Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chicken Stroganoff With Asparagus

Maybe it's the time of year, but I've been craving (and cooking) comfort foods lately.  I make a lot of soups this time of year, but I also get hungry for more substantial, stick-to-your-ribs dishes: meatloaf, potatoes, roasted meats. creamy, cheesy casseroles, and the like.  Last weekend I caved and made a meatloaf and au gratin potatoes.  SOOOOO good....and I've been paying for it in the form of a tighter waistband all week!  Time to lighten things up a bit!

Today is Saturday, which are always busy at my house.  My kids both have activities first thing in the morning, so usually my hubby and I tag-team: he takes one, I take the other, and we coordinate pick-up depending on who has what else going on.  Today I was all on my own, as my husband picked up a shift at work.  What an adventure!  Between getting everyone (meaning the kids) fed and out the door on time, I didn't even have time for breakfast for myself- had to grab a muffin from the grocery store bakery and eat it in the parking lot of the dance school!  By the time I got everyone picked up and home, I was STARVING.  I was soooo tempted to go get take-out, but as we are trying to stay on a budget, decided to stick to whatever is in my fridge and make it work.

I enjoy challenges like this, but not when I am REALLY hungry.  Whatever I was going to make had to be fast and easy.  I had about a cup of cooked wide noodles left over from a couple of nights before, so decided to start there.  I also had some uncooked thin-sliced chicken breasts, so I decided to put the two together.  I like beef stroganoff- why not chicken?  The rest of the ingredients came together quickly: sliced onion and mushrooms, some asparagus (because I bought a bunch on sale and need to use it up, so it's going in pretty much everything these days), and a sauce made from chicken broth, thickened with corn starch, and a little lite sour cream.  Because the noodles were already cooked, it came together in about 10 minutes.  And know what- it was delicious!  I love it when a plan comes together!

This was great comfort food that was not terribly unhealthy or fattening.  Adding the asparagus adds bulk and flavor to the dish, not to mention fiber and nutrients.  I used whole grain egg noodles, which are much healthier than regular noodles.  Organic chicken broth does not contain as much salt as a lot of other brands, so I was able to control the amount of salt by adding my own.  Light sour cream gives the sauce enough flavor and creamiess without adding much fat at all.  All in all, a very well-rounded dish- great flavor AND great ingredients!

I made a small batch, which was about 2 good sized servings.  Just double or triple ingredients to serve more.

Chicken Stroganoff With Asparagus

vegetable oil
1/2 of a good-sized boneless skinless chicken breast half, sliced thinly into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup sliced onion
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced asparagus
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cooked wide noodles (mine were whole grain egg noodles)
About 3/4 cup chicken broth
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp light sour cream
salt/pepper to taste
Optional: fresh grated parmesan cheese for garnish

1.  Heat a couple tsp. vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions.  Stir and cook about 2 minutes.

2.  Add asparagus and cook, stirring, about 2 more minutes.

3.  Add mushrooms. Cook, stirring only occasionally, about 2 minutes, until mushrooms are browned.

4.  Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.  Heat a bit more oil in pan and add chicken.  Cook, stirring, until browned and cooked through.

5.  Add vegetables back to pan, along with garlic.

6.  Mix corn starch in a small bowl with about 1 tbsp of chicken broth.  Add the rest of the chicken broth to the pan, bring up to a boil, then add corn starch mixture.  Stir well to incorporate.  Mixutre should thicken to a gravy-like consistency.

7.  Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in sour cream.  Serve over hot noodles, garnished with parmesan cheese.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recipe Make-Over: Better Than Schwan's Green Bean Fries

My daughter is the one who challenges me the most with cooking.  My son is much more flexible with what he will eat, and he likes many more healthy foods than my daughter.  She would happily live on sugar and fried foods if left to her own devices.  Yecchh!  One of the things she loves is the green bean fries from the Schwan's guy.  Schwan's is a frozen food company- they come by with their giant refrigerated truck once every other week, and I get suckered into buying breakfast sausage, waffles, ice cream or popsicles, or the infamous green bean fries. On the surface, they don't sound so bad: breaded green beans.  How bad could that be?  Well, let me tell you: partially hydrogenated palm, cottonseed, and soybean oil, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and a whopping 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 490 mg of sodium per serving- which is only 10 pieces.  Yikes!!  There has to be a better way...right??

It can't be that hard.  It's green beans, breaded, and cooked until crispy.  Frying is not the healthiest cooking method in the world, so if we're trying to make over this recipe, we'll have to try something else.  Years ago, Oprah's chef, Rosie, had a very successful cookbook, and one of the best recipes in it was "Unfried Chicken"- breaded chicken, cooked on an oiled baking sheet at a high temperature until crispy.  That could work.  Chicken is already pretty moist and tender though.  Green beans- not so much.  What to do?

Research on green bean fries yielded many similar results.  Blanch the green beans until just tender, then bread and then cook.  Since we are avoiding frying in oil, that leaves oven baking as the preferred cooking method.  Blanching is easy, but the green beans need to dry completely in order to hold any breading.  The same technique used to bread chicken (such as in the chicken schnitzel) would probably work here, and my experiments confirmed this.  Coating in flour, then egg, and then bread crumbs produced a nice, substantial breading.

The first step is to wash and trim the green beans- cut both ends off.  Blanch in hot water for 4-5 minutes until just barely tender, then remove from the water and shock with cold water, to stop the cooking process.  Drain, then dry beans.  I laid mine out on a few layers of paper towels and blotted dry with additional paper towels.  I added flavor to the beans by seasoning both the flour and bread crumbs.  I use panko bread crumbs to bread the green beans for the crispiest green bean "fries".  The results are definitely crispy and fresh.  The breading is not as dense as Schwan's, but I like that about them.  At least I know I am not going to have a MSG headache an hour after dinner!  Meredith is not necessarily convinced that these are better...someday she will believe me!
Oven Baked Green Bean Fries

@ 1 pound of fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs
1.5 cups  panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt/pepper to taste
3 tbsp olive oil for pan

1.  Blanch green beans.  Heat water in a medium pan until boiling, then add green beans.  Cook about 4 minutes until just barely tender.  Drain and bathe green beans in cold water to stop cooking.  Drain and set aside, allowing to dry.

2.  In a shallow dish, combine flour and seasonings.

3.  In a separate dish, beat eggs.

4.  In a third dish, combine panko crumbs and seasoning.

5.  When green beans are dry, toss in flour mixture.  Remove a few at a time and dip in egg mixture, then into panko crumbs, coating completely.

6.  Rub oil over the surface of a baking sheet.  Add breaded green beans, separating so that they do not touch one antother.

7.  Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake green beans about 5 minutes, then toss with a spatula and continue baking 5-7 minutes more until crispy and browned.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve while hot.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Spinach Salad With Roasted Beets, Orange, and Goat Cheese

This is a favorite winter salad of mine and my husband's.  Before this salad, he would never even look at a beet.  Over the past 20 years that we've been together, he has learned to trust my cooking, and at least now tastes things, even if he has his doubts about them!

This is one of those recipes that I am not really sure of the origin.  I have seen similar combinations of ingredients in many different places, and at one point just set out to create my own, and this is the result.  I use blood oranges in this salad because I love their color, and it's just a little bit different, but you can use regular navel oranges if you want.  Even if it's not citrus season, you could use canned mandarin oranges in this.  I would caution against using canned beets though...there just is no substitute for roasted fresh beets!  I roasted mine a couple of days ahead of time, and that cuts down on the prep time when you are serving the salad.  If you don't roast them ahead of time, be sure to give them time to cool before making the salad.  If they are warm, they will wilt the spinach, and I like the spinach in this salad to be nice and crisp.

Spinach Salad With Roasted Beets, Orange, and Goat Cheese (Serves 2)

Fresh beets, one per person, small to medium size
Olive oil

4 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed well and dried well, kept chilled
1 orange (blood orange or navel), or substitute canned mandarin oranges
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/4 goat cheese, crumbled
thinly sliced onion- a few slices per salad, to taste (I usually prefer to use red onions in this, but this time all I had was a sweet yellow onion)

Juice from orange (see note below), about 2 tbsp
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp finely minced shallot
Salt and pepper to taste


1.  Roast beets.  This can be done ahead of time.  Refrigerate beets until you prepare the salad.  Remove the stem and root ends of the beets and cut lengthwise into quarters or sixths, depending on beet size.  You want bite-sized pieces.  Do not peel beets.  Place in a shallow oven-proof dish and drizzle with a couple tbsp. of olive oil and toss well.  Roast in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, stir, then roast another 10-15 minutes until tender.  When beets are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off  or rub off with a paper towel.  Chill well.

2.  Place spinach into salad bowls.

3.  Segment orange.  Cut a slice off of the top and bottom of the orange,through the pith (white part).  Place on a cutting board upright on one cut end.  Cut  a slice of the peel and pith off from top to bottom, removing as little fruit as possible.
4.  Rotate and cut the peel off all the way around the orange until it is completely free of the peel.
5.  With your knife, slice along the sides of the membrane separating the segments of the orange, so as to remove a wedge of the orange from between the membranes.
6.  Continue to remove all orange wedges.
7.  Squeeze the juice from the remaining orange membranes into a bowl and reserve.  Discard membranes.  (Now you know why they call them blood oranges!)
8.  Heat a skillet over medium heat and add walnuts.  Toast 3-5 minutes until fragrant.  Remove from heat and set aside.

9.  Top spinach in bowl with beet wedges and orange slices.  Add walnuts.
10.  Top with onion slices and goat cheese.
11.  Make dressing.  Whisk together reserved orange juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, shallots, salt and pepper.  Drizzle over salads.

This is not really an everyday salad, but I like to make it once in awhile to make dinner kind of special.  My hubby and I enjoyed this along side some grilled chicken breasts and brown rice, and it made for a delicious, healthy and well-balanced Saturday dinner.

I'm not sure yet what I will share with you next time.  I have a few ideas I'm working on, one of which is a recipe makeover of a somewhat unhealthy convenience food that my daughter loves, but which I hesitate to serve because of the high fat content.  I am researching alternatives and think I might be onto something there, but might not get to it this week.  If not, I'll come up with something else tasty to show you!