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.


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


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


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


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:

Then add a little twist:

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

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

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.