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Posts tagged ‘Chef Lynn M. Miller’

Roasted Brussel Sprouts: Two Ways

Brussels Sprouts – especially caramelized ones – are really popular these days. I was introduced to the deep fried, dark and crispy ones at a Michelin One Star Korean restaurant in New York City. Although I don’t usually like my food to look

Raw Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

blackened or burned, I found that I could not stop eating these crispy nuggets filled with Umami. I didn’t like the fact that they were deep fried though, so I set out to try to make them without so many calories. As it turns out, It only took one try. When you make these, you have the Brussels sprouts cores left over, so I roasted them also, adding a little sweetening jam flavor to make them different. Here are the recipes:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Leaves

3 cups Brussels Sprouts Leaves
3 Tablespoons Tangerine Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Wash the sprouts. Pat dry. Cut off the core and the top and peel off the outer leaves. Place these leaves on a baking sheet. (Save the middle parts that are left for the following recipe.)


Brussels Sprouts Outer Leaves with Centers on sheet behind

2. Sprinkle the leaves on the first pan with Tangerine Olive Oil (or another flavored olive oil of your choice. Lime flavored is also great.) Mix them with your hands, spreading the oil throughout the leaves. Then sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
3. Bake in a preheated 425F oven for 15 minutes, stirring after 8 minutes. (You can cook them less if you don’t like them quite so brown.) Cool on the baking sheet. Use as a side or garnish at room temperature.


Finished Roasted Outer Leaves

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Cores

1. Cut the leftover cores in half and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and mix with your hands to spread the oil on all pieces. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
2. Bake in a preheated 425F oven for 15 minutes.
3. Place 3 Tablespoons Dalmatia Fig Jam in a small metal bowl. Place the hot sprouts on top and carefully fold to melt and distribute the jam. Cool. Cover until ready to serve. Serve at room temperature. (Another great glaze could be mustard thinned a bit with cream.)

Fig glazed roasted Brussels Sprouts

Fig glazed roasted Brussels Sprouts

Finished Sprouts as an accompaniment for a veal chop with Chanterelle gravy

Finished Sprouts as an accompaniment for a veal chop with Chanterelle gravy

Spatchcock Chicken

Finished Dish

Finished Dish, Served with Cabbage Balls and Sweet Potato

In the past, I have always called this method of cooking chicken “Butterflied” but it turns out there’s another name for it called “Spatchcock” that dates back to a time nobody can personally remember.  Originally, this term meant a bird that was killed, split and flattened and then grilled on the spot. Today, however, we use this term to describe the bird’s preparation, not including how it’s cooked, because it’s also done in the oven.

For the Spatchcock method, start with a whole chicken, check for anything inside, wash it and pat it dry. Then turn it breast side down. Get out your sharp poultry shears (which can cut through bone by the way, so watch out for your fingers). Cut along one side of the backbone and then the other so you totally remove it. (You can freeze and use that piece later to make stock or to enhance gravy.) Then spread the chicken apart. Some people also make small cuts in the cartilage on both sides of the sternum (at the center of the breast) so it will lie even flatter. This isn’t necessary, but I also like to do it. Now flip it over and push down hard to flatten it.

Cut out the backbone

                  Cut out the backbone

Flip it over and press it flat.

                     Flip it over and press it flat.

If you like, you can wrap clean bricks in tin foil and put them on top of the chicken to weight it down (also called bricked chicken) but it isn’t necessary. If you use them, remove them ¾ of the way through your cooking time so the skin has a chance to brown.

The major advantage of this preparation is that it reduces cooking time. You can finish a chicken in 30 to 40 minutes (at 425⁰F) as opposed to an hour. Plus, it makes a very cool presentation and is much easier to serve, especially if you cook some homemade dressing underneath it. (If you add dressing, you will need more cooking time to bring it to the poultry safe temperature of 165⁰F.) Imagine how much quicker you could carve and serve your meal if you use this method to cook your Thanksgiving turkey! I highly recommend it, as long as you have a cooking pan that is large enough. It also makes a nice presentation for a bird as small as pigeon or Cornish hen.

This method is great for grilling where it’s harder to cook the meat of a whole bird evenly. Just stay away from recipes that include a lot of fat that could drip onto the fire, causing flaming and please don’t char it. (Both of these things are thought to create cancer causing properties in your food.) Remember, however, that you can push your hot charcoal to the sides of your grill, cover it and basically create an oven where you don’t have to worry about that so much.

Beyond that, you can use any poultry recipe you like. If cooking in the oven, you have more options. You can put butter and herbs under the skin, stuffing or herbs underneath or use any rub that you like. Brushing oil on the skin before cooking is the best way to seal in the flavors. I also like to sprinkle paprika on top of the oil, which gives the finished bird a rich brownish color. Give it a try! Add some vegetables and rice and you’ve got a great comfort meal for any time of the year!

Squelch your Snack Attack with The Incredible Egg

Looking for a high protein brunch that’s healthy and not so high in calories? Turn to the incredible, edible egg. It’s The Incredible Egginexpensive, has no gluten, is high in protein, and contains choline which promotes liver function and helps transport other nutrients throughout your body. You can also add in a number of vitamins as well as no sugar and no carbs! Add in the right kind of carbs with the recipes you choose – carbs from vegetables.

So let’s choose spinach! Spinach is a super food – providing a very dense nutritional content in relation to its calories. Besides that, its vibrant green color provides a wonderful visual contrast, making the dish colorful and appealing. After that, I’ve added in other nutritious and colorful vegetables that you probably have on hand – making this a “go to” meal that you can prepare in a hurry.

Thinking of leaving out the cheese? It helps you to feel full and ¼ cup only adds 27.5 calories. Worth it to me! Cheese also adds a little more protein. My trainer always told me to be sure to eat something with protein and carbs within an hour after working out. This recipe is the perfect mix – and I’ll mention again – it’s so quick to make! After I work out, I’m hungry and if I head for the omelet pan, I can satisfy that need before I grab something sweet that works against my goals. (I try to keep Jerky around for that reason too – something else that’s quick to grab during a snack attack!)

Here’s the recipe:

(370 calories, 21.3 grams protein, 5.4 grams fiber, 15.4 grams carb)

2 large eggs, whisked

¼ red or yellow onion, diced small

½ red bell pepper, diced small

1-1/2 cups fresh spinach leaves

¼ cup finely grated Cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon olive oil

Pinch each of salt and pepper

Garnish: A few sliced, green garden onions


  1. Place 2 cups water in a frying or sauce pan. Add the spinach and heat just until the leaves soften. Do not overcook. Remove from the pan and drain well. You can even blot it a bit with a paper towel.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick omelet pan. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until just soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the egg and as it starts to cook, scrape the sides of the pan and fold it in on itself (preferably using a heat free spatula).
  4. Just before the egg is completely cooked, add the rest of the ingredients except for the garden onions and sprinkle with spices. Fold together once more. Sprinkle with a few sliced green garden onions and serve immediately.

Concerned about cholesterol? WebMD says it best… “In 2000, the American Heart Association (AHA) revised its dietary guidelines and gave healthy adults the green light to enjoy eggs once again. The AHA’s guidelines now allow an egg a day for healthy adults while still advising a total daily cholesterol limit of 300 mg.

The confusion over eggs stems from their cholesterol content. One large egg contains 213 mg of cholesterol, accounting for two-thirds of the recommended daily limit.

When scientists learned that high blood cholesterol was associated with heart disease, foods high in cholesterol logically became suspect. But after 25 years of study, it has become evident that cholesterol in food is not the culprit — saturated fat has a much bigger effect on blood cholesterol. Full-fat dairy products and fatty meats are examples of foods that are loaded with saturated fat and which trigger the body to produce cholesterol.”

As an aside, it’s well known that you can spread out your nutritional needs over a period of days. So, if you make this dish one day, you can keep your egg limits in check by not eating any on the day following. This applies to most people, but if you have a heart condition and your doctor has advised you otherwise, follow his/her advice!

Sous Vide: What’s it all about?

Sous Vide Cooking…Now so easy to do at home!

Sous Vide Tuna with Carrots

Sous Vide Tuna                                                       With Carrots and Cauliflower Puree

What is Sous Vide?  Sous Vide is French for without air. It’s is worth knowing about because it’s a way to cook meats and fish with absolutely no fat – reducing in calorie reduction. But most important, it’s a way to get your food the perfect temperature with no fear of over cooking. It can supply a big window of time within which you can serve your food, all the while keeping it warm and perfectly cooked. The sous vide method was popularized by high end restaurants for just these reasons – and now, even the home cook has an opportunity to take advantage of this unique method of cooking without a huge expenditure.

To use this method, you place a circulator/heater in a tank with enough water to cover the food. You heat the water to the desired temperature and then you drop sealed bags containing your food into the water for a specified period of time. (Charts come with the equipment.) You can slow cook thick fish for several hours and meats for many more. Once you reach your minimum cooking time, you can leave it in there to keep it warm for quite a while, taking it out when everything else is ready – a cook’s dream!

Sous Vide Tank with Circulator

Sous Vide Tank with Circulator

Does food taste the same? Your food will be moist and the texture will be extremely tender. However, it might look a little different. You won’t see any caramelization, so you might want to use a blow torch, broiler or blow torch with a diffuser on it to brown up your meat. I don’t think this is so important for fish and with fish – because it’s more tender and thinner – you risk over cooking when you have just gone to the trouble of preparing it perfectly. You can compensate for the lack of caramelization with tasty and colorful spices. In general, you will want to use more spices anyway to compensate for losing the taste of the fat you would normally use in cooking.

Blow Torch With Diffuser

Blow Torch With Diffuser

There are some important precautions! Watch out for safe temperature ranges. Bacteria proliferate exponentially between the temperatures of 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Some bacteria grow without the presence of air, so vacuum packing it in this sense doesn’t make any difference. When your food is in this range for four hours, you should throw it out. This includes cooking, cooling and eating time – and it’s cumulative. So if you save leftovers, even though your refrigerate them, when you bring them back into that temperature zone, you have to count the time it was out before. (You can extend this by two hours by re-heating to specified temperatures.)

All this means is that if you plan to cook a roast, for example, that has six hours of cooking time, make sure your water temperature is above the zone. A product like fish, for example, that might, also for example, take an hour or two to cook, would be fine cooked at a lower temperature – even within the zone.

What equipment is required and where do I get it? All you need is a large, plastic tank and a heater/circulator, as well as a way to vacuum pack your food. It’s important to circulate the water in the tank so that all the liquid is a constant temperature. Basically, you are poaching without your food touching the water, which would leech out the flavor.

Take a look at the Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circular for $199 and the ARY tank, for $39 (found online at the time of this printing). A vacuum pack machine can be found at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond. Although there are more expensive ones available, I got a Food Saver brand machine there for $69 and it has worked fine for years. A nice aside to these machines is that you can freeze food without air in the packages, eliminating or highly reducing freezer frost. For sous vide, you can even use Ziploc bags, as long as you press out the air and make sure they are sealed tightly.

This method of cooking is easy and fun. Especially for those of you who are afraid to cook fish, just can’t get it right or don’t like the smell of fish in your kitchen, here’s your answer!

Fish Baked in Salt

Finished Dish

Finished Dish

If you want to make a dish that’s a little exotic and impressive yet very easy, fish baked in salt might be your answer! This absolutely delicious preparation has a very lightly seasoned taste. Contrary to popular belief, the meat is not extremely salty. The salt bakes into a crust that is easily removed and outside the skin. The meat itself is delicate and moist because it basically steams inside the salt crust.

For starters, you will need a very large roasting pan and a lot of salt. It’s difficult to say how much because it depends on the size of your pan and the size of your fish. Generally, for one large fish you will need two boxes of kosher salt and 4 egg whites. (You can get kosher salt at Kroger or any grocery store for a few dollars a box.)

The fish should be completely whole with the skin on – and yes, also with the head on. Snapper, salmon and other larger fish work best, but you can also use trout or other smaller fish like mackerel. Smaller fish can be cooked together in the same crust – as many as will fit in your pan. You can cut off the heads and peel the skin away before you serve it. Just as an aside, when you are shopping for your fish, make sure it will fit in your pan and that your pan will fit in your oven. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Fish in salt

If you want to get really fancy, you can crack the crust and serve the fish at the table. I don’t recommend that though because salt tends to fly around and it – well – it makes a mess. But anyway, back to the basics.

To bake fish in salt, first clean your fish (no guts), wash it and pat it dry. Measure the thickest part of the fish. Then mix the salt with the egg whites. Use enough egg whites so the salt is slightly moist. Put 1/2” salt in the bottom of your pan. Put the fish on top of that. Cover the fish with ½” of the salt/egg white mixture. Make sure that the fish is completely buried. Bake in a preheated 425 F oven, 10 minutes per inch of fish.

Fish covered in salt

Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes. Then crack the crust and serve the deliciously tender and moist fish meat that you find inside. (I often do this in or near the sink to catch flying salt.) Enjoy!

Steak or Lobster? That is the question!

Our meat supply is shrinking. Why? The Department of Agriculture forecasted in May that “Beef output in the U.S., the world’s top producer, will fall 5.3% this year to 24.35 billion pounds, the lowest since 1994.

Photo Credit: Food and Fire

Photo Credit: Food and Fire

According to The Wall Street Sector Selector, “At the start of this year (2014), the cattle herd fell to 87.7 million head, the lowest since 1951, following drought and high feed costs.” In addition… “Porcine epidemic virus has killed more than 4 million pigs, according to an industry group.”

According to Bloomberg News, “This is very unusual to see this kind of price increase this early in the season,” Donnie King, the President of prepared foods at Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson, the largest U.S. processor of beef and chicken, said in a March 13 presentation to analysts. Cattle futures reached an all-time high… up 25 percent from last year’s low in May. Hog futures surged … and are up 47 percent this year. Domestic wholesale pork has advanced even more, gaining 56 percent this year.”

What does that mean to you?  Increased costs to restaurants and retail stores get passed on to the consumer, so it’s going to cost you quite a bit more to eat beef and pork.

What to watch out for? Look not only at the price of the package of meat you want to buy. Check the weights on the packages too. Although retailers will cut what they can to keep their margins intact, he first thing you can expect to happen is that an attempt will be made to fool you by changing packaging. In other words, the price you normally see will be the same or very slightly more, but there will be less in the package, so you don’t notice the increase in price. Do notice it, though, because it’s definitely there.

What to do? Take a look at other products whose supply has increased, causing their prices to drop. An example is lobster – once brought into households only as a luxurious indulgence.

Supplies of lobster have dramatically increased. Why? According to The Columbus Dispatch, “last year’s record haul of 126 million pounds is double that of just a decade ago.” That made prices very cheap. They go on to say, “No one knows exactly why lobster populations have increased so quickly. The answer, says marine biologist Robert Steneck, is likely a combination of warming water temperatures, the overfishing of inshore predators like cod and a long history of forward-thinking conservation measures.” That means that lobster is suddenly really affordable. It’s also very simple to prepare this delicious meat!

Photo Credit: LeOeuf

Photo Credit: LeOeuf

What to look for in buying lobster: Buy them live, as fresh as possible and as close to preparation time as possible. Retailers keep live lobsters in tanks. Make sure your lobster is lively when taken out of the tank. If it has a lot of energy, it will probably try to curl up. If lobsters are in the tank too long, they get lethargic and lose muscle mass because they are not fed there. You can ask the retailer when they arrived so you know exactly how fresh they are. Once you choose your lobster, keep them in the refrigerator until cooking time.

Here are the best two ways to prepare lobster:

  1. Bring a large pot of water (infused with 1 Tablespoon of salt) to a boil. You can usually cook several lobsters at a time, but it depends on the size of your pot. Plunge the live lobsters head first into the hot water and cook them until they turn pink, about 15-20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well. If you want to spoil your guests, crack the back and claws in two with a large, sharp knife and serve immediately with fresh lemon quarters (to squeeze on the meat) and clarified butter. (What is clarified butter? When you melt butter, the white solids rise to the top. If you skim them off, that’s clarified butter.)
  2. If you buy frozen lobster tails, take them out of the freezer the day before you want to serve them and thaw them in the fridge. Sprinkle the meat side with salt and pepper. Squeeze on fresh lemon juice. Then get your grill hot and grill for 12-15 minutes. Again, serve them with a little dish of clarified butter for dipping and some fresh lemon.

Googling lobster will find many more recipes, but these are the simplest and in my mind, the most delicious. If you use too may spices, you will easily overpower the taste of the meat.

What wine to serve?  Loren Sonkin ofInToWine” suggests – and this is in order of price, with the first being the highest – a Montrachet (from Burgundy in France), a California Grand Cru Chardonnay, or a Gewurztraminer. He says, “In my opinion, boiled lobster with drawn butter begs for a medium bodied white wine with perhaps subtle nuances of oak ageing.”

So choose your wine price point and go enjoy that lobster while the prices are still lower than hamburger! 🙂


BYOB to restaurants is now legal in Michigan!

Wine Cellar PhotoFor those of you who like wine and would like to take your own to a restaurant, here’s some important news! Until now, it was illegal in Michigan to bring your own wine to restaurants unless they were designated a “resort” (e.g.  The Townsend Hotel).

However, in December, Governor Rick Snyder approved House Bill 5046, (Effective Date: March 14, 2014) which allows restaurants with liquor licenses to let patrons bring their own bottles of wine to drink at those restaurants. They must be bottles from licensed wineries, so note that you can’t bring your own moonshine! Note also that there is no regulation on corkage fees (what restaurants can charge in order to uncork and serve the bottle to you). So expect to see some disparity and make sure you check out the situation in advance! Here’s why:

Many Bloomfield Hills residents often eat in Birmingham because it’s the closest fine dining. So, I did a survey of 25 Birmingham restaurants and restaurateurs are well aware of the change in the law. Many are considering making a rules change to allow patrons to bring their own wine. However, they are looking at different ways to make it work for them as well as their customers. This is a big step for them, so be patient. Of those I polled, here are the restaurants you can count on, listed with their corkage fees:

  • Big Rock Chop House:  $25. (Must be a wine that is NOT on their list.)
  • Café Via: $30 (Prefer just for special occasions)
  • Forest Grill: $25.
  • Hyde Park Prime Steak House: $25.
  • Rugby Grill in the Townsend: $35.
  • Social Kitchen and Bar: $35. (After March 14th only)
  • The Stand: $50.
  • Tallulah: $15.

I’m sure there will be a lot more now that the law has taken effect, so call and check before you show up with your brown bag. 🙂

You can still take an unfinished bottle of wine home from a restaurant that you purchase from the restaurant if their staff replaces the cork even with the lip of the bottle. However, the way the law reads, you cannot legally take unfinished wine home if you have not consumed a meal. You also may not take additional wine unless they are classified as a merchant.

There will be a learning curve on both sides with this new practice, so be patient. Realize that the wine mark ups for restaurants are anywhere from 100% to 300% above their wholesale costs. That extra revenue goes a long way toward paying restaurant expenses. Also, tips on wine are important revenue to staff. In most cases, with corkage fees, it only makes sense to bring your own if it’s a relatively expensive bottle of wine. Let’s say that the corkage fee is $20. If you buy a $15 bottle, you will pay $40 to drink it at the restaurant. If the restaurant bought the same bottle for the same price and marked it up 300%, you would pay $45 or maybe even less if their markup was less, so it wouldn’t be worth it. For a much more expensive bottle of wine – say a $300 bottle, you do the math and you could see that it would definitely be worth it.

 So what about the person who serves the wine? The fair thing to do is to tip on the value of the wine – or if it’s an exorbitant value – use your judgment, but definitely don’t tip just on the meal. It’s important to keep your server happy! Believe me… He/she won’t forget.

 Etiquette is going to be important for these restaurants to accept the wine law change. Here are some more tips for bringing your own wine to restaurants:

  1. Call ahead to see if it’s acceptable to them and ask what the corkage fee will be so you are not surprised. Ask if the bottle you want to bring is on their list. If it’s for a special occasion, tell them to help them understand your situation. If you want to bring more than one bottle, also ask if that’s OK.
  2. A very cool thing to do if you have enough people is to also buy a bottle from the restaurant’s wine list.
  3. Offer a taste to the Sommelier or if you don’t drink it all, send what’s left back to the chef. (I love using leftover wine after parties in sauces!)
  4. Don’t bring a bottle that’s on their wine list. Do bring a special bottle for a special occasion.

 If you want to read the law, you can find it here online:

If this change is important to you, be informed about the new rules and promote it by talking to restaurant Managers who are not yet participating. The law reads that restaurants “may” allow people to bring wine, so encourage them to change their policies after March 14th because it is now possible to BYOB!

DATE NIGHT! What to cook?

Imagine that a much anticipated “date night” is just around the corner for you and your partner. You look forward to putting the kids to bed and creating that dream dinner for your spouse or partner. But what should it be? What will make it so special that it will put stars in his or her eyes? Here are some tips on how to plan a meal that aims to please.

AVeg Stir Fry1. Tailor it to YOU and YOURS. Each circumstance is different and personal. Your likes and dislikes are not the same as the next person. Making your moment special could mean:

  • Making a favorite meal that you don’t make very often.
  • Cooking something together if your partner also enjoys the process. You can especially make him/her feel special by having the ingredients all set out and any chopping done ahead of time. This will make the meal go together quickly and is much more fun. Everyone loves having a Sous Chef! 🙂
  • Making something you don’t particularly like to cook, but you know your partner will appreciate it if you make it.
  • Choosing a favorite ingredient and including it in each course (e.g. coconut would be would be one of my choices. My husband and I both love it!)

2. Keep it SIMPLE. Remember that the purpose of a date night meal is romance, not hours in the kitchen. Simple, healthy foods that are presented in a pretty way are Rolled Pork Roastalways welcome. What matters is the flavor, not how complicated it is. Use your spices and taste everything before you serve it to be sure that it’s just right. Keep in mind though, that some things that LOOK complicated actually are not all… like rolling some stuffing into the middle of your pork roast instead of just baking it.

3. Explore “make ahead” options. Plan your meal and shop ahead. Many things can be purchased and even made yourself a day or more ahead. Risotto is wonderful for that. It re-heats well and as you will see below, RISOTTOcan be made into other things. As well, many things may be simply chopped and organized well ahead. Don’t leave too much to the last minute. You want to have energy to engage with your partner. Make sure you protect your energy source so you’re not nodding off in your soup!

4. Don’t try anything too exotic. This might not be the time to try something new unless you are both very good natured and can withstand a failure. Comfort or familiar food is just fine. Go with the known bet in this case.

5. Make it pleasing to the eye. Pay attention to presentation! Nothing makes a person feel more special than knowing someone else has really fussed over something for them. Take that extra minute or two to carefully present what you have made. A few ways to make your presentation look special are:

  • Equal portion sizes look more professional.
  • Use a scoop to mound dishes like risotto or potato salad. You can then lean your meat against the mound.Melon Balls
  • Cut meats with a sharp knife so you have clean, straight edges. Cut everything, by the way, with a really sharp knife for this reason!
  • Use edible flowers as accents. (You can buy small amounts of them in many grocery stores and markets. My favorites are Nasturtium. They have a delicious, peppery taste.)
  • Garnish! Snips of fresh herbs make colorful, attractive garnishes. Choose an herb that contrasts with the color but goes with the spices/herbs in your dish. Other great garnishes are tiny bits of chopped, colorful bell pepper, egg yolk pushed through a sieve, tiny strips of carrot and tips of asparagus spears. If you keep small amounts of leftover vegetables, you can always use them as garnish too. They add color, interest and a little extra nutrition.
  • Serve your dish on attractive dishware. Keep your eye out for interesting dishes and then just buy two to keep the price down and to be able to offer variety.

6. Have more than one course. It’s so easy to full into a cooking rut. Whether you work outside the home or not, life is busy, hectic and tiring. It’s tempting to grab something on the run or throw together a one dish meal. Not that that is always bad, but your partner will be impressed if you come up with more than one course. It isn’t that hard. The first course could be a “store bought” soup (with a garnish of course!). The second could be something special you made yourself and dessert could be ice cream with a special sauce or berries or something purchased from a store.

aHow to make soup out of anything

This is a great time to think about any leftovers in your refrigerator. Is there anything that could be re-worked to become a course on its own? For example, if you have leftover risotto, you can form it into balls, press a small cube of cheese in the middle, dip it in egg and then flour and then deep fry it for a delicious appetizer or starch side dish. A little bit of leftover soup can be served in a tiny terrine as an appetizer. Leftover cheese and turkey can become a mini grilled Panini sandwich appetizer. Simple scoops of melon on a skewer make a light and refreshing appetizer. Use your imagination. The list is endless!

Pick out some ideas above, add a smile and your special person will feel like he/she is in a restaurant created just for them! Happy Date Night!

Healthier Fast Food for YOU!

I can’t remember the last time I stopped for fast food. It has been so long that I decided to bring some into the test kitchen to see what it’s all about these days. I chose three popular “sandwich type” meals, dissected and analyzed them and came up with a much healthier alternative. Here they are. The “store bought” ones are listed first, followed by the healthy makeovers. Take a good look at what you are eating!

ONE:  The first one was the cheapest. At $1.05 – no joke – it was called a Beefy Crunch Burrito. I thought “crunch” sounded good, but here’s what was inside:

Taco Bell 2_1This sandwich contained 1/3 cups not so crispy – in fact very soggy things that looked like iridescent red Fritos. When I first looked at it, I said “Where’s the beef?” Then I was able to scrounge up about 1/4 cup of hamburger, not quite 1/3 cup of rice and a squirt of a liquid Velveeta type cheese. I found 1 Tablespoon of sour cream squirted in one spot, so you get that in only one bite. The flour tortilla was 10-1/2″, for comparison purposes.

This sandwich contained 540 Calories, 16 g Protein, 21 grams of Fat, 1110 g of Sodium, 71 g Carbs, 7 g Fiber an 7 g Sugar. That sugar is always there to entice you to want to eat more… and frankly this sandwich contains so little protein, you would definitely want two or three to feel full. The problem is that you can’t get the protein without all the other stuff, so then you are way off the charts in terms of healthy.

TWO:  The second sandwich – and these are all from different establishments by the way, was called a Crispy Chicken Caesar. This one weighed in at $1.37, but again I think you would need two to fill up.

Wendys Crispy Chicken Used

My first reaction to this one was, “Where’s the Caesar?” In this 8″ tortilla, I found 2-1/2 oz. breaded and fried chicken, about 1 Tablespoon of dressing that tasted like mayo, 2 slivers of Parmesan cheese included with about 1 Tablespoon of lettuce. Huh?

The crispy chicken was breaded and fried. This sandwich had 440 Calories, 17 g Protein, 26 g Fat, 970 g Sodium, 33 Carbs, 2 g Fiber, and 1 g Sugar.

I think we can do better, add some protein, use a healthier method of cooking and really get some Caesar Salad in there without sacrificing a lot of calories.

(Nutrition information came from the web-sites of their companies or Live Strong.)

THREE: My third choice was called a Chipotle Steak and Cheese with Avocado Sandwich – and I threw in some banana pepper too, but their nutrition info on their sites is not with any extras, mind you. My first reaction was NOT “Where’s the bread?” Who could miss it? This one was out of control with Carbs and out of balance with its protein. It will be an easy one to re-design. It was also the most expensive at $5.60.

Subway Chipotle Steak and Cheese 1 UsedThis sandwich contained 2-1/3 oz. of meat that looked like some sort of compressed meat or Salisbury steak but I think it was billed as Rib-eye – not sure, 1/4 cup of Avocado, about 2 Tablespoons Chipotle Mayonnaise, and 6″ of thick bread (with Parmesan baked into the top). It had 550 Calories, 28 g Protein, 28 g Fat, 1260 g Sodium, 52 g Carbs, 8 g Fiber and 8 g Sugar. So now let’s get busy and re-design these so they are healthier, easy to make and easy to carry along in a lunch bag with an ice pack. By the way, the three sandwiches cost $8.02 and at retail prices, I spent $9.07 getting the ingredients for my new ones (per serving), assuming I had condiments in the fridge already, and a tortilla costs about 25 cents. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

ONE – FIRST RECREATION: Beefy (Crunch) Burrito 

Our Beefy Burrito has 545 Calories… pretty similar Sandwich #1 above. However, we were able to increase the protein to 33 g (from 16 g) and reduce the fat from 21 g to 19 g. We reduced the Carbs from 71 to 47 and reduced the sugar from 7 g to 2 g. Fiber was about the same.

“Crunch” sounds good, but isn’t that practical in a sandwich with this much moisture. If you want some “crunch” add a small portion of baked tortilla chips on the side. Nothing will stay crunchy inside a sandwich when it’s mixed with mayonnaise – especially if you are carrying it along for a lunch later in the day. Also, this was the most unhealthy part of the Burrito, so we decided to leave it out.

Here’s the new recipe! (Doesn’t this look a bit tastier and more substantial? Not to mention healthier!)

Beefy Burrito - LOGO

3 ounces lean ground beef, (1/2 cup) fried without oil in a non-stick pan. (Be careful not to overcook it.)

1/2 cup wild rice, cooked with 1 Tablespoon butter. (Wild rice takes a long time to cook. You might want to make some extra to save for a future meal. Multiply the amount of rice by 2 and that’s how much water you need. Bring it to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to cook for 50 mins. Then let it stand for 10 mins.)

1/4 cup Low Fat Cheddar or Colby Cheese
1 Mex America 10″ flour tortilla, warmed
2 Tablespoons Fat Free sour cream or yogurt
Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper

Method: Put the sour cream or yogurt on the tortilla first. Top it with rice, then beef, then cheese and sprinkle with pepper. Roll up and either grill or bake just long enough to melt the cheese.

TWO – SECOND RECREATION: Crispy Chicken Caesar

Here’s the re-make on this one. Calories were reduced by 23. Protein was increased by 2.4 g. Carbs were increased by just one gram due to more dressing, which was badly needed! Protein went up 2.5 g. Fiber was the same. Fat was reduced by 5 g. Sodium was a little more, again due to more dressing, as well as sugar by 2 grams for the same reason. I do not feel these increases are significant since we added lots more minerals with much more lettuce and more cheese. I don’t think the first sandwich should really be called a Caesar when there’s 1 Tablespoon of lettuce and cheese combined! Our sandwich has much more taste and more minerals – and comes across as a real Caesar (sans croutons) – and for less Calories!

Here’s the new recipe! …………..

Chicken Caesar Taco - LOGO

3 ounces chicken breast tenders, (baked or browned in a non-stick frying pan)

1 8″ MexAmerica flour tortilla
1 cup shredded green lettuce 2 Tablespoons Fat Free Caesar Salad Dressing
1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese, reduced fat, sliced Pinch of pepper

Method: 1. Place all ingredients on the tortilla and roll it up. Enjoy your healthy Caesar Salad!


THREE – THIRD RECREATION: Chipotle Steak and Cheese with Avocado Sandwich

For this last sandwich, we were able to drop the Calories by 140! Protein remained the same. Fat was decreased by 6 grams. Carbs were decreased by 27 g! Fat was decreased by 6 g. Fiber was 4 g less. Sugar was 5 g less – cut to almost nothing. Sodium was decreased by 494 g. What a great improvement! Plus it sure looks a lot more appetizing. I think I would rather eat this one.

Here’s the new recipe! …………

Chipotle Steak & Cheese with Avocado Wrap - LOGO3 ounces Top Sirloin Steak, boneless, fat trimmed, sliced thin and browned in a non-stick frying pan with no oil
1/4 cup Avocado, mashed
2 Tablespoons Fat Free Mayonnaise
1 Chipotle pepper (Canned, in Adobo sauce), minced
1/4 cup Low Fat Cheddar Cheese, grated
Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Method: 1. Once your meat is cooked, mix the minced pepper with the mayonnaise. Spread a little of it on the tortilla.

2. Add the mashed avocado, then the grated cheese, then the meat. Sprinkle with a little freshly ground pepper. Then just roll it up and eat it!

I think you can see that with just a little planning ahead you can make much healthier sandwiches/wraps for you and your family. All you need is a lunch bag a couple of ice packs! No lines, no stopping, no waiting. Just pull it out when the hunger bug strikes! You also know exactly what’s in those sandwiches… so enjoy every healthy bite!

How to make a Taco Stadium!

So many people have asked how I made the Taco Stadium to celebrate the Super Bowl, so it’s only fitting that we have a blog post that covers that topic. Here’s how it was put together. Have fun making your own next year!

Taco Stadium

MexAmerica’s Taco Stadium

1. Start with a container that resembles the shape of a stadium. The one pictured was a gift tin originally filled with wine and food – rather large. It wasn’t sloped like a stadium, but we fixed that issue by sloping it with cardboard on the inside like this: Draw around the bottom of the container on a piece of heavy cardboard and cut it out. Cut down the center of the cardboard lengthwise and fold it back to form the seats (front and top in the shape of an L). Tape the pieces down on the backs and on the bottoms. You will have to trim it a bit and make some end pieces too. It doesn’t matter if they don’t fit exactly because you will cover them and they will be hidden.

2. Cover the seats with pieces of graham crackers, using powdered sugar mixed with water to form a “glue” for the backs to hold them on. Fill the corner holes with sliced pepper rings.

3. Cut fig newton cookies into thirds and place them along the sides of the field. Use flat marshmallows (made for s’mores) in the end zone.

4. Cut the goal post pieces from cucumbers and stick toothpicks in them. Leave a little toothpick protruding so you can stick them into the marshmallows and they will stand up.

5. Thaw some frozen spinach and squeeze out the water. Lay that in the bottom for the grass. Lay pieces of 1/8″ white ribbon across the spinach to indicate the yardage lines. The players are two colors of olives opposing each other. Cut a small flat spot on the bottom of each one so they will stand up.

6. Sprinkle the chopped onion “crowd” across the graham cracker “bleacher seats”.

7. The “sky boxes” (filled with the tacos) are Taco Tender individual taco holders ( We taped those on using heavy packing tape – right through the middle of the holder, then added the finished tacos. It was a little tricky to get them to stay there, but twisting the tape before attaching it to the container did the job.

8. The “pillars” on the outside are filled with Nance’s corn relish – great on chips – and the chips are On the Border tortilla chips. Or… you can make your own. It’s easy and they will never be fresher! Just cut each of your tortillas into four pieces and bake for 10 – 12 minutes in a 350º F oven – or fry them in corn oil heated to 325º F for about 3 minutes and drain on paper toweling. If you fry them, immediately sprinkle them lightly with salt. You can make the chips ahead, but will need to make the stadium at the last minute. Enjoy!

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