Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mexican Again

I am not sure why, but it seems a lot of our meals lately are slightly Mexican in theme. First, there was the Tamale Casserole, last night it was the Chili Mac, and tonight, it's Mexican Meatloaf. Stay tuned next week when I make Tortilla Casserole by the way.

Maybe it's the spicy food that appeals to me in this cold fall weather. Maybe it's that it seems you get a lot more bang for your buck with Mexican food. All I know is that it's extremely tasty!

My husband being a huge meat eater, I wanted to make something that would appeal to him but was also healthy. This meatloaf is healthy, as long as you don't eat the whole loaf of course. Portion control folks! This whole loaf makes 8 slices of meatloaf.

Call me a weirdo, but I always like to mix my meatloaf. Something about squishing all the ingredients together is fun. If this grosses you out, wear gloves.

I wasn't sure if we were going to run errands tonight before dinner, so I prepared this meatloaf ahead of time. I combined all the ingredients and put them in my loaf pan and then stuck it all in the fridge. I took it out of the fridge about 30 minutes to rest before putting it in the oven.

Serve this meatloaf with mashed potatoes like I did, or you can get really creative and have Spanish rice. To go along with the healthy recipe, we also had green beans and a salad. You have to remember to eat those vegetables!

Maybe after a few weeks, my obsession with cooking Mexican food will pass. After all, there are only so many things you can make before you get tired of them. Although I do love a good plate of nachos.....Mmmmmmmm.

Mexican Meatloaf
from: Weight Watchers

1.5 pound lean ground beef (7% fat)
1 cup rolled oats
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 ounces canned green chiles, mild, diced
1 egg
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
8 ounces canned tomato sauce

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.

2. Combine all ingredients, except half of the tomato sauce, together in a large mixing bowl. Set remaining sauce aside. Spoon meatloaf mixture into prepared pan and smooth top.

3. Bake for 60 minutes. Spoon remaining sauce over meatloaf and cook 5 minutes more. Slice into eight pieces.
Dang it, why did the meatloaf have to fall apart before I could get a good picture of it?

The Perfect Crunch

How many of you have tried biscotti from a coffee shop? I usually don't buy it, because it's way too crunchy for my liking. Even after dunking it in a cup of coffee, it hurts my teeth. There is one place here in Portland that makes biscotti that doesn't break your teeth, but that is another story.

I made the perfect biscotti today. Just crunchy enough, but still a teeny bit soft in the middle. It has mini chocolate chips in it to give just enough chocolate flavor. It's the perfect crunch to go with that hot cup of coffee or tea.

Did you know that biscotti translates to Itwice cooked in Latin? It comes from the words bis coctus. I just like to refer to them as Italian biscuits. In England, aren't biscuits cookies? It always makes me smile when my mom talks about having digestive biscuits on her trips to London.

This recipe is easy to make, and as the name implies, it is twice cooked. You first start out by mixing the ingredients, and then forming them into a log. After that you bake the log, slice when cooled and bake again. The results are tasty!

Biscotti before baking:
After baking. It puffs up a little.

Because I am an independent thinker (also known as stubborn), I don't cut the biscotti crosswise on a diagonal as the instructions indicate. I don't do this because I like all my biscotti to be equal size. There will be no skimping here! So, it's easier for me to cut in half, and in half again. The four quarters will each equal five biscotti. For people that aren't good at math, that is 20 biscotti total.

So, enjoy a biscotti with a cup of coffee, tea, or even as a sweet treat after dinner. There will be no teeth breakage here.

Chocolate Chip Biscotti
from: Weight Watchers

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and set aside.

3. With an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until frothy, about 2 minutes. Stir the dry ingredients in just until moistened and dough forms. Shape the dough into a 13x3 inch log on baking sheet.

4. Bake log 30 minutes and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 300 degrees.

5. Cut warm log crosswise on a slight diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices. Stand slices, about an inch apart, on baking sheet and return to oven for 12 minutes. The centers will be soft, but biscotti will crisp when cooled.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chili Mac Not From a Box

I have known lots of people who make chili mac. You know? The kind where you make a box of macaroni and cheese and stir in a can of chili? All the better if it's Kraft, with its nuclear orange cheese mix. I honestly never could acquire a taste for the stuff. I like chili, and I like mac&cheese, but not together. However, on my quest to find healthier recipes, I wanted to branch out. Try some new things. Go out on a limb. You get the picture.

What sold me on this recipe was the overwhelming amount of tomatoes it contains. Score! Me and my love affair with tomatoes should get some therapy. It's getting a little out of control. I could seriously eat tomatoes straight, and sometimes I do. I eat tomatoes for almost every meal. How do I eat tomatoes at breakfast you may ask? I toast an english muffin, scramble an egg with cheese and add a tomato slice. That's how.

But, back to the recipe at hand. This makes a ton. I almost didn't have room in my skillet to hold all the ingredients. I really started to worry when I added the macaroni. I thought for sure, I would have an overboard moment. I didn't though.

This is a very simple dish to make. It doesn't require much effort other than opening all the cans, and browning some meat. It's very healthy with all the tomatoes and beans. So, enjoy a big serving, because it's got tons of vitamins and minerals. Most of the ingredients are those you would have on hand. A plus for me, since I love using up what's in my pantry.

I am a happy girl, because I had so much leftover, that I will have simple dinners for the rest of the week! Just microwave, add a salad, and voila. Dinner.

Cheesy Chili-Mac
from: Weight Watchers

2/3 pound extra-lean ground beef
2 medium onions, chopped
29 oz canned stewed tomatoes, Mexican style
2.5 cups canned tomato juice
4 oz canned green chiles, diced, drained
2 teaspoons chili powder
1.5 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
31 oz canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese

1. Coat a large skiller with cooking spray. Cook ground beef and onion over medium-high heat until meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Drain off fat.

2. Stir in stewed tomatoes including juice, tomato juice, chiles, and chili powder. Bring mixture to a boil.

3. Stir in macaroni and beans; return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until macaroni is tender, about 15 minutes. Spoon chili into bowls and sprinkle with cheese.

Soup's On

It's been the perfect weather lately for soup. Cold, brisk, fall days that warrant a hot bowl of soup. I make three of four different kinds regularly, but I tried a new one today. I didn't have a whole lot of time before I needed to run to a meeting, so I threw together the ingredients and set the crock pot to High. In five hours, I had a delicious bowl of soup for lunch.

Knowing myself well, there is hardly a time where I don't cook without tomatoes. Today was no exception. The base for this soup is actually a can of diced tomatoes. Big shocker! The recipe comes from Weight Watchers, which I have been relying on heavily lately. I have been cooking very healthy for the past few weeks and the payoff is starting to show. I am wearing a pair of jeans today that are a size smaller than I usually wear. So, yay me!

Serve this soup by itself as a starter, or alongside a sandwich for those cold nights. I had a wrap sandwich and a piece of fruit, and that was the perfect lunch. There are tons of things that you could add to this soup if you would like some protein. A can of beans (kidney or cannelini to go along with the Italian theme would be good), some cubed chicken breast, or even tofu if you happen to eat it. I used organic chicken broth in this recipe, rather than the vegetable. Chicken, I find, is more flavorful, and it's a lot cheaper for some reason.

Enjoy this soup, and enjoy the fall weather if you happen to live in a colder state!

Slow Cooker Soup
from: Weight Watchers

10 oz spinach, baby leaves
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 medium celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium garlic clove, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
28 oz canned diced tomatoes
2 pieces bay leaf
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker; cover and cook on high for 5 hours. Remove bay leaves, stir and serve.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

See a Pattern?

If you have been reading my blog the last couple of weeks, you may have noticed a trend. I am using a lot of Weight Watchers recipe. That's no mistake. Here's my confession: I am doing Weight Watchers. I had success several years ago, and due to a wedding, busy life, and being lazy, I have gained some weight. So, the next few months, you will see a pattern of healthy recipes on my blog.

Tonight, it was Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese. Not Stovetop stuffing, but stovetop being the cooking method. This is a very easy recipe to put together. It takes no more than 30 minutes start to finish. Really, it only takes 10 minutes if the pasta is already cooked. That's the number one reason why I like it. Number two is that it's tasty, and the ingredients are minimal. Who doesn't have a can of diced tomatoes laying around? Who doesn't have some cheddar cheese in the fridge?

You may think that tomatoes in macaroni and cheese is odd. Well, it's not. Especially if you understand my love obsession with tomatoes. I could eat them every meal. I sometimes do actually. For instance, I had a sliced tomato on my egg and muffin sandwich this morning. For lunch, my soup had tomatoes in it. For dinner....well, you get the idea.

The picture below doesn't do this dish justice. It is really really good. I paired dinner with a green salad and a little of my homemade applesauce (see previous entry). It was perfect. I think I covered every food group in the meal. Well, except meat. But who needs meat anyways?

So, for all you Weight Watchers fans out there, this one is for you! You can still have your macaroni and cheese, just in moderation.

And the picture reminds me that I either need a new camera, or need to learn to take better pictures! Oh well. The point of this blog is really for me anyways. I like to track the recipes I have made in months past. Maybe my upcoming vacation can hone my camera skills. One can only hope right?

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
from: Weight Watchers

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, do not drain
1.5 cups shredded reduced-fat mild cheddar cheese
1/2 low-fat milk (1%)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups cooked elbow macaroni

1. Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, 2-3 minutes.

2. Stir the cheddar, milk, Parmesan, mustard and salt into the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly until the cheese melts and the mixture is smooth, 2-3 minutes.

3. Stir the pasta into the skillet and cook until heated thoroughly and well coated, 1-2 minutes. Let stand 2 minutes before serving.

Apples, Apples, APPLES!

What do you think of when you think of fall? For me, it's Thanksgiving, candy corn and apples. Others like pumpkins, cold weather and the changing of the leaves. Here's why I love apples: apple pie, applesauce, apple crisp, and apple cider. I love eating apples plain too, don't get me wrong.

Today, I went to the Apple Fest at Portland Nursery. Every year, they have apple tasting, entertainment, fresh apple goods and much more. Considering that apples are about $2.00 per pound at the grocery store, the $.89 a pound at the nursery was appealing. Even better, they sell apples in these huge bins, and they always have kinds that you can't buy on the West Coast, like Cortlands. I love East Coast apples. That's where I grew up, so I have fond memories of going apple picking in the fall.

With my apple loot, I came home and made sauce. It's my first attempt, so I had to ask my Mom for help. Below is my picture biography of my applesauce venture.

1. First, begin with your apples. I used a combination of Swiss Gourmet and Spitzenburg. I wanted Macintosh, but the nursery was out.

2. Cut the apples to a uniform size. If you have small apples, half them, and then half them again. If they are bigger apples, cut them into about 1/8ths, or about 2-inch chunks. Don't worry about the seeds. Deep breath people. Trust me, DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE SEEDS. Do take the stem off and the weird blossom thing at the bottom though. Oh, and don't peel them.

Exhibit A:

3. Get a big pan and fill the bottom of the pan (just so it's covered) with water. Place the apples in the pan. Cover, heat on high until the water starts to boil. Then, turn down the heat to low and simmer. Cook until the apples are soft. This took about an hour on my stove.

Exhibit B:

4. Once the sauce has cooled a little, strain it. I used a colander because the mesh strainer I had turned my applesauce into apple juice. Mush the pulp through the holes until you have nothing but the skins.

Exhibit C:

This is all the skin that was left from that huge pan.

5. At this point, you have complete applesauce. Don't add cinnamon or anything to it until you are ready to eat. The spices will turn it a weird brown color.

So, my foray into applesauce was a success. I have enough to eat, freeze, and to make an applesauce cake. Plus, I have apples left over for an apple crisp!
Exhibit D:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ole Ole!

It's getting colder and colder outside, and do you know what that means? It's casserole season! Okay, okay, I cook casseroles year round, but they really are more appropriate for fall and winter. I use my crockpot year round too, but that's another story.

This is one of those recipes I have had forever, and never made. So, I figured why not? We haven't had Mexican in a while, and this one sounded good. It's called Tamale Casserole, and even though it doesn't have real tamales in it, it does have polenta. Hey, cornmeal is used in both polenta and tamales, so it's sort of similar, no?

Pssst, this is a Weight Watchers recipe! Don't tell my husband! If you are wondering why I say that, please see my previous blog entry. He has this stigma in his mind that healthy equals flavorless. Now, I can assure you that with the chipotle en adobo, the cilantro and the scallions, this recipe is FAR from flavorless.

Please don't scold me. I forgot the cilantro at the grocery store, so I didn't use it. The recipe called for 2 tablespoons, so I know I was lacking some flavor, but trust me, it was still good!

When I went to the grocery store this week, I specifically had scallions on my list. That is exactly what I call them too: Scallions. I couldn't find them at the store, which seems odd to me, because they are pretty common. So, I asked where the scallions were. The person working in the produce department looked at me funny. "You mean green onions?". I guess I thought that scallions were called scallions and that it was a pretty common name. I guess not. Maybe it's an East Coast thing.

This is only the second time in my entire life that I have cooked with polenta, and it was really good! I will have to find other uses for it. If you have any healthy suggestions, send them my way! I had the chipotle chiles in the freezer from a recipe I made a while back, so all I did was thaw them out and pop one out of the container. Back in the freezer they will go for another dinner some time.

This makes tons, but the serving size says it serves 4. Good for me because I can still eat a lot without a lot of calories.


Tamale Casserole
from: Weight Watchers

1 can (16 oz) fat-free refried beans
6 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 chipotle chile en adobo, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
1 can (14.5 oz) stewed tomatoes, broken up
1 tube (16 oz) fat-free polenta, cut into 12 rounds
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese
3 tablespoons sliced, pitted ripe olives

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

2. Combine the beans, scallions, sour cream, cilantro, and chipotle in a medium bowl, set aside.

3. Spoon half of the stewed tomatoes into the bottom of the pan. Arrange the polenta rounds in one layer over the sauce. Spoon the mixture (bean mix) on top of each round. Top with remaining stewed tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and olives.

4. Bake, uncovered, until heated through and the cheese melts, about 25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Chicken Parmesan, Healthy!

This recipe is one that I have had for years. It's a super easy version of Chicken Parmesan, plus (bonus points), it's healthy!

I got this from the Weight Watchers website, and it's so easy to put together that I used to make it at least once a week. It's cost effective too because canned sauce is inexpensive, and chicken breasts are pretty inexpensive if you buy them frozen. In this tough economy, who doesn't want to save a few pennies?

I made this last night along with whole wheat pasta. Now, for the skeptics of whole wheat pasta, let me tell you that it's come a loooong way. When it first came out, it was very gummy, chewy, and didn't taste very good at all. But, give it a try. There are so many brands and shapes on the market now, and they taste really good. It gives your pasta a very nutty flavor. I am going to start making it more often, especially for the health benefits it has.

Usually, when I cook something healthy, my husband gives me the side-eye. "Oh great, it's another healthy recipe". He doesn't trust healthy eating for some reason, but because I have mad skills (haha) in the kitchen, I can usually win him over. He likes this one.

I don't pound the chicken like the recipe calls for, and it always cooks through in the oven. And, I usually sprinkle a little bit of extra Italian seasoning on top of the sauce, before I add the cheese. It gives it a little something extra.

Go ahead, give this a try! You will be pleasantly surprised as well.

Chicken Parmesan
from: Weight Watchers

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly pounded (four 4oz pieces)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon olive oil
1.5 cups canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella, shredded
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preaheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8x8 inch square pan with cooking spray.

2. Dip chicken in egg whites, and turn to coat. Then mix breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning and dip chicken in breadcrumb mixture, turn to coat evenly.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet; add chicken. Cook until lightly browned and no longer pink in center, about 4 minutes per side; place on paper towels to drain.

4. Pour 1/2 cup sauce into prepared baking dish; place chicken in dish and pour remaining sauce evenly over chicken. Sprinkle with cheeses and bake until bubbly, about 25 minutes.