Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parmesan Chicken w/a TWIST

I always think that parmesan chicken looks delicious but am ALWAYS disappointed with a lack of flavor and texture...until last night! Let's just get right to it shall we?

6 chicken breasts washed and sliced in half
Shake N' Bake
Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs

8-10 mushrooms washed and sliced
1 pkg frozen spinach thawed and fully drained
Fresh Parmesan Cheese
Shredded Mozzarella
Fresh Ground Pepper

Spray baking dish.
Combine the shake N' bake and the bread crumbs into the shake N' bake bag. Insert 3 slices of raw chicken into the bag and shake till generously covered. Layer in the baking dish to form the bottom. Repeat until half of the chicken is battered.

Combine the spinach, mushrooms, cheeses, and pepper in a bowl and toss. Layer over the bottom layer of breaded chicken. (To fully drain the spinach place it into a few coffee filters and gently squeeze the juice out.)

( This picture was taken prior to adding the mozzarella - be generous with the cheese! )

Batter the remaining half of the chicken and place on top of the cheese layer.

Leave uncovered and follow directions on the shake N bake package for baking temperature and time, but add 5-7 minutes. Cut through all three layers to check that the chicken is fully cooked. Cool for a few minutes prior to serving.

Top with Sweet Marinara Sauce and serve with a quick salad and Easy French Bread!

You could go to the trouble of stuffing the chicken breasts rather than layering them if you want ... but this is QUICKLY Nutritious and Delicious!

French Bread

I've been messing around with a few french bread recipes and think I've got it mastered. This bread is soft on th inside, crunchy on the outside, tears apart beautifully, and is almost as easy as taking a nap.

Easy French Bread
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tsp salt
1-2 cups lukewarm water
1-2 tablespoons cornmeal (optional)

1/2 cup tempid water
3 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar

Start your yeast. Pour the tempid (hotter than lukewarm, but not scalding, just hot tapwater) water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast, and then the sugar into the water. Cover with saran wrap and and set aside for 7-10 minutes. The yeast and sugar will activate and you will see bubbles rise to the surface, covering it. (If you have stone countertops, place the bowl on a wood cutting board or a hot pad so it does not cool down too quickly.)

In a food processor, combine the flours and salt, pulsing for 1-2 minutes. While pulsing, pour the yeast water through the funnel into the dry mixture. Slowly add the lukewarm water until the mixture forms a ball, but not too wet - you may need more or less than 1-2 cups water. You should be able to remove the blade from the mixing bowl w/o much dough sticking to it. If using a small food processor, transfer the dough to a larger bowl for rising.

Cover with saran wrap and a towell to keep the heat in. Let sit for about an hour or till doubled in size. Remove the dough from the bowl and form two loaves on a floured surface.

Spray baking sheet (& sprinkle with cornmeal) and place loaves on it. Cut a few slits into the tops for venting and design. Cover with a towell and let rise again for 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size. (Again, if you have stone counters place a heat barrier under the baking sheet to keep heat in.)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake on center rack for approx 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

After the tops have cooled transfer the loaves to a cooling rack. Brush butter on top if desired.

Slice when ready to eat or when fully cooled. This bread tastes wonderul with a rich garlic butter topping!

Would also make a great homemade batch of hamburger buns!

NOTE: My husband keeps saying how good this bread is. Last night he asked me where I got it.


Ever wonder if the Ragu commercials are true? "There is a full serving of vegetables in one meal." Who knows - companies will say anything to get you to buy something - especially by appealing to your need to feed your children healthy meals.

I'm not a fan of store-bought spaghetti sauce...unless I don't have the time to simmer some up. I think it lacks flavor and that fresh taste I crave. I do however like to use it as a base. It's got good texture.

So here is my FULL SERVING of veggies recipe - fools the kids every time - they have no clue they are eating their most dis-liked vegetables...onions and peppers.

Sweet Marinara Sauce
1/4 red bell pepper chopped into small bits
1/4 green bell pepper chopped into small bits
1/4 yellow or orange bell pepper chopped into small bits
1/2 white or yellow onion chopped into small bits
1 small zucchini chopped into small bits
1/2 yellow squash chopped into small bits
1 jar pasta sauce (save the jar for refrigerator storage)
1 large can crushed stewed tomatoes
3 tablespoons minced garlic
dried basil
dried oregano
a few tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Combine the chopped vegetables (first 6 ingredients) in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat to soften.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low.

Season to taste while simmering for 45-90 minutes (covered).

Serve hot over boiled pasta, use in your lasagna or favorite italian dish ...

and for the leftovers
After cooled, fill sauce jar and refrigerate for quick access during the week or fill a quart size bag 3/4 full and lay flat in freezer for later.

Now that's a lot of veggie!

Ice'd Eggs

I think peeling hard boiled eggs for potato salad or devil'd eggs has got to be one of the things most cooks are tempted to avoid. Not only is it time consuming, but those shells get caught under fingernails and it hurts! Half the time, the egg comes out of it's peeling looking more scrambled that hard boiled!

Due to my own frustrations with peeling eggs, I tried several methods of cooking, cooling, and peeling...and this is by far the best way that I came up with - your eggs will be beautiful and your time not wasted:

After gently placing eggs into pan filled with water, turn stove to high. Immediately set timer for 13 minutes. Start the timer before the water boils - this may be different in higher altitudes, but here at just over 1000 feet up, 13 minutes creates a perfectly cooked yellow yolk. Turn heat to med-low after 1-2 minutes on high.

When the timer beeps, immediately dump out the boiling water and fill with tap water. Dump and repeat. Fill again, about half way. Grab two large handfuls of ice and dump into the pot on top of the eggs. Let sit till the ice is melted - eggs will be completely cooled and the thin layer of egg skin that attaches the egg to the shell will now peel easily.

Give the egg a good smack (no, not a kiss you silly) on each end, and peel from those ends. The shell will come off in large chunks more like peeling an orange, and your egg is less likely to be damamged. (I've heard that fresh home laid eggs are difficult to peel no matter what, so hey - if you have fresh eggs, try this method and let me know if it works?)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Post SuperBowl Nachos

What to do with the leftover cheese sauce and corn chips that did not get consumed during the game?

This is what we did and it was a fun take on nachos!

1 can black beans
onion finely chopped
white cheese

Bring the beans and onion to a boil and mash them, add the cheese and stir till melted.

shredded lettuce
cheese sauce
plain yogurt

Scoop up the ingredients however you like with corn chips. Filling and visually fun! Sort of like Nacho Fondue, only w/o skewers and a boiling pot.

Daily Veggie Tip

It's too easy. It is so easy to not eat vegetables. Why?

Because our wonderful technology (microwave) makes it possible to cook things so quickly that we don't take the time to chop things up! A microwave meal, whether store bought or leftovers is fast an easy. But is it nutritous? If you look at the ingredients you may want to puke in your mouth a little. The fat and sodium content along with a lack of necessary nutrients makes it nothing more than just a filler, and likely to leave you hungry within the hour due to low fiber content.

TIP: I started this little trick in college and sort of lost sight of it's benefits until just recently...trying to crave my post-holiday sweet tooth and insatiable appetite for anything rich.

Here's a picture of my little trick:

A little closer:

And even closer:

I chop up a huge chef salad and keep it in the fridge for quick meals - it'll last 4 days or more! It's full of water rich foods and raw intestine friendly fiber. It's also got all of my favorites to please my tastebuds so I don't feel the urge to go psychotic on the peanut butter chocolate cookies on the counter right afterward.

Here is what I chop into it:

Romaine lettuce
Spinach leaves
Green onion
Bell Pepper
Ham or Turkey
Colby Cheese

Topped with a light italian dressing, it is a wonderful crunchy delight - perfect for increasing the amount of fresh veggies in my day! And the sweet apple mixed with the meat and cheese make me feel like I've eaten a complete meal along with dessert.

Sometimes I'll mix it up by adding craisins or walnuts - yum yum yummy.

Today's lunch:
1.25 cups of salad
1.5 tblsp italian dressing
1/2 hass avocado with fresh ground salt

Approx 303 calories
8 grams Proten
15 grams Carbs
25 grams Fat (5 grams saturated)
508 milligrams Sodium
7 grams Fiber
88 milligrams Calcium

This lunch is a little high in fat, but more than half of it comes from the avocado which is high in omega fatty acids that are imperative for brain function and are the key elements to many of the weight loss phenomenons out there recently, including the "flat belly diet" which Prevention magazine has been preaching for a few years now. Wow, that was a long sentence.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet Potato Soup

I don't remember where I got this recipe, nor is the source printed on the one in my recipe box...so I apologize for the blatant plaigarism here - but it's such a good recipe that I have to share it. I made this two Decembers ago for a 4 course Christmas dinner. This was the first course and was a HUGE hit - even the kiddos slurped it up.

Sweet Potato Soup
Olive or Canola oil spray
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp chilli, minced (I used chilli powder)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 large sweet potatos, peeled and cut into small cubes
3-4 cups veggie or chicken stock broth
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup fresh corriander leaves, chopped (I could not find these so omitted them - it was fine)

Spray sauce pan and heat.
Cook onion over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add garlic, chilli and ground coriander, cook, stirring for 1 minute.
Add sweet potato and chicken stock.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 20 mins or until sweet potato is tender.
Cool slightly and puree in a blender until smooth.
Return to the saucepan and add milk. Reheat gently, stirring frequently.
Add the fresh coriander leaves and stir.
(I added a little sprinkling of nutmeg in each bowl for color and flavor - yummy!)

Serve piping hot with whole coriander leaves on top for eye candy.

Sunday morning Pancakes

This is my take on pancakes. I hate cooking them. I hate eating them knowing how quickly I am consuming nutritionless calories. I even hate the way they look. BUT...

I love the way they taste...mine that is. After trying many different store bought mixes, restaurant varieties, and trying a few homemade recipes, I came up with my own which I am quite keen to. They are made with mostly healthy ingredients. Easy to make and my family likes them too.

Sunday Morning Pancakes
1 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 packets powdered stevia (or 1.5 tblsp sugar or 2 tblsp honey)
2 dashes ground cinnamon
1 1/2 - 2 cups cold milk
2 egs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup applesauce

Combine everything together and mix well.
Heat skillet to medium and coat with non-stick cooking spray (or use butter if you want)

Pour into desired sized circles and wait till bubbles form on top and edges begin to crust. Turn over and cook other side.

Serve hot with syrup, jam, applesauce, peanut butter, whipped cream, etc.

Squash PUMPKIN Pie

Exactly as it states - Pumpkin pie made with squash instead, and no milk. This is my step-mom's recipe and I like it much more than the traditional pumpkin pie. It's pretty much fool-proof, a little thicker texture and less potent than typical pumpkin pie so you don't walk away from the table with a heavy gut. I LOVE THIS PIE! (pictures to come)

1 3/4 cups baked and mashed squash
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tbsp melted butter
2 unbaked 9" pie shells

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix all together till well blended, but do not beat. Mixture will be runny and inconsistent. Pour in pie shells. Bake for 45-55 minutes.

Cool thoroughly before serving.

Top with fresh whipped cream!

I have had great success with this pastry shell recipe.

Amazing Cranberry Sauce

I don't need to type this one up because Stephanie has already done it, with a photo guide too!
And it's not my recipe...it came from a magazine.
But it's well worth being on this blog and I make it every year for the holidays.

CLICK HERE to get the best cranberry sauce recipe you will ever find!

Ultimate Guacamole

I've been making this for years and it is always a huge hit.
If you love avocados - you will love this dish!

Ultimate Guacamole
5-6 Hass Avocados
1/2 diced white or yellow onion (OR 1/4 finely chopped red onion)
fresh cilantro - finely chopped
1-2 diced tomatoes
1 lime squeezed or a few tblsp juice

salt & pepper
chili powder
optional: fresh or dried basil

Dice the avocados - the best way to do this is to cut them in half lengthwise and dispose of the seed core. Use a sharp knife to cut each half into diced squares w/o cutting through the skin and then scoop out with a large spoon.

Mix all chopped and diced ingredients and juice in a bowl - don't mix it too much though - you want the avocado to retain a lot of it's cubed shape. Season to taste.

Serve with corn chips as a dip or on the side for a mexican meal.
For nutrition and taste, I like to eat mine with sliced jicama. What is jicama? It is a root vegetable similar in texture to a water crescent, but it has a little sharp flavor to it. Here is a picture: Sliced Jicama is best stored in water in a sealed container in the refrigerator. The vegetable itself (once cut into) will store for up to a week in the fridge.

No Bake Cheesecake

I found this recipe during Thanksgiving when I was looking for a pie to make that would go well with all of my frozen blueberries. The one I made at Thanksgiving was good, but not nearly as good as the one I made at Christmas. I altered the recipe to turn it into a Cheesecake instead of a blueberry pie because cheese is the "lover of my soul" and the blueberries in the Thanksgiving pie turned out a bit runny. This new recipe makes a very thick, whipped texture cheesecake! Not quite Cheesecake Factory, but definitely a few steps above Jello.

Sorry no picture - but I'll get one on here as soon as I make it again. (Which may not be until the holidays 2010 because my hips have begged me not to indulge again for at least 10 more months.)

No Bake Cheesecake

1 can crushed pineapple, drained, syrup reserved
16 oz cream cheese, softened
5 tblsp granulated sugar
3 tblsp milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 small pkg plain gelatin

1 9" pie crust - baked or crumb

Thoroughly drain the pineapple - I found the best way to do this is to drain as much as you can from the can, then put the crushed pineapple into a pastry cloth or a coffee filter and squeeze as much juice out as you can, reserving the juice in a bowl.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, milk and vanilla together till smooth. Add the drained pineapple and stir.

Heat 1/2 of the pineapple juice in the microwave or on he stove - just close to boiling. Dissolve the gelatin thoroughly into the hot juice.

Pour the hot gelatin juice into the cold juice and stir to cool. While beating, pour the juice mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Add enough juice as needed, till you get a thick pudding-like consistency.

Pour into the pie shell and chill for a few hours to thicken and cool.
(Lick the spoon!)

Slice and serve cold with you favorite fruity topping!

VARIATIONS: (I have not made these versions yet, so create at your own risk.)

If you don't want a fruity cheese cake pie, just a basic cheesecake:
Omit the pineapple and the pineapple juice
Use 2 tblsp fresh lemon juice mixed with enough water to make 1/4 cup. Heat and dissolve gelatin into hot lemon juice. Add 1/2 cup cold milk (or more) to the lemon mixture to cool it and to get the pudding consistency needed before pouring into the pie shell.

Like chocolate?
Before pouring the cheesecake into the shell, smooth a layer of chocolate chips over the inside of the crust. Maybe add some caramel syrup too? Top with whipped cream when serving.

How about mint (and chocolate of course)
Melt milk or dark chocolate and stir in some milk to get a spreadable texture. Add a few drops of mint extract to the melted mixture and stir. After pouring the cheesecake mixture into the crust, drizzle the choc/mint mixture over the top and cut in with a butter knife in a cross-weave pattern to make a beautiful pie.

Yum, yum, yum!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mac&Cheese substitute!

OK, so we got all cheesed out last week. After I posted about the search for the best macaroni and cheese recipe, my friend Stephanie posted a recipe she found that looks like an equally delicious dish...though possibly a bit healthier.

I had no intentions of cooking anything fantastic this evening. I have been nursing an imbalance of equilibrium all day and standing upright for any length of time above a hot stove today did not really seem like the responsible/safe/sane thing to do.

We were however, hungry, and my asking the boys if they wanted cereal for dinner didn't go over well. AND I of course did not want to sabotage our nutrition or budget by running around the block to grab some cheap burgers.

Surrender: I just happened to have some leftover baked banana squash in the fridge and pasta in the pantry so I figured I'd try to come up with a dish something like the one Stephanie posted about. No cheese however, we're out and I'm happy about it. (except Parmesan)

Not wanting to be too creative, I pulled out a bag of Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers Basil Vegetable Medley from the freezer. It is carrot sticks, snow peas and cauliflower in a light buttery basil sauce. (These are often on sale and coupons are easy to come by, so they are also very inexpensive...say less than 80 cents a bag!)

So here are the ingredients...no measurements really, just thrown together however it looked right:

Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers - Basil Vegetable Medley (or your own mixture of fresh ingredients if you want to skip the pre-packaged stuff)
Parmesan Cheese
Cooked and drained Pasta
(cold) Baked Banana Squash Chopped into little squares
Grinding salt

Prepare the frozen medley as directed (lazy me used the microwave). Then mix it all together. The stringy but slimy texture of the banana squash mixed with the light buttery sauce coats the pasta and vegetables to the extent that it not only looks like melted cheese, but almost tastes like it too! Season to taste with fresh ground salt.

I had some thawed ground beef in the fridge...just enough for a small dish of meatballs, so we had that too.

Basic meatballs:
1-2 lbs Lean Ground Beef, Veal, Lamb, Turkey, Bison, etc...whatever you have - in fact, a mixture of three meats is delicous.
1/4 finely chopped white or yellow onion
1-2 tsp Minced Garlic
1-2 eggs
Seasoned Bread Crumbs (3/4 to 1 1/2 cups)
Desired seasonings (oregano, basil, pepper, parsley)
Olive Oil

Use a non-stick pan. If you need it, pour the oil into the pan and heat on low. If not needed, omit the oil. Combine everything together and form into 3/4 inch balls. This recipe is flexible: Use enough bread crumbs to get a good consistent texture, but not so much that the meat starts to feel like sand or become too smooth.

Place in the pan, leaving enough space to turn each ball a few times while browning the exterior. If not adding to a marinara sauce, turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook until desired doneness. You'll want to cut one ball in half to check.

If adding to a marinara sauce, don't fully cook the balls in the pan. Just brown the outsides and transfer them to the sauce to finish cooking through.

Wanting to keep things really simple today, I pan cooked the balls and near the end of the cooking, added some chopped up mushrooms to saute in the meat oil. After removing from the heat, I poured on about 1 tsp of barbecue sauce per meatball and stirred it in the pan to heat up a little. (I am also out of eggs and didn't want to bother mincing the garlic - they turned out fine considering!)

These meatballs also work very well in the crockpot for homemade slow simmered pasta sauce.

So I guess today I learned how to be dare I say "Deceptively Delicious" with squash. "Mom, I don't want that. I didn't like it yesterday and I don't want it today." My kids had no idea they were eating it today.

Making this meal also reminded me just how far a little creativity can go when it comes to cooking. Like many, I often look in the fridge, then the pantry, back to the frige, maybe the freezer, pantry again. Huff a little and say, there's nothing to make. But as of right now, I haven't been to the grocery store in over a week...yet I was able to come up with this healthy meal that we all enjoyed... in under 30 minutes. WINNER!