Monday, September 27, 2010

Chicken Chili

Ground turkey doesn't do it for me. It's a very popular substitution for ground beef when you're looking for a healthier take on a meal. But what I do really like is ground chicken. Ground white, skinless, boneless chicken breast. And if you have a Kitchen Aid, you can buy an attachment that lets you grind your own.

This chicken chili recipe is easy and healthy. It's actually take on weight watchers recipe for Taco Soup. But I'm not so into soup so I modified it and turned it into a thick, hearty chili.

To make it extra special (and not quite as healthy) add shredded cheddar or jack cheese, a dollop of sour cream, fresh diced or green onion and crumbled tortilla chips on top.

I always make the full batch and we eat it throughout the week for dinners and lunches too.

Chicken Chili

1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pound ground chicken breast
1 large onion diced
1 red pepper diced
1 bag of frozen white sweet corn
1 can of chili beans (in chili sauce)
1 can of kidney beans, drained
1 can of white beans, drained
1 can of diced tomatoes with juices
1 can of tomato sauce
1 packet of ranch dressing mix
1 packet of taco seasoning mix

Brown ground chicken in olive oil in large pot. Add ranch dressing mix and taco seasoning to the ground chicken and cook until chicken is cooked through. Add onions and peppers and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients and bring chili to a simmer. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Serve hot or let chili cool and store in the fridge. I think the chili is better on the second day so I always make it ahead.

Tomato, Cucumber, Onion Salad

Simple. Refreshing. Healthy. Tasty. In honor of this simple salad, this post will be short and sweet. This salad is a wonderful accompaniment to any dinner. Cool cucumbers, sweet tomatoes and a little oniony bite pair really well together and is a nice departure from a traditional lettuce salad.

Tomato, Cucumber, Onion Salad

1 english cucumber, peeled and diced into quarter inch chunks
1 cup of diced grape tomatoes (or any variety of tomato)
1/4 cup diced white or red onion
2 teaspoons of Italian salad dressing dry mix (I use Good Seasonings)
1 lime, juiced
3 tablespoons olive oil

Whisk dressing mix, lime juice and olive oil together. Toss with chopped veggies. Refrigerate until serving (at least one hour if possible).

You can adjust all the dressing ingredients depending on your taste. I like mine a little on the acidic side.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Garlic Basil Shrimp with Orzo Pasta

I'm always looking for new healthy dinner options. I have had lots of success with Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave cookbook. Several months ago I also purchased her newest book, So Easy, but haven't made much out of it to date. I recently honed in on a recipe that I thought both hubby and I would enjoy...Garlic Basil Shrimp.

I have made it twice now and it's official. It will be making regular appearances in our dinner line up. I asked hubby this evening if he liked it again the second time. He said, "I really, really, really like it a lot...very much". Let me translate that for you. He freakin loves it. Hubby is somewhat stingy with praise on food. It's something that I used to take personally, but I realize that it's not personal. He is equally stingy even when we dine some pretty amazing restaurants. It takes a lot for a compliment above "it's ok" to come out of his mouth. There are literally a handful of dishes that hubby truly loves. And I'm super excited to add one to the list because I really enjoy this dish as well.

The shrimp is basked in a white wine sauce with fresh garlic, basil, and grape tomatoes served over orzo pasta. Of course I made a few modifications to the recipe. I added a bit of chicken stock and increased the wine...I'm a sauce girl. I would rather have extra than not enough. The other changes I made were to increase the garlic by a couple of cloves and to season the shrimp with salt and pepper before cooking them rather than adding the salt and pepper to the sauce at the end. Oh, and I also omitted the red pepper flakes. We're pretty wimpy when it comes to spicy stuff. The end result is a luscious sauce that has a wonderful depth of flavor but is light at the same time. Delicious!

A side note about shrimp. Do you ever use frozen shrimp? It's wonderful! We buy frozen uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp from Costco. We buy the 21-25 shrimp. 21-25 is a reference to the size of the shrimp. It means there are approximately 21-25 shrimp per pound. Some charts refer to this as jumbo and others say large. To me, large is a more appropriate description. Frozen shrimp are cinch to thaw and cook up in just minutes. It's one of our go to proteins for dinner!

Anyway, if you want a simple, easy, fresh delicious shrimp in garlic white wine sauce dinner try this recipe out!

Garlic Basil Shrimp
by Ellie Krieger

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds large shrimp (20 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
3 garlic cloves, minced (a little extra garlic doesn't hurt!)
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes, or more to taste
3/4 cup dry white wine (I used 1 cup plus 1/2 cup chicken stock)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute shrimp, turning over once, until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.

Add garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil remaining in skillet and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add wine and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in basil and tomatoes and season the sauce with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Return the shrimp to pan and cook just until heated through.

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Plum Preserves and Plum Crumble Bars

When I would stay overnight at my grandma and grandpa's house as child they always had toast for breakfast. There were usually other things too. But toast was a staple. With margarine. Or crunchy peanut butter. Or jam. I liked to have mine with half jam and half margarine or half jam and half peanut butter. Grandma cut her toast on the diagonal. That was so much cooler than in half straight through the middle. Though I don't recall grandma making her own jam, I have to think she had done so at some point in her life. Today I always keep some type of jam or preserves in the house to dress up my toast. But I have never made my own...until yesterday.

The very talented Margot selected Plum Raspberry Preserves for this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe. You will find this easy recipe over on Margot's blog, Effort to Deliciousness. And it really is easy. If you like jam or preserves and you've never made your own you must give it a try. There is something so satisfying about making something from scratch.

I decided to half the recipe and I had just under 3 cups of finished product. I went with all plums (and threw 2 pears in that I had laying around). Raspberries were pricey at the market, but plums were only $0.99 a pound. For my citrus, I used lemon juice and zest. I peeled the plums because the skin is too tart for my taste.

My preserves had a rich amber color when finished.

A couple of cooking notes. I recommend using a very deep pan. The recipe tells you to bring the mixture up to 212 degrees F and then continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes. The boiling mixture likes to splatter a bit every time you give it a stir. It took mine about 10 - 15 minutes to come up to temperature. Once there I cooked it for an additional 25 minutes. It was nicely thickened. I used Melissa Murphy's tip to tell if it's done. I put a small dollop on a plate and put in the freezer for a couple of minutes until it was just cooled. The mixture wasn't runny so I knew it was done.

I opted to cool and store my preserves in the fridge rather than canning them. However now that I've had success with this recipe, I would like to do a full batch and take on canning. As suggested by other SMS bakers, this makes a wonderful holiday gift. In fact, I think I'm going to buy some peaches (which are still nice here in California) and slice them up and freeze them for some late fall/early winter canning. Melissa Murphy has a recipe for Cinnamon Peach Preserves that sounds amazing.

Though I do enjoy toast, I wanted to do something more with my plum preserves. After perusing a few cook books, I decided on crumble bars from Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook. I halved her recipe as well and baked it an 8x8 square dish. I made just the bar/crumble part (her recipe call for apples and cherries) and slathered on my fresh plum preserves on the dough and topped with more crumble topping. I like this recipe because it has oats and cinnamon which are lovely compliment to the plum preserves. Oh, I should comment on how the plum preserves tasted. They were a touch more tart than I usually like my jams. And the apple flavor was prominent enough that hubby couldn't figure out what he was eating. The preserves went perfectly in the crumble bar recipe. The sweetness from the bar offset the tartness of the preserves. It was very oatmeal cookie-esque. Delicious!

Guess what I had for breakfast this morning? Oh ya! And it was paired with a cold glass of milk. Good stuff!

Check out the preserves of other SMS Bakers here.

Plum Crumble Bars
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Apple-Cherry Crumble Bars

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plum preserves

Whisk together oats, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar. Cut in cold butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few larger clumps remaining. Press 4 cups of oat mixture evening into the bottom of a buttered 9 x 13 baking dish. Whisk preserves until they are easily spreadable. Top oat mixture with the preserves. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture evenly on top. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Let cool completely in dish on a wire rack. Cut into 24 bars. Bars can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Pie

Another Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe outside my comfort zone. For some reason I wasn't all that jazzed to make this recipe. I can't exactly explain why. I like lemon and blueberry together. Maybe it because I find pies to be a bit intimidating. But once again, I'm soooo glad I baked along this week! This pie is really delicious.

It makes an excellent breakfast (most any dessert makes an excellent breakfast in my opinion). The taste of the lemon custard was reminiscent of a lemon bar...not too tart, not too sweet...but just the right amount of citrus tang and sweet. I was a little short on the blueberries because the grocery had a paltry selection to choose from. So I only used 1 pint (rather than 1 1/2 pints). But in my opinion 2 pints would have been just fine. The blueberries were nice and plump and sweet. I only wish there would have been more.

I used the all butter crust recipe and it did shrink up a little as reported by other SMS bakers. I always find that when I blind bake a crust and then add filling and bake again, it always comes out darker than I'd like and not as tender. The filling was a snap to put together and it set up in just over 40 minutes in the oven.

Gotta add fresh whipped cream! It's really the perfect finish on this great pie.

To get the recipe check out Lulu the Baker. Thanks for hosting this week Melissa! See the beautiful pies from the very talented bakers of Sweet Melissa Sundays.

Mac n Cheese with Chicken & Bacon and Berry Banana Smoothies

I have special guest blogger today. My niece, McKenzie is an aspiring young cook at age 12 and prepared her first meal from start finish this weekend (well 99% on her own...apparently grandma (my mom) was hovering a bit while Kenze was using the stove). I'm just sad I wasn't there to enjoy it. But Grandma raved about how yummy it was. Without further adieu...

I am taking foods class as my elective and our first recipe was to make a berry smoothie. In the smoothie are frozen berries, milk, vanilla yogurt, and one banana. It turned out pretty tasty (these were served for dessert).

Mac and cheese- This was very easy. You just have to boil some noodles and add velveeta cheese, evaporated milk, bacon bits, and chicken. Sprinkle some bread crumbs and plop it into the oven at 350 degrees. This was my favorite.

For dinner I served the mac n cheese with corn and peas mixed together. These were just leftovers from the night before. It made the mac n cheese taste very good! Everyone I cooked for which was my family loved the meal. Hope you enjoy. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Bosc Pear and Blue Cheese Savory Muffins

Today I tried new lighting for photographing my food. It wasn't actually intentional, but the light in the kitchen happened to be streaming in right when I wanted to photograph my results. I use a Nikon D5000 camera and 99.9% of the time I use the "Food" scene setting and usually get pretty good results. It's way easier than actually tyring to figure out apertures and F stops. I think the camera thinks if you are photographing food you are probably in a place with questionable lighting. So when I photographed these muffins with full sun using the food setting it came out with a completely different look then using the indirect natural light. The photo above is bathed in sunlight. The 2 photos below are indirect natural light.

The sunlight photo has a nice warm glow. I will have to play around with this and see if I can capture other treats in this nice light.

On to the muffins! Several months back I tried my first Sweet Melissa muffin recipe. The Sweet Melissa Baking book has a base recipe for both sweet and savory muffins and offers a number of variations on each. This was a sweet muffin--Strawberry. Unfortunately the muffins didn't turn out so hot. They were very dense and doughy. Inedible might be too strong a description but I certainly had no desire to eat them so they ended up in the muffin kitchen trash can. I took some comfort in later learning that other Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers had trouble with base muffin recipe too. I was curious how the savory muffin recipe rated. What better way to find out then first hand?

I made half the recipe and subbed sour cream in place of the heavy cream called for (as suggested by Andrea). I used skim milk in place of whole milk and I added several extra tablespoons of milk to get the batter to the right consistency. The savory muffin recipe has a little kick to it with black pepper (I used white) and cayenne pepper. I love the flavor of pear and blue cheese together so I was excited to try this out. I omitted the walnuts because I just don't care for them. I thought about subbing in pecans but I didn't have any on hand. So my muffins were nut-less.

These muffins are very reminiscent of a tender biscuit. They didn't turn out as golden brown as I would have liked. I did enjoy the cheese flavor, but the pear really got lost. The two peppers make this a spicy muffin. Overall, I wasn't lovin it. Another SMS baker commented that these would go nicely with a bowl of creamy tomato soup....and I agree. Eating them straight up didn't do much for me. However I have 19 more mini muffins sitting in my kitchen with only me to eat them. Hubby won't touch these with a 10 foot pole. I may swing by Fresh and Easy tomorrow and pick up a container of creamy tomato soup and give these muffins a second chance.

Thanks Andrea at Nummy Kitchen for selecting this week's recipe. See other SMS bakers muffins here.

Sweet Melissa Sundays Rewind: Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

Posting 2 SMS recipes this week. My Bosc Pear and Blue Cheese savory muffins just came out of the oven and I will be posting about them later this evening. But in the meantime, I wanted to share a rewind recipe that I recently made....Melissa Murphy's Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies.

I have mentioned on the blog that cookies are my all time favorite sweet treat to make. I love that cookies are individual little packages of goodness (not like a big pie or cake). Peanut Butter is high on my list of cookies to eat....but it's low on my list to execute. Why? For some reason I can never get them right. These are such simple cookies in theory, but that simplicity eludes me. My past attempts resulted in cookies that are too hard, too crumbly, too soft or too dense and some having an unbalanced ratio of salty and sweet. Quite frankly I had given up on making successful peanut butter cookies. But after looking at Melissa's recipe, I decided to give them a shot.

I wish I could report these were a home run. I would say they were more like a base hit. I got on first...tried to steal second, but at the last moment dove back to safety of first base. The flavor of these cookies was great! The balance of salty and sweet was just right. But I will note one minor change to the recipe...I rolled the peanut butter balls of dough in sugar before stamping in the classic criss cross pattern on the top with the tines of a fork and baking them.

Where these cookies went wrong was in the baking time. These bake on a low heat...325 F. I was scared to death of overcooking them so at 8 minutes I was checking them every minute or so. I pulled them out around 9.5 with zero confidence they were done properly. Guess what? They weren't...Hubby went to test one out after about 10 minutes of being out of the oven....and the cookie fell apart. So I shoved them back in the oven (that had cooled down a bit at this point) and another 3.5 minutes took them out. They didn't crumble. They held their least initially. They were still quite delicate.

So...I think I've found a good base recipe but just need to work on the baking time. Hubby really likes peanut butter cookies so hopefully with a little patience and practice I will be able to knock these cookies out of the park! A little mix in of crushed up butterfinger or peanut cup might help. ;)

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies
by Melissa Murphy

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

1/2 cup Smooth Peanut Butter
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg which may or may not be optional :)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Before you start: Position a rack in the top and bottom thirds of your oven. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream peanut butter, butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 - 4 minutes. Beat in the egg.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and mix until combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that everything is combined evenly.

4. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons and roll into balls. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets, and press down slightly. Using a fork dipped in flour, press down on the cookies first one way and then the other to form an "X" pattern, creating the crosshatch effect. (The cookies should now measure approx. 2 inches in diameter.) Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden. Overbaking will cause these chewy cookies to become crunchy so try to avoid it.

The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. For longer storage, they can be frozen wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil for up to 1 month. Do not unwrap before defrosting.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Mom's French Pancakes (Crepes)

Who knew crepes were so easy to make? If I had known, these would have graced my kitchen a long time ago! This is why I love being a part of Sweet Melissa Sundays--trying new things and going out of my comfort zone. The batter comes together easily. I halved mine and used my mini prep food processor rather than the blender. I used 1/4 cup batter per crepe and it made a total of 6 crepes. A quick swirling motion to coat the bottom of the pan and these little babies cook up in about a minute.

I was a little worried about flipping such large thin "pancakes", but it was really simple. Even if they don't lay down perfectly, just use your spatula to straighten it out...and in less than 30 seconds side number two is done. Easy peasy!

Hubby and I fell in love with crepes after a brief to trip to Paris about 7 years ago. They can be found from street food vendors and are served warm and gooey. And my absolute favorite is Nutella with sliced bananas. So that was a given. And, not surprisingly, of the 3 variations I tried, the Nutella with bananas won hands down! This was breakfast this morning and the crepe went perfectly with 2 crispy slices of bacon. I hear that chocolate covered bacon is all the rage, and now I understand why. My bacon may have slipped into to a bit excess Nutella left on the plate. And it was tasty!

The next variation was a simple squeeze of lemon juice and a dusting of powdered sugar. I actually didn't taste this one. Hubby did...he said it was kind of bland (not enough lemon I guess) and the fact that it wasn't warm by the time he got it didn't help.

The final version was macerated white peaches with fresh vanilla cinnamon whipped cream. It was good--but didn't have the wow factor that the Nutella/banana combo had. The vanilla cinnamon whipped cream was a nice touch and inspired by SMS baker Nikki from last week's recipe for Sweet Plum Clafoutis with Almonds. Thanks Nikki!

I look forward to more crepes...perhaps I'll try savory fillings next time. Thanks so much to Jaime of Good Eats and Sweet Treats for choosing this week's awesome recipe! Check out her site for the recipe. See how other SMS Bakers fared this week.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm a chocolate lover generally speaking. If presented with multiple dessert options and I can only choose one...I will almost always choose the chocolate option. But what I've come to realize is everyone else does not necessarily have the same love for chocolate that I do. Hmmmm. Perplexing. In fact one of my gal pals claims to be "racist" in the dessert world, favoring the white and light colored desserts over the chocolate and darker colored desserts. Fascinating.

The truth is my dessert palette has become a little less discriminating (color wise) in the past year or so. I've come to appreciate the depth of flavor in the vanilla genre of baked goods. In the past I've turned my nose up to these types of treats thinking, bland, boring and still bland. But now I try to give them equal opportunity consideration. Vanilla is actually a complex flavor. And (begrudgingly) I will admit that I even like these fair treats. But alas, chocolate....deep dark always have my heart!

The cookies and cream cupcake attempts to be neutral in the battle of vanilla versus chocolate. But as a chocolate girl, I think they really favor the vanilla side of the coin. Despite this minor flaw, these are great cupcakes! The recipe comes from How to Eat a Cupcake blog. I did modify the frosting part of the frosting wasn't holding any shape so I decided it needed a little cream cheese. These babies bake up almost muffin like. Almost. They are still light and cakey and moist. They have a half of oreo on the bottom of the cupcake (see photo below) and white cake mix with sour cream added for a moist texture. Crushed oreos are folded in and cupcake is topped with cream cheese frosting and a sprinkling of crushed oreos. Pretty dang good stuff.

I made these twice in the last few weeks...once for my gal pals on our annual desert getaway trip and then again last weekend for my niece's birthday. I was worried the Peace Cake would not feed the crowd of 20 plus. Can't risk short-changing anyone on dessert in my family! The cupcakes were a success on both occasions.

So if you are looking for a vanilla/chocolate neutral goodie...this might be the one for you.