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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:

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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.

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Roasted Onion Cheese Ball

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.”

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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.

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27th Birthday Party Dinner Menu

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!

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Chicken Saagwalla

This is a new, go-to spicy chicken dish that I can throw together on a work night and serve with rice. I’ll give you the whole recipe, which makes 4 servings, but I usually only make a half recipe, since there’s only two of us, and I multiple the number of tomatoes so that I am using 2 or 3 tomatoes in a HALF recipe. Because I take the seeds out of my tomatoes and I prefer Roma or plum tomatoes to any other kind, 1 tomato yields much less for me in quantity.

Chicken Saagwalla
whole recipe serves 4

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 tsp. curry powder, mild
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. ginger root, fresh, finely chopped*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped**
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed in to bite-size pieces
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped in to 1/2″ pieces
10 oz baby spinach leaves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 c. water
2 Tbsp cilantro, optional***

*I use ground ginger from a jar, particularly the Lee Kum Kee brand.
**I use minced garlic in a jar, whichever brand I happen to have on hand. Notice a pattern?
***But cilantro tastes like soap. Why would I put it on my food?

Place half the olive oil in large nonstick skillet with curry powder, coriander, cumin, ginger, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. The spices and oil will create a thick sort of paste.

Add remaining oil and all the chicken to skillet. Stir thoroughly to coat with the spiced oil paste.

Add tomatoes to skillet. Cover skillet and cook for about 10 minutes. Uncover skillet and stir to combine.

Add spinach leaves to skillet. Cover and cook for 5 minutes more. I leave the lid ajar at this stage to let some of the liquids evaporate, or else I find the final dish to be too liquidy.

Add salt, water as necessary, and cilantro, if you are using it, to the skillet. Simmer for 1 minute. Yields about 1 1/2 heaping cups per serving, or you can visually divide it in to four portions.

I make the half recipe for two people, or:

1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. curry powder, mild
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ginger root
1 clove garlic
1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed in to bite-size pieces
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped*
5-6 oz baby spinach leaves
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 c. water

*I found one tomato was not enough, so now I’m up to three tomatoes.

Cook as directed for the full recipe.

Serve with 1 cup of freshly cooked white rice.

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Barbecued Turkey Joes

Turkey is such an underused meat. Most of us eat it, deliberately, only once a year — at Thanksgiving. Well, I avoid even that since turkey at Thanksgiving is so cliche. But this year I find myself planning more turkey main dishes and craving the taste of a well-spiced, nicely complemented turkey dish. This is an easy and tasty place to start Adventures with Turkey.

We all know sloppy joes, right? Well, this is Barbecued Turkey Joes, using barbecue sauce as a base instead of ketchup, since barbecue sauce comes with spices and flavorings already added. Just chop up your fresh veggies and you’re good to go.

Barbecued Turkey Joes
serves 4

1 lb. ground turkey breast
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 c. barbecue sauce, your choice

Brown turkey in a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain off liquid.

Add peppers and onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.

Add barbecue sauce and cayenne pepper; heat thoroughly, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.

Serve on the bun of your choice, but a whole grain or multigrain bun is a great foil for the tangy, sweet barbecue turkey.

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