Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cheesy Chile Chicken & Rice

Whenever I'm in the mood for something with a little kick, I know I can find something on Mary Ellen's blog. She has a great love of spicy foods and I've gotten a lot of ideas from her blog. This recipe looked like a yummy Mexican version of a chicken jambalaya recipe that is a staple for us, so I knew it had lots of potential. I pretty much followed Mary Ellen's recipe to a tee, except I used 2 jalapenos instead of 3 because I'd always prefer to start off less spicy and adjust the next time if it isn't enough. Sure enough, the husband said that the recipe was perfect and declared it a "definitely make again" except I should have added the other jalapeno! I think this recipe would also be fabulous as a burrito filling (it kind of reminded me of grilled stuffed burritos from Taco Bell, just much tastier). As a side note, after cooking this recipe successfully, I think I can officially say that I now know how to chop spicy peppers without burning my skin/eyes. I have had such trouble with that (including a particularly juicy pepper spraying right into my eyes, ouch!), and now I know that no matter what, I am not allowed to touch those darn seeds with my hands! Stupid sensitive skin! I used the produce bag as a glove this time and yanked all the seeds & ribs out with my "gloved" hand. I'm excited because we do love foods with different kinds of chiles, so it is a skill I really needed to learn!

Cheesy Chile Chicken & Rice
12 oz chicken breast, trimmed and cut into bite sized chunks
Spices: chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder (used from most to least)
3 jalapenos, seeded and chopped (I used two, but will use 3 next time)
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 sm onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 c long grain white rice, uncooked
2 c chicken broth (I used stock)
1/2 c shredded cheese - I used a lowfat Cheddar/Jack blend
Handful of freshly chopped cilantro (I omitted, we are not fans!)
1 Tbs and 1 tsp olive oil
Coat chicken with spices. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan, add chicken and cook over medium-high heat until done. Transfer chicken to a dish and keep warm. Add 1 tsp oil to the pan. Add jalapenos, onions, garlic, and peppers. Saute 3-4 minutes. Add rice and stir. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a light simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is done and liquid has completely absorbed, about 15 minutes. Return chicken to the pan and stir in the cheese (and cilantro, if desired). Makes 3-4 servings
Nutrition Info: Calories: 275, Fat: 11.9 (1.3 Sat, 1 Poly, 4.1 Mono), Carbs: 14.2, Fiber: 1.3

Book #18 - Dog in a Hat - Joe Parkin

This is a book recommended to me by my husband the cyclist. I am a huge cycling fan as well, although I'm not a rider, so this was a fascinating book for me to read. When my husband finished this book, he said it was sad, and I thought that would be because of the open way the author discusses how prevelant drugs were in pro cycling. While the discussion of drug use is pretty frank, in this day and age, it honestly isn't too much of a shock for those of us who are fans of the sport. We just continue to hope that science for detection speeds along as fast or faster than the science for new substances and that is how we deal. The sadness from this book comes more from the sudden awareness of how difficult being a pro athelete can be, especially in a sport like cycling, which at the time the author was a pro, was not that popular in the U.S. The author had a mediocre career as a domestique (or helper) rider in the pro fields in Europe. He never rode in a grand tour, he never won any big races, and he certainly didn't make all that much money in the sport. But he is passionate about his love of cycling even today. It is sad because even cycling fans in the US didn't know this guys name. But he had an interesting story and thankfully, we are learning about it now, all these years later. I loved that my husband and I had the same reaction to this book. Sad, but for different reasons than one might think.

Book #17 - Lamb by Christopher Moore

After reading some pretty heavy books lately, I thought I'd lighten things up a bit by reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Best Friend. I thought this was such a cute concept and had some great potential for comic as well as poignant moments. At times, this book did a great job of living up to my expectations (a scene where Joshua and Biff taste coffee for the first time and Josh goes on a healing frenzy while high on coffee cracked me up!). But for the most part, it really fell flat for me. The author was headed in the right direction, with Jesus learning about the good from all religions from the three wise men, who ended up each representing a different world of religious thought. I could really picture the young Jesus wanting to learn from other religious societies so that he could bring about real change for his followers. But the author threw in really, really random stuff (abominable snowman, kung fu, etc.) and also thought it was funny to have Biff be the true genious (discovering evolution, that the world isn't flat, and latte, for goodness sake). I'm not pretending to be devoutly religious, but when you write a book about Jesus' life and the reader comes away with, "Well, he was a sort of interesting character, I guess," I think the author failed a bit. Bummer.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spicy Southwestern Pizza

I have always had some difficulty with homemade pizza. I have a hard time getting the crust thin enough to crisp up, even when I was using my pizza stone, plus I could never get the toppings to taste as good as ordering from Domino's. When I was at Trader Joe's this week, I picked up a whole wheat pizza crust on a whim, and decided to grab a pack of their Chipotle Chicken Sausage to try and make a pizza out of it. My inspiration was a Southwestern pizza that our friends like to order when we are visiting their house out of town from a pizza parlor that we don't have (Garlic Jim's). This pizza was fantastic. I finally got a crisp crust by using very little sauce (salsa in this case) and drying the toppings well in paper towels before placing on the pizza. The three different levels of spice from the salsa, peppers and chipotle made for a complex heat. I will definitely make this again.

Spicy Southwestern Pizza
1 Whole Wheat Pizza crust
3/4 cup red salsa (non-chunky) or enough to very lightly coat the crust
1 cup thawed frozen corn kernels
1 cup drained & rinsed black beans
1.5 cups reduced fat Mexican Cheese blend
1 medium tomato, seeded & diced
1 Anaheim pepper, diced
2 links Chipotle Chicken Sausage, sliced
.5 cup cheddar cheese
Stretch/toss pizza dough to 12" round. Place on lightly floured baking stone. Spread with a very thin layer of salsa, leaving about an inch at the sides. Top with corn and beans (it helps to dry these in towels before adding to the crust). Top evenly with the reduced fat cheese. On top of the cheese, spread the tomatoes, diced pepper and sausage slices evenly. Bake for about 8 minutes, then remove and top with the 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Bake for 2-3 minutes more or until crust is golden. Makes 8 1 slice servings
Nutrition Information for 1 slice: Calories: 283.6, Fat: 9.6g (4.1 Sat, .2 Poly, .7 Mono), Carbs: 37.3g, Fiber: 5 g

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Muffins

One of our favorite restaurants in town serves freshly baked mini muffins instead of bread. The Palace is a Cajun restaurant here in Santa Barbara. They serve banana nut, molasses and cheddar/jalapeno corn muffins. I was making my Turkey Chili Pasta tonight and thought some "homemade" Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Muffins would be a great accompaniment. I was worried about the ratios of peppers & cheese, but these were great! I might use one more jalapeno next time if I want a little more kick, but as a subtle side dish, the heat was perfect. I'm going to enter this into the "Tasty Tools" blogging event for April over at Joelen's Culinary Adventures, since this month is muffin pans.
Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Muffins
1 Package Corn Muffin Mix (I used Jiffy)
1-2 Jalapenos, seeds & ribs removed
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 Egg
1/3 cup milk
Dice jalapeno into very fine pieces (or pulse in food processor until chopped into fine pieces). Mix with all remaining ingredients. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then pour into greased muffin pan or cupcake liners. Fill about 1/2 full. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition Info: Calories: 205.1, Fat: 8.5g (4.3 Sat, .2 Poly, 1.2 Mono), Carbs: 28g, Fiber: .1g

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Asparagus, Tomato and Chicken pasta

I apologize for the lack of posting lately, but April is my busiest month of the year. We are going to so many bike races that take up our entire weekend that I have had no time to even go to the store, let alone meal plan! So far, we've been to San Diego & Santa Ynez/San Luis Obispo, and this weekend, we're headed to Monterey for a really big race. After that, we have yet another Santa Ynez race. I'm trying to keep up with posting one new recipe a week, but we'll see if I'm able to pull that off as the rest of the month gets even crazier!

This was a meal that I came up with on my own because I was missing going out to dinner and wanted to make something that was better than what I could order out. I love pasta & chicken, and asparagus is one of my favorite veggies (and in season right now, yay!), so I came up with this dish. It was good, and the pictures came out great, but I have to agree with my husband that there was something missing here. I'm not sure whether it was more herbs, spices, or another flavor layer, but I need to tweak this one a bit in the future to make it perfect. Nonetheless, it was a good basic recipe and I look forward to making it good enough to replace going out soon!

Asparagus, Tomato and Chicken Pasta Toss (by me!)
12 Oz Boneless Skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed of woody part and chopped into 1-1.5" pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1/2 cup nonfat milk
1/2 cup fat free 1/2 & 1/2
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Cup grape tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
3 Tbs AP Flour
1 Tbs Butter (or I Can't Believe It's Not Stick)
1/4 Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1/2 lb Whole Wheat short pasta (I used Penne)
Cook Pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic & asparagus in 1 Tbs oil until tender. Add tomatoes and cook until they just start to split. Remove to a bowl. Coat chicken pieces in flour, reserving excess flour. Add remaining Tbs oil and cook chicken until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to bowl. Add Butter and reserved flour and cook about 1 minute. Add wine & scrape up bits from bottom of the pan. Add milk and 1/2 & half while continually stirring. Add Parsley and Parmigiano cheese and stir to combine. Add veggies & chicken and stir to coat with sauce. Pour cooked pasta into sauce mixture and toss well to combine. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition Info: Calories: 445.3, Fat: 10.1g (Sat: 1.9, Poly: 1.3, Mono: 5.8), Carbs: 57g, Fiber: 7.2g

Book #16 - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I was back to the young adult genre for this book, but this was not as easy of a read as I would have thought. This book is about a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany after being abandoned by her mother and raised by foster parents. She steals a book from her brother's gravesite when he dies on the way to the foster family, and so begins her journey through learning to read and learning to trust again. The entire story is told through the narration of death, who takes an interest in the girl through his various distant sightings of her in his day to day work. The combination of the narration by death, the well written characters, and the girl's tenacious will to survive make this a fascinating book. I was tearing up at the end while finishing this book at work, with my boss watching ESPN in the break room with me (he was totally oblivious to my suffering, ha!). This one really tugged at the heartstrings, but I would recommend it.

Book #15 - The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

This book is a sweet love story disguised as a science fiction novel. Or vice versa, depending on your perspective. I really enjoyed it and it was a fast read. Keep in mind, however, that this book will leave your head spinning at times. Fans of the TV show Lost will know what I'm talking about. Any storyline that has some characters jumping through time and others not will really start to mess with your head. That being said, this was the first of two books in a row that were: #1 - Really good at forshadowing, so that you knew what was coming but it didn't relieve the suspense at all, and #2 - Really heavy books to read (not weight-wise, but emotion-wise). I probably should have spread these kinds of books out a bit. This was a really well written book, considering how hard it must have been to keep the timeline straight. I didn't find it to be in my top 10 best books of all time list, as some people have, but it was a good one nonetheless.

Book #14 - Sula by Toni Morrison

I've wanted to read a Toni Morrison book for a while now, but didn't want to pick up one of her longer ones only to find that I didn't like her writing style. I was very happy to find Sula in my local library. The story of the difference between two best friends - one growing up to be the good wife, one growing up to be a scandalous woman - really sparked my interest, and the story was short enough that I knew I could get through it even if I didn't like the style. Sprinkled throughout the story are undertones of racism during the time of the depression. Central to the theme was the idea of whether or not your upbringing and background creates your destiny. I enjoyed this book, and more importantly, found Toni Morrison's style to be fascinating. She paints such pictures with her words that normally, I would find her style to be overly flowery, but she still captivates with a fascinating story. I'm looking forward to reading "Beloved," which I will be reading in the next couple of months.

Book #13 - Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler

I had heard really good things about this book and then couldn't find it anywhere. Borders near my house, Barnes & Noble, and the Library were all out. So when I finally found it at Borders while on an extended shopping trip... (Ooops! I mean work break!) I picked it up. No doubt, this was a funny book. I think Chelsea's style of writing is not for me, however. I find her style to be a bit over the top obnoxious (which is fine, just not my style of comedy), even on TV, and when given the opportunity to be mostly censor free in her books, she runs with it. I wasn't offended or anything, just didn't find it as laugh out loud funny as I thought it would be. I think those who find her really funny on TV would probably love this book, but I should have thought this one through before I bought it just because I finally found it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kicked Up Ramen

Early in my days of cooking real meals for my husband and me, I came across a recipe in a Pampered Chef pamphlet that I was surprised to see there. It was a ramen noodle stir fry. As a child, I adored Top Ramen and would eat it daily whenever I was home from school (seriously, it's scary how much of this stuff I ate!). I couldn't believe that Pampered Chef had a grown up recipe that I could make that would still count as cooking dinner! I promptly cooked it up, and when a guy from my office wanted to know what I had for dinner the night before, I told him "Ramen." Then I described it and he said, "Wow, that's not just ramen, that's kicked up ramen!" Since then, that is what I've called this dish. If you don't like ramen or are watching your sodium intake, this isn't for you. But it is so easy and really, really good, and brings back memories of all those summer days when I was eating hot soup!

Kicked Up Ramen (adapted a lot from a very old Pampered Chef booklet)
1 package beef flavored ramen noodles
3/4 lbs sirloin steak, sliced very thin
1/4 Cup Light Soy Sauce
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 package frozen vegetable mix, thawed
1 cup water (1/2 of what the package calls for)
1 Tbs olive oil
Marinate beef in Soy, ginger and garlic for at least 20 minutes. Stir fry in oil in wok over medium high heat. Remove from pan. Add 1 cup water, ramen noodles & seasoning (add the seasonings now, not at the end). Cook for 3 minutes or until noodles are soft. Add the vegetables and simmer for about 1 minute until just softened. Add the beef back in and toss well to incorporate all ingredients. Makes 2 servings.
Nutrition Info: Calories: 638.8, Fat: 27.9g (9.5 Sat, 1.7Poly, 12.75 Mono), Carbs: 37.1g, Fiber: 2.8g

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Artichoke Chicken

Oh my, how I love this recipe! I'm a California girl, so I love me some artichokes, and artichoke dip is so sinfully good. This recipe takes those flavors and adds chicken. I inhaled this meal. The husband likes it too, but ate it at the speed of a normal person. I think that is why I try not to order artichoke dip when we go out very often. I love it too much, and I eat way more than my fair share. This is a nice at home treat, and it isn't nearly as bad for you as restaurant artichoke dip, especially with the reduced fat ingredients I use (if you can't tell, I have no problem with low fat versions of products, I'm just not that picky about that sort of thing).

Artichoke Chicken (adapted from Allrecipes)
2 6 oz boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 can artichoke heart quarters (not marinated!) - you can save the other 1/2 can for pasta, mmm!
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
2 Tbs reduced fat mayo
1/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. Season chicken with salt & pepper, place in a shallow baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. In a small mixing bowl, combine artichokes, sour cream, mayo, garlic and parm cheese. Mix well. Top each chicken breast with 1/2 the mixture. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or until juices run clear and artichoke mixture just starts to brown.

Nutrition Info: Calories: 386.2, Fat: 15.6g (6.5 Sat, .9 Poly, 2.9 Mono) Carbs: 11.3g, Fiber: 3.9g

Grilled Mahi Mahi in Poke Marinade

I was in the mood for fish this weekend and decided to stop by Lazy Acres, Santa Barbara's local answer to Whole Foods (although I can't wait until we get our own Whole Foods in December!). Lazy Acres has pretty good fish, and I love going in, looking at the case, and just pointing to what looks good. Mahi Mahi fit the bill, and right above the seafood case was a "Hawaiian Poke Marinade" by Santa Monica Seafood that I had to buy as an impulse buy. One of the main reasons I love Hawaii as much as I do is the food, and I still have dreams of our Ahi Poke from Mama's Fish House on our November Maui trip. So even though I had just picked out Mahi Mahi, not Ahi, I ran with it. The fish grilled up wonderfully and tasted like steak, I loved the thick, meaty texture. The marinade was okay. I thought it was fine, but the husband really didn't like it and pulled out some soy sauce to try and mask the marinade flavors. Too much sesame oil for his tastes, I think. But now we know that Mahi Mahi is great on the grill, and next time, I will marinate with my favorite island style marinade, Soy Vay Island Teriyaki. There isn't much of a recipe for this one, and I don't have nutrition info, so I'll just post the pretty picture and you guys can consider this a product review for the marinade.

Black Bean, Corn & Pineapple Enchiladas

Mmm, Enchiladas. They are one of my favorite Mexican dishes, but whenever I have had them cooked at home, they lose some of their gooey goodness. They are either too dry, not cheesy enough, or they get crunchy in weird spots. I decided to try this recipe from a blog on the nest because I liked that it didn't include any meat, so it removed that from the equation of things that could go wrong. I also love pretty much anything with pineapple in it. Note: the lack of meat does NOT in any way imply healthiness with this recipe! We liked the flavors of this recipe, but again, the texture wasn't quite right. The tortillas got a little too soft (which is the first time I've ever seen that happen with homemade enchiladas, normally they are too hard). My husband thinks that maybe I should have used different tortillas, but I think it was because I didn't squeeze enough of the juice out of the pineapple before adding to the mix. Either way, I am pretty excited that for my first attempt at homemade enchiladas, these resembled the enchilada flavor you get at restaurants, and with tweaking, I think I could perfect homemade enchiladas on my next attempt (I think I'll try regular chicken next).

I stuck to the linked recipe pretty closely, but I used about 2 cups low fat mexican cheese blend instead of the 3.5 cups of regular. Also, the 1 can of Enchilada sauce can be a small can. I didn't use much out of the huge can I bought.

Nutrition info for two enchiladas - my version (with low fat cheese): Calories: 627.1, Fat: 17.9g (8.1 Sat, .2 Poly, 0 Mono), Carbs: 93g, Fiber: 10.9g

Book Review #12 - Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox

This is another book that I probably wouldn't have picked up if it weren't for the online book challenge I'm participating in. One of the categories for the Winter Challenge was to read a book about a celebrity. I wasn't really interested in anyone all that much, but then I saw this book at the library and thought that Michael J. Fox's story would be an interesting read, because not only is he an actor, but he came from another country (Canada), has a debilitating degenerative disease (Parkinson's Disease), and he kept that disease a secret from everyone for nearly 10 years. All this while keeping a seemingly solid marriage. I found this book to be a very interesting read, and thought that for a celebrity biography, he did a good job at delving into some of the deep demons that he faced, particularly surrounding his diagnosis. He tended to get a little over-wordy, almost as though he was trying to prove his intelligence (he was a high school drop out, but is quite obviously very smart), but I appreciated this honest look at celebrity, the harshness of Parkinson's, and the power of a strong marriage.