Friday, January 31, 2014

What a Croc! Giving the slo-cooker another chance

They want a 2nd chance, after a head bump
So I love the idea of turning on the crock pot when I leave for work and coming back to dinner ready to go--but both times I've tried it the food did not turn out well. Over cooked chicken one time and bitter parsnips and overcooked chicken the second time. Blogs and books sing the praises of the crock pot--and I so want it to work. So I'm going to give it another chance--this time with chili, a dish traditionally cooked for a long time. My plan is to prepare the pot on Sunday and keep it in the fridge to put on Tuesday morning with a timer to start two hours after I leave.So it will cook only 8 and not 10 hours, and then throw the fresh veggies in before I go to a water aerobics class Tuesday night, so when I get back it will be ready!

Chili is one of those dishes where recipes are hard for me to follow--I like it spicy, with lots of veggies and beans. I'm going to use chicken, because I already have it, and black and kidney beans because that is what I have. One of my cookbooks--Robin to the Rescue--has a recipe for a crock pot chili, and while I'm not following it (it is a Cincinnati style with cinnamon and not much spice), she did mention that it could be made two days before and stored in the fridge before cooking.


1 can (15oz) black beans
1 can (15oz) kidney beans
3 cans (14.5oz) tomatoes (I used fire roasted, with jalapenos, and with chili seasonings)
1 can whole tomatos strained (this was the cherry tomatoes I mistakenly bought for the tomato soup)
1 green bell pepper
2 chicken breasts (about 1.75 lbs)
1 medium onion
1 bag frozen cubed butternut squash
1 pkt chili powder--I used parts of hot and regular
3 cloves garlic
2-3 chipolte in adobo
vegetable stock

This was pretty easy to throw together--lots of cans to open and combine! I drained and rinsed the black and kidney beans, and added them and the three cans of tomatoes to my crock pot. I roughly chopped the green pepper and the onion, and tossed it in with the frozen squash. I chopped the chipolte and tossed it in as well--I have never cooked with it before so I had to try it--SPICY but smokey and yummy! I stirred in the powders and grated the garlic. The chicken was cut in large cubes and added.

Because it was so thick and my pot is so large, I added some broth and some of the drained tomato juice. This should make a TON of chili--it is a good thing I just cleaned out my freezer! I have room in there for some of this yumminess.

So this morning I pulled it out of the fridge, gave it a stir, plugged it in, set it on low for 8 hours, and left for work with some trepidation. I always think I'm going to burn my apartment down when I do this. Fortunately, when I came home some 9.5 hours later my house smelled delicious, and not like smoke (well a little like delicious smoke.) I pulled out the chicken chunks, shredded them, and stirred them back in the pot.

 It smelled so good, but was a little more liquid than I would have thought after all that cooking. I guess the crock pot keeps a lot of the moisture from evaporating, and a lot of liquid must have come out of the veggies and chicken. Interestingly, I had thrown in a package of frozen chopped butternut squash, because I thought it would handle the long cooking well and add some veggies. But it cooked down and completely disappeared into the broth, but it added an important flavor component, so I'm not sad I added it.

As for toppings, I added a scoop of plain Greek yogurt, and some shredded chipolte cheddar. But I think it would be great with some cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, or even corn chips. I just wanted to dig into this chili and enjoy!

The Verdict:

This is a definite win for the crock pot--the end result was spicy, but with smokey and sweet notes from the chipolte and butternut squash. I'd read that the long cooking muted the flavors so I added plenty of chilies, in the tomatoes, in the seasonings, and with the chipoltes. I cut the peppers and onions into pretty big pieces and was surprised at how well they held up to the cooking--I could still get some texture to them. As I noted earlier, the butternut squash flavor was not apparent, besides in some sweetness and in the texture. It made a huge batch--I'll be eating this for the next week--with some spaghetti squash, with eggs, and anything else I can think of. It should also freeze well.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Giving Parsnips a Try, again!

So I was discussing some of my new favorite foods and someone suggested that I give parsnips a try. I'm not sure that I've had them before, so I went out and bought a couple. I peeled and chopped them and tossed them in a crockpot with some carrots, onions, and potato and chicken breasts. After 8 hours in the crock pot, only the chicken was still edible. The parsnips gave everything a nasty metallic taste that I just couldn't handle. Gross! But I am not one to give up--and on the encouragement of fellow posters, I am trying again. This time I'm following a recipe from one of my cookbooks--Robin to the Rescue, and will be pan frying/sauteeing them.


2 tsp olive oil
3 medium carrots
2 medium parsnips
3 scallions
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1/2 c low sodium vegetable broth
salt and pepper

 (I got out the milk instead of the broth, but I did switch it out before I used the wrong thing!)

 This is a pretty easy side dish. First you peel the carrots and parsnips, and then dice them and the scallions.The direction said a 1 inch dice, but I was not sure what that looked like--is that how thick the parsnips are or how thick the slices should be. Carrots and parsnips are both skinny on one end and thick on the other, so I wanted even slices. I did it at an angle so they were all the same thickness.

Heat the oil on medium high, and then drop the scallions and sliced carrots and parsnips in and let the oil coat them and cook for a few minutes. Then add the dried herbs--I used Italian seasoning mix, and cook for several minutes. After that has gotten fragrant and time to cook, than add half a cup of vegetable broth and let simmer until they are cooked through. It took a while for that to happen and all of the broth had cooked off and become syrupy. 

 The Verdict:

I'm still not 100% I like parsnips--it still had that metallic almost bitter taste that I had in the crock pot the last time I made it. The carrots were yummy, and the parsnips were not bad--the peppery taste went well with the sweet carrots. I served it with a Turkey Cutlet roll-up that had a similar seasoning. If I do make this again, I'd increase the ratio of carrots to parsnips. That way they would be more of an accent, than a primary flavor. I'm going to try roasting parsnips next--I keep hearing how yummy they are and I want to taste that!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Turkey Cutlets--take two

So this week our theme is second chances. We start the year with high hopes, plans, and ambitions to conquer our demons, and get our lives in order. But sometimes we fall off--things get busy, someone offers you cheesecake and a brownie (who can choose one!), and we find our plans pushed aside. Recently, I was talking to my Mom, who has recently started a healthy eating plan using Loseit--the same website I used to track my eating. She said she didn't think she could stick to it as long as I had--which I think misses the point. It isn't how long you stay on the path, but how good you are at getting back to it when you get off course. Eating healthy, or anything, isn't an all or nothing--if I spend all day eating cheetos and cheesecake, that doesn't mean I'm doomed to eat unhealthy forever.

In the spirit of giving ourselves a second chance, I'm going to give some recipes and foods another chance. I figure that just because the first time or last time I ate something it wasn't great, doesn't mean that it is always gross, or all ways to cook it are equally as gross. With food it is easy to say, after trying once, that you don't like something--though it takes many times of exposure sometimes to really explore an item.

My first effort is trying a Turkey cutlet recipe--well it is chicken in the recipe, but I had bought two packages of thin cutlets. One of which I destroyed by trying to pan fry, turning them dry and stringy. I hope that this new recipe will produce better results with the half I froze.


1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2/3 cup of mushrooms, chopped
10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and juice squeezed out
2 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/2 cup (2.5 oz) crumbled Feta cheese
1/3 cup low fat ricotta
1/4 tsp kosher salt and pepper, plus more to taste
Skinless turkey breast cutlets (1.5 lbs total)
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 tbsp water
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

I sprayed a saute pan with cooking spray and sauteed the chopped onions, scallion, garlic, and mushrooms. While that cooked, I defrosted and drained the spinach. I added the spinach, the Italian seasonings, and cooked that for a while as I was chatting with my parents. It is hard to cook and Skype without being distracted, so sorry about that Dad!

Then I added the feta and the ricotta--along with some red pepper flakes and nutmeg. That mixed together and was set aside while I worked on the cutlets.

This is the tricky part of the recipe--preparing and wrapping the turkey to go in the oven. I had bought pre-sliced cutlets, so I merely added salt and pepper and put it between two pieces of wax paper. I then used my container of salt to roll it a little thinner so it was big enough to wrap around the stuffing. Once it was prepared, I placed 1/4 of a cup of the spinach mix in the middle and rolled the cutlet up, placing it open side down.

Once that was done the rest of the recipe was less daunting. I've never really breaded anything, but I watch a lot of Good Eats, and Alton Brown covers the breading station in more than one show! So I set it up--the rolls on one side, the egg mixture (egg, water, salt and pepper), then the crumbs, and finally the prepared pan (which I had covered with foil and sprayed with cooking spray.) So the rolls go into the egg, where they are covered, then placed in the crumbs and rolled to coat, before finishing up on the sheet pan. I finished them off with a dash of cayenne pepper and a quick spritz of cooking spray to crisp the top of the rolls.

The finished rolls bake in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until cooked through. The turkey is thin so it cooks fast--check it often!

 The Verdict:

It tastes and looks like something I'd buy at the store or get at a restaurant--though it cooked maybe 2 minutes too long. If I'd pulled them out a little earlier, they may not have been quite so dry, but this was WAY better than the last time I made it--it was more tender and the stuffing kept it from really drying out. The flavor was really good--spicy, with the richness of the cheese, the freshness of the spinach, and the crunch of the outside covering. The rolls held together very well in the oven, and now that I've got the hang of the rolling I'll be making this again! I also want to explore Skinnytaste's other rolled chicken/turkey recipes! I'm very glad I gave these cutlets another try, and I served them with parsnips and carrots--my second chance for parsnips as well. I'll post about them on Wednesday.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Few of my Favorite Things: Or Leftovers!

 So this is one of the yummy dishes I sometimes throw together and then regret that I don't remember what I did so I could make it again later. It is leftovers--but completely different than the original dishes. I had leftover chicken breast, left over jalapeno, part of a bag of frozen spinach, an onion, and a bunch of mushrooms--along with a couple of portobello mushrooms.

There is a local food co-op nearby that buys food in bulk and sells it out of a warehouse at low prices. The veggies are of mixed quality, sometimes good, sometimes bad--but one thing they do very well is local foods. They have a variety of meats, cheeses, dairy, eggs, and these mushrooms--all from local growers. Unlike most of the other locally grown products, these mushrooms are actually a LOT less expensive than what you'd find in the store. These mushrooms were 62 cents each--as compared to 2$ for one at the grocery store. Plus local and fresher!

So I diced the onion and set it all to fry in a skillet sprayed with cooking spray--once it had started to soften I tossed in the diced mushrooms, and leftover jalapeno. I added chili powder, cumin, garlic, and salt and pepper--along with some red pepper. I chopped some leftover shredded chicken and added it to the pan. That sauteed while I defrosted and drained the frozen spinach, which was stirred in. The portobellos were grilled on the George Foreman grill one at a time and tossed in the oven to keep warm after. While the mushrooms cooked, I stirred in some cream cheese to the saute pan.

Once the mushrooms were grilled, they were topped by the sauteed vegetables, with chopped avocado sprinkled on top.

The Verdict: A quick and healthy meal--heavy on the veggies, with some lean protein, healthy fats, and a good dose of heat! Stuffed portobellos are among my favorite foods--and I'm so glad I found a source for them on the cheap so I can eat my fill without feeling guilty! I made enough for dinner tonight and lunch at work tomorrow, which makes this a success in my books. Plus there was some extra topping that I'll put in my breakfast eggs. This is where the good eating is at!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Mystery Cupcakes

I first read about this Mystery Cake on the caker blog, and immediately wanted to try it. Mostly to find out if you really could taste the secret ingredient. Plus I love spice cake. I actually found this recipe in one of my all time favorite cookbooks--mostly for the information and stories, since this is the first recipe I've actually made from it. It is the American Century Cookbook, and it combines history and recipes from the previous century--stories of how they developed and what their background was. So I can relate that this cake was first made using canned tomatoes, until the 1920s when people started using condensed tomato soup. It has many variations--some more of a loaf with nuts and dried fruit, others fancy layer cakes. This particular version is based on the Campbell's soup recipe, though I made cupcakes instead. I still do not have layer cake pans, but right now I only have two pairs of pants that fit--so priorities!

2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 (10 3/4 oz) can condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 eggs
1/4 cup water
cream cheese frosting

This is actually a super easy cake to make--I didn't have shortening or eggs, so I used light butter and egg beaters. All of the ingredients, except the frosting are dumped in the bowl and mixed on low until combined, scraping the edges. Once all are combined, the speed is increased to high and beat for 4 minutes. Honestly, I couldn't tell there was tomato soup in it--it was orange, sure, but it could have been pumpkin! I tasted the batter (the egg substitute is pasteurized, so it is safe to eat) and it didn't taste tomatoy. Then the batter is poured into muffin tins that have been sprayed or lined with paper cups (really, I don't have the right pan, do I seem like the sort of person who would have cupcake liners?) The cupcakes are baked in an oven pre-heated to 350 degrees for 25  to 30 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean.

The Verdict: Can I say YUM? They turned out super moist, not too sweet, and super spicy! The frosting was not the best, but the walnuts on top were a perfect foil for the moist and delicious cupcake. It was a rosy red color from the soup, but the cloves and allspice were really strong. I brought half to my sister's house for dinner and half to work for a coworker's birthday. I forgot to take a picture after I took them out of the oven, so I snapped this picture of one in my office. Note the mustard color of my desk--it is original to the mid 1960s when the building was open.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

Even though my first effort at cooking turkey was less than successful--tasted good, but dry as the dessert and tough, I embarked on this ginormous hunk of meat with confidence. I spent a lot of time on the internet scouring recipes and techniques to find the best way to cook moist and delicious  turkey. The recipe I settled on was this Crock Pot Turkey recipe from SkinnyTaste--love that blog! Of course, I'm bad at following directions, and I'd read so many other recipes and tips, so I figured that before I put the turkey in the pot I'd do a little dry rub to get some extra flavor in. I found the outline of the dry rub on this website, and modified it somewhat for my smaller bird. I will say going in that I didn't use all of the rub and I used too much, so go easy if you follow this--though the flavor is really really good!


Dry Rub:
1 tbs black peppercorns
1/2 tbs pink peppercorns
1/2 tbs white peppercorns
3 or so bay leaves
fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary
1/4 c kosher salt
zest of one orange and two lemons

I bought a mix of peppercorns, instead of each color separately--I couldn't find whole white peppercorns, and the pink ones were over 15$ for a bottle. I did pick out the pink and white and green ones to go with the black ones. They were all tossed in a small skillet and toasted until they became fragrant, keeping them moving so they don't burn. Once that was done, I zested the orange and lemons, and tossed that, the peppercorns, bay leaves, salt, and fresh herbs in my blender with the grinder blade on. YUM--the rub is so fragrant and full of bold flavors, and putting it in the blender made it easy to spread on the bird.

I used my fingers to pull up the turkey's skin and pushed the rub all over the flesh, making sure to get it all over both sides. This was my very first time doing this, and I used WAY too much rub--see how dark it is? I put the dry rubbed breast in a plastic bag and in another bag and in the freezer overnight. The original Skinnytaste recipe didn't call for any brining, and while it looked yummy, I worried about the flavor. Besides this step, I mostly followed the directions.

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots chopped medium (my carrots were very small0
2 celery rib, chopped medium
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/3 cup flour
2 cups low sodium broth (I used vegetable, because I didn't have any chicken broth)
1 cup water
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp fresh sage
2 bay leaves
4-6 lb whole bone-in turkey breast, skin on, trimmed of fat (my turkey was bigger than the original recipe--and it was the smallest in the store!)
salt and pepper

In a skillet heated to medium high heat, I cooked the onions carrots, and celery in the olive oil until the onions had started to soften. Then stirred in the flour and cooked until it was golden brown. I added the white wine to deglaze the pan and get all of the flour and any golden bits up. This mix is added to a crockpot and the rest of the broth was added and mixed together. To this, I added the turkey breast--which I had used paper towels to wipe off the excess dry rub.

This went on low for 5-7 hours--though I checked the temp around 4 hours and it was showing 180 in some spots, but I was worried it wasn't consistently cooked, so I flipped it around and let it cook for another hour or so while I worked on the sides. I served this with cauliflower mash and roasted brussels sprouts. Once they were going, I took out the turkey and let it rest on a cutting board covered with tinfoil for about 20 minutes.
The liquid and veggies sat for 5 minutes in the pot, so it could settle, and then the fat layer was skimmed off and discarded. Because of the dry rub it was really salty and peppery--too much so to use. So after straining and removing the celery I discarded half of the liquid and added broth and water and pureed the veggies in the liquid. After that cooked down for a bit, it was not too seasoned, and was delicious!

The Verdict: This is absolutely something I will do again! The turkey was so flavorful and juicy, the gravy turned out an excellent partnership with the turkey and the cauliflower. It made a lot of turkey, but it was so easy to use in a lot of dishes that I ate the whole thing within a week. I'd probably go easier on the dry rub next time, but it did give the turkey a robust flavor unlike some slow cooked meats that are more mushy.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Quinoa Salad--Revisiting a Classic Recipe

My sister invited us over to dinner on Sunday, and I offered to bring a salad. I usually don't have lettuce on hand, so I figured I'd do a chopped salad. This is one of my favorite recipes, though it is mostly my own invention. It started with this recipe from 1994, when quinoa was such a mystery to the American table that you had to go to a health food store. But it has come a long way since then--each time I make the salad it evolves into something a bit different and delectable.
This is an awesome potluck dish--it is best made in advanced and served room temperature, and it is gluten free and can be made vegetarian or even vegan. It can be a full meal, or a side salad, if there are lots of dishes. When I make it for myself I add cooked chicken and cheese--but for this pot luck I'm going vegetarian, not vegan and adding a peppery cheese.


1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 can black beans
zucchini and summer squash
cherry tomatoes
red and yellow bell peppers
green and red onion chopped
1 can pickled jalapeno peppers
pepper jack or peppered cheese

2 limes
red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper
garlic--I used roasted garlic

Rinse the quinoa, and add to a sauce pan with the broth. Cook according to package directions--or until it blooms and the liquid is evaporated. Set aside to
cool. While the quinoa is cooking, drain the beans and rinse them. Pour a little of the liquid of the jalapeno and a little lime juice over the beans and set them aside.

Chop all the squash, bell peppers, avocado and cheese into similar sized pieces, and finely dice the onions. If the cherry tomatoes are pretty big, I'll cut them in half as well.

Once the quinoa has cooled, combine it with the beans, and all of the chopped ingredients. For the dressing, mix lime zest, lime juice, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, cumin, cilantro, and garlic. I'd run it through my blender to get it smooth and then pour it over the rest. Serve room temperature, preferably after the salad has had time to marinate the flavors.
The Verdict: Load this salad down with as much chopped fresh veggies as you can imagine, and you have the perfect meal for me! I split this recipe in half--took half to my sister's house and added the last of the leftover turkey, more zucchini, more tomatoes, and more jalapenos to the other half. That made 4 full meals and a little extra. This is really summer in a bowl, and is something I make after the farmer's market--I guess when it is winter this salad makes me think of warmer days!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Brussels Sprouts two Ways

Until about a year or so ago, I didn't think I liked Brussels Sprouts. Which is strange, because I don't know that I'd ever eaten them before. Veggies growing up alternated between canned beans and frozen peas, with the occasional broccoli or cauliflower boiled and covered in cheese sauce. Though my Dad is a lover of veggies, he would sometimes make different options--but he was mostly the one who ate them.

But then, a revelation--my vegetarian older sister made some for a family dinner. I was transported--crispy, salty, and delicious! Ever since than I've made them frequently--alternating between these two methods, with different flavorings and toppings. This past year I've found a lot of foods that I thought I hated, but was really just not familiar with until I tried it again.

The original roasting method:

This is more a technique than specific recipe, and is pretty much based off of the America's Test Kitchen method--what I remember of it--so amounts vary. Pre-heat the oven to 350, and cover a cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray the foil with cooking spray.

Rinse your sprouts off in the sink, than cut the ends off and slice them in half. Sometimes I'll put the sprouts in a zip lock bag to get the seasoning all over them, but when I'm lazy or in a hurry they go directly split side down on the pan.

If I put them on the pan, I spray them with cooking spray before adding seasonings. Whether in a bag or on a pan, the sprouts are seasoned with kosher salt and pepper, and whatever other flavors you want. This last time I made them, I put fresh thyme leaves, and lemon zest in addition.

Once the sprouts are seasoned and on the pan, I add a couple of tablespoons water--or last time I used lemon juice to go with the flavoring. The pan is covered tightly with tinfoil and goes into the oven for 10-12 minutes--then the foil is removed and the oven is turned up to 400-450 for about 10-12 minutes more. I watch the time less than I do the color on the sprouts--once they have a lovely brown color on the top and bottom they are ready. I finish them off with more large grain kosher salt, and sometimes more fresh herbs or even grated Parmesan.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts--the Second Method.

This is one of my all time favorite ways to eat Brussels Sprouts--it is good cold or hot, as a side dish or a main dish with some shredded chicken added. The one downside to this is that it is more time consuming to prepare--I need to get a food processor and this would be a snap.

I take about a 1 to 1.5 pounds of sprouts--rinsed and the ends cut off. After cutting the ends off and cutting them in half, I then cut the halves in slices. Really the goal is to shred them--so if you have a food processor, cut the ends off and run them through. To get the flavor on them I toss the slices in a plastic bag. I also chop one whole yellow onion in rough dice and toss that in the bag as well. I dress the shreds with some kind of marinade or salad dressing--acid, seasonings, and a little oil.

The last time I made this I seasoned it with lemon zest, lemon juice, chopped fresh rosemary, black pepper, salt, grated garlic, honey, and a little olive oil--the same things I used to marinade the turkey. Once all of the onions and sprouts have been coated, I spread them in an even layer on a cookie sheet covered with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. Then they go in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then I toss them a bit in the pan, and cook them for another 15 minutes or so and check--if they have lots of brown crispy bits they are done! Sometimes I'll also cook chicken with it that is chopped fairly finely.