Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Baked Fish A Simple Dish

       I don’t like fish, it tastes so…fishy!  I’d eat more fish, but it’s so hard to cook.   I like fish, but I have no idea how to cook it.   The only way I know how to cook fish is to fry it.    Anyone else hear these comments from time to time?

     Many, many moons ago, when I was a younger man, these were also comments I made.  The only fish I liked back then was those stick fish found in the frozen food section in a box called Gorton’s or Mrs. Paul’s.  That was then, this is now.  Now, I like fish.  I like fish cooked many different ways – except fried.  I also found that fish is not only easy to cook; it is also a quick fix for a week night meal.
     Tilapia is my inexpensive fish of choice for a quick, healthy weeknight meal.  I usually get mine from my favorite local grocer when it is on sale.  I purchase it by the case. Each filet is individually wrapped, which makes defrosting fast in a sink full of water.  Three filets in a sink of cold water will thaw out in about 12-15 minutes.

Here’s how simple it is.

Ingredients –
3 - Tilapia filets; thawed, rinsed and patted dry   
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Tony’s Creole Seasoning
Non-stick cooking spray

What to do-

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Coat a baking dish with non-stick spray.
Drizzle a little olive oil in the dish, then add the filets.

Drizzle just a bit of oil on the fish and rub in to cover the fish.

Add salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle the Creole Seasoning to taste.  (This creole seasoning is not hot.  It may cause a slight tingling on the lips, but so will black pepper.  The creole seasoning is a perfect match for this light fish)

Place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

When the timer goes off, turn the oven to BROIL and crack the oven door open.  Allow the fish to broil for about a minute or two, but keep a close eye on it.

Remove, serve and ENJOY!!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Chicken Vegetable and Noodle Soup

     We are on our third day in a row of SNOW DAYs, and for South Carolina, that’s a lot of days in a row.  It started as sleet and freezing rain, then a couple inches of snow on top.  That’s not bad and certainly shouldn’t cause any major problems if you’re north of the Mason Dixon line. We are well south of that line down here so this type of storm - we shut the state down. Truthfully, a Snow Day in the south can provide more life application educational opportunities for children than a week of schooling!  
     We also run out for milk and bread, (as well as beer and wine to deal with cabin fever).  Having lived through South Carolina’s BLIZZARD of ’73 when we received 36 inches and six foot snow drifts that lasted for 10 days – milk and bread are very important when you have no electricity.  I remember vividly my mother cooking a large pot of vegetable soup on a Coleman gas stove.  My dad and I then loaded the soap on our sled – the same sled Natalie is playing on today – and hauling it through the blizzard to friends and neighbors to give them a hot meal.
     That memory of my parents, and the fact that many are already without power, urged me to make a large pot of soup.  Although I love my mother’s recipe for vegetable soup, I opted to make Chicken Vegetable Noodle soup.  Soup on a cold and wintery day just warms the soul.  This soup is a two part process, but it’s all around a pretty simple recipe.

Part One – Boiling the Chicken and making broth

Ingredients –
1 whole chicken (rinsed and cleaned out)
Water to cover chicken by about an inch
1Tbsp. dried basil
1Tbsp. onion powder
1Tbsp. garlic powder
¼ cup kosher salt
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. whole peppercorns (or 1 Tbsp of ground black pepper)

Place the chicken in a large pot and cover with the water.  Add all the other ingredients.  Heat over high heat until it starts boiling, then reduce to medium.  Cook for about 25 minutes.
Remove bird to a bowl for cooling; strain broth into another large pot using a tea strainer or cheesecloth.
When the bird cools pick the meat off and discard the carcass.  Tear the meat into bite size chunks (sometimes I use a knife on the breasts).

Part Two –

Ingredients –

The following have no measurements.  I just add what I feel needs to be in it according to my preference and taste.  Most are more than a cup, but it's your soup!
Baby carrots, cut into thirds
Frozen corn
Frozen green peas
5-8 leaves of kale, stems removed and finely chopped
1 large sweet onion, peeled and chopped
Options- (I sometimes add these too)
¼ cup of pearl barley
Sliced mushrooms
Frozen cut green beans
Elbow noodles (These are cooked in a separate pot, drained, rinsed and added to bowls just prior to serving soup.  Leftover noodles can be placed in Ziploc storage bags and refrigerated for the next meal.)

Directions –
Add chicken and all veggies EXCEPT onions and mushrooms to the broth and heat over medium high heat.  In a skillet add a Tbsp. olive oil and heat over medium high heat.  Add onions and mushrooms.  Cook until softened; about five or six minutes, then add to pot.

Bring soup up to a slight boil, and then reduce heat to simmer. Allow to simmer for an hour or so.
To serve, place noodles in your bowl, cover with hot soup and stir gently. 


**Note- Soup is ALWAYS better the second day!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Brussels Sprouts and Sausage

I made this meal the other night for my bride and I.  There were enough leftovers for two more meals and we put them in separate containers.  The next day I took one out of the fridge to pack as my lunch at school.  After heating it up and getting half way through… I called my sweet bride to ask what she was doing for lunch.  With much disappointment and heartbreak I listened as she told me she was at home heating the other batch of leftovers in the toaster oven.   It wasn’t that I begrudged my sweet life partner the leftovers; it was just so sad that they were gone!   It left me no other option – I made more tonight!  This is in the top five of my all-star list of my home cooked meals.

Ingredients -
1-3 Tbsp.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil 4-6 small red potatoes
1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1 sweet onion, sliced
8 – 10 mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 – 3 Sam’s brand Italian Chicken Sausage, sliced
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
What to do –
Add the potatoes to a pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

While the potatoes cook, trim and quarter the Brussels sprouts.  Place in a bowl and add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, kosher salt, pepper, and toss to stir.  Allow to marinate while finishing potatoes.

Coat a baking pan with non-stick spray.  Remove potatoes from pot and place on baking pan.  Using a potato masher mash those into cookie like shape.
Drizzle potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese.  Cook for 20 minutes at 450.
While the potatoes cook place Brussels sprouts on another baking sheet coated in cooking spray. Turn as many as possible cut-side down.  
When the potatoes are done, put the sprouts in the oven and reduce the temp to 425 for 20 minutes.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat a little oil, and then add onions, mushrooms, and sausage.  Continue to cook and stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the Brussels come out of the oven toss them into the skillet and stir to combine.
Serve with a potato masher and sausage mixture.  I like a little bit of mustard to mix with it.

Enjoy!  I know I will!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chicken Under Pressure


For Christmas this year my bride gave me a pressure canner.  Now you may be saying to yourself, “What kind of gift is that?” but it was a kitchen toy to me.   You know we guys like to have a toy to open and tinker with at Christmas, so this was mine!  See the kitchen for me is a huge chemistry set to play with and this was just another instrument.
A pressure canner is needed to reach the high temps needed to can and preserve low acid foods and meats such as chicken vegetable soup.  The hot water bath method of canning is great for jellies, jams, pickles and other high acid foods, but boiling water will only be at the boiling temperature. 

So one of my first runs on the pressure canner was to make Chicken Vegetable Noodle soup.  Now the trick here is that the noodles don’t go in the soup until I’m ready to eat, even when I’m not canning.  I boil my noodles separately, and then add the hot soup over the noodles in each bowl.  

The first step is the chicken.  I boil one whole chicken in a pot filled with water.  I add spices such as, onion powder, garlic powder, dried basil, dried thyme, celery salt, and salt and peppercorns.   Boil the chicken for about 30 minutes, and then turn off the heat and allow the pot to cool down for about an hour.

Remove the chicken, pick the meat and discard the carcass.  Break, or chop the meat into various bite size sections and set to the side. 

Straining the broth process
Using another pot and strainers or cheesecloth, strain the broth to remove all the tidbits of seasonings and chicken.  It may take a couple of strains.  When you are done, you will have a nice pot of chicken broth.

Now for the ingredients
1-2 sweet onions, chopped
1 bag of frozen corn
1 bag of frozen peas
1 bag of frozen cut green beans
1 bag of frozen butterbeans
1 bag of baby carrots, chop carrots into thirds
Our picked chicken and our broth

Using five sterilized quart Mason jars, divide the chicken between them as evenly as possible.  Next, using a ¼ cup measure, add all the ingredients as evenly as possible among the jars.  Working one item at a time until all the items are gone and the jars are filled.

Now fill the jars with warm chicken broth, leaving a one inch head space at the top.  Use a plastic spatula or plastic knife to remove air bubbles and maintain that one inch head space.

Place the lids and screw down the tops on the jars.  Follow your pressure cooker’s instructions to process the soup.  Mine called for 11 lbs. pressure for 90 minutes.  The soup was and still is wonderful!
It seems to be a bit of work but it actually went pretty fast.  Now I have several quarts of soup ready when I want it without all the work during the week.  Just cook some noodles and heat a jar of goodness to top it with.
Take care!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Veggie Gnocchi Casserole (Meatless Monday Menu)

     How many of you have experienced the budget savings of the Aldi food stores?  I was able to purchase a package of 4 zucchini for .99 cents, a bag of mixed sweet peppers for $1.79, an 8oz package of baby Bella mushrooms for .79 cents, and a 3lb bag of sweet onions for only $1.39.  I also picked up a jar of marinara sauce, a bunch of celery, and a package of whole wheat gnocchi.  These are just some of the massive savings that Aldi provides, but these items were important for my Meatless Monday Meal!

4 zucchini, 2 cut long ways into quarters then sliced and 2 cut long ways in half then sliced.
1 large sweet onion, chopped but chunky
3 stalks celery, sliced ¼ inch wide
8oz package of baby Bella mushrooms (sliced)
5 or so of the mini sweet peppers, seed them and cut them into rings
1 regular size jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 ½ Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ cup of 2% part skim mozzarella shredded cheese.
1 cup of chopped baby spinach
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried basil to taste
1 package of whole wheat gnocchi

 What to do with it-
Chop and prepare all veggies, spray a casserole dish with non-stick coating, and heat a pot of water to boiling as per package direction for the gnocchi all prior to heating the skillet.
In a large skillet add and heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium high heat.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add onions, celery, peppers, some salt and pepper.  Cook and stir for about five minutes.

Next, add zucchini, mushrooms, and the remaining oil to the skillet. Cook and stir for another five minutes.
Reduce heat to simmer; add sauce and chopped spinach  NOTE- A dash of water (or red wine) may be needed to thin a bit.  Stir frequently to keep from burning.

In the meantime, add about a tsp. of salt to the boiling water (not the sauce!).  Add the gnocchi to the boiling water.  When the water returns to a boil cook the gnocchi for two minutes.  Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and place the gnocchi into the skillet with the sauce.  Stir to mix all ingredients well.
Pour the mixture into your casserole dish.  Top with the mozzarella cheese and cover.
Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

This recipe makes 5 servings at approximately 350 calories or less.  I went a little higher on the number SparkPeople gave for the nutritional value to allow for a little wine in the mixture. Don't add more than a couple ounces though. 


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Black Bean Soup

   Normally when I post about what’s cooking in my kitchen it’s because I’m the one cooking.  Last night I was treated to a home cooked meal from my sweet bride.  Now before I go any further let me just say, my bride is a wonderful cook, and she likes to cook on occasion.  With that disclaimer out of the way for my own personal safety, let’s see what delicious meal she prepared.  The recipe she used was a slight variation from the one found in ALL*YOU magazine January 2014 issue.
1½ Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
4 carrots, diced (about a cup)
3 ribs of celery, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp.  Chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
6 cups chicken broth (your choice- low sodium, fat free, regular…)
4 cans black beans (15oz), drained and rinsed
Salt, Pepper, and Red Pepper flakes to taste

Top with-
A dab of Low-fat Greek yogurt (plain)
Sliced green onion
First, warm oil in a large pan over medium-high heat, and then add onion, garlic, bell pepper, carrots, and celery, stirring occasionally until softened.

Add chili powder and cumin Рsaut̩ for 3-4 more minutes.

Stir in broth and beans, then bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes or so, stirring on occasion. 
Remove 2 cups of soup; puree in blender.  Stir pureed soup back into pot and cook for 5-10 minutes longer. 

Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Ladle into bowls and top with yogurt and green onions.   Serve with some salsa chips.