Caramelized Sweet Onion Dip

Last Friday the snow had mostly melted, although it was still in the mid-30’s. I went out to see what will need to be done to clean up the garden for spring planting in April. To my amazement, things were growing under the snow. There was arugula and lettuce, and some scrawny green onions. But the biggest surprise was a whole row of carrots!
onion dip carrots
Mind you, it was mid-February. it has been down to 4 degrees at night, and is still regularly in the 20’s. How did these things survive! I made quick work of the carrots – they were amazingly sweet, crunchy and delicious. After I scarfed down a couple of them, I made myself a plate of veggies and dip to snack on.
onion dip with veggies
I have been looking for a non-fat onion dip. Mind you, you can make regular onion dip with non-fat sour cream and onion soup. But that is a bit salty, and it contains MSG, which I am trying to avoid. So I have been experimenting to come up with a tasty dip.  This dip is easy to make, and I expect you could add herbs and such to it. It is better if you refrigerate it for a day so the flavors mellow.  Now I have something to pack with my lunch veggies.

Caramelized Sweet Onion Dip

Cooking spray
1 large sweet onion (Walla Walla, Vidalia, or other kind)
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon onion powder
16 oz (2 cups) non-fat sour cream
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon soy sauce.

One big beautiful onion

One big beautiful onion

Coarsely slice the onion. Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray. Over medium heal, caramelize the onion by “steam “frying” (See HINT).
onion dip onions cooking
When the onions are golden brown, put them in the food processor and pulse a few times.

onions almost caramelized

onions almost caramelized

Add the salt, pepper, onion powder, and sour cream and process everything until well blended. Add the lemon juice and soy sauce. Process again for a bit. The texture will be a bit lumpy. Put in a container and refrigerate overnight. This has 0 grams of fat, and makes at least 8 quarter cup servings, although I usually just spoon it into a bowl and dip away. Its good with lower fat chips and crackers, too – but be sure to count those grams in your daily fat gram count.
onion dip

HINT: Often, the only reason you need a tablespoon of oil (14 grams of fat) in a recipe, is to brown onions.  But you really don’t need the oil. Spray a pan with cooking spray, heat over medium heat, and add onions or other vegetables. Stir frequently. Every little while, add  about 2 tablespoons of water and stir. Each time the pan gets dry, add a little more water, until the onions are the shade of golden brown you want. The trick is not to let them burn, and to be patient stirring and adding water.

White Chocolate Panna Cotta

I have been wracking my brain for weeks trying to remember a lovely, light dessert that I made a few years ago for some friends. I remembered that it was like individual pudding molds, sitting in some sort of fruit puree. Then I remembered that it was lemony, and I did a search of lemon desserts. And there it was: panna cotta. Panna cotta, from the Italian “cooked cream” is an Italian dessert made by simmering together milk, cream and sugar, adding some gelatin, and letting it cool until set. It is often served with fruit, either cooked or raw. And it can be very low in fat and remarkably easy to make.

I was trying to think of a Valentine’s Day dessert, so instead of the lemon panna cotta, I made one with white chocolate. You can decorate these any way you want: with candy hearts
panna cotta with hearts
gel icing,
panna cotta with gel

or the way I liked it best, with sugared strawberries
panna cotta with strawberries
White Chocolate Panna Cotta

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 cups fat-free half-and-half, divided
3 ounces white chocolate, chopped (See NOTE)
1 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
panna cotta ingredients

Sprinkle gelatin over 1 cup fat free half-and-half in a small saucepan; let stand 1 to 2 minutes.
panna cotta gelatin
Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat 3 minutes or until gelatin dissolves. Watch so it doesn’t burn.  Remove from heat. Add chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts. I found I had to stir quite vigorously to get it to melt…maybe chopped chocolate would have worked better.
panna cotta stirring
Gradually stir in remaining 1 cup half-and-half, condensed milk, and vanilla. Pour 1/2 cup custard into each of 6 stemmed glasses or 6-ounce custard cups.
panna cotta in bowls

Cover and chill 8 hours or until ready to serve.  Turn out on a plate, or eat it straight from the bowl or glass. Makes 6 servings at 4.3 grams of fat/serving

NOTE: I happened to have white chocolate chips on hand, so I used them.  They were hard to melt into the half and half. I think it would be better to use a high quality white chocolate bar, partly because the chopped chocolate might melt better, but also because the flavor of the white chocolate dominates this dessert, and probably high quality white chocolate would be better. If you use the chips, you might want to chop them up a bit.

Red-Cooked Lamb Shanks

Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake is somewhat less auspicious – a symbol that is sometimes hard to warm up to. And fittingly this Year of the Snake begins with a blizzard in the Northeast, power outages, and extreme weather. Even I, in the Inland Northwest, woke up to snow. So clearly this New Year needs to begin with a hearty dish that will keep you warm as you celebrate. This recipe for red-cooked lamb shanks is taken from a recipe for red-cooked leg of lamb. But as I have mentioned before, I love lamb shanks… the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.

Red-cooking is a Chinese slow-braising technique that is particularly good for tougher cuts of meat. It is a technique popular throughout most of northern, eastern, and southeastern China. The name comes from the dark red-brown color of the meat and sauce. This recipe is not as deep red, as I used reduced sodium soy sauce instead of black soy sauce (you can use black soy sauce if you have it) to make the shanks a bit healthier. Also, these shanks are best made ahead so that you can chill the braising liquid and remove any fat before finishing the sauce.

Despite their potential for deliciousness, lamb shanks are bony and fatty when you first get them.
red cooked lanb shank
You don’t have to do anything about the bones – that is what is going to make the shanks so succulent when you eat them.  But you do need to remove every bit of fat that you can, and any tough, thin membrane as well. The four lamb shanks yielded almost one pound of trimmed fat and membrane.
red cooked lamb trimmings
Red-Cooked Lamb Shanks

Cooking spray
4 lamb shanks, about 12 ounces each
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1 cup dry sherry (not cooking sherry)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon crushed dried red chili pepper
2 whole star anise
additional water to cover, if needed
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cold water
¼ teaspoon sesame oil

Trim the lamb shanks of all fat and membrane, and make small gashes all over them. Rub the shanks with the garlic. Spray a large Dutch oven with cooking spray (I used my big covered wok) and heat over high heat. Add the shanks to the pan and brown them on all sides – about 10 minutes.  Mix the braising liquid (soy sauce, sherry, sugar, pepper, star anise) together.
red cooked lamb ingredients
Pour over the lamb shanks. If necessary, add enough water to just cover the shanks.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 2½  hours, turning shanks occasionally or until shanks are tender. Keep an eye on them. I had to add a bit more water to keep them from drying out…so check the liquid level when you turn the shanks. When the shanks are done, remove them to a platter.
red cooked lamb platter 2
Pour braising liquid into a container. Refrigerate lamb and braising liquid separately. When liquid has chilled and fat hardened on the surface, remove the fat and discard it. Reheat the shanks in the braising liquid. Remove shanks and keep warm.  Measure out 1 cup of the braising liquid, (discard the rest) and bring the one cup of liquid to a simmer. Stir the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and mix it into the liquid. Cook the sauce, stirring, until it is thickened. Stir in the sesame oil, and pour the sauce over the shanks.  Makes 4 servings at about 8 grams of fat/serving
red cooked lamb served 2
I served them over a brown rice mixture, with lightly stir-fried vegetables on the side.

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Dates, and Orange

Good Heavens…it’s trying to be spring. Yes, it’s still only in the 30’s. And the valley is socked in with a grey, dismal, and drizzly fog. But when I woke up this morning there was sunshine, and outside of my window little wisps of cloud were hurrying past…they were so delicate. Outside, from my sunny front deck, I was overlooking the dismal cloud that hung over the valley.

Above the clouds

Above the clouds

And while I was drinking coffee, an entire flock of robins showed up in my garden, frantically hopping around and pecking whatever it is that robins peck at. Oddly enough, under the snow there are green things growing in my garden. I will soon explore them.

This recipe, originally from Cooking Light, always seems like Spring, it is bright and cheery, and a pleasant, if somewhat unusual, mix of flavors. It has asparagus always a spring favorite.  Since you have to chill the asparagus, you can make it the day before.
quinoa asparagus
Combining that with oranges, dates and pine nuts at first seemed questionable.
Quinoa Asparagus Salad ingredients
But the results were great. I brought it to a potluck, because it is the sort of dish that most people can eat. You can also serve it as a side dish.

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Dates, and Orange

Salad:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1  cup uncooked quinoa
2  cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh orange sections (about 1 large orange)
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 Tablespoons minced red onion
5  dates,pitted and chopped
1/2 pound  (2-inch) slices asparagus, steamed and chilled
1/2 jalapeño pepper, diced

Dressing:
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons  chopped fresh mint

To prepare salad, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add uncooked quinoa to pan; sauté 5 minutes.
Quinoa cooking
Add 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
Quinoa cooking Quinoa cooked
Transfer quinoa mixture to a large bowl. Add orange and next 5 ingredients (through jalapeño); toss gently to combine.

To prepare dressing, combine juice and next 4 ingredients (through garlic) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Pour dressing over salad; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with chopped mint. Serve at room temperature. Makes 8 servings at 6.3 grams of fat/serving.

Quinoa Asparagus salad

Meat and Mushroom Spaghetti Sauce

This is the best spaghetti sauce I have ever made. It is even better than the recipe I inherited from my mother. I combined several recipes, including my mother’s, to make it. What could be bad?  It’s got mushrooms:
meat sauce mushrooms
It’s got ground buffalo:
meat sauce buffalo
It’s got hot Italian chicken sausage
meat sauce sausage
Plus it’s got a bit of crushed red pepper to give it even more zing. And it’s low fat and one recipe makes a lot, so you can freeze it. (Oh, and it freezes well.)

One warning, though. I have made this numerous times. The last time was after I’d gotten rid of my slow cooker in preparation for the move that has not yet happened.  I figured that I could just make it in my giant trusty sauté pan. It was ok, but it lacked the depth and richness of the usual sauce. So you really need a slow cooker for long simmering to make this taste wonderful.

Meat and Mushroom Spaghetti Sauce

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onion (see note)
1 cup chopped carrot
1 chopped green pepper
½ pound button mushrooms, sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces hot Italian chicken sausage
1 pound ground buffalo
1/4 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 cup no-salt-added tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried basil

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, carrot, and green pepper to pan; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
meat sauce veggies cooking
Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Place vegetable mixture in a 6-quart slow cooker.
meat sauce veggies crockpot
Crumble sausage and buffalo into skillet; sauté 6 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble further. Remove meat mixture from skillet using a slotted spoon. Add meat mixture to slow cooker. Stir next 9 ingredients (through basil) into slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 8 hours. Makes 9 servings at about 4.6 grams of fat/serving. Break out the pasta and enjoy.
meat sauce
NOTE: I chop the onion, carrot, and green pepper in the food processor so they’ll blend into the sauce.

Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt Cake

It’s cold and snowy, so it’s a good time to turn on the oven to warm the kitchen. This is an easy cake, despite what may seem like a lot of ingredients. It is very moist because of the pumpkin, and has sort of a mysterious spice taste. I served this as a dessert, which was wonderful. But it is a big cake, and I was able to slice the leftovers and lay them out on a plate to bring to another occasion requiring a “food offering.”  I actually think it made quite a few more than 16 servings, which the recipe, originally from Eating Well, specified.  I made the cake a bit lower fat than the original recipe by reducing the amount of canola oil.  This meant I could eat the cake with a large dollop of whipped cream (canned)’ which only adds about 3 grams of fat. It was also good with low-fat vanilla ice cream.
chocolate pumpkin cake piece
I don’t think the glaze is really necessary – it’s more decorative than anything else – and if you plan to serve the cake more than one time, it soaks into the cake and makes it a little sticky.

Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt Cake

1 cup all-purpose, flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, (not Dutch-process)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup nonfat buttermilk (I used regular low fat buttermilk)
1 15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin puree
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon canola oil
3 Tablespoons applesauce
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Glaze
1/2 cup packed confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoon nonfat buttermilk
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips, or toasted chopped nuts (see note)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.

Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a medium bowl. Blend buttermilk, pumpkin puree and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed. Beat in whole egg and egg white. Stir in oil, applesauce, corn syrup and vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, stirring until just combined. Don’t overbeat.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely on the rack, about 2 hours.

To glaze and garnish cake: Combine confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon buttermilk in a small bowl, stirring until completely smooth. Place the cake on a serving plate and drizzle the glaze over the top; garnish with chocolate chips (or chopped nuts) while the glaze is still moist.  Makes 16 generous servings at about 3 grams of fat/serving.

NOTE: I decided to put the mini chocolate chips into the cake instead of on it, to give an extra taste of chocolate to this very chocolaty cake.

Cake is served on my grandma's glass cake plate

Cake is served on my grandma’s glass cake plate

Classic Lamb Curry

I have been terribly remiss about posting to Perpetual Feast. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking, photographing, and yes, eating over the past many months, it’s just that I haven’t had time to write about what I have been cooking, photographing and eating.  I have been trying to sell my house and buy another one across the country, both life-enveloping and time-consuming tasks. But I have folders full of recipes to clean out, both on my computer and at my desk.  So, in the interests of cleaning my desk (and desktop) I am going to make an effort to post regularly.

It has been miserably cold and snowy here in the inland Northwest. Although the snow on the ground is beautiful looking out over the countryside, the temperature hasn’t topped 30 degrees in weeks, descending to single digits (extra socks weather) some nights.  This lamb curry, originally from Cooking Light, was a substantial and warming meal. It isn’t terribly hot, so if you like your curries incendiary, you can add some chilies or more red pepper when you are sautéing the spices.  I first served the curry with store-bought naan – with non-fat yogurt and some spicy lime pickle.
classic lamb curry served
I have since eaten it over rice, and today, trying to use up what’s in the refrigerator, over leftover boiled potatoes (better than it sounds). The curry freezes well, and if you feel like you want a bigger serving, you can add some peas or green beans to it when you’re reheating the leftovers.

Classic Lamb Curry

Cooking spray
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
5 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger (I used bottled)
2 teaspoons Garam Masala (I used Spice Islands)
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups finely chopped plum tomato (about 1/2 pound) (see note)
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

Ingredients waiting for cooking

Ingredients waiting for cooking

Coat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add lamb, and cook for 5 minutes on all sides or until browned. Remove lamb from pan. Add the oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 4 ingredients (onion through cinnamon); cook for 4 minutes or until onion is browned. Stir in coriander and next 6 ingredients (coriander through garlic); cook 1 minute.
classic lamb curry saute
Add lamb, tomato, water, and salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until the lamb is tender.
classic lamb curry cooking
Stir in 1/4 cup cilantro. Serve and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cilantro (I actually stirred all the cilantro in at the end, since I knew I was going to freeze the leftovers.) Makes 4 servings at 11 grams of fat/serving

NOTE: It was too snowy to go out and get tomatoes at the grocery, so I used an available can of diced tomatoes, drained and chopped in the food processor. It worked out great.

SECOND NOTE: I thought it was strange to cook with whole bay leaves, cloves, etc. After the curry was cooked, I pulled these whole spices out and discarded them so no one would bite into one by mistake. The recipe didn’t say to do so, but you should.

YET ANOTHER NOTE: You could also make this recipe with buffalo or with skinless chicken parts, lowering the fat accordingly.


ABOUT KAREN

I have lost 200 pounds. I did not do it through surgery – I don’t like knives and needles – or by joining a club, vigorous exercise, or rigorous dieting. I did it by gourmet cooking. To be precise, by cooking low fat, really delicious food. I love to cook as much as I love to eat. Food magazines are some of my favorite reading. I would feel deprived if I couldn’t have the sensuous experience of good food crossing my lips. This blog is about my perpetual feast, my passionate love of food, with recipes, photos, and occasional advice and principles that I have learned along the way.

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