March 9: Red Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

The problem with going vegetarian cold turkey is that I didn’t see how the sharp reduction in protein would affect me. I had been waking up hungry the last few days but attributed the issue to my stoked metabolism (I fell off the fitness wagon for a few weeks).  I inspected my diet and realized that I was not eating enough protein to compensate for the lack of meat. It’s only so much Fage greek yogurt I can eat in one day, so I opted for a more economical solution: quinoa.

The back of the regular quinoa box had a recipe for stuffed peppers. My mom made the best stuffed peppers when I was growing up. She used ground beef, white rice, canned crushed tomatoes, diced yellow onion and cheese. I’ve actually followed her recipe to make stuffed peppers before, so I didn’t bother with the recipe on the quinoa box. I picked up ingredients at Kroger: a bag of 3 tri-colored peppers, a yellow onion (that I didn’t end up using), vine-ripened tomatoes (I’m anti BPA), and a bag of Private Selection Zesty frozen vegetables.

So this zesty vegetables is pretty tasty. It’s black beans, sweet corn, diced onion, diced green pepper, diced red pepper, and spices. The bag is steamable, which makes cooking super easy. I figured rather than ice a bunch of vegetables, which I wasn’t feeling, I would cheat and use the frozen veggie medley as my filler. I did dice the tomatoes because I love fresh tomatoes.

I did not multi-task very well. Start the quinoa before prepping the vegetables; red quinoa takes longer to cook than regular quinoa. I washed the vegetables with produce spray and rinsed. I chopped the tomatoes. I sliced the tops from the peppers and removed the seeds and pulp from the peppers. After the vegetables steamed in the microwave for 5 minutes, I transferred them to a large mixing bowl with the diced tomatoes. I transferred the 2 cups of cooked quinoa to the mixing bowl (0.5 cup dry = 2 cups cooked) and stirred. I mixed in some shredded queso cheese (something Kroger makes) because I like my stuffed peppers to be cheeeeeeesy! Stuff the peppers and top with lots of shredded cheese!

The peppers were placed in a baking dish lined with foil. Filled peppers don’t stand up well on their own, so I reconfigured the stuffed peppers in the dish so they wouldn’t fall over while cooking. The dish went into a 350 F oven until the peppers were cooked. I didn’t cover my peppers with foil, and the cheese did not burn. My mom would wait until the peppers were cooked before topping with cheese.

Anyway, dinner was delicious. I roasted asparagus in a separate baking dish while the peppers cooked. So, lots and lots of vegetables with a touch of protein. I had extra filling, so 2 small tomatoes, the steamable bag of vegetables, and 2 cups of quinoa can stuff 5 medium bell peppers. Quite the economical and hearty meal!

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 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 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 1: Smithfield Garlic and Herb Pork Sirloin

Happy New Year! I originally planned to only write this blog for one year since it was a new thing I was trying. But in hindsight, I didn’t anticipate how much writing would keep me accountable for continuing to try new things. New Year’s Eve weekend 2010 I wrote a list of things I wanted to try in 2011. I accomplished maybe 10 of them *doh* but I tried so many things I didn’t think I would even do like cooking classes (the roasted tomato bisque post was the 5th most viewed post of 2011) and pomelo (which was not a popular post lol). I intended to run the Rock ‘N Roll half marathon in Vegas on December 4, but finances derailed that endeavor. Training was still enjoyable. Things worked out well because I had two job interviews the week of the race, both of which offered me the positions! So, I increased my cardiovascular endurance and have a job next fall as an assistant professor!

So, all that to say I made a pork sirloin for a traditional Southern New Year’s Day dinner. Growing up in Georgia, and with grandparents in South Carolina, I can’t recall a January 1 where I didn’t have collard (mustard, turnip) greens, black-eyed (field) peas, and some part of a pig. We eat these foods as good luck for the new year in the areas of health and prosperity. A staple dinner in the Deep South, at least in Black American households, our traditions have become somewhat mainstream thanks to morning news shows. Similarly, other cultures’ new year dinner traditions have been brought to my attention, like sauerkraut for health in the new year.

So new year’s eve, I was collecting ingredients for dinner. I bought a bag of Glory collard greens, frozen black eyed peas, and a Smithfield Garlic and Herb Pork Sirloin. I had no idea that there was a sirloin cut of pork. I haven’t eaten pork regularly in about 10 years, but I do not recall my mother ever cooking a pork sirloin. We’ve had pork tenderloin plenty of times, though. The main reason I opted for the sirloin was that it was smaller and I didn’t want to have a bunch of leftovers. FYI: warmed pork tenderloin makes excellent sandwich meat.

Juicy and tasty Smithfield Garlic and Herb Pork Sirloin

The cooking instructions were the same as the Smithfield tenderloin: cook at 425 F for 20 minutes per pound. Either the directions are incorrect or my oven is janky because while that worked for the tenderloin I cooked a week prior during vacation, I had to leave the sirloin in the oven an additional 20 minutes before the thermometer registered 160 F, the recommended temperature for doneness.

I do not cover my pork with aluminum foil during any part of the cooking process, so I was a little concerned when the sirloin came out from the oven looking a little dry. As it rested on a plate, I was pleased to return to the kitchen and find that it was glistening with tasty juices. Since I baked chicken thighs and peppers, I simply sliced the sirloin and placed it in the refrigerator for new year’s dinner the next day.

Sunday, I cooked carrots, collards, and black eyed peas on the stove. If you are interested in trying collard greens, which symbolize prosperity in the form of greenbacks, I recommend buying Glory brand prepared greens. I paid $1.50 for a bag. I would pay up to $4 for a bag of pre-washed and cut greens because it is such a pain to clean them. Cleaning greens to remove dirt and debris is a past-time in my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. I will forever cherish the stories and the time spent watching them as I grew up. So, if you have young children, it’s worth it to buy a bunch of greens. But if you’re single like me, do yourself a favor and buy a bag lol.

Anywhoo, I digress. I enjoyed the pork sirloin. It is definitely less tender than a tenderloin though the taste is still the same in my opinion. The texture reminded me of pork chops more than pork tenderloin, which makes sense I suppose. The cost per pound was the same, so it really just comes down to personal preference and portion size as to whether to choose tenderloin or sirloin. I will say, though, that if you like to make sandwiches with leftovers, stick with the tenderloin. A traditional Southern new year’s day dinner is pretty cost effective and can definitely be prepared throughout the year. I spent about $12 for all the ingredients, and it is enough food for 6 people/servings. Perhaps next year I will step from my comfort zone and include a tradition from another culture.

October 30: Parsnips

Parsnips (Image from Food.com)

As I alluded to in my previous post about Inca red quinoa, I have been celebrating the return of fall weather by roasting root vegetables. I mean, what says fall better than root vegetables? Last weekend while grocery shopping, I decided I would try parsnips. The white, carrot-looking vegetable was located in the bin adjacent to bulk carrots. I chose 3 healthy looking stems of parsnips and a bunch of organic carrots. To accompany the vegetables, I also purchased a bag of small (think golf ball size) Yukon Gold potatoes.

I stored the parsnips and carrots in the refrigerator on a plate. A big no no apparently. You have to place them in a container so they do not soften over time. But one day soaking up refrigerated air was not enough to damage the root vegetables. I gently scrubbed the parsnips, carrots, and potatoes under water. I peeled the parsnips and carrots before cutting them into even sized pieces. In a large Pyrex glass bowl, I seasoned the vegetables with dried herbs and coated them with virgin olive oil. The aluminum foil lined pan went into a preheated 400 F oven for 45-50 minutes or until fork tender. I stirred the vegetables about half way through since they browned on the areas interfacing with the foil.

I loved the roasted vegetables so much that I went and bought more to prepare again last night. The flavors of the parsnips, potatoes, and carrots really complemented each other. I found the nutty bite of the parsnips appealing. They were tender without being mushy, even when I reheated the veggie mix in the microwave. The texture  reminded me of boiled cassava. I Googled to learn more about the nutritional value of this white vegetable. It’s really an excellent source of nutrients, particularly potassium (498 mg for 1 cup of sliced parsnips), while being low in calories (99) and fat (0.4g), sodium (13mg) and cholesterol (0mg). One cup of sliced parsnips even has 1.6 g of protein.

Parsnips is totally my new favorite vegetable. It’s a great alternative to mushrooms and potatoes as my go-to white vegetable. I think next time I buy carrots, parsnips, and potatoes I will try to make this soup. It’s nothing better than soup and grilled cheese on a snowy winter day! As I try new recipes with parsnips, I will let you know how they turn out.

 

October 23: Inca Red Quinoa

A must try if you like quinoa!

Since I cooked a pot of Inca Red quinoa on Sunday for dinner, I have been raving about it to all my co-workers. I am a huge fan of quinoa in general because it’s quick and easy to prepare, it’s a great source of whole grains and protein, and it’s affordable. The only downside of quinoa to me is that it’s rather bland. I definitely have to add either salt or some chicken bouillon to boost the flavor. Well, I happened up a box of Inca Red quinoa while roaming the natural food aisles in Kroger on Sunday morning. Ancient Harvest brand quinoa was on sale for the same price Wal-mart carries it. The Wal-mart in my town only carries the regular variety of quinoa (if I can even say that), so I was pleased to see the Inca Red heirloom brand.

Inca Red cooks the same exact way as the regular variety: boil 2 cups of water and toss in 1 cup of quinoa, reduce to simmer, and cook until the water is absorbed or evaporated. Oh.but.the.flavor! I love it! Inca Red has a nutty flavor and a firmer texture than regular quinoa. The taste and texture reminds me of tabbouleh, only better. I can eat Inca Red by itself whereas I feel with the regular variety, I at least need to throw some vegetables on top to make it more palatable.

I am definitely going back to Kroger this weekend to stock up on Inca Red before the sale price expires. It’s $4 a box good, but not $6 a box good! I’m trying to keep my food costs down, especially since I developed a taste for expensive Fage yogurt, so quinoa will provide an excellent source of protein to go with roasted veggies and bean soups.  I might even mix up some quinoa salad with the Inca Red to see how I like it!

In random updates, I am all about roasted carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes. I prepared some to accompany the Inca Red quinoa and baked Honeysuckle turkey loins. I’ve been bringing leftovers as lunch and the meal is so filling that I can get by on a light snack for dinner, well as long as I don’t workout after work. I just can’t say enough good things about Inca Red quinoa. If you like quinoa, you have to try it!

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