Saturday, April 27, 2013

Healthier Spinach & Artichoke Spread

This recipe came to be, because I have been having a thing lately for crackers and cream cheese. More accurately I have been having a thing for ak-mak sesame crackers and cream cheese. Ak-mak crackers are so delicious and healthy, and I was feeling so good about eating them, so for that reason that I wanted to come up with a spread that was a little more nutritious than just plain cream cheese.

I was really pleased with how this turned out.

The flavors here are really similar to the much-less-healthy popular restaurant spinach and artichoke dip we all know and love. Except for the fact that it's cold and you can feel a whole lot better about yourself for eating it.

Healthier Spinach & Artichoke Spread

What you need:
8 oz. pkg reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel cheese), softened
5.3 oz container plain Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
10 oz. pkg. frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and thoroughly squeezed of excess moisture
1/2 of a 12 oz. pkg. of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (about a cup)
fresh lemon juice, to taste
salt & pepper, to taste

What you do:
In the workbowl of a food processor, add cream cheese, yogurt, garlic and spinach. Process to combine. Add in the artichoke hearts, pulse a few times to rough chop the artichokes. Season with lemon juice, salt & pepper.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Vanilla Pudding

I would seriously choose a dish of homemade vanilla pudding over most other desserts any day of the week.

I. Love. Pudding.

Ever since I was a little girl, I remember when we would go out to dinner to one of those restaurants where you could serve yourself at the dessert bar, I would 100% of the time, go for some kind of pudding.

My mom used make this exact vanilla pudding often when I was growing up. She would divide the servings up into wine glasses (pretty sure it was the only thing the wine glasses ever got used for), and it made the humble Vanilla Pudding seem like such a refined treat.

This recipe is so easy, I threw it together tonight while I was in the middle of preparing dinner.

Vanilla Pudding
~serves 4~

What you need:
1/3 c. sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1/8 t. salt
2 c. milk (I used 2%)
2 egg yolks lightly beaten
2 T. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 t. vanilla extract

What you do:
1. In a medium saucepan, mix together sugar cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

2. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. After the milk mixture comes to a boil, gradually add about half the milk mixture to the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Then add the egg yolk/milk mix back to the saucepan. Place back on the heat and cook for about another minute, stirring constantly. 

3. Off the heat, add in the butter and vanilla, stir until the butter is melted and completely incorporated into the pudding. Divide into serving dishes (optional), chill (also optional, it's also pretty darn good warm).

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Brown Rice and Cherry Tomato Salad

Dishes like this are one of my most useful reasons for having a recipe blog. On the one hand, a meal like this is so simple you really don't need a recipe, but it is one that is so good, that when desire strikes to make it again, I would wonder, "How EXACTLY did I make that?" That's definitely happened to me more than once.

I am happy to share this delicious chicken and rice dinner with you. It's easy and healthy and full of flavor. We've been eating a lot of brown rice in my house lately and the one thing I am finding is that I really like to pair brown rice with something acidic. Mixing the salad with bites of rice is an amazing flavor combination. This is really my type of go-to dinner dish.

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Brown Rice and Cherry Tomato Salad
~serves 4~

What you need:
For the roasted chicken
4 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts, trimmed and patted dry
spices - whatever you prefer, I used salt & pepper, garlic powder and paprika
1 1/2 T. melted butter
For the cherry tomato salad
10.5 oz pkg. cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. thinly sliced red onion
3 T. slivered kalamata olives
2 t. red wine vinegar
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 c. torn, fresh basil 
1/3 c. crumbled feta cheese

cooked brown rice

What you do:
1. Preheat oven to 375. Place chicken on a baking sheet and season with spices, salt & pepper - how ever much or little you like. Place chicken skin-side up and brush with melted butter. Roast until internal temp. reaches 160 (somewhere around 35-40 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts).

2. While chicken is roasting, toss together tomatoes, onion, olives, vinegar, oil, salt & pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside til chicken is done.

3. When chicken is done, add the basil and feta to the tomato mixture. Serve the salad along side the chicken and rice.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cumin-Scented Basmati Rice Pilaf

This is my take on the rice I had at an Indian restaurant a few years back. It's delicious. The cumin seed does a really nice job at accentuating the nutty flavor of basmati rice. Earlier this week I also made a version of this using brown basmati rice which turned out great too. I've included that variation as well.


Cumin-Scented Basmati Rice Pilaf
~serves 6~

What you need:
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 t. cumin seeds
1 1/2 c. basmati rice, rinsed well
1 t. salt
2 1/4 c. water

What you do:
  Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often until onion becomes translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add cumin seeds and cook a minute more. Add rice. Cook and stir until rice becomes fragrant and is well coated with the butter. Add salt and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15-17 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, uncovered for 10 minutes, to let the steam escape. Gently fluff with a fork and serve.

**brown rice variation: Follow the instructions for the white rice version, substituting an equal amount of brown basmati rice for the white (I find you don't really need to rinse brown rice). Increase the water to 3c. and increase the cook time to 40-50 minutes.

Garlic-Butter Naan

Nothing beats a fresh piece of Indian flatbread, when you are eating curry. I know this will be a recipe I'll go to again and again. To me, one of the best things about this bread is that you throw the ingredients together the day before (in the food processor), then refrigerate the dough overnight for a slow rise and then the next day all you have to do is roll it out and cook it. It simplifies things if you are making a curry meal, when chances are you are making the curry and possibly rice too. Letting the dough rest overnight also makes it easy to roll out. 

This recipe makes 4 pieces of naan. I think you could serve 1/2 a flatbread per person. Unless you're like me, I ended up eating 3 out of the 4 pieces all by myself over 2 days... Oops!! 

Garlic-Butter Naan
~makes 4 naan~

Note* This recipe is made in a food processor, which makes it very simple to put together. But at one point my food processor's motor (which is a pretty nice Kitchen Aid) seized up. So you might want to be cautious about that when making this recipe. You could probably just make the dough by hand, adding a little extra flour, if necessary, because the dough is a bit sticky.

What you need:
1/2 c. ice water
1/3 c. nonfat greek yogurt
1/4 c. canola oil, plus 1 t. for cooking the naan
1 large egg yolk
2 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 t. sugar
1/2 t. instant or rapid-rise yeast
3/4 t. salt
2 T. butter
1 clove garlic, minced

What you do: 
1. In a small bowl, mix together water, yogurt, 1/4 c. oil and egg yolk. In the workbowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar and yeast to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the liquid ingredients to the flour. Process until combined. Let mixture rest for 10 minutes.

2. Add salt and process another 30-60 seconds. It will form a sticky dough that should clear the sides of the food processor workbowl.

3. Scrape dough out onto a floured worksurface and knead just until smooth, about a minute. Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl (large). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 16-24 hours.

4.After the dough has rested, turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide dough into 4 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rest 15-20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the garlic. Set aside.

6. Roll the first piece of dough out into a 9 inch round. Using a fork, poke the dough all over, 20-25 times. Lightly mist the top side with water.

6. Heat the remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Wipe the oil out of the skillet with paper towels, then add the rolled out dough, sprayed side down and spray the other side lightly. Cover skillet and cook until spotty brown underneath, 2-4 minutes (poke any large bubbles that form). Flip naan, cook, covered, another 2-3 minutes until browned. Flip again, brush with butter, then transfer to a plate and cover with foil. While rolling out and cooking the remaining naan.

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated Magazine

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Indian Lentil Dahl

I wonder if anyone else is like me. When I am reading a book, I ALWAYS am craving food that is reminiscent of what I'm reading. Always. I just get inspired. So with that said, I am reading a book this week that takes place in India, so I am craving the extra sensory experience of eating some Indian food to go  along with it.

I think Indian food is so comforting.

Admittedly, I don't have a whole lot of experience with cooking Indian recipes, so I am leaning heavily on some recipes that I have collected from cookbooks and magazines. I definitely am looking to expand my skills in Indian cooking.

This lentil dahl (also spelled dal or daal), is a great recipe. And an easy one too, for novices to Indian cuisine, such as myself.

Indian Lentil Dahl
~serves 4-6~

What you need:
2 T. canola oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3/4 t. salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. minced fresh ginger
1 t. Garam Masala (can be easily found in the supermarket spice isle)
1 1/4 c. split red lentils
1 c. coconut milk
3 c. water
1/3 c. coarsely chopped cilantro
1 T. lime juice
3 med. plum tomatoes, cored , seeded and diced 

What you do:
1. In a large saucepan, combine oil, onion and salt at medium-high heat. Cook until onion starts to brown, around 5 minutes or so. Add garlic, ginger and Garam Masala , cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. 

2. Add lentils, coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered until lentils are fully tender and broken down to an almost paste-like consistency, about 25-30 minutes.

3. Add lime juice and cilantro. Check for seasoning. Serve (over rice if you like), topped with the diced tomatoes.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Skillet Chili Mac

   I love the fact that this recipe is made start-to-finish in one pan. The original recipe comes from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Best 30-Minute Recipe. Although, admittedly, I am such a slow poke when it comes to cooking, any recipe that says "30 minutes" usually takes me at least 45. But this is a dish that has made few appearances in the dinner rotation. It's easy and very family friendly.

   I made a couple of changes to the original recipe. I just played with the spices a little bit, used whole-grain macaroni instead of regular and used a different cheese. Nothing major.

Also, the recipe says it serves 4, but I think you could easily serve 6. The skillet is pretty much full.

Skillet Chili Mac
~serves 4-6~

What you need:
1 1/2 t. canola oil
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped fine
1 T. chili powder
2 t. ground cumin
1/8 - 1/4 t. cayenne pepper (to taste, I used 1/8 t.)
salt & pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. brown sugar
1 (15 oz. can of tomato sauce)
2 c. water
8 oz. whole grain macaroni
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

What you do:
1. Heat the oil in a large (12 inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, onion, chili powder, cumin, cayenne and 1/2 t. salt. Cook, breaking up meat into small pieces, until it looses all the pink color, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds or so.

2. Add brown sugar, tomato sauce, water and macaroni. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat so that it maintains a lively simmer (somewhere between medium/medium-high heat), until the macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes or so. Season with salt & pepper if needed.

3. Off heat, stir in half the cheese. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

*adapted from : The Best 30-Minute Recipe