July 26: Chipotle Vegetarian Bowl–the at home edition known as Fauxpotle Vegetarian Bowl

It’s been a minute since I posted about anything new. I would tell you about the wonderful adventure of trying to move twice in three weeks (OH to GA, GA to DC), but I’ll give you the bottom line now: Don’t do it! lol Just don’t do that to yourself. Ever. Life in D.C. is quite different as a working professional, who’s technically unemployed until Wednesday, than it was as a free-spirited undergraduate. I found the basic establishments: grocers, Metro, gas station, and the Chemistry department where I’ll be working.

I can’t say I’ve tried many new things since May when I last posted. Relocating and some much needed R&R were priorities. Now that I have some semblance of normalcy in my life again, it’s time to try new things! Yay! Okay, so first up, what I’m calling Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl. My first weekend in the city, I went with a friend to the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see a special exhibit related to Black American life. We had lunch at the Chipotle on the next block and I ordered the vegetarian bowl.

I’m always looking for recipe ideas, and the vegetarian bowl seemed quite simple if only I could figure out the seasonings in the rice. I plan to save the mild sauce for another attempt. Baby steps. Search engines are a beautiful thing. I found this recipe that claims to be sources from Chipotle’s executive chef. I have my doubts, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. I made my grocery list and picked up ingredients.

Notice the recipe says to stir the rice in lime juice. The mere fact there was not a volume should have been a red flag. But hey, I’m just going with it. The fragrance of the lime juice reducing was wonderful. I cooked the rice without cilantro (I really need to start my herb garden because I will waste a bunch of cilantro), and after what seemed like forever, my rice was still wet, not as in water, but wet with sugar. The lime juice reduced to its sugar. Yes, yuck.

As my rice was messing up, I sauteed sliced green pepper (one large) and slices of half of a large red onion in chicken broth on high heat in a skillet. I liberally seasoned the vegetables with Cajun seasoning before cooking. In the microwave, I cooked half a bag of frozen sweet corn (about 2.5 cups). I added the corn to a pan of rinsed, canned black beans that were heating on low. Since I did not add liquid, I just warmed them.

In a large glass bowl, I mixed all the ingredients — including the gummy rice, which tasted surprisingly good, if not a little “lime-y”. Despite the texture and appearance, the Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl was quite tasty. And super cheap. I was able to make four servings (~1.5 cups per serving) for less than $5 total. I think that’s the cheapest meal I’ve made to date!

So, bottom line, the Fauxpotle vegetarian bowl is a keeper. In fact, I stocked up on black beans lol. After the epic fail on the rice, I went back to re-read the recipe to make sure I wasn’t crazy, and I saw a second recipe below. That one seems much more promising. It calls for the rice to be stirred in oil and cooked as usual. Then the lime juice is added. For you carnivores, adding meat and choice of sauce will make the dish more Chipotle-like. I like that this recipe is a basic recipe that can be tweaked with different seasoning, rice, beans, and vegetables. One of these days, I’ll try it with some thick white fish (like cod) and made a wrap. Perfect for lunch! The recipe written together is below.

Fauxpotle Vegetarian Bowl

Ingredients

1 large bell pepper

1 medium red onion

Chicken broth, enough to cover the bottom of a 10 in skillet about 1/4 inch

Your choice of seasoning. I used a store-bought Cajun blend

1 can of black beans, rinsed

2.5 cups frozen, sweet corn, cooked

4 cups of jasmine rice, cooked. Any kind of rice will do.

Directions:

Heat broth to boiling. Cook vegetables on high until desired tenderness.

Microwave the corn per manufacturer’s directions. Add to warmed black beans.

For the rice, follow Ramya Maddela’s recipe (Recipe#2).

Stir all ingredients together and enjoy! Happy cooking!

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

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.

 

May 25: Prepare one huge salad to last several days

It occurred to me the other day that I haven’t eaten a respectable serving of vegetables in about two weeks. Yeah, not good I know. Since the oven is shut down for the summer and I have zero desire to eat anything warm, I thought salads would be a great alternative to my usual cereal and milk summer diet. The trouble is, I rarely eat salads, especially if I have to make them. But what is a girl to do? If I weren’t training for a race, then I would happily function on cereal, milk and the occasional bowl of ice cream (okay, more than occasional).

After realizing that buying a fix-it-myself salad from the cafeteria everyday was not in my budget, I bit the bullet and purchased salad fixings. I love spring mix, so I bought a pound of that along with sliced baby portabella mushrooms, grape tomatoes, carrot chips, cucumbers and bell peppers. I already had a red onion at home. I sliced the cucumber and onion and tossed a good amount into a huge Rubbermaid container I normally use for storing cookies and brownies. I added greens and the other ingredients (except the peppers which I somehow forgot about), sprinkled with salt and dried herbs before giving the container a good shake once the lid was securely on it. I then added peeled, whole boiled eggs.

So each morning, I just fill a 5-cup Rubbermaid container with salad and one or two eggs. I prepared some oil and balsamic vinegar for a healthy dressing. I made about a cup of the dressing and drizzed 2T onto my salad. It was delicious! I was pleasantly surprised at how flavorful a little oil-vinegar mix could be. Definitely did not feel like I was eating rabbit food, as I often do when I have salad with no meat protein.

All the salad produce cost about $12. Buying pre-sliced vegetable added some expense, but if I don’t have to invest time dicing and slicing I was more likely to choose a salad over a less healthy lunch option. The pound of salad greens is too much for me, but the other choice I had available was not enough. Consequently, I will be eating salads for lunch and dinner to avoid food waste. To keep things interesting over the summer, I will mix up the types of greens and toppings I use. Otherwise, I already know that I will become bored eating salads all summer.

In other news, I am officially no longer pre-hypertensive. My blood pressure (110/78) is solidly normal. Hurrah for a low sodium diet. I’m sure my healthy lunches this summer will help me maintain the optimal blood pressure.

May 11: Gourmet Magazine Pizza with Pesto, Fresh Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

I purchased way too many Pillsbury refrigerated pizza dough canisters a few months ago when they were on sale. Well, the expiration date is quickly approaching, so I wanted to try and make a “gourmet” pizza. I usually throw bell peppers, red onions and processed shredded cheese on the olive oil base and call it a day. It’s a good pizza, but there is no real wow factor.

Again, the May issue of Shape magazine was inspirational in me wanting to try to break from my pizza comfort zone. Epicurious.com is always a great place to find tasty recipes of those things you love in restaurants or bakeries but didn’t think you could make on your own. I found an amazing double chocolate biscotti recipe a few years ago on Epicurious and I make two loaves whenever I feel like getting my hands dirty.

Epicurious did not fail me. A recipe from August 1999 Gourmet magazine sounded like something I would like: Pizza with pesto, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella. The original recipe also uses refrigerated pizza dough. My modified recipe is below; I added sweet Italian turkey sausage and red onions.

My version of Jackie Bonenfant’s Gourmet recipe:

  1. 1 Pillsbury thick crust refrigerated pizza dough
  2. 2 large, firm roma tomatoes
  3. 1/4 medium red onion, diced
  4. 1 Honeysuckle sweet Italian turkey sausage link, without casing
  5. 1 cup of sliced low-moisture part-skim fresh mozzarella (I used Cacique)
  6. 3 T of pesto (I used Kroger Private Collection brand)

Yield: 8 slices

Pesto, fresh tomato, mozzarella and turkey sausage pizza with red onions

Let me say that this modified recipe takes some work. It’s an energy guzzler, so if I had to do it again, I would make this pizza in the winter when the extra heat from the stove and oven can be used to heat my house. But considering I have two more crusts and extra toppings, I’ll be making it again this weekend, then the oven is shut down until the weather cools off!

So, directions. I washed the produce and sliced the tomatoes crosswise about one-eighth inch thick. I sliced the red onion about the same width as the tomatoes. The mozzarella was tough to work with. I cut the large patty in half then with a chef’s knife sliced the cheese as thin as possible. Most were about 1/8″ thick.

I then preheated the oven to 500°F and lined my baking sheet with parchment paper — though in hindsight this wasn’t a good idea considering the temperature is above the recommended limit for Reynold’s parchment paper. Nothing adverse happened but considering I still had to wash the baking sheet after cooking the pizza, I might as well just not use the paper.

After removing the meat from the casing of the sausage link (just squeeze like you’re emptying a tube of toothpaste), I cooked it in a hot skillet that was coated with canola oil cooking spray. After the meat was browned, I added minced garlic and the red onions. As the red onions softened a bit on low heat, I prepared the refrigerated dough.

I often have trouble with the canisters of dough. They seldom open properly, and they often tear. Last night was no different. Rather than try to patch the dough back together, I just balled it up in my hands and rolled it out into a 12 inch circle. Toppings were loaded onto the pizza dough. First, I drizzled 1T of olive oil as the base before adding the 3T of pesto. The brand of pesto I had was oily, so I could have skipped the olive oil base. Next, I placed about half a cup of mozzarella strips on the pesto, topped with the tomatoes and sausage mixture followed by the remaining mozzarella. I liberally seasoned the pizza with a blend of Italian spices and stuck the pizza in the oven for 8 minutes until the dough was golden brown and the cheese melted.

I must say there is something about fresh mozzarella. The pizza was dreamily cheesy and incredibly tasty. It was definitely restaurant quality unlike the pizzas I normally make. I didn’t really taste the pesto, so considering it’s expense, I probably would not buy it just to add as a base to pizza. The mozzarella slices made the pizza in my mind. It melts smooth; it’s creamy; and it’s not ridiculously high in sodium (only 180 mg per ounce).

If anything took away from the pizza, it was the dough. Cooking at 500 °F meant the dough was crispy on the outside while much chewier inside. But the Pillsbury dough just didn’t do it for me. I will definitely consider making my own pizza dough in the future.

Overall, I am really glad that I tried this recipe. The cost was less than a dollar per slice. It’s not a healthy pizza in terms of calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Cutting the amount of cheese in half and omitting the sausage would make it much healthier. Between the sausage, cheese and crust, it’s a wonder I didn’t have a stroke last night. Seriously. Nevertheless, pizza with pesto, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and sweet Italian sausage is sinfully sensational. Treat yourself and you won’t be disappointed *smile*

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