Tuesday, March 31, 2009

3 Posts in 1 - Books 9, 10 & 11

Normally, I would post each of these books separately, but since they are all young adult books in series format, I thought I would blog all at once. I read the first two books in "The Princess Diaries" series ("The Princess Diaries" and "Princess in the Spotlight") and the "Gossip Girl" prequel "It had to be You." I thought the Princess Diaries books, like the Sisterhood books, were very cute and and appropriate for the age range they are targetting. I loved the awkwardness of the character, as I think most women remember feeling that awkward at one time, so it was a very sweet aspect to the books. I have to be careful with "Gossip Girl," since the franchise is owned by my company. I could see how this particular genre of young adult fiction would be appealing to some, but this book really wasn't my thing. I'm not a high fashion kind of girl, and the books are very focused on the finest of designer names. I could also see how this would make for great guilty pleasure TV, so I can see where the success of the series comes from. I won't be reading another "Gossip Girl" book, but I'm glad both the book and TV series are doing so well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reverse Chile Relleno Chicken

I love a good breaded & baked chicken. My first breaded & baked chicken was from my childhood and it involved stuffing chicken with bell peppers and cheese and breading & baking. Unfortunately, my siblings and I didn't like bell peppers when we were young (silly kids) and so we just got cheese stuffed chicken and then, eventually, just breaded chicken. I still loved it, and over the years, have perfected it into one of my favorite meals. I find that seasoning the chicken before coating in the egg and bread crumbs really seals in the flavor, and spraying with a little cooking spray at the end of cooking really crisps up the final product. Recently, I've revived the childhood original as a variation on the Mexican dish, Chiles Rellenos. I found that by stuffing the chicken with Anaheim chiles and Mexican Cheese before breading & baking, I was able to capture all the yummy flavors of a Chile Relleno without all the fat of the deep fried goodness of the real thing. The addition of the Mexican spices (sealed in by the egg) was the last step and so, tonight, the dish was perfected. This was so good, and another tribute to my patient stepmom who had to cook for us picky kids.

Reverse Chile Relleno Chicken
2 6 oz boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 anaheim chile pepper, julienned
1/2 cup reduced fat shredded Mexican Cheese blend
1 egg, beaten in a shallow dish
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs in shallow dish
1/4 tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder, dry oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
Cooking Spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Insert sharp knife into the middle of the thickest part of each chicken breast. Cut an even pocket into the breast, keeping the opening as small as possible. Sprinkle each breast with garlic powder, onion powder, oregano and cumin. Stuff each breast first with julienned strips of pepper, then with about a 1/4 cup of cheese (or as much as your little pocket will fit). Seal securely with toothpicks. Coat chicken in egg and then in bread crumbs. Place in shallow baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove and spray the top of the chicken breasts lightly with cooking spray. Cook for 10 minutes more. Makes 2 servings.
Nutrition Info: 550.1 Calories, Fat: 12.9g (4.3 Sat, .8 Poly, 1.5 Mono), Carbs: 31.5g, Fiber: 1.6g

Monday, March 23, 2009

No Mushroom Veggie Lasagna

I've always wanted to try making Vegetable Lasagna, but have had trouble because nearly every recipe I have found includes lots of mushrooms. I don't have too many foods that I dislike, but mushrooms are pretty high up the list. So this weekend, I decided to just wing it and create my own recipe. The confidence that I'm getting from trying so many new recipes with this blog is really what made this recipe come together. I loosely based the recipe off a Cooking Light recipe, but I pretty much just used it for proportions and cook time and the rest was up to me! I used all the vegetables we like the most and also used whole wheat lasagna noodles and low fat mozzerella, so this ended up being a very hearty and healthy meal. I did slightly overcook it because I was on the phone with my mother in law, who I haven't spoken to in a while and lost track of time a bit. The pictures came out a little dark looking because of that, but other than that, I wouldn't change a thing!

Vegetarian Lasagna
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup diced zucchini
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup chopped broccoli
1 bottle jarred tomato pasta sauce (we love Ragu)
15 oz low fat or fat free ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup low fat mozzarella cheese
9 whole wheat lasagna noodles, cooked & cooled according to directions
Preheat oven to 375. Heat oil over medium high heat in large saute pan. Saute veggies, starting with onion, then zucchini, then peppers, then garlic, then broccoli, allowing about 1-2 minutes in between each before adding in the next veggie. Veggies should be just getting some color to them when done. In medium bowl, mix ricotta with dried herbs (or substitute fresh). Add about 1/2 cup pasta sauce to 9" x 12" baking pan and spread evenly. Add remaining sauce to veggies and mix to combine. Lay 3 cooked lasagna noodles over the sauce in the baking pan. Top noodles with about 1/2 the ricotta mixture and smooth as evenly as possible. Top with 1/3 (about a cup) of veggie mixture and spread to even out. Top with 3 more noodles and repeat layers, ending with pasta topped with last 1/3 of veggie mixture. Top with mozzarella cheese and cover with foil. Bake covered for 30 minutes, then remove foil for last 15-20 minutes. Makes 6 very filling servings.
Nutrition Info: Calories: 382.3, Fat: 11.7g (4.5 Sat, 1.5 Poly, 3.9 Mono), Fiber: 7.8g, Carbs: 51.8g

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Turkey Shepherd's Pie

This St. Patrick's Day, it seemed a lot of people I know were planning pretty big food celebrations. Just in my office of 12 alone, we had one person making roasted lamb and colcannon and another making homemade Irish Soda Bread. So even though both my husband and I are standard American mutts with very well blended heritage, I decided that I would do something a little Irish tonight. I purposely made a ton of mashed potatoes on Sunday night for my Cornish Game Hen dinner so that I would have enough leftovers for Shepherd's Pie. The only trouble I was having was that I wasn't finding a recipe that really fit my tastes. So I improvised. I'm sure some Irish would be irked at my technique (ground turkey instead of beef, frozen vegetables, canned gravy), but I was impressed with how quickly this came together. I think next time, I will use more worcestershire sauce and perhaps some pepper and fresh herbs, but otherwise, this was very tasty.

Turkey Shepherd's Pie
1/2 lb Extra Lean Ground Turkey
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs Olive Oil
3 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables (I used a Trader Joe's 4 veggie blend of carrots, beans, corn and peas and it was VERY good)
6 oz canned chicken gravy
2 cups mashed potatoes (fresh, leftover, or packaged are all fine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sautee Onion & Garlic in oil over medium high heat until soft. Add Turkey breast and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes, breaking up into bite size pieces. Add Worcestershire Sauce. Add frozen vegetables and saute until thawed. Add gravy and mix well to combine. Pour mixture into an 8" x 8" baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Top with mashed potatoes and spread over mixture until covered like a crust. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, then increase temp. to 450 and bake for 5 minutes more. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before cutting. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition Info per serving: Calories: 233, Fat: 7.1g (1.6 sat, 1.0 poly, 3.6 mono), Carbs: 27.5g, Fiber: 3.9g

Keyesville Classic - Kern River Valley

This is my favorite bike race of the year. The Kern River Vally is about an hour east of Bakersfield, CA, which means we have a pretty long and boring drive every year, but something about driving through all that nothing to emerge in a beautiful valley with huge rocks and amazing views makes it even more special. This year, the wildflowers were out of control, and the weather was better than it has ever been in the eight or so years that we've been going to this race. So I actually went for a hike on Friday while my husband prerode the course. It was great to see a little of this course that I've heard all our friends say is the best course they ride. Afterwards, the husband was feeling tired and a little grumpy, but we went to an early dinner at our favorite once a year restaurant ("That's Italian" in Kernville) and went to bed early. Even though my husband was feeling bad on Friday, he ended up feeling pretty good on race day after all that rest and both of us said it was a really fun race. My husband sometimes forgets to have fun, so that was a great victory in and of itself. He finished around mid-pack, which is pretty good for this early in the year and for the big age group this race had. I'm already looking forward to next year!
The drive along the river into the valley
Holy wildflowers, Batman!

My husband is the one in white

Totally not my husband, but this picture I took of our friend Steve was so good that it is now the lead photo on the Platinum Team website!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cornish Game Hens

One of my biggest cooking challenges is that I love roasted chicken, barbequed chicken, and pretty much any kind of chicken that is cooked on the bone. So tasty, but my husband does not like any food that has bones in it. Chicken, ribs, chops, all need to be boneless for my guy. So it is incredibly rare that I'm able to enjoy a dinner like this one. So even though this isn't really a recipe, I'm posting this because I enjoy Cornish Game Hens so much. When I was young, if I was lucky, I would get to eat an entire hen all by myself and I would get such a kick out of having my very own little chicken. I really like these little guys because the breast meat stays so moist because they cook through quickly.

Roasted Cornish Game Hens
2 Cornish Hens, defrosted
2 Tbs Olive Oil
Salt, pepper and garlic seasoning to taste
Roast in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes and 10 minutes at 450 or until skin is golden brown and juices run clear.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chicken Piccata Pasta

I love Chicken Piccata when it is done right. Our local italian fast food place, Presto Pasta, makes a delicious Piccata that is saucy, lemony and buttery. I decided I wanted to make this at home, but I've had a hard time finding a recipe that has the right mix of wine, butter, lemon and capers. So I decided to just wing it, but started with Rachael Ray's Base recipe (here). What I came up with was not exactly as good as Presto Pasta's, but it seemed to look better than the Rachael Ray recipe, and my husband and I decided that we would not adjust the ratio at all, just increase all of it to make more sauce. Here is what I came up with:

Chicken Piccata Pasta
12 Oz Chicken Tenderloin, cut into bite size pieces
2 Tbs All Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbs Butter or butter substitute
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 Cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
6 oz uncooked pasta
2 Tbs capers, drained
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Cook pasta according to package directions. Combine Flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt & pepper in ziploc. Shake to mix. Add chicken pieces in small batches and shake to coat. Reserve remaining flour. Cook chicken over medium high heat in 1 Tbs butter until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Add remaining butter and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add reserved flour mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add lemon juice, wine & stock. Cook, stirring frequently to scrape up bits from pan. After sauce thickens, add chicken back in, then add capers. Stir to combine and simmer until heated through. Serve over cooked pasta and top with fresh chopped parsley. Makes 2 large servings (as shown in the picture)

Nutrition Info when made with "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter": Calories: 462, Fat: 8.9g (2.2 Sat, 2.3 Poly, 2.1 Mono), Carbs: 44.4g, Fiber: 6.6g

Book #8: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

One of the books on the famous "1001 Books to read in a Lifetime" was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. I had seen this around, but was inspired to read it when I saw it on this list of books. The entire story (fiction) is told from the first person perspective of a 15 year old autistic boy. I was very impressed with the author's ability to tell the story while still keeping the consistency required to maintain the main character's integrity. The story is unique in that it tells of great emotional turmoil in the life of the main character, who cannot fathom emotions due to his autism. I enjoyed this book and it was an easy read. I recommend it to anyone who is looking to understand autism better.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book #7: "The Broker" by John Grisham

I've had this book sitting around for a couple of years. I usually like to read Grisham books on plane trips because they are pretty easy reads and are easier to read in one big chunk. I never got around to reading this one, though, so I thought I'd read it to meet the "Occupation in Title" part of the seasonal book challenge I'm participating in. Maybe it is because I haven't read a Grisham book in a while, but this book was not all that great for me. I felt like it took eons to set the exciting part in motion, and then when it finally got going, it fizzled out before anything really happened. I think it will be a while before I try another Grisham again.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Book #6 - Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants

This was a book that I chose to meet a category of a book club challenge I am participating in online. It has been one of the tools I have been using to inspire me to read different kinds of books while I'm challenging myself for my 2009 goal. One of the challenge categories in this club was to read a book that I've already seen the movie for. Most readers will always read the book before going to a movie if they can, so this can be a difficult category to meet. Thankfully, when "Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants" came out in the theaters, my company, which publishes the book, paid for all the employees to go see the movie as it was the first of our publications to reach the big screen (we are also the publishers of the "Gossip Girl" and "Privileged" Series). I didn't have a chance to go read the book before our big screening on opening day, and since it was a teen book, I figured it would be a quick read, which it was. I thought that this was a really good, relatively innocent book for teens. Some of the other teen novels out there delve a little too deeply into adult topics, and this series (at least in the first book) seems to keep the topics pretty PG-13 appropriate. I applaud publishers and authors who stick to these kinds of scripts because I think there is a gap that needs to be filled for more innocent teen literature in order to motivate the next generation of readers.

Orange Picante Pork Chops

I have never tried grilled pork chops. I have heard that is one of the best ways to enjoy them, and I had all the ingredients for this recipe (From Campbell's Kitchen) on hand, and they were all ingredients that I wanted to use up. I had high hopes. While I do think that grilled pork chops have a lot of potential, I don't think this is the right recipe. They looked beautiful, but the flavor just didn't get absorbed enough in the hour of marinating, and the flavor wasn't sweet enough to be sweet from the OJ and wasn't spicy enough to be spicy from the picante sauce. I'm going to keep looking for a good pork marinade for grilling. In the meantime, look at how pretty these looked in the natural light of daylight savings time!

Nutrition Info for 1 pork chop: Calories: 202.9, Fat: 11.1g (3.8 Sat, 1.2 Poly, 4.9 Mono), Carbs: 3.1g, Fiber: .1g

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pork Tenderloin Normandy

This is a really unusual recipe that I loved as a kid. There seemed to be a stir fry craze going on in the late 80s-early 90s where woks were available everywhere, and at the time, my family purchased a Stir Fry cookbook from Sunset (Copyright 1988). There are some weird recipes in this stir fry book, including stir fried Mexican and stir fried French, including this recipe. I was lucky enough to inherit this cookbook and finally tried making this dish. I don't know why I haven't made it before. The pork comes out so tender and tasty with this cooking method! And for its creamy consistency, it really isn't all that high in fat. The picture doesn't do it justice because the colors all look the same, but trust me, this one is a keeper! The best thing about eating this as an adult was realizing that I loved the dijon flavor of the sauce when I was a kid, even though at the time, this picky kid swore she hated all mustard. I was a funny kid.

Pork Tenderloin Normandy
1/2 tsp each of salt & dry oregano
1/8 tsp pepper
3 Tbs AP Flour
12 Oz Pork Tenderloin, trimmed of all visible fat and sliced into thin medalions, then in half to form stir fry strips
4 Tbs "I Can't Believe Its Not Butter" Stick (original called for unsalted butter)
1 Large Onion, diced
1 large Golden Delicious apple, cored & thinly sliced
2 Tbs Dijon Mustard
1 Cup Milk
Combine Salt, Oregano, Pepper and Flour. Dredge Pork in flour mixture. Reserve remaining flour mixture. Stir Fry pork over medium high heat in 2 Tbs of the "Butter" until no longer pink (2-3 minutes). Remove pork and set aside. Add remaining "Butter" and stir fry onion until soft, about 3 minutes. Add apple and sprinkle with flour mixture remaining. Stir fry about 1 minute. Add milk & mustard. Bring to a boil, stirring well until sauce is thickened. Return meat to wok/pan and cook for about 2 more minutes or until heated through. Serve with rice. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition Info: Calories: 293.1, Fat: 11.6g (3.4 Sat, 2.1 Poly, 3.6 Mono), Carbs: 18.8, Fiber: 2.3

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Peppery Mac + Cheese with Chipotle Sausage

I think this meal might be my favorite that I've ever come up with. Granted, I took some inspiration from this post on Mary Ellen's Cooking Creations, one of my favorite blogs from the nest, but I thought that I should try and lighten it up, and also thought that if I was going to be spending all the calories on the cheese (all full fat Tillamook Cheeses), I should add some extras to make it a more complete one-dish meal without adding too many more calories. The mixture of peppers between the peppers in the cheese, roasted red peppers, and chipotles in the sausage was fantastic. I guess I will have to dedicate this success to my 2nd mom (I was lucky enough to get two in life), both for teaching me how to make a great cheese sauce and for putting up with 3 of the pickiest kids ever. You see, when my stepmom came into my family, she knew we were picky. She did not know that we would literally turn our noses up at homemade mac + cheese because "Why is the color so weird? Mac + Cheese is supposed to be really orange!" I bet she wouldn't have thought that one day, I'd be so open to trying new things!

Peppery Mac + Cheese with Chipotle Sausage

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook sausage (which is precooked) until heated through. Remove sausage from pan and add 1 Tbs butter substitute (or butter, if desired). Mix in flour and allow to bubble & cook in the butter for about 1 minute. Add 1/2 & 1/2 and milk (or all milk if you are weirded out by non-fat 1/2 & 1/2). Stir well and costantly until sauce begins to boil and becomes thick. Add pepperjack cheese and stir until melted and incorportated. Add red pepper and sausage to the sauce and stir well. Add to pasta and mix to combine, then pour into an 8" x 8" baking dish. Top with 2 oz of cheddar jack cheese mix. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cheese topping has melted and starts to get a little crispy. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition info for one serving: Calories: 328, Fat: 19.4g (4.7 Sat, .6 Poly, 1.9 Mono), Carbs: 18.3g, Fiber: 2.0g.

Book #5 - Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky

I picked this book up at Costco without having heard anything about it before. Total judgment of a book by its cover, but the description on the back of a white couple who unexpectedly give birth to a black baby intrigued me. This was an interesting look at how we look at ancestry, race, and the definition of family. I liked that the author did not shy away from some of the really deep issues with race that we still have in this country. I thought she bordered on lecturing in some instances, though, and it really bothered me that the more accepting, less racist characters used the description "African American" more often and the "bad guys" seemed to use the word "Black." I thought that while researching the context of this story that the author would have learned that Black is acceptable terminology and is often more accurate than African American, especially for this book in which ancestry for the baby had not been determined at all. Other than that, it was a quick read that brought up some issues that I find relevant to todays society.