Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crispy-coated Chicken

I love fried chicken. There I said it. In it's ideal incarnation, it's crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, flavourful and spicy and just plain delicious, both hot and cold. What if you could have it be all those things...and healthy too?

There are lots of good reasons to avoid deep-frying, or shallow-frying for that matter. The biggie of course is health; that's a lot of extra fat no one really needs. There are other reasons too; it's messy, heating that much oil is hazardous, over time it coats your kitchen with a gross oil-haze that is difficult to clean, buying that much fresh oil is expensive but re-using old oil is disgusting...so yeah a pretty good argument can be made against it. The one thing in favour is the way it cooks food when done right - it seals in the flavour and moisture while creating a crisp outer shell. This chicken is all that and more - it's low-fat! Ahhhh I can hear my unclogged arteries thanking me, and my tastebuds taking up the chorus!

Crispy-coated chicken

As this recipe is more about technique than a perfect balance of ingredients, I am going to just approximate amounts, and you can "wing it" when it comes to creating your own blend, haha.

I like to use boneless skinless chicken thighs, they have great flavour and stay moist much longer than breast meat, which is important if you want a really crisp outer layer. They are richer in iron and other nutrients, and not significantly higher in fat, despite the bad rap they get.

Coat chicken peices first in an egg white beaten together with some dijon mustard. Then coat in crumbs; I use a mixture of Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise cereal crushed in the blender, a spoon of flour, season salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder and garlic powder. I like it heavy on the pepper.

Spray your baking sheet with cooking spray before laying the chicken on it. Then spray the tops of the coated chicken peices.

Bake at 400F until the peices are cooked through, browned and crispy. How long this takes depends on the size of your peices; usually from 25-35 minutes.

You will love this chicken. Anyone you feed it to will love you for it. And, most importantly, you will love me for giving you the idea.

Yay chicken!

Nutritional info: well it totally depends on the size of the thighs...more generous-figured chickens run about 100g per thigh (raw), while the skinny-minnies can be around 50g. So counting for 200g of raw chicken thigh meat, or two gorgeously large thighs per portion, the values are: 298cals, 9g of fat, 43g protein, 7.8g carbs, 1g fibre, 600g sodium.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Moroccan Soup

Yep another soup...after all, I am the self-dubbed Soup Queen!

I was at work one day when a most delicious smell came wafting through the kitchen, across the hall and into my office. I followed it like Pepe La Pue floating along the scent-breeze of his true love. Once the source was found, I bullied the cook into giving me the recipe (well actually she gave it over quite willingly, she's a very nice lady). With some minor adjustments to the recipe, here is the way to drive your friends, family, or coworkers crazy with soup-lust:

Moroccan Soup

Sautee in 1 tsp olive oil 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1" piece of minced fresh ginger, 1 large chopped onion, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tsp cumin approx 5 minutes.

Add two chopped carrots and 2 ribs of chopped celery, sautee a few minutes longer.

Add 6 cups of low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock, 3 cups of water, 28z can of tomatoes and 1 cup of rinsed dried green lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.

Add 19 0z can of chick peas or 1 1/4C cooked chick peas, cook 15 minutes longer.

Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 Tbsp harissa or sambal olek (chili paste) and lots of chopped cilantro and enjoy! Makes about 13 cups of soup.

Nutritional info: Each cup of soup has 80 calories, 1g fat, 4g protein, 15g carbs, 4g fibre, 360mg sodium.

Variation: Add 1C chopped grilled chicken breast and you have a great meal.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Soup: Warms the belly and soothes the soul!

I have great associations with mushroom soup. My mom made it for us as kids; I remember steaming bowls of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom for winter lunches. Later, as a teenager, it was the only thing that satisfied the late-night post-party hungries. How many times did my best friend and I tiptoe into the kitchen after midnight, stifling giggles as we heated soup and searched for crackers? Too many to count.

I am not all that interested in the tinned variety anymore (though I confess, a can or two of the low-fat condensed Campbell's can usually be found in my cupboard, waiting to be called into service for a shortcut dinner). And yeah I don't claim to have unerringly sophisticated taste buds - I can still appreciate a wedge of Velveeta just as much as brie. But when it comes to cream of mushroom soup, this grown-up version is so delicious, it's not even in the same stratosphere as the canned stuff. And adapted to be low-fat, too! The skim milk powder adds richness without the fat; the sherry adds a new dimension of flavour to balance the creaminess. It's satisfying and earthy and you should really make it.

Creamy Mushroom Soup for Two

1/3C dried mushrooms
1C chicken stock
4 large white mushrooms, chopped
1/4C shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp flour (I like the gluten-free garbonzo bean flour, but any is fine)
1C low-fat milk (1%)
1 Tbsp skim milk powder
1/4 tsp dried italian herbs or herbs de provence
1/4C dry sherry or red wine
cracked black pepper
sea salt
1/4C italian parsley, finely chopped

Microwave the chicken stock in a glass bowl and when it's boiling, remove and crumble in the dried mushrooms. Steep until ready to use.In a large non-stick saucepan, spray the bottom with cooking spray or add a touch of olive oil and heat on medium. Add in shallot, chopped mushrooms, and garlic and saute until lightly browned.Add in a few rablespoons of the mushroom liquid. Before it's completely absorbed (gotta pick up the pace here), sprinkle in the flour and mix around well. Cook for about one minute, then gradually add in all the mushrooms and liquid while constantly stirring.Don't just dump it all in or you'll get lumps; you want to add the liquid a little at a time at first. Slow, then fast. Got it?

Dissolve the milk powder in the milk. Add to pot, along with herbs, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, adding the sherry or wine after 5. Add cracked pepper and salt to taste, if you are fancy like me you will have some nice pink peppercorns to crush and thrown in there as well. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Thin with a little water if it's too thick ( I usually add about 1/4C or so). Done and done! See, yummy AND low-fat AND easy. Ahhhhh!

Nutritional info: Half the recipe is 127 calories, 1.4g fat, 12g protein, 16g carbs, .5g fibre, 415mg sodium.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Biscotti: A Trio for the Holidays

I came up with Project Biscotti as a means of sending good will to some colleagues, as well as getting in some Christmas baking without having the results hanging around to tempt me. I settled on biscotti because they travel well, won't go stale for a long time, and hey everyone loves things to dip into coffee! I made a plan to bake three kinds of biscotti and send little presents of them to folks I work with on a couple of projects. The tidy tins of yummy treats are all lined up, ready to head to locations all over the province.

Biscotti are, by nature, crunchy. The recipe I based mine on was low-fat, meaning no butter and using only egg whites. This made an uber-crunchy biscotti...I ended up using whole eggs because I dislike wasting egg yolks, and the results were actually better. Even coated in chocolate, the cookies are just 80 calories each, so I won't begrudge them a few egg yolks!

I went a little crazy and made my own candied orange peel for them, so I've included that recipe at the bottom. I had a lot of fun with Project Biscotti....and aren't they cute?

Basic Biscotti recipe
modified from The New Best Recipe:
2C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1C sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients until light yellow. Pour into dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. The dough should be very wet and sticky.

For Candied Orange Peel, Almond, and Dark Chocolate Biscotti:
Fold in 1/3C chopped candied orange peel and 1/3C roasted almonds.
For Cranberry, Pistachio, and Dark Chocolate Biscotti:
Fold in 1/3C craisins and 1/3C pistachios
For Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti:
Use 1/4C less flour and replace with 1/4C cocoa. Fold in 1/3C toasted almonds.

Form each batch into two logs, about 3" wide, 13" long, and 1" tall. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, lower oven temperature to 325F and allow the logs to cool for about 5 minutes. Cut into 3/4" slices and lay flat on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once (or if you want to avoid turning them, bake the slices standing up.)
Cool biscotti on baking sheet. Meanwhile, heat some bittersweet chocolate in a small pot (I just put mine on the element that vents the oven and it gently warms the chocolate as the oven cools, no need for fancy double-boiler here!). I use 3 baking squares per batch, being moderately stingy with the chocolate coating....not as thin as a summer coat but not a thick winter one either, I guess more like a light fall coat. Just dip the tops into the chocolate and push the excess off with a spoon.

And whatever you do, don't fall asleep on the couch watching CSI while you are doing the second baking. That makes for VERY crunchy biscotti. Not that I know about that.
Yield: 36 biscotti per batch
Nutritional info: Each cookie has 81 calories, 3g fat, 2g protein, 13g carbs, 1g fibre, 16 mg sodium.

Candied Orange Peel:
This is a bit laborious but totally worth it.
2 thick-skinned oranges (like valencias)
1C sugar
1/4C water
Score orange skin into six or eight segments and peel off orange. Reserve orange flesh for other use. Place peels in a pot and fill with cold water. Bring to a boil on high heat and drain. Repeat this process two more times.
Cut orange peel segments into thin strips. Bring sugar and water to a boil over medium heat, and let simmer for 8 minutes, or until it starts turning light brown. Add in orange peels and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the sugar has absorbed into the orange peels. Remove from heat and place orange peels individually on a rack or plate to dry. Coat each one with sugar if you like, but I like them plain. If you leave them in a big heap, you will have one SUPER-ORANGE PEEL. Not as pretty, but just as tasty.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pita Pizza

Ah pizza, the Food of Gods.

When I decided to lose weight, I was so sad about losing pizza - until I realized that was completely unnecessary. The cheesy, saucy, crispy-crusted deliciousness you see above is an unbelievable 400 calories. I first experimented with pita pizza out of desperation, but soon discovered it can actually be even yummier than take-out and certainly yummier than store-bought types. My version uses tomato paste for sauce which gives a powerful kick of flavour, and low-fat cheeses that not only reduce the fat grams but also provide a cleaner tasting, un-greasy final product. The single tablespoon of parmesan gives a nice sharp finish, since the low-fat cheeses can be a bit bland alone. And my spreadsheet does not lie, this entire thing isn't even a full meal's worth of calories.

I still indulge in a good restaurant wood-fired pizza once in a while...but rarely. My own is just too good to bother with other higher-calorie kinds. I make a basic pizza dough crust if I am feeling ambitious, but the pitas from the grocery store work great. The thin pocket-style ones I get are 140 calories each and come in whole wheat, but the kind I prefer is a greek-style pita, almost a flatbread, by a company called Pita Delight . If you can find these, they are the best for pizza! Slightly higher in calories at 200, but when you are looking at an overall total of 400, who cares. Whatever pita you use, just read the label to make sure it's not one of those crazy super-high-calories ones, they are out there.
I accompanied this cheesy beast with a big pile of broccoli sprinkled with leftover parmesan, and a slice of pork loin for added protein.

Now when I hear people who are on diets lament about how much they miss pizza, I feel sorry for them....because they don't know any better! Seriously, make a pita pizza and quit yer bellyaching!!

Pita Pizza
for each pizza:

1 pita, preferably Pita Delight
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp cayenne
45g low-fat mozzerella (15% m.f.)
15g low-fat old cheddar
1 Tbsp finely grated good parmesan (no Kraft shakers here, people!)
1 mushroom

Prepare the sauce: Mix the tomato paste with the spices and a tiny bit of water to thin out to a pizza-sauce consistency. Spread over the pita.

Grate cheddar and mozza, combine and sprinkle evenly over sauce. Sprinkle a bit of parm over top, then place mushrooms lovingly and top with remaining parm.

Turn on oven or toaster oven to 400F and place pita pizza on a baking sheet inside (don't bother to preheat, the extra blast of heat from the elements warming gives a nice crispy crust). Bake until golden brown on top, about 20 minutes. I am guessing at the time...I never remember to look, grr. But you'll know when it's done....oh, you'll know.

Nutritional info: 400 calories, 15g of fat, 28g protein, 38g carbs, 3.5g fibre, 900 mg sodium.

You could also add some turkey pepperoni or ham for an additional 50 calories or so. Or load it up with delicious veggies like thin-sliced red peppers, onions, marinated artichoke hearts, even zuchinni (but make sure it goes on top of most of the cheese or you will end up with too much moisture and have pizza mush). Or add zing with cured black olives or sundried tomatoes. Or go nuts and add some rendered bacon peices, woo hoo! Even with BACON you can keep it under 500. Insane!