Slow cook BBQ chicken and mushroom-bacon twice-baked potatoes

My son has been battling a respiratory bug for the past couple of weeks, struggling to keep up with a busy school and extra-curricular schedule. Today, we decided, was a rest and recuperate day. He stayed in bed well past noon. I deemed it the perfect day to make the slow cook BBQ chicken that he loves. Instead of the sauteed red potatoes I normally make with it, I had a craving for a stuffed, twice-baked potato as a side. Continue reading →


Le Creuset Challege: Chicken Sausage and Kale Stew

When I was given the opportunity to participate in P. Allen Smith’s Garden2Blog 2013, my taste buds started to tingle. The wonderful recipes of Allen’s that we get to sample while down in Little Rock are downright delectable, but this year we were asked to contribute recipes of our own as a part of the Le Creuset Challenge. We were each provided a Le Creuset French Oven and tasked with using it to create one of our favorite recipes.

I chose a Chicken Sausage and Kale Stew that I first made (based closely on a Real Simple recipe) for our friends on New Year’s Day.

This stew is a simple one to create, even easier in a fine piece of cookware like the Le Creuset French Oven.  Last year, I’ll admit to not understanding the pleasure of cooking in high-end enameled cast iron. This year, I was well aware of how evenly food cooks in a Le Creuset.

I started with the following ingredients:

  • 24 oz. sun-dried tomato and mozzarella chicken sausage
  • 30 oz. cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 24 oz. diced tomatoes
  • 1 qt. chicken stock
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • salt and pepper

First, cut the sausage into bite size chunks.

Next, slice the garlic cloves.

Sauté the garlic and sausage in the olive oil for about 10 minutes over medium heat.

Add the tomatoes (including liquid) and beans.

Pull the kale into small sections, discarding the the midrib of each leaf. Wash thoroughly.

Add the chicken stock and the kale to the french oven, slowly working it into the stew.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes over low to medium heat.

The kale will slowly cook down and incorporate into the stew. The longer you cook the stew, the more the flavors will mingle.

Ladle the stew into serving bowls, and garnish with fresh kale. I chose to serve it with a freshly baked whole grain artisan bread.

If you like beer, an ale like Hopslam is a good companion to the strong taste of the sausage in the stew.

The prep and cooking time can be as short as 30 minutes, or as long as three hours, depending on how mingled you’d like the flavors to be.

Many thanks to P. Allen Smith and the folks at Le Creuset for providing the french oven as a part of Garden2Blog 2013! It’s a piece of cookware that will be in my cooking repertoire for countless years to come.

The majority of the cost of this trip including lodging and travel were provided to me at no expense for participating in the Garden2Blog event. There was no obligation to write about my experiences and all opinions stated here are my own.

Recipe: Simple Steak Fajitas

It’s Sunday night again, time for me to dish up a tasty dinner for my family. Tonight, I chose a simple recipe: Steak fajitas. It’s not the lowest calorie meal I’ve ever made, but it doesn’t break the dietary budget if you stick to a single serving.

I started by marinating two hotel steaks in the refrigerator in a canola oil/lime fajita seasoning mixture. After two hours of marinating, I grilled them on our George Foreman grill for about 10 minutes until well done.

Next, I sliced two onions and a package of mini bell peppers and sauteed them until tender in a tablespoon of canola oil and the remainder of the fajita seasoning.

I added the sliced beef to the onion and peppers and cooked for about five minutes longer, the served the mixture on warm high-fiber tortilla.

Each fajita weighs in at 445 calories, 30g protein and 27g fat. Common sense would have told me a single fajita would suffice, but they were so tasty, I ate two. I went over my dietary allotment for both fat and calories, but sometimes you’ve got to splurge a little.

Maybe next time, I’ll use grilled chicken instead for a healthier alternative.

Healthy Recipe: Crockpot Beef Stew and Skinny Carrot Ginger Soup Inspired by P. Allen Smith

Sunday has become my day to cook for the family, a day when I can plan, shop for and cook a dinner without the time pressures that accompany most every other day of the week. I’ll often start thinking about dinner while drinking my morning coffee, sometimes browsing the Internet, other times flipping through cookbooks. Most of my browsing results in inspiration, rather than exact recipes to mirror.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up my copy of P. Allen Smith’s Seasonal Recipes from the Garden and immediately focused on two recipes — Slow-Cooker Lamb Stew and Carrot Ginger Soup.

I’ve not eaten much lamb before; I’ve certainly never cooked it. But the inclusion of Guinness and chocolate motivated me to use the recipe as the inspiration for a beef stew instead.

Crockpot Beef Stew

Below is the ingredients list for my version of the stew, which makes six servings (~430 calories, 26g fat, 28g protein). The major changes were substituting beef for lamb and decreasing the quantity of potatoes

  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-2 inch cubes
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 12-ounce bottle of Guinness Draught beer
  • 1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 ounce unsweetened baker’s chocolate, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 pound baby red potatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat leaf parsley

To prepare,

  • Brown 1/2 of the beef in a large skillet with 1 Tbsp.canola oil. Transfer to crock pot. 
  • Repeat with the remaining beef.
  • Add remaining oil to skillet with onion and cook until lightly browned, about five minutes.
  • Add the broth, beer, brown sugar, thyme, chocolate, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, using a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits. Transfer the mixture to the crock pot.
  • Add the carrots, parsnips, and potatoes to the crock pot, cover and cook on low until the meat is tender, 6-8 hours.
  • Remove and discard the bay leaves, stir in the parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Skinny Carrot Ginger Soup

My take on the Carrot Ginger Soup is a lower calorie version of the P. Allen Smith version.

The ingredient list is as follows (makes four 100 calorie servings). The major changes from the original recipe are half the butter and 1% milk in place of half-and-half.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup 1% milk
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
To prepare,
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the carrots, onions, celery, garlic and ginger and sauté until the onions are soft, 10-12 minutes.
  • Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat. Simmer until the carrots are tender, 8-10 minutes more.
  • Slowly puree the mixture with stick blender until smooth.
  • Return to a boil. Add milk.
  • Serve immediately, finished with cracked black pepper.

Both of the dishes were delicious and enjoyed by my family (although my ten-year-old son was lukewarm on the soup). The stew meat was done to perfection, melting on the tongue, while the root veggies retained a needed firmness. The bitter of the beer and chocolate gave the stew a refreshing, but not overpowering, counterpoint to the sweetness of the carrots and parsnips.

Overall, both recipes definitely will become a part of our family Sunday dinner repertoire.

The original recipes came from P. Allen Smith’s Seasonal Recipes from the Garden and were modified/reprinted with permission. Last May, while in Little Rock for Garden2Blog, I had my glorious first taste from this cookbook in the form of Buttermilk Pecan Pie and look forward to finding future culinary inspiration in its pages.

I received my complimentary copy of Seasonal Recipes at a book signing event at the Independent Garden Center trade show in August 2012.

Healthy Recipe: Homemade Orange Ginger Chicken

It’s the weekend again, time for me to turn the kitchen back into my personal playground and culinary laboratory. I’ve always been one to dive in and learn new things as I go, unwilling to follow a script. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it means we’ll eat cereal for dinner. But at least I’m learning in the process.

Yesterday, I asked my son what he’d like me to create for dinner. He answered with a resounding endorsement for Chinese food and a suggestion of orange chicken. I didn’t have the proper tools to make the battered orange chicken common in Chinese restaurants, but I set out to make my own version that would be healthier and just as tasty.

I started with the following ingredients:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless breast halves, cut into small pieces
  • 4 mini bell peppers, diced
  • One medium onion, diced
  • 3 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 10 baby carrots, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • Zest of one small orange
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 13 oz lo mein noodles
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare:

  • Heat 1 Tbsp. canola oil in french oven (or skillet) on stovetop.
  • Coat chicken pieces in flour, the cook until brown.
  • Remove the chicken to a dish and use a couple of tablespoons orange juice to deglaze the pan. 
  • Start boiling water in a separate pan (to cook lo mein noodles)
  • Add peppers, onion, carrots and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
  • In a small sauce pan, combine remaining orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, brown sugar and red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. 
  • Add dry lo mein nooodles to boiling water and cook for 5-6 minutes. 
  • Slowly whisk 2 Tbsp. flour into sauce and stir until thickened. 
  • Add the zest of one small orange to sauce.
  • Add chicken to vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  • Incorporate sauce into chicken and vegetables and stir until fully coated. 
  • Serve chicken and vegetables on top of noodles. 

As prepared, this recipe makes 5 moderate servings, each about 450 calories, 33g protein and 5g fat. (Compare this to Panda Express Orange Chicken with Chow Mein at 900 calories and 43g fat.)

As luck would have it, my family liked last night’s creation. I’d probably increase the soy and (if you like your food spicy) the red pepper flakes when I make it again.

You know what the best part about getting creative in the kitchen?  As I write this, I’m enjoying some of the leftovers.

Healthy Recipe: Chicken and Brussels Sprouts

I’d forgotten how much I like to cook. Early in our marriage, cooking was one of the things my wife and I freely traded and often enjoyed together. In the years since my son was born, I fell for the siren song of convenience and laziness when it came to food.

As we attempt to eat healthier as a family, we’re all stretching our boundaries as we try new foods, and spend more time learning about and preparing our meals.

I’ve started cooking on the weekends, often spending an hour or more in the kitchen preparing meals that are fresh, delicious and healthy.

Tonight, I made a chicken and Brussels sprouts dish, mostly with ingredients I purchased earlier today at the grocery.

  • 1 1/4 pounds chicken breast tenders
  • 1 package fresh Brussels sprouts (about 25-30)
  • 1 cup diced Cebolittas (Mexican green onions)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small can of low-sodium beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Pepper, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce to taste 
To prepare:
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in large pan or french oven over medium heat.
  • Coat chicken in flour and cook in oil, turning until brown on both sides and cooked through. Lightly grind pepper over chicken. Remove chicken from pan.
  • Add another Tbsp. olive oil, garlic and onion to pan. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add small amount of beef broth to deglaze pan.
  • Add Brussels sprouts and remainder of beef broth. Bring to a boil and cook until Brussels sprouts are tender. 
  • Add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce (amounts up to individual taste). 
  • Add 1/8 flour to warm water and mix until dissolved. Add to liquid in the pan to thicken sauce.
  • Return chicken to the pan, on top of Brussels sprouts, cover, and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. 

Immediately before serving, sprinkle 2 Tbsp of bacon pieces over chicken. Plate two tenders and 6-7 Brussels sprouts and top with 1 Tbsp shredded Parmesan.

As prepared, this recipe serves four people. Each serving is 328 calories, 40g protein and 14 g fat.

The meal got rave reviews from my family, including my son who exclaimed, “I’m so glad we’re eating healthier. It tastes so good!”

I know that many people turn their noses up to Brussels sprouts. If you haven’t tried them fresh (not frozen), cooked to the perfect tenderness with a complimentary sauce, I’d suggest you give them another chance. Properly prepared, they are a nutritionally dense food (high in protein and antioxidants) that tastes delicious.

What are your favorite ways to eat Brussels sprouts? Please leave a comment below.