Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chicken & Smoked Sausage Soup

I was going to make jambalaya for dinner, but it was rainy and people all around me were fighting colds, so I made soup instead. This doesn't have the spice of jambalaya, but is flavored similarly with thyme, bay leaves and just a little cayenne pepper. I run the veggies through my food processor, and using boneless skinless chicken breast drastically shorten the cooking time. FYI, this is NOT gumbo because it does not contain either okra or file powder, one of which must be used to thicken real gumbo.

Don't let the list of ingredients intimidate you! Once it's all thrown together, it just simmers on the stove and you have to stir it every once in a while.
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 pound smoked sausage or turkey smoked sausage, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 2-3 ribs celery, chopped small
  • 1-2 carrots, scrubbed well (don't peel them!) and sliced thinly - the slicing blade of a food processor is perfect for the carrots and celery
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 2 quarts chicken broth (low sodium is best)
  • 1 quart beef broth 
  • 1 large or 2 small bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • Several grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 cup par-boiled rice (Uncle Ben's)
  • 1 cup orzo or other tiny pasta
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
Heat the oil or butter in a large heavy bottomed pot. When it is hot, add the chicken in batches and brown it on all sides, removing each batch as it browns - crowding too much in the pot will make the chicken steam instead of brown. When the chicken is all browned, add the sausage, onions, celery and carrots to the pot, along with the chicken. Saute for about five minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the sherry and let cook on high until it is reduced by half, about five minutes. Add the water and stock cubes, thyme, bay leaves and all three peppers. Stir well, let come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer about 30 minutes. Stir it every so often. After 30 minutes, add the rice and stir well again. Let cook another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta and the tomato paste and stir well to dissolve the tomato paste. Let cook another 10 minutes and serve with lots of hot bread and a bottle of Crystal or Tobasco for those who like it HOT!

Tip: If you can get it, you can swap andouille sausage for the smoked sausage for a more New Orleans flavor. Of course you omit the sausage entirely and use just chicken, or chicken and ham (diced into 1/2 inch cubes) or chicken and shrimp - just like for gumbo!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Loaded Baked Potato Soup, Unloaded

Loaded Baked Potato Soup is one of the great comfort foods. Unfortunately, the fat and calories in it are definitely less than comforting. But never fear! I swapped out the deadliest ingredients for fat-free and low-fat versions, resulting in a creamy, comforting cheesy soup with a LOT less fat but still a ton of flavor. This makes a huge pot, but all that cheese won't freeze well, so either cut down the recipe or find hungry friends for the leftovers.
  • 5-6 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed well
  • 8 ounces center cut bacon, diced
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 7 cups chicken broth or 7 cups water and 3 low-sodium Knorr Chicken stock cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 cups fat free half & half
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup fat free sour cream
  • 1 cup 2% milk mild shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup 2% milk sharp shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 green onions or several fresh chives
Cook the bacon, in a large pot over medium high heat, until crispy. Drain off all the fat (but don't scrape the pan!) and let the bacon drain on paper towels. Return the pot to the stove and add the onions and shallots. With a wooden spoon, stir well to remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for two minutes and add sherry. Cook on high until sherry is almost gone.

While the bacon cooks, dice the scrubbed potatoes into bite sized pieces. I cut each potato in half, lengthwise, and then cut each half in three, and slice those into five or six pieces. After the sherry reduces, add the potatoes and broth (or water and stock cubes), thyme and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to medium high and let cook 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Whisk together the half and half and the cornstarch.

Take the pot off the heat, but keep the burner on at medium. Add the half & half mixture to the pot and stir well. Gradually stir in the sour cream. Return to the burner, and let cook slowly for a few minutes. When slightly thickened, like a light cream sauce, sprinkle in the cheeses and stir like crazy to melt them throughout. Let soup sit over heat, but do NOT let it bubble. While everything heats together, slice green parts of green onions or chives into tiny pieces and sprinkle over pot. Stir well.

If desired, top each bowl with some extra crispy bacon pieces or bacon bits and shredded cheese.

Note: You could make this even lower in fat by using turkey bacon. Personally, I'd rather have the extra calories, but turkey bacon will work. Also, this can be totally vegetarian by omitting the bacon (or using a soy substitute for it) and swapping the chicken broth for veggie stock.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Applebee's Fiesta Lime Chicken - sort of

I love Applebee's Fiesta Lime Chicken. What I don't love is the fat in it. It tastes SO good, but like a lot of things that taste good, it's, first of all, too big a portion, and second, it has too much un-necessary fat in it. So I made a version of my own. It's not an exact clone, but it has the flavors of the original, and by swapping lower fat versions of mayo, cheese and ranch dressing and leaving out the tortilla strips (even thought I love them!), a lot less fat while keeping all the flavor.

There are plenty of copycat recipes for Fiesta Lime Chicken on the web - mostly from genius Todd Wilbur of This is NOT that -- a. this is far simpler, and b. because it's not a clone per se, I went healthier with it. This will feed 4-6 people for about the cost of one serving from Applebee's, as reasonably priced as they are.
Marinate chicken, refrigerated, in a glass dish or plastic bag, in the marinade and garlic powder, for at least 4 hours and up to 36 hours. If short on time, marinate up to 1 hour at room temp. NO LONGER! Drain the chicken, but reserve the marinade.

Now: either spray a broiling pan with non-stick spray and broil the chicken until done, turning once, or grill until done. Alternatively, bake chicken pieces at 400 degrees until done. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the chicken has reached at least 160 degrees.

While the chicken cooks, combine the reserved marinade with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Gently boil over medium-high until the water has cooked way and you have about 3/4 cup cooked down marinade. To the marinade, add:
  • 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup light ranch dressing
  • several shots Tabasco or to taste - I used about 8
Whisk together until blended. Spread the sauce lightly over the chicken. Top with 1 cup shredded 2% milk sharp cheddar. Return to oven and broil or bake until cheese is melted. Serve extra sauce on the side. This goes very well with Confetti Rice!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Confetti Rice

This side dish requires a bit of prep, but it comes together very easily once the chopping is done. Because the flavors are very simple and clean, it makes a perfect side to a meat dish that has more complex flavors or is very rich. It could also, with the addition of some Cajun-seasoned sauteed shrimp or leftover cooked chicken, beef or pork, quickly become an easy main dish. Again, the rice is so simple that leftovers seasoned almost any way will work in it!

I always use par-boiled rice - the kind Uncle Ben's has been pushing for years. It isn't as sticky, never needs rinsing and is perfect for these dishes where the broth cooks until almost gone. I used chicken broth, but this is made completely vegetarian by swapping that for veggie stock instead.
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into small dice
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped into small dice
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 2 small plum tomatoes - diced small - toss the seeds and glop in the middle
  • 2 cups par-boiled rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 low-sodium chicken stock cubes or veggie stock cubes (I like Knorr)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small bay leaf
Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large, heavy pot. Add garlic, and when garlic is fragrant (after about a minute), add onions and peppers. Let cook about 10 minutes, stirring often. Season with freshly ground pepper. Add the rice, and stir well to coat with oil and mix with vegetables. Saute the rice for five minutes.

Add wine, raise heat to high and let cook until wine is almost cooked away. Add water, bay leaf and stock cubes. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium. Cook covered, on medium, about 25 minutes or until rice is tender and stock is almost completely absorbed. Add tomatoes about 15 minutes through cooking. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

As I said, I made this deliberately simple to go with the insanely rich chicken dish I am posting next week, but if you want to season it a bit, try these variations:
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme to go with a simpler or grilled herbed chicken dish
  • 1/2 teaspoon each basil and oregano to accompany grilled Italian sausages
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning for a spicier dish; several dashes of Tabasco are great for that too
  • For more of a Spanish-style rice, triple the tomatoes and add them to the vegetables before adding the rice. Add 1 teaspoon paprika.
  • A handful of either frozen corn or frozen peas is good in this too!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Breakfast, Re-Wrapped

Let's talk turkey for a minute... turkey sausage that is. I cannot stand, will not eat, turkey bacon, but I was very pleasantly surprised with how good fully cooked turkey sausages, from both Jimmy Dean and Tennessee Pride, are. They are especially good scrambled with some Egg Beaters for a much healthier take on breakfast wraps.

I have also recently discovered, in a bid to eat healthier, that Egg Beaters are far better than I thought. I like the Southwestern and Garden Veggie ones as an alternative to plain - it's an omelette in a carton. They do need a little salt, but not when scrambled, as below, with the turkey sausage. Because I love spicy food, I add a dash (or four) of Crystal or other hot sauce. Scrambled with the sausages, these are great - and only 30 calories per 1/4 cup.

For 1 wrap:
  • 1/4 cup Egg Beaters, any kind (30 calories)
  • 2 links Jimmy Dean fully-cooked Turkey Sausage (80 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons 2% sharp cheddar cheese (about 20 calories)
  • 1 whole wheat, 96% fat free tortilla (about 130 calories, depending on brand)
Spray a skillet heavily with non-stick cooking spray. Heat on medium high. While skillet heats, cut sausage into small pieces. Brown sausage for about two minutes, and then pour Egg Beaters over sausage. If desired, add a shot or two of hot sauce. Let sit 30 seconds, and then start scrambling.

While the eggs cook, place tortilla on a paper plate or napkin - no reason to bring real dishes into this! Sprinkle the tortilla with cheese and microwave 20 seconds. Put cooked eggs and sausage onto tortilla, wrap and enjoy.

Alternatives: before adding the sausage to the skillet, cook some fresh onions, peppers or mushrooms. A heartier addition that still adds no fat are chopped up leftover Oven Fries. I don't have time for that on a workday, but it is good! These can easily be made vegetarian by using one of Morningstar Farms veggie sausage products too.

That took less than five minutes to make, less than most of would spend sitting in a drive-thru line, and is infinitely healthier than anything coming from that window. ONE of the teeny-tiny sausage burritos from McDonald's has 300 calories and 25 grams of fat, compared to about 260 calories and less than 10 grams of fat for this wrap, which is about as filling as two of those McDonald's ones; a Cheesy Bacon BK Wrapper from BK is 340 calories and 24 grams of fat. I have nothing against McDonald's or Burger King, but when it's this easy to eat more healthily, I think it's worth the little bit of effort.