only help my unbelief


On the menu tonight
December 12, 2008, 3:38 pm
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I was working on a post about birth control. This is not that post. In fact, it’s almost like the exact opposite, in that I can’t imagine how this will possibly be even kind of contoversial.

But it’s Friday, and I’m weary. I’d rather write about something delicious, like food.

If asked what our favorite things to do together are, both Christian and I would name the following: Going to the grocery store; cooking; trying new restaurants; watching movies; reading. Note that 60 percent of those activities involve food.

Which is why I’m looking forward to this evening, when we’re really going to cook. Not just some form of spaghetti, but a meal with more than one dish.

For our main course, we’re going to attempt a version of Pioneer Woman’s crispy yogurt chicken. I don’t know how PW’s chicken tastes because I’ve never tried to make it, but this recipe looked good, too (and I love cilantro), so we’re going to make an attempt. We bought bone-in chicken thighs because they were cheap.

Our necessary dish that involves cheese is Sunny Anderson’s spicy macaroni and cheese. We’ve made this once before, and it was the cause of The Big Bacon Fight that actually resolved quite nicely. We liked it the first time, but we wanted to make it again because of two poor decisions the first time (and because it was good): The noodles were too big (we used long ziti noodles) and the hot habanero cheese we got was, well, hot. So this time, we settled on mini sea shells and regular ol’ Monterey Jack.

Our vegetable is one of our recurring favorites – roasted asparagus. Christian isn’t picky at all, but asparagus is not his favorite – and yet he loves the way I make this. Basically, I get the thickest asparagus I can find, cut off the end of the stalk (not with the leaves – the other end), rinse them, and put them in a big gallon ziploc bag. Then pour some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder into the bag. Close the bag (very important) and roll, shake, throw the bag until the asparagus is covered. Then dump the stalks onto a foil-lined baking sheet and cook for7-ish minutes at 400 degrees. Not too soggy, not too hard, and a rich flavor.

For dessert, I will probably have some oatmel chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream that we bought at Publix last week, but I’m guessing Christian is going to try the double chocolate peppermint cookies I made last night. For the chocolate chips, I used 1/3 mini semi-sweet chips, 1/3 jumbo semi-sweet chips, and 1/3 special dark chips. I did this because we had three opened bags of chocolate chips and I was trying to use them all up. Anyway, one of the reasons I think these cookies were a success is because I enjoy eating them after they’re cooled. I’m actually not a huge fan of non-freshly-baked cookies, but these are light and thin enough that they’re enjoyable. And also, chocolate and peppermint? Who can complain?

Wondering where I come up with recipe ideas? Two places: Food Network and blogs. When I’m on the treadmill, I watch Food Network, and if I have a few free moments and control of the remote, I watch Food Network. I subscribe to probably 30 food blogs, so almost every day I see something worth trying.

And that, my friends, is what we’re eating for dinner tonight. How ’bout you?

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Stuffed shells
June 17, 2008, 9:00 am
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Last Friday night I got home from work a little after midnight. I was planning on making stuffed shells the next day to take to work for dinner and give to Christian. But I wasn’t tired, so I embarked on a cooking spree. I wanted to have plenty of stuffed shells for both of us to last several meals, so I doubled the recipe.

I ended up with over 70 stuffed shells. And I had to throw some of the noodles away because there wasn’t enough filling.

So if you want to make this dish for a lot of people, go for it. But I suggest not doubling it, unless you want to be buried in a kitchen full of cottage cheese.

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Stuffed shells
1 box jumbo shells
16 oz. cottage cheese
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
10 oz. chopped spinach

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook jumbo shells according to directions. While the shells are cooking, mix cottage cheese, 1/2 mozzarella cheese, spinach and Italian seasoning. Spread half jar of spaghetti sauce in bottom of 9×13 pan. When shells are done cooking, fill each with a spoonfull of filling. Lay in pan. When all shells are filled, spoon rest of spaghetti sauce on top of them. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Cover with foil and cook for 25 minutes.

These turned out great, so I guess it was good I had a lot of them. This is the original recipe, which you can tweak a number of ways, some for nutrition reasons, and others for taste issues.

First of all, as always, make things as fat free as possible. Since I doubled it, I wanted to buy 32 oz. cottage cheese. But they only sold it in 24 oz. containers. I grabbed an 8 oz. can of ricotta and mixed the two together. The cottage cheese was fat free and the ricotta cheese was low fat.

I’ve never seen whole wheat jumbo shells, but if you can find them, use them!

Don’t like spinach? For vegetables, you could always leave them out of the filling and have broccoli on the side. Or, you can make them like my mom and cut up a steamed zucchini into small pieces and use that in the filling.

This dish will fulfill all your Italian cravings.



Chicken, broccoli and cheese casserole
June 11, 2008, 9:00 am
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Lately I’ve been having some issues with food that I haven’t quite resolved. My mom says it might be the heat; Christian’s worried it’s something psychological. Regardless, I’m discovering that in order to get my fill of nutrients, I need to lean back on things that I know I like.

One of those things is my mom’s hearty chicken, broccoli and cheese casserole. This is one of my favorite meals she makes, and when I started cooking for myself, this was one of the first recipes I asked her for. After the recipe, I give you my “fixes” to make it healthier and/or cheaper.

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Chicken, broccoli and cheese casserole
2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
10 oz. broccoli, cut into small pieces
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup mayonnaise
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 cups rice

Mix together mayonnaise, cream of mushroom soup, broccoli and cheese in bowl. Put chicken on bottom of 9×9 baking dish. Pour mixture on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until cheese begins to bubble on the surface. Serve over rice.

This isn’t a very complicated recipe, and from my previous quick fixes, you’ll probably guess what I have to say.

As always, use low-sodium, fat free cream of mushroom soup. You can also use cream of celery or cream of chicken, if that’s what you have in your cabinet.

Use reduced fat cheddar cheese.

I don’t really like brown rice, but that would make this considerably healthier than using white rice.

This is a delicious casserole that tastes great leftover.



Seven easy meal ideas
June 7, 2008, 9:00 am
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I enjoy taking a few hours to cook up something like fiesta chicken pasta or ricotta gnocchi, but sometimes there just isn’t time. Here are a few tried and true dishes – and you probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen. To make a more complete meal, use two or three of these ideas. Most of these ideas don’t require a whole lot of measuring, which is what makes them easy, I guess.

1. Stir-fry chicken
Hat tip on this one goes to my friend Emily, who used to eat only this almost every night. It’s not really stir-fry, but it is good. Just take a chicken breast and cut it into cubes. Melt some butter in a skillet or wok. Put the chicken in and cover for about 5 minutes. Uncover and add 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Cook, while stirring with wooden spoon, until the chicken starts to brown.

2. Garlic onion squash combo
I’m a big fan of zucchini squash and yellow squash, so this is one of my favorite veggie dishes. Chop up a yellow squash, a zucchini squash and an onion. Put all the vegetables in a skillet, then pour about 1/2-3/4 cup water in, depending on how many veggies you have. You don’t want the vegetables to be floating in water, but you want enough so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. As the vegetables cook, add some garlic powder, salt and pepper.

3. Spaghetti with a twist
I grew up eating spaghetti this way, and I still eat it at my apartment. While the spaghetti noodles are cooking, chop up zucchini squash into fourths, add a little water (see #2) and some garlic powder. When the spaghetti noodles are done, drain, return to pan, add some spaghetti sauce, then put the zucchini on top. Finish off with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese.

4. Veggie wrap
Take a large tortilla. Spread thin layer of hummus on one side of tortilla (or use an alternative “spread” that you like). Pile tortilla with veggies – I like red and green peppers, onions, lettuce, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers – you get the picture. Sprinkle (or pile) cheddar cheese on top. Fold in on opposite sides, then roll up. To make it even better, stick it in a panini maker or George Foreman grill until the cheese melts.

5. Red pepper “hamburgers”
Take a pound of ground turkey. Dice up an onion and some roasted red peppers. Mix in with ground turkey. Add in an egg, some pepper and a few squirts of Worcestshire sauce. Mix well and form into patties. Can be cooked on a George Foreman grill or in a skillet on the stove. (Note: You can also use regular ground beef.)

6. Vegetarian pizza
Take a pizza crust; it can either be pre-made or the kind you mix up yourself. Make the “sauce” with olive oil, oregano and garlic powder. Use brush to spread over pizza crust. Top with mozzarella cheese, onions, green peppers and mushrooms.

7. Baked macaroni and cheese
Hat tip to Emily again on this one. Cook up some noodles – Emily uses the “sea shell” kind, and it’s really good. Pour in 9×9 or 4×9 pan. Stir in as much cheddar cheese as you want. Then pour evaporated milk over the noodles and cheese until the milk reaches the top layer of noodles. Cook at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or so.

I hope these easy ideas make your dinnertime better for at least one night!



Chicken enchiladas
June 6, 2008, 9:00 am
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In an effort to give easy, yummy recipes to you all, I’m going to start posting some recipes/meal ideas that I’ve been making for the last couple of years. Some of these are stolen from my mom, so I’ll go ahead and give her a hat tip.

I don’t know where my mom got this recipe, but it quickly evolved into one of my favorites while I was in high school. Even though our family has a tradition of going out to eat on someone’s birthday, once I asked my mom if she would just make this for my birthday dinner instead. That’s how good it is.

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Chicken enchiladas
3 large chicken breasts, shredded (see below)
16 oz. sour cream
8 oz. monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 can cream of chicken
7 oz. diced green chiles (optional)
1 packet taco seasoning
8-10 10-inch tortillas or 12-15 6-inch tortillas (flour)

Cook chicken in skillet until cooked through. In bowl, use two forks to shred chicken (It’s easy! Just cut the chicken into smaller pieces, then turn the forks upside down and pull the pieces of chicken apart). Mix taco seasoning into chicken. Set aside.

In separate bowl, mix cream of chicken, sour cream and diced green chiles. Put heaping spoonful of this mixture in with chicken; mix.

In 13×9 inch pan, spread a thin layer of the mixture over the bottom.

Heat tortillas for 30 seconds in microwave. Put a couple of spoonfuls of chicken and a pinch of cheese on each tortilla. Roll tortillas up and place in pan.

Spread remaining mixture over the tops of tortillas, making sure to cover as much as possible (otherwise, the tortillas will turn really brown and crunchy).

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes, or until top layer starts to bubble. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the enchiladas and leave in oven until it melts.

Again, this is one of my favorite meals, even though it isn’t the healthiest dish. But there are ways to make it healthier.

First of all, you can use fat-free sour cream. In fact, I recommend using fat-free sour cream all the time! You’re never eating it by itself (’cause that would be gross), and you really can’t tell the difference. Especially in this recipe, the sour cream is contributing more to the texture than to the actual taste.

Another “cheat” is to find fat-free, low sodium cream of chicken soup. Just check the labels at the store until you find the healthiest one. Campbell’s has a “healthy choice” brand, but there are off-brands with the same nutritional content.

Use corn tortillas instead of flour. This is one shortcut I don’t like to taste, because I really don’t like corn tortillas that much. But for my roommate Katie, who hails from southern Texas, corn tortillas are preferred. Pick whichever one you like, but be willing to live with the consequences.

The final hint, and probably my least favorite, is to cut down on the cheese. You don’t have to put the cheese in the tortillas if you don’t want to. Another option is to use low-fat part-skim mozzarella cheese instead of monterey jack. It will change the taste a little, but you could also throw in some more diced chiles if you want to spice it up a bit.

Another great thing about this recipe is that it’s pretty much fail-proof. You can’t mess it up!

Enjoy!



Ricotta gnocchi
June 3, 2008, 3:00 pm
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I posted about making this a week or so ago, but never got around to sharing the recipe because I hadn’t tried it yet. Well, I tried it on Saturday, and, as Christian said, “It’s a keeper.”

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Ricotta gnocchi
8 oz. ricotta cheese (I used Sargento’s because I wanted the best quality, but off-brands should work)
2 eggs
1 c. flour
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese (I used the kind that comes in a can)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Mix together all ingredients except flour. Add flour last, stirring in a little at a time (You may need more than a cup). Divide dough into smaller pieces and roll into 1/2-inch thick ropes on a floured surface (like a cookie sheet). Cut each rope into 1-inch think pieces and place on lightly floured baking sheet. Boil in water until gnocchi float to the surface, then drain.

Again, I’ll give you my adjustments. First of all, I quadrupled the recipe because the cheapest ricotta cheese (unit price) came in a 32 oz. package. I don’t know how much flour I used by the end, because I just kept adding it until the dough wasn’t sticky. I found that when I was rolling out the pieces of dough, it really helped to stick my hands in flour first.

My ropes were thicker than 1/2-inch, and mine turned out fine. In fact, it’s surprising how quickly they boil. It took maybe 1-2 minutes.

Realize this is not an incredibly healthy meal, but at the same time, the gnocchi are really filling. Christian and I ate ours with some store-bought Ragu spaghetti sauce and a little bit of mozzarella cheese on top. It would pair well with zucchini or broccoli, and you won’t be able to eat as much as you think you will.

The great thing is you can freeze what you don’t eat. I have almost a gallon of frozen gnocchi in the freezer, just waiting for a day when I’m not counting calories.

Enjoy!



Fiesta chicken pasta
June 2, 2008, 11:39 am
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I decided it was about time to post something related to the “good eats” part of my blog title, so here goes:

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Fiesta chicken pasta

2 cups rotini pasta
2 chicken breasts, cubed
2 red or green bell peppers, chopped
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Zesty Italian dressing
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Cook pasta according to instructions. In skillet, cook chicken in oil for about 6 minutes. Add peppers, chili powder and dressing. Cook until chicken is cooked through. Stir in salsa and sour cream. Mix in pasta. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

That’s the basic recipe. I made a few alterations, and you could do even more depending on how healthy you want this meal to be.

First of all, you can use fat-free Zesty Italian salad dressing and fat-free sour cream. Seriously, this doesn’t change the taste of the recipe at all, and really cuts down on fat content.

Secondly, you can use whole wheat pasta (it doesn’t have to be rotini, but I don’t think spaghetti-ish pasta would work too well).

Finally, you can go easy on the cheese. When I made it this morning, I was making it to put in tupperware so Christian and I have dinner for the next couple of days. After spooning it into tupperware, I just shredded cheese a little at a time in order to see how much I would need to lightly cover the top of the pasta. I doubled the rest of the recipe, but still only used about 1/2 cup cheese.

I also added some diced jalapenos into the recipe, because I really like spicy foods.

This isn’t a gourmet recipe, but the bite I tasted when it was done was really good, and it seems like it will work well as leftovers.

Enjoy!