Rosemary Polenta, Tomato Confit, Carmelized Bacon and Eggs

Polenta Caramelized Bacon Eggs

In order to become a dietitian, you have to go through a minimum of a bachelor’s program in nutrition (and not just any program, one that is officially a “Didactic Program in Dietetics”). Then after that, you have to complete a 1-2 year (approx.) internship program, and then you can sit for your national exam.

My internship was at the VA Medical Center, and there were six of us interns who grew to be like sisters over that year (or, 10 months, to be exact). We would carpool, share food, spend holidays together, fight, complain, some even lived together. I really adored all of my intern-mates, and will have a special spot in my heart for them for the rest of my life.

One time, my intern-mate, Hai Van, invited the girls over to her place for brunch. It was probably the best breakfast I had ever had in someone’s home. I kept asking her what she did, and have tried to re-create the meal, but every time, it just isn’t the same. I shouldn’t be surprised, because this girl would come up with THE MOST creative menus, and was also a professionally trained chef. I mean, how can you live up to that??

I remember being very intimidated by this meal, not only because Hai Van was an incredible chef that made magic in the kitchen…but it called for Polenta. I had never made that before, and my only experience was seeing the log at the store. But my friend walked me through the entire process, and it ended up being a success.

Rosemary Polenta

This was adapted from The Barefoot Contessa. Believe it or not, I actually reduced the amount of butter, half and half and milk by quite a but. It still turned out creamy and delicious. If you are short on time, you can always use the pre-made Organic Polenta from Trader Joe’s. (Side note, I don’t think Trader Joe’s carries cornmeal, at least I have never purchased it from there. Does any one know?)
 

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan
  • Flour, olive oil, and butter, for frying

Directions

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary, salt, and pepper and saute for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, half-and-half, milk, and water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly sprinkle the cornmeal into the hot milk while stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for a few minutes, until thickened and bubbly. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan. Pour into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch pan, smooth the top, and refrigerate until firm and cold.

Cut the chilled polenta into 12 squares, as you would with brownies. Lift each one out with a spatula and cut diagonally into triangles. Dust each triangle lightly in flour. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large saute pan and cook the triangles in batches over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, turning once, until browned on the outside and heated inside. Add more butter and oil, as needed. Serve immediately.

The rest of the meal was fairly easy. You can make the polenta the night before and in the morning, just slice some of it up and pan fry it in a little butter and oil. To make the Tomato Confit, combine a container of little grape tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake in a glass dish at 325 for 40 minutes.

The bacon is partially cooked on the stove then finished off in the oven @ 425 (until done, it all depends on how much you cook it on the stove). Before putting in the oven, sprinkle with pepper and brown sugar.

The eggs were just simply fried over medium. Then the dish was assembled with the polenta cake on the bottom, tomato confit and then topped with the egg. Bacon was served on the side.

When Hai Van made this, she sprinkled some fresh basil on top and served a side salad of field greens with balsamic vinaigrette and goat cheese, which was perfect for a brunch. It also added some more color to the plate. She also had a bloody mary bar, which is always a fan favorite (Side note – Trader Joe’s has a great bloody mary mix!)

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Tacoladas: Beef and Veggie Pie

Beef-and-Veggie-Taco-Pie

Do you remember math class in school? I do, and I remember two things in particular: One, was that I hated it. Two, was that I would get such a rush every time I found out I had the right answer when I checked the back of the book.

I sometimes get that same feeling when I COMPLETELY create and improvise a recipe from scratch. I am talking, no pinterest-ing, no internet searching. Nothing. And then it actually turns out, and it is delicious. Even better when there are lots of vegetables too! Such a rush.

So, behold my Taco Pie, aka. the source of this rush:

Taco Pie

Taco Pie. Er, Casserole. Er, …nevermind

Ok, that seems a little silly after I look at this picture. I mean, it looks like just any regular casserole, right? (Side note – If anyone can come up with a better name for this, please let me know in the comments below. It does not resemble a pie in any way shape or form, that is just what I keep calling it. And I think the term “casserole” can scare some people off with nightmares of cream of chicken soup and mayonnaise. )

From the bottom to the top, this casserole starts out with a hint of my favorite TJ’s salsa (I use the Trader Joe’s Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, but there are many you can choose from, just pick your favorite), then a layer of corn tortillas, cut into triangles.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Now, many of my friends have gone back and forth over “what is the best corn tortilla found on the shelves of Trader Joe’s.” My personal favorite is the “De Mi Abuela: Wheat and Corn Tortillas” because they are a little bit thicker, and have lots of flavor. Not every one in my house is a fan of that one, so I usually end up getting the “Corn Tortillas” that are gluten-free and have minimal ingredients. They are just your regular, run-of-the-mill tortillas. And that is perfectly acceptable in a dish like this, that has so much flavor and other textures going on.

Trader Joe's Corn Tortillas

Left: De Mi Abuela
Right: Corn Tortillas

The next layer is a mix of 6 different veggies that have been sautéed in a little bit of olive oil. You could probably swap out some of the veggies if you have other favorites. It is kind of a cool way to clean out your fridge if you have just a few randoms laying around. While I had my cutting board out, I actually ended up dicing a lot more veggies than this, and then saving them for the following morning to add to an egg scramble.

Nothing more beautiful than a rainbow of veggies in a skillet

Nothing more beautiful than a rainbow of veggies in a skillet

After that layer, add some more corn tortilla triangles, then the layer of ground beef. I like lean ground beef (96% lean) because it is pretty inexpensive, and is easy to freeze and de-thaw. I also ALWAYS have some hanging out in my kitchen. But if you prefer a different type of protein, you could easily swap the ground beef with turkey, or even shredded chicken (YUM!) Simply brown the ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken) in a skillet. It can be the same one you just cooked the veggies in. Then add a can of diced tomatoes and a half packet of taco seasoning. If you like your food on the spicy side, add a little more. If you like it less spicy, add a little less. However, there was enough heat for me and my family with just half a packet.

Put that mixture on top of the corn tortilla triangles, then load the top up with some shredded Mexican cheese and bake in the oven until it is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.

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I topped mine with some guacamole, salsa, sour cream and Jalapeño Greek yogurt dip. No, I am not a glutton, just indecisive. I think the Jalapeño Greek Yogurt dip won. It is my current favorite.

And the icing on the cake, is the leftovers are even better. I just love when meals get better with age.

Tacoladas: Beef and Veggie Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 yellow squash, diced
  • 1/2 package of mushrooms, diced
  • 2 cups kale
  • 1/4 cup salsa verde (Roasted Tomatillo Salsa)
  • 8 corn tortillas, cut into triangle wedges
  • 1 lb 95% lean ground beef
  • 1 can tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1/2 packet taco seasoning
  • 1/2 package Mexican cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Once warm, add onions and cook for a few minutes, then add bell pepper and cook for another couple minutes. Next, add zucchini and yellow squash, continue to cook for a few minutes. Then add mushrooms and cook for a few motte minutes. Lastly, add the kale.
  3. In a 9×13 glass dish, spread salsa along the bottom of the pan, then spread corn tortillas on top. Put cooked veggies on top. Do another layer of corn tortillas.
  4. In the same large skillet, brown lean grown beef. Once brown, add taco seasoning and tomatoes and cook on low for 8-10 minutes. Once cooked, add to casserole dish. Cover with cheese and bake for 25 minutes, until cheese is starting to bubble and brown. Remove from oven and let sit a few minutes before serving.

Suggested Side items – Black beans and a salad with Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Cilantro Dressing

Suggested Drinks – Trader Joe’s Organic Mango Lemonade (with or without tequila)

Healthy Whole Wheat Pancakes

Whole-Wheat-Pancakes

Here is the first video and recipe I shared with Nutrition Milestones, and it really is just too much fun to not post here as well. OJ and I were asked to make our favorite pancake recipe, which is basically just my father-in-law’s famous pancakes, with just a few healthy tweaks. Since filming this, I have also incorporated Non-Fat Vanilla Greek Yogurt to replace the buttermilk (not that there is anything wrong with buttermilk, it is just something I don’t normally purchase, and I am up to my ears with Non-Fat Vanilla Greek Yogurt!) I have also substituted honey for the sugar and added some cinnamon, added blueberries or chocolate chips, and all of them taste equally delicious!

Healthy Whole Wheat Pancakes

  • Servings: 10-12 silver dollar pancakes or 5-7 full size pancakes
  • Difficulty: easy
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IngredientsIMG_1714

  • 1 cup whole wheat white flour from Trader Joes
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil

whole wheat pancakes griddleInstructions

  • Mix together wet ingredients
  • Mix together dry ingredients
  • Then add wet to dry and mix until well combined.
  • Meanwhile, pre-heat your electric griddle to 350 (or a griddle pan on your stove at a medium high heat). Once hot, place a dollop of batter onto the griddle (1 Tbsp for silver dollar, 1/4-1/3 cup for full size).

Favorite Topping: Fresh Fruit and a drizzle of Trader Joe’s Organic Maple Agave Syrup Blend

The Mean Green Smoothie

The Mean Green Smoothie

I sometimes think that if pizza never existed, smoothies might be my favorite food. They are so versatile and you can easily customize the nutrition profile by adding different fruits, veggies, protein powder, nuts, etc. Lucky for me, my little one loves smoothies too, and asks for them almost as often as she asks for MnMs.

When you are making green smoothies, you can start with picking a green vegetable. This one calls for spinach, but I have also been known to throw some kale if I have some in my fridge. Then I pick some light colored, frozen fruit. I usually have bananas stocked in my freezer, so that is a given. Then I’ll add whatever TJ’s has in stock (they often run out of frozen mango), usually pineapple and mango. You can add other fruit, such as berries, but it turns the beautiful green smoothie into a brown color. Still delicious, but doesn’t really match the name. Then pick a protein, my go-to as of late has been non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt, but also have some Trader Joe’s Whey Protein powder in my pantry for back up. Using the sweetened Greek Yogurt gives a little but more robust flavor to the smoothie, which I like.

For the last month or so, I have been blogging and vlogging for Nutrition Milestones, which is a team of dietitians that provide nutrition services for people going through life changes, such as pregnancy, parenthood, weddings, medical diagnoses, etc. Olive and I recently shared with them our Green Smoothie recipe, take a look!

The Mean Green Smoothie

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cups spinach, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt (approx. Just use one small 6 oz container)
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup Milk of choice or water

Directions:

  1. Put in blender and blend on high until smooth. If you need to think it out more, add additional water or milk.

Matcha Green Tea Latte Macarons

Green-Tea-Macarons-FFK

This blog is seriously lacking in desserts, isn’t it??

That is really, honestly, and truly, not a reflection on how often I bake and eat desserts though! This last week, I made a Caramel Toffee Crunch Cheesecake (Recipe from Yammie’s Noshery, one of my favorite food blogs) and a Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake (Recipe from The Shortlist) for the San Diego Chapter of the California Dietetic Association‘s Installation Dinner. For some reason, people always find it funny that desserts like these would be served to dietitians, but believe me when I say, that we dietitians like our dessert too! Rich and delicious and decadent, just like every one else. (Probably the only difference, is these two cakes fed about 35 people…It’s all about portion sizes!!!)

Installation Dinner Desserts

Left-Right: Dark Chocolate Gnache Cake, Caramel Toffee Cheesecake and Mint Chocolate Chip Macarons

I also made my first attempt at making French Macarons. I have read a lot of scary stuff about making them: Do you age your egg whites? Use cream of tartar? Get cornstarch-less powdered sugar? Do you have to turn your mixer off and gradually add your granulated sugar?? Do they have to sit overnight??

It seemed a little ridiculous! …and super intimidating.

Until I came across a no-fuss Mint Chocolate Chip Macaron recipe, (again, from Yammie’s Noshery) that seemed easy enough for me to make. And although mine were nowhere nearly as pretty as the pictures on her blog, they tasted delicious. I tried making a few adjustments to my technique, tried swapping out extracts and food coloring to create a little variety. Then watched this amazing youtube tutorial:

I felt like after I watched that video, I could take on the world! So, if you plan on making this recipe, or even a different macaron recipe, I would start with the above video. It gives you a really good visual of what “stiff peaks” looks like, how to fold in ingredients gently, and what the final consistency should be like.

Last shout out on my macaron journey: This super helpful troubleshooting guide to making macarons. I stumbled upon this when I was trying to figure out why my egg whites wouldn’t get to the stiff peak stage, no matter how much I whipped them. The answer was that I had a little bit of egg yolk in with my whites. I was being lazy and in the end, caused way too much more work for myself.

So, going back to the method I have adopted…

Start with either grinding your almonds to make almond meal, which I really know nothing about, OR you could purchase almond meal from Trader Joe’s. This is a versatile product you can use as a gluten free breading, or cut with flour to make lighter and fluffier desserts (perfect for making cake flour out of regular flour). I use 2/3 cup almond flour, but start with probably about 1 cup, (or two heaping scoops with my 1/3 cup measuring cup) and sift it a few times to get the grainy, husk part out of my mix. Then once I am happy with the consistency, I will sift in my powdered sugar and matcha green tea powder. Just keep in mind, you really can’t over sift these ingredients when making macarons.

In the mean time, you want to have pre-heated your oven to somewhere between 280-300. If it is too high, they won’t turn out. The original recipe I followed said 280, but that seemed a little too low for my baking sheet. I have one air bake pan, that needs a higher temperature, and a regular aluminum pan, that 280 is perfect. So, moral of the story, you might need to experiment with your oven temp based on your altitude and baking sheets. If you watch the video above, she really stresses the importance of oven temperature, so listen to her (not me, I am not the expert!)

Stiff Peaks - The Fearless Flying Kitchen

Stiff Peaks Forming

Now, a lot of recipes call for aging your egg whites. If you want to, I am sure you would end up with a better product. But I really don’t have time for that, otherwise, I probably would never make macarons… So I just whip my egg whites straight out of the fridge. Make sure to not get any shell or yolk in there, or you’ll run into problems. Once the egg whites reach the “foamy” stage, you can go ahead and add your sugar. Again, I have encountered many different techniques with adding sugar (some turn off the mixer in-between adding each tablespoon and mixing a little at a time), but I choose the lazy method of just adding all my sugar at once. It works out just fine for me. Continue to mix your egg whites until you get to the stiff peaks stage. This will look a lot like the meringue you see on top of lemon pies. You know you have reached it because when you pull the mixer blade away, a peak will form, and won’t flop back over (which is what would happen if you were still in the “soft peak stage”).

Matcha Green Tea Macarons - Folding ingredients

Folding in ingredients

At this point, you want to add any additional wet ingredients, like food coloring or extracts. I added just a few drops of green food coloring, but you could add more to have a more robust color. Gently fold in these ingredients. The thing with using whipped egg whites as a leavening agent, is you can’t stir it too much, or you will let all the air get out (that you just trapped by whipping them), so less is really more with stirring and folding ingredients into egg whites. Once your additional wet ingredients are incorporated, you can fold in half of your dry ingredients and then once fully mixed, add the rest of the dry ingredients. This is another crucial step, because under-mixed macarons will crack easily, and over-mixed batter will spread out too thin. As I mentioned before, go up and watch the video (specifically, at 4:44), that will give you a great visual of what to look for. I started with undermixing my macarons, and they did have a lot of cracks and broke apart really easily.

Over Done Under Done

Examples of under-done and slightly over-done macarons

Once they are mixed, transfer to a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch-3/4 inch tip, and pipe about 1 inch circles, that are about 1/2 inch apart on the sheet. they won’t really spread like other types of cookies, but they will rise a little. Also, try to make them about the same shape and size, so they can fit together nicely. Once all piped out, hit the baking sheet (rather hard), a few times on the counter. I am told that this will help the cute little macaron feet develop, that are a signature for macarons. I feel like it is a little silly, but I do it any way. Then you just let your macarons rest for about 15-45 minutes, until they have hardened a little bit on the top. You want to be able to touch it with your finger and not have batter come off. Then just pop it in your preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, or until it easily slides off of your parchment paper, but has not started to brown. It is another step that you kind of have to be super careful about.

Chocolate Gnache

Cooled off and ready to get slapped with a big blog of gnache!

Once they are done in the oven, let them cool completely, I transfer them to a wire rack. They cool fairly quickly, so you can go ahead and start making your chocolate gnache filling…which is super easy. I was a little nervous that this wouldn’t turn out, because the chocolate was super super runny when assembling. But after it cooled back down to room temperature (or, fridge-temperature, rather), it was perfect. You just have to be a little careful with assembly, to not put too much on, and not let it spill over the sides (so, don’t squish the sandwiches together too much).

And the best part of this?? You can get all the ingredients you need to make this during your usual trip to TJ’s! No special stops for special ingredients. MAAAAYBE the food coloring, but that is really not necessary. The matcha powder is green and will give a little tint to the cookies, they just won’t be a super dark green.

So, have fun, and enjoy!!

Matcha Green Tea Macaron

Matcha Green Tea Latte Macarons

  • Servings: Approx 30
  • Difficulty: Hard
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Ingredients for Matcha Green Tea MacaronsIngredients:

  • 2/3 Cup Almond Flour (sifted)
  • 1 1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar (Sifted)
  • 2 Tbsp Matcha Green Tea Latte Powder
  • 3 Egg Whites
  • 5 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • Few Drops Green Food Coloring

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 290 degrees. Line your baking sheets with a silpat or parchment paper.
  2. Sift almond flour, powdered sugar and Matcha green tea powder in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In an electric mixer (with a whisk attachment if available), beat egg whites until they get nice and foamy. Add granulated sugar, one tablespoon at a time and then continue to beat until you reach the stiff peak stage.
  4. Gently fold in vanilla and green food coloring until just barely combined.
  5. Gently fold in half of the dry ingredients, then mix until fully incorporated, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and fold until completely incorporated and it reaches the “lava flow” phase (this just means that it will flow off of a spoon when you raise it up, and then once it falls back into the mixture, it retains its shape, up slowly envelopes back into the mix).
  6. Using a pastry bag with a 1/2-3/4 inch tip, pipe the mix on top your baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between cookies. Make them about 1 inch in diameter. Once all are piped out, hit the pan on the counter a few times. This helps to develop the signature feet. Then let them rest for 15-45 minutes, or until they develop a hard “shell.”
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until they can easily pop off of your baking sheet and have not yet browned.
  8. Let cool completely, then fill with chocolate gnache and sandwich it up!

Chocolate Gnache Filling 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Tbsp Whipping Cream

Directions:

  1. Place Chocolate Chips, Butter and Whipping Cream in a microwave safe dish, and microwave at 50% power for ~ 1-2 minutes, or until completely melted (or if you have a double boiler, you can melt them all together over the stove).
  2. Stir until completely blended together.

Matcha Green Tea Macarons

Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom. Can I eat them? Can I eat them?

La Bête Noire

Just got done making “The Black Beast.” It was super easy, decadent, and beautiful dessert. Special shout out to the Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar for making this an affordable treat too!

The Shortlists

The Black Beast. I think that’s a perfect name for A. the virus I just told you about and B. this ganache-laden flourless chocolate cake.

First things first: I have recovered. For those of you wondering if this lil shortlist would ever be able to digest non-pale items again – fear not! After over three days of english muffin induced coma, my stomach has decided to man up and once again take control of what it lets in (and what it shoots out). Yesterday afternoon I was well enough to spend a few hours getting a private tour of the new wing of the Museum of Fine Arts followed by dinner at our hands down favorite red sauce Italian restaurant. Where the chicken parm does not fit on the plate and attempting to share the equally gargantuan chocolate bread pudding has, once or twice, caused family members to go…

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Tortilla Crusted Chicken Tenders

Tortilla-Crusted-Chicken-Tenders-Main

Chicken tenders seem to be a classic food item that appear on kids menus across america. Often these crispy crowd pleasers are battered or breaded and deep fried (or at least pan fried!) Not necessarily something I want my kid having on a daily basis. They also are on the “no-no” list for individuals with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, due to the bread crumb coating.

But have no fear, the Fearless Flying Chef is here to rescue this disastrous meal!!

The first task at hand was to make it a meal that kids (and adults) with food allergies and sensitivities can enjoy. The second was to eliminate the deep fryer (because, let’s be honest, I don’t even own one and don’t plan on buying one). After a few tweaks to your standard chicken strips recipe, this one was definitely a keeper.

IMG_1443

I have made a version of this before with regular hummus and bread crumbs, and it was a hit. So I decided to give it a “South of the Boarder” twist with the Cilantro& Jalapeño Hummus as the binder and crushed White Corn Tortilla Chips as the breading. This makes for a slightly messy and little more involved process, but the end result is worth it!

Tortilla Crusted Chicken Tenders

Ingredients:

  • 8 Chicken Tenders (one package)
  • Half container of Cilantro & Jalapeño Hummus
  • 2-3 Cups Tortilla Chips, Crushed
  • Finely Shredded Mexican Cheese
  • Cooking Spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Prepare a 9X12 glass baking dish by spraying lightly with your favorite cooking spray. I used coconut oil spray (my first time using this product), but also stock my cabinet with a sprayable Olive Oil.
  2. Crush tortilla chips (in food processor or manually) and pour out into a dish.
  3. Stir hummus well, then smother each chicken tender with hummus until covered. I used about half of a container for this. Then drudge the chicken tenders into the tortilla chips until covered. Place on prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese (lightly).
  4. Once all of the chicken is smothered and drudged and placed in the baking dish, place in oven in a center rack for ~ 20 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165˚F. Turn once and sprinkle other side with cheese.
  5. Remove from oven and let rest ~5 minutes.

IMG_1446

I served this meal with Corn on the Cob, and honestly, had such high aspirations for making a delicious grilled corn. But instead, I went the lamest route possible and MICROWAVED it. Olive still loved it, and my husband and I ate it up just fine. But it probably would have been so much better if I grilled it for a few minutes too. I also heated up a can of Organic Black Beans and sautéed some zucchini and bell peppers in a little bit of Olive Oil as a side (with just some salt and pepper). Very simple and nutritious sides. We also had watermelon as an appetizer. It was intended to be served with dinner, but it never lasts long in our home. Definitely doesn’t last long enough for a picture!

IMG_1444

Bell Pepper and Steak Stir-Fry

 BELL-PEPPER-AND-STEAK

As much as I love to cook, some nights, I just want to pop something in the microwave or order take out. Call it laziness if you want. I call it just, being human. But, what I consider the ultimate, is when I can cook dinner from scratch that involves minimal effort on my part. My biggest TJ’s  “splurge” is usually on pre-cut meats and vegetables. I call it a splurge because it usually costs a few bucks more to get a food item processed. But those few minutes I am spared are well worth it! I mean, come on, the thought of making soup from scratch was a little daunting before I the wonderful Mirepoix Mix, am I right?? Another pre-sliced and diced item I regularly purchase is the Beef Steak Tips, which I decided to bust out for dinner tonight. You can, of course, always use regular tenderloin or sirloin, and just slice into chunks or strips.

When I think of “easy dinner,” my mind jumps right to clean up, which means my easy dinner usually involves no more than 1 pot or utensil. I have seen a bunch of one pot pasta dishes on Pinterest, and I’ll admit, I am a little nervous to try them. I just can’t wrap my head around how it would taste good to throw raw onions and uncooked pasta and tomatoes in a pot with water and have it com out tasting delicious. I hope to prove myself wrong in the future, but, For now, I’ll just stick to crock pots and woks.

Some of my favorite veggies to cook with beef  are bell peppers and onions. I often pair my carne asada with fajita style peppers and  onions. Same with sausages. I wonder why I even thought I would choose a different veggie for my easy mid-week stir fry? I am sure there are great combinations out there. What do you put in your stir-fry? Leave me a comment!

 

Bell Pepper and Steak Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp olive or peanut oil, divided
  • 1 lb package of beef tips
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 medium onion, cut into chunks
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bag of microwave brown rice

Sauce:

  • 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Sriracha
  • 1 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar

Directions:

  • Put 1 Tbsp of oil in wok or large pan, and heat on hight. Once oil is hot, add onion and bell peppers and cook until they just start to get soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan.
  • Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for sauce in a separate bowl.
  • Add other tbsp to pan, and add beef tips (salt and pepper to taste prior to cooking). Cook until no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add cooked bell peppers and onions, diced tomatoes and sauce mixture cook for another 5 min. Sauce will thicken a little bit. Remove from heat and serve with your favorite whole grain rice. I prefer the frozen brown rice that can be microwaved for 3 minutes and serves two.


Estimated Nutrition Information Per Serving (does not include rice):
Calories: 316   Carbs: 18g   Fat: 17g   Protein: 24g   Sodium: 720 mg   Sugar: 7g

Italian Style Stuffed Peppers

Background: I have been wanting to post a recipe for Stuffed Peppers for a long time on here. Only catch…I really didn’t have one that was just right. I would look up recipes online and they just wouldn’t be what I wanted. Some turned out  like meatloaf inside a pepper while others lacked flavor or didn’t have an ideal texture. One time I attempted to make stuffed peppers, the bell pepper was still very crunchy, so the next time I boiled the peppers before stuffing and baking, and that just removed some of the flavor.  I am happy to report that I finally figured it out (all by myself I might add!) and might have come up with the combination for the perfect stuffed pepper. Have you had any of these problems while making stuffed peppers in the past? Am I the only one?? Let me know in the comments below. 

Italian Style Stuffed Peppers with a simple side salad.***

Often, especially in January, I will ask my husband what he wants for dinner and his response is always “Something Healthy.” The first thing that pops into my mind is this delicious Veggie Quinoa Bowl that I make. Second is always Stuffed Peppers (and if you were curious what number three is, that would be my Lentil and Veggie Soup). The one thing that all of these dishes have in common is they are chock-full of vegetables.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 8.03.53 AMI always have some 96% ground beef on hand. I prefer to use this over other ground meat options. Higher % fat ground beef just is too fatty and needs to be drained before proceeding. And, yes, if you were wondering, this equates to me using a lower fat meat because I am lazy. I also sometimes feel that ground turkey ends up being too dry, and I usually don’t use meat substitute unless I am cooking for a vegetarian (but even then, I usually would just use beans or lentils). The 96% Lean Ground Beef also has a long shelf life because of how it is packaged, and so you can have it hanging out in your fridge for a while. If you don’t use it quickly it also freezes really well (just de-thaw in the fridge the night before you want to cook with it). I will use this for Stuffed Peppers, Meat Loaf, Pasta Sauce, Spanish Zucchini, and Mushroom Burgers.

IMG_0121Pasta Sauce is also another item always on hand in my kitchen. I usually like to make my own pasta sauce from scratch using canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil and oregano (and SALT). Mostly just keep it simple, but when I want to impress, I’ll follow this Buzzfeed Recipe for the Best Tomato Sauce, Which is pretty dang good. But it is time consuming, so in a pinch, it is always good to have a simple jar of tomato sauce on hand. You can also quickly turn it into pizza sauce when you add a half jar of tomato paste to it. I recently learned a trick from my mother-in-law, which is to sautée onion and brown ground beef in a pan and then just add some Tomato Basil Tomato Sauce form a jar, and it will taste very home-made and is very quick and easy.

My favorite thing about making Stuffed Peppers is it is a completely standalone dish. You don’t need much else to go along with it aside from a salad and maybe a breadstick if you want (which…My favorite comes in the bread section of Trader Joe’s, or you could make some using their Pizza Dough, like this recipe from Stick Baby and the Snail). It also isn’t too terribly labor intensive, and you can easily forget it once it goes in the oven.

Italian Style Stuffed Peppers

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • Four Bell Peppers (Red, Yellow, Green, whatever you prefer)
  • 1 Jar of Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce
  • 1 lb 96% Lean Ground Beef
  • 1 Zucchini, Diced
  • 1 Bag of Sliced White Mushrooms
  • 1/4 – 1/2 Cup Organic Breadcrumbs
  • Salt, Pepper, Basil and Garlic Powder to taste
  • Mozzarella Cheese (fresh or shredded)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Brown ground beef in skillet, once cooked through and brown, add diced zucchini and mushrooms. Break the mushrooms up into smaller pieces (you can either cut them even more before you add them, or just break them up in the pan while they cook).
  3. Once vegetables start to look tender, add about a half cup of marinara sauce and mix well. Just make sure everything is covered, so add a little bit more if you need to. Let that cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add breadcrumbs and mix well. The texture of the mixture should stick together and be very clumpy. Add additional breadcrumbs until this texture is achieved.
  5. Meanwhile, while all of that has been cooking, add about half the jar of pasta sauce to a large pyrex dish (9X12 or large enough to hold all of your peppers) and spread evenly. Prepare the peppers by slicking them in half long ways and removing the stem and seeds. Place them skin-side-down in the pasta sauce.
  6. Add a little bit of mozzarella cheese to the inside of each bell pepper half (if you want to elevate this dish, use fresh mozzarella on the inside. I had some on hand and it was delicious). Then fill the peppers with the meat and veggie mixture. Should be enough to fill all of the bell pepper halves, feel free to push the meat-veggie mix down if it is overflowing. Top bell peppers with more mozzarella cheese.
  7. Bake for ~35-40 minutes at 375. Serve with a nice little salad and breadsticks or rice.

Pumpkin French Toast

PUMPKIN-french-toast

The other day, I walked into Trader Joe’s, and for the first time, I felt a little intimidated by the amount of pumpkin items on the shelves. I am a lover of all things pumpkin (well… most things pumpkin) and even I almost thought “they have gone overboard,” but something inside me just couldn’t mutter those words.

Seriously, I love fall: Halloween, Thanksgiving, shopping, crisp and cool air, apple cider, school starting and tourists leaving. The flavor of ‘pumpkin’ just really helps me feel like fall has arrived. Call it ritualistic if you will.

Pumpkin Stash

My Pumpkin Stash

I started with the Pumpkin PopTarts Organic Frosted Toasted Pasteries. They were amazing, but were admittedly an impromptu purchase that should have never ended up in my basket, and only did because I was starving. I am all about moderation, but these little guys have no place on your breakfast plate.

The next thing I purchased was the “Pumpkin Walks into a Bar” bar. I will try just about anything in that line of products because I think the title is just that clever. Fig has been my favorite, but the pumpkin was pretty delicious too. My first experience with this item was when I was coming home from Disneyland on Dapper Day, and was trying to make it back to San Diego before rush hour, so I skipped lunch and only had those bars in my car. They were so delicious, I ate two of them. The next time I had a whole one to myself (once I was properly fed), I felt it was a little too sweet for my liking. However, my 18 month old daughter LOVES these bars and goes nuts for them.

The other fancy item I tried this year was the Pumpkin Cornbread to go with my Black and White Chili. Without sounding like a broken record, I always find the cornbread at trader joe’s to be a little too sweet for my taste buds (and that is saying a lot!! I love sugar!!) and this was no exception. I was also missing out on the giant chunks of corn that come in the normal cornbread. It was delicious, but I think from here on out I would stick to the traditional cornbread mix. I DID however feel inspired to attempt to make pumpkin cornbread cupcakes with Maple Frosting out of this mix, so stay tuned for that.

Truth be told, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to my pumpkin. I much prefer just getting a can of old fashioned pumpkin puree and just adding scoopfuls to my recipes already in rotation. I purchased a can at Trader Joe’s on my last trip, anticipating I would make Taylor Switft’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies but ended up doing something different, but just as yummy.

pumpkin spice

If you go onto Pinterest, you’ll see close to a million recipes for Pumpkin French Toast…WELL HERE IS A MILLION AND ONE! But seriously, there is a reason why this is so popular: it is delicious. There are just some foods pumpkin just fits really well into (while there are others, like, say, Pumpkin Spice Pringles, that make me lose my lunch).

Another great part of this: my daughter loved it. But then again, I wasn’t really expecting her to NOT love it, because she is a hoover and eats everything, especially pumpkin spice things.

So, without further adieu, I present you:

Pumpkin French Toast

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

IMG_2674
Ingredients:

  • 3 Slices of Milton’s Multigrain Bread
  • 2 Tbsp Organic Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/4-1/2 Cup Milk
  • 1/2 tsp Pumpkin Spice
  • Butter
  • Optional: Powdered Sugar and Agave Maple Syrup

IMG_2675Directions:

  1. Beat egg, add pumpkin puree and mix well. Add milk (start with 1/4 cup and if it looks thick, add more. I always try to put in as little milk as possible with my French toast). Finally add in the pumpkin spice (or if you are out, you could just use a mix of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg and if you are trying to emulate the Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice, a pinch of clove too)
  2. GrillingHeat skillet on medium and add a pat of butter to the pan and let melt. I have tried to skip this step before,
    but the French Toast just gets stuck to the skillet, so, just do it and be liberal with the butter. You can always blot some off after.
  3. Dip bread (you can cut it in half if you like) in egg/milk mixture. Make sure each side is fully saturated.
  4. Cook French Toast a few minutes on each side until it starts to brown. Remove from skillet and top with powdered sugar and/or maple syrup.


**CUTE CULINARY ITEM ALERT**

powdered-sugar-spoonI had a little “me” time the other night, and I somehow found myself browsing the aisles of Crate and Barrel (which I could easily drop a couple thousand each time I walk in that store). I went to get a basket for my bathroom, but left with a quiche dish and the most adorable little powdered sugar spoon ever. I couldn’t pass it up, and was truly my inspiration for this post.