March 4: Sauteed mushrooms and grape tomatoes in green olive tapenade

What.a.meal! Who needs meat when I can have such a flavorful, quick, and inexpensive vegetarian meal?!?!?! Sunday after the gym I went to Kroger to buy fruit and grape tomatoes. The mushrooms that were supposed to be part of the roasted vegetables sandwiches needed to be cooked to avoid food waste. I was inspired by a Barilla ad to make a mushroom, grape tomato, and cheese pasta dish. As I milled about the produce section, I recalled that one of my best friends used to make portobello mushrooms with an olive tapenade that was to die for. She sourced her tapenade from a California small business; I had to settle for Kroger Private Selection. My choices were black olive tapenade and green olive tapenade.

Honestly, I do not like olives, but something about the blend of spices and herbs takes the bite from olives, which is what I dislike about them. Both jars were the same size (8 oz if my memory serves me correctly). I settled for green olive because it was $0.60 cheaper. Tapenades typically include finely diced olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic in an olive oil base seasoned with salt, other spices, and herbs. Tapenades are great as condiments (atop crackers, toasted bread, burgers, chicken, salad) or as a “sauce” for pastas.

The meal took less than 5 minutes to prep and about 15 minutes to prepare, with multi-tasking. I rinsed the mushrooms (~1.5 cups pre-sliced white mushrooms) as I heated 1T of olive oil in a skillet. I sauteed the mushrooms while preparing the grape tomatoes. I washed 1 PT of tomatoes with produce spray and sliced them in half. Meanwhile, I cooked the whole wheat linguine in a separate pot. The mushrooms began to wilt after about 10 minutes on medium-high heat. I added the tomatoes and 2 heaping tablespoons of tapenade and simmered about 5 minutes. I did not cook the tomatoes all the way down. Canned crushed or diced tomatoes would have been a nice substitute, but I avoid canned food when possible in part because of BPA-linings and high sodium content.

So my plate would not look so naked, I added a side salad and topped with homemade olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Well, salad is overstating a bit. I bought a small bag of salad mix (iceberg lettuce and julienne carrots) and literally took a handful from the bag. It had no other toppings lol. I texted 4 people to tell them how awesome this meal was as I ate! The flavors blended so well. I was concerned about not having enough “sauce” for the pasta, but the olive oil and vegetable juices made a nice broth that adhered well to the pasta, which I did not rinse off (I never rinse whole wheat pasta). The tapenade added a wonderful kick to the dish. I did not add any additional seasoning to the mushrooms, grapes, and tapenade and was pleased with the balance of flavors. You couldn’t have told me that I was eating olives! I am super excited to have leftovers for the next two days.

Overall, this is one of my favorite meals that I’ve made in a long time. In the future, I will add other vegetables (e.g., bell pepper, onion) and try it with portobello mushrooms. I think some cooking wine would take this dish over the top. I wasn’t thinking as creatively while in the store. I estimate the cost per serving to be $1.82 considering I used about a quarter of the tapenade ($3.29/jar) and three-fourths a box of linguine ($2/box). The salad adds about $0.40 cents. So, add this recipe to the inexpensive column.

Later this week I will try adding the tapenade to a pizza. I was rummaging in my refrigerator and found the jar of pesto from the gourmet pizza I whipped up a few months ago, so I’ll use that as well. Tapenade will be a staple in my house from now on! Such a quick recipe that looks like a lot of trouble. I must say that I will miss the Private Selection brand when I move to D.C. I can always have my mom ship me boxes in between trips home to Georgia *smile*.

February 27: Kroger Private Selection Sauteed Vegetable Lasagna and Roasted Peppers Sandwiches

It’s that time of year again: Lent. I have learned from 12 years of experience to not give up chocolate/sugar/sweets this year. I prayed about what I should sacrifice. I opened the refrigerator on Ash Wednesday, and my spirit said meat was the sacrifice this season. The first few days of Lent were rather traumatic because I have been craving beef for the longest. Ever since I started eating it again a few months ago, it’s like my body screams for hamburgers and steaks. Anywhoo…so, I made a grocery run on Saturday. I purchased green, red, and yellow bell peppers, a red onion, carrots and sliced mushrooms to roast for sandwiches. I was inspired by a sauteed vegetable sandwich at a local sandwich shop. I also hit up the frozen food aisle to stock up on vegetable stir fry, vegetables, and vegetable lasagna for those days when I have neither the time nor the desire to prepare fresh vegetables.

So, Monday night, I cooked the lasagna and roasted the vegetables. I did not feel like peeling carrots and I forgot about the mushrooms, so it turned out to be just peppers and onion. I coated the veggies with a little olive oil and sprinkled liberally with dried herbs. The vegetables cooked at 375 F until they became wilty (about an hour). The lasagna was only supposed to cook for 60-70 minutes. It turned into more like 90 minutes. For some reason, the center cooked really slowly. I used a thermometer to measure the internal temperature. After 50 minutes, the center was only 80 F while the rest of the lasagna was 120 – 130. The box recommended an internal temperature of 160 F.

I will say, the extra 20 minutes, while annoying (because I didn’t want to eat at 8:30 pm) was worth the wait. The lasagna was cheesy, flavorful, and hearty. I wouldn’t have expected the latter for a vegetable lasagna. The vegetables were carrots, zucchini, and yellow bell peppers. I think there is spinach, too, in the ricotta cheese layers. For $1.03 per serving, I really can’t complain. The size of the lasagna is ideal for a single person, though I was skeptical with the smaller box. Kroger has a bad habit of over-estimating the number of servings a product provides. But, as I said, I was pleasantly surprised. With a salad or additional vegetables as a side, the lasagna could feed 4 people easily and still have a couple of pieces left for seconds/leftovers.

Tuesday, I had a sandwich for lunch. Not such a good idea. First, I used sourdough bread from the bakery. I scooped out most of the bread so I could pile in more vegetables. I wrapped the bread separate from the vegetables and provolone cheese. I warmed the veggies and cheese in the microwave then built my sandwich. The sandwich was awesome. It was well seasoned, the cheese and bread added nice flavor and texture. The problem was the sandwich was soOoOoo messy. Juice from the vegetables dripped all over the plate and my hands. The bread was a little too doughy, so I will have to experiment with other breads. I probably should have toasted it in the oven, but I didn’t.

So, overall, I’m enjoying this vegetarian thing. I will likely begin to buy organic fruit and vegetables since I will consume much more than I normally do. I am looking forward to trying different vegetables. Next on my list is colored cauliflower; Kroger sells purple, orange, and green. I’m quite sad, however, that I will not be able to indulge shamelessly in corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. Technically, I can have meat on Sundays, but I think I can manage one year not following my tradition. I can still have the cabbage :o) I don’t add potatoes and carrots to my brisket and cabbage; this year I must make an exception because cabbage soup is so unappealing. I’m curious to see what God has planned that it was placed on my heart to give up meat.

February 8: Walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken breasts with roasted vegetables

In my continued quest to eat as much of my food as possible before the summer when I move, I thawed out some frozen chicken breasts I bought a few months ago during a sale at the grocery store. I’m not a fan of chicken breasts because I have to marinate them or work hard in some other way to season them and infuse them with moisture. Furthermore, they are super easy to overcook. And who wants to eat rubber chicken?

I intended to bake the chicken after I finished baking my wonderfully delicious chocolate cake, but it was enough just to clean the kitchen (I’m a very messy baker). So Wednesday morning I decided I would jazz up chicken breasts by making walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken to top my mixed greens from the seared salmon and couscous salad. I knew I should have purchased the 8 oz container, but in my delusion of thinking I’d actually eat more servings of vegetables compelled me to buy the 16 oz container of mixed greens. So, rather than waste food, which the whole point of this exercise was to avoid, I was up at 6 am crushing walnut halves in a Ziploc bag.

The  recipe is really quite simple. In a resealable bag filled with 2 cups of walnut halves and chicken seasoning, roll a glass or roller pin over it to pulverize the walnuts. A food processor or mini-blender works too. I didn’t do a very good job, which meant I had crispy walnuts. Buts that’s okay. The blackened walnuts added a nice smoky flavor to the chicken lol. As the oven heated to 450 F, I sliced half of a medium-sized red onion and two whole bell peppers (a yellow one and an orange one). I placed the vegetables in the bottom of a 13 X 9 aluminum foil lined baking dish that was sprayed with cooking oil.

In a medium sized bowl, I made honey mustard by mixing ~3/4 cup of Kraft Mayo, ~1/3 cup of yellow mustard, and honey to  taste (~2T).  I don’t buy honey mustard anymore, unless it’s in the form of salad dressing. When I was into making my own chicken tenders as a 20-something graduate student, being able to make honey mustard made life so much more enjoyable. Anyway, I digress (as usual hahaha). Once the honey mustard was prepared, I poured the walnut crumb-chunk mixture into a pie plate. I rinsed and dredged three chicken breasts (2 medium and 1 ridiculously large) in the honey mustard then rolled them around in the walnuts. I lay each breast atop the herb-seasoned vegetables in the baking pan. Into the oven the pan went until the breasts were slightly pink inside, which occurred after about 30 minutes. As you might imagine, the 2 medium-sized chicken breasts were a little more done than the 1 really large one.

Overall, I really enjoyed the walnut-crusted honey mustard chicken breasts. It was a reasonably simple dish to make. I used leftover onion and peppers from the seared salad recipe earlier in the week, which made this dish more cost-effective. Walnuts are rather expensive, but I have a huge bag from Sam’s that I use in baking. And making my own honey mustard cost pennies.  The chicken and vegetables on mixed salad was delicious. The first day I didn’t add dressing, yet the greens didn’t taste like rabbit food. The oil and juices from the vegetables was sufficient. I did use Vidalia onion and peppercorn salad dressing on subsequent salads, and the flavors were quite complementary.

I’ll definitely make this dish again. Some things I will change, however. The seasoning of the chicken was good considering I didn’t really do anything but add chicken seasoning to the walnuts before crushing. I’d also add pepper and a little salt either directly to the chicken or to the honey mustard. It was 6 am. I’m using that as an excuse because I always season my meat before cooking it. I will also put in a little more elbow grease and crush the walnuts a bit more. Coarsely crushed adds some character to the dish, but they did not stick as well to the chicken initially. I had to go back and fill in spaces after laying the breasts in the pan.

I have another package of chicken breasts in the freezer. I think I might poach them to make pulled chicken salad with walnuts and sliced red grapes, which are on sale this week. We’ll see.

Honey mustard: mayonnaise, mustard, and honey

"Crushed" walnut halves

Fresh from the oven

Walnut-crusted honey mustard baked chicken breasts

February 7: Hersheys’ Perfectly Chocolate Cake

I’ve made Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake with Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Frosting about three or four times before. The  recipe is always on the back of their baking cocoa. Some things it’s just as good to use a box cake for, but when it comes to chocolate cakes, scratch is where it’s at. And I love Hershey’s cake because it’s super easy. I don’t have to cream butter and sugar. I don’t even have to whip out the mixer.

So what’s new about this cake that I feel compelled to blog about it? I had leftover buttermilk from making chocolate doughnuts this weekend. While some people enjoy drinking buttermilk, I am not one of them. I happened to find a bag of all-purpose flour while I was looking for my sifter this weekend. When you have flour, you make chocolate cake lol. So, last night I whipped up a chocolate cake and added 1 cup of buttermilk instead of 1 cup of skim milk. I also sifted the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa together before mixing in the sugar. The result was a light, fluffy, super moist chocolate cake! Most of the baking recipes I choose are about 8, maybe 9 on a scale of 10. I must say that this cake recipe with buttermilk and sifted ingredients is at least a 12. It’s so over and beyond.

Bottom line: Stop buying boxed chocolate cake mix and make Hershey’s perfectly chocolate cake. Even without a sifter, just adding buttermilk will elevate this simple recipe to decadence. I don’t know about other chocolate cake recipes, but this is truly a perfect chocolate cake. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the $5.95 slice I buy in some restaurants was made with this recipe. I love it when I find recipes that are restaurant quality and easy to make. When I tell people I made the cake and frosting from scratch it’s the same incredulous look I get when I tell people I’m a chemist. Classic.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting

A view from the top: I want to practice piping frosting so that the cake doesn't look so plain. I garnished with walnut halves.

February 4: Chocolate Frosted Doughnuts

I will be relocating this summer, so I have been on the look out for new recipes so I can consume the all-purpose and whole wheat flours I have in my cupboards. A few months ago, Shape included recipes for “fonuts“, which are vegan versions of baked doughnuts. The recipes were a little fancy for me (because I’m not vegan), but it did tickle my fancy about learning to make baked doughnuts. I love the internet; I can find just about anything. I happened upon Lara Ferroni’s recipe and decided to make them.

I don’t own a doughnut pan, so I had to modify the cooking time since I used a non-stick muffin pan. I also substituted half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, used Fage 0% fat Greek yogurt, and opted for 3 T coconut oil instead of butter. The recipe was really simple to follow. My dough never became coarse crumbs, even after adding an additional tablespoon of coconut oil. The doughnuts were no worse for wear, though! I baked the doughnuts until the centers sprang to the touch, which was about 15 minutes at 350 °F.

After cooling in the pan for 10 minutes, I transferred the chocolate doughnuts to a parchment paper covered wire rack to finish cooling. Meanwhile, I whipped up a mini batch of Hershey’s perfectly chocolate frosting. I melted about 3T of coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl, added 3 heaping tablespoons of Hershey’s baking cocoa to the melted butter, and stirred. I sweetened to taste by adding powdered sugar. The frosting was more of a glaze as I thinned it out a bit with some buttermilk. Ms. Ferroni’s recipe yielded 12 doughnut muffins. And I ate every last one of them over the weekend lol.

Bottom line: baked doughnuts are pretty much awesome. They are really simple to make. Greasing the muffin pan meant super easy clean up. I’m not sure if it was the whole wheat flour or not, but the doughnuts had a slightly gritty texture. Almost as if I had used cornmeal. The texture was complementary rather than being like chewing sand, though. My only criticism of the doughnuts is that they weren’t chocolatey enough. But that’s easy to fix.

I think Ms. Ferroni’s recipe is a good base doughnut recipe. Instead of adding cocoa powder, I’m sure I would be able to add more flour and flavor the batter with any flavor I want. I’m thinking rum doughnuts or adding red food coloring to the chocolate recipe for red velvet doughnuts! Oh the possibilities are endless!

Lara Ferroni's chocolate doughnuts

February 2: Seared Salmon and Couscous salad (with currants!!)

I love salmon. I must have been an orca in my last life lol. Unfortunately, I cannot afford fresh salmon on a regular basis. Kroger had fillets of salmon on sale, so I purchased enough for four meals. I found myself in the grocery store again a few days later to buy produce to accompany the salmon. Originally planning to buy broccoli, I ended up with two pounds of spring green mix, a three pack of colored bell peppers, and a red onion to prepare a dish similar to one I learned in my very first cooking class, which interestingly enough was about a year ago.

Instead of quinoa salad, I opted for Near East roasted garlic olive oil couscous, which I had on hand. To spice it up a bit, I added currants. I bought them for a Moroccan-inspired beef stew, and it’s so many of those little fruit in the tiny box! I thinly diced half the medium red onion (~3/4 cups) and the red bell pepper (~1/2 cup) as the salmon seared on the stove. Salmon is so flavorful, so I only use kosher salt and ground black pepper.

The diced vegetables were transferred from the cutting board to a large mixing bowl. When the couscous (with currants *smile*) cooled somewhat, I added it to the mixing bowl. In a small bowl, I whisked together 3T of balsamic vinegar, 3T of olive oil and sugar to cut the acidic taste before pouring it in the mixing bowl. I did not want wet couscous salad, so 6T was just a perfect amount to lightly coat the onion, pepper, and couscous. To plate my dish, I placed a generous helping of mixed greens on a dinner plate, spooned one cup of couscous salad, and topped with one fourth of the salmon.

I must say that the couscous adds a much different flavor to the salad than quinoa. Overall, the dish is very healthy and inexpensive. Each serving is less than $4.00. A similar salad at our nicer dining facility on campus costs $7.00. I didn’t keep up with the nutritional value but I estimate each serving contains about 500-600 calories.

I will definitely prepare this dish again, though I will cut back on the amount of onions I include lol. They do pack a strong punch, but I love their crunchiness! Firm, thick cuts of fish are definitely best for this dish. I’ll add pictures this weekend.

Couscous salad

Plated salad

 

January 27: Ice Skating Lesson 1 (falling, marching, and swizzling)

I am just returning from my very first ice skating lesson! It is only the second time in my entire life I’ve been in ice skates. I opted for hockey skates again this time until my balance improves a bit more. Six women of all ages comprise the Friday morning group. Two graceful seniors actually ice dance competitively, one woman ice skates competitively, two women wanted to practice some advanced skill, and the fifth woman is an advanced beginner. Then there is me: the total newbie.

The first 5 minutes of the lesson were spent warming up. Cassie, our guide provided individual guidance as we skated around two-thirds of the rink (the other third was occupied by tots learning to skate). I was instructed on how to properly fall. So, on my butt isn’t best because I could damage my tailbone. Makes sense. So, if I’m falling backwards, I first lean forward, open my arms and hug myself, tuck my chin into my chest, crouch into a ball, and fall to one side. Yeah, that felt way better than when I fell on my knees and my butt. I also learned how to rise from a fall: roll onto all fours, place one foot on the ice followed by the second foot while keeping your hands, then stand tall. Fear of falling gone!

After about 5 more minutes of warming up, Cassie instructed me to march in place to learn how to pick up my feet from the ice when I skate. I found a close spot to the wall and held onto it with one hand as I marched in skates for the first time. It’s a much more difficult to march in ice skates than it sounds! I moved away from the wall and eventually began lifting my back leg as I pushed off. I felt awkward at first, but I learned how to properly balance on one foot.

Apparently I was doing so well, that I was able to learn my first skill on my first day: the swizzle. Basically, I roll onto the outside blade as I move my feet out from under my hips and then roll onto the inside blade as I pull my feet back under my hips. It’s like making a football shape with my feet. I can’t yet swizzle and maintain any reasonable momentum, so I did three swizzles on each straightaway before returned to skating.

The magic moment came when I watched one of the ice dancers skate in front of me. She actually glided. She pushed off, glided, then pushed off the the opposite foot. Wow! I really was able to gain speed because gliding helped me find a rhythm. I was able to incorporate about three good glides before I came to a curve and had to spend some time finding my rhythm again. I guess tackling the corners is what I will work on in my second lesson.

By body is tired. Ice skating is a total body exercise! My arms actually hurt. It reminds be of ballet where the isometric arm work is deceptively effective. I’m really proud of myself that I’m learning to ice skate. I received lots of compliments on my improvement, and it was really good to hear coming from skilled ice skaters. I likely won’t be a graceful skater after six lessons, but I at least hope to be rhythmic with my skating. I will go skate one day after work next week to gain some practice.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries