Monday, January 26, 2015

Hot Bacon Cheese Spread

 Are you planning a party? Need some menu ideas? Here's a dip that I made a while back for a small group of friends, affectionately known as the LOBLs, (which stands for Living Our Best Life). Basically we just get together, have some great food, catch up with each other, and spend the entire night laughing. It's clearly a great way to live your best life. I highly recommend it!
 This recipe is perfect because you can make it ahead and it's ALWAYS a big hit. Frankly, I love anything with bacon and cheese, so I knew this one was gonna be a keeper even before I tasted it.
It's from Taste of Home, and it's the perfect party food, whether it's for the big Super Bowl Party, a Birthday Bash, or just simply a group of friends Living Our Best Life.
 DEFINITELY give this one a try!

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped onion
5 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 garlic clove, minced
1 unsliced round loaf (1 pound) Italian bread

Heat oven to 350°F.
Cut top fourth off loaf of bread; carefully hollow out bottom, leaving a 1-inch shell. Cube removed bread and set aside. Combine the remaining ingredients; spoon into bread bowl. Replace top. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour or until heated through. Serve with reserved bread cubes.

To make it ahead, simply mix up the ingredients and then store it in the fridge until the day of the party. I wouldn't put it in the bread bowl until you're ready to bake it.
 If you'd rather not do the bread bowl, no problem! Just mix everything together and bake it in a casserole dish. Serve with pita or tortilla chips, or cut up a few fresh bakery torpedo rolls,  or even break up a few soft pretzels for dipping. Sheer HEAVEN!
BTW, I doubled the whole recipe because more is more!
Enjoy this recipe with a light-bodied white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Low Carb Brownie Cheesecake

 Ok, so, it's the new year, you're trying desperately to stick to your New Year's resolution to lose weight, but you're struggling. Am I right? The problem with "dieting" is that you always feel deprived. You automatically think to yourself "I can't have that, I'm on a diet." You've also programmed your mind to think that a "diet" version of something is not going to be as good as the real thing. Am I right? WRONG!
 True story: I made this cake for a birthday party, and was greeted at the door by someone who said something along the lines of "Here, let me take that from you!", as if to say "This looks so good, I'm going to eat the WHOLE thing!" And then I said "well, actually, it's low carb", (basically saying I'm going to save this for the guest of honor who is on a low carb diet) and my greeter crinkled her nose and said "Ew, I don't do low carb".  I wanted to say "Wait, are you kidding me?? A minute ago, you wanted to eat the whole thing!" The point is there are LOTS of "diet" recipes that taste as good as the real thing! And frankly, if I hadn't said "this is low carb", no one would have ever known. That's the beauty of a good low carb recipe. So basically the best diet is the one where you don't feel like you're on a diet. No more feeling deprived, and no more "diet" versions of things that don't taste good. Of course, you may have to use a few ingredients that are different from the ones you'd usually use, but isn't that the point? Like I always say, if you go back to eating what you did before, you'll go back to weighing what you did before. Trust me when I tell you you'll forget all about that when you're sporting your new slimmer body this summer!
Oh, and speaking of different ingredients....
 This recipe uses a sugar substitute called erythritol which is becoming increasingly popular. It can be purchased in certain health food stores, or at Whole Foods markets, or simply by ordering it online. Yes, it's expensive, but I think it's worth it, and like I said, you won't care about that when you hit your weight loss goal. I like it because I think it tastes better than some sugar substitutes, (no aftertaste) and it doesn't cause any side effects as some sugar alcohols do, if you know what I mean. It's also gluten free, doesn't promote tooth decay, and doesn't cause any blood sugar spikes so it appears to be a good sugar alternative for anyone who is diabetic. The brand name is called Swerve, and I'm definitely a fan. No, I am not being compensated to say this. I'm just telling you that I tried it and liked it. I'm can't say that I will use it in EVERYTHING, but when I'm craving something sweet like a rich and delicious chocolate dessert, I'll definitely be coming back to this recipe again and again. I found it on a blog called All Day I Dream About Food.
It is DEFINITELY a keeper!

Brownie Base:
½ cup butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
½ cup almond flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
pinch salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup Swerve Sweetener or granulated erythritol
¼ tsp vanilla
¼ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Cheesecake Filling:
1 lb cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
½ cup Swerve Sweetener or granulated erythritol
¼ cup heavy cream
½ tsp vanilla extract

 For the brownie base, preheat oven to 325F and butter a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap bottom of pan in foil. In a microwave safe bowl or glass measuring cup, melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave in 30 second increments. Whisk until smooth. Alternatively, you can melt them together over low heat in a small saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together almond flour, cocoa powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat eggs, Swerve and vanilla until smooth. Beat in almond flour mixture, then butter/chocolate mixture until smooth. Stir in nuts. Spread evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until set around edges but still soft in the center. Let cool 15 to 20 minutes. For the filling, reduce oven temperature to 300F. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs, Swerve, cream and vanilla until well combined. Pour filling over crust and place cheesecake on a large cookie sheet. Bake until edges are set and center just barely jiggles, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Run a knife around edges to loosen and then remove sides of pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours. Serve with sugar-free chocolate sauce or ganache.

Serves 10. Each serving has 6.2 g of carbs and 2.1 g of fiber. Total NET CARBS = 4.1 g.

I opted not to add the chopped nuts, but if that's your thing, go for it.
I noticed that the Swerve sweetener didn't really dissolve completely into the brownie layer of the cake, and retained a sort of granulated sugar texture. Not that it was a bad thing, just that it was noticeable. It did, however, completely dissolve into the perfectly dreamy creamy cheesecake layer, which I wanted to dive into, face first. OMG so good.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Red Wine-Braised Beef Short Ribs

 When the weather gets really cold, the first thing I want to cook is something warm and cozy, something that cooks for several hours in the oven, and makes the whole house smell good. Whether it's a beef stew or a roast, it always brings back childhood memories of my mom cooking for my family.
 This is a dish that falls into that category. It's delicious and comforting and always hits the spot. It's also perfect for an intimate and elegant dinner, served with a nice glass of wine and some warm freshly baked bread. It looks and sounds impressive, but no one has to know how easy it is to make! TBH, I'm not even sure where I got this recipe. It's very similar to the way I do a Classic Beef Pot Roast, and it always comes out perfectly. I PROMISE you will love this. It's just absolutely one of my favorite dishes of all time.

4-5 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2-3" pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, chopped 
2 ribs celery, chopped 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 tablespoon tomato paste 
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine, such as Cabernet Savignon
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley 
8 sprigs thyme 
4 sprigs oregano 
2 sprigs rosemary 
2 fresh or dried bay leaves 
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise 
4 cups low-salt beef stock 

 Preheat oven to 350°.
Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 tbs drippings from pot.
Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven. Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

-Always choose a wine that you would like to drink, and never use anything called "cooking wine."
-If you don't have fresh herbs, go ahead and use dried ones, but fresh herbs are just SO much better in this instance.
-Many recipes of this type only use the aromatics to flavor the sauce but then discard them afterwards. I think that is just wasteful. So I still strain the sauce, but then I save the aromatics and serve the vegetables along with the rest of the dish. I always peel and chop the garlic cloves and I also tie the sprigs of herbs into a bundle for easy removal. (neither of which is required if you are choosing to strain and discard the aromatics.)


    Monday, January 5, 2015

    Joey's Easy Sausage and Spinach Soup

     I was recently foraging through the fridge, looking for something I might throw into a pot of soup. I started with a few aromatics, then added a few main ingredients and some broth, then a few herbs and seasonings, and before I knew it I had a fabulous pot of delicious and hearty soup, simmering away on the stove. Then I thought, "wait, what did I just do????  I need to write this down!!!!" You'd think I'd know by now to write it down as I go, right?
     Now I don't even have to write it down. I've made it so many times, I know it by heart. It's been my go to recipe for several reasons. Besides being delicious and satisfying, it doesn't cost much to make, it goes really far, and on top of that it's very low in carbs, which is how I'm rolling these days. I sort of used my Feel Better All Over Tomato Soup as a starting point, and went from there. I served it to a few friends not too long ago.... Nathan and Wyatt, in particular, were immediate fans. My brother Chris loved it too! So make this the next time it snows, or if someone close to you is feeling a little under the weather. I betcha it'll warm you right up and make them feel better in no time.
    Hope you like it!

    a few glugs of olive oil
    3 or 4 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
    1 large onion, roughly chopped
    3 large cloves garlic, minced
    2 lbs Italian Sweet sausage, removed from casings
    1 tsp ground fennel seed
    1 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs of fresh thyme
    1 29oz can crushed tomatoes
    1 48oz can chicken broth
    1 10oz package frozen chopped spinach
    Salt and pepper to taste

    In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat, saute the celery and onions in olive oil until they begin to soften. Add garlic. Saute for a few minutes longer. After removing the sausage from the casings, add it to the pot by breaking off small chunks and throwing them into the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the sausage is brown. Add the remaining ingredients. Give it a good stir. Reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered for at least 30 minutes. I like to go a little longer, even an hour or more. Serve with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

    You can use bulk sausage instead of removing it from the casings, but I tried it both ways, and the bulk sausage wound up breaking down into much smaller pieces. I wanted it to be much chunkier, so I've decided that removing it from the casings was a better way to that end.
    You don't even have to defrost the box of spinach. Just take it out of the box, and throw the frozen brick right into the pot. It will melt soon enough.
    To grind up the fennel seeds, I used a mortar and pestle, but a spice grinder works equally as well.
    If you'd like to toast your fennel seeds before adding to the soup, just throw them into a small dry pan over medium heat and toast them for a few minutes. As soon as you can smell them, they're done and ready to be ground. Easy!
    If you don't have any fennel seeds, you can also use caraway seeds, star Anise, or even use a little splash of Anisette liqueur. Or just leave it out! The fennel in the sausage will still flavor the soup!
    Come to think of it, you could even chop up a fresh fennel bulb and saute it with the celery and onions... I bet that would do the job as well. Anything to carry over the the flavor of the fennel in the sausage will do nicely!