Monday, December 19, 2011

Chili Night

Another recipe forged during my foray into cooking with V8. Nothing fancy. Chili night shouldn't be fancy. But there's no reason it can't be healthy. About 350 calories, 18 grams of fiber, 32 grams of protein, almost no fat, and two full servings of vegetables per bowl - with zero loss of flavor and satisfaction. Who needs fancy?

Turkey Chili

I like to use a variety of beans in many combinations: pinto, red, kidney, black... Toss in your favorites or use whatever cans have been hanging around your pantry the last couple years. For the tomatoes, try ones flavored with adobo, chipotle, or green chile for an extra layer of flavor. Any sugar will work, but I like turbinado or brown sugar for slightly deeper sweet; or skip the sugar altogether in favor of a hefty sprinkle of calorie free stevia sweetener. Serves 6.

1lb. lean ground turkey breast
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1-2 Tbsp chili powder, depending on desired spice level
Salt & pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 cups V8
1 Tbsp sugar
4 cans beans, drained

In a pan (or slow cooker bowl if it's removable and stovetop safe) sprayed with Pam, saute turkey, onion, bell pepper, oregano, cumin, and chili powder over medium high heat until turkey is cooked through with no pink. Salt & pepper to taste. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds or so until fragrant. In slow cooker, combine turkey mixture with tomatoes, V8, sugar, and beans. Cover and cook over low heat for 4-6 hours. Serve alone or topped with sour cream, fresh cilantro, grated cheese, and/or lime slices.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Silky Sweet Potato Soup

Are you sick of soup, yet? Neither am I! Good thing, too, because I got a new toy. Way back in the day when my blog was a fresh little newborn, I discovered a trick that guaranteed a velvety vegetable soup. I cooked the vegetables, whipped them in the KitchenAid mixer, and then "strained" them by pressing them through a mesh sieve. It was time and work intensive. I knew the process would be greatly simplified by a ricer. Well, take a look at the America's Test Kitchen recommended tool my parents gave me as one of my holiday gifts! I couldn't wait to give it a spin and instantly had its inaugural soup in mind.

I've made simplistic sweet potato soup before - stew sweet potato chunks in milk/dairy substitute and butter/butter substitute, mash 'em up, and mix with more liquid to reach the desired consistency. Easy peasy! But I knew I could make it smoother and more delicious with a couple tweaks. The leek and turnip add richness and complexity to balance the slight sweetness. You don't need a ricer to make this soup, but if you can get your hands on one, you'll find that the texture goes beyond even velvety, all the way to silken.

Silky Sweet Potato Soup

Feel free to use milk and butter in place of my vegan non-dairy substitutions. Serves 4.

1 bulb leek, dark greens removed, diced
2 medium white/yellow sweet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into half-inch slices
1 medium turnip, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into half-inch slices
4 Tbsp butter substitute (I like Light Smart Balance Buttery Spread)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups light unsweetened soy milk, approximate

1. Spray large pot with Pam and heat to medium. Sautee leek until soft, 5-10 minutes. Add sweet potato, turnips, butter substitute, sugar, salt, and one cup of the milk. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until potatoes fall apart with a fork, about 35-45 minutes.

2. OPTIONAL: Strain and reserve cooking liquid. Press vegetables through ricer using medium-holed plate. Discard tough fibrous parts remaining in the ricer's bowl. Add reserved cooking liquid back to the vegetables.

"Riced" sweet potato mixture.

3. Add about a cup and a half more soy milk to the vegetables. Blend using your preferred method: in the blender (may require two batches), with a hand or stand mixer, or with an immersion blender. Return to stove and slowly add more soy milk until desired consistency is reached, approximately one and half more cups. Heat over medium until hot. Salt to taste if desired. Garnish with a sprinkle of brown or turbinado sugar.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cheater's Cioppino

This is not real cioppino. But it is pretty darn close, and pretty darn good.

Cioppino is a tomato-based seafood stew invented in San Francisco more than a century ago. It can contain clams, mussels, shrimp, white fish, and any other of the day's catch. And crab. Though it doesn't have to by definition, I am here proclaiming that it should always have crab. And I mean ALWAYS. Crab is sort of the point. And guess what - it's Dungeness crab season here in Northern California! 'Tis the season, indeed.

I grew up eating this Italian-American soup homemade by my mom from a recipe she procured on Fisherman's Wharf back in the '70s. From stove to table, it is an EXPERIENCE. You make a sauce from scratch in which you boil crab and a variety of other crustaceans and mollusks still in the shell. Meanwhile, cover the table in newsprint, fill it with crusty sourdough bread, giant bowls, soup spoons, crab crackers, tiny fish forks, and rolls of paper towels. Tie dishtowels around your neck, throw another in your lap, and you are ready for a feast. Crack, peel, slurp, and repeat, juices dripping off your elbows all the while. Just toss the shells right into the center to be folded up and tossed out with the stained paper. The kitchen (and your hands) smell like seafood for days. It is truly incredible.

But this ordeal is just not feasible as a regular meal. Is there a way to enjoy cioppino without it becoming a whole day event, or involving a trip to the Wharf? (FYI, we love the cioppino at Alioto's - just in case you are making that trip.) Could I create a facsimile easy and quick enough for a weeknight without losing the classic flavor?

Why yes, yes I could. As you know, I've been using V8 a lot as a soup base. I employed that method again for a rich, flavorful, and nutritious base right out of the bottle. I added the same vegetables and aromatics used in the traditional version, but included much more than the usual skimpy amounts. I knew a lot of delicious seafood flavor would be lost by not stewing shells and fish in the broth. I reclaimed some of this flavor by adding clam juice. Finally, I used fresh crab and shrimp meat and canned clams for the seafood - no messing with shells. What came out was a supremely flavorful dish that tasted a lot like the cioppino I grew up with. Plus, with about 300 calories, three servings of vegetables, and tons of protein in every bowl, there's plenty of nutrition and zero guilt. Sure, it doesn't taste exactly like the original, and the whole spectacle of in-the-shell seafood is a lot of fun on the right night, but I have made this dish easy and fast for anytime.

Cheater's Cioppino

I highly recommend using Snow's brand clam products. I eat a lot of clams and this is my favorite brand when I go canned instead of fresh. Serves 3.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, seeds and white parts removed, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups V8 vegetable juice
1 8oz bottle Snow's clam juice
2 6.5oz cans Snow's chopped clams, juices drained and reserved (should be about 1 cup juices)
1/2lb fresh crab meat, preferably Dungeness
1/4lb fresh cooked bay shrimp
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped

In a large pot, heat oil over medium high. Add onion, pepper, and celery. Sautee for a few minutes until onion is translucent and soft. Add garlic and sautee another 30 seconds or so, until aromatic. Stir in tomatoes, V8, bottled clam juice, and reserved juice from canned clams. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in shrimp, clams, and parsley. Finally, gently fold in crab - show care not to break up lumps of meat too much. Simmer for another 5 minutes, just until seafood is hot. Serve hot with crusty sourdough or baguette, if desired.