Helping families eat healthier for less

Helping families eat healthier for less

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Easy Fennel Cheese Cups

Fennel Cheese Cups

Today's blog is part of a contest created by Cabot Creamery for members of Recipe Redux. The challenge given us was to discuss how Cabot's 50% or 75% Reduced Fat Cheddar cheese made trying a "New to You" fruit, vegetable or whole grain even tastier for you and your family.

Because I've considered myself a "foodie" for many years, I go out of my way to try new foods and new recipes. So, finding a new fruit, vegetable or grain was a bit of a challenge for me.  So, I walked the aisles of a couple of supermarkets to help identify and decide what ingredients to work with for this contest.

Instead of one item, I actually came up with two new foods: fennel and millet. Although fennel can be found in many markets, it's not a vegetable I've cooked myself. It's more popular in Europe. I've eaten it when eating out and love the sweet and subtle anise-like flavor. Here is a photo of what it looks like for those that may be unfamiliar with it.
Fresh Fennel Bulb
Fennel can be eaten raw or cooked. According to the tag on the fennel I purchased, there were several helpful serving suggestions including cooking it in chicken broth, pureeing it and adding it to mashed potatoes or shredding it for a slaw and tossing with a poppy seed dressing. You can use the whole fennel plant. The bulb can be sliced thin and served raw in salads or the bulb can be sautéed, boiled, or added to mire poix. The leaves can be cut up and added to soups and stews. The feathery fronds can be used for garnish. According to USDA, one cup of raw fennel provides 27 calories, 1.1 gram protein, 0.2 gram total fat, 6.3 grams carbohydrate, 2.7 grams of fiber, 45 milligrams sodium and 17% of daily value for vitamin C.

The second item I decided to cook with was millet. This looks like bird seed, but it is food grade.

 I chose millet for several reasons. As the Nutrition Budgeteer, I am constantly on the lookout for inexpensive, yet healthy foods. Millet is a low cost grain. I found it at a natural foods store for $1.79 per pound. One pound is about 2-1/4 cups raw millet. One cup of raw millet yields about 4 cups of cooked. Doing the math, a 1-cup cooked serving costs about 20 cents. That's inexpensive, especially when compared to quinoa, amaranth, and some of the other more exotic grains available. According to USDA's Standard Reference, one cup of cooked millet provides 207 calories, 6.1 grams protein, 1.7 grams total fat, 41.2 grams carbohydrate, 2.3 grams fiber, and is a good source of thiamin and niacin. I think six grams of protein is good, considering a cup of quinoa, touted for its protein, provides 8 grams for a cooked cup. Millet is fairly "neutral" in taste, complementing the other flavors that are mixed with it.
My recipe starts by making cheese cups. For this, I was inspired by Jennifer Behm, a real estate agent from Wilmington, Delaware that won the second season of Master Chef in 2011. I attended a cooking demonstration where she made an appetizer of flat cheese crisps using only parmesan cheese for a football party. Of course, I substituted Cabot's reduced fat cheddar cheese. And, instead of flat disks, I wanted to make little cups that could hold a tasty filling. Mini muffin tins work perfectly for this. I experimented with both 50% reduced fat and 75% reduce fat Cabot's sharp cheese and both worked great for this use. Nothing but Cabot cheese is used to make the cheese cup containers. Other spices or herbs could be added, if desired. I found that the taste of the cheese was the perfect accompaniment to the fennel and millet filling I created. I wasn't sure if the Cabot reduced fat cheese would work the same way that parmesan cheese does, as their textures are different. I was pleasantly surpirsed when the cheese cups worked with both the 50% and 75% reduced fat Cabot sharp cheddar cheese. The cheese cups can be made up to several days in advance, if desired. Keep them at room temperature in an airtight plastic container lined with paper towels to absorb moisture.

Preparation of Cheese Cups
For the filling,  I looked for ideas on ways to use fennel and was inspired by Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" where she made calzones using fennel and sweet Italian sausage.  I decided to combine sweet Italian lean turkey sausage (healthier than beef Italian sausage) with the fennel, toasted cooked millet, and some chopped onion. I love the flavor combination. It was perfect for my cheese cups.
Preparation of Filling
Here is the complete recipe.

Fennel Cheese Cups

Cheese Cups:
Non-stick cooking spray
8 ounces Cabot 50% or 75% reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese

1 lean Italian turkey sausage link (about 3.4 ounces), uncooked and casing removed
1/2 medium fennel bulb, chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup cooked millet* (or other cooked whole grain)

Equipment Needed:

baking sheets
parchment paper
mini muffin pan

Make Cheese Cups: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Spray parchment paper with non-stick spray. The cheese cups will likely need to be baked in batches. The parchment paper can be reused until all the cheese cups have been baked.  With large holes on a box grater, shred cheese. Place cheese in 1 tablespoon piles on parchment paper lined baking sheets, leaving about inch between piles to allow for spreading. Flatten piles slightly with hands or back of spoon. Bake 8 to 10 minutes on middle rack of oven until bubbly and slightly brown around edges. Don't over bake to prevent toughness. Remove baking sheets  from oven and let set for 1 minute. Then carefully lift each cheese circle and press in bottom of mini muffin pan. Let cool about 5 minutes before removing from muffin pan. Note: cheese cups can be made up to several days in advance, if desired. Keep at room temperature in airtight plastic container lined with paper towels to absorb moisture.

Make Filling: Brown Italian sausage in large, 10-inch non-stick frying skillet over medium-high heat until completely browned on all sides, breaking it apart as it cooks. Reduce heat to medium. Add fennel and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes, or until vegetables are crisp tender. Stir in cooked millet. Cook over medium heat for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat. Using a tablespoon, scoop a heaping tablespoon of filling into each cheese cup. Garnish with feathery fennel fronds, if desired. Serve.
Makes  16 appetizers or 8 servings (2 appetizers each).

Nutrition Information per Serving Using 75% Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese):  (Note: one serving is two cheese cups.)
111 calories, 3.8 g total fat, 1.8 g saturated fat, 16.3mg cholesterol, 0.8 g dietary fiber, 11.8 g protein, and 281 mg sodium.

Nutrition Information per Serving Using 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese):  (Note: one serving is two cheese cups.)
121 calories, 5.8 g total fat, 3.3 g saturated fat, 21.3 mg cholesterol, 0.8 g dietary fiber, 10.8 g protein, and 251 mg sodium.

Cost per Serving (2 Cheese Cups per Serving): $0.88
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

* To cook millet: Toast 1 cup dry millet in a non-stick 10-inch frying pan over high heat, stirring constantly, until millet just begins to turn brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add  2 cups of boiling water (or low sodium broth)  to toasted millet, reduce heat to medium and cover. Gradually reduce heat to simmer and let cook covered for about 20 minutes. One cup of dry millet yields about 4 cups of cooked millet. Only 1 cup of cooked millet is needed for this recipe. The remainder can be used for another recipe or use.

Click here to download and print the complete Fennel Cheese Cups recipe.

Want to Win a Free Giveaway? 

Dr. Barb will be giving away a free cutting board and a cheese knife (compliments of Cabot Creamery) to two different people who post a comment related to this blog post. Persons will be randomly selected from all those that post a comment before April 30, 2012.

Disclaimer: I received free samples from Cabot Creamery of the cheese and giveaway items mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe, I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Cabot Creamery cooperative and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest.  I was not compensated for my time.


  1. These cheese cups are so unique! I just have used millet once (in a banana bread recipe) so I'm eager to try new recipes like this.

  2. this is wonderful! so easy, but so creative. love it!!

  3. Thanks for a fennel recipe! That can be a tricky ingredient. (ps.not entering the giveaway with this comment)

  4. I love the idea of doing cheese cups. So unique!

  5. Turkey, fennel, onion and cheese -- great, nutritious combination!

  6. I think you are a wonderful cook and I would really like to win the cutting board.

  7. I bake bread and will look forward to using millet next time.

  8. I love fennel, but am not confident in cooking with it. This sounds like a fairly simple recipe that will taste great. Looking forward to trying it out!

  9. I like that this recipe looks fancy and complicated but really isn't...great way to make a good impression!

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