Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Baby It's (wicked) Cold Outside!

I know it's still February and everything but geez, does it have to be so darned cold out?  So often?  Maybe I'm just getting old but I'll tell ya what's really getting old is this winter.  So since I feel that soup won't stop being the perfect dinner anytime soon I thought I'd share a recent find.  This Vietnamese Pork and Noodle Soup is a prefect weeknight meal when you are short on time or just want to get dinner over with quickly.  This is another recipe from Food & Wine (I'm such a fan!) and it was a big hit.  We had it with some homemade pot stickers (we like to keep a supply in the freezer) but the soup was quite filling on it's own. This recipe serves four people.
First cook a 1/4 lb of linguine until just done, (see package for time, about 12 min) rinse with cold water and drain.  Set it aside.  While the noodles are cooking slice up some pork loin. Pork loins are perfect for soups and stir fry because they are always nice and tender, never tough and chewy.  No one likes tough and chewy.
Pull your scallions out of the fridge, about six of them....
and slice them up.  Using both the white and green parts.
You'll need a tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger.  You can also use the finest grate on a box grater, that way you'll avoid getting any pieces that are a little too big.  Phoebe always seems to get the "prize".  And by that I mean the hunk of ginger that got overlooked, and biting into a big hunk of ginger is not the most pleasant thing that can happen during dinner....
Next chop a couple of tomatoes and grab a quart of chicken broth.  Now you're ready to cook.  It goes pretty quick so its always good to have your food prepped and ready to go.
Heat a little oil in a pot and then add the pork, scallions and ginger and cook for about 2 minutes.
Now add the tomatoes, broth, some water, a little salt and trust me on this one...fish sauce.  You can find this in the Asian food section of your grocery store and if you buy a bottle this big it may very well last you a lifetime.  Or not but just get some.  It's super stinky but once it mellows in the soup (or whatever else you might use it with) it adds a great flavor that makes you feel like you got take out from one of the good places (as opposed to the Chinese joint down the street where everything is super greasy and is made with "taste brown" sauce).  The recipe calls for 3 Tbs, I did 2 because I wanted to be sure the kids would eat it.  I thought it was plenty.  It was a little stinky at first but by the time we ate it, no one even mentioned it.  OK, so now bring this to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer until pork is just done, about 10 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, prepare some toppers.  When it's ready to go, stir in the noodles, some bean sprouts and the juice of one lime.
Ladle into bowls and top with sliced cucumbers and chopped fresh herbs (we went with cilantro).  I also added a couple of dashes of Siracha to mine to spice it up a bit.  We will surely be having this again some night!  Click the Food & Wine link for the full recipe and for heaven's sake, stay warm!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Peas Pass the Salsa

No matter how healthy of an eater you are, I'm sure you have your weaknesses for certain things that you wished you didn't love.  Do you have a sweet tooth?  Can't pass up chocolate or want to die if someone eats a brownie in front of you?  Or maybe you love candy, the sticky chewy kind like skittles or gummy bears.  Or, maybe you can't have just a few potato chips.  Whatever it is, I find the best thing to do is not to give up these things entirely but maybe find better, less processed versions that you can enjoy occasionally without beating yourself up over it.  My weakness is for the salty and crunchy type of snacks.  I freakin love queso.  Gross right?  Not anymore since I found a fabulous recipe for homemade queso that isn't all nasty and processed and made of mystery ingredients.  It took a while but I found one and trust me the stuff in the jar is no longer a weakness.  Unfortunately that's not what I'm sharing with you today, but I will.  Soon.  I promise.  Today I have a salsa to share that I made up myself but there are a few similar recipes floating around out there too.  What's so bad about salsa you ask?  Well as far as snack foods go it's surely not the worst thing you can eat but my new salsa is actually on the healthy side (think fiber and NO added sugar).  Next time you grab a jar of salsa at the store, notice if it has sugar listed as an ingredient (why?) and if it contains "natural flavors" which are often a way of hiding MSG.  Or worse yet...Beaver Butt! and that is no joke, click that link and hopefully be totally grossed out enough to start reading labels if you haven't already!  Okay, now that you've lost your appetite I guess I won't need to share my recipe.  Just kidding.  Whip up some of this black eyed pea salsa to eat with chips, on your taco's or over some leafy greens with a touch of shredded cheese for a nice taco salad, or what ever else you might like to eat some salsa with!
Start with a can of black eyed peas.  Be sure to rinse them well and drain.
Chop a 1/4 cup of red onion.  Scallions would work well too.  I would use the white and light green parts if going that route.
Add the onion to the black eyed peas along with 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro and a can of Ro-tel.  If you want to cut back on the sodium, use about half of a small (4.25oz) can of diced green chilies and chop a large tomato, about a cup.
Add 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of salt (to taste) and 1/2 tsp of cumin.  Next add 1 Tbs of olive oil and 1 1/2 Tbs of red wine vinegar.
Squeeze a half of a lime over the bowl and give it a good stir until well mixed.
Give it a taste and adjust the lime as needed and enjoy.  I like to let it sit in the fridge for about an hour to let the flavors blend.  I'm thinking I need to make another batch very soon.  Gotta love a snack that adds 5 grams of fiber to the daily tally!

Easy Peasy Homemade Salsa

1 can black eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 can Ro-tel, original or mild
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp cumin
Juice from 1/2 lime

Mix all ingredients, adjust salt and lime to taste, let rest for an hour before serving (if you can stand it).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I'm Thinkin' Chicken

As far as I can tell, you can't have too many chicken recipes to choose from, especially when they're easy and tasty.  A good roasted chicken goes with just about any side dish which makes it a great choice when you don't feel like getting super creative.  Last night I made Roasted Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Oregano from bonappetit.com.  I'm a sucker for anything that entails lemon and oregano so it's no wonder this recipe caught my eye!  Even though I was challenged for decent lighting, I think my pictures will show that mine came out just as (OK, almost as) pretty as their picture.  And I don't have a single food stylist on hand.  I'm sure if you decide to try this recipe, yours will look just as good too.
This recipe calls for four large or eight small chicken thighs.  You want the skin on but the bones out if possible.  I had bones in mine so I had to cook them longer than the recipe advised.  The thighs are seasoned with salt and pepper.
Place them skin side down in a large skillet coated with a tiny bit of oil and cook over medium heat until cooked half way through.  Keep an eye on the grease, you'll need to pour the excess off a few times while it's cooking.  I like this pan for that reason.  That little lip on the sides kept me from making a big mess.
While those are cooking, thinly slice a half of a lemon and cut the other half into wedges.
This is a good time to get some rice (or whatever side you're having) started.  I was planning on brown rice with this dinner but we didn't have quite enough so I made long grain white rice instead.  This is my cute little rice cooker.  I love this thing.  I know, you can cook perfectly good rice in a pot on the stove but this one cooks for the perfect amount of time and then switches to warm.
Once those thighs are cooked halfway through, they go into a 425 degree oven with the lemon slices.  I guess I didn't take any pictures of that.  Once I put that in the oven I cleaned up some Brussels sprouts.  You know I love me some Brussels sprouts.  I made a pound of them last night but I think going forward we need to make 2 lbs or close to it.  Everyone in this house is way into them now.  These are tossed with a small amount of olive oil and salt and pepper.  When the chicken comes out of the oven, pop these in for about 12 min, flipping halfway through.
While you're waiting for the chicken to finish, prep the sauce so you're all ready to go.  Open a bottle of dry white wine...
mince a shallot, and some garlic.  The recipe called for 1/2 clove of garlic.  As if.  I used a whole large one.  You will also need a couple of sprigs of fresh oregano.  There is also some low sodium chicken broth in the sauce.
You cannot miss with this combo of ingredients.
When the chicken comes out of the oven, remove the thighs to a plate so you can work on the sauce.  Look how perfectly brown and crispy that skin is.
To make the sauce, you add the shallot, garlic and oregano to the pan and cook for about a minute before adding the wine.
Let the wine reduce by half, then add the broth and cook until slightly thickened.  Add salt and pepper to taste and squeeze the remaining lemon in there.  I am telling you, this smells fantastic!
When your sauce is ready, place the thighs back in the pan to get get them rewarmed.  And that's it.
Click here for the recipe and enjoy a lovely home cooked meal this week.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

All Fooling Aside

Sometimes things try to be something they're not.  Turkey bacon for example, is not bacon.  It's no where near bacon and if you ask me, it would be better to never have bacon ever again than to eat something pretending to be bacon.  I felt the same way when my sister who was a vegetarian for a time tried to convince me that her fake vegetarian bacon was just as good as the real deal.  Not so.  Sometimes fake outs are a little less offensive.  Which brings me to today's featured veggie, spaghetti squash.  I read a ton of recipe's from various sources including fitness journals and health/exercise related magazines.  It's not unusual to find recipes that are healthy versions of typically unhealthy favorites.  Sometimes they work but many times they just don't quite do the trick.  One that seems to pop up all the time is spaghetti squash, either with tomato sauce (vegetarian option) or with meat sauce.  For some reason I just wasn't feeling it.  The thought of squash (likely imagining the taste of butternut squash) with spaghetti sauce was so unappealing to me.  More recently I've decided to give it a good try.  We like pasta (a lot!) and we like our rice too (we try to do more brown but we do love our basmati and jasmine rice too).  I figured it really couldn't hurt to find a side or a replacement to those white starches.  I made a spaghetti pie recipe (with spaghetti squash) a few weeks back that was pretty good.  I'm going to make some changes to it next time and then I'll pass it along.  The other night I made a nice little side dish to accompany strip steaks and steamed broccoli.  I started with a recipe for Warm Spaghetti-Squash Salad from Food & Wine's website.  I changed things up to our liking (we're not big olive fans here), took out the olives, added oregano and adjusted the amounts so we didn't have a ton of food. Click the link above for the original or enjoy my version at the end of this post.
There are a number of ways to cook the spaghetti squash but my preference is to just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and drizzle with a little olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.  Place cut side down on a baking sheet and place in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 45 min.  This squash was just shy of 3lbs and this was the perfect amount of time.  The recipe in the above link tells how to boil it.
While the squash is cooking toast 1/4- 1/2 cup of slivered almonds.  You can do this on the stove in a pan over medium heat or pop them in the toaster oven and bake at 300 for a few minutes.  Keep your eye on them so they don't burn! This is a half cup but we really didn't need quite that many.
Next make the dressing.  I used three scallions.  White and green parts.
That was bout a 1/4 cup.  Put them in your mini food processor if you have one, or whatever other chopping apparatus you may use.
Next add 1/2 tsp of lemon zest to the chopper.
Juice half a lemon, and add 2 Tbs of lemon juice to the scallions and zest.
This is where I improvised a little, adding some fresh oregano.  Anyone who read this blog knows what I fan I am of this stuff.  I'm always trying to convince you to get the fresh herbs, you can't beat them.
I used 1 Tbs of oregano.  It smells so good....
Next I added a clove of garlic and 3 Tbs of olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper and pulsed it until it was a nice smooth dressing.  The olive oil (and garlic) was another change on my part.  The recipe calls for Canola oil which is something to steer clear of (click the link to learn more) and lots of it (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs).  Three tablespoons of olive oil worked well. You could add another Tbs if your squash is a little bigger.
Once your squash has cooled enough to handle, you just scrape at it with a fork and what do you know, it looks just like spaghetti.  Amazing.  Put your squash in a bowl for the finishing touches.
Pour your dressing over the top of the squash and toss.
Add a quarter cup of crumbled feta and your toasted almonds.
Serve warm.  This was a hit with the whole family (I'm noticing the kids are getting to like feta, which wasn't always the case).  I think I'm ready for some spaghetti squash with bolognese.

Warm Spaghetti Squash Salad (adapted from Food & Wine)

1 spaghetti squash 2 1/2 to 3 lbs
1/2 Cup slivered almonds, toasted
3 scallions sliced
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 Tbs lemon juice
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs fresh oregano 
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup crumbled feta
salt and pepper to taste

Cut squash in half, remove seeds and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place cut side down on a baking sheet.  Bake for 45 min (or until fork tender) in a pre-heated 375 degree oven.  Set aside to cool when done.

In a mini chopper or food processor, pulse the scallions, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, garlic and salt and pepper to taste to a smooth dressing.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, scrape into strands with a fork and place in a bowl.  Toss with dressing, feta and toasted almonds.  Serve warm.

This was a great weeknight dinner.  You can't go wrong with delicious and healthy sides to go with some fantastic grilled strip steaks.