Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Prep-ahead Clean Lunch for $3.72: Ginger Chicken, Brussels Sprouts, Asparagus, Roasted Potatoes

You know those prep-ahead clean eating lunch videos – often from Tasty? Well, I decided to give one a whirl.

Here’s the basic concept: pick 1 protein for 3-oz servings, 2 vegetables, and 1 gluten free carbohydrate (rice, potatoes, quinoa).

IMG_2144Mine: chicken breast with ginger aioli, brussels sprouts, asparagus and mushrooms, and creamer potatoes.

I took some help from my local Harris Teeter produce: cut and salt/pepper/garlicked brussels sprouts and asparagus pack ($3.99 each) and a ready-to-bake-in-pan package of creamer potatoes (also $3.99). The potatoes came with a seasoning packet, which I chose to use because the sodium was really, really low.

The only thing I made was garlic aioli. How? Peel some garlic – about 2 inches worth – and pour 1/4 cup of your good oil (olive, grapeseed, coconut) and a pinch of salt into your bullet blender and let it go. Then I brushed it directly onto my chicken breasts. I drizzled the little bit left over onto the brussels sprouts, just because.

Into a 450°F fully preheated oven for 30 minutes. That’s all it takes.

IMG_2148Let it cool and divvy it up into four microwave safe food storage containers. Voila. Lunch for the week – for me, at least, since I have only four days with a fixed lunch hour.

Cost Analysis

  • $2.90 – Chicken Breast – one giant one from a 6-pack, cut into 4 pieces
  • $3.99 – pre-cut asparagus with sliced mushrooms and minced garlic
  • $3.99 – pre-cut brussels sprouts seasoned with salt and pepper
  • $3.99 – creamer potatoes already in a baking pan and including seasonings

Total = $14.87

Cost per lunch = $3.72

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Posted in Being Healthy, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Day-of Homemade Baked Beans

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That splatter around the rim is a result of the sauce reduction process. Yum!

Earlier this year, I made from dry-bean-scratch baked beans for a group of out-of-towners, and well, I think it blew their minds. And I get it. Even my family’s “Aunt Von’s Baked Beans” come from the 1940s, a time when country cooks like Aunt Von would have made most bean meals from dry beans, but even her recipe starts with Campbell’s Baked Beans – already seasoned and sauced.

But c’mon, what’s it gonna cost you to experiment and really understand and control exactly how your baked beans taste instead of trusting what comes out of a can with ingredients made or refined in a lab? These are my day-of baked beans – the only difference is that I start with plain, unseasoned, unsalted canned beans because they are pre-soaked for me. Everything else is the same as my regular dry-bean recipe:

  • 2 cans of great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced tiny
  • 1 small or 1/2 large sweet onion, diced tiny (try to get Vidalia or Wadmalaw)
  • 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can of tomato sauce (try to get no salt added)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar – for my family, I use 1/2 c, for out-of-towners I use 1/4 c
  • 1/3 cup worchestershire sauce – I use a gluten free, corn free, soy free version
  • 1T apple cider vinegar (more if you like it more tart than sweet)
  • 1t salt
  • 1t pepper
  • 1t ginger (ground for sweet, fresh diced for spice)
  • 1/2t all-spice
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes (literally 10-15 flakes)
  • 3-4 slices of bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

IMG_2083Mix everything together in a bowl at least 2 hours before you need to start baking (at least 4 hours before serving). Taste to see how sweet, tangy, tart, spicy it is and add seasonings as desired. Keep in mind that at this stage, the tomato sauce is the main source of tangy and that will mellow into sweet during baking; be careful not to go overboard on sweet at this stage.

Ingredients that contribute to sweetness are tomato sauce, sugar, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and ground ginger.

Ingredients that contribute to tangy- or tartness are tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, worchestershire sauce.

Ingredients that contribute to spiciness are garlic, fresh ginger and red pepper flakes.

Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let marinate on the counter for at least 2 hours. It’s important to NOT put it in the refrigerator because that will slow down the marinating – not ideal for day-of beans.

IMG_2084Pour into 8×8 or 9×9 casserole dish and top with bacon pieces. Put in 350F oven for 90-120 minutes. Test at 90 minutes by lightly jiggling the dish. If it moves like liquid, makes a ripple, it’s not done yet. You’re looking for the liquid to reduce to a thick glaze and fully cooked bacon on top, not a thickened sauce and still-white fat on the bacon. And the bacon won’t really start to cook until the liquid stops touching it.

Another way to think of the ideal consistency of baked beans is that when you spoon then onto the plate 1) you don’t need to use a slotted spoon to drain them and 2) you don’t have to worry about the juice contaminating anything else on the plate.

Naturally, these are my ideals as a Southern cook in South Carolina who learned to cook from a Texas and Oklahoma ranch or cowboy style of cooking. Think about it: you can’t ride a horse around with a pot of juicy beans sloshing around.

 

 

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Greek Chicken and Rice

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Greek Chicken and Rice with Feta Cheese, accompanied with marinated cucumbers and onions (refrigerator pickle)

I’m not trying to present anything authentically Greek like your native or first-generation Yaya made, but rather to elevate the simple chicken and rice dish with the flavors most Americans associate with Greek or (generically) Mediterranean food. In fact, if you leave off the Greek-ish additions, you could just say this is Lemon Pepper Chicken and Rice and stop there :-).

To easily change up a wonderful dish when it’s getting a little stale in the dinner rotation, consider adding lemon juice to your chicken and rice bake and serve with a sprinkle of feta cheese and olives.

Ingredients for a 4-serving bake

  • 1 cup uncooked white or brown rice (jasmine, basmati, American long grain, whatever)
  • 2 cups water or chicken stock or combination
  • 1-2 lemons, juiced (1-2 T prepared lemon juice) – to taste
  • 4 4-6-oz pieces of boneless chicken – any combination of breasts and thighs
  • 1t salt (only if using water because even low sodium chicken stock already has salt)
  • 1t – 1T black pepper – to taste
  • 1 package of crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives (or black or green if you like those)

NOTE: you might think that dicing the chicken before putting it in the bake will make this easier, but the smaller pieces cook so much more quickly than the rice that they become dry and rubbery. Not pleasant, IMHO.

IMG_2001Preheat oven to 350°F.

Layer rice, water/stock, juice, chicken, salt, and pepper in a 9×9 baking dish in the order listed above for the least messy assembly.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Stir – this is essential for all of the rice to get cooked.

Bake uncovered for 10 more minutes.

IMG_2002Use two forks to shred the chicken. Stir to mix thoroughly with the rice.

Serve with a sprinkle of feta cheese and chopped olives.

LEFTOVERS: if you have any leftovers, they make for a great cold rice salad with artichoke, cucumber, tomato, and sweet onion and a drizzle of olive oil or Greek salad dressing added to the feta and olives. Mmmmm, lunch!

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Easy Spanish-style Sausage and Rice

My best friend has her abuela’s pot for making Arroz con Pollo, but my family is much less discerning of that level of authenticity. Instead, we get close with this flavorful sausage and rice dish.

You’ll need

  • 1 family size package of Vigo Spanish Rice (with seasonings included in the package)
  • 2 lbs cooked link sausage, such as kielbasa, turkey sausage, venison sausage, etc.
  • 1-2 packages of frozen peppers and onions (roughly 1-2 cups of chopped frozen or cooked peppers and onions)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup whole green Spanish olives stuffed with pimentos
  • 1 poblano pepper, diced (optional)

Cook the rice according to package instructions.

While the rice cooks, slice cooked sausage into coins and brown in skillet.

Note: Vigo seasoned Spanish rice is not corn-free. Use unseasoned white or yellow rice and Sazon with Saffron seasoning.

Thaw/steam frozen peppers and onions (with poblano pepper if using) in the microwave. Or, if using fresh veggies, sautee in skillet after sausage is all browned.

Spanish_Sausage_and_Rice.jpgWhen rice is finished, mix in browned sausage, warmed peppers and onions, and olives. I leave my olives whole because all of my peeps like them; feel free to slice or chop yours up if you need to hide them ;-).

Serve directly from the rice pot, accompanied by fresh fruit salad or seasonal marinated vegetables.

Tip: maintain healthy overnight blood sugar by skipping the “bread on the side” with dinner when you already have rice, pasta, or potatoes. Even non-diabetics can experience unhealthy blood glucose levels when consuming extra complex carbohydrates.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Teriyaki Pork, Fried Rice, and Hibachi Veggies

18237847_10155296972689116_6937488602022063762_oI LOVE the show and the flavor of a great Japanese hibachi meal, but I don’t have one of those amazing, huge hotplates for making everything at the same time. So I turned to what I know of cooking rice casseroles and oven steaming veggies to see how I could make this dinner easier and faster. Here’s how it goes:

  • Time at Counter: 30-45 minutes
  • Time Food is Cooking: 60 minutes

Sorry – I didn’t think I’d be blogging this whole meal, so I didn’t take pics along the way. I’ll add some next time I do this dinner…which should be soon based on my family’s reviews!

Prep the Fried Rice for the Oven

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In your 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish, pour all of the ingredient:

  • 1 cup uncooked white or brown rice (regular, not instant or frozen)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce (or use my soy-free soy sauce)
  • 1 cup frozen peas and carrots mix (get the store brand on sale some time)

Stir to combine the liquids and put in the oven for 1 hour.

NOTE: you can use any combination of veggies you like; just keep the total amount to no more than 1.5 cups or you’ll overwhelm your rice.

Prep the Hibachi Veggies for the Oven

Chop, dice, slice, or whatever cut you like up to 4 cups of raw or frozen veggies. Keep in mind that frozen veggies will not be crisp when cooked. I like to use

  • 3 fresh zucchinis, quartered lengthwise and then copped into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 fresh large carrots, cut into coins or half moons (for the fatter end of the carrot)
  • 1-2 sweet Vidalia onions, thick sliced and quartered
  • 1/4 soy sauce
  • 4 T butter or margarine

When I have them or think of them, I’ve been known to add sliced water chestnuts, baby corn (chopped in 1/2-inch pieces), bamboo shoots, mung bean sprouts.

Toss veggies with soy sauce and top with 5-6 pats of butter (4 T butter or margarine). Cover with foil and put in the oven for 20 minutes with foil on and 20 minutes with foil off. Stir veggies when you remove the foil.

NOTE: by this time, you’ve been at the counter for about 15-25 minutes, depending on how efficient (faster and maybe messy) versus perfectionist (slower and cleaning as you go) you are in the kitchen. You’ve got anywhere from 15-25 minutes to go, depending on your style.

Prep the Teriyaki Glazed Pork Loin

Put a large skillet, preferable cast iron, over medium heat with 2 T of your favorite cooking oil; do NOT use butter or margarine for this step. You’ll need the equivalent of 2 boneless pork chops worth of cubed pork per person. For my family of 4, roughly 1/4 of a large pork loin renders generous portions.

  • for 2 adults: use a package of 4 boneless pork chops
  • for 4 adults: use 1/4 (about 8 inches) of a large pork loin
  • for 6 adults: use 1/2 of a large pork loin

TIP: don’t buy cut boneless pork chops; they are nothing more than that huge pork loin on the bottom shelf sliced up. Watch for the pork loin to be on sale or BOGO. You can save TONS of money slicing your own pork chops – thin for skillet frying or oven cooking and thick for grilling.

While that skillet is heating up with the oil, get cubing and drop your cubed pork in the skillet as you cut it. No need to wait to add it all at once.

As long as you really do have your skillet on medium and not higher, you won’t have to worry about burning, or even stir for about 10 minutes. Give it a quick stir every 2-3 minutes, checking to get the pink sides down. After about 20 minutes, even if you still see a little bit of pink, pour in a bottle of teriyaki glaze – I use Kikkoman – or roughly 1.5 cups of my soy-free teriyaki sauce reduced (assume you’ll need to do this before starting this dinner). Drop the burner down to low, stir to coat every piece, and let it simmer and thicken further while the rice and veggies finish in the oven.

Now is a great time to pour yourself a glass of Japanese plum wine or a nice Riesling or Late Chardonnay or Moscato for a little sip of sweetness against the slightly salty hibachi dinner. Sit down and rest until the timer goes off.

BONUS: you’ve only got 3 cooking dishes, a cutting board and maybe a couple of measuring cups for clean up. No collections of mixing dishes to try and fit into the dishwasher or on the drying rack.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (aka cleaning out the cupboard)

As I was sorting and re-organizing the cupboards and the freezers the past few days, I’ve come across several ingredients I rarely use: leftovers from some Tasty.com experiment or a houseguest. Luckily, I’m able to use most of them in some delicious Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

The two main ingredients I wanted to use up are whole wheat flour and steel cut oats. Neither are part of my regular pantry, but I appreciate the earthy, nutty flavor they bring to anything cooked with them. And my budget this week was a little too short for anything sweet in grocery shopping. Yep, you interpreted that correctly. No ingredients were purchased to make these cookies happen!

Betty Crocker's Cookbook and Oatmeal Raisin CookiesFor such a classic cookie, I always start with my Mom’s use-worn Betty Crocker cookbook, where butter is always listed as “shortening.” But I made a few adjustments to let me use up as much of these random ingredients as possible.

Wet Ingredients

  • 1.5 sticks (3/4 cup) of softened butter (vegan: 3/4 cup coconut oil, peanut butter or other soft or liquid vegetable fat)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 regular sugar
  • 2 eggs (vegan and gluten free: 2 egg blend of The Vegg or other vegan baking substitute)
  • 1/2 cup water (don’t skip this because the oats need it)

Dry Ingredients

  • 1.75 cups whole wheat flour (gluten free: use same amount of GF all purpose flour)
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda (omit for a flatter, chewier cookie)
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t ground cloves
  • 1 t salt

Add Ins

  • 2 cups steel cut oats (or rolled oats)
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit: raisins, craisins, cherries, apricot, prunes
  • 1 cup chopped nuts: pecans, almonds, walnuts (nut-free: try toasted hemp seeds or sesame seeds in place of nuts)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Blend the wet ingredients together. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and blend well. Add your chosen add-ins and mix well.

IMG_1825Drop by teaspoon-fuls onto a silpat or a greased cookie sheet; for this step, I use one of my few Pampered Chef tools: a teaspoon ice cream (or cookie) scoop. It really helps to make quick and not-messy work of this step.

IMG_1826When I use all three of my baking sheets at once, I can get nearly all of the dough in at the same time. I had about 1 dozen left for the second round. That’s another great strategy for making cookie baking easier and faster. Works when you’re doing cut out and decorate cookies too!

Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Be sure to preheat all the way before putting your cookies in.

Transfer to a cooling rack immediately. These will cool to eat quickly!

Makes 5-6 dozen.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Cheddar Potato Soup

IMG_1755Sure. It’s just regular Potato Soup with cheddar cheese added, but I just learned that my younger cousins never learned our Nannie’s Potato Soup recipe. I did because it’s my mom’s “sick soup.”

Ingredients

  • 2-4 cups of chicken stock (or veggie if you’re looking for a veg version)
  • 3-4 cups of cubed potatoes – any kind or mixed, but our favorite are Yukon gold potatoes – cube them about the size of a standard set of dice
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1T pepper
  • 1t salt (you can always add more, but start small)
  • 1t nutmeg
  • 2 cups heavy cream (or unsweetened, unflavored almond or soy milk for a veg version)
  • 2 cups of your favorite cheddar cheese – any cheddar, muenster, manchego are all good choices!

IMG_1753This is one of my favorite soups to do in the crock pot, mainly because my chicken and veggie stock are made ahead and frozen, and I can’t ever remember to thaw them out. Using the crock pot, I can put all but the heavy cream and cheese in at once and set it on Low for 6-8 hours. It takes a little more than an hour for the frozen stock to thaw and cover the potatoes and onions and cook.

Add the cream and cheddar and let cook for about 30 more minutes. Viola – you’re ready to serve!