Thursday, February 28, 2013

When in Texas, Grow Jalapenos

I enjoy gardening, so my husband built me a beautiful raised planter in our backyard where I could figure out what grows in North Texas. The first year, my pumpkins attracted half the squash bugs in the county, and my tomatoes attracted Texas-sized tomato horn worms. Once the pumpkin vines died, the squash bugs moved on to my zucchinis. The pests got more out of my garden than we did. My attempt at corn was undermined by heat stress that caused mutant kernals.

I tried tomatoes one more year before I gave up fighting the hornworms. I've kept at the zucchinis with success, and also tried sweet onions for the next two seasons. The sweet onions didn't turn out as big as promised, but I harvested enough to stock my kitchen for months. My biggest success, though, was jalapenos.

In the first months after we moved here, I learned that if you are going to live in Texas, you must know how to make stuffed jalapenos to go with your grilled or barbequed meat (my recipe to come later, when grilling season starts). That was my inspiration for growing jalapenos. Little did I know how abundant my jalapeno plants would be. I had to figure out a way to take advantage of my bumper crops before they all went to waste.

After hunting for various jalapeno recipes, I settled on Emeril's Green Jalapeno Sauce. At the end of the growing season, just before the nighttime temperatures dip down below 50 degrees and my jalapenos develop black spots from the cold, I harvest all the jalapenos I can, and start bottling them. This past year, I ended up with about 6 quarts of jalapeno sauce. Since that's way more than I could expect 2 people to consume, I purchased 36 bottles that were suitable for storing and serving my sauce, and gifted them to every friend, coworker and family member that I could. I still have over a quart left. Luckily, as long as it is refrigerated, my sauce can keep for up to 6 months.

One thing I like to do now is buy mild salsa, and then spice it up in my recipes by adding my jalapeno sauce. Tonight's dinner was one of those recipes, which I invented last week. My husband and I like to have breakfast for dinner sometimes, and breakfast burritos are one of our favorites. This one makes a very hearty meal for 2 -- you can easily stretch it to 4 by adding a little more egg and 2 more tortillas.

April's Beefy Breakfast Burritos

1/2 pound 93% lean ground beef
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
Garlic, Salt, and Pepper to taste
3 tablespoons Amy's Mild Salsa
2 teaspoons jalapeno sauce (or more if you want to spice things up)
1 cup Original Egg Beaters
1/2 cup Sargento Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 La Tortilla Factory Smart & Delicious Low Carb, High Fiber Tortillas
Additional salsa for garnish (optional)

Combine the ground beef, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a large, non-stick frying pan and cook on medium neat until beef is cooked through, stirring frequently. Add the salsa and jalapeno sauce, and stir until thoroughly incorporated with the beef. Set aside and cover the mixture with your tortillas (this keeps the beef mixture warm, and steams and warms your tortillas so that they won't break when you fold them.

In a small, non-stick frying pan, cook your Egg Beaters like scrambled eggs over medium heat, until they are firm, and remove the pan from the burner.

Put your tortillas onto 2 plates and return the large skillet to the stove, over low heat. Add your eggs to the beef mixture, and stir until combined. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese on top of the mixture.

Divide the beef and egg mixture evenly between your tortillas, placing it in the middle of the tortillas. Wrap opposite sides of the each tortilla around the mixture, and roll them over on the plate so that the seam is on the bottom. Top with an additional spoonful of salsa, if desired. I like to serve it with some fresh fruit on the side.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Flat Bread Pizzas

Today I thought I'd give you a recipe that isn't likely to pop the button off your jeans. ;-)

Being on the low-fat bandwagon, one thing we miss is pizza. All you have to do is look at the nutrition information on the menu of one pizza place to figure out that you will never find "diet food" in a pizza parlor. Even if you try to cut the carbs by ordering a thin-crust pizza, the cheese and other toppings will blow your calorie count for the whole day.

In order to take control of the calories, you have to go homemade. Personally, I like vegetarian pizzas, and nixing the meat definitely helps keep things healthy, but my husband isn't crazy about them. So, in my quest to create a homemade, healthy pizza, I discovered two things: flatbread, and turkey pepperoni.

I picked up some Flatout Light Original Flatbread, which is only 90 calories per flatbread. It's whole wheat, so the flavor is different from a traditional pizza crust. If you don't like the flavor, you can pick up their original flatbread instead, which is slightly higher in calories but has a more "white bread" taste. Just take note that the original flatbread doesn't get quite as crispy as the light version.

Boar's Head makes a Turkey Pepperoni that tastes like the real thing, but is 70% lower in fat and 50% lower in calories than regular pepperoni. You can't beat 70 calories per ounce and only one gram of saturated fat.

As for other toppings, sliced mushrooms are a standby for me, because they are practically a freebie when it comes to calories. I get the baby portabella mushrooms because they last longer in the fridge than standard white button mushrooms, and they have a better flavor and texture. We also like black olives, thinly sliced zucchini, tomato and, of course, mozzarella cheese.

Personally, I don't believe that non-fat cheese qualifies as real cheese. I like to keep the "fillers" in my food to a minimum. Sargento makes some fabulous reduced-fat cheese made from 2% milk, and as long as you weigh out no more than 1 serving for your recipe, you can eat this cheese while dieting.

Tomato sauce also isn't high in calories, but with a flatbread pizza, you don't want to put too much on or else you'll over-saturate the bread. We like Newman's Own Marinara Sauce for our pasta, so I use it on our pizzas as well.

The ideal pan for making flatbread pizzas is a pizza pan with holes in it. It allows the crust to get crispy to the center, rather than being crispy on the edges and soggy in the middle. I got one from Cuisinart and it's fabulous. I can fit two flatbreads on my pizza pan, so I don't have to feed us in shifts.

So here is how you put it together:

April's Flatbread Pizza

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Place your flatbread on your pizza pan (1 per person).
Spread a thin layer (2-3 teaspoons) of tomato sauce to the edges of your flatbread.
Layer turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and any other toppings you like.
Put a serving (28 grams by weight) of low-fat mozzarella on top of other ingredients.

Put your pizza in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

As soon as it comes out of the oven, sprinkle an Italian Spice blend on top. If you're feeling a little naughty, you can also sprinkle a little bit of Parmesan cheese on top.

Cut and enjoy immediately. It cools off quickly, so make sure you are ready to eat when it comes out of the oven. We like to serve ours with a green salad.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Roasted Corn Grits

Today a coworker said "I saw your blog. It's great, but where's your grits recipe?" I guess that since cheese grits is in the name of this blog, I'll have to make that my inaugural recipe.

I haven't made grits in quite some time, as I can trace the start of my weight gain back to my discovery of grits at Zea Rotisserie & Grill. They used to have a location near my place of work in Plano, so we went there at least once a week for lunch. The franchisee, Kent Rathbun, decided to stop being "Zea's" a few years ago and changed the name to "KB's". He subsequently closed the doors to the restaurant to focus on catering and special events at that location. It's a shame, because I always liked the food there, but he probably did me a favor by taking away my easily accessible source of grits.

After trying Zea's grits, I had to figure out how to make them. Google provided me with a half dozen variations on recipes all claiming to be "Zea's Grits", so I picked one that seemed the most likely version, and modified it from there. Once I was done, there was more of my scribbling on the page than the original printout, so I don't think anyone can claim plagiarism on this.

Now, these aren't really "cheese grits" but trust me, you won't miss the cheese. These are great as a side dish for lunch or dinner, with a nice piece of grilled steak or chicken.

Note: Do not use instant grits in this. You want the real thing.

April's Interpretation of Zea's Roasted Corn Grits

1 ear of corn
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup yellow grits
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
shredded cheddar cheese and thinly sliced green onion to garnish

Roast or grill the corn. My preferred method is to shuck it, rub it with butter, wrap it in foil and put it on the grill over indirect heat for 20 minutes, turning occasionally. You can also put it in a 400 degree oven for the same amount of time. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Put the chicken broth and cream/milk in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the grits with a whisk, and add the butter, salt and minced onion. Cook over low heat (no more than a simmer) while stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes) or until thickened. Don't ever walk away from them, as they are prone to burn to the bottom of the pan if left unattended.

Put grits into a casserole dish. Cut the corn kernels off the cob and stir the kernals into the grits. Sprinkle some cheddar cheese on top and put into the oven (uncovered) for about 15 minutes or so, just to let the cheese melt, the top dry out a bit, and the grits firm up. Serve garnished with green onion.

Disclaimer: my notes on my recipe say "finish in oven" so I don't know if the 15 minutes is accurate. I think I'm being conservative, but keep an eye on them and feel free to sample occasionally to see if they are "just right" ;-)

If you have never cut kernels off an corn cob, the trick is to stand it up on the large end on top of a cutting board, then cut with a knife vertically down the cob, rotating the cob around as you go. If you need a demonstration, watch Iron Chef sometime when Bobby Flay is competing--he does it in 99% of his competitions.

Update 2/26: I tweaked the instructions for the roasted corn.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Eating Down Yonder

If I didn't have a day job, there are four things I could spend all my waking hours doing: writing, cooking, reading, and watching cooking shows on TV.

I've said I'd like to write the next Great American Novel. The past 20+ years of my life is proof that doing so is easier said than done. Having now abandoned the idea of becoming a female Mark Twain, I've decided that if I'm going to write, I want to do it about something I love and have lots of opinions about. A Blog is Born.

My husband and I have lived in Texas for almost six years now. We came here from California, by way of Oregon. Not the shortest distance between two points, I know, but we're economic refugees. We lived and worked in Silicon Valley since before it was given that nickname, and were both laid off from our jobs just before 9/11. Our job hunts led us to Oregon, and then Texas.

We grew up eating the eclectic food offerings of California, which are arguably the best in the world. Good-quality, fresh vegetables were available to us year-round, and we were surrounded by cuisines from around the world--Japan, China and Mexico being very well represented. My husband has traveled all over the globe for his job. Although I don't have the frequent flier points he has, I consider myself a well-traveled individual as well. We've had some adventurous meals. I've also been watching cooking shows since I was a kid, catching the weekend morning shows on PBS, so I consider myself a well-educated foodie.

None of that prepared us for Texas.

Texas is where the South, Midwest, and Mexico meet. Big steaks and spicy condiments abound, and Texas cooks have proven that just about anything can be deep fried. I gained 5 pounds the minute we stepped foot into the state. Having never struggled with my weight before, the combination of our new Texas lifestyle and Texas food threw my metabolism into chaos. In 5 years, I put on over 20 pounds. Last year, we took the weight back off again "the old fashioned way" with diet and exercise, though with a modern twist: we used the app from to track our calories, exercise and progress. I can't speak highly enough of how useful it was. But I digress....

Through this blog, I'd like to share with my observations on Texas cuisine, wine, recipes, restaurants, and whatever else strikes my foodie fancy. I'll navigate a maze of Texas cuisine and culture, with one eye on my bathroom scale. If you are another Californian living in Texas (and I know there are a lot of you out there), hopefully we can give each other some tips and tricks on learning to "live Texan".

Come back and see me, y'all!