Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cabonara Mac'n'Cheese

Not only is it deceptively cold outside, everyone I know is getting sick. A couple of weeks ago, the Bear was sick. This week and last, my fellow colleagues are dropping like flies with all sorts of nasty. I am washing my hands like I have OCD and maintaining my winter homeopathic vitamin regiment hoping that I don't fall pray to any of the nasty. Since this is primarily a food blog, I won't discuss anymore. That is not very appetizing. If you are cold or recovering from any sort of nasty, you may enjoy this...

Oh yea, that is bacon you see. Mmm....bacon. I got the idea for this recipe from my husband's Cabonara Style Hot Pockets. He informed me that they are only available for a limited time, but he did finish the box just so the flavors would not conflict with my Cabonara Mac'n'Cheese. Oh the Bearness. Such an informed consumer. I cannot enjoy Hot Pockets anymore. Really, I'm solidly okay with that.

This recipe contains components of a cabonara style pasta dish, without the egg, butter, and added calories. To keep the recipe nice and creamy, I substituted 1/3 less fat cream cheese for the butter and eggs. I kept the bacon, but used a leaner center cut bacon instead. Full of creamy, bacony, comforting goodness this recipe can be made ahead and enjoyed on a weeknight when you are seeking healthier comfort food.

Cabonara Mac'n'Cheese

2 cups dried brown rice penne noodles
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 slices center cut bacon, chopped
1 yellow or white onion, chopped
1 cup 2% shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese
2 cloves pressed garlic
2 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Spray a 9' x 13' baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the pasta, peas, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese. Set aside.

Heat a medium sized sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the bacon begins to brown and crisp a little. Add the onions. Cook another 4-5 minutes or until the onions begin to look translucent in color. Add the milk, garlic, and cream cheese. Whisk until smooth. Poor the milk mixture over the pasta and stir to combine. Pour the mixture (it will be soupy) into the baking dish. Cover and store in your refrigerator until you are ready to bake and serve. When you are ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, let the pasta sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Then, cover the dish with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BBQ Black Bean & Cheese Burritos

The Bear recently complained that my "meatless Mondays" were no fun because it typically means "meatless Monday and Tuesday. This is due to the fact that I usually serve leftovers on Tuesday nights. I simply replied that meatless Mondays are saving us some money. Saving money always makes my husband happy. Then he tried these burritos.

Sure they are not nearly as earth shattering as the BBQ Smoked Turkey Enchiladas I made back in November. Those are pretty hard to beat and as soon as I can get Justin to smoke another turkey, I will be on it like blue bonnet. For now, I've got black beans to work with. To my husband's surprise, my BBQ Black Bean & Cheese Burritos were great for a "meatless Monday" (and Tuesday) meal. 

These burritos are stuffed with the perfect amount of cheese and a smoky bean combination. In place of traditional flour tortillas, I used brown rice and flax seed tortillas to take the gluten out and leave the nutrition in. If you are looking for a vegetarian meal you can easily make ahead, you may want to try these burritos!

BBQ Black Bean & Cheese Burritos

1 yellow or white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
2 cups (one can) black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded 2% cheddar cheese
6 gluten-free wraps (such as Sandwich Petals)

Spray a 9' x 9' casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes or until the onion begins to turn translucent in color. Add the garlic, beans, water, paprika, cumin, and BBQ sauce. Cook for another 5-6 minutes or until the mixture begins to simmer and thicken. Remove from heat. With a potato masher or the back of a large spook, mash some of the bean mixture and stir to thicken. Set aside.

On a microwave safe plate, heat your wraps for 30-40 seconds or until they are pliable. Fill one tortilla with 1/2 cup of the bean mixture and 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Place seam side down in the casserole dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Sprinkle the tops of the burritos with the remaining cheese. At this point you can cover and store until you are ready to bake them. When you are ready to bake them, let the dish stand at room temperature for 10 minutes while the oven preheats at 350 degrees. Then, bake in the oven uncovered for 20 minutes or until the cheese begins to melt and bubble on the top.

* Noteworthy tips: To make the Corn Slaw you can click on the words for the link. Also, I used dried black beans that I soaked over night. Then, I boiled the beans for 20 minutes to soften the beans. I've been using bagged beans because they were cheaper than canned beans at the grocery store. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Inside My Crock Pot

This is the little gem of a healthy dinner that simmered away while I was cleaning...

For some odd reason, I thought it might be fun to take the picture with minimal styling straight from the Crock Pot itself. There was about a 45 minute window today where the sun was shining perfectly. I stopped cleaning for a moment to snatch the opportunity. This meal was incredibly easy to put together and freed up my time to clean my house. Filled with a plethora of vegetables available throughout the winter months, this dish will warm the heart and soul when it is somewhat dreary outside.

Herb Chicken with Winter Vegetables

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup sherry cooking wine
1 lb. baby red skinned potatoes, cut into quarters
1 cup baby carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 small parsnip, peeled and chopped
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
1 small yellow or white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
Salt & pepper to taste

Place chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. In a small dish, mix together the corn starch, paprika, oregano, thyme, salt, and garlic powder until combine. Pour spice mixture into the bag, seal, and shake until the chicken is evenly coated. Place chicken and all remaining ingredients in your slow cooker. Stir to combine. Throw the plastic bag away. Cover your slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours. Add any additional salt and pepper to your liking before serving. This is a one pot meal!

Chicken, Bean, & Bacon Burrito Bowls

Over the weekend, the Bear and I went out for a nice date night at Blanc Burgers & Bottles. I was thrilled to discover that they had vamped up their gluten-free buns. It had been quite a while since we last dined there. Last time, we ate at the restaurant on the Plaza. I think I like the one down in Leawood is a little bit better, so I suggested we go there. The Bear agreed that this time was a lot better. I had the Chicken Capri burger. The Bear had the Burger Melt. Our meals were outstanding; however, it was very crowded with noisy kids. Not that we don't enjoy kids, just not screaming kids while we are out on a date. We could have gone out again, but Saturday we stayed home.

One of the benefits of cooking at home is that you know exactly what you are putting into your food. And, we don't have any screaming kiddos to worry about, yet anyway. This meal is defiantly restaurant quality that you can make in the comfort of your own home.

Chicken, Bean, & Bacon Burrito Bowls

For the rice:
1 cup brown rice
2 1/2 cups water
Zest of one lime
Juice of 1/2 of the lime
1/4 cup cilantro

For the chicken & beans:
2 slices center cut bacon
1 yellow or white onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 4 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 14.5. oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup shredded 2% cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons cilantro

To make the rice: bring 2 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add the rice. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until all of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the lime zest, juice, and cilantro. Fluff with a fork until combined and set aside.

To make the chicken & beans: heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add the onion, bell pepper, and chicken. Cook for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans, tomatoes, and spices. Stir and cook until the tomato juices begin to thicken. Remove from heat. Serve over rice and top with cheese and cilantro.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sunny Saturday Menu Post

Good afternoon everyone! What a lovely Saturday it is today. I am so happy the meeting I had to voluntarily attend let out early enough to grab a quick lunch, come home, and enjoy the rest of my day. Now I am looking forward to spending the day grocery shopping and cooking my Chicken, Bacon, and Bean Burrito Bowls later this evening. I feel so productive since I had to get up at 6:00 this morning. Maybe it isn't so bad to not sleep in on a Saturday?

This week's menu is kind of eclectic. A lot of the ideas I formulated very early in the mornings Tuesday and Wednesday when I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. I didn't want to think about school so I thought about this dear, sweet blog. Here are my insomniac induced ideas- It has been quite some time since we used up all of our leftover Sven turkey, but I am kind of craving those BBQ Smoked Turkey Enchiladas. Then I thought, wouldn't it be fun to create a vegetarian twist with some black beans? And, because I can't get enough mac'n'cheese in my life, I've come up with another make ahead spin with a cabonara style mac'n'cheese. It should be a fun week filled with recipe experimentation! Here is the rundown:

Sunday 1/27          Herb Chicken with Winter Vegetables

Monday 1/28        BBQ Black Bean & Cheese Burritos with Corn Slaw

Tuesday 1/29        Leftovers

Wednesday 1/30   Cabonara Mac'n'Cheese with Salad

Thursday 1/31       Leftovers

Friday 2/1 or         Braised Beef with Mashed Potatoes & Green Beans
Saturday 2/2

Groceries you will need:

1 lb. boneless beef short ribs
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 package center cut bacon (if you do not have any leftover from last week's menu post)
1 avocado
1 red pepper
1-2 oranges
1 large sweet potato
2 lbs. red potatoes
4 yellow or white onions
1 bulb garlic (if you do not have any from previous posts)
1 parsnip
1 bag baby carrots
1 bunch celery
1 bunch green onions
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley
1 bag angel hair cut cabbage
1 bag mixed greens
1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce
1 package gluten-free wraps (such as Sandwich Petals)
1 package gluten-free elbow noodles
1 bag black beans or 1 can black beans
1 box reduced sodium chicken broth
1 box reduced sodium beef broth
1 can tomato paste (if you do not have any from previous posts)
1 bag frozen corn
1 bag frozen peas
1 bag frozen green beans
1/2 gallon 2% milk
1 container light or fat-free sour cream
1 package shredded 2% mozzarella cheese
1 container grated Parmesan cheese
1 package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot

Pantry items you will need:

Sherry cooking wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Granulated sugar
Corn starch
Rice wine vinegar
Ground cumin
Chili powder
Smoked paprika
Dried thyme

* Noteworthy tips:  I will most likely prepare both the burritos and mac'n'cheese over the weekend, cover, and store in the fridge until I am ready to bake and serve them. As always, all veggies will be washed, chopped, and stored as soon as I get home from the grocery store to save me extra time. Have a great weekend!


Friday, January 25, 2013

Slow Cooker Black Bean & Quinoa Soup

Well, I finally got the real definition of "craptastic" from the source. In case you were wondering, craptastic is a description of when you have a really crappy day, but you want to use a "nicer" way of saying it. Yup, that is from the second grader herself. The last few days have not been totally crappy, but more on the craptastic side. I am really glad I had this soup to fuel me through dinners Wednesday and Thursday night, as well as lunch today. The flu bug has hit our school. Lots of people have been out, which makes for a pretty craptastic experience for a special education teacher such as myself. Kids are off their schedules, I am trying to fill in the gaps, all while trying to teach, grade papers, test kiddos, plan for next week, complete paperwork, and hope that I don't get the flu myself. That would be even more craptastic. It is really just fun and makes me laugh to say it. Hee, hee! Craptastic!

Just when you thought black been soup couldn't get any healthier, Sara Nickel swags it up another level with the addition of quinoa. Spicy, smoky, and absolutely vegetarian this soup is a wonderful way to get the nutrients you need to fuel yourself through a cold winter's day. I am very proud of this soup if I do not say so myself.

Slow Cooker Black Bean & Quinoa Soup

1 cup dried black beans (rinsed & soaked overnight)
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 14.5 oz. can no salt added diced tomatoes
1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup carrots, finely chopped
1/3 cup celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 chipotle peppers, canned in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup dried quinoa
Sour cream, cheese, cilantro, and avocado for garnish if desired

Place all ingredients to quinoa in your slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on high for 6-7 hours stirring every so often so the beans do not get stuck to the bottom of your slow cooker. Add the quinoa and stir. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the quinoa has softened. Garnish with sour cream, cheese, cilantro, or avocado if you wish before serving.

* Noteworthy tips: To soak the black beans, simply place the black beans in a large bowl and cover with water. Let the beans soak overnight or until you are ready to cook them. I made this soup over the weekend. It actually gets better over time.

To make the baked tortilla chips, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Cut the tortillas into wedges using a pizza cutter or knife. Place on the baking sheet. Spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops begin to brown. Flip and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until browned on the other side. Super easy and fewer calories than chips from the bag!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Make Ahead Sun Dried Tomato Mac'n'Cheese

I love, love, love this recipe because I didn't have to re-invent the wheel. You see, when you have a blog mostly dedicated to food and menu planning it can get a little tough coming up with new ideas. Especially last week when I was in my little recipe rut. I thought to myself, "Why are you making this so hard on yourself? Don't beat yourself up or stress, Sara. You can do this!" So, I started looking at some of my old favorites from last year. Rarely do I go back and make the same thing again. This recipe is sort of the same recipe as my Broccoli Penne Mac, but with a fun twist- sun dried tomatoes!

Tomatoes are not that great this time of year, but I absolutely love them. Sun dried tomatoes are all of the tastes of a summer tomato concentrated into one small, condensed raisin-like tomato. Here, I served the broccoli on the side and was able to sneak in even more veggies to our meal by replacing the broccoli in the mac with sun dried tomatoes. The result was fantabulous! I know, not really a word. It is a word I made up with my students by combining the words "fantastic" and "fabulous." It is really catchy. So catchy, that one of the students in second grade told her teacher that her mom came up with a word for when a "crappy" day doesn't turn out so bad after all- "craptastic." This recipe is not "craptastic" in any sort of the word because it was never "crappy" to begin with. Unless you didn't like broccoli to begin with:) Instead, it is fantabulous!

Make Ahead Sun Dried Tomato Mac'n'Cheese
inspired by my Broccoli Penne Mac

1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow or white onion, chopped
2 cups 2% milk
1 cup shredded 2% cheddar cheese
8 oz. 2% Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
2 cups brown rice elbow noodles
1/2 cups diced sun dried tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
More whole sun dried tomatoes to top and garnish if desired

Spray a 9' x 13' baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onion becomes translucent. Pour in the milk and cheeses. Stir constantly until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Toss the noodles and tomatoes together in a large mixing bowl. Add the cheese mixture, stir until evenly coated (the mixture will be soupy), and pour into the casserole dish. Cover and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake and serve. When you are ready to bake, remove the dish from the refrigerator and let set at room temperature for at least 15 minutes while your oven preheats at 350 degrees. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly in the middle. Give the pasta a little stir before serving and enjoy!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Roasted Chicken, Beet, & Cranberry Salad

Happy MLK Day to you all! Regardless of whether or not you have the day off, I hope this day finds you relaxing and doing well. It is also an exciting day with all of the inauguration festivities on T.V. Oh, what it would be like to be in Washington D.C. today! Maybe someday I will get to go. Although, I think cherry blossom season might be more my sort of weather.

Last night was an evening filled with a powerhouse of super foods. I've been working really hard to clean up my eats lately. While I have not lost much weight, I am feeling really, really good. Not only have I been waking up with more energy, I've been sleeping better, and feel more alert. I guess "invigorated" might be the word I am looking for. I usually get a little depressed during the winter months. This winter, I really wanted to curb that "blah" feeling as my overall resolution is to love myself more and feel happier. When I make sure I get plenty of rest and eat well, it helps. This salad, definitely does the trick.

Colorful, flavorful, and packed with powerful antioxidants and vitamins this salad is worth making. The dressing includes the perfect amount of healthy fat and doubles as a marinade for the chicken. Do not fear the beets my friends! Roasting the beets brings out the sweetest, best flavors. Pair with my Herb Goat Cheese Toast and you've got a very healthy, tasty entree.

Roasted Chicken, Beet, & Cranberry Salad

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons low sodium chicken broth
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 squeeze fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 pinch herbs de Provence
1/8 teaspoon xanthum gum
Salt & pepper to taste

For the chicken:
4 4 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons balsamic dressing mix (see above)
Salt & pepper to taste

For the salad:
4 roasted and sliced beets (see directions for roasting below)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 bag cleaned, organic mixed greens
4 4 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped (see ingredients above, preparation below)
Balsamic dressing (see above)

Mix all ingredients for the dressing together in a blender until smooth. Set aside for a few minutes so the xanthum gum has time to thicken and bind the ingredients together.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and pat your chicken breast dry. Place in a large resealable plastic bag. Add 2 tablespoons of the dressing mixture, seal, shake the bag until the chicken is coated, and let the chicken marinade for 15 minutes. Spray a 9' x 9' baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place the chicken and marinade in the dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until a meat thermometer stuck in the middle of one of the breasts reads 165 degrees. Remove from the oven. Let cool for 5-10 minutes or until you can handle and cut the meat.

To prepare the beets, trim the ends of the beets with a pairing knife. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the outer skin off the beets. While the chicken is roasting, roast the beets on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray for 20-30 minutes or until the beets begin to caramelize and darken in color. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes until ready to slice.

To assemble the salad, plate the mixed greens or place in a large salad bowl. Top with the beets, cranberries, chicken, and salad dressing before serving.

* Noteworthy tips: I know I originally said to buy golden beets, but alas there were none to be had. I went to three different grocery stores. I guess beets are becoming more popular. I had hoped to use golden beets, as they do not stain as bad as the red variety. I did not mind my fingers turning a little pink from trimming and skinning them though. The color actually made me kind of giddy and washed right off my hands with a little soap. About the dressing, I know I originally did not have xanthum gum on the list. Xanthum gum is a gluten-free thickener packed with good bacteria which eats natural sugars in foods. Thus turning into a more complex carbohydrate. While it is a little pricey, a little bit will goes a long way in recipes and lasts forever. If you do not have any xanthum gum handy, just omit 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the chicken broth.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sneaking Veggies in Menu Post

Good morning to you all! Apologies for falling off the face of the blogosphere this past week. The past two weeks have been a little hectic. After years of hard work in the field of special education, my dedication has paid off. I was nominated by my building peers for teacher of the year! I am so honored, but at the same time have been putting some of my writing energy into the application process for the district wide teacher of the year process. I sort of had a case of writer's block combined with a lack of recipe creativity when it came to this dear, sweet blog. So, I took a technology break from Facebook, Pinterest, and blogging. It helped. Over the week, ideas streamed in and I am back at it with an awesome menu to share this week!

This week's menu is a combination of all my sneaky ways I get the Bear to eat more vegetables. When Justin and I first started dating, he was not the biggest veggie eater. He was pretty much disgusted when I would plan a meal which included either salad, veggies sticks, or veggie side dishes that did not come from a can. I decided I needed to be stealth like. Instead of jumping into the pool, I needed to ease him in and also add more flavor to our dishes. Over the eight years we've been together, it worked. I can now serve what he used to call "girly" salad as an entree. I learned that it is all in how I prepare and bring out the best flavors in my veg and combine it with all the manly things he loves. For example, he hates beets. I was not the biggest fan either; however, I had only tried beets pickled or canned. When you roast a fresh beet, it reduces some of the earthy flavor which turned us away from beets. The sugars condense and bring out the best flavors of this earthly super food. Combine with some kind of manly protein and ta da! Now days we love beets in dishes such as my Roasted Chicken, Cranberry, and Beet Salad which is included in this week's menu. I am so excited to share! Here is the rundown:

Sunday 1/20          Roasted Chicken, Cranberry, & Beet Salad with Herb Cheese Toast

Monday 1/21         Make Ahead Sun Dried Tomato Mac'n'Cheese with Lemony Roasted Broccoli

Tuesday 1/22         Leftovers

Wednesday 1/23    Slow Cooker Black Bean & Quinoa Soup with Baked Tortilla Chips & Guacamole

Thursday 1/24        Leftovers

Friday 1/25 or        Chicken, Bean, & Bacon Burrito Bowls
Saturday 1/26  

Groceries you will need include:

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 package center cut bacon
1 bag baby carrots
1 bunch celery
1 red pepper
1 lemon
1 lime
1 bunch broccoli
3 yellow or white onions
2 shallots
1 bunch cilantro
1 bulb garlic (if you do not have any from previous lists)
1 bunch golden beets (these usually come in bunches of 3-4)
1 bag spinach
1 bag lettuce mix (such as spring greens)
1 package prepared guacamole (such as Wholy Quacamole)
1 bag sun dried tomatoes or 1 jar packed in water
1 bag dried cranberries
1 bag quinoa (if you are buying from any bulk bins, you will need 1 cup)
1 bag black beans
1 bag pinto beans
1 bag brown rice (if you do not have any in your pantry from previous lists)
2 cans no salt added diced tomatoes
1 can chipolte peppers (if you do not have any stored away in the freezer from previous lists)
1 box reduced sodium chicken broth
1 bag or box gluten-free elbow noodles
1 bag gluten-free ciabatta rolls (such as Schar brand)
1 bag corn tortillas
4 oz. goat cheese (or 1/3 less fat cream cheese if you are not a fan of goat cheese)
2 bags shredded 2% cheddar cheese
1 brick 2% Velveeta cheese
1 quart 2% milk
Unsalted butter (if you do not have any from previous lists)

Pantry items you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Poultry seasoning
Dried Italian herbs or herbs de Provence
Ground cumin
Chili powder
Cayenne pepper

* Tips to get you started and prepping: To give you all a head start on this week's preparation, I wanted to include a few notes. When I get home from the grocery store I wash all of my veggies, chop, and store them in resealable containers or plastic baggies so they are ready to use throughout the week. Onions, I chop, bag, and store in resealable containers so they do not stink up my refrigerator. For the beets, I will wash, trim, and peal them with a veggie peeler. Then roast the beets at 350 degrees in the oven for 30-40 minutes. After letting them cool, I will slice them and store them until I am ready to assemble the salad. Any leftover salad will be used for my lunches throughout the week and tossed with some extra quinoa I plan to prepare to add an a whole grain to my lunch. I plan to prepare all of my bagged beans over the weekend by giving them an overnight soak. The pinto beans will be boiled and stored in my fridge so they are ready for Friday night's meal. The black beans will be soaked overnight and then cooked in the soup which will be prepared this weekend in my slow cooker. The mac'n'cheese will be prepared as well, so all I have to do on Monday is pop it in the oven. I hope this helps you get started! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chicken with Roasted Tomato Sauce over Zucchini

Guess what? I have a recipe that uses more veggie noodles! Yes, I just can't stop making zucchini noodles with my Christmas gadget. They are just so pretty and a great alternative to grain noodles. I get giddy every time I make them. Guess what else? The chicken and sauce simmered away in my Crock Pot. I first bought the ripest tomatoes I could find in the grocery store. I used cocktail tomatoes. Cocktail tomatoes are a little bigger than a cherry tomato, but not as big as a regular tomato. I then heated my oven to 350, cut the tomatoes in half, and roasted them for an hour to intensify the tomato flavor. Roasted tomatoes are so tasty in sauces, salads, sandwiches, dips, or even all by themselves. I love them when tomatoes are not in season and I want that summer tomato taste.

Slow roasted tomatoes simmer away with lean chicken breast, garlic, onion, and herbs. Use as a pasta sauce or with zucchini noodles for a satisfying, healthy meal you can feel good about.

Chicken with Roasted Tomato Sauce over Zucchini

1 cup chicken broth
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 lb. roasted tomatoes
3 tablespoon tomato paste
1 lb. chicken breast, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 large zucchini, spiralized or sliced

Place the chicken broth, onion, garlic, roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken, herbs, salt, and pepper into a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through. Turn off the cooker and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add the zucchini. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes or until the zucchini begins to soften. Remove from heat. Top and serve with the chicken and roasted tomato sauce.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Slow Cooker Chicken & Date Tagine

This recipe was so incredibly easy I could cry. Okay, not really cry, but I did a lot of multitasking while the chicken and rice simmered away in my Crock Pot. This was a good thing as I did make it to the gym for my first yoga class in months. Little did I know that this particular yoga class was a "hot" yoga class (85 degrees to be exact) and was a level II or III vinyasa class. Yoga kicked my butt a little. I needed an easy meal. It also made the kitchen smell heavenly.

Justin originally made fun of me when I said we needed to buy dates. He said, "Who are you? My grandma Dorthy?" He then proceeded to ask me while we were checking out if I needed any bridge mix or hard candies. Never a dull shopping experience with the Nickels:) Anyhow, as I said before this recipe is incredibly easy. Sweet dates simmer with whole grain brown rice, Moroccan spices, and boneless skinless chicken thighs. To freshen the dish up after cooking, I topped the dish with slivered almonds and cilantro. My Slow Cooker Chicken & Date Tagine will surely warm you up on a chilly winter night.

Slow Cooker Chicken & Date Tagine
adapted from Williams Sonoma One Pot of the Day

1 cup whole grain brown rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Freshly chopped cilantro for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in your slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid. Top with almonds and cilantro before serving.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Scrambled Tofu Enchiladas

I've been a power house in the kitchen today! Breakfast for the week, done. Lunch for the week, done. Dinners for a majority of the week, done. Photos for future posting throughout the week, done. I've also prepped a few things and froze them for next week's menu. With grocery prices slowly on the incline, I've been finding it helpful to stretch my ingredients such as meat by bulking up on veggies in my recipes. For example, the Italian turkey sausage I bought came in a 16 oz. tube. I went ahead and cooked the entire tube, but split half for this week's pizza which is also topped with peppers and fennel, and am storing the other half for next week since we will be out of town over the weekend. Same with some of my chicken. I cut two of the four breasts into bite size pieces for the roasted tomato and zucchini dish and froze the other two for next week. It just makes sense, saves us money, and me a lot of time.

Since I've been such a power house today, I thought it might be fun to share a bonus recipe with you all. Over the holiday break, I stumbled upon a tofu scramble. I made it last week for my morning eats. It was pretty good, but I thought I could elevate it by turning it into breakfast enchiladas. I am not one who really eats a lot of sweets in the morning. Plus, cereal never fills me up and yogurt makes me feel empty by 9:00 a.m. I usually make some sort of egg casserole, but I'm kind of maxed out on egg casserole for now. I think this Scrambled Tofu Enchilada recipe will do the trick. Not to mention that my breakfast is ready for the entire week.

Green pepper, onion, zucchini, and black beans are scrambled with tofu seasoned with a southwestern kick. I then wrapped the scramble in stone ground corn tortillas and topped with enchilada sauce and mild cheddar cheese. It is a breakfast worth shouting ole!

Scrambled Tofu Enchiladas
adapted from Bon Appetite's Tofu Scramble

1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14 oz. block extra-firm lite tofu
4 tablespoons taco seasoning (I used Penzy's)
12 stone ground corn tortillas
1 28 oz. can enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso as it is wheat free)
1 cup shredded 2% cheddar cheese

Place the tofu on a plate lined with two layers of paper towels to absorb excess liquid. Using a fork, smash the tofu. Let set for a few minutes so the paper towels can absorb more of the liquid.

While the tofu is draining, heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add the onion and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened (about 3-4 minutes). Add the beans, tofu, and taco seasoning. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9' x 13' casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. Place the tortillas on a plate. Cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 2 minutes or until the tortillas are pliable enough in which to work. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the tofu scramble onto a tortilla. Wrap and place seam side down in the casserole dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Pour the enchilada sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle the cheese over the enchiladas and bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 6 servings, 2 enchiladas a piece.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Smoky Bean & Soyrizo Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Gah! The dark of winter nights is upon us! Thus, I have lost my natural light for photos unless I want prepare my food at 3:00 p.m. I've heard about light boxes, but I'm just not ready to endeavor on that mission. I'm still trying to keep things pretty photographically organic around here at A Nickel's Worth of News. It is just turning out to be a lot of work to make sample plates on the weekends between the hours of 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. That is not going to happen. Well it was happening for a while and the pictures were great, but that isn't real life in the kitchen. Here is what real life looks like at 6:07 p.m. on a Saturday night...

Pretty appetizing, bright, but not as good as some of my other photos. Sure I dressed her up to make it a good picture, but it is all about the lighting. I'm not going to beat myself up over it anymore. This little spud was darn tasty and very healthy for a weekend meal. It was also a revamp of a previous post back in May for my Smoky Bean & Soyrizo Burritos. I took the bean mixture, which is similar to a vegetarian chili, and stuffed my sweet potatoes. Top it off with a cool dollop of light sour cream and green onions and you've got a healthy meal that no one would suspect is all that healthy. Top notch, top notch.

Smoky Bean & Soyrizo Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

4 small sweet potatoes
2 cans great northern beans, drained & rinsed
1 link soyrizo, casing removed
1 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cidar vinegar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prick each sweet potato with a fork and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake the sweet potatoes for 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of your sweet potatoes.

Meanwhile, heat a large soup pot over low heat. Combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to a gentle simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, over low heat until the potatoes are done baking. When you are ready to serve, take the potatoes out of the oven. Split each potato in half and top with the bean mixture. Garnish with cheese, sour cream, and green onions or other baked potato toppings if desired.

Saturday Menu Post

Before we enjoy the final recipe of the week, I wanted to get the weekly menu post up since it has been in my purse for the last few hours. I was not able to locate soyrizo at any of the grocery stores near my house. So, I scribbled down a quick menu of recipes I've been wanting to experiment with, made a grocery list, including last week's soyrizo item, and headed out to good old Trader Joe's. Low and behold, I found my soyrizo to be able to complete the stuffed sweet potatoes. Great success!

This week's menu uses a lot of chicken; however, one recipe I hope to make uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The other boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I figure with the use of two different cuts, there will be enough variety that we won't get sick of chicken. Which I've done a lot in the past. I'm also not worried about using the darker side of the bird. Dark meat, once frowned upon, actually has some great health benefits when you remove the skin and bones. Recent studies from the department of agriculture have found that their are nutrients in dark poultry meat that actually might provide protection from heart disease. Dark meat also contains more B-vitamins and minerals than its white counterpart. Fascinating right? Anyway, here is the rundown:

Sunday 1/6          Slow Cooker Chicken & Date Tagine with Brown Rice & Green Beans

Monday 1/7         Leftovers

Tuesday 1/8         Chicken with Roasted Tomato Sauce over Zucchini Noodles

Wednesday 1/9    Leftovers

Thursday 1/10      Sausage, Fennel, & Pepper Gluten-Free Pizza with Salad

I am not planning on any recipes for the weekend, as we will be out of town to visit my sister in Omaha:) So looking forward to some great shopping! Here are the grocery and pantry items you will need:

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 oz. Italian turkey sausage
1 bag lettuce mix
2-3 zucchini
1 bulb fennel
1 lb. roma or cocktail tomatoes
2 yellow or white onions
1 bulb garlic (if you do not have any from previous grocery visits)
1 box chicken broth (check ingredients for gluten free brands)
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 jar capers
1 bag dates
1 bag slivered almonds
Rapid rise yeast
1 bag 2% mozzarella cheese
1 bag frozen green beans

Pantry items you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar
Gluten-free flour blend (I use Cup 4 Cup or Domata with the xanthum gum included)
Granulated sugar
Cayenne pepper
Dried Italian herbs or herbs de Provence
Dried minced onion
Garlic powder

Happy shopping to you all! Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Chicken Tomato Hot Pot

I am very proud to say, I made it to the gym on a Friday after work. I'm not sure that has ever happened during my entire career. Ever. Lately, I've been feeling a little guilty about my lack of gym attendance. But, what is one to do when you are given doctors orders not to exercise for 4-6 weeks? Last week I was finally feeling back to my old self, but knew I needed to take exercising pretty slow. So, I've just made it my goal for the last two weeks to get to the gym at least 3-4 times per week and walk. It has been just enough of a workout and I've been able to commit to it. That is pretty big. Next week, I plan to continue walking and add a little bit of gentle yoga. Good, good things my friends. Good chillaxing, positive things.

The last two evenings have been a little chilly, so I am very pleased I made this Chicken Tomato Hot Pot. In place of pasta noodles, I used whole grain brown rice. One of the hardest parts of going on a gluten-free diet is figuring out how to get whole grains into your diet since a majority of the population obtains their's from wheat based products. While some pastas claim to have used whole grains, they have been processed in some form or another. Lately, I have been trying my best to eat fewer processed foods. This dish was a pretty good recipe of unprocessed meets comfort food since it has been kind of chilly here in K.C. We were pretty happy with the results. Who doesn't love a good meatball? (I say that with my best, eh hem, my worst Italian accent.)

Chicken Tomato Hot Pot

8 oz. ground chicken
1 yellow or white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup jarred marinara sauce
1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
1 cup whole grain brown rice
More salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground chicken, onion, garlic, parsley, cornmeal, salt, and pepper with your hands. Chill for 10 minutes to let the cornmeal bind the chicken together. While the chicken mixture chills, mix the chicken broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, marinara sauce, and herbs together in a large soup pot. Bring the tomato mixture to a simmer. Add the rice to the tomato mixture. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken mixture from the fridge. Shape into balls and carefully spoon into the tomato and rice. Simmer for another 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Very Veggie Pad Thai

Why hello there 2013. Yesterday, I was a little on the negative side. After my feelings purge on the blog, I saddled up on my unicorn and started to think about everything I am grateful for and how freakin' strong I am. Yes 2012, I kicked your ass. I may have almost burnt out, I may have been hit by a car, I may have been cut open, but I survived. So, I welcome you 2013 with the quest for happiness and making that little flame inside of me not just flicker, but freakin' beam.

Whew! Enough with the feelings stuff. Now on to ways I am working towards my pursuit for radiating positivity. Like I had said yesterday, I've let stress pack on a few lbs. this past year. I know one sure fire way to feel better about my outlook is to eat the best that I can, exercise, and get rid of those stupid stress pounds. Adding more veggies to your diet is an easy way to do so. Plus, doesn't the color of this dish just make you smile?

I love my new veggie spiralizer so much I could just scream. Look at how lovely and curly my girly veggie noodles are! My vision was to make a vegetarian, winterized version of my Grilled Chicken Thai Salad. I had to make a few modifications due to lack of ingredients at my local grocery store from this week's shopping list. I had originally planned on adding bean sprouts, tamarind paste or sauce, and neglected to add pad thai noodles to the list. I did have some Chinese rice noodles on hand, but if you would like to totally omit grain based noodles in this recipe you can. And, if you don't have a veggie spiralizer simply chop your veggies into matchstick or julienne style pieces. Regardless, I do not think you will be disappointed in this recipe. Start your health kick off right with this dish. It will make you feel and radiate positive energy!

Very Veggie Pad Thai

4 oz. rice noodles
1 sweet potato, spiralized or julienne
1 zucchini, spiralized or julienne
1 beet, spiralized or julienne
1 cup light coconut milk
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon sriracha sauce or chili paste with garlic
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
Zest of one lime
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped mint
1/4 cup peanuts
1/4 cup green onions

Boil rice noodles according to package directions, drain, place in a dish, and set aside. Bring a large non-stick skillet to medium-high heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add the sweet potato and zucchini. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes or until the veggies begin to soften. Remove from heat. Place the sweet potato and zucchini in the same dish you placed the noodles in. Place the skillet back on the stove top and spray again with non-stick cooking spray. Add the beet. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes or until the beet begins to soften a little. Place the beet in a separate dish from the noodles, sweet potato, and zucchini so the beet does not stain the other veggies. In another medium sized dish, combine the coconut milk, soy sauce, ginger, sriracha, sesame oil, lime juice, lime zest, cilantro, and mint together. Pour half of the mixture over the rice noodle mixture. Toss until the noodles and veggies are coated. When you are ready to plate the dish, place 1 cup of the rice noodle mixture onto your plate. Top with the beets. Drizzle on more of the sauce and garnish with peanuts and green onions. This dish can be served warm or chilled.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Steak Topper

Happy New Year to everyone! I can hardly believe it is 2013. We had a quiet New Year's Eve at home as it snowed a majority of the day yesterday causing for some unfavorable driving conditions. I saw a lot of salt and sand on the roads, but never did hear the snow plows. I did make it out to the gym and completed my incline challenge, did some shopping at Super Target, and Old Navy; however, by late afternoon we decided to have a quiet night in. It was nice, cozy, and uneventful. Which is fine by me. After last year's drama with the car accident last January, our discoveries with our fertility issues, and topping the year end with more car issues my saying for this year is "a drama free 2013." Sure some excitement will be okay, but I am manifesting a more positive outlook in hopes that there are fewer financial setbacks, injuries, and stress.

Speaking of stress, which is a topic I don't dwell too much on in my happy little blogosphere, one of my New Year's resolutions is to hopefully stress less and love myself more. When you are dealing with life's daily stress topped with the fact that your body is not doing what comes naturally for most (i.e. having a baby), it makes it increasingly more difficult to believe in yourself. I am not an incredibly self-loathing person; however, this past year I've battled with myself, gained weight, and feel kind of in limbo as to where life is taking me. This is due to how I am dealing with daily demons and stress. I internalize A LOT. It is time for me to cut this crap out, saddle up on my unicorn, and shine. I've got a lot going for me, I'm grateful each day for my husband, family, and friends, my home, my job, the fact that I have a functioning vehicle, and I need to be happy for me. Who I am. I've overcome a lot this past year, shared my culinary adventures with you all, and am still alive and well. It is time to take that wellness, heal, and manifest the positive light that is me. It does not matter where life is taking me right now, that is life. But, I can choose to feel crappy or happy. This year, I choose happy. That is my resolution:) Pretty deep huh?

Enough of the deep thoughts and on to our lovely dinner last night. I realized I forgot to tell you all in the grocery list to buy blue cheese. I know not everyone has blue cheese lying around. We happened to have some in the freezer. When I buy more expensive ingredients, I use them sparingly and store them away in the freezer for future use. That way, when I am feeling like something a little more luxurious, I am not constantly spending money. Foods that are on the luxurious side include fine cheeses, finer cured meats such as prosciutto, bacon, etc., heartier cuts of meats such as steaks, chocolate, even butter. If I see that an item is dirt cheap I buy it, store it away, and use only what I need so I get extra mileage from my purchase. I also believe I originally said this steak was going to be stuffed. I thought about it and decided it would be much prettier to make a steak topper. See the lovely results...

I find that creating a topping for a meat is an easy way to elevate the flavors for any dish. Here I simply caramelized onions, used a sparing amount of blue cheese, and added a hint of freshness with some chopped flat leaf parsley. If you are looking for a simple luxury, but don't want to break bank try this simple steak topper.

Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Steak Topper

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small pat of butter
1 yellow onion, finely sliced
2 tablespoons cooking wine (I used sherry cooking wine)
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Heat the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until the onion begins to caramelize and turn golden in color. Add the cooking wine. Stir to break up any browned bits stuck to the skillet. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Add the onions to a small dish. Mix in the blue cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Divide the mixture over your cooked steaks. You can broil your meat on low for a few minutes if you prefer to melt the cheese a little or serve as is.

I hope you all have a wonderful New Year's Day. Good luck with the starts on your resolutions this year! Thank you for reading and stopping by:)