Posted in Cooking

Campstyle Eggs

My dad's favorite dinner for Veterans Day 2016.
My dad’s favorite dinner for Veterans Day 2016.

My dad grew up country and military, so he learned how to make something delicious out of nothing early in the life and from both his momma and his daddy – my Grannie and Papa Joe.

Between camping and hunting, Boy Scouts, and military life all using campfire cooking, a favorite campfire skillet breakfast is born: Campstyle Eggs.

Here’s the proportions for a 4-serving batch, which I made this evening for my Vietnam Veteran dad – Ed Mikell.

  • 1/2 lb breakfast sausage (Jimmy Dean Hot, one of my dad’s favorites)
  • 2 medium potatoes diced pretty small, or equivalent baby potatoes (we prefer yukon gold or red potatoes)
  • 1 small onion diced (sweet for us)
  • 1 small green bell pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional and not a traditional ingredient)
  • 3 jumbo or 4 large eggs (subs: 1 cup Egg Beaters, tofu scramble)
  • 1 T milk per egg
Prep your potatoes, onions, and peppers before you start; this dish goes fast!
Prep your potatoes, onions, and peppers before you start; this dish goes fast!

Brown up the sausage on medium high heat, using your wooden cooking spoon to break it up into a fine crumble. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage to a paper towel, leaving all of the pork fat grease in the pan.

Drop in the potatoes, stir to coat in the pork fat grease well, and smooth into a single layer. Now leave them alone for a good 2 minutes (if diced really small) or 3 minutes (if diced a little larger) to get a light crispy golden crust on that one side. Stir gently to unstick the potatoes and roll them onto their other sides to continue cooking. I like the really small dice for this dish because you can crisp up the potatoes pretty quickly and get the whole dish done in under 20 minutes.

All the veg in the pan; all the meats waiting for their turn.

Once the potatoes have softened but may still have some crunch or bite to them still, drop in the onion and pepper to begin cooking. If you wait until the potatoes are completely and perfectly done, you’ll end up with half hard crunchy over cooked potatoes and half smushed potatoes, neither of which are desireable in the final dish.

Everything is in the pan, waiting for the eggs!
Everything is in the pan, waiting for the eggs!

While the potatoes, onions, and peppers are finishing, scramble 3 eggs with about 2 T milk; be sure to salt and pepper your egg scramble or the eggs will be bland.

 

I only had 3 large eggs, but this dish is very forgiving of amounts!
I only had 3 large eggs, but this dish is very forgiving of amounts!

When the potatoes, onions, and peppers have reached your favorite level of doneness (takes about 5 minutes for my family), add back in the sausage and stir well. Gently pour the egg/milk scramble over the whole dish and stir gently to coat everything with the egg as it is cooking. It’ll take about 1 minute for the eggs to cook and the dish to be ready to serve.

All done. It's not the prettiest thing, but it's delicious!
All done. It’s not the prettiest thing, but it’s delicious!

As soon as the egg is done to your liking (some like wet eggs, some like rubbery eggs, to each his/her own), take the pan off of the heat. This is important: do not leave the pan on the burner to “keep it warm” or you’ll overcook the egg and begin to burn the rest of the ingredients.

When we have this as a breakfast, this is it. As our dinner tonight, we enjoyed it with some local tomatoes sliced and fresh biscuits with butter and preserves.

Vegetarian/Vegan Alternative

  • Sub veggie crumbles or seitan crumbles for the sausage (will need to use an oil for the potatoes, onion, and peppers)
  • Sub tofu scramble or The Vegg Scramble for the egg
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 Cooking

Taking a Helping Hand from the Experts: Ginger-glazed Ham (Momentum 1 pt/oz; PointsPlus 1 pt/oz)

Ginger-glazed Ham a la Nigella Express

I’ve got a few favorite shows on Food Network, and Nigella Express is tops for me. She cooks just like me, in a throw it together, don’t measure anything, do whatever it takes to make it ooey gooey yummy and then watch your friends and family enjoy!

So a few weeks ago, I caught an episode where she made a Ginger-glazed Ham. Now anyone who knows me personally has just lifted their eyebrows to the ceiling (perhaps beyond, in a few cases)…because everybody knows I hate ham. Wait…sshhhhh…about a month ago, to be polite, I ate some ham at Sunday dinner at a friend’s house a month or so ago, and it wasn’t horrible. Still not my favorite meat preparation, but I learned I don’t hate it anymore.

But when I saw Nigella combine ham–a mediocre meat preparation–and ginger glaze, my eyes lit up and my mouth watered. Now, I may be just okay with ham, but I LOVE ginger!

You can find the original recipe at Nigella Express on Food Network, but I changed it just a little and made it perhaps more American kitchen friendly:

  • 1 8-lb ham shoulder (bone in)–because I couldn’t find boneless ham joint at my grocery store
  • 1 2-liter of ginger ale–just use the store brand
  • 1 cup (or about half a jar) of ginger preserves–I find Dundee’s to be the best, with a strong, spicy flavor and natural ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard–again, I had store brand in the house, so that’s what I used
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar

Put the ham in your crock pot and fill it up with ginger ale; mine took about 1.5 liters. If the ham is too big for you to put the lid on (like mine was), just cover it snuggly with foil. Put it on whatever setting you need to get it through the day; I happened to be at home the day I made mine, so I stuck with Nigella’s original 4 1/2 hour cooking time, setting my crock pot on the 4 hours on high button (mine has four buttons, 4 or 6 hours at high or 8 or 10 hours at low).

30 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees

When it’s done in the crock pot, take it out with some large meat forks/scoops and place it on a baking rack in a foil-lined pan (with high sides, preferably). With a fork, perhaps some tongs, and a sharp knife, cut away the skin and most of the fat, exposing the dark pink meat of the ham. While it’s cooling just a little, mix up the glaze ingredients in a bowl: ginger preserves, mustard, cloves, and brown sugar. Then slather on the glaze and pop it into a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your glaze.

PS–this glaze is about the most amazing spicy sweetness I’ve come across in a loooong time. I can imagine it topping just about any grilled, baked, or roasted meat: chicken, pork chops, lamb chops, tuna or swordfish steaks. I think I also prefer it to Major Grey’s mango chutney for my spicy curry topping too.

Ginger-glazed Ham a la Nigella Express

Paired with this sweet and spicy ham is a baked potato salad and steamed broccoli.

Oooo, and the best thing is that you can repeat this process with any flavor combination. Imagine cooking it in pineapple juice all day before glazing it in pineapple preserves, or orange juice and orange marmalade, or apple juice and apple butter, or ginger ale and sweet potato butter…the list is endless!

Better yet, cook it on low without any special flavoring or liquid and then glaze with some yummy bbq sauce or whiskey sauce or maple glaze.

For such a strong flavored meat…that cured ham…it sure can take a lot more flavor the more you cook it!

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