Monday, September 27, 2010

Chile Verde Chicken + Red Quinoa Mexican Pilaf

My Aunt Grace makes the best chile verde chicken around. When I asked the secret to her delicious recipe, I was surprised to find much of the magic came out of a can. That's why I'm happy to share this easy weekday meal that has been winning me rave reviews from dinner guests for the past decade. If you haven't tried one of my recipes yet - this one is a sure hit. The red quinoa pilaf was something I threw together on the fly, and makes a fit and filling accompaniment!
    Ingredients for Chile Verde Chicken
  • 6-8 chicken thighs, bone-in
  • 3, 7 oz. cans Embasa green tomatillo sauce
    (see Brands I Like below)
  • 1 small can diced mild green chilies
  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 spanish onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • handful of cilantro leaves
  • oregano
  • garlic salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

    Ingredients for Quinoa Pilaf
  • 1, 12 oz. box red quinoa
    (see Brands I Like below)
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 small green bell pepper
  • 1/3 spanish onion
  • 1 packet/cube of chicken bullion
    (or substitute cooking water for chicken broth)
  • 1 cup of black beans
  • 1 cup of frozen corn
  • olive oil
  • cilantro for garnish

First, get that chicken marinading. Remove skin from chicken and place thighs in a large bowl. Season with garlic salt, pepper and oregano. Drizzle generously with olive oil and the juice of 1 lime. Toss to coat completely. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes.

While chicken marinates, get chopping for your quinoa pilaf. Dice the tomato, onion and green pepper. Set aside so you're prepared and the meal is timed together.

Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to a large, deep skillet with a lid. On medium heat saute the chopped onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to keep garlic from burning. Lay chicken pieces face-down over the onion mix in a single layer. Brown chicken for 2-3 minutes, flip pieces and brown for additional 2-3 minutes until a nice color as pictured above.

Add cans of Embasa sauce and diced green chilies. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook covered for 10 minutes. Flip chicken pieces, cover and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

While chicken is cooking, in a separate pot add 2 tbsp of olive oil and saute the quinoa chopped veggies, chicken bullion packet and saute for 5 minutes.

Add water as according to quinoa package, MINUS 1/2 cup liquid since the veggies & other additions will create their own juices. Stir until combined then add quinoa. I made 1 cup of quinoa and added 1 1/2 cups water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook according to package directions, I cooked for 15 minutes.

While quinoa is cooking rinse 1 cup of cooked black beans. Once quinoa is cooked (you will see a little white ring around the red grain), add black beans and frozen corn, stir over low heat for 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat and keep covered until ready to serve. Garnish with cilantro.

Once the green chili chicken has finished cooking, turn off heat and stir in a handful of chopped cilantro and the juice of 1 lime.
Brands I Like

This Embasa sauce has the perfect balance of spiciness. I've made my own tomatillo sauces in the past, but popping this can open is way easier than blanching tomatillos and busting out a food processor. Can't find the Embasa sauce at your local grocer? You can buy it online by clicking here!

I got this Ancient Harvest red heirloom variety of quinoa at Whole Foods. I've also seen it at Trader Joes, but if you still can't find it locally, you can order single boxes online by clicking here.

Sweet Treats: Pumpkin Empanadas

Empanadas can be sweet or savory stuffed treats, but layers of puff pastry and deep frying can weigh down the classic recipe. My grandmother used to take a quick shortcut by using wonton wrappers for the dough; pre-cut to the perfect size and at only 20 calories per wrapper, this treat is guilt free. To see the healthier brands I used for this recipe scroll to the bottom of the recipe.
  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 can pumpkin pie filling
  • 2 tbsp organic raw sugar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • cinnamon
  • cooking spray
  • basting brush

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix pumpkin pie mix (if you only have canned pumpkin you can add your own ground clove, cinnamon & nutmeg to flavor), sugars & an extra sprinkle of cinnamon until combined.

Set up a little assembly workspace. Lay a small stack of wontons on a plate with the bowl of pumpkin mix and a small bowl of a beaten egg white next to the plate. Grease a cookie sheet with cooking spray and set nearby.

Assembly: Peel one wonton wrapper from the stack and lay in the center of the plate so one of the points are facing you, so wrapper is a diamond instead of a square. Using a small basting brush (dipping your finger works well, too), moisten the two edges that are further away. In the center of the wonton add a full teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture. Fold the corner of the wonton up and over the mixture and seal onto the egg white brushed ends. Press down gently from each side, and distribute the mixture evenly in the pocket you create.

Secure your seal by pressing the edge of a fork around the sealed ends, creating a crimped seal. This will keep the empanada from opening up in the oven. Take care not to overstuff, not only because it's trickier to seal the empanada, but also because the filling might leak out during baking.

Using a spatula, transfer the empanada to the greased baking sheet. Repeat until you've made the desired amount of empanadas. Once all the empanadas are formed, brush the tops of each with egg whites. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 8 minutes.

Remove from oven and flip each empanada. Brush opposite sides of empanadas with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for an additional 6-8 minutes until edges are golden brown.

Let empanadas cool for a few minutes before serving. I used granulated raw sugar to finish these, but if I was taking them to a party, I would use powdered sugar for a more festive appearance. Also, both the pumpkin mix and the wrappers can last up to a week in the fridge if well sealed. To curb Bill's and my ravenous sweet tooths, I opt to make these a dozen at a time, so we don't eat too many at once!

Brands I Like

This pumpkin pie mix from Whole Foods has the perfect balance of spices.

These wonton wrappers are readily found in most super markets. If you're having trouble locating them, they are often found with the tofu products.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Whole Baked Branzino with Simply Savory Green Beans

I love shopping at Whole Foods, and to budget sensibly I use their website to look up our local store's specials and plan weekday meals in advance. Yesterday, I saw whole Branzino Sea Bass on sale and decided to plan a Sunday Dinner around the find. You can substitute this seasonal fish for striped bass, trout or snapper for this recipe. This meal is an oh so elegant and easy way to do fine dining at home!
    Ingredients for Branzino
  • 2, .75/1 lb whole branzinos *ask your butcher to clean the fish and remove the head*
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • handful of fresh dill leaves
  • handful of fresh italian parsley leaves
  • 1 lemon, cut into slices
  • freshly ground sea salt & pepper
  • cooking spray
    Ingredients for Green Beans
  • 1 pound fresh green beans
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • fresh ground sea salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. First prep all your ingredients for the fish, as shown above, to assemble easily. It may be easier to grate fresh salt and pepper into a small container so you don't have to grate directly into fish.

Rub both outside and inside of branzino with 2 tbsp of olive oil. Rub the inside cavity with salt and pepper. Stuff the fish with herbs and lemon slices.

Heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet. Pan fry the branzino in for 2 minutes on each side. Use a non-stick pan, as you can see in my pic the heat pulled the skin off one of the sides of a branzino, so if that happens no worries!

Transfer the branzino to oven roasting dish that has been greased with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes (add a couple of minutes if your fish are larger), remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

While the branzino are in the oven, put a pot of water to boil with salt and prep the green beans by cutting off the ends. Blanch the green beans for 5 minutes.

Drain green beans and set aside. In same pot add butter, olive oil and garlic. Simmer for 1 minute, careful not to let garlic burn.

Add green beans and season with freshly ground sea salt & pepper. Saute until just tender, approximately another 5 minutes. Add juice of half a lemon - mine was dry so I used a whole lemon. Stir and remove from heat. Yummers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zucchini & Sun Dried Tomato Frittata

Making a frittata is a quick & easy way to mix up a usual menu. Serve as an unexpected side dish for dinner, then reheat leftovers the next morning in the oven for an elegant start to your weekday.

Look up local Mass farmers markets, and swap out ingredients to showcase your fresh finds!
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • handful sun dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 white/yellow onion
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • addition butter for greasing pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop the zucchini, onion and sun-dried tomatoes into small chunks, as pictured. Add minced garlic to pan and saute for 30 seconds.**I spaced on taking pictures of me sauteing any veggies** Add onion & zucchini. Saute 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and saute for additional 2 minutes, until veggies start to soften. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, beat eggs and milk together. You could opt to do only egg whites, but since this recipe is full of healthy veggies, I kept the yolks for extra protein to keep me feeling full.

Grease a small casserole dish with butter and arrange sauteed veggies in a single layer. Pour in egg & milk mixture. Bake for 18 minutes. Grate a sprinkling of fresh parmesan cheese over the frittata. Return to the oven for an additional 4 minutes. Egg mixture should be completely set.

Give the frittata a couple minutes to cool before slicing and serving. Preheat leftovers in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lunch Solutions: The Thinner Happy Meal

I spend all day thinking about food, so office lunchtime is never too early. Bringing my own lunch won't keep me from seeking take-out, unless my healthy alternative can satisfy my comfort food cravings. I make these chicken nuggets for dinner one night, and make a whole lot extra to bring for lunch the rest of the week.

  • 2 lb chicken breasts
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs (whole wheat if avail)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp cajun seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut up chicken breasts into bite sized pieces. Keep them a little thinner so that they can crisp up quickly without drying out the chicken.

Place panko crumbs in a medium bowl. Add cajun seasoning, mustard, salt & pepper and mix together until combined. Taste quickly and adjust any seasoning to taste preferences.

In another bowl add eggs. Add milk and whisk together until completely combined.

Dunk a couple chicken bites into egg mixture then dredge through bread crumb seasoning. Panko crumbs are larger than finer bread crumbs so you may still see a little of the chicken pink showing through. That's fine, just pat on crumbs to coat pieces as best you can.

On a cookie sheet greased with cooking spray, lay out nugget pieces in a single layer, leaving enough space so chicken doesn't touch. For this recipe you will probably need 2 cookie sheets to fit all the nuggets.

Bake for 5 minutes, flip chicken pieces, and return to oven for additional 5 minutes. When using 2 cookie sheets, be sure to alternate which is on top/ bottom to ensure even cooking time. Panko crumbs should start to brown & chicken should be cooked through.

Carne Asada Soft Tacos w/ Simple Salsa

You can make these easy & delicious carne asada tacos in less time than it takes to get in your car and drive to the nearest burrito joint. This simple recipe uses your oven's broiler (that's the little door under the oven), to give your steak a crispy finish like it's hot off the grill!

    Ingredients for Steak Tacos:
  • 1 lb flank steak
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • cilantro
  • lime juice
  • chipotle or jalapeno chili powder
  • fresh ground salt & pepper
  • olive oil
  • whole wheat flour tortillas

    Ingredients for Quick Salsa:
  • 3 roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 yellow onion
  • 1/2 green bell pepper
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed
  • small handful cilantro
  • juice of 1 lime
  • fresh ground salt & pepper
  • note: recipe makes 6 servings

Set oven temperature to turn broiler on. Place flank steaks in a large ziploc bag, season with salt and pepper. Add olive oil, garlic, lime juice, spices and cilantro. Seal bag and shake to coat meat completely. Marinate the flank steak for at least 15-30 minutes.

While marinade is doing it's magic, make the quick salsa. Dice tomatoes, onion, green pepper and toss together in bowl. Add finely diced jalapenos. Add lime juice, chopped cilantro, and salt & pepper to taste. Cover and place in fridge until ready to serve.

Line broiler pan with foil for easy clean-up. Grease with cooking spray & lay out flank pieces in one layer. Pop in the broiler and cook for 5 minutes, flip flank steak pieces and cook another 5-6 minutes.

Using the broiler gets that crispy finish, keeping the middle of the steak juicy & medium-rare. Let the meat cool a few minutes and chop flank steaks as pictured above. Serve with a green salad + corn with a dab of butter and hot sauce.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Quick Tip: Pro Pizza Toppings

Bill loves pizza, in a serious way. Most weeks it's inevitable that pizza makes the dinnertime menu. To save money and eat healthier, we often make our own at home. Making dough from scratch is fun, but at the end of a long work week or a rough Monday, I'm searching for ready-made solutions.
However, when using one shortcut, it's still a cinch to give a homemade touch with extra love to the art of toppings.
  • 1 lb whole wheat pizza dough, fresh or thawed
  • package shredded mozzarella cheese (for lactose solutions, see Brands I Like below)
  • 1 jar pasta baking sauce
  • 3 raw Italian chicken sausages
  • 6 baby bella mushrooms
  • 1/4 onion, sliced
  • garlic salt
  • oregano
  • fresh-ground salt & pepper
  • flour for kneading
  • olive oil
  • cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. I recommend using a round, grated pizza dish. Although we do own a pizza stone, melted cheese can make clean-up a fiasco. I find a basic, perforated pizza pan, like this one, to be the most fool proof.

First, cut the chicken sausages into half inch pieces. It may be easier to remove the sausage meat from the cases. Saute pieces in a skillet coated with cooking spray. Season with garlic salt, oregano and pepper. Add onions and cook until sausage browns and is just cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Remove sausage mixture and reserve pan.

Add olive oil to pan, scrape up the sausage drippings and add baby bella slices. Season with grated sea salt. Cook on a low heat until mushrooms soften and start to sweat, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in sausage & onion mixture.

Divide 1 lb of dough in half, wrap other half and place in fridge. Roll out first half of dough on a lightly floured surface. If you don't have a rolling pin, use the jar of spaghetti sauce or cooking spray can. Don't stress if it's not perfectly round, mine never is. Carefully lift up dough and transfer to pizza pan that has been lightly greased with cooking spray. Pinch ends of dough up to make crust. Spoon pasta sauce onto dough and spread around dough, careful to leave a little space along the edge.

Sprinkle with cheese to your liking, I usually use half a package of those preshredded bags of cheese. Add half of sausage/mushroom/onion topping evenly over pizza, transfer to oven and bake 10-12 minutes. While the first pizza is baking, roll out the second pizza. When the 1st pizza is cooked, transfer to baking sheet and transfer uncooked dough to pizza pan & repeat steps to make crust and add toppings. Let pizza sit a couple minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Brands I Like: I always make one pizza with mozzarella and the 2nd pizza with a lactose free alternative. For my fellow lactards, I recommend this shredded mozzarella faux-cheese. It melts well and can satisfy my cravings without making me feel miserable. The package is a little small, and I used almost all of it on my lactose-free pizza.