Easy Cheesy Jalapeno Crisps

Easy Cheesy Jalapeno Crisps

Cheesy jalapeno crisps are a low cal and easy snack to make today. Remember how easy it was to make cheddar taco shells? Well baking cheese can make a quick cracker.  Toss in a jalapeno and you have a low carb snack.

Watch the video and see what you think:

You can find the full recipe here at Delish.

Mix Up the Cheese

The Parmesan is a dry cheese and that adds the crispness. The cheddar will have oil and add additional flavor.

Instead of the Parmesan, you could substitute in Romano, Asiago or Manchego.  Romano will be more of a pungeant flavor.  Asiago cheese is saltier. Manchego has a nuttier flavor.

You could substitute in just about any firm cheese in place of the cheddar. It could be fun to try out soft cheeses like cotija.  Cotija is Queso Fresco that's been salted and pressed for a few weeks.

Pickled or Raw

That's a personal preference. The recipe called for raw. You could substitute in a Serrano or Anaheim chili depending upon your heat level.

Anyway, just wanted to send a quick note for a fun snack.

Cook A Healthier Gumbo

Cook A Healthier Gumbo

Since Mardi Gras is coming up, I thought I'd find a way to cook a healthier gumbo. There are some shortcuts and some lighter options. But I want to be careful not to destroy the soul of the dish.

Dish of gumbo with dirty rice

This is a dish that requires patience and time. So don't think you can whip it up in 30 minutes. You could work on parts of it over a day or two.  And you can shorten some of the time to make gumbo with a pressure cooker.

Start with Great Ingredients

But your shrimp with shell on. Then use those shells to make your own shrimp stock. It will take a bit more time, but you'll have a better stock. Plus you can control the sodium if you make your own rather than buy it.

Next, replace the smoked sausage with a chicken, soy, or turkey version. Or replace it altogether with chicken thighs.

Also, use brown rice instead of white rice for an increase in fiber and nutty flavor.

Make a Great Roux

You can find visual directions for making a dark roux here. Some lighter recipes recommend canola oil instead of butter or lard for the roux. You'd use almond and rice flours if you were making a paleo version of gumbo.  You may need to add in a thickening agent like arrowroot. The starch in the flour is what causes thickening of a sauce. You won't need it at this stage since you're just cooking the roux for flavor.

File powder and okra should do the trick and both are paleo and low-carb.

What would I use? Bacon grease pure and simple. I'm always saving it after I cook up some rashers of bacon. It adds in a lovely smokiness to the roux that works well with the rest of the ingredients.

But no matter what, great roux requires great patience.

You can find a lighter recipe for gumbo at Cooking Light.

A gluten-free gumbo recipe is here at Apron Strings.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Sumac Chicken with Cauliflower and Carrots

Sumac Chicken with Cauliflower and Carrots

Sumac chicken with cauliflower and carrots is a quick and easy sheet pan dinner. You know how I love easy clean up. But what is sumac? It's a spice made from a dried berry. I'll tell you more after the video.

Now watch this to get inspired:

You can find the full recipe at Cooking Light.

Tell Me About Sumac

Sumac is made from a deep red berry that grows on the sumac bush in the Middle East. It was used to add tartness to dishes until the Romans found a way to grow lemons.

You may have to go to a specialty store to find it, or purchase it online as it's not widely available.

It pairs well with lamb, chicken and fish. You can sprinkle it on top of hummus.

If you can't find it, or don't want to buy any, you can mix the zest of a lemon with some salt and use that in place of the sumac.

What Would I Change

Not a lot. This recipe sounds really delicious. I may use a little less oil. You could substitute in lamb in place of chicken. And I would be interested in trying it on pork. I love making pork with either a bit of lemon juice or orange juice.

You could substitute in romanesco for cauliflower, or do a mixture of both depending upon what you have on hand.

Another good substitution is parsnips in place of the carrots. I just got some baby turnips in my CSA box. I'd probably cut them in half and add them in as well.

You could put in leeks and whole garlic cloves.  I'm always using roasted garlic cloves in other areas, so if you're going to be heating up your oven anyway, toss in some garlic to get roasted as well.

 

The prettiest vegetable – The Romanesco

The prettiest vegetable – The Romanesco

To some, the romanesco looks like an incredible flower or fractal if you're a nerd. To others, it's a torture device (kind of like if you've ever seen Brussels sprouts on a stalk). Unfortunately, people shy away from this vegetable because they aren't sure what it is or how to cook it. Is it like cauliflower or like broccoli? Well, I'm here to tell you to embrace it and learn to love it while it's in season.

Watch this video and be inspired at all the ways you can cook it.

What Is Romanesco

Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts are all in the family of Brassicas. You eat the flower of the plant. Romanesco is a variety of broccoli.  It's lighter in flavor like the cauliflower but with a lovely nuttiness that really comes out when you roast it.

You can also saute it in a pan with some olive oil and lemon juice with zest on the top. Some people like a bit of red pepper flakes for a pop of flavor. You could use chili flavored oil in place of the red pepper flakes as well.

Romanesco is delicious steamed with butter or olive oil and a splash of vinegar. My hubby likes champagne or balsamic. He puts red wine vinegar on his steamed spinach.

Choosing Romanesco

I get mine in the CSA box so they're chosen for me. The ones I've gotten this season are small and about the size of a softball. That's perfect for two people. I roasted with olive oil and thyme. And then I'd just sliced it in half. It was a gorgeous side on the plate.  I served it with pork chops and another time with steak.

The romanesco is like cauliflower. It should look fairly clean and be heavy for its size. And the color should be vibrant. I mean, it's one of those things that looks like it should be fake, like a blue potato. But the more intense the color, the fresher the romanesco is. And that means it will have better flavor.

Since it's like broccoli and cauliflower, feel free to substitute in the romanesco in those recipes. You may find a new favorite vegetable.

Cheeseburger Mini-Meatloaves

Cheeseburger Mini-Meatloaves

Cheeseburger mini-meatloaves are a great way to eat well while limiting portions. Sometimes we just need to make it easy on ourselves.  If I have two meatloaves on my plate with some mashed turnips and green beans, I'm a happy camper.

And we know muffin meals are great for making crustless quiches and egg muffins.

You can find the full recipe here at Hungry Girl.

Make sure you drain the meatloaves after baking so as to get rid of any extra fat.

Meatloaf Ideas

You can make meatloaf the way you can make hamburgers. You can use ground turkey, lamb, chicken, pork, and a variety of ground beef.

Meatloaf adds in veggies like onions and egg. Also, it usually calls for a binder like bread crumbs. My mom's recipe used rolled oats.  You have a lot of leeway. Try and figure out what kind of meatloaf you like best, and then make it smaller.

Because you're baking in the muffin tin, you may want to go for the lower fat meats. My mom would cook three large meatloaves in a lasagna pan. She regularly take a baster and suction out a lot of the fat. Then she'd let them rest on paper towels.  Mom was low fat before low fat was cool.

So I grew up with a different palate. I don't like very fatty things. Which was always kind of awkward when eating at my in-laws. I'm not trying to throw her under the bus. She was raised differently. To her, the fat and grease made food seem juicy and delicious. To me, it was like sucking down the bacon fat in my jar and would make my insides very unhappy.

I eventually coped by barely eating anything or we'd all go out to dinner. Now when we go down, I cook.  So where am I going with this. If you grew up liking a lot of fat in your food, that's OK. Just balance it by draining as much as you can off of what you're eating.

You need some fat to feel satisfied after a meal. And you need fat to properly process and absorb vitamins from vegetables. You should consider using more spices and herbs for flavor rather than fat.  Use less fat in your gravies.

Look into drizzling high quality oil over the top instead of using it in your cooking. There are lots of great flavors out there in olive oils. And then there's sesame oil and walnut oil to finish the plate.

More Inspiration

(Are you all enjoying these links? I just want to provide an excellent resource…leave me a comment letting me know)

Paleo Meatloaf Muffins with Tangy Tomato Glaze

Quick and Easy Paleo Mini Meatloaves

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins

Turkey Mini-Meatloaves

Lightening Up Chicken and Dumplings

Lightening Up Chicken and Dumplings

Today we'll look at lightening up chicken and dumplings. This cold weather is making me crave it and chicken pot pie. (Ok and the other day, I really wanted fried shrimp and french fries. Thankfully it eventually passed.)

My local market had some whole organic chickens that were marked down. So a four pound chicken only cost me $4.50. Now, soup? Stew?  Nope. Chicken and dumplings!

After searching, I found this website with Weight Watchers recipes on it.

 

You can find the full recipe here at 77 Healthy Recipes.

What Would I Change

I had cream of celery soup instead of cream of chicken. Thankfully it was Healthy Request version which has less sodium.  Still, I'm feeling it a bit today. It's important to find no or low sodium versions of things. That way you can season it for your taste.

I pressure cooked the chicken, let it cool, and then pulled it apart. Which was quite satisfying, I have to admit.

Anyway, I used poultry seasoning and pepper but no salt.  Then I tossed everything into a clean Instant Pot insert and used slow cooking for two hours.  I had some fresh small carrots from my CSA box that I peeled and tossed in.  I honestly went back and forth about mushrooms but finally decided against it.

Then about 15 minutes near the end, I tossed in some frozen peas.  At the end, I turned off the IP and let everything sit.

But What About the Dumplings?

I admit, I cheated. I made biscuits since I was going to try not to have any.  Hubby was happy and enjoyed everything thoroughly. The vegetables were perfectly cooked. The chicken was tender. I didn't want to mess it up by boiling it and dropping in the biscuit mix.

How to Make Low Carb

If you want a creamy feeling chicken stew but you're going Paleo, fear not. I've found some good recipes that replace any condensed cream of whatever soup.

Dairy Free Cream of Chicken Soup at Frugal Living Mom

Replacements for “Cream of Whatever” Soups in Recipes at PaleoHacks

Gluten Free Cream of Chicken Soup at Flippin' Delicious

Since I have leftovers, I may make some zoodles and pretend I'm having a chicken casserole.

Baking In the Slow Cooker

Baking In the Slow Cooker

I have no doubt that most of you have a slow cooker hiding in your home somewhere. Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you bought it awhile ago thinking it would help you.

I'm here to tell you it can help you. You just need to know what it's good for. Did you know you could bake a cake or bread in one?  It can be a great way to make cornbread or biscuits when it's hot and humid.

Watch this video on how to make sourdough peasant bread. (some comments felt it wasn't “real” sourdough)

You still have to knead and let rest like any yeast breads. It takes 2-2 1/2 hours in the slow cooker using high heat. They recommend putting it under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to toast it up. But honestly, if I'm cooking to keep the kitchen cool, I'd rather just pop one slice in the toaster.

No Knead Bread

If you don't want to knead, here's a video from Garden Fork

It reduces what you have to do with kneading. You will have to let the dough rise.

Alternate Grains and Gluten Free

My friend made a grain-free “sourdough” bread from Urban Poser that turned out great.

Bread Experience discusses what grains are better to substitute in for wheat in this great article. They also discuss which grains are better for what type of baking. For example buckwheat is high protein and will produce a tender baked product. But it can be bitter.

Cakes and Quick Breads

You can also make some great cornbread in the slow cooker. No kneading and no heating up the kitchen.

And chocolate cake, pineapple upside down cake, and lava cake.

But wait, Lara, cake? Well, you can make it lighter with less sugar. And you can use alternative ingredients like applesauce instead of oil. Sure, you probably aren't going to eat it every day. Even if you do, you just cut back in other areas.

I don't snack because I like 2-3 glasses of wine at night. It's all about knowing who you are and what you like and working with it so you don't feel deprived.

Boosting Your Metabolism

Boosting Your Metabolism

What does boosting your metabolism have to do with cooking yourself thin? Well, it's a balance. Getting control of your eating habits is the most important thing in living at a healthy weight. You can't exercise your way out of unhealthy eating habits.

Maybe we could when we were teenagers, but chances are, we were just fooling ourselves. Our metabolism does decrease as we age, but it doesn't have to. There are simple things you can do to build back up a healthy metabolism.

You can help yourself if you do regular movement daily.

Movement

Movement is just walking. You don't have to run a marathon. Unless that's your thing. In which case, I'll be cheering you along.

There is wisdom to those little bon mots of taking the stairs and parking farther out. Get a step counter or set something up on your phone to track it. But try and get a baseline the first week.

Do not think about what that number is.  It's just your starting point. It's not a reflection on  you.

Then work to improve it.  Take it slowly. Increase it about 5-10% every week after that. When it's natural and effortless, you'll stick with it.

Don't think you have to do it all at once. I'll walk after breakfast and lunch.  I'm working to get walking after dinner again. But I have my excuses right now. (It's dark out. It's raining. etc. etc.)

Muscle Mass

Muscles burn more calories than fat. And it makes you feel a lot better to have firmer flesh.

And no, you don't have to go to the gym and pump iron for hours at a time.  There is training out there that teaches you to raise and lower heavier weights very slowly. That gets you an intense workout in a shorter period of time.

Don't want to do it at all? Look into yoga and Pilates.  That uses your own body mass as the weights and you will build up muscle mass. Also, you get some stretching in which is another great way to look thinner even if you don't lose any weight.

No More Dieting

It's sad but true that when we starve ourselves to lose a few pounds and then go back to normal eating, we gain more weight. Why? We told our metabolism to go into shutdown mode.

Some people feel that eating lots of little meals will boost your metabolism. Others feel that three larger meals gives your body the chance to process the food and balances out the insulin levels before you pop in more food.

Every body is different.  Do what's best for you. Try it out. Just no more dieting.  Eat good quality food in smaller amounts.

Do Some Foods Help?

I know some foods hurt like margarine and sugar. I was reading Metabolic Cooking to get some inspiration. Their idea is that a lot of cookbooks just provide recipes but no real structure teaching you how to put together meals. And diet books rely upon eating the same kinds of food over and over again.

It's all digital  I didn't get the up-sell since I don't mind doing my own meal planning. Feel free to check it out.  It was only $10.  I really liked the metabolic calorie free dressings.  I've been needing some inspiration.

For the Metabolic Cooking itself, there are 9 cookbooks:

  • Vegetarian
  • Snacks
  • Sides
  • Red Meat
  • Pork
  • Metabolicious Smoothies
  • Fish & Seafood
  • Breakfast
  • Chicken & Poultry

The recipes are for 2 servings. And the nutrition information is clear. Not all of them have images. But the recipes are easy to read and follow. I can install it on my Nook or Kindle and set that up in my kitchen.

Check it out if you're interested. Let me know what you thought.

Now it's time to go for a walk.

 

Restaurant Quality Mussels

Restaurant Quality Mussels

Today I'll go over some tips on how to make restaurant quality mussels.

We love eating out at restaurants. It's not just because someone else is cooking and we're getting served. But there's something about the flavor that's difficult to recreate in the home.

Or we think it is.  Usually, they're using a lot of butter. And I do mean a ton of it.

The second is that they use good quality ingredients.

Choosing the Mussels

Unlike clams, some mussels are open when you purchase them, and they're alive. They should close quickly when you touch them.  If not, they're dead and should be tossed.

After cooking, if a mussel hasn't opened, it's dead, so go ahead and toss it as well.

Shells should be intact with no signs of cracks or chips.

Mussels are delicious, cheap, fast to prepare and very satisfying.

Mistakes to Avoid

There are some pretty simple steps for making good mussels.  Make sure you don't make these mistakes.

Not cleaning your mussels

We talked about removing the beard in a previous post where I made mussels and clams with linguine. Scrape off any barnacles you see with a paring knife. And rinse them off well.  I prefer soaking in salt water for awhile as well.

Add in aromatics

This really helps develop the flavor for the broth. You want to use chopped onion, garlic, shallots ginger, or a mixture.

Alcohol adds flavor

Using a crisp white wine or lager will infuse flavor into the mussels and make the broth lovely. If you don't want to use alcohol, use something else like coconut milk or chopped tomatoes in juice. Don't just use water.

Always Simmer

You want to slowly cook the mussels using a simmer and never a boil. Simmering is when there's small bubbles coming up. Boiling is larger bubbles.

See more in this video with Jamie Oliver

Remember the herbs

I love using fresh thyme and parsley in my mussels. It's also wonderful with dill, cilantro, and tarragon. Rosemary and sage wouldn't be good choices as they're more woody flavors and you want to appreciate the brininess of the mussels.

Some people also love adding in hot pepper flakes.

Move Them Around

Gently shake the pan to move the mussels around.  You can stir but don't be constantly in there moving them around.  Some people prefer to put a lid on the pan thinking that the shellfish will cook faster.  In a professional kitchen, they rarely have time to find lids and the mussels cook just fine.  So you can use a lid but you don't have to.  And gently move them around but don't be too rough.

And you can finish up the disk with just a little butter to add a lovely depth to the broth.

Serving Them

I like them steamed with the broth and fresh herbs over the top. I'll also make a salad with a vinaigrette dressing. I also love some crusty bread to dip into the broth.

You can slice the French bread thinly and toast it. Then rub a garlic clove over it. It's the perfect accompaniment to your meal. And you will be satisfied with less.

Burrito Bowl Mason Jars

Burrito Bowl Mason Jars

A burrito bowl is a delicious and fun way to get your veggies and beans. Mason jars are the latest way of bringing lunch into work. They keep foods fresh and are easy to transport. Plus you can just pour it out onto a place

So imagine what happens when you combine them? Yup. Fun and excitement.

Watch this video and be inspired:

You can find the full recipe here.

What Would I Change

I'd definitely use less oil. Two tablespoons in one serving is huge. I'd start with half a tablespoon and see if you really need or want more. You'll have the fat from the avocado.

Also, I love the idea of a mason jar, but I also know I'm a klutz and would probably break it. So I'd use a plastic container that could double as the bowl.  It would need to have a solid and well-sealing lid for when I shake it up.

I would also want more beans and no rice to be low-carb. And I'd add in diced tomatoes.

I have a confession. I'm not that into black beans. I much prefer pinquito, eye of the goat, and mayacoba beans. You can learn everything you need to know about heirloom beans at Rancho Gordo.

Let me just say that it's true.  Fresher beans taste better than old beans. And heirloom varieties have wonderful flavor. I used snowcap beans in place of potatoes in chicken and beef stew. More protein and fiber and less carbs means a happier body.

Other Mason Jar Ideas

The glass jar is great for salads.  The key for success is to put the dressing ingredients on the bottom. Then layer up the vegetables you wouldn't mind marinating like carrots, peppers, and celery.  The next level is the lettuce and cabbage. The top is the items you'd want to keep dry like avocado and cheese.

Mason jars are also wonderful for soups. You can microwave the jar and then pour it into a bowl. You can use the same broth and meat but change up the noodles and vegetables. Maybe one day you have chicken soup with alphabet noodles. The next day you have chicken ramen soup.

Get inspired with these recipes at Self Magazine.