Sunday, January 30, 2011

Smoked Salmon Zucchini Bites

One of the challenges of a low carb diet is appetizers or Hors d'oeuvres.  It seems like everything is either fried, breaded, baked, or served on a cracker.  I was inspired to create this recipe based on a very similar recipe I found on another blog.  The link to the other recipe is at the bottom of the post.

Smoked Salmon
1 Large Zucchini
Cream Cheese
Dill Weed

Slice the Zucchini as thin as you can.  Top 1/2 of the slice with the smoked salmon and top the other half with the cream cheese.  Sprinkle a little dill weed on top of the cream cheese.  Plate and serve.  To eat, pick up the zucchini bite, fold in half, and eat.

I tested several different ways to cut the zucchini and the above method was by far my favorite.  The super thin slices of zucchini added a bit of interesting flavor and texture, but did not take away from the flavor of the salmon.  The draw back is that you have to fold them in half as the zucchini is too flimsy to hold up on it's own.  If you prefer more crunch and flavor from the zucchini, then you can slice it thicker.  This allows you to pick up the bite and eat it without folding as pictured below.

Three-ingredient appetizer: smoked salmon spirals on cucumber rounds

Cast Iron Cookware Tips

The best cast iron skillet you can get is the one that is passed down from generations, the older the better.  Over a long period of time, (with proper care), a cast iron skillet will develop a smooth stick free surface that will exceed the performance of any Teflon or non-stick pan on the market.  If you are fortunate enough to get your hands on one of these priceless gems, then follow the care instructions strictly as you do not want to do anything to destroy the seasoning and finish.

For the rest of us, that aren't that lucky, now is a good time to start working on that cast iron skillet so it is ready to be passed down for future generations.

Tips for Purchasing:
When you get your skillet, check to see if it comes pre-seasoned or not.  If so, then you can start cooking with it right away. If not, wash the skillet well, then bake it in the oven @400 for 15 minutes to remove any protective coating.  Let cool in the oven then follow the seasoning process.

You will want to use food grade oil or grease that has a high flash point.  Lard, shortening, or vegetable oil works well.  Cover the entire pan including the bottom and the handle generously.  Wipe all excess grease off and place in a 400deg oven for 1 hour.  Place the pan face down on the top shelf and place a cookie sheet with aluminum foil under the pan to catch any drippings.  Turn the oven off after an hour and leave the pan in the oven until it is cool.

After seasoning, the more you use your pan and coat it with oil, the better the finish will become.  Using your cast iron to fry meat will improve the coating of the skillet.  I recommend frying a pan full of thick sliced bacon.  Not only will you improve the seasoning of the pan, you will also have a pan full of bacon.  Over time the porous surface should get smoother as you wear it down and coat it with oil.

If you destroy or damage the seasoning by accident, just wash the pan thoroughly, and repeat the seasoning process.

Care Instructions:
There are 4 commandments that you must always follow RELIGIOUSLY with cast iron cookware.

#1 - Thou shall NEVER allow soap to contact the surface of the pan.  Never use soap or soapy water to wash the pan.  Soap will get into the porous surface of the pan and can dissolve the oil coating.

#2 - Thou shall NEVER quench a hot cast iron pan in water.  This will change the material properties of the iron and cause it to become brittle and eventually crack.  Let the pan cool down on it's own before you try to wash it.

#3 - Thou shall NEVER clean the pan with steel wool, scouring pad, scrub brush, or any other abrasive cleaner.  Do not try to remove the grease or black coating.  This is a carbonized coating that is completely sanitary and is required to keep your pan seasoned.  Abrasive scrubbers will damage and remove your coating.

#4 - Thou shall NEVER let the cast iron pan sit in water.  This can dissolve and destroy the coating on the pan and lead to rust.

Cleaning Instructions:
To clean the pan, rinse off any excess food with water (no soap).  Take some paper towels, and wipe the surface clean.  Dry the pan thoroughly.  Coat the surface of the pan with cooking oil and wipe all the excess off with some paper towels. 

Tips for Cleaning:
-Try to clean the pan shortly after cooking.  Preventing the food from drying in the pan will make it easier to clean.
-If you have food that is difficult to remove, put a of tablespoon of water in the pan.  Add a tablespoon of table salt to the pan.  Use a paper towel to carefully scrub the food off using the salt to scrub.  While salt is an abrasive, it tends to be easy on the surface and will not scratch the coating.

Cooking Tips:
-Always add a little bit of oil to the pan, unless you are frying bacon.  As the surface of your pan improves, you can reduce the amount of oil to prevent sticking.
-Heat the oil in the skillet before adding food.  This prevents the food from soaking up the oil.
-You can put the cast iron skillet directly in the oven to keep food warm or to cook/bake in.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Homemade Chicken Bean Soup

1 Whole Chicken
4 Stalks Celery
1 Onion
Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Bay Leaves
1/2 Link of Smoked Sausage
1 Package Frozen Butter Beans or Kidney Beans
1 Can Diced Tomatoes
1 Can Ranch Style Pinto Beans

Cover chicken with water.  Cut celery stalks in half and cut onion in quarters and add to pot.  Season with salt pepper, garlic and 2 small bay leaves.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30minutes to 1 hour.  Remove chicken from pot and let cool.

De-bone the chicken and cut into bite sized pieces.  Remove celery and onions and chop into bite size pieces.  Slice sausage into small slices.  Add everything to broth.  Add beans and tomatoes and bring soup to a simmer for 10 minutes.

Top with grated cheese and serve.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fool Proof Blackened Chicken Breast

One of the staples of a low carb diet is grilled chicken breast.  Needless to say, I have cooked many chicken breasts and through lots of trial and error (I have eaten my fair share of dry and tastless chicken breast), I finally have developed a fool proof recipe that will end up with a juicy and tasty chicken breast every time.

The #1 key ingredient is a good cast iron pan.  Nothing will retain heat and get the type of char/blackening like a good ole' cast iron skillet.  Besides, you can pick one up for less than $20 at Academy.  *Note-You MUST follow proper cast iron care.  I will post some care instructions and tips for cast iron soon.

4 to 6 Skinless Boneless Chicken Breasts
2 Tbsp Oil (Not Olive Oil, I recommend Canola or other high flash point oil)
Salt, Black Pepper, Fajita Seasoning, Red Pepper, Garlic Powder, Paprika

Warning:  Alert anyone else in the house that you are about to blacken chicken, and in our case I usually put the dogs outside too.  I think I have created a new behavior in them, as soon as they smell smoke in the kitchen, they dart for the back door and beg to go out, because they know that fire alarms are soon to come.  You are trying to blacken the outside of the chicken so there will be some smoke.  By following this technique, you should minimize the smoke and avoid the fire alarms going off.  Turn on the oven vent fan, turn on an overhead fan or box fan in the kitchen for air circulation, and open a window if the weather is nice.  This will help circulate any smoke that you make pretty quickly.

Blackened Skillet Chicken Fresh Out of the Oven.

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Coat the chicken with the seasonings on both sides (go easy on the paprika, this aids the blackening but also smokes up alot).  You can flatten the chicken breasts out a little if you would like, but I found that this recipe even works really well without all the hassle of pounding the chicken thin.

2.  Place your cast iron skillet on the stovetop and turn on high.  Put the oil in the skillet and let it get searing hot. By getting the skillet hot you should be able to speed up the blackening process to reduce the smoke problem a bit. You can toss in a drop of water to test the skillet, it should sizzle, dance around like crazy, and evaporate rapidly.  Carefully place the chicken breasts in the hot skillet and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until you have a good blackened crust.  Flip and repeat.  The chicken will not be cooked all the way through and will be raw in the center.  We are ONLY trying to get a blackened crust on the outside of the chicken, you do NOT want to cook it all the way through on the stovetop.

3.  Now take the skillet off of the burner and put it in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  The reasons for doing this is because if you were to leave it on the stove top to cook all the way through you would end up with a dry piece of chicken.  Also, I have found that using the oven cuts down on the amount of smoke that you will get in the house.

Blackened Chicken with Creamed Spinach and Steamed Broccolli
This chicken is versatile.  You can top it with a sauce, cut it up and put it on a salad, chop it and put it in a casserole, cook it with some onion and bell pepper to make fajitas, ect.  I would welcome any new suggestions to re-invent the left over blackened chicken.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meatloaf, with a Pinch Hitter coming in for the Bread Crumbs

Meatloaf would be an excellent low carb meal, except for the bread crumbs that are needed to hold everything together when it bakes up.  I found a substitution for bread crumbs used to coat chicken in a low carb recipe book, and I figured they would work well as a substitute for the bread crumbs in meatloaf.

1 lb ground turkey
1 lb lean italian sausage
1 small onion diced small
3 eggs
2 8oz cans of tomato sauce
1 8oz can of tomato paste
2 cups bread crumb substitute
Italian Herbs
2 cloves garlic

Pinch Hitter Recipe:
Take a bag of pork rinds and crush them until you have crumbs.  Substitute pork rind crumbs for bread crumbs.  ***Note: While pork rinds have no carbs, they are a high fat/high calorie food so they should not be used often.

Place the meat in a bowl and mix.  Add eggs, onion, garlic, bread crumb substitute, herbs, and one 8oz can of tomato sauce.  Mix well with your hands.  Spread into a baking dish of your preference.  The thinner you spread it the less time it takes to cook.  Place in the oven at 350°F for 30 to 45 minutes or until meat is cooked all the way through in the middle.  Mix 2 Tbsp of tomato paste with 2 Tbsp of tomato sauce (this makes a thick mixture for the topping) and spread mixture on top of meat loaf and return to the oven for 5 minutes.  I served it with cheesy cauliflower.

Now you can turn on your "Bat Out of Hell" album, sit down for dinner, and enjoy your Meatloaf.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fauxtater Sheperds Pie

One of the staples of the low carb diet is faux mashed potatoes made from cauliflower, but I got tired of them pretty quickly and they never tasted that great by themselves.  I came up with this recipe as a way to enjoy them a bit more with a take on Sheperds pie.

1 lb ground turkey
1 small onion
1 pkg frozen spinach
1 pkg frozen broccolli
1 pkg frozen green beans
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 Tbsp Worchestire Sauce
Cauliflower Fauxtatoes (see recipe below)

Dice the onion and saute.  Add the turkey and brown.  Add the frozen vegetables and cook for a few minutes until defrosted.  Add the soup and worchestire sauce and mix.  Pour meat/veggie mixture in a 9x13 dish.  Spread the fauxtatoes on top.  Top with some shredded cheese and italian seasoning and place in the oven @350deg F for 20 to 25 minutes or until warmed all the way through.

Cauliflower Fauxtatoes
There are several recipes for these out there.  I modified them a bit to come up with this one.

1 head of cauliflower
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sour cream
2 Tbsp cream cheese

Steam or boil the cauliflower until soft.  Drain well.  Add ingredients to food processor and mix until smooth.  Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning to taste.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Turkish Chicken Kebobs

I bought this amazing blend of Turkish seasonings at a little spice/herb shop in Pikes Market when we were visiting Seattle.  I have not been able to use it so I developed this recipe so I could use the seasonings.  Sounds weird, but if you could smell these seasonings you would understand. 

If you have a chance to go to a specialty herb shop I recommend it.  Wait a minute, I know what your're thinking, not the kind of specialty herb shop where the owner is a weird guy wearing a rastafarian hat, I mean cooking herbs, geeezzzz.  They generally have every kind of herb and spice you can imagine and they will grind it fresh for you.  Even though they can cost more per pound, you save quite a bit of money, because you can buy just what you need instead of having to purchase several large bottles of herbs that will just sit in your cabinet.

1 pkg chicken breasts (5 to 6)
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 green bell pepper
1 orange/yellow bell pepper
1 large onion
2 tomatoes
6 skewers

Cut chicken breasts into 1.5" cubes.  Place in a bowl and toss chicken with lemon juice.  Place in the fridge.

Next make the sauce:
1 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp mint sauce
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turkish seasoning

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Pull the chicken out of the fridge and drain any juices off.  Pour 1/2 of the sauce over the chicken and toss to coat.  Return the chicken and remaining sauce to the fridge.

Cut bell peppers and onion into 1.5" squares.  Slice tomatoes into 4 wedges.  Get a baking pan that you can use to set the skewers across.  Season the tomato wedges with a little salt, pepper, and turkish seasonings and set in the bottom of the pan.  Set oven to broil.

Pull chicken out and build your skewers.  Onion, chicken, green bell pepper, onion, chicken orange bell pepper, ect.  Hang all the skewers across the pan.  Take the turkish seasoning and lightly dust the skewers on all sides.  Place in the oven and broil for 5 minutes then rotate skewers and broil for 5 more minutes.  Reduce heat to 400F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is done.