Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stocking the Freezer

I've been really lazy lately. And I blame the cold. I've had the best intentions of starting the new year with a healthier eating plan. I want to stop grabbing take-out or a prepared salad on the way home, and get back into the habit of cooking healthy dinners. I head to work every morning with the best of intentions, and during the day I plan my evening meal. Over the past few weeks, I've cooked amazing dinners in my head! But I get out of work after 11 hours on my feet, and head outside to realize the temperature is still below freezing. Suddenly, I'm less inclined to stop at the grocery store on my way home, less interested in carrying grocery bags the 10 blocks from the store to our apartment. So I get take out. Or delivery.

This weekend I decided to stock the fridge and freezer so that I would not have any excuses not to cook. I bought veggies so I could make salads, and I prepped the veggies so they will be ready to use when I want them. I made a batch of our favorite turkey sausage pasta sauce, and froze it in ziplock bags so I could defrost just enough for 1 or both of us during the week. And I marinated chicken breasts in individual portions for the freezer.

The Ingredients: Zest and Juice of 2 lemons
2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground fennel seeds (I prefer these to whole seeds for most of my cooking, but whole seeds would be fine, too)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast portions (1/2 breast each)

The Directions:
-Whisk everything together (except chicken breasts). I do this in a measuring cup so I can portion it easily.
-Trim chicken breasts of any excess fat. Put each portion in a quart sized ziplock bag. Pour 1/4 of dressing into each bag. Close bag, removing as much air as possible, then smush chicken around in marinade. Freeze.

I do this in individual portions, so we can cook these up individually as needed. The chicken will keep for months in the freezer, and defrosts in 15-20 minutes in a bowl of cool water (or in the fridge if I remember to move it before I head to work. Or a microwave if you've got one). If you have a larger family, you can increase the amount of marinade, and use a gallon ziplock bag to freeze larger portions. And you can change up the marinade a million different ways. If you've got left over fresh herbs, chop them up or grind in food processor, and add to marinade so they don't go to waste!

These are great simply cooked, served with your favorite sides.
Boyfriend will cook some on the George Foreman grill when I'm not home, and make a sandwich out of the grilled chicken. I usually bake in the oven at 350° for 20-25 minutes, until I get an internal temp of 165°. I might serve as whole breasts, or chop up for salad or other recipes that call for pieces of chicken.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I usually make turkey meatloaf, but tonight I was feeling like beef. None of the ground meat looked appealing at the grocery store, but we have a butcher shop in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd give them a try. I didn't see any ground meat at all when I walked in, but when I asked about it, the butcher told me he'd grind any cut of meat he had. So I got some freshly ground chuck for this recipe, at at $ .50 less per pound than the grocery store was charging!

The Ingredients:

1 medium onion, small diced
2 stalks celery, small dice
1 small bulb fennel, small diced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry marsala (or good red wine)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1/4 tsp ground fennel seed
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 6oz can of tomato paste
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

The Directions:
-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Sweat the onion, celery and fennel until soft and translucent. Deglaze the pan with marsala (this is what I have in the house, but red wine would be great here, too), and reduce until almost all the liquid is gone - there should be no more than 1 tsp left. Put the veggies in a mixing bowl and let cool.
-Add the garlic, fennel seed, beef, parmigiano, breadcrumbs, red pepper flakes and egg to the cooled veggies. Mix with your hands to combine all ingredients, but do not over mix. On a foil lined sheet tray, form a loaf with the mixture.
-In a small bowl, combine tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. Brush half of the tomato/balsamic mixture over the loaf. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and brush remaining tomato mixture over loaf. Return to oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes before cutting.

This was really tasty. I often make this by grating raw onion and garlic into the ground meat, which is delicious. But I read a recipe that sauteed onions and celery, so I thought I'd try that method, and throw in some fennel since I had some in the fridge. I don't think I reduced the marsala enough, so the meatloaf was a bit crumbly, but otherwise it was absolutely delicious! And we have enough left over for meatloaf sandwiches tomorrow.

I am trying to be better about serving square meals with vegetables and starches/grains with high nutritional value (more whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, or sweet potatoes). So I served this with mashed sweet potatoes and marsala glazed carrots and parsnips.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rainy Day Lunch

I've been craving lentil soup ever since the weather started to get cold. Yesterday, I made The Barefoot Contessa's Lentil Vegetable Soup. It made the whole apartment smell amazing, and it has tons of flavor. But I had to modify it a bit - it makes so much soup I didn't have a pot big enough! It calls for a lot of veggies, so be prepared for a lot of chopping. I started cooking it in my round le Creuset dutch oven, but when I started adding the stock, I needed to switch to my larger oval dutch oven. And I still couldn't fit the 3rd quart of stock, but it seemed fine with 2 quarts of stock. (And my freezer is now packed with ziplock bags of the soup!) I also used my immersion blender to puree some of the soup to give it a creamier texture. The recipe calls for finishing the soup with either red wine or red wine vinegar. I tried a bowl with a splash of vinegar, which was nice, but I finished the rest of the soup with red wine, and I definitely prefer how that enhances the flavors in the soup.

Today I had a bowl of the soup with a toasted turkey and cheese sandwich. It was the perfect warm and hearty meal for this cold and drizzly day!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Orange Chicken

I'd like to try to get this blog going again. Sorry for the long hiatus - my work schedule has changed and I've been making a lot of old favorites for dinner, rather than trying new things. But with the change in the weather, and a renewed interest in eating healthy meals and avoiding take out, I'm going to try cooking new meals and documenting them. I'm also hoping to do a better job of keeping the fridge, freezer, and pantry stocked, so I have food on hand to heat up after work when I'm feeling lazy.

This afternoon I made an Asian-inspired orange chicken. It took about 3 minutes to prepare before throwing in the slow cooker, and it's all ingredients I usually have on hand.

The Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (just under 1 lb), cut into chunks
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce (This isn't the photo, since I realized the sauce needed something else after tasting it)
1 cup frozen green beans

The Directions:
- Combine chicken, flour and salt in ziplock bag and toss to dredge the chicken pieces. Shake off excess flour and put chicken pieces in bottom of slow cooker. (I used my 4 quart slow cooker, but this would fit in a 2 quart)
-Whisk together orange juice, vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin, and chili garlic sauce in small bowl, and pour over the chicken. Cook on high for 4 hours, or until chicken is cooked through and tender.
-Add beans to slow cooker for last hour of cooking time. (I think I cooked the beans too long - next time I'll just throw them in for 20 minutes or so.)

This was DELICIOUS! It was so easy to prepare, and cheap! I splurged on organic frozen green beans and organic 100% tangerine juice, but it would be just as good with any frozen veggie and any orange juice. I served this over brown rice, which soaked up all the extra sauce. It was excellent - a perfect balance of sweet, tangy, and a bit spicy. I think this is going to become a super easy regular dinner in our house!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Turkey Chili Mac Casserole

Happy Fourth of July! On the way to the grocery store this morning, I had no idea what I would be making for dinner tonight. But as I walked into the store, I decided chili sounded like a good meal for the 4th. As I walked down the pasta/canned veggies aisle to get some tomatoes for the chili, I decided to grab a box of elbows and make it a chili mac casserole. This is an easy and cheap one to make for a few people or a crowd; all the ingredients are inexpensive, and adding more pasta and veggies will help stretch it to feed a crowd. I've written the recipe for 4-6 people, but I usually make all the chili, mix a few cups with 1/4-1/3 of a pound of pasta, and make a small casserole for 2. Then I freeze the rest of the chili and thaw later for other meals.

The Ingredients:

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 package lean ground turkey (1.3 lbs)
2 Tbsp chili seasoning (I used Penzey’s Chili 3000. I am a huge fan of Penzey's seasoning blends*, and picked this one up last time I was in their shop. But plain chili powder would be fine, too.)
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 medium onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, medium dice
1 red bell pepper, medium dice
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ cups no salt chicken stock (or homemade stock if you have some. I did not today.)
1 26oz carton strained tomatoes (Any type of canned tomato is fine. Boyfriend doesn't like chunks of tomato, so I used strained tomatoes.)
1 lb elbow pasta (I used whole wheat. If you're making this casserole for a smaller crowd, make the whole batch of chili, and save it for later. But only make enough pasta for the casserole.)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar.

The Directions:

1. Heat dutch over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat through. Add ground turkey and brown, about 5 minutes. Season with chili seasoning powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Add onion, celery, red bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1-2 minutes. Deglaze pan with stock, and stir to get all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir in tomatoes, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Cover and let cook at least 15-20 minutes. (The more it cooks, the more the flavors combine, so it can go for hours on low heat if you stir it occasionally),
3. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Bring water to a boil for pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions, until just under al dente. Drain pasta well.
4. Combine pasta and chili. Pour into large casserole dish. Top with cheddar cheese, and bake at 350°F until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let rest 5 minutes, and serve.

This was fantastic! It had a nice chili flavor, was hearty but not too heavy, and an easy meal with minimal effort. I chopped the veggies pretty small, and Boyfriend ate them all without complaint or picking them out. The whole wheat pasta added another layer of texture to the dish, and the nuttiness of the whole wheat blended really well with the flavors of the chili. I think if I make it again, I would add a bit more of the Chili 3000 seasoning, but it was a great and easy holiday meal.

*I LOVE Penzey's. They have a shop near my parents' house and I love going there with my mom. I like being able to buy small quantities of spices that I don't use frequently or want to try. And they also sell some great spice blends. I go through multiple jars of Mural of Flavor a year - it makes everything taste better!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sesame Peanut Noodles

This is a super quick and easy recipe that I make as a side dish or as a simple lunch. It's delicious both hot and cold, and I usually have all the ingredients in my fridge and pantry. I like to make this when I get home late from work, have some warm for a late dinner, then refrigerate the rest and eat it cold for lunch the next day.

The Ingredients:

1/3 – ½ lb linguine (I used whole wheat. Any long noodle you have on hand will be fine)
3 Tbsp Peanut Butter
zest of ½ lime
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp chili garlic sauce (I found this on the international aisle of my grocery store. If you don’t have it, or can’t find it, substitute 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes)
1 carrot, sliced into matchstick sized pieces
3 Tbsp starchy pasta water
1 tsp sesame oil
juice of 1 lime
2 scallions, sliced on the bias

The Directions:

1. Follow package directions to cook pasta.
2. Once you drop the pasta into the boiling water, combine peanut butter, lime zest, soy sauce, brown sugar and chili garlic sauce in small saucepan.
3. About 3 minutes before pasta is finished cooking, heat saucepan with peanut butter mixture over low heat, to combine. The mixture will thicken up and become clumpy.
4. About 2 minutes before pasta is done, add sliced carrots to the cooking water. Then add the 3 Tbsp of pasta water to the peanut mixture to thin out to a saucy consistency. The mixture should be thick, but smooth and easy to stir. Take sauce off the heat, add sesame oil and lime juice, and stir well to combine.
5. When pasta is done, drain well, and combine with sauce. Top with scallions.

I usually add snow peas, cut on the bias, if I can find them. I couldn't find them on my way home today, so left them out. When I had a microwave, I would make the sauce right in the serving bowl in the microwave - just cook the peanut butter on high 1-2 minutes, until it's loose and stirs easily, then add all the other ingredients (omitting the pasta water) and stir it all together. Add the pasta water when you add the pasta, as needed. But now that I don't have a microwave, I find the stovetop method is still pretty quick! The peanut sauce is also a great marinade for chicken breasts - let the chicken sit in the sauce for an hour or so, then grill or bake.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Roasted Asparagus

This is a really simple side dish, that takes advantage of fresh, seasonal vegetables. I made this recipe tonight with asparagus, as a side for spaghetti and meatballs, but I'll follow the basic method and recipe with a number of veggies.

The Ingredients:

1 bundle asparagus
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic
1 -2 tsp balsamic vinegar (This is also great with lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, sherry vinegar, or another acid. If you're using lemon, lime or orange juice, add a bit of the zest, too!)
Salt and Pepper to taste

The Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Trim asparagus spears, removing tough ends.
2. Cover sheet tray with aluminum foil. Place asparagus spears on sheet tray. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, and grate 1 clove of garlic over spears. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Toss all ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Roast at 400°F for 10 – 15 minutes, until ends start to darken, and spears are tender.
4. These are great served warm, or chilled. Save leftovers and dress with simple vinaigrette for a great salad.
This is so simple to prepare - just toss the veggies with the oil, vinegar and seasoning, and cook until done. Since it's roasting in the oven, it's hands free once you assemble, and it doesn't use up a burner on the stove. The clean up is simple, too, since you've lined the sheet tray with foil, so nothing sticks to the sheet tray. And this method and recipe is great with tons of seasonal veggies - I'll make this with broccoli, broccolini, green beans, broccoli raab, cauliflower, carrots, fennel, zucchini, and probably others I can't think of right now! You could also do this with a mix of veggies. And it's a side dish that's great warm or cold. I'm saving the leftovers for a salad - just toss with some red onion and cherry tomatoes.