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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Garlic Mushroom Bread Baskets

So the bread baskets are really more a means of providing a stage for the focus of this recipe, the mushroom filling, but are a handy little food item to know how to make in and of themselves as well.  Both the filling and the baskets are E-Z and so very versatile in their use (just check out the Notes below). 

Garlic Mushroom Bread Baskets

mushroom filling

1 lb white mushrooms
5 tbsp Spanish olive oil
2 heaping tsp minced garlic
lemon, for squeezing
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
4 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

bread baskets

slices of soft white or wheat bread
olive oil or butter spray
muffin tin

Brush or wipe off the mushrooms.  Trim off the stem close to the cap and cut into quarters (or halves depending on the size of the mushroom).

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat then add the garlic and cook (about 30 seconds) until garlic starts to brown.

Add the mushrooms into the skillet and, stirring often, cooked until all the oil has been absorbed.

skillet will look dry

Reduce heat to low and continue to cook the mushrooms.  When the mushrooms relax and start to releases their juices, turn the heat up to high again and continue to saute for about 4-5 minutes.

mushrooms will release quite a bit of liquid, don't be surprised

When almost all of the juice starts to evaporate, squeeze fresh lemon on the mushrooms in the skillet and season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the parley and cook for another 1-2 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  I added a tidge more lemon to mine because, well, I like lemon.

Remove mushrooms from skillet, transfer to a cutting board and with a large knife, chop into littler pieces.  Set aside.

To make the bread baskets, set oven to broil.  Cut the crust off a slice of bread and press it down into the muffin tin.

Lightly spray the bread tops and put in oven under broiler for 1-2 minutes until tips start to brown.  Remove from oven and let sit for a minute.

Flip the baskets over and lightly spray the bottoms.  Put back in oven and cook for another 1-2 minutes, once their little bottoms start to brown, remove and let sit a minute.

pre-brown bottoms

Fill the baskets with the chopped mushroom filling and serve.  They make hearty individual helpings.

NOTES -- Shrooms

Spanish olive oil has a more peppery taste than olive oil and seems a bit more hearty to me, but you could easily substitute olive oil in the recipe with minimal loss of flavor to the dish.

I used a combination of bulk white and cremini mushrooms for some color variety.

Instead of bread baskets, serve the quartered mushrooms with toasted slices of baguette or other crusty breads.  

You can pulse the mushrooms in a food processor to make an easy-to-spread chunky paste that would go nicely with a light cheese on crostini.

As a paste, you could also use the mushrooms to make a thickened gravy.  The paste would be easy to blend in and would give it some texture too.

The chopped mushrooms would also work really well as a taco filling or a sandwich addition or smothering a tasty serving of filet mignon.

NOTES -- Baskets

First a shout out to Papa Guinea Pig for the bread basket idea.

The key to making the baskets is to use a soft, malleable bread so that it will conform to the shape of the muffin tin before you bake it.

The baskets make a nice holder for other things too, like chicken, tuna or egg salad, or serve a trio of them for a brunch.  And (great idea from Mama Guinea Pig) they would make awesome little individual servings for classic spinanch dip too!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Mushrooms

Okay, true confessions..I am NOT a fan of muckrooms, but I know that I am not the only eater in this world and as an equal opportunity cook, I cannot ignore Good for You foods just because that don't find flavor in my eyes.  So here's some stuff you might like to know about these fungal favorites.


In Western Europe, mushrooms have been a food source since the BCs, though honestly they were used more often for poisoning than enjoying (though for those who enjoyed poisoning people I guess it covered both bases).

Because of the very specific conditions they need to survive (lightless and compost-rich), the successful cultivation of edible mushrooms didn’t begin until the 17th century in France.

Mushrooms are not vegetables because they don’t photosynthesize or produce seeds, flowers or roots. They are, in fact, the “fruiting body” of the fungus (that stays hidden underground) and are related to molds and yeasts.

Despite sounding like something that should be tossed in a corner, they are very good for you.

Ÿ Mushrooms contain no sugars and have few carbs.
Ÿ They are high in dietary fiber.
Ÿ Mushrooms contain compounds that can help prevent cancers and auto-immune disease like lupus.
Ÿ They are a really healthy source of protein (yes, protein! crazy!) which is very good for vegetarians and people of a dieting nature.
Ÿ Mushrooms are rich in selenium, an anticancer antioxidant mineral and a good source of several vitamin Bs.
Ÿ They have a rich almost meaty texture and a delicate flavor and an uncanny ability to intensify the flavor of whatever dish they grace. This special ability is due to an abnormally high level of glutamic acid which makes them a natural version of MSG.

There are MANY mushroom varieties and what you find in most stores are either young white mushrooms (button, Portobello, Crimini) or dark gilled mushrooms (shitake, oyster); the darker ones tend to be higher in beneficial qualities.

Mushrooms shouldn't be washed, but if there is some dirt clinging to them, gentle rinse it away. And don’t peel them or remove the stems because that’s where most of their goodness is stored.

Mushrooms are very sensitive and start to pine away after four days of storage. The best way to store mushrooms is in a paper bag (rather than plastic) which allows them to breathe, but it's best to use them as soon as you buy them or very shortly thereafter.

What is available commercially is cultivated commercially. You should never eat wild mushrooms without a mushroom expert on-hand because you never know what's what and it might just be the last mushroom you “enjoy.”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Baked Sweet Potato with Spicy Beans

When you think of sweet potatoes, traditionally you think mashed, but here's a less traditional way to prepare them.  And for the record, the "spicy" in Spicy Beans is really subjective with this recipe and the level of hot can be adjusted to suit your taste.

Baked Sweet Potato with Spicy Beans

2-3 sweet potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed (or 1 tsp ground coriander)
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 (14 oz) can stewed or diced tomatoes, mooshed a bit
1 cup veggie broth
2 small zucchinis, chopped
8 oz frozen kernel corn
1 jalapeno, minced (optional)
1 can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
sour cream
cheddar cheese, shredded

Rinse the sweet potatoes then pierce with a small knife and put on a baking tray.  Bake at 425 degrees for 1 hr 15 mins, or until fork tender.

before &

In a large skillet, heat oil and cook onion over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes.  Add in the garlic and spices and continue to cook for about a minute.

Add in the veggie broth, tomatoes, and veggies.  Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce head and simmer, partially covered, over low for 20 minutes.

Uncover and increase the heat to medium-high, cook for another 10-15 minutes until the liquid is reduced and mixture thickens up.

Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and spoon the mixture on top.  Serve with shredded cheese and a dollop or so of sour cream.


You can use 2 cans of the same type of kidney bean, I did one of each to add some variety to the color.

If you prefer to de-vegetarianize the dish, you can add in some cooked chicken breasts, cooked ground beef or ground turkey.

To add a little more heat, option in the jalapeno or up the chili powder to 1 tsp.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Sweet Potato

First things first, I know there is a long-standing battle raging on the matter of Sweet Potato v. Yam, so let’s clear that up, shall we?

Sweet potatoes and yams are NOT the same thing and completely unrelated.

BUT (and this is a big but) before all you “They’re Different”-ers bust out the Told You So dance, what is sold in the U.S. and labeled as “yam” actually IS a light-colored variety of the sweet potato, and not a true yam. (Thank you, United States, for helping to make the matter crystal muddy.)

A true yam (derived from the African word for them, nyami) has brown or black skin resembling tree bark, and off-white, purple or red flesh, depending on the variety. It’s lower in beta carotene, higher in natural sugar, and has a higher moisture content than a true sweet potato.

I don't know if this makes things better or worse, but at least now you know, so there you go.  And now, on to our regularly scheduled program...


Sweet potatoes are the true root of the morning glory family. They are native to Central American and were introduced to Europe by Columbus after his first trip to the New World.

According to the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), sweet potatoes are ranked #1 in nutrition above all other vegetables. And here’s some reasons why:

Ÿ Sweet potatoes are high in dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates.
Ÿ They provide a source of vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.
Ÿ Sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index which makes them a beneficial treat for those with diabetes; they can help stabilize blood sugar and lower insulin resistance.
Ÿ They also contain sterols and pectin which help lower bad cholesterol.
Ÿ Sweet potatoes are full of antioxidants and vitamin E (to help make your skin look pretty).
Ÿ They have a high potassium content that can help regulate body fluids and maintain electrolyte balance.

There are two main varieties of sweet potatoes sold commerically, one with a lighter-colored yellowish flesh and the other with the more traditionally recognized orange flesh.  The orangier one is going to be more nutrient rich.

When you buy sweet potatoes, pick out ones that look healthy and whole, no cracks, bruises, cut, or anything that has penetrated the skin. Sweet potatoes are less resilient than regular potatoes and need to be treated gently.

It’s best to store them in a cool, dark, but well-ventilated place (not the refrigerator). Once a sweet potato goes bad, don't use it.  Unlike other vegetables, you can't just cut off the bad part and salvage the rest because the whole thing will be infused with a bad taste.

The nice thing about sweet potatoes is you can use them as a savory or sweet ingredient. So roast them, bake them, mash them, fry matter how you serve it up, you're doing yourself a big favor.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Broccoli Cashew Chicken Stirfry

So today I’m bringing you a nice light dish featuring the dynamic superfood duo of cashews and broccoli, accompanied by their yummy friend, chicken. The sauce is subtle but flavorful and cashews add a nice touch of sweetness to the overall taste.

Broccoli Cashew Chicken Stirfry

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1/2 small white onion, large sliced
1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
½ cup cashews, toasted
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp chili oil
1 rounded tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsbp rice vinegar

Toss the cashews in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, toast until you can smell the nuts as they cook, should only take about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Whisk together until the brown sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

rounded tablespoon

Cut the chicken, onion and broccoli into the desired bite-size pieces.

Heat the oils in a large skillet then add chicken. Cook, stirring often, until the outside of the chicken is cooked then toss in the onions. Stir and cook until onions start to “transluce,” about 2-3 minutes.

Add in broccoli and continue to stir.

Cook together for 1-2 minutes then pour brown sugar mix in. Stir until well-coated then add in the cashews. Continue to stir and cook for another minute or two.

Serve immediately.  Makes 3-4 servings (depending on how hungry you are).


You can serve BCC over white rice or brown rice or if you’re like me and occasionally try to cut back on your carbs, chop up some white cabbage and serve it over that. It works just as well by itself too.

If you don’t have chili oil, just increase the amount of peanut oil and throw a couple of crushed red pepper flakes in.

If you don’t have rice wine vinegar, you can substitute any light flavored vinegar like apple cider or white wine vinegar.  A white balsamic might work really well too.

To make this a vegetarian dish, substitute the chicken with thinly sliced carrots, button mushrooms, and/or zucchini.

You can also add bok choy or bean sprouts to the dish.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Cashews

This week we’re going to get a little nuts and I’m going to talk to you about cashews. Not only are they a tasty delicious snacking item, but they are really really good for your health too!


Like peanuts, cashews work well both as a savory or a sweet treat. And I’ve found that they work well as a substitute for pine nuts when you’re trying not to spend a fortune making homemade pesto (yes, cashews are not inexpensive, but still cheaper than pine nuts).

As far as the good for you part of cashews go:

Ÿ Cashews are energy rich, nutrient-filled and chocked full of minerals like magnesium (for strong bones and heart health), iron (for healthy blood), zinc (for giving your immune system a boost), and selenium (for antioxidizing).
Ÿ They are replete in monounsaturated fatty acids (like oleic and palmitoleic) which help to lower LDL (L bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (J good cholesterol) which makes them arterial-friendly.
Ÿ Cashews are packed with soluble dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help to protect against diseases and cancers.
Ÿ Cashews also rich in essential vitamins (B-1, B-5 and B-6 please take a bow) needed for metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Ÿ They also containing a good amount of an important flavonoid antioxidant which is thought to provide protective light-filtering functions in the eye that help prevent age-related macular degeneration (ah, I see).

cashew apple with cashew seed pod (nut shell)

Cashews are a tree nut and grow on the tree as part of a pear-shaped cashew apple (why they didn’t just call them cashew pears is anyone’s guess). The cashew apple itself is a sweet edible fruit, but because skin of the apple is so VERY fragile and bruises quite easily, it can’t be exported. So the cashew apples are only enjoyed as a local treat in Brazil, Vietnam, Indian and some African countries where cashew trees are grown.

Cashew nuts are available year round. Although they may be labeled as raw, cashews are never completely so because heat is a necessity during the shelling and cleaning process. Cashews are highly perishable and because of their high oil content can turn rancid quickly. The best way to store them is in a cool dry place in an airtight container. At room temp, they won’t last long, but in the fridge they’ll be cool up to 6 months and up to a year if frozen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

White Fish with Fennel and Tomato

As promised, fun with fennel and here's a K2 original for you to try out.  For those who are like me and not big fish eaters, the nice thing about this recipe is that you can use a light, white, non-superfishy fish like flounder (used for this recipe), orange roughy or tilapia.  Any would work well, so pick your fav.

White Fish with Fennel and Tomato

1 lb white fish fillets (two decent-sized)
1 fennel bulb, sliced

Tomato topping
3 medium tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 cup onion, minced (about 1/4 of a med onion)
1 tsp garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat about 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Saute the onion until light brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Add in the garlic, cook an additional 1-2 minutes.

Add in tomatoes, sugar and spices.  Stirring occasionally, leave the tomato mixture to cook over medium high heat until the excess liquid is cooked out of it (about 6-7 minutes).

crushed fennel seeds

de-moisturized tomato topping

Trim off the green fluffy tops of the fennel and cut into thick slices.  Doesn't need to be pretty.

On a sheet of foil lay out a layer of fennel and drizzle with oil.

Rinse the fish fillet and pat it dry before laying it on the fennel.

Cover the fish with tomato topping.

Close/fold the foil over the fish and cinch up the ends.  Put the packet(s) on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes.

You'll know the fish is done because it will be white and not opaque.  Serve immediately, makes about 4 servings.

We served it with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed haricot vertes (the K2 green of choice), accompanied by a nice dry white white.  The WFFT is very flavorful and not to heavy on the stomach. 


As I mentioned on Wednesday, I like my fennel with a little crunch to it, so I put the fennel on the foil raw. If you are like the PGPs (aka Parental Guinea Pigs) and prefer your fennel with a little less bite resistance, then I would recommend throwing the fennel slices into a skillet with a touch of oil and saute them about 3-4 minutes to soften them up first. There's no right or wrong way to do it, so whatever your preference is will work.

I used vine-ripened tomatoes because they are less fleshy than Roma tomatoes and less watery than standard tomatoes.  Plus, they are really pretty and bright red. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Fennel

As part of the eating better plan, starting this month I thought I’d bring you Superfood Wednesdays. Give you some tids and bits about foods with a good and good for you appeal. Then on Sundays, I’ll follow up with a recipe using that Superfood so we can all feel better about doing something nice for our bodies. This week in the spotlight:


I was first exposed to fennel when I lived in Italy while growing up. You can use all parts of the plant – bulb, leaves and seeds.

If you haven’t had it before, the bulb is celery-like in color and texture, but in flavor it tastes like anise (though not as intense). The bulb can be sautéed, grilled, stewed, braised, or just eaten raw. My favorite way to eat it is raw because it’s cool, crispity, and crunchity (and I’ve always had a thing for crunchy foods). It’s used a lot in Mediterranean cooking and is especially good in fresh salads, in egg dishes, and cooked with fish.

Fennel is punched-packed with lots of great things for your body:

It’s a good source of fiber and very low in calories, so ideal for dieting.
It’s very high in potassium which means it has diuretic properties (good for eliminating surplus body fluids).
It’s an anti-inflammatory as well as an anti-flatulent (and who doesn’t appreciate that).
It’s rich in antioxidant compounds.

Fennel seeds, on the other hand, have a couple of additional benefits in their wheelhouse:

• When consumed as a tea, the seeds have an appetite-suppressing quality. To make a tea, simply steep a spoonful of seeds in boiling water for 5 minutes and then strain before serving.
They are good for fighting halitosis, just chew on a couple.
They can also help relieve menopausal symptoms.

Fennel seeds are used most often with pork but also in fish dishes as well.

Fennel is available nearly year round though you’ll most likely find it in your more market-like grocery stores.  Fennel seeds are commonly found in the spice isle of any grocery store.

If you haven’t tried it before, you should definitely take a No Thank You bite, I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Happy Healthy New Year

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope you all had a fun and safe celebration.  As promised, will be bringing you some NY resolution friendly recipes.  Have been busy perusing my healthy eating cookbooks to find new and interesting things to share with you.  This recipe is a merger of three that I came across and thought I'd give it a whirl.

Sweet-n-Sour Cranberry Turkey Meatballs with Brown Rice


1 lb ground turkey
1/2 medium onion, minced
1/2 tsp ground sage (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 Egg Beaters (or other egg substitute)
4 tbsp cranberry relish

For the meatballs, mix all the ingredients together.

Roll mixture into balls, will make either 2 dozen regular-sized meatballs or 3 dozen cocktail meatballs.

Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (time will vary depending on size).


12 oz chili sauce
10 oz cranberry relish
2 tbsp lemon juice

Put ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir occasionally with a whisk until they are well blended. 

Brown Rice

1 cup brown rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp butter or margarine (optional)
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Bring water to a boil, then add in rice, butter and salt.  Once it starts to boil again, cover and drop temperature and allow to simmer for 45-50 minutes.

When the meatballs are finished baking, pour the sauce over them and coat well.  Serve over brown rice.  I like to serve my with a green of some sort like steamed haricot verdes, a nice leafy salad or for those who like them, some steamed broccoli on the side would do nicely too.


In order to make sure everything is ready about the same time, I suggest starting the rice first, then make the meatballs while that is cooking. After the meatballs are in the over, start the sauce. That way everything should be done semi-simultaneously and you'll be ready to serve.

Cooking plain brown rice is a little different from cooking white rice. Brown rice has an extra bran coating around it that requires more liquid and a longer cooking temperature.

You could use ground beef for the meatballs, but ground turkey is lower in fat.  There was little to no run-off when the meatballs were cooking.

I used Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce (found in the canned fruit section of the grocery store). It has no calories from fat and is low in sodium and sugar.

For those who don't like fruit "in" your meat, you can simply leave out the cranberry relish.  If you do leave it out, you may want to cut back on the breadcrumbs too so that the meatball mixture isn't too dry.

If you don't like cranberries, you can leave out the relish in the meatballs and substitute a grape jelly or currant jelly for the relish in the sauce.