Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Braised Chicken and Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta

This is a lazy person's braise. Typically, a braise is a tougher cut of meat, like a roast, cooked in a little bit of liquid at at low temperature for a long time. A chicken breast is not a tough cut of meat, and because I knew the point of braising I should have known that the chicken wasn't a good idea. But I trusted Martha Stewart. I thought her braised chicken might just work.

They didn't.

The mushrooms and the polenta, though? Awesome. The polenta made the dish. It's my new favorite food. Top it with the mushrooms and forget the chicken.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Classic White Bread

I have lots of time on the weekend now that I don't have to work two jobs. LOTS of time. And the boyfriend, who's still finishing school, works only the weekends during the day. So, I am alone most of the time, too.

So I make bread. Specifically, this white bread. Because I'm lazy and because I don't own a stand mixer, I use my mom's bread machine the I "borrowed." I use it to knead the dough and let it go through its first rise in the machine. I take it out for the second rise and let it bake in the oven. It's a few more calories than store bought bread, but nothing beats a homemade loaf. And with the help of the bread machine, it's really simple, too.

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to be doing the Self Challenge. Instead of following the menu suggestions, I'm using the formula to work it into what I already eat. My friends are also doing the challenge, so visit Mia's blog, chubbyjones.com, and Kim's blog, thekimchallenge.wordpress.com.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Grown Up Mac and Cheese

Every once in a while I make a full-fat dish. One of my favorite comfort foods is macaroni and cheese. I make a decent enough lightened version good enough to kill a craving. But occasionally, only the real deal will do.

This one from Ina Garten came from her TV show, Barefoot Contessa. It sounded awesome. Three kinds of cheese and bacon. Her Grown Up Mac and Cheese sounded like a delicious twist on a longtime favorite.

But it fell short. I honestly think it was the Roquefort cheese. Maybe the flavor was too much and too strong for my taste. And I feel like such a fraud saying this, but it was almost too rich. Overall vote is that although it looked fantastic on TV, it wasn't worth the points spent.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lighter Beef Chili

beef chili

I'm still searching for "my" chili. The Lighter Beef Chili from Everyday Food is much closer to the chili I grew up with. A basic, classic chili. I'm sure there are plenty of people around to remind me that traditional chili doesn't have beans, isn't made with lean sirloin, etc. But the reason I like it really isn't because it's traditional, but because it reminds me of the kind of chili my family made.

It's has cocoa powder, which isn't something my family would use, but it really add a chocolate flavor. I would probably use kidney beans instead of pinto, but the pinto beans were good just the same.

I can't put my finger on why I like this, just like I couldn't put my finger on what I didn't like about some of the other recipes I tried. I think it breaks down to the chipotle chili powder. I just don't like it my chili.

I'm not sold on this becoming "my" chili, but it's a make again.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Balsamic and Plum Glazed Pork Chops

I'm not much for winging something. Usually, I need some kind of recipe, rough ingredients list, something. Something more descriptive than a photograph, that is. I often think that makes me a sham of a home cook. My mom didn't need a recipe. She could look in the cupboard and put something on the table. And when she did use a recipe, there were scribbles along side of the page noting the things she changed, which was pretty much all of it. I'm working on being more like that.

In fact, for the first time ever, I made a side dish by simply looking at a photo and it was actually edible. OK, not that couscous with parsley, raisins and almond slices is brain surgery or anything, but I was able to look at the photo, figure out what was in it, and make it.

The best part of this meal, hands down, was definitely the Balsamic-Plum Glazed Pork Chops. It took a little bit of hunting to find plum preserves, but it was worth it.

I'm still proud of the couscous, though!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Turkey and Cheese Panini

Fridays are good days for simple food. Nothing seemed simpler than a Turkey and Cheese Panini. Turkey, provolone, jarred pesto, mayo, tomato, and voila, a panini better than those silly Lean Cuisines from a box. And it didn't take a whole lot more time to make.

I didn't even need a fancy panini press or a George Foreman grill to make those grill marks. Just a grill pan (a staple for apartment cooking when no actual grills are allowed) and a heavy pan (a cast iron skillet). YUM.

On the side I roasted potato wedges with grill seasoning. Like I said, simple.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Quinoa Stuffed Pepper

I'm a huge fan of out of the ordinary ingredients. The problem? They usually languish in the fridge or pantry for months afterward while I search for another way to use them.

In an effort to entertain myself on a weekend afternoon, I did a much needed fridge, freezer, and pantry clean out. I checked dates and chucked whatever expired. And I made a list of what I had in the pantry. Then I tried using some of it before buying something else.

I don't necessarily consider quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) to be a weird ingredient, but it's not something I reach for every day. I had about a half a cup just hanging out in the back of the pantry, so Everyday Food's Stuffed Red Peppers with Quinoa, Provolone, and Walnuts made perfect sense to me. It was a little time consuming, but it was a great vegetarian meal. I didn't even miss the meat that's typically in stuffed peppers.

If you're not sure where to find quinoa, you cbulk an usually find it for cheap in bins of health food stores and Whole Foods. I bought mine at Trader Joe's in the aisle with the pastas and such. It was in a box.

Stuffed Red Peppers with Quinoa, Provolone, and Walnuts

4 red peppers
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup quinoa, rinsed really well
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely grated age provolone (4 ounces)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice off a thin layer from the base of the pepper so it lays flat. Slice off the top of the pepper, remove the stem, and chop finely. Remove the seeds and ribs from the pepper.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, coriander, and chopped red pepper tops, season with salt and pepper, and cook until onion has softened -- about 5 minutes.

Add quinoa and cook for about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until quinoa is tender and water is absorbed, about 11 to 13 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, walnuts, and 3/4 cup provolone. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the quinoa mixture among the four peppers. Place in a 2-quart baking dish, cover with foil, and bake until peppers are tender, about 1 hour. Uncover, top with the rest of the cheese and bake until the cheese melts, about 10 minutes more.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cheese Ravioli with Toasted Walnuts

Here's one for the unhealthy file. Well, not unhealthy exactly, just fairly high in points. Heart healthy points, I suppose, but lots of them nonetheless.

I've been trying to clean out my pantry, which is overflowing with things I bought multiples of, or odd ball ingredients I used for one or two recipes and forgot about. Walnuts were something I bought multiples of. And large bags at that. Plus, the ravioli was on sale. Shopping sales is something I'm also trying to do.

So I tried Cheese Ravioli with Toasted Walnuts. I think it came to 12 pts. Twelve tasty points. Olive oil, toasted walnuts, cheese, pasta, what's not to like? I think, though, that you could get away with using a lot less oil. It calls for 1/3 cup, but it was almost too heavy for me. I'll have to try this again but use less oil. That should cut the points drastically, too. Because 12 pts. for nine measly ravioli is a bit much.. even for me.