Monthly Archives: January 2012

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

With the Super Bowl around the corner I thought I would share a great party recipe.  Even people who do not watch one game all season watch the Super Bowl.  That explains the multi-million dollar commercial slots.  For me it is a great reason to get together with friends, enjoy good food and watch the game plus said commercials. Even if your team looses this recipe is a winner every year.  Go Giants!

Who does not like spinach and artichoke dip?  With tender artichokes surrounded by a hot, bubbly and creamy spinach mixture, what is not to love?  Whenever I am at a restaurant and I see spinach and artichoke dip on the menu I HAVE to order it.  My recipe is an attempt at re-creating the dip that I love, but making it a bit more health conscious. That way I don’t feel guilty making it for my family and friends all the time.  It’s made with spinach and artichokes which are good for you, right?

I am not going to say this is a fat free recipe, but I did reduce some calories and fat.  My version is made with low fat dairy products as opposed to full fat cheese, cream and mayonnaise which are the typical bases for the recipe.  The best part is that there is absolutely no sacrifice to the flavor.  I have made this many times for lots of different people and no one has ever been able to tell that this is made with reduced fat products.  It is always a huge crowd pleaser and is great for game day or any other day!

You can make the dip a day ahead, keep it refrigerated and bake it before you want to serve it.  It can be served with tortilla chips, pita chips, baguette slices or crudites for an even healthier alternative.

Prep Time:  10 minutes

Cook Time:  30-35 minutes

Yields:  6-8 servings

1 box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts packed in water (not oil)

8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened

1 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese

8 ounces low fat sour cream

2 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise (not fat free)

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1-2 cloves garlic, pressed or very finely chopped (depending on how garlicky you like things)

Freshly ground black pepper

Cooking spray

Bring your cream cheese to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Drain artichokes and rinse.  Finely chop and let dry.  Defrost spinach and squeeze all excess liquid from the spinach.

Mix cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheeses and garlic in a large bowl.  Add artichoke hearts, spinach, cracked pepper and stir until well combined.

Spray either a square 8 inch baking dish, or 9 inch round glass baking dish with cooking spray.  Pour mixture into dish and bake until mixture is hot and bubbly, about 30-35 minutes.

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Filed under Dairy, Dip

Top 7 Items To Keep In Your Refrigerator

I find that having a well stocked refrigerator can make the difference between a healthy and flavorful meal or snack and pizza delivery or a candy bar.  I usually do one grocery store trip per week to stock up on essentials.  Every once in a while I will stop in to a store on my way home from work to pick up a fresh item like fish or meat, but that does not always happen.   I need to be sure that I have some really good staples in my refrigerator at all times so that I do not fall prey to the temptation of take-out and junk food!

My top picks to keep on hand are versatile in that they can be used to make meals or snacks.  You would be surprised at how many things you can make out of a few simple ingredients.  I originally was going to do my top 5 items, but I could not narrow it down to 5.  Then I was going to do the top 6 items and I still could not narrow it down.  So, I have gone with lucky number 7.  Here are my top 7 items to always keep in the refrigerator:

Yogurt – I normally buy a nonfat or low fat option.  Yogurt is full of healthy probiotics and is a nice option for people who cannot tolerate milk, either because of a protein allergy or lactose intolerance.   It is great with fruit, nuts and cereal for breakfast, in smoothies, or alone as a snack.  I will often throw whatever fruits I have around into a cup along with some ice, yogurt and honey.  I blend with my immersion blender and get a terrific smoothie. If I really want to be decadent I will add peanut butter and/or chocolate.  One of my favorite Indian drinks, lassi, is made with yogurt.  You can also make great dips or sauces with it.

My favorite types to use are either kefir or a Greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt is thick and full of protein.  The mouth-feel is wonderful in that you are eating something rich, creamy and luxurious (even if it is fat free).   Kefir is technically not yogurt, but it is very similar.  Its consistency is more like a thin milk shake.  I alternate between the two types as they are quite different.  I try to use plain yogurt when possible and add my own fruits and sweeteners.  I like to use clover honey, buckwheat honey or agave to sweeten plain yogurt, which can be tart on its own.

Peeled Baby Carrots – I used to think that baby carrots were actually little carrots harvested and peeled.  I then found out that the majority of baby carrots you find in the supermarket are just regular carrots, peeled and cut into the baby carrot shape.  Oh well, regardless of how they get into that shape I love them.  Carrots contain beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body.  They are also a good source of fiber and are super good for you.

Since the peeling is done for you they are a convenience item that you will pay a slightly higher premium for.  I think it is worth it.  Having them peeled and already in a manageable size makes a big difference if you are trying to put together a meal or snack quickly.  I will often eat them plain or dip them in hummus for a healthy snack.  I chop them up and put them into salads or soups and stews all the time.  I also love anything with crunch factor and these are perfect!

Pre-Washed Baby Spinach – The baby spinach is much more tender than regular spinach and you can easily eat the stems.  There was a reason that Popeye ate his spinach.  It is full of vitamins A, C, E, K, lutein, calcium and folic acid, just to name a few!  Other than being very good for you it can also be used in a variety of dishes. I will use it cold in salads, sautéed with olive oil and garlic as a side dish, in omelets or stirred into soups or sauces.

Since the washing is done for you, you will also pay a higher price.  I still think it is worth it. Spinach can be gritty and full of dirt.  Having the cleaning done for you can save a lot of time and mean the difference between getting healthy food on the table or picking up a take-out menu.

Hummus – Traditionally made with chickpeas and tahini, hummus is a Middle Eastern dip or spread.  It is full of protein, vitamin C and Iron.  It is delicious and comes in an assortment of flavors.  I used to only find the traditional hummus in the grocery store.  I now see dozens of varieties ranging from artichoke and spinach to roasted red pepper to olive.  My personal favorites are sun dried tomato and roasted garlic.  The good news is that there are so many types you will never get bored with it.

It is a perfect dip for cut up veggies, crackers or pita.  It can also be used as a spread on sandwiches or as an accompaniment to meat or chicken.  If you have never tried it before you must!

Eggs – There is no need to just eat them for breakfast.  They also make an excellent lunch or quick dinner.   They are a very good source of protein and vitamins A, B, D and E.

You will see a lot of egg recipes from me.  I make awesome scrambled eggs (if I do say so myself), dozens of types of omelets and frittatas.  I have THE BEST quiche recipe ever (coming soon!)  I really like entertaining for brunch and I always serve some type of egg dish.  I also keep hard boiled eggs on hand to make into egg salad (another great and easy recipe) or add into salad to bump up the protein.

Tortillas – They are traditionally Mexican but have been part of main stream culture for a while.  They used to only be made out of corn or flour.  Nowadays you can find them made from whole grains and they come in a variety of flavors.  Tortillas are a really good convenience item because they are so versatile.  I can use them in any meal of the day.  They can be made into breakfast burritos in the morning, wraps for lunch or dinner and quesadillas for a meal or snack.  If you want a really healthy lunch you can make a wrap with hummus, baby spinach, other veggies and/or protein and serve baby carrots on the side 🙂

Cheese – I saved the best for last!  I L.O.V.E. cheese.  All types of cheeses. I do not discriminate.  I plan to do a  posting soon dedicated solely to cheese.   I love it so much.  You get the picture.  Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein.  There are so many different types that I can have a different kind on hand each week and never get bored.

I always have some kind of cheese in my refrigerator.  I often use cheese with eggs in omelets, frittatas and quiches.  I eat pieces of cheese with whole grain crackers or veggies as a snack.  I make cheese sandwiches, grilled cheese and quesadillas.  It is the perfect topping for pasta and home-made pizzas.

So, there you have it.  My top 7 picks for the refrigerator.  I would love to hear what you think of the list and also what are the top items in your refrigerator!

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Lamb Kebabs

I polled a few family members and friends to ask what my second recipe posting should be.  Being that I recently made these kebabs this recipe was the most in demand.

I love kebabs!  We make many different kinds in my family.  They originated in the Middle East, but have been adapted by many cultures.  Whether they are made with beef, lamb or chicken, made with ground meat or chunks, on a skewer or off, they are a very flavorful way to prepare meat or even veggies.  You can spice them up a number of ways and they are always a crowd pleaser.

I must admit that I have taken some short cuts with this recipe.   Kebabs are traditionally cooked and served on skewers.  It is absolutely fine to place these kebabs on skewers if you wish.  In the interest of time I normally skip this step.  Kebabs are also traditionally grilled.  You can either use a grill pan or flame grill to cook these and they would be great.  The reason I cook them in the oven is to save some time and not have to baby sit them.  That way I can multitask and do other things while they are cooking.  I also use two of my favorite kitchen gadgets in order to save time, the lemon zester and mini food processor.

This is actually a very simple recipe with few ingredients.  Lamb has a very distinct and strong flavor.  The mint is a great and natural complement to the lamb.  This can also be made with ground chicken or ground beef.  If you do not like mint you can substitute fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley.  I hope you enjoy this dish.  As always, please give me your feedback!  I am particularly interested in hearing what people think about the lemon zest as I was not sure myself if it is a good addition.  I can’t wait to hear what you think!

 

Lamb Kebabs

 

Prep Time: 10 Minutes

Cook Time:  40 Minutes

Yield: 4 – 6 servings

 

1 ½  pounds of ground lamb

½ large red onion, or 1 small red onion

3 cloves garlic

Zest of half a lemon (optional)

¼ cup fresh mint, plus 1 tablespoon chopped for garnish

1 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

In a mini food processor pulse together the onion, garlic, lemon zest and mint.  If you do not have a processor you can also chop everything by hand.  Just be sure it is very finely chopped.

Place the mixture into a large bowl. If you are chopping everything by hand be sure to mix the onion, garlic, zest and mint together well.  Add the ground lamb, salt and pepper.  Mix until all ingredients are just combined.  Do not overwork or over mix.

Divide the meat in half and keep dividing it in half until you have 8 mounds of meat.  Roll each mound into a ball and then roll the middle of the meat lengthwise until you have a short log.

Place each kebab on a tin foil lined baking sheet.  If you have a cooking rack you can also place them on the rack on top of the baking sheet.

Cook the kebabs for 20 minutes.  Turn over and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through.  Garnish with chopped mint.

The kebabs can be served as an appetizer or main dish and served with cous cous or rice.

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Kitchen Gadgets

I have to start off by saying that I am incredibly appreciative for all the encouragement and great feedback I have been receiving since launching this blog!  The response has been overwhelming and I am so thankful.  I hope that there are lots of people out there making chicken soup and enjoying this week’s recipe.

In addition to posting recipes I plan to also share my thoughts on a food related theme each week.  I do hope that people come to the site for the recipes.  But I also know that there are literally hundreds of web sites and blogs where you can find recipes.  I want this blog to also be a place where I can share some insights as a busy home cook and food enthusiast.  Topics will range from food book reviews, to the essentials for your pantry, to cheese.

I actually do not think that kitchen gadgets are needed to be a successful cook.  For many years I did not have any gadgets at all and did just fine.  That being said I have a few favorites that you will hear me mention often in my recipes.  There are two requirements for making this list.  First, it has to be inexpensive.  Each item I picked was under $50.  Second, it has to not take up a lot of space.  For someone that loves to cook I have never really had a big and luxurious kitchen.   I started cooking in earnest in my first college apartment in Boston.  It was a tiny alley kitchen with a junior sized refrigerator and stove.  I then moved to New York City where my first kitchen was not much bigger than a postage stamp.  Cabinet space was at a premium.  Like most students and first time New Yorkers I did not have extra money to invest in fancy kitchen equipment.  So, large food processors and Kitchen Aid mixers were just not in the budget nor was there any space for them.

Immersion Blender$30 to $40 (there are more expensive models, but at this price range you can find a really good quality blender)

This is a hand held blender that has a long handle and a sharp blade at the bottom.  You insert the blender into a liquid mixture, press a button, and it will blend or puree the food in the container it is being prepared.  This is a great tool for making smoothies (I have a few great recipes that I will share), pureed soups and sauces.  I have seen many recipes where you make a soup and then have to transfer the hot liquid in batches into a food processor or blender in order to puree it.  This can be awkward, time consuming, messy and requires a large and/or expensive piece of equipment.  There is also another item for you to clean up.  The best part of using the immersion blender is that you do not have to transfer your food.  You simply stick the blender into the container you are cooking in and blend away.  I will often put ingredients for a smoothie or milk shake into a tall glass and use the immersion blender to create the drink in the glass you are serving it in.  It is really quick and clean up is a breeze!  My only tip is to be sure that your liquid level comes well over the blade so there is no splattering.

   Microplane Grater$7 to $15

I have to say that this is probably the one kitchen gadget that has most impacted my cooking.  I love using citrus and was so thrilled when I learned that adding the zest GREATLY enhances the flavor of a recipe.  The essential oils actually live in the skin of the fruit.  You will see many recipes where I use the zest along with the juice.  I also use a lot of ginger in my cooking.  I will often peel large knobs of ginger and keep them in the freezer.  When it comes time to use it I will pull out my handy microplane and use that to grate the frozen ginger.  It is actually grates better frozen.

The microplane design is based on that of a rasp, a woodworking tool. The cutters are very small and sharp.  Aside from using it for citrus zest and ginger, it is great for grating garlic, hard cheeses, nutmeg  and chocolate.

Lemon Squeezer$6 to $12

As I mentioned above I love using citrus juices.  Lemon is probably my favorite. The only problem is that I always end up getting seeds into whatever I am making. I then have to fish them out of my dish, and they can be slippery suckers.  I am sure many of you can relate.  I also have a pet peeve of squeezing a lemon and only getting a drop of juice out of it.  My thinking is that if you are going to spend money on the lemon you want to get the most juice out of it as you can.

To use the squeezer you cut the lemon in half.  You place the cut side down and SQUEEZE.  The seeds stay in the squeezer so there is no fishing tiny lemon seeds out of your recipe.  The mechanical force that is used to push down on the lemon gets more juice than the human hand. This is especially great if you are making something requiring the juice of several lemons.  I think it is brilliant!

Mini Food Processor$40 to $50

I must admit that I actually did receive a fancy, full sized food processor as a wedding gift.  I can also tell you that in the more than seven years I have been married I have only used it twice.  I do not have counter space to keep it out; it is big and bulky and tucked far away in a cabinet.  I do, however, use my mini food processor all the time.  It takes up a small amount of the space and is great for chopping onions extremely fine (a requirement of a few of my recipes), grinding nuts, making small batches of pesto or breadcrumbs.  It is also a fraction of the price of the full sized model.

As with everything else on this site, I welcome feedback on my favorite kitchen gadgets. I would also love to hear what your favorite gadgets are!  Next week I plan to post on the top six items I believe should be in everyone’s refrigerator.  Stay tuned!

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Not Your Grandma’s Chicken Soup

Unless your grandma’s family happens to come from Iraq and she grew up in India….  It has always amazed me that every culture has its own version of chicken soup.  Just the aroma of chicken soup cooking on the stove brings on a feeling of comfort and home.

There are a few reasons why I picked this soup to be my first recipe post.  First, this recipe is a perfect example of an Iraqi/Indian fusion recipe that has been passed down in my family throughout generations.  Second, it is January and cold (unless you live in FL like me) and perfect soup weather.  Lastly, I just did a cooking demonstration at my local synagogue and this was the recipe that I used.  It went over well there and I hope it does here too!

The cilantro stems in the recipe are not typical in the traditional soup.  However, in my Dad’s kitchen nothing goes to waste.  If you are going to use the leaves why not the stems?  The important thing to remember is to chop the stems extremely fine so that they melt into the soup.  The onions should be sliced very fine because you want them to melt as well.  It gives the soup base a great flavor.

Tumeric is a spice you will often see used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.  It has been known to have anti-bacterial properties and has been investigated for many other health benefits.  I always joke that between the ginger, garlic and turmeric, this chicken soup will cure anything that is wrong with you!

Prep Time: 15

Cook Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 – 8 servings

Cooking Spray

0nion, ginger, garlic and cilantro stems

 

3-4 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed on the bone (you can use other chicken parts, but I like the dark meat for this recipe as it is less expensive and more flavorful than the white meat)

¼ cup fresh cilantro stems finely chopped and 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 large yellow onion, sliced fine

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ginger, grated or minced

1 teaspoon ground tumeric

2 large carrots, cut into coins

zucchini, carrots and tomato

1 large (or 2 small) zucchini cut into coins

1 large tomato, cut into large chunks

1 large (or 2 small) Idaho potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

2 quarts water

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

 

Coat the bottom of a large soup pot with nonstick cooking spray and heat on medium temperature.  Add onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, tumeric and chicken .  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until onions soften and chicken gives off natural juices, about 5 minutes, stirring often.

chicken, onion, garlic, cilantro and tumeric

Add 1 to 2 cups water so that the chicken is just covered.  This will prevent it from sticking.  Cook for 15 to 20 minutes on low uncovered.

Add the carrots, zucchini, tomato, potato and stir.  Cook until vegetables just start to soften, about 5 minutes.  Fill pot with water until the chicken and vegetables are covered by at least 4 to 6 inches.  Again add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.  Stir well.

Bring to boil and reduce to simmer.  Skim the fat and foam off the top of the soup.  Let soup simmer on low covered for 40 more minutes.  The soup can cook longer if you would like.  Just do not put in the potatoes until 30 minutes before serving.  Stir in fresh cilantro leaves right before you plate the soup.

You may also use green beans, peas and/or cauliflower as additional vegetables if you wish.

The soup is typically served as is, with koobas (recipe to come!) or over rice.

The finished product

The finished product

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Filed under Poultry, Soups