Weekend Warrior

Last weekend, I decided that the week ahead was looking tricky.  I did my weekly grocery shopping towards the beginning of the weekend, to allow myself time to prepare multiple meals that would serve as dinners and lunches for the whole week.  It also just so happened that my latest issue of Food Network Magazine had just arrived, and as usual, I had torn out some recipes I wanted to try. Over the course of two days I made 5 different meals, half of which I put in containers and froze for later on in the week.  2 of these were inspired by recipes I cut out of the magazine.

Batch cooking (as long as you are actually consuming your leftovers, not throwing a lot of them away), is both a money saver and a time saver during the week.  If you are like me, you have a well stocked pantry.  This also helps cut your grocery spending down.  I ended up only needing to purchase the meat, special cheese and fresh veggies.

My menu for the week included Chicken and Spanish Rice, Crock Pot Pork Roast and Beans, French Onion Soup,Spicy Penne with Swiss Chard, and Buffalo Chicken Salad.    I will post the recipes for all of these over the week, but today I am just doing the Chicken and Spanish Rice.

Before I get started I have to apologize.  Most of these recipes do not have photos of the finished product, just during the cooking process.  Also, Some of the pictures are not the greatest quality.  When you are juggling taking care of an infant, a husband, and cooking multiple things at the same time, compromises have to be made.

This chicken and rice meal has been slightly adapted from something my dad used to make for dinner all the time when I was young.  Smelling this as it was cooking reminded so much of home.  I love when I get to share that part of my childhood with people.  For my dad, food has always been his way of showing affection, so recreating his recipes and sharing them with my friends and family is definitely a feel good affair.

Here is what you will need.

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Ingredients:

One Whole Chicken cut into 8 pieces (breasts, wings, legs, thighs)

2 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Stock

1 10oz can of Red Enchilada Sauce

1 1/2 Cups White Basmati Rice

1 Celery Stalk Diced

1 Medium Yellow Onion Diced

3 Cloves of Garlic Diced

1 Red Bell Pepper Diced

1 1/2 Tsp Ground Cumin

1 Tsp Chili Powder

1 Tsp Oregano

Salt and Pepper to taste

Here is what you do.

Cut up your chicken.  I cut my chick up into 8 pieces, and then cut the breasts in half because they were really large.

Salt and Pepper all sides of the chicken pieces,

In a large stock pot, Brown the chicken on both sides over medium high heat.  This should take about 2 minutes per side.  Take the chicken out of the pot, lower the heat just a little, and add in your diced onion, diced pepper, and diced celery. After the veggies start to release some liquid, give them a stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to get up all the yummy brown flavor bits from browning the chicken.

When the onions are translucent, add the Garlic, Cumin, Chili Powder, and Oregano, and let cook for a minute, or until the garlic is fragrant in the pot. We add the herbs and spices here to let them toast a little with the veggies to help bring out their oils and flavor.

Add the rice and stir.  Let the rice toast a little until it too starts to turn translucent, then you can add the liquids.  Letting the rice toast a little adds a nice nutty flavor to the dish. Remember rice usually cooks at a two to one ration.  Two parts liquid to one part Rice is the standard. In this instance, I am including the Enchilada sauce in my liquid measurements.

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After you pour in the liquids, give everything a good stir, making sure to scrape the bottom still.  We want all that flavor to come up!

Nestle your chicken pieces back into the pot and bring it up to a boil.  Turn your heat down to a simmer and cover until the liquid is gone, your rice is tender, and the chicken is cooked through.  This usually take about 12-15 minutes.

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This is comfort cooking in one pot.  It is one of my all time favorites.  If you want to jazz it up a little more, you can serve it with a shave of cheddar cheese over the top and some green onions.  Remember, this is 8 (or 10) pieces of chicken, so it serves 6.  That is a lot of food for two people!  Needless to say, we ate this throughout the week.

Oh I forgot,I also made some brownies from the box, because you cant have all this tasty savory food with out some dessert!

So delicious!

So delicious! If you can follow directions, you can bake brownies.  Read the box.  🙂

Bon Appetite!

Stay tuned for Crock Pot Pork Roast and Beans!

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Autumnal Bliss

As the leaves begin their transformation from shades of green to their brilliant display of reds, pinks and oranges, so to have my meals shifted towards fall flavors and ingredients.  My supply of fresh veggies from the garden has markedly slowed, and my desire for crockpot stews, hearty rice dishes, and …. chocolate increased.

At the beginning of the week, I sat down to make a week long dinner plan that would help use up the produce in the fridge, stay light and flavorful, and keep me from drifting over to the pizza place when I get home from work.

Monday was Indian food.  We went to a restaurant to bid farewell to a friend. (not on the dinner plan, but it was yummy!)

Tuesday was miso soup filled with veggies, chicken and brown rice.  This too became Wednesday’s lunch.

Wednesday we started ballroom II dance class, so dinner was made for us by a dear friend.  Mushroom Ravioli and baked cabbage and zucchini.

Thursday is my late work night, so dinner was our leftover Lasagna from Sunday’s Game Day meal, as was Tuesday’s lunch.

Last night’s dinner was the perfect combination of healthy veggies and stick to your ribs rice and protein.

Chicken Ravoltini with Avocado Basil Basmati Rice

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Lean chicken cutlets wrapped with a mixture of creamy ricotta cheese and spinach.  I cannot stand spending an extra dollar per pound of chicken to buy my cutlets pre-cut.  I purchased boneless skinless chicken breasts and cut them into cutlets myself.  Not very hard.  I place the cutlets between parchment paper and pounded them out a little too, so I had more surface area to spread the delicious (I never spell that word right the first time, thank god for spellcheck!) cheese mixture on.

Cheese Mixture: This yielded enough to fill around 8 cutlets

1 cup of Part Skim Ricotta Cheese

1/2 package of Frozen Chopped Spinach (thawed and drained)

1 clove of Garlic minced

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

zest of1 lemon (1tbsp ish)

Dash of hot sauce (I used Tapatio)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Salt and pepper both sides of your cutlets.  Spread your cheese mixture on the 2/3rds of the cutlet, leaving about an inch at one end.  Start at the end that is all cheesy and roll your way to the not cheesy end. (These are very scientific directions)

No need to use a toothpick, just place the rolled chicken in a oiled baking pan.  Set it down on the not cheesy end, so the roll doesn’t unroll in the baking process.

Bake at 425 for 16 – 18 minutes.  Let it rest before serving so the carryover heat will finish the cooking, and the food is a temperature that wont scald your mouth. ( I have to do this for my husband, or else he burns himself.  Someone is bad at eating)

 

GREEN RICE!

1 cup of Basmati.  You can use brown, white, whatever you want.  Just remember, brown rice takes 3 times longer to cook.

Cook the rice… you know how to do that by now.  2 to 1 liquid to rice, bring it to a boil, turn it down to simmer and cover for 10 – 12 minutes.

What makes the rice green you ask?

In the food processor, toss 1/2 a large avocado or one whole small one, 1 clove of garlic, 1 cup of fresh basil, 1 tbsp. of red wine vinegar (I like a lot of vinegar, use less if you don’t), 1 tsp of lemon juice, salt and pepper,  and 1 tbsp. of good extra virgin olive oil.  This is basically like a basil avocado vinaigrette.  Buzz it up until its all well combine, the basil is chopped up and the garlic is discernible only by taste (IE you cant see it). Taste it, adjust to your liking, then pour it in the rice and mix it up.  I added about tbsp. of grated parmesan for a little extra decadence.

Plate yourself and/or your guests a little bed of green rice for the chicken ravoltini to get cozy on, pour the wine and voila!

When you’re sad, make a pizza.

Well, after my hype and excitement over my birthday present, I don’t get to buy my cookware after all.  Turns out, that its not really feasible for a freshly married couple who want to buy a house within the next year, to buy a professional cookware set.  While it would be a career investment for me, it will have to wait until some other factors line up.

 

In the mean time, it was still Wednesday, and I still had to make dinner.  Was I going to mope around at my non-professional pots and pans?  Absolutely not.  I have made some really delicious food in what I have, and tonight was no exception.

Tonight’s meal was planned around using up what I had in the refrigerator, while still getting in my nutrients.

The menu, Cauliflower soup with marinated beets for garish, and tortilla pizza with homemade sauce, chicken breast, caramelized shallots, fresh basil, and Parmesan Gouda melange cheese.

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

1/2 head of Cauliflower Chopped

1/2 Yellow Onion Chopped

4 Cloves of Garlic

1/2 Tbsp Turmeric

1 Tsp Salt

1 Tsp Cracked Black Pepper

1/2 Tsp Ground Cumin

3 Tbsp EVOO

3 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Stalk

2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

Juice of 1/2 a Lemon

Instructions:  On a line baking tray, toss the cauliflower, onion and garlic in the olive oil and spices.  Spread out on the tray and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until all veggies are tender.

Put all roasted veggies in a pot and add the chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer for about 10 minutes.  

Use an immersion blender, or regular blender, and blend until creamy and smooth.  There should be no large chunks of veggies. 

Add vinegar and lemon juice and stir.

Add seasoning to taste.

 

Pizza!

Ingredients:

Reduced Fat Flour Tortillas

Parmesan Gouda Melange

1/2 Can of Tomato Sauce

1/2 Yellow Onion Chopped

2 Cloves of Garlic Chopped

1 Tbsp EVOO

1 Tbsp Fresh Basil Chopped

6 oz Chicken Breast

1 Shallot Sliced and caramelized (cooked down in butter till brown and soft)

 

Instructions:

Pizza Sauce: In cold EVOO, add chopped garlic and onions, and turn heat to medium low for about 5 minutes or until oil is infused. Add tomato sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add fresh basil, stir and turn off heat.

Assembly:

Take Tortilla, spread sauce, sprinkle more fresh basil, layer cheese, add other toppings, bake at 450 for 7 or 8 minutes or until the tortilla is crispy and the cheese is bubbly.  If you are not using a pizza rack, or heated pizza stone, the tortilla may not crisp up as quickly, just a note.

 

Am I disappointed in not getting my pots and pans?  Yes

Was I disappointed in dinner tonight?  No way!

 

 

Pre-season Blues

Aw crap, its football season again.  A time of year I grew up despising since it falls right around my birthday, taking the attention away from, well, me.

These last few years however, my addiction to food television has made the start of this season particularly harsh, as my ability to remain in control of the TV remote is lessening every day.  I’m losing Mondays, Thursdays, and of course Sundays.  RAWR!

So my plan for this season is to do what I started doing last season.  Invite people over, and feed them “game night” foods which I have secretly made Weight Watchers style and watch everyone’s reactions.

Here are a few of my ideas.

Baked Hot Wings with Greek Yogurt Blue Cheese dip and cut veggies

Homemade garlic pesto hummus

Baked veggie fries (I’ll try a few different kinds of veggies out to test the waters) with French onion dip (more Greek yogurt)

Shrimp Skewers with garlic lemon dip (more Greek yogurt, seeing a theme?)

Spinach and Artichoke dip.  I made a great one last year that was WW friendly and if you didn’t guess already, it has Greek Yogurt in it.

Anyway, you get the point.  I will entertain myself in ways I see fit, while the menfolk turn into uncivilized hooting baboons.  I’m ok with this, as long as they provide useful feedback on the snacks.

Roast Chicken Pim’s Edition

I have been reading The Foodie Handbook by Pim Techamuanvivit

http://www.amazon.com/The-Foodie-Handbook-Definitive-Gastronomy/dp/B0048ELDGY

Since I am not professionally trained to cook, I have decided it would be best for me to start learning the basics of culinary technique.  I thought Pim’s book would be a good place to start, as she is not a classically trained chef, but food blogger just like me!  In her book she has a simple recipe that she deems “The only way to roast a chicken”

I decided to take her methods, and change up the seasoning, since I was serving the chicken with something less traditional than roasted potatoes.

To begin with, I have been wanting to utilize my kitchen toys more often, as well as play around with the idea of compound butters.
I took a bunch of chives (probably about 1 Tbsp chopped), 2 cloves of garlic and 1 tsp of lemon zest, and gave it a whirl in my food processor attachment for the Kitchen Aid Immersion Blender. Once everything was chopped up, I added 1 stick of softened unsalted butter, 2 tsps. of salt, and 2 tsps. of cracked black peppers, and turned on the stick until everything was well combined.

I started brining my chicken at about 7AM this morning. In a Ziploc Freezer bag I added 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of Lowery’s Seasoning Salt, 1 tsp of cayenne pepper, 2 tbsps. of red wine vinegar, and 2 cups of water. I then added my lovely whole chicken, zipped up the bag, gave it a loving massage, then set it in a bowl in the refrigerator until I was ready to start prepping it for the oven.

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When you are ready to begin, take your chicken out of the brine and pat it dry. Throw out the brine, its contaminated now!
Take the compound butter and massage the bird inside and out until every inch of it is covered in flavor!
Take one whole onion, quarter it, and stuff the cavity with the onion. This fills up empty space that would otherwise circulate hot air, cooking/drying out the chicken from the inside. We don’t want that.

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Truss the chicken by binding the feet together, and the wings to the side of the bird. There is no “right” way to truss a bird in my opinion. Just make it work.

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Now she is ready to cook.
Pim says the best way to roast a chicken is to set the bird on one side, with one thigh in the air. Cook on this side for 30 minutes, turn the bird to the other thigh, cook for 30 minutes, then lay the bird breast side up and cook for another 20 minutes.
So, that’s what I did.
In a 425 F oven, place the roasting pan, or whatever you are using to roast in, on the center rack.
When the roasting is done, place the chicken breast side down and allow to rest for 10 minutes. This lets all those buttery juices soak back into the breast, the part that dries out most easily.
Carve and enjoy!

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Don’t throw out those pan drippings! Make a pan sauce. Take the roasting vessel (if it is stove worthy), and place it on the stove on medium high heat. I needed to drain a lot of fat before I could deglaze the yummy bits from the bottom.
I added some chicken stock, a pinch of flower, and a cucumber syrup made a few days ago (see my last post about failed experiments).  Now you may think that a sweet cucumber would not go with this, but the contrast of sweet, salty and spicy was awesome.  Also, I only used about 1 tbsp. of the syrup so the cucumber flavor was VERY subtle.  Anyway, I let the sauce simmer and reduce, all while stirring so nothing burned.  I poured the sauce over the chicken for plating.

I served my chicken with more of the delicious collard greens that I made with the Braised Oxtail (see a few posts back for the recipe). I did, however, add some hot sauce this time instead of chili flakes.

I also decided to make a cold Greek style pasta salad.  I love pasta salads because they can be changed to fit any menu or food restriction.

If your eaters are gluten free, use quinoa pasta or rice noodles.  Vegetarian?  No problem, don’t add meat.  Feeling Asian, add sesame oil and soy sauce.  Italian pasta salad gets fresh basil, tomato and mozzarella.  The salad I made was Greek style.  This means  it was dressed with a Greek yogurt dressing, and had cucumber and mushrooms.  I would also add tomato or olives but I didn’t have any at the time.

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The dressing was king of eyeballed but I used about 1/2 cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp. of low fat Mayonnaise, 2 tsps. of lemon zest, the juice of 1/2 of lemon, 1 1/2 tsp of dill (fresh or dried), 1 tbsp. of red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

To the dressing I added 1/2 lb of cooked and cooled pasta, any small variety would work.  You can use macaroni elbows, farfalle, mini penne, or even mini shells.  I chopped up 1 English cucumber, though the Persian Cucumber would be tasty too.  You want a cucumber with strong cucumber flavor or the salad will be boring.  I also added 3/4 cup of thinly sliced Crimini mushrooms.  If I were to make this again, I would add 1/4 cup of diced red onion, grape tomatoes and some Feta Cheese.  Mix everything in the dressing and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes so all the flavors can meld.  This should probably be served cold, what with the yogurt dressing and all.

 

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This was quite the meal for a Wednesday of no special occasion.  My husband said it was restaurant worthy, but he is my husband and therefore required to praise everything I make.  I hope you enjoy, and maybe this meal will make a special day out of an otherwise boring one.

Decompression

Hello!  For a minute there I thought this would never happen again. Through the chaos of getting married, honeymooning for a week, then the shock of returning to the daily grind, I was becoming seriously concerned at my lack of enthusiasm for cooking and really eating as well.  Now that we are settling in, the process of organizing the kitchen with all of our new gadgets has sparked a new wave of creativity and excitement for the multitudes of possibilities!

For dinner last night, I made a slightly altered recipe of Rachel Ray’s Tagine Style Chicken with Couscous.   While I thoroughly enjoy the flavors of Moroccan cuisine, I am not well versed in the spices or how the flavors are layered and extracted.  So, for my first attempt at making this kind of a meal, I decided to try out a “professional” recipe to get a feel for the rations of spices. 

I followed this recipe almost exactly.  I cut it in half as I was only making 2 servings, left out the dates, added some crushed red pepper, 1/4 cup of orange juice and 1 tbsp. of flower to the chicken.  I also added red wine vinegar, orange juice, and chives instead of scallions to the couscous.

Since my kitchen is still a total disaster, I was not able to photograph the meal, but it was really good!  My advice for this week (if that’s worth anything), try creating an meal of international origin, that you have tried before.  Kitchen experiments are fun.

 

Come up next, our Jamaican experience.

 

Vacation Recuperation

This past weekend, my fiancé and I travelled to Southern California for our Wedding Shower that was being thrown for us by my family.  Now, when I am on vacation, I tend to throw my “good girl” diet brain out the window.  I eat what’s offered to me, what sounds, looks, or smells good, and whenever I feel like it. 

This weekend was a celebratory weekend to top it all off.  My father, who like me, enjoys feeding people, made an ambitious menu of Hawaiian inspired fare (the shower was Luau themed).  The menu included Hawaiian pulled pork, sausage and meatballs in a sweet and sour orange sauce, cocoanut shrimp, rice with pineapple and macadamia nuts, BBQ beans, Teriyaki chicken wings, Hawaiian Coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, and a variety of other snacks.  Oh, and lets not forget the chocolate fountain.  Yes, that’s right.  A CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN.

So perhaps I went a little overboard this weekend.  It is because of this, and the inspiration I received from work to come up with a light and nutritious recipe for the summer time, I am sharing this wonderful cold quinoa salad.  I know I posted a quinoa recipe in my last post too, and it was also Italian inspired, but this one is different and equally tasty, I promise.

Tuscan Quinoa Salad

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Ingredients:

–  1 1/2 Cups of Uncooked Quinoa

–  3 Cups of Low Sodium Vegetable Stock

–  3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

–  2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

–  1 Tsp of Lemon Zest

–  Juice of 1/2 a Lemon

–  1 1/2 Cups of Grape Tomatoes Halved

–  1/2 Cup of Fresh Basil Chopped

–  1/4 Cup of Fresh Italian Parsley Chopped

–  8 Oz of Fresh Mozzarella or Buffalo Mozzarella Cubed

–  1 16 Oz Can of Cannellini Beans Rinsed and Drained

–  Salt and Pepper to taste

–  1/2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes (optional) 

Here’s What You Do:

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine the Quinoa, Vegetable Stock, 1/2 Tbsp of Olive Oil, and 1/2 Tbsp of Red Wine Vinegar.  Bring it to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover for 8 – 12 minutes or until the liquid is gone and the Quinoa is tender. This can be different for everyone, I like a little more bite to my Quinoa so I don’t let it cook as long.

2. Transfer cooked Quinoa to a mixing or serving bowl and refrigerate until cold, 30 minutes or so.

3. While the Quinoa is chilling, combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl to marinate together, then mix it into the Quinoa once it is cooled.

4. Refrigerate the finished salad for another 10 minutes and taste to check if you need more salt or pepper.

Serve chilled.  This recipe yields 6 – 8 servings at 7 Points Plus per serving.

Mangia!