Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins

You would never know that these are "healthy muffins." They are sweet, moist, and yummy. I was sad when I ate the last muffin from the batch.

The ingredients:
1) 1 sweet potato
2) whole wheat flour
3) baking soda
4) salt
5) ground spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves
6) vegetable oil
7) 2 eggs
8) vanilla extract
9) honey
10) vanilla yogurt
11) topping: oatmeal, brown sugar, almonds, and cinnamon

Changes that I made:

1) I used canned, sweetened yams instead of cooking and mashing the sweet potato. I would have used un-sweetened canned yams if I could find them at the grocery store. Anyway, the canned yams were a time saver; who has time to cook one sweet potato for 40 minutes just to use it for a muffin recipe? On the other hand, I bet this would be a great use for left over sweet potato casserole! I did NOT cut back on the amount of sweetener (the honey)--I either have a super sweet tooth or the canned yams weren't that sweetened!

2) I used imitation vanilla extract instead of the real stuff. Sorry. The grocery store was out of the real stuff, so I bought this instead. There's a big difference...I ended up using about 1 tbsp (instead of 1 tsp).

The topping tastes like sawdust. There's also far too much for just 16 muffins. I think it's supposed to be a healthier streusel-type of topping. The muffin is good enough on its own; although I will probably use a brown sugar-cinnamon topping the next time I make it.


Mexican Chicken Breast

Looking for something easy, quick, and tastes good? Okay, I know that's the point of this blog, but bear with me. How's about a recipe that uses just 4 ingredients and is ready to serve in 30 minutes? Try this one.

The Ingredients:
1) 1 pkg Taco Seasoning
2) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3) salsa
4) reduced fat sour cream

I actually made this a couple of weeks ago. It's brilliant. Start by pre-heating the oven when you get home from work. Then do your "I-just-got-home-from-work" stuff: change, grab something to drink, turn on the TV, and pet the cat. Then start on this dish. The prep takes less than five minutes. Pop it into the oven. If you are a rice eater, cook the rice. Do something else for 30 can get in a work-out in that amount of time. I'm just sayin'. Then come back to the heavenly smells in your kitchen, pull this dish out of the oven, and serve the chicken with rice. Voila, dinner.

My Changes:
I made this a bit healthier by using lower sodium taco seasoning; you can even make your own at home; try this spice mix: Taco Seasoning.

One last note, this tastes pretty good without the reduced fat sour cream. It's a garnish and I forgot to add it half of the time anyway!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Linguine with Roasted Summer Vegetables

OMG, this is the most amazing vegetarian pasta dish. Ever. I first had this at my friend's house, about a month ago. There were about 5 of us together for a "West Wing" mini-marathon. Our hostess, Merrily, and her sister-in-law, Judy, put this together in about an hour. It was presented in a beautiful 10 x 13 inch pan; we loved it so much there was hardly anything left. We each went back for second and third helpings. And then I asked Merrily for the recipe.

The Ingredients:

1) reduced-sodium chicken broth
2) garlic
3) balsamic vinegar
4) cherry tomatoes
5) asparagus
6) zucchini
7) summer squash
8) red bell pepper
9) scallions
10) extra-virgin olive oil
11) Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
12) linguine

It is from the website. I've made dishes from them before; they are generally good. I don't often make their stuff because the ingredients tend to be just a bit too pricey for my budget. For instance, this recipe calls for balsalmic vinegar. Now, the quality of balsamic vinegar varies from brand to brand and as this is such a simple recipe, the quality of the ingredients is very important. Merrily used a fantastic, top-of-the-line Balsamic from Williams-Sonoma, courtesy of Judy. Wow. It's amazing; the resulting linguine dish was out-of-this-world. I used the Pompeii Balsamic vinegar as I already had it in the pantry. It's a good balsamic vinegar, although certainly not as good as the one from Williams-Sonoma. The Pompeii brand was still very good in this recipe. So, anyway, the point is, buy the best balsamic you can afford, it's worth it for this dish. Even the Costco brand would work well here.

My Changes:
I did skimp a bit on the veggies; that is, the amounts I purchased vs. the amount specified in the recipe. That was mostly because the veggies were either pre-packaged (i.e. the cherry tomatoes and the asparagus) or the bulk produce just didn't weight in correctly. So I chose to buy a bit less whenever there was a difference. This is one of those cases in which too many veggies is better than not enough. I still mixed the cooked veggies with the 1 lb of pasta, and there was Too. Much. Pasta.

One last note. I made this with spagetti rather than linguine. It's better with the linguine; I don't know what, after all, they are both long, skinny pastas. But I liked it better with the linguine and so that's how I will make it from now on.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Easy Slow Cooker Meatballs

This is a tale of two meatballs. I made two separate and very different meatballs last weekend. One was great; the other I tinkered with too much and it turned out to be edible, but not tasty.

The good meatballs are the ones I made in the slow cooker. It's your basic Italian-style meatball in a huge amount of tomato-based sauce. It's great for sopping up using a crusty garlic bread. My mouth is watering just remembering it.

The ingredients were:

1) ground beef
2) Italian seasoned bread crumbs
3) chopped fresh parsley
4) minced garlic
5) onion
6) egg
7) spaghetti sauce
8) crushed tomatoes
9) tomato puree

Changes That I Made:

I made a few minor changes, based on what I already had on hand. I used ground turkey that I had in the freezer, instead of buying ground beef. I had a 2 pound pack and the recipe only called for 1 lb, so I just eyeballed it. I probably used a bit less than that actually, because the meatballs had a very dry feel to them. The meat-to- bread crumb ratio was low. I actually liked it, because the meatball mixture didn't feel, well, as slimy as these things normally do. I bought regular bread crumbs and mixed in, oh, about 2 tbsp of dried Italian seasoning mix. I basically just kept adding the seasoning mix until it looked right. I also used dried parsley instead of the fresh. My last substitution was using diced canned tomatoes instead of the crushed tomatoes. I considered buying tomato paste instead of the puree, as the paste was cheaper, but decided against it since I've never used tomatoe puree before and I wasn't sure how the texture compared to tomatoe paste. As it turned out, the difference is negligible...puree was just thinner than the paste. Good to know for the future. I did add salt and pepper to the meatball mixture; I learned a long time ago that meat without salt is a horrible thing to eat.

I must say, I don't think I make my meatballs correctly or maybe there was too little meat in these meatballs because they just fell apart when they were done. I ended up with a chunky meat-sauce after I stirred up the cooked dish. I was a bit disappointed, initially, because forming those little balls took some time. But in the end, it was a great sauce that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Part II: The Bad Meatballs

The other meatballs I made last week were doomed by too much tweaking. They're called "Tantalizing Turkey and Blue Cheese Meatballs." After eating them for a whole week, I would agree that these are really good, if made according to the recipe!

Sigh. I had every intention of following the recipe at the outset but as the preparation of the meatball mixture progressed, I started to get worried about how wet the mixture was. I'm having some trouble conveying exactly how wet this mixture was. Rather than holding it's shape in a rough ball, it oozed. The instructions call for 3 egg whites, 3 tbsp of oil, and 1 1/2 tbsp of soy sauce. That's nearly a 1/2 cup of liquid there. All for just one pound of turkey. I held back on adding the full amount of oil (I think I only added 1 tbsp). I was also alarmed by the amount of blue cheese the recipe called for, 3 tbsp. I mixed in two tablespoons and stopped there; it looked like a lot!

I shaped the meatballs with some trouble as they did not keep their shape well. I baked them in the oven and did something else while they cooked. The smell was encouraging and I couldn't wait to taste them. Imagine my disappointment when they were Dry and Bland. Ugh. Not a total waste but they definitely needed more oil and more blue cheese. I ended up eating them over macaroni noodles and adding more soy sauce for flavor. I will definitely make these again, in a few months, and follow the recipe the next time!