Friday, December 19, 2014

Peanut Butter Kisses

For the past several years, I've been baking cookies at Christmas to deliver to seniors who participate in a program for which I volunteer. This year I was surprised to discover that our numbers were up significantly (don't know why I was surprised since I'm the volunteer who does the intakes on the neighbors we help). I needed to find a cookies that would be delicious, but would not require too many hours in the kitchen. This recipe on the Skippy peanut butter website was perfect. I made 4 batches, which yielded 26 dozen cookies.

Yield:  6 dozen

2 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup Skippy creamy peanut butter
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
72 Hershey's kisses, unwrapped (soooo tedious, I know; why doesn't Hershey's make unwrapped ones for baking?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In medium bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; mix well.

In a stand mixer, beat together peanut butter and butter on medium speed until smooth. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla and mix until blended. By hand, beat in flour mixture until completely blended.

On ungreased baking sheets, drop dough by level tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart. Bake 13 minutes (until golden). Immediately press a Kiss firmly in center of each cookie. Remove cookies to wire rack to cool completely.
These are so much better than the cookies made from the recipe on the bag of Kisses. Those have shortening in them and no taste. These are like a combination of a peanut butter and oatmeal cookie with a hit of chocolate. They are yummy and the only way to keep them safe was to wrap them tightly and put them in the downstairs fridge until I delivered them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Butternut Tortilla Soup with Ground Turkey

Nothing beats a hearty bowl of soup when the weather outside is "frightful." I have a lot of favorites (wedding soup, pasta e fagiola, split pea, to name a few), but I'm always on the lookout for something new and delicious. There are countless recipes for tortilla soup, but most of them are thin broths. I had bookmarked this squash and corn tortilla soup a while back and decided to give it a try. As usual, I made a few changes to suit the pantry and my own tastes. There's a bit of prep involved, but the recipe yields a good quantity of soup (12 cups; recommended serving for 8 being 1 1/2 cups per serving).

1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1 tbs olive oil
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbs seeded, chopped jalapenos 
2 tbs canola oil
3 corn tortillas, cut into 1-inch squares
2 cups seeded, chopped Roma tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs ground cumin
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 lb ground turkey
1 bag (about 6 oz) fresh baby spinach
1 can white hominy, drained

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and seed butternut squash; cut into 1 inch cubes. Spread on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Mince the corn, onion, garlic cloves, and jalapeno in a food processor.

Heat canola oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add tortillas and saute until slightly crisp. Stir in corn mixture, tomatoes, tomato paste, and cumin. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in broth and half the squash. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Blend soup with an immersion blender (or in small batches in the food processor) until smooth.

Brown turkey in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up any large chunks with a wooden spoon. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted.

Add remaining butternut squash, turkey mixture, and hominy to soup. Simmer 5 minutes. Season with pepper, if desired.

N.I. per serving:  258 cal.; 6 g fat; 33 g carb; 6g fiber; 24g protein
Squash and corn have always been a good match. They used to be planted in the same fields, so eating them together is only natural. With 3 kinds of corn in the soup--pureed kernels provide sweetness, corn tortillas help thicken the soup, and whole hominy gives it texture--the soup is delicious and healthy. The addition of chunks of squash and ground turkey make it more like a stew. The jalapenos provided just a small amount of heat and the spinach added color and more texture. I loved this soup! Served with a kale Caesar salad, it was the perfect antidote to a day when the mercury never got above freezing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sweet and Sour Potted Meatballs

A few years ago I read Alex Witchel's All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments. It was a poignant love letter to her mother who suffered from this heart-breaking disease. Included along with the story of her mother's descent into this lonely world were a number of recipes, one of which was for sweet and sour potted meatballs. It was noted that the recipe was adapted from Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking:  Yiddish Recipes Revisited.  I remember making the meatballs and loving them, but for some reason they never made it onto my blog or onto our dinner rotation. It was only during a recent "purge" of the stacks and folders of clippings that I collect, meaning to try out new recipes, that I rediscovered this recipe and set about correcting that omission. I've made some small changes to the original recipe.

Serves 4-6 (or 2 with lots of leftovers for another night or two)

For the sweet and sour sauce:

2 tbs olive oil
1 medium Vidalia onion, minced
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbs)
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the meatballs:

2 lbs ground beef chuck (85% lean)
2 eggs, beaten
1//3 cup long-grain white rice, parboiled for 3 minutes
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 medium Vidalia onion, grated on the coarse side of a box grater
2 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1. Prepare the sauce:  In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil, then saute the minced onion over medium heat until tender and golden, 8 - 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce then rinse out the can with another 1/2 cup of water and add to pot. Stir in the lemon juice and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2.  Make the meatballs:  Put the ground meat in a large bowl and push it to one side. Add the eggs, rice, bread crumbs, onion, salt, and pepper to the other side of the bowl and combine with a large fork. Work in the meat, handful by handful, until everything is thoroughly blended. Return the sauce to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to shape the meatballs. You should have 12 - 14. Drop them gently into the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 30 minutes, gently rotating and pushing the meatballs around halfway through the cooking so that they are thoroughly coated in sauce after about 15 minutes. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve very hot.
I was very happy to find this recipe because these meatballs are something special. They remind me a bit of the filling for stuffed cabbage. In fact, I like this sauce better than the one I usually use for my stuffed cabbage and will substitute it next time I make that dish. I served the meatballs with mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, and roasted brussels sprouts. Two of the meatballs makes a very generous serving. I'm looking forward to leftovers tomorrow night and will probably freeze any that we don't eat then. I can also envision using these for an appetizer (smaller versions, of course) in the future. Aside from the copious weeping when I grated the onion (I forgot to leave my contact lenses in for the job), these go together quickly and require just 30 minutes to cook, making them a good week-night meal.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Death by Chocolate

With the impending shortage of chocolate recently making the news, I thought I'd better share one of my favorite ways to indulge in that food of the gods. This recipe was given to me by a parent whose children attended my school. Celie had brought this decadent treat to a PTA function and I knew I had to make it again (and again).

What you'll need:

7 Hershey Skor bars
1 (9X13) pan of brownies (go ahead and use a mix if you want to)
1/2 cup Kaluha
3 boxes of chocolate mousse
2 pints whipping cream


Bake the brownies. Cool, then poke holes in the brownies with a fork and pour Kaluha over them and set aside. Cut into 1 inch squares before assembling.

Prepare mousse according to package instructions.

Hammer the Skor bars while they're still in the wrapper. Set aside 1 for the topping. Empty the rest of the packages into a bowl.

To assemble:

Use a trifle bowl or a large glass bowl (5 quart works best) to layer 1/3 brownies, 1/3 mousse, 1/3 Skor pieces, 1/3 whipped cream. Repeat. Top with the last Skor bar. Refrigerate for several hours before serving for best results.
In addition to looking beautiful, this simple-to-prepare dessert is truly decadent. The little bit of Kaluha accentuates the chocolatey goodness. In a pinch, I've made this with the kind of chocolate pudding cakes they sell in supermarkets. I even made it with chocolate pudding instead of the mousse one time. It's a great dessert to bring to a potluck or a celebration. In the shot above, I used a 5 quart plastic bowl I bought in a party store so I didn't have to worry the hostess about returning my glass bowl. Another advantage is it serves a lot of people. Thank you, Celie!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It's Time to Make the Stollen

I thought I didn't like stollen until I tasted it at a CIA class I took a few years ago. Since then, I've been a convert. Nothing is better with a cup of hot tea than a slice of homemade stollen dusted with confectioners' sugar. I posted the recipe quite a while back, so I thought it was time for a reminder to those of you who are gearing up for your holiday baking. My only problem with making stollen is my intentions are always good--I MEAN to let it sit long enough for the rum to develop the flavors and I MEAN to give most of it away. But it's so darned good. Make some, and judge for yourself!

Here's the link to my original post; you'll find the recipe there.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Creamy Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

Nothing says fall better than delicious root vegetables. Butternut squash soup shows up frequently on the rotation this time of year and, much as I love it, I was looking for something different. This creamy carrot and sweet potato soup fit the bill.

Serves 6-8

3 tbs unsalted butter, divided
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmet
5 cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes (about 3 very large ones)
1 1/2 cups water
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 cups peeled, chopped carrots (about 4 very large ones)
1/4 cup half and half
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs chopped fresh thyme

Melt 1 tbs butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook 5-7 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in cinnamon and nutmeg and cook 1 minute more, stirring.

Move onion mixture to side of pan and add remaining 2 tbs butter to open space in Dutch oven. Increase heat to medium-high and cook about 1 minute, until butter begins to brown. Add sweet potatoes, water, broth, and carrots and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer 35-40 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth (or do in batches in a food processor or blender, being careful to vent steam and avoid splatters).

Add the half and half and salt and pepper; stir well. Top each serving with a touch of chopped thyme.
This was a very thick and creamy soup with just the right notes of sweetness and spice. The intense orange color is beautiful. In retrospect, I'd have liked to top it with toasted pignoli nuts. This soup would make a great starter for your Thanksgiving meal, but is easy enough to make any night of the week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pierogi and Kielbasa Bake

I've been using Hillshire Farms turkey kielbasa for many years and find the taste and texture to be far better than other brands that I've tried. While I enjoy regular kielbasa on occasion, it is too high in fat to be eaten on a regular basis. I generally steam it and serve it with sweet and sour red cabbage and pierogies, but this one dish bake sounded like it would be more flavorful, so I tweaked it to lower the fat and calories. It went together very quickly and offered generous servings plus leftovers.

Serves 6
2 tsp olive oil
13 oz Hillshire Farms turkey kielbasa, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 packages Mrs. T's mini pierogies (any flavor)
12 oz red cabbage (about 1/4 small cabbage), cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup hard or regular apple cider
1 cup drained sauerkraut
2 tbs whole grain mustard
6 oz extra sharp, reduced fat cheddar (I prefer Sargento's)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the kielbasa and brown on one side (3-5 minutes). Stir in the onion and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender (6-7 minutes).

While the onions are cooking, cook the mini pierogi according to package instructions; drain.

Add the cabbage and cider to the onions and kielbasa and cook uncovered, tossing occasionally until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Stir in the sauerkraut and mustard.

Spray an 8X8 inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Arrange one-third of the pierogi on the bottom of the dish and top with a third of the cabbage mixture and top with a third of the cheese. Repeat twice.

Bake until the cheese melts, about 8 - 10 minutes.

(WW - 12 PP per serving)
What a wonderful one-dish meal to serve on a chilly night! The sweet and sour flavors melded well with the pierogi and the sauteed kielbasa slices with the melted cheese between each layer gave a variety of textures and tastes. The only thing missing was an iced cold beer. I'll have to remember that next time. This dish comes together very quickly and can be held for a while before cooking.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Turkey, Sweet Potato, and Black Bean Chili

Having dipped my foot in the chili pool with a version of Jamie Deen's beef and sausage chili, I was intrigued by a recipe I found on Skinnytaste billed as a "no bean" chili. Since I love beans, I decided to try my own version of this, adding black beans and punching up the spices. Here's my version:

Serves 4-6 (PP value 7-10 pts depending on serving size)

  • non stick cooking spray
  • 20 oz 93% lean ground turkey
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 10 oz can Rotel mild tomatoes with green chilies
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 bay leafI
  • 2 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • optional:  serve with sour cream and salsa

Spray a large non-stick skillet with non-stick cooking spray and brown the ground turkey, breaking it up as it browns. Add the onion, garlic, and salt and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the Rotel, tomato sauce, chicken broth, cumin, chili powder, paprika, bay leaf, and sweet potato. Stir to mix evenly, then bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes, adding more chicken broth, if needed.
Given how little time it took to put this dinner together, the flavors were really there. I would increase the cumin and chili powder even more next time and add a bit of hot sauce to spice it up. I also think it would be equally good with butternut squash. A cup-sized serving over half a cup of rice was very filling and leftovers will make a hearty lunch on a cold, fall day.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Don't judge a book by its cover. This admittedly "brown" dinner, was delicious. I've made a lot of different versions of chicken enchiladas, all of them tasty, but not all of them suited to a quick and easy dinner. These are the ones you want when you want dinner on the table ASAP. This is a no- brainer recipe using a can of soup. Your husband or significant other could make it with no problem.

Yield:  8 enchiladas

1 can Campbell's Healthy Choice cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup of sour cream (I used Daisy light)
1 cup Pace medium picante sauce
2 tsp chili powder
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped (I baked a 1 lb breast, but you can use rotisserie)
1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend reduced fat cheese
8 (6 inch) flour tortillas (I like Chi Chi's)
OPTIONAL:  1 small tomato, chopped
                      1 green onion, diced

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir soup, sour cream, picante sauce, and chili powder in a medium bowl.

Remove 1 cup of the soup mixture and add the chicken and cheese to it; mix well.

Divide chicken evenly among the 8 tortillas; roll each tightly.

Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray and place the tortillas seam side down in the dish. Pour the remaining soup mixture over filled tortillas. Cover baking dish with foil.

Bake 40 minutes or until enchiladas are hot and bubbling. Top with tomato and onion, if desired.

6 PP values per enchilada
Let me say up front that these are not authentic chicken enchiladas. That said, they are very good and, did I mention, very easy and quick. I like to serve them with a side of black beans or fat free refried beans. They will never replace my chicken enchilada casserole, but I make them from time to time when I want the taste of Mexican without all the fuss and calories. Another bonus is they are child friendly because they are not too spicy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Palm Beach Brownies: Not Your Grandmother's Brownies

I have worshipped at the altar of Maida Heatter since I became serious about cooking and baking. One of the first grown up cookbooks I purchased was her Book of Great Desserts (1967). Her instructions might seem a tad controlling, but they are essential contributors to the PBB's incredibly fudgy goodness. These are brownies that must be made the day before they are enjoyed and they are brownies that need no embellishments (though a scoop of vanilla ice cream never hurt anything). I'm guessing the name is a nod to the luxurious playground for the rich--and these brownies are rich. The instructions are very complete, but the brownies are easy to make.

Yield- 2 dozen of the most incredible brownies you'll ever eat
(adapted from Maida Heatter's recipe)

1 cup unsalted butter plus 2 tbs for the pan
8 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
5 eggs
1 tbs vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs dry instant espresso powder
3 3/4 cups sugar
1 2/3 cups flour
8 oz walnut halves, roughly chopped

Adjust oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Invert a 9 X 13 inch baking pan and drape it with a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side down, long enough to cover the pan's sides. Use your hands to carefully press down on the foil around the sides and the corners, shaping it to create a foil liner. Remove foil, turn pan right side up, place foil liner in pan and carefully press into place. Place 2 tbs butter into prepared pan and place in oven for 1 to 2 minutes to melt butter. Brush melted butter evenly across bottom and up sides of foil lined pan.

In a double boiler (or in a microwave oven), combine the chocolate with the remaining 1 cup of butter, stirring occasionally until chocolate and butter habve melted and are thoroughly combined and smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on low speed, beat eggs, vanilla and almond extract, salt, espresso powder, and sugar for 1 minute. Increase speed to medium high and beat for 9 additional minutes. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl, reduce speed to medium, add cooled chocolate-butter mixture, and mix until combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Stir in nuts.

Scrape batter evenly into prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 16 minutes, then rotate the pan halfway. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and continue baking another 16 minutes. At this point, the brownies should be pulling away from the pan's edges and the top should have developed a few cracks. If you insert a toothpick, it will come out wet. That is okay. If no cracks have appeared, remove foil and bake an additional minute up to 3 minutes, checking after each minute. Do NOT overbake.

Remove from oven, transfer pan to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. At this point, cover with aluminum foil and freeze overnight.

When ready to serve, thaw brownies. Cover with a wire rack or cookie sheet and invert, removing the pan and peeling away the layer of foil. Cover with a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut brownies into 24 pieces. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Store leftovers by wrapping individually in plastic wrap or storing in an airtight container.

There are no adjectives to describe adequately the exquisite texture of these brownies. If I didn't know how to make them, I would guess the ingredients included cream because the texture is somewhat like a ganache. The top is crusty and the brownie is simultaneously sturdy, yet gooey. I defy you to eat one and not utter OMG!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Turkey, Spinach, and Mushroom Lasagna

Lasagna can be one of the most calorie-laden pleasures of life, a reason why I used to reserve it for the holidays. I will freely admit that my favorite lasagna is made with homemade spinach noodles, bechamel, and a long-simmered Bolognese sauce. My second favorite lasagna is the way my mother and my grandmother made it--filled with full fat ricotta cheese and mozzarella and served with meatballs, sausage, bracciola and preceded by a huge antipasto. And did I mention the garlic bread?

Well, of course you can't eat that kind of a meal on a weeknight. First of all, you'd need to get up in the wee hours of the morning to start the sauce. More importantly, eating that kind of (delicious, I love it) rich food is definitely not part of a healthy eating plan. So, for nights when I want lasagna, I turn to a quick, leaner version. I use bottled sauce because it's quick and because it has way fewer calories.

I have several versions that I've posted over the years I've been doing this blog (Quick and Easy Turkey Lasagna; Mushroom Lasagna).  Here's another.

Serves 8
1 lb ground turkey breast
2 tsp olive oil
1 (10 oz) pkg cremini mushrooms (sliced)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (10 oz) bag spinach, trimmed
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups light marinara (Ragu has a good one)
1 (8oz) box no-boil lasagna noodles (I like Barilla)
1 (15oz) container fat free ricotta (store brands are fine; hey, it's fat free)
1 1/2 cups shredded part skim mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a 9 X 13 inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

Spray a large nonstick skillet with nonstick spray and set over medium-high heat. Add the turkey and cook, stirring frequently, until no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Add the oil and reduce heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the mushrooms and garlic and continue stirring, cooking another 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper, stir, then add the spinach and cook, stirring, until it's wilted (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat. Drain away any extra liquid from the mushrooms and spinach.

To assemble, spread 1 cup of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Cover with 4 lasagna noodles, overlapping them if needed. Cover with half the turkey mixture, dot with half the ricotta, sprinkle with a handful of the mozzarella, and top with another 1 cup of marinara. Add another layer of 4 noodles and cover with remaining turkey mixture, remaining ricotta, another handful of mozzarella, and 1 cup of the marinara sauce. Add 4 more lasagna sheets, then spread the remaining 1 cup of marinara sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Spray a sheet of foil with nonstick spray; cover dish with foil, sprayed side down, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 20 minutes, until mozzarella is starting to brown and noodles are very tender. Let cool 15 minutes before cutting into 8 equal portions. DO NOT CUT until the lasagna has cooled for 15 minutes and set up. Pass the grated cheese (and add those extra points).

9 WW PP per serving
I usually don't use fat free ricotta nor do I bulk up my lasagna with veggies, but I must say that this lasagna surpassed my expectations. It was really, really good (so good I'd have loved a second piece). I will say that next time I make this I intend to saute the mushrooms and spinach separately with lots of thinly sliced garlic. That way, instead of being a "filler," the vegetables will really bring something to the table, so to speak. Spreading the mozzarella through the layers instead of just putting it on top gives you that wonderful stretchy-melty cheese throughout. Of course, I had to add grated cheese at the table. All in all, I'm looking forward to the leftovers.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Beef and Vegetable Ragu

I love Bolognese sauce, but let's be real-- it's a weekend kind of sauce because it needs a bit of tending. I've made quick ragus before and they're acceptable, but I try to keep my weekday eating as healthy as possible and the calories can add up quickly when you're making a ragu. What to do? Incorporate veggies to stretch the meat, reduce the fat and calories, and save time.

Serves 6  (Sauces 1 pound of pasta)

3/4 lb very lean ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 oz white mushrooms, finely chopped (use a food processor for uniformly chopped pieces)
1 small eggplant, peeled and diced (1 inch dice)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can San Marzano peeled whole plum tomatoes (I like to put them through a food mill, but you can just chop them)
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Spray a nonstick skillet with nonstick spray and set over medium heat. Add the ground beef and onions and cook, stirring, until the beef is browned (5-10 minutes). Add the mushrooms, eggplant, garlic, and oregano and cook another 5 minutes, stirring, until eggplant begins to loose its raw look. Add the vinegar and salt and pepper, cooking about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 15 minutes longer.

Serve over your favorite pasta (I served this over gemilli; penne or cavatelli would be other good choices).

1 1/4 cup sauce = 5 Weight Watchers PP values
I've made other ragus that contain veggies, but they were too obviously vegetable-based for my tastes. What I liked about this ragu was that the mushrooms, chopped as finely as they were, weren't distinguishable from the beef. The vegetables lent a sweetness to the sauce that made it seem as if it had cooked longer. I think the next time I make this sauce I will roast the eggplant first to add another dimension--smokiness. I served my 1 1/4 cup portion over a cup and a half of pasta (3 oz dry) and it was more than enough along with a tossed salad.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Baked French Toast

Lately I've found that I am far more satisfied with meals prepared at home. Not only do I control the portion size, I know exactly what ingredients go into each dish. Eating breakfast out may be faster, but the calories--often empty ones--can add up quickly and for someone who is health conscious, this gets the day off to a poor start (not to mention the difficulty of squeezing in lunch, dinner, and a snack without going off the charts). While I usually opt for a savory breakfast, given the success of my pancake squares, I decided to venture into the land of French toast.

I've made other versions of French toast that require preparing the mixture the night before, then baking off in the morning, but none had this souffle-like texture and streusel topping.

Serves 6 (8 PP values per serving)

12 slices reduced-calorie whole wheat bread (I recommend Sara Lee wheat)
2 cups nonfat milk or 1% milk (I used nonfat)
1 1/2 cups fat-free egg substitute
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 packet Stevia
pinch salt

topping:  2 tbs light stick butter, at room temperature
              1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Spray an 8 inch square baking dish with nonstick spray (I like the butter flavored).

Arrange bread in 4 equal stacks in the baking dish; it will be very tight. Whisk together the milk, egg substitute, vanilla, cinnamon, Stevia, and salt. Slowly pour this mixture over the bread. Use a spatula to lightly press bread and make certain that the egg mixture is equally distributed over the bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to one day.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With a fork, mix together the brown sugar and butter in a small bowl until smooth. Spread this mixture evenly over the bread. Bake for 1 hour or until a knife inserted one inch from the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Cut into 6 portions. I served mine with heated sugar free syrup (love Mrs. Butterworth's) with a half cup of blueberries.

This was so good I'd have loved to eat more than one piece. I was surprised at how high it rose. It looked like a souffle! Ir did fall a bit when it was taken out of the oven. It was by far the best baked French toast I've ever tried, sort of a cross between a bread pudding and French toast. I'm certain it would be a delicious dessert served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

In the future, I would add a few points to this by placing additional streusel between the bread slices before it bakes. While it won't crisp, that yummy buttery-cinnamon flavor throughout will be delicious.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pancake Squares

As much as I love to cook and bake, I've never enjoyed making pancakes. I could blame it on the electric stove, which makes using any kind of griddle hit or miss. I could blame it on the fact that you either have to eat them as you make them or hold them in a warm oven, which never keeps the pancakes the same as those fresh off the grill. And while I don't mind standing at the frying pan with potato pancakes, somehow standing there flipping pancakes has never been as rewarding. Enter King Arthur. No, not the sword-wielding Knight of the Round Table, but the King Arthur Flour Blog, which has the most incredible recipes and ideas. It was there that I read about pancake squares. (Like probably everyone else who saw that post, I slapped myself up along the side of the head and said, "Now, why didn't I think of that?") So, while I'm late to the party, I decided to give the idea a try.

You could certainly use a pancake mix, but why bother when making them from scratch is just as easy and tastes better. This is enough batter for this recipe:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
3 tbs melted butter

Mix well. Pour into a very well greased 9 X 13 inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes, until  a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  The batter will brown around the edges, but the top will not be golden brown. You could add berries or chips or other add in's before you bake. I chose to bake mine plain and top with blueberries and syrup warmed together. You could even make a simple confectioners' sugar glaze. Any way you top them, they are ready in under a half hour and you can sit and sip your coffee while they bake.

In addition to the wonderful smell of pancakes that will waft through your home, if  you close your eyes while you eat these pancake squares, you won't even know they haven't been cooked on a griddle. An added bonus is leftovers can be frozen and reheated for a weekday breakfast. I seldom eat pancakes,but that may change.