Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quinoa: Embrace it, love it.

Tonight I whipped up a simple, healthy, delicious dinner of quinoa.  If your response to "quinoa"(pronounced keen-wa) is "quin-huh?" allow me to explain and ROCK YOUR WORLD.

Quinoa is (per my box of quinoa) an important grain that dates back over five thousand years to the vast and mighty Inca civilization of South America.

I know: whoa.  The takeaway from this is if it has been around for 5000 years and popular with Incans it has to be easy to cook, since they didn't have hand blenders, kitchenaid mixers, pizza stoners, or, ya know, electricity.

The reason you want to eat this superfood is because it is a grain that has more high quality protein than any other grain, so it is pretty darn healthy.  The reason you want to cook it is because it is sooo simple.  So simple that you can do it IN THE MICROWAVE.  Take that, Incans.

This recipe is actually an Ashlie original so my measurements aren't exact: I played this recipe fast and loose, and titled it "Quinoa and Mushroom with Arugula Salad."  Remember a few posts ago when I commented on chefs that use fussy names for simple things?  "Arugula salad" is a fancy way of saying, "I piled some arugula on top of this quinoa."  Yeah.  Fan-cy.

Quinoa and Mushroom with Arugula Salad (Makes 2 servings)
1 cup quinoa                                        2 cups water or stock
1/4 diced white onion                          2 cloves diced garlic
1/2 cup diced red/green bell pepper     8-ish button mushrooms, sliced
Oregano, Red Pepper Flakes               Sherry or Wine
Sprig of Fresh Mint, chopped              1 tomato, chopped
Bunch of Arugula

1. Mix 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups stock or water in a microwave safe bowl.  Cover loosely and microwave on high for 8 minutes.  (Note: In my opinion stock adds a LOT of flavor, so use if available. I used chicken, but veggie would be fine.)

2. While this is happening, relax for a few minutes, maybe watching some Star Trek on Netflix.

3. After microwaving is complete, stir and let quinoa sit, covered, for 8-15 minutes.  (That seems like an odd period of time.  Basically, you just want the liquid to have evaporated, and the quinoa to be fluffy).

4. While the quinoa is fluffy-izing, heat about a 1/2 tbsp of oil (extra virgin, canola, whatever your preference) and add in the onion and garlic.  Stir and cook for about a minute: not too long or else the garlic can burn.  Add bell pepper and cook for another minute.

5. Add mushrooms and dry seasonings to taste.  Let mushrooms cook down for 2-3 minutes until liquid is evaporated from pan. 

6. Pour in enough sherry to cover mushrooms, about 1/4 a cup.  Realize there isn't much left in the bottle of sherry, and add a little bit more.  Sherry is goooood.

7. By this time, the quinoa should go back in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Fluff it once again, and now it's done!

8. Add the mushroom mixture and the chopped tomato to the quinoa and stir to mix.  

9. Go outside and grab some fresh mint from your front yard, chop, and add to the mixture. (If you don't have fresh mint in your front yard, plant some mint, STAT.  Mint needs a lot of sunlight and very little water.  Left alone it might just take over your home and neighborhood.  If you pay for mint at the store, you are getting robbed I tell you.  ROBBED.)  The mint is non-essential to the recipe, I just wanted a bit of fresh greenery.  Feel free to use parsley if you have it on hand, or omit all together.

10. Plate 1/2 of this deliciousness and add a big handful of fresh arugula.  Voila!  Tasty and delicious, and since it serves two, you have either lunch or dinner for tomorrow.  This recipe could also be used as a side dish to a protein, I'd suggest pork loin.

And there we have it, quinoa, demystified and deeeeeelicious. :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Under the weather? Chinese chicken soup time!

So I'm feeling a little meh today: scratchy throat, sneezy, that sort of fun.  I decided to make some chicken soup to combat whatever is trying to get me down.

I have a confession: I've never really been a chicken soup fan because it either seems too bland or is filled with too much celery.  (Note: I like celery two ways: cooked beyond recognition in southern dishes or 1st grade snack/ant on a log style).  Well, this soup has made a believer out of me.  The asian flavors make this not your average chicken soup, and it only takes about 25 minutes to throw together!

I used a recipe from the September 2011 Food Network magazine and since it was the first time I've made it, didn't steer to far from it to see how it would turn out.  Verdict: Love the flavors and ingredients but the soup was a little bland.  I added sriracha at the end for some spice and next time I'd probably throw in some ginger and lime juice to kick it up.  Some simple modifications could make this a vegetarian dish: swap veggie stock for the chicken stock and tofu for chicken.  Tah-dah!

This is really what cooking for me is all about: taking a basic concept and tweaking it to make it your own.  Don't be afraid to try something new, just make sure you at least have PB&J on hand if you go down in flames (figuratively.  I hope.)

Chinese Chicken and Rice Soup (Serves 4)
Food Network recipe: modifications by Ashlie noted with "A says"
4 large eggs                                                   2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil (A says: extra virgin)
2 large tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced     4 cups low-sodcium chicken broth
1 bunch scallions, sliced                                1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce (A says: use low sodium)     1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken, skin removed
4 cups baby spinach                                      1 1/2 cups cooked rice (white, brown or wild)

1. Whisk the eggs with a pinch each of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a wok or pot over high heat.  Add the eggs and cook, undisturbed, until bubbles form on the surface and the bottom is set, about 1 minute.
2. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring gently to break up the eggs, until the tomatoes begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the chicken broth, 3 cups water, the scallions, sesame oil, soy sauce and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Partially cover and simmer 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the chicken, spinach, and rice and warm through.  Season the soup with salt and pepper.

Health facts per serving: Calories 417; Fat 22 g; Cholesterol 297 mg; Sodium 1,282 mg*; Carbs 27 g; Fiber 3 g; Protein 29 g (*Note: original recipe used regular soy sauce, so my version would have loads less sodium)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tacos. Glooooooooorious shrimp tacos.

Shrimp tacos with slaw and pickled onions.

If there is one type of food that I am ALWAYS in the mood for, it is Mexican.  I could eat chips and salsa all day, and bonus: salsa is CRAZY HEALTHY, since it's really just diced up veggies.  Most other Mexican food is more on the non-healthy side, what with the prevalence for oil/butter/cheese.  I've found ways to satisfy my cravings for Mexican in ways that are healthy but still delicious.

Here are my tips to cut out some of the fat, and bring in some healthy bits:

  1. Choose wheat or corn tortillas when possible.
  2. Use coleslaw in your tacos to incorporate veggies and creaminess and eliminate the need for a big glop of fatty sour cream.
  3. Change up the cheese!  Feta is a close match to cotija cheese which is used in a lot of traditional mexican cooking.  It has high salt content, so watch the salt in the rest of your components, but it's a bit healthier
And now, the moment you've been waiting for: I'm going to tell you how to make these tacos!  Not going to lie, I ate them for dinner tonight, and last night, and would probably eat them again tomorrow.  That is how much I loooooooove them.  These are not your average tacos, but if you give them a try, you won't be sorry!

16 ounce bagged coleslaw mix      1/4 cup reduced fat greek yogurt
2 tbsp orange juice                         1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Spices: cumin, smoked paprika, chili powder, cayenne, salt, pepper

Mix liquids and spices to taste, then add coleslaw.  Stir well and chill.  The longer it has to sit, the better it will taste!

Pickled Red Onions (Recipe a la Bobby Flay and Food Network Magazine)
1/2 red onion, sliced thin                          3/8 cup lime juice
1/8 cup each red wine vinegar & sugar    1/2 tbsp salt

Bring liquids/salt/sugar to a boil in a saucepan.  Remove from heat and let cool, 5 minutes.  Toss with the red onion (easy way: put in mason jar); cover and chill at least 4 hours, shake jar periodically.

Ashlie Style Shrimp
Spices: garlic powder, smoked paprika, chili powder, cayenne
Olive Oil

Mix together garlic powder, smoked paprika, and chili powder in equal qualities, depending on the number of shrimp you are cooking.  Add cayenne to taste.  Mix olive oil into the spices and mix in the shrimp.  Cook shrimp in a hot pan for a few minutes per side.

To make the tacos, grab your wheat tortilla and put a heaping spoonful of coleslaw on the bottom, followed by shrimp, feta, and pickled onions.  Enjoy!!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lettuce Cups with Pork

I try to eat healthy as often as I can for a few reasons.  First of all, I like it: it makes me feel good, both mentally and physically.  Equally important is the fact that it allows me to eat things that are unhealthy, with reduced food-guilt.

Lettuce cups are great for those reasons: delicious, and allows you to store good points toward mental food math.  :)

The most important thing for lettuce cups is to use the right kind of lettuce.  Iceburg won't work because it'll break.  I use "living lettuce" from Kroger, but that or butter lettuce would suffice.

For my lettuce cups I used the grilled pork from earlier in the week and added corn, fresh onions, and a bit of bbq sauce to pull it all together.  Simple, tasty, and delicious.

Breakfast Bowl a la my Dadd

Breakfast Bowl

And now for one of my weekend guilty pleasures, something I like to call the Louisiana breakfast bowl.  My dad would cook grits with a fried egg in it just for me, so this is inspired by a childhood favorite.  I have modified it by adding bacon crumbles, and of COURSE cooking the eggs in the bacon grease, because that's the best idea ever.

To serve put shredded mozzarella cheese and Tony's season salt in the bottom of a bowl.  Put the grits on tops, two barely cooked eggs over easy, then the bacon crumbles on top.   

If you are unfamiliar with Tony's, know that there is NO substitue for its deliciousness.  It is a season salt that tastes good on everything except for babies and pudding.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kale chips. Yeah. I said kale chips

Jamaican pork, roasted sweet potatoes, wilted spinach.
Dinner tonight was awesome: I finally dug into the pork that we grilled on Sunday and served that with roasted sweet potatoes (coated in oil, honey, and lemon juice) and wilted spinach.

Wilting spinach is a painstaking process.

  1. Put spinach on plate with pork that needs to be warmed.
  2. Microwave said plate.
  3. BAZINGA: wilted spinach: add a bit of lemon juice for some zing.
Yeah.  So I call it wilted spinach so I can seem fancy, much like when chef's on Chopped say things like chutney (stuff I diced and mixed together) or napoleon (dessert items I didn't know what to do with so I stacked them and put whipped cream on top).

Kale Chips!

Today I made kale chips for the first time because I was looking for a healthy snack alternative.  (Don't worry: they taste a LOT better than they photograph)

I used Ellie Krieger's recipe for the most part, although I'm pretty sure her "bunch of kale" was much bigger than mine.  I didn't really measure the salt, oil, or smoked paprika and simply used the amount that seemed rational for the kale that I had.  

Super simple to fix, although it would have been simpler had I done it at the same time I was fixing my roasted sweet potatoes for dinner earlier in the evening, but c'est la vie.

This was also my first time using smoked paprika and it is AWESOME.  I never bothered to buy it before because I figured it couldn't be much different then regular paprika, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how wrong I was. It has the flavor of chipotle, with none of the heat.  I look forward to trying it on other things, probably with some sort of Mexican food on Friday.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rice and Beans OR Rice and Beans?

Amy's Indian: Mattar Paneer

Today, bonus treat: pictures of what I ate for lunch AND dinner.  In the esteemed words of Samuel L. Jackson, "Hold on to your butts."

For lunch I went with Amy's Indian: Mattar Paneer, light on calories, high on flavor.  Simply put, garbanzo beans in chana masala with peas and basmati rice.

Frozen Meal tidbit:
Frozen meals are a quick lunch option, but usually pretty bad for you.  Don't be fooled by "Healthy Choice" or "Lean Cuisine" either.  What they don't have in calories they more than make up for in extreeeeme amounts of sodium: my meal had a whopping 780 mg.  Considering the fact that the CDC suggests less than 1500 mg a day, that is a lot.

Also, since calories are so low, it could be easy to turn to candy/other badness in the afternoon when hunger pangs return.

My solutions are to keep healthy snacks on hand and eat frozen meals sparingly.  I will not not (English degree: double negatives are allowed) eat Amy's Indian because I gotsta have it, but I certainly don't eat it more than once a week, if that.

Homemade red beans and rice

And for dinner, more rice, this time the plain old long grain variety.  If you like rice and you don't have a rice cooker, you are hurting yourself.  It makes cooking rice super simple, and super easy to clean-up, especially if you are impatient with cooking rice and sometimes turn the heat up too high so it sticks to the bottom of the pan (cough. me. cough).

On top of that rice are good ol' red beans, a la my slow cooker. As a person that has a deep-rooted need to always be productive, using a slow cooker is a-mazing because I am cooking WHILE NOT EVEN HOME.  It's magic, really.

Red beans couldn't be simpler.  Easy to cook, easy to make a large batch to serve to a crowd, great frozen and enjoyed later. The trick to skipping soaking the beans over night and slow cooking them is to make sure to bring everything to a boil on the stove before putting in the slow cooker, or else your consistency will be no bueno.

I follow my friend Aimee's recipe (see below) and add Louisiana Hot Sauce and diced raw onions on top.  Yes, please.

Red Beans Recipe, a la my pal, Aimee McGlone

  • "It freezes beautifully and I want to make something from the freezes beautifully section of my cookbook."  (Name that film!)
  • This will make enough for dinner two, twice, plus possibly more depending on your portions and desire to stuff yourself full of beans.
  • Ingredients
    • Light smoked sausauge (1 package: Andouille is typical, but it will make it greasy and requires that you skim it every hour.  No thanks) 
    • 1 Pound Red Beans (Camelia are the best)
    • Veggies: 1 Large Onion, 2 Stalks Celery, 1 Medium Bell Pepper
    • Seasonings: 2-3 Bay Leaves, Crushed Red Pepper, Tony's
  • The Cooking
    • Start by dicing veggies.  No need to be too precise: it'll all get cooked down.
    • Dice the meat
    • Brown the meat in a couple teaspoons of vegetable oil and set aside.
    • In the same pan saute the onion, celery and bell peper until tender, but not browned. 
    • Add the meat back and saute it a bit get it all mixed up
    • Take the beans, which you need to give a good rinse and add them to the mix.
    • Add about 7 cups of water, 2-3 bay leaves, tony's, a little salt/pepper and a little crush red pepper to make it a little extra spicy and bring to a boil. 
    • Transfer the whole thing to the slow cooker and let it go for 4 to 5 hours on high or 7 to 8 on low.
    • Smash a couple spoonfuls of beans with the back of the spoon against the side of the pot and stir them back it to the pot towards the end to make them really creamy and yummy, taste and adjust the seasoning at the end too. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Grillin': Steaks, Sausage, and Pork Loin

Steak, Baked Sweet Potato, Healthy Creamed Spinach
Well well well.  Here we are.  My life-long desire to eat/learn about/cook/share food has lead to this.  I've been posting a picture album on facebook of things I cook/eat but that just hasn't satisfied my need for verbosity.

Not only do I like to hear (read?) myself, but I'm pretty stoked about sharing my recipes and tips with folks that have been salivating over all my fbook pictures.

For this inaugural post, I'll share a great tidbit: grilling is the savior of your time.  Cook the proteins for multiple meals at once on the weekend and week night meal time is a breeze.  (If you can enlist your boyfriend as the griller, that also saves time.)

Tonight we (he) grilled gorgeous steaks, pork sausage (from Hanky Panky Sausage, a la the Farmer's Market) for tomorrow's red beans and rice and Jamaican Pork Loin, a la, Aaron McCargo Jr.

How to Grill Perfect Steaks:

  1. Let steaks come to room temperature before you even THINK about letting them near flame, leave on kitchen counter for about 20 minutes.
  2. Season heavily with salt/pepper on both sides.
  3. Bring steaks outside to your boyfriend, grillmaster extraordinaire. 
  4. Go back inside and cook the spinach side dish, maybe pour a glass of wine.
  5. Wait until steaks are done (medium rare) and brought back inside.  Note: anything more than medium is an insult.
  6. Use the "fist method" to test for doneness (See below as to why you do NOT cut into your steak)
    • Clench fist tightly and poke the fleshy part of your hand between thumb and pointer finger.   This is what well done should feel like, although as I just said, you should not cook your steak this way, silly pants.
    • Unclench hand a little bit: medium well
    • Unclench hand a little more: medium
    • Unclench hand a little more: medium rare - YUM!
    • Hand completely unclenched - rare, or possibly still attached to a cow.
  7. LET THE MEAT REST FOR 10-ISH MINUTES.  THIS IS CAPITALIZED BECAUSE IT IS SO CRUCIAL.  If you do not let meat rest before you cut into it, when you cut into it, it doesn't matter of it's rare, it'll taste dry because the juices haven't had time to redistribute throughout the meat.  

The rest of our meal included baked sweet potatoes (45 minutes in a 400 oven), which I have recently rediscovered and healthy creamed spinach, inspiration from Eating Well. 

We still have one leftover steak and two servings of spinach, so I'd call today a plan-ahead success; however, I just realized that in all my zest for dinner, I still don't know what I'm having for lunch tomorrow.  On to the next challenge!