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.

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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!

Baked Meatballs

For my first attempt at cooking in the new year, I decided to make meatballs.  Why?  I like meatballs, the recipe didn’t seem too difficult, and they seemed like something I should know how to cook.

Meatballs

I used this recipe.  It yielded 32 meatballs, most of which I froze.

1 pound hamburger, grass-fed if possible
2 eggs, beaten with 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup panko or bread crumbs
1 small onion, minced or grated (1/2 a large onion)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil

Mix all ingredients with hands. Form into golf ball sized meatballs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

My tweaks:

  • I used a pound of ground turkey instead of ground beef, like I do for most recipes that call for ground beef.  It’s healthier and tastes the same with all of the seasonings.
  • I used seasoned salt instead of regular salt.  I read somewhere that it gives recipes more flavor.  I’m going to try to do this in the future when possible.
  • I used dried basil (lazy, I know, but it’s much cheaper and still tastes good).

Things I learned:

  • The difference between shredding and grating.
  • Where bread crumbs are located in the supermarket (by the spices, not in the bread aisle as I’d assumed…).
  • 4 oz of solid Parmesan cheese does not equal 1/2 cup of grated cheese.  I bought a 5 oz block thinking that most of it would be used in the meatballs.  However, it took less than half of the block to fill 1/2 a cup.  So yay, more Parmesean cheese for future recipes!

Things I need to work on:

  • Mincing onions — the size of onions I used can more appropriately be classified as “diced.”  However, I like onions and although the meatballs looked a little funny with big chunks of onion in them, they tasted fine.  After the fact, I found this excellent Food Network article on how to slice, dice, and mince onions.  It should be very helpful the next time I need to cut an onion.
  • Is it possible to grate onions?  This technique just seemed to make a mess.  Maybe if I had a better grater?

All in all, I was quite pleased with how the meatballs turned out.  Yum!

Spaghetti and Meatballs