Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fettuccine Alfredo with Broccoli and Grilled Chicken

Since I've been cooking more, I've found that, on weekends and nights off, I would almost rather cook something nicer or more involved than go out to eat. Joe and I had also tried to invite people over for dinner on Saturday, but everyone had something else going on. So we settled for it being just the two of us, a big plate of pasta, and some Smoking Loon viognier.

I don't normally make things that are this high in calories, but we all deserve to splurge every once in a while. And if finishing the first week of divinity school isn't the perfect occasion, I don't know what is.

Joe did a wonderful job manning the grill. There is something about grilled chicken that is so good. I didn't even marinate it or anything, and it turned out moist and delicious. I steamed the broccoli in this little Pampered Chef contraption that I have that's basically a plastic sauce pan with a lid with holes in it that goes in the microwave. I will definitely be buying broccoli more often.

I had to read this recipe several times to make sure I was doing things correctly. I had never tried the pasta water in the bowls trick before. I added the grilled chicken and broccoli shortly after mixing in the pasta.

Fettuccine Alfredo (source: Cooking at Home with America's Test Kitchen via Joelen)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
9 ounces fresh fettuccine
1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about 3/4 cup)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1. Bring 1 cup of the heavy cream and the butter to a simmer in a 3- to 4- quart saucepan over medium heat; reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the mixture reduces to 2/3 cup, 12 to 15 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the remaining 1/2 cup cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.

2. While the cream reduces, bring 4 1/2 quarts water to a rolling boil. covered, in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Using a ladle or heatproof measuring cup, scoop about 1/2 cup boiling water into each serving bowl; set the bowls aside to warm. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the pot of boiling water; cook the pasta until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.

3. Meanwhile, return the cream mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat; reduce the heat to low and add the pasta, Parmesan, and nutmeg to the cream mixture. Cook over low heat, tossing the pasta with tongs to combine, until the cheese is melted, the sauce coats the pasta, and the pasta is just al dente, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved pasta cooking water; the sauce may look rather thin but will gradually thicken as the pasta is served and eaten. Working quickly, empty the serving bowls of the water; divide the pasta among the bowls, tossing the pasta to coat well with the sauce. Serve immediately.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

African Pineapple Peanut Stew

When Joe is on-call, I prefer to make vegetarian meals for myself. It's just easier, and I usually have a bunch of vegetables that need to be used up anyway. Thursday night I finished up my Pastoral Care and Theology class and biked home to make this wonderful vegan stew. This was actually the second meal I made this week that had pineapple in it, which is unusual, but I've been liking it a lot. I wouldn't say that I'm a big fan of sweet and salty combinations like pretzels dipped in chocolate, but in this dish, the slight saltiness of the peanut butter is nicely contrasted with the sweetness of the pineapple. I doubled the recipe so that I could have leftovers for this coming week.

African Pineapple Peanut Stew (source: Gillian's Goodies)
Makes two servings

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tbsp. olive oil or other vegetable oil
2 cups spinach, kale, or Swiss chard
1 cup undrained canned crushed pineapple
1/4 cup peanut butter (I used creamy natural peanut butter.)
1/2 tbsp. hot sauce (Thai chili garlic sauce to the rescue again!)
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Chopped green onions
Additional fresh cilantro to garnish
Optional: you can also sprinkle some chopped peanuts on top if desired

1. In a covered saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in the oil for about 5 minutes until softened and slightly browned, stirring frequently.

2. While the onions saute, wash the kale/chard/spinach. Remove and discard the large stems and any blemished leaves. Stack the leaves and slice crosswise into 1-inch thick slices.

3. Add the pineapple and its juice to the onions and bring to a simmer. Stir in the kale/chard/spinach, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Mix in the peanut butter, hot sauce, and 1/8 cup cilantro. Simmer 5 more minutes.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

PW's Crispy Yogurt Chicken

Back before I was aware of the wonderful and diverse world of food blogging, I somehow stumbled upon The Pioneer Woman. Her cooking section was perfect for a green home cook such as myself. With all of the pictures for guidance, how could I go wrong? This was actually my first PW recipe, as most of them are a little higher in butter and fat content than I prefer, but I do hope to make her lasagna in the near future.

This didn't turn out quite like I would've wanted, though the yogurt mixture was amazing. It just wasn't quite as crispy as I was hoping it would be. I think that next time I will flatten the chicken breasts (or use a different cut of meat altogether) and let it cook longer without the foil. I served this with the same coleslaw I used for the Catfish Po-Boys.

PW's Crispy Yogurt Chicken (recipe here)


2 cups plain, unflavored yogurt (I used non-fat.)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 1 lemon
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs


Combine yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Sprinkle chicken with salt. In another bowl, place the breadcrumbs, sprinkle with salt, and stir. Butter a baking dish. With a pair of tongs, place the chicken one piece at a time in the yogurt mixture. Turn it thoroughly to coat. Then roll the chicken in the Panko breadcrumbs. Cover each piece thoroughly with breadcrumbs and place in the baking dish. Finally, place a piece of butter over each chicken piece. Cover with foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dinner Divas: Catfish Po-Boys

Let me just say that this meal was so good that Joe gave me a high-five at the end of it. He's never done that before, but I think it's a good sign.

This was another Dinner Divas recipe, my second of the month, and I'm SO glad I chose this one to make since Joe likes southern-style cooking. (Who am I kidding? I love it too.)

I was initially nervous about finding catfish, but not only did I find it, I found it discounted on Manager's Special because it had a sell-by date of 8/25. The grocery store was, however, out of broccoli slaw, so I used normal cabbage slaw.

This came together very quickly, and it's not terribly unhealthy considering it's fried fish. We will definitely be having this again.

Catfish Po-Boys (source: Cooking Light)


2 tablespoons fat-free milk
1 pound catfish fillets, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (such as McCormick)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fat-free sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Dash of crushed red pepper
2 cups bagged broccoli coleslaw
4 (2 1/2-ounce) hoagie rolls with sesame seeds, toasted (I used my jalapeno cheese bread instead.)


Combine milk and catfish in a large bowl, tossing gently to coat. Remove fish from bowl; shake off excess milk. Sprinkle fish with salt. Combine cornmeal and Cajun seasoning in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add fish to bag. Seal and shake to coat.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish; cook 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

While fish cooks, combine vinegar and next 4 ingredients (vinegar through pepper) in a medium bowl. Add broccoli coleslaw; toss well to coat. Spoon 1/2 cup slaw mixture onto bottom half of each roll. Arrange fish evenly over each serving, and top with top halves of rolls.

Yields 4 servings (unless you're like us and ate all of it.)

Nutritional Information:
CALORIES 442(30% from fat); FAT 14.7g (sat 3.2g,mono 6.4g,poly 3.8g); IRON 3.6mg; CHOLESTEROL 54mg; CALCIUM 144mg; CARBOHYDRATE 50.2g; SODIUM 818mg; PROTEIN 26g; FIBER 3.4g

Curried Tofu

Well, I've been out of town, in orientation for Divinity School, and I started classes yesterday so my time in the kitchen has been rather limited. Truthfully, I would've rather been cooking for myself than eating pizza at orientation, but it's all about fellowship. So far, school has been great. It's felt really good being back at school. I missed it during my year in the corporate workplace. My blog entries may be slightly more scarce, but I promise I'll still update.

I stumbled upon this tofu recipe when I was browsing the Cooking Light webpage. Cooking Light is, by far, one of my favorite sources for recipes. They are frequently flavorful and delicious so that you don't even feel like you're eating particularly light. I try to substitute in light ingredients whenever I can anyway, so it's nice that Cooking Light basically assumes that's what you're doing.

This recipe did not disappoint. I would maybe sub extra-firm tofu next time or let the firm tofu drain longer. The texture of the tofu was a little on the mushy side for Joe's and my preference. I'm not usually a fan of pineapple in dishes because it's a bit on the sweet side for me, but this worked out very well. The pineapple was the perfect complement to the curry flavor and the spice of the pepper. I served this with brown rice.

Curried Tofu (source: Cooking Light)


2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 (15-ounce) package reduced-fat firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light coconut milk (I ended up doubling this because I wanted more of a sauce.)
1 teaspoon curry powder (I doubled this also. I think my curry powder is a little weak.)
1 cup precut matchstick-cut carrots (I cut up some baby carrots I already had.)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (I subbed Thai chili garlic sauce.)
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice, drained
1 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced (I used a green bell pepper.)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil


Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu, and sprinkle with salt. Cook 8 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove from pan; keep warm.

Add coconut milk and curry powder to pan, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add carrots, crushed red pepper, pineapple, and bell pepper; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tofu. Sprinkle with basil.


3 servings (serving size: about 1 1/3 cups) (The perfect amount for Joe, me, and a leftover portion for lunch today.)

Nutritional Information

CALORIES 171(34% from fat); FAT 6.4g (sat 2g,mono 0.9g,poly 2.4g); IRON 2.7mg; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 99mg; CARBOHYDRATE 21.7g; SODIUM 508mg; PROTEIN 8.9g; FIBER 3.6g

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jalapeno Cheese Bread

A few weeks ago I decided that I wanted a bread maker but that I didn't want to pay a lot of money for it in case I, like many others before me, ended up using it once and then never again. In a rare stroke of genius, I decided to check Craigslist, and lo and behold, there was a bread maker for the low, low price of $15. A few days later, I successfully made wheat bread. I have since made several loafs of French bread as well and actually haven't bought bread from the grocery store since. When I got home from my trip to Indiana, we had no bread left, so I asked Joe if he had a preference, and he requested jalapeno cheese bread.

The three words: jalapeno, cheese, and bread are some of the three most delicious words in the English language. For me, they immediately conjure up nights at Goode Company BBQ in Houston using the slice of jalapeno cheese bread to soak up barbecue sauce. I also recall the car trip in between Dallas and Houston when my mom and I split a loaf of jalapeno cheese bread at 10 am from Woody's Smokehouse in Centerville. I used to get full-blown cravings for jalapeno cheese bread, so I jumped at the chance to make this.

I think it turned out pretty well. I threw a few more jalapenos in than the recipe called for, but if you've been reading for any length of time at all, you know that we like things spicy. This was the first recipe I made that was not from the user manual of my bread maker, so I was a little wary of how it would turn out. Besides for the weird thing with the crust, it looks great. If it lasts long enough, I'm thinking of serving these catfish po-boys on it next week. It's not quite Goode Company, but it'll tide me over. (Oh! And I just found the Goode Company recipe on Homesick Texan!)

Jalapeno Cheese Bread (source)


  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, in small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped canned jalapeno peppers
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Monterey Jack cheese or finely shredded Mexican blend of cheeses

Add the ingredients to the bread machine pan according to your bread machine manufacturer's suggested order. Select white or basic with a light or medium crust.
Use fewer jalapenos or mild chile peppers for a milder bread (like you would want that). Makes a 2-pound loaf.

What's Cooking Gift Exchange

The cooking board I frequent had a summer gift exchange, and of course, my gift arrived while I was visiting my best friend Abby in Bloomington, Indiana. Shortly after I got home, I ripped into the box with a Florida return address, and this is what I found:

Heather from The Shannon's Kitchen sent me all kinds of goodies: silicone basting brushes, a spice shot that delivers 1/4 tsp of spice at a time, a cupcake book and cases, the potato peeler with a potato handle, dip mix, a flip-flop martini coaster (too cute!), a yummy-looking cookbook featuring recipes with toasted bread, and Joe's favorite, taffy. Thank you Heather! I'll probably use the dip mix for the party on Saturday that we're throwing, and Joe has already eaten quite a bit of the taffy.

The WC board has really been a lifesaver for me this summer since I haven't started school yet and am living in a new city. The ladies on the board have been so helpful and nice, and I was glad I got to participate in this gift exchange!

Friday, August 15, 2008

My First Risotto

I will readily admit that much of this blog is like an exhibitionistic grown-up version of getting my drawing put up on the refrigerator. To carry out the metaphor, I'm beginning to graduate from crudely-drawn stick figures to more realistic-looking representations, but I'm certainly no Botticelli or Titian. Cooking-wise, I've mastered boiling water and scrambling eggs, and I'm slowly pushing my boundaries and learning new techniques.

Last night Joe was on-call (again. Don't ask. This week is terrible.) so I decided I would try something new. That way if I ended up with something inedible, there would only be one hungry person to deal with. I was a little afraid, but I persevered. There are so many different things that people say about risotto: "It's so hard!" "It's actually easy, not hard like everyone else says." "You must do it X way or use X ingredient if you don't want your risotto to be TERRIBLE."

Well, I read a lot of recipes, and I worked with what I had. I stood over a hot stove for about 40 minutes stirring and stirring and stirring some more. The cat demanded attention and wedged himself between the stove and me so that I couldn't stir without stepping on the cat. But ultimately, I was successful. I sat down to a steaming bowl of risotto and a glass of merlot shortly before 8 pm, and after that first bite, I didn't even mind that I was still sweating. It was glorious.
Warning about the following "recipe": I don't know if it's the correct or proper way to do this. It's just what I did and what worked for me.

My First Risotto


- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 can diced tomatoes, Italian-style
- 1 cup sliced portobello mushrooms
- 4 oz spinach
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- Saute the spinach and mushrooms in 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a small skillet until spinach is wilted and mushrooms are cooked through. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Saute the onion in the remaining 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan until translucent. Then add the rice and saute until it too becomes translucent.
- Add a ladle of simmering broth, stirring the rice until all the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this step until the broth is used up or the rice is al dente, whichever comes first. (No one really told me this, but it seemed like the rice absorbed the first few ladlefuls very quickly, and then it started to take longer the more I added in.)
- Add in the can of tomatoes and the sauteed spinach and mushrooms, stirring until the liquid is absorbed and the risotto is at the desired consistency. (It reminds me of Finding Nemo: "Just keep stirring. Just keep stirring.")
- Mix in the parmesan cheese. Give it one last stir, pour yourself a glass of merlot, plate the risotto, and sprinkle with some additional parmesan cheese.


I'm going to Bloomington, Indiana to visit my best friend Abby this weekend. In addition to her birthday present, I also want to bring her and her housemates some sort of baked good. I came upon this easy one-bowl recipe for blondies and decided to do a trial run before I made Abby's batch. Also, I knew Joe would want some for his own.

As I think about it, I'm not sure I've ever had a homemade blondie. Sure, we used to have them in the cafeteria, but I don't think I've had a non-institutional blondie. They're a great blank canvas for whatever you want to throw in. I chose to add a 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts and chocolate chips as well as a 1/4 cup of whiskey. The whiskey flavor complements the walnuts very well, and I'm not even a big whiskey fan.

These would be an easy dessert for any sort of potluck or housewarming gift, and they are delicious. I'm leaving this batch at home and will whip up another tomorrow morning right before I go.

via Smitten Kitchen

8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

  1. Butter an 8×8 pan
  2. Mix melted butter with brown sugar - beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
  3. Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions (below).
  4. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. (Mine were done in 20.) Cool on rack before cutting them.

Further additions, use one or a combination of:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped nuts, toasting them first for even better flavor
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon mint extract in addition to or in place of the vanilla
  • 1/2 cup mashed bananas
  • 1/4 cup bourbon, scotch or other whiskey; increase the flour by one tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoons of espresso powder with the vanilla
  • Stir 1/2 cup dried fruit, especially dried cherries, into the prepared batter
  • Top with a vanilla butter cream or chocolate peanut butter cream frosting

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dinner Divas: Chicken Cobb Burgers

Two ladies on the cooking board I frequent decided to come up with a new cooking group that was very relaxed and had few requirements. You could make the recipes or not, change the recipes or not, etc. This sounded like it was my sort of speed, so I signed up. This is the first recipe of the Dinner Divas. We get a choice of 4 recipes and the goal is to make 2 of them a month.

As you may be able to see from the picture, this was a very serious burger. The combination of chicken, blue cheese, avocado, tomato, bacon, and lettuce is not for the faint of heart, quite literally. If you are on some sort of low-fat diet, stay away from this burger. Honestly, it was a bit much for me. I'm not a big bacon fan to begin with, so I could've done without that, and I probably made the burgers a bit on the large side.

However, this recipe introduced me to some interesting techniques. I chose to stuff the burgers with the blue cheese instead of melting it on top, creating a little pocket in the middle full of blue cheese. "A pocket of happiness," as Joe called it. I will definitely employ this technique again.

Grilling the bacon was another new technique, though this one didn't turn out so well. I would've much rather fried the bacon inside or on the side burner of the grill because it didn't come out uniformly crispy. The bacon was almost burnt on the edges and soggy in the middle.

I did enjoy the burger, even if it was a bit rich for my taste. I liked the ground chicken with the blue cheese a lot. We ended up eating the dressed romaine on the side as a salad rather than putting it on top of the burger because there was no way you could eat it like that. Overall, it was a success, but if I make it again, I'll forgo the bacon altogether and make the burgers a little smaller.

Chicken Cobb Burger
Recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay and Food Network

For the burgers:

8 (1/2- thick) strips bacon
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken, 90 percent lean
2 tablespoons canola oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
4 burger buns, split
1 large ripe beefsteak tomato, cut into 4 slices
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 8 slices

For the vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely shredded romaine lettuce

For the burgers:

Heat the grill to medium.

Place the strips of bacon on the grill (lay them across the grate so they don't fall through) and grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown and slightly crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Increase the heat of the grill to high.

Form the meat into 4 (8-ounce) burgers, brush with the oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Grill the burgers until golden brown on both sides and cooked completely through, about 5 minutes per side. Top the burgers with the blue cheese, close the cover, and continue cooking until the cheese begins to melt, about 1 minute longer.

Place the burgers on the bottom half of each bun and top with a slice of tomato, 2 slices of avocado, 2 slices of bacon and some of the dressed romaine. Cover each burger with the bun tops and serve.

For the vinaigrette:

Whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper and oil in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using to allow the flavors to meld.

Just before assembling the burgers, place the romaine in a medium bowl and toss with the vinaigrette

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kira's Veggie Fried Rice

Joe was on-call Monday night, so I had been trying to figure out what I was going to eat for dinner when I remembered that I had some leftover brown rice from our tofu dinner the night before and a whole bunch of vegetables that I could add to it. This is the perfect way to use up bits and pieces of vegetables from another dish and make it into something new.

Almost any sort of vegetables that you have on hand can work and you can adjust the soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, garlic, and ginger to taste or add other ingredients altogether. I wasn't terribly concerned about authenticity. I haven't entered it into a recipe calculator, but I imagine this is pretty healthy with the brown rice and all of the vegetables. The amount of oil could conceivably be reduced even further.

This was such an easy and flavorful meal that I can't believe I hadn't tried something similar before. I was able to get home from work and have dinner on the table within 20 minutes with minimal preparation. Casual Kitchen has a great blog post on How To Use Leftover Ingredients and the different incarnations they can take. Check it out!

Kira's Veggie Fried Rice
serves 1 with a leftover lunch portion

2 tsp peanut oil
3 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups brown rice, cooked and cooled
3 scallions, chopped
4 cups spinach, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 egg, scrambled
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp Thai chili garlic sauce


Heat oil on high heat in a large skillet or wok. Add garlic and ginger and stir until browned.

Turn the heat down to medium-high and add rice and vegetables, stirring until spinach is wilted and vegetables are cooked, about 5 minutes.

Make a well in the center of the rice mixture and pour the egg into the well. Let it sit for one minute and then mix into the rice until cooked.

Add soy sauce and Thai chili garlic sauce and stir until mixed thoroughly.

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tofu with Peanut-Ginger Sauce

After my success with the Ground Pork with Spicy Peanut Noodles, I knew anything with similar ingredients would be a big hit with Joe and me, plus I still had a large part of a knob of fresh ginger that I love working with because it smells so good. Still aiming for our one vegetarian night a week, I decided to try a recipe with tofu.

Personally, I've always liked tofu, mostly because the first time I had it was in Whole Foods' Pesto Tofu. Joe, however, is iffy about tofu because he's had bad experiences with how other people have prepared it. This was actually my first time to prepare anything with tofu at home.

Not surprisingly, we really liked this dish, and I plan on cooking with tofu more frequently.

I am also submitting this entry to August's Tasty Tools Event featuring whisks, held by Joelen over at Joelen's Culinary Adventures. You probably recognize the name since she comments here frequently, and I recently made a delicious tilapia recipe adapted from her.

Tofu with Peanut-Ginger Sauce
adapted from Eating Well


5 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons smooth natural peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (see Ingredient note) or white vinegar
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon Thai chili garlic sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
14 ounces extra-firm tofu, preferably water-packed
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups baby spinach
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
4 scallions, sliced


To prepare sauce: Whisk water, peanut butter, rice vinegar (or white vinegar), soy sauce, honey, ginger, chili garlic sauce, and garlic in a small bowl.

To prepare tofu: Drain and rinse tofu; pat dry. Slice the block crosswise into eight 1/2-inch-thick slabs. Coarsely crumble each slice into smaller, uneven pieces.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add tofu and cook in a single layer, without stirring, until the pieces begin to turn golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Then gently stir and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until all sides are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes more.

Add spinach, mushrooms, scallions and the peanut sauce and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just cooked, 1 to 2 minutes more.

Yield: 4 servings (Note: Between the two of us, we polished this off.)

I served this on a bed of brown rice.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Canoe Picnic Menu

My parents, Joe, and I signed up to go on a canoe trip through my parents' church that occurred this past Saturday. We met in Kingston Springs, TN (after breakfast at Loveless Cafe) to canoe down the Harpeth River. Being the cook in the family, I was assigned the task of coming up with a picnic lunch that hopefully would not end up at the bottom of the river after a tipped canoe. Sandwiches would've been easy, but I wanted to do something a little different, so I made two salads. We also brought fruit salad, a loaf of French bread that I made in the breadmaker, smoked gouda, smoked turkey, and the last of the oatmeal raisin cookies.

These were the leftovers.

Tuscan Couscous Salad (from Bridget at The Way the Cookie Crumbles)

1 ½ cups couscous
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups boiling water
½ cup pine nuts
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans such as navy or Great Northern, rinsed well and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ cup shredded fresh basil
1 small red onion, slivered

The dressing:
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
⅓ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the couscous and turmeric in a large bowl and mix. Pour on the boiling water, stir, and immediately cover the bowl with a large plate. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Let cool.

2. Place the pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully because they can easily burn. Let the pine nuts cool, then mix them into the couscous along with the beans, tomatoes, basil, and red onion.

3. Mince the garlic. Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. Pour over the couscous mixture and toss well. Let marinate at least 30 minutes before serving. Cover and chill if longer than 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: This makes a lot of salad. We'll be eating leftovers for a while, not that I mind at all.

Corn and Black Bean Salad (adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (less if you don't like it quite as spicy as we do)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (8.75 ounce) can sweet corn, drained
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped

In a small bowl, mix together balsamic vinegar, oil, salt, sugar, black pepper, cumin, and chili powder.

In a medium bowl, stir together black beans, corn, and bell pepper. Toss with vinegar and oil dressing, and garnish with cilantro. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Notes: This would also be good with some chopped red onion.

Overall, the picnic was a big hit!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Walnut-Encrusted Tilapia with Steamed Broccoli and Red Potatoes

Eating more seafood is something that's always on my nutritional to-do list, but it never seems to happen. I really like seafood, but it's usually more expensive than other proteins and sometimes difficult and time-consuming to prepare, like in the case of cooking and shelling shrimp. Last week I was in the grocery store and saw a 3 lb bag of tilapia for $9.99. I was sold. These turned out to be some good-looking tilapia fillets too. I've had some that were so puny, you needed two per serving to make a real meal.

Fortunately, I also stumbled upon a delicious-looking recipe courtesy of Joelen. I changed it up a little and subbed walnuts, which I had on hand from the Lentil Walnut Burgers, for her macadamia nuts.

This turned out really well, and it wasn't too hard to throw together for a nice Friday night dinner. I served it with steamed broccoli and red potatoes tossed with olive oil and parsley. Joe particularly liked the crunch of the Panko breadcrumbs, and I liked how the nuttiness of the walnuts complimented the mild fish.

Walnut-Encrusted Tilapia
adapted from Joelen's Nutty Tilapia

- 4 frozen tilapia fillets
- 1-2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/2 cup crushed walnuts (I put some in a plastic bag and crushed it with a rolling pin.)
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- salt & pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk eggs with water for egg wash.
In a shallow baking pan, combine the nuts, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper.
Dip each tilapia fillet in the eggwash and dredge in the nut/breadcrumb mixture until fully coated.
Plate coated fish on a plate and chill for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Place coated fish on a light greased baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Indian Spiced Chicken Burgers

It's been an Indian-inspired burger-type week in our house, but they're so easy to prepare in the morning and then fry them up as soon as I get home. I can have dinner on the table within 20 minutes of walking through the door, and that's crucial with our schedules.

This recipe is another one courtesy of Liz at Liz's Cooking Blog. Joe and I both liked this one a lot. I tweaked the recipe a little bit since I only had a pound of meat, and we like spicier food. I tend to err on the side of food being over-spiced rather than bland. The cardinal sin of our dinner table is bland food.

I got my ginger when we were at the Nashville Farmers Market, and we stopped into an Indian-owned international market. It was like heaven for me, all the spices and lentils and massive jars of ghee and tahini. They had knobs of ginger in a giant cardboard box on the floor, and I snatched one up knowing that this recipe called for fresh ginger.

While I was frying up these burgers, they almost smelled like breakfast sausage. Joe even remarked, "You always make the house smell so good." The flavor starts off heavy on the ginger and then segues into the heat of the cayenne pepper. The cumin yogurt sauce is just enough to cool off the tongue with its creaminess but still keep you interested.

I served this with a sliced tomato.

Indian Spiced Chicken Burgers (adapted from Liz who adapted it from Everyday Food)


1 pound ground chicken
3 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (doubled from the original recipe)
Coarse salt
fresh ground pepper
4 whole wheat pita halves
1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced on the diagonal (optional)
fresh cilantro

Cumin Yogurt Sauce:

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
coarse salt and ground pepper


In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, scallions, ginger, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, and cayenne. Add salt and pepper to taste; mix well. Set aside for at least 10 or up to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine ingredients for cumin-yogurt sauce.

Make 4 patties, and grill or fry for 2-3 minutes per side or until done.

Put one pita half on each plate. Place one patty on each, as well as cucumber (if used), a few sprigs of cilantro and the cumin-yogurt sauce and serve.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Yesterday morning I decided that I didn't want to go to the gym before work, but I needed something to occupy bake. I always bake with good intentions, that I'll send them to the hospital for the nurses with Joe or pass them out at work, but then I remember that I didn't like when food was forced upon me so I end up keeping them. At least I threw a few bags in the freezer so there's not so much pressure to Eat. Them. Now.
I'd never made oatmeal raisin cookies before, but they're one of my favorite kind of cookie. I mean, you get your whole grains and fruit in cookie form. Plus they're rarely heavy. I decided to go straight to the source, Quaker Oats, for a recipe, and they didn't disappoint.
Before they go into the hot fiery oven:

I've been accused of making my cookies a little on the large side, so I like to give them room to spread out.

Joe was very pleased to come home to some homebaked goodies, and I enjoyed licking the bowl while making these. They're very chewy, like injure-your-jaw-chewy, and the oatmeal features prominently. Next time I might look for a recipe with a higher flour to oat ratio and add in more raisins since the cookies are a little too oaty. I don't know if that would work though since I haven't quite mastered the chemistry of baking.

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (courtesy of Quaker Oats)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins

1. Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat margarine and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.
2. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Florentine Turkey Meatloaf with Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

This wasn't a terribly appropriate dinner for one of the hottest days of the year so far, but it was a lighter version of delicious comfort food. Unfortunately, Joe ended up having to work later than I thought he would, and I was relying on him to be able to pop this in the oven before I got home. We didn't end up eating until 8:45, and we were hungry, especially with the smell of this permeating the house.

I'm not very particular when it comes to meatloaf. I don't think I've met a meatloaf I didn't like, but I thought stuffing it with spinach was a nice touch, and I'm a big fan of stuffing as many vegetables as possible into things. If you like meatloafs that stay together, this is not the one for you, though maybe it was my fault for not sealing it well enough on the sides. These pictures are not very flattering, but it was good.

Florentine Turkey Meatloaf (recipe from here)


1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
1 cup spaghetti sauce, divided
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 eggs (or 1 egg and 2 egg whites), slightly beaten
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed (optional)
1 package (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained (I used fresh spinach and cooked it down.)
3/4 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8- or 9- inch loaf pan with foil with dull side toward food.
Combine ground turkey, 1/4 cup spaghetti sauce, bread crumbs, onion, eggs, Parmesan cheese and fennel seed in medium bowl.
Press half of turkey mixture into foil-lined pan. Press a 1-inch indentation down center of mixture, leaving 1-inch thickness on all sides.
Toss spinach and mozzarella cheese together; spoon into indentation, mounding in center. Press remaining turkey mixture evenly over top, sealing edges.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes. Spoon remaining spaghetti sauce over meat loaf. Bake 15 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes.

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes (recipe from here)

2 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered (I used redskin potatoes and left the skins on because that's how I like them.)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 cup sour cream (I used reduced-fat.)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (I used light margarine.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
(I also added about 2 tsp of parsley.)

Place potatoes in a bowl and wash under cold, running water until water runs clear. Place in a medium saucepan with salt. Add enough water to generously cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until soft, about 15 minutes. (Drain the water. I don't know why the recipe doesn't mention this, and it made me a little confused.) While potatoes are still warm, mash with a fork, in a food mill, or gently in a food processor.

In a medium saucepan, warm sour cream and butter. Fold warm sour cream mixture into potatoes, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Garnish with cracked pepper.

These potatoes are so easy that I don't know why anyone would make them with those awful flakes. I just love having the skins in there and the little chunks of real potatoes. Honestly, I probably could eat these potatoes even without the sour cream and butter; they're so smooth and creamy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lentil-Walnut Burgers with Mint Yogurt Sauce

In planning our meals for the week, my new goal is to have at least one vegetarian meal on the menu. The trick is to have Joe not necessarily notice that it's vegetarian so no giant piles of vegetables. It's not that Joe is particularly picky because he's not, but he is a big guy and needs his protein. Cue lentils. Containing high protein levels, dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and minerals, lentils are a great meat substitute. When I saw this recipe on Liz's Cooking Blog (side note: Liz's blog is awesome and has so many great, quick, and tasty weekday meal recipes that even a baby cook like me can master) I knew it would be a perfect veggie night recipe.

Plus, I would get to break out this baby for the first time:

Originally, the recipe calls for a cilantro yogurt sauce, but when I went to the grocery store there was no cilantro to be had. That was fine because I was looking for an excuse to use my latest purchase:

Please give a nice warm welcome to my mint plant, purchased at the Nashville Farmers Market. We're still working on coming up with a name for him. Suggestions are welcome.

Okay, enough of that. On to the recipe.

Lentil-Walnut Burgers with Mint Yogurt Sauce (from Everyday Food via Liz's Cooking Blog)

  • 3/4 cup toasted walnuts, cooled
  • 1/3 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (We prefer things on the spicy side, so I used a touch more)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup lentils, cooked, drained, and cooled
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • pita bread (I used whole wheat)
For the sauce:
  • 3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves (I used mint leaves.)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  1. In a food processor, combine walnuts, breadcrumbs, garlic, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; process until finely ground. Add lentils and 1 tablespoon oil; pulse until coarsely chopped (some lentils should remain whole).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk egg. Add lentil mixture; mix well. Divide into 4 equal-size parts; roll into balls, and flatten with the palm of your hand into 3/4-inch-thick patties.
  3. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add burgers; cook over medium-low heat until crisp and browned, turning gently with a thin-edged spatula, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
  4. Prepare sauce: in a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, cilantro, and lemon; season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve lentil-walnut burgers in pita bread; drizzle with sauce.

I served this with red onion and fresh tomato slices and a spinach salad. This was a very tasty dish. It's similar to falafel and could also be served in lieu of chicken or lamb on top of a Greek salad. Next time I will make the patties slightly thinner and not over-process the ingredients, which I think I did trying to get the hang of my food processor. It was still delicious though!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Neighborhood Spotlight: Las Paletas

We love our neighborhood, and in the spirit of keeping it local, I will occasionally be profiling a local food-related business here.

Las Paletas sells popsicles, but these are not the high-fructose corn syrup "grape" flavored popsicles that I grew up eating by the pool. These are made with real fruit. There is no sign on the outside of the building, but you will know that you're getting close when you see couples, groups of students, and moms with strollers crossing the street, popsicle in hand, to take a stroll in Sevier Park. The daily menu is written on a giant chalkboard with "creamy" milk-based popsicles on one side and fruity popsicles on the other.

When we first moved to the neighborhood, I think Joe and I visited Las Paletas probably 8 times in one month. At $2.50 a pop (Oh, I kill myself), it's cheaper than getting ice cream, gelato, or even coffee most places. The above photo features the chocolate chip cookie popsicle (Joe's) and the peach popsicle (mine). All of their fruit flavors taste like the real deal. Peach tastes like a peach, not like a peach Jolly Rancher. Trying to remember the flavors I've had: raspberry pineapple, hibiscus, lime, and blackberry strawberry are the ones I can come up with off the top of my head.

It's not unusual to see one or both of the Paz sisters who run the place working behind the counter, and you have the chance to see them on Throwdown with Bobby Flay on August 13th. I know who we'll be rooting for, especially after the Loveless Biscuit Lady lost last year!

Las Paletas
(615) 386-2101
Located on the NW corner of 12th Ave S and Kirkwood
Tuesday-Saturday 12-7

Friday, August 1, 2008

Knock it off Napoleon! Make yourself a dang quesadilla!

Quesadillas are another dish that I would make fairly often when I was living alone and didn't have the mad cooking skills that I have now (Besides, guys only want wives that have great skills.) (/Napoleon Dynamite references) These are much nicer than the ones I used to make which mostly consisted of cheese, green bell pepper, and canned green chiles. My grocery store in Houston had its own tortilleria and carried real Mexican cheeses. Oh, the days of living in a city with ethnic food, not that there's anything wrong with meat-n-threes.

I got this recipe from KC720 at Tiny Kitchen Cooking, and they turned out great. Flipping the quesadilla was a little involved, but I somehow managed to do it without flinging black beans all over the kitchen. I served them with reduced fat sour cream, Chipotle salsa (not pictured), and sliced avocado.

Black Bean Quesadillas


1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
about 2 tbsp chopped red onion
(1/2 green bell pepper chopped)
1-2 cups shredded pepperjack cheese (I used quesadilla cheese.)
a couple of handfuls of baby spinach
chili pepper (I used cayenne)
juice of 1/2 lime
(ground cumin)
4 whole wheat tortillas
oil/cooking spray

Heat a skillet w/a little oil on medium heat (anything with a larger diameter than your tortillas - a double griddle so that you can do two at a time would be even better!).

Mix black beans and red onion with chili powder and cumin (season to taste) and the juice of 1/2 a lime. Lay one tortilla out on a flat surface. Sprinkle 1/4 of the cheese on the tortilla, covering most of its surface. Layer 1/2 of the black beans over the cheese. Spread a few spinach leaves on top of the black beans and top with another 1/4 of the cheese. Place another tortilla on top. Repeat this process with the rest of the cheese, black beans, spinach, and the other tortillas. Cook the quesadillas for 3-4 minutes on each side until the tortillas are brown and crispy and the cheese in melted. Flip carefully! (I did this over the sink just in case.) Move to cutting board and cut into 4 wedges. Enjoy!

Thanks Tiny Kitchen Cooking for gussying up my normal quesadillas! Oh, and Joe took the picture. Didn't he do a good job?