baked tortilla chips, with 4 T salsa con queso. (2T fat-free Greek yogurt and 2T guacamole are optional.)

Turkey, steamed peas and polenta:Image

2 oz turkey, a serving of steamed peas (from a frozen steamer bag heated in the microwave); and polenta made to the instructions on my bag of corn meal, plus a little minced garlic

Turkey club sandwich: Go heavy with turkey, 2 slices of bacon (center-cut pork or turkey), light or heavy mayonnaise to taste, cheese slices (optional), and bread of your choice. Go light with 2 oz. turkey, 2 slices of bacon, 1T light mayonnaise (or 2T light ranch dressing), 1 slice of bread, or a fat-free flour tortilla.

And, of course, a Thanksgiving-worthy entree of turkey, a starch and vegetables!

Like Thanksgiving on a Weeknight

I’m writing this post at almost 9:00 p.m. on a weeknight, with the smell of roasting turkey wafting through the air. Crazy? Maybe, but I’ll be thankful to have a boatload of turkey breast for the next few days to use for whatever my mind comes up with.

The thing that’s most on my mind is salads. I ate at Saladworks a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in years, and I saw a sign in the restaurant that said all their salads are 500 calories our less. (I’m assuming that’s without dressing or a roll on the side, but still.) That got me thinking about what kinds of salads I could come up with, using turkey. And that’s why my house smells like Thanksgiving several months after the fact.

It’s been a year since I’ve done a salad challenge; why not do another? This time, though, rather than a month’s worth of salads, I’ll report back at the end of next week on my ideas.

I still have a good two hours to go on cooking this mouth-wateringly scented bird. I would’ve much rather just bought a cooked turkey breast, but I never seem to time my weekday market visits right for when they’re available. (If someone knows a good process for cooking a turkey breast in the slow cooker, please let me know for the future!) I’ll keep up my inhalation of this heady aroma, and see what visions of turkey salads start dancing in my head. Thank goodness I’ve just started getting into Doctor Who on Netflix; that’ll also keep me busy in the meantime!

Stop back next week, and I’ll share what became of the turkey salad challenge.

Super Bowl Sunday and My Dad’s Burger Trick

Super Bowl Sunday coincided nicely with my usual weekend cooking routine. I shifted the menu to turkey burgers and grilled chicken and beef, for burritos and salads, to add a little pizzazz alongside the roasted chicken, broccoli rabe, rice and honey-glazed carrots I’d also made.

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As I was prepping the burgers (see recipe below!) I couldn’t help but think of my father. While I’ve gotten my interest in health from my mom (who introduced me to wheat germ as a child, takes an apothecary’s worth of vitamin and mineral supplements every day as a relatively spry near-octogenarian, and phased out red meat from my childhood home), I’ve gotten my love of cooking from my dad, who once worked as a short-order cook.

I wasn’t ready to grill the burgers right away, so I individually wrapped them in waxed paper, just like he used to do. I thank him for teaching me how to prep things like burgers and chicken for future use–cutting whole chickens and leg quarters into parts. What else have I gotten from him about food?

I thank him for letting me know there’s nothing wrong with putting sugar in grits (though I prefer the savory kind… Note to self to make shrimp and grits sometime soon!)

I thank him for instilling in me an interest in grilling–though I still have to bow down to him on charcoal, as I’m a gas girl.

I thank him for teaching me how to make scrambled eggs (and I thank Julia Child for teaching me how to make omelets!)

I thank him for encoding into my genes the kind of rapid-fire, assembly line cooking and prep needed to keep a family well-fed for road trips and beach and amusement park outings.

My dad passed away more than 10 years ago, but I bet that if I had asked, he would have helped me to understand football when I was younger. But I guess there is something fun about learning football in fits and starts during the Super Bowl and other lower-priority, regular season games. Just as it was this past Sunday. Regardless of the state of my football knowledge, though, I know he would have been proud of the burgers.

Here’s my recipe for the turkey burgers I made (serves 8):

2lbs lean ground turkey
2 envelopes onion soup mix
4 capfuls of liquid smoke

Mix the ingredients. Plan to grill right away, or marinate for a bit by  forming patties and individually wrapping them in waxed paper. (Bundle the patties in a foil parcel.)

When ready, grill the burgers to desired doneness, place on a light hamburger bun, and add your favorite toppings.

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits Remix

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Do you ever have food-related moments in time that stand out in your mind? One of those moments for me was the first time I had sausage gravy and biscuits.

Maybe I didn’t get the official Southern experience, having had them at Temple University in Philadelphia, but the velvety cream gravy dotted with pepper and small chunks of sausage, lovingly draped over an airy, melt-in-your mouth biscuit, is a moment in time that I can’t shake–even though it was probably hastily eaten on the way to an obscenely early morning journalism class.

I still think about the dish, and I’ve seen it many times, patiently waiting in a breakfast buffet set-up, gravy in one partitioned area, biscuits in another, for someone to assemble this delicacy for their own plate.

A stroll through my supermarket, and a chance sale on bulk chicken sausage inspired me to remake this delicacy in a lighter manner. Here’s my take one on this:

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 tube of bulk chicken or turkey sausage (the kind that you shape into patties)
  • 3 c fat-free beef broth
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1 c fat-free Greek yogurt
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 roll of biscuits

Preheat your oven as specified on the biscuit roll.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the sausage, breaking into small pieces with your spatula as you cook. Cook until thoroughly browned and any liquid that has been released has dried up. (If you get brown bits on the bottom of your pan, that’s a good thing!) Remove the sausage from the pan once cooked through.

Put your biscuits in the oven, and bake according to package instructions. They’ll finish before the gravy; remove them from the oven when they’re done.

Add the broth to the pan, scraping any bits from the pan. Add the pepper; slowly add in the cornstarch and stir until the gravy has thickened a bit. Add the yogurt, and do the same. Bring the sauce to a boil; let it boil until it has thickened a bit more, then add the sausage back. Turn the heat down, and keep cooking, if needed, until the gravy is your desired consistency. (This process took me about 15-20 minutes.)

Plate your biscuit and top with 1/2 cup of sausage gravy. I ate it with fruit on the side.

Notes: Be sure to get a low-sodium beef broth, as the sausage will likely have an ample amount of sodium.

This will not make a white gravy, as I realized as the gravy was staring back at me from the pan. But for my next experiment: skim milk and the fat-free Greek yogurt.

My best idea for something lighter than the biscuits: a light hamburger bun.

These Cooking Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Last night, I was preparing fish to bake. It was a 2-lb bag of tilapia fillets, and I planned on doing half with salt, pepper and garlic, and half with Cajun seasoning. While visions of dusting the fish fillets with their respective spices danced in my head, I noticed a warning on the plastic that wrapped each fish fillet. It said that you should remove the fish from the plastic before thawing.

Too late! I routinely thaw the fish individually wrapped, in the main packaging, in my freezer. And they taste just fine, whether I’m baking them or grilling them. No harm, no foul.

Just like my fish experiences, there are other times when you can break the rules that recipes scream at you. Here are 8:

  1. Use your favorite vegetables. When you’re making a casserole or slow cooker dish, go with the vegetables that you like (or the ones that you have on hand), as long as you time their cooking in a way that ensures they get cooked to appropriate doneness.
  2. Go with yogurt. Fat-free Greek yogurt can stand in for cream, or for sour cream. Try topping your nachos or baked potatoes with some, mixing some into your chicken pot pie stuffing, in soups–the possibilities are endless!
  3. Alternatives for desserts. Diet lemon-lime soda and liquid eggs in yellow and white cakes. Diet cola and liquid eggs in dark cakes and brownies. Pumpkin puree in spice cake. Fat-free Greek yogurt works here, too.
  4. Ditch the butter and oil. No, you won’t get the same flavor, but if you want to save on fat and calories, opt for cooking spray or water for sautéing (or nothing at all, if you don’t have your temperature super-high).
  5. Tweak the spices. Fresh or dried? Go with what you have, using more dried if the recipe calls for fresh. Leave out the salt if you have high blood pressure, or switch to a low-sodium salt, because if you’re cooking with certain items (like spaghetti sauce, cheese, or broth), you’re still getting sodium in the mix anyway. There’s a reason many bloggers (myself included) don’t give exact measurements for spices–part of the art of cooking is figuring out what works best for your taste. Experiment and go with the proportions that work for you.
  6. Switch up the meat. Rather than a pork shoulder, try pork loin. Instead of high-fat ground beef, try lean ground beef (93% lean) or learn ground turkey. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe vegetarian, either–for many dishes, you’ll be safe opting for beans or textured vegetable protein (TVP).
  7. Take shortcuts. As a rule, or in a pinch, you can buy rotisserie chicken or rotisserie turkey breast. Or, get the person at the seafood counter to steam the shrimp or crab for you, before tossing with grains, vegetables, or pasta. For vegetables? Buy pre-cut veggies from your produce section, or even frozen peppers and onions from the freezer section.
  8. Don’t braise meat for slow cooking. As with using butter or oil for sautéing, braising does add another dimension of flavor, but if you want to cut corners on time, you can get along fine without doing it.

Whether you’re starting to cook more healthy now as part of a resolution, or you’re plugging away at healthy eating as a long-term lifestyle, there are areas where it’s perfectly fine to bend or break the cooking rules to bring your food to the table faster, or more in line with your taste preferences. I wish you hours of happy rabble-rousing in your kitchen!

Question of the day: What rules do you break in the kitchen? What tips do you have for making your life as a cook easier?

Quick Chicken Pot Pie

In my kitchen, I have a shelf of cookbooks, as well as a folder of recipes that I pulled from various magazines over the years. One of the recipes I’ve gone to time and again is one for chicken pot pie that was published in Essence magazine in 2004. I made the recipe early in my marriage, and it was a hit!
Then I stopped making it, because I didn’t want to get too comfy with the heavy cream that figures prominently in the sauce.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I noticed that my Chobani yogurt container said that Greek yogurt can make a nice substitute for the heavy cream. I recalled my beloved recipe from the past, and decided to try the suggested tweak.

It worked! I couldn’t taste any tell-tale yogurt sourness, just creaminess, and the other flavors in the recipe.

These days I don’t have as much time to devote to elaborate recipes–this one involved chopping vegetables, pulling chicken from bones and chopping it, and making a sauce–so I decided to experiment and see how I could make a faster, healthier chicken pot pie. I have found something that fits the bill.

Recipe

Cooked chicken (mine came from 8 pieces of chicken that I had roasted previously)

1 bag of Bird’s Eye Steamers peas and garlic sauce, heated in the microwave

1 /2 bag steamed cauliflower (mine was store brand), heated and chopped into bite-size pieces

1/2 c fat-free Greek yogurt

1 c chicken broth

1 frozen puff pastry sheet

Garlic powder, pepper, and dried (or fresh) tarragon to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Take the puffy pastry sheet out of the package, unfold it, and lay it flat to thaw out.

Dice the chicken. Add the chicken, vegetables, yogurt and chicken broth to a large pan and mix the ingredients together. Add the seasonings and mix some more. Heat the mixture over medium heat until heated through.

When heated, add the mixture to a 13×9 baking pan. Top with puff pastry sheet, stretching it out as needed.

Place the pan in the oven, uncovered, and bake until the puff pastry is lightly browned and crispy, approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

When cooked, cut into 9 pieces.

Notes: to hasten up the chicken step, which took the longest by far, buy a rotisserie chicken to pick apart and dice. Or faster still, a rotisserie turkey breast, to avoid de-boning altogether. You could also try several cans of canned chicken, but I’m not the biggest fan of its taste myself.

Go with your favorite vegetables, or whatever you have on hand. You could probably get away with adding frozen vegetables, if you heat up the chicken and liquids enough first.

Double the quantity of liquid if you want something with a little more sauce.

The puff pastry box will tell you to brush the pastry sheet with a mixture of egg white and water. I don’t do that anymore, and the pastry pretty much tastes and looks the same to me.

Question of the day: Have you lightened up any of your favorite recipes? Which ones? How’d it go? If you’re a blogger, leave a link and share your story!