Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are You Ready for Some Football Appys?

It's that time of year. Oak leaves, autumn temperatures, and winning seasons begin to fall. That great Round One draft pick has all of the potential of a second year bust. The all-star pass defense is giving up 250 yards per game. The hot, hot, quarterback has traded in his hot, hot girlfriend for a hot, hot ride and finds himself suspended for 4 games. Ah, yeah, I’m ready for some football……..

Games are won, games are lost, but some things never change – LIKE THE FANS!!! I define them as ordinary people who emerge on Sundays: loyal, lofty, never-say-die, they paint their faces, wear ill-fitted clothing and spend hours penning quirky sayings onto poster board. Accountants, lawyers, delivery dudes, and nurses alike, act like drag queens out to support their team. These guys are ready for some football.

The rear gate of a tricked-out pick-up truck unfolds to reveal a full-size kitchen. A tent rises up to encase a flat screen TV (complete with satellite service), and a karaoke machine blares out the home team’s fight song. And this is all happening in the parking lot! Inside the arena people are hunting down quirky new “football fan food”, like smoked turkey legs, Cuban panini, and jerk chicken wings. Grown men are removing their dreadlock style wigs, in order to eat jumbo chocolate chip cookies. What ever happened to warm beer and peanuts?

Today’s game has gotten bigger. The arenas are bigger. The cheerleaders have bigger … hair. The half time shows are bigger. The music is louder; the game is longer. Even the fans are … bigger. And why not? If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that football watching is a reason for an all day (and night) grazing feast. Win or lose, you gotta eat!

In an attempt to scale down the calorie intake during a 16 game season, I have explored some twists on typical game day fare. The most successful thus far is my buffalo chicken wing appy; it has all of those fab flavors, but wraps them in a chilled lettuce cup. It’s still hot and spicy, and still just as messy so it passes the game day test. Give it a try and let me know what you think, and since we still have a long season ahead of us, I’d love to hear your game day favorites along the way!!

Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Looking for a more figure-friendly game day snack food? This appy has all of the ingredients of that spicy wing dish you already know and love -- with a few of the calories lopped off.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
8 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
3 medium celery ribs, diced, about 1 cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
1 whole marinated roasted red pepper, diced, about ½ cup
1 cup hot pepper sauce
1 head leaf lettuce, 25 to 30 leaves, washed and dried

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Sear the chicken until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove the chicken to a platter.

Place the green onions, celery and garlic in the pan. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the red pepper. Place the chicken back into the pan. Pour in the hot sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the chicken in the sauce until cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a cutting board. Use 2 forks to shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Place the shredded chicken back into the sauce.

Serve the shredded chicken in a bowl. Place the lettuce leaves around the side.

Servings: Enough for a game day crowd
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall Musings

October means there’s one last hurrah to be had in my Carolina kitchen. Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains the weather is crisp and blustery. The leaves are vibrant, but falling rapidly. The humming birds have flown south, the last of the summer flowers are shivering in their pots, and it’s probably time for me to hit the road and admit the true “snowbird” that I have become.
Fall weather and cozy fires lend themselves to comfort meals. My favorite fall food to prepare and keep on the stovetop, are soups. Heartier fare like potato soup and pumpkin soup, lentil and bean soups, chowders and bisques – they all work.

Most often you will find everything you need to make simple, supple soup in your pantry. The main ingredient comes from your local festival, farm stand or farmer’s market. My most recent soup recipe came into being when I found a gorgeous squash and had leftover onions, potatoes and salad fixins. Butternut Squash Soup is thick, rich, hearty and velvety and complimented perfectly with a crispy shallot garnish.

My soups are created with fresh, healthy ingredients, so there’s no need to worry about calories – your only risk is being too full for dinner later on! A bowl of soup and a big green salad is an excellent lunch choice, kind to your waist line and your budget!
And so I leave you with three simple words: Enjoy the soup. Oh, and please leave me a comment and let me know how you like it. My new blog, From Nana’s Kitchen will debut soon. I’ll offer recipes and activities for grandparents and parents to enjoy with their children. If there is a special recipe you would like to see, or a grandma question you would like to have answered, just let me know and I’ll make sure to post a response.

Happy Fall Leaves – wherever you are!!
PS: Pumpkin Patch Photo courtesy of Chris Morgan cjmphotography.net

Butternut Squash Soup with Crispy Shallot Garnish

The addition of a potato to this traditional soup gives it a thick and velvety consistency. Feel free to spice up the soup with your favorites. Cumin, chili powder, curry, cinnamon and ginger are all welcome additions.

For soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced, about 1 ½ cups
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped, about 1 cup
3 medium celery ribs, sliced, about 1 cup
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 1 tablespoon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large butternut squash, peeled and diced, about 6 cups
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced, about 1 ½ cups
2 cups dry white wine
2 quarts homemade chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 sprigs sage leaves
1 large orange, cut in half

For shallots:
4 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced, about 1 cup
2 cups canola oil
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pot. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

The best way to cut and peel a butternut squash is to first, trim off the bottom. Cut the squash in half, and then half again. Smaller pieces are easier to handle. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin. Use a tablespoon to scoop out the seeds. Now, wash the knife and your hands well. The squash is slippery. A clean knife and hands will make chopping easier. Cut it into 1 to 2-inch pieces. Add the butternut squash and potato to the pot and stir. Pour in the wine and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour in the stock. Place the sage into the pot. Squeeze the juice of the orange into the pot and add the orange halves. Cook until the vegetables are very soft, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool the soup. Remove the sage sprigs and orange halves. Use an immersion blender, food processor or blender to emulsify the soup. Pour the soup back into the pot and season with salt and pepper.

Place the shallots and the oil in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer. Turn the onions every few minutes until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the shallots with a slotted spoon to a dish layered with paper towels. As the shallots sit, they will become crispy. Season with salt and pepper. If not using immediately keep warm in a warming drawer, or in the oven on the lowest setting.

Ladle the soup into bowls or mugs. Top with crispy shallots.

Servings: 8
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes for soup, 20 minutes for shallots
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