The Friday Salad

Two Fridays ago, while visiting Steve’s family, I had lunch at The Backyard in Milton, DE.  I’ve been there a few times before and enjoyed such treats as cauliflower steak and avocado fries (yes, you read that right), but this last time took the cake.  I knew I wanted to try and stay gluten-free (always a challenge at restaurants), and that quickly cut down on a lot of options.  Mostly I’m choosing from salads these days, but when there’s something like a black bean mango salad on the menu, I’m not complaining.  This was the mother of all salads.  It started with quinoa, included a somewhat spicy tomato and pepper salsa, black beans, barbecued chicken, and mango.  And in case that’s not enough, it came with a side of spicy ranch dressing.  So, creamy dressing and your feelings on meat aside, this is a pretty healthy meal.  As soon as I finished it, I knew I’d be making it myself soon.

Exactly one week later, I set out to recreate this little delight.  It actually doesn’t cost too much to make; the most expensive ingredients are the quinoa and the chicken, and you’ll have leftovers of those for other meals.  I always keep black beans in the cupboard, and I usually have some version of the Rotel tomatoes and chilies on hand too.  I’ve been working my way through a bag of quinoa for some time, and this was a great way to finish that up.  So when I started this, I needed mangoes, chicken, barbecue sauce, and ranch dressing.

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The beginning of something great.

Here’s what I did: I started the chicken and quinoa first.  The chicken needs to be absolutely slathered in barbecue sauce and baked at 350 (flipped once halfway through) for about 35 minutes.  After that, I turned the broiler on for about 5-7 minutes, flipping it halfway through that as well.  I wanted a really good coating of sauce on these because I’d be slicing them later on.  While that was baking, I cooked the quinoa in vegetable stock – that takes a total of about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I combined the black beans and Rotel in a saucepan with a little bit of diced red onion to punch it up.  I cooked this over low heat really just to combine the flavors.
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Once everything was cooking, I sliced up two mangoes and waited for everything else to finish up.  I did let the quinoa and the black bean mix sit and cool off for a few minutes, and I let the chicken rest for just a few minutes as well.  I didn’t necessarily want anything to be piping hot – it is a salad, after all.

And then it was just a matter of plating – my favorite part!  The only thing you can’t see here is the quinoa, but it’s hiding under there.

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I have to say, this was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever made.  I enjoyed it, Steve enjoyed it, and I will absolutely be making this again (Friday, perhaps?)!  I topped mine with some ranch dressing – not the healthiest, I know, but it balances the spicy flavors so well.

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Now is that a summer meal or what?

Mango Black Bean Salads

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 ripe mangoes, sliced

1 cup quinoa

1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies

1 can black beans

8-10 ounces barbecue sauce

Ranch dressing

Optional: 1/4 red onion, diced

 

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

2. Place chicken breasts in glass baking dish; cover and toss with barbecue sauce

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, flipping halfway through

4. While chicken bakes, cook quinoa according to package directions (typically, boil in vegetable stock 12-15 minutes and let sit until liquid absorbs).  Let cool.

5. In a saucepan, combine black beans, Rotel, and red onion (if using).  Cook over low heat for 8-10 minutes stirring regularly.  Let cool.

6. When chicken is cooked through, turn on broiler and broil for 5-7 minutes, flipping halfway through.

7. Once chicken is finished, let sit for a few minutes, then slice.

8. In each serving bowl, combine one large spoonful of quinoa and one of bean mix; arrange chicken and mango on top and top with Ranch dressing

 

Enjoy!

Zebra Print Frittatas

I am all about the breakfast lately.  I’ve written about this before, but when I get a good, healthy start to the day, it’s motivation for me to stay healthy all day.  Basically, I don’t want to have a great breakfast and then screw things up.  I normally eat yogurt with granola and nuts, oatmeal with a bunch of toppings, or those dandy little granola bars I made not too long ago.  But stepping away from the crunchy side of life for a minute, I’ve got another super quick and easy breakfast dish for you today: muffin frittatas.

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This doesn’t look easy, I know.  On early mornings, I can’t even mange to make oatmeal.  The trick to this breakfast, as with all great meals, is planning ahead.  And in this case, making ahead.  But even though there is work involved, they are pretty easy to put together.  I used eight eggs this time and got ten muffins.  I added in red pepper, red onion, scallions, mushrooms, and of course, cheese.

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This is already looking pretty good.

The first time I made these, I just diced, chopped, and stirred everything into the eggs.  They were good, but I started thinking about how much better they would be if I sautéed a few things first.  Now I’m convinced this is the only way to do it.  And what’s not to love about sautéed mushrooms and peppers?

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If you don’t make a mess, you’re not doing it right.

After I had my veggies prepped, I whisked up the eggs in a big bowl, added a tablespoon of baking powder (it makes all the difference – trust me), 1/4 cup of milk, a little salt and pepper, and the vegetables.  After lining the muffin tin with cupcake wrappers, I filled each one and topped with some shredded cheddar, making a fine mess of my tin in the process.  These went into the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes.

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Obviously, zebra print wrappers are a must.

And here they are – cute, delicious, nutritious, and ready to eat in the morning in no time.  All the qualifications of a brilliant breakfast!  They were really puffed up when they came out of the oven, but they deflated as they cooled; the final taste and texture is exactly what you want in eggs.  Try them out!

 

Muffin Frittatas

Ingredients

8 large eggs

4-5 scallions, diced (hint: use kitchen scissors)

1/2-1 red pepper, chopped

1/4-1/2 red onion, diced

1 8-ounce package sliced white mushrooms

1/4 cup milk

1/4-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon baking powder

Salt and pepper

Cupcake wrappers

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees; line muffin tin with wrappers

2.  Sauté pepper and mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes

3. While the pepper and mushrooms cook, whisk eight eggs with milk

4. Stir in mushrooms, peppers, scallions, red onion, baking powder, and salt and pepper to taste

5. Spoon egg mixture into lined muffin tin; top with cheese

6. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes

7. Let cool completely before removing

Word to the wise: if you use a cupcake wrapper with any kind of metallic lining, be sure to take that off before microwaving in the morning!

I hope you enjoy these!  I’m looking forward to experimenting with all different kinds of veggies, but this combo is working pretty well for me right now.  Happy cooking!

Lesson the Third: Make Dinner

Well, here it is, as predicted: the post on dinner!  Last night, I really didn’t feel like making dinner, but I’m glad I forced myself because 1) I have a fridge full of food thanks to my Friday night Wegmans adventure; and 2) I made cheesy potatoes.

Over the weekend (really since Thursday), I ate SO well.  I didn’t necessarily have anything exciting – there was mango guacamole, which, to be fair, is pretty exciting, black beans and rice, salads – but I ate a ton of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and it felt great.  I surprised myself by going four entire days without eating meat.  I didn’t set out to do this; it was really just sheer laziness, but it felt good and got me eating other great stuff.

So last night, while we still had a pretty healthy meal, I decided to indulge a little.  I went BACK TO WEGMANS yesterday afternoon for two non-food things and left with potatoes, cilantro, avocados, mangoes, and artichokes. Oy.  I’d purchased some salmon Friday night that I planned to cook either Sunday or Monday for dinner, and when I saw the artichokes I thought they’d be a perfect side.  I wanted a little starch to go along with that, so I got 20 (I counted them when I started cooking, not in the store – I’m not completely nuts) small, red potatoes.  I was originally planning to cook them as I usually do, which is to cut them in half, boil them, and toss with butter and thyme, but I thought I’d try something different.  It’s been a while since I got creative.

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I decided to do a cheesy potato bake, so I knew I’d have to slice the potatoes thin – almost chip-thin.  I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I have a really hard time getting potatoes to cook.  Baked sweet potatoes?  Forget it.  So I made sure these slices were skinny.  I sprayed the bottom of a round baking dish with olive oil and then just barely shingled the potatoes around.  I learned that term for layering food slices this year – pretty neat!

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Once the first layer was down, I salted, peppered, thymed, and parmesaned.

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I kept going for four layers – I had exactly enough potatoes – crazy! I topped the whole thing off with cheese and put it into a preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes, checking every 15.  Once a knife slide out easily, I knew it was done.

IMG_6544And done it was.  This was so good and such a great side dish for the fish.  Since fish is light, I like to balance it with something a little bit heavier.

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Meanwhile, I steamed the artichokes with some lemon (not the ones below – the steamed lemons turned to mush and were just for flavor and aromatics) and cooked the fish.  The whole thing took right around an hour, but it was so tasty and filling that it was worth every slice, every chop, and every dirty dish.

IMG_6620As you saw, the potatoes definitely took some prep work, and the artichokes did as well.  They’re not that hard to steam, though – you just have to snip the thorny ends off and open them up a bit.  The fish is ridiculously easy to cook – put on baking sheet, season, and put in oven.  Yes, there are fancier things you can do with salmon, but since I was going to town on the potatoes, I kept the rest simple.  Sometimes those are the best meals.  I’m so glad I didn’t skip out on cooking dinner last night.  It was filling, nutritious and fun to cook (and let’s be honest – fun to photograph).

Till next time! 🙂

 

Cheesy Potato Bake

Ingredients

20-30 red potatoes, thinly sliced

1/2-3/4 cup shredded parmesan

1-2 tablespoons dried thyme

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees; spray bottom of round baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray

2. Arrange a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the dish in a spiral, slightly shingled

3. Top potatoes with salt, pepper, and thyme, then sprinkle with a layer of cheese

4. Repeat layers until you reach the top of the dish or the potatoes are gone; finish with seasonings and cheese

5. Cover and bake for 45 minutes

Enjoy!

Sweet!

A big part of healthy eating is cooking for yourself. You know what’s going into your food, you can control what’s going into your food, and let’s face it: when you have to put in a little effort, you’re less likely to over-indulge. Although last night it was hard not to over-indulge on what I cooked.

I’ve always loved sweet potato fries – I mean, who doesn’t? Anyone? Didn’t think so. But the only times I’ve had them were in restaurants or from the frozen section of the grocery store. Last week, I tried out a black bean burger recipe that has a little bit of cooked sweet potato in it, so when I made them again tonight, I thought the fries would be the perfect side.

I read a few recipes online, but in the end I went my own way. The big decision in making fries is how to season them. After smelling every spice in my cabinet, I landed on these:

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I had never even opened the ground cloves! It kind of makes me wonder why I bought them. At any rate, from what I’d read online, I knew I needed olive oil, salt, and sugar. As far the rest, I think I landed on a pretty good combination. The cloves and nutmeg gave just enough kick to balance out the sweet.

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After tossing everything together in a bowl, I spread the wedges onto a baking sheet and put them into a preheated 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes, then tossed them around and flipped them over.  Then they cooked for another ten minutes.
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I’ll be honest, at first I thought they were burnt, but it was just the spices.  They were perfect!  A little crispy on the outside and oh-so-sweet on the inside.

 
 

You might disagree, but I think these fries would be good even after they got cold! I was so happy with how they turned out. This was definitely a spur-of-the-moment dinner decision, but it’s one that I’ll be making again!

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The black bean burgers are Tosca Reno’s recipe, of course (I do love her), and the fries were the perfect complement. This was the perfect summer dinner. I know it’s not summer yet, but I’m a teacher, so it’s actually been summer for three weeks.
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Till next time! ❤

Thyme is On My Side

Yes, it is!  Tonight’s dinner was fantastic.  This afternoon, I Googled “chicken thyme recipes” and found this recipe from a website called “Inspired Taste.”  It looked relatively easy, so I gave it a try.  I just so happened to have one of the key ingredients on hand:

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I’ve tried growing herbs before from seeds, and it was mostly successful, but eventually they tanked.  Of the few I had, I’ve really missed basil and thyme.  When I was at Trader Joe’s last week, I stumbled upon a little shelf of herbs for three bucks a pop.  Unfortunately they didn’t have basil, but I did replace the thyme.

Dinner tonight was really easy.  I’ll let you read the recipe on the website, but I’ll tell you that I used my dutch oven because it’s the only cast-iron thing I own.  It turned out so well!

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I’m a big fan of browning chicken first before putting it in the oven, so this was perfect for me.  I served it on top of mashed potatoes, as shown on the website, and added a couple of lemon wedges.  I love lemon in tea and water, but I’ve recently started squeezing a little juice on my chicken and fish – oh, the flavor!

The thyme was a really nice touch to this dish.  I love herbs de Provence, so I can never really say no to any component of it.  I served this with some roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnips.  Normally, I’d probably have a salad, but I had the veggies in the fridge and wanted to use them before they went bad.  They were really great, and the parsnips added a sweetness that rounded out the meal nicely.

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I won’t say too much about the roasted Brussels sprouts here because I could write an entire post on them (and likely will soon).  For now, know this: if you cut them in half, put them cut-side-down in a baking dish with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them in a 400-degree oven for 20-30 minutes until they brown, you’ll fall in love.

 

Till next time – happy cooking!

 

South of the Border

Well, it’s finally here: warm weather!  I still don’t trust it and am constantly checking the forecast, expecting a turn for the cold.  But it’s mid-April, so I think, although I hesitate to even think it, that we may be in the clear.

I’ve always enjoyed making and eating the lighter fare that comes with warm weather.  Don’t get me wrong: you can’t beat a hearty stew in the winter.  But coming out of hibernation can be just as good.  Encouraged by the warm weather, I’ve been on a Mexican food kick lately.  Last week, I made a great red beans and rice dish from a “Five Ingredient/Fifteen Minute” cookbook Mom gave me a few months back.  It’s so handy for those nights when I get home from work late!  I definitely want to make that again soon, but tonight I decided to go with an old favorite: chicken quesadillas.

I’ve always loved these, but I don’t think I’ve ever made them before.  Sure, I’ve made cheese and tomato quesadillas – they were a favorite after-school snack for a while in high school – but before I really began cooking a couple of years ago, I was always leery of cooking meat.  I couldn’t tell when it was done, I didn’t want to make myself sick, and the whole endeavor just seemed like too much bother.  Well, through practice, a few good recipes, and advice from Mom, I feel like I’ve finally mastered at least a few basic ways of doing it.  Tonight’s chicken was perfect, and I made a simple guacamole to go along with it.

So here I present to you a recipe in pictures.  I was going to write the whole thing up, list out ingredients, measurements, and so on, but I think you’ll manage without them.  This is a meal you can tailor to your needs and tastes.  I’ll tell you what I used along the way, but make it your own!

First of all, I browned two organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts in an olive-oiled skillet over medium-high heat (about five minutes on each side).  Then they went into an oil-sprayed baking dish and into a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.  I didn’t photograph this prep.  Do you really want to look at raw chicken?  Me neither.

While the chicken was in the oven, I made the guacamole.  Here are the ingredients (some of this went into the quesadillas too):

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Salt and pepper, avocados, tomatoes, lime juice, red onion, and cilantro.

 

I’ve read and been told a lot about how to cut an avocado over the years, but it is this writer-chef’s opinion that if an avocado is really ready to be guacamole, you don’t need a knife… except to cut it in half, that is.

I put these chopped pieces of red onion in my little food processor with about a teaspoon of cilantro leaves (again, if you want more flavor, punch it up!).  I chopped them for about ten seconds, until they looked like this:

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Next, I cut the avocados in half and squeezed them out of their peels.  I diced up one tomato and mixed that all together with the chopped onions and cilantro and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and lime juice.

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Oh. My. Yum.

Next, I diced up two more tomatoes (I was making two quesadillas) and got some shredded Cheddar cheese and whole wheat tortillas ready to go.  When it was time for the chicken to come out of the oven, I shredded it with two forks until it looked like this:

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Then it was time to put it all together.  I heated a skillet to medium-low and sprayed it very lightly with olive oil just to keep the tortillas from sticking.  Then I loaded them up – chicken, tomatoes, leftover onions and cilantro, and cheese.

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Remember that you just want to put your fillings on half so that you can fold it. 🙂  I put each one on the heated skillet for about three minutes on each side.  The chicken was hot, so really I was just melting the cheese and warming the tomatoes.  When they’re finished, move them to a plate and slice them with the pizza wheel.

And then Steve and I had a simple yet scrumptious dinner on the balcony.

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This is a great, quick meal (even quicker if you cook your chicken ahead of time!) for a summer night.  It’s easy, it’s healthy (chips aside – I know), and the flavors are just fabulous.

Till next time – happy cooking!  Cheers!

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Simple, Scrumptious Spaghetti

Two posts in a week – look at her go!  I just had to share this flavorful (and rather pretty) meal with you.  I like a lot of foodie pages on Facebook, one of which is ‘Elegant Foods and Desserts.”  Over the weekend, I was browsing around and came across a picture of a pasta dish with tomatoes and basil.  It looked like the perfect summer meal.  I realize it’s only February and is still snowing, but a girl can dream.  I didn’t find a recipe attached to it, just a short list of ingredients – enough for me.

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Mise en place

Last night, I got my mise on and had a wonderful dinner in no time.  Before you go thinking that I went through half the dishes in my cabinets to get a pretty picture, let me tell you that I regularly use prep bowls.  Pre-measuing, cutting, dicing, chiffonade-ing, and so on not only helps you make sure you have everything you need, but also saves you time while you’re cooking.  If you need to add three ingredients to a dish right when it starts to boil, you’d better have them ready to go.  Prep work here was easy.  I cut up the tomatoes, pressed the garlic, and cut up the basil into a chiffonade.

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Once I had the spaghetti cooking, I combined the tomatoes and garlic with about a tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper in an oven-safe bowl.  I put those into a 325-degree oven for five minutes just to warm them up.  When they came out of the oven, I stirred in the basil.  Once the spaghetti was finished, I drained it, tossed everything together, mixed in half the Parmesan, a little salt and pepper, and dinner was served.

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This dish was mouthwatering.  I had it with a side spinach salad with cranberries, red onion, walnuts, and red wine vinegar and oil.  The whole thing felt very summery to me.  When the snow is gone, I’ll be enjoying this with a glass of wine on my balcony.

Simple, Scrumptious Spaghetti

Ingredients

1/2 box spaghetti (preferably whole wheat)

Approximately 20-30 cherry tomatoes, quartered

5-6 basil leaves, sliced into chiffonade

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

4 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees; Cook spaghetti according to package directions

2. Toss quartered tomatoes, pressed garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper in an oven-safe bowl

3. Place tomatoes in pre-heated oven for approximately five minutes (you’re just warming them)

4. Once tomatoes are out of the oven, stir in basil

5. When the spaghetti is cooked and drained, return to pot and stir in tomato mixture and half the Parmesan cheese.

6. Serve immediately, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese, and enjoy!