Sunday, August 21, 2011

Frittata with Sausage, Spinach and Sweet Potatoes

On a morning when I was not only craving hash browns and really wanted something other than my usual over-easy eggs and fruit, I whipped up something that not only turned out to be a kick-a** after-workout breakfast but also an amazing lunch. 

I had finished my P90X for the day and felt like getting in the kitchen and creating. I never keep white potatoes at home, but I had sweet potatoes and thought they'd make amazing and unusual hash brown/home fries. I combined them with turkey sausage that I had in leftover in my fridge and some spinach for fiber, and used this odd mixture to fill a frittata. Between being hungry from the workout and this just tasting awesome, I managed to eat half of the whole thing, even though I intended just a quarter of it. It's ok  because it actually ended up being pretty low in calories and high in protein, which was exactly what I aim for when I eat meals nowadays. Good thing I restrained myself from eating the rest, and I'm so glad I did because I ate it for lunch the next day, after warming it in the microwave. I love fritattas because you can re-warm them or eat them at room temperature and they still taste great.

The combination of flavors worked because the sausage was slightly salty and the creamy potatoes were sweet...I know a lot of people go for those contrasting flavors. The spinach and sage were both earthy and paired well together. I thought these ingredients could be potentially weird together (egg and sweet potato...what??) but they were awesome. I even liked the textural differences because the frittata became slightly crispy on the bottom and the potatoes were smooth in the center. Now that I am describing this in detail, and I want to make it again....

Frittata with Sausage, Spinach and Sweet Potatoes
Printable Recipe

1 tsp olive oil
1/2 lb mild turkey sausage (check the label for fillers, such as gluten)
1 small sweet potato, finely diced
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp dried sage
1 1/2 cups coarsely shredded baby spinach
4 eggs (I like DHA-enhanced eggs for more omega 3 fats)
pinches of salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. In a 10-inch oven-proof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown the sausage.
3. Add the potato and onion and saute until there is no moisture left in the pan. Add the water, sage, and some salt and pepper and cover with a lid and cook until the potato is tender, about 20 minutes.
4. Add the spinach and allow to wilt completely. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a small bowl. Pour the eggs over the meat and vegetables and allow the eggs to set along the bottom. The middle does not need to set because it will be finished in the oven.
5. Bake the frittata for 5-10 minutes or until the center is no longer wobbly. Remove from the pan and cut into wedges.

  • Servings per recipe: 4
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 180
  • Fat: 10.2 g
  • Saturated fat: 2.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 217 mg
  • Sodium: 380 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 5.2 g
  • Fiber: 0.9 g
  • Sugar: 2.1 g
  • Protein: 16.5 g

Chicken-Bacon Barbeque Kebabs + Review of KC Masterpiece Barbeque Sauce

In July I received a bottle of KC Masterpiece Southern Style barbeque sauce in the mail to try. This was just in time for the 4th of July, but unfortunately I had some sort of stomach illness and didn't do much eating around that time. The sauce quickly became pushed to the back of the pantry and I forgot about it. I resurrected it this weekend, however, because I knew I needed to test it out and do a review. I appreciate the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program for sending me this sauce and below you can see my honest review.

I should first probably say that I am a huge fan of barbeque. I have tasted some from the major regions in the US and have now lived in two major hubs for barbecue (Texas and Georgia). My favorite is Texas barbeque, mainly because of beef brisket, but being from Indiana it seems like the barbeque I grew up eating was sort of Kansas City style, which is really tomato-y, and I love it too.

When I first received the bottle, I made the mistake-mainly out of habit-of reading the ingredients on the back. They certainly are an interesting melange! The ones I consider "odd" for a barbeque sauce were anchovies and tamarind. I do understand why they are there: the anchovies provide a long-cooked meat "umami" flavor and the tamarind provides tang, which is classical in southern style sauce but is usually provided through apple cider vinegar and sometimes yellow mustard (primarily Carolina-style sauce uses mustard). I was personally bothered by the high fructose corn syrup, which I try to avoid at all costs because it is a highly processed food. I am not that surprised to see it there because it is much less expensive to use HFCS than brown sugar and molasses (though some molasses was used). Judging from the rest of the ingredients-molasses, tomato, apple cider vinegar-and thin texture of the sauce, I think they were aiming for a Georgia-style barbeque sauce, so that's what I will review it as.

The aroma I perceived upon opening the bottle was straight Worchestershire sauce. No molasses, ketchup, or cider vinegar, which is what I anticipated. When I tasted it alone, I first felt the heat of red chilis, then Worchestershire flavor. Again, no molasses, ketchup, or cider vinegar. I also noted the texture was more like a glaze, not pureed tomato or thin ketchup, which is also what I anticipated.

The back of the bottle said best for chicken and pork, so for my recipe, I chose something simple so I could really taste the unadulterated flavor of the sauce: kebabs of chicken, bacon, and onion.  Finally, when it came to application of the sauce, I used Steven Raichlen's rules-he's my favorite barbeque tv chef. Basically, you apply the sauce on the cooked side of the meat not only to prevent cross contamination of your basting brush and sauce but also to prevent the sugars in the sauce from burning. Well, the sauce was pretty slippery stuff and didn't cling to the chicken kebabs. Rather, it slid through any cracks and landed on the pan. It didn't thicken on the meat when I allowed the meat to finish cooking through. The sauce wasn't so thin that I couldn't taste it on the meat, but it didn't taste like any sauce I had when I was in Georgia. It didn't taste bad, but certainly did not taste authentic. I wonder if it may taste different on long-roasted, slow-cooked meats.

Final remarks:

Pros: The sauce made my kebabs nice and glossy, and I might add, attractive-looking. It had flavor notes that paired well with the meat and onions, namely the hint of spiciness contrasted with the sweetness of the onions, flavored the chicken, and did not overshadow the bacon. The thin texture was authentic to Georgia-style sauce.

Cons: The viscosity of the sauce was authentic, but did not "stick" to the food as well as other barbeque sauces I have used and tasted. A lot of the sauce dripped off onto the pan. When I think of southern-style sauce, I think of a thin but cooked down tomato puree sauce that is sweet from brown sugar and/or molasses but still tart with apple cider vinegar. When I first tasted this sauce, the first flavor note was red pepper, then Worchestershire sauce (as a matter of fact, the only thing I smelled when I opened the bottle was Worchestershire sauce). The sauce was a little sweet, but it did not taste like the sauces I had at any of the barbeque places I ate at while I lived in Georgia. The Georgia barbeque sauce I had tasted like ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, and sometimes mustard. I wouldn't say this sause was "jam-packed" with flavor as it didn't provide a dense or intense flavor to the meat. Other than the chili kick, the flavor was rather light, making it a little unbalanced.

Bottom line: The thin texture of southern barbeque sauce was accomplished, but in terms of flavor and fragrance I think this sauce misses the mark on "southern style."  It proved to be a decent glaze for grilled chicken and did taste good, but I would not suggest this sauce to anyone wanting to do some serious southern style/Georgia style barbequing.

I would, however, prepare these kebabs again because they were really easy to put together and didn't take a lot of ingredients. Using two skewers make these kebabs look impressive and solved the problem of the meat spinning around one skewer as you turn them. Despite their simplicity, they look impressive and would really make a show at a grilling get together. The bacon added some fat to the lean and otherwise bland chicken breast. My favorite part was the onions, which became soft, caramelized, and crispy on the edges. I would just prepare my own homemade sauce...

And just a note on the bacon. I have never posted a recipe on Chow Bella using bacon before, except pancetta, if you count that. Being as I am the type of person who reads ingredients, out of curiosity I compared the macronutrients in turkey bacon and center cut bacon, and the fat and calorie counts were nearly identical! Just comparing the looks of pork bacon vs. turkey bacon, I bet the pork bacon is less processed, which is always better. Of course many people are advised against eating bacon by their doctors prefer bacon that is center-cut, which has more lean meat than fat, sourced from animals not treated with antibiotics, and nitrite-free. With that I think it can be fine in my diet.

Chicken-Bacon Barbeque Kebabs
Printable Recipe

8 kebab skewers (if wooden, soak in water at least 30 min before grilling)
1 lb chicken breast tenderloins, cut into 24 chunks
6 slices nitrite-free center cut bacon, each slice cut into 4 pieces
1/2 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-3/4-inch slices, two leaves thick (32 pieces)
4 tbsp barbeque sauce, or more to taste
lots of black pepper

1. Preheat grill or broiler.
2. Wrap each piece of chicken with a piece of bacon.
3. Hole two skewers about half an inch apart from one another. Take one section of onion and slide it across to make a ladder. Slide on one bacon-wrapped piece of chicken, then another stack of onion, then chicken and repeat until there are 6 pieces of chicken and 8 pieces of onion on each skewer. Sprinkle with black pepper (the bacon and sauce are salty enough). Do not pack the pieces on densely, otherwise the bacon will not crisp in the middle.
4. Grill or broil the meat until nearly cooked through and until the bacon is crisp, about 6-8 minutes total. Brush the sauce all along the surface and cook 1 minute more on each side. The meat should be opaque and the sauce cooked into the meat. If the skewers start to scorch, wrap aluminum foil around them. Serve while the meat is still skewered, or you can side it off onto a platter with the help of a fork.

  • Servings per recipe: 4
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 186.7
  • Fat: 5.5 g
  • Saturated fat: 1.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 73.2 mg
  • Sodium: 418.9 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.2 g
  • Fiber: 0.4 g
  • Protein: 29.6 g

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Coconut, Date, and Walnut Lunchbox Treats

It's nearly time for another semester to start. I just got my back-to-school haircut today and a few new clothes the other day. I'm kind of looking forward to classes starting because I am taking a wine tasting lab, which should help me out with perceiving odors in wine. My field season will be ending within the next month, I think, so I will be spending a lot of time in lab processing my samples. I'm kind of ready for a change in routine. Regardless of what time of year it is...whether I'm in classes or not...I seems to be always working like crazy!

I did let myself have a little fun this weekend. Friday night was "First Friday" where the art galleries downtown open up for free and give free beer and wine. I had never gone to one before despite having lived in this town for 8 months now, and I was so happy to see such a huge turn out. The City Bus trolley line went around to all the art galleries, so it was accessible for a lot of people. I like artwork, but I'm not an expert. I did find some pieces I liked, but of course they were expensive. I didn't try any new wines that night, so nothing to report there.

I also did a lot of cooking this weekend. I have been getting bored with a lot of my usual foods, especially snacks and lunches, so I tried a couple of new recipes. The first one was on a blog called Mark's Daily Apple by Mark Sisson. The recipe was for sesame-sunflower seed crackers, and they are really good (especially if you like tahini because they have a strong sesame seed flavor-more so than the sunflower seed flavor). I like his blog because there are thorough explanations to a lot of my nutrition questions. It focuses on primal eating, which is what I have been trying for the past month. I haven't gone cold turkey because I still include some fermented dairy like cheese and yogurt. I have almost completely cut out grains; in the last month I have had only 3 servings of grain, mainly by accident (whole wheat bread, rice, and corn, respectively) and I don't miss them at all. I also don't miss sweets so much because fruit has satisfied those cravings for me for a long time. I do eat a square of Ghiradelli's Twilight Delight 72% cocoa chocolate on occasion, but that's all the treats I have had. I don't feel deprived at all, mainly because I have a "savory tooth" instead of a sweet tooth. I get to eat a variety of proteins and fats, which completely satisfies me.

The next recipe I worked on was my version of a Larabar, which is one of my favorite snacks. I can get them on sale at my health food store for 5/$5 sometimes, but most of the time they are about $1.39, which is a little too much in my opinion. They are made up of dried fruit and nuts, so it was easy to come up with a recipe. I made a paste with unsweetened dried coconut, walnuts (for the omega-3 fats) and dried pitted dates (all organic) that I pressed into a pan and chilled to make bars to go in my lunch box. They taste sort of like sugar cookie dough! Plus they're easier to make than rice crispy treats and a heck of a lot better for you.

The rest of the stuff I prepared will each be their own blog post, including one breakfast/brunch recipe and one Foodbuzz review and recipe with KC Masterpiece's new Southern-Style BBQ sauce.

Coconut, Date, and Walnut Lunchbox Treats
Printable Recipe

1/4 cup unsweetened dried flaked coconut
1/4 cup walnuts
25 pitted dates

1. Add add the ingredients to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and pulse. When the mixture breaks down a little bit, turn on the machine to run until the mixture sticks together when you press it with your fingers.
2. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Add the nut mixture to the pan, using the overhanging wrap to help you press the mixture into a smooth layer. Cover completely with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.

3. Lift the bars out of the pan. Using a sharp knife, cut into 6 bars and wrap individually. Store in the refrigerator to keep firm, but they are also fine at room temperature (ideal for a lunchbox).

  • Makes 6 Bars:
  • Per bar:
  • Calories: 142.7
  • Fat: 4.6 g
  • Saturated fat: 1.3 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 1.5 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 27.1 g
  • Fiber: 3.4 g
  • Sugar: 22.2 g
  • Protein: 1.7 g

Saturday, August 6, 2011

White Wine Braised Chicken with Pancetta, Oil-Cured Black Olives, and Red Bell Peppers

Not too long ago, I picked up some olives from the olive bar at my local health food store. I felt like I had gotten stuck in a rut with my eating, so I thought the olives would perk up my meals. I brought them home, then I had no idea what to do with them. Luckily, I remembered on my Italian cuisine calendar a few months ago there was a recipe for roasted chicken with pancetta (Italian bacon) and oil cured olives. I didn't want to heat up the oven, so I decided to use the same flavor combination with braised chicken. I know it's summer and it's wicked hot, but I still love comfort foods like braised chicken no matter what time of the year. What started out as a recipe with just chicken, pancetta, olives, and white wine ended up exploding into a whole lot of ingredients. The final product ended up being a complex mixture of sweet and savory and quite complex. Something inexplicably magical happened with the sauce once I added the olives and simmered them for a few minutes. The sauce became a little creamy and tinged with the color of the meat of the olives. It was kind of like a cream-less cream sauce, which was perfectly soaked up by some steamed cauliflower.

I removed the skin of the chicken as I often do for braising because I find it becomes flabby as it simmers away, but if you like the skin you can leave it. By removing the skin there is the added bonus of removing some fat. The wine seems to penetrate the skinless chicken much more successfully as well.

White Wine Braised Chicken with Pancetta, Oil-Cured Black Olives, and Red Bell Peppers
Printable Recipe

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
4 bone-in skinless chicken thighs
1 oz diced pancetta
1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Sauvignon blanc, but use whatever you think tastes good)
10-12 pitted oil-cured black olives, halved
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with a little salt and liberally with pepper and sear on both sides until browned. Remove the chicken to the side and drop the heat to medium-low.
2. Add the pancetta and cook slowly to render the fat. Once the pancetta is crisp, remove it to a paper towel-line plate and pour off all but 1 tsp of fat.
3. Add the onion, garlic, and pepper and saute until the onions are translucent over medium heat; the bell pepper will not be fully cooked. Add the rosemary and wine and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan and cook, partially covered, approximately 15-20 minutes of until the chicken is nearly done.
4. Add the olives and pancetta to the pan and cook 5 minutes more, allowing the sauce to reduce by about half and until the chicken is completely cooked through. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper (note: the olives and pancetta add quite a lot of saltiness to the sauce) and serve immediately.

  • Servings per recipe: 4
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 269.2
  • Fat: 14.8 g
  • Saturated fat: 3.8 g
  • Cholesterol: 110 mg
  • Sodium: 410.8 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 4.9 g
  • Fiber: 1.2 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 24.1 g

Monday, August 1, 2011

Zucchini Lasagna

 My mom recently relayed to me a recipe for a zucchini lasagna, and I was inspired to give it a try myself based on her description of it. She tried one version, but it wasn't 100% to her taste yet.  Basically, it is a meat sauce lasagna that cleverly uses thin-cut zucchini in place of pasta. This is a great way of cutting back on white flour carbs without sacrificing a lot of flavor.

Some of the issues with her version were the slices not staying in a perfect stack and it was a little bland. My first implementation to keep shape of each slice was to alternate directions of the zucchini layers, causing the fibers to alternate and hold each slice together. Allowing the casserole to rest upon removing it from the oven helped solidify the lasagna as well. Also, gloopy cheese is not only not very healthy, but makes the layers of traditional lasagna slide about. Therefore, I used just a little bit of Parmesan (which I personally believe is the King of cheeses). It has so much flavor in just a little pinch, so I could use less cheese in my lasagna and have great cheese flavor. The best part of this lasagna, in my opinion, was allowing the cheese to get really browned on top. It added a complimentary flavor to the rich but lean meat sauce. Finally, to add more flavor to the final product, I used a flavor memory of my mom's spaghetti sauce, which was sweet thanks to bell peppers and I also added more vegetables to make the sauce more robust. I opted for mushrooms, to compliment the beef, plus black olives for richness. I really think this 2.0 version of zucchini lasagna hits the spot, and you don't even miss the pasta when you have this rich, meaty vegetable sauce, tender zucchini, and piquant Parmesan to accent it all.

Just one tip---don't cut your fingers as many times as I did on the mandolin....

Zucchini Lasagna
Printable Recipe

3 zucchini, each about 8-inches long
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced
8 oz white button mushrooms, diced
1 lb extra lean ground beef
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1 15-oz can no salt added petite diced tomatoes
1 8-oz can no salt added tomato sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp turbinado sugar (raw sugar) (optional)
1 4-oz can sliced black olives
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
spray olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Remove the ends of the zucchini. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin on the thinnest setting, slice the zucchini. Arrange the zucchini on a clean kitchen towel to dry slightly while you prepare the sauce; set aside.

Step 2

3. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Season with a little salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables until they are translucent and tender, about 7 minutes.
4. Add the meat to the vegetable mixture, breaking it up with a spoon. Allow the meat to brown completely, seasoning with salt, pepper, and the herbs while it cooks.
5. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and sugar, if using. Simmer the sauce over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Finish the sauce with the olives and vinegar. Taste for seasoning, making sure to have plenty of salt and pepper because you will need enough salt for the zucchini as well.
6. Lightly grease an 8x8-inch to 9x9-inch non-reactive dish with olive oil spray.
7. Add a few tablespoons of sauce to the bottom of the pan. Shingle a layer of zucchini, avoiding with slices that were first cut from the zucchini because they are completely covered with peel on one side.

Step 7
8. Add a little less than half the sauce over the first layer of zucchini. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp of cheese.
9. In the opposite direction of the first layer of zucchini, shingle in the second layer of zucchini. Add more sauce, leaving a few tablespoons for the top layer. Sprinkle on 1 tbsp of cheese.

Step 9
Step 9

10. Finish with the final layer of zucchini, going in the same direction as the first layer. Add the remaining bit of sauce. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. If the foil touches the sauce, plate a sheet of parchment paper down first because the acids in the tomato sauce will denature the foil.

Step 10
Step 10

11. Bake for 30 minutes, covered in foil. Remove the foil and add the remaining 2 tbsp of cheese. Bake for 15 more minutes, or until the cheese is very brown and the sauce is bubbling. Remove the lasagna from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before cutting it with a sharp knife and serving.

  • Servings per recipe: 4
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 308. 1
  • Fat: 13.3 g
  • Saturated fat: 4.1 g
  • Cholesterol: 69 mg
  • Sodium: 542.3 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 18.1 g
  • Fiber: 4.4 g
  • Sugar: 9.4 g
  • Protein: 29.3 g
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