09 January 2010

Fluff-Free Friday

Though I didn't escape the nearly 4 inches of white fluff outside, I did escape from writing "fluff" about cooking yesterday. I haven't escaped, I just took the night off and didn't cook. Staci and I have had a long-standing habit of eating out on Friday nights, and we thought that we'd maybe keep that tradition even with our new healthier eating habits. Was last night healthy? NO, but it was great to come home and not worry about food. I chilled on the couch, watched a movie, and made friends with some new music!

Today is a different story. We'll be working on our new week's worth of recipes, making the grocery list, and getting everything squared away for what is promising to be a very busy week outside of the home. I'll still be cooking one of the dishes that I was supposed to make on Friday, Roast Chicken with Potatoes. I'm sure I'll have an update later on the blog...

Try it! You might like it...or maybe you'll order pizza.

07 January 2010

Great Minds

I love it when I'm thinking of a wonderful idea, and things fall into place and I find exactly what I need, posted by someone online. Everyone that knows me knows that I'm a sucker for Excel or Open Office Calc. I was just trying to think of a way to put together a menu and grocery list in excel format. While I'm thinking, I go in to look at my daily RSS feeds, and what do I find but an awesome article promoted by Lifehacker about organizing menus and grocery lists.

I'm going to try out their PDF Grocery List this coming week to see how it works for us. At the least it will be a springboard to making my own form!

Not so spicy spiced beef

Like most of the eastern half of America, it's snowing here. We've managed to accumulate a few inches, but I don't think it's going to be anything drastic. On cold days like this, it's great to relax at home with some great spicy foods, or a warm bowl of soup. Today's spiced beef just didn't hit the mark for spiciness, but it was a very hearty meal. The pilaf was pretty good, though I think it could do without the celery. Both are interesting, and I think that they could be slightly tweaked to be made better.

Spiced Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry
Taken from the Atkins for Life kit.

2 shell or strip steaks 1 inch thick

24 asparagus spears, trimmed

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

24 cherry tomatoes


2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespooon grated fresh ginger

1 large garlic clove, grated

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 1/2 teaspoons preserves (apricot or orange are good)

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon chinese five-spice powder

4 teaspoons canola oil

1. Remove fat from edges of steaks, cut crosswise into thin strips

2. Combine all marinade ingredients in a bag or dish. Add beef and toss to coat. Allow to marinate for one to 4 hours.

3. In nonstick skillet or wok, heat 1 teaspoon of oil over high heat. Add 1/3 of beef at a time and coook till no longer pink. Move to bowl and cook other two portions of beef.

4. Add another teaspoon of oil to skillet and toss in asparagus and sesame seeds. Stir fry for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes to heat through. Pour beef and juices back into pan and stir all ingredients together.

Brown Rice Pilaf
Taken from the Atkins for Life kit.

6 tablespoons of butter, divided

1/2 cup brown rice

1 cup, 2 tablespoons water

4 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt, divided

20 oz white or cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/4 teaspons black pepper

1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. In small saucepan melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add rice and celery and cook for 5 minutes until rice betins to brown slightly. Add 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook till all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. In large skillet, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and remaining salt. Cook until mushrooms turn brown and all liquid has evaporated. Dump mushrooms in with rice.

3. In skillet over medium heat, toast walnuts for 4 minutes until golden.

4. Add walnuts in with rice and mushrooms. Stir to combine.

The only change I would suggest making to the pilaf is cutting the amount of the celery. I personally only like using celery as a spice, not a main ingredient. It makes a great mirepoix, but isn't really good for much else in my book. For the beef, I think I'll make it next time with broccoli or some other green veggie. The asparagus didn't seem to cook through as much as I would have wanted. I love asparagus, but its flavour seemed to overpower the sesame and ginger flavours. I'll also add something to the marinade to give it some more heat. Maybe some red pepper flake, or a dash of ground red pepper.

Try it! You might like it...or maybe you'll order pizza!

06 January 2010

Stop loafing and eat your meat.

I realized yesterday as I was doing some prep work for today that I had completely thrown off all of the side-dishes that I had planned for the week. Due to my rotation, I was left with the ingredients for rice pilaf to accompany the meatloaf. Rice and meatloaf? I think not. So I opted for the quick cheat tonight and put some fake-mashed potatoes and green beans as the side. The rice pilaf will have to wait for tomorrow and the spiced beef and asparagus stir fry.

Tonight's meatloaf also came from the Atkins for Life recipe box. (I promise in the future I'll expand the recipe genre and cook other things!) It's called "Not your Mama's Meat Loaf", and I'd agree with that. I wasn't really feeling the flavor tonight, though Staci said that she thought it was great. I don't normally make my meatloaf with much more than regular hamburger, so the addition of pork and veal was nice for a change, but not really my cup of tea.

Not Your Mama's Meat Loaf
1 red bell pepper halved and seeded

1 plum tomato halved

1 cup bread crumbs

2 lbs meat loaf mix (beef, pork and veal)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 large egg

2 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 large garlic clove

1 teaspoon salt

1. In oven, broil pepper and tomato, cut sides down on large foil covered pan for 8 to 10 minutes until skin is charred and vegetables are tender.

2. Wrap foil around vegetables and let stand to cool. Remove and discard skin.

3. Puree the pepper and tomato in processor till smooth.

4. In large bowl combine all remaining ingredients, reserving ahlf the pepper and tomato puree.

5. Form a 9X4 loaf on an open pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until done. Pour remaining puree on top of meatloaf and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

If I try this recipe again, I'll probably get a better mustard, and use less of the puree. I'm waiting to see if the meatloaf gets better as it cools; I'm hoping for a great meatloaf sandwich!

On a side note, I found an interesting article posted today by NPR about eating more whole grains. It's a pretty nice read with some great information on lesser-known grains that should be more frequently used. I've bookmarked the page, and am excited to try out some of the recipes that they've posted. As soon as I try some, I'll give a review here.

Try it! You might like it...or maybe you'll order pizza.

05 January 2010

Barley Soup for the Soul

There are days, and then there are d.a.y.s.! Soup is always one of those comfort foods that is easy to fix, and does a body good. Unfortunately with a lot of canned soups the salt content is through the roof, and if you ask me, they lack the flavour that home-cooked soups can give.

Today was just that kind of soup, and it was...meatless! (Insert gasps here.)It was a rich and hearty Barley Vegetable soup with kale as the surprise ingredient. Interesting, to say the least. I will give a word of warning, kale is apparently the Disney World of slug-town. Make sure that if you buy kale you inspect every leaf, as the little slimy boogers will show up just about anywhere. The first three groups of kale in the grocery were covered with slugs. Luckily the bundle I brought home didn't have anything on them.

For fear of the soup not being filling enough, I will admit that I cooked some beef tips on the side in case they were needed. After trying the soup, it was actually very filling, and for lack of a better word, meaty, even without the meat. I also changed up the Atkins for Life recipe and used beef broth rather than chicken broth. It made the soup seem more hearty.

Barley Vegetable Soup

1/2 cup raw pearl barley
1 tablespoon of butter
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup diced tomato
2 cups chopped kale

1. In small sauce pan bring 1 1/2 cups water to boil. Add barley, reduce to simmer and cook for 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
2. In soup pot, melt butter and cook mushrooms and onion until slightly browned and tender.
3. Add garlic to soup pot and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.
4. To soup pot, add all of the remaining ingredients (except for kale). Bring broth to a rolling boil and reduce to low. Cook for 15 minutes for flavours to mix.
5. Add kale and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

If you're looking for something quick and hearty, this soup is a great addition to your food rotation. I definitely want to try this recipe again using different stocks (chicken, vegetable) to see how it changes the overall flavour.

Try it! You might like it...or maybe you'll order pizza.

04 January 2010

Don't Judge a recipe by your imagination.

I really learned a good lesson about food today. I've been apprehensive of the Tomato, Zucchini and Mushroom Gratin since we chose it on Saturday. I just couldn't wrap my brain around zucchini in a cheese and heavy cream sauce being anywhere near remotely good. Boy was I ever wrong!

I will say that choosing both of these items on a weekday was probably a wrong choice. These are probably better reserved for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when you have the time to cook and aren't tired and hungry from being at the office all day. That being said, the little more than an hour and 20 minutes prep and cook time was WELL worth the wait. The gratin was actually done first, and the wife snacked on it until the chicken was done. Even better was the fact that she loved the gratin more than she loved the chicken. A feat to replace the desire for veggies in such a devoted carnivore!!

Both recipies today came from the Atkins for Life plan again. Its a pretty neat little recipe box filled with cards that you can sort out and plan a weeks worth of meals with. You can find the entire box on Amazon or other online bookstores.

Tomato, Zucchini and Mushroom Gratin

1 1/2 slices rye bread
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 medium zucchini, sliced
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded cheese (swiss or other)

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In pan add 1 tbsp butter and cook mushrooms till browned.
3. While mushrooms are cooking, butter a 9X13 dish and put zucchini on the bottom. On top, arrange the tomato slices.
4. Once mushrooms are cooked, arrange over top of tomatoes.
5. Return pan to heat add other tbsp of butter and garlic. Cook till garlic browns and add cream. Allow cream to reduce slightly.
6. Add layer of cheese over top of mushroom. Pour cream sauce over cheese.
7. Chop rye bread into small cubes and arrange over top of cheese and cream.
8. Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until cream is bubbly and zucchini is tender.

Stuffed Chicken Breast

4 oz pancetta, chopped
1/4 lb mushrooms, shiitake or cremini, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup asiago or fontina cheese, shreaded
4 large chicken breasts, butterflied
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp all-purpose or whole wheat flour
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In medium pan cook onions, pancetta, mushrooms until liquid is evaporated and onions are slightly brown. Set aside and allow to cool.
3. Add chese to the pancetta and mushroom mixture.
4. Spoon 1/4 of mixture per chicken breast into the pocket created on with the butterfly cut.
5. Fold breast and dredge in flour, salt and pepper mixture. Dip into beaten eggs and then dredge through bread crumbs.
6. In medium heated pan add 2 tbsp olive oil and cook chicken for 2-3 minutes per side to slightly brown. Transfer breasts to sheet pan and cook in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center.

Try it! You might like it...or maybe you'll order pizza.

03 January 2010

New Year, New Food

It's the new year! Time to put old things behind you and think about moving forward. For many that means new resolutions and promises to keep over the coming year. For my wife and I, this was no different. Our primary resolution was to eat healthier, expand our culinary horizions and try some different foods; to eat things that we don't normally eat.

I was greatly inspired by the cook, Nupur, over at One Hot Stove and her culinary marathon during the month of December. Why should we spend all this time looking at recipies, drooling over them, and bookmarking them if we're not going to give them a try. It seems pointless. So with her same courage, we are going to try and broaden our tastes, and eat new fruits, veggies and types of meals.

To start the project my wife and I poured over recipies for a few hours, looking for meals that were both healthy, and sounded delicious. We then dilligently arranged our picks into what we feel would be a good "meal plan" for the week and settled on the following:

Sunday - Greek Style Lamb Chops with Swiss Chard and Bacon
Monday - Stuffed Chicken Breast and Rice Pilaf
Tuesday - Barley Vegetable Soup
Wednesday - Meatloaf with Tomato, Zucchini and Mushroom Gratin
Thursday - Spicy Asian Marinated Beef and Asparagus Stir Fry with Rice
Friday - Roasted Chicken with Garlic Potatoes
Saturday - Shitake Chicken Stir Fry

We then made a corresponding grocery shopping list. The list was long, way long, but it was filled with items that we don't find in our fridge, cupboards or pantry that often. The grocery shop together was actually quite fun, and more like a scanvenger hunt, trying to find things like pearled barley, Asian five-spice, and swiss chard.

Tonight's menu was the Greek Style Lamb and Swiss Chard with Bacon. Both my wife and I are a sucker for Greek or Mediterranean
food, but we're not much for thick leafy greens. I have to say that we were both very pleasantly surprised with how things turned out overall. I have never used the oven broiler alone to cook meat, but it did a perfect job on the lamb chops (minus the rolling smoke though the house from the melted fat). I'd definately recommend these recipes to anyone, and I'm sure that we'll eat both of these again, maybe soon.

Greek Style Lamb
Taken from the Weight Watchers TurnAround Program Cookbook. 4 servings.

4 lamb chops (bone in)
3/4 cup plain yogurt (fat free)
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut up
1/4 cup of fresh mint
3 scallions sliced
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
pepper to taste

1. Move oven rack to 3-4 inches below the broiler, and set the broiler to high for preheating.
2. Lay lamb chops out on a greased pan to come to room temp. Season with salt and pepper on both sides and place in the oven. Broil each side for roughly 5 minutes. This should keep the meat a nice medium. Broil for longer if you want the meat more well done.
3. In a blender, combine the yogurt, cucumber, mint, scallions, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and crushed red pepper.
4. Serve lamb chop with sauce from blender spooned on top.

Swiss Chard with Bacon
Taken from the Atkins for Life Kit. 4 servings.

5 slices of thick-cut bacon
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3/4 lb. of Swiss Chard, washed and chopped into 1 inch strips
1/2 cup canned beans, pinto or navy
1/4 teaspoon of salt
pepper to taste

1. Cook bacon over medium heat in pan till crispy. Remove from pan.
2. In same pan, add garlic to bacon grease till it starts to brown.
3. Add in beans and swiss chard to pan. As the chard starts to wilt, add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve once beans have heated through.

I didn't make any modifications to the recipes, though next time I'll maybe add red pepper flake to the chard, and possibly a bit more salt. I'll also probably cut the amount of cucumber in the sauce for the lamb, as it was a bit too runny, even with the cucumbers being seeded. With each recipe making 4 servings, we had enough for lunch tomorrow, or possibly a late-night snack.

Try it! You might like it....or maybe you'll order pizza.