Posted in Cooking

Chicken and Dumplings

Boiled stuff…all together…including boiled dough. Only the countriest of country kitchens in the American South have been able to render boiled dough a culinary delight.

My Grannie's chicken and dumplings, one of my dad's favorites
My Grannie’s chicken and dumplings, one of my dad’s favorites

Many younger and even some middle-aged (like me) Americans believe a dumpling is the original creation of the Asian cuisines: a little pocket of dough filled with something. They seem to focus on the filled part and ignore the boiled part.

You see, country people got stuff to do. They don’t have time to roll and cut the dough and fill it with the chicken and vegetables from the stock before boiling it. But at the very root of things, country American chicken and dumplings are arguably a deconstructed Wonton soup. Hmmm, so it really is all in the presentation.

For me, I’ll stick with ugly yummy classic American chicken and dumplings:

Step 1: boil chicken and make stock – these things happen simultaneously

It’s important any time you are making a chicken stock or chicken soup that you use skin-on and bone-in chicken and that you use both white and dark meat. Why? That’s where the flavor lives: in the fat and in the bone. I promise that leaving the skin on will not make your stock oily, only that using the most flavor-filled parts of the chicken will make it rich and dark stock. That’s what you want: not golden or yellow but a light to medium brown color!

  • 1 whole split chicken (ask your grocery store butcher to do this for you or buy 2 split breasts and 4 split thighs with skin and bones)
  • 4 large carrots, cut however you want (I like 1-inch barrels) or half a bag of baby carrots
  • 1-2 onion family choices: white or sweet onion sliced, leek or green onion chopped to 1 inch pieces
  • 3-10 cloves of garlic – depends on how many vampires you’ve got hanging around
  • salt and pepper
  • hot water to cover the chicken completely

Turn on the sink faucet to the hottest setting to let it get hot. In the largest stock pot you’ve got (at least 8 quarts), place your carrots and onions and garlic on the bottom. Place the chicken pieces on top of this; smush it all down well. Liberally salt and pepper the pot, roughly 2 tablespoons of each; yes, it really needs that much salt. Cover with hot water from the kitchen sink, probably to about 1 inch from the top of the pot.

Place the full stock pot on your large burner on high. It’ll take 20-30 minutes to come to a full boil; be patient. Let it roil for 3-5 minutes, and then turn it down to medium low to simmer for 2-3 hours. You want to see a tiny bit of movement on the water; it should not be completely still. Turn the burner off and get ready for step 2.

Once you remove the chicken for picking (step 1), you may find that your stock fills only half of your pot. If you’ve followed my flavor instructions and your stock is a rich medium or dark brown, add up to 4 cups of hot water to dilute the stock for direct eating. I often have 2-cup servings of frozen stock in the freezer and may add one of these as well; my freezer stock is actually broth with much more vegetables and already diluted for immediate eating.

Step 2: Cool and pick the chicken

Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the chicken from the pot. I usually place mine in a colander so that it gets good airflow for quicker cooling. Once cooled, pick the chicken.

What, you don’t know what that means? Truly I know a lot of people who don’t know how chicken gets from pieces to shredded. Before you get started, make sure you have a chicken plate and a discard plate; I use paper plates for this step. So here’s how it goes:

  • pick up a piece of chicken in your right hand (reverse the hands if you’re left handed)
  • use your left hand fingers to grasp the chicken skin and fat flabs and pull them off; place them in the discard plate or bowl. Generally breast pieces will have less skin and fat than thigh/leg pieces
  • switch the piece of chicken to your left hand
  • use your right hand fingers to pull the large chunks of chicken off of the bone and place them on the chicken plate; discard the empty bone to the trash plate
  • take up the large chunks in your left hand
  • using a pinching motion, use your right hand fingers to pinch and tear the large chunks into many smaller ones
  • continue until you have picked all of the chicken off of all of the pieces

Now some of you reading have already rolled your eyes and dubbed me patronizing to be so specific, but I’ve had the pleasure of teaching my same-aged friends and their children cooking basics, and you can’t even imaging how difficult it is to employ these basic motor skills for the first time as an adult.

NOTE: some folks also remove the vegetable flavorings, but I like them so I keep them. Other traditional vegetable additions include celery and peas (see side note at the bottom).

When you’re about 30 minutes from serving time, you’ll take step 3.

Step 3: Make the dumplings

There are lots of styles of dumplings, but the dough is about the same. If your people have memories of fluffy round dumplings, you’ll want to keep the following dough pretty wet and sticky; these are biscuit dumplings. If your people have memories of long flat dumplings, you’ll want to add a little more flour to form a solid ball of dough to work with; these are pie crust dumplings. The basic recipe is the same:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (make this gluten-free by replacing standard flour with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour)
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 egg

Drop them all in a bowl together and use a fork to blend them; do not use a whisk or you’ll end up with a blob of unblended dough inside the tines of the whisk and it’ll be a pain to get it all out.

If you want the puffy biscuit dough dumplings, stop mixing as soon as everything is combined. Drop the dough into the boiling stock. Since dumplings cook through in about a minute, this is a fast process.

If you want the flat pie crust dumplings, keep dusting the mixture with flour (probably 2 T at a time) and mixing until the dough comes together into a ball that does not sag or flatten and the sides stay smooth when you tough them, not sticky or tacky. Sprinkle a handful of flour on your clean kitchen counter and coat both of your hands with flour. Pinch off a generous handful of the dough and, on the floured counter, use your fingers to press it into a long flat lasagna noodle shaped dough. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 inch strips on the short edges (1-inch x 2-inch). Peel the dough strips off of the counter one by one and drop them into the boiling stock. Repeat until all of the dumplings have been dropped.

Add the picked and shredded chicken back into the stock and dumplings to warm for about 20 minutes. Serve piping hot!

 

Side Note: One of the most beautiful things about this recipe/technique is that it’s almost a chicken pot pie. Yep, use the same stock making, the same dumpling making, and use the stock to make the pot pie sauce. Really couldn’t be simpler.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Basic Granola (technique and recipe)

My mom is diabetic. And even though her dad was diabetic her whole life, and she was raised essentially on a diabetic diet (as it existed in the 60s and 70s), she’s got very diabetic-unfriendly eating habits.

img_11401But one good choice she craves and sticks to is granola. The oats are a great carb choice for diabetics, a slow digesting carbohydrate whether eaten cooked or raw. She loves oatmeal during the winter months, but really needs to have the sweet bite to it. She loves yogurt, but really needs to have a sweet bite to it. She really (psychologically) needs the sweet or she feels like she’s deprived.

But she won’t buy granola from the store because it’s saturated in various sugars: brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, and more.

Thus is born our experiment, beginning with what I consider Basic Granola.

And like so many “recipes,” this is a system, not a by-the-numbers or it’s wrong kind of food.

So here’s my system – which tracks pretty closely with the vast majority of granola “recipes”:

  1. 1.5 cups oats
  2. 1 cup nuts – mix as many as you like into the blend, but only 1 cup total
  3. 1 cup dried fruit – mix as many as you like into the blend, but only 1 cup total

Yep, it’s that simple.

Now, for the recipe people, here’s exactly what’s in my Basic Granola pictured here:

  • 1.5 cups rolled oats (Publix brand, no need to go fancy)
  • 1T dried ground cinnamon (Publix brand)
  • 1t dried ground nutmeg (Publix brand)
  • 1t salt (Morton’s)
  • 1 cup water

Mix these five items together in a bowl, cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

Prep your nuts; I used what I already had in the cupboard:

  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds (Publix organic unsalted from the produce section)
  • 1/3 cup hemp seeds (Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts)
  • 1.3 cup slivered almonds (Mariana from the Publix produce section)

Prep your binding; because my granola places emphasis on being diabetic friendly, I have limited sugar to a functional role and eliminated all granular sweeteners – natural or artificial:

  • 1/3 cup honey (from a local farm near me)
  • 1/4 cup oil or melted butter (Pompeiian Grapeseed Oil)

When you’re ready to bake, mix the nuts and the binding into the softened oat mixture. Spray or grease a medium or large cookie sheet with at least a little lip, spread the mixture in a thin layer in the sheet. Bake at 250° for 1 hour and 15 minutes; increase heat to 300° for 20-40 minutes more. The longer time is especially useful in high-humidity climates or times of year.

As your mixture sits to cool, it will harden into the crunchy texture most people are looking for, so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t harden while still in the oven. It won’t, and you’ll risk overcooking or burning your granola.

Serving Ideas: the standard serving is 1/4 cup

  • cooked oatmeal topper (tip: prepare half of an oatmeal serving and add 1/2 cup granola to finish out the meal)
  • yogurt mix-in
  • ice cream topper
  • fruit pie topping (instead of crust)
  • blend into smoothie for an oatmeal smoothie
  • sweet potato casserole topping
  • roasted root veggies topping

My mom is really happy with this batch and can’t wait for my Christmas blend using pistachios and dried cherries.

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.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Super-simple Sloppy Joes (and a tiny soapbox moment)

I have a love-hate relationship with sloppy joes. I do love the flavor, but there’s a soupiness threshold for me. Sure, it’s easy to buy a can of Manwich or some other pre-made sauce mix, but I think when you know what the sauce basic are, you just might want to try your own.

Brief Soapbox: The key reason I object to canned sloppy joe mix is that they all use corn syrup because they are tomato-based. I’m on a less-traditional bandwagon against corn syrup–and I don’t really care if it’s high- or low-fructose. First, why in God’s name does tomato sauce need sweetening? If the tomato is picked at the peak of ripeness, rather than forced into ripeness chemically, then they wouldn’t be bitter when cooked. Second, like milk allergies 15 years ago and nut allergies 10 years ago, the newest mass produce allergy is to corn; while research is too young to be conclusive, the prevailing medical, biological, and horticultural opinion is that this is because these products/industries are the first and largest to move into GMO production.

Okay, lesson over…for now.

Aside from that, don’t you want to be able to control the flavor of your sloppy joes! All they are is ground meat, tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worchestershire sauce, and seasonings. Sure, you can add other stuff like onions, peppers, tomato chunks, heat, etc., but that’s the basic recipe.

Ingredients (in the order they’ll go in the pan)

  • 1 lb ground meat–whatever you like, but tonight we have turkey
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 cups of tomato sauce (about 1 can)
  • 2T of tomato paste (often contains corn syrup so steer towards the international tubes of tomato paste like Amore)
  • 2T Worchestershire sauce (make your own GF/CF/SF with this recipe!)

After that, whatever you add is essentially your personalization of the basic sloppy joe:

  • green peppers
  • diced onion
  • crushed or diced tomato
  • chilis
  • bbq sauce
  • honey
  • any variety of spices

Serve this delicious concoction on a hamburger bun (traditional) or in a hot dog bun (practical). We are especially fond of eating them with a whole green onion. And tonight, our sloppy joes are paired with tater tots and fresh cooked green beans.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

My Favorite Summer Pasta Salad

It’s summer, which for many means that all the best produce is in season, fresh, and readily available. Definitely true for all of the ingredients of my favorite summer salad.

It couldn’t be any simpler or take any less time or effort…and you’ll find it very versatile:

  • 1 package of your favorite shaped pasta, cooked, drained, and cooled (try an all-rice pasta for gluten free and corn free needs)
  • Equal volume of your favorite medley of fresh veggies (equal volume to the cooked pasta)
  • Seasoning: salt, pepper, thyme
  • Olive oil, about 1/4 cup for the whole salad
  • Lemon juice, or other acid like apple cider vinegar (to keep some of the veggies from turning brown)

Me…this week I’ve paired rotelle (spiral) pasta with what I think of as my classic medley: 1 pint of grape tomatoes, 1 large hothouse cucumber (seeded), 1 orange bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, and 2 small Hass avocados. I love how the avocados, regardless of how firm they are when you cut them, start to “melt” and become part of the dressing, keeping everything nice and lubricated without extra oil in the dressing! And I went with 2 T of herbs de provence to season everything nice and brightly…it’s the lavender flowers that I love best in the American version from Whole Foods.

Some alternative combos:

  • artichoke, orange, red onion with red wine vinegar
  • broccoli, cauliflower, shelled sugar snap peas with grapeseed oil

Sometimes I add a small bag of edamame, organic and non-GMO, if I don’t have any regular protein to go with it (either freshly made or leftover). But this week, I’ve cooked up several chicken breasts with herbs de provence.

The chicken, salad, and a banana will comprise my lunch for the week…all made in about 30 minutes.

But this salad is fantastic to make up on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and just have in the fridge as a quick side or even late-night snack. With the sweet and crunchy veggies, it’s often an acceptable alternative to your palate’s oreo craving at 10:30 pm.

Finally, this is my regular go-to contribution to any summery potluck, especially if I know any vegetarians will be attending; I make a special point to let them know I will be bringing the salad and how I prepare it so they can be comfortable eating it. I’ve had several vegetarian friends attend a potluck for the first time because they knew there’d be something for them other than just what they brought. (In the winter, I do a mushroom risotto for my vegetarian friends.)

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

The Closet Italian makes Italian Meatloaf and Meatballs (Momentum/PointsPlus 5)

My passion is cooking, but my bliss is cooking Italian…anything Italian. Since I happened to swing by the specialty grocery store today, I went ahead and picked up the ground veal and ground sausage (both organic and corn free) to make Italian meatloaf.

Now most folks know meatloaf as that hearty, budget-saving dinner staple: a ground beef, egg, ketchup, bread crumbs and spice mixture, perhaps with some diced veggies thrown in and a quick ketchup or bbq sauce carmelized (or burned) on top. Yep, I sure love that too. My PaPa’s recipe is still our family favorite.

But this is Italian meatballs made into a mini-loaf; it’s also much more dense than traditional American meatloaf. And it’s also perhaps the second hardest recipe for me to transfer. You see, there are no measurements…none, whatsoever. So I’ll do my best with guidance.

The thing to remember is that if you mix and combine to your taste, there’s little chance of going wrong.

Ingredients (this comes from the very first time I made this):

  • 1 lb ground beef (for hearty flavor and density)
  • 1/3 lb ground pork (for sweetness and fat)
  • 1/3 lb ground veal (for the smooth, silky texture)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce (make your own GF/CF/SF with this recipe)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1-2 T each: basil, oregano, hot red pepper flakes (depends on how you like the flavors)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Dump all of this into a large mixing bowl. Wash your hands thoroughly. Using your hands, mix and blend and squish everything together, working the mixture for about 5 minutes.

Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road in making meat mixtures…you need to taste it…yes, while it’s still raw. This is why it is so important to use organic meats, local if you can get it so you know exactly where the meat comes from. Just a tiny bit, now, to make sure you’ve got a pleasing blend of herbs and spices.

And now come the options. This is originally an Italian meatball recipe, but is wonderful for a variety of presentation options:

  • Meatballs–shape very small spoonfuls into 1-inch meatballs and bake at 350 for 30 minutes
  • Meat Muffins–shape into 3-inch balls and bake in a sprayed muffin tin at 350 for 30 minutes
  • Meatloaf–shape into a log or in a loaf pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes (for mini-loafs as well)
  • Meat Cut-outs–“roll” out the meat mixture to 1-inch thick (or just pat it out with your hands if you want) and cut out with large, simple cookie cutter shapes; this is great for getting kids to eat meatloaf. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes
  • Stuffed Meat Loaf–select a “filling” such as any sauteed veggies (or combination), cheese, nuts…or all of these mentioned. Using half of the meat, make a “bowl” and fill with your filling. Shape the remaining meat over the top and seal the seam well. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

And then there are the sauce options. Tonight, I’ve gone “nude,” but typically I’m a classic Roman when it comes to dressing my Italian meatloaf…it has to be traditional Roman marinara: roasted tomatoes, anchovy paste, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. I’ve had a couple of requests to share my marinara technique, and I will; just waiting on my local fresh tomatoes to come into season. When that happens, I’ll buy about 60-80 pounds of tomatoes and make about 4 gallons of basic marinara. I use this as spaghetti sauce base, bolognese base, in cabbage soup, in gumbo and jambalaya, in taco soup, and more!

Italian dishes to come: traditional Roman marinara, risotto (northern Italian), homemade pasta (egg, no-egg, whole wheat, flavored), white/cheese sauces, and more!!!

This recipe made six (6) mini-meatloafs for 5 points each, Momentum or PointsPlus.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Hot Chocolate in 5 Minutes (Momentum 4/ PointsPlus 4)

What’s better for relaxing you when you’re all twisted up over a man? Sure, it’s a trick question. For me, though, warm, rich hot chocolate is the best medicine, especially when it’s after dinner and approaching bedtime and I’m probably wishing he was with me.

Oh, sure, you’ve probably got packets of hot chocolate mix in your cupboard. It may even be the premium stuff. But if you’ve read my perspective on natural ingredients, you know what I’m about to say. Icky-poo icky to all of those chemicals created in a laboratory to taste and smell like chocolate but aren’t chocolate at all. Especially when it takes the same amount of time and effort to make your own rich, creamy hot chocolate.

Seriously! In the same time it would take to wait for the water to boil in the kettle to mix with your packet, you can have real, homemade, ingredient-controlled hot chocolate…and you guarantee that it’s exactly the strength and sweetness you want it!

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz of your favorite kind of “milk” (cow, soy, almond, rice, goat)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon of instant espresso
  • 1-2 tablespoons of sugar (or equivalent artificial sweetener of your choice)
  • optional: 1 teaspoon natural vanilla, hazelnut, almond, or cinnamon extract (especially if you use cow milk and/or unsweetened versions of soy, almond, or rice milk)

Start with your milk, cocoa, espresso and extract in a small saucepan on medium heat. Whisk briskly to blend the ingredients and loosen any lumps in the cocoa or espresso (or sift these if you feel like taking the time). As you blend and see the brown and white gradually transform into a beautiful chocolatey color, you will notice a light bubble foam developing on the top; this is normal and should not be confused with the beginnings of a boil-over.

Stop and taste the mixture with a teaspoon to check for the sweetness level. If you are a true “dark” chocolate person, you will not desire any added sweetness; the “edge” of the unsweetened chocolate and the espresso will tickle your tastebuds just right. But if you are like me and need sweetness to untangle your evening nerves, begin by adding 1 teaspoon of sugar (or equivalent artificial sweetener). Again, whisk briskly and taste. Continue adding up to 1 tablespoon of sugar in small sprinkles until you achieve your desired flavor.

Remember, never allow the chocolate to boil…EVER! If you do, you will burn the milk, create a skin from the carbohydrates in the milk (all milks have carbs!), and the drink will become slightly (or more) chalky.

I like to use a combination of 4:1 of organic vanilla almond milk to skim organic cow milk for optimal creaminess for me. Others will appreciate the slight tang of goat milk. Regardless of which milk you use, please use organic, non-gmo milks and go very light on soy milk, which in significant quantities (more than 2 oz per day) can accelerate puberty in girls, delay puberty in boys and lead to a number of later life health problems, which have been confirmed by long-term studies only recently concluded.

Momentum Points (using 7 oz almond milk, 1 oz skim milk, and 2T real sugar) = 4

PointsPlus (using 7 oz almond milk, 1 oz skim milk and 2T real sugar) = 4

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Quick and Easy Hummus (Momentum 1; PointsPlus 2)

I’ll go for long periods of time not even thinking about hummus, but as soon as someone says the word, I start craving it.  What’s not to love…a lightly flavored bean blended into a rich creamy dip, with whatever add-in you’d like.

It’s cheap…perhaps .89 per can of chickpeas.

It’s low-fat…at most 3 grams of fat for the whole can.

It’s low-carb…only 15 or so complex carbs per serving…that’s one of four complex carb servings for your day.

NOTE: the above three statements are decidedly NOT TRUE about store-bought hummus.

And it’s soooooooooo simple.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans of garbanzo beans (or chickpeas), with juice drained into a cup or container
  • 2-3 roasted garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Dump all of the ingredients into your food processor or blender; doesn’t really matter which you use, but I happen to prefer the food processor. Blend until the mixture gums up and sticks to the sides of the processor.

Pop the lid off and scrape down the sides. Then blend again, this time adding about half of the juice from the beans (about 1 cup).

Pop the lid off again and see where you are. At this point, your hummus is pretty well blended for flavor, but a little thick and textured. If this is how you like it, you’re done.

If you want a thinner, smoother hummus, blend some more, adding more of the juice, but much more slowly. It won’t take much now to thin and smooth. For this batch, I added about 1/2 cup more juice, and my hummus slides nicely off of a spoon, but in a “scoop”. You can also test with the chip you plan to eat it with; I can easily load up a bagel chip with some of the hummus hanging but not dripping off of the side.

Now, sure, you could go all authentic on me and insist on tahini and olive oil as essential ingredients. Unless you are looking for the nutty flavor from the tahini and you find that using the liquid from your beans doesn’t get your hummus smooth and loose enough, then fine, insist on tahini and olive oil and call mine bean dip. But if you add those two ingredients, be sure to account for the added fat and carbohydrates WITHOUT a balance of fiber and protein.

Momentum Points = 1 point per half cup serving

PointsPlus = 2 points per half cup serving

NOTE: Store-bought hummus is on average 1 point per tablespoon of hummus, which would be 8 points for the equivalent 1/2 cup serving.

The plated picture shows a single 2 oz serving of homemade bagel chips, for a Momentum 4-point snack or a PointsPlus 6-point snack.

Alternate 0-point flavorings: 1 can of artichokes, 1 package fresh or thawed frozen spinach, 1 package thawed frozen asparagus, 1 jar roasted red peppers, 6-8 cloves roasted garlic, 2 fresh roasted tomatoes, handful of fresh basil, crushed red pepper,

Alternate 1-point flavorings: 1 oz olives, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1/4 cup reduced fat feta cheese, 1 tblsp sugar (with cinnamon, clove,  nutmeg, ginger) for a sweeter option

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Crock Pot Happiness: Frozen Turkey Breast (Momentum/PointsPlus 1 pt/oz.)

My crock pot has been in storage for over three years, ever since I moved back to my hometown from New York. And since, when I cooked something large enough to need the crock pot, I was cooking for my whole family, I typically used my mom’s crock pot. Until she dropped hers after making mulled cider in it for a Christmas gathering.

Since then, we’ve used her small 3 qt. crock pot, which has worked just fine…until now.

I spent last weekend with my favorite country family. The mom and I talk cooking a lot! And she told me her daughter (my friend) had told her about putting a frozen solid turkey breast in the crock pot with salt and pepper, and it was delicious. Funniness abounds when I share with my friend what her mom told me, and she (the friend) says she heard it from her mom.

Regardless of where this notion comes from, I gave it a try for Sunday dinner today. You see, my brother LOVES Thanksgiving dinner, so we end up making pared down versions a couple times a year. When he asked for it recently, I suggested we give this a try, which required me to take my 8 qt crock pot out of storage.

Now you KNOW I love to skip the whole thawing step and get right to cooking with a frozen piece of meat. It couldn’t be simpler.

Put a frozen solid turkey breast into the clean, dry crock pot. Salt and pepper generously. Set to cook for 8 hours.

Now if your 5.5-6 lb turkey breast is anything like mine, it isn’t shaped just right for sitting in the crock pot while still frozen. The fix is simple: wrap the top of the pot tightly in foil until the turkey is thawed and fits nicely under the lid. Mine took about two hours to thaw and fit without the foil.

You may also be asking “why didn’t she put any liquid in there? I mean, a turkey needs basting when you cook it any other way, right?” Well, it’s simple, really. The turkey already has fluid/water/juice (whatever you want to call it) inside. When you cook the turkey in the oven, the juices run out of the turkey and into the bottom of a pan…away from the turkey; if you don’t baste it, it comes out dry. In the crock pot, the  juices still run out, but collect in a much smaller space and form a sort of “soup” for the turkey to continue to soak up the juices, keeping your bird moist and delicious. In fact, this preparation produces more of a “shredded” turkey; don’t even think you’re getting nice slices out of this. It’s so juicy and fall-apart-ish that it’s nearly impossible not to eat the whole thing!

Now this is the simple version of this dish, as I’m just trying it out for the first time. I can imagine doing jerk turkey, cajun turkey, mexican turkey, margarita turkey, and more using this same strategy…just different flavorings.

I’m also tempted to try this with other cuts of meat…straight from the freezer. So stay tuned!