Broccoli Quinoa Casserole

Now that I have 4+ pounds of quinoa from a recent Costco trip (thanks, Justine!), I am always looking for new quinoa recipes.  Pinterest helped me find this broccoli quinoa casserole recipe, which looked intriguing:

10 oz can condensed cream of broccoli soup (or mushroom), low-sodium if you prefer
1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/4 cups reduced fat shredded cheese (cheddar, colby-jack, etc.)
1/2 teaspoon Splenda/sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
dash freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups cooked broccoli
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a shallow (8×8 in or 5-6 cups) casserole dish – or individual ramekins – with vegetable cooking spray.

In a large bowl combine the soup, mayonnaise, milk, shredded cheese, Splenda, pepper, and nutmeg until well mixed. Stir in the quinoa and broccoli.

Spoon mixture into prepared casserole.  Sprinkle on a couple tablespoons of Parmesan and bake for 35-40 minutes (20-25 minutes for ramekins) or until bubbly on the edges and golden.  Makes 8 generous 1/2-cup servings.

Broccoli Quinoa Casserole

Giant was out of all fresh and frozen broccoli (WTF?), so I used a steamer bag of broccoli/cauliflower, which ended up being quite good.  I probably could have used two bags since I am a big fan of both.  I need more recipes involving cauliflower.

I used condensed cream of mushroom soup since the cream of broccoli version was not low sodium.  I could probably add actual mushrooms next time.

Also, I used the “Chipotle” flavor of mayo since it was on sale and reduced fat, and I thought it would give the dish a kick.  It did not disappoint.

This dish is quite tasty with some fresh ground black pepper on top.  I look forward to eating it for the next few days.

P.S. Quinoa aficionados, what is the best way to rinse quinoa without making a mess?  The holes in my sieve are too large.  What if I put a paper towel under it?  I’ve also read that coffee filters work?

Lemon Chicken

Last week, I needed an easy chicken recipe that involved using ingredients already in my kitchen.  Enter: the easiest lemon chicken recipe ever:

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 teaspoons flour
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter

Directions:

Flatten chicken slightly. Dust with flour. Salt and pepper chicken.

Fry in hot oil 5 minutes each side. Remove chicken from pan.

To pan add broth, garlic, lemon juice and butter. Cook 2 minutes. Pour over chicken.

Lemon Chicken

Super easy and super delicious.  I paired this with a side of quinoa drizzled in balsamic vinegar for a quick and tasty weeknight dinner (with leftovers for the weekend :)).

Lemon Balsamic Salad

This is a fun little salad that I threw together with some leftovers, including my last piece of Chicken Piccata.

1/2 head of romaine lettuce
1/2 avocado
piece of chicken breast
1 cup green beans
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

I topped it with a lemon balsamic vinaigrette dressing:

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, add the oil in a thin stream.

Salad

Of course, the ingredient amounts can be altered, this is just what was leftover in my fridge.  It was quite tasty and healthy!

Chicken Piccata

I recently enjoyed Chicken Piccata in a restaurant, and decided to learn how to make it myself.

I first came across this recipe from Giada, and thought, yikes, that’s a lot of butter.  There must be a healthier version.  And there is!

6 ounces whole-wheat angel hair pasta
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 chicken cutlets, (3/4-1 pound total), trimmed
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 10-ounce package mushrooms, sliced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 teaspoons butter

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and rinse.

Meanwhile, whisk 5 teaspoons flour and broth in a small bowl until smooth. Place the remaining flour in a shallow dish. Season chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper and dredge both sides in the flour. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned and no longer pink in the middle, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; cover and keep warm.

Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they release their juices and begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add garlic and wine to the pan and cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved broth-flour mixture, lemon juice and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in parsley, capers, butter and the reserved mushrooms. Measure out 1/2 cup of the mushroom sauce. Toss the pasta in the pan with the remaining sauce. Serve the pasta topped with the chicken and the reserved sauce.

Chicken Piccata

I used two chicken breasts, cut up into small pieces.  As the leftovers marinated in the fridge over the next few days, they actually ended up tasting better and better.

This recipe was not difficult, but all of the steps made it take longer than it should have.  Also, I learned what “dredging” means (why does cooking require a whole new language?  Why can’t they just say “coat”?).  I also added lemon pepper to the dredging mixture.

Overall, the meal was pretty good, but the sauce wasn’t as thick as I would have liked.  Maybe next time I will add a smidge more butter…

Chicken Piccata with Penne

Mashed Potatoes

So I have been failing miserably in keeping up with this blog, but at least I have still been cooking!  I’m going to post a bunch of things that I’ve made over the last few weeks.

After the success of the potato soup, I had three leftover potatoes that needed to be used.

Believe it or not, I’d never made mashed potatoes before.  I was always under the impression that they were difficult to make because my mother uses a ricer (which I only recently learned the name of) to mash them.  By the way, why is it called a ricer?  You don’t use it to make rice…

But I learned that boiling and mashing them yourself was much, much easier.  And I like them a little chunky.  Here is the basic recipe I used:

2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes; drain.

In a small saucepan heat butter and milk over low heat until butter is melted.  Using a potato masher or electric beater, slowly blend milk mixture into potatoes until smooth and creamy.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mashed Potatoes

I seasoned them with garlic salt, parsley, and fresh ground black pepper.

Three potatoes made about three servings worth.  Super easy!  Why did I ever make instant mashed potatoes in college?  Yuck!

Potato Soup

The only good thing about this terribly cold weather is that it provides an excuse to try out new recipes using my Crock-Pot.  I decided to make potato soup this past weekend, and found this recipe which looked pretty healthy.  I chopped everything on Saturday (mastered dicing an onion!) and starting cooking it on Sunday morning, since it takes about 8 hours on high before the milk is even added (most Crock-Pot dishes I’ve made take about 4 hours on high).

1 medium yellow onion
2 stalks celery
2 medium carrots
1 tbsp minced garlic
3 pounds potatoes
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
2 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Finely dice the celery and onion. Peel the carrots and then grate them on a cheese grater. Mince the garlic or use pre-minced from a jar. Add all of this to the slow cooker. Clean the potatoes well, cut into one inch cubes or smaller, and add them to the slow cooker.

Prepare 6 cups of chicken broth by dissolving the chicken base in 6 cups of water (or use homemade or store bought broth). Add to the slow cooker. Add some freshly cracked black pepper (about a 1/4 tsp). Secure the lid on the cooker and cook on high for approximately 8 hours (give or take an hour).

Open the slow cooker and test the potatoes for tenderness. They should be very soft. The onions and celery should also be very soft and transparent. Whisk 1/4 cup of flour into 2 cups of milk and then stir that mixture into the soup. Secure the lid once more and let cook on high for another 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the soup should once again be bubbling. It needs to be bubbling for the flour to have it’s full thickening power. Use a potato masher, immersion blender, or a hand mixer to “mash” the potatoes. Or, you can transfer half of the soup to a blender and puree (be careful, it’s HOT) until smooth and then stir it back in to the rest. Taste the soup and add salt as needed (about one teaspoon). Serve hot.

Soup

You can also use chicken base or bouillon plus water in place of broth to save money.  However, I used 32 oz low fat, low sodium chicken broth and 16 oz water in order to ensure that it wasn’t too salty.  I also used baby carrots and sliced them, since the store was out of 2 pound bags of carrots and I didn’t really need a 5 pound bag.

Luckily, russet potatoes were on sale for $1.50 for a 5 pound bag (8 medium potatoes) — I used 5, which is as many would fit in the Crock-Pot.

I got a little too carried away with the mashing, and it wasn’t as chunky as I would have preferred, but that can be prevented next time.  I also added an extra tablespoon of flour, didn’t look thick enough for my taste.

Results:  It was good, not great.  Definitely good enough to eat the entire thing — I made several lunches out of it and stuck some in the freezer — but I felt like it was missing some sort of seasoning.  The original recipe said that you didn’t need to add anything to it, but I added shredded cheddar cheese (low fat, of course), which, when melted, made it really yummy.

Anyone who has made potato soup have any seasoning recommendations?  Maybe next time I’ll add turkey bacon or ham (not healthy, but tasty).  Also — what to do with the remaining potatoes?

P.S. I also learned the importance of chopping and freezing excess carrots and celery right away before they go bad…which is good, because celery doesn’t seem to have much of a refrigerator life, and there are only so many carrots I can eat at one time.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Protein Bars

So I have been slacking in my blogging, but fear not, I have not been slacking in my cooking!

As some of you may know, I am training for my second Tough Mudder competition.  I am trying to incorporate more weight training and pushups into my workouts, and realized I probably needed more protein in my diet.  A woman in one of my gym classes made peanut butter protein bars about a year ago, and I decided it was time for me to give them a try.

On Saturday, I made some using this super easy recipe:

1 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup honey, or to taste
1 1/2 cups chocolate whey protein powder
1 cup uncooked oats
3 tablespoons water
6 tbsp Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chips

Mix the peanut butter and honey in a bowl, microwave for 30 seconds.  Add the rest of ingredients and mix together. Mixture should be crumbly and slightly moist.  Press (hard) into a 8×8 tray and refrigerate until solid.  Cut into 16 equal bars.

Mixture in Dish

These are really easy to make and they taste good (the chocolate chips help).  The only problem is that they are pretty crumbly.  I added a tablespoon of water before I stuck them in the fridge, but they weren’t as moist as I had hoped.  Dividing them into individual bars resulted in a lot of crumbles.  I saved these and poured them over oatmeal the next day.

Now I just need to figure out how to eat 16 bars before they go bad (I wonder if they’ll freeze well?), an what to do with the rest of my protein powder…

Bars

Roasted Chicken with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Sorry for the delay in posting — I actually cooked this on Sunday, but haven’t gotten around to writing about it until today.

For New Year’s Eve, I decided to make Buffalo Chicken Dip and needed to buy chicken (it doesn’t really count as a “new” recipe since it was first cooked last year, but I’m planning on making it again for the Superbowl and will write about it then as a “bonus” post).  I noticed huge packages of chicken thighs for $1.49 a pound.  What a deal!  How could it be so cheap? I picked up a package that weighed about 5 pounds.

After arriving home, I soon realized why they were so cheap — they were bone-in, skin-on.  Well, I’d find a use for them in addition to the dip.  I Googled “bone-in chicken thigh recipes” and came upon this easy recipe from Giada:

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (4-pound) whole chicken, cut into pieces (giblets, neck and backbone reserved for another use)
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

Whisk the vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper in small bowl to blend. Combine the vinaigrette and chicken pieces in a large resealable plastic bag; seal the bag and toss to coat. Refrigerate, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove chicken from the bag and arrange the chicken pieces on a large greased baking dish. Roast until the chicken is just cooked through, about 1 hour. If your chicken browns too quickly, cover it with foil for the remaining cooking time. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Place the baking dish on a burner over medium-low heat. Whisk the chicken broth into the pan drippings, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the baking sheet with a wooden spoon and mixing them into the broth and pan drippings. Drizzle the pan drippings over the chicken. Sprinkle the lemon zest and parsley over the chicken, and serve.

Chicken

The photo doesn’t really do the chicken justice…

I used seven chicken thighs (about 4 pounds), marinated for two hours.  Next time, I will see what happens when they marinate longer.  I cooked them in a Pyrex baking dish, but moved them to a frying pan when it came time to drizzle the pan drippings mixture on top.

My tweaks:

  • I did not use lemon zest since I do not own a zester (one has since been added to my Amazon wish list.  Side note:  Amazon Prime is super dangerous).  Not sure how much of a difference it would have made.
  • I used 1/2 cup of white wine instead of chicken broth (and drank it while eating this chicken :))

The chicken was quite tasty, and pairs nicely with white rice or quinoa.

Pesto Sauce

I love pesto sauce, but have always been too intimidated to try making it.  However, I was on a basil kick after the success of the Quinoa Caprese Salad (and I still had that leftover Parmesan cheese), so I decided it was time to conquer my fears.

I used this recipe.

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor.  (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.)  Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.  Makes 1 cup.

Pesto sauce in the food processor

I used 1/2 cup of pine nuts, since that’s the size of the only bag of them that I could find (for $3.99, yikes!)  I discovered after the fact that walnuts can be used instead — much, much cheaper.

I didn’t think that all of the ingredients would fit into my baby food processor at once, but I quickly realized how small the basil gets once it’s processed.  The pesto tasted slightly more oily than I would have liked — not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to taste — but next time, I think I’ll use slightly less oil.  But overall, it was yummy.

Justine shared the awesome idea of freezing the pesto in ice cube trays — they really do pop out easily!  Now I have six servings ready to go in plastic baggies in the freezer.

Pesto sauce in ice cube trays

And of course, I was pleased to be able to grate some leftover Parmesan on top of the spaghetti 🙂

Spaghetti with pesto sauce and Parmesan cheese

Quinoa Caprese Salad

Where do I begin?  First of all, I had no idea that quinoa even existed until I stumbled upon Justine’s Pinterest page.  And I only learned how to pronounce it because she mentioned it in the office.

How did I make it this long in my life without it?  It is delicious and super easy to make.

Quinoa Caprese Salad

Here is the recipe.  It made three large servings.

1 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced
1 English cucumber, sliced
6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
black pepper

Cook quinoa according to package directions, cool.  Chop and slice veggies and cheese, add to quinoa.  Toss mixture with olive oil, vinegar and black pepper.

My Tweaks:

  • The 5.46 oz package of roasted garlic quinoa that I used made about 1 3/4 cups cooked quinoa — I just used it all.
  • I used 8 oz of fresh mozzarella (hey, that’s how big the package was, and who doesn’t like more cheese?).
  • I drizzled a little more balsamic vinegar on top.

Thoughts:

  • I will probably use a regular cucumber next time.  At $2.50 each, I don’t think an English cucumber is really worth the extra cost (regular cucumbers currently cost 99 cents each, less in the summer, even less at the local Hispanic market).  The dish seemed a little cucumber-heavy, but at the same time, cucumbers are super healthy and very filling.
  • Is there really only one brand of quinoa?  $2.99 (sale price) for 1 3/4 cups cooked seems pretty pricey.  The brand I bought also has a “black bean” flavor.  Does it come in larger packages?  Maybe in health food stores?

Conclusion:  While I already knew that tomato, basil, and mozzarella could do no wrong, the additional of the light and fluffy quinoa makes for an easy, light, healthy, and quite refreshing meal!