Influence

Friday, December 23, 2011

Amazing Turkey Chili

Unless you're a vegetarian, chili is a dish everyone enjoys. Even then, you can make chili with no meat, but where's the fun in that?? This type of one-pot meal is fabulous. Lots of flavor, lots of protein and fiber, and its even better with a big chunk of freshly made cornbread. Also, this meal consists of items regularly held in a moderately stocked pantry. Beans, tomatoes and sauce can take you a long, long way. In this case, they take you to Chili-Town.

This is the recipe I've been making chili with for years. Originally my mom showed me how to make it. And other the years it's become mine. It's a Super Bowl staple for me. Seriously, why even bother watching the game without a big bowl of hearty, spicy chili to go with?? Beyond the Super Bowl, this is another amazing meal on a cold night.

Also note, most chilis have beef in them, but the ground turkey cuts down on a lot of the fat, making this meal a lot less guilt-inducing. So yea, have seconds!!

Amazing Turkey Chili
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 lb. lean ground turkey (I prefer Jenny-O over any other brand)
1 28ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 28ounce can of tomato sauce
1 12ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 12ounce can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it!)
2 heaping tablespoons ground cumin
2 pinches of salt (or more to taste)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a medium sized soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the ground turkey to the pot with half the garlic and half the cumin. Use a spatula to break up the meat and cook until almost cooked through.
Pour the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and both types of beans into the pot, along with the rest of the spices. Stir well to combine.
Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover.
Let simmer for a minimum of 2 hours. This really allows the flavors to combine. Add salt last to taste.
Serve in bowls with a pinch of cheese on top.

***I'd definitely recommend baking up some fresh cornbread to go with! Marie Callender's is quick and all you have to add to the mix is water! Do it!!!!***

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Egg Drop Soup

For anyone that's ever been to a Chinese restaurant, and seen the egg drop (also called egg flower) soup, with its bits of egg seemingly suspending in a slightly gelatinous broth....and actually ENJOYED it...this is a recipe for you.

I was literally amazing at how easy this soup is to prepare. Even more so, Mike damn near licked his bowl. It was that good. In my opinion, this is better then anything you'd get at your local China Kitchen. I served this soup with Fried Rice and it was filling, healthy, and delish. Not much more I can say, this is an easy, quick, protein packed meal!

Egg Drop Soup
Serves 2 (this recipe is EASILY doubled)

Ingredients:
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons chopped chives
Salt & Pepper to taste

In a saucepan, combine and chicken broth, soy sauce and sesame oil. Bring this mixture to a boil.
Stir together the cornstarch and cold water until the cornstarch is dissolved and then pour into the boiling broth.
With a spoon or small spatula, stir the soup gently while you slowly pour the beaten eggs into the saucepan. Season with chives, salt and pepper and serve while hot.
***According to Mike, this soup reheats well the next day as well!***

Monday, December 19, 2011

Refried Bean Soup

Every once in a while I stumble across a recipe that, well, sounds completely terrible. And then I make it and I'm completely shocked by how tasty it turns out. This was definitely the case with the following recipe, Refried Bean Soup. Even the name seems a little odd to me. However, the end product is completely worth it. It's a super silky, healthy, delicious soup. The refried beans do absolute wonders for thickening soup in a hurry. And it's awesome on a cold night with some crunched up tortilla chips in it!

Mike and I love this soup, and I'd bet you and yours will too. It's very hearty whether you make it vegetarian or not. The amount of protein and fiber in this dish are pretty high, so it fills you up and keeps you full a good long time.

This recipe originally came from the cookbook Cheap. Fast. Good!
This cookbook is one of my favorites. It's completely centered on feeding your family without breaking the bank or eating Top Ramen all the time. Fantastic budget meals. Can't recommend it enough if you're a little cash poor and need some stick-to-your-ribs meals without declaring bankruptcy.

I have adapted this recipe to include some chicken, which adds even more protein to this meal. Lastly, this meal comes together in a snap. So you know, it's one of those 1-pot miracles I've been depending on so heavily as of late. This was only the 2nd or 3rd time I've made this soup, but I think it's looking like an addition to my normal rotation.

Refried Bean Soup
Serves 2 with leftovers

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large chicken breast, cubed
1 cup frozen bell peppers
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 can chicken broth
2 cans fat-free refried beans
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 2 or 3 minutes.
Add the cubed chicken into the pot and cook until lightly browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes.
Toss the frozen bell peppers in the pot along with the garlic, chicken broth, refried beans and cumin and stir well.
Cover the pot bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mu Shu Style Chicken and Veggies

This is a pretty fast and healthy dinner. The quick cooking keeps the veggies slightly crisp, which I think is key to a good stir fry. What was best about this is the sauce. Traditionally a Mu Shu dish has shredded cabbage and mung bean sprouts, and I didn't have any of that. Instead I used a bag of frozen Trader Joe's Asian Vegetables with Beijing Style Soy Sauce. I did not use the sauce that came with, and mixed up my own. In fact, it's still sitting in the freezer....looks like I'll be stir-frying in the near future. Oh darn. ;)

Regardless, try this recipe out. The combination of the hoisin sauce and sesame oil is awesome. I served the chicken and veggies with some simple steamed white rice.

Mu Shu Style Chicken and Veggies
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 large or 2 small chicken breasts, cubed
3 teaspoons sesame oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (fresh is better, but I don't ever buy it)
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 bag frozen Asian Vegetables (minus the Beijing soy sauce!!)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

Heat 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the eggs and cook until set. Remove them to a plate.
Add the chicken to the wok and saute until cooked through. Cubing the chicken greatly reduces the cooking time on this, making it quick and easy. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it to the plate with the eggs.
Wipe the pan out, and heat the remaining sesame oil. Add the vegetables, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and vinegar. Stir to combine and cook, covered to steam the veggies about 4-5 minutes. You want the veggies to defrost and steam lightly.
Add the reserved eggs and chicken and stir, then add the hoisin sauce and mix well to incorporate. Cook until everything is heated through, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately with white rice.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Easy Cream of Broccoli

Here we go kids! I originally wanted to make this soup on Halloween night, but that didn't pan out. So we had it for dinner the following week. It turned out so good. Really simple and delicious.

I adapted a recipe from allrecipes.com and made it my own. I wanted to keep lots of earthy broccoli flavor, but cut down on the fat. Most creamy soups are made with whole milk or straight up cream for the awesome consistency it lends to soups. I chose to use low-fat milk instead, cutting out a ton of fat and calories in the process. Additionally, instead of using all dairy for the broth base, I substituted about half chicken broth for milk. It worked out so well. Mike gave it 2 thumbs up. Even better, it reheated well the next day for leftovers. Total win. Just be sure to use really nice, fresh broccoli, I think frozen wouldn't have been as good.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, roughly chopped
8 cups fresh broccoli florets
3 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons AP flour
2 cups milk
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pot. Add the onion and celery and saute until tender.
Add the broccoli and broth, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Pour the soup into a blender, you will probably have to do this in batches. I believe it took me 3 rounds of blending.
Puree the soup until it is smooth and pour it into a clean pot.
***Make sure you hold the lid of the blender down with a kitchen towel while the blender is on. The pressure created by blending a hot liquid can cause liquid hot broccoli magma to spew all over your kitchen. Not fun.***
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. When the butter is melted, stir in the flour and then add the milk. Stir this mixture until it is thick and bubbly, and then it to the soup.
Season with salt and pepper and serve!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making Time

Hey guys. Ok...I'm a bad bad little blogger and I deserve to be banished to the depths of Blogger Hell...

Seems a little dramatic, no?

But really..I've missed this. Finished my finals last week, and here I am. Hoping to share my thoughts, recipes and love of food again. So dear readers....if you'll take me back, I have some yummy recipes to share.

In the past month I've been incredibly busy, Mike as well. But we managed not to eat fast food all that often. Though I must tell you, some nights I really want to say, "Screw it, let's get tacos." But we persisted. And most nights the food was great. That definitely makes me proud.

A month of cooking is a lot to "sum up." In fact, it's too much. Let's divide and conquer shall we? Below, you will find a list of new recipes of mine from the past month...and over the next day or two, I'll get the recipes posted. Unfortunately, cooking dinner at 9pm after 8 hours of work and 3 hours of school doesn't compute with photo-blogging, so these posts will be graphically challenged. But now with more time on my hands, I'll get back into it.

Here's the list:

1) Cream of Broccoli Soup (which we had Halloween week, so I renamed it S'cream of Broccoli soup...muahahahaha)
2) Mu Shu style Chicken
3) Out Of This World Pumpkin Soup
4) Refried Bean Soup
5) Egg Drop Soup
6) Amazing Turkey Chili

So stay tuned. Lot's of good stuff to come...plus some awesome holiday cookie recipes!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gingersnaps

Man, I'm looking at my recent posts and realized I am only averaging a new post every 2 weeks or so. This is sad. Over the past few months I have come to really enjoy blogging. The chance to get my ideas out there in the blogosphere is really something I cherish. And more then that, I think it has made my food better. I started this blog as a way to occupy my time while I was out of work, and it has grown to be something I long to have more time for. Sometimes life is funny.

These past couple of weeks have been incredibly stressful, but also incredibly great. October 28 was my birthday, and I was really touched by how many people reached out and wished me well. Nice to know people care. Also, Halloween 2011 is now history, and I am happy to say I celebrated it with a group of wonderful people (2 days early, but I digress). And now as the holidays approach, I am slightly overwhelmed with everything going on. My school term is rapidly approaching its end, and all the holiday get togethers are in the process of being planned and scheduled. It is, for everyone I'm sure, a very busy time of the year.

I would encourage all of you fantastic readers to try and squeeze every bit of joy out of this time of the year as possible. Has anyone noticed how gorgeous the trees/leaves/foilage are right now? Those brilliant reds, oranges and browns make me feel like snuggling with a blanket and a steaming cup of cocoa. Moreover, they make me feel like being with the people I love. What perfect timing, with Thanksgiving a mere two weeks away.

Last night I received a wonderful request. Several years ago I shared my recipe for gingersnaps with some lovely gals in my life, and they have asked for it again. This time around, I'd like to share it with everyone. And it's the perfect accoutrement for the aforementioned blanket and cocoa scenario. So please, try this recipe, pass it on to all your loved ones, and enjoy!


Marga's Gingersnaps
Makes about 4 dozen

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 heaping tablespoon baking soda
2 tablespoons hot water
3 1/2 cups AP flour
1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnanmon
a pinch of salt

Cream the butter, sugar and molasses together until smooth.
Mix the baking soda with the hot water and then beat this into the butter mixture.
Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon and salt.
Add about 1/4 of the dry ingredients to the wet and mix to incorporate. Add another 1/4 of the flour and again, mix to incorporate. Do this until all the flour is mixed in.
At this point, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board.
Separate the dough into two pieces, then shape each piece into long logs.
Wrap the logs in waxed paper and refrigerate them for at least 2 hours. You want them to harden so that when you slice them they don't fall apart!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the logs into thin cookies, about 1/8 inch thickness. If you prefer thicker cookies, slice them as you wish, but increase the baking time.
Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet, (a silpat or parchment paper works great) and bake for about 10 minutes. These will burn pretty quickly on you, so keep an eye on them.
Remove them from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

World Pasta Day

October 25, 2011...a day so special I didn't even know it existed until several people posted about it on Facebook this morning. Today is World Pasta Day. In honor of this most auspicious occasion, I thought I'd shuffle through my recipes and provide you with some ideas for dinner tonight. I expect all of you to go home and eat some kind of pasta tonight! Mike and I will be having the spinach and mozzarella ravioli from Costco's uber-fancy frozen section. I'll try and take pictures.

First off, here's a recipe of my own, which was my first blog post as well. Quick, easy, and delish.
Amatriciana

Now...here are a couple recipes I love but can't claim credit for! All are certified winners though.

For those of you feeling industrious today, try this Gnocchi recipe. Time consuming, yes. But completely worth it. And they freeze well. Excellent tutorial.
Gnocchi by Food Nouveau

Need something quicker or simpler? This recipe comes together in minutes. You prep the veggies while the pasta boils, then toss together. Boom. Dinner. Note, you can substitute pretty much anything for the broccoli. Sliced bell peppers work, as do zucchini or even cherry tomatoes. And...not crazy for cavatelli? Use penne, rigatoni or fusilli! Sky's the limit.
Cavatelli & Broccoli

Also...for anyone one there striving for the perfectly cooked pasta? It isn't always as simple as it looks on tv. Remember, lots of water, and lots of salt. Check out this link for excellent advice on technique and equipment.
Lifehacker-Pasta

And if you don't feel like cooking, and you know what, with my crazy schedule, can't say I blame you...go out and eat some noodles. Olive Garden works!


Every have a good day. And for the love of all things holy, eat some pasta! Mangia!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Baked Apples with Honey Sauce

Hello boys and girls! It's Thursday, which means tomorrow is Friday! Let me get an amen!

Alright....stepping off my lectern. It's been a very busy, and productive week. So that's good. But I'm looking forward to some down time this weekend. As I mentioned several posts ago, I've been doing most of my cooking on Sundays. Usually, I crock-pot 1 or 2 items, and make a third, like a pasta or something. This seems to be working very effectively. Mike and I have not gone hungry! Nor have we succumbed to the fast-food bug. And in addition, I usually make enough so that we have lunches to take to work as well.

It is now midway through October, and so the Jewish High Holy Days are now behind us. Traditionally, on Rosh Hashanah, Jews eat apples and honey together. Being the start of the new year, this is symbolic of starting off the year in a sweet way. And there are many ways to accomplish this. You can slice up your favorite apple variety and dip it into staight honey, you can make apple-honey cake (which is to die for by the way) or, like me, celebrate the beginning of fall with a warm and comforting dessert, Baked Apples with Honey Sauce. This turned out amazingly well. The only thing that could have done better was the coring of the apples. Since I don't have the handy tool that does it in one swipe, I did it with a paring knife so they turned out less then perfect looking. But no matter, the taste made up for it..and then some!

Baked Apples with Honey Sauce
Serves 2 (but easily multiplied for groups!)

Ingredients:
2 green apples (yes, green, you want the tartness to offset the sweetness from the sauce!)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 scoops vanilla ice cream

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Wash and core the apples. This is the first time I have experienced regret over not owning an apple corer. Doing  this with a paring knife is perfectly functional, but left marks on the top side of the apple.But again, the end result is so tasty, the aesthetics are not a big deal unless you're serving fancy company.
Place the cored apples in a baking dish and stuff them with as many cranberries as you can fit.
Weird cut marks, but eh.
In a small saucepan, stir together the water, brown sugar, honey and cinnamon. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. You want to make sure the sugar dissolves completely. Once it reaches a boil, carefully pour it over the apples.
Bake the apples for about 45 minutes. Baste them every 15 minutes with the sauce.
Super tender but still slightly tart!

Scoop the ice cream on top...
Welcome to Fall!
In the word's of Ina Garten....how easy is that? Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

We're Engaged!

Hello dear readers! Again I apologize for letting my obligations keep me from writing, but here I am. And I have the best/happiest/most amazing news. The man who I subject to all my cooking experiments and bursts of kitchen rage caused by failed attempts of culinary genius.....has asked me to marry him!

We were having a delicious, spontaneous date night at Le Vallauris in Palm Springs and he sprung it on me during dessert. Completely romantic and sweet. I was shocked, but of course said yes!

I would like to tell you all I was a good little food blogger and took scads of pictures of the food, but, obviously I was preoccupied. So I have no pictures for you. However, I can tell you, on my Spicy Spatula scale (1-5), even on a bad day, that place gets like, 10 Spatulas. So that's all you need to know! However, very expensive, so you frugal cookies out there, beware!

Stay tuned kids, more recipes to come, from this newly-engaged and ridiculously happy lady!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beef Stroganoff in the Crock Pot

Happy Monday everyone!! Ok...perhaps Monday isn't particularly happy...maybe we should rename it, "Mundane."

See what I did there?? Funny ha-ha? Ok maybe not.

For the most part I have nothing to complain about this week...the weather is nice, I have a weekend trip planned, and my life is relatively drama-free at the moment. However...there is literally a plague on my house right now. When Mike went to Pendleton for September's drill weekend, we believe he brought home bed bugs from the barracks. Yes really. And let me tell you a thing or two about bed bugs:
1) They turn red after sucking your blood...how creepy is that???
2)They usually only hunt at night, so it's a couple days till you catch on to their shit.
3) They leave bites that resemble flea bites, except they take longer to heal and are itchy as all hell.

So a hefty portion of our weekend was spent waging a war on these little bastards. Fun times.

Alright....so now that I've gotten that little grievance out of the way, on to the good stuff. With my new busy schedule, the crock pot is now the most-used appliance in my kitchen. Not that I'm complaining. Anything that can turn raw meat and soup mix into hearty, tender stew has my respect. So naturally I'll be making two or so meals a week with it. My first attempt at Beef Stroganoff in the crock was last Thursday night. And it turned out, amazingly well. Absolutely delicious. And with enough sauce to soak into the noodles. I don't think I'll bother making stroganoff any other way from now on. It was that good. And you don't even need to mix in the usual sour cream. Which cuts down on the fat/calories. Hey-O!

Beef Stroganoff
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:
1lb. lean beef strips
1 white onion, sliced
2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Water to cover
Salt & Pepper to taste
**Noodles of your preference, cooked to al dente
(I normally use egg noodles, but was out, so used rigatoni, which worked fine as well)

Place the beef, veggies, soup, and seasonings into the bottom of the crock-pot. Add water to cover the beef/veggies and mix well to "water down" the soup base. Put the lid on the crock-pot and set it to the low setting for 10 hours. Go out and enjoy your day. When you come home, spoon some of that meaty goodness on the noodles and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Missing In Action + Cookies

It's been weeks since I've posted anything. Been a busy little bee. And guess what kids, I found a new job! Finally! It's been a week already and things are really good. Just, amazingly busy. And this coming Thursday I start my classes at CPP...so I'll go from amazingly busy to horrifically, tragically busy. But I will try to keep up with the blogging, even if it's only once a week or so.

I'm finding that my new best friend will be my trusty Crockpot. So expect lots of recipes using that as my medium.

As for now, here is a yum yum cookie recipe for you kids to try. It's super easy, super delicious, and you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who won't like them! They are chewy, butterscotchy bites of homemade love. ***Kudos to Katie for sharing this recipe!***

Butterscotch Drop Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
2 sticks of butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
 In the bowl of your handy-dandy stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on a low speed until they are combined. And the eggs, one at a time until thoroughly mixed.
Mix the flour, baking soda and salt together and slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet. When they are mixed, add the vanilla, mix and then turn the mixer off.
Using 2 small spoons, drop small spoonfuls of the batter onto your baking sheet. If you are using a metal cookie sheet, either cover it with parchment paper, or give it a liberal spritz of Pam. However, if you're awesome like me, drop your silicone mat onto your cookie sheet and drop the batter straight on to that.
Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. They'll keep up to a week in a ziploc...that is if you manage not to eat them all straight out of the oven.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sausage and Peppers

Sausage and Peppers for 2


Ingredients:
2 Chicken-Andouille Sausages
1 medium white onion, sliced
1 cup frozen bell peppers
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
Pinch of Salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Pour the olive oil in a skillet and heat to medium-high heat. Throw the sliced onion in and let it saute for several minutes until they are starting to soften and brown.
Add the bell peppers, season with the oregano, garlic and a pinch of salt, and cover to allow the bell peppers to steam and heat up. Leave covered for 3 or 4 minutes.
When you uncover the veggies, they should smell very fragrant and be softened, but not mushy.
Move the veggies off to one side of the skillet, and place the sausages in to saute.
Leaving the sausages whole allows you to get a nice slight char on them. You'll saute for about 5-10 minutes, depending on how hot the pan is. You want them browned, but not burned.
Load up a bun with some of the pepper mixture and top with a sausage.

This week I had used half of the package of chicken-andouille sausages I bought at TJ's in the gumbo, and Mike and I are escaping to Sin City this weekend to see my family, so I needed to use the rest of the package. I decided on Sausage and Peppers. Italian heaven. Turned out really well. The sausages were spicy, and the peppers were slightly sweet and salty. So good together.

I plated them with a hodgepodge of steamed veggies and salad, which was excellent. The only fat was in the sausage, and the rest of the meal was vegetables....except for the bun. And now we are all prepped to go out of town for the long weekend. I'm stoked. Will be great to see the Vegas-contingent of the family. I hope Labor Day weekend treats you all well! Go out and have one last Summer hurrah!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nom Nom Gumbo

One of the dishes my Mom had in her dinner repertoire when I was growing up was Gumbo. For those of you who haven't had it before, let me give you a quick explanation. Combine spicy sausage, chicken meat, shrimp, bell peppers, celery, lots of herbs and broth, and serve over rice. Now a question....

How could that possibly be bad?

Oh that's right, it can't. It's delicious. And healthy to boot.

Gumbo
Serves 2 (with excellent leftovers)

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 chicken andouille sausages
4 chicken tenders
1/2lb of shrimp (if you want, but I omitted them)
1 onion, chopped
1 cup sliced celery
2 cups bell peppers
1 container reduced-sodium chicken broth from Tj's (32 ounces)
32 ounces of water
3 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teapsoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1 cup prepared white rice

Heat the olive oil in a medium sized soup pot. Add the chopped onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the andouille sausage and saute until slightly browned.
Put the chicken tenders in and saute until light brown, then take them out, give them a rough chop and put them back in the pot.
Add the celery and bell peppers and saute for several minutes, until the veggies begin to soften.
Pour the broth and water in, and then add all the herbs/spices.
Simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Taste for salt, and add some if needed.
Serve over white rice.

This is a super delicious, 1-pot meal. Very hearty and filling. I asked Mike while we were eating if he would give it two thumbs up and he replied with, "ssshhhh...eating" so I'll take that as a compliment.

Have to give my Mom props for emailing me her recipe, thanks Mom!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beef Stir Fry

This is a kickass recipe. It's spicy, super-healthy and delicious. Hadn't done a stir-fry in what seems like forever, so it was time. And it turned out great. Hope you all try it and love it as much as I do!!

Beef Stir Fry
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1/2lb. lean beef strips (round steak or something similar)
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small broccoli heads, chopped
2 stalks celery, thinly chopped
1/2 frozen bell peppers
1/2 cup frozen green beans (or snow peas, whatever you have!)
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper

Place the beef strips in a ziploc with half the soy sauce and half the garlic, ginger, and cayenne. Allow to marinate for an hour or so. This really helps the flavors come alive in the stir fry.
Get all your veggies cut up and set them aside.
All of these, plus a bunch more only cost me $1.77.

Heat up a wok that has been sprayed with Pam until it's super-hot and then drop the beef strips in and sear quickly. Like a minute on each side, max. Remove the beef from the wok and set aside.
The beef, post-sear
Once the beef is done, take the frozen veggies and allow them to steam for a couple minutes.
Once frozen, now hot and tasty!
And after the frozen veggies are up to temp, toss in the rest of the veggies, along with the remaining soy sauce and spices. Mix well, then add a couple tablespoons of water and throw a lid on the wok for 3-4 minutes so the veggies steam. Be careful not to overdo it. Mushy veggies are no one's friend.
After steaming, the broccoli should be a vibrant green color.
When you take the lid off the wok, the veggies should be slightly tender but have bite to them still. Nab a  piece of broccoli and test it. You want it to still have nice crisp bite. Also, this allows you to taste for seasoning. With the soy sauce, you shouldn't need to add any salt, but if the garlic-level isn't too your liking, go ahead and add more. Then toss the beef back in the wok, and mix everything together. Turn the heat off on the stove and place the lid back on the wok.
You jealous bro?? 
It'll only take a minute for the meat to heat through. Most of the time I would serve this kind of dinner with some rice, but in keeping with the health-kick, I just had some raw veggies instead.
Yea, you jealous.
God said let there be stir fry. 

And there was.

And it was good.

Actually. It was pretty freaking great. Light, but filling. Absolutely nom-tastic.
And now it's Wednesday evening. Time to work out and make dinner! Have a good night everyone!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Miyagi Sushi

As last week neared it's end, several things happened:

1) I had a successful (still waiting to hear back) interview
2) The realization hit that Insanity is molding me into a hotter version of myself
3) It had been a week or 2 since Mike and I had gone out with our friends

So...because of all these things, we decided to try a sushi place here in San bernardino that we had heard great things about, Miyagi Sushi.

I know what you're thinking...Marga, a sushi place...in San Bernardino??? WTF are you thinking??? 

Well, I can now assure you, that although located in a questionable (at best) area, this is a solid sushi joint. And even better, the chefs are all Japanese. Very encouraging.
  • Atmosphere: 4 Spatulas. It's a small place, and there is pretty much always going to be a wait, but the place is clean and the turnover is quick. It looks like a sushi place, not a crappy restaurant pretending to be a sushi place.
  • Service: 4 Spatulas. The servers all have smiles on their faces and the sushi chefs are super entertaining. Not only that, the food practically flies out of the kitchen. It's very efficient. They have their dance steps down. Considering we ordered a metric shit-ton of food and they didn't forget or miss anything, I was impressed.
  • Food: 5 Spatulas. The food, most amazingly, was delicious. I was incredibly suspicious of a place in the Inland Empire offering fresh sushi. Now my doubts are history. The fish was fresh. And plentiful. And artfully presented. And most important, completely delectable. I will definitely be going back. We went with a group of 6 total people, and tried 17 different rolls. Every single one was fantastic. That's a damn good record if you ask me. Also, the appetizers were great too. Their fried calamari wasn't too chewy or tough. Yum, yum, YUM! I'd definitely recommend the Dynamite if you go...it's baked scallops with crab meat, rice and sauce. Over-the-top good.
  • Overall Value: 4 1/2 Spatulas. We went for the "all-you-can-eat" option for our dinner. Spent $24 a person. Considering the average cost of one of their rolls is $10, we ate our fair share. Meaning, between the 6 of us, we needed to order at least 12 rolls to make it worthwhile. And we ordered 17. Plus miso soup. Plus appetizers. So we did good. Oh so good, if you ask me. It had been a while since I'd had amazing sushi, and this was like a religious experience. As in, you take a bite of your first roll and your eyes glaze over and you feel such unbridled pleasure you could just die, right then and there. Will I be back? Hell yes. Will I do the "all-you-can-eat" again? HELL YES!
God. Just thinking about it, I want to go right now. Sigh.

And although doing an "all-you-can-eat" dinner experience may not exactly be on my "diet" plan right now, it was so worth it. This week I'm back to eating like a bunny-rabbit. Hey, if you don't enjoy yourself from time to time, what's the point??? You only get 1 go-round in life, so I'll stuff my face with sushi till I can't walk every now and then. My advice would be for you to do the same.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Feta Makes it Bettah

Last week was busy. As Wednesday neared, I was getting all kinds of anxious prepared for my interview, and time was slipping away from me. So Wednesday, while the Curry in the Crock Pot simmered away and filled the house with its essence, I also made Thursdays' dinner ahead of time and stuck it in the fridge. Multi-tasking-magic.

Went with a super-easy, super-delish meal that both Mike and I love. And, as it sits overnight, it just gets better. Pasta Salad. Combined with some yummy feta...because, of course:

Feta Makes it Bettah
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 cups rotelle pasta (or shells, or penne. go nuts.)
1/2 big cucumber, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small can black olives, chopped
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 can corn, drained & rinsed
3/4 cup feta, crumbled
1/2-3/4 cup italian dressing

Get a big pot of water on the stovetop and bring to a boil.
While you are waiting for the water to boil, prep all the veggies and toss them into a big bowl.
When the water is boiling, salt liberally and add the pasta. Cook to al dente.
Drain the pasta when it's finished, and add them to the veggies.
Top the pasta salad with the feta and italian dressing and mix well.
Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge till you are ready for it!

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Got to love it!

Another reason I love pasta salad, you can pretty much put anything in it and it'll taste great. Don't have black beans and corn? Don't shed a tear. You can put olives, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots...etc. There are no rules!!

We ended up eating this Thursday night...and then had the leftovers at the beach on Saturday...Bonus!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Curry in the Crock Pot

Alright, so I've been craving some spicy, hearty food this week. So I contacted the curry goddess Evelyn and asked if she would share her recipe with me. She gave me loose guidelines, and I went for it.

Mine turned out a bit different from hers. Not better or worse, just different. But still very delicious and filling. Was a fun experiment. I literally measured nothing. Just did it by feel, which is, actually, strangely liberating.

Also, this dish perfumes the whole house with the smells of love and caring that only a good crock-pot meal can produce. So it was a win across the board.

All the amounts in the following recipe are my guesstimates. And yes, I just used a fake word.

Chicken Curry (adapted from Evelyn!)
Serves 2 with massive leftovers

Ingredients:
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 big carrots, peeled and chopped
4 small-to-medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup of the Melange a Trois bell peppers from TJ's
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
4-6 chicken breast tenderloins, depending on how much you want/size
1 1/2 cans coconut milk
1 can chicken broth
Several heaping tablespoons of curry powder (I probably used 4-5)
Granulated garlic (I think I did 2 tablespoons or so)
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
Salt to taste

The beginning of this process is the only part that requires any real work. It'll take you about, 10-15 to prep all of your veggies and spices. After that, all you do is lay them in your Crock-Pot and crank that thing up to high for 6 hours. I put the onions in first, followed by the carrots, potatoes, pineapple and the chicken on top. Then add the liquids to cover. Put the spices in last and stir a bit to combine. After that..put the lid on a go have a productive day!
I came back about half way through the cooking process and tasted for seasoning. At this point I added a little bit of salt and some more garlic. Because that's how I roll.
After 6 hours, this meal is ready to roll. Just boil some rice and serve it up.

This meal is super easy to prepare, and the results are fantastic. You could trick people into thinking you slaved away all day at the stove! But I don't encourage lying. I actually served it on top of rice and with Garlic Naan from TJ's which is super-addictive and delicious. Two dollars buys you 4 big pieces of Naan that are covered in garlic.....MMMMMMM!

And..of course...this was a pretty healthy meal. The only fat comes from the coconut milk. But..what can I say. You can't make good curry without coconut milk. It just wouldn't work. There's something magical that happens when you combine curry powder and coconut milk. It's the same as beef broth and wine. Shouldn't taste good together, but after a couple hours on low heat, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn't lick the bowl. All the bowl-lickers out there know what I'm saying. Happy Friday people!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The World's 50 Most Delicious Foods....

So I stumbled upon this article:

World's 50 Most Delicious Foods

I have to say, this is a pretty comprehensive and impressive list. Although I have not had the pleasure to try all the items, after reading the descriptions I would love to try them all. Of course, accomplishing this goal would require extensive travel, and therefore monies, so it will probably be awhile till I get to check any off. But oh well. I'm going to keep the faith.

They list Thai Curry as the coveted #1. Do you agree??? I'm not sure I do. However savory and yummery curry is, especially when the flavor is authentic, I do think some things top it.

For instance....ever had Bulgogi or Bibimbap while sitting in South Korea?? I actually have. And it's amazing. Or what about Falafel from a street vendor in downtown Jerusalem?? Didn't think so.

While this list is indeed a great compilation, they need to include some other items. Anything you guys think should be added??? Comment!!!

And I realize, I sound a little critical...but this is food people. Food is life! It's important stuff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Matzo BOMB Soup

What an interesting week it has been so far. Let's see...my henna disaster is healing (And let all the brother's and sister's say, AMEN!), finally have an interview lined up at a company I really want the privilege to work at, and Mike and I have been chugging along with the Insanity.

Last night was Day 15 for our workouts...so we had our second Fit Test and then took measurements. So far, after 2 weeks, I've lost 5lbs and several inches. Considering the fact that these workouts are building muscle, I'm pretty happy with the progress. The numbers are headed in the right direction. And with all the hard work we're putting in, I'm happy to see it starting to pay off. So...15 days completed. 48 to go. 

Of course, the food-stuffs as of late, have been slightly more focused on being health-conscious. Last night, I made Matzo Ball Soup. But...now I call it Matzo Bomb Soup. Why, you ask?? Because it's a cuter name. And this soup is ALWAYS delicious. Add to that the fact that it's high in lean protein due to the chicken, and pretty much fat-free. Very excellent post-workout food. 

Also, it's one of those concoctions that is practically impossible to muck up. In fact, the longer you leave it the hell alone, the better it tastes. So, have bills to pay? Or need to flat iron your hair? Or change a tire? Or have a gopher to blow up with dynamite Caddyshack style?? Go for it. This soup will be waiting for you when you're done. I would go so far as to suggest you listen to the Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to accompany it. Because it's da bomb.

See what I did there??? Cookies to whoever guesses the correlation in the comments!

Alright...enough goph....errr..monkey business. Here's the recipe!

Matzo Bomb Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts
4 stalks of celery, cleaned and chopped
4 baby carrots or 2 big ones, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped (any color will do, the long simmer mellows the flavor)
2 cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
8 cups water
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 packet of Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix
2 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Start by adding the chicken broth and water to a large pot. The pot I would have normally used was MIA, so I ended up using a ginormous one. But the result is the same.
As the broth comes up to a boil,  prep your veggies and add the chicken and bouillon powder. I used frozen chicken, so adding it to boiling water will defrost and cook in one simple step.
Once all your veggies are chopped, throw them in the pot. Turn the heat to medium. Now is your time to escape for a good hour or so. This gives the broth a chance to really come together flavor-wise.
Your soup will look something like this
before you run away and enjoy your free time.
Note the freakishly large pot.
When you return from doing..well..whatever with your lovely free time, the chicken should be cooked through. Take it out of the pot and shred it with 2 forks and then return it to the pot.
At this point you can finish the soup, or turn it off and walk away for another hour or so, like I did. Mike was on his way home, and we had our Fit Test to do.
When you're ready, mix up the matzo balls as per the packages direction, and let sit in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.
I should get paid for all the plugs I give lol

Turn the stove back on, and bring the soup to a boil. When it's bubbling happily, take the matzo mix out of the fridge and roll out little balls with your (clean) hands. Drop them gently into the soup. They only take a couple minutes, and when they're floating, they're done.
Here's a fun series of pictures with the Matzo Bombs beings dropped in:
Ready to drop!
Release!
Plop!

Ladle some of that love into a bowl and dig in!
Mmmmm!

Notes on this recipe: this is my adaptation of the way my Mom makes this soup. Over the years, she started adding dill, and although that makes for a delicate herb taste, I prefer my Jewish Penicillin (the anecdotal name for this soup) unadulterated. Meaning, jacked up chicken broth with lots of meaty chicken and light, fluffy matzo balls. The veggies have a way of simmering down into melt-in-your-mouth goodness. It's so damn good.

Also...this recipe won me the "Matzo Ball Smackdown" a couple of years ago with some friends. And I proudly hold this title. I think it's a real winner because it's so simple, and the flavors are so clean and light. And it's healthy to boot.

Enjoy your soup kids. Boom!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sloppy Jo's

Hey kids....Happy Saturday! I'm so happy it's the weekend. For everyone, this entire week really seemed to just.....completely suck. So...hey, we all made it. We're alive. Yay!

Before I get to the important stuff (aka the food), has anyone out there ever gotten a black "henna" tattoo? Either home or abroad?? Let me tell you...if you have, I'm sorry. And if you haven't...DON'T!!! For serials. This is no joke. I thought I'd have a little flower for 2-3 weeks, and now I have steroids to take for 2 weeks. Basically, I had the allergic reaction from Hell. Not fun. So please, be safe. If you must get that fun henna tattoo while on vacay, make sure it's real henna. Which. Is. Never. Black. Spread the word.

Ok...jumping down off my soapbox. But yea..that was some dramatic ish this week. Really freaked me out. When your dermatologist, within 1 minute of seeing the problem tells you to drop your pants for a shot in the ass...you know it's serious. Ok...moving on.

Aside from the dermatologic crisis this week, it's just been a stressful week. Mike was feeling it too, and the Insanity workouts were both helping and not helping. Meaning, neither of us wanted to get off our fat asses and actually work out. But we did. And every time, we were glad we did. However, I wanted to make some comfort food for Mike and I for dinner. Of course, needed it to be slightly healthful..so I ended up making Sloppy Jo's Thursday night. Here's the breakdown, plus some pretty pictures from the NEW camera Mike bought me because he is the best man/boyfriend/friend/person in the universe.

Sloppy Jo's
Serves 2 (with enough leftovers for 2 more sammies)

Ingredients:
1lb. lean ground beef
1/4 chopped onion (which I was out of, but if you have it, add it!)
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers (I use the Melange a Trois from TJ's)
3/4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon mustard
3 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or if you're Mike & I, closer to a tablespoon)
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste
3 Hamburger buns (2 for Mike, 1 for me)

Begin by adding the frozen bell peppers to a dry saute pan and warming them through.
When the peppers are warmed, toss in the ground beef and begin to break it up with your spatula.
Depending on how lean your meat is, you will either need to drain off the fat or not.
The bell peppers and meat will release
a lot of liquid, so drain it!
Once the meat is cooked through, set it back on low heat and mix up the sauce. 
Combine the ketchup, mustard, garlic, worcestershire and brown sugar in a bowl and mix well.
Turn the heat under the meat back up to medium and add the sauce.
Yes, my spatula is pink.
And says love on it. It's cute!!!
Then mix the sauce in with the meat and heat thoroughly.
Heat until the sauce begins to bubble.
While the sauce is mixing in with the meat, you may want to toast your hamburger buns. That is, if you like toasted buns. Ha. Ha. Toasted buns. Ok, it's early and I'm silly. 
Pile some of the delicious meat mixture onto a bun and devour. Remember, it's called Sloppy Jo's...so make a mess!!!
As you can see, I served ours with some steamed
Haricots Verts from TJ's and a simple salad..
the feta being on Mikes', mine was plain.
So again, very simple, delicious, comfort food. By the way...for any of you out there hating on me for using the frozen bell peppers from TJ's...it's like, $2 for the bag, which will last for 5 or 6 meals, when these days you're lucky to get 1 or 2 whole peppers for that price in the produce section of any market. Remember, I'm cooking on a budget here. And honestly, I don't think I'm missing any flavor by using the frozen. And if you treat them right, you don't miss out on any texture either. So there.

So now I'm off to enjoy the weekend. Oh, today is the first double Insanity day. We have 2 routines to run through. The hardest one, and a 17 minute one focusing on abs. FUN! But yea, it'll be worth it.

I think I can. I think I can. I think...I can....!



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Black Angus

Sunday night Mike and I decided to out to eat. Being the cheap-os that we are we looked at what we had coupons for. Black Angus, Campfire Feast for 2...$12 off?? Winner!

Also, neither of us had been there in years, so it seemed like a good choice. And it turns out, the food has, from my memory, improved quite a bit. So that's a win. Here's my breakdown:


  • Atmosphere: 3 Spatulas. I know when you think of a steakhouse, romance probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But whoever designed this place gave the guests a little extra privacy by making the booths super tall. Which is nice. And considering it was just Mike & I, we enjoyed not having our neighbors in our faces.
  • Service: 3 1/2 Spatulas. Our server was prompt, and friendly, without hovering and being annoying. And she checked back to make sure our entrees were what we wanted. Which they were. 
  • Food: 4 Spatulas. As I mentioned earlier, we ordered their Campfire Feast for 2. Basically, this means you get an appetizer, 2 entrees, and dessert for a combined price. And the food was very high quality. Oh, and to start you off, they bring you their Honey Molasses Bread, gratis. Which is nummy. Warm, slightly sweet bread with crispy oats on the outside. Yum. For our appetizer, we chose the Crispy Garlic Pepper Zucchini which was also very good. Although fried, it did not sit heavily on your stomach. And it came with a yogurt-cucumber dip, which I liked and Mike loved. The entrees came with your choice of 2 sides, one of which could be a salad. So we both ordered the Wedge Salad with bleu cheese. Umm...YUMMY! Nice, crisp iceberg lettuce topped with bleu cheese crumbles, bacon, fresh tomatoes and bleu cheese dressing. What's bad about that??? Exactly. Nothing is bad about it at all. Except for the fact that our entrees hadn't even come yet and we were well on our way to stuffed. On to the main courses, Mike had the 12 ounce ribeye and he liked it. Had nice grill marks on it and a slight smoky taste. I had the 8 ounce top sirloin, which was cooked to medium, as ordered and was a nice piece of meat. Mmm. Tasty Cow. I had the garlic mashed potatoes with mine, which were lumpy and only lukewarm, so meh. Mike had the sweet potato fries which were good, served with a maple dipping sauce that reminded me of french toast. For dessert we had their seasonal offering, the fresh-baked sugar cookie topped with berries and vanilla ice cream. So. Damn. Good. 
  • Overall Value: 3 1/2 Spatulas. This was a decent meal. However, not sure we would have gone with the coupon. They usually charge $52 for what we had. And I feel like the $39 is more appropriate. It was a ton of food, and we took home leftovers, which is always a good thing. And the leftovers held up, which is even better. Will we go back? Yes. Without a coupon? Probably not.
Oh.....big disclaimer here....THIS IS NOT HEALTH FOOD. But it was our rest day from Insanity, and we had a really good day, so we splurged. Sue me. 

And now it's Wednesday...I have a dermatologist appointment later for a "henna" tattoo from the cruise gone amok. Wish me luck folks.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

BBQ Chicken Pizza

So, Friday night I worked my domestic magic. While Mike and I were doing our daily Insanity workout, I was running into the kitchen, bringing pizza dough up to room temp, pre-heating the oven, etc...during water breaks. All in a sports bra with sweat dripping off my face. Hey Martha...stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

BBQ Chicken Pizza-the Super Mas Easy Way
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 cup shredded chicken..you know like the kind from the Chicken Tortilla Soup...
1 cup BBQ sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese
Pre-made pizza dough from Trader Joe's (Garlic and Herb baby!)
1/4 cup sliced red onion
Cilantro to sprinkle on top
Olive oil, granulated garlic and salt

Allow the pizza dough to sit out on the counter for about 20 minutes. This makes it a lot easier to work with.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
If you're using a pizza stone (which I am not, most likely because I do not own one) remember to leave it in the hot oven for a good 1/2 hour or so to get it smokin' hot. Otherwise, spray your pizza pan with some Pam so you don't have to pry your delicious pie off the pan with a spatula and risk compromising the integrity.
Coat your hands with flour and start working with the dough. Get it into a nice big ball and then put in on the pan.
Using your hands, gently spread the dough towards the edges of the pan. Keep it as round as possible, but a little oddly-shaped pizza never killed anyone.
Once its spread out, pour the BBQ sauce on and use a brush to evenly cover the dough leaving a half-an-inch border of crust dry.
The chicken that came out of the leftover soup, wring out as much excess liquid as you can, or you'll end up with soupy pizza. And that's not a good thing. Place the chicken on top of the sauce.
Now top that with the mozz. If you have shredded, go nuts. I had a big log of it from Costco, so I made thin slices of it and casually placed them to get even coverage.
Throw the sliced onions on top of that.
Using a brush, or your fingers, coat the dry crust with olive oil, then sprinkle with the granulated garlic & salt. This gives the crusts some character.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, depending on your oven, and how well-done you like the crust. The cheese should be nice and bubbly and the crust should be at the precipice of golden brown.
Cut the pizza into 8 small slices and serve with a big salad. Enjoy!!

Homemade pizzas are very near and dear to my heart. First off, it's simple comfort food. Secondly, it's easy to throw together in a pinch. Just about anything can go on top. Feeling a little crazy? Throw some salami and artichokes on top. Or whatever really. Be creative. Making pizzas at home is supposed to be fun, so go nuts.

Oh, and about crust. Short of making it from scratch in "Big Red"...my nickname for my KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer, Trader Joe's is, in my opinion, the best on the market. It's cheap, easy to use and delicious. I love their Garlic & Herb dough, but they also over plain and whole wheat.

One more thing...I'm serious about spraying with Pam kids. The very first time I cooked for Mike, I forgot and we ended up with "Franken-pizza." Of course I had talked up my cooking skills to him beforehand so I felt like a grade-A jackass. Luckily he thought it was cute and here we are a year and a half later. But please...please....please avoid this mistake. Not every guy out there is as forgiving ladies. So look like a goddess in the kitchen and spritz your pan!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Insanity


in·san·i·ty/inˈsanitē/Noun
1. The state of being seriously mentally ill; madness.
2. Extreme foolishness or irrationality

This definition from Google describes Mike's and my current state of being. As in, we are currently insane. The day after I got home from the cruise we started the Insanity Home Workout program. This is a 60 day program hell bent on getting you in better shape. Trainer Shaun T. leads you in a series of DVD's that push you to your physical limits. Meaning, he is yelling at you through your TV's speakers to "Dig Deeper." 

Basically you watch and follow along with a different workout every day, with 1 day a week to rest. For 2 straight months. And this crap is hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. A typically workout consists of a 10-ish minute warm up...which isn't really a warm up. It's cardio from the beginning. You start with 30 seconds each of jogging in place, jumping-jacks, heismans, 123's, butt-kicks, high knees and mummy-kicks. You do 3 sets of this, each time getting faster. Mike and I are both complete sweaty messes by the end of the watm up. Then you stretch for 5 minutes or so. Then it's into the hardcore cardio training for 15-20 minutes. So far, the DVD's have increased in difficulty, so I can only wait with trepidation to see what the second month has in store for us. 

Today finishes week one for us. I know in another week I'll be more used to the routine and my sore muscles will be better. I also know, this will be a worthwhile endeavor for Mike and I to accomplish. Moreover, it's awesome having someone to work out with, we motivate each other to keep going when one of us wants to say "F**K YOU SHAUN T.!!!!!!! TAKE YOUR SUICIDE DRILLS AND SHOVE 'EM UP YOUR INSANE ASS!!!" 

And yes, it's happened. Maybe more than once. But we'll stick with it. So keep reading the bloggy-blog here for updates. And any encouragement is of course welcome. Or if any of you have been through Insanity and just want to commiserate...I welcome it. Comment away.

Predictably, the recipes I post over the next couple weeks/months will be slightly more focused on being healthy and replacing nutrients lost during these strenuous workouts. Lots of proteins and low-fat. Again my dear readers, comments/ideas would be amazing.

Hope you all are eating well and staying healthy!!!   

Chicken Tortilla Soup

More Mexican-inspired food. Anyone seeing a theme here? I just can't seem to help myself. Plus this is one of Mike's favorites. As soon as I got home this was the first thing he really wanted me to make. Who am I to object?? What can I say, I'm a giver. LOL.

Chicken Tortilla Soup for the Crock-pot
*Important note, this is a recipe I developed on my own after doing some research. I do not have specific measurements for the spices. I play it by ear each time and do it by feel. Like a real Italian. Except this is Mexican-ish food. I digress.

Serves 2 with a ton of leftovers (perfect for Mike to take to work)

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts
2 cans chicken broth
4 cups of water
1 can corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon Chicken Bouillon
Granulated Garlic
Chili Pepper
Ground Cumin
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Tortilla chips

Combine all ingredients except the salt in the Crock-pot and turn on high for 6 hours. What you do with the seasonings here is up to you. I would guess that I use about a tablespoon or so of each. In my opinion, you cannot over-flavor anything with cumin because it is freaking delicious. If you like a spicier broth, add more chili/cumin. You really can't go wrong here. It always turns out fabulous. When the chicken is cooked through, an hour or so into the process, take it out and shred it with two forks. Add it back in with the soup. Close to the end of cooking, taste for seasoning, and add salt accordingly. When the soup is done, ladle it into bowls, then top with a sprinkle of cheese and broken up tortilla chips. We use the Kirkland Organic Chips from Costco. They are delicious with much less salt than other brands. If you have fresh cilantro on hand, chop a little and add that on top too. Gives it a nice fresh taste.

As you can tell, this is an incredibly easy meal. You throw some junk in a pot and walk away for most of the day. And the flavors just keep building overnight in the fridge too. It's always better the next day. This is a pretty healthy dinner too, with the only fat coming from the cheese you add at the end...but if you don't add a huge amount it's negligible. Mike gives this soup 2 thumbs up.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm Back!!!

Hey kids! Hope the past week and a half has been kind to all of you. It certainly was. For 7 nights I was spoiled rotten on the Carnival Valor. Long story short, had a fabulous time. Let's see, the non-food highlights: spending time with my lovely Grandma, Aunt and cousin, running down the street in Georgetown in a bikini and towel, going to Hell and back, holding a baby turtle, drinking a margarita in the ocean off the coast of Honduras, having the time to read a book for pleasure, kayaking/paddle-boating/water-trampolining on the island where they film the Corona commercials, drinking way too much rum-punch on said island...and above all else, eating more food than was healthy or reasonable. Truly. I was a big fat oinker on this trip.

And it was fabulous.

Every night at dinner, we had the option to pretty much order as much of every item offered as we pleased. So if there was something that looked interesting, I went for it. And you know, I'm happy I did. Not only because of the obligatory vacation rule, "do as you please" but because I was regularly surprised by the thoughtfulness and quality of the food. The Chef de Cuisine on that particular ship is doing his job well. And moreover, he is making sure all of his sous chefs are as well. I was consistently impressed.

Before I left, I did some research. It seems there are a lot of people out there who have been on that same ship and found the food horrible. Personally, for the most part, I have no freaking idea what they're complaining about. The kitchen staff on that cruise ship has an incredibly difficult task ahead of them every day. They have to feed 3,600 people, daily. This means the buffet, the snack bars, and 2 huge, multi-level dining rooms. So for the quality to be anything above satisfactory is mind-boggling to me.

So...for the greatest hits of my culinary journey on the Carnival Valor, away we go:

Spicy Gazpacho

Carnival's Signature Dessert, the Warm Melting Chocolate Cake

Puff pastry sheets with custard in between and caramelized apples

Fruit from room service, the attention to detail is what surprised me

A Tastee Pattie from Grand Cayman, filled with spicy chicken. Kind of like an Empanada.

Prosciutto and melon rounds. Beautiful presentation.

Braised Short Ribs with green beans, fried eggplant and fried rice with fresh ginger
And on July 27 we had the pleasure of attending the Chef's Table. This experience included a private galley tour with the Chef de Cuisine, Mathew Gregory, champagne and appetizers (Ahi Tartar on Wasabi Crisp, Duck Pot Sticker, Steak Taco and Avocado Cheesecake) in the galley, and a 7-course meal prepared by the Chef in a private room off the main dining room. It was...the best meal of my life. Truly. All of the dishes were thoughtful and complete. The contrasts of flavors and textures was perfect.

Norweigan Salmon Tartar
with Avocado Mousse and Salmon Caviar

Fire Roasted Tomato & Poblano Chili Bisque
with grilled corn and cilantro drizzle

Rock Shrimps & Apple Beignets
with tapioca crunch and garlic-lemon aioli

Chopped Mediterranean Salad
with Shaved Squash and Feta Crumbles

Fillet of Chilean Sea Bass,
with wine-stewed shallots & chives vinaigrette,
leeks emulsion and peas risotto

Aged Filet Mignon
on a bed of onion streusel
with homemade 3-pepper mustards
(also included creamed potatoes and broccoli)

Raspberry Sorbet, Almond Cake, various sauces.
Was accompanied by the melting cake and ice cream!
Just a note: please excuse for awful photography. I'm learning, but it's a slow process. And my camera is not really made for food-photography. So bear with me. It'll get better, I promise.

So as you can tell, I did a great job of doing nothing but enjoying myself. Takes some practice, after being a busy-bee at home. But it's all good. I had a really fantastic week. Got a lot closer with my family and got to have a lot of fun in the process. Also brought home a great tan, so it's safe to say I had fun on vacation!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bon Voyage!

It would appear that I've been a little fixated on Mexican food this week. 3 nights in one week. What can I say? I love it. Mexican food is one of the things that make living in Southern California tolerable. Those poor people on the East Coast...most of them wouldn't know a jalapeno if it smacked them in the face. And they probably all think Del Taco or Taco Bell constitutes "mexican" food. So sad!!!! Literally one of the great failures of East Coast cuisine. Although I'll give them their props for crab cakes. Mmm. Crab cakes. Ok, I'm drifting. Back to the topic at hand. Mexican food.

Mmm.

Tacos. Or anything Mexican-food-ish really.

However, tacos were earlier this week. Last night I spent time with their cousin, the enchilada. Man oh man. Good stuff.

Chicken Enchiladas

Serves 2 (with leftovers....holla!)
Ingredients:
2 small chicken breasts
10 corn tortillas
1 10oz can La Victoria Enchilada sauce (go with anything Spanish-sounding)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
**1 small can diced green chiles
**1/2 onion, chopped

Bring 4 cups of water up to a boil and throw the chicken in. If you want to season the water with bouillon, go right ahead. Cook the chicken all the way through, should take 10-15 minutes.
When the chicken is done, take it out of the pot, and shred with 2 forks. You don't have to go nuts, just make sure you get nice bite-size pieces.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put the tortillas on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Heat them for about 30 seconds, to soften them. This makes them easier to work with, and less likely to break on you.
In a 9x13 inch Pyrex, place 1 tortilla at a time, fill with about 1-2 tablespoons of the chicken. Then roll the tortilla, and rest it on the seam. Continue this process with all the tortillas.
Cover the enchiladas with the sauce. The 10oz can is just about the perfect amount.
Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top and bake for about 15-20 minutes. The cheese should be nice and melty and starting to brown.

Notes on this recipe...I call for chiles and onion, but I didn't have any, so mine were a little plain last night. C'est la vie. I do recommend using them if you have them though, they really bump up the flavor.

I've spent the better part of today being exhausted due to a little too much fun last night. Captain America was a very good movie. It was very well made. And the acting didn't make me want to die inside, so kudos to the team who put it together. However, didn't get to sleep until about 5:00 this morning. Marga Cat has been a wee-bit scatterbrained today. And the day isn't nearly over. Tonight Mike and I are babysitting my cutie-pie nephew. Caffeine is a very good thing today. And very much needed. Tomorrow I'm getting the last of my bag packed, and then tomorrow night I'm off to Miami. Meeting family there and taking off on a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise. I. Am. So. Spoiled. But seriously, how lucky am I? Not only does my family just rock to begin with, they want to do extremely fun, awesome things with me. I'm blessed people. So if any of yous out there ever hear me complain, you have my absolute permission to tell me to STFU!

With the babysitting tonight, there is no cooking afoot. So this will likely be my last post until I get home on July 31 and get back in the kitchen where I belong....(Did I get that right Mike?? Haha!)

Have a good week. Do fun things. And above all else, cook!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

Alright...I did it again.Used the box of death to help with dinner. But whatever. It's hot in this damn house either way, might as well get a good meal out of it. Dreaming of the day when I have my own air-conditioned kitchen. Sigh. One day.

For now, I'll just sweat I guess. Oh, and a note on this recipe. This is NOT health food. It could be worse, true; but I like my mashed taters creamy. So sue me.

Shepherd's Pie

Serves 2
Ingredients:
1/2lb. ground beef (already cooked from the night before!!)
1 package of Steam Fresh mixed veggies
2lbs. potatoes (whatever kind you like)
4 Tablespoons margarine/butter
1/2 to 1 cup reduced fat milk
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Salt & Pepp to taste
1 Tablespoon parmesan cheese

Start a big pot of water boiling for the potatoes. While it comes up to temp, cut the potatoes into inch cubes, so they'll cook quickly.
When the water is rapidly boiling, toss the tates in. They'll need somewhere between 10-15 minutes to be fork tender, which is plenty of time to prep everything else for this meal.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Since your beef is all ready to go, Pam an 8x8 pan and toss it in. Take the package of veggies and microwave for the directed 4 minutes. When they're done, throw them in with the meat and mix. Season with salt & pepper.
Once the potatoes are fork tender, drain them and return them to the pot.
Dump in the margarine, and milk and mash them to a consistency that makes you happy. I find that the creamier they are, the better they spread on top of the meat/veggies.
Add the garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
With a spatula, place a big mound of the mashed tates on top of the meat mixture and spread outwards to make sure all the meat is covered. Sprinkle the parmesan on top. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned and crisp.

This is a really hearty meal. Mike and I eat it straight out of the pan with 2 forks, usually because we're too lazy to wait for it to cool off, so we carefully avoid the edges of the pan, which will burn the crap out of your fingers. Not that I'd know about that or anything...
Again with the classiness. But hey, it means less dishes to wash, and I'm all about that. Also, there was a nice amount leftover for Mike to take to work today, so that's good.

Big plans for tonight....enchiladas, a nap, and then seeing the premiere of Captain America with some friends at midnight. Woot!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Taco Tuesday

So it's been a couple days since I've sat down to write anything, just....didn't have much to say yesterday I guess. We went out for dinner Monday to Paco's here in San Bernardino. That place is killer. MMMMM. So good. Had a shredded beef and rice burrito. As far as dinky, hole-in-the-wall places go, tist one deserves 5 Spatulas. Never had a disappointing meal. And it's cheap too. My burrito, which was huge, was only $3.75. That's definitely a win.

Last night however, was Taco Tuesday. Homemade this time. Mike and I hadn't made them at home in a couple weeks, so it was time. And they turned out delish, like always.

Beef Tacos

Serves 2 (with leftover meat..which is enough for another meal)

Ingredients:
1lb. lean ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon granulated garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste
6 corn tortillas
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can fat-free refried beans

Start by throwing the onions in a saute pan. Cook until the onions begin to sweat, about 4-5 minutes. Then add the ground beef. Break it up while it cooks into bits. When you have it spread across the pan, sprinkle the cumin, garlic and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. When the meat has completely browned, drain off any fat and return the meat to the pan to keep warm.
Empty the can of beans into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. I usually throw a little garlic into the beans just to bump up the flavor a bit.
Heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepan. We have one that is reserved for frying projects. When the oil is hot, gently place the 1st tortilla in the pan. With tongs, flip the tortilla once the edges are brown and cook a minute longer. Take the tortilla out of the pan, and pat with clean paper towels to remove as much oil as possible, fold in half and try not to break it, then keep warm in the oven until all of them are done. Serve with whatever taco fixings you like. We usually have grated cheese, lettuce, sour cream for Mike and if we have salsa in the house, we'll throw that on top.

This is one of my favorite meals. It's easy, and easily variable. If you're being health-conscious, use ground turkey. I actually really like the flavor of ground turkey, but it's very expensive, so the beef works just fine, and isn't all that terrible for you, especially after draining whatever fat drippings there are. Also, if you don't have fat-free refried beans, don't sweat it. We used a can of black beans last night that we drained and warmed with garlic, and it was just as fabulous. Mix it up. Tacos are a hard thing to ruin.

That's it for today kids. Happy Hump Day!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sweaty Sunday

It's official. The cool weather is gone. For how long? I have no freaking clue. But it dawned on me yesterday, as I stepped out of the shower and didn't feel all that refreshed. The heat of July is back. Had to stand in front of a fan as I got dressed actually. No bueno. But I guess that's what us Southern Californians get. Maybe when Mike and I are loaded (ha ha) we'll move somewhere with more temperate weather. Or have that "summer house" in Lake Tahoe.....Oooooooh. That sounds so nice. I'm not exactly going to hold my breath on that, but I'll keep dreaming.

This morning I found myself reading my Christmas/Hanukah present from my Mom last year, Nigella Lawson's cookbook, "How to be a domestic goddess: Baking and the art of comfort cooking." Firstly, all the recipes look divine, and the photography...Jeez. It's like porn for foodies. But I think her writing takes the cake. It's so sensual. Even in print, the woman just oozes sexuality and confidence in the kitchen. I love it. Her bravado is so lovely, telling us readers to take no prisoners in the kitchen, and never apologize for our mistakes. I find it slightly Julia Child-esque. Don't apologize! Never cry foul! Wield that spatula like a well-trained Ninja warrior wields a katana!

Ok...Maybe I went a bit far with the metaphor. But I hope you all get my point. Get in that kitchen and cook baby!

Last night I again used the box of death. And sweated like an oinker. But that's cool, dinner was yummy. Mike gave me 2 thumbs up.

Chicken Piccata & Baked Zucchini Chips

Serves 2
Ingredients:
1 large or 2 small chicken breasts
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1/2 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 pinch each, salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter/margarine
2 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
2 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat your oven to 450degrees. This meal contains 2 breaded items, so I make 1 big bowl of the breading and use it for both items. And for sanitary reasons, bread the zucchini first and chicken last.
Mix the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic, and salt & pepper in a shallow bowl (big enough to fit the breasts).
Slice the zucchini to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. If you have a fancy mandoline, use it. Otherwise, like me, use a serrated knife and try not to slice your fingers along with the zucc's.
Coat the zucchini slices with the olive oil, and then pat them with the bread crumb mixture to cover. Place the breaded slices on a baking sheet that you have covered in foil and sprayed with Pam. Stick those in the oven for 25-30 minutes, but keep an eye on them. Brown is good, black is bad.
Once the zucchini is in the oven, pound out the chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or in a closed Ziploc. You want them to be about 1/2 inch thick. Once they're pounded, coat them with the flour and shake off the excess. Then dip them into the egg, and then dregde in the bread crumb mixture. Make sure they're evenly coated.
Heat the butter in a skillet, and place the chicken in. Cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes per side. You want the chicken to brown and be slightly crispy on the outside. By the time the chicken is done, the zucchini should be ready to come out of the oven.
Remove the chicken from the skillet, and pour the white wine and lemon juice in with the drippings from the chicken for about a minute to cook off the alcohol. Pour the sauce over the chicken.

Very yummy. Minimal clean-up. Also had salad to go with and a glass of the wine that I used for the sauce. Wouldn't want my vino to go to waste now would I?? Ha! Sat in front of 3 fans as we ate. Yes, 3.

Today is errand day, including taking Papa shoe shopping. Wild and crazy times man! Hope the week is kicking off with a bang for all my lovely readers out there!