Thursday, February 9, 2012

Quick, use it or lose it!

Occasionally I run into a situation in which I need to use perishable foods before, well, they perish.  This is usually the result of over-ambitious dinner planning plus laziness ("This week I'll make dinner every night!" followed by "I'm too tired tonight, can you eat leftovers instead?").  The following recipe came from a situation like this - I ended up needing to use a pound of chicken breast before it went bad!  I browsed some chicken salad recipes on the web and chose two to guide me in the the flavors and/or amount of different components to use.  The Fancy Schmancy recipe inspired me to include apple cider and vinegar while the Chicken 'n Apple recipe helped me to determine the amount of ingredients to use.  Though both recipes looked good, I had to improvise a bit based on what was hiding in my fridge and cabinets.  Somehow, from all of this, a pretty decent (and healthy) chicken salad emerged!

Impromptu Chicken Salad (guided by the recipes listed above)

1 lb chicken breast
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup fat free plain yogurt
1/4 cup light Miracle Whip
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
1/2 Fuji apple, chopped into small chunks

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  Add chicken breast and boil until no longer pink in the center (I can't remember how long this took...maybe 10-15 minutes?); remove from pan and set aside to cool.  In a small bowl, combine vinegar and honey; whisk together until mixed.  Add red onions and set aside to marinate.  In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, Miracle Whip and mustard; mix to combine and set aside.

When chicken has cooled, cut into small cubes or shred using a fork and knife.  Add chicken to yogurt mixture and toss to completely coat.  Add onions (including marinating liquid), cranberries, pistachios and apples; mix thoroughly.

Makes 6 servings, approximately 210 calories per serving

Chicken salad is a healthy lunch option!

I served this to Jim on toasted sourdough (verdict = good) and I have enjoyed it as a topping on an avocado half or as a sandwich on a multi grain skinny bun!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Quick and easy dinner: Southwestern Chicken and Rice

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the January/February 2012 issue of Cooking Light contains quite a few good recipes.  I was particularly impressed with the recipes in the issue's feature ("25 Healthy Chicken Dinners") and intend on trying many of them.  To kick off the tour de chicken recipes, I made a southwestern chicken and rice skillet dinner.  The original recipe called for processed Pepper Jack cheese (e.g. Velveeta Pepper-Jack) but I couldn't find this at the grocery store so I substituted a southwestern-spiced cream cheese product.  I also upped the amount of vegetables in the recipe by adding more red and yellow bell peppers as well as introducing green bell peppers.  The fresh veges looked (and smelled) so delicious; I think next time I'll add even more!

Bell peppers and onions, so healthy and satisfying!

This chicken dish was so easy to prepare and to serve - no additional sides required because the dish contains all the vegetables and starches that a complete meal needs!  Besides being easy and tasty, the serving size of this dish also hits at just the right caloric value for dinner.  All that said, I will definitely make this again in the future!

Southwestern Chicken and Rice (Adapted from Cooking Light's Chicken and Rice)

2 cup white rice
16 oz chicken breast, cut into strips
1 1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp cumin
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 container Philadelphia Sante Fe Cooking Creme
2 oz 1/3 Fat Cream Cheese, cut into small cubes
2 oz. Mexican blend shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare an 11 x 7-inch glass baking dish by spraying lightly with cooking spray.

Spray a large skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and sauté for 1 minute or until no longer pink.  Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.  Add onion and peppers to pan and sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir flour and cumin into onion and pepper mix; cook for 1 minute.  Add chicken broth and stir until mixture is smooth; cook for 2 minutes.  Add cooking creme and cream cheese; continue to cook with stirring until cheese is blended in and mixture is smooth.

Remove skillet from heat and add chicken and 2 1/2 cup cooked white rice.  Transfer chicken and rice mixture to baking dish; sprinkle shredded cheese to cover.  Bake for 25 minutes.

Makes 6 servings (serving size is about 1 1/2 cups), approximately 440 calories per serving

Southwestern Chicken and Rice casserole

Hm, writing this post has made me hungry...I think its time to make this recipe again!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Another use for sweet potatoes - in dessert!

When I recently made sweet potato hummus it was out of necessity - I had four sweet potatoes that had been sitting around for far too long and I didn't want them to go to waste.  So, during prep for the hummus I baked all four medium-sized potatoes with the intention of using two for hummus and two for...something else.  It took a few days, but I decided to use the remaining sweet potatoes for cupcakes! 

Sweet potato and apple cupcakes with brown sugar goat cheese frosting

I had a flavor combination in mind for the cupcakes (sweet potatoes, ginger, cinnamon) and for the frosting (I had been wanting to make a goat cheese frosting for a while!) so I Googled "sweet potato cupcakes" and "goat cheese frosting" to find a recipe.  Unfortunately I didn't find a recipe that I completely wanted to use, but I did find a couple that I used as a starting point that I could modify to suit my taste.  I do this fairly often - find a recipe that looks pretty good and then tweak it to my liking.

I started with a sweet potato cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book (I seriously love this book, haven't made a bad cupcake from any of the recipes).  Martha's Candied Sweet Potato Cupcake (page 243) sounded really tasty, but I wanted to incorporate a couple more flavors so I browsed the internet to get an idea of just how much ginger I should add.  I stumbled upon a recipe for Apple Spice cupcakes and had an idea - add some apple to the cupcakes too!  I valued this idea for a couple of reasons - first, Jim is not a huge fan of sweet potatoes so I wanted to make sure the cupcakes didn't taste too strongly of them; secondly, I didn't have quite enough sweet potato for the Martha recipe!  (I knew I wanted to tone down the sweet potatoes so I also considered adding grated carrots to make a sweet potato-carrot cake fusion...maybe I'll try this in the future!)

As I mentioned earlier, I had been wanting to make a goat cheese frosting for a long time.  I had been going in circles in my head over what kind of cupcake/cake/cookie would work best with a goat cheese frosting and I had whittled my list down to a few options, with sweet potato cupcakes being one.  I knew I wanted to include some kind of flavor to tie into the cupcakes but I didn't want to make a spiced frosting (spiced cupcake + spiced frosting = too much spice) so I added some brown sugar to the frosting.  My father-in-law said the frosting was great, so I think the addition was successful!

Sweet Potato and Apple Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Goat Cheese Frosting

For the cupcakes (Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Candied Sweet Potato Cupcake recipe)
1 lb sweet potatoes* (approx. 2 medium potatoes)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
2-3 apples (I used Pink Lady apples but I think Fuji, Gala, or other baking apple would work)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Individually wrap sweet potatoes in foil and bake for 45-50 minutes, until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Unwrap foil and remove peel.  In a bowl, mash sweet potatoes with a fork until smooth.  You should have about 1 cup of mashed sweet potatoes.  Set aside.
*I baked the sweet potatoes the night before and stored the peeled potatoes in tupperware overnight in the refrigerator.

Decrease oven temperature to 325 degrees and prepare a muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.

In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and spices) together.  Set aside.  With a stand mixer or electric handheld mixer, cream butter and sugars on medium-high speed.  When the butter mixture is pale and fluffy, add eggs (one at a time) and beat until completely incorporated.  Add mashed sweet potatoes and vanilla, beat until mixed.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture in three batches, allowing for complete incorporation between additions.  Set aside cupcake batter.

Peel two apples (I used a vegetable peeler) and grate onto a double layer of paper towels using a large-holed grater.  If two apples do not yield about one cup of grated apple, peel and grate the third apple.  Gather grated apple in the paper towels and squeeze out the moisture (you'll be surprised how much juice can come out!).  Stir grated apple into cupcake batter.

Fill lined cups three-quarters full with cupcake batter.  Bake for 14 minutes, rotate pan, and bake for another 14 minutes (28 minutes total) or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Cool cupcakes completely before decorating with goat cheese frosting (recipe below).

For the goat cheese frosting (recipe adapted from Honey Goat Cheese Frosting recipe)
7.5 oz goat cheese, room temperature
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
3 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup brown sugar

With a stand mixer or electric handheld mixer on medium-high speed, cream goat cheese, cream cheese, butter and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Add powdered sugar and mix until combined.  Add brown sugar and mix until combined, making sure the sugar has dissolved and frosting is not grainy.  Transfer frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (or a pastry bag with the tip cut off to leave about a dime-sized opening) and frost cooled cupcakes.


Yes, I did take that bite of cupcake...purely for artistic purposes though, right?!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ready to run!

This post certainly does not contain "stop the presses!" content, but I just got new running shoes and had to photograph I thought I'd share!

Have you ever seen cooler shoes?!

At the beginning of January I decided that I wanted to make a few changes...specifically I realized that I needed to replace my junk food & TV routine with something a bit healthier!  People always say that getting healthy isn't just about starting a diet or workout plan but rather it is a lifestyle change.  So, in January I committed to becoming a healthier person in many aspects - eating smaller portions of well-balanced nutritious food, exercising regularly, spending quality time with the people (and puppy!) that I love, and focusing on happiness! 

Its been about a month now and I'm happy to report that the transition to my new lifestyle is going great!  Researching and making new recipes has been a fun way to incorporate my cooking hobby with my goal of eating healthy.  I've gotten into the habit of working out almost daily and, surprisingly, I am actually enjoying it and look forward to exercising at the end of the work day!  Even more surprising is that I've discovered that I like to jog!  Even though I have done some running in the past, it was usually half-assed or the just to see if I could do it.  Recently I started going for jogs so I could spend some time in the beautiful (and freakishly un-winter) weather that we've been experiencing.  At first I jogged and couldn't wait to be done, then I jogged and decided "I don't hate this", and now I enjoy it! 

This brings me back to the point of this post (sorry for the life-goals detour...) - I bought new running shoes!  My running shoes were old and busted so I went to my local running store, Missouri Running CompanyFor years I wore Mizuno running shoes but my most recent pair were Saucony Kinvara 2, which are the lightest, most comfortable shoes I've ever worn.  That being said, my intention was to simply buy the same Kinvaras again.  Upon walking in the store I noticed that the Kinvaras were an awesome new color - bold purple and neon green!  I held my breath while the saleswoman checked for my size and did a little dance of excitement when she brought me the box.  Woo hoo!  These shoes are so awesome and beautiful that I had to take photos! 

My new best friends

I am super pumped to have new shoes and already they have inspired me to go for longer jogs!  Not only has the bright, bold look of these shoes motivated me but also the amazing fit has physically allowed me to jog farther.  I genuinely believe that having the right shoe makes a world of difference when setting out to run.  Before going to Missouri Running Company (previously Ghisallo Running) I used to buy shoes at stores like Kohls or Famous Footwear or Sports Authority.  These shoes are fine for hitting the elliptical machine or stationary bike, but I after visiting with knowledgeable staff at the running store I realized that it was the department store shoes that made my knee hurt.  My foot and gait were evaluated, I purchased actual running shoes, and went for a jog - no pain!  So, even though I love my new shoes, my recommendation is not to go buy yourself Kinvaras but rather visit a running store and buy your right shoe!  Run on!