CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

I am writing from my trailer parked in the rain next to a rushing creek at Beverly Beach State Park in Oregon – South of Depoe Bay and North of Newport. We have had rain every day since we left home, except for the day when we were traveling from Forks, Washington to Grayland Beach State Park in Grayland, Washington. That lovely day it was snowing heavily, which, if you have ever pulled a trailer, is no damn fun at all! But thanks to Mr. C., we arrived safe and sound.

And because we now own a wonderful new land yacht (all 24 feet, 7 inches of it from hitching ball to the back of the spare tire) complete with a fabulous walk-around bed, a shower that I can actually turn around in, a galley large enough to prepare chili gracefully, and a dining/reading/computer operating/game playing table and comfortable bench seats, it can rain its bloody head off for all I care! I’m sitting warm and dry and ever so comfortable with my love by my side and my computer ready to grant my every off-line wish. The only thing missing is Wi-Fi and a Verizon cell tower. (Most privately owned RV parks have Wi-Fi available, but state parks tend to be more rustic, which is of course why we like them to begin with!) So although I am using word to create this preamble, I won’t be able to post this recipe until I reach civilization. But enough about me, let’s get on with this recipe. (Sending this from Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon using our Verizon Jetpack!)

But first, I must tell you how this recipe came to be.

Before we left for our month long trailer adventure, I asked Mr. C. what kind of cookie he would like me to bake for the trip. His answer – peanut butter. OK, I have a great recipe for peanut butter cookies. Actually the same one I’ve been using for about 50 years. Maybe it was time to update it a little? So I asked my dear husband if he would like a bit of chocolate with his peanut butter. He said, “couldn’t hurt”, so this recipe is the result.

I wanted the soft texture of my original recipe, with some crunch added to give the cookie a bit of character. So I added whole peanuts. Then I added chocolate chunks for the sheer joy of biting into a bit of chocolate once or twice a cookie. Mighty fine!

Now, when I baked my cookies, I left them in the oven a little too long. So instead of being soft, they turned out crisp. Nothing wrong with crisp, but I was after a softer texture. As it turns out, a crisper cookie was probably better for our trip because these cookies were planned to last the entire trip. (That is, if I dole them out they’d make it to the end of the trip!) So from a longevity perspective, a longer baking time probably produced a better outcome. But regardless of how you like your cookies, soft or crisp, this recipe is probably going to work well for you.

Just as a side note from my recent near death (not really) snow travel day. If you want to challenge yourself to something a little more difficult than baking cookies, sit in the shotgun (aka passenger) seat while your beloved spouse tows your brand new trailer through a blinding snowstorm. I promise you there is nothing quite like the feeling of pending doom as when snow continues to fall, the road surface is packed with slush or hard packed snow, and you are still far from camp. (Baking cookies just can’t achieve that same level of anxiety– thank God!) During such times, even if you are not intimately acquainted with the inside of a house of worship, you are none the less going to secretly invoke the blessing of every deity you have ever heard or read about. A religious experience, especially for someone as cowardly as I am! My suggestion for myself – stick to baking cookies. Much safer and ever so much more rewarding. And at all cost, try and stay away from snow when on a trailer adventure. Ya think!?!?

  • 1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 c. creamy or crunchy no-stir peanut butter (do not use natural peanut butter or your cookies will be oily)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • ¾ c. granulated sugar
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 c. roughly chopped salted peanuts
  • 1 c. chocolate chunks or chocolate chipsPlace the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar into the bowl of your mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Scrape down the sides as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for about a minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients gradually, mixing only until just combined. Mix in the chopped peanuts and chocolate chunks. Using an ice cream scoop, drop balls of dough onto parchment paper lined baking sheets about 2-inches apart.      

    Bake the cookies in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes, or until they are set but still a little soft. (Don’t overbake if you want soft cookies. If you prefer crisp, crunchy cookies, bake a little longer.) Remove from oven. Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a cooling rack. When completely cooled and the chocolate is hard again, store in an airtight container. 

     

     
     

MEXICAN STYLE STUFFED GREEN PEPPERS

I love stuffed green peppers. I always have. Even as a small child I favored them over a simple meat and potatoes dinner. There was just something delightful about each of us having our own delectable container filled with seasoned meat. I liked the tidiness of the presentation. And along with the stuffed pepper would always come our very own baked potato. Again a tidy package on which to heap all kinds of lovely ingredients like butter, salt, and pepper. No sour cream, bacon, or sliced green onions in those days. But as much butter as we wanted. (We had our own cows and my grandmother churned our butter. So butter was not a luxury, it was simply taken for granted and eaten enthusiastically.) Sigh……..

So yesterday while we were at the grocery store, I noticed that green peppers were on sale. I looked at Mr. C, he looked at me, we nodded yes simultaneously, and the making of our dinner menu was hatched right there in the produce section of our local IGA. (It’s OK, we’re married! Hatching dinner plans in public is still considered acceptable behavior for married couples!)

Anyway, when we arrived home I decided to work up a recipe for stuffed peppers featuring Mexican ingredients and seasonings. So I began my task and came up with this recipe. I hope you enjoy it. And don’t hesitate to serve it to your children. They might balk at the pepper part, but I bet they will love the filling. And to its credit, the filling is high in protein and some other really-good-for-growing-children ingredients. Including, and this is the fun part, you can sneak wheat germ into the filling and your kids won’t even notice. Hah – is that great or what?!?! For this recipe, I would suggest about a quarter cup of wheat germ. At least, that’s the amount I used per pound of meat while I still had kidlets at home.

For more information about the health benefits of wheat germ for children, visit www.parentinghealthybabies.com, then search under Health Benefits of Wheat Germ for Children.

Please note: For my recipe for a delicious, unmistakably Italian stuffed green pepper, search under Stuffed Green Peppers on this site.

  • 4 green peppers, tops sliced off and seeds and membranes removed and discarded (save the top to finely dice and add to the filling)
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, minced (first carefully remove the seeds and membranes)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano (Mexican preferably)
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce 
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ c. cooked brown rice
  • ½ c. low-fat sour cream
  • ½ c. grated shredded sharp cheddar or cheese of choice, plus more to sprinkle on top for presentation

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and fry until cooked through and browned. Add onion, jalapeño, and the finely diced flesh from the top. Cook until the veggies are slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, oregano, chili powder, tomato sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes to blend flavors. Remove from heat and add the cooked rice, sour cream, and cheese; mix well. Adjust seasoning.  

Lightly grease an 8×8-inch baking pan. Place the peppers, cut side up in the pan and fill with the meat mixture. (If you have extra filling, bake it in another small baking dish.)

Bake the peppers in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 75-90 minutes or until the pepper is very soft and starting to brown. (If the filling gets too brown during the baking process, cover with aluminum foil.)

Remove from oven and sprinkle with a small amount of grated cheese. Serve immediately.

 

 

CURRIED CHICKEN CASSEROLE WITH BROWN RICE AND BROCCOLI

In my opinion, people who think casseroles are uninteresting, too fattening, and a thing of the past, simply don’t have enough empirical study on the subject. And I mean to help with that problem by offering up one of my favorite casserole recipes to assist with said research.

Now I know broccoli, chicken, and curry casserole (Chicken Divan) has been around for decades. But my version is healthier, less caloric, and if I may be so bold, tastier than most. (If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be posting this recipe in the first place! Duh!)

So what makes my spin on this classic different?

  • no cream of mushroom or chicken soup
  • no sharp cheddar cheese
  • no bread crumbs
  • no butter
  • no sherry or white wine
  • the addition of a small amount of cooked brown rice
  • broccoli and chicken cut into really small pieces so that each bite contains a small bit of each ingredient
  • the addition of a small amount of onion
  • the addition of Dijon mustard to give the sauce a bit of a kick

So as you can see, this recipe has just a few ingredients either lacking or added to make this casserole just a tad bit unique. It’s still really Chicken Divan. But I think my execution of this dish better reflects the current taste for more sophisticated yet wholesome preparations. But as they say – vive la différence! If you have a favorite recipe for Chicken Divan, I say, stick with what you know and like. But if you are a novice to casserole preparation, and feel up to the task of researching casseroles to enhance your culinary expertise, I would recommend this recipe. You have to start somewhere after all, so you might as well start with a casserole that is easy and relatively inexpensive to prepare, and just plain delicious. In Mr. Cs words, “this is really wonderful”. (I love it when those words pop unsolicited from his mouth. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Of course the pre-dinner martini helps with that feeling too. But it’s healthier mentally to believe that Mr. Cs comments are the real reason for my elation!)

  • ½ c. uncooked brown rice*
  • 1 c. water
  • ½ tsp. seasoned salt
  • 3 c. very small pieces of broccoli flowerets and peeled stems  
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small bite sized pieces
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ c. finely minced onion
  • 2 tsp. flour
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 c. low-fat sour cream
  • 1/3 c. light mayonnaise    
  • 1 T. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 c. coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. minced fresh parsley, opt. garnish*or 1 cup leftover cooked rice

    Combine rice, water, and seasoned salt. Cook while you are assembling other ingredients. (I use my rice cooker.)  While the rice cooks, steam or blanch the broccoli until crisp tender. (You don’t want the broccoli tender at this point. It will continue to cook while it cools and during its tenure in the oven.) Set aside.

    Heat the olive oil in a large fry pan. Add the diced chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry the chicken cubes just until done. (They should have some brown on them.) Remove from pan and set aside.

    Add the onion to the pan and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Do not let the onion get brown. When the onion is done, whisk in the flour and curry powder. (The flour will be quite dry.) Cook for about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock, mustard, sour cream, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning. Bring to just under a boil, reduce heat and cook for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and gently stir in the cooked rice, broccoli, and chicken.

    Scoop into a buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the casserole is hot. Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

 

 

OVEN ROASTED YUKON GOLD POTATOES

So when I reasoned that a nice medium-rare steak and a potato might possibly save my sanity one evening about a week before Christmas, I decided to mess with yet another way to serve potatoes that a) Mr. C. might enjoy, and b) I would love and not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous guilt!

I had recently read that the less olive oil, butter, vegetable oil, etc. you rubbed onto paper towel dried veggies before roasting them, the crisper they would turn out. So I tried this theory when I roasted our Yukon gold potatoes that evening. OMG. They were slightly crispy on the outside, beautifully seasoned (my addition to the success), and creamy on the inside. In other words – perfect. And, they were not that caloric! A medium-sized Yukon gold potato has about 120 calories. Add a few calories for the olive oil, this preparation is still a lot healthier than mashed, French fried, or baked potatoes with all the requisite “garnishes” like butter, sour cream, bacon bits, etc.

And not only were they perfect with the steak, I knew they would be a great addition to any meat entrée. So if you too are a potato lover, but abhor the calories usually associated with said Solanum tuberosum, give this preparation a try. Of course if you are into guilt, this recipe might not help with your issues, but it’s still pretty darn delicious so you can use that in your defense!    

  • 2-3 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. dry rosemary*, ground fairly fine in a mortar and pestle
  • ½ tsp. Mrs. Dash (one of the best no-salt seasonings around)
  • ¼ tsp. granulated garlic
  • 3 med. sized Yukon gold potatoes, cut in chunks, wedges, quarters, or 8ths depending on the size. (What you really want are equal sized pieces.)

Whisk together 2 teaspoons olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, Mrs. Dash, and granulated garlic in a medium-sized bowl. Before you add the potatoes, dry each piece with a paper towel. (You want as much moisture as possible off of the potato chunks. Add to the bowl and stir until every piece has a thin coating of the olive oil mixture. Add additional olive oil only if necessary. (You don’t want any oil left in the bowl to pour over the potatoes.)

Bake in a pre-heated 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. (If you have convection – use it!)  Reduce heat to 400 degrees, and bake for an additional 10-20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Serve immediately.

*I like dried rosemary for this dish because the taste of rosemary does not overpower the flavor of the potato. It’s subtle, not in your face. And for these potatoes, which are a great accompaniment to steak, hamburgers, pork chops, you name it – the yummy potato flavor is what you want.

ROLLED SPRINKLE COOKIES

Since I have been concentrating on recipes that fit my current lifestyle (no added sugar, low calorie, terribly healthy, and perhaps a bit boring), I have ignored posting some of my favorite recipes that I’m sure you would benefit from knowing about. And this recipe which I have been making every Christmas since my children were very young is one of them.

The recipe was originally published in Sunset Magazine sometime in the 70s. And since the recipe came from Sunset Magazine, our dear friend Eloise who introduced the cookie to our extended family, named them accordingly. And to date they remain “Sunset Cookies” to those in the know. (If I ever knew the real name of these cookies, it has long since eroded from my memory.)

But I am here to tell you, these cookies are really, really good. They are crisp like a shortbread cookie, but have a distinct flavor from the margarine. (And no, I hardly ever use margarine, but for these cookies it’s a must!)

These cookies are also fun to look at because of the variety of sprinkles that adorn their edges. And because they are formed in a log, then rolled in sprinkles, these “decorated” little darlings are a snap to assemble. No rolling out the dough, cutting them into shapes, and decorating them with various colored sprinkles, etc. After rolling in sprinkles, and refrigerating for about 30 minutes, simply remove the log from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, slice into 1/3-inch rounds, place on a cookie sheet, throw in oven, wait the requisite time for the oven to perform it’s magic, remove from oven, and Bob’s your uncle!

Another lovely quality of these cookies is their longevity. They will gladly hang out in an airtight container for weeks without losing quality.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Do I really have to wait until next Christmas to make some of these cookies for my family? Of course not! You can build these cookies any old time you want. In fact, they would be great to send along with your child for a school event. That is if schools let you do that sort of thing anymore. Being about 30 years out of date when it comes to providing goodies for kids to take along to school, proof of ingredient origin, organic status, and non GMO manipulated ingredients might be required for all I know! What I do know is that airlines don’t serve peanuts anymore because someone might be allergic. What they have failed to realize, is that most people who are allergic to peanuts, know they are, and also know how to say – no thank you! But I digress……….. (It’s just that my dear friend Vicki and I miss those little bags of peanuts, so I’m a trifle touchy on the subject!)  

Anyway, peanuts on airplanes aside, give these cookies a try. Your family and friends will love them, and with the money you save by making these cookies instead of a double batch of chocolate chip cookies, you can afford to buy yourself some peanuts. I call that a win-win situation.  

  • 1 lb. margarine (do not use butter)
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • colored sugar sprinkles

Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. And vanilla and flour. Form into 1½-inch diameter round logs and roll in colored sugar sprinkles of choice. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Cut into 1/3-inch (no thinner) slices, place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until very lightly browned on and around the bottom of the cookie. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. When completely cool, store in an airtight container.

 

 

 

 

BREAKFAST EGG SALAD OR DEVILED EGGS WITH BACON

So, periodically fate steps in between me and my good intentions. This time, my intention was to make Breakfast Deviled Eggs with Bacon for a recent brunch I was hosting. Right!! And because I had planned very carefully and purchased my eggs the week before they were to be boiled and peeled, I thought peeling the eggs would be a snap. Wrong!! I must have purchased the freshest eggs in the greater Seattle area. Because not one (not even one) out of the 16 eggs I boiled peeled like it should have! I was so disgusted. (And yes I boiled them the way I always do, so it wasn’t my fault! It was the darned eggs fault! My story and I’m sticking to it!) So what to do with 16 eggs that look like the surface of the moon, complete with dead volcanoes, impact craters, and white lava flows?

Well considering myself to be a resourceful cook, I decided to use only 12 of them, and make egg salad. And by golly, there was rejoicing at Chez Carr. The only error I made was adding the bacon to the mixture on Saturday. (The event was on Sunday.) I should have waited and added the bacon just before I planned to serve because it lost its crisp texture sitting with wetter ingredients overnight. Lesson learned. (I made sure I included that information in my instructions below. Don’t want you making the same mistake I did!)

But regardless, the salad was absolutely decadent and my guests gobbled it up. Served on a crisp butter cracker, it was just a perfect way to serve my guests bacon and eggs.

Now, of course what will happen when you try this recipe, is that the eggs will peel beautifully. (It’s going to happen to me too the next time I want egg salad. So I have also written this recipe up as Breakfast Deviled Eggs with Bacon. Got to cover all my bases!)

So please enjoy both recipes. And don’t buy your eggs at Grocery Outlet if you don’t want really fresh eggs. Just sayin’. (Love Grocery Outlet BTW. Among other unusual items, they carry a great selection of sausage and cheeses at a terribly decent price.)

BREAKFAST EGG SALAD WITH BACON

  • ½ c. light mayonnaise
  • ½ c. low fat sour cream
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. lean bacon, cut into small pieces and fried until crisp, divided
  • ¼ c. chopped fresh chives
  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and shredded with a cheese grater (largest grate)

Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, salt, pepper, three-fourths of the bacon*, and chives. Adjust seasoning. Gently stir in the grated eggs. Scoop into a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining bacon. Serve with plain butter crackers.

*If you are preparing well ahead of when you plan to serve, set the bacon aside. Refrigerate the rest until about a half hour before you plan to serve. Then stir three-fourths of the bacon into the egg mixture and top with the remaining one-fourth. Serve immediately.

BREAKFAST DEVILED EGGS WITH BACON

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
  • ¼ c. light mayonnaise, or more as needed
  • ¼ c. low fat sour cream, or more as needed
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ lb. lean bacon, cut into small pieces and fried until crisp, divided
  • 2 T. chopped fresh chives
  • paprika

Remove yolks from the halved eggs and place in a bowl. Mash the yolks with the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, salt, pepper, most of the bacon, and chives. Add additional mayonnaise and sour cream to reach desired consistency. Adjust seasoning.

Using a very small ice cream scoop or teaspoon, scoop mixture into each egg white. Sprinkle with paprika and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

 

PAYDAY CANDY BAR BARS

I have spent the last couple of weeks sharing recipes with you that are on my “I am going to lose weight list”. But today, because I remembered that there are those of you out there who don’t need to lose weight, are at your perfect weight, and can eat all the sweets you want (I hate you BTW), I decided to post this recipe from Cooking Mamas as it appeared in the Crab Cracker, a local Stanwood/Camano Island publication.

This recipe is for a cookie bar that tastes even better than a PayDay candy bar. I kid you not! And it’s really easy to prepare. (What could be better?)

I made these in December to include in my kids Christmas goodie package. And yes, I’m still baking cookies and making candy for my kids at Christmas time. (Now it just costs me more to ship the darn packages than it does to buy the ingredients! But who’s counting? Old habits are hard to break, after all.) And of course Mr. C. doesn’t mind having a variety of sweets around the house at Christmas time. In fact, he would be quite happy if there were an assortment of homemade delicacies available all year round. (That just ain’t going to happen!) But of course, with all the entertaining we do, there is usually some type of treat for him to nibble on. Just not a big selection. But he still remains one spoiled cookie (so to speak), so please don’t feel sorry for him!

Now never mind that I can’t eat these delicious bars. (You know, the old martyr syndrome thing happening here!) Just do yourself and your family a favor and bake/melt-up a batch of these amazing bars in the near future. Your kids are especially going to flip over these delightful yummies. Just make sure you save one for yourself. And do me a favor. After you have taken a big old bite out of your piece, lift the rest in my direction. I’m sure I will somehow feel the love and my spirits will be lifted. My jealousy won’t be impacted, but it might help dissipate my longing for these bars by just knowing that someone out there appreciates me. Sigh….. (Martyrdom does this to a person. I’ll be better tomorrow.)

And no, I wasn’t stuttering when I named these delightful treats. I just couldn’t think of what else to call them!

For more recipes from Cooking Mamas, visit their website www.cookingmamas.com

  • 1¼ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • ½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 c. peanut butter chips
  • 2 c. mini marshmallows
  • 2¼ c. roasted salted peanuts, divided

Combine the flour, brown sugar, and butter in a large bowl. Stir until large clumps form, then using hands, knead mixture together. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×9-inch pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. 

Combine the sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter chips in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Reduce from heat and add the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows have dissolved into the mixture. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the peanuts. Pour the mixture over the cooled crust and smooth the top using an offset spatula. Sprinkle with remaining 1¼ cup peanuts and gently press the peanuts into the fillings using your fingertips.

Refrigerate at least an hour before cutting into bars. Store at room temperature in an airtight container or covered with plastic wrap.

 

 

ASIAN FLAVORED GROUND BEEF PATTIES WITH WILTED GREENS

Ever on a quest for ground beef recipes, I decided an Asian spin on ground beef would be nice for our dinner last evening. I had some left-over fried rice and an English cucumber lying recumbent in my refrigerator, so why not make an Asian influenced night of it? So on to the wonderful world of internet I proceeded to do some research on the subject.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “You get lots of your recipes from other people, don’t you Mrs. Carr?” And to a certain extent, that is absolutely true. But in my defense, I usually have the main idea of what I am after already in my head. But being the lazy resourceful cook that I am, I often start with someone else’s recipe, or a combination of several people’s recipes. Then of course, I mess with it or them until I have a recipe that appears adequate to the task of pleasing my discerning palate. And, of course, I always try to reconstruct the recipe(s) to reduce the fat and salt content, as well as changing the cooking instructions in ways that allow the recipe to be more accessible to cooks who may still have limited culinary experience. (Lofty goals, right??) Then I present the recipe to you.

So, that’s exactly what I did yesterday when I changed a recipe from the Eating Well magazine site. The recipe provided me with the “bones” of this dish. But through judicious application of my experience with food, I added a few ingredients that I felt would make the dish even healthier. I added garlic, an egg (binder), and Tamari. I substituted kale and other dark greens for watercress*, and cooking spray for canola oil.

And again, I know what you’re thinking. “So Patti, if you change everyone else’s recipes, why shouldn’t I change yours?” My answer – you should, you should! All I am offering is an idea for a healthy and delicious dish to serve to your family and friends. A dish that is good for you, fairly inexpensive, easy and fast to prepare, and above all free of all the unnecessary, unpronounceable ingredients found in processed food. In other words – homemade! And even if your dish ends up nothing like mine, who the heck cares!?!? You will have served a dish to your family that is not only fun to eat, but a little different and therefore more fun for you to prepare. (The reason I never wanted to work in a restaurant kitchen is because I would have had to prepare the same dish night after night after night ad nauseam!! I get bored too easy for that. And I know a lot of really outstanding home cooks who feel the same way! They love to cook, but bring on the adventure of new and exciting food challenges. Thank you.)

So treat your family some evening to a fun and delicious Asian inspired meal. These ground beef patties are perfect served with brown or fried rice and Sunomono (Japanese Cucumber Salad). Sunomono recipe on site.

*Analysis of the vitamin content difference between kale, spinach, and watercress as found on the www.healthyeatingsfgate.com site. “Kale has the highest vitamin content of these three greens, with a cup serving providing 684 percent of the daily value, or DV, for vitamin K, 206 percent of vitamin A and 133 percent for vitamin C. Spinach contains the most folate, with 15 percent of the DV, compared to 5 percent for kale and 1 percent in watercress. While watercress has the least vitamins overall, a cup serving still provides 106 percent of DV for vitamin K, 22 percent for vitamin A and 24 percent for vitamin C. Your body needs Vitamin K for blood clotting, vitamin A for immune function and vision, vitamin C for healing wounds and forming collagen and folate for creating new cells and, in pregnant women, preventing neural tube birth defects.”

  • 6-8 c. chopped and massaged curly kale
  • 6-8 c. thinly sliced greens*
  • 2 tsp. Tamari or soy sauce   
  • ½ c. Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 4 T. hoisin sauce, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced, divided
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced   
  • 8-9 finely chopped scallions
  • ¼ c. plain dry breadcrumbs or Panko
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • cooking spray

Combine the kale and greens in a bowl. Set aside. Whisk together the Tamari, rice wine, 1 tablespoon of the hoisin sauce, and ½ of the minced garlic in another bowl. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the bell pepper, scallions, breadcrumbs, egg, remaining 3 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce, ginger, and remaining ½ of the minced garlic.  Gently mix in the ground beef. Form the mixture into 4 patties. (The less you mess with the ground beef, the more tender the finished product.)

Lightly coat a large non-stick fry pan with cooking spray. Heat the pan and fry the patties until done to your liking. (Flip only once as the patties have a tendency to fall apart.) When done, remove from pan and cover with aluminum foil.

Add kale and greens of choice to the pan; stir-fry for about 4 minutes or until wilted. Divide the cooked greens among 4 plates. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the Tamari mixture. Whisk until smooth, bubbling, and slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Top the greens with the ground beef patties and drizzle with the pan sauce.

*use any greens, i.e. napa cabbage, bok choy, spinach, chard, watercress, etc.

 

 

 

 

NEUFCHÂTEL – SPREAD THE WORD!

NEUFCHÂTEL CHEESE AND OLIVE SPREAD

Sometimes I go off on a wild tangent about something that will never bring about world peace, a higher literacy rate in the United States, or a magic formula for lowering stress when driving in Seattle traffic! But then, more often, my tangents are on a more attainable level and actually result in something over which I have some control. In this case I’m talking about reduced calories in an ingredient that is always, and I do mean always in my refrigerator. And that delicious ingredient ladies and gentlemen is cream cheese. Yep – cream cheese (or more accurately now Neufchâtel cheese).

Since deciding that my weight is way out of control, I have been paying greater attention to what I put in my mouth. Now for years I have been buying Neufchâtel cheese as frequently as I purchase cream cheese. I just assumed (my bad) that they were pretty much identical dairy products. And whichever happened to be on sale, or my fingers touched first, swiftly landed in my shopping cart. But in reading the packages, I soon found out that 1 tablespoon (1-oz.) of cream cheese has 100 calories, 84% fat, 8% carbs, and 8% protein. Whereas Neufchâtel cheese has only 70 calories, 1/3rd less fat (83%), 5% carbs, and 12% protein. So, why not cream cheese instead of Neufchâtel cheese? Well I think I just answered that question, but if you need me to break it down in another way – well it’s simple really!

Cream cheese by law must contain at least 33% milk fat and not more than 55% moisture. American Neufchâtel cheese contains only about 23% milk fat and has a slightly higher moisture content. This means that you need less other moisture rich ingredients to come up with a creamy, spreadable consistency. (Think less mayonnaise and sour cream, for example.)

Then I considered the taste of both. I found that for me, the flavor of Neufchâtel cheese is just as wonderful as cream cheese and just as perfect as the base for almost any type of spreadable. (I’m not sure I would use Neufchâtel cheese in a cheese cake, unless specifically listed in the recipe, but for dips and spreads it’s perfect.)

So, not requiring a baseball bat to hit me in the head before I pay attention to something – I have switched exclusively to Neufchâtel cheese for almost all of my cream cheese needs. And because I am so excited about my new found knowledge, I am going to share some of my favorite spread recipes with you in hopes that each and every one of you too will accept Neufchâtel cheese into your lives. (If that makes me a crusader, so be it!)

So I hope you enjoy the recipes and BTW – Happy Valentine’s Day. (It’s tomorrow, you know!)

And remember: Hunks or slices of cheese and dips or spreads that contain cheese (including cream cheese and Neufchâtel cheese), should always be served at room temperature. The wonderful creamy texture and complex taste of cheese cannot be fully appreciated if the cheese is still cold.

And you will note that all the recipes below call for “light” mayonnaise (I use Best Foods) and “lowfat” sour cream (I use Tillamook). Both are excellent products and all of the spread recipes on this post are just delightful (thank you very much) and happy as Puget Sound clams to find themselves lightened up!

NEUFCHÂTEL CHEESE AND OLIVE SPREAD

  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • 1-2 T. low fat sour cream
  • ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp. granulated garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)
  • 1 small can chopped black olives
  • 3 T. finely chopped green olives

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for several hours to combine flavors. Serve with fresh vegetables or crackers. Also wonderful served as a canapé.

NEUFCHÂTEL CHEESE AND VEGETABLE SPREAD

  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ tsp. seasoned salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)
  • 1 T. finely minced carrot
  • 1 T. finely minced green pepper
  • 2 T. finely minced red pepper
  • 2 tsp. finely minced fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp. finely minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for several hours to combine flavors. Serve with fresh vegetables or crackers. Also wonderful served as a canapé.

VIENNESE LIPTAUER (NEUFCHÂTEL CHEESE, ANCHOVY, AND CAPER SPREAD)

  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • ½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 T. low fat sour cream
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 2-3 tsp. anchovy paste
  • 1½ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp. capers, drained and finely minced
  • 1 T. grated or finely chopped onion

Whirl the Neufchâtel cheese, butter, sour cream, mustard, anchovy paste, paprika, and salt together in a food processor until very smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the caraway seeds, capers, and onion. Pulse a couple of times just to incorporate the new additions. (You do not want them pulverized!) Scoop into serving dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Serve at room temperature with rye bread or Finn Crisp, a thin rye crisp bread with caraway. Finn Crisp comes in a small, mostly red package and can be found at most grocery stores.

SHARP CHEDDAR CHEESE AND CREAMY HORSERADISH SPREAD

  • 8 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 6 oz. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 6 T. heavy cream
  • 1 T. creamy horseradish (I use Beaver Brand Hot Creamy Horseradish)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Whirl all the ingredients together in a food processor until creamy and smooth. Refrigerate for at least 2 days before serving at room temperature with crackers. Cornichons (crisp, sour pickles made from really tiny cucumbers) are a wonderful accompaniment to this cheese spread.

BACON, DATE, AND NEUFCHÂTEL CHEESE SPREAD

  • 8-oz. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • 2 T. milk
  • ½ c. crumbled cooked bacon
  • ½ c. chopped dates
  • 2 green onions finely minced
  • pinch kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • balsamic glaze, opt.

Whip the Neufchâtel cheese and milk together. Stir in the bacon, dates, green onions, salt, and pepper. Serve in a small bowl or on a small plate drizzled with balsamic glaze.

SMOKED SALMON SPREAD 

  • 8-oz. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • ½ c. low fat sour cream
  • 2 tsp. finely minced green onion
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 2-3 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ lb. smoked salmon
  • milk

Beat Neufchâtel cheese and sour cream together. Add green onions, parsley, lemon, salt, pepper, and smoked salmon. Stir until salmon is broken down and mixture is creamy. Add milk until you reach desired consistency. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

Beat Neufchâtel cheese and sour cream together. Add green onions, parsley, lemon, salt, pepper, and smoked salmon. Stir until salmon is broken down and mixture is creamy. Add milk until you reach desired consistency. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

CREAMY ANCHOVY GARLIC SPREAD

  • 2 small cloves garlic, rough chopped
  • 7-8 anchovy fillets
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ c. low fat sour cream
  • 2 dashes hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot Original)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T. finely chopped fresh chives

Combine the garlic, anchovies, butter, Neufchâtel cheese, sour cream, hot pepper sauce, and pepper in the container of a food processor. Process until smooth. Stir in the chives. Transfer to a serving bowl, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or better yet, overnight. Serve at room temperature with plain crackers (not quite as plain as saltines) or toasted baguette slices.

JALAPEÑO POPPER DIP/SPREAD

  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • ½ c. light mayonnaise
  • ¼ c. grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • ¼ c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ¼ c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ c. sliced pickled jalapeños (I use Mrs. Renfro’s) + a couple slices for garnish
  • ½ fresh jalapeño, seeded, de-veined, and finely chopped, or more to taste

Whirl the Neufchâtel cheese, mayonnaise, Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, and Parmesan cheese together in a food processor until smooth. Add the pickled jalapeños and the finely chopped fresh jalapeño and whirl until only small bits of the fresh jalapeño remain visible. Do not over process. You want those little bits of green to remain. Spread the mixture into a lightly buttered casserole. Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. You should be able to see the mixture gently bubbling around the edges and the top should be turning a light golden brown when the dip is hot. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips.

ROASTED RED PEPPER CHEESE SPREAD

  • 8-oz. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • ½ c. light mayonnaise
  • scant 1/3 c. rough chopped roasted red pepper
  • 1 tsp. finely minced onion
  • 1/8 tsp. granulated garlic
  • pinch kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 c. grated Monterey Jack cheese

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and whirl until smooth. Spoon into a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving at room temperature. Great spread on multi-grain crackers.

CHEDDAR AND PORT WINE SPREAD

  • 8 oz. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • 2 c. (scant) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 T. tawny port (I use Benjamin Australia Tawny Port)
  • ½ c. dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • ½ c. toasted chopped pecans

Combine Neufchâtel cheese, cheddar cheese, and port in a food processor. Whirl until creamy and smooth. Stir in chopped dried cranberries. Scoop into a small serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until about an hour before ready to serve. Sprinkle with pecans just before serving. Great with crackers and thin apple slices.

LOX AND PARTY RYE BREAD WITH CAPER AND RED ONION SPREAD

  • 8 oz. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 c. capers, roughly chopped
  • ¼ c. finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • pinch kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • party rye bread
  • 6 oz. thinly sliced lox

Combine Neufchâtel cheese, capers, red onion, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Spread on party rye; top with lox.

GARLIC AND HERB CHEESE SPREAD (MOCK BOURSIN CHEESE)

  • 8 oz. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp. dried marjoram leaves
  • ¼ tsp. dried dill weed
  • ¼ tsp. dried basil
  • ¼ tsp. freeze dried chives
  • ½ tsp. granulated garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T. finely minced fresh parsley
  • 2 T. finely grated Parmesan cheese

Cream all ingredients together or whirl in a food processor. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving with a variety of crackers. Also wonderful spread on a grilled steak. It melts beautifully on the cooked steak and leaves a lovely puddle into which you can dip your pieces of steak.

SUN DRIED TOMATO AND FRESH BASIL SPREAD

  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
  • 2 T. sun dried tomato bits (not oil packed is the best, but if all you have are sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, just drain slightly and chop finely)
  • 5-6 large basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 T. chopped fresh parsley**
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, finely minced**
  • ½ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 heaping tablespoons light mayonnaise or low fat sour cream

Combine all ingredients; refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving at room temperature with crackers, toasted baguette slices, or even bagels.

**Hint: When you have both parsley and garlic to mince, and they are going into a recipe at the same time, mince them together. The parsley helps keep the garlic from “skipping” around your cutting board. In the case of this recipe, I add the basil to the garlic and parsley too. I’m lazy – what can I say?

 

 

 

 

 

MIXED NUT AND DRIED FRUIT GRANOLA

Included in our Christmas package from daughter Ursala, was a special gift for Mr. C. His own package of granola. (He shared his granola with me, so I let him live. Smart guy that he is!) Anyway, the granola was over-the-top delicious. So I asked for the recipe. (Well, of course I did!)

Now I know what you’re thinking – “Patti, you’ve already posted two granola recipes on this site”. True enough. But if you and your family are anything like me and mine, well granola as part of a well-balanced and hearty breakfast is a must. And who doesn’t like variety in their food selection, especially in cereal?

Now for those of us in the baby boomer (and older) generation, a big old bowl of granola might add too many calories if accompanied by toast, egg, and a breakfast meat. But for someone like myself, who is trying to be good, a delicious breakfast of a plain piece of toasted grain and seed bread, topped with 2 over-easy eggs, a chicken sausage patty about the size of an Oreo cookie, a quarter cup of homemade granola with a small amount of fresh fruit and a quarter cup of vanilla yogurt is only about 500 calories. And I’m telling you, there is no way I am ever going to be hungry before lunch when I start my day with this high in protein and fiber breakfast. I truly look forward to a small variation of this breakfast menu every morning. OK, not as much as my cup of coffee and the newspaper, but it’s next on my list.

And yes, I know there are some really good granolas that can be purchased at your local grocery emporium. But they come at a price – a very high price! And while homemade granola isn’t exactly inexpensive to make, you sure as heck get a better return for your hard earned dollars! Plus, you have control over the quality of the ingredients. Which, in case you haven’t already deduced, is the main reason, along with eliminating ingredients with names that I can’t pronounce from my diet, that I am such an advocate of home cooking.

OK, off your soap box Patti. After all, it is clearly pointless to attempt to convert those who by their very interest in this recipe have already demonstrated a love of home cooking. (Maybe someday I will learn not to “preach to the choir”. But alas, that day has yet to come. Sorry!)

Thanks again darling Ursala for the granola. 

  • ½ c. + 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ c. honey
  • ¾ tsp. vanilla
  • 1¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. fine-grain sea salt
  • 4 c. oats
  • 3 c. nuts (slivered or whole almonds, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts)
  • 2 c. unsweetened coconut
  • 2 c. chopped dried fruit, such as dates, cherries, apples, apricots, blueberries, etc.

Whisk together the olive oil, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Add the oats, nuts, and coconut.  Spread evenly on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. (Don’t wash the bowl yet.)

Bake in a 325 degree oven until lightly browned, about 25-30 minutes. Stir once or twice during the baking. (Watch carefully, as coconut and nuts can burn easily.) Remove from oven and scoop back into the mixing bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit. Stir to combine. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Based on a Michael Symon recipe.