Thursday, September 30, 2010

Week's Menu Plan & Tilapia with Lemon Sauce

So I'm surviving my first week of work! Actually, not only surviving but also really enjoying it. Well, I did come home after the first day and just stared blankly at the wall for a good 15 minutes.  But now I'm feeling like I'm getting back into the swing of things.  Since I was tired after the first day, it was great that I had this tilapia recipe planned. It was light, very lemony and so easy to make - even I could muster the energy to make this!

This coming week's menu plan is a combination of using what's already in our fridge/freezer/pantry and using what's still in season and at the farmers market (only 3 weeks left at our local market!).  We're splurging a bit for a meal (read: scallops) but it'll be counter-balanced with some el cheapo dishes (like the black bean tacos).

Week's Menu Plan

Friday: homemade burgers with blue cheese

Saturday: All the necessary game day food - boneless buffalo wings (I make both hot and BBQ; these are great baked in the oven!), celery and carrots with tzatziki or blue cheese sauce, white bean dip with crackers

Dessert: Nanaimo Bars

Sunday: Borscht (beet soup)
Monday: stuffed peppers

Tuesday: Spicy Chicken Avocado Sandwich

Wednesday: Crispy Black Bean Taco

Thursday: Seared Sea Scallops with risotto

Sauteed Tilapia with Lemon Sauce
Taken from: Cooking Light
Serves: 3-4

If you aren't a big fan of the lemon, I would recommend cutting down on the lemon juice from 1/4 cup to 2 Tbsp.
  • 3/4  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4  cup  fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  drained brine-packed green peppercorns, lightly crushed (completely optional; you could also substitute capers or like myself, completely leave this out.  Next time, I might try to add some dried thyme which is apparently an adequate substitute.)
  • 1  teaspoon  butter
  • 1  teaspoon  vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. tilapia or sole fillets
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 2  teaspoons  butter
  • Lemon wedges (optional, for serving)
-Combine chicken broth, lemon juice and if using, peppercorns (or any substitute).
-Place 1 teaspoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat until butter melts.
While butter melts, sprinkle fish fillets with salt and black pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish. Dredge fillets in flour; shake off excess flour.
-Increase heat to medium-high; heat 2 minutes or until butter turns golden brown in pan.
-Add fillets to pan; sauté 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fillets from pan.
-Add broth mixture to pan, scraping to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in two teaspoons of butter with a whisk. Serve sauce over fillets. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Skirt Steak Salad with Blue Cheese

I knew Bryant would like this recipe as soon as I saw it.  Steak and blue's exactly his kind of recipe.  It didn't hurt that I also threw in a few beets for good measure (beets just happen to be one of his favorite vegetables). I love that it's a salad so you instantly get a few servings of vegetables in for the day (just make sure you're not using iceberg lettuce!).

This recipe also ended up being a blessing in disguise because we didn't end up getting home last night until almost 8 pm.  Luckily, since I had prepped the meat and roasted the beets the day before, all I had to do was cook the meat for a few minutes and shred some lettuce.  And not only was it a quick meal, it was a delicious one! Bryant crowned it a 5-star meal, the highest of praises.  He's already requested that we have it again soon.

We used grass fed beef from our farmers market and it was delicious! It was incredibly flavorful AND it's much better for you.  Obviously, it's more expensive so I only cooked less than half a pound and a little went a long (and very delicious) way.

Skirt Steak Salad with Blue Cheese
Taken from: Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4 (I halved this recipe very easily)
  • 1 pound skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat if necessary, halved crosswise, at room temperature
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese (or if you're like me and not a blue cheese fan, use feta cheese as a great substitute)
  • 1/2 pound greens - baby arugula, spinach, romaine, etc.
  • 3 tablespoons minced chives or finely chopped red onion (you can also use 2 thinly sliced scallions)
  • 3-4 beets, previously roasted, peeled and sliced
  • Steak Salad Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
-If you want beets, make sure they are fully cooked at this point!
-Pat steak dry; season on both sides with 1/2 teaspoon salt and many grinds of black pepper.
-Ways to prepare steak: 
  • In a cast-iron skillet: Heat skillet on medium-high to high and add olive oil. When oil begins to shimmer, place steak in skillet and do not move it for 3-5 minutes (judge by the thickness of your steak; my steak was thin so 3 minutes was plenty). Turn it once, and cook for another 2-3 minutes for medium-rare (mine only needed 1-2 minutes). You may need to cook your steak halves separately, depending on the size of your pan.
  • On a grill: Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over hot charcoal or high heat for gas. Oil grill rack, then grill steak, covered only if using a gas grill, turning once, 3 to 6 minutes total for medium-rare.
-Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for five minutes.
-Arrange lettuce on a large platter.
-Thinly slice steak on the diagonal, across the grain. Arrange over arugula, then toss halved cherry tomatoes, sliced beets and blue cheese over platter.  Sprinkle with chives/scallions/red onion. Serve with vinaigrette on the side or lightly toss salad just before serving.

Steak Salad Vinaigrette
  • 1 tablespoon coarse Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
-Whisk ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and adjust ingredients to taste.  Serve on side.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tzatziki Sauce

Usually I give you several recipes.  But this recipe is so good, I didn't want to wait to think of another recipe.  I had served tzatziki with these chicken kabobs and Greek salad for dinner tonight - I've made this meal before and it's such a great, fresh meal.

Tzatziki is a Greek cucumber yogurt sauce.  I remember getting it from Mediterranean bakeries when we were growing up and it was one of my favorite sauces.  And it's just as good as I remembered!  We always have some plain nonfat yogurt in the house (I'm actually going to try to make homemade yogurt soon!) and it's a really easy sauce to put together. Just grate some cucumber (or cheat and pulse it in the food processor like I did) and add oil, lemon juice and a few spices.  I used this on everything tonight - my garlic bread, chicken kabobs AND with my Greek salad.  Delicious.

Tzatziki Sauce

Taken from: A Hint of Honey
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or regular yogurt (I used nonfat)
  • 1/4 large cucumber (or 1/2 small), shredded and squeezed to remove the excess moisture (I often use a cheese grater for this or throw it in the food processor for a few pulses)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • dash of dried or fresh dill (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fresh mint, to garnish (optional)
-In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper. Add yogurt, cucumber and garlic and stir until evenly combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Week's Menu Plan & Slow Cooker Chicken Broth

So it's back to the working world for me on Monday - which I'm quite excited about although quick weeknight meals will be a much bigger factor from now on!  I'm assuming that I'll be a bit drained after the first work week so I tried to pick things for this menu plan that are much easier to make or the prep work can be done ahead of time.  And we'll be celebrating on Friday with a little homemade pizza!

I'm especially looking forward to the skirt steak and blue cheese salad (Bryant loves blue cheese although I'll be topping mine with feta instead) because our farmers market just started carrying grass fed beef. And I'll be stocking up, too, as the end of farmers markets is rapidly approaching (it'll be goodbye to the farmers market, hello to CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] boxes!).

I've been wanted to make my own chicken broth for a while.  I've been shelling out for Trader Joe's chicken broth and while it's good, I figured making my own would be cheaper AND better.  At our local grocery store this week, free range, antibiotic-free whole chickens were only $1 a pound, so I jumped at the chance.  Bryant and I only really like white meat so I cut off the chicken breast and roasted it along with some vegetables last night.  The rest of the chicken was thrown into the pot for stock and simmered all day yesterday.  For a 5 pound chicken, we got a great meal (or two) AND tons of broth!  I haven't tried the broth yet but I'll be using it in the Vietnamese chicken pho that I'm finally making this week.

Week's Menu Plan

Saturday: marinated chicken skewers, tzatiki, Greek salad
Sunday: Sauteed Tilapia with Lemon Sauce with risotto
Monday: spaghetti with meatballs with sauteed vegetables
Tuesday: skirt steak and blue cheese salad
Wednesday: Spanish Tortilla with biscuits
Thursday: Vietnamese chicken pho
Friday:  homemade pizza

Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
Taken from: Ina Garten
Makes approx 4-6 cups of chicken stock (which can then be thinned with water, if desired)
  • 1 (5-pound) roasting chickens (or the parts leftover that you didn't want to eat)
  • 1 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
  • 2 carrots, unpeeled and halved
  • 1 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
  • 7 sprigs fresh parsley (all I had was dried so I just threw in probably about a teaspoon)
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme (again, only dried)
  • 20 sprigs fresh dill (optional, I omitted)
  • 1/3 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns (don't use ground as it'll be too spicy)
  • 8 cups water
-Place the chicken/chicken parts, onion, carrots, celery, parsley, thyme, dill, garlic, and seasonings in a large stockpot or slow cooker.
-Add approximately 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours over the stove OR place a slow cooker on low and cook 8-10 hours.
-Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids.
-Chill the stock overnight or at least 8 hours. The next day, remove the surface fat.
-Use immediately or pack in containers and freeze for up to 3 months (Bryant laughs but I package mine in 2 Tbsp. ice cubes and then freeze them that way.  This means 8 chicken broth cubes would be one cup. It's a lot easier to get the amount you want and a lot quicker to thaw!)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

English Muffins & Granola Bars

More and more, I find myself making things that I used to buy in the grocery store.  I'm not sure if whether I want to know exactly what is in my food, to cut down on the added sugar/chemicals/additives or to save a few bucks by making it myself (probably a combination!).  So my latest attempts - English muffins and granola bars.  I'll be trying to make crackers next!

I was worried the English muffins wouldn't come out right.  The dough was really sticky and I couldn't really roll out the dough with a pin -  I had smooth out the dough with my hand instead.  However, they did come out delicious! Soft, great flavor - I had two immediately with jam and didn't even bother toasting them!

The granola bars are a lot of fun because you're supposed to add in anything that you want.  There's so much room to get creative (or just use up what you have in the house).  I've been sending Bryant with one for work every day for the past several weeks...and sneaking in a few for myself! They do crumble more easily than regular granola bars but I think have a great flavor.

Homemade English Muffins
Taken from: King Arthur Flour
Makes approx. 16-24 muffins (depending on how large you like them)
  • 1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) milk, warm (to approx. 100-100 degrees F) 
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) butter
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 to 4 1/4 cups (17 to 18 ounces) flour (I used 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup whole wheat and 2 1/4 cup white whole wheat) 
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • Cornmeal
-Place the ingredients in the pan of your bread machine following the manufacturer's instructions. Use the "dough" or "manual" setting.  If, however, you are like me and don't own a bread machine, follow these steps:
  • Combine all of the ingredients (except the cornmeal) in a mixing bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix till everything is combined, then beat at high speed (using the flat beater paddle, if you’re using a stand mixer) for 5 minutes. The dough will be soft, sticky, and glossy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover it, and allow the dough to rise for about 90 minutes, till it’s just about doubled in bulk.
-Transfer the dough to a cornmeal-sprinkled surface and roll it out until it's about 1/2-inch thick (I used my hands instead of a rolling pin). Cut out circles with a floured 3-inch cutter (I used a glass drinking glass, coated in cooking spray and then dipped in flour). Re-roll and cut out the leftover dough. Cover the muffins with a damp cloth and let rest for about 20 minutes.
-Heat a frying pan or griddle to very low heat. Do not grease, but sprinkle with cornmeal.  Try one muffin and c
heck after about 3 to 4 minutes to see that the muffins are browning gently and are neither too dark nor too light.  If they seem to be cooking either too fast or too slowly, adjust the temperature of your pan or griddle (Start at 250 degrees if you know your temperature, then try 300, then 350.  I had to use 350.)
-Cook four muffins at a time, cornmeal side down first, for about 7 minutes per side.
-When the muffins are brown on both sides, transfer them to a wire rack to cool, and proceed with the rest. If you have two frying pans (or a large griddle), you'll be better able to keep up with your rising muffins. 

Homemade Granola Bars
Taken from: Smitten Kitchen
Makes an 8x8 pan - I believe we got approx. 20 bars
  • 1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar (I went with 1/3 and thought it was delicious but use more for a sweetness closer to most purchased bars)
  • 1/3 cup oat bran OR oat flour (to make oat flour, take 1/3 cup oats and process till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I thought you could really taste it, so if you don't like cinnamon as much, go for the 1/8)
  • 2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts for a total of 10 to 15 ounces (I believe I used 1 cup chocolate protein powder, 1/2 cup dried craisins, 1/4 cup. sweetened coconut, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1/4 cup. chopped pecans, 1/4 cup. sliced almonds)
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter or another nut butter (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 5 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup honey, maple syrup or corn syrup (I used honey)
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup or maple syrup (I used real maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon water
-Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Coat the parchment paper and the exposed pan with a non-stick spray.
-Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter, applesauce, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry (and peanut butter, if you’re using it) until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan. (A piece of plastic wrap can help with this, as you press down on the back of it.)
-Bake the bars for 25 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges — don’t be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the center of the pan but they’ll set completely once completely cool.
 -Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. (After about 20 minutes you can use your parchment “sling” to lift and remove the bars, and place them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way. This can speed the process up.)  If bars seem crumbly, chill the pan of them further in the fridge for 30 minutes which will fully set the “glue”, then cut them cold.
-Once cool, use a serrated knife (or bench knife) to cut the bars into squares. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Shrimp & Grits

Ahh, a Southern classic. Of course, Southern food hasn't been known as the healthiest of foods (a deep fat fryer seems to be a must for classic Southern cookin') but with a few healthy changes, it can still taste delicious!  I tried making shrimp and grits tonight, albeit a much healthier version than what's typically served.  It was my first time actually having shrimp and grits, too.  By the time I finally would venture out to try new dishes (it would probably be an understatement to say that I was a rather picky child), I was in Washington DC and couldn't swallow paying $30 for a plate.  And since I doubt we'll be finding soul food any time in California, I decided to make my own! I finally found a suitable recipe - while I can't judge its authenticity, it was still delicious.  The Old Bay and chili powder give the dish a nice kick but the grits balanced it out by being nice and creamy.

However, my grits aren't true, stone ground grits.  It was polenta instead because I already had the ingredients.  They are similar that it was a fine substitute for us!  They were incredibly creamy - I know that I'll want to use this polenta recipe again for other dishes.

Shrimp and Grits
Taken from: Kath Eats
3-4 servings
  • 10 oz shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Approx. 5-6 ounces fresh spinach (you could also sub broccoli raab, collards, etc)
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup bell peppers, diced (I used red)
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-3 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
  • Approx. 1 tsp. chili powder
  • Polenta recipe below OR 1/4 cup quick cooking polenta (if using quick cooking polenta, stir in 2 Tbsp. butter and 2 tsp. honey at the end)
  • 2 Tbsp parmesan cheese
(Start cooking polenta/grits at the same time you begin the shrimp part of the recipe.)
-Dry each shrimp with a paper towel or two to make sure they sear nicely.
-Heat a large saute pan to medium high. Add olive oil to pan and when the oil is heated (if you flick a few drops of water on the pan, the water drops should dance), place shrimp one by one into pan and don’t touch until brown on one side (probably takes about 3 minutes). Flip and sear on other side until crispy. Remove shrimp from pan.
-Add veggies to pan, lightly season with salt and pepper and sautee a few minutes (I actually did this step in a second saute pan and sauteed the veggies while the shrimp was going to cut down on some time.) Stir in Old Bay and chili powder. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth (or water, if you don't have broth) to deglaze plan and steam veggies. Remove veggies from pan when tender.
-Add spinach to pan. Lightly season with salt and pepper and saute a few minutes until wilted. Add a splash of water to steam/deglaze, if needed.
-Add veggies and shrimp to polenta pot and stir together. Pour into bowl and top with shrimp and parmesan.

Homemade Polenta/Grits
Taken from: Everyday Italian cookbook
3-4 side dish servings
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. cornmeal
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tsp. honey
-In a heavy saucepan, bring water to a boil.  Add salt.
-Reduce heat to low.  Gradually whisk in the cornmeal and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, about 15 minutes (with fine cornmeal although it could take up to 30 minutes with medium cornmeal).
-Remove from heat and stir in butter and honey.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fish Tacos, Avocado Relish, Black Bean & Corn Salad

We had quite a Mexican fiesta Saturday night! Just how I like it - fish tacos, avocado relish, black bean and corn salad, salsa AND guacamole - light, lots of avocado, and delicious! It also made for great leftovers Sunday night.  And we had so much that I didn't even have to cook and could still send Bryant with a full lunch the next day.

Fish tacos are usually deep fat fried but baking is a much healthier option (however, my one kitchen disaster did come from trying to bake fish and chips instead of frying them...stick to the real thing with that dish!).  But fish tacos were absolutely great.

The black bean and corn salad is really easy to make. This was actually one of the first dishes I ever remember making and my dad really liked it (so perhaps it was one of my first successful dishes). I used fresh corn since it's still in season in California but frozen corn would work, too.  You could add rice (if you'd like), different kinds of beans, different vegetables, different would be pretty easy to play around with!

Finally, the avocado relish was great with both the fish tacos and the black bean and corn salad (and probably would be great just with tortilla chips, too). It has lots of lime juice so it is a bit tart but very creamy.

Fish Tacos
Taken from: A Hint of Honey
  • 4 (4-6 oz.) cod fillets
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal (or you could use whole wheat Panko)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • (I also added a sprinkling of both cayenne and paprika)
-Preheat oven broiler (500 F).
-Cut cod into thin strips. Toss to combine flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and chili powder in a shallow dish. Coat fish strips in the cornmeal mixture. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
-Broil in preheated oven for 3-4 minutes per side, flipping halfway through, until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
-Serve with warm whole-wheat tortillas, shredded lettuce, shredded cabbage and avocado relish.

Avocado Relish
Taken from: A Hint of Honey
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp. jalapeno, minced (adjust to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped 
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
-To make the avocado relish, toss to combine avocado, onion, jalapeno, and cilantro in a small bowl. Pour in lime juice and olive oil. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Black Bean & Corn Salad
(This recipe is so old, I'm not even sure where it's from!)
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. cumin (I added extra cumin and some chili powder, too)
  • 3 cups black beans (equivalent to 1 15-oz. can, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups raw corn kernels
  • 3/4 cup tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro (or you could do 1/4 cup cilantro and 1/4 cup parsley)
  • 2 Tbsp. red onion, finely chopped
-In a serving bowl, stir olive oil, lime juice and cumin.
-Add rest of ingredients, stirring gently to coat.  Season with salt & pepper.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chocolate Stout Cake with Irish Cream Frosting

So for dessert last night, I made chocolate stout (cup)cake(s) with Baileys Irish Cream Frosting. This recipe got great reviews so I was really excited to try it. Needless to say, it was divine. I usually don't even like chocolate cake that much but this was an exception. It was incredibly light and airy with great flavor. (Plus, my husband can't turn down anything with Guinness. ) And, to top it off, I used an irish cream frosting - it turned out more like a glaze because I upped the amount of Bailey's to really give it an irish cream flavor and couldn't think of what else to add to make it thicker (I didn't want to add extra sugar or any cream cheese). However, the glaze tasted wonderful - you could really taste the irish cream and it was delicious without being too sweet (which is often my problem with cake frosting). I made this into 11 cupcakes - I like how portable cupcakes are but it would be easy to make into a 1-layer cake. I was even able to send my father-in-law with one on his trip home and froze half a dozen for future use. And thanks to a lovely birthday gift I received, I was able to find out the best way to freeze a cake is to fully bake it and freeze it without frosting (you can freeze any uncooked frosting separately). Thank you, Don and Carolyn!

Chocolate Stout Cake
Taken from: Unsweetened Cocoa
Makes 1-layer cake or 12 cupcakes, even though I just used a quarter of the original recipe. It would be easy to double the recipe for a nice, 2-layer cake.

  • 1/2 cup stout (such as Guinness)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cups sour cream (reduced-fat or full-fat)
-Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter one 8-inch round cake pan or cupcake pans.
-Bring stout and butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
-Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat egg and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to
-Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
-Divide batter equally among muffin tins. (Or, for a plenty-huge 2-layer cake, use two cake pans and divide the rest of the batter into a 12-muffin pan for cupcakes.)
-Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

Irish Cream Cake Frosting
Taken from: AllRecipes
Still a work in progress - it has great flavor but is more of a thin glaze than a thick frosting. This would be at least enough for a 1-layer cake or a dozen cupcakes.

  • 1/2 teaspoon milk
  • 3 tablespoons Irish cream liqueur (buying a mini-size, individual sample of Bailey's is the perfect amount for this recipe)
  • 1/2 teaspoon strong brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-Place the milk, Irish cream liqueur, and coffee in a small, microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high until the mixture boils (if you don't have a microwave: turn the oven to 450-500 degrees, set the ingredients a oven-proof ramekin or pot, and wait about 5 minutes until the mixture boils). Set aside to cool completely.
-Beat the butter and confectioners' sugar with an electric mixer in a bowl until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and the cooled Irish cream mixture, and beat well.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eggplant Parmesan & Week's Menu Plan

This non-meat meal of the week was delicious. I had never made (or had!) eggplant parmesan before but it's a favorite meal of one of my uncles. I also know that eggplant is a very meaty type of vegetable so it can take the place of meat pretty well. I really enjoyed it, especially because it had tons of marinara sauce in it (which, in case you haven't figured that out, I would live off if I could). You could also reduce the marinara a bit if you aren't as crazy about it as me. Also, I think we'll play around with this recipe next time - Bryant suggested adding ground turkey or beef (either in a meat sauce or as a layer in the dish) which would be excellent. I would probably try to hide in some sauteed zucchini, squash, red bell pepper or chopped spinach to add extra nutrients and vegetables (without altering the flavor too much). You could always up the amount of cheese to make this extra gooey, too.

The eggplant parmesan recipe would take a while to do start to finish so I cooked the eggplant in advance and refrigerated the slices. That way, when we got home in the evening, I just popped the eggplant back in the oven for about 5 minutes to crisp, made the dish and cook for 15 minutes - a lot easier on our evening!

This week's menu plan has a birthday celebration (chocolate Guinness cake with Bailey's Irish cream icing, combining my love of chocolate and Bryant's love of Guinness), a last burst of summer with tomato gazpacho, leftover vegetables for stir fry and finally, a bit more Latin food in our life, thanks to my cousin Dan for sending some recipes! I'm really excited to try these recipes. Also, I really hope we get around to making the shrimp and grits finally because I've been wanting to try them for weeks!

Also, this is my last week before I start my new job! Bryant and I are really excited about it and feel so blessed by the Lord's provision. I've loved being at home but really excited to start working again! This, of course, means that meals might have to be shorter and quicker during the week (more people can relate to that idea, anyway!) and save the more elaborate dishes for the weekend.

Eggplant Parmesan
Taken from: Martha Stewart
Serves 4 (I halved the recipe as it originally served 8. It would be really easy to make it for 8 and freeze for future meals!)
  • 1 large egg 
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. whole wheat breadcrumbs
  •  1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan (additional 2 tablespoons for topping, optional)1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  •  1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  •  1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 large eggplant or 2 small (1 1/4 pounds total), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 6 cups marinara sauce (store bought or homemade; you can use this recipe for Martha's Chunky Tomato Sauce if you'd like) 
  • 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil (to reduce cleanup) and spray with cooking spray; set aside. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 tablespoons water. In another bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 3/4 cup Parmesan, oregano, and basil; season with salt and pepper.
-Dip eggplant slices in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, coating well; place on baking sheets. Bake until golden brown on bottom, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn slices; continue baking until browned on other side, 20 to 25 minutes more. (At this point, you can refrigerate the eggplant until ready to use and then bake it at 400 for about 5 minutes to make the eggplant crispy)
-Increase oven heat to 400 degrees. Spread 1 cup sauce in a 8-inch square baking dish. Arrange half the eggplant in dish; cover with 1 cup sauce, then 1/4 cup mozzarella. Repeat with remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes.
-Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, if desired. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Week's Menu Plan

Friday: butter chickpea curry, beef samosas, coffee cake for dessert (and breakfast IF there's any leftover!)

Saturday: fish tacos with avocado relish, black bean and corn salad
chocolate stout cupcakes with irish cream frosting for dessert

Sunday: gazpacho with tomato chickpea crostini

Monday: chicken stir fry

Tuesday: shrimp and grits with homemade polenta

Wednesday: pasta with spicy sausage and spinach (Everyday Italian cookbook)

Thursday: Spanish Tortilla

Friday: Greek meal: chicken skewers, tzatiki, Greek salad

Saturday: rice and beans (thanks to my cousin Dan!)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beef & Black Bean Enchiladas with Restaurant Style Salsa

Well, I was supposed to make this enchilada recipe several weeks ago but somehow, we never got around to it. I did half of the work and then stuck it in the freezer. This made dinner last night really easy to assemble - thaw out the enchilada sauce and meat, combine with cheese, cilantro and jalapeno, then assemble. Not a bad weeknight meal plan! The meat and beans were also great in tacos so if you have the meat already cooked and simmered, it makes for an even quicker meal.

Using ground beef and black beans instead of steak really helped to make this an economical meal. I had also stocked up on 100% vegetarian, non-antibiotic ground sirloin when it went on a big sale (and then froze it in 1/2 pound increments), making it even cheaper to make.

This salsa recipe tastes like it came straight from a Mexican restaurant...delicious! I had halved the recipe but it still made a TON. Which is fine with me - we'll be having this salsa again and again. I still haven't quite figured out how to make "medium" salsa - taking out the seeds of the jalapeno is too mild but when I keep them in (as I did in this case), it was too hot for us! But even though I'm still figuring out the right amount of heat for us, this recipe tastes pretty auténtico to me! It's also quite easy to make -- just throw in all the ingredients to a blender.

Beef and Black Bean Enchiladas
Taken from: Cook's Country TV

  • 3 garlic cloves , minced
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ - 3/4 pound ground beef (preferably 85% lean or leaner)
  • 2-3 cups black beans
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions , chopped
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce (I used fresh tomatoes pureed in the food processor)
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (you can use part-skim mozzarella, Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese or a combination)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 jalapeno, finely chopped (remove seeds to make it milder)
  • Corn or whole wheat tortillas
-Combine garlic, chili powder, coriander, cumin, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in small bowl. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook meat until browned (about 6 min), then drain off fat. Transfer meat to plate.
-Add onions to pot and cook over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic mixture and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and water and bring to boil. Return meat, beans and juices to pot, cover, reduce heat to low, and gently simmer, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
-Strain beef mixture over medium bowl, pressing on mixture to break meat into small pieces and extract as much sauce as possible; reserve sauce. At this point, you could refrigerate the meat and sauce for up to 2 days or freeze each for up to a month.
-Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.
-Transfer meat to medium bowl and mix with 1 cup cheese, cilantro, and jalapeños.
-Spread 3/4 cup sauce in bottom of 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Microwave 6 tortillas on plate on high power until soft, about 1 minute (if necessary). Spread 1/3 cup beef mixture down center of each tortilla, roll tortillas tightly, and set in baking pan seam side down. Repeat with remaining tortillas and beef mixture.
-Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas and spread to coat evenly. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheese evenly over enchiladas, wrap with aluminum foil, and bake until heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until cheese browns slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve.

Restaurant-Style Salsa
Taken from: Good Life Eats

  • 1 - 14 ounce can Whole Tomatoes With Juice (I used 2 fresh tomatoes instead)
  • 1 - 10 ounce can Rotel Original (diced Tomatoes And Green Chilies) or Rotel Mexican (diced Tomatoes with Lime and Cilantro)
  • 1/4 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeno, roughly chopped(seeds removed for milder salsa)
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar or honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
-Combine tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, garlic, sugar, salt, cumin, lime juice, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Pulse until you get the salsa to the consistency you’d like—about 5 to 15 pulses. Test seasonings and adjust as needed.
-Refrigerate salsa for at least an hour before serving.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Choosing Lean Cuts of Meat

I don't know about you but I am just intimidated by choosing cuts of beef and pork. If it's not listed in the recipe or if I want to do a substitution, I wander up and down the meat department, helplessly trying to decipher and decide. Does the word "loin" imply a leaner cut of pork? What's the difference between choice and prime beef? It might be very unusual for someone who likes cooking so much but when it comes to cuts of meat, I'm a complete novice.

In the past, I've assumed that more expensive equals leaner but I'm sure that's not always the case. Also, our budget (and my naturally Scrooge-y self) only allows for filet mignon or pork tenderloin for special occasions.

So after choosing what I assumed was a leaner cut of pork for our pulled pork last night and being sadly mistaken (I was deceived by the lack of visible fat), I realized I needed to start learning a thing or two about choosing cuts of meat - specifically, lean cuts of meat. And since I might not be the only one who's ever wondered the same thing, I figured I would pass along a little newfound knowledge!

No matter what cut you choose, look for meat that is antibiotic-free and 100% vegetarian-, pasture- or grass-fed (otherwise, there's a good chance that these animals are being fed parts of other animals which is disgusting, not to mention unnatural). Since buying these meats will probably be more expensive pound for pound, buy small quantities. But this doesn't mean that you have to go hungry. Here are a few tricks to make a little go a long way. You can try adding the meat to a dish with several other ingredients (think kabobs, tacos or pasta) to make a little seem like a lot. Or have the meat stand alone but use more filling sides (sides with beans can be a good choice) to round out the meal.

Information from here and here.

-Certain words on packaging indicate cuts that are lower in fat: round, chuck, sirloin or tenderloin. Here are some cuts to look for:
  • eye of round
  • top round steaks and roasts and sirloin
  • top loin
  • tenderloin steaks
-When buying ground beef, choose at least 85 or 90 percent lean. (Also, remember to drain off the fat after cooking the ground beef.)
-Choose "Choice" or "Select" beef, not "Prime," which usually has more fat.

Pork (and Lamb)
Information from the same source as beef.

-Leanest cuts of pork include the tenderloin, loin chops or leg (the same is true for lamb as well).
-Look for these cuts of pork:
  • pork tenderloin
  • boneless top loin roast
  • bone-in sirloin roast
  • boneless top loin chop
  • bone-in rib chop

How to Prepare:
In case you're wondering the classic ways to prepare each cut, here's a helpful Everyday Food article: How to Choose (and Prepare) a Steak

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Weekly Menu Plan & Pulled Pork

With Bryant working long hours this month, I've been trying to do things to make his life easier and of course, taking pity on him and making his favorite meals. This is especially true when he works on the weekends so that's when I really try to make something special. And that something special this weekend is definitely pulled pork sandwiches. This recipe is so good! The spices give the pork a great flavor. And it's not just meant for BBQ pulled pork (although I didn't realize that fact last time). Once this recipe is cooked, it can be used in lots of other dishes - Chinese, Mexican, salads, etc. Of course, we'll be having BBQ pulled pork sandwiches tonight but I'll freeze the leftovers to use in other dishes.

Pulled pork is traditionally made with a cheaper cut of pork called pork shoulder or Boston butt. However, once you remove the tons of extra fat, a 4-lb shoulder is suddenly much closer to 3 pounds. I've started buying a slightly more costly, leaner cut of pork but since it's leaner, I can buy a small quantity (since you don't have to remove as much fat). While I still haven't found a perfect cut of pork for pulled pork, I've tried pork loin chops before which worked well.

Week's Menu Plan

Saturday: slow cooker pulled pork, salad, Bryant's award-winning cookies

Sunday: Jamaican Jerk Chicken with corn on the cob

Monday: pad see ew (thanks to lots of leftovers from a lovely lunch I had with my grandma on Friday) with baby bok choy and red peppers

Tuesday: beef enchiladas from last week (I've actually already made the meat and frozen it so all I have to do is bake the enchiladas) with restaurant style salsa

Wednesday: Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Thursday: shrimp and grits

Friday: Vietnamese chicken pho (it never was made last week)

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Taken from: Life's Ambrosia
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 (5 pound) bone-in pork shoulder OR 3 pounds of pork loin chops or whatever cut you've chosen (again, if you go with a leaner cut of meat, you won't need as much)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups water
-Remove as much fat as possible from the pork.
-Combine salt, chili powder, cumin, granulated garlic, pepper and oregano in a small bowl.
-Rub spice mixture all over the pork. Cover and refrigerate over night or for several hours.
-Slice the onion and lay it on the bottom of a 5 quart slow cooker. Place the pork on top of the onions. Pour beef broth and water over the top. Cover and cook for 8 hours on low (or 4 hours on high).
-Remove from slow cooker. Allow to cool slightly. Discard bone and pan juices. Using a fork and spoon shred meat (removing any visible fat).
-If making BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, return shredded pork to slow cooker and add good bottled BBQ sauce or homemade sauce. Cook on low for 1-2 hours.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Baked Tilapia

Part of my standard weekly menu planning is to include one seafood dish and one non-meat dish. When I started doing these menu plans, I thought I might have to really scour the internet and my cookbooks for to find good recipes that fit these categories. Surprisingly, I haven't had any trouble (yet) with finding either recipes!

Our seafood meal for the week was baked tilapia. This is incredibly quick to make - the only prep work is chopping vegetables (although you could always buy pre-chopped or frozen vegetables). It was also really good with very light flavors. Tilapia is very mild (it doesn't have a very "fishy" taste to it) so it would be a good choice even for those who don't usually like fish.

I didn't use measurements for spices - it's really easy to just sprinkle each fillet with the different spices - but in the recipe below, I guessed what measurements I ended up using. Finally, We rounded out the meal with corn on the cob (the corn here is so good we've been having it at least once a week!).

Baked Tilapia with Roasted Vegetables
Taken from: AllRecipes
  • 4 (4 ounce) fillets tilapia
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 lemon, 1/2 sliced and 1/2 juiced
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (I used store-bought but you could also run a bread slice through a food processor)
  • vegetables for roasting (I used cauliflower, broccoli and red pepper)
-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
-Place the tilapia fillets in the bottom of the baking dish and brush with olive oil and squeeze the 1/2 juiced lemon onto the fish.
-Season with spices and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
-Pat bread crumbs on the tops of each fish fillet and spray with cooking spray.
-In a separate baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, arrange the mixed vegetables, cover with olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

-Cover the dish and bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until vegetables are tender and fish flakes easily with a fork.
Serve with sliced lemon.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Homemade Pizza Dough, 2 Ways

Bryant and I love pizza. And by love, I mean that if we go more than 2 weeks without pizza, we feel deprived. Actually, our first purchase together as a couple was a pizza stone (romantic, right?). And we've definitely put that pizza stone to good use! We love trying new toppings (black olives, artichoke, fresh mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, baked prosciutto, ham and pineapple...whatever you have on hand) and different kinds of dough. So far, we've actually tried about 3 kinds of pizza dough - thin crust, medium and deep dish. Although I usually love a chewy crust, our favorite homemade pizzas are the thin crust and deep dish.

The thin crust pizza dough might be my favorite, partially because it's SO easy. It doesn't even require any time to rise the dough, so you can just throw the ingredients together and roll it out (whenever I roll out the pizza, it's comes out in sad, amoeba-like shapes so I always enlist Bryant's help). It develops a great crispy crust, too.

Deep dish, however, is Bryant's favorite. I've actually only had Chicago style pizza once before (and it was in Seattle, not the Windy City). However, this pizza dough tastes so rich, I don't really care if it's authentic - it's delicious! Also, Chicago style pizza is typically created by layering the dough, then the toppings, then the cheese and then the sauce on top; it's always fun to have a different spin on pizza.

Thin, No-Rise Pizza Dough
Taken from: AllRecipes
Makes 2 small pizzas or one large pizza

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
  • .25 ounce package active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 cup warm water (approx 110 degrees F)
-If you have a pizza stone, preheat in a 375 oven for 20 minutes (cover with cornmeal first).
-Combine flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl. Mix in oil and warm water.
-If making two small pizzas, take half the dough and turn out on floured surface (use all the dough if you are making 1 large pizza). Roll out dough until very thin.
-Repeat with second half of dough.
-Move dough to preheated pizza stone or baking sheet (a metal spatula separates the dough from the counter really well).
-Bake 9-10 minutes and then add sauce, dried herbs, cheese and toppings. Bake for 10-15 minutes more until bottom is firm and lightly browned.

Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza Dough

Taken from:

  • 1/4 ounce package of active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (about 100-110 degrees) 
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal (I only had fine, white cornmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (or 1/4 + 2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp melted butter for a richer crust)
-In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in1/4 cup of the warm water. Add the sugar and 1/4 cup of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
-Add the remaining 1 cup warm water and 3 cups flour, cornmeal, salt, and olive oil (and melted butter, if used). Using a wooden spoon, mix the dough, incorporating as much of the flour as possible.
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and elastic, 10 to 12 minutes. It will be a little sticky, but shouldn't stick to your hands. (You can also you a dough hook on a stand mixer, if you have one.)
-Using cooking spray, spray a large bowl. Add the dough to the bowl and turn to coat with oil on all sides.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place a clean, damp, kitchen towel over the top.
Set the bowl in a warm spot and let rise until doubled in volume, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (For a slow rise, place the covered bowl in the refrigerator and let rise for 10 to 12 hours, returning dough to room temperature before using).
-Spray all sides of a cake pan (or cast-iron pan) with cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
-When the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down and knead it for 2 to 3 minutes. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the cake/cast iron pan. Let the dough rise in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes.
-Press the dough until it comes 2 inches up the sides and is even on the bottom and at the corners of the pan (waiting those 15-20 minutes will make it easier to manipulate the dough).
-Bake for 10-15 minutes and then add the topping, cheese and finally, sauce and bake for approx 15-20 minutes more.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pasta Primavera & Peach Cobbler

A dish like this is comfort food to me. I don't really crave the more typical American comfort foods (mac and cheese just doesn't do anything for me). However, whole wheat pasta, roasted vegetables, marinara sauce and served with a glass of (2 Buck Chuck) that's more like it.

I checked out Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis from the library and while I love that you can check out cookbooks for free, there's so many promising recipes, so little time! I've bookmarked about 12 recipes to try so I think I'll be renewing this book for a while. This pasta primavera recipe is great; I did cut the amount of pasta in half and we still have tons of leftovers (I kept the amount of vegetables the same because I really like roasted vegetables). And since the vegetables are from the farmers market, they're even more delicious.

I had originally planned on making the peach cobbler on Saturday night but Bryant and I ended up falling asleep around 9 pm (he's on a hard rotation now but I have no excuse). So I made it last night and it was delicious. (I might have even had a little this morning, too.) It's the perfect season for peaches here and they are incredibly sweet - I cut down on the amount of sugar added to the peaches and definitely did not miss it. If your peaches are not quite as sweet, keep the full amount of sugar. You could also add other fruit to this dish...blackberries, blueberries, anything that's in season for you!

Pasta Primavera
Taken from: Everyday Italian
Serves approximately 6
  • 4 carrots, peeled
  • 2 medium zucchini (or one large)
  • 2 yellow squash
  • 2 red/yellow/orange bell peppers
  • 1 onion
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp of dried Italian herbs or herbes de Provence (I used 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1/2 tsp. dried parsley and 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary)
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/2 lb. whole wheat short pasta (farfalle, rigatoni, penne...whatever you have on hand)
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  • Marinara sauce and parmesan cheese for serving
-Preheat the oven to 450. Cut carrots, zucchini, squash, bell peppers and onion into thin 2-inch-long strips. On a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, toss vegetables (except tomatoes) with oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Transfer half of the vegetables to another aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and arrange vegetables in a single, even layer.
-Bake, stirring after 10 minutes. Bake for 20 total minutes until carrots are tender and other vegetables begin to brown.
-If your cherry tomatoes are more mediocre (meaning from the grocery store as opposed to farmers market or garden), add 1/8 tsp. sugar to the tomatoes to enhance the flavors.
-While the vegetables start to bake, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally until tender (check the cooking time on the pasta box). Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid.
-In a large bowl, toss pasta with cooked vegetables, tomatoes and enough cooking liquid to moisten.
-Serve pasta with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese.

Peach Cobbler
Taken from: AllRecipes
Serves 4-6
  • 3 large or 4 medium peaches - peeled, pitted and sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 Tbsp. white sugar (if your peaches are very sweet, only add about 1 Tbsp. white sugar)
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. boiling water
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
-In a large bowl, combine peaches, 1 Tbsp to 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Toss to coat evenly, and pour into an 8-inch square baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

-Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips, or a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in water until just combined and then add rolled oats.

-Remove peaches from oven, and drop spoonfuls of topping over them. Sprinkle entire cobbler with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake until topping is golden, about 25-30 minutes.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Week's Menu Plan & Blueberry Muffins

I'm particularly excited about this menu plan. Not just because I like testing out new recipes and different cuisines (I've only had Vietnamese pho once but liked it...and I know Bryant is a fan). But it's also using up all the extras that we have in our fridge, freezer and pantry. I had stocked up on pasture-fed ground beef when it went on a great sale and I got a great deal on cauliflower at the farmers market on Wednesday. I also have quite a bit of parsley, cilantro and basil left so I'm using each of these. It did take a little more time to plan this one but it was definitely worth it to use up all the extra ingredients we already had in the house.

Also, I wanted to bring something to Bryant and his co-workers and what better thing to bring than breakfast food? They work long hours and I happened to find a highly recommended blueberry muffin recipe. Muffins are easy to grab and go and in my opinion, they don't have to be just breakfast food.

Week's Menu Plan

Saturday: beef enchiladas with black beans

Sunday: ham, basil and mozzarella panini with corn on the cob

Monday: tilapia & cauliflower

Tuesday: lemon chicken with tabbouleh

Wednesday: pasta primavera (from the Everyday Italian cookbook)

Thursday: Vietnamese chicken pho

Friday: homemade pizza

Blueberry Muffins
Taken from: Smitten Kitchen
This makes about 10 muffins but could be easily doubled.
  • 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup low- or full-fat plain yogurt (I only had low-fat vanilla yogurt on hand); low- or full-fat sour cream would work well, too
  • 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, don’t bother defrosting)
-Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with 10 paper liners or spray each cup with a nonstick spray.
-Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well, then yogurt and zest.
-Put flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a sifter and sift half of dry ingredients over batter. Mix until combined. Sift remaining dry ingredients into batter and mix just until the flour disappears. Gently fold in your blueberries. The dough will be quite thick, closer to a cookie dough, which is why an ice cream scoop is a great tool to fill your muffin cups. Fill no more than 3/4 of the way full.
-Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chicken Caprese & Homemade Croutons

Finally...a picture of a meal! It only took me about 2 months to remember to take a picture (pretty pathetic learning curve, I'd say). But this dinner was so pretty with such vibrant colors, how could I forget?

After serving Bryant eggplant curry and spanakopita for back-to-back dinners, I figured I'd have to tone it down a bit for the next meal (not to mention finally add some meat). So although we had never tried this dish, when I saw it, I knew Bryant would like it. It's basically an insalata caprese (an Italian salad made from sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil) on top of marinated chicken. The chicken is actually marinated in the balsamic vinegar and olive oil and baked, adding the mozzarella at the very end so it melts nicely on top of the chicken.

Since this recipe only has a few ingredients, it's always good to try to get the best ingredients within your budget. I'll admit, we didn't have the nicest balsamic vinegar but it still tasted delicious. However, we did have wonderful farmers market tomatoes (if at all possible, get them from a farmers market or steal them from someone's store tomatoes just don't compare). And although I'm not much of a cheese person, I love fresh mozzarella. It's very mild tasting and creamy; also, it has a low fat content and is still fairly high in protein and calcium. I'm already planning to use the leftovers for homemade pizza, paninis (and maybe even an actual insalata caprese!). I'm learning more and more to build my menu plan around what we already have in our pantry and fridge and trying to resist the temptation to just make any recipes that sounds good. It cuts down on waste and you're obviously getting a lot more for your money that way!

As far as croutons go, I have never liked them. I found them to be dry and unnecessary on a salad. Also, I figured that they couldn't be that good for you, either. However, I've found a recipe to make my own whole-wheat version and I can't stop eating them! I made them out of whole-wheat hamburger buns that I had purchased for burgers. You could also use bread or a baguette but if you can, whole-wheat hamburger or hot dog buns are less dense than bread which makes a great crouton. All you have to do is toss the pieces in olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper and bake for about 10 minutes; they can even be made several days ahead of time!

Chicken Caprese
Taken from: A Hint of Honey
  • 0.75-1 lb. skinless boneless chicken breast halves (to shorten the cooking time, cut the chicken breast into thinner strips before marinating)
  • 1/2-1 tomato, sliced
  • fresh mozzarella, sliced (I used about 4 thin slices)
  • 4 leaves fresh basil
  • balsamic vinegar, to drizzle
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Balsamic Vinaigrette Marinade (if you have a balsamic vinaigrette already, feel free to use that!):
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh basil, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • dash of salt and pepper
-Combine olive oil, vinegar, mustard, basil, garlic, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
-Bake chicken in the oven at 375 F for about 20-30 minutes, until juices run clear (will depend on the thickness of the chicken). If you have an instant-read thermometer, make sure the chicken registers at 165 degrees in the thickest part. For the last 5 minutes, top with fresh mozzarella and continue baking until melted.
-Arrange chicken on a serving platter. Place basil leaves on top of the cheese and cover with slices of tomato. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the platter.

Homemade Croutons
Taken from: Everyday Food
  • 1 whole-wheat hamburger bun, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (makes about 2 cups)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • pinch of salt and ground pepper
  • -Preheat oven to 375. -Toss bread cubes in olive oil and add a pinch of salt and pepper. -On a foil lined baking sheet, spread cubes in a single layer. Cook for about 5 minutes and then toss. Cook for 3-7 more minutes until croutons are golden brown and crunchy. -They can also be easily warmed in a 375-degree oven for a minute or two before serving, if desired. -Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Spanakopita & Chickpea Salad

Spanakopita is a Greek dish that is often served as an appetizer. In fact, the first time I tried spanakopita was Trader Joe's appetizer version. I liked it then and (not surprisingly) it's even better homemade! I ended up making this as our main dish for dinner but I will keep it in mind as either an appetizer or a main dish. This recipe has TONS of spinach which is great for you but don't be afraid if you don't like spinach since the flavor isn't overwhelming. (You could also substitute anything that cooks like spinach...beet greens, swiss chard, kale, etc. If you use frozen spinach, make sure to squeeze out all the water and then give it a rough chop.) Also, I used cottage cheese which is really high in protein.

I also ended up cooking the ingredients in the morning and refrigerating them until dinner time. Then it only took a few minutes to assemble everything and throw it into the oven to bake.

I served this with a simple chickpea salad recipe to up the protein and fiber...fresh and a great side! I also made this in the morning so there was plenty of time for the flavors to blend together. We added sliced green olives which gave it even more of a Mediterranean taste.

Taken from: All Recipes
When working with phyllo dough, make sure it is fully thawed. Additionally, cover unused phyllo sheets with plastic wrap and then a wet cloth to make sure they do not dry out.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds rinsed and chopped spinach (if you use regular spinach, make sure to cut off the stems as they are bitter; I used 2 9-oz bags of baby spinach instead)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup fat-free cottage cheese
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 8 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1/4 cup olive oil OR cooking spray
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly oil or spray with cooking spray a 9x9 inch square baking pan.
-Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion, green onions and garlic, until soft and lightly browned. Stir in spinach and parsley, and continue to saute until spinach is limp, about 2-4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

-In another medium bowl, mix together eggs, cottage cheese, and feta. Once spinach mixture is cooled, stir into the egg mixture.
-Lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough in prepared baking pan, and brush lightly with olive oil or spray with cooking spray. Lay another sheet of phyllo dough on top, spray with cooking spray, and repeat process with two more sheets of phyllo. The sheets will overlap the pan. (If any of the phyllo dough tears or breaks off, just use those pieces!)
-Spread spinach and cheese mixture into pan and fold overhanging dough over filling. Layer remaining 4 sheets of phyllo dough, spraying each with cooking spray. Tuck overhanging dough into pan to seal filling.
Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Cut into squares and serve while hot.

Chickpea Salad
Taken from: A Hint of Honey
  • 3 cups of cooked dried garbanzo beans (or a 1 14 oz. drained and rinsed garbanzo bean can)
  • 2 Tbsp. red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
-Combine chickpeas, red onion, garlic, tomato, parsley, olive oil, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill for several hours before serving to blend flavors. Serve with sliced green olives, if desired (you could also try black olives or feta cheese).