Friday, January 28, 2011

Crock Pot chicken taco chili

After a bit of a warm spell this week -- temperatures reaching 40! oh my! -- we're back to the cold and snowy weather of winter that I enjoy much too much.  It might be due to the fact that I love curling up under my quillow (quilt that folds into a pillow!) and watching TV.  Or that super hot showers feel incredible just before bed.  Or, it just might be because I've had the quintessential comfort food for at least one meal every day this week since Tuesday.  Chili!

You see, when I was planning meals last week, I aimed for dishes high in protein with lots of vegetables.  Some new gym routines on my radar were bound to kick my butt and I wanted to have the proper fuel for my tired muscles.  When I think of healthy meals, I think of plates with grilled chicken breasts, steamed vegetables, and small portions of whole grain rice.  Bor-ing!  Totally boring.

But because no sane person craves foods like that on a regular basis, I started craving something cozy and delicious and satisfying.  A pile of fresh pasta topped with sauce and grated cheese.  Or something like a super thick and creamy soup.  A carbohydrate-induced coma!  Delicious, yes, but hardly balanced.  What to do, what to do...

And then I spotted it.  The most mouth-watering chili recipe this side of the Mississippi interwebs.  Everyone has a favorite chili recipe or two.  I happen to have quite a few.  To this day, I haven't met a chili recipe that I didn't love.  But this one really takes the cake.  It's unlike anything I've ever had before.  I present to you a chicken chili.

Somehow, chili has managed to fly under the radar when it comes to balanced meals.  It snuck right into the comfort food family without anyone taking notice.  Sneaky, chili, very sneaky!  I'm onto you and your spicy and flavorful sauce, packed with onions and chilies and taco seasoning that has finally found its real purpose in life.  The two kinds of beans mix with the chicken that practically shreds itself it's so tender.  Oh, and did I mention that the prep is so easy I had to work to make the directions below form a respectable paragraph?  A little work in the morning makes for gourmet-smelling kitchen at dinnertime and a no work and all play dinner that will impress even the pickiest of eaters.

Do yourself and your significant other/friend/family/future self a favor and throw this together this weekend.  I'm thankful that there is one remaining serving of this, and I'm having it for lunch later today.  Finally!  I learned my lesson about delayed posting of recipes.  Maybe I really am on the ball this week?  To be determined on Sunday.  Have a fantastic weekend!

Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili
(adapted slightly from SkinnyTaste)
-serves 10

A few notes: This chili is spicy without being hot, but feel free to add hot sauce or a diced jalapeno to knock your socks off.  Also, because it's practically a sin to eat chili without it, cornbread is a lovely addition :)

1 onion, chopped
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn kernels
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) can diced chilies
1 packet taco seasoning
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon chili powder
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
Shredded cheddar cheese, for serving

Combine onion, beans, tomato sauce, corn, tomatoes, chilies, seasoning and spices in bowl of a slow cooker.  Place chicken breasts on top in one layer and cover with lid.  Cook on low for 10 hours or on high for 6 hours.  About 30 minutes before serving, remove chicken, shred with forks, return to crock pot, and stir.  Serve and top with shredded cheese, if using.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Turkey & rice stuffed peppers

Do you feel it?  I totally feel it!  What is it?  The feeling that I'm totally on the ball this week.  Maybe even... dare I say... ahead of the game.  I don't always feel like this, so I tend to get very excited when it happens.  Do you ever have days/weeks when you are so prepared for everything coming your way?  Doesn't it feel amazing?!  Time for a celebratory dance -- you deserve it.

My to-do list hasn't even had a chance to build up because I'm crossing things off like it's my job (well, some of them are).  The biggest relief is the one that I feel when it comes to dinners for the week.  By now, I know you're bored with hearing how hungry I am after the gym... hate toiling for 45 minutes until food is ready... yada yada yada :)

So, I'll skip that part and, instead, sing the praises of doing a little bit of prep work on the weekend and how it saves literally hours of time during the week!  Every time I grumble about this being my least favorite part about cooking and hey, I can just do it later during the week, right?  Wrong!  Totally worth it, people.  I clean and chop all vegetables, trim and marinate meats, cook basics like rice and pasta, and portion out all of them.  Then, when I'm cooking, I feel like one of the Food Network hosts that I'm watching, grabbing my neatly prepared ingredients and balancing them in a tower of bags and containers as I head to my work play station.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Glazed chocolate cake

Another sweet weekend in the books, folks.  On Friday night, we saw The King's Speech and wow, did it deliver.  What a charming movie!  The chemistry between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush is something you just can't fake.  I want to see it again, $10 ticket and all!  That's saying something :)  The rest of the weekend involved friends, family, sports, and the baking of two very different cakes.  One was for a train-loving little boy's birthday, and the other was a very different animal entirely.

You see, there are chocolate cakes.  Ones that boast multiple layers of I-guess-it's-chocolate-if-it's-brown cake piled high with fluffy and super sweet buttercream and icing roses, balloons, and words of celebration.  And then there are chocolate cakes.  Topped with rich and shiny chocolate ganache.  Not for the faint of heart.  This is that chocolate cake.

(You know it's serious when the chocolate glaze need not even grace the sides of the cake.)

So what's the special occasion, you ask?  Let's back up a bit...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pork chops with apples & garlic mashed potatoes

More snow!  More wind!  And a city full of wimps.  Back when I was young, we didn't have nearly this many snow days.  The city plowed and salted and we were expected to go about our normal days.  Kids today are just spoiled... ha!  But it's going to get colder tonight, dipping into the single digits.  I don't know about you, but a cold wintry Friday puts me in the mood for a few things... (I have noticed a pattern of sharing lists with you on Fridays, woops.  Maybe this will become a staple.  TBD.)

1. A super hard workout to kick off the weekend.  Laziness never feels more deserved than when it's earned.

2. Rewatching Thursday night TV or a movie.  If all goes well, I think we're heading to see The King's Speech tonight.  I'm well on my way toward my quest to see all of the Best Picture nominees!

3. One fantastically gorgeous and hearty, yet totally easy, meal.  One that makes curling up in sweatpants that much more enjoyable.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Coconut macadamia nut cookies

It's a funny thing -- social etiquette, that is.  Since I was a kid, I've kept a mental list of topics not to discuss at dinners, parties, and work events.  At first, it's things like, "It's not nice to ask why [random male family friend] doesn't have much hair left on his head."  Sure, that's a simple request for an ignorant child and most will heed the instruction without much protest.  Instead, I stuck to asking my dad such questions, to which he'd frequently answer, "Because of you and your sister."  Sweet guy, no? :)

As you get older, you learn there are many more sensitive topics that aren't considered polite social conversation and will even stir up some unwanted conflict, even among the closest of friends: politics, religion, and money are the big three that come to mind.  But as I've recently discovered, there might be a new one to add to that list -- food!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mac and cheese soup

Remember when I made the greatest macaroni and cheese the world has ever known last year?  If you don't, it's probably because you haven't made it yet, and you should change that immediately!  In any case, I do and it's one of the few dishes that I think about, at minimum, weekly, yet never get around to making it.  Why is that? Because one recipe of it feeds a small army.  Even though I'm sure I could convince Matt and some friends to help, it's more that I don't trust myself alone with a dish of that stuff.  It's deadly good and incredibly addicting!  Oh, the torture!

(Now, having written that first paragraph, I can assure you that Martha's mac and cheese will be made within the month.  Thank you, universe!)

Last Saturday, I was at Barnes & Noble perusing the magazine section.  As much as I get excited about weddings (now with an actual wedding in my future!), I always end up in the food section.  Unofficial plug: If you're a food enthusiast and haven't checked out Food Network's magazine, I highly recommend it.  It has fantastic pictures, a variety of recipes, and the organization is off the chart -- an index at the front with pictures grouping the recipes into categories (appetizers, breakfast, sides, fish, meat, desserts, etc.).  It's a type A cook's dream!

Anyway, I did a quick glance through the index and decided it was worth buying this issue.  What sold me?  A recipe for macaroni and cheese soup.  That's right, soup, not casserole.  I'm usually on the fence about remixing classic recipes, but the ingredients and steps sounded fool-proof.  Simplified: make a cheesy broth and add cooked elbow macaroni noodles.  Um, yes please!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Brown sugar & chili marinated chicken

TGIF!  Though, dare I say this is almost a surprise Friday?  This week has been so busy that I hardly know what day it is.  A few things to share with you going into this three day weekend.  I present to you the Friday Five:

1. I miss my Thursday night (or any other night, for that matter) television shows.  Doesn't it seem like they should be back with new episodes?  The only new thing on TV is the current season of The Bachelor... eeee, and I'm ashamed to say I've already seen the first two episodes.  I've honestly never watched more than a few minutes of any previous season, but this was getting so much hype and seemed so dramatic that I somehow justified checking it out.  Ugh.  Trashy TV - 2, Katy - 0.

2. Award season officially kicks off on Sunday.  I'm making slow but steady progress on my quest to see all of the Best Picture nominees.  On tap for this weekend?  Toy Story 3 and Social Network.  If you've seen a few of the movies, what's your pick?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Single serving egg-less chocolate chip cookie dough

The morning after a fresh snowfall... I love it!  The city is uncharacteristically quiet since the white stuff seems to muffle anything and everything.  There is a sense of peace on my walk to work in the morning.  And the snow is still, well, white.  To me, there is nothing grosser than the gray black slushy matter that takes its place.  But anyway, for now I'll enjoy the still-growing picturesque blanket on top of Pittsburgh and tell you about my very cozy evening watching it fall from the sky.

At work, the impending storm was all we could discuss.  Tirelessly checking the weather websites and radar maps.  By one thirty, the snow had begun to fall and anyone in the office with a healthy commute was high-tailing it out of there by 3.  The stuff was falling (and sticking) quickly and word was there were already accidents and traffic jams all over the city.  I calmly stayed until quitting time, headed to the gym, squealed a little at the sight of covered sidewalks, and pumped out a good workout (still need a new playlist).  I really wanted to make a 180 and head home for sweatpants, but my sense of health prevailed.

When I came out around 5:30, this is what the previously bare sidewalks and roads were covered.

My ill-equipped phone camera didn't capture the millions of falling snowflakes, so you'll just have to trust me.

I hurried home, cleaned up, got into sweats, and had some quiche (spinach, bacon, and white cheddar, if you're looking for a variation to try) and broccoli for dinner.  You won't believe what I did next... or maybe you will.  I opened my curtains and just sat on my bed and watched the snow fall.  Watched and marveled and watched some more.  I felt so warm and cozy.

Then... it happened.  Out of nowhere I got a mad craving for carbs.  Baking!  Reminds me of last year's snowpocalypse when I baked cookies, bread, and such for 6 straight days until I literally ran out of ingredients.  Cookies.  Chocolate chip cookies!  Not tomorrow, not next week, NOW!

And then I remembered seeing a recipe for single serve chocolate chip cookie dough.  Even better!  Not that I don't love a warm straight out of the oven cookie, but how often do you find that you're more interested in the dough than the finished product?  Makes me fondly think of the time one of my my college roommates drug me to the grocery store so she could buy a tube of cookie dough and, on the bus on the way back to our apartment, tore open the package with her teeth to eat some.  Classic Rachel moment.  :)

Anyway, this cookie dough recipe is perfect for raw consumption because it contains no eggs.  None whatsoever.  Just the stuff you see above plus milk.  This dough is made with one purpose -- to satisfy your hankering for cookie dough -- so there is no need for ingredients that bind or leaven.  It takes 5 minutes to throw together and involves no advance prep work.

Mash butter, stir in remaining ingredients, chill briefly and devour.

Oh my gosh, this tastes like the real thing!  Sweet and buttery, smooth with chocolate morsels.  Totally satisfied my insane and impatient craving for dessert.  And perfectly proportioned for little old me.  That's not to say you can't double or triple this... you know, if you're sharing.  Whatever you decide, you won't be disappointed.  Time to meet your maker, cookie dough! :)

One Year Ago: Green monster smoothie (missed them so much I made one last weekend!)

Single Serve Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
(with some changes from here)

A few notes: The original called for a little vanilla extract, but if you know anything about uncooked vanilla, it's very alcoholic tasting -- gross.  So, I omitted that.  I also added a dash of salt to cut the sweetness and used equal parts white and brown sugar for depth of flavor.  Just because it's scaled way down and not being baked doesn't mean it shouldn't be delicious.  Finally, I chilled it in the freezer for a few minutes just to stiffen the dough slightly.

1 1/2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar (double this if you don't have brown sugar)
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
Dash of salt
1 Tablespoon milk
1 Tablespoon chocolate chips

In a small bowl, mash the butter with a fork until softened.  Add flour, sugars, and salt and continue to fork ingredients together until uniform and crumbly.  Add milk and blend until uniform.  Stir in chocolate chips.  And...

Just kidding, it's finished!  Enjoy your health hazard-free cookie dough!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shrimp & spinach salad with warm bacon dressing

Oh, Monday!  I'm actually somewhat excited to see you.  This weekend was one of those packed to the brim with fun that I feel any more would've exceeded my allowance and made me an irresponsible adult.  Talk about a sign that you're getting old... when you have fun guilt.  Pfffff.  Thank goodness I did some cleaning and meal prep last night before bed, or I would've been all id this weekend.

Yesterday Matt and I went to visit my parents' for brunch and QT, then I did the usual zen food trip (am I the only person whose happy place is the grocery store?).  Friday was my favorite kind of Friday -- came home after a tough workout, made a great dinner, did a little organizing and then bummed around watching TV.  The next day, the fiancĂ© (!!!) and I made a nice little Saturday of running errands, shopping, dinner, and a flick with friends -- Black Swan.

Have you seen it?  Let's just say it wasn't quite what I expected.  Freakishly disturbing.  A tad racy.  Intense.  And a bit scary at times.  But, good, in an unconventional not my typical cup of tea kind of way. And, daaaaaaaaaang, Natalie Portman has some serious acting chops.  She portrayed all kinds of crazy Nina Sayers the ballerina so well.  Come on, you can't say you'd take one look at her with those red eyes and think anything other than "psycho town", right?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Chicken, pepper, onion & mushroom kabobs

Look at that, it's Friday!  And a snowy one at that.  Though I really love snow, not everyone around here feels the same way.  Moods are starting to shift in this lull after the holidays, or what some will call the dog days of winter.  You know, that time of year when phrases like "seasonal affective disorder" start popping up in conversation.  (What?  That's just me?  Oh, right... the perks of working in the medical field.)  The days are shorter, nights are longer, and the small supply of sunshine is in high demand.  To you who are feeling a little blue, I say head to the tropics for a nice warm weather vacation!

Still here?  For you who aren't quite so lucky to jet off to a place of sun and sand and have made it this far, I have an inexpensive alternative to lift your otherwise dreary winter spirits-- make summer food in your own home!  In the colder months, we tend to cozy up to dishes like casseroles, delivery or (even better) homemade pizza, and the ever-popular chicken noodle soup.  They warm you from top to bottom and lull you into deep sleeps from which you never want to be awakened... especially when you walk to work.

These same foods also tend to give you the feeling of being wrapped in layer upon layer of sweaters and turtlenecks and sweatpants.  It's great for a while until you start craving vegetables.  Literally, scouring your pantry for any sign of a carrot or Brussel sprout or a shred of lettuce.  After a fantastic holiday break, filled with lots of fudge and cookies, I feel like my blood vessels have started to look like those pirouette cookies.  Delicious but a wee bit alarming.

So, to combat the feeling that your insides are becoming Willy Wonka's candy factory, I present you with a healthy and warm weather-esque dinner option -- kabobs!  Didn't think you could make kabobs without a grill or grill pan?  Think again!  After a little experimenting with kitchen hardware, I came up with a solution:

Genius, right!?  It totally worked, too!  So little cleanup, since the cut meat and vegetables went from the cutting board into the pan and, from there, I dressed the skewers.  A little olive oil and salt and pepper and a very grill-tastic feast was mine for dinner.  Fresh mushrooms... oh that depth of flavor from the woody portobellos catches me by surprise every time.  Why don't I eat these things more often?!  And the chicken gets an instant upgrade from the onions and peppers and simple seasoning.  Out of this world delicious and so simple... and not one bit of processed food in sight!  You may not be able to picnic outside just yet, but you can sure eat like it!

Chicken, Pepper, Onion, and Portobello Kabobs
-serves 2

A few notes: Feel free to sub the vegetables or meat to your liking.  Beef, even salmon would work well.  Potatoes, carrots, your choice!  Basically, do as you would do on your traditional outdoor grill.

1 red bell pepper
4 small (or 2 rather large) portobello mushrooms, brushed clean, stems discarded
8 ounces (about 1 large or 2 small) boneless chicken breasts
1/2 medium sweet onion
Ground black pepper
Olive oil

How to cook kabobs indoors and without a grill pan

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Soak skewers in water for at least 10 minutes before using.  Line 9x13-inch baking dish with foil.

2. Prep meat and vegetables.  Place into foil-lined pan.

3. One skewer at a time, pierce and line up meat and vegetables.  Leave roughly 2 inches free on both ends of each skewer and position so that meat and vegetables are over the foil-lined bottom of the pan.

4. Drizzle skewers with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Rotate skewers 180 degrees and repeat.

5. Carefully place pan in oven and cook kabobs for 15 to 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked thoroughly.

6. Serve and enjoy!  Perhaps with some lemonade?  No?  Try sparkling then :)

7. Easy breezy clean-up: fold in foil and discard.  Clean pan!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

White chocolate dipped Ritz Bitz peanut butter sandwiches

Before I sat down to write this, I popped one of these cookies into my mouth to give me some brain power.  One of the few lingering treats from the holiday season that I permitted back in my apartment because, you know, being rolled down the aisle 11 months from now might be a bit awkward.  And because they are so darn delicious that I physically can't stop eating them!

Since I was little young, I've always considered peanut butter an almighty brain food.  I think it stems from grade school teachers' instructions to eat a piece of peanut butter toast as part of  breakfast on days that we had exams because the protein would help us stay sharp.

From that time, peanut butter has been my go-to power condiment.  I've had it after long gym sessions when my muscles needed a blend of protein and fat, when I didn't have time for a meal but needed something quick, and even as one of the heralded pre-MCAT snacks... so you know it's all business if it can hold up for eight hours of science mumbo jumbo.  So, to all of those nasty people who point their fingers at peanut butter as the number one evil in America and caution everyone to avoid it, I say thank you -- more for me to use in my next kitchen adventure!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pure confectionary genius!

Saw this on Real Simple the other day and just had to share it.  How to cut a round cake as mess-free as possible.

"Forget about fussy slivers. You’ll get more pieces in less time with this method: Use a long, sharp knife to cut a smaller circle inside the larger one. Cut the outer ring into wedges, then cut the remaining, smaller cake as you normally would, like a pizza. Give the frosting-laden outer wedges to the kids, and reserve the more lightly iced interior pieces for the adults."

Plus, all of those new dieters (don't you love New Year's resolutions?) will be happy with smaller slices.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday recap and a love story

Happy 2011!  How was your holiday season?  Mine was pretty spectacular, to put it mildly.  There was a fantastic Christmas with my family.  Woke up to a fresh blanket of snow on the ground.

We Kemps traditionally enjoy a very quiet and relaxing Christmas Day.  Lounging around in front of the fire, enjoying cinnamon rolls and coffee, watching movies, and baking lots with my mom.  To name a few, we made molasses crinkles, peanut butter fudge, and one more treat that I'll share with you later this week.  And, obviously, eating of said delights.

Over the next week, I had some great visits with relatives, Matt's family, and friends.  There was even time for an afternoon wintry zoo trip where the sea lions just about stole my heart.  Oh, and surely the most epic sporting event I will ever attend in my lifetime -- the NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field.  We were stunned, to say the least.  Our view was amaaaaaaaazing!

So the Penguins lost in a bit of a ho-hum fashion... honestly, I didn't even mind.  It's a measly two points from a regular season game.  I consider myself lucky to have simply attended!  The pyrotechnics, superstar hockey talent, Pittsburgh sports icons (Mario, Franco and Jerome... clutch!), and general atmosphere made this an experience I'll remember for the rest of my life.  Favorite parts?  Malkin's goal and ensuing celebration, obvs, and the teams' entrances onto the ice.

With all of that excitement, it'd be easy to say that my year has gotten off to a stellar start.  While that's true, 2010 ended in a pretty fantastic fashion, ensuring that 2011 will be a year full of welcome changes and new adventures.  Remember when I briefly mentioned that Matt and I got engaged and then blew right past it to talk about peanut butter fudge?  Yeah, what a bum I am.