Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Fritters

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for fall! It’s been too hot here for this pregnant lady, and I’m ready for pumpkins, and squash, and cinnamon, and apples, and well, everything fall! 

I made some pumpkin applesauce muffins last week, and while they were really yummy and healthy, they were too fall-ish for 80-degree weather. These fritters, however, worked perfectly for a nice fall evening.

Don’t be put off by the deep-frying. Ingredients-wise, these really aren’t too bad for you, and if you eat them in moderation (not like we did the first time around….), they make a really yummy fall treat. One batch makes about 20 fritters.

Pumpkin Pie Fritters

1 cup flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
cinnamon sugar
whipped cream

In a bowl, first combine dry ingredients.
Add egg and pumpkin and carefully blend until smooth.
While the oil heats, whip the cream and make the cinnamon sugar. We have a Fry Daddy, which works really well keeping the oil heat constant, but you could easily do it on a stovetop in a small pot. Just be carefully watching it, so it doesn’t get too hot.
Once the oil is ready, drop the batter in by spoonfuls, probably about a couple of tablespoons for one fritter. Use two spoons, one to scrape off the other into the oil, so it doesn’t splatter. 
Fry until golden brown – test the first couple, because what we thought was golden brown at first was still wet in the middle. The golden of the pumpkin makes it deceiving – they have to be a little darker than you might think they should be.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Roll in cinnamon sugar. Dip in whipped cream and eat!
We didn’t do anything too fancy to serve them, since it’s just us, but I could imagine these being really pretty served in a set of three, placed on top of caramel drizzles on a pretty plate, dolloped with whipped cream, and dusted with cinnamon. Or just scarf them down whole and eat the whipped cream with a spoon. That works, too =)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sweet Chicken Stir-Fry

I like to eat. But I like to be healthy. I don’t like eating boring healthy. I still have a ways to go on getting all our meals as healthy as we need them to be, but some things will always be the same. I'm not going to make meals that are boring, just because they are healthy. And I do NOT to believe that making healthy meals means having to make fancy meals that are very time-consuming. Not that I don’t love to splurge once in a while, and take a long time to make a difficult and delicious dinner, but yummy can be easy, too. That’s my biggest beef with “easy” cooking - too often, it is easy, quick, and fatty.

We LOVE this meal. It’s easy to do, very low in fat, but it tastes indulgent and yummy. Again, I wish I could take full credit for this, but I combined a couple of different recipes, and then tweaked them to our liking. Feel free to try the originals, too. 

Sweet Chicken Stir-Fry

1 red pepper, sliced
1 cup baby carrots, sliced
1 can sliced water chestnuts
½ medium onion, sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper
Sauté pepper, carrots, and water chestnuts for a few minutes. Add onions, salt and pepper. Sauté for a few more minutes, then add garlic, and finish cooking until veggies are crisp-tender. Remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Cover to keep warm. 

¾ cup orange juice
1 tbsp cornstarch
¼ tsp ginger
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp soy sauce

Combine all in a bowl. Set aside for later. 
1 chicken breast, cut into 1 inch chunks (as uniform as possible)
1 tbsp wheat flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
salt and pepper
ginger, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder
1 tsp sesame oil

Combine flour and cornstarch in a bowl. The cornstarch gives a good crisp coating, but combining it with some flour helps it to distribute better. Add spices to your liking.
Start the chicken only after the veggies are done. Using a spoon (and probably your fingers), distribute the coating onto the chicken. You don’t have to use it all, but make sure all the pieces are coated.
In the same sauté pan from the veggies, heat the other tsp of sesame oil over medium heat. Make sure the oil is evenly distributed around the pan. When hot, use your fingers to place all the chicken in a single layer inside. Let it cook until crisp and browned, and then turn over and do the same for the other side. Cut open the thickest pieces to check for doneness. (please excuse the next few pictures - my camera died, and the hubby's iPod didn't make my picture-taking skills any better)
Once chicken is done, add the veggies back to the pan. Pour in the sauce and stir to combine. Let it cook for a few minutes – the cornstarch in the sauce and the residue from the chicken coating will thicken the sauce.
Serve over rice. We can’t afford the empty calories of white rice, so we use brown rice. If you’re like me and making brown rice (not instant) took me many, many failed attempts, use this method. It works. And halving the recipe makes just enough for the three of us for one meal.
We didn’t have any this time, but this is awesome sprinkled with cashews. We did have green onions, which is really yummy, too.

For the prep, slice veggies and chicken earlier in the day, and keep in the fridge. Prepare flour mixture and orange juice mixture before starting any of the actual cooking. If you want to, you can even cook the rice earlier in the day, and keep in the fridge until ready for it. Just heat up the individual portions in the microwave before adding the stir-fry.

It’s healthy, tastes great, and is really easy to prepare, I promise. Please try this!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Whole Wheat Zucchini Waffles

With the kiddo’s new dietary needs, we’ve been working on trying to fit as many vegetables into our meals as possible. The one pain-in-the-butt is breakfast. Fruit is good, but it still needs to be limited for him, so I ask you: how in the world do you get a good majority of vegetables into breakfast???

Well, this recipe is a start. It’s still not a majority of vegetable (versus the other ingredients), but it’s dang good, and really healthy, too. This recipe is just a variation of the hundred’s of others like it out there on the web. I just adjusted it a bit (of course) to suit my preferences. I may try adding a little more zucchini next time, just to see if I can, and maybe some applesauce instead of some oil, but really, it’s very good for you as is.
Whole Wheat Zucchini Waffles

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
pinch of nutmeg
1 tbsp brown sugar
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

2 small or 1 large zucchini
1 egg
1 ½ cups skim milk, divided
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp oil

Wash and dry the zucchini, and chop into large coins, leaving the skins on. It really creates a nice effect, the little flecks of green that end up in the batter. Trust me.
Combine zucchini, ½ cup of milk, and the rest of the wet ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. You should have about 2 cups of liquid at this point.
I ended up adding at least ½ cup more milk, or more, to the batter to get the consistency I wanted for waffles. This amount of liquid wouldn’t have cut it. I would add the zucchini mixture to the dry ingredients first, and then add as much milk as you think is necessary to get a good waffle-batter consistency. Next time, I’m just going to add most of the milk straight to the blender, since I know how it turned out for me. Do what you think will work best.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine. The batter may look a little weird until you get all the milk added in, but trust me, the finished product looks great.
Using whatever measurement works best for your waffle iron, bake the waffles. Mine takes ½ cup at a time for two waffles, so we got a good 12 waffles out of this batch. Serve with butter, syrup, or fruit. Personally, we like to heat up frozen strawberries or raspberries in the microwave with a tsp or so of sugar, and then mash them up to serve over waffles. So yummy, and much better for you than syrup.
These are awesome! They taste almost like zucchini bread, but not so rich that you don’t want it for breakfast. And with the whole wheat and the zucchini, they are nice and dense, but still light enough for a good waffle. Pleeeeease try these, especially before your gardens run out of zucchini (which, from what I hear, is next to impossible…..?) =)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Caprese Pasta Casserole

            Normally, if I was making a tomato-cream sauce, I would be all gung-ho about making it from scratch, simmering it all day, blending it in a blender, etc., but this just works so easily, that I’m okay throwing that all out the window =) This is super easy to do (apart from the chopping), and is really, really, really yummy. We love spaghetti, but this is just enough different and the same.

            This calls for cherry (or grape) tomatoes, and PLEASE don’t substitute regular! Those perfect little tomatoes have so much sweetness when they are baked, and regular tomatoes don’t cut it. Also, I have some OCD tendencies, one of them being that I can’t stomach the yucky, slimy, seed-y parts of the tomatoes, so during naptime I will literally spend half an hour squeezing all that stuff out of my teeny tiny tomato halves. But if it doesn’t bother you, please don’t take the time. I’m weird, and I know it.
Caprese Pasta Casserole

1 lb grape tomatoes, halved (and seeded, if preferred)
4 oz fresh mozzarella
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, chopped
1-2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
2 ½ cups uncooked, whole wheat pasta
1 ¼ cups your favorite tomato sauce
½ cup half and half
*1 tbsp parmesan cheese (optional)

            Sometime earlier in the day, chop (and seed?) the tomatoes. Cook and shred the chicken. Chop half of the mozzarella into very small pieces, so it will be evenly distributed throughout the dish. Slice in the other half of the mozzarella into very thin slices – these will go on top of the casserole. It doesn’t seem like much cheese, but fresh mozzarella is higher in fat, and a little goes a long way, as long as you use it wisely.

            Also chop the fresh basil leaves into small ribbons. The “official” way to do this is chiffonade, which sounds fancy, but is very easy to do and actually easier to do than just randomly chopping the leaves. Once I have the basil cut, I put it in a small plastic bag, and it will keep for a few hours before I have to use it, but it won’t last too much longer.
            Cook the pasta to the doneness you prefer. 2 ½ cups worked great for shell pasta, but if you are using penne or curly pasta, the measurements might have to be a little different to get the right amount. Experiment. 
            Once the pasta is done and drained, heat the tomato sauce in a saucepan over medium heat until it’s warm. Add the half and half and combine. Dump in the pasta, chicken, tomatoes, CHOPPED mozzarella, and the basil leaves, and stir well. 
            Pour into sprayed baking dish, and top with the SLICED mozzarella (and parmesan, if you'd like). 
           Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
            Again, not the prettiest picture, but it works =) Couple of notes: this makes about 3 meals for the three (2 ½) of us, especially if we have a salad along with it (which we always do). In my opinion, 1 lb of grape tomatoes is barely enough to get by, but I really, really like tomatoes. I’d love to try adding some cooked mushrooms to this, or maybe some other vegetables, but I haven’t done it yet. Let me know if you do!

            Don’t be put off by the fresh mozzarella and the half and half. The amounts are small enough that the fat content per serving isn’t thrown out of proportion at all. I considered using skim milk instead of the half and half, but the consistency and the flavor just isn’t the same. And 4 oz of mozzarella is the same as half a bag of pre-shredded, or 1 cup. Really not as much as it seems. If you make any other changes and they work, let me know! Enjoy!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

UPDATE: Banana Nut Muffins

Just a quick update on one of my recipes. I recently made the banana nut muffins again, but since they were so dry last time, I did a few things differently: 1) I changed and added a few ingredients, and 2) I did NOT over-bake them.

So, if you haven't tried them already, try them now! They are very healthy (as far as I have calculated), and perfect for breakfast, if you are getting sick of the cereal and milk routine (I know I am).

Let me know what you think! =)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cilantro Ranch Dressing

Have you ever been to one of those popular Mexican restaurants (Bajio, Café Rio, Costa Vida, etc.), and tasted the amazing cilantro ranch dressings that they have there? With very, very little trouble, I made basically the same thing. Simple, quick, low-fat, and awesome.

Most recipes call for sour cream, buttermilk, mayo, and ranch dressing mix, and are very high in fat. We have a favorite ranch dressing that we buy from a local diner-type restaurant that has all those things in it, but is also low-fat (although you’d never tell from the taste of it). I decided to use that as a base instead of buying all the ingredients separately, and it was perfect! Make as much or as little as you want, and vary the amount of the ingredients according to your preferences.
Cilantro-Ranch Dressing

1 cup buttermilk ranch dressing (use your favorite)
1 bunch of cilantro (the picture is a lot less than 1 bunch - I forgot the take the picture until I was almost done!)
1 tsp minced garlic
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp chili powder
1 tbsp lime juice

Wash the cilantro and separate the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems. A few stems won’t make a big difference, but too many of them blended up in there can create a weird texture.
In the blender, combine the ranch dressing, garlic, ½ of the cilantro leaves, seasonings, and lime juice. Blend thoroughly, then taste. Add more cilantro leaves, seasonings, or lime juice until you get the consistency and flavor that you like. We like a lot of cilantro and a good amount of lime juice – make it your own!

Pour into a jar or cruet and chill for an hour before serving.

We had this over southwestern-esque salads: lettuce, black beans, corn, tomato, onion, grilled chicken, a bit of cheese, avocado, and toasted tortilla strips (so easy – check out tortilla soup), and this amazing dressing on top. This will last about a week in the fridge, so we usually have this meal three times or so in that time. And since all those things are easy to have on hand in the fridge, it’s a light, easy, very yummy meal.
See my attempt at interesting food photography? FAIL.

*For a really good variation on this, add 2-3 three tomatillos (green tomato-looking thingys), husks removed, washed, and quartered, to the blender. You can also add a few stalks of chopped green onions, and a pinch of cayenne. We just like the regular version, because it’s really quick and simple, but still great-tasting. Enjoy!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Sorry to take a while, but I’m now posting our treats from Valentine’s Day. I’ve never really been a huge fan of red velvet cake, but since it was Valentine’s, I wanted to give it a shot. The picture is awful, but they really are a bright, perfect red.

The first batch, made as is, was pretty dry, and not too great. So I used my trademark substitute for the second batch and tweaked some of the other steps of the recipe, and guess what? Perfectly moist, even after a few days. I made a quick cream cheese frosting, and these were so great after our dinner – perfectly sweet, but not too crazy rich.
Red Velvet Cupcakes

2 ½ tbsp butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
1 ½ tbsp greek yogurt
1 egg
1 cup + 2 tbsp white flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup buttermilk
1 tbsp red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cider vinegar

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine buttermilk, red food coloring, vanilla, and cider vinegar.

Cream butter with sugar until mostly incorporated. Add in greek yogurt and combine. Add egg and combine. Add in the dry and wet ingredients in batches, starting with the dry, then wet, then dry, etc., ending with the dry ingredients.

Scoop equally into a thoroughly greased or lined muffin tin. I used the entire mini-muffin tin, and then about three of the regular sized tins. This batter is pretty smooth, and more runny that it might seem is okay, but it makes it so much easier to scoop equally, and it bakes up perfectly. Bake for 9 minutes (no longer for the mini’s, but closer to 15 minutes for the regular sized cupcakes). Let cool, and remove to cooling racks to cool completely.  Once COMPLETELY cool, you can frost.

Cream Cheese Buttermilk Frosting

2 oz softened cream cheese
1 tbsp buttermilk (we happened to have it on hand, but regular milk is fine, too)
enough powdered sugar to get the right consistency (I didn’t measure, sorry)

Beat the cream cheese with the milk until smooth, then slowly add powdered sugar, beating well after each addition, until you achieve the right consistency. I wanted it pretty thick so it wouldn’t just drip off the cupcake. Do NOT add too much milk if you want a thicker frosting, or you will be adding mounds and mounds of powdered sugar.

Spoon the frosting into a quart-sized plastic bag. Squeeze out all the air, then close. Snip the tip off of one corner, not too small and not too big, to pipe the frosting through. Pipe on as much frosting on each cupcake as desired. If it’s piped on correctly, and it’s the right consistency, it shouldn’t need any additional spreading with a knife. And don’t worry about frosting each one perfectly – I kinda like it when the frosting is a little different from one to one. Sprinkle with chocolate sprinkles, or whatever kind you have. Store in a covered container.

Yummy! Not so rich that it hurts, but just the right amount of sweetness to round out the Valentine’s season. Perfect!