Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kickin' it Old School

(fyi, we went a little out of order this week. Noodle Bowls are tonight--I promise a recipe for tomorrow!)

There are certain kinds of foods I could eat every day and probably never get tired of. Tex-Mex is one of them. I love tacos, burritos, tamales, tortilla soup…the list goes on. Recently, I saw a recipe for something called tamale pie—basically a Tex-Mex-style chili topped with cornbread and baked. It’s an old-school recipe that dates back to WWI. It doesn’t really remind me of tamales—it’s not actually authentically Mexican at all—but it's total comfort food.

I won’t claim the recipe below for tamale pie as my own since about a million different versions of this quick casserole exist. I just used a few recipes I found as a springboard and added or omitted ingredients according to our tastes. Feel free to do the same.

Since we have the same simple salad, oh, every single night, I thought it was time to switch it up a little. Since reading an article about the health benefits of cabbage (lots of vitamins C and K, a healthy dose of fiber, plus possible cancer-fighting compounds), I thought slaw would be a good, nutritious accompaniment. I threw the cabbage together with some other crunchy veggies and topped it with a spiced lime dressing. It’s tangy and light…a nice compliment to the warm pie. This is a super-easy, super-quick weeknight meal that’s pretty healthy and kid friendly, too.

Tamale Pie
serves 2 with leftovers
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ pound 85% to 90% lean ground beef or ground turkey breast
1 small or ½ medium yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
½ chipotle pepper, chopped, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1 cup crushed tomatoes in puree
½ (14.5-ounce) can black beans, drained
½ (11-ounce) can Del Monte Summer Crisp corn
1 (8 ½-ounce) box corn muffin mix
1/3 cup milk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef or turkey and cook, crumbling, until meat is browned and no pink remains. Drain most of the fat from the pan.

Add onions and salt, and stir to combine. Cook until onions are soft, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Sprinkle in water a teaspoon at a time if skillet seems dry. Add in tomatoes, beans, and corn, and stir to combine.

Combine milk and egg and slowly whisk in the corn muffin mix. Spray an 8- by 6-inch baking dish (or similar small, shallow baking dish) lightly with cooking spray. Pour beef mixture into dish and top with prepared corn muffin mix.

Bake pie in middle of preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden-brown. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Cilantro-Lime Slaw

serves 4
For the slaw:
1 (10-ounce) bag finely shredded cabbage, such as Dole Angel Hair Cole Slaw
1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into thin strips
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
2 green onions, white and light green parts only, sliced thinly

For the dressing:
2 to 3 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin

Combine slaw ingredients in a large bowl and toss together. Put all dressing ingredients in an airtight container or lidded jar and shake vigorously to combine. Pour dressing over slaw and toss well. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes and toss before serving.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What I'm Making

Sunday - Tuscan vegetable soup, crusty bread
Monday - Thin-crust pizza, salad
Tuesday - Asian chicken and vegetable noodle bowls
Wednesday - Tamale pie, honey-lime slaw
Thursday - Mini meatloaves, roasted butternut squash

Sunday, January 20, 2008

La Carte du Semaine

We had a few nights last week that we didn't stick to the menu, so there are some repeats from last week...

Sunday - Roast chicken, roasted grape tomatoes and broccoli, salad
Monday - Winter Squash Soup, baguette, salad
Tuesday - Rotini with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and White Beans, salad
Wednesday - Smoky Chicken Chowder, salad
Thursday - Lemon-Garlic Shrimp & Angel Hair

Bowl of Love

Lentils are one of those perfect foods—they're high in fiber, low-cal, a good source of protein, and have twice the iron of other legumes. Green lentils are the most common, but you can find yellow, red, brown, black, and even white ones. The best part? Lentils are tasty and super inexpensive.

You can make all kinds of things with the little super beans. Lentil soup is fast, easy, and delicious—a lovely light supper or satisfying lunch. They're great instead of rice for a side dish, or mixed into chili for extra texture.

I love the little bite that lentils have, and I wanted to play with that texture. They're also pretty easygoing when it comes to flavoring...I think just about any herb or spice compliments their earthy essence. For this "salad," I tried mixing in some tomatoes and spinach since both of them, when cooked, are silky and soft. (Not to mention the vitamins they bring to the party.) Dressed simply with my go-to bistro-esque salad dressing, it's pretty great as a side dish or as a vegetarian lunch. (A cup of cooked lentils have 18 grams of protein. To put that in perspective, 5 ounces of tofu only has 11 grams.)

Warm Lentil Salad
serves 4 as a side

4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup green lentils
3 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ lemon, juiced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite-diced tomatoes, drained
¼ cup chicken broth or water
1 (16-ounce) bag fresh spinach, tough stems removed

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups well-salted water to a boil. Add thyme and lentils, cover, and cook until just tender, about 25 minutes. Drain remaining water, and (if using) pull out thyme stems.

Make dressing: In a lidded jar, combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon, salt, and pepper; shake vigorously to combine.

In a large, lidded skillet, heat remaining ½ tablespoon olive oil. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add tomatoes; sauté 2 minutes. Add chicken broth or water and spinach. Cover skillet and cook until spinach wilts, about 3 minutes. Uncover and toss to combine everything. Cook until most of liquid in pan evaporates, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add drained lentils to skillet; gently toss to combine. Remove from heat, add dressing, and gently fold mixture to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Easy Does It

There are only a few things in life that produce complete comfort and satisfaction with truly minimal effort. A roast chicken is one of them. All I have to do is rub some olive oil on the chicken, sprinkle it with salt, put something aromatic in the inside, and stash it in the oven for a few hours, and the outcome is consistently fabulous. It never ceases to amaze me. It was a standard supper in our house when I was growing up—one of my favorite things my mom made.

Please don’t think I’ve never gotten a rotisserie chicken from the deli counter. I have, and they’re not bad. But if you’ve never made a roast chicken, you’re missing one of the fundamental kitchen pleasures. Though insanely simple, I am convinced it is the way chicken was meant to be eaten. Plus, a deli-made chicken doesn’t fill the kitchen (and the house) with a mouthwatering aroma.

I must confess I am not usually a huge fan of chicken. I eat it a lot, sure, but the actual meat isn’t usually the main attraction for me. I eat fried chicken for the skin, chicken soup for the broth, and so on. But I eat roast chicken for the meat. (And the super-crisp skin, but that’s just a bonus.) If you think I’m overdoing it, waxing poetic about a roast bird, you obviously haven’t made one yet. It’s become something of a Sunday night tradition for Jason and me. Don’t be surprised if you crave it weekly, as well!

There’s really no recipe to apply here. I’ll just give you the rough outline I follow each time I roast a chicken. Feel free to adjust according to your taste. But do try it—you’ll be so glad you did. Roast some veggies at the same time (our favorite is Brussels sprouts...) for a simple dinner.

Simple Roast Chicken
serves 2-4 depending on size
1 whole boiler-fryer chicken
A good glug of olive oil
A few hefty pinches of Kosher salt
About 10 grinds of black pepper
Dried or fresh herbs (chopped if fresh)
Stuffing options:
A lemon, cut into a few pieces
Some garlic cloves, smashed
A small onion, cut into a few pieces
Whole sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley…)
A few big pinches of dried herbs (I like herbes de Provence)
An apple, cut into pieces
An orange, cut into pieces

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and set it, breast-side up, in a roasting pan. Tuck the tips of the wings underneath the bird. They’ll burn otherwise. Drizzle with olive oil and rub it all over, top and bottom. With your fingers, gently loosen the skin from the meat on the breast and rub oil under there, too. Don’t be shy about it, but don’t go too nuts with the oil either—if you use too much, it will just fill the oven with smoke. Use just enough to thoroughly coat the chicken.

Next, sprinkle the outside of the chicken with a good pinch of salt. Sprinkle on some pepper, and some herbs. Rub the salt, pepper, and herbs all over the chicken, and under the skin, as well. Sometimes I take a smashed, peeled garlic clove and rub it under the skin.

Next, take another hefty pinch of salt and sprinkle it all over the inside of the bird. Do the same with the pepper and more herbs. Then stuff the inside with whatever you think might taste good. My mom used apples when I was little. My dad loves to use citrus. (If using citrus give each piece a little squeeze before it goes in.) I use whatever I have on hand, but I always use a few cloves of smashed garlic. Make sure you put those toward the back so they can infuse the whole chicken. Most recipes suggest you tie the drumsticks together with twine. I don’t do this, and I haven’t found it to be detrimental to the outcome.

Cook in the center of the oven about 20-25 minutes per pound, or until the leg pulls effortlessly away from the body and the juices run clear. (Use a thermometer if you don’t want to rely on the leg pull. Take it out when it reaches 165 degrees.) If the skin gets too dark, tent with some foil while it finishes cooking. When you take it out, let it rest under some foil for about 10 minutes so it stays nice and juicy.

C’est magnifique!

(It took me a while to figure out the whole carving thing. I’m still working on perfecting my form, but you can watch this video for great step-by-step instructions.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day by Day...

Sunday - Simple roast chicken, brussels sprouts with parmesan and lemon
Monday - Butternut squash soup, leftover chicken, salad
Tuesday - Chicken & veggie stir fry, brown rice
Wednesday - Pork chops with warm lentil salad
Thursday - Rotini with zucchini, white beans, and tomatoes

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Light and Healthy

Even though new year's resolutions often are seen as hopeless pipe dreams that don't last more than a month, I always make one. Lots of people swear that THIS is the year they will eat better, lose weight, and generally get in shape. But I decided that if I'm making a food resolution, it's not going to be something as generic as "eat healthy." Because let's face it—that's just another doomed high hope.

Instead, I decided to be (a little bit) more specific. I am resolving this year to be more thoughtful about what I eat. Some of my friends may say that if I thought any more about food, I'd turn into a five-foot, eight-inch baguette or piece of prosciutto. I do think (a lot) about food, but more along the lines of what would taste good for dinner when I've had a long day or what kind of herbs would go the best with chicken salad.

I generally prefer healthful foods. I never met a vegetable I didn't like. I actually enjoy things like tofu, brown rice, and broccoli sprouts. But for some reason, I don't eat enough of the foods I love that are good for me. Jason and I both could use more fiber, more vitamins, more whole foods in our diets. So I'm trying to get creative by still making the go-to dishes we enjoy while infusing them with the healthy foods that I know we should be eating. I'm not necessarily cutting anything out—just adding in more of the good stuff.

One thing we both adore is shrimp. Garlic, lemon, and white wine combine so seamlessly with shrimp (or any seafood, really), they strike a lovely chord when eaten together. I found huge, fresh Wild American Shrimp at the grocery store. I went the tried-and-true route with the trinity of shrimp-loving ingredients and added some fresh grape tomatoes. Letting the tomatoes cook until they're soft and sweet creates a perfect sauce for cooking fresh green spinach. The shrimp add another dimension that makes for an altogether fabulous combination. Served over whole-wheat couscous to soak up the sauce, it was a healthy, delicious meal. It would also be perfect over pasta.

Lemony Shrimp with Tomatoes and Spinach
serves 2
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pint grape tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, smashed with the flat part of a knife
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Most of a 1 (16-ounce) bag spinach, tough stems removed
10-12 large shrimp or 15 medium shrimp
1/2 tablespoon butter, cut into 4 pieces
Whole wheat couscous

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and smashed garlic, season with a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until tomatoes are very soft and garlic is golden, about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the garlic to make sure it doesn't burn. Stir in wine, broth, half of lemon zest and half of lemon juice. Simmer sauce about 2 minutes. Remove largest pieces of garlic.

Add as much spinach as you like, cover skillet, and cook until spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. If skillet looks dry, add more broth, a tablespoon at a time. Meanwhile, cook couscous per package directions. When spinach is cooked, stir until everything is well combined. Add shrimp and toss in the sauce mixture. Cook until shrimp are firm and opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes, depending on size. Off heat, stir in remaining lemon juice, zest, and butter. Serve over fluffed couscous.

A good white wine to try: Cartlidge & Browne 2006 Chardonnay. Smooth and light with a nice but subtle fruitiness. And inexpensive to boot!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Whole New Year

I have not been a very diligent blogger. I find myself, in the middle of the night, thinking of all the recipes I could try and then write about...and when it comes down to it, I get tired or forgetful, and weeks (or months) pass with no entries.

So this year, I am resolving to keep this blog alive. I've been planning meals for the whole week on Sunday afternoons, and doing a once-a-week shopping trip. Not only is it super convenient, it ends up saving us money. I'm going to start posting the weekly menu I write up on Sundays. That way, I can at least share what I'll be making every night, and I'll go into more detail about a few meals during the week.

Without further ado...this week's menu:

Sunday - Red lentil soup, salad, baguette
Monday - Grilled chicken w/ lemon and garlic, panzanella
Tuesday - Driving to Tuscaloosa for the UF/Bama basketball out. (Go Gators!)
Wednesday - Lemony shrimp with tomatoes and spinach, whole wheat couscous
Thursday - Pizza Margherita, salad

Have a great week!