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Seasonal Recipe: Homemade Salsa

20 Jul

Snack of champions: chips and homemade salsa.

Grace’s hippie sister, Emily, here, surfacing for the first time in months to share a recipe that should come in handy for anybody who has a vegetable garden (or a neighbor with a garden).

That’s right, kids: It’s salsa time.

Use an entire head of garlic. Seriously.

Start by throwing a big handful of cilantro (one bunch from the grocery store or whatever you have in your garden will do) into a food processor and pulsing it until it’s nice and fine and feathery. Next, take a head of garlic, separate and peel the cloves, cut off the ends, and throw ’em into the food processor. Give ’em a good whirl to mince them, then add hot peppers to taste. Four serranos will give you a nice medium-hot salsa; adjust the quantity to suit your taste, and feel free to substitute whatever peppers you prefer (or need to use up).

I like red onions, but red or yellow will work as well.

Next, add three cored, quartered bell peppers in any color and a peeled, quartered onion, processing after each addition. Add the juice of two or three small limes — proportions aren’t critical, but you want to get a little extra acid in there for canning purposes — and process to mix.

Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes with husks.

If you can put your hands on some tomatillos, peel and core about five of them and add them to the mix at this point. If you can’t, don’t worry about it; they aren’t absolutely necessary, but they do add a nice flavor if you happen to have them. Process, then dump the mixture into a large bowl to make room in the food processor for your tomatoes.

Core and quarter about three pounds of tomatoes (Romas are ideal, but any kind will do; just be aware that the juicier varieties will make a finished product that’s more like picante sauce than salsa) and chop them in the food processor.

Now, here is a neat trick: If you have extra cucumbers that you need to use up, you can add a couple to your salsa at this point, and nobody will be any the wiser. Just chop them finely and stir them in. You’ll never notice them by the time they’ve absorbed the other flavors. You could probably do this with zucchini, too, although I wouldn’t use too much, lest it compromise the texture.

Unless your food processor is huge, you'll have to do half the tomatoes at a time.

Stir everything together in a huge bowl. At this stage, the salsa will probably look kind of bubbly and unappealing. Remedy this by stirring in ground cumin until the froth goes away, then stirring in chili powder until the color looks nice and red.

Salsa cans well in a boiling-water bath.

You can either eat the salsa now or pack it into clean pint jars with an inch of headspace and process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. Serve nice and cold with plenty of tortilla chips or fresh vegetables for dipping. Makes about three quarts.

I like to bring this salsa to office parties. It always impresses people, and it’s safe for vegetarians, diabetics, and various other dieters, especially if you bring celery sticks and cucumber slices for low-carb dipping.


Low-Carb Recipe: Slow-Cooker Olive Turkey

13 Jan

For a text-only version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Plain turkey drumsticks get a saucy makeover in this easy dish.

Note: I see James Ramsden also has a poultry-and-olive combo on his own blog this week, albeit Morrocan-style in his case. I guess great minds think alike!

Turkey drumsticks are a great sale find at our local grocery store, and I love thinking up new ways to present them. I also love using my Crock Pot as much as possible when I’m restricting carbs. It keeps meal preparation fun and gives me something to look forward to all day, instead of staring at yet another bunless hamburger when I get home. 🙂

The combination of dark meat and slow-cooking keeps this version moist and tender, and the Mexican ingredients are a perfect match for stronger-flavored game poultry. Continue reading

Sugar-Free Recipe: Russian Tea Cookies

23 Nov

These little shortbread cookies are nice with a big mug of herbal tea.

Grace’s sister here, getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving by appreciating one of my favorite blessings: my awesome boss, who goes along with most of my crazy ideas and laughs at all my irreverent jokes.

My boss loves cookies, but he happens to be a Type I diabetic, so he can’t just pork down half a package of sugar wafers when he’s having a rotten day. (I have no idea how he maintains his sanity without the assistance of pink sugar wafers. I think he might be magic.)

Aaaaaaaanyway, my all-time favorite cookies are those little round shortbread cookies that are made with chopped nuts and rolled in powdered sugar. At the late, great Cristaudo’s Bakery in Carbondale, Ill., they were referred to as “Russian tea cookies.” Here in Oklahoma, people call them “Mexican wedding cakes,” and I’ve also heard them referred to as “snowball cookies.” Continue reading

Easy Recipe: Bistecca Caprese alla Griglia (Grilled Capri Steak)

25 Aug

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Go ahead. Tell me your mouth isn’t watering. I Double-Dog-Dare you.

So…our oven is broken. (In case you were scratching your head at the sporadic nature of recent posts, now you know.)

Today I called Hubby from work and asked him to defrost some meat and light the grill before I got home with the kids for the evening. As I spent my day thinking about the barbecue, however, I just couldn’t seem to get myself in the mood for a big old charcoal-grilled steak.

One reason was that steaks always make me crave coffee with dinner, and let’s face it — the weather’s not that cool yet. Continue reading

Low-Carb Recipe: Spaghetti Squash & Marinara al fresca

24 May

 For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

This is a good one for nights when you don’t think you can stand doing without pasta any longer. Granted, it’s NOT pasta, but with enough parmesan cheese, it will get you safely through another evening at home. 🙂

Begin by cutting a large spaghetti squash in half and scooping out any seeds or extraneously stringy or wet bits.

Place both cleaned halves face down in a glass or ceramic baking dish, if they’ll fit. (If not, and you’re like me, you’ll have to soften them one at a time.)

Add water to the face-down squash until about 1/2″ deep in the bottom of the dish. Cover with plastic wrap if desired (not entirely necessary if you ask me).

Clean that yucky stuff out of the hollow middle.

Nuke it until tender; about 8-10 minutes in my microwave, but everyone’s microwave is different so begin checking early if you’re not certain.

Cook squash halves rind-side-up in a shallow layer of water.

(You can alternatively cook the halves rind-side-up at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes in the oven, but still put a little bit of water in the pan bottom.)

MEANWHILE, warm a small amount of butter in a skillet over MEDIUM burner heat.

Sliver half an onion and add to skillet. Chop 2 zucchinis and throw in the skillet; sprinkle heavily with garlic powder and oregano (about 2 teaspoons each).

Stir often to judge texture. (You don't want it to turn into mush!)

Saute vegetables in butter just until zucchini barely begins to soften, then add 2 drained cans diced tomatoes to the mixture.

Add cocoa powder to marinara mixture.

To marry flavors, add about 2 teaspoons cocoa powder and stir mixture often until simmer is reached; then reduce heat to LOW or WARM settings until ready to serve. Salt to taste.

Chef’s Note: You’ll need less salt for this dish if you add it to the sauce rather than the cooked squash. Trust me.

Remove squash from oven or microwave; flip halves over to reveal the steamed inside flesh.

Using a fork, begin scraping the cooked squash away from the rind in quick motions. It should separate into small, firm strands about the size and texture of al dente-cooked vermicelli pasta (thin spaghetti).

Toss squash with oil, garlic and lots of parmesan.

Scrape squash strands into a large bowl. Once both rinds have been emptied, toss “spaghetti” with a couple of tablespoons oil, another teaspoon or more of garlic powder, and about 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese.

The perfect disguise.

(You need a lot of parmesan to overcome the “squashy” flavor and fool your mouth that it’s pasta, so make sure if you’re low-carbing it that there isn’t any starchy filler in your grated parmesan cheese.)

Spoon coated squash strands into bowl, top with the skillet vegetable mixture, and cross one more evening of diet-induction madness off your calendar! 🙂

Low-Carb Recipe: Inside-Out Egg Rolls!

19 May

For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.

Asian-flavored cabbage rolls

This ain't your grandmama's homemade cabbage roll. Unless she was a low-carb dieter back in the old school, of course. And also possibly Chinese.

Yesterday I couldn’t stand the cravings I had all day for a Chinese egg roll–a real, honest-to-blog, greasy, salty, chewy, “carby,” restaurant-style, deep-fried, now-I-can-meet-Jesus egg roll dinner.

But alas! I’m low-carbing it right now and eating such a sinful goodie;was a complete non-option.

Nonetheless, by the time I picked up the family and pulled into the driveway last night, I knew I had to try–one way or another.

An hour later, I was sure glad I did.

Cabbage leaves.

Cabbage leaves.

I’ve never been much on the standard Italian-seasoned, soup-covered, vintage beef & rice cabbage roll. But these…these were something else entirely. Not to brag or anything, but DANG was this a great idea!

Shredded core.

Shred the remaining cabbage core.

Not only was the filling in these cabbage rolls a dead ringer for regular egg roll centers, it was easy to make, low-carb, lowfat, low-cal, and even vegetarian! And cooking them uncovered at half-time meant in addition to being speedier than their traditional counterparts, the rolls’ outer “shells” kept a wonderful firmness that separated them from your average, soggy, run-of-the-mill stuffed cabbage.

Toss the filling veggies.

Toss cabbage, carrots, celery and green onions.

Chef’s Note: It is infinitely easier and produces infinitely prettier results if you freeze a head of cabbage overnight and then fridge-thaw & core it before peeling the giant leaves off for roll wrappers. Plus, you don’t have to waste time boiling the cabbage then, either.

Stir-fry filling mixture.

Add eggs to filling and keep stir-frying until less wet.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and warm 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large skillet over MEDIUM heat. While stove heats up, core a thawed, previously-frozen head of cabbage and remove stem.

Place spoonfuls of filling into each cabbage leaf.

Spoon filling mixture into each cabbage leaf.

Slowly peel away 8 to 10 large cabbage leaves, keeping them as much intact as possible but cutting away any stiff parts that were near the stem. (You want the leaves to be kind of floppy all around.)

Take the remaining portion of cabbage left on the head and shred it with a large knife. (You’ll get about 2 or 2-1/2 cups left on a medium-sized cabbage after stripping the best leaves.) Throw shredded cabbage in a large bowl.

To shredded cabbage, add about 1/3 cup shredded carrots (♥see note!), 1 petite-diced celery rib and 4 petite-diced green onions (scallions). Toss all of the chopped vegetables together.

Stuffed cabbage leaf.

Roll leaf around filling mixture.

Note: While carrots are generally discouraged during the induction phase of many low-carb diets (Atkins, South Beach, etc.), the small amount (1/3 cup or about 1-2 small handfuls) I used in this recipe is fairly benign, particularly when you look at a bag of shredded carrots and notice how much empty space is actually in that bag.

Meanwhile, if you feel uncomfortable having them in there during induction phase, just leave ’em out. It’s no biggie. They just add a little bit of extra texture and some welcome color to the filling, but they’re still expendable. Throw the veggies into your warm, oiled skillet. If you’re making this vegetarian (I did), add 1 cup dehydrated texturized vegetable protein (TVP)♥ (What’s TVP, you ask?) to the skillet, along with 1 cup of water.♥Chef’s Note: If TVP isn’t available at your discount store, you can easily make this recipe using a pound of ground turkey or other (ground) meat instead; just add it to the skillet first and throw in veggies once meat begins to brown.

Sprinkle stir-fry mixture with: 2 teaspoons ginger, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Oriental 5-Spice Blend (or your own choice of cinnamon/nutmeg/anise/whatever), and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Shake in about 2 tablespoons soy sauce and crack 2 eggs into skillet. Break yolks immediately with spoon and continue to stir-fry until vegetables are tender but firm and TVP or meat has fully browned. (No pieces of egg should be discernible.) Remove skillet from heat.

Mix oil & soy sauce for basting.

Place 2-3 spoonfuls stir-fry mixture in the center of each cabbage leaf, stopping to roll each one before moving onto the next. To wrap, first roll leaf like a tube around the filling and then tuck each cabbage end underneath the “tube” you just made. Place rolls side by side, tucked side-down, in a greased baking dish.

Raw, basted cabbage rolls.

Baste the tops of the uncooked wraps with a mixture of 1 tablespoon oil & 1 teaspoon soy sauce before placing UNCOVERED into hot oven.

Browned & ready to eat!

Bake approximately 25 minutes, or until cabbage glows bright green and filling mixture can be seen through the now-translucent leaves.

Remove from oven; use tongs to distribute rolls onto plates. Allow to cool about 2 minutes before eating. Freeze or refrigerate leftovers.

Inside-out egg rolls.

Inside-out is very delicous!

Make a pouch.

I’ve Got Friends in Low-Carb Places…

14 May

photo courtesy of

Okay, so I totally swiped that joke from Active Low-Carber Forums (a site with tons of information and members), but it’s true.

And I’m about to join those friends again, whether I like it or not.

So…a visit to the doctor’s office yesterday didn’t go quite so well as I had hoped. Apparently, the reason I’m still experiencing post-surgical pain is because I’m a fatty.

Well…we knew that, didn’t we?

But now he’s given me a doctor’s recommendation to go on a low-carb, high protein liquid diet. Which basically means I can have either 4 liquid protein drinks a day and no other food at all, or 2 liquid protein drinks and 1 small meal (but cannot eat more than 1,000 calories total in a day, including the protein drinks and all other intake together).

This. Is. Going. To. Suck.

That said, any dieters out there who follow the Red Kitchen Blog (bless your hearts if you do, I’m such a reckless cook!) will be pleased to see that for the next couple (or more weeks) my blog posts will take on a low-carb, low-cal twist while STILL being required to follow the “must be able to purchase ALL ingredients from low-selection discount grocery stores” rule.

I’ve always complained that I can either eat healthily or eat cheaply, but when you try to mix the two, you run into the same three or four diet recipes you’ve always been stuck with until you plateau.

Hopefully, I can use my noggin and try to add a few more ideas to the stack while keeping the grocery bill from getting outrageous on me.

Stay tuned!


Diabetic recipe: Chocolate-chunk cookies

28 Apr

The finished cookies will look about the same coming out of the oven as they did going in, but they taste lovely..

♥ Chef’s Note: The following recipe is not technically Red Kitchen-worthy, as it contains a couple of ingredients that you can’t find at ALDI or Mad Pricer. You can, however, purchase these ingredients on your next Wal-Mart run.

My boss is a nice guy. He went out of his way to rescue me from the Pink Slip Fairy a couple of weeks ago. He is also a Type 1 diabetic who loves cookies, so I decided to thank him for saving my job by making a batch of chocolate-chip cookies that won’t kill him. They turned out pretty well. Here’s how to make them:

Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees.

The flour mixture should resemble coarse sand.

Next, sift a cup of whole-wheat flour into a bowl. Add about a teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt, a half-cup of shortening, and three-fourths of a cup of Splenda. Mix with a pastry blender or a fork until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Add one very large or two smallish eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and about a tablespoon of molasses. Stir to make a soft dough.

Lindt 90 percent cocoa candy bars are available at Wal-Mart.

Cut half of a bittersweet chocolate bar into small pieces and stir into dough. (Wal-Mart carries a Lindt candy bar that is 90 percent cocoa, but if you can’t find it, you can substitute a tablespoon of semisweet mini-morsels.) Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies have browned and chocolate has melted. Makes about two dozen cookies.

The finished product will look more rounded than a regular cookie, because whole-wheat dough does not flatten out as it bakes. The cookies will also be mildly sweet, with a more intense chocolate flavor than ordinary chocolate-chip cookies.