But Sugar is Sweeter

Easy Weeknight Dinners

Greek-Style Panzanella

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When I put this on our (new) menu board for the week, John had no idea what it was.  I described it to him as  crouton salad, partially because it’s true, and partially because John loves bread and I knew a salad made of it would intrigue him.  I really liked this dinner because it was easy, fresh, and included more than a full serving of vegetables, but the really great thing about it was the John loved it as well.  He even said, “Wow, this was a lot more filling than I expected.”  I served this as a meal on its own, but I think it would also be great as a side dish for a summer picnic.

In terms of cooking, don’t be tempted (as I was) to turn the heat up on the croutons in order to make them brown faster – this actually only makes them burn faster. You do have to watch the croutons while cooking, which is why I think cooking them on the stove is better than the oven.   Just be sure to use a large pan, and to toss the croutons every few minutes.  Also, this makes a lot of salad (way more than John and I could finish), and unfortunately the leftovers aren’t good because the bread gets soggy.  To avoid this, cook the bread and cut the vegetables, but only combine the ingredients you will actually use that day.  Then you can make the salad again the next day for lunch!

Greek Panzanella

Serves 4-6

  • 6 cups rustic bread (about 3/4 loaf), sliced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced (or 1 hothouse cucumber – no need to peel)
  • 1 Red pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Yellow pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Green pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/2 of a Red onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 8 oz feta, sliced into 1/2 inch cubes

For the Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon combined)

1. In a large frying pan heat 1/4 cup olive oil on medium- high heat.  Once hot, add bread and reduce heat to medium-low.  Salt the bread with 1 teaspoon salt. Toss the bread for about 10 minutes until crisp and slightly browned.

2.  Chop vegetables, and in a large bowl combine all vegetables, feta cheese, and olives.

3. In a small bowl combine all ingredients for the dressing and whisk until combined.

4. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss.  Add in the crisp bread and toss until evenly coated.

5. Clean up the kitchen while waiting for the flavors to meld.  Add salt and pepper as needed and serve.

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Slightly adapted from The Curvy Carrot, Originally from How Easy is That? by Ina Garten

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Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos

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Sometimes I miss college.  Well, let me rephrase.  Sometimes I miss certain parts about college.  Like the part where you can walk up and down the halls of the dorm and always find someone with their door open to hang out with.   And the part where the most important thing on a weekend was figuring out what costume would be perfect for the theme of the next party (okay, so sometimes I still do this).  But the thing I was missing this week was Torero’s – the signature Mexican restaurant in our college town.   Because our meal plan was ridiculous, you could get Torero’s delivered to your dorm room anytime you wanted, on meal plan points.  I had tried a variety of things from the menu, but one time someone ordered Taquitos, I tried one, and I fell in love. I’m pretty sure every time after that, I ordered chicken taquitos myself.  Somehow I happened to never actually read the menu to realize they were deep fried, and although they clearly looked deep fried, I chose to ignore this little fact.

I don’t think I’ve had a taquito since college, but when I saw these baked chicken taquitos on Pink Parsley, I knew I would have to try them.  Not only are they a baked version of my favorite college Mexican treat, but they also use my favorite salsa – Salsa Verde.  (The same salsa I use in  Chicken Enchiladas Verdes).  Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients, because these really don’t take that long to put together – in fact I think these are easier to make than the enchiladas.  If I was a little more organized, I would’ve planned grilled chicken for dinner one night, and made sure to cook enough to have leftovers for these the next.  Perhaps one of the greatest things about these taquitos is that you can freeze them (unbaked) and then bake them whenever needed.  Actually, the ones in the picture were baked from a frozen state.      I originally planned to post this the first time I made them – but we ate up all the taquitos so quickly that I didn’t get to snap a picture.  I’ll have to say, they taste just as good from the freezer as they did the first time.  This would also be a great meal for a big group dinner, because once you have the filling made it’s really simple to put together, and have you ever met a person who doesn’t like food they can eat with their fingers?
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Baked Chicken Taquitos

– Recipe indicated is for 20-24 taquitos, which will serve 6-8 people

  • 3 -4 chicken breasts (~4-5  cups shredded)
  • 1 block (8 oz) low-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup salsa verde (tomatilla salsa)
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup  chopped scallion
  • 1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded Pepperjack cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 20-24 small  (6-inch) flour tortillas
  • cooking spray

Bring a large saucepan filled with water to a boil over high heat.  Add chicken breasts to the water, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink when cut into.  Remove chicken from water, let cool slightly and then shred. (You could also use leftover chicken, or roast the chicken in the oven)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and lay a wire cooling rack over a large cookie sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese with the salsa, lime juice, cumin, chile powder, cayenne, onion powder, garlic, cilantro, scallions, and a pinch of salt & pepper.  (Everything but the chicken, cheese, and tortillas).   Once mixed, fold in the chicken and shredded cheeses.

Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of filling onto the lower third of each tortilla, and roll tightly. In order to help the tortilla stay closed, you may want to spray some cooking spray on the seam.   Place seam side-down on the wire rack.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

Spray the taquitos with cooking spray, then place the wire rack on top of a baking pan (otherwise the cooking spray creates a sticky residue when baked on the cookie sheet.)  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp and golden-brown.  Serve with dipping sauces such as salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.  I think sour cream mixed with salsa would also be delicious.

*To Freeze the taquitos, roll them up as usual but do not bake. Place on a baking sheet in the freezer in order to “flash” freeze them individually. Wrap in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil and freeze in a freezer bag.  To bake, remove from oven, and bake un-thawed for 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees. 

Slightly adapted from Pink Parsley Catering, via Pennies on a Platter, Originally from  Our Best Bites


Salmon Cakes with Lemon Yogurt Sauce

After 6 long weeks of studying (plus 2 years of med school), I finally finished that huge exam.  Honestly, I will have no idea how it went until I get my score in about a month- but for now, I’m just celebrating being done!  I spent the evening after my test in Toledo hanging out with friends, and then left the next day for a “vacation” to Brecksville with my Mom.  While I put vacation in quotes, it really has been a vacation.   Between a lot of wine and a lot of fun family time, we managed to make a trip down to the West Side Market.  Of course, I had a blog menu all planned out – and my mom was really excited to take part in something that was going to go on the internet :-).
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If you’re from Cleveland, or ever visiting, I highly recommend a trip downtown to see it.   It’s a really unique atmosphere, with every other stand trying to sell you their best produce (or at least the produce they have too much of).

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You can get some great deals on really fresh food, and they even have an indoor market where they sell meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, and even prepared foods like homemade pasta and crepes.

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After getting all the ingredients at the market, we stopped at Penzey’s spices which is right across the street.  I have wanted to go to Penzey’s for a while, so I was really excited that their new store happened to be so close.  They have just about every spice you could ever want, including about 8 different varieties of cinnamon.  I ended up getting poppy seeds, Ancho peppers and Garam Masala – all of which I’m really excited to use.  And the prices are surprisingly reasonable ($8 total for my loot).

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Now onto the Salmon Cakes!  These babies have been one of my favorite dishes since way back when I was living in LA (that’s Louisiana not the cooler California version).  I decided to try this recipe after  Whitney  had introduced me to crab cakes at Red Bar near Seaside, FL.  I have no idea why I never tried a crab cake before this but I found that I loved them and am now constantly on the lookout for good ones.

However, the price of lump crab meat is daunting (especially  here, far from the ocean),   so I thought salmon cakes would be a nice alternative.  These always prove to be delicious, and they are quite easy to make.  I think the hardest part is removing the skin from the salmon filet – but most of the time the Fishmonger will do this for you, as long as you remember to ask.

While this recipe doesn’t call for a lot of ingredients, I think each of them is very important – so don’t skimp.   I know adding pita to a salmon cake might seem a little strange, but the texture is much nicer than the usual breadcrumbs, and then you have some leftover pita bread sitting around your house (plus!).   The coriander is the main spice, and it really complements the salmon well.  If you like a lot of spice, feel free to up the cayenne pepper – but I usually only add a small pinch, and they are still plenty flavorful.  Finally, the lemon yogurt sauce is a must to serve with these.  It’s super easy to put together since you already zest a lemon and chop chives to put into the salmon cakes – the only other ingredient you need to buy is the yogurt itself.

I served the cakes with a cucumber salad – which complemented nicely but it not quite up to blog standards yet.  Hopefully I’ll tweak it and share it with you soon!
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Salmon Cakes with Lemon Yogurt Sauce

-Makes 4-5 salmon cakes or enough for about 3-4 people.

  • 1 pound skinless salmon fillet, roughly cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large pita round (~10 inches), torn into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • small pinch of cayenne pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 T. total chopped Chives (divided)
  • 2 teaspoons total lemon zest (divided)
  • 2 T. olive oil (for sautéing)

For the Sauce: 

  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • Plus half the chives and half the lemon zest from above

To prepare the yogurt sauce: Mix the yogurt, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of chives and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest in a small bowl.  Keep cold until ready to serve.

In a medium bowl, mix together salmon, pita, mayonnaise, egg, coriander, cayenne pepper, salt and 2 T. chives and 1 teaspoon lemon zest.

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Form the mixture into 4-5 patties, about 3-4 inches in diameter.  This can be done ahead of time – just cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge). 

Heat the oil on medium-high in a large stainless steel skillet.  Cook the salmon cakes on medium high for 3-4 minutes per side (6-8 minutes total), or until golden brown on each side.

Serve warm with lemon wedges and yogurt sauce.
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Adapted from Epicurious 


Salmon with Mango Salsa

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For some reason whenever I put salmon on the weekly menu, it seems to get pushed back to another day, or another week.  The last time I bought salmon, it sat in the fridge until I was afraid to look at it and had to throw it out.  This is really a shame considering that once I actually make salmon, I LOVE it!  This meal was no exception to my salmon “fear”.  I had gotten all the ingredients for the salsa and couscous, but when dinner time rolled around, I was really hesitant to pick up the salmon and make this dinner.  Because we didn’t really have anything else planned for dinner, and because if I didn’t make it, all the other ingredients would go bad,  I couldn’t really talk myself out of it (although I tried).

As soon as I starting chopping for the salsa, I was over my fear and glad that I had decided to make the salmon.  When I tasted the final product, I was even happier. I actually couldn’t believe that I was considering scraping this dinner for grilled cheese instead :-)!  This dinner came together quickly, and was delicious!   I served it over plain couscous that I cooked with chopped green onion and dried cranberries – which was also pretty yummy.  I think once the weather gets a little warmer, I’ll grill the salmon instead of broiling it, but broiling is easy and it came out great.

Salmon with Mango Salsa

– Makes 3-6 servings depending on the size of salmon filet used (Estimate ~4 oz per person)

For the Mango Salsa

  • 1 Mango, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 of a cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • A few strips of red bell pepper, chopped
  • ~1/4 cup of red onion, chopped
  • ~3 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix.

For the Salmon

  • 1-2 lbs wild salmon filets
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • 2-3 Tablespoons light mayonaise
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat broiler.  Sprinkle lime juice over the salmon. Spread mayonaise over the filet using the back of a spoon.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place salmon on a broiling pan lined with tin foil, and broil for about 10 minutes, until cooked through.  To serve, cut into smaller filets, top with mango salsa, and serve over couscous or rice pilaf.

Source: A Spice Is Nice Original


Twice Baked Potatoes

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I figured what would be better than a POTATO with the colors of the Irish flag!   I made mine with  broccoli, scallions, and cheddar, so I could get the green, white and orange effect.   I hope this brings a little St. Patrick’s Day spirit to your day!

My better half is interviewing people this week,  so it’s just me here until tomorrow.   Cooking for 1 can be tricky, but I think this recipe fits the bill – It’s quick, easy, and I had all the ingredients on hand.  The recipe is for 4 potatoes, but can easily be adapted to make just 1, or 8.  I often forget how great a good baked potato can be.  In college, my friend Christine, once had a “Baked Potato Party” in which she baked a bunch of potatoes, and then had all kinds of fun toppings for us to put on them.  It was such an easy and creative idea, and I have been wanting to do it ever since – maybe this will inspire you to host your own.  Whatever you put on your baked potato, it can be a hearty, and filling meal that’s easy and cheap to make.  I also included some suggestions for alternate stuffed baked potatoes , which I am now dying to try!

Twice Baked Potatoes

  • 4 russet potatoes – scrubbed and patted dry
  • Olive Oil and Salt
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup chopped broccoli, steamed
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions

Preheat oven to 400°.  Rub potatoes with a small amount of oil and sprinkle with salt.  Place potatoes directly on rack and cook for 45-60 minutes.  Do not wrap potatoes in foil because this will make the skins soft and it will be difficult to scoop the filling out later.

In a large bowl combine 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, sour cream, milk, garlic powder, broccoli, and 1/4 cup scallions.

Remove potatoes from oven and let cool slightly.  Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a soup spoon, scrape out as much potato as you can while leaving the skin intact – leaving about 1/8 inch.  The potatoes taste better when there is less plain flesh left in them.  Add the flesh to the large bowl with sour cream mixture.  Mash the flesh until combined.

Spoon the flesh back into the potato shells.  Place filled shells on a baking sheet coated with aluminum foil.  Sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese over the tops of the potatoes.

Return potatoes to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to brown.

To serve, top with remaining scallions.


Variation 1: Blue Cheese, Onion and Mushroom Potatoes

  • Substitute 1 cup crumbled blue cheese for the cheddar, and 1 cup sautéed mushrooms and onions for the broccoli.

Variation 2: Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Stuffed Potatoes

  • Substitute 1 cup of herbed goat cheese for the cheddar, and 3/4 cup caramelized onions for the broccoli.

Variations inspired by America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook


Red Beans & Rice

There are 3 reasons why I really wanted to make this dish: First, although I really thought spring was on its way (and was planning dinner accordingly),  I was quickly thrown back to reality when I found my  car crystalized in 2 inch thick ice. After finally digging my car out from under the snow/ice mix, I decided that a warm, hearty, wintery meal was in order.  Second, Mardi Gras is fast approaching, and it really makes me miss Louisiana and the friends I made there.  Louisiana is probably the most cultural place in America, and they sure know how to cook.  And third, my friend Maggie, just bought a crockpot and I promised her a good “Crock Pot” recipe.

Likely your reasons for making this dinner are going to be different than mine, but I think you should find your own reasons, and make this.  This isn’t one of those crockpot meals where you have to cook everything before you put it into the crock pot (I never got the point of that), so it’s quite simple to make. In fact, when I had the cutting board out for dinner the night before, I just cut up the ingredients,  and then John threw them in the crockpot this morning.  But just because it’s simple doesn’t change the fact that it’s delicious.  You know what would make this dinner even more delcious?  King Cake! If you live in Louisiana, please go eat a king cake for me, and then tell me all about it (preferably one with cream cheese and strawberry filling).  Oh how I miss you Louisiana and your sweet, sweet food and drink and people.

Red Beans and Rice

  • 1 pound Dried Red Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 7 cups Water
  • 1 whole Green Bell Pepper, Chopped
  • 1 whole Onion, Chopped
  • 3 stalks Celery, Chopped
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped
  • ½ pound Turkey Polska Kielbasa, sliced (or Andouille Sausage)*
  • 3 Tablespoons “Tony’s” or other Creole Seasoning
  • Hot Cooked Rice

* If you want the real thing, you should go with the real sausage.  I happen to like turkey sausage, but it’s not going to give you quite as thick of a sauce.

Rinse and drain the red beans. Place all the ingredients into a large Crock Pot, except for the rice.

Cook, covered, at HIGH for 7 hours or until beans are tender.  Don’t peak.

Serve over hot white rice.  I also made this cornbread to serve with it.  (Krusteaz didn’t pay for me for this or anything,  but I just thought it was a really good box mix, and it was only $1)

Adapted from  Tasty Kitchen


Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

To be honest, I’ve been eating the “verde” version of enchiladas for so long, that I kind of forgot there was any other kind. But that’s perfectly fine with me, because I love this dinner.  Its great because so many different cuisines are made using a red tomato base, so this really adds some variety to the dinner table. I made a similar version for the first time back in college (Friday night dinner parties!), and I’ve been adapting it ever since.  At this point I’m even afraid to order enchiladas at a Mexican restaurant, for fear that they won’t live up to this version.

I thought about making the  verde sauce from scratch,  but I couldn’t find tomatillos at the store. (Probably had something to do with being the middle of the winter in Ohio). But it’s probably better that I didn’t because this dish is great just the way it is, and I have enough other things to keep me busy.  For the cheese topping,  this time I happened to use  queso fresco, but I have made it before using Monterey Jack, and I like both.  It just depends on what I find at the store and what happens to be on sale.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

– Makes about 8 enchiladas

  • 1 can (10 oz) green enchilada sauce
  • 1 bottle (14 oz) salsa verde (or about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 an medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1  large (12 oz) chicken breast (or 2 smaller) – pounded to an even thickness
  • 1/2 block (4 oz) reduced fat  cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 corn tortillas (about 6 inch)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco or Monterey Jack cheese

Add the canned enchilada sauce, salsa verde, minced onion, and garlic to a saucepan over medium heat.   Add the 1 or 2 chicken breasts to the saucepan, cover pan, and cook for 20 minutes. Cut the chicken in half to ensure it is cooked through, and if not, continue cooking until it is no longer pink.

Turn off heat, and remove chicken from the pan.  After cooling slightly, shred chicken into small pieces.  In a small bowl combine the chicken, cream cheese, 2/3 cup of enchilada sauce and cilantro.

The salsa mixture should still be warm at this point.  Working with one tortilla at a time, dip the corn tortilla into the salsa mixture for about 10 seconds and remove with tongs.  This is just to make the tortilla more pliable, so it doesn’t crack when rolling.  Then place the tortilla on a plate and spread 1/3 cup of chicken mixture down the tortilla.  Roll up and place, seam side down, in a 11 x 7 baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Pour a heaping cup of remaining salsa mixture on top of the tortillas.  (I usually have some left over, but I prefer this to using 1/2 a can of enchilada sauce. If you want to double this recipe, I would just use an extra jar of salsa and skip the canned sauce). Top with crumbled queso fresco or shredded Monterey jack (or both).

Bake at 425° for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese melts and enchiladas are heated through.