Monday, August 29, 2011

Tex-Mex Chicken and Rice Casserole

I don’t know about you, but after a rough day, I crave comfort food. And when it comes to comfort food, I like it as carb-y and cheesy as possible. Not exactly healthy, I know. But that’s why it’s comfort food, right? I mean come on, who ever wanted carrot sticks and bean sprouts after a hard day? Unless maybe they were tossed in an Asian-inspired dish and smothered in peanut sauce. In which case, sign me up.

But what if comfort food could be healthy(ish) and comforting at the same time? What if you could still satisfy the craving for carbs and cheese and stick-to-your-ribs casseroles without completely destroying your waistline? That would be a good thing right?

I thought so. And so I tried today’s recipe. One, because it looked ridiculously good. And two, because it wasn’t nearly as unhealthy as it would appear at first glance. This casserole is full of good things. Chicken and brown rice and chiles and black beans and corn and salsa. All healthy. Sour cream (I used reduced-fat) makes it a little creamy, and just a little cheese makes it gooey. All you have to do is stir everything together and bake until bubbly.

One bite and I was in love. This Tex-Mex Chicken and Rice Casserole is complete comfort food, but it doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. Serve it up with a salad on the side and you’ve got a meal that will comfort your belly… and your conscience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons

In Dayton, Ohio, where I grew up, there’s a well-known steakhouse.  I’ve never actually had a steak from there, but every once in awhile, when we got really lucky, my dad would pick up their burgers on the way home from work.  As I’m sure you can imagine, burgers from a steakhouse are pretty darn good.  However, the burgers weren’t my favorite part of the takeout order. 

What I looked forward to (and often ordered double servings of) were the stewed tomatoes.  They were warm, a little sweet, and a little tangy.  They were also topped with cubes of toasted bread that were crunchy on top and a little soggy where they touched the tomatoes.  Those stewed tomatoes rocked my world.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything similar since I moved away.  Surprisingly, it never occurred to me to try to make stewed tomatoes myself.  It wasn’t until I came across today’s recipe for Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons that my cooking wheels started turning.  And then my friend and I made the recipe for lunch one day.  And I nearly fainted – in a good way.

These Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons are warm and bubbly.  The tomatoes are sweet and savory and a little tangy.  The homemade croutons add fantastic texture and crunch.  The Parmesan cheese, while not a part of the tomatoes of my youth, adds a lovely (and I think, optional) richness.  All in all, I’m in love with this recipe.  It reminds me of childhood and takeout burger nights with my family.  It’s a good thing.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five-Spice Chicken with Fresh Plum Sauce

Until last year, it never occurred to me to bake with plums.  And then I discovered the magic of the Dimply Plum Cake.  Also until last year, I never thought about using sweet plums in savory dishes.  And then I made the Spinach and Black Plum Salad.  Both of those recipes changed how I look at plums – and made frequent repeat appearances in our kitchen.

Last night I expanded my plum repertoire a little further with a fantastic recipe for Five-Spice Chicken with Fresh Plum Sauce.  This recipe has a lot going on in the flavor department, and it is all delicious.  Let’s start with the chicken – it’s coated in ground almonds and five-spice powder and then cooked until crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.  (Five-spice powder, in case you aren’t familiar, is a Chinese spice blend typically containing star anise, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, and fennel seeds.  You can usually find it in the regular spice aisle of your supermarket.)

The chicken alone is so delicious I had to restrain myself from going back for second piece.  Together with the sauce, however, this relatively simple chicken dish becomes something special.  As the name of the recipe implies, the sauce contains fresh plums, which are cooked down until they become soft and saucy. The addition of fresh garlic and ginger and a little more of that five-spice powder keeps the sauce from being too sweet – which I appreciate because I don’t typically like my meat to be sweet.  You get the plum taste, but it’s savory.

Another great thing about this recipe is that it could be adapted in a variety of ways.  I can image the almond/five-spice coating on fish or tofu.  The plum sauce would be delicious with pork.  Or of course you can just make the recipe as is – which is what I’m planning to do again very soon.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Greek-Style Stuffed Peppers

I know stuffed peppers don’t exactly scream summertime, but with fresh peppers being so abundant at my local farmers markets, I think it’s ok to buck tradition a little. And that’s a good thing, because these Greek-Style stuffed peppers aren’t exactly traditional (at least not based on what I grew up with).

Like many of their peers, these peppers are stuffed with ground beef.  (You can also use turkey.)  Unlike their peers, these peppers are also stuffed with lots of veggies, including fresh, grated zucchini, chopped spinach, garlic, and onions.  Instead of rice, wheat bulgur acts as the binder.  (If you’re not familiar, bulgur is the grain used to make tabbouli.)  On top of the peppers, canned stewed tomatoes make an easy, slightly sweet, and savory sauce.  Crumbles of feta top everything off and add a salty, creamy component to the dish.  Like I said, they may not be traditional, but they are delicious.  They’re even good enough to make me consider turning on my oven in the middle of August.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Crispy Margarita Chicken Tacos with Strawberry Avocado Salsa

The other day I told you about some crazy delicious margaritas I concocted.  I debated posting another recipe today with “margarita” in the title since I don’t want you to think I sit home with the bottle all day.  But since today’s recipe uses the margarita ingredients as a marinade instead of a cocktail, I figured I’d go with it.

And you should go with this recipe.  It’s fun and it’s delicious.  It’s chicken fingers, soaked in a margarita marinade, coated in crunchy, seasoned panko, and baked until crisp.  It’s fresh strawberries, juicy tomatoes, and creamy avocadoes mixed together to make what just might be your new favorite salsa.  It’s a combination of crunchy chicken and savory-sweet salsa rolled up in tortillas.  It’s awesome.  And it would be extremely awesome with some real margaritas, too.


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