Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Coffee-Rubbed Steak

Coffee-Rubbed Steak

Once a year - usually in December - I clear out my stack of food magazines.

I typically keep the current year under the coffee table and the prior year stacked on the bookshelf. At the end of the year, I go through the issues on the bookshelf, tear out the recipes I want and recycle the rest. Then, I move the current year to the bookshelf to make room for the upcoming year's issues.

While I'm going through the magazines from two years ago I often find recipes that I bookmarked to make back when the magazine was new, but for whatever the reason, never got around to making.

This coffee-rubbed steak was one of them. Leaner cuts of beef were on sale last week, so put it on for last week.

For the most part I really liked this. The potatoes were just OK, and I accidentally cooked my steak longer than I should have, but the rub was delicious.

I love coffee, and mixed with the chili powder and the Mrs. Dash Spicy Blend that I used as a swap for the steak seasoning, it gave what would have been boring piece of steak a nice kick.

I even made the parsley butter, but that didn't add anything to the final dish. I love butter, but with all the spice you couldn't even taste it. If I'm going to add a lot of extra fat/calories to a dish it has to be really worth it. And honestly, it wasn't in this case.

Lastly, instead of the succotash that came with the recipe I did a bastard-ized version with black beans and jalapeno. I followed the same method, but used an entire jalapeno with some of the ribs left intact and left out the thyme. Worked well and was great on lettuce with the leftover steak the next day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thai-Style Chili

Thai-Style Chili Take Two

As much as I hate to say it, winter is definitely here. Ice-crusted cars, snow, wind and highs in the teens. Fun.

Every year at this time I start swearing I'll do one of two things:
  1. I'm moving closer to work.
  2. I'm going to stop renting and buy a house with a garage.

I do neither. Instead I hole up in my apartment as much as possible and eat soup.

The other night I tried this Thai Chili from Clean Eating Magazine. I liked that it was meatless and used some of the red curry paste I still have sitting in my fridge door. I also liked the addition of bulgur.

The recipe still needed a bit of work, in my opinion. I added a bit of salt, hot sauce and needed to thicken it up in the end. It came out WAY too soupy to be a decent chili. It's amazing how just three simple things turned a chili that was just so-so into something delicious and filling.



Thai-Style Chili Take One

Thai-Style Chili
Adapted from Clean Eating Magazine
Serves 4

1 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 cup uncooked bulgur
2 cups peeled, cubed sweet potato
2 cups chopped bell pepper (any color)
2 cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup light coconut milk
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
About 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Hot sauce (such as sriracha) to taste
Chopped scallions for garnish

In a large dutch oven, add curry paste, cumin, salt and pepper and dissolve in a bit of broth until it's no longer lumpy. Add the rest of the broth, bulgur, sweet potatoes and bell pepper. Bring to a boil.

Cover tightly and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add beans, coconut milk and crushed tomatoes; cook uncovered for 7 minutes or until the bulgur is tender.

If the chili isn't thick enough at this point (mine wasn't) dissolve the cornstarch in a couple tablespoons of water to created a slurry. Add the slurry to the chili and stir. Let simmer a few minutes or so until the chili thickens up. Add hot sauce to taste and garnish with chopped scallions.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I really don't like beets.

Goat Cheese and Vegetable Sandwich

I'm in a cooking slump.

Each night, I pull out my cutting board and knife — promising myself tonight's dinner will turn it all around. But it doesn't.

Instead, it becomes another in a list of meals that were either just so-so or destined for the trash can.

As much as I hate turning out one disappoint meal after the next, I've learned a bit this past week:

1. I hate beets. Really, I do. I've tried to like them. they're tolerable in risotto, but that's about it. I've tried them in salads and even in this Goat Cheese Vegetable Sandwich. I just can't do it. I wanted to love the sandwich, but the beets ruined it for me.

Brunswick Stew

2. Read the recipe carefully — even if you've made the dish before. If I had taken them time to read the ingredients a little more closely, I would have realized when dividing a recipe in half you shouldn't use the full 3 cups of broth the recipe calls for. Otherwise your Brunswick Stew comes out like a watery, boring soup instead of the chunky, satisfying stew you remember it being.

There were other undocumented failures, but trust me when I say I was ready for some redemption at the stove.

So, last night I brought out the big guns. The no-fail dinner. The one meal I can always count on.

Pepper Jack Risotto with Corn and Red Peppers

Risotto.

Specifically, Monterey Jack, Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto. I love this risotto. It's especially good with blackened shrimp or seared scallops.

Hopefully, better meals are to come.

How do you overcome a cooking slumps?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Portuguese-Style Chicken

DPP_0008

So, this looks a little messy. Truthfully, it was pretty messy to eat, too.

But, oh, was this good.

It's been so cold the past few days and this really warmed me right up. I really like the vegetable and chorizo stew that went along with the chicken. Mushrooms, kale, potatoes, chorizo, roasted red peppers and crusty whole grain to mop up the sauce.. YUM.

I stuck to the recipe, but kept it a bit leaner with a lean chorizo and less oil. You could also remove the skin from the chicken.

The recipe also calls for you roast your own peppers. If you don't want to fuss, jarred will work, too.

Get the orginial recipe at Everyday with Rachael Ray.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Sage Breadcrumbs

Macaroni and Cheese

This, my friends, may go down in history as one of the best macaroni and cheeses I've made to date.

Not kidding.

It all started with a serious craving for macaroni and cheese. Then, I was thinking how awesome it would be to put crumbled bacon in my macaroni and cheese.

In fact, that's what went on my meal plan this week — Macaroni and Cheese w/ Bacon. I figured I'd cook up some bacon, stir it into a basic roux based cheese sauce, top with some dried breadcrumbs and call it a day.

Then, inspiration struck. Later in the week I have Tilapia with Mashed Yams and Bacon Sage Breadcrumbs on the menu. I've made it once before and I remember LOVING the breadcrumbs. They were lick the plate good.

So, wouldn't it be great to top with macaroni and cheese WITH the Bacon Sage Breadcrumbs? Yes, it would.

I made the bacon, used the bacon drippings to toast up the sage and fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs, then stirred the bacon into the macaroni and cheese as planned and topped it with the sage breadcrumbs.

It was pretty much over the top deliciousness.

And get this — it's actually pretty healthy! It's still not exactly a low calorie dish, but I used low fat cheese, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, 1% milk and center cut bacon to make it a better-for-you splurge.

Then, so I wasn't tempted to dig into the second serving, I baked it in individual ramekins. But, if you have willpower of steel, go ahead and bake it in one casserole dish.

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Sage Breadcrumbs
Inspired by Bon Appetit
Serves 2


For the macaroni and cheese:
4 oz. short cut pasta (mine was a mix of medium shells and whole wheat penne)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup of any good melting cheese, shredded (I used half 2% cheddar and half swiss)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper

For the breadcrumbs:
2 slices center cut bacon, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from whole wheat bread pulsed in a food processor
1/2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

Preheat the oven to 350° and bring a large pot of water to boil.

Once the water is boiling, cook the pasta just short of al dente, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, crisp up the bacon in a small skillet over medium heat. Once crisp, remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Add the breadcrumbs and sage to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs start to toast up - about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them though! They burn easily. When done, remove from pan and set aside.

In the pot you made the pasta in, melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat. Then, stir in the flour, whisking to combine completely. Let cook for a minute or two, but don't let it darken. Gradually stir in the milk, whisking to combine. Cook over medium-low heat until it thickens up (mine took a minute or two.. it thickened up really fast!), then add the cheese stir and until just melted. Add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

Then, add the reserved pasta and bacon crumbles to the cheese, stirring to mix everything up. Divide the macaroni and cheese between two 8 oz. ramekins and top with the reserved breadcrumbs.

Put the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until the cheese is warm and bubbly and the crumbs are crispy — about 15 to 20 minutes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Almond-Crusted Chicken

Almond-Crusted Chicken

Earlier this week I was running out of food in my fridge. Our Thanksgiving Day was actually celebrated on Saturday, so I didn't have much time to get my normal grocery shopping done over the weekend.

Almond-Crusted Chicken is a great option when the pantry is beginning to look a little bare. It takes only a handful of ingredients and bakes up quickly.

If you don't have almonds you could use just about any toasted nuts. It's flexible like that. The original recipe actually calls for pecans, but I had almonds on hand. Dijon mustard helps keep the coating in place, but using beaten eggs or egg whites would probably also work.

It didn't get as crispy and toasted as I would've liked. To make it crispier, try putting a cooling rack over a cookie sheet.

Despite a lack a crispiness, it was still pretty tasty! Steamed frozen green beans and whipped sweet potatoes rounded out my meal.


Almond-Crusted Chicken

Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray

1 cup toasted almonds, pulsed with a food processor into fine crumbs
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp basil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Mix together the almond crumbs, breadcrumbs and basil in a shallow bowl.

Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken, rub with the Dijon mustard (a silicone pastry brush works wells for this), then coat with crumb mixture.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a cooling rack coated in cooking spray over a baking sheet for crispier chicken.

Coat the top of the chicken with olive oil cooking spray and bake 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chicken and Whole Wheat Dumplings

Chicken and Whole Wheat Dumplings

Ugh. I'm still sick, but feeling a bit better at least.

I took yesterday off work to rest up a bit after being up through the night several times. My stuffed up nose kept waking me up and I couldn't get back to sleep. Plus, I sound worse than I was on Tuesday and people give you the stink eye if you come to work with a cold.

Since I was feeling a bit better last night, I decided to make myself some soup. Nothing better than chicken soup for a cold, right?

I've made this soup before, but haven't made it in a couple of years. This time, I experimented a little by using whole wheat pastry flour to make the dumplings. The texture was fine. Very similar to the all-purpose flour I used the first time.

But, the flour gave the dumplings a nuttier flavor that I'm not sure I liked all that much. I'll think I'll definitely stick with white flour in the future.

I followed the recipe otherwise, but it's an easy soup to experiment. Use different fresh herbs in the dumplings. Switch chicken breast meat for the chicken thighs (although the dark meat does give it richer flavor), or even use up some leftover turkey from Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A cure for the common cold

Hot Toddy 1

This is the second time I'm battling a cold so far this fall.

The last one might have been a reaction to the flu shot – even though they swear that doesn't happen. But this one is a full-blown cold.

It sucks.

The good thing is that my throat is no longer on fire. The bad thing is I can't breathe out of my right nostril.

Smelling is underrated anyway, I guess.

When I'm feeling under the weather nothing is better than hot toddy. Hot tea, lemon and honey are great for colds. Whiskey just helps clear you up and help you sleep.

Trust me. It works.

Hopefully you won't get sick this cold and flu season. But if you do, make yourself a hot toddy.

Hot Toddy
Serves 1

1 shot of whiskey (I prefer Maker's Mark, obviously)
Strongly brewed black tea (I use loose leaf English Breakfast brewed in a small tea pot)
1 tsp honey (or to taste)
1 slice of lemon

Pour a shot of whiskey in a mug. Top with brewed tea and stir in honey. Squeeze the slice of lemon into the tea and stir.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pumpkin and Rice Enchiladas with Beans

Pumpkin Enchiladas

Happy Black Friday!

While everyone else is working their way through turkey day leftovers, I'm dealing with leftovers of a different variety.

Remember that pumpkin risotto? Well, I had a full serving still sitting in the fridge.

Sure, I could just reheat it, but that's not much fun.

I could have made Arancini di Riso - but I wanted something a bit lighter. Plus, have you ever deep fried something in small space, like a 750 sq. ft. apartment? It reeks for days on end.

So, I opened the fridge and just kind of stared into it. I saw some whole wheat tortillas and I started thinking that rice and beans are good in burritos.

Risotto is rice (duh) and I have a lot of black beans in my freezer. Then, I saw the salsa verde in my fridge and some corn tortillas and I started thinking about the awesome sweet potato enchiladas I made a long time ago.

Sweet potatoes and pumpkin are both orange.. so why not?

Now, before you think I've lost my marbles, hear me out. But besides the parm and little bit of ginger that went into the risotto, it wasn't far off from the beginnings of a great mexican-type dish.

So, tonight I re-purposed it by sauteing some garlic in a little oil, adding the leftover risotto, beans, and a little broth to soften it up. Then I added some cumin, chili power, more cayenne and a little salt and pepper.

Then, I used it to fill the enchiladas, topping them with salsa verde and pepper jack cheese.

And just like that it was an entirely new dish.

Pumpkin and Rice Enchiladas with Beans
Serves 2

2 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 serving leftover pumpkin risotto -or- about a cup of cooked rice mixed with some pumpkin puree stirred in
3/4 cup black beans (about half of a 15 oz can)
Chicken broth as needed
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or more to taste
salt and pepper
6 small corn tortillas
About 4 ounces salsa verde
1/4 cup (or more if you like) shredded pepper jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°

In a medium saucepan, warm the oil and minced garlic over medium heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle and is softening, add the leftover rice and beans. Add chicken broth to the pan just to help loosen things up and keep it creamy — I barely covered the rice with the broth.

Stir in the cumin, chili powder and cayenne, and let cook until warmed through, adding more broth if necessary to keep stuff from drying out. Season with salt and pepper

Warm the tortillas according the package directions.

Fill the tortillas with the rice mixture. I put somewhere near 1/4 in each tortilla, but eyeball it. Roll up each tortilla and place seam side down in casserole dish coated in cooking spray.

Cover the rolled enchiladas in the salad verde (I used about half a jar give or take) and top with shredded cheese.

Bake at 425° for 15 to 18 minutes, until warmed through and cheese is starting to brown.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pumpkin Risotto

pumpkin risotto II

Am I the only one who's been hoarding cans of pumpkin? I grab at least two cans every time I see in the store, which truthfully isn't as often as you'd think.

Last week I noticed my supply was starting to get a little out of control, and I knew just what I wanted to do with it.

Make pumpkin risotto, of course.

I found this recipe in the Columbus Dispatch, the local paper, eons ago. In fact, I can't even find it online anymore. I can't even remember if it's something original to them or from a syndicated story. All I know is that it's one of my favorite risotto recipes that I make over and over again.

Pumpkin risotto was one of the first times I've ever used canned pumpkin in a savory dish, and I've been hooked ever since.

What I love most about this recipe — and how it differs from other pumpkin risotto recipes I've seen — is that it uses pumpkin puree rather than chunks of fresh pumpkin.

The puree helps the risotto stay super creamy, which allows you to cut back on cheese and butter if you so choose. The recipe isn't necessarily a light one, but it can easily be made into one.

I usually use half the oil, leave out the butter and go a little lighter on the cheese. But this time I went all out. Maybe it' s cooler (again) temps or the insane tiredness I'm feeling after my cat woke me up at 4:30 a.m. I was craving something just a bit richer.

It didn't disappoint.

Pumpkin risotto

Pumpkin Risotto
Adapted from the Columbus Dispatch

4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 can (15 oz) pure pumpkin puree
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Put the broth in a small saucepan bring to a simmer, then knock the heat back to medium low to keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened — about 6 minutes.

Add the rice, stirring to coat with the oil. Bump the heat up to medium high and add the wine. Stir constantly until the wine is absorbed.

Then, add broth 1/2 a cup at a time, stirring constantly and adding more broth as it's absorbed. Once the rice has absorbed all the broth, reduce the heat to medium low and check the rice's texture. It should be firm, but cooked through. If the rice isn't done, add more broth 1/2 cup at time until it reaches the desired texture. It usually takes me about 15 to 20 minutes from the time I begin adding the broth.

Then, stir in the pumpkin, ginger, cayenne. Cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Then, stir in butter and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mexican Bean Salad

Bean salad

I have to say, I'm not a big fan of bean salads Especially the kind with canned green beans. Yuck.

So, when my sister first suggested making a bean salad for a family dinner a few years ago I was prepared to hate it. Instead, I was surprised. I actually liked it.

This is not the three-bean salad of my childhood. Sure, it's still a three-bean salad, but it has a Mexican twist with corn, peppers and even some chili powder.

It's a crowd-pleaser - that's for sure. My sister brought it to a family reunion over the summer and people raved. It's a great for a cookout.

I made it Sunday night to bring to my department's annual Thanksgiving potluck. It's a little unorthodox for a Thanksgiving meal, but it's dairy and meat free, perfect for the vegetarians and vegans who might otherwise not have much else to eat.

Plus, there's kind of a limit to how many people can sign up to bring mashed potatoes or stuffing.

I only made one change in the recipe. Instead of using Splenda, I used regular sugar. Other than that, I pretty much made the recipe to the letter, so go check it out on Allrecipes.com.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Herbed Whole Wheat Croutons

Soup with croutons take 1

I can hardly believe it's nearly the end of November and that Thanksgiving is the week. Where did the year go?

This week is a short week at work, I was off Friday and I'm off next Monday. So, I'm expecting it to be a busy week. Essentially, I'm cramming 7 days of work into 3. Sounds fun, right?

When I'm busy, I tend to eat a lot of canned soups, quick sandwiches and easy to assemble casseroles.

But, it doesn't mean I can't make ready made foods special. For example, this butternut squash soup shines with herbed whole wheat croutons.

Haven't made your own croutons? You should. These came together quickly while the soup warmed on the stove and it's a good use for stale bread.

Soup with croutons take 2


Herbed Whole Wheat Croutons

Adapted from How to Cook Everything

1/4 cup or more olive oil or butter
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning or another combination of dried herbs
4 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
salt and pepper

Heat 1/4 cup butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat until warm. Add the minced garlic and dried herbs; cook until garlic is fragrant — about 30 seconds.

Add the bread cubes to the pan and a single layer. Add salt and pepper. Cook until the bread is lightly browned — about 3 to 5 minutes or so. Keep an eye on them. They go from zero to burnt pretty quickly!

Flip the cubes. If dry, add more butter/oil, then cook until the second side is browned. Mine browned up in about 2 minutes. But again, keep an eye on them!

Remove from pan and let cool slightly. Can be stored up to 1 day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

There's a first time for everything.

Omelette

I did it! I made my first ever successful omelet.

I'm not sure why I've had so much trouble making a successful omelet, but I have.

They fall apart, they burn, they don't cook in the middle, etc. If it can wrong, it probably has at some point.

I usually give up end up with a scramble. But not anymore.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ham and Cheese Stuffed Potatoes

Ham and Cheese Stuffed Potatoes

When I was growing up, dinner was often a formula. One part chicken, one part rice/potato/pasta side dish and one part frozen veg (usually green beans, or a mixed vegetable medley of some sort).

Didn't a lot of us grow up that way in the Midwest? I feel like my family was not unique in this method of meal planning.

When it comes to deciding what's for dinner, I tend to revert back into that plain protein/carb/vegetable trap. That's why I've always kind of loved cookbooks, magazines, etc. that give full meal ideas — side dishes and all.

I've been cooking my way lately through Cooking Light's Essential Dinner Tonight Cookbook. I checked it out of library in hopes I could shake things up a bit.

I have always looked forward to the dinner tonight series in the magazine because I loved the accompanying side dish recipes.

Tonight's dinner was ham and cheese stuffed potatoes, which essentially came from that book. It was quick and tasty.

I have been really tired all day and a quick to assemble dinner was a relief! Plus, it featured this new find from Aldi:

Swiss Cheese

Swiss cheese!

The original recipe called for gruyere, but swiss cheese makes a more than OK substitute. My only complaint was that the potatoes got a little overcooked in the microwave.

It might be worth baking them in the oven the day before. That might take just a little too much planning, though.

And the reason you only see one little potato half on the plate? I ate the first half before I could even plate my dinner and photograph it. :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gnocchi with Chorizo and Spinach

Gnocchi with Chorizo

A few weeks ago I was browsing my local Aldi store, when I found a package of shelf-stable gnocchi. It wasn’t on my list, but I’m unable to pass up a good deal so I threw it in my cart.

I was trying to figure out something to do with it a few days ago when inspiration finally struck.

Make a riff on this Manchego and Chorizo Pizza but use gnocchi instead of a pizza crust. After all, I can’t turn down gnocchi OR chorizo.

I took a lot of liberties with the original idea. The pizza recipe calls for broccoli rabe, which I subbed for spinach. Truthfully, every time I’ve made the pizza I’ve used spinach.

Broccoli rabe or even regular broccoli would work with the gnocchi, too. I’m all for cleaning out the fridge and using what you’ve got.

Lastly, for the cheese, I subbed parmesan for the manchego. And, I wanted something a little saucier so I used canned fire roasted tomatoes. If you want something with less sauce, use fresh romas. Want something less chunky? Go with canned crushed tomatoes.

The result is kind of like a Spanish-Italian mash up. It’s Spatalian. Or better yet, Italianish.

No? OK. Let’s just call it delicious.

Gnocchi with Chorizo and Spinach
Inspired by Cooking Light’s Manchego and Chorizo Pizza

2 links chorizo sausage, diced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 big handfuls baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 package shelf-stable gnocchi

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

While the water comes up to a boil, heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and chorizo to the pan. Cook until the onion softens up and the chorizo begins to brown.

Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer until the sauce thickens up - about 5 minutes or so.

When the water comes up to a boil, add gnocchi and cook according to package directions.

While the gnocchi cooks, add the spinach to the tomato sauce and let it wilt down. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the gnocchi. Add to the skillet with tomato sauce and stir to combine. Top with grated cheese.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back to running?

Running Shoes

Tonight, I headed down to the gym after work for my nightly workout. I often come in to work later than most and leave later than most just so I can have my pick of machines.

But, even though it was 5:45 p.m. the place was packed. All of my favorite ellipticals were occupied.

I jumped on a treadmill and started to walk instead, figuring that someone might get off a machine sooner rather than later. But, it wasn't long before I got the itch to jog a bit.

So I did. And I'm not in pain, so far. I'm currently icing my back and hoping to be pain free tomorrow, too.

I haven't been able to run without pain since my injury in May. I've tested in a few times, but it either hurt during or hurt after. Not a lot, but some. And if there's one thing I've learned while recovering is that even a little pain is a warning sign of bigger issues to come.

By now, I can handle the elliptical, stationary bike and even free weights without pain. A couple of weeks ago, I even did a gentle 30 minutes of VERY careful yoga with little to no pain.

I jogged s-l-o-w-l-y today (12 minute mile pace) for only 10 minutes split into two five minute increments broken up by walking. But it was jogging so I'll take it.

I'll probably never be a distance runner, but that's OK. I'm just happy to know that someday I might able to run again at all.

Have you battled a sports-related injury? How have you battled the "itch" to do more before you're ready?

Friday, November 12, 2010

A week's worth of quick meals

pizza with carmelized onion and goat cheese

Saturday night, the pizza dough I made in the mixer when to this Carmelized Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza. Goat cheese on pizza is amazing. If you've never tried it, do it tomorrow.

The original recipe called for a store-bought crust, but I used one of my favorite pizza dough recipes.

Sunday, I worked with tomatillos for the first time to make Tomatillo Chicken. It was pretty tasty, but maybe not spectacular. Hard to go wrong with bone-in chicken thighs, though. I love dark meat chicken. It tastes like it's much unhealther than it actually is.

tomatillo chicken
Tomatillo chicken

Monday's dinner wasn't pretty and wasn't as good as I hoped.

Being away from home and cooking in my mom's kitchen has thrown me off a bit this week. I did my grocery shopping, then threw out the list I wrote up - including the short list of meals I planned for the week. Oops.

I can't remember two meals I planned. I'm almost out of groceries, so who really knows what I was going to make.

So, to make up for the fact that I have no idea what meals I bought groceries for, I ended up eating bagged frozen meatballs, some slightly questionable marinara sauce, and leftover sauteed veggies on Tuesday. Definitely not as good as homemade spaghetti and meatballs.

I actually cooked Wednesday despite a super long day at work. These Fast Chicken Fajitas really hit the spot for some reason. They have simple ingredients, but somehow they ended up being much more flavorful than I expected. Must've been the boneless/skinless chicken thighs I used. :)

chicken fajitas

And that brings us to last night: canned soup and grilled cheese. Unfortunately, I only found light bread and medium cheddar. The sandwich had pear, cheddar, and bacon.

canned soup and grilled cheese

It was just OK. When made with good quality cheese bread and bacon, this sandwich is actually fantastic. Life changing even. Sometimes shortcuts with ingredients don't really pay off. This is one of those times.

In other news, I ordered some lighting type equipment this week: continous light stands with bulbs and another little gadget to help with my onboard flash. I'm anxious to see if it works. I'm sick of this poor lighting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A stand mixer test drive

Hannah-Banana

This week, I'm housesitting for my parents and spending time with the puppers, Hannah.

Bella

I even brought along my cat, Bella, since it seemed cruel to leave her alone in my apartment for a week. She secretly loves it here anyhow.

And as you can see, the girls love lounging on the furniture.

Anyhow, now that I'm at my parents I decided take this thing for a test drive:

Stand mixer

I'm toying with the idea of putting a mixer on my Christmas list this year. I was planning to just register for it when I get married.. but let's be honest - I'm no where near getting married.

BUT - they're pricey. It would be my one and only Christmas present. Am I willing to forgo the gift unwrapping extravaganza for a mixer? I don't know.

First up on the test is pizza dough. I have an ancient bread machine that mixes up dough in a flash, so I was interested to see how the stand mixer compares.

It handled the dough OK. Overall, it was quicker to do the dough by the mixer than to do it in the bread maker, definitely. It might be all in my head, but I swear everything that comes out of the bread maker tastes the same.. even if the recipes are different.

The downside? Getting the dough to rise. In my drafty apartment it's tough to find a warm place. The bread maker solves that because it keeps it a warm and constant temp.

Still not sure I only want a mixer for Christmas, but it's tempting me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

"All-American" Chili

Chili

I’m taking part in a chili cook-off tonight for charity with a chili recipe I’ve never made before.

Lord help me.

I volunteered months ago to help with the charity cook-off not realizing that I’d actually be the one to make the chili.

I don’t mind helping out. I do love food after all and it benefits a food pantry in Athens — which is a good cause.

But, here’s the thing: I don’t have a great chili recipe.

I’ll make this vegetarian black bean version a lot when I’m craving vegetables but the thought of zucchini simmering in a slow cooker makes me want to gag.

This lighter version would fare well in a slow cooker, but it’s honestly nothing special. It squelches a chili craving and it’s decent for what it is… but it’s not something I’d enter into any type of competition (even one for charity).

I was planning to go with the Turkey White Bean Chili I made a while back, until this All-American Chili from Cooking Light caught my eye.

It has some unique ingredients, a five-star rating and 145 comments. Probably the most I’ve seen on one of their recipes.

Plus, one of the reviewers won a chili contest with it? I’m sold.

Start with the usual suspects:
ingredients

Then add a little twist:
DPP_143


Brown up the veggies with the meat and add spices and tomato paste:
DPP_144

Then the “secret ingredient” aka booze. I know no authentic American chili has red wine, but what the heck. Sounded good to me!
DPP_145

And some tomatoes and beans. Then let it simmer away.

Obviously, I decided not to go the “light” route. For one, it was cheaper to buy fattier cuts of meat. Plus, who takes a low fat chili to a cook off? I’d rather go big or go home.

Once it was done, I had a small bowl for dinner, just to taste test and it’s pretty good if I do say so myself. Wish me luck!

“All-American” Chili
Adapted from Cooking Light

2 links hot Italian sausage
1 pound ground chuck
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeƱo peppers, chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 1/4 cups Merlot
1 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained
Additional salt/pepper to taste, plus a healthy dash or five of hot sauce

Remove casings from sausage. Brown up the sausage and beef in a dutch oven over medium-high heat with the next 3 ingredients (though jalapeno). Cook 8 minutes, breaking up the meat as you go, until the sausage and beef is browned.

Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add in the wine and tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add beans and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more salt pepper and hot sauce as needed. Discard the bay leaves.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reruns: Corn Casserole and Roasted Brussels

Corn casserole ingredients

I have a pretty busy week ahead of me. So, I was looking for something that makes lots of leftovers and is REALLY simple to throw together.

And you can't get much simpler (or cheaper for that matter!) than corn casserole.

It's a staple side dish at holidays, but it also makes a great main dish with some vegetables or a salad on the side.

Basically, you pile all of the above ingredients in a giant bowl like so:
Ingredients in the bowl

That's 1 cup light sour cream, one box corn muffin mix, 1 beaten egg, 3 tbsp melted unsalted butter, one can creamed corn and one can of whole kernel corn. You don't even have to drain it. Just dump it in.

In the pan

Stir it up and pour it into a 8 inch square baking dish buttered or coated in cooking spray. I like glass so you can how it's browning up. Then bake for about an hour at 350°.

While the corn casserole started in the oven I trimmed up some brussels and gave them a bath in lots of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Brussels in the olive oil bath.

Last time I roasted them I hated them, so I was a little apprehensive about how they'd turn out. The oven was at 350 for the casserole, so I stuck them in the oven for the last 45 minutes to make sure they good and browned up.

While it dinner baked, I squeezed in 30 minutes of yoga. How's that for multi-tasking?

Corn casserole and Roasted Brussels

All done! I loved these brussel sprouts. I ate like a zillion of them. But maybe I was just really hungry. I especially liked the crispy leaves.

What's your favorite leftover-producing meal?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cleaning out the pantry

I admit. I haven't been making a lot of new recipes lately. I guess that's why I haven't posted much. Ramen stir fry is not post-worthy.

I've also been working. Working a lot.

Because I don't have any meals to share, I'll share what I've been up to on a recent lazy Sunday afternoon: Cleaning the pantry.

I have one of the best pantry spaces I've ever seen for an apartment complex. My last apartment had three cabinets and no pantry. I used my linen closet as my pantry, which was in my hallway. It was not convenient.

Now, I'm spoiled.

I have so much space, that it sometimes gets a bit out of control. I decided when it was time for a cleaning when I couldn't find a place to store my groceries.

Side by Side

And in case it's kind of small.... more detail.

Top rows:
Top rows

Middle rows:
Middle rows

Bottom rows:
Bottom rows

So. Much. Better.

Now that it's clean it's time for me to get back in the kitchen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rerun: Harvest Soup with Apples and Bacon

Harvest Soup with Apples and Bacon

Sometimes, I love a good rerun. Even if you read about this one the first time I posted it, it's worth repeating. It's delicious, comforting and tastes like fall in a bowl.

Actually, it's EXACTLY what I needed after a day like today. It's like when I woke up this morning, I just knew what kind of day I was going to have, you know?

First, I think I should explain I meal plan. Each week, I choose 7 dinners to make each week.

Usually two require more prep time/cook time. These are reserved for Saturdays and Sundays when time isn't an issue. I also usually want something, like a seafood dish, that doesn't reheat well. I make those kinds of things on Thursdays because I eat out most Fridays with my friends at work and don't need to pack a lunch.

The rest of the days I pick something off my planned meals that sounds good. This morning, the winner was Harvest Soup with Apples and Bacon.

It's a comforting soup fit for a long, cold day. It's a soup perfect for a day that starts with a traffic jam that makes you late and causes seriously powerwalk the 1/4 mile to your building (arm pumping and all) just so you wouldn't miss your 8:30 meeting.

It's good for a day where stuff starts going downhill by lunch and when you look up you realize it's half an hour past quitting time and you still have a crap ton of work to do. It cures a serious case of the "Mondays."

I'm not even exaggerating when I say this soup and (and a stint on the elliptical after work) totally made my day. I love the saltiness of the bacon with the sweetness of the soup. I love a good sweet/salty combo. I love how I can taste the potatoes and squash without it being overwhelming. Afterall, squash and I have a love/hate relationship.

Plus, I'm one of those sick people who actually like chopping after a long, stressful day. I could have done without all the peeling, though. I hate peeling.

Harvest Soup with Apples and Bacon
From Everyday with Rachael Ray

8 slices center cut bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 granny smith apples, 2 1/2 peeled and chopped (reserve the other half)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
8 ounces celery root, peeled and chopped
8 ounces turnips, peeled and chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme (I used a little bit of dried instead)
32 ounces chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-low heat until crisp, stirring occasionally. When bacon is done, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel.

Add onion and cook over medium heat until soft -- about 8 minutes. Add the chopped apples, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, celery root, turnips and thyme. Cover and cook until vegetables are crisp tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the broth and 5 cups of water, cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Discard the thyme stem if using and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or pour the soup in a blender and carefully puree it until smooth. Finely chop the remaining 1/2 of the apple and top the soup with the crumbled bacon, diced apple and thyme leaves.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

I love ice cream. It’s my favorite splurge. So much so, that I bought an ice cream maker. It’s probably my favorite appliance (next to my coffeemaker, of course).

I’ll admit that I have a weak spot for full-fat recipes. But that's mostly because I haven’t come across a light recipe that I’ve really loved.

That is, until I found came across this strawberry frozen yogurt recipe in Food & Wine, from the owner of Jeni’s here in Columbus. I love her ice cream, so I knew this one probably would be a keeper before I even made it.

Even made with whole milk plain yogurt, it’s lighter than most homemade ice creams. By my calculations, it’s about 169 calories for ½ a cup. Not bad at all!

This time around I made it with some frozen strawberries languishing in my freezer (which is much tastier than it sounds!), but I’ve also made a batch with fresh strawberries when they were in season.

If possible, use fresh. The end results are much better. But the frozen worked out just fine, honestly.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Makes about 5 cups
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
One 1/4-ounce package unflavored powdered gelatin
12 ounces strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream

Fill a large bowl with ice water for an ice water bath.

Pour the lemon juice in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top; let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a blender, puree the strawberries until smooth. Combine the strawberry puree with the sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high until the sugar dissolves — about 1 minute. Remove it from the heat and stir in the lemon gelatin until it melts.

In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the lemon zest and the hot strawberry puree. Stir in the heavy cream. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the strawberry yogurt is cold, about 20 minutes.

Pour the strawberry yogurt into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the yogurt to separate containers and freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Turkey Meatballs

Turkey Meatballs

I think everyone has a recipe or two they keep in their pocket as a "standard" or "go-to" recipe. That one recipe you could make with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back.

Truthfully, I don't have many of these. Even though there's meals I make often like stir-fry, risotto or chili, I'm easily distracted by the newest recipes — whatever happens to be in a new magazine or the cookbook I most recently checked out of the library.

I don't often save the recipes or write them down and even if I do I'd probably lose it before I ever got around to making it again. So God knows if I didn't have this site to keep track of what I was making, I may never make the same recipe twice.

This is all about to change. I think I've found a "go-to" recipe. Stop the presses. Seriously.

Now, I'm not going to pretend these are the BEST turkey meatballs I've ever had in my entire life. That would be an overstatement. But, they are pretty tasty and ridiculously simple, which is really all it takes for me.

What I like about these — besides the fact it only calls for ingredients I have on hand — is that these are a dense meatball. I've made some "fluffy" meatballs, and I guess I just prefer them to be more dense.

Is that weird? I don't know. I like these better than the mystery meatballs from my freezer. I know that much.

These are excellent as meatball subs or even tossed with your favorite marinara sauce and whole wheat pasta.

Turkey Meatballs
8 servings

1 pound lean ground turkey (I used 93/7)
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Using a tablespoon, scoop out the turkey mixture and shape them into meatball. Place them on the parchment-covered cookie sheet. Repeat to make 32 meatballs.

Bake the meatballs, 10 to 15 minutes until cooked, turning them over every 5 minutes to brown them on all sides.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finding my way back to fitness

Running Shoes

I haven’t been able to work out — really work out — since May. I ran a 5K on May 15 and my back hasn’t been the same since.

The day after the race I was stiff feeling. My back kind of hurt, but I just thought it was because I ran faster than I usually do. So, I went to yoga.

We had a sub who was much faster-paced than the usual instructor is. We also did a few new-to-me poses.

When I still was sore on Monday, I figured it was the run + pushing myself a bit at yoga. So, I spent time on the elliptical to stretch out the kinks.

It still hurt on Tuesday so I took the rest of the week off. By Friday, it hurt to sit at my desk.

It was getting better there for a bit, so I continued my weekly yoga classes. My doctor cleared me to continue swimming and yoga and told me it was likely just a little inflammation. Some stretches and ibuprofen would help, she said.

Then, in yoga class I did a half moon pose. After I did it, I realized people suffering from sciatic pain, like myself, shouldn’t do that pose. Too late.

After that visit to the doctor, I came home with a script for steroids and instructions not to exercise.

Now, three months later, I’m able to start some exercise again. No where near the level I was at — but something is better than nothing.

Walking feels OK and so does the elliptical. As long as I take some ibuprofen, ice, and take a day off in between sessions.

Running is a definite no and a gentle yoga DVD hurt my back during and for days afterward. Lesson learned.

Somedays, I get frustrated. I want to return to yoga and I want to run. Other days, I’m happy I can at least do some activity.

Every day, I’m thankful my injury wasn’t serious. As far as back injuries go, it’s definitely small potatoes. I’ve witnessed MUCH worse.

It’s slowly getting better, so maybe someday I’ll run and practice yoga again. In the meantime, you can find me on the elliptical.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spice-Rubbed Pork Chops

Pork with Spice Paste

The weather lately has been fabulous, so I decided to grill out the other night while I still can.

Spice-rubbed pork chops were on the menu. Turn out they were the best pork chops I’ve eaten in a while.

They were spicy, slightly sweet and definitely salty. In other another word — delicious.

I wouldn’t say they’re a great weeknight meal, especially if you’re like me and come home ready to gnaw your left/right arm off. But, it worked well for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Make up the paste, rub ‘em down, wrap them up in plastic and let them sit for an hour or so while you go about your afternoon. When you’re ready to eat, throw them on the grill for a few minutes on either side.

Don’t like pork? The rub would be fantastic on chicken.

One the side I made my standard steamed green beans tossed with olive oil and some random seasoning blend and some smashed potatoes.

This time I smashed them with some salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon zest. The lemon zest made those potatoes something special. Try it for yourself sometime.

Spice-Rubbed Pork Chops
Serves 4
Originally from Everyday Food

4 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt (see note)
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you’re spice adverse)
4 bone-in center cut pork chops (about 3 pounds)

In a bowl, mix together garlic, oil, sugar, salt, paprika, pepper, and cayenne until a paste forms. Coat pork chops with paste and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 3).

Heat grill to medium-high; clean and lightly oil hot grates. Grill pork, covered, 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium, depending on thickness. Mine were thin didn’t take long at all. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Note: The original recipe calls for twice that amount of salt. I made it as written and found it to be too salty for my tastes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A cooking slump

Days like today are exactly why I love fall so much. Sunny and 78 degrees.

Perfection.

My cooking? Not so perfect.

I’ve been absent because I don’t have anything new or tasty to share, honestly. Lots of dishes I’ve made before like vegetarian black bean chili or a riff off these ricotta-stuffed shells with WAY too much fennel seed for my liking.

Pepperoni Pizza

I also made a pepperoni pizza that was pretty great, but I'm still fussing with the crust recipe.

I guess you could say I’ve been in a cooking funk. Good thing fall is almost here to turn things around.

Anyone else feel like fall is like a renewal? Each new season is like that for me, except winter. I loathe winter. On the other hand, I kind of love the word “loathe.”

So, I guess now is a good time as any to look back on my New Year’s resolutions and check up on my progress, right?

  • Continue establishing a healthy routine. I continually struggle with this. I was doing great with exercise and completed my first 5K before I injured myself. Post-injury, exercise and healthy eating have been all over the map. Starting to clean things up though!
  • Continue saving. I rock at this. So much so, that I have a hard time parting with my money. You know it’s bad when your mom needs to convince you to buy a necklace.
  • Read more. I’m listening to Eclipse on tape.. er.. MP3 player. Does that count? It makes my commute suck less and it was free from the library. See the saving more resolution.
  • Try new things outside of my comfort zone. I took the photography class I wanted to take, but had to quit yoga due to my back injury. Sewing classes are still on the list. I should take them before the end of the year. Learning to make a tote bag or an apron would be awesome — and useful.
  • Blog more consistently. I try. I will continue to try. Sometimes, even though I want to post more, booting up my home computer after I’ve sat on the computer at work all day is just too hard. Not an excuse. Just saying.

I'll be back tomorrow with an actual recipe!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Minestrone with Garlic Bread

Minestrone

Yup. I'm that person.

The person that eats soup in 90-degree weather.

It was good soup. The key to the soup is the bacon. The original recipe says bacon is optional. The smoky flavor from the bacon is necessary, in my opinion.

Turns out the beans are optional. I thought I had some in my pantry, but I didn't. That's what I love about soup, though. It's forgiving like that.

On the side a version of garlic bread. I ran the garlic over a microplane and warmed it in a pan with some butter over low. Then, brushed it on some toasted ciabatta. I topped the bread with parm and broiled it until it the cheese melted. YUM.