Friday, January 30, 2009

Jerk Chicken with Pineapple and Black Beans

Jerk Chicken with Pineapple and Black Beans

I finally ate something other than cereal for dinner. I worked from home on Wednesday because of the winter storm and ended up grazing all day long. By dinner time, I realized I wasn't really all that hungry, so I had cereal.

Tonight, I actually made dinner -- Jerk Chicken with Pineapple and Black Beans.

It wasn't bad, but it called for jerk sauce and all I could find jerk sauce. All I could find was a marinade. Normally it wouldn't be bad, but I just read an article about how some HFCS has mercury in it. I'm not sure what mercury exposure does, but I'm pretty sure I don't want it in my food.

Overall, I don't have a lot of confidence in our food system with this peanut butter thing. It's scary all the stuff that's potentially in our food that we don't know about. I guess all we can do is make the best-informed choices we can and hope for the best.

What was good about this recipe was that it came together really quickly with very little prep. My butt has been seriously dragging lately, so having a fuss-free dinner was exactly what I needed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sausage and Chickpea Stew

Sausage and Chickpea Stew

This doesn't look all that appetizing, but I swear it was good. Maybe a little heavy on the spinach, but otherwise good.

The recipe is Sausage and Chickpea Stew Real Simple. And it was pretty points friendly to begin with. I swapped the regular sausage for turkey sausage and used less oil, but otherwise, it's chockful of veggies and with all the beans and greens, it's a really hearty stew. I also ended up adding more broth than it called for because I wanted a soupier texture, but I kept the rest the same.

I liked the addition of fresh parsley and cilantro. It gave the soup a lot of flavor -- without it would have been a tasteless soup. But if I make it again I'll skip the frozen spinach in favor or fresh spinach. I love spinach as much as the next gal, but honestly, it was just too much.

Another thing I tried with this soup was dried beans. I cooked up the amount I needed for the soup yesterday. And I usually hate chickpeas. The texture weirds me out. But the dried beans weren't as mushy as canned beans and had a good bite to them. Definitely like dried beans better.

Do you take the time to prepare dried beans or do you prefer canned?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Penne in Creamy Basil-Walnut Sauce

Penne in Creamy Basil-Walnut Sauce

Now that I've moved, the front of my balcony faces East. I'm not certain, but I think if I can find a window box type pot that hangs over the edge of my balcony, I'll have full sun on the right side of my balcony. Possibly.

Full sun in the summer means I can plant a mess of basil, which is my favorite summertime herb. I tried growing it in my kitchen once, but because I didn't have any windows it died after only a month. A coworker also used to bring me large bunches whenever her basil started to grow like weeds in her garden, but now that I'm no longer at that job I have to come up with a new solution. My new apartment has the balcony and I think it might just work. If not, I can always grow it in pots on my mom's sun-filled deck. I might even grow a tomato plant this year. Tomatoes and basil.. yum.

Even though it's not the season for basil -- it snowed several inches over the weekend in fact -- I made a creamy pesto type pasta dish, Penne in Creamy Basil-Walnut Sauce. I bought the basil late last week for something, but it never got made. So, before it went completely bad, I tried this recipe.

Using a slice of bread to make it "creamy" seemed odd to me, but I thought, 'what the heck, it might turn out.' And you know, it wasn't bad. By all means, cream sauces with cream are better, and pesto sans cream with plenty of oil is preferable, but for a healthier for you swap it wasn't awful. I might make this again.

If anything, it made me crave warmer weather.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Turkey-Sausage Paella

Turkey-Sausage Paella

I first wrote about this Turkey-Sausage Paella about a year ago, but I made it again tonight. I'm writing about it mostly because I think I've got my lighting solution solved for the most part. It still needs some tweaking, but overall I think it's vastly improved.

I've built my own light studio out of a box and some fabric. I used this tutorial. My lamps are hodge-podge, but I'm going to salvage old lamps at my parents tomorrow.

I'd still love to get a digital SLR, but for now, this will do. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Turkey Sausage and Pepper Frittata

Turkey and Pepper Frittata

I have been super tired lately. I just can't seem to get any sleep. I'm averaging just under 5 hours a night and I'm seriously dragging by midday.

Tonight was just one of those nights where I could hardly think straight. It's not even 10 p.m. and I'm seriously thinking about going to bed! Good thing I had the ingredients for a version of the sausage and bell pepper frittata I saw in a magazine this month. I don't think I could handle much else.

It doesn't have many ingredients and can be easily customized. You could use any kind of bell pepper — green, red, yellow, orange. And it calls for goat cheese, which I love, but if you don't you could use feta for the same type of consistency or go with something that melts well if you prefer, like a fontina or a sharp cheddar. Reduced-fat cheddar would also work.

On the side I made roasted tomatoes (roasted them in the oven along side the frittata for about 10 minutes or so) and a slice of Great Harvest Bread's 10 grain.

Love their bread. Pricey, but delicious. I buy a loaf whenever I run out. I don't eat much bread, so I end up freezing the loaf in four slice increments and thaw only what I need. A loaf lasts me for weeks that way.

Turkey Sausage and Pepper Frittata
Serves 2

1 link of sweet Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 medium onion
2 whole eggs
3 egg whites
2 tbsp fat free milk
2 tbsp goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 425.

Heat an ovenproof 8-inch skillet sprayed with cooking spray over medium heat; brown the sausage and the red pepper flakes. Once the sausage is done, remove it from the pan and set aside in small bowl.

Recoat the same skillet with cooking spray and add the bell pepper and onion, cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the sausage back to the pan. In the same bowl, combine whole eggs, egg whites, milk, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Add the eggs to the pan and stir until nearly set, but still runny on top. Top with two tablespoons goat cheese.

Put the pan in the oven and bake until the top is set and the cheese is slightly melted, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cut into four wedges. One serving equals two wedges.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Steaks with Tomato-Mushroom Ragout

Steaks with Tomato Mushroom Ragu

I woke up to the smell of roasting chicken this morning — sort of.

Last night things in my life kind of went to hell in a handbasket and my plans for roasting a whole chicken in my brand spanking new roaster pan flew out the window. Instead, I sat on my parent’s couch watching Wheel of Fortune and watching CBS sitcoms while stuffing my fact with Chipotle.

By the way, I’m pretty good at Wheel of Fortune. Jeopardy, on the other hand, is a whole other beast.

I made it home around 9:30 ish and didn’t want to take the time to roast the bird in the oven, so into the Crock-pot it went. I actually hate doing it this way because it all falls a part and making stock from the carcass is more difficult, plus the chicken is just meh. It has that unmistakable Crock-pot flavor and texture. Do you know what I mean?

But I had to do something – I had thawed it out entirely and I didn’t want it to spoil. I got the whole chicken on special for 89 cents a pound. So now I have tons of Crock pot chicken for another use — probably enchiladas or soup. The roaster will have to wait until the next time there’s a chicken sale.

Speaking of sales, I have new dishes! I got the whole 16-piece set for $20 and I even found two open stock white porcelain plates for 62 cents a piece. The set isn’t bright white like I was hoping, and a few have imperfections, but for the money, I’m pleased. They look nicer in pictures than my slightly chipped retro Corelle with the orange and pink flowers.

And in the spirit of being thrifty, I even put out a frozen sirloin steak. It’s another pricey-ish cut of meat I usually only buy when it’s on sale. Then, I freeze it for later. And it comes in handy for this recipe.

What drew me to the page was the creamy polenta the steak was sitting on, honestly. I needed to make a batch of soft polenta for something later this week, so why not make it double-duty and use up some of the frozen meat chilling out in the freezer?

Pretty good, though, if I must say so. But I’m biased, I love steak and mushrooms and polenta. Definitely three on my favorite foods list — especially when they’re together on a plate (my new plate to be exact). YUM!

Steaks with Tomato-Mushroom Ragout
Everyday with Rachael Ray

1 pound sirloin steak
salt and pepper
4 tsp olive oil
6 ounce package cremini mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
One 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes (such as Muir Glenn)
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat 2 tsp oil over medium high heat in a nonstick pan. Salt and pepper the steak on both sides and add the steaks to the pan. Cook 3 to 4 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.

Wipe out the skillet and warm the last 2 tsp over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic. Cook, stirring for about 3 minutes or until the mushrooms are browned. Stir in the tomatoes, 1/2 cup of water and the crushed red pepper flakes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occaisionally.

Stir in the vinegar, then add the steaks back to the skillet to warm through. Serve the steaks on top of creamy polenta and topped with the tomato ragu and grated cheese.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tuna and Tomato Pasta

Tuna-Tomato Pasta

I’ve been so organized at work that I think by the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is organize things at home. Even though I moved in to my new place almost a month ago I still have piles of things in my bedroom that don’t have a “home.”

And, my body is still stuck in vacation mode. I’m up late and if given the opportunity, sleep late. Only, I have to be up early through the week – especially considering we’ve had several good snows and lots of frigid weather. I should be up even earlier to clear off my car and warm it up. But last week – not so much.

Oversleeping means I’m scattering and running around trying to get out the door on time. And, putting something out for dinner is usually what gets forgotten in the shuffle.

I’m pretty sure this Tomato and Tuna Pasta has been on my “to make” list for more than two weeks. But that ended up being fine. It’s made completely of pantry items and parsley – which I always have my fridge.

And if you like canned tuna, this isn’t bad. And best yet, you can feed four people for less than $10. I just needed to make a couple of changes to make it healthier. I used a lot less oil – if you’re using a nonstick pan you just don’t need that much to sauté garlic. And, I used half the butter. You could probably leave it out altogether. But I like the flavor it added.

Overall, not a bad for a cheap and easy meal.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Monte Cristo Club Sandwiches

Monte Cristo Club Sandwich

Sometimes food at home can be just as good, if not better, than restaurant food. Especially when you're talking about food at a casual dining chain.

The ex and I, while not dating again, have been hanging out as friends. Friday, rather than going out, I made a version of his favorite sandwich at Claddagh's Irish Pub. They have a monte cristo sandwich that he orders just about every time we're there.

And when I saw this recipe for Monte Cristo Clubsandwiches, I knew this would probably taste even better. And it did.

Because I had eaten light earlier in the day, I made the recipe as written and it was fantastic -- full of flavor. And I've had jam with monte cristos before, but I definitely liked the applesauce better.

Even those these were pretty much full of fat and calories, you can easily lightened them and make them healthier overall. For one, you could use whole wheat bread. Instead of pepper bacon you could use center cut bacon or even turkey bacon if you wanted to. (I would personally opt for the center cut bacon.) Also, swap regular sharp cheddar for 2% sharp cheddar and use less. If you shred it from the block you could get a little bit all over the sandwich. Finally, you could always cook in cooking spray rather than butter.

Even though these were delicious, I'm always looking for better ways to make a monte cristo -- what's your favorite recipe?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Carrot Parmesan Risotto

Carrot Parmesan Risotto

It's certainly a nontraditional risotto, but it's actually really good. I haven't found a risotto I don't like and I'm adding this Carrot Parmesan Risotto to the list of my favorites. The carrots give this a sweetness that other risottos don't have, but it works anyhow. And you can't beat a risotto for a quick comforting meal.

I changed the recipe only slightly. Thankfully, the January/February issue of Everyday Food focuses on light recipes, so it didn't need to be lightened. But I used regular arborio rice instead of long grain white rice. I'm not sure if it was because of the rice I used, but I also had to use much more broth than the recipe called for. Luckily broth doesn't have many calories and shouldn't add points. I ended up running out of chicken broth and using half vegetable broth anyhow.

Best yet, the generous cup and a half serving comes out to 385 calories or 8 points.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili

Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili

I experimented with a new grain tonight: wheat berries. They weren't a quick cooking grain. They actually took an hour to simmer down, but they were worth the effort.

And if you like chipotle flavors in your chili, you'll like this Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili. If you're struggling to find ways to incorporate more Filling Foods (a WeightWatchers term if you aren't familiar), then this would be a great way to do so. And it's 100% vegetarian.

Just cook your wheat berries a day or two ahead and you're set for a quick weeknight meal.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Andouille with Rice and Beans

Andouille Rice with Beans

This afternoon I suddenly remembered I forgot to put something out for dinner. And unfortunately, I didn't have anything else meatless planned for the week. So I ended up throwing something together last minute.

Years ago I made Andouille Rice with White Beans, I don't think I cared for it much, but I knew it had beans, rice, tomatoes, peppers and andouille — all things I have in the fridge and pantry. I ended up changing it a lot. But, it made a huge serving (about 2 cups) for only 7 points. Can't beat that.

Like the chorizo earlier in the week, smoked sausage would be a good substitute.

Andouille with Rice and Beans
Makes 4 servings
1 cup rice
2 cups vegetable broth
1/8 ground red pepper
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 links andouille sausage, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil
3/4 cup canned Great Northern beans

Add rice, water, thyme, and red pepper in a medium pot and prepare rice according to the package's directions.

Meanwhile, heat a saute pan coated in cooking spray over medium heat. Saute peppers and onions until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add in sausage and cook until heated through and beginning to brown.

Add diced tomatoes, oregano and basil and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until most of the liquid is gone.

When the rice is done, add the cooked rice to the saute pan; add in the beans. Cook until heated through.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Baked Tofu with Fried Rice

Baked Tofu with Fried Rice

I'm exhausted tonight. I still have stuff to finish up, but I'll be in bed early, that's for sure. My sleep schedule is out of whack and it's catching up to me.

Tonight's dinner was Asian-Style Baked Tofu and Fried Rice. Both were fantastic. I could easily eat an entire package of tofu like this in one sitting. Seriously. Mine got a little extra crunchy, but other than that it was beyond delicious. Think you don't like tofu? Try it baked. The recipe takes a bit of time, but it's totally worth it.

While the tofu was baking away in the oven I made some brown rice so I could stir fry it. The past few times I've made it I've liked it but didn't love it, not sure why. No matter what recipe I try, they're all very similar, but this one really stands out for some reason. I think I'll make it this way every time from now on. Instead of baby carrots and peas, I used a frozen carrots and peas mix. I didn't bother boiling them, just thawed and warmed them in the oil before adding the egg. Worked just fine.

And for being "fried" it's only 6 points per serving and if you can keep the tofu to one serving, it's only 3 points. Possibly less if you can find reduced-fat firm. And both are worth every single point.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Red Rice with Chorizo

Red Rice with Chorizo

I heart chorizo. And if you live in my area, it's a little hard to find. Well, I take that back. Finding the Spanish-style is nearly impossible, but the Mexican-style is everywhere.

Mexican-style is uncooked and is in a casing. I've usually seen the casing removed and it browned like you would Italian sausage. The Spanish-style, though, is fully-cooked and more like a kielbasa or other smoked sausage.

The only place I've ever found it is Whole Foods. So when I was buying some grains from the bulk bins this past weekend, I couldn't help but pick up a package.

I usually use it paella, but tonight I decided to try it in Red Rice with Chorizo. This recipe, although not a lighter recipe to start with (honestly, what Rachael Ray recipe is?), but is easily modified.

For one, I cut the oil entirely. Especially if you're using an nonstick saucepan, cooking spray should be fine. The chorizo, like regular smoked sausage lets off a little fat while cooking. The chorizo I bought is fairly lean at 130 calories, 6 grams of fat and 0 grams of fiber per serving (3 points), but it gave off enough fat that I don't think it would stick.

I also cut the amount of rice. I would only use 1 cup for four servings. When you combine the rice, chorizo, corn and black olives, it makes a large serving. And because I cut the rice, I cut the liquid to keep the same ratio. The ratio in the recipe is 2:1, so I used a cup of salsa and a cup of water. The rest I left the same. In the end, I came up with 9 points per serving that ended up being much larger than I expected.

Want to make it lighter? You could use less chorizo or even eat a smaller portion. If you're still wanting to make it leaner, you could use a low-fat smoked sausage instead of chorizo, but I really think the chorizo adds something. And of course, if you can't find chorizo, smoked sausage would make good substitute.

All in all, it's a satisfying meal I'll probably make again.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes

Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes
I'm finally back. I just finished moving into a new place and now I'm back to cooking. The week between Christmas and New Year's was hectic, lots of packing, moving and unpacking. And lots of meals on the run. Even at my parents house, no one was really cooking — except for Christmas Day, of course. Christmas Eve is always frozen appetizers and Christmas Day is a Honeybaked ham and some sides. Then, we eat off the leftovers for the rest of the week.

Since moving I've made lots of food for myself, but it's either repeats or simple things with so few ingredients they weren't even worth writing about.

The good news about the holidays, besides seeing my family, is that I not only reached my goal of maintaining, I lost weight last week. Go figure. I still have more to lose than I'd like to fully admit, but my strategy between Thanksgiving and New Years is to not gain weight. And that's a feat in and of itself. Lots of parties, lots of food around the office, and lots of cookies and other goodies at my parents' house.

And.. my sister got engaged and is planning a wedding for fall 2009. I'm very excited for her. Plus, it's motivation for me to stick to healthy eating and exercise. I'd love to be back at the weight I was two years ago. I would say that's my happy weight — probably not the thinnest I could be, but not hard to maintain.

So I'm officially back on track today. Lately I've been making a lot of meatless dishes from pantry staples and a few fresh ingredients. I threw out most of the contents of my fridge and freezer from my old apartment when I moved.

Turns, out the Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Tomatoes was exactly what the weather called for. Something cheesy and comforting to combat the cold front that's coming in. This appealed to me mostly because it had roasted tomatoes. It doesn't look all that cheesy, because I made it with whole wheat macaroni, but it is. I used regular extra sharp white cheddar and it turned out great. Two percent condensed milk and egg substitute gave it it's creaminess. I couldn't even tell it was light. And I loved the roasted tomatoes. YUM. Overall, a pretty good meal!