Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jerk Chicken with Cool Pineapple Salsa

Three and a half years ago, I married a man who is more perfect for me than I could ever imagine.  After a whirlwind 6 month engagement, we were thrilled to get away from the craziness of the wedding and just relax.  The husband and I both love to travel: seeing new things, experiencing new cultures--so, we hopped on a plane and went straight to Canada.  I know, it slightly deviates from the typical honeymoon destinations of Hawaii or the Bahamas, but we were going to Kauai 6 months later for Thanksgiving--so rather than double up on tropical, we thought we'd go for alpine beauty.

One of the best aspects of traveling: FOOD.  We love finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants that showcase the cultural cuisine.  What is Canadian cuisine, anyway?  I'm not sure, but I can tell you it is not this: 

Yes, this is my new husband outside of the restaurant we frequented in Victoria.  Irish Pub?  Perhaps not the most authentic...but it was tasty.

Our  first night at the restaurant, we decided to split a "signature pizza", and he decided on a Jamaican Jerk pizza.  I ask him, "Jamaican Jerk?  Have you even had that before?"  (Remember, I'm from California--and in case you need a geography refresher, Jamaica is far away from California and we don't exactly have Jamaican restaurants on every corner).  He replies that his favorite restaurant in Manhattan, Kansas was Jamaican--who knew there were Caribbean restaurants in the midwest?

Anyway, we both loved the pizza and now I'm intrigued by Caribbean fare.  Perhaps there will be more of the aforementioned dishes gracing this blog in the future.

Let's make some dinner!


Step 1: Make the salsa. 
I was slightly concerned about how long it would take, seeing as I've never sliced a fresh pineapple.  Pathetic, I know.  It took all of 2 minutes to do--but I was intimidated by it, okay?  
Total time for salsa: 10 minutes.




Salsa = pineapple, cucumber, honey, lime, mint
**Ellie says you can make the salsa ahead of time, but some reviewers said the mint became overpowering the longer the salsa was kept.


Step 2: Cook the chicken.
**Depending on how thinly you pound the chicken, cooking times may vary--but it's approximately 4 minutes on each side.




Confession: Whenever a recipe says to pound chicken with a mallet, I never do it. I always rip my chicken or they still don't turn out thin enough--and I feel like it wastes time. However, I did it this time so I could follow the directions completely.  Would I do it again? Probably not.

Step 3: Jerk Sauce
Add scallions, habanero pepper, garlic, ginger, allspice, and thyme to hot pan for 30 seconds; add broth and soy sauce, cooking until mixture is reduced by half (Ellie approximates 3 minutes--I went a little longer).  Stir in lime juice.

Step 4: Add chicken to skillet--coat well with sauce.


Reviewers recommended having rice to soak up the extra jerk sauce.  We're not huge fans of rice, so we did whole wheat couscous instead, and it was a nice touch.



Don't skimp on the salsa--it's so good!  The husband doesn't usually do salsas/sauces on the side, but even he agreed it was the perfect complement to the meal.

Pros:
*Quick and easy meal (40 minutes total)
*Minimal clean up
*Flavorful, filling, and under 300 calories!
*Inexpensive ingredients--many on hand
*Reheats well--but gets hotter!
     (yes, the mint was stronger in the salsa, but I think it was fine--we like mint, though)

Cons:
*The habanero heats up the dish--it's subtle at first, and we initially thought we should've used the whole pepper instead of the recommended half.  Each bite seemed to get a bit hotter, and by the end we agreed it was perfect.  In short: it might not appeal to more delicate palates.

Was it an authentic jerk meal?  I don't know.  I'm not from the Caribbean, so I can't vouch for whether or not it was a "true" jerk meal...but it was certainly good, and it got two enthusiastic thumbs up from the husband.


Chicken with Jerk Sauce and Cool Pineapple Salsa

2007, Ellie Krieger, All rights reserved

Ingredients

For the salsa:

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 cup finely diced pineapple
  • 1/3 cup finely diced, seeded English cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

For the chicken:

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, about 5 ounces each, pounded to 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 cup chopped scallions (about 6 scallions)
  • 1/2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chile pepper, seeded and finely minced (wear gloves when handling)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, or 1/4 teaspoon ground
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

Directions

For the salsa:
In a small bowl whisk together the honey and the lime juice. Combine the pineapple, cucumber and mint in a medium bowl, pour the dressing over and toss to combine. Set aside.
For the chicken:
Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, or until browned and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan. Stir in the scallions, pepper, garlic, ginger, allspice, and thyme. Cook for 30 seconds over a medium heat. Add the chicken broth and soy sauce and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lime juice. Put the chicken back in the pan and coat well with the sauce.
Serve with the pineapple salsa.

Yield: 4 servings (1 serving is 1 chicken breast, 2 tablespoons of sauce and 1/3 cup of salsa)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cowboy Steak with Coffee and Chili Rub


We don't drink coffee. We don't have a coffee maker in our house. I only go to Starbucks if I'm at an airport (mmm, oatmeal) or meeting friends who drink coffee.

I don't have a problem with coffee--I just don't like it.  I will be honest--part of me is scared of becoming addicted to caffeine.  Growing up, my dad required 2 cups of coffee each morning--and I mean required.  To this day, if he's a super grumpy bear in the morning, one of us reminds him to drink his "medicine." 


Naturally, we don't keep any coffee in the house--why would we?  Sure, there have been times where I'm tempted to buy it for a recipe (Cooking Light's "mocha fudge brownies", for example) but my thrifty side always talks the foodie side of me out of it...or it did, until yesterday.

When life is going as planned, I sit down for an hour and plan my meals for the next 2 weeks.  As I flipped through Ellie's cookbook, I noticed a recipe that used one of my favorite words in the title: RUB.  Now, I love to cook--and when I have nothing on my agenda, I'll happily spend hours in the kitchen preparing dinners and desserts for anyone/everyone.  However, I'm a sucker for quick and easy recipes because 85% of the time, dinner needs to be on the table ASAP.  Due to this, my go-to quick homemade recipes are rubs.  Dump a couple of spices in a bowl, rub it on some meat, slap it on the grill--and DONE!  When I came across this recipe in Ellie's The Food You Crave, I was instantly intrigued-and apprehensive.  Let's look at the title: COWBOY STEAK WITH COFFEE AND CHILI RUB--and I'll share my thoughts with you.

         *Cowboy: I live in Texas now--why not?
         *Steak: I like steak!
         *Coffee: hmm...husband hates coffee...this could be a deal breaker
         *Chili: YUM. We love ALL FORMS of chili...and this recipe calls for Ancho Chili Powder, which I have in my cupboard and only use for one specific recipe...
        *Rub: quick and easy!

The ancho chili powder is what sold me--but I still had reservations about the coffee. I went onto Food Network's website and read a few of the reviews for this recipe.  It either received raves or "yuck, the coffee was way strong."  Not helpful.  Several mentioned that they cut the coffee in half based on previous reviews (that I wasn't motivated enough to read)...so that's what I decided to do.

Here's how my night went:
         *5:15--mix rub, cut fat off steak


         *5:20--grill steak
                     make mashed potatoes


         *5:45--eat dinner

Here's the beauty of this recipe--it was ready in 15 minutes; we were waiting on the mashed potatoes (also an Ellie recipe) before we sat down.  I was pleased to see that within 25 minutes I could have my entire dinner on the table: steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, cantaloupe (and garlic bread for the husband).  Not bad!

Was this the best steak I've ever had in my life? No. It was good--but I've had better.  However, as far as "bang for your buck" is concerned--I mean, it took 15 minutes from start to finish--it was pretty darn good.

Pros:
         *Quick and easy!
         *inexpensive ingredients (minus steak)
         *non-perishable ingredients--should all be in pantry
         *minimal clean up
         *plenty of time to make the rest of dinner while it's grilling

Cons:
         *steak doesn't reheat well the next day
         *steak is more expensive than chicken

**Notes: 
  • We grilled rather than cook on the stovetop
  • I used coffee instead of espresso, and only half the amount (I wasn't willing to shell out the money for espresso, seeing as it's going to sit in my pantry for a while)
  • I don't know my steaks. I bought what was on sale at the grocery store that had sirloin in the title--because I know sirloin is a leaner cut of meat--but perhaps my overall calorie count is slightly higher. 
  • Several Food Network reviewers recommended adding garlic salt/garlic powder to the rub, so we tried it with half of the rub.  We preferred the original recipe, even though we love garlic.

Cowboy Steak with Coffee and Chili Rub
Ellie Krieger All rights reserved

Prep Time:
  5 min
Inactive Prep Time:
  5 min
Cook Time:
  14 min
Level:
  Easy
Serves:
  4 servings

Ingredients

    * 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder, or other chili powder
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons fine ground espresso coffee
    * 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
    * 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
    * 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
    * 1/4 teaspoon salt
    * 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    * 1 1/4 pound shoulder center steak (Ranch Steak), or top sirloin, about 1 1/4-inch thick

Directions

Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and preheat it over medium-high heat. In a small bowl combine all the ingredients for the rub and coat the steak well on both sides. Cook steak for 14 minutes, turning once, for medium to medium-rare. Allow steak to sit for 5 minutes before slicing.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Adventures with Ellie

As previously stated, I'm a Cooking Light devotee.  I haven't cooked a meal from another cookbook in...well, in the 3 years I've been married, anyway!

I'm naturally resistant to change (type A personality, anyone?), but the whole point of this blog is to experiment with healthy cooking and provide a variety of recipes for anyone out there who may be reading.  So...I'm throwing caution to the wind and will be experimenting with Ellie Krieger's recipes from The Food You Crave.



Coming Soon...
  • Cowboy Steak with Coffee and Ancho Rub
  • Jerk Chicken with Cool Pineapple Salsa
  • Thai-Style Halibut with Coconut-Curry Broth
Stay Tuned!

Oven-Fried Chicken


As a California native, fried food has never been a part of my diet.  As someone who has always been interested in health—and a girl whose thighs grow just from looking at food—I don’t eat fried food.  This served me well for 24 years—until I fell in love with a man from the Midwest

Allow me to go back in time to my childhood for just a moment.  My mom taught me many wonderful things—if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all (still working on it!), write thank you notes as soon as you receive a gift, life isn’t always fair, etc.  These ideas made sense to me, even at a young age, but there was one point my mom drilled into me didn't make sense until many years later:
          “Men don’t change.”

You know the saying “you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl?”  Well, you can take the boy out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the boy.  My mom was right—men don’t change.  My husband is incredibly easy to please, and always compliments me on what I feed him—but now we’re in Texas and fried food is everywhere!  He’s in heaven.   I see the ecstasy on his face as he bites into chicken-fried steak (which I hadn't even HEARD of until we moved here) and feel torn: I want him to be that happy when eating my food, but I refuse to deep fry food.  What’s a healthy girl to do?

Solution: Cooking Light’s oven-fried chicken.  With a mere 4.4 g of fat (only 1 g of saturated fat), it’s clearly a healthier alternative to fast food fried chicken (which Cooking Light cites at 24 g of fat). 
Sure, KFC has perfected their breading over the years—but this is still a good piece of “fried” chicken, and it doesn't clog your arteries.

This is one of our stand-by recipes--it's tasty, quick, and easy.  Whenever I don’t know what to make, my husband will request this at least 75% of the time.  With only a fraction of the fat of regular fried chicken, I’m happy to oblige.

Here’s the run-down, so you can decide if you want to add this chicken to your dinner repertoire:


Step 1: Marinate chicken in buttermilk for 1 hour

Step 2: Mix flour, cumin, red pepper, white pepper, and salt.

Step 3: Dredge chicken in flour mixture twice, spraying with cooking spray after each 'breading'.


Step 4: Bake



Prep time: 1 hour , 10 minutes (Active prep: 10 minutes)

          This is one of the easiest recipes ever—and while the chicken does need to marinate for an hour, it takes all of 60 seconds to dump buttermilk over chicken in a ziploc baggy. 
Cook time: 30 – 40 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Pros:
*Inexpensive
*Mostly pantry ingredients—no need to run to the grocery store, unless you don’t have buttermilk on hand.
*Incredibly easy to prepare, and very low-maintenance; while the chicken baked, I whipped up buttermilk biscuits, cooked broccoli and asparagus, sliced cantaloupe, and prepped the strawberries for our strawberry shortcake dessert.  
*kid-friendly—but perhaps cut back on cayenne pepper
*very few dishes!

Cons:
          *does not reheat well—breading gets soggy
                    --Perhaps if you have a toaster oven it would work better?
          *although easy, it does take an hour and a half--not an option when you walk in the door at 7:00
         

NOTE: Parchment paper is essential!  I resisted the last few times I made it, and had an issue each time with the breading coming off the chicken.  Don't skip out on the parchment paper!
          **Also: don't skip spraying the chicken with cooking spray and dredging it in flour again.  I've been lazy in the past, and it just doesn't work as well.  Besides, who wants to skimp on breading???




Oven-Fried Chicken
Cooking Light, April 2002
Marinating in buttermilk results in tender, juicy chicken, and double breading gives a crisp crust. For a smoky taste, use ground chipotle pepper in place of the ground red pepper.
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 breast half or 1 thigh and 1 drumstick)

Ingredients

  • 3/4  cup  low-fat buttermilk
  • 2  chicken breast(about 1 pound), skinned            (I only used chicken breast)
  • 2  chicken drumsticks (about 1/2 pound), skinned
  • 2  chicken thighs (about 1/2 pound), skinned
  • 1/2  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground red pepper
  • 1/4  teaspoon  white pepper
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground cumin       (I use a heaping 1/2 tsp--we love cumin)
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Combine flour, salt, peppers, and cumin in a second large zip-top plastic bag. Remove chicken from first bag, discarding marinade. Add chicken, one piece at a time, to flour mixture, shaking bag to coat chicken. Remove chicken from bag, shaking off excess flour; lightly coat each chicken piece with cooking spray. Return chicken, one piece at a time, to flour mixture, shaking bag to coat chicken. Remove chicken from bag, shaking off excess flour.

Place chicken on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly coat chicken with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 35 minutes or until done, turning after 20 minutes.

Nutritional Information

Calories:263 (15% from fat)
Fat: 4.4g (sat 1.2g,mono 1.1g,poly 0.9g)
Protein:38.4g
Carbohydrate:14.9g
Fiber:0.8g
Cholesterol:110mg
Iron:2.2mg
Sodium:754mg
Calcium:73mg
Elaine Magee, Cooking Light, APRIL 2002

Monday, September 20, 2010

My First Post

I am not a chef.  

I am not a writer.


So why the blog?


I'll admit, starting a blog was never on my list of things to do.  I figured if you were a blogger, you were conceited enough to think that your random thoughts were important to other people.  I mean, who reads these things anyway?


It turns out, I do.  My husband and I just moved from California to Texas for his job, and I don't have friends or a job to keep me busy.  As someone who's new to being a house-wife, I look at this as an opportunity to fine-tune acquire some homemaking skills.  I originally turned to the internet for help with sewing, and stumbled across some helpful sewing blogs.   Sewing is nice and all, but I'm a complete novice and haven't yet developed a love for it.  What do I really love?  Food.  Cooking.  Baking.  All of a sudden, it hit me--I could find blogs about food!


I've been a Cooking Light addict for years, and have gotten tired of finding the same old recipes when I search for new ones; so, I spent a ridiculous amount of time looking for healthy living/cooking blogs.  There were many to choose from--and I'm still finding new ones!--but many were either too extreme (I don't have the money to restock my kitchen with all-natural/vegan/etc ingredients at this time) or not healthy enough (I don't use 1 cup of butter to saute green beans).


The husband suggested I start my own blog.


No, too scary.  People might not read it--or worse, they might read it and hate it.  Even worse: they might read it, hate it, and post a mean comment.


Do I have solid enough self-esteem for this?


Despite my fears, here I am.  I know there are better blogs with more beautiful pictures and more gourmet or delicious recipes.  But maybe there are people out there like me--people who like to cook, but are needing to find healthy options with items that can be found at any grocery store.  Maybe there are other women out there who are cursed with blessed with "hearty" hips and thighs and need to watch their calorie consumption (welcome! So good to know I'm not alone!).  Or, perhaps, some of you just want to minimize preservatives/fat/other junk in your diet.


Whatever your reason for being here: welcome.