Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The simple secret to lean, moist bison meatloaf

I almost called this "Meatloaf for Mushroom Lovers," but even if you don't love mushrooms, I think you'll like this recipe.

I often use bison for burgers because it's more flavorful than lean ground beef. This is January, though (although our widely fluctuating temperatures make some days feel more like April), and I was in the mood for meatloaf.

I always add lots of chopped onions to meatloaf along with an egg and seasonings. This time, though, I happened to have fresh mushrooms on hand. I used the caps to make Pesto-Stuffed Mushrooms, then chopped the stems and mixed them into the meatloaf.

Anyone who's cooked mushrooms in a skillet knows how much liquid they contain. When you sauté, you want the liquid to evaporate, but I wanted it to add moisture to the meat.

As I combined the ingredients, I thought that I might have overdone the amount of mushrooms. When the meatloaf was done, however, the cooked mushrooms had blended into the meat, keeping it moist and contributing subtle, savory flavor.

Yield: 3 or 4 servings

1 egg
2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely minced button mushrooms (stems only or stems and caps)
1/3 to 1/2 cup minced onion, to taste
1 pound ground bison (see note)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a small broiler pan with foil. Spray the slotted top portion of the pan with nonstick cooking spray. (Or use a sturdy rack set in a baking pan. Don't use a loaf pan -- you want the drippings to drain away.)

Beat the egg in a medium bowl. Add Worchestershire, salt and pepper; mix well. Add mushrooms and onion. Crumble meat into the bowl. With your hands, mix gently but well.

Form the mixture into a loaf and place on the broiler pan. Bake until a thermometer inserted into the middle of the loaf reaches 160 degrees, about 45 minutes. Cover loosely with foil and let sit for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Note: I've found that fresh ground bison from the butcher case is more tender than prepacked frozen ground bison.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Spanish tortilla is an omelet -- and great brunch, party fare

You probably think about tacos, burritos and fajitas when you hear the word "tortilla." But in Spain, a tortilla is not a flatbread. It's a type of omelet. In Italy, it would be called a frittata.

This version is adapted from a recipe that appeared several years ago in Cook's Illustrated. The folks at America's Test Kitchen reduced the amount of olive oil significantly from the Spanish original. I was able to reduce it even more by using one of the new, super-nonstick "green" skillets.

I also halved the recipe, which makes the process of sliding the partially cooked tortilla onto a plate, flipping it onto another plate and then sliding back into the pan much easier. If you make the full recipe, use a 10- to 12-inch skillet and cook the potato-onion mixture for about 20 minutes instead of 15.

I added a bit of color and flavor to the tortilla by stirring in pieces of sun-dried tomatoes. You could also use cooked sausage or ham or cooked vegetables.

Serve Spanish tortillas warm or at room temperature for brunch, a light supper or as a nibble at parties alongside olives, serrano ham or prosciutto, chunks of manchego and other cheeses. I've even brought one to a potluck. In Spain, an almost infinite variety of tortillas are served at tapas bars along with numerous other tasty tidbits.


Yield: 2 entree or 4 appetizer servings

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided (see note)

12 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes (3 small or 2 medium), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices 

1/2 small onion, thinly sliced  

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided 

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 

4 large eggs 

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes, optional

Toss 1 tablespoon oil, potatoes, onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl until potato slices are separated and coated in oil.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil (see note) in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Reduce heat to medium-low; add potato mixture. Cover skillet. Cook, stirring with rubber or silicone spatula every 5 minutes, until potatoes offer no resistance when poked with the tip of a paring knife, 15 minutes. (Some potato slices may break into smaller pieces.)

Meanwhile, whisk eggs with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in the mixing bowl until just combined. Mix in the tomatoes.

Using the spatula, fold the cooked potato mixture into the eggs until combined, making sure to scrape all the potato mixture out of the skillet.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil, and heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the egg-potato mixture and cook, shaking pan and folding mixture constantly for 15 seconds. Smooth the top of mixture with the spatula. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook, gently shaking the pan every 30 seconds until the bottom of the tortilla is golden brown and the top is lightly set, about 2 minutes.

Using the spatula, loosen the tortilla from the pan, shaking back and forth until the  tortilla slides around freely. Slide the tortilla onto a large plate. Invert the tortilla onto a second large plate, then slide the tortilla browned-side up back into the skillet. Tuck the edges of the tortilla into the skillet with the spatula.

Return the pan to medium heat and cook, gently shaking the pan every 30 seconds, until the second side is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Slide the tortilla onto a cutting board or serving plate and let cool for at least 15 minutes. Cut the tortilla into cubes or wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: This recipe was tested in an extremely slick nonstick skillet. If your skillet is not as slick, use up to 2 tablespoons oil when cooking the potatoes and onions.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brown sugar meringue crowns chocolate chip bar cookies

I don't know why these bar cookies came to mind this week, but I'm glad they did. My grandmother and my mother made this recipe regularly, but I've rarely pulled out my copy. In fact, I'd be surprised if either of my children remember it.

And that's a shame. This recipe is delicious and unusual. It takes a little more time and requires a few more bowls than many bar cookies, but I think the results are worth it.

Rich, buttery cookie dough makes up the bottom layer. I find that the best way to spread it evenly in the pan is to pat it out with my fingertips. Next come the chocolate chips, sprinkled evenly over the dough. They'll melt and spread out a bit as the bars bake. The top -- and the component that sets this recipe apart -- is brown sugar meringue, sweet with just a hint of caramel flavor. The day you bake these bars, the meringue will be shatteringly crisp. Cover any leftovers well, and by the next day, the topping will have a stickier consistency that might remind you of marshmallows.

Yield: About 40 bars

For bars:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

For meringue topping:
2 egg whites
1 cup sifted light brown sugar (see note)

Prepare the bars: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-by-15-inch baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, granulated sugar and packed brown sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, water and vanilla; beat until well combined.

Sift or whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add gradually to the butter mixture, beating on medium speed until incorporated.

Using a spatula or your hands, spread the batter evenly in the baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips.

Make the meringue: Using a clean mixing bowl and clean beaters, whip the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in the sifted brown sugar, then beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the batter and chocolate chips, covering the entire surface. Use a spoon to pull the top of the meringue into peaks.

Bake until the meringue starts to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool, then cut into bars.

Note: The best way to sift brown sugar is to force it through a fine mesh strainer with a wooden spoon. After the sugar has been sifted, spoon it gently into a measuring cup.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ghee whiz: Kitchen tips and techniques

The more I cook, the less I work. In other words, as I cook, I figure out shortcuts and techniques to save time, effort and money. And sometimes, I find that a little extra effort pays dividends later on.

Consider my stash of frozen ghee, the clarified unsalted butter sold in jars and used in Indian cooking. It's great for sautéing because it has a high smoke point. I bought a jar recently to use in Quick Spiced Potatoes and Cauliflower with Baby Shrimp. We loved the recipe, which I've served more than once. Even so, I had a lot of ghee left over.

Research suggested that I keep the ghee at room temperature and use it within three weeks. Instead, I used my smallest cookie scoop to arrange 1-tablespoon mounds of ghee on a sheet pan that I'd covered with parchment paper. I refrigerated the ghee until firm, then cut each piece in half. Then I put the sheet pan in the freezer. When the ghee was frozen, I transferred it to a plastic freezer bag. The little pieces thaw quickly, so I pull out whatever I need when I need it. One piece is just the right amount when cooking eggs or sautéing veggies in a nonstick skillet.

In the summer, I portion and freeze mounds of pesto the same way, and if I open a can of tomato paste, I use the same method to freeze the excess.

I knew the size of the cookie scoop because I'd previously filled it with water, then poured the water into a measuring spoon. I also have two bigger scoops, one which holds 1/3 cup and one which holds 1/2 cup. The biggest scoop is perfect for portioning out muffin batter. I also use those larger scoops to divide batter equally between loaf pans or cake pans. When I made waffles recently, I used the biggest scoop to plop the batter onto the waffle iron.

When you have leftover stock or broth, you can freeze it in 1/4- or 1/2-cup portions in muffin cups. After the stock has frozen solid, dip the bottom of the pan briefly into a sink of hot water, then pop out the blocks of stock and transfer to a freezer bag.

When baking, I almost never use a sifter. When a recipe calls for sifted flour, I whisk the flour in the canister before measuring it. (I then spoon the flour gently into the measuring cup and level the top, using the flat edge of a knife.) Most of today's recipes do not call for sifted flour, however. You can tell this way: If the ingredient list says "1 cup SIFTED flour," sift before measuring; if it says "1 cup flour, SIFTED," sift after measuring.

If a recipe calls for sifting dry ingredients together, combine them in the mixing bowl and whisk until the spices and other ingredients are well distributed.

When do I use a sifter? To get rid of the lumps in powdered sugar when stirring together icing.

Sticky ingredients such as honey and molasses are easy to measure but hard to get out of the measuring cup. If your recipe calls for vegetable oil, measure that first. If not, lightly coat the measuring cup or spoon with nonstick cooking spray. Either way, the sticky stuff will slide right out.

I have several fine mesh strainers. I use the smallest to skim the foam off simmering stock. Most recipes  tell you to use a large spoon, but I always seem to pick up more stock than foam. Using a strainer solves that problem.

When decorating a cake with icing or piping the filling into deviled eggs, I use a pastry bag and decorative tip. I've learned that pastry bags are easy to fill if you set them in a tall, narrow glass.

I'd love to hear your tips. If you have any to share, please leave a comment.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Banana-maple waffles taste as good as they are good for you

So many of my recipes get their start with ingredients that I have on hand after making another dish. That's the case with these waffles. I'd bought the low-fat sour cream to garnish my Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas, the banana for Tropical Coconut Pudding Parfaits and the frozen blueberries for Fruit-Topped French Toast Casserole.

I'm not quite sure why I decided to combine those ingredients in waffles, but I'm glad I did. These waffles are slightly sweet with a definite but not overpowering banana flavor. Using white whole-wheat flour provides the health benefits of whole grains, but the waffles are decidedly lighter than those made with regular whole-wheat flour.

Serve these waffles for breakfast, brunch or, as I did, for a change-of-pace lunch. If you have leftovers, freeze them and reheat in the toaster. The reheated waffles won't have quite the same texture as the ones fresh out of a waffle iron, but they're heads above any whole-wheat toaster waffle you can find at the supermarket.

Yield: About 7 waffles

1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large banana
3/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup 1 percent or skim milk
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons real maple syrup (see note)
Fresh or frozen blueberries, optional

Prepare and preheat a waffle iron.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Mash the banana in a medium bowl. (You should have 1/2 cup. If you used a larger banana, remove the excess from the bowl.) Add sour cream, milk, oil, eggs and syrup. Whisk until well combined.

Add banana mixture to dry ingredients. Mix quickly but well with a silicone or rubber spatula. Do not overmix or the waffles will be tough.

For a 6-inch waffle iron, ladle a heaping 1/2 cup batter on the griddle. If desired, scatter a few blueberries over the batter. Cook waffle until done, then repeat with remaining batter.

Serve with your choice of toppings, such as sliced bananas, fresh blueberries and/or maple syrup.

If making more waffles than you can eat at one meal, let the extras cool on wire racks (to prevent sogginess). Once cool, transfer to plastic bags and freeze. Reheat in the toaster or the oven.

Note: Don't use pancake syrup, which is made from corn syrup and flavorings. You can substitute agave nectar or honey, but the flavor won't be the same.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Coconut pudding parfaits brighten winter meals

This dessert was inspired by three things: Photos of a rich and labor-intensive banana pudding pie that a friend posted on Facebook; a half-empty bag of shredded coconut that I had used in my brownie recipe; and some bananas rapidly ripening on my kitchen counter.

I had a can of light coconut milk in the pantry, so I decided to use it to make pudding. You should be able to find light coconut milk in the Asian aisle of any well-stocked grocery or ethnic market. (I based my pudding on a recipe from the Food Network's Robert Irvine; you can find the original here.) To make enough pudding for four servings, I added 1/3 cup of nonfat milk to the coconut milk. For a nondairy dessert, use unsweetened almond milk or more coconut milk.

The pudding needs to be made in advance and chilled. Don't assemble the parfaits until you're ready to serve them. Otherwise, the enzymes from the fruit could cause the custard to become watery.

You can make layered parfaits or simply top bowls of pudding with fruit. Use your choice of fresh, frozen or even canned fruits. Berries, mango chunks, peaches, cut-up orange segments and pineapple chunks all come to mind. If you'd like a little crunch on top, garnish with a sprinkling of crushed gingersnaps or toasted sliced almonds. For a creamy topping, add a dollop of whipped cream.

Yield: 3 or 4 servings

1 (about 13 1/2-ounce) can light coconut milk
1/3 cup nonfat milk, unsweetened almond milk or additional coconut milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup loosely packed sweetened shredded coconut, plus more for optional garnish
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Slices or chunks of fruit (such as banana, mango, pineapple)

Pour coconut milk and nonfat milk, almond milk or 1/3 cup additional coconut milk into a 3-quart saucepan. Add sugar and salt. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add 1/4 cup shredded coconut. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the liquid begins to simmer.

In a small bowl or cup, mix together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water, making a slurry. Slowly stir the slurry into the simmering coconut milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir to prevent scorching.

Scrape the pudding into a medium bowl. Place that bowl into a larger bowl filled with several inches of ice water. Let cool, stirring frequently. When cool, cover the bowl of pudding with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

While pudding chills, toast coconut for the optional garnish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread shredded coconut into an 8-inch baking pan. Bake until the coconut turns golden, about 3 minutes, stirring every 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer coconut to a plate and let cool completely.

To make parfaits, alternate layers of pudding and fruit in tall glasses. Sprinkle the top of each parfait with toasted coconut and serve immediately.  (Any extra shredded coconut can be frozen.)

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Tuna-white bean salad: 3 ingredients, many variations

I often make a salad of canned tuna (in olive oil), white kidney beans and a dressing of olive oil and sherry vinegar. I add a little black pepper and whatever fresh herbs I happen to have on hand, and enjoy it on a green salad or tossed with pasta.

Last time I reached into the pantry for the tuna and beans, I noticed a jar of roasted red pepper and artichoke tapenade. When I stirred it into the tuna and beans, I discovered that it replaced not only the oil and vinegar but provided all the seasonings. The salad didn't even need salt or black pepper.

I had a bunch of green onions in the refrigerator, so I sliced one into thin rings and added it and some minced parsley for even more flavor.

This would work with some other types of tapanades and bruschetta spreads as well. Experiment, tasting as you go. You may be delighted with the salad you concoct.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 (5-ounce) cans tuna packed in olive oil
1 (15-ounce) white kidney (cannellini) beans
1 cup roasted red pepper and artichoke tapenade or to taste
Chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley or chives), optional
Chopped green onions (green part only, optional)

Empty tuna into a colander; drain and discard oil. Transfer tuna to a bowl. Flake tuna with a fork.

Pour beans into the colander. Rinse and drain well. Add to the tuna. Add tapenade along with herbs and green onions, if using. Mix gently but well.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for a few hours. (After a day in the fridge, the garlic in the tapenade I used overwhelmed the other ingredients.) Let come to room temperature before serving. If desired, serve over salad greens or mix with hot cooked pasta, then serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: This recipe can be halved. Refrigerate the leftover beans for another use.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Make-ahead French toast casserole

Treating guests to a leisurely brunch can be anything but relaxing for the cook. The solution is to start cooking in advance -- well in advance. This layered French toast casserole needs to spend at least four hours in the refrigerator before being baked.

To make life even easier, serve with baked bacon: Arrange a pound of thickly sliced bacon strips on a foil-lined sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees until done, about 10 to 15 minutes, then drain on paper towels.

You can vary the fruit in this recipe according to taste or what's in season, and you can substitute fresh fruit for the frozen. Just about anything that works well in a pie or crisp is a good candidate. If you choose a fresh fruit that browns when it's cut, such as apples or pears, use them in the middle layer, not on top.

And if you have leftovers, a future brunch or breakfast will be even easier to pull together. Arrange pieces of the casserole on a parchment-lined pan, making sure the pieces don't touch, then freeze until firm. When frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag. Thaw in the refrigerator on in the microwave at 30 percent power, then reheat at 70 percent (medium-high) power.

(I originally developed this recipe for an article that appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light -- minus the bacon recommendation, of course!)

Yield: 8 to 12 servings

About 12 ounces Italian bread or French bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
9 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups frozen blueberries
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cup frozen unsweetened sliced peaches
Maple syrup, for serving 

The night before you bake the French toast, butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish or coat with nonstick spray. Arrange a single layer of bread in the baking dish, cutting the bread as needed to cover the bottom completely.

Using a whisk, beat eggs in a large bowl. Beat in milk and vanilla. Pour half of the egg mixture evenly over the bread in the baking dish. Set aside a few berries to use on the top of the French toast. Scatter the remaining berries evenly over the bread. Stir together brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle half of the sugar mixture over the blueberries.

Make another layer of bread, covering the blueberries. Pour the remaining egg mixture evenly over the bread. Top with the peaches and the remaining blueberries. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture.

Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or as long as overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the French toast and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is set in the middle, about 55 minutes. Let stand at least 5 minutes before cutting. Serve with maple syrup.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Apple upside-down gingerbread cakes are a tiny treat

I love Honeycrisp apples, but they're usually the priciest apple in the supermarket. As good as they are, I'm rarely willing to spend $2 or $3 on a single apple.

That's why, when I saw boxes of six medium Honeycrisp going for $1, I grabbed two. Twelve Honeycrisp apples for a total of $2 -- I felt like I'd hit the apple jackpot.

I'd been thinking about making mini apple upside-down cakes, so I got out the flour, sugar and other ingredients and came up with this recipe. The slightly spicy batter is flavored with ground and crystallized ginger plus cinnamon, while honey and brown sugar contribute sweetness along with their distinctive flavors. Most apple cakes are made with vegetable oil instead of butter, and this is no exception, but I used a little butter in the bottom of each muffin cup for flavor and to prevent sticking.

And speaking of preventing sticking, use the same measuring cup for the oil and then the honey. The honey will slide right out.

And if you don't have a cache of Honeycrisps, another favorite variety such as Granny Smith, Jonathan, Fuji or Gala will do.

Yield: 12 cakes

Nonstick cooking spray
About 1 tablespoon butter or ghee (clarified butter), melted
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, divided
1 large or 2 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
6 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray. Brush about 1/4 teaspoon melted butter in the bottom of each cup. Sprinkle each cup evenly with 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar. Arrange an apple slice (whole or cut into pieces) and some pecans in each muffin cup. Set aside.

Coarsely chop the remaining apple slices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and oil. Add egg; stir until well blended. Stir in honey and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ground ginger. Add to wet ingredients; stir just until combined. Stir chopped apples and crystallized ginger into the batter.

Pour 3 tablespoons batter into each muffin cup. Do not overfill -- the cooked cakes should just reach the top of the cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack for 2 minutes, then run a thin knife around each cake. Invert the cakes onto a large plate, platter or cutting board; lift off the pan. Using a spatula, transfer the cakes to the wire rack and let cool completely.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Beef stew from the slow cooker

As much as I'd prefer to throw the ingredients into the slow cooker and walk away, the end result always tastes much better with a little stove-top cooking on the front end.

This stew is a good example. Sautéing the vegetables and browning the beef deepens the flavors and colors. You'll end up spending a few extra minutes cooking and have a skillet to wash, but the additional work is worthwhile.

When you're using a slow cooker, remember that you'll need less liquid than when cooking on the stove or in the oven, because you'll lose almost nothing to evaporation. In addition, you'll need more herbs, because the seasonings fade during the long cooking time. When your dish is done, taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.

And finally, resist the urge to open the cooker and check on the stew's progress. Heat dissipates so quickly each time you lift the lid that a quick peek could add an hour to the cooking time.

Yield: 6 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 large cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces baby bello mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds round steak, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size pieces
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften and start to brown. Transfer to a slow cooker.

Combine flour and salt and pepper to taste in a plastic food storage bag. Add steak. Close bag; toss to coat steak with flour.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet. Add steak; cook until browned on all sides, stirring as necessary. Add steak to the slow cooker along with tomatoes, broth and thyme.

Cook until tender, about 6 hours on high or 10 hours on low heat. Taste and adjust seasonings. If desired, serve over cooked noodles or mashed potatoes.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Wrap up dinner with cheesy chicken enchiladas

If you have leftover cooked chicken or turkey on hand, this is the recipe for you. If you don't, keep it in mind next time you pick up a rotisserie chicken -- especially if you buy one of the giant ones sold at the warehouse stores. Now that our kids are out of the house, those chickens are too big for one meal but too good a value for me to pass up. I chop or shred the leftover meat and freeze it to use in recipes like this one.

Despite the enchilada sauce and the Southwestern seasoning, these enchiladas are mildly spiced. If you'd like more heat, use more seasoning or add chopped chiles to the filling. Sliced black olives make a nice addition to the filling too.

Using light cream cheese in the filling helps keeps the fat and calorie count down. You can use reduced-fat shredded cheese too, but it won't melt as well as the regular variety. Subbing reduced-fat for regular shredded cheese would save about 8 calories and three-fourths gram of fat per enchilada.

Yield: 5 or 6 servings (see note)

1 (12-ounce) bottle enchilada sauce (for a gluten-free variation, see below)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
3 cups chopped cooked chicken (or turkey)
1/2 cup cup chicken broth
1 cup (8 ounces) soft light cream cheese
1 teaspoon salt-free Southwest-style seasoning
10 to 12 6-inch corn tortillas
3/4 cup shredded Mexican-blend cheese or more to taste
Low-fat sour cream, for optional garnish
Sliced black olives, for optional garnish
Sliced avocado, for optional garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread 1/4 cup enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When oil begins to shimmer, add onion; cook until it starts to brown. Stir in chicken or turkey. Add broth, reduce heat to low and let simmer until most of the broth has been absorbed. Add cream cheese, seasoning and 1/4 cup enchilada sauce; stir until well blended. Remove from heat.

Wrap three or four tortillas at a time in damp paper towels and microwave on high until softened, about 20 to 30 seconds. For each enchilada, spoon 1/3 cup filling in a strip down the center of a tortilla; roll the tortilla around the filling. Arrange enchiladas snugly in the baking dish.

Spread the rest of the sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle evenly with cheese.

Spray a piece of aluminum foil with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the baking dish, sprayed side down. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until enchiladas are heated through and the cheese is bubbly, about 15 minutes longer.

Per enchilada (made with chicken breast): About 220 calories and 8 grams total fat.

Gluten-free variation: Substitute a thick, smooth salsa for the enchilada sauce.

Note: This recipe can be halved and baked in a 7-by-12-inch baking dish for about 25 minutes.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Four-ingredient pork tenderloin is lean, luscious

If you're looking for an easy dinner that's low in fat and loaded with flavor, this recipe is for you. All you'll need is a pork tenderloin, a big onion, a little bit of oil and a jar of barbecue sauce.

Start by browning the pork on all sides, which develops flavor. You'll want what chefs call a "hard sear," with nice dark color. Add thinly sliced onion and sauté for a minute, then stir some barbecue sauce into the onions and pour the rest over the pork. To finish the dish, transfer the skillet to a hot oven. As the onions cook, they'll become tender and so sweet they are almost jammy.

I used a sauce made and sold in St. Louis, Millie's Sweet & Spicy. It's a bit smoky, too, making it a great way to add a lot of complexity to pork tenderloin, which can be bland. You can make this dish your own by using your favorite barbecue sauce.

Two tools make this recipe almost foolproof. The first is a electronic temperature probe, which beeps when the pork is ready. I use it almost every time I grill or roast meat. If you don't have a temperature probe, which connects to a base unit, you can use a meat thermometer or an instant-read thermometer instead. Be sure to keep a close eye on the internal temperature, though. Tenderloins vary in weight and diameter, so the cooking time is hard to predict. Many recipes say to cook pork to 145 degrees, but that's too rare for our liking. I pull it from the oven when the temperature reaches 155 degrees, and the pork turns out moist with a pink center.

The other essential tool is a heavy ovenproof skillet, preferable cast-iron. I used my 10-inch skillet, cutting the pork in half so the pieces fit fairly snugly, which kept the sauce from spreading out and burning.

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon canola oil or olive oil
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
1 jumbo onion or 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly
2/3 cup barbecue sauce

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat oil in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (or other ovenproof skillet) on the stove over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut tenderloin in half crosswise if necessary to fit into the skillet. When oil begins to shimmer, add pork. Brown well on all sides, turning as necessary.

Add onions to the skillet. Cook, stirring, until they start to soften, then stir in about 1/2 cup barbecue sauce. Spread onions evenly in pan, placing them around and under the pork. Spoon remaining barbecue sauce over the pork, spreading the sauce evenly.

Cook until the pork reaches 145 degrees for rare, 155 degrees for medium or 160 degrees for well done. Remove from oven; tent loosely with foil and let sit for 10 minutes.

Cut pork into medallions, top with onions and serve.

Note: Each serving contains about 260 calories and 10 grams of fat.

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