Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chicken Pastries with Potatoes Au Gratin

This meal is one of my all-time favorites. One primary reason for this is because I can make it so neatly, all in one oven, at one temp. The recipe for "Chicken Squares" actually came from my mother's cookbook (when I say cookbook, what I'm actually referring to is this gi-normous rubbermaid box that she haphazardly shoves all her recipes in, some dating back to nineteen-dickety-two), and I think she used to make it for my dad back when they were all young and newlyweddy. So it makes me smile to make it now, as a newlywed myself.

First, preheat your oven to 350. This is the baking temp for both dishes. Move the racks so that you can have enough room lower-down for the potatoes in a casserole dish and for the chicken pastries on top (but not right under the broiler). Then spray a large casserole dish (2.5 qt) with Pam.

Potatoes Au Gratin
You'll need:
2 big fat baking potatoes, clean and thinly sliced, divided into 3 even portions.
1 -- 2 shallots, depending on how much you like onion in your taters, thinly sliced
3 T. flour, divided in half
2 T. minced fresh parsley
2 T. chopped chives
2 C. HOT light soy milk
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1/2 C. 75% Fat Free White Cheddar Cheese (I like the Cabot brand)
2 T. freshly grated parmesan cheese

Arrange 1/3 of the potatoes and onions in bottom of dish, sprinkle with 1/2 the parsley, 1/2 the chives, 1/2 the flour, 1/2 the PARMESAN cheese (only). Repeat once more and then top with last 1/3 of the potatoes and onions. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Pour hot milk all over and sprinkle with white cheddar. Bake, uncovered, until tender and top is golden brown, 1 hour, 10 min.
You can also toss in some sliced mushrooms or diced pimentos if you like, add them to the middle layers.
This is so, so good. Serves 4. Now, once that's happily baking away, move onto your Chicken Pastries!

Chicken Pastries
You'll need:

3 oz. Fat Free Cream Cheese, room temp.
2 T. No-Calorie "butter" spray (i.e. Parkay or I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Butter)

Beat these two together until very blended.
2 C. cooked, cubed chicken (For this, you can totally use canned or from a package -- it's getting pretty mixed up with other things)
salt and pepper to taste
2 T. Reduced Fat milk
1 T. chopped chives (See! You can use the leftovers from the bunch you used in the potatoe recipe above!)

Once you have your delicious filling, divide it into 4 in the bowl.

8 oz. can of low-fat cresent rolls (I use Pilsbury)
2 1/4 C. fat-free croutons, preferably garlic-flavored, crushed nearly into powder (My favorite part -- I get out the mallet and beat them to death in a plastic bag)
More no-calorie butter spray, melted

Seperate the cresent dough into 4 rectangles and REALLY seal those perforations. It is nigh on tragic when you don't -- I know. I've had a pile of smoking, charring chicken goo welded to the bottom of a pan in my time. It ain't pretty. So seal 'em up! You should now have 4 roughly square-shaped sheets of dough. Spoon your filling evenly onto each square and pull the edges up all at once. Again, SEAL YOUR PERFORATIONS! When they're good and sealed, sort of twist the top bits together and press into the square. Brush each one with melted "butter" and top with a generous helping of the crouton crumbs (press them gently into the tops to make sure they stick).
Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet until golden brown, 20 -- 25 min. By this time, your stars should have aligned and you should be right on target, time-wise, with the potatoes.

Here's the kicker -- each meal (chicken pastry plus potatos) is only 500 calories. And this really is one of those low-cal recipes that you can serve to guests and they'll feel all gourmet with their bad selves.

Plus, maybe the magic is in the recipe -- all that gooey goodness with make you feel all gooey and newlywed again! Just to be on the safe side, you might want to carry your place settings into the bedroom. That's all I'm saying.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Grilled Cheese

The weather here in NC has been just ravenous. I mean, Beautiful with the capital B. Ergo, I've had my hungry little Deb mind on picnic foods. Now, I gotta tell you, there was once a point in my life when making a grilled cheese sandwich completely eluded me. The first time Stephen was sick, I bundled him onto the couch, made him call into work, and then offered to make him anything his little coughing lungs could desire. He smiled wanly and said all he wanted was a grilled cheese with chicken noodle soup.

Well, I can open a can with the best of them, so the soup was done. But then I was left to ponder the grilled cheese situation, gazing forlornly at the ingrediants on the counter while my beloved hacked and sniffled hungrily in the other room. Here was the problem: the word "grilled." I mean, was I supposed to bust out the propane tank or charcoal for this sandwich? Yikes -- NO ONE (and I mean this) wants to see me tackle real live fire. Surely not, then. Here I started to really panic. I was 18 years old and completely unable to make a sandwich. My blood pressure started to rise. I refused to be outsmarted by cooking "lingo" like "grilled"... I thought frantically of my mother -- surely she had made me a grilled cheese at some point; hadn't she?! Maybe not. Should I call her? Gads, no. That would be ghastly: whispering clarifying cooking instructions into the mouthpiece like a criminal in the kitchen. Then, as so many of my disasters have started with, I began to consider the physics of grilling. It surely wasn't that different from turning on a stove-top burner -- I could just place the cheese sandwich directly on the burner and "grill" it a little. HAH. Am physics genius, I thought smugly.

Until the smoke alarm alerted me to the fact that my sandwich was on fire. I let out an extremely vile and un-Deb-like stream of profanity, and poor Stephen stumbled up from the couch to investigate. Luckily, I'd just tossed the burning bread into the sink, so evidence was scanty. I quickly told him that the toaster was acting up and to go back to the couch. He did so, but with a few worried looks over his shoulder to inform me that he seriously had to question my ability to cook basic food.

In the end, I totally just microwaved the blasted thing. Then, my ego smarting soundly, I got up in the middle of the night and snuck online to read how to properly make a grilled cheese sandwich. Chagrined, I decided then that I should probably try cooking more.

Anyway. Here is my latest grilled cheese recipe. Only 160 calories, and it tastes really like comfort-food - perfect for picnicking (if you're lucky enough to also be in God's Country, aka North Carolina).

Grilled Cheese
You'll need:

2 slices WhiteWheat bread -- If you don't already buy it, you should totally start investing in WhiteWheat bread. It's only 50 calories per slice, and is loaded with dietary fiber (which we should all be getting 25 -- 35 grams of, according to this month's Self magazine), 5 grams per serving.
1 0z Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar (or similar product, to taste. I usually use Cabot's Vermont brand, which has a 75% Fat Free type of cheddar that melts really well. Parmesan is also really delicious, but you have to like a sharp-tasting sandwich)
Parkay's Fat Free Butter Spray, 2 T. per each side of the sandwich
Slices of fresh tomato (if you like tomato on your grilled cheese. I actually don't -- I'm a purist that way)

Heat a burner to medium high heat (don't worry, you use a skillet), and heat a skillet, then add 2 T. of the butter spray. Let it get hot and bubbly. Meanwhile, make your sandwich. Place the sandwich onto the hot skillet and let cook for about 5 minutes, then scoop up and add the remaining 2 T. of spray to the pan. Cook another 5 minutes on opposite side, until as brown and golden as you like.

Mmmm. Ooey, gooey and WITHOUT the unwelcome sides of "fire", or "shame".

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chicken Roulades

Read: Chicken roll-ups. Rolled up with deliciousness.

My mother snatched this recipe from one of her "Let's Eat!" classes -- a place in Orlando where you can go and put together pre-sorted meals, which are then freezable (so you'll have gourmet food all month for one day's worth of work). Well, to be more precise, she snatched a calorie-laden version of this recipe which originally called for dreaded turkey breasts (see link for real, only reason I changed from Turkey to chicken -- husband is, er, finicky). Anyway. I made it last night for the very first time, and it was spankin' good eatin'.

Chicken Roulades
Preheat oven to 350, make sure a rack is at the "top" position, and spray a casserole dish. OR you can do this ahead and freeze -- I only did them the night before and refrigerated them. Then I just popped them in last night in time for dinner!

You'll need:
6 Chicken breasts, pounded within an inch of their lives (actually, don't go too thin, you want them to be about 1/4 " thick. I put them under parchment or wax paper and happily bang away -- great stress reliever!)

1/2 C. Fat-free cream cheese
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 C. dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 C. coarsley chopped walnuts
1 T. heavy cream (turns out, 1 T. of this stuff ain't so bad divided by the 6 servings, so go ahead, live a little)
1 T. honey

Combine all these ingrediants and mix well. Divide into 6ths (about 6 Tablespoons) and place even amount onto each breast. Roll breasts up, careful to keep filling inside, and secure with a toothpick.

Next, make the spice rub:
1 tsp. each: garlic, basil, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T. fresh chopped parsley
1/4 t. fresh lemon zest
2 T. olive oil

Using the SAME bowl you just made the filling in, combine these items and mix very well. Rub evenly on each roll-up, and then place each, seam-side down, into the sprayed dish. Bake for 30 min. on the top rack, uncovered. Only 330 calories per serving. Because I am awesome, as you've probably suspected by now. They just melt in your mouth, they're so good. I served mine with brown rice and asparagus, but if you make them with turkey, they go great with other fall sides like butternut squash and corn pudding.

Rock and ROLLIN':
"Proud Mary" by Tina Turner (Rollin, Rollin... Rollin' on a river...)
"Rollin with the Homies" by Coolio
"Roll Over Beethoven" by Chuck Berry

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sunday Supper: Country-Style Steak with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Cheese Muffins

I was seriously awaiting the appearance of the Four Horsemen yesterday, ya'll. I mean, it was cold and windy as anything, and just a wretched, wretched day. The dog nearly lost her poor tiny mind. I swear I saw my mother-in-law fly by on her bike outside...

So it was time for some comfort food. Here below the Mason-Dixon line, that is something of a redundant statement -- all food is related to comfort. But I take personal pride in figuring out how to still eat warm, homey meals that remind me of home and childhood while maintaining my daintiness. THAT dichotomy really is a Southern thing -- how else could belles with 15 " waists have invented pecan pie?! Which literally involves like 990 calories a slice. (Not that it isn't worth it...)

The Country-Style Steak is my mother's recipe, though I've revamped it only slightly -- I use low-sodium gravy mix (I'm just so excitable folks, that I have high blood pressure). The garlic mashed potatoes, I believe, came from an online source, like or similar. And the cheese muffins are the combined efforts of myself and a Weight Watcher's cookbook from the 1980s. For real.

First the muffins -- I made them a day before, anyway. They save really well, just so long as they're in an airtight container in the fridge.

Cheese Muffins
Preheat your oven to 375 and spray a muffin tin with Pam or similar.

You'll need:
2 C. flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 t. table salt
1 t. paprika
1 t. Mrs. Dash

Sift these together into a large bowl and create a well in the middle.

2 T. melted, unsalted butter
1 large beaten egg
1 C. soy milk, light

Combine and pour into that little well.

1 t. basil, oregano, fresh chopped parsley
5 oz. feta or blue cheese (I like using one of the flavored fetas they have now, like the sun-dried tomato with herbs), divided into twelve portions

Once you've combined the dough (it will be lumpy), stir in the basil, oregano and parsley last. Fill each muffin hole with 1 T. of the batter, then topp with the cheese. Add another layer of batter to each muffin hole and top with any remaining crumbles of cheese. Bake for 25 min. until golden. 12 servings, at only 110 calories per muffin!

Country-Style Steak
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.

You'll need:
1 -- 1.5 lbs. beef cubed steak
flour, salt and pepper
2 packages low-sodium brown gravy mix, water

Season all sides of the meat and then dredge thru flour. Brown all pieces in skillet, then drain any grease. Meanwhile, prepare gravy according to package instructions (i.e. combine the mix with water and heat). Pour the gravy into the skillet with the meat and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer on low, covered, for 45 min, shifting the pieces occasionally.

Serves 4 -- 6, depending on how much steak you buy. Each serving is just 200 calories, but watch your portions -- don't use much more than 1/4 C. of the gravy if you're watching you figure.

While your steak is simmering, get your potatoes going! I bake them first in the microwave, but you can go old-school and use the oven.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

You'll need:
1.5 lbs (about 4 medium to large) baking potatoes, cooked and tender
5 --7 garlic cloves, minced (to taste)
2 T. butter
1/3 -- 1/2 C. light soy milk (depends on how milky you like your potatoes)
salt and fresh pepper, to taste
Fresh chopped parsley

Spoon all the meat from the potatoes into a medium bowl. In a small skillet, heat the garlic, milk and butter together until just bubbly and hot. Pour over potatoes and mash. Stir in salt, pepper and parsley -- plus any extra milk if you want them creamier. If you're using light soy, the calories are pretty low.

Serves 6, only 90 calories per serving! I save my 1/4 c. of the steak gravy to go over these bad boys. Mmmm. Just like when I was a kid (looong before I ever worried about my weight at all :)

Comfort Easy Listening:
Listen to any music that makes you nostalgic! This is different for eveyone -- I listen to Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins "El Paso" and other songs I recall from my childhood! Trust me -- it puts you in a better mood.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mama's Favorite Scallops

My husband called me like 8 times yesterday afternoon, unbeknownst to me, since I was in class until 5:30 (I am one of those thoughtful people who never has the cell phone turned on). His frantic messaging availed him not. He finally got a-hold of me, and I was curious as to what the fuss was all about.
"We're going to the movies tonight, right?" He asked, fairly keyed-up. I mean, it's just the movies, in Winston-Salem, for the love of monkeys.
"Um, yes...?"
"What time?" He presses aggressively. Sheesh. Maybe the boy needs a popcorn fix, I thought.
"I don't know. Whenever." I reply flippantly.
"It's playing at 6:45 at The Grand." He prompts. I'm still baffled as to his movies-are-crack attitude about this whole thing, but whatever.
"Ok, fine."
"You can do dinner by then?!" He asks, rather incredulously.
"Why yes. Yes I can." I reply, now rather amused.
"Why don't we eat leftovers?" He suggests anxiously. Like my father, Stephen does not like top miss previews. I have no idea why. If you ask me, previews were created for the sole purpose of allowing me the time to get extra butter onto my popcorn.
"Because I will have dinner ready when you get home. I already have chopped the vegetables." I say, starting to be exhausted with this whole tahoobahoo over the movies.
"Well, all right. If we miss the 6:45, we can always catch a later show." He concedes, unwittingly implying that dinner will NOT, in fact, be on time.
Gauntlet down, I harumph my way back to the kitchen to finish preparing one of the fastest, easiest meals you'll ever make -- forcing your significant other or family/guests/friends to rue the day they doubted your swiftness in the kitchen.

Mama's Favorite Scallops (because they are, in fact, one of her favorites)
Preheat your broiler and get out a 10 x 6 glass baking pan.

You'll need:
2 bell peppers (I like to get two different colors as a pretty contrast, red working nicely), sliced into strips
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2" pieces
1/2 C. fresh chopped Parsley
1 T. olive oil
4 minced garlic cloves
1 lb. sea scallops, patted dry
fresh ground pepper
1/4 c. dry white wine
2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1 T. Ouzo (this is a freaky Greek liquor -- it's what they do so many shots of in My Big Fat Greek Wedding; if you don't have any on hand, use some anise extract, the licorice flavor brings out the taste of the seafood and cheese)

Once your veggies are chopped, you're pretty much done. Heat the oil in a skillet and add the garlic, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add in the wine and peppers, and bring to a boil. Then let them saute together, letting the flavors blend, for about 10 minutes. Add in the fresh ground pepper and scallops and cook, turning only once, until opaque in the center, about 5 minutes. Stir in the scallions and parsley and cook all together for maybe 2 more minutes. Then pour the whole skillet into your bake pan and sprinkle on the ouzo followed by the feta cheese. Pop it uncovered under the broiler for two minutes, just letting the cheese get browned and bubbly.

Makes four servings, at all of 200 calories per serving, and goes great with brown rice or rolls. Between the cooking and the quick devouring of such a delicious meal, you'll be out the door and on your way to the movies in no time!!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Happy Easter!

Hope you're all having a lovely day of hiding eggs, eating calories-be-damned ham and sharing the day with loved ones. Remember, calories and fat DO NOT COUNT on the holidays. It's true. Ask anyone.

Here is my Calories-Be-Damned Ham Glaze Recipe just for you all!

1/2 C. peanut butter

1 C. packed brown sugar

1/2 C. chicken stock/broth

1 can crushed pinapple

1/4 C. honey

1 minced garlic clove

1 chopped shallot

a few twists of black pepper

Toss all these in a blender or food processor and puree. You can use this as a marinade (I do), and then still have plenty left over to use as a glaze (I do) and then STILL more left over to serve as a sauce on the table (I totally do). When using as a glaze, boil it on the stovetop for 5 minutes (at a rolling boil) and then let it sit for a few minutes before glazing the ham with it.

Happy Bunny Day!!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Fastest Shrimp In the South

Of course, the shrimp were clearly not so speedy as to avoid getting caught in the first place. But whatever. All the more reason to eat them. PLUS, shrimp are loaded with protein and Vitamins D and B12. Oh, and they're delicious.

Like most sane people, I love a good shrimp and pasta dish. So since I don't want to drown my newly svelte thighs in butter (as much as they would enjoy the sweet, sweet splash of hot cholesterol), and because I don't like having to wait for my shrimp, I made up this dish -- it's a shrimp marinara, and it takes like 12 minutes to make. It's great over whole-wheat pasta. I based it on a Shrimp "Boil" recipe I used to have in a Weight Watcher's book and a pasta sauce recipe from somewhere online.

Fastest Shrimp in the South

*First put your pasta on to boil -- this dish goes quick, so be ready to serve it as soon as the pasta hits the drainer!

You'll need:

2 12 oz. bags frozen large, ready-to-cook shrimp, thawed under cool water
4 tsp. olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves
1 15 oz can diced, seasoned tomatoes (garlic and oregano is nice)
2 T. tomato paste, saltless if on hand
1/4 t. kosher salt
1 spoonful of Hot Peppers (another MUST in a jar)
1 C. wine or chicken broth (I've made this with dry white wine and homemade chicken stock and both ways are really delicious. The wine version is a little kickier)
2 T. freshly minded parsley
1 T. fresh oregano, or 1/2 t. dry

Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the shrimp and garlic. Saute together until pink all over, not too long. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, parsley, paste and seasonings. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and starts to turn bright orange, cook about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and a little fresh parmesan cheese. Pour over pasta, rice, or steamed vegetables. Ridiculously good. And only 330 calories, counting 3/4 C. whole wheat pasta.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Cheeseburgers with Potato Wedges

Lord but did I need a cheeseburger yesterday. Possibly because my brother forwarded a site that effectively kept me procrastinating all day,

In any case, I am pretty sure that it's a good idea to consume a cheeseburger every once in a while. There is, for me, almost no better comfort food on the planet. It was like the Hamburger People said, "You know, this is really delicious. It just doesn't get any better than this!" And then the Cheese People came in wearing slinkly outfits and high heels and were like, "Oh, really...?"

I have figured out at long last how to a) make a healthy hamburger without using tofu or other crappy substitutions (yeesh -- don't even talk to me about the time I tried to use ground turkey and grated zucchini instead of beef...suffice to say that Stephen nearly throttled me for such trickery)and b) how to still serve my husband a "normal" cheeseburger, keeping him happy. I was inspired by a Weight Watchers recipe from their online site, and I've been making fries in this baked way for years -- they're so much better for you.

Cheeseburgers with Potato Wedges
First perheat your oven to 450 and spray a bake sheet with cook spray.

You'll need:
6 small potatoes
3/4 t. Mrs Dash, 1/2 t. cayenne (or regular black pepper), 1 1/2 t. Kosher salt

Cut the potatoes into fries or wedges, and then microwave them for 6 -- 9 minutes, letting them get tender. Place them on the bake sheet and sprinkle both sides of them with seasonings, then spray with cook spray again. Cook for 15 minutes and then flip them over. Cook another 15 minutes or until crisp and golden. Leave the oven on.

1 lb. X-tra Lean gound beef (like 96/4 if you can get it)
1/2 C. breadcrumbs (seasoned or regular, it doesn't matter)
3 minced garlic cloves
1/4 C. chopped Italian parsely (the flat leaf kind)
Several drops of Liquid Smoke (if on hand, if not, use a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce)
1 T. Good Seasons (I really do love these packets -- right next to salad dressing in the store)
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 small red onion, chopped very fine.
3 T. onion soup mix (I like the Lipton brand)
3 T. low-fat chedder (I usually mix with a little freshly grated parmesan), and slices of regular chedder cheese for any guests who aren't watching their waist-line.
6 WhiteWheat rolls (I love this brand -- they're low calorie and high in fiber, plus they taste like real white rolls)
Slices of lettuce, tomato, plus condiments

Combine: beef, parsley, liquid smoke, Good Seasons, crumbs and egg whites. Use your hands and get them really well mixed. This is where I divide the mix in half. In my half, I add in the red onions, and into Stephen's I add the soup mix.* Form each half into 3 patties (making 6 total). Cook the patties in a large skillet over medium heat, about 5 min. on each side, until cooked through. With cooking burgers, I live by two cardinal rules: 1. Never press on the burgers with a spatula or otherwise, this squeezes precious, delicious juices out of them. 2. Only turn them once, it helps them cook evenly and lessens your chance of losing juice or having the burger crumble apart on you. Now top your burgers with the respective cheeses. For the low-fat cheese, I like to grate it, rather than slice it, because then I can easily combine it with the parmesan cheese. Place all 6 topped burgers on a bake pan and stick back in your hot oven for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is all melty and bubbly. Serve on rolls with lettuce, tomato, condiments and the potatoes. They come out so juicy and delicious. And if you have access to a grill (read: your husband will allow you to play with fire outdoors) then so much the better. You can grill them instead of pan-cooking them.

Total calories for entire meal (cheeseburgers, fries, rolls, etc.): 450 -- not bad for a full meal. Serves 6.

Cheesy Listening:
"Cheeseburger in Paradise" by Jimmy Buffet (if you're into that sort of thing. Jimmy Buffet tends to grate on my nerves, but this song is rather an obvious choice)
"Walk this Way" by Run D MC (Walk this Way into my craving, Cheeseburger)
"At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors (There is something about a cheeseburger that really puts me in mind of those great 50s and 60s soda-shop songs)

* He doesn't like hunks of onions in his food. Something to do with his mother traumatizing him with them by the bowlful as a child. Not like me -- I can eat them raw, just crunching into them like apples. I also have some kind of freakish disorder, because I can slice them for hours, days, years, and they don't make me cry.