Archive for ‘main dish’

July 19, 2011

Beans :: The Magical Fruit

The more you eat, the more you toot fluffer!  Sorry … couldn’t resist.  Did I mention that I live with Levi Howard? Although this catchy saying may not attract you to eat beans, you really should consider including them a larger part of your diet.  Beans are low in fat, high in protein and full of fiber and antioxidants.  They cost next to nothing (especially if you buy in bulk) and they can be worked into meals in so many different ways.

Obviously, we have jumped on the bandwagon.  We make a weekly batch of pintos to take for lunch.  Rice is the perfect accompaniment to beans because together they form a perfect protein.  The two together contain all of the amino acids that a person needs.  Let’s face it though … just rice and beans can get old really fast.  So I’ll list some other ideas below of ways you can mix up some recipes to include this wonderful food, that is beans.

I was curious about what pintos looked like as they grow.  Mainly because I’m obsessed with getting a garden started, especially after receiving this wonderful book (thanks Bran!) as a housewarming gift!  I can’t wait to start composting and planning out our garden for next Spring. Just look at that cute pod.  

Since this is a weekly process at our home, I thought our process of cooking the pintos would be useful for those of you interested. We utilize the crockpot.. It’s so easy and the beans come out perfect every time. The first step is to wash and sort the beans. Sometimes you will find a rock or two in the batch you’re making, so it’s best to take the beans in your hand to inspect for unwanted pieces before tossing them into the colander to wash. After rinsing the beans, put them in the crockpot (or a stock pot if you prefer). At this point, you have two options depending on how much time you have. To soak, or not to soak. Soaking the beans in water overnight speeds up the cooking process. By speeding it up, I mean cutting the time in half. If you choose to soak, make sure the beans are completely covered in water with around 4 inches of extra water on top because the beans will expand. Half-soaked half-dried beans are no bueno. We normally don’t soak because I normally start them in the morning and they are done by dinnertime in the crockpot.

After rinsing, put the sorted beans into your pot of choice.

At this point you can add whatever spices or extra vegetables suit your fancy. I normally add some chopped onion and a chicken builloin for good measure. Chopped jalepeño and garlic are also known to make it in the pot.

After adding these extras, give the beans a good dose of salt. This not only aids in the cooking process, but allows the salt to soak into the beans instead of just the broth (if you add it after cooking). Add water to the pot until the beans and extras are covered plus around 4 inches, as mentioned above.

Place the lid on the pot and let those babies simmer. If you are cooking in a crockpot, it’s best to turn the crock on high for an hour or so and then down to low for 6 – 7 hours. On the stove, I would recommend soaking the beans ahead of time so that your cooking time is 2 – 3 hours. It’s important to turn the beans down after boiling for around 30 minutes because you don’t want them to turn to mush.

To spice your recipes up, these are some of our go-to bean-inclusive meals.

Rice & Beans : Cook your rice (preferably brown = more fiber) according to the instructions, then season with dried/fresh cilantro, olive oil and garlic salt. Perfect. Protein. Diced chicken on top is pretty tasty too. Add some BBQ sauce for a twist.

Refried Beans : Purée beans in the food processor until smooth, then add a little olive oil and water to increase the liquidity. You can add some chopped jalapeño or garlic to spice the beans up here as well. Serve with enchiladas or make a bean and cheese taco on a flour tortilla.

Texas Caviar : Mix the pintos with cooked black beans and garbanzos. Add canned/steamed corn, chopped tomato, avocado, onion, fresh cilantro and jalapeño. Mix well and season with garlic salt and lime juice. Serve with taco salad or chips.


February 23, 2011

Japanese Stir Fry with a Texan Twist

japanese stir fry

The smells that waft from our mini-kitchen at work are completely unpredictable. There’s always a lot of Italian and Barbeque scents that linger in the office … but last week, something new – something Japanese, or Thai. All I know is that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about cooking up some udon noodles ever since.

This recipe is adapted from one of Heidi’s recipes. When I was vegetarian, this was my daily read – I still love to read her about her new creations and adventures. Since I married a carnivore, tofu doesn’t seem to do the trick (he’s eating chips and salsa an hour later) … so this stir-fry has an unusual component not usually found in Japanese dishes … ground turkey! That’s the Texan twist. I know, I know – it’s not red meat, but it’s meat .. just go with it.

:: You will need ::

for the sauce :

6 oz miso paste

1/4 cup sake (or gin)

1/2 cup mirin

3 tbsp. sugar

red pepper flakes, a big pinch or two

for the stir fry :

½ lb. ground turkey breast, lean

3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp. garlic powder

12 oz. bag mixed frozen veggies (snap peas, broccoli, bell pepper, baby corns, etc.)

4 oz. udon noodles

2 green onions, chopped for garnish

:: Let’s get going ::

(1)  Start with the sauce first.  Combine miso, sake (or gin – in my case … we were lucky enough to have gin in stock from a wedding shower), mirin, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring just to a boil, dial down the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until it thickens a bit.

gin and mirin

miso sauce

Toward the end, stir in the red pepper flakes, adding to taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. Brown the ground turkey in a skillet.  After cooking on medium heat for a few minutes, add the rice wine vinegar to the skillet along with the garlic powder. Make sure the meat is broken up well.

rice wine vinegar

3. In the meantime, salt a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Cook the vegetables very briefly, just long enough to take the frozen edge off, no more than five minutes. Drain and add to the browned turkey in the skillet.

blanch veggies

drain veggies

4. After draining the vegetables, cook the udon noodles .. they don’t take very long. If you don’t have udon, you can substitute any noodles you like. You can use the same water or start with fresh – whatever suits your fancy.  Add the cooked noodles to the skillet and stir it up!

stir fry with noodles

5. Pour the stir fry in a large bowl and add the sauce.  Toss well and top with sliced green onions.  This is a great meal served family style.  Enjoy!

japanese stir fry

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February 9, 2011

Simple, Perfect Beef Enchiladas

After the week of snow and scrounging the pantry and freezer for something to cook, I was craving enchiladas. Homemade enchiladas. This recipe is not one of those throw-it-together meals, it’s a little more involved. But with a little practice, it’s sure to become second nature. Just like riding a bike. Hmmm. Well, maybe for some people.

classic enchiladas

This recipe is adapted from Ree’s enchiladas.  So here we go…

:: You will need ::

for the sauce :

1 tbsp. canola oil

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

28 oz. can of enchilada or red sauce

2 cups chicken broth

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

2 tbsp. cilantro, chopped

for the filling :

1 ½ lbs. ground beef, lean

1 whole sweet onion, chopped

½ tsp. salt

for the assembly :

12 to 18 corn tortillas (fresh, if possible)

3 cups mozzarella cheese, grated (or cheddar)

½ cup black olives, chopped

4 green onions, chopped

½ cup cilantro, chopped

:: Let’s get going ::

(1)  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add oil and flour and whisk together to make a paste, cooking for one minute.

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(2) Add the red sauce, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to low and simmer 30-45 minutes.

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(3) While the sauce is simmering, brown the meat with onions in a skillet. Drain off the fat, season with salt, and set aside.

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(4) Chop the olives and green onions while the meat is browning. Grate your cheese if you are hand grating – which is totally the way. to. go.

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(5) Stir in the cilantro when you are ready to assemble the enchiladas.

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(6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line up your ingredients in assembly line fashion. Tortillas. Meat. Onion. Olives. Cheese.

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(7) Spread ½ cup red sauce in bottom of a baking pan. Dip each tortilla into the simmering red sauce, then remove it to a work surface. Cutting boards are perfect for this.. Spoon meat, a little grated cheese, a little black olives, and green onions in the center of a tortilla.

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(8) Roll that beauty up and place it, seam-side down, in the baking pan. Repeat this with each tortilla until the pan is completely filled. You might need a small second pan for overflow.

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(9) Pour the extra red sauce over enchiladas and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle cilantro over the enchiladas before serving.

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LOVE that cilantro color pop.

classic enchiladas

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February 4, 2011

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

This recipe is a twist on normal twice-baked potatoes, straying from the usual suspects of butter, sour cream, chives, and cheddar cheese and using a sweet potato instead of a russet.  The spinach, cream cheese, and buttermilk bring an extra deliciousness to the already amazing-all-by-itself sweet potato.  I like this recipe because it shows that there are other ways to dress up a sweet potato other than with butter, cinnamon, and marshmallows (change. is. good.).

It also gave me an excuse to break in our new potato masher!  If you don’t have a potato masher,  I would recommend using a large fork instead.  Although using a whisk may seem like a good idea, it’s really not strong enough to incorporate all of the ingredients and you’ll just end up with a tangled mess.  But hey, if you want to go for it – by all means – you’re cooking!  Regardless of what you use to mash, I hope you try this recipe.

Although I’m not a huge football fanatic – *gasp* – I embrace the fact that it gives me an excuse to try new game day recipes!  I made this recipe for our dinner one night, but in retrospect I think this would make a great appetizer for t he big game on Sunday.  Instead of leaving the potato skins whole, just cut the potato skin in half and then into quarters and fill each skin with a generous scoop before covering it with cheese to go back in the oven.  Russet potatoes would also be great for this recipe as well.  Although they don’t pack the vitamin C punch that sweet potatoes do, they would be delicious with this filling.  Better yet, you could make two batches to offer a variety to your football enthusiasts.  Enjoy!

:: You will need ::

2 medium sized sweet potatoes

1 tsp. olive oil

1 small onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely diced or minced

9 oz. bag fresh baby spinach

4 slices bacon

4 oz. reduced fat cream cheese

¼ cup buttermilk*

1 tsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. mozzarella cheese

salt and pepper to taste

:: Let’s get going ::

(1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash, scrub, and dry the sweet potatoes; then, take a fork and puncture the potato in 15-20 places across the skin.  This will allow heat to escape and help prevent the potato from bursting open in the oven.

(2) Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and into the oven.  Bake for 45 minutes or until fork tender.  If you are pressed for time, you can speed up the baking process by microwaving the potatoes for 6-8 minutes before putting them in the oven.  This will cut down the baking time.

(3) While the potatoes bake, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan on medium and cook the onion for 3-4 minutes, or until they are soft.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

A trick for peeling garlic .. oh that stubborn garlic.  Take a knife with a wide blade and turn it on it’s side on top of the unpeeled clove.  Make sure the blade is level, or your garlic will shoot out the side!  Then, make your hand into a fist and whack the top of the blade.  This will smash the clove and make it much easier to peel and chop.  I know it’s a little daunting at first, but just be careful of the blade – you’ll get the hang of it.  Or not – but hey, at least you tried.  That’s half the battle.

(4) Turn the heat down a bit and add the entire bag of spinach.  Yes, the entire bag; it will wilt down to less than a quarter of its original size.  Cover the spinach for 3-4 minutes or until it has wilted.

(5) Set the spinach-onion-garlic mixture in a large bowl to the side.  In the same sauté pan (or another pan if you’d rather), cook the bacon until crisp on medium high heat.  When cooked, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  When cooled, chop or break the bacon into pieces and reserve.

Mmmm… Bacon!

(6) When the sweet potatoes are cooked, let them cool for 5 minutes.  Carefully slice each potato in half and scoop out the inside of the potato, adding it to the spinach-onion-garlic mixture; try not to break the skin on the sides.

(7) Add the cream cheese, buttermilk, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mash together until smooth.

(8) Coat the outside of each potato skin with vegetable oil.  Fill each of the shells with the filling and top with a sprinkle of cheese.  Transfer each potato back to the baking sheet and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the skins are crispy.  Top with the bacon bits and serve!

*If you don’t keep buttermilk on hand – and let’s face it, unless you bake a lot or just really like buttermilk, it’s doubtful that you do!  If you have lemon juice (or lemons, for that matter) and milk .. that’s all you need!  Mix 2 tbsp. lemon juice per 1 cup of milk, let it sit for 5 minutes, stir – and voila!  Buttermilk.  For this recipe, we only need 1/4 cup buttermilk, so that’s 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice.  This trick saves me every time!

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February 1, 2011

Warm-Your-Bones Lentil Soup

I try to always keep lentils on hand … for days like today.  With the snow that we got last night and the below freezing temperatures that are continuing in the next couple of days, a nice warm soup is the first thing that pops into my mind (after taking pictures of the beautiful snow of course).

This was the first thing I saw when I looked out our window this morning.  Pretty bird.

Leo cat was dying to get outside.  He pranced in the snow for 5 minutes or so, until he couldn’t feel his paws.

I think he would’ve happily stayed out there all day if I hadn’t been calling him back in.

By now, I think you may have noticed that I have a thing for pots and pans, basically all. things. kitchen.  I especially love my Le Creuset Oval French Oven … the colors, oh the colors.  I have my eye on a turquoise braiser – but that won’t be in the Howard kitchen for awhile.  For now, all my love goes to this yellow pot.  It makes me smile.

Back to the lentils.  They really are a super food – not only are they a great source of protein and fiber, but they are also ready in around 30 minutes and they make delicious soups.  I had both red and green lentils on hand, so I used both in this recipe.  Feel free to use whatever suits your fancy, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.  I really like mixing in red lentils because they don’t have as hard of a coating as the green lentils and they break down a bit after being cooked, which gives the soup a nice texture.  The splash of red wine vinegar brings a bit of acidity to balance the savory notes of the bacon, onion, and garlic.  Some kale or spinach would be nice in this soup – chopped and thrown in towards the end … but I didn’t have that on hand.  I hope this keeps you warm in these cold days ahead!

:: You will need ::

3 strips bacon, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

3 medium carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise & cut into half moons

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 ½ cups lentils, picked over & rinsed

½ tsp. dried thyme

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

:: Let’s get going ::

(1) Put the bacon in a Dutch oven or deep pot on medium heat.

(2) While the bacon is cooking, peel the carrots and chop them.  Add them with the bacon in the pot.  Then, chop the onion and garlic and add it to the pot as well.

(3) Add the tomato paste to the pot and follow it with the water and buillon cubes (or chicken stock).

(4) Season the soup with the dried thyme, salt, and pepper.

(5) Wash and drain the lentils, then add them to the pot.

(6) Bring the soup to a boil and then turn down to medium low.  Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the lentils are tender.  Watch the water level as the soup simmers, you may need to add some.

(7) After the lentils are tender, stir in the red wine vinegar.  Enjoy!

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January 26, 2011

Stir Fry for an Asian Craving

There are some days that I just really want Asian food.  There’s just something about the salty, savory goodness that is Asian cuisine – and nothing else can satisfy it for me.  Stir fry meals are fast, easy, and can be healthy if you limit the amount of oil you use.  Plus, it’s a great way to incorporate lots of different vegetables.  Although I didn’t have them on hand, snow peas would obviously take this stir fry to the next level.

This particular stir fry is vegetarian – but don’t let that turn off you meat-eaters out there.  You could very easily throw in some sautéed chicken or beef to get your meat-fix.  Here we go…

:: You will need ::

1/2 sweet or white onion

1 tbsp. sesame oil

4 eggs

2 celery stalks

2 cups fresh broccoli (or frozen, chopped)

2 cups cooked rice

braggs liquid aminos* or low sodium soy sauce

:: Let’s get going ::

(1) Heat your skillet or wok to medium-high heat and add about a tbsp. of sesame oil.  If you don’t have sesame oil on hand, substitute canola oil, safflower oil or some other high heat oil (not olive oil).  Slice the onion and then cut the slices in half.  This will leave the onions a little larger than if you had chopped them, giving the stir fry more texture.  Sauté in the pan until the onions begin to become transparent.

(2)  While the onions are sautéing, let’s get the eggs ready.  We are going to use 2 full eggs and 2 egg whites to cut down on the fat content.  Although egg yolks are good for you and contain lots of necessary nutrients (calcium, folate, vitamin D), they also contain a large amount of fat.  The egg whites on the other hand are fat free, but still offer a punch of protein.  In a bowl, separate the 2 egg whites first and discard the yolks (or store for use in another recipe).  Then add the remaining 2 eggs, whites and yolks.  Whisk until blended and season with salt and pepper.  Turn the pan down to medium-low and pour the eggs over the onions in the pan.  Let the eggs firm up a bit, as if you were making an omelette.  As the eggs begin to firm up around the edges, take the spatula around the pan to loosen the eggs.  Try to flip the eggs over (this will be difficult if you are using a larger sauté pan); if you flip it in pieces, that’s fine – the goal here is to make sure the eggs are cooked through.

(3) While the eggs are cooking, chop the celery stalks and broccoli.  I think slicing the vegetables at an angle gives them a little more character and pizzaz, but that’s totally up to you.  Set the sliced veggies aside.

(4) After the egg-onion mixture is done, remove it from the pan to a cutting board.  Let it cool slightly and then slice it into strips.

(5)  To use the same skillet that the eggs were in, take your spatula and scrape free all of the excess egg/onion left in the pan.  Wipe it clean with a dry paper towel; be careful it will still-be-hot.  Place back on the burner at medium-high and add another tbsp. of oil.  Throw the broccoli and sauté until it turns a bright green (or is defrosted, if you are using frozen).  Add the cooked rice on top of the broccoli and let it sit for a few minutes.

(6)  Add the sliced celery and egg-onion mixture to the saute pan, mix well.  On top of the mixture, add 1/8 cup of braggs or low sodium soy sauce.  Sauté for another 5 minutes and your dinner is ready to eat!

*Bragg liquid aminos (otherwise known as, braggs) is an alternative to soy sauce.  Braggs are made from soybeans and contain 16 amino acids.  It is made without chemicals or preservatives and is also great for marinating or salad dressing.  Braggs can be found at Central Market, Whole Foods, The Sunflower Shoppe, or other health food stores.

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January 21, 2011

He’s a Keeper

I was not at my finest this week.  With a 102.7 fever, cough, and nose running like. a. faucet. – let’s just say I brought back more than my suitcase from my training in Chicago last week.  Our 1 month anniversary was on Tuesday; Levi had a soccer game to coach that night – putting him home late – and I, of course, was cuddled up with my cat and a box of kleenex when he got home.  Not the most romantic sight, although he willingly took over the cat’s spot.

The next day we decided to celebrate by cooking steaks for dinner.  Although I’m usually the one overly excited about cooking, that desire tends to leave me when I don’t feel well.  So, my amazing husband came home from work and made dinner for us.  He sautéed steak in butter and served shells and white cheese with broccoli.  It. was. so. good.

Levi, thank you for loving me even when I bring a box of kleenex to dinner.  You’re my favorite.