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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

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Cajun or “les Acadians” was used to describe French colonists who lived in the Acadia region of Canada (present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia). With the British Conquest of Acadia in the early 1700s, the Acadians were forcibly driven from their home and eventually settled in the swampy regions of Louisiana. Those distinct areas are the levees and bayous (Lafourche and Teche), prairies (Attakapas Indian land), swamplands (Atchafalaya Basin), and coastal marshes (New Orleans area and Houma).

The Acadians were an extremely resourceful people who combined the resources of the flatlands, bayous, and the wild game of South Louisiana with its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico to create a truly unique local cuisine. While many Acadiana residents today have Native American, German, French, or Italian roots, their way of life is strongly influenced by the Cajun culture. Along with its food, this rural area of Louisiana is famous for its Cajun French music and language.

Seasoning is one of the most important parts of Cajun cooking, and that comes from much more than a heavy helping of cayenne pepper. Most dishes begin with a medley of vegetables based on the French mirepoix. “The holy trinity of Cajun cuisine” utilizes onion, celery, and bell pepper to provide a flavor base for many dishes. Garlic, paprika, thyme, file (ground sassafras leaves) are also very common ingredients in Cajun kitchens.

The term “Creole” describes the population of people who were born to settlers in French colonial Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans. In the 18th century, Creoles consisted of the descendants of the French and Spanish upper class that ruled the city. Over the years the term Creole grew to include native-born slaves of African descent as well as free people of color. Typically, the term “French Creole” described someone of European ancestry born in the colony and the term “Louisiana Creole” described someone of mixed racial ancestry.

Like the people, Creole food is a blend of the various cultures of New Orleans including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese, to name a few. The dishes consist of an array of spices from various areas, for example, remoulade sauce. Creole cuisine had more variety because of the easier access Creoles had to exotic ingredients and the wide mix of cultures that contributed to the cuisine. That’s why you find tomatoes in Creole jambalaya and not in Cajun jambalaya or why a lot of times you find a Creole roux made with butter and flour while the  Cajun roux is made with oil and flour.

Cajun Steak

Servings: 4

Ingredients
:
1 lb steak bites (cut into 2-inch cubes) (Sirloin, New York Strip or Ribeye)
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning, purchased or use the homemade recipe below
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic finely chopped

Directions

Place the Cajun seasoning and 1 tablespoon oil in a shallow bowl or a plastic ziplock bag. Add the steak bites and toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate for several hours.


Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot.
Sear the steak bites for 2-3 minutes on each side until the edges are crispy and browned and remove to a serving bowl. Set aside.


Reduce heat to medium. Add butter to the skillet and heat until melted. Sauté the chopped garlic for 30 seconds, while scraping the bottom of the pan.
Take the pan off the heat. Place the steak bites back in and toss through the garlic butter to evenly coat. Pour onto a serving plate.

Cajun Seasoning

Ingredients

2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon onion powder

Directions
Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake to combine. Store covered at room temperature.

Cajun Rice Saute

You may also substitute frozen and defrosted cauliflower rice for the regular rice in this recipe

4 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 small bell pepper (baby bell), diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 1⁄2 cups cooked rice (¾ cup uncooked)
1 ½ cups chicken broth
Chopped parsley

Directions

Cook the rice in chicken broth. Set aside
In a skillet heat the oil and saute the onion, celery, and bell pepper until tender.


Add garlic, Cajun seasoning and thyme. Saute for 1 minute. Add the cooked rice and heat until hot stirring frequently until combined with the other ingredients. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with chopped parsley.

Southern Style Greens

Bacon fat is often used in this recipe but I use olive oil instead.

Ingredients

2 pounds greens (collards, mustard, chard), washed and drained
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt and pepper

Directions

Use a knife to cut on either side of the large rib running up each green leaf. Remove it and discard it. Stack about 4 to 5 leaves, roll them up and cut into 1/2-inch strips. Repeat with remaining leaves.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened.
Add broth, vinegar, sugar and hot sauce to pot. Stir to combine.

Add greens and use tongs to turn and mix them until they reduce in size some. Cover, turn heat to low and cook until tender (30-60 minutes depending on the type of greens used), stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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This pie makes use of leftovers. I used chicken in this recipe but this could easily be a beef pot pie using leftover roasted beef or steak, beef gravy, and leftover vegetables.
If you are on a low carb or gluten-free diet, I have included recipes for both regular pastry and a low carb/gluten-free pastry.

Ingredients

1 ½ cups leftover cooked chicken, cubed

(leftover from Oven Roasted Butterflied Chicken)

½ cup frozen peas
2 cups chopped leftover vegetables or a combination of carrots, onions, green beans or peas
1 cup leftover chicken gravy
Pie Crust Dough for a double crust (store-bought or homemade recipes below)
Melted butter

Directions

In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken, vegetables, and gravy. Mix well and set aside.


Place one rolled out pastry crust in a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Add the chicken filling and cover with a second crust. Crimp the edges and seal the crust all around the pie. Cut 4 slits in the top crust and brush the top with melted butter. (Pie can be refrigerated until ready to bake.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower oven heat to 375 degrees F and continue to bake the pie until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly about 30 minutes.

All-Purpose Flour Pastry

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 sticks (16 oz) COLD unsalted butter diced into 1/4″ pieces
6 tablespoons of ice water

Directions

Place flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

Add cold diced butter and pulse the mixture until coarse crumbs form.
Add ice water and pulse just until moist clumps or small balls form and the dough sticks together when pinched. If the dough is too dry, add more water a teaspoon full at a time. Be careful not to add too much water or the dough will be sticky and difficult to roll out.

Transfer dough to a floured work surface, and gather dough together into a ball. Divide dough in half and flatten to form 2 disks.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour before using in the recipes.


Place each disk between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper and roll each into 13 inch round circles.

Low Carb-Gluten Free Pastry

Ingredients

4 cups almond flour blanched
1 teaspoon of sea salt
4 tablespoons butter melted
2 egg whites (I use the refrigerated carton of egg whites, such as Egg Beaters)
4 tablespoons water

Directions

Combine egg whites and water.
In a food processor, combine almond flour, salt, and butter. Pulse for 5-6 pulses. Drizzle in egg white and water mixture. Pulse all ingredients together until a dough forms. If the dough seems dry add another tablespoon water.
With hands, form dough into two balls and then flatten each on a piece of wax or parchment paper.

Cover the top of each dough disc with wax paper or plastic wrap and then roll out into a pie crust circle to fit a 9 to 10-inch pie plate. Follow directions about for completing the pot pie.


4 lb Whole Chicken
Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon, zested plus the juice of half the lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, 3 carrots, and 3 celery stalks, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Optional – Kitchen Bouquet (gravy browning sauce)

Directions

Remove the giblets from the chicken and rinse the cavity. Pat dry. With poultry shears or a sharp knife, cut away the backbone by cutting along both sides of the bone.


Open the chicken and flatten by pressing down on the breast. Sprinkle the chicken all over with salt and place in a large ziplock bag. Refrigerate overnight.

Set the cooking rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 450°F.

Coat the bottom of a large roasting pan with olive oil or cooking spray.
Cut the vegetables into pieces and place them in the prepared roasting pan. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper, thyme, and rosemary

Crack the peppercorns until coarsely ground. Add the garlic, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add just enough oil to form a paste. Rub the chicken with the oil paste and place some of the paste under the breast skin.

Place the chicken in the prepared roasting pan, breast side up, on top of the vegetables. Pour the chicken broth into the pan but don’t pour it over the chicken.

After 30 minutes cover the breast area if necessary with foil. Cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 175° to 180°F. Place the chicken on a serving platter and allow it to rest for 10 minutes then carve.

Drain the vegetables from the liquid in the pan and place on the platter with the chicken.

Pour the drippings into a small saucepan and add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and gravy browning additive, if using. Bring to a boil and stir until the liquid thickens. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve with the chicken and vegetables and mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower.


 

Marinade
1/4 cup oyster sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
1/4 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
Stir Fry
1 small flank steak or half of a large flank steak
1 medium onion, quartered
2 large stalks from one bunch fresh broccoli
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot
3 scallions, sliced

Directions

Slice the steak into thin strips, about 1/4 inch thick.
In a large ziplock plastic bag, combine the oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, beef stock, sesame oil, ginger, red pepper flakes, and garlic.
Add the steak to the bag and mix until all pieces are coated. Let the steak marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or up to 24 hours.


While the meat is marinating, cut the florets off the broccoli stalks and peel the stalks. Slice the stalks into thin rounds. Separate the onion into single pieces.

Heat a wok or a large high-sided skillet over high heat. Add the oil to the pan.
Once the pan is very hot, remove the meat from the bag with tongs, letting the marinade drip back into the bag and add to the hot pan. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Remove to a serving bowl. You made need to do this in two batches.


Add the broccoli and onion and stir fry 5 minutes or until tender. Add the cornstarch to the marinade in the bag. Shake and pour into the pan, Add the scallions and browned beef and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.
Pour the mixture back into the serving bowl. Serve with rice if you prefer.


Grilled Lamb Chops

2 servings

Ingredients

4 loin lamb chops, about 1 ¼ lb total
Lemon wedges

Marinade
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon Greek seasoning store-bought (or combine equal parts of coarse salt, Turkish oregano, garlic, dried lemon zest, black pepper, and marjoram and use 1 teaspoon in this recipe)

Directions

Place the lamb chops in a medium ziplock bag with the marinade ingredients. Seal the bag, shake and store the bag in the refrigerator for several hours before grilling.

To grill the lamb chops:

Preheat an outdoor or stovetop grill. Oil the grill.
Remove the chops from the marinade and grill them over medium-high heat, turning once, until medium-rare, about 3 minutes on each side.

Transfer the chops to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges, the Greek Salad, Tzatziki, and grilled pita.

Greek Vegetable Salad

2 servings

Ingredients

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in large dice
1 large tomato, seeded and cut in large dice
4 -5 pepperoncini, seeded and cut in large dice
1/4 of a red onion, cut in large dice
12 Greek olives
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano or Greek seasoning
1/2 teaspoon honey

Directions

In a serving bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, pepperoncini, onions, olives, and feta cheese. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients; shake well. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat. Serve with a slotted spoon.

Tzatziki Sauce

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 scallion, minced
1/2 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic grated
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon za’atar or dried oregano

Directions

Place the grated cucumber in a fine-mesh sieve and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and drain for about 30 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt, parsley, and oregano or za’atar and stir to combine.
Add the cucumber to the yogurt mixture and stir to combine.
Cover and refrigerate for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to develop.

 

Grilled Pita Bread

A very good tasting low carb mini pita (4g net carbs) is made by Joseph’s Middle East Bakery

2 servings

Ingredients

2 small (mini) pita bread
Olive oil
Za’atar

Directions

Lightly brush both sides of each pita with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little za’atar. Place on the grill for 1 minute, turn them over and grill for 1 minute more. Serve with the Tzatziki Sauce.


Steak Pizzaiola

I like to use the mini bell peppers for sauces because they are tender and sweet tasting.

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 rib-eye steak (about 12 oz. and 1 inch thick), trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
12 oz. mini bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup Marinara Sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Cut the steak in half crosswise and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides of each steak with salt and pepper.
In a large heavy frying pan over medium heat, add the oil, onions, garlic, and peppers. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but not browned, 10 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl with a slotted spoon.


Add the butter to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Put the steaks in the pan and sear until deeply browned on both sides and medium rare about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the steaks to individual serving plates.
Pour the marinara sauce into the skillet and add 1/2 cup of the sautéed peppers and onions and stir them into the sauce. Reserve the remaining peppers and onions for another recipe.
Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer just until the vegetables are hot, 1 minute. Divide the mixture in half and pour over each steak. Garnish each serving with chopped parsley.

Sautéed Swiss Chard With Garlic and Lemon

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 large bunches Swiss chard, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn into 2”
pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

Wash the chard well in several changes of cold water. Drain in a colander. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and half of the Swiss chard, season with salt and pepper.

Cook, tossing often until wilted. Add the lemon juice and remaining chard and cook, tossing, just until all chard is wilted about 1 minute. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Rosemary Flavored Roasted Rutabaga Wedges

Ingredients

1 medium rutabaga, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the ends off the rutabaga and then cut the rutabaga in half. Cut each half in two. Cut the slices into wedges.


Place the rutabaga wedges in a large ziplock bag with the oil and seasonings and toss to coat. Spread the mixture evenly on a sheet pan and cook for 45-50 minutes until tender and brown. Turn the wedges over half way through the cooking time.


Easy Overnight Pizza Dough

Makes one 16 inch round pizza. Prepare the dough one day ahead. This process makes the best pizza dough.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 teaspoon honey

1 cup lukewarm water

3 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Sausage and Peppers Topping

8 oz spicy Italian Sausage, cut into thin slices

1 lb small bell peppers, sliced thin

1 large onion sliced thin

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

8 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced thin

Olive oil

Pizza Sauce

26 oz container strained Italian tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

One day before making the pizza:

Combine all the ingredients for the dough in the large bowl of an electric mixer and with the paddle attachment mix until the ingredients come together around the paddle. Attach the dough hook and knead the dough for 5-6 minutes.

Spray a large ziplock plastic bag with olive oil cooking spray. Place the dough in the bag and close the top. Place the bag in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to make the pizza, remove the bag from the refrigerator 30 minutes before making the pizza. Turn the oven to 400 degrees F and let the oven heat for 30 minutes.


Combine all the ingredients for the pizza sauce in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 minutes.

Preheat a large sauté pan on medium-high and place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, then add sausage and cook until browned about 6 minutes, stirring until no pink remains. Add the garlic, Italian seasoning, peppers and onions and saute until the vegetables are tender.

Let stand 5 minutes to cool.

Prepare the crust: flour your hands lightly and pat the dough evenly into a lightly oiled 16″ pizza pan. Top the crust with slices of mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce, peppers, onions, and sausage.

Bake the pizza on the bottom rack of the oven for 20–25 minutes or until the crust is golden, the cheese is melted, and the toppings are thoroughly heated. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.



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