Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jalapeño-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes

There are certain recipes that just aren’t that pretty. They might be incredibly delicious, but they won’t win any beauty pageants – or food styling contests. If you were telling your friends about these recipes, you might say they “have a great personality”. And while “a great personality” might be code for something less than desirable in a blind date, it’s not at all a bad thing on your dinner plate.

Take today’s recipe: Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes. It’s not really a looker. One glance will not have you drooling on your keyboard. One taste might. This is one of those deceptively delicious dishes. It looks like tomato sauce on top of fish on top of sliced potatoes. It tastes like a mouthwatering, tomato-based sauce flavored with garlic, cilantro, and pickled jalapenos layered on top of moist, perfectly cooked fish on top of thin slices of tender potatoes. Sounds more drool-worthy that it looks, right?

Would you drool even more if I told you this is an easy, quick-cooking dinner? If so, grab a napkin my friends, because this recipe is indeed weeknight friendly. And relatively inexpensive. And just oh so good. Oh, and everything cooks in one dish, so there are barely any dishes to wash. Just thought I’d throw that one in there, you know, in case you weren’t already sold.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oreo Cheesecake Bars

Oh my. Good golly. Holy crap. That is along the lines of what I thought when I tasted my first bite of these Oreo Cheesecake Bars. And then I might have done a little happy dance around the kitchen. But I won’t cop to that – cause that would be embarrassing. And I do plenty enough to embarrass myself on a regular basis. I don’t need to add sugar-induced, hallelujah dancing to the list. So let’s just say, if you are prone to busting out some rockin’ dance moves when feeling euphoric, you might want to sample your first bite of these bars when no one else is home. I’m just sayin’.

Because these creamy, crunchy, cheesecake-y babies are so crazy good. They are I-would-eat-lettuce-for-a-week-to-justify-eating-them good. They are so good I was glad I was baking them for other people. And that I had friends to invite over to eat the rest. And that the few that remained fit in a small spot in the back of the freezer. Cause there’s no way these bars can have a regular seat at my currently healthy-eating table.

If you are in the mood for a treat, however, run to the kitchen as fast as you can and get to work. But don’t worry – there’s little work to be done. First you need to make an easy chocolate cookie crust using crushed chocolate sandwich cookies (like Oreos or something similar if you are like me and aren’t a fan of some of the ingredients in Oreos). Then you make the creamy, tangy, rich, and dreamy cheesecake layer. Pour the cheesecake on top of the crust, and bake. All you have to do after that is let it cool down, then chill it til the bars are very cold. (You may need to leave the house for this part to resist digging in too soon.)  

When they’re ready, cut them up and prepare to bliss out. Just make sure you invite some friends over to help you (after the first potentially embarrassing bite), because this recipe is very rich and makes a lot. Not that that’s ever a bad thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mango Ginger Chicken with Almonds

I was really torn about which recipe I wanted to share with you today. I have quite a backlog of recipes waiting to be posted, and they are all vying for my attention. My first inclination was to tell you about some awesome ground beef enchiladas. Then I checked the list of my most recent posts and realized I have been leaning strongly towards Mexican-inspired flavors as of late. Oops, so much for variety. (But don’t worry, I won’t hold off on telling you about the enchiladas for too long.) Then it was on to the chicken debate. I have five good recipes to tell you about. But I wasn’t feeling decisive enough to pick one. A great spring pasta? I wasn’t thrilled with the pictures. Baked goods? Healthy or sinful? You can see the conundrum.

All things considered, I decided to select a recipe whose flavors share the summery feeling Nashville’s current 80-degree weather is bringing out in me. This Mango Ginger Chicken with Almonds fit the bill perfectly – a little bit fruity, a little bit spicy, and filling without being heavy. In other words, this quick chicken stir-fry is perfect warm weather dinner fare. While I can’t say the same for this amazing weather, I’m certain this recipe is here to stay… at least until next winter.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ancho-Chipotle Turkey Chili

Lately, a lot of you have told me about your desire for some healthier recipes.  Whether it’s upcoming spring break vacations or a desire to refuel those New Year’s resolutions, a lot of you are thinking thinner. And so I have a confession to make.  A few weeks ago I made the decision to get healthier myself. I’m eating less and working out more.  I feel good, and I know I’m going to continue feeling even better.

I’ve held off on telling you guys about this for a couple of reasons.  First, I don’t want to scare any of you away.  I know some of you come here for your butter and sugar fix, and I don’t want you to fear a shift to all “health food” recipes. To you, I say don’t worry.  That’s just not going to happen.  I have no intention of turning this into a diet blog.  I have lots of guilty pleasures saved up waiting to be posted.

I was also afraid to say anything about my healthy-eating plans because the last time I mentioned going on a diet (way back I don’t even remember when), it lasted all of four days. An opportunity to try an El Salvadoran restaurant did me in. We’re talking lots of cheese.  When I fall off the wagon, I tend to fall hard, and that was the end of that!

Eating healthier doesn’t have to mean eating tasteless, boring food. I love the challenge of taking typically less-than-healthy dishes and turning them into guilt-free options I can enjoy without feeling like I’m giving anything up. Take today’s recipe for example. Chili is not always the best choice for cutting back. This one, however, is pretty darn healthy, and it is ridiculously tasty. The recipe uses ground turkey breast, which is virtually fat free, and kicks up the flavor with garlic and onions and lots of spices. There is a fantastic smoky taste from the chiles and a very small amount of bacon. Plus, I enjoyed how this chili is so different from the tomato-laden, bean-filled chili recipes I typically make. If this is what diet food tastes like, sign me up!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pepita-Crusted Mahi with Maple-Ginger Mashed Rutabagas and Cranberry Salsa

Today we’re mixing things up a little bit, and I’m going to do something I don’t normally do here. I’m going to share three recipes in one post. See, it’s kind of important that I give you all three recipes at once because they all go together to make one heck of a dinner. If I only gave you one recipe at a time that would make me a tease, and no one wants to be labeled a tease – am I right? Maybe we shouldn’t go there…

The star of this post, and the main component of the meal, is Pepita-Crusted Mahi. Pepitas are pumpkin seeds that have had their outer shells removed. They have a mildly nutty flavor that makes a great base for a flavorful “crust” when ground up and combined with crunchy panko bread crumbs, lime zest, cumin, and smoked paprika. The flavors in the pepita coating are the perfect compliment to mahi’s flaky, meaty texture and mild taste. All together, it’s a pretty delicious piece of fish.

To go with your entrée, you’re going to need a side dish, and Maple-Ginger Mashed Rutabagas are an excellent accompaniment to the Pepita-Crusted Mahi. In this recipe, the rutabaga is roasted in the oven with fresh ginger, maple syrup, and just a pinch of cinnamon until it is tender and caramelized. It is then mashed (or puréed – your choice) until smooth and creamy. If you’ve never tried this often overlooked root vegetable, this is definitely a good recipe to introduce you to it.

Finally, to add a bright pop of color to your plate, we have Cranberry Salsa. While I’ve had fruit-based salsas before (mango, pineapple, peach, etc.), cranberries in salsa form was a new one for me. Let me just say – so, so good. The extreme tartness of the fresh cranberries is tempered with sugar, tangy lime juice, and the kick of heat and savory flavor from jalapeno, fresh ginger, green onion, and (optional) cilantro. The salsa tastes delicious on its own, but it also works well to tie everything on the plate together. Try a bite of fish with salsa, a taste of fish with rutabaga, some salsa with rutabaga – you get the idea. However you load your fork, your mouth will be happy with this somewhat unusual and intriguing mix of flavors.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tex-Mex Chicken Sausage, Black Bean, and Hominy Soup

Spring may be on the way, but we’re still experiencing crazy temperature swings here in Nashville – 70 degrees one day, 40 degrees the next. I’m sure many of you can relate.  That being said, I’m still in full-on soup mode.  The other day it was gray and drizzling, and I was in the mood for a warm and cozy lunch. Cue the soup – my go-to cold weather lunch.

Today’s recipe was put together from things I already had in my fridge and pantry. Stan and I really like Tex-Mex flavors so things like canned black beans, hominy, taco seasoning mix, and peppers are staples.  Thrown together with some chicken sausage for protein and some lime juice and cilantro to brighten things up, this soup packs a lot of flavor.  It’s also healthy, quick and easy to make, and cheap to boot – all good things in my book.

Another great thing about this recipe is that it’s flexible. Don’t have a poblano pepper on hand? Use a red or green bell pepper.  Out of black beans?  Try pinto or kidney beans.  Can’t find hominy at your store?  Look in the Mexican food section – or just use a can of corn instead.  You can also adjust the spice level up or down to match your preference – just use more or less taco seasoning.  However you make it, this soup is sure to be a warm, hearty way to beat back the chill while you wait for spring.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Barbecue Pulled Chicken Sliders

I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m cautiously optimistic that spring is on its way to Nashville.  The trees across the street are finally starting to bud – and not a moment too soon.  I don’t think I could take much more of this “record-breaking snow” nonsense.  I mean, really, I moved to the South for a reason.  And let me tell you, as soon as spring hits, I’m outta here. By here I mean my house. I need fresh air.  I need sunshine.  I need to see something besides the inside of my living room. So yeah, I’m counting the days ‘til Mother Nature loosens her grasp on winter and lets us roll into spring.

And when those spring days and nights finally arrive, I don’t want to be spending a lot of time in my kitchen. I’m going to want quick-cooking recipes that will get me out of the kitchen and into the sun.  Recipes likes today’s Barbecue Pulled Chicken Sliders.  These cute little mini-sandwiches are a fast, healthy, inexpensive option for nights when you’re not in the mood to slave over a hot stove.  Pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work (or use leftover chicken), and you can have dinner on the table in under 10 minutes. I’m fairly certain I’ve never made you that promise before!

Considering how little work goes into them, these sliders have a good amount of flavor.  They may not completely knock your socks off compared to barbecue chicken that’s been smoked or slow cooked all day, but these sliders are tasty and far more convenient for weeknight dinners.  A little sweet, a little smoky, and nicely spiced, these sliders are a perfect warm weather dinner. Serve them up with a little slaw and some kind of potato and you’ll be out the door and enjoying the spring weather in no time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Apples and Pecans

For the past year (or longer), I’ve eaten variations of the same thing for breakfast every weekday morning. Greek yogurt, sweetened with honey, and topped with some combination of fruit, nuts, and/or cereal.  Sure, I mix it up on the weekends, but Monday through Friday, it’s all about the yogurt.  

But times, they are a-changing.  There’s been a new breakfast item gracing my bowl every morning for the past week, and there’s not a drop of yogurt in sight.  I’ve turned from cold and creamy to warm and dreamy with Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Apples and Pecans.  And I don’t plan on going back… at least not anytime soon.

This isn’t your average bowl of oatmeal.  Nutty, wholesome, steel-cut oats are cooked in a mixture of almond milk and water until thick and creamy.  Cubes of tender-crisp, cinnamon-spiced apples and crunchy, toasted pecans add sweetness and textural contrast to the creamy oatmeal.  A drizzle of maple syrup finishes everything off.  What more could you ask for on chilly winter/spring mornings?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Red Lentils with Stewed Tomatoes

I try to keep the language clean and family-friendly around these around these parts. I never know who might decide to stop by and check out my little piece of the internet – don’t want to scare anyone off, of course. Not that I’m a total potty mouth or anything. I just like to keep it safe enough for my Grammy or my mother-in-law to read. I imagine you’d do the same.

That being said, it is with some difficulty that I describe today’s recipe to you. Stan’s exact words were, “This is freaking phenomenal.” Except he didn’t say freaking. I’ll let you use your imagination to guess what he really said. (Yeah, so maybe he’s the potty mouth in the family.) Language aside, Stan was right. These lentils are, indeed, freaking phenomenal.

This recipe is one of my favorite kinds – those that take little time and little effort and produce huge flavor. Dinner can be ready in 15 minutes (plus however long it takes water to boil where you live). When it’s done you will have bowls of warm, fragrant lentils, redolent with Indian spices, and studded with chunks of juicy stewed tomatoes. Ladled over rice or served with Naan, this healthy meal will have you going back for seconds… and possibly having to watch your language, too.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Beef Carbonnade

When the in-laws come to visit, it’s time to bust out the big guns. Of course we’re talking culinary guns here. No need for the real thing. Especially if you have in-laws you like, which I hope you do. And whether or not you are lucky enough to like your in-laws, or co-workers, or random visiting dignitaries, when you have important people coming to dinner, the pressure is on.

A few weeks back, my in-laws came to visit. (If you’ll recall, they were witness to the skin-frying, too-hot-to-handle incident.) While I knew they wouldn’t care one bit what I served for dinner, they know I cook all the time, so I felt a little bit of pressure to deliver the goods. Show them I’m a good wifey and all. I went back and forth for at least a week before they arrived. Chicken or beef? Make ahead or made to order? Eventually I settled on Beef Carbonnade.

Beef Carbonnade is a classic Belgian dish comprised of beef cooked low and slow with beer and onions. As it cooks, the beef becomes meltingly tender. The onions cook down to an almost creamy consistency and give the sauce sweet onion flavor that melds perfectly with the malty essence of the beer. After a couple of hours in the oven, the stew is rich, savory, and utterly delicious. It just begs to be ladled over hot, buttered egg noodles or a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes – something to cradle all of the luscious sauce you will want to lick off your plate. Try not to do that though. Especially if you’re cooking for visiting dignitaries. Or if your mother-in-law doesn’t like you. 


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