A Year of Recipes: #17

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Corn tortilla, salsa, mixed veggies, shredded chicken, cheese and cream of celery soup

My second recipe of the weekend was Hungry Girl’s Chicken Enchilada Casserole.  This recipe is actually only found in one of the Hungry Girl cookbooks, not on the website – however a few people have posted the recipe online. I added this one to my “to do” list a while ago and finally got around to it.

The recipe called for canned chicken, but I as I am now wiser and more experienced in the kitchen, I made my own shredded chicken in the crockpot the night before!  It just required the tiniest bit of planning ahead – I followed an easy recipe that simply involves chicken, broth and 4 hours on high. I did not add any spices for cooking because I figured there would be enough going on with the casserole recipe.

IMG_5279You begin by mixing the chicken, veggies, salsa and condensed soup together in a bowl.  Easy.

IMG_5285After the mixture is prepared you layer your casserole dish with half of the tortillas torn into smaller pieces.  I apparently have a gigantic casserole dish because it took 5 tortillas instead of the 3 the recipe calls for to completely cover the bottom of the dish.  It’s not a big deal, but it does affect the calorie count for the dish.

 

IMG_5283The next step calls for spreading half of the mixture into the dish, and then sprinkling with half of the cheese.  Then you repeat with all 3 layers – tortillas, mixture, cheese.  Again, I have a gigantic casserole dish so the mixture was a little tough to spread over everything, but nevertheless it worked out.

Pop that sucker in the oven and after a short wait a warm, crispy casserole comes out of the oven.  The thing that impressed me the most about this dish was the textures. I’m amazed how the tortillas didn’t get soggy, nor did they burn; they were perfectly crispy.  The frozen vegetables were soft but not mushy.

It's so crispy!

It’s so fluffy crispy!

In the end, this was pretty good, but definitely bland.  If I make this again I will either use hotter salsa, add some spices/taco seasoning…or even mix in a quarter cup or so of Sriracha *swoon.*

Taste: 2/4 – Not bad but needs more umph!
Ease: 3/4 – a little work getting the casserole layers to turn out
Guiltless: 3.5/4 – Any good substitutes for condensed soup?  Great on the calorie count.
Leftovers: 3/4 – Not quite as crunchy as before, but not bad

A Year of Recipes: #16

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Corn bread mix, scallions, cilantro (paste), eggs, enchilada sauce, cumin, chili powder, black beans, diced tomatoes, corn, ground beef (I did 93% lean)

This weekend was another of doubling-up in the kitchen (largely because I’m traveling 3 out of 4 weekends this April!) My friend who has recommended a recipe or two before mentioned a Crockpot Tamale Pie she had made before and really enjoyed.

I try to avoid too many canned foods and powdered mixes but sometimes I gotta throw caution to the wind.

I did the majority of my grocery shopping at Target (I had already planned a trip there to spend too much money on clothing and kitchen gadgets) and I picked up the last few items at Walmart since I had to stop by the vision center the following day.  Walmart unfortunately either doesn’t carry cilantro or was out of it, so I ended up purchasing “cilantro paste.” Strange…but it was organic and didn’t have anything too weird in the ingredients. I’m honestly not a big fan of strong cilantro flavor (I halved the amount) but I will admit the paste was extremely easy to work with so kudos to Gourmet Garden for that!

Oooh oooh baby.

The crock pot mix was easy to put together.  Brown up the meat and add the spices.  Cut up some glorious scallions.  Like I’ve mentioned before, green onions tend to upset my stomach but I love them so much I cut up one extra 🙂 Fortunately no queasiness this time around!  All my cutting boards were dirty so I used a paper plate, which works just fine!

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My obligatory close up shot to avoid nasty food photography.

The next step is putting everything but the cornbread mix, eggs and cheese into the crock pot.  It says to cook on low for 8 hours, which is a lot considering the beef is supposed to already be browned.  I ended up switching to high for 4 hours instead and everything seemed to turn out okay (with one minor exception which I will explain next.)

The final step is to mix your eggs with the cornbread mix and pile on top of the mixture.  I felt like there was a little too much liquid left, so I did spoon some out.  Perhaps that is where the 8 hours on low really would make a difference.  Nevertheless, it was no problem to remove a little extra liquid, (and when it came time to serve I used a slotted spoon so it didn’t matter much anyways!)

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I’ve never cooked anything that looked so much like Jabba the Hutt.

While I was mixing up the corn bread mix, I thought about how I was going to serve the dish and saw that it was recommended with shredded lettuce and/or sour cream.  While the corn bread mix cooked, I ran to the store to pick up shredded lettuce, and I’m glad I did!

By the time I got back the cornbread was done, and I scooped out about 1/5 of the contents into a big bowl of lettuce.

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Love how this picture turned out, and I swear there is a cup or two of lettuce under there 😉

Let me say, this was delicious and as soon as I finished I really wanted a second serving (but resisted!)  I’m very glad I added the lettuce, it seemed to perfectly round out the dish.

Taste: 3.5/4 – Next time I’m doing no cilantro and this might make it up to 4!
Ease: 3.5/4
Guiltless: 2/4 – The calories aren’t awful on this (around 600 if I do 5 servings) but certainly not the most natural ingredients.
Leftovers: 4/4 – Heat it up, throw it on a bed of lettuce, tastes just as good!

A Year of Recipes: #15

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Lots going on here: chicken breasts, onion, garlic, butter, curry, cayenne pepper, garam masala, ground ginger, cardamom, light coconut milk, tomato paste, greek yogurt, bay leaf

The second recipe I made last weekend was a Healthy Butter Chicken, made in the slow cooker.

I adore Indian food, but with huge portions, piles of white rice and of course some delicious naan, it’s not something I can indulge in very often. One of my favorite things to do on a spring or fall weekend/day off is have an insanely long 2-hour cardio workout hiking, biking or jogging – just so I can justify eating a big meal of lamb korma with garlic naan. And for some reason this food is often best accompanied by an action movie, with Kill Bill a long-standing top choice. Oh man, I’m craving it now just talking about it! I think I know what I’m doing next weekend…

Like any good crock pot meal, IMG_5211this was pretty easy to prepare. Cut a lot of things into bite-size pieces, then throw it in the pot!  The recipe called for 1lb of chicken but I had closer to 1.5…never any harm in making extra.

A few weekends ago on a warm, rainy day I headed to the international market in town just to check it out. While I was there I was able to pick up curry powder, garam masala and a pack of bay leaves, and I’m glad I did. I think Kroger sells curry powder but the other two are a little more difficult to get your hands on. Anyways, the next step is to add an absurd amount of spices to the crock pot. I love bold flavors, so this step was exciting for me!

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Oh baby.  My mouth was ready for a flavor explosion.

After adding everything but the greek yogurt, the crock pot ran on high for 4 hours.  I grew very impatient towards the end. When I added the greek yogurt I was unhappy with how the smell of the whole dish changed. Previously it was meaty and spicy, and it just seemed off to me afterwards. I did not worry about this, because often when I cook with greek yogurt the smell puts me off but the taste is fine on the finished product.

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Finished product! I count at least 4 servings in there.

After mixing in the yogurt, I had to wait 15 minutes so I used this time to cook up some quinoa to serve my butter chicken with instead of rice. In the end, I was not very happy with the flavor. It was extremely bland, even with all those spices! It did have a slight spicy burn in the aftertaste, but that was it. The sauce also seemed very thin and perhaps cornstarch could have thickened it up, but I don’t know if that would have helped the flavor much. I ended up having to add salt as I ate, which generally is not something a dish with that many spices would require.

In the end, the lesson learned here is that healthy substitutes sometimes just don’t work. For me, I would rather hold out and have real Indian food on a day where I’ve worked my butt off to earn some than eat something mediocre that just makes me sad I’m not eating the real thing. There are plenty of other healthy meals I’ve made that have turned out delicious – unfortunately this is not one of them!

Taste: 1/4 – Sad day.
Ease: 4/4
Guiltless: 3/4 – if served with a veggies or a small amount rice, pretty reasonable.
Leftovers: ?/4 – I have some leftovers but I’ve yet to find the desire to eat them.

A Year of Recipes: #14

Simple ingredients, cauliflower, italian seasoning, garlic, eggs, oil, cheese and spaghetti sauce/marinara for dipping

Simple ingredients: cauliflower, Italian seasoning, garlic, eggs, oil, cheese and spaghetti sauce/marinara for dipping

I’ve been traveling lately, causing the last two weekends to be out for cooking.  (Don’t consider this complaining, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to travel more and this year has been full of quite a bit already!)

In one place for a while, I got right back at learning to cook again this weekend, doing two recipes. The first is Cauliflower Cheese Sticks. I had found that recipe several weeks ago and threw it in my “to try” file and figured I’d do something simple for one of the two. It’s a rather healthy recipe, with the majority of the calories coming from either the cheese or spaghetti sauce.

There are basically 3 simple steps to this recipe. The first is to rice/grate your cauliflower. I’ve “riced” cauliflower before, and it’s a relatively easy thing to do if you have a food processor (not sure how easy hand-grating would be.) Your food processor should have no problem transforming the veggie into a fluffy rice-like substance.

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And at this point the kitchen smells heavenly.

The second step is to mince some garlic and heat it up with a little oil, as seen above. And the third step is to separate an egg white and whisk it up a little.

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I read you can also use parchment paper or a healthy dose of cooking spray

After mixing together the very few ingredients, you add your mixture to a pan or tray. I used a loaf pan lined with aluminum foil, although there are other methods that would work as well.

I personally think foil is probably the best option because it makes it much easier to flip the dish over, which is required halfway through cooking.  Wait for it to cool a minute or two, then simply pick up the foil by the corners, put your hand under the entire thing, and flip it over back into the loaf pan. Do this at your own risk though 😉

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Seeing this picture makes me ready to make another batch!

Reading the recipe, it sounds like the most challenging part is getting the cauliflower to cook without overcooking. I was able to keep a careful eye on the oven because I was working on my other recipe and doing dishes the whole time it was in.

In the end, it turned out fantastic! Just a little bit crispy on the outside, melty cheese on top, deviously close to the consistency of bread… Warm up your dipping sauce in the microwave, cut into dipping strips, and enjoy!

Taste: 3.5/4 – very good!  I might add a little more spices or garlic next time, but dang!
Ease: 3/4
Guiltless: 4/4 – the cheese and dipping sauce are the only major source of calories, just make sure you don’t go overboard with either and you’re good. My final calculation ended up being around 300 calories using plenty of cheese.
Leftovers: ?/4 – I made this on Saturday and Sunday, and honestly using a loaf tray makes a perfect sized meal, so no leftovers either time.

Good Marketing In Action: Starbucks Macchiato

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Good things come in 3s – by promoting a new product Starbucks has brought attention to an old favorite as well.

I want to commend Starbucks on what I consider to be an effective marketing campaign. For context – I’m an occasional Starbucks patron and have a ton of respect for them as a marketing professional. I have positive sentiment towards the brand, but tend to favor local chains when given the option.

Several days ago I saw an ad online for Starbucks’ new flavor of Macchiato – vanilla. I’ll admit, I’m a no frills, latte kind of person, and I’d never even had the original caramel macchiato. It piqued my interest and in the following days I saw ads for the trio of macchiatos several times, all of which mentioned the “complexity” of flavors and the “layers” and how beautiful it was as they slowly merged together. After a few impressions, I actually ended up doing a search to learn a little more about what exactly a macchiato was and liked what I read. This drink is carefully crafted and little unique. As you all know, I like anything that veers off the beaten path.

Afterthought: A friend told me the vanilla flavor is the weakest of the three...perhaps Starbucks should have spent less on promo and more on product development?

Afterthought: A friend told me the vanilla flavor is the weakest of the three…perhaps Starbucks should have spent less on promo and more on product development?

Spending all that time thinking about coffee got me craving a fancy cup of joe. (The gorgeous photo of a cup of coffee in the ads didn’t hurt either.) Last week I was on a business trip, and although the hotel’s Starbucks had a limited menu, it included the caramel macchiato, which I eagerly tried one morning. Back from my trip, this week I ended up trying the hazelnut macchiato to get me through a long, drizzly Monday back from traveling. I’m not in love with the hazelnut flavor, but I really enjoyed the classic caramel one.

In conclusion – by launching a large campaign for a new product variety Starbucks was also able to draw attention to the original. Starbucks not only encouraged consumers to try something brand new, but they got consumers like me to branch out and try something not necessarily new, but different from what we are used to getting. I don’t think my life has been changed by trying the caramel macchiato, and I won’t suddenly be stopping by every day for my fix, BUT I think I am going to add it into my rotation of tried-and-true beverage options. The most important thing, however, is that I have purchased Starbucks twice in the past seven days; significantly more than the typical once or twice a month I visit. And I also am left here wondering what the vanilla macchiato tastes like…

A Year of Recipes: #13

Cauliflower rice.  A staple of Pinterest healthy cooking.

Cauliflower rice. A staple of Pinterest healthy cooking.

For my latest experiment, I decided to try the Cauliflower Pizza Bites that are quite popular on Pinterest. Cauliflower has become the new tofu – it can be used as a substitute for a wide variety of less healthy ingredients.

Many recipes calling for a cauliflower substitute require a food processor to turn the vegetable into a “rice-like” consistency. This was the first step in the recipe.

I added extra garlic powder because I can.

I added extra garlic powder because I can.

 

I then had to pan fry the cauliflower rice, and it was a little difficult to determine when it was done. It was supposed to turn translucent. I just waited until a few little pieces started to brown/burn up…so hopefully that was appropriate.

I then used the food processor again to mix up the egg white, cottage cheese, and spices.  Once those ingredients achieved a smooth consistency I mixed with the stir fried cauliflower.

The batter is ready.  I  mixed it together in my pan so I'd have one less bowl to clean...

The batter is ready. I mixed it together in my pan so I’d have one less bowl to clean…

Instead of using a muffin tin (which I read can be difficult to clean and can leave the bites soggy on the bottom) I used piles of mixture on parchment paper, a more highly recommended solution. I pressed one turkey pepperoni onto the top of each.

I made 12 piles since there would be 12 muffins in a tin.

I made 12 piles since there would be 12 muffins in a tin.

These didn’t turn out perfect. In the end, the bites were quite crumbly.  I certainly couldn’t pick them up and dip them in pizza sauce. I ended up putting a few on a plate and using a fork to pick up a bite and then dip in sauce that way.  They certainly weren’t undercooked because they were quite brown and any longer in the oven they would have burned.

Final grade: tasty but lacking in execution.

Final grade: tasty but lacking in execution.

I also had some issues where the turkey pepperoni turned out pretty crunchy. If I make again I’ll want to add the pepperoni halfway through cooking instead of at the beginning. Or I might cut the pepperoni into smaller pieces and stir into the mix.

However, despite some issues, the flavor was pretty good. I don’t think they would have been very good without the pizza sauce, however.

Taste: 2.5/4
Ease: 2/4 – not hard to do, but hard to do well
Guiltless: 3.5/4
Leftovers: 3/4? – I don’t know if I can give a fair verdict since my original product didn’t turn out perfect.  They did reheat okay, but they were already crumbly.

A Year of Recipes Bonus: Experiments with Matcha #2

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All you need is whipped topping, instant pudding and matcha!

Continuing on my quest to find a matcha recipe that wouldn’t cause me to gain 10 pounds, a few weeks ago I actually modified a popular Pinterest recipe I had done before with pumpkin.  I started with a recipe for Pumpkin Fluff and instead of adding canned pumpkin and spices, I added 2 tbsp of green tea powder.

This was extremely easy to make, just stir all the ingredients together and store in the fridge.  Again, not the most natural, healthy ingredients…  The flavor was good – I could definitely taste the green tea this time!

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Just one generous spoonful of this stuff satisfies the sweet tooth.

If I make his again I’d probably use an additional container of Cool Whip.  The texture of the fluff was like that of marshmallow fluff (not a bad thing) but I would have liked it to be a little lighter. The original recipe has a fluffier texture because of all the canned pumpkin.

Verdict:  Very nice!  I can see myself making this again, and I would love to see how strawberry or pineapple pudding mix would work.  Now that I think of it, this fluff with the vanilla base could also make an interesting frosting for cupcakes.  Ooooooh now that I might have to try sometime…