Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Eggplant Sandwiches with Butternut Squash Soup

Eggplant Sandwich and Soup

This morning started off rough. I overslept and then opened the front door to at least a couple of inches snow piled on top of my car. Seriously, a garage would be worth its weight in gold about now.

Surprisingly, things turned themselves around midday. Not enough to be able to leave work on time, but eh, I got a lot done. Because I made it home a little late it ended up being a soup and sandwich night. The sandwich was an eggplant and goat cheese sandwich, minus the arugula that's in the recipe. It was pretty fantastic. Goat cheese and pesto. Yum. I also sped up the process by using jarred roasted red peppers from Trader Joe's.

On the side was a cup of Pacific Butternut Squash Soup. I'm not going to lie. I was really unsure about this soup. Squash and I have an on and off relationship, after all. But I didn't want to make my own soup and this was on sale. And you know what? It was pretty good. Maybe a little thinner than I prefer, but pretty tasty! I would definitely recommend it, especially if you don't want to go through the process of making it from scratch. I wouldn't blame you. Peeling a butternut squash is a pain in the rear.

Overall a simple, satisfying meal for a cold, snowy night!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Salmon and Green Beans in Parchment

Salmon in Parchment

I've seen a zillion recipes for parchment paper packets, but I've always been hesitant to try them. Even in a food magazine, the end product just looks kind of anemic, bland and kind of boring.

They never look appetizing, and I was afraid it would come out tasting what I would consider to be "diet food" — you know, something that's low-cal and tastes like it, too.

But I think I may have been wrong about cooking in parchment packets.

I took a chance with a recipe for Salmon with Green Beans and Lemon Zest. It looked promising enough to lure me in. Green beans, lemon zest, capers.. all of it sounded great. And you know, pretty much was.

I personally have a tendency to overcook oven roasted salmon, but the fish came out perfectly this time and the green beans were cooked, but still had a good crunch to them.

Has there ever been a cooking method you've been hestitant to try? Why?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Giant Sugar Cookies

Giant Sugar Cookies

All of a sudden, these Giant Sugar Cookies were all I could think about. The craving came out of nowhere and was definitely serious.

I've made these cookies a lot — probably a lot more than I'd care to admit considering they aren't a "light" or "healthy" cookie in any way shape or form. If I'm going to bake — it's going to be the real deal.

I made them half the size the recipe called for so they'd be at least 200 calories a cookie rather than 400 calories. It doesn't make them a healthy choice, but at least lessens the damage, right? I don't know who I was kidding. I may have made them smaller, but that also tempted me to eat two at a time. So much for willpower.

I dare you to eat just one. Almost impossible.

They turned out just slightly crispy on the edges but softer and chewier in the center. My less giant version were roughly 1.5 tbsp - 2 tbsp of dough (instead of 3) and took about 12 minutes to bake. You want them to be just turning brown, so they're still chewy in the center.

You can make them even smaller by dropping only a tablespoon of dough and baking 8-10 minutes, but if you're anything like me you'll just end up eating three of them anyhow so you might as well just follow the recipe.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mini Meat Loaves with Roasted Vegetables

Meatloaf with Veggies

My mom was not a short order cook. She made that very clear pretty much from day one.

She was a stay-at-home mom for most of my childhood and cooked a family dinner every night. If you didn't like what was served there was always cereal. I'm pretty sure she meant it, but neither my sister nor I tested her.

Most of the time she made whatever she thought the majority of us would eat. I was always eating around the broccoli in the veggie stir fries and my sister was always picking out any mushrooms. We got used to dealing with the bits and pieces we didn't like.

There was one exception — red meat.

My sister just wasn't a fan. In fact, I'm pretty sure chicken was the only meat she would eat when she was a kid. When she was five years old, she was asked to share about her favorite food in class. Most of the kids said things like pizza, chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. My sister said hers was chicken and rice with gravy (my grandma's go-to casserole).

It was just easier for my mom to avoid arguments with my sister, so obviously, I didn't eat a whole lot of red meat when I was little.

I can probably count the number of times she made meat loaf on one hand. Maybe that's why I loved it so much -- it seemed slightly forbidden and definitely special.

Now that I no longer have to cater to my family's tastes, I guess I still don't eat a lot of red meat. Mostly for health reasons. But I still love meat loaf.

Last night I made a healthier version that takes only about 30 minutes to cook — Mini Meat Loaves. Definitely an improvement over a traditional meat loaf that takes about an hour. The key? To make them individual-sized so they cook in half the time. These are similar to the meat loaf muffins, only slightly more traditional.

On the side, I roasted a mixture of green beans, mushrooms and grape tomatoes. I tossed them in olive oil and a little salt and pepper, threw them in to the oven beside the meat loaf, stirring them half way through the meat loaf's cooking time and adding a little salt-free garlic and herb seasoning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My soup obsession

Tortellini Soup

I am slightly obsessed with this soup. I've made it here and here and I made it again last night.

It's really nothing fancy, but this tortellini soup is one I keep going back to. My version has hot Italian turkey sausage and chicken broth. It can also be a vegetarian soup by leaving out the sausage and using vegetable broth. It's versatile like that.

What's your soup obsession?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pasta on a budget

Pasta with Tuna and Breadcrumbs

One of my main goals this year is to save more money. The other day, my mom offered to let me move back in for a year to save up some cash -- hopefully enough to make a 20 percent down payment on a house or condo with enough leftover for an emergency fund. My dad also seems super excited about this because whatever I pay them in rent can go toward paying off their house.

But before I uproot my life in the name of savings, I wanted to do a better job of seeing where my money goes.

I refigured my budget so I can see where my money is going every month.

I thought I knew, but I'm spending more than I think I am. For one, my grocery budget is out of control to the tune of about $300 a month. That seems outrageous for one person. To put it in perspective, it's EVERYTHING I buy at the grocery store in a month -- laundry detergent, shampoo, pet food, etc. -- not just the food I eat. Plus, I don't eat out except for an occasional happy hour with some friends or lunch out with coworkers.

Still, if my goal is to save more and free up money to do things out of my comfort zone, my food budget is probably a painless way to cut. If I count my pennies, I may even come under budget this month.

To start my money-saving efforts off right, I pulled together this Spaghetti with Tuna, Lemon, and Breadcrumbs. Pasta, canned tuna, lemon and homemade whole wheat breadcrumbs? What could be cheaper?

The most expensive part of this meal was the kalamata olives, which were $2.99 for a jar of store-brand olives.

It came out to 500 calories, 9 grams of fat and 4 grams of fiber, which isn't bad. (You can make it fewer calories by using 2 oz pasta per serving rather than 3 oz. ) And you know, it tasted pretty great, too. If you don't like canned tuna with pasta, then this isn't for you, but if you like tuna, lemon and the saltiness of kalamata olives, you'll probably like this.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Baked Potato Soup

Baked Potato Soup

It's the time of year where everyone and their double-first cousin makes a giant list of resolutions that are easily abandoned by February.

Most vow to become thinner, but I'm not one to continually vow to lose weight. Sure, I'd love to reach a healthy weight range, but I'm not really in any hurry. My BMI is only slightly above healthy and my health numbers are all fantastic. As long as I'm developing healthier habits overall (which I am), then I'll get there eventually. So this year, I'm not vowing to lose weight -- especially a specific number of pounds. Those kinds of resolutions personally drive me crazy.

I know I'm arriving late to the resolution party, but I figured I'd share a few goals I have for myself.

Last year, I wanted to create a healthier routine and save more money. Both of which I pretty much accomplished.

In January, I decided to "pay myself first," which is MUCH easier than I thought it would be. Through my direct deposit I put aside a set amount of money per pay and have it deposited directly into my money market account. I was a little spotty on following my budget, but overall I was pretty close and my savings account looks a lot better than it did a year ago, that's for sure!

As far as a healthier routine, I did better than 2008, but still have room to improve. I'll be honest: I hate exercising. Pretty much every form of it. So I'll have a good week and then a lazy week. I think it's something I can continue to improve.

This year I'd like to:
  • Continue establishing a healthy routine. This includes paying better attention to when I'm hungry vs. mindlessly snacking, drinking more water and sleeping more.
  • Continue saving. I'd love to put at least 75% of any bonus/pay increases I may receive this year into savings as opposed to adding more to my budget. Every penny counts!
  • Read more. I read like one book last year in all of 2009. Pretty pitiful.
  • Try new things outside of my comfort zone. I'm actually pretty shy, so taking new classes, etc. by myself isn't the easiest for me. I'm taking the yoga class at the Y, which is a great start and I want to sign up for a photography class at a local art college and maybe take more sewing classes.
  • Blog more consistently. Like my efforts at a healthy routine, I'll have a really good week and follow it up with a less than stellar one.
Now on to food. Last night, I made this Baked Potato Soup from Cooking Light. It's honestly my favorite potato soup. Maybe a little higher in calories than I would normally like a soup to be, but it's pretty it's a hearty soup. To make this soup quicker, bake the potatoes in the microwave instead of in the oven. I like the skins of oven baked potatoes, but since you aren't using the skins, the microwave works just fine.

To microwave a baked potato scrub the skin, poke holes all over the potato with a fork, place in a microwave safe dish and microwave on HIGH for 5 minutes. Flip the potatoes over and microwave on HIGH another 5 minutes. Let cool slightly and scoop the insides out of the skin.

Otherwise, I made the recipe as written. It's one of the few I don't tweak because it's perfect just as it is.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Winter Blahs

Chicken Thighs with Red Wine Sauce

I've been missing in action, haven't I? I think a case of the winter blahs has hit me lately. The temps have been struggling to get into the 20s for a while and we've had 18 days of snow.

I've completely given in to the urge to curl up on the couch in the evenings and haven't even been cooking much.

Sometimes these things happen.

To try to combat the urge to hibernate, I signed up for my very first yoga class. I'm taking it at my Y through February. My first class was Sunday, and I'm not sure what I think about it yet. Many of the people in the class are regulars, so I felt a little lost. But other than that it was fun — something new to try at least!

I've been trying to cook more this week, but I've fallen back on tried and true favorites and a few convenience meals. The Uncle Ben's rice above is the perfect example of how laziness in the kitchen sometimes gets the best of me. It's much healthier to make my own rice, but darn it, sometimes convenience trumps all.

The chicken is boneless/skinless thighs I thawed from my freezer. I forgot to label it so I had no idea what I was actually putting out. I could tell it was chicken, but that's it. Dinner was a surprise when I got home last night! I ended up browning the chicken on one side, turning it over, and throwing it into a 350 degree oven until done.

I removed the chicken from the pan, drained off most of the grease and sauteed mushrooms in the pan until browned. Then, moved them off to the side, and made a roux with 1/2 tbsp butter and 1/2 tbsp flour. Once the flour has cooked out a bit, I whisked in about 1/2 cup red wine and let it thicken up and seasoned it. Not outstanding, but not bad for a quick sauce.

How do you combat the winter blahs?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Shrimp Stir Fry

Shrimp Stir Fry

When my sister I were young, we fought a lot. And I mean A LOT. So much so that if we were laughing and getting along my mom would separate us or even send us to our rooms because eventually, laughing and getting along would take ugly turn and there'd be plenty of hitting and hair pulling.

We fought over everything — even the color of Tupperware plate we ate our food on. And when we ordered Chinese food for dinner, we fought over who got the baby corn and how many each of us would get.

I'm not even kidding. We painstakinging counted up the number of baby corns in the entire meal (there was never many!) and divided it by two so neither us would have more than the other.

I've always liked corn, but I think back then I was fascinated with the fact that the baby corn looked like miniature corn cobs more than anything else.

As I walked through the "ethnic" foods aisle a few weeks ago, a can of baby corn caught my eye and before I knew it, the can ended up in my cart. It's been in my pantry taunting me until now.

I finally cracked the can open and whipped up a stir fry. The sauce is a cornstarch-thickened sauce (i.e. not authentic at ALL) from Cooking Light. I completely ignored the rest of the recipe and threw in shrimp, baby corn, cremini mushrooms, scallions, ginger, garlic, and some thawed frozen green beans and served it over brown rice.

Please forgive the photo while I work out my lighting issues until my new external flash arrives. The internal flash isn't ideal for food photos and compact florescents, while good for the environment, take some really funky looking pictures.

I also wish I could give an honest review of the sauce, but I couldn't really tell if it was any good. After I snapped this shot I had a slight accident with the bottle of sriracha and ended up with probably more than a tablespoon of the sauce all over my dinner. My nose ran and my eyes watered the entire meal, and the only thing I could really taste was the burning. Oh, the burning.

I like to think I have a high tolerance of spicy foods (at least compared to my friends) but maybe not. Do you like super-spicy foods?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Spinach Frittatas for One

Spinach Frittata for One

Today has been a weird day with good and bad and not much in between.

Let's see:
7:30 a.m.: GOOD. I'm practically on time this morning.
7:45 a.m.: BAD. Pre-starting my car didn't melt the snow, windshield wiper fluid STILL frozen solid, can't see out my windshield.
8:00 a.m.: GOOD. I made it to my parents' house without wrecking.
8:30 a.m. until lunch: Indifferent. A zillion e-mails to comb through and tons of work but no meetings.
Noon: BAD. Line for salad bar out the door. Darn resolutions. I end up waiting a long time for lettuce.
2:40 p.m.: GOOD. An open treadmill @ the work gym. Looks like I missed the crowd of resolutioners trying to keep their free membership current.
3:45 p.m.: BAD. The story I had semi-drafted needs to be finished and approved by tomorrow? Drat. Need to get re-writing pronto.
5 p.m.: GOOD. End of day, plus looks like approval came through for the story. Still behind for the week, but don't have to worry about it until tomorrow.
5:30 p.m.: GOOD. Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on snowy roads but I'm not driving.
6 p.m.: GOOD. Washer fluid thawed out. I can skip the trip to the dealership. Yesssss.
6:30 p.m.: BAD. Roads are still crap and stuck in traffic. This time I'm driving. Boo.
7:00 p.m.: GOOD. Frittata success. I liked this method. It's tough to make frittatas for just myself. Recipe below.
8:oo p.m.: BAD. Knocked over expensive camera and broke cheapy external flash.
9:00 p.m.: GOOD. Researched replacement and turns out I shouldn't have just attached a flash meant for a film camera to my DSLR. Dodged an expensive bullet. Will call photography store tomorrow to get recommendations and see if they have anything used -- on a tight budget.
10:00 p.m.: GOOD. Blogging with a purring kitty on my lap.

Was everyone back at work from the holidays? Looks like the good outweighed the bad. I was in a foul mood until I put it in perspective. Hopefully your day was full of more good than bad.

Spinach Frittatas for One
loosely based on an Everday Food recipe in the January/February 2010 issue

2 whole eggs
2 tsp half and half or whole milk
2 tbsp crumbled feta
salt and pepper
1/4 medium onion, chopped finely
Couple handfuls of baby spinach

Put a 1-cup ramekin on a cookie sheet covered in foil (for easy cleanup), place in oven and preheat oven to 450.

Meanwhile, beat together eggs, 1 tbsp cheese (I threw in both tablespoons, oh well. It still worked), half and half, salt and pepper.

Heat a small skillet coated with cooking spray (I used canola from my misto sprayer) over medium-high heat. Saute onion until soft. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add to the egg mixture.

When the oven is preheated, remove the cookie sheet with the ramekin, spray the ramekin with cooking spray and immediately pour the egg mixture into the ramekin. Top with remaining cheese.

Put the cookie sheet back in the oven and bake the frittata for 15 minutes until puffed and lightly browned.

Note: The veggies on the side were Green Giant boxed veggies with a sauce that were eh. Better than some of their varieties but not great overall. OK in a pinch.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tilapia with Sweet Potatoes and Bacon Sage Breadcrumbs

Tilapia with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Bacon Sage Breadcrumbs

I can't believe I actually have to go to work tomorrow. But I'm ready, I think. I may take that back by tomorrow night, though! A week and a half has been enough. I'm starting to go a bit stir crazy.

I've had a good break with lots of time spent with my family. I haven't cooked or updated the blog because I was too busy playing Wii, eating junk food and cookies and watching plenty of football. Overall, a nice, relaxing way to wrap up 2009.

Now it's back to the grind and eating like usual.

I started back to normal eating habits this weekend with Tilapia with Sweet Potatoes and Bacon Sage Breadcrumbs. The original recipe from Bon Appetit calls for pancetta, but I used the center cut bacon I had on hand instead. Worked well.

I actually really liked the fish and bread crumbs. Hard to dislike fish seared in butter, right? And the bread crumbs really made this. Yum.

The sweet potatoes could have used some work, though. I ended up adding a little milk to help them mash a little better, but I don't know.. they weren't any special. It tasted great all together, but on their own the potatoes were pretty meh.

Best yet, the calories wasn't bad.. just 439...even with all the butter. The fat was maybe a little high, considering it mostly comes from butter. So if you need to limit saturdated fats you could always try cooking the fish in a healthy oil or even cooking spray.

I know this looks kind of fancy and fussy, but it's totally not. The entire thing took less than 30 minutes, but it does look impressive!