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!

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

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.

 

February 13: Baked chicken thighs and peppers

As you might recall, I live in southwestern Ohio. We had a severe ice storm a few weeks back. While campus opened late, my apartment complex didn’t see fit to properly prepare the sidewalks and parking lots. I managed to make it to work one day only for them to send us home two hours later. So the next day, I chose to stay home.

I hadn’t been home on a weekday in months, so I found myself watching Rachel Ray’s day time show. I can take her only in small doses, but it was either her or the ignorance that is court TV. The show was pretty whack until the end when she actually did some cooking. She demonstrated how to make roast beef with vegetables. I rarely eat beef, so I wasn’t interested in the roast beef per se. I was truly fascinated that she cooked her vegetables under her meat. I knew that you could do it; I just never thought to do it.

So, when boneless, skinless chicken thighs and bell peppers were on sale at Kroger, I still wasn’t thinking to bake them together. It wasn’t until I sliced the red, yellow and orange bell peppers and sweet white onion that it occurred to me to bake them together. I was going to sauté the vegetables on the stove. But why mess up another pot when I could throw them in the baking pan under the chicken?

I liberally seasoned the vegetables with a blend of dried herbs and spices. I sprinkled the chicken with a chicken seasoning. The foil-lined pan went into a preheated oven until the chicken was no longer pink, about 55 minutes at 350 F.

Divinely delicious dinner

What makes baking the vegetables with the meat so much better than sautéing or baking separately — besides using one pan that I didn’t have to wash — is the juices from the chicken further season the vegetables.

I live alone, so this dish lasted me an entire week. I’m sure it’s not the wisest decision when food-borne illness is considered, but I survived with no problems lol. Next time I make this I will add some spinach, asparagus or green cabbage. The meal really needed something green, even though it was really colorful. Buying only items that were on sale made this dish very economical. All the ingredients cost about $5, and yielding six servings, it’s a bargain.

UPDATE (3/9/11): I made this dish with boneless, skinless chicken breasts since there were no packages of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the meat cases. I’m not a fan of chicken breasts, but the dish came out surprisingly well. The meat was not dry and the flavors were just as good with the less fatty parts.