Saturday, January 29, 2011

The cat in the box


I couldn't resist a non-food post today. Last weekend I forgot to bring bags with me to Aldi, and I didn't want to buy bags at the checkout. I saw this box that once had tortilla chips in it and used it to haul home the groceries.

My cat loves when I bring home boxes. She flips out — in the best, funniest way possible. And for some reason, last week was one of the very rare times where she tolerates her photo being taken.

So, I bring you: Bella's Guide to Exploring a New Box.

Give it a good sniff because, you know, it smells different than anything already in the house.

Rub your face all over it so you can make it smell like everything else in the house.

Roll around in it to test out its size.DPP_0023

Examine all potential exits.

Enjoy the box.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hot Dogs with Poblanos, Pepper Jack and Tomatillo Salsa


At 441 calories and 28 grams of fat, this is not the leanest meal in the world. Especially considering that doesn't even include the fries.

But I couldn't help myself. In fact, I made this a week ago and I'm still thinking about it.

It was just that good.

I even sprung for the fancier hot dogs. Honestly, though, the hot dog didn't matter much buried under all of that peppery, cheesy goodness. The tomatillo salsa, which is my favorite salsa, was just the icing on the cake.

If you want it a little leaner, Applegate Farms has a uncured all-natural organic beef hotdog that I've bought and liked before. Haven't tried them since they changed their formula and packaging though. I can find them at my local health food store.

I did leave off the cojita cheese, but I don't think it would have added a whole lot. Since I stuck very closely to the recipe, check it out at

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pasta with Tomato, Sausage and Spinach


I almost thought this one was destined for the trash can.

When I pulled the spinach out of the refridgerator and realized most of it was a wilted mess, I was pretty sure I would be eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner. Lucky for me, I managed to salvage just enough of the good leaves.

Then, because I used a regular stainless steel pan, the lean turkey sausage stuck to the bottom of the pan like glue and started to burn. I added a little extra oil and tried to turn down the heat a notch to keep it from burning, but it wasn't helping.

The browned bits were more like burnt bits. Things really weren't looking good.

I added the tomatoes — which helped — but the possibility of an edible meal still looked a little bleak. I'm not going to lie.

Then, came the pasta's cooking water. The browned.. er, burned bits came up with ease and the tomatoes helped create a decent-looking sauce. It was much darker than the photo accompanying the recipe, but then again when does it ever look exactly like the photo?

I added the spinach and the cheese and took a bite, hoping for the best.

And you know what? I wasn't bad. I almost would call it delicious. Maybe.

It may have not been the most successful dish, and I probably wouldn't have served it to guests. But it certainly wasn't headed for the trash can.

Next time, though, I think I'll go with fresh spinach and a nonstick pan.


Pasta with Tomato, Sausage and Spinach
Adapted from Cooking Light

1/2 pound short-cut pasta (I used orecchiette)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 links lean hot Italian turkey sausage (about 6 ounces)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved if large
salt and pepper
3 cups fresh baby spinach
Parmesan, for spinkling at the end

Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving 2/3 cup of the cooking liquid at the end.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the casing from the sausage, then add the sausage to the pan, breaking it up as it cooks. Cook until browned — about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant about 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper; cover and cook 2 minutes. Mash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to break them up. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 3 minutes.

Then, add the reserved liquid and the spinach, scraping up any browned bits with the wooden spoon. Cook until the spinach just starts to wilt. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Coq au Vin with Mashed Potatoes

Coq au vin

Oh, coq au vin — you are so ugly, but so tasty.

You are especially welcome on snowy cold nights like tonight. You're comforting, and warm me right up.

Seriously, though, coq au vin one of my favorite comfort dishes and this one from Cooking Light is one of my favorite healthier versions. I'm sure it's not the most authentic, but it couldn't be easier.

It requires a bit of planning — you have to marinate the chicken and vegetables in the wine first. But, it's worth it.

It also takes time to cook, but it's mostly hands off. I love multi-tasking, so I do a load or two of laundry, unload the dishwasher and catch up on my e-mails while dinner simmers away.

When it's almost done, cut up a few yukon golds (don't bother to skin them), cover them with cold water and bring them to a boil. Then turn back the heat and let them do their thing while the chicken finishes up.

Once the potatoes are tender, drain them and roughly mash them with a bit of skim milk and smidge of butter. There's no need to add a lot to them — they're really just a method of sopping up all that delicious red wine gravy.

After all, I may or may not have used twice the wine with the chicken to make sure I had plenty gravy to go around.

Sometimes, you just have to love ugly food.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Parmesan Chicken Tenders with Brussels Sprouts

Parmesan Chicken Tenders

If you told me a few years ago that I would not only like brussels sprouts — but also crave them — I would have told you that you were nuts.

When I was kid brussels sprouts were right up there with liver and onions. Both were competing for the title of "world's ickiest food" although I had never tried either of them (and I didn't want to!).

In college a friend of mine would get brussels sprouts when they had them in the cafeteria. They honestly looked disgusting. Little slimy cabbages that smelled funny. No thanks.

Then, I kept reading about how great they were roasted, so I decided to try them. After all, I don't care for broccoli, but I'll happily eat it roasted.

The first time I had them, I didn't like them. I barely got through a few of them before they went into the trash.

But, I've always believed you have try something several times before you can say you don't like them, so I kept trying. Then, one day I decided I liked them. Then, last week, I craved them.

The chicken was pretty good, too. A slight twist on a baked chicken tender that would be excellent on a green salad the next day. Both came from the January/February issue of Everyday Food.

Parmesan Chicken Tenders with Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4.

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 pound chicken tenders
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 pound brussels sprouts, halved

Preheat the oven to 450° with racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Combine the bread crumbs and the cheese in a shallow dish. Toss the chicken with 1 tsp of oil, salt, pepper and the thyme. Dredge the chicken in the bread crumb mixture until coated then arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet covered in foil. Drizzle with 1 tbsp oil.

Toss the mushrooms and brussels sprouts with 2 tsp of oil, salt and pepper. Put them in a single layer on another baking sheet covered with foil.

Put the chicken on the top rack of the oven and the brussels on the lower rack. Bake until the chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes and the brussels are tender, about 20 minutes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Whole Wheat Chicken Pot Pies

Whole Wheat Chicken Pot Pies

When my sister and I were little my parents took a vacation and left us with relatives twice. The first time, they took a cruise with my grandparents and left us with our great aunt and uncle.

The second time was a trip to San Francisco when they left us with our grandparents. I don't remember much about that week — except for the food.

One of the meals my mom planned for the week was a pot pie casserole. She used to make it at least once a month and thought it would be simple enough for my grandma to assemble.

The filling was pretty standard — chicken, carrots, onion, peas in a gravy — but instead of making a biscuit top she'd dollop the casserole with refrigerated biscuit dough. I was never a huge fan of it.

To make matters worse, my grandma burned the biscuits. They were almost black. Of course, my Gram tried to convince us it was just a "just a little brown, but still edible" until my grandpa agreed with us — they were definitely burnt. Unfortunately, that didn't stop her from trying to force us to eat the burned biscuits.

I've never really like pot pie since.

Today, I was flipping through the Clean Eating Magazine cookbook when I found these chicken pot pies and decided to give pot pie a second chance.

Like most Clean Eating recipes, this one needed a few tweaks. For one, the dough was way too sticky to form into biscuits. I even added more flour. Eventually, I gave up and just spread the dough over the ramekin.

I also added to add dissolve corn starch in a little water at it to the chicken mixture. The flour added at the end did not thicken it up much. It was really soupy and I prefer my filling to be thicker like a gravy.

Lastly, if I would make it again, I would use 1/2 all-purpose flour and 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour. The whole wheat flour is very nutty tasting, and I thought it was a bit too strong in this case. This change wouldn't make it "clean" exactly, but it would still be a healthier chicken pot pie.

Overall, not a bad start to 2011.