Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Baked Chicken Flautas and Spanish Rice

Burritos stuffed so full they are the size of a football are very near and dear to my heart, but certainly aren't good for it.  The cheesier and saucier, the better, as far as I am concerned.  As stated in my last post, however, the trend in our house as of late has been healthy Mexican food.  When I came across a recipe for baked flautas, I got excited.  They are the size of a cigar and packed with flavor--seasoned shredded chicken, sauteed spinach with jalapenos, and a sprinkle of habanero jack cheese.  A side of healthy Spanish rice full of tomatoes, peppers, chiles, and onions was the perfect complement.

The baked flautas were so good that I (may) have curbed my burrito obsession.  I can't wait to try different flavor combinations--chicken with onions and peppers, turkey with corn and black beans, or just a whole bunch of seasoned and sauteed veggies with chipotle peppers.  This summer, I am going to try them on the grill too--the char from the fire will certainly enhance the flavor.  

We have a vat of leftover rice that is going to be recreated into a tortilla soup tonight.  I am going to throw in some corn, shred some more chicken, and possibly add some black beans.  It is sure to be a treat!

(Also, as a result of the little flautas, I learned a new strategy for shredding chicken that was literally life-altering.  I am never shredding chicken by hand again--ever.) 

Chicken Flautas:
(Very closely adapted from this recipe.  The only thing I did differently was change the amount of spices and the type of chicken.  They deserve full credit for the mind-blowing chicken shredding strategy.)
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 beers (I used one amber and one Corona)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • a dash of Italian seasoning
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 3 cups baby spinach, chopped
  • a number of normal sized tortillas (we used flour, but wheat, spinach, or tomato would be great)
  • 6-8 ounces of habanero jack cheese (Monterey jack, regular jack, or really any cheese that melts in a gooey fashion would be great)
  • Pam cooking spray
  1. In a large saute pan, add the chicken, beer and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Be careful not to overcook otherwise your chicken will be dry. 
  2. Remove the chicken from the liquid and shred it.  Life-Altering Shredding Method: Place the cooked chicken in your KitchenAid mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium for 30-45 seconds.  During those seconds, stand in awe at the amount of time and effort you just saved.  (This will change your shredding chicken life.)
  3. Leave 1/4ish cup of the liquid in the pan and discard the rest.  Add the minced jalapeno and chopped spinach and cook over low heat until for 3-5 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted and liquid is absorbed.
  4. Cut the tortillas in half. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the chicken along the cut edge of a tortilla.
  5. Repeat with the spinach and sprinkle with cheese. Roll the tortilla up, starting with the straight edge.  Make sure it is rolled very tightly to prevent leakage or unraveling.  
  6. Place seam-side down on an oiled baking sheet. 
  7. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
  8. When placing tortilla on baking sheet, leave a little space between them so that they are able to evenly crisp.  If you pack them in, only the tops will crisp and the sides will steam each other and thus become soft and potentially soggy.
  9. Spray the tops and sides of the flautas with Pam.  Bake for 10 minutes or so until the tops begin to brown and crisp. 
  10. Turn them over and bake for until for another 10 minutes or so until lightly browned and crispy.
Spanish Rice:
Inspired by this recipe.

  • a healthy glug or two of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (Alaska's tomatoes are horrendous, so I used one can of no salt added diced tomatoes)
  • one 7 ounce can of diced green chiles
  • 2 teaspoons of chili pepper
  • paprika, cumin, or cayanne if you want
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Saute rice, onion, and bell pepper until rice is browned and onions are tender.
  3. Stir in water and tomatoes. 
  4. Season with your choice of spices. 
  5. Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until rice is cooked and liquid is absorbed.

Tex-Mex Tomato and Chicken Casserole

I have been on a Mexican food kick lately.  Well, that kick has been going for the past 29 years.  My mission lately, however, has been to make tasty, flavorful, and hearty Mexican inspired dishes without so much cheese.  A lofty task, I know, but I have had great success.  Less cheese is good for my conscience, my waste line, and my intestines.  An overall win, if I do say so myself.

I bet you are confused right now--Tex-Mex Casserole that is healthy and doesn't have much cheese?  Sounds crazy, but it's true!  This casserole is just a little thicker than a stew, and certainly could be re-created as such.  The chicken, tomatoes, peppers, vermicelli/rice, spices, and hint of cheese come together perfectly.  This meal is perfect after a long day skiing or playing in the snow.  Without any cheese at all, it would also be perfect as a cold side dish at a summer time picnic.  I can't wait to make it again!

Tex-Mex Tomato and Chicken Casserole:
Inspired from this lovely blog that I love. 

  • 1/2 of a large sweet onion, chopped
  • one red pepper, chopped
  • a touch of olive oil
  • 1 package of chicken flavored rice and vermicelli mix (I used the low sodium Rice-A-Roni)
  • 14 ounces of low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
  • 1-2 cups diced tomato (because Alaskan tomatoes are disgusting, I used one can of no salt added diced tomatoes instead)
  • one small can of diced green chile peppers (you can also use a few healthy glugs of green chile sauce like La Victoria)
  • 1 1/2ish teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2-1ish teaspoon cumin (depending on your taste preference)
  • 1/2 or so teaspoon of paprika
  • 1ish tablespoons of Italian seasoning
  • shredded Mexican blend cheese
  1. In a saucepan heat olive oil and saute onions and peppers until tender.
  2. Stir in rice and vermicelli mix, including the seasoning packet. 
  3. Cook and stir to coat, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in broth and water.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, and cover.  Cook for 20 minutes.  (The liquid will not be completely absorbed.) 
  6. Turn off heat and add chicken, tomatoes, green chiles, and all of the spices.
  7. Transfer to a baking dish.  (I found a 9 x 13 pan to work well.)
  8. Bake covered, at 425 degrees for 25 minutes.  Uncover and sprinkle with a little cheese if you are using it.  Cook uncovered for 5 minutes or so until the cheese begins to brown.   

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Prima Donna Brownies

Recently, there have been many recipes floating around cyberspace regarding brownies titled with a term used to describe women in a very derogatory fashion.  You know the term that might be uttered towards a woman wearing a slinky dress, high heels, big hair, and bad makeup.  Since I don't like that word, I am not going to use it.  I am going to call my version "Prima Donna Brownies" instead.  That sounds far more sophisticated and aptly describes the delicious treats--fancy and refined with a little surprise.  They could also be titled "Woman in a Black Dress Brownies" or "Marilyn Monroe Brownies", but I'll stick with Prima Donna.

For as tasty as these are and as complicated as they look, it would be easy to assume they would be difficult and time consuming to make.  Don't be intimidated my friends.  They are very simple and come together in a flash.

Take these to a get together with your girlfriends.  Don't share with boys unless they are really nice and promise to treat you to something in return.  Most importantly, don't even for one second feel guilty about eating one (or three)--we deserve it!!

Prima Donna Brownies:  Chocolate Chip, Oreo Brownies
I was inspired by a number of pictures, but used my favorite chocolate chip cookie and brownie recipes.

For the Cookie Dough
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. 
  3. Beat in the instant pudding mix until blended. 
  4. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. 
  5. Blend in the flour mixture. 
  6. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. 
  7. Set aside
For the Oreo Layer:
  • One package of the Oreo's of your liking.  I used reduced fat--for what reason, I am not sure.  I bet double-stuffed would be incredible.  I only had four cookies left after layering, so be careful not to eat too many while you are cooking.
For the Brownies:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
  1. Melt the butter. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, mix sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  
  3. Mix in butter.  (Be careful not to scramble your eggs.)
  4. Slowly add in the cocoa powder, the flour, salt, and baking powder.
  5. Set aside. 
  1. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with non-stick tinfoil.
  2. Layer most of the cookie dough on the bottom of the pan.  (I tried a spatula and a butter knife but ended up using my fingers.)  The layer should be about an inch thick. 
  3. Reserve the remaining cookie dough to be used to (eat) or make cookies with.
  4. Layer as many Oreos that will fit on top of the cookie dough.  No need to overlap.  One single layer will do.
  5. Pour the brownie batter on top of the Oreo layer and make sure it is evenly layered on top.
  6. Bake for 30ish minutes.  Test with a toothpick to see if the center is done.   DO NOT OVERBAKE!
  7. Let the whole show cool for a bit before cutting and serving.  (This will be a difficult task.)
  8. Share with your girlfriends. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sugar Cookiecake Bars

I am not a fan of homemade sugar cookies.  I don't really like the slice and bake kind either.  I mean, if I am looking for something to break my tooth, then both are viable options.  Store bought sugar cookies, however, are something else altogether.  How they manage to be flaky, chewy, creamy, not-too-sugary, and fresh all the time is a mystery ('s obviously because they are processed into oblivion, but who cares?) 

Therefore, I set out to re-imagine the homemade sugar cookie as inspired by the grocery store processed awesomeness.  The result was shockingly incredible.  In fact, I doubled my workout for the day as a result of the number of "tastes" I had.

These cookiecake bars are extremely quick to make and easy to dress up into a fancy-looking treat.  I mean, anything with food coloring and sprinkles looks better.  In the future, I am going to experiment with adding cocoa or almond extract.  I foresee turning them into a crust layer for pecan bars, lemon/lime curd treats, or cheesecake bites.

Take these to the neighborhood bbq, your next potluck, take them to the neighbors, give them to your trainer, leave them in the office for your less self-controlled coworkers, give them to your boss if you need something....whatever you do, don't leave them in the house or you will eat them all.  It isn't a question; it's a fact.  They are that good.

Sugar Cookiecake Bars:
The bars part of this recipe is inspired from this site

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened (laughably, I used 1/3 fat cream cheese to "cut the calories")
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or almond or whatever extract you would like....rum?)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 3-4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon-ish of vanilla
  • a tablespoon or so of milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with nonstick foil.
  2. In your mixer, cream butter, cream cheese and sugar together.  Add in the egg and vanilla and mix until just incorporated.
  3. With mixer on low, add in the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  
  4. Mix until just combined.
  5. Press dough evenly into your prepared pan.  (The dough will be very sticky...I found that a butter knife worked well.)
  6. Bake for 20 minutes until edges begin to turn golden.  DO NOT OVERBAKE!
  7. Cool completely before frosting.
  1. Whip the butter into oblivion so that it is nice and fluffy.  This should take a couple minutes.
  2. A few tablespoons at a time, add the powdered sugar.  Continue to add until the frosting is the lightness of your liking.
  3. Add the milk and the vanilla and continue to whip.  (Add food coloring if using.)
  4. Whip until it meets your preferred consistency and fluffiness.
  5. Frost the bars and try not to lick the bowl clean.
  6. Don't share your secrets.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the Topic of Turkey....

In my short time as a blogger, I have made an awful lot of posts about the awesomeness of the turkey burger.  I love burgers and all that you can do with them; as evidenced by the chipotle corn guysthe little burgers that could, and my regular and effusive discourse on the magic of the spinach and feta guys.  You may ask: why always turkey?  I would like to attribute it to my focus on calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, and more, but that isn't the case.  I spent a decade and a half as a vegetarian and grew up without red meat.  So when I reintegrated animal proteins into my diet per the doctor's orders a few years back, I managed to develop a taste for chicken and turkey, but still can't do red meat.  I try.  I really do.  But I just don't like it.  I realize that to many, that is sacrilegious.  Sorry.

But the little gobbler that should have been our country's national bird really is tasty--and it is far healthier than the cute little guys that say moo.  Therefore, expect to read more about turkey and to never hear about red meat.  However, you probably know better than I that you can use ground beef in lieu of my ground turkey.  Remember, we are in the business of re-imagining here.

Enough defense of turkey and more about the basil, oregano, feta turkey meatballs we made to accompany the pesto penne perfection.  I can't decide whether the five ingredients really did combine to create perfection or whether it was because my best girlfriend was there to cook them that led to such wonderful little bites of awesome.  I certainly am no expert on meatballs (I think my first meatball was consumed when I was 27), but these little treats are not your typical heavy meatball.  They are light, flavorful, and the perfect accompaniment to pasta or served as an appetizer or game day treat.  I can't wait to try them as a burger!!!!

Basil, Oregano, and Feta Turkey Meatballs:
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 4-6 ounces reduced fat feta cheese (the amount depends on your preference)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of dried basil (sorry for the ambiguity....I dumped)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of dried oregano
  • a dash of salt
  • a number of grinds from the pepper grinder
  • 1 egg
  1. Throw in the turkey and add the feta.  Mix to your liking and add more feta if you wish.
  2. Add in your desired amount of basil and oregano.  (Use your re-imagining powers!!)
  3. Add salt and pepper.
  4. Crack the egg on top.
  5. Mix it all up, then form into ping pong ball sized meatballs.
  6. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium/medium-low sprayed with Pam or given a drizzle of olive oil.  (Pam = less mess, but olive oil = crispier crust.  Pick you poison.)
  7. Call your best girlfriend who lives 1,500 miles away and have her come over to cook your meatballs.
  8. Cook over medium/medium-low heat until the sides are slightly browned.  Be sure not to use too high of a heat to scorch the outsides while leaving the insides uncooked.  We are going for even-steven in the cooking department here. 
  9. Do the "cut one open" check to make sure they are cooked through.  Then taste it to make sure they are delicious.
  10. Serve and enjoy.

Peppery Pesto Penne Perfection (with Tomatoes)

I truly believe that I could eat some variation of pasta for the rest of my life and be subliminally happy.  The creamier and the cheesier the better, but because I would like to live a healthy and fit life until a very ripe old age, those dishes are out of the question.  On a semi-related tangent here, did you listen to the new clip about the centenarian woman that went hang gliding last week to celebrate her 101st birthday?  She went to Disneyland when she turned 90 to ride all the "adult" rides and decided to hang-glide so she couldn't be outdone by her 70 year old son who had taken up the hobby.  My favorite part about the story was when she said, "I am not going to sit at home moaning and groaning just because I am old."  She also landed herself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.  That's what I aspire to be like in 70+ years and pasta with buttery, creamy, cheesy sauce certainly isn't the answer.  Confession: I may sneak a bite or two when someone else orders alfredo, beurre blanc, or a mile-high lasagna.

With that long-winded introduction complete, let me present to you an equally healthy and delicious pasta that will not only please your stomach and--if you're like me--your triceps.  This dish is even better because it takes absolutely no time at all.  It tastes wonderful enough to fool people that you slaved away in the kitchen for hours and had to go straight to Italy for the pasta (not that I would refuse), but neither are necessary.  Add some crushed red pepper flakes for some zing, add a little more basil, tweak the ration of tomatoes to roasted peppers, pair with chicken, scallops, or meatballs and you can create a magnificent feast to your particular palette.  Garnish with fresh grated parmesan, a little fresh basil, or even fresh cherry tomato halves and you will impress a chef with your presentation.  Fresh rustic artisan bread and a fresh caesar salad are all that's left to make your meal perfect.

This dish is like the ace of spades--keep it up your sleeve and play it when you need it most.  You will win, don't worry.

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Pesto Penne:
Inspired from a recipe from my new favorite food blog (that I found through Pinterest...I <3 that place.)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3-1/2 cup pine nuts, depending on your preference
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup jarred roasted red or yellow pepper
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste (I used a dash of salt and probably 1/4 teaspoon or more pepper)
  • crushed red pepper to taste if you are using
  • a dash or two or three or four of dried oregano (if you want)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or less, depending on your preference for the consistency of your pesto....I like mine thicker rather than runny)
  • 1 lb. penne pasta
  • 1/4ish cup milk (completely optional)
  1. Place garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. 
  2.  Pulse until finely chopped. 
  3. Add Parmesan, red pepper, tomatoes, basil leaves, and salt and pepper.  Also add the crushed red pepper and oregano if you are using them.  
  4. Pulse until well combined. 
  5. With the motor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube and process until incorporated. Set aside.
  6. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and return the pasta to the pot. 
  7. Add the pesto to the pasta and stir to combine. 
  8. Stir in milk (or cream if you don't want to live to be a 101-year-old hang-glider) if you are looking for a creamier sauce.   
  9. Heat the whole show until warmed through.  
  10. Admire your work of art that really only took about 20 minutes.
  11. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

California Chipotle Corn Burgers

It was spring break last week, so we traveled to California for what we expected to be a week of relaxation, sunshine, great friends, good conversation, and excellent food.  That dream certainly came true with the additions of some (ok...lots) of rain and a lovely visit from the intestinal demons to yours truly.  We hiked through the redwoods, biked from Seaside 30 miles along the Monterey Peninsula through Pebble Beach to Carmel (and ended at an extremely cute Irish pub), and ran through Pacific Grove to my favorite point in the universe--Asilomar.

With all that exercise, it was such a reward to spend time with my best girlfriend and her husband wine tasting in Paso Robles (after a visit to the Hearst Castle)...

...and to eat great food.

One of the creations we made was a California Chipotle Corn Burger to accompany the Spinach and Feta Turkey burgers that I have discussed before.  You may have gathered that I love to re-imagine turkey burgers, and you're right.  They are just so versatile and delicious!  You can essentially throw whatever combination you want to into together and they will turn out great.

These little chipotle corn delights were no different.  A hint of sweet from the corn + a hint of spice from the chiles = YUM!  You can serve them open-faced on a piece of fresh beer bread, on a piece of lettuce, between two slices of tomatoes (heirloom if you can find them), on top avocado, or many other ways.  I also imagine there are a wide varieties of sauces to create to dip into or put on top as well.

I foresee many nights this summer having a turkey burger slider smorg with these little chipotle corn dudes, the soy ginger jobs, the spinach and feta delights, and a few others yet to be created.  We now have more than 12 hours of daylight, despite the 22 degree weather and 8 feet of snow, but I am ready for some GARTYQUES!

California Chipotle Corn Burgers:
Re-imagined from this recipe from the lady that loves her EVOO.

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 4-5 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus whole leaves for topping
  • 4 ears corn, husked
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • between 1/2 and 3/4 cups, skim milk
  • 3-4 tablespoons sour cream
  • cayenne to taste
  • a hint of cumin if you would like
  • salt and black pepper
  1. Preheat a grill to medium-high.  Arrange the corn on the grate and grill, turning occasionally, until the kernels are golden-brown and softened, 8 to 10 minutes. 
  2. Once cool enough to handle, slice the corn kernels from the cobs.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat on the stove (if you want to be really crafty, use a cast iron skillet on the grill).  Add the butter to melt, then whisk in the flour until combined and foaming, about 2 minutes. 
  4. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth.  Stir in the corn kernels, cayenne, cumin (if using), and salt and pepper to taste.  
  5. Turn off heat and add enough sour cream to coat the corn.
  6. In a bowl, combine the turkey, your corn mixture, chopped chile, cilantro, and a dash or two of salt and pepper.  
  7. Form the mixture into patties of your desired size then place in the fridge for a few minutes.
  8. Grill on medium high and serve on the vessel of your choice.
  9. Try not to eat more than 11 of them. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pita Pocket Perfection

I have been on a hummus, spread, and dip kick lately.  The problem with most varieties of these, however, is that they are loaded with cream, butter, mayonnaise, fat, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and tons (pun intended) guilt.  That's precisely why I re-imagined them in a healthy manner.  As previously blogged, each are incredible.

Since I went to the trouble of making each dip, hummus, and spread healthy, it only makes sense to pair them with healthy dipping vessels.  Chips, crackers, and sourdough are of course delicious, but when one's (my) metabolism is no faster than the growth rate of a redwood tree despite miles and miles of exercise, creating a healthy dipping vessel is imperative.  Hello, pita bread.

I have always thought that making pita bread would be difficult and time consuming.  Where does the perfect pocket come from!?!?!  Don't fret, French culinary technique is not necessary though.  A few ingredients located no farther than your pantry, ten minutes of your time, and a little patience while the dough rises; that's all that is needed.  Hey--go for a run while waiting for the yeast to do its thing!

I will never buy store bought pita bread again.  Ever.  And you shouldn't have to either.  Throw in some spices, some garlic, or different kinds of flour and the variations are endless. 

Pita Bread:
  • 1 1/8 cups warm water (110 degrees-ish)
  • 3 cups flour (my favorite combination is 2 cups of wheat and 1 of all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  1. Proof the yeast by pouring it into a measuring cup with the warm water.  Let sit until foamy.
  2. Place all of the ingredients in a bread machine and knead using the dough setting.  You can also put the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, pour in the yeast and water mixture, and knead by hand.
  3. Place dough ball in a medium bowl and cover with a towel.  Let rise until doubled, one hour to 90 minutes.
  4. Roll and stretch the dough into a foot long rope.
  5. Cut and divide into 8-10 pieces.  (Each should be about the size of a racquetball.)
  6. With a rolling pin on a floured surface, roll each ball into a 6 to 7 inch circle.
  7. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Place as many pitas as will fit on a wire rack.  Bake pitas on 4 to 5 minutes until puffed and tops begin to brown.  Removed from oven and immediately place in a damp kitchen towel until soft (just a few minutes).
  8. Serve with your favorite dip, spread, hummus, or all three.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fro Yo to Die For

Last night, we went and saw the piper at Pebble Beach's Spanish Bay then had dinner at Peppoli.  The two best risotto dinners I have ever had in my life have been at Peppoli.  If my risotto ever tastes anywhere close to as good as theirs, my life's accomplishments will be complete.  The texture is inexplicable--perfectly smooth and creamy, yet crunchy and chewy at the same time.  I didn't know food could do that all at once.  Peppoli's risotto makes it happen.

The highlight of last night's dinner, however, wasn't the piper, the fine wine, the exceptional dinner, or even the great company.  No, my favorite thing about the evening was the salted caramel frozen yogurt I had at Pinkberry afterwards.  Salty, sweet, tart, and tangy.  I could have stuck my head under the machine and consumed it right from the source.

It was so good it needed to be re-imagined today.  And I am happy to report that my version was equally as incredible (and an awful lot cheaper!).  I am both happy and sad to know that I can make this treat--happy because it is delicious, sad because I will most likely eat far more of it than is really socially (and healthily...did I just make up a word?) acceptable.  Next time I am going to throw in some chocolate.

The Best Fro Yo Ever:
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 packet of plain gelatin
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 quart vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup fat free half-and-half  
  1. Pour milk in a saucepan.  Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let stand for a minute or so.
  2. Heat milk and gelatin until smooth.
  3. Stir in sugar and cook until dissolved.
  4. Turn off heat.
  5. Add yogurt and mix until smooth.  Do the same with the half-and-half.
  6. When everything is completely blended, pour into ice cream maker.
  7. Mix until thickened, 25-30 minutes or so.  
  8. Serve with a cookie.  Pour caramel, chocolate, or nuts on top.  Mix with fruit.  Eat it plain.  Whatever you choose to do, you will not be disappointed.
  9. Try to share, but if you want to eat the whole thing by yourself, that's fine too because it is healthy.

Hummus for Happiness

Hummus is good for the soul.  This isn't a question, it is a fact.  There really is no debating its benefits for mind and body both.  The thing I love most about it is its versatility.  A little less garlic, a few more veggies, the perfect combination of spices; it certainly doesn't disappoint when made for individuals' tastes.  I also love the versatility of the dipping vessels available--carrots, celery, pita bread or chips, broccoli, my finger.  Each provides a different, yet equally delicious, complement to the obliterated garbanzo beans.  The toppings are great too--kalamata olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, pine nuts, roasted almonds, cucumber.  Yum.

I also love hummus because it brings people together.  The process of sharing promotes conversation and facilitates relationship building.  It is more than sharing a pizza or nachos together because those are already made.  With hummus, you get to share the composition of the perfect bite.  You may like more feta, I may like more tomato.  You may like pita bread, I may like carrots.  Regardless, we both love it.  It is a journey.  What's mine is yours. 

Looking forward to sharing hummus with my loved ones for years to come.

Roasted Pepper and Sundried Tomato Hummus:
(This "recipe" is real loose.  Interpret as you wish.)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups, garbanzo beans (loosely drained)
  • a number of glugs of olive oil
  • a teaspoon-ish of cumin
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • 1 roasted pepper
  • a few spoonfuls of sundried tomatoes in oil
  1. Throw everything in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency. 
  2. Taste.
  3. Adjust.
  4. Enjoy with your favorite toppings and dipping vessels.

My Favorite Place in the Universe

I imagine that most people's happy place is at a beach, on top of a mountain, floating along a river, on top of an untouched double-black with a cliff as the entrance, around the campfire, in a small cottage on Cape Cod with a good book among the red and gold leaves in the middle of a thunder storm, at the finish line of a marathon, on a Mediterranean cruise, sipping wine in a vineyard, in bed on a Saturday morning, or standing at the altar on wedding day.  My favorite place in the universe, however, is Whole Foods.  Being greeted by fresh fruit, vegetables, and cut flowers before I even walk in the door makes my heart sing.  The rows of colorful foods that all have the raw potential for greatness makes me smile from the inside out. 

The wine, the cheese, the fish.  THE SANDWICH BAR!  I love it all.  If I could have a bed in the back, I would.  My favorite thing about traveling out of Alaska isn't the adventure, the family, the great friends, or the memories, but the fact that nine times out of ten, I get to go to Whole Foods.  I should be the spokeswoman, like Jared from Subway.  I have so many positive messages about how Whole Foods has changed my life.  They should hire me (so that I can spend all of my money in their store). 

The reason why I love to cook can (almost) single-handedly be traced to Whole Foods.  Finding new and intriguing food always piques my interest in creating something grand.  Some people say that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, but they are wrong--it is Whole Foods. 

Whole Foods, I love you.  Please come to Anchorage.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chicken Tagine Terrificness

For Christmas, one member of this household wanted a tagine and the other one was just as excited about it.  Consequently (in a very good way), a tagine appeared at the Owl's Nest.  Before this purchase, I knew nothing about the tagine.  Since then, however, it has revolutionized our kitchen.  It is traditionally used in Morocco to cook, steam, and braise all ingredients at once.  It is like our Crock-Pot....but infintely better.

We have re-imagined traditional Moroccan tagine dishes, but have also re-invented the use of the tagine and have cooked salmon, halibut, caribou, and a combination of all three in it.  If you want juicy, tender, and perfectly cooked meat, the tagine is the device for you.  When I hear "tagine" and "Morocco" in the same sentence, I instantly think complicated, difficult, and time-consuming.  That is precisely what the tagine IS NOT.  Throw a million spices, veggies, and proteins into the tagine and simmer for an hour and you will certainly have an incredible dinner.  No joke.  It does not disappoint.

Tonight we made a chicken tagine with potatoes and served it with rice.  Tasty, you ask?  Absolutely.  Difficult?  Absolutely not. 

Chicken Tagine Terrificness:

  • 4-5 large chicken breasts, cut into pieces
  • 4-5 yukon gold potatoes, chopped
  • a number of glugs of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • a dash or two of sea salt
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • a few glugs of lemon juice
  1. Rinse and dry the chicken breasts and chop into pieces.
  2. Chop the potatoes.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix 2 or 3 glugs of olive oil, coriander, cinnamon, saffron, salt, the onion, garlic, cumin, ginger, paprika and tumeric.  Mix thoroughly.  Add a bit of water to make a paste.
  4. Add the chicken and mix to coat.  Leave for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Heat the tagine base on medium and add a glug or two of olive oil.
  6. Add the chicken mixture and the marinade.  Bring to a boil.
  7. Immediately reduce to a simmer and add the lemon juice.  Cover with the tagine lid.
  8. Simmer on low-medium for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
  9. When the chicken is cooked and the potatoes and onions are tender, serve over rice or cous couse.  
  10. Love it.  :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spread the (Brussels Sprouts) Love

I love brussels sprouts.  I love them.  I really love them.  I know they are a funny thing to love, but I am a funny girl.

My old go-to method for cooking brussels sprouts we to cut off the bottoms and slice them in half, then coat them in olive oil and whatever spice combination accented whatever else we were having.  And then I found these.

Dijon braised brussels sprouts.  Fast, easy, different, and delicious.  Last night, we didn't have very many brussels, but lots of zucchini, so we threw in some zukes as well.  The flavor profile is so tasty, I imagine that it would be good with any similar vegetable.

Most people think, "Eeewwww, brussels sprouts!  Blechhhh!"  Trust me.  You will change your mind.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make the these and then spread the brussels sprouts love with everyone you know.  You won't regret it.  The world needs some more love for the little mini-cabbage guys.  They are like the Little Engine(s) That Could, Mighty Mice (small but mighty), The Green (small) Giants, Captain Vegetables (instead of Captain Planet)....ok, you get the picture.  They are little ass kickers.

Spread the Love!

Dijon Braised Brussels Sprouts:
Inspired from my favorite blog
  • 1 pound, brussels sprouts (or whatever combination of similar vegetables you choose)
  • a little bit of olive oil to coat the pan
  • salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • a healthy glug of white white (probably a half cup for the veggies and a little bit for you)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 2 to 3 leeks, thinly sliced (or 2 to 3 shallots or 4 to 5 green onions)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream (or skim milk....depends on your calorie allotment for the day)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard (or more to taste)
  1. Trim the bottom of the sprouts and halve lengthwise. 
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.
  3. Arrange the sprouts (and other veggies if using).  Cook for 5 minutes or so until they are golden brown on the bottom.
  4. Add the leeks, wine, and stock and bring to a rolling simmer.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover.
  6. Cook sprouts until they are tender and can be easily pierced.
  7. Remove lid and scoop out brussels, leaving the liquid behind.
  8. Add milk or cream and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until it begins to thicken.  (Careful not to scorch!)
  9. Stir in the mustard.  Stir the sprouts back in.  
  10. Adjust for taste.
  11. Enjoy.
  12. Spread the Brussels Sprouts Love!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mess-LESS Buffalo Chicken

I am obsessive compulsive about many things--namely paper and handwriting.  In college, I wrote in the same kind of pen for the first three and a half years.  I decided to rebel for my final semester, for reasons that can only be explained by my prioritization of burritos, beverages, and future teaching career (scary!) over my note-taking.  I was most certainly that girl that came home from class and rewrote her notes if they weren't pretty enough.  I didn't like to let others borrow my notes--not because I didn't like sharing--but because I didn't want the metal rings to get bent.  (My blood pressure is rising just thinking about ever having a sloppy notebook.)  To this day, I won't purchase a book if there are bends in the cover or on the pages.  I still take pride in perfecting my handwriting and take great pleasure in rewriting notes.  I think I was destined to be a teacher just because I could write on the white board at my leisure.

Another obsessive compulsive issue of mine has to do with my hands.  They always have to be clean--not from germs necessarily (but that is nice), but from gunk.  (Exception: dirt...I love having dirty and muddy hands.  It means I was either having fun or working hard--oftentimes both.)  I hate having to touch gooey, messy, or sticky things.  Dirty fingernails gross me out as much as stinky feet.  My worst nightmare is sticking my hand in a sink full of dirty dishwater.  Also, it is not ok to clip your nails in ANY PLACE but the privacy of your own bathroom.  I like clean, dry, well-moisturized hands.  You get the picture.

I have no idea where my OCD issue with clean hands started, but for the reasons outlined above, I don't like to eat messy foods with my hands either.  Insert: buffalo wings.  They certainly do taste great, but the fact that I have to repeatedly choose to get my hands slimy, sticky, and gooey over and over again in order to eat them always leads me to choose another appetizer or tailgate treat.  I am sure there were many years where my parents were concerned whether they were going to end up with a civilized daughter (I mean, I did ride my bike in the rain with a shower cap on for years), but they should be proud to know that I love using my utensils.

Because buffalo wings are tasty and I love utensils, I wanted to combine to the two.  The result: Mess-LESS Buffalo Chicken.  All the tastiness of your traditional buffalo wing without any of the mess.  Add more liquid and make it a soup, add less and turn it into buffalo chicken grilled cheese.  We served it over rice one day and that was our favorite.

The bottom line: delicious, juicy, flavorful, succulent buffalo chicken while maintaining the cleanliness of your fingers (and your face).  Your friends (and your date) will appreciate it!

Mess-LESS Buffalo Chicken:
  • 2ish tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-5 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • a very generous 1/2 cup of flour (however, this will vary greatly depending on your desired consistency and amount of liquid, chicken, and veggies)
  • chicken stock (we used 4 cans, and it was very liquidy so then I started adding other things to thicken it again.  I think the magic number is somewhere between 2 and 3 cans.)
  • cayenne pepper sauce (we used the whole bottle of Frank's but then had to compensate because it was essentially like drinking Frank's straight from the bottle.)
  • 3-4 breasts of shredded chicken
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • milk (again depends on your desired consistency and desired proportion of heat to creaminess)
  • rice or bread if you want or grilled cheese if you please
  • (next time I am going to add diced tomatoes)
  1. In a large stock pot (we used a Le Cruset dutch oven and almost ran out of room), heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute celery and onions over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until softened.
  2. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two.
  3. Stir in flour and cook until the flour is absorbed.
  4. Add the chicken stock and shredded chicken.
  5. Add the pepper sauce.
  6. Cook until all ingredients are hot.
  7. Add Greek yogurt and milk.  Cook on low until desired heat.
  8. Serve with rice, bread, or in grilled cheese form.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Freezer Full of Fish

The Last Frontier has the best fish in the world.  I am trying to come up with something witty and creative to follow this sentence to reiterate how incredible our fish is up here, but can't come up with anything.  There is no argument.  It is the best. 

Our family has countless memories of Alaskan fishing adventures.  The time that mom saw Paul Newman, drank wine out of the bottle in the middle of the river, and armed herself with a shotgun to protect us from a cantankerous grizzly all in one day is a favorite memory of mine.  Another favorite includes the time my brother sat on some driftwood, only to quickly realize he had disturbed a wasps' nest.  Or how about the time dad almost got nailed in the head with an apple core?  A lowlight includes the (one and only) time dad was given permission to ride in the driver's seat of the one-man cataraft only to get stuck in a raging eddy that required high octane stunts on one brother's part and professional rowing skills on my part.  The worst lowlight, however was the time I got so seasick halibut fishing that I honestly didn't care if I rolled from the aisle of the boat into Kachemak Bay to be devoured by whatever got to me first.  After that trip, I should have immediately invested stock into Dramamine because I literally will not leave the shore without it.  Most people take one or two, I take four or five.  You think I am kidding?  Trust me, I'm not.  :)

With all of that said, we had many fishing adventures this past summer that necessitated the purchase of a new freezer for the garage.  It is full of halibut, silver salmon, and Rudolph (yes, caribou).  The thing I love most about having a freezer full of deliciousness is that there are endless possibilities to be created in the kitchen.  I can't wait to go back for more this summer!

Halibut with a whole variety of spices

Skilak Lake

Friday, March 2, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Feta and Ricotta

A few days ago, we went to my brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law's house for an afternoon of playtime with the kiddos, great conversation....and of course food.  My brother called a few days beforehand and asked, "You're eating chicken these days, right?" (because of my weeks on a liquid diet and other strange habits due to misbehaving intestines).  I responded with an excited YES!  Little did I know we were going to have fried chicken.  The last time I had fried chicken I was probably 8, no joke.  However, both his chipotle glaze and extra-fire-make-your-eyes-water-and-your brow-sweat spicy wings were incredible.  I can't wait for more.

To accompany the wings, I made The Best Dip Ever and this roasted red pepper dip with feta and ricotta.  The red pepper dip had the perfect amount of creaminess and spice--not too cheesy or creamy, and not too spicy.  It was like Baby Bear's porridge--just right.  Serve it with sliced peppers, celery, broccoli, pita chips, carrots....basically any dipping vessel will be delicious.  It is perfect for football parties, as an appetizer for a classy get together with friends or coworkers, or great spread in a pita with some lettuce for an easy (and appetizing) mid-week lunch.  It will make many repeat appearances in this kitchen and I hope it does yours too.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Feta and Ricotta:
  • 8-12 oz. crumbled feta cheese (we used reduced fat)
  • 10(ish) oz. of ricotta
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • a touch of olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • almost a tablespoon of dried thyme (do what you like)
  • almost a tablespoon of dried oregano (same as the thyme, you can't go wrong)
  • almost a tablespoon of crushed red pepper (more for spicy, less for mild)
  • 1 large roasted red pepper (drained and diced)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dipping vessels
  1. Using a food processor, pulse the feta, ricotta, garlic, oil (if you use any), lemon juice, herbs and crushed red pepper together until smooth.
  2. Throw in the diced red pepper and blend until your preferred consistency.
  3. Eat voraciously.