Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, gluten free, nut free, soy free

The Greek Dinner that Made My Family Sing Opa!

16864914_10155064092529116_1123159716396037580_nMy mom likes your run-of-the-mill shaved meat gyro, and we often get our annual Greek Festival lamb dinner for Mother’s Day each year, but for the most part, my family of four doesn’t really do Greek flavors. So when they asked to have the “Greek Turkey Burgers” I’d labeled for the freezer – for me to have as one-offs – I said sure; it was tame enough even for them.

Menu: Greek Turkey sliders with homemade tzatziki sauce, Greek lemon roasted potatoes, garlic refrigerator pickled cucumbers.

Start with the pickles because you need to make them at least a day ahead; a week is better. And they have so many more uses than just as part of this dinner, so don’t worry about them hanging around too long.

  • 2 thinly sliced hothouse cucumbers with peel on
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup room temparature water
  • 3-4 whole peeled and crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 t each salt and pepper

It’s hard to give measurements because it really depends on the size container you use. I re-use glass jars from things like spaghetti jars and jelly jars. The measurements above work for the spaghetti jar size. Pack all of that in the jar. If the liquid doesn’t quite fill the jar to the top, add more apple cider vinegar instead of water; it won’t be too much. Cap tightly and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating. Great as a stand-alone side, as an addition to a salad, chopped up as relish for egg or tuna salad, and as a burger or sandwich condiment.

It’s also best to make the tzatziki a day ahead to give the flavors time to settle together.

  • 1 16 oz container of plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt of your choice
  • 1/2 hothouse cucumber, seeded and grated
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 t each, salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients and stir well. Usually, you can return the entire mixture to the original yogurt container for storage in the refrigerator.

On the day of dinner, set out any ingredients to thaw in the morning. Here’s what you’ll need to for cooking:

For the Greek lemon roasted potatoes:

  • 4-6 medium potatoes (yukon gold or russet work best)
  • 1/2 preferred cooking oil
  • 1/4 lemon juice (approx. 2 lemons juiced)
  • 2 T lemon pepper seasoning (we use Mrs. Dash for sodium control)
  • 1 t each, salt and pepper

For the Greek Turkey Burgers

  • 1 lb ground turkey (your choice to use turkey breast or blended turkey meat)
  • 1 package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and with liquid squeezed out
  • 1 package of feta cheese (we like the tomato and basil seasoned kind)
  • 1 T lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1/2 t each, salt and pepper

Start with the potatoes. Preheat the oven to 350°F (for 90 minute potatoes) or 450°F (for 30 minute potatoes). Clean and chop into large 1.5 inch chunks if you’ve got at least 90 minutes or small .5 inch dices for a 30 minute dinner. Add in oil, lemon juice, and seasonings and mix well with your hands. Pour in a single layer in a foil liked baking sheet. Time for 60 minutes (for 90 minute potatoes) or 10 minutes (for 30 minute potatoes).

In the same bowl, combine turkey, spinach, feta, lemon pepper seasoning, salt and pepper. Divide mixture into 4-8 patties: 4 to fit standard hamburger buns or 8 to fit standard slider buns). Place on foil lined baking sheet and sprinkle a bit more lemon pepper seasoning on each patty. Add to oven when the first potato timer goes off. If you started on 350°F, increase oven temp to 450°F and time for 20 minutes. If you started on 450°F, time for 20 minutes more.

On a baking sheet, open hamburger or slider buns with the cut side facing up. Once the potatoes and burgers are finished, turn the oven to broil at 500°F and toast buns for approximately 2 minutes. Do not leave unattended and do not try to get something else done, or you’ll burn the buns – not a pleasant taste.

 

Assemble burgers by spooning tzatziki on both sides of the bun. And more tzatziki in a small bowl or dolloped on the plate makes a great dipping sauce for the potatoes.

My plate in the photo above shows some pickled asparagus because my family ate up the pickled cucumbers so quickly that I didn’t get any for my photo. Next time, sigh 🙂

Posted in Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Pantry Magic: Chicken Enchiladas

img_1458The request: chicken enchiladas.

The problem: no one shopped for enchiladas this week.

The pantry, fridge, and freezer produce the following:

  • frozen chicken breasts and thighs
  • frozen turkey stock from Thanksgiving
  • bag of Mexican blend shredded cheese
  • half a wheel of Mexican fresco crumbly cheese
  • an absurd number of cans of chopped chiles
  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 1 can of enchilada sauce
  • 1 can of Rotel tomatoes
  • 1 baggie of leftover soft tortilla boats and crunchy corn taco shells

And with this, I made the requested chicken enchiladas!

NOTE: while this particular collection of ingredients includes gluten and corn elements, it’s super easy to make this both corn and gluten free with homemade or Pacific stock and Harris Teeter Naturals refried beans or Natural Value organic refried beans. So far there are no flour tortillas that are both gluten free and corn free, and many contain soy. This is a great time to try your hand at making your own GF/CF flour tortillas with one of the many flour-based or cauliflower tortilla recipes available online; it’s a simple and quick process! I get around the tortilla issue by baking a small dish of the filling and eating over rice; it’s a great way to use up leftover rice from a previous meal or even takeout.

Boil the chicken for 15 minutes if boneless or a good 30 minutes if bone-in. While it’s boiling, get out a casserole baking dish and lay out the soft taco boats and the crunch taco shells so that you get the most in that you can. I was going for 8 taco boats and 6 taco shells. Since the chicken is still boiling, smear a spoonful or so of refried beans in the bottom of each boat and shell; add/repeat until you’ve used the whole can.

Should be close to time to drain and cool and shred the chicken.

Saute 1 chopped onion and 1-2 cans of green chopped chiles, no oil necessary. Yes, you can use fresh chiles, but this is about using what’s in the pantry and not having to go to the store to make dinner.

Whisk 1/4 cup all purpose flour (gluten free all purpose flour works too) with 1/4 cup of your favorite cooking oil or melted butter in a bowl and add the blend to the sauce pan on top of the onions and chiles on medium until the mixture bubbles briskly. Add 1 cup turkey stock (or chicken or vegetable stock from a can or box) and 1/2 cup of milk (unsweetened, not vanilla almond milk or soy milk will work, but not rice milk). This will make a “white sauce” or loose turkey gravy. Add about a cup of cheese and stir until completely blended; I’m using the crumbly fresco cheese.

Mix the shredded chicken into the pot.

Spoon the mixture into each boat and shell until you’ve used it all. If you’ve got some leftover, pour it into a small baking dish to serve over rice or dip with chips.

img_1459Top each boat with one or both of the enchilada sauces. I prefer the green, but we only had a small can of red enchilada sauce.

Sprinkle up to 2 cups of shredded cheese on top.

Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes to get the enchilada filling good and bubbly and all of the cheese topping lovely and melty.

Sometimes it really is that simple. Ugly, but incredibly yummy!

Posted in Cooking, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Faux-sagna: Lasagna with help from Cheese Ravioli

img_1455I’m not anti lasagna noodle – whether the traditional cooked kind or the no-cook kind. But when I can combine two steps in the mixing and layering into just one, it makes assembling a lasagna so much easier.

And when you add using the delicious Celentano frozen gluten free cheese raviolis, you’ll have a wonderful, luscious lasagna to enjoy.

Today’s faux-sagna is vegetarian, makes 4 servings, and will be my lunch for this week:

  • 1 bag of Celentano frozen gluten free cheese ravioli
  • 1 jar of organic marinara (I’m using Publix Greenwise Roasted Garlic marinara)
  • 3 cups of chopped vegetables that you like (I’m using onion, tri peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini)
  • 1T preferred cooking oil (I use Pompeian Grapeseed Oil)
  • 2-4 cups shredded mozzarella (I’m using Publix shredded part-skim, low moisture mozzarella)

Boil your ravioli according to package instructions; drain and let hang out in the colander – it won’t hurt a thing.

Onions, tri peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic.
Onions, tri peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic.

In the same pot you boiled the ravioli, heat 1 T cooking oil on medium and drop in all of the veg at once. Lightly salt and pepper your veg and cook for 15-20 minutes until onions are translucent, peppers and mushrooms are darker in color, and zucchini slices are soft and fold easily. Remove from heat and prepare to layer.

My layering protocol is (from bottom to top of an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish):

  • Layer 1 of Raviolisauce
  • ravioli (12 pieces)
  • veg
  • cheese
  • sauce (use a spoon to tamp down the lumps and smooth out the surface for beginning the next layer)
  • ravioli (9 pieces)
  • veg
  • One full set of layerscheese
  • sauce
  • cheese

Before topping with that last layer of cheese, use a spoon to tamp down the lumps and smooth out the sauce, making sure the sauce goes all the way to the edges. That’s key for ensuring the pasta doesn’t dry out when you bake it.

TIP: make sure you get all of the sauce out of the jar by adding 1/4 cup of red wine or balsamic vinegar. Cap the jar and shake well. Pour the sauce and liquid right on top of the lasagna.

Remember, as long as you get it all in the pan and you’ve got a layer of ravioli stabilizing it at the bottom, your layering game can’t be wrong.

Full to the top and ready to bake!If I’m planning to eat the first serving the same day I make it, I’ll pop it into the oven to melt the cheese and blend the flavors at 350°F for 20 minutes. Otherwise, it goes in the fridge until I’m ready, when I’ll cook it at 350°F for 30 minutes – it takes a little longer when it comes straight from the fridge. After the initial cooking, I’ll heat individual servings on a plate in the microwave for 2 minutes, check, and then perhaps 1 minute more, depending on the microwave strength.

Why this isn’t corn free:

  • the Celentano gluten free pasta uses blends/ingredients that contain corn starch, the BIG BAD dextrose (aka corn syrup), and white vinegar
  • all pre-grated cheeses contain corn starch, which is used to keep the shreds separated
Posted in Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Cream of Mushroom Soup

img_1452These days most people have relegated cream of mushroom soup, specifically the thickened condensed version, to casseroles, but I was reminded a few days ago of my love of cream of mushroom soup as a straight up soup, especially with an ounce of brie crumbled and melted into it!

Here’s my gluten free and corn free cream of mushroom soup, which I’ll put up in 1.5 cup servings for freezing.

Makes 4 1-cup servings or 3 1.5 cup servings. The 1.5 cup serving is comparable to 1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup frequently used in green bean casserole or creamy chicken and rice with peas.

If you’re serving as soup, don’t forget to crumble an ounce (or two) of brie into the steaming hot bowl before serving.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces baby bella mushrooms (whole or sliced, doesn’t matter)
  • 4-8 ounces of any other mushrooms you like (I add a wild mushroom blend available from Publix)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup gluten free, corn free all purpose flour blend (Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour)
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite cooking oil (I use Pompeian Grapeseed Oil)
  • 1 cup whole milk or heavy cream (soy and almond milk will produce similar result; rice milk will not)
  • 4 cups mushroom or vegetable broth (I use Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth)
  • 1/4 t kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • Optional: 1-2 ounces of brie per serving, to be crumbled into the hot soup to melt

Add 1 T of your favorite cooking oil and 4 cloves of garlic to your stock pot over medium heat. You’ll observe the medium setting or you’ll burn your mushrooms and have a bitter soup.

img_1441Finely chop the mushrooms in your food processor (Cuisinart). If you don’t have a food processor, borrow one. You’ll thank me after your first hand-chopped or too-big-pieces batch! I find it easiest and fastest to do this in three batches, basically one batch per 8 oz container of mushrooms. Dump straight into the stock pot as you chop each batch.

img_1446Cook the mushrooms and garlic on medium for 15-20 minutes. You’ll see a lot of liquid bubble up out of the mushrooms, and your goal is to get that gone. You’ll both see the dry pan and begin to smell a slightly beefy aroma from the pot. That’s when you’re ready for the next step.

img_1444While you’re waiting for the mushroom water to cook all out, whisk together the all purpose flour and the oil; this is roux (pronounced “roo” like kangaroo), used to thicken liquids into thickened broth, cream soups or gravies. NOTE: if you find the first batch not thick enough for you, next time increase both ingredients to 1/3 cup; the more roux you use, the thicker your soup will be.

img_1447Once you’re sure all of the mushroom water is cooked out, make a hole in the mushrooms and pour in the roux. Let it bubble up for about 30 seconds and then stir it around into the mushrooms. Add the cup of milk/cream and keep stirring. It’ll look a little oatmeally at this point.

img_1449Add your vegetable or mushroom stock by 1 cup portions, stirring to combine before adding the next portion, until you’ve added 4 cups. And since that 32 oz box of stock is 4 cups, you can certainly guess your way through this step and just pour straight from the box.

img_1451Bring everything to a boil and let boil and bubble for about 3 minutes, stirring. Lower heat to the lowest setting you can and simmer for 30 minutes.

NOTE: If you’re using gluten free flour, you’ll see a “scum” or skin form on top of the soup; this is what happens when you try to get milk fats to combine with flour that has no gluten. Keep the skin; love the skin; use a whisk to re-blend the skin into the soup. This is part of how a gluten free flour thickens liquids when it has no gluten.

Turn heat off, leave the pot on the burner, and let cool before prepping individual servings for freezing or storing in a large container for refrigerator storage.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Comforting Beef Stroganoff Casserole

Recently, I found myself craving something beefy and comforting, so I put out a call for ideas on Facebook. Boy, did my girlies come through for me. Beef Stroganoff. It has a rich history as a classic Russian dish. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s got its own website! But essentially, this dish is beef cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Having spent a delicious month in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1993, I know that, at least at that time, most Russians didn’t have regular access to good cuts of beef, and I learned that both of my Russian families made their beef stroganoff about the same way: cooking down wild, handpicked mushrooms and onions, adding some beef in to brown, deglazing with some water (making a bit of broth), and cooking this for several hours on low, then adding in some sour cream at the end to thicken up the sauce.

Sounds like the perfect crock pot recipe to me, but I wanted something a little more compact since I’d be at work all day and wanted my family to be able to put dinner together themselves. So I settled on a casserole that achieves the same purpose and delivers 4 healthy servings an no leftovers to junk up the fridge.

Ingredients (in order of preparation)

  • 1/2 bag of egg noodles, cooked and drained (for gluten free and corn free, use Lehman’s Gluten Free Homestyle Egg Noodles)
  • 2 large green peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz sliced portabella mushrooms, chopped (alternatives: white button or baby bella)
  • 1 lb beef, chicken, or pork (cubed beef is traditional; ground is a great, less expensive alternative)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (for gluten free and corn free, use Pacific GF cream of mushroom soup or my homemade recipe)
  • 1 cup sour cream (or milk if you’re out of sour cream)
  • 1/4 t kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 t ground pepper

You can see I’ve gone with a little help from the pantry rather than a totally-from-scratch recipe.

So I start with cooking the noodles. When they are drained, pour them into a casserole dish, lightly sprayed with cooking spray if you’re worried about sticking, which is not usually a problem.

Next I move on to the veggies…on medium heat and with 1 t of your favorite cooking oil, sweat the water out of the mushrooms and then add the peppers and onions for a quick saute; I’ve stopped cooking veggies in oil. I do these separate because I want to make sure they keep their crunch. If I put them in with the meat and sauce, they would cook down and have no texture left to liven up the casserole when it’s heated. Before they start getting brown, dump them in with the noodles and give it all a quick stir.

The last part is just as quick. We had some venison stew meat already cut up, so I tossed that into a pan with a little olive oil. When it gets just barely cooked through, dump in the cream of mushroom soup and sour cream, stir, and simmer for maybe 10 minutes, mostly to make sure the sauce comes together. Then dump this in with the noodles, peppers and onions, stir, and viola! Beef Stroganoff Casserole.

Now, certainly, you can pop this in the oven to finish and serve it up in about half an hour.

But I needed this as a make-ahead. And here are the instructions I’ll leave for the family to follow tomorrow:

To have dinner ready to eat by 6:30 pm, start at 5:45 pm

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Take the casserole out of the fridge and stir slowly and carefully
  • Cover the casserole with aluminum foil
  • Put the casserole in the oven for 30 minutes
  • Take the foil cover off and put in for another 15 minutes

As I’ve got Harris Teeter brown and serve rolls to go with mine, I’ll add the rolls during the final cook since they take 12-15 minutes. My folks will also be cooking up some sauteed squash and onion to go with this casserole.

For 8 nutritional servings or for 6 fuller servings, double the noodle, beef, and soup quantities; I also fully double the veggies, but that can be too much for many. Do not double the sour cream; there’s no need.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Butternut Squash Bliss

This weekend, my friend Sarah offered me her entire crop of butternut squash…because she didn’t know what to do with them. Sarah, you don’t know what you’re missing! This delicious squash has a simple, light, nutty butter flavor of its own but also provides a wonderful base for sweet or savory additions.

As we are on the cusp of Fall and the morning and evening temperatures are cooling, I’m ready to start on soups, and butternut squash soup is hands-down my favorite! Luckily it’s also the one I can’t seem to screw up despite the fact that I don’t measure…ever!

Here’s what you’ll need for my savory version of the soup:

  • Butternut squash: peeled, seeded, and diced
  • Sweet onion: peeled and quartered
  • Carrots: cleaned and chopped
  • Garlic: one whole pod peeled (not one clove, but the whole pod of 10-12 cloves)
  • Stock or Cream: up to 8 cups, depending on your preference
  • Spices: Salt, Black Pepper, Ginger, Cumin, Coriander Seeds

Get all the veggies cleaned and cut. I usually do this while watching a movie, a method I “developed” from my days living in a tiny Brooklyn flat with no kitchen counters. If you’re using fresh ginger, peel, dice, and add that to the roasting mix.

Spread them all out on cookie sheets, making sure everything is in just one layer. Dust with salt, pepper, and spices; use as much or as little as you like. Roast at 400°F for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let them sit for another 15 minutes.

Dump all the veggies carefully into a large stock pot. Here’s where I’ve got to talk you through some options.

Option 1: Stock or Cream

The difference between a soup or a bisque is the use of stock or cream as your thinning or thickening agent. There are a few other options besides cream for a bisque, but that’s the traditional one. Vegans can choose vegetable stock or soy or rice milk. For the least flavor interference, use homemade vegetable or chicken stock. For a richer, velvety flavor, use beef stock. For the sweeter version of this soup, use ham or veal stock. And you can always use just plain water, especially if you are looking for a thicker consistency and not worried about having to use too much.

Option 2: Blending Method

If you’ve watched chefs on cooking shows make soup, you’ve seen the two methods: blender or immersion wand. Both can achieve the same level of smoothness, but the traditional blender will get you there faster; just make sure the veggies have cooled to room temperature before using the traditional blender. Me, I like the convenience of the immersion wand because I can pretty much put all of the veggies in at one time and both see and feel the consistency as I’m blending; it offers a level of control that you don’t get with the traditional blender.

I like my soups with a strong “mouth feel,” which usually translates into thick or stew-like. I know it makes the blended soups look like baby food and/or baby poo, which, by the way, reminds me to tell you that this is exactly how to make your own baby food; studies show that children who eat the same food and same seasonings in their baby food as their parents have on their plates aren’t as picky during their formative years, making meal time much easier to deal with.

When my Mom insists on the sweeter version of this soup, it goes something like this:

  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Onion
  • Cream
  • Ginger, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Brown Sugar (during blending)

This version comes out similar to sweet potato soufflé (aka sweet potato casserole) with Thanksgiving spices and sweetness. I just don’t happen to like that very much.

Note for Sarah: other ways I use butternut squash:

  • Oven or deep fried fries…similar to sweet potato fries
  • Winter Veggie Salad with b. squash, zucchini, carrots, onions (or mix with orzo or rice or risotto)
  • Mashed butternut squash
  • Ravioli or Lasagna filling
Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Greek Penicillin–Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

There’s this new local soup and sandwich shop Ladles in Sweetgrass (the new Harris Teeter off Hwy 17 N) that serves up a fantastic Greek Lemon Chicken Soup…not tart, but fresh lemon flavor, hint of garlic, and just oh so comforting…even in the hot Lowcountry summer, which has gotten an early start.

But it’s not always convenient to go get it. And I needed something to make for my lunches this week that would make a little extra for one of our dinners. And…I’m a soup fanatic. Love it….hot or cold weather…but not really many cold soups.

So…what makes Greek Lemon Chicken Soup special? Well, to tell you the truth, it’s basically homemade chicken noodle soup with a special touch right at the end. Here’s how it goes.

Ingredients:

  • 6 large chicken breasts, skinless and boneless (about 4 lbs)
  • 64 oz (8 cups total) chicken broth (homemade is best; for corn free, use Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth or Harris Teeter Organic Chicken Broth)
  • 4-6 large carrots, cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 large sweet onions, roughly chopped
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper as desired
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous (little tiny pasta balls)–or 2 cups white rice which is more traditional and naturally gluten free
  • 3 eggs
  • juice and zest of 2 large lemons (alternate: 1 cup lemon juice)

Place the chicken, carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaves, and salt and pepper in a stock pot; cover with 32 oz of chicken broth (about 4 cups). Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. This is to cook and flavor the chicken.

Remove the chicken and add the couscous and another 32 oz of chicken broth (about 4 cups). Cover and simmer while you shred (or chop) the chicken.

Add the chicken back in and stir well.

At this point, you have a fantastic and well-flavored Chicken Noodle Soup…and might very well choose to stop here.

Or…you can make and add the “Greek” part.

Whisk together three eggs and the juice and zest of two large lemons (about 1T zest and about 1/2 cup juice) in a large bowl. Be sure to use a large bowl, much larger than you think you need, because next you are going to add 2 cups of soup broth while whisking.

Get 2 cups of hot broth out of the soup pot; it’s okay if there’s some onion or couscous in it. I dip the broth out with a soup ladle and into a large measuring cup with a pour spout. This will come in really handy as I pour it into the egg mixture.

Now, take the measuring cup of broth in your left hand and your whisk in your right hand (or vice versa if you are left-handed).

Start whisking away gently.

Dribble the hot soup broth into the egg mixture very slowly, whisking the whole time.

It will take about five minutes, so be patient and DO NOT rush this  step. This is called “tempering” the eggs, warming them up without cooking them so that when you add the mixture to the soup, it will become naturally creamy from all of the proteins!

When you’ve incorporated all of your broth, take the soup off of the heat and add the mixture to the soup. Taste and see what you think.

If you want more lemony taste, add some more lemon juice.

NOTE: this recipe is based off of one posted by Whole Foods for Greek Lemon and Chicken Soup.