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Blog-checking lines: Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

OMG so laaaaaate….I saw that the challenge was potato salad, picked my recipe out, and then work immediately became a fiery whirlwind of stress and drama, and the potato salad never was made. But then Jenn was having a 4th of July pool party, and I said AHA! A time and place for a healthy potato salad, especially one that doesn’t have mayo in it!

I didn’t take any pictures…so I suppose you can’t really believe me when I said I made it. 😦

Original recipe here. Bask in the authoress’s gorgeous photographing abilities. I’m jealous!

I am all about the Indian flavors this year — maybe because I’m working more closely than ever before with my subcontinental coworkers? These flavors were a big hit, both among those who tried it at the July 4th pool party and the neighbors who had it at the July 5th Leftovers Party I lugged it to. This was easy to make on the morning of the 4th while Jim deconstructed the tents in the backyard from our July 3rd party (can you tell our neighborhood takes the 4th of July very seriously?), and the kitchen didn’t even get too hot. Totally a plus.

Indian Potato Salad (no mayo)
4 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes*
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
couple of shakes of cayenne
3 scallions, sliced thinly
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped*

*I think I used about 3 medium sized white potatoes? 2 1/2 pounds or so?
**As always, what did I do? I left out the cilantro! Yes, always. It tastes like soap. You’re welcome.

Bring water to a boil and add the cubed potatoes. Boil until just tender (about 5 mins). Test with a fork. You don’t want them too firm but you don’t want them falling apart in to mush either. Drain in a colander in the sink.

Heat the oil in a skillet and toast the cumin seeds for a minute. Add the salt and curry powder and stir until well mixed. The mixture will get amazingly fragrant as it heats up, this only takes a minute or so but be sure you don’t let it burn. Take fragrant spiced oil off the heat.

Place the potatoes, scallions, and red pepper in a bowl and add the spicy oil. Toss gently then add a couple of shakes of cayenne. Finally, add the cilantro if you are using it and toss gently.

And enjoy!

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Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Mandatory Items: Prepare a pot of gumbo, using one of the recipes provided, a variation thereof, or any other gumbo recipe you find that tickles your fancy.

I’m so happy when a Challenge host says to us that we can use any recipe that tickles our fancy, or fits our dietary/lifestyle needs. Because I’m trying to cook more healthfully, traditional recipes don’t always mesh harmoniously with my lifestyle, and long, complicated recipes don’t always mesh with the busy lives we have. When the husband is coming home from work an hour or two late, you don’t want dinner to be stuck in some sort of limbo while waiting, or wait until he’s home to begin the 4-hour-long preparations required for the meal. Plus, this month my folks are in town from Las Vegas, so the Challenge recipe had to be something that a diabetic eater could fit in to her daily diet, and not include shrimp. So while I didn’t go with one of the provided recipes, I was able to find a gumbo recipe that came together quickly, used easy-to-find ingredients, and was healthful enough to possibly become a regular recipe.

Note: My apologies for the quality of the photos! I had to do them with my cellphone camera. I never charged up the rechargeable battery on the good camera. 😦

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo*
serves 4 or 5

6 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1-inch cubes
9 oz. Aidell’s jalapeno chicken sausage (3 links), sliced
10 oz. frozen gumbo-style vegetables (corn, pepper, okra, and onion)**
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. low-sodium chicken broth
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme***
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

*This could also be Chicken & Shrimp Gumbo, or Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo, but for one anticrustacean among us. I’m looking forward to a Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo version in future!
**Perhaps it is my geographic area, but a mix of gumbo vegetables could not be found in my local stores. I was, however, able to find a 10-ounce bag of frozen cut okra, so I supplemented that with some frozen whole kernel corn and frozen chopped onions, to total between 10 and 14 ounces.
***WHY DO I NEVER HAVE DRIED THYME?? I seem to be allergic to thyme, in that there is never any in the kitchen, even when I could have sworn there was. I substituted dried tarragon, with no ill effects. With so much chicken in the dish, it was quite complementary.

Step 1: Get your ingredients together and recruit some assistants! As you can see, my assistant is so excited to participate, she has to be held back:

Until she realizes there is food in progress:

Coat the bottom of a large stewpot generously with non-stick spray. Heat to medium-low heat and add the cubed chicken and the sliced sausage. Brown, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.

Stir in frozen vegetables and garlic; saute until vegetables are thawed, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of flour over and cook 1 minute, stirring well. Stir in chicken broth and tomatoes and scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom. Add bay leaf, thyme (tarragon), salt, pepper, and simmer 5 minutes.

Remove bay leaf.

At this point, I kept simmering, as I was waiting for the rice cooker to finish up and the gumbo sauce to thicken. I was concerned that it was looking too soupy. When the rice was done and in a bowl on the table — and my diners were waiting — I said the gumbo would be what it would be, and transferred it to a large bowl with a ladle for serving. My dad’s first comment — “Looks good! Although I know some chefs [who] would’ve added a bit more liquid.” So it must not have been too soupy after all! (What qualifies him to pronounce on my gumbo? We lived in Louisiana ages and ages hence.)

In the serving bowl:

Served with rice:

This is the year of two things: Queen Victoria and Indian cooking. At this moment’s reflection, I realize those two things aren’t necessarily separate. I was looking for easy, “different” recipes for the summer and this jumped right out at me, and was declared an easy winner.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken Skewers with Red Onions
serves 4

1 1/4 lbs. skinless chicken thighs, cut into 32 chunks (about 4 pieces per thigh)*
2 Tbsp tandoori spice mix**
1 medium red onion(s), cut into 16 wedges
2 spray(s) olive oil cooking spray
1/2 cup(s) plain fat-free yogurt

*This measurement is extremely questionable. In the package of thighs I got at my store, 8 thighs is about 2 pounds of meat (a little more). I weighed out a pound and a quarter on my kitchen scale and then cut that in to 32 roughly-same-sized pieces. It came out to about 6 thighs, some larger than others. I didn’t get fewer than 4 pieces from any one thigh, but I got 5 to 6 pieces from others. And I was pleased with this method.

**Once again, I used Patak’s curry paste, available in the Indian foods section of my closest large grocery store.

Put cut-up chicken, 1/2 cup of yogurt, and the spice mix in a resealable plastic food storage bag. Seal bag and turn to mix and coat. Place bag on a plate and refrigerate on lowest shelf for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours, so you can do this well in advance of dinner if you know your afternoon’s going to be busy.

Preheat grill. Remove chicken from marinade; discard leftover marinade. Thread chicken and onion wedges onto 8 metal skewers, using 4 pieces of chicken and 2 pieces of onion per skewer. I did chicken, onion, chicken chicken, onion, chicken. (If you are using wooden or bamboo skewers, as I did, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before use to prevent incineration.) Lightly coat chicken and onions with cooking spray.

Grill skewers, turning often, until chicken is no longer pink in center, about 7 to 9 minutes. Yields 2 skewers per serving. Serve with sweet potato fries or cous cous or rice.

This is an excellent party recipe that can be made, in stages, and ahead of time. I’m going to give you the original recipe from Stonewall Kitchen, the makers of the roasted garlic and onion jam I’m enamored with, but I also give you this caveat: I have yet to make the full-sized recipe come out quite right. But I think that has more to do with the cream cheese than the recipe itself. More below.

Roasted Garlic & Onion Jam Cheese Ball
serves many as an app at a party

16 ounces cream cheese (you can use fat-free)*
1/4 c. Stonewall Kitchen Roasted Garlic Onion Jam
dash of freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 c. Monterey Jack cheese**
1/2 c. chopped pecans

*Caveat: I do not believe that this recipe will work, even in half measures, if you use the cream cheese that comes in a tub. I have tried this twice, once as a full recipe and once as a half recipe, and it didn’t work either time. I think the cream cheese in the tub has a higher moisture content, and it takes more than twice as long to reach a stage in the fridge where it will retain the shape you want to give it. I haven’t tried the full-sized recipe using bricks of cream cheese because only 1 of the stores in my area carries fat-free cream cheese in brick shape, but it works a treat for the half recipe. Stick to the bricks.

**I cannot find low-fat Monterey Jack cheese to save my life. I’ve been using a fancy-shredded low-fat 4 cheese Mexican blend and it’s been a hit all three times I’ve brought this recipe out. If I weren’t striving to make this recipe low-fat, I could use regular Monterey Jack, which can easily be found in the grocery stores; but just so you know, the 4 cheese Mexican-style blend works just fine.

Bring the cream cheese to room temperature. This will make it easier to work with.

When the cream cheese has come to room temp, mix together the cheese, the jam, and the pepper. Fold in the shredded cheese. At this point, I return the bowl with the mixture to the fridge so the mixture can firm to a malleable state and for the flavors to meld. If you are preparing to have guests over, take this opportunity to vacuum something.

Form the chilled mixture in to a ball. It will probably warm up, between your handling it and the warmth of the room, so once it is in a ball return it to the bowl and pop it back in the fridge for fifteen minutes.

When the ball is chilled and firm again, roll in the chopped pecans. Pat the pecans in with your fingertips, gently, to make sure they’re stuck on. Wrap tightly in clear plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator until the guests arrive!

Serve on a plate with a cheese knife and handfuls of small crackers. We prefer Breton Minis.

If you have no other choice than to use the tub cream cheese, don’t panic. Follow all the steps through trying to form the cheese mixture in to a ball. Do not even attempt it because it is icky and you will get stressed out. Mix in the chopped pecans and pour the whole thing in to a serving dish, smooth the top over, and cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until party time. This tastes NO different as a dip than as a ball, and at a recent party I watched people spread not only crackers but also vegetables and tortilla chips with the cheese “dip.”

Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!

Mandatory Items: To make a SAVORY edible container and fill it with something appropriate.

Variations allowed:

  • You may want to use one of the ideas provided here as described, or give them your own twists and your own recipes for the content.
  • Or, you can choose to create something totally new, from scratch.
  • As long as it is a container, it is edible, and has a content suitable for it, I want you all to have a lot of fun challenging your creativity!

Well, my faithful kittens, I feel like I am finally shaking off the late-winter malaise that’s been affecting my cooking. I read this challenge when it came out, gave a cheer, then promptly became distracted by the menu for my birthday party dinner. Then Jim sends me an email asking me to send the link to the Daring Kitchen website to someone, because “his wife cooks like [I] do.” Is this a compliment? Because I took it as one. And it reminded me to do the challenge post haste, since the posting date was fast approaching!

The challenge is to make an edible container, and we can take this dictum wherever our creativity leads! I loved the idea of toast cups that is put forth in the challenge intro: a slice of bread molded in to a bake-proof container, filled with an egg and baked to doneness. Well, I also had some Canadian bacon in the freezer, and some shredded low-fat 4 cheese blend, and a mad hankering for some guacamole, so I put them all together with the idea of a baked toast cup and made it happen.

It’s amazingly easy:

1. Take a slice of toast and cut the crusts off with a sharp knife. Place the bread in an oven-proof container sprayed lightly with non-stick spray to assist in removing the finished product.

2. If desired, place a slice of Canadian bacon, or some fried bacon, or a few sausage crumbles, or sliced ham, or sliced turkey, or whatever, on top of the bread.

3. Gently crack an egg over the meat. Now, the challenge host said be careful not to let your egg leak outside of your bread, but since it was inevitable in my case, I didn’t worry about it. This was part of the reason I used non-stick spray, so that any escaped egg wouldn’t gum up my removal process.

4. Place in a preheated oven and bake until the yolks and white reach desired doneness. I placed my individual vessels on a cookie sheet to aid placement in and removal from the oven.

And now, a word. The challenge directions recommend a 180-degree oven for this. I started out with the oven preheated to 180 degrees, but after a half hour of my egg not cooking, I began to gradually bump up the oven temperature. I finally settled at 300 degrees, when I started to get some really excellent browning action on the exposed toast corners, and some lovely setting of the whites and yolks.

5. Once the eggs are about as cooked as you’d like them to be, remove them from the oven and  layer 1/4 cup of shredded cheese over the eggs. Make an even layer, and once again, I didn’t worry about the potential of any cheese to run outside the toast container. No big deal, right? Pop vessels back in to the oven for 5 to 8 minutes for the cheese to melt.

6. Remove from the oven and let cool so that the contents retain their shapes when removed from the baking vessel. After a couple of minutes I tentatively reached in with a fork and made sure the cheesy, eggy stacks would release from the edges, and when I was satisfied, I left them to sit for another 5 minutes to cool.

7. Use two forks to gently airlift your cheesy, eggy, bacon toast cups on to a waiting plate! Garnish with a small spoonful of prepared guacamole and enjoy.

(Jim says: Since this took an hour and a half to bake, does that make it gourmet?)

Curried Turkey Wrap

These are quick to make, and can be easily packed in a cooler for a picnic or tossed in a lunch bag for the office.

Curried Turkey Wraps
makes 6

1 c. shredded carrots or shredded broccoli slaw mix
1/2 c. fat-free mayonnaise
1/4 c. mango chutney*
2 tsp. curry powder
12 oz. deli-sliced turkey, thinly sliced (but not so thin it falls apart when you touch it)
3 c. mixed greens or raw spinach
6 medium whole wheat tortillas

*I used Patak’s Major Grey Chutney. It’s amazing. It can be found in the international foods aisle of most large grocery stores.

For the filling:
Mix the mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder, and shredded carrots or broccoli slaw in a large bowl.

For each wrap:

Take one tortilla and place it on a clean, flat work surface. To one side, prepare one sheet of wax paper and one sheet of aluminum foil to wrap your wrap in. Put the wax paper on top of the aluminum foil.

Spread 1/4 cup of chutney-mayo slaw on the tortilla. Place 2 ounces of turkey (probably about 2 thin slices) on the tortilla. Add mixed greens to fill. Wrap like a burrito.**

Place the wrap on one edge of the wax paper/aluminum foil combo, and wrap it all up securely. Pop it in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

**I have no advice for you on how to do this. I’m still learning myself and have yet to master a proper burrito wrap. Wrapping each one in a tight layer of wax paper/aluminum foil and letting it refrigerate for an hour or so before eating certainly helped it maintain its shape without totally falling apart. I think one key to a good wrap is definitely using a large enough tortilla. I think I got 6″ tortillas, and they were not nearly large enough. They may be 8″. Next batch I’ll go with a larger tortilla and hopefully they’ll turn out slightly more pretty. Yes, there will be more room inside, but I’ll be able to fill that with more mixed greens/spinach.

The party is this Saturday…I’ll be posting links to some of these recipes this week! Keep coming back!

Appetizers
Giada de Laurentiis’s Stuffed Mushrooms
Fresh veggies with fat-free ranch dip
Crabby Bites (link tk)
Roasted Onion Cheese Ball from Stonewall Kitchen (link tk)
Breton Minis Original-flavored Crackers

Signature Drink
Green Apple Clerico (Kiwi Clerico minus the heinous kiwi)
made with Yarden Mount Hermon White from Golan Heights Winery

Main course
Turkey with Pecan-Cherry Stuffing (link tk)
Salad mixed greens with fat-free Italian dressing
Mix of baked white and sweet potatoes

Dessert
??? TBD ???

I don’t know what the dessert is going to be at my own birthday…Meghan & Co are responsible for it!