Lemony Chicken Orzo

It has been brought to my attention that I have been somewhat remiss in posting here....and that's mostly because I stopped cooking for a long time. This school year has been really rough; long nights at school, new and somewhat unwelcome responsibilities, and a new class have all conspired to make cooking challenging, to put it mildly. But it's a new year, and I'm determined to get back on track, and that means I need to start cooking again. I've ordered a new, programmable crockpot, and am hoping to get going again. This recipe had to be tweaked - in fact I had to make it twice tonight - but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. Original recipe here.

1-2 chicken breasts
1.25-1.5 cups chicken broth
1/4-1/2 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste
juice from half a lemon
2 tsp honey
2-3 Tbls Greek yogurt
3/4 cup orzo
15-20 fresh green beans (enough to make 1.5-2 cups when cut into 1" pieces)

Mix the chicken broth, lemon juice, and salt and pepper together, and bring it to a boil. Cut the chicken into 1/2" cubes and add it to the boiling mixture, and cook for 5-8 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set it aside, then add the orzo and the green beans into the chicken broth mixture and add a little water (if needed). Keep an eye on the orzo, mine only took 5-6 minutes to cook, and kept trying to stick. Meanwhile, whisk the honey and Greek yogurt together. Once the orzo is cooked, pour 1/4 to 1/3 of the orzo mixture into the yogurt mixture and whisk it together to warm up the yogurt. This is an extremely important step...trust me. Once the yogurt has been warmed up, mix it into the rest of the orzo, and add the chicken back in.

So, the original recipe called for low-fat sour cream, and to mix it into the chicken broth while cooking the orzo, but when I did that with the Greek yogurt, it curdled and I ended up throwing the entire orzo mixture out and starting over. Warming up the yogurt (making sure that there is a greater ratio of yogurt to orzo) will prevent curdling and you'll end up with with creamy, beautiful orzo.

Rating - 4.5/5
Why? It's easy for lemon to become overwhelming and I think I used a little too much Greek yogurt this time (the amounts were adjusted above) but this was really good and (once I figured out the right procedure), easy to make.


Corn and Bacon Griddle Cakes

I like pancakes. I grew up in a family that made pancakes infrequently; they were generally reserved for camping trips or occasional Saturday mornings. I have yet to master the light and fluffy pancakes that I dream about, but I continue to work on it. These caught my eye on pinterest, and as I read the recipe, I was intrigued by the idea of something sweet and salty for breakfast. I haven't made a huge number of changes, but I will probably modify this somewhat, since I will be coming back to it repeatedly. Original recipe here (and her pictures are better than mine). 

3-4 slices of bacon
1/4 cup minced sweet onion
2 green onions, chopped finely
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2/3 cup milk
1 large egg (beaten)
1 Tlbs olive oil
1 cup corn (frozen or fresh)
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
*1/2-1 additional cup of milk, if needed

Saute the bacon for a few minutes until it starts to brown, then add the onion and continue to cook until the bacon is crispy and the onion is clear. Meanwhile, in a separate mixing bowl, mix the flour, green onions, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the milk, egg, and olive oil and mix just until moistened, then stir in the corn, cheese, and the bacon mixture. It will be really thick, so add milk to it if you would like it thinner. I ended up adding about 3/4 of a cup. Cook on a griddle or hot non-stick skilled until done, and serve with warm maple syrup. Makes approximately 6 6" pancakes.

Holy crap on a cracker....this is totally amazeballs. It is salty and sweet at the same time, and really filling. So, so good. The only changes I made were to cut the bacon in half (hers called for 8 strips of bacon!), change the flour to whole wheat, and use green onions instead of the chives she called for (for some reason, I can NOT find fresh chives up here). My corn was frozen when I added it, and it still worked perfectly. Mmmmm.....

Rating 5/5
Why? Still working on my pancake skills, but I really like that these aren't so sweet. 


Cheesy Broccoli Soup

This week has been a nightmare, and it's only Tuesday. I was handed some new, unexpected, unwelcome responsibilities at work, and that has sent me home with a headache on top of a 12 hour work day for the last two days. I'm more than a little cranky, and then last night I got home to a 50 degree house and today I got home to an 80 degree house. I'm just DONE. This soup definitely improved my mood. Based on this one, but I made several changes. Pardon the crappy picture, it's from my phone and unedited.

2 Tlbs butter
1/4 chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
3 Tlbs whole wheat flour
1 cup half and half*
1 cup chicken broth
1-ish cup shredded carrots
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
tiny bit of salt
1 broccoli crown, chopped
about 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
about 1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and onion. Saute it for a couple of minutes, then add the flour, stirring constantly. Add the half and half and chicken broth and bring to just barely a simmer. Turn it down to low and add the carrots, nutmeg, cardamom, salt and pepper. Let it gently simmer, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes, until the carrots are softened somewhat. Use your immersion blender and blend the soup until the carrots are broken down, then add the broccoli and let it continue to simmer for a few minutes until the broccoli is nearly the right texture (for me, that was only 3-4 minutes). Add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and the soup is smooth. Serve immediately.

* the original recipe called for 1 cup of half and half and one cup of milk, I had half and half, and I don't normally, so I used it. It would honestly probably be just as good with regular milk, but you might also use Greek yogurt and milk as a substitute. It was amazing with half and half.

The original recipe called for hot sauce, and that would probably be really good, although I might add red pepper flakes instead of hot sauce. Also, she added the broccoli at the same time as the carrots, but I think that would make the broccoli really soggy and over cooked. Adding the broccoli at the end was perfect, in my opinion. Also, she didn't blend it, but I wanted something smoother. She also used velveeta (ew), and Colby Jack, which I didn't have.

Rating? 5/5
Why? It was probably related to my mood, but I needed something cheesy and comforting and this really hit the savory spot.


Mozzarella Bites

Sometimes you just need a little bit of comfort food, even if it's for nothing more annoying than really bad traffic. I'm not sure how often I'll make these, because they're a bit fiddly, but they were really good. Original recipe for the balls here and the marinara sauce here, but I did change a few things.

1 tub of mozzarella balls
30-40 basil leaves*
1 package of square wonton wrappers
1 egg white
1 Tlbs milk
1 can tomato sauce
1 garlic clove
3 Tlbs fresh parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
1/3 cup minced onion
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1-2 Tlbs grapeseed oil

Make the marinara sauce first. Put the tomato sauce, garlic, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper into a food processor, and process until smooth. Then heat the grapeseed oil in a saucepan, and saute the onions for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato sauce and the white wine vinegar, and let it simmer for half an hour or more while you prepare the mozzarella balls. Rinse, drain, and dry the balls, then cut them in half. Chiffonade (slice) the basil leaves. Then whisk the egg white and milk together in a small bowl, and open the package of wonton wrappers. Take a wonton wrapper, and brush the egg white mixture along two sides. Then put half of a mozzarella ball and a few slices of basil in the center and fold the un-egged sides up to make a triangular package. Press the edges together. Then brush more of the egg mixture on one side of the triangle, and fold the sides and top wings down to make a little envelope. Set it aside to cure for a while. Continue doing this until you have as many as you want. Let the last ones cure for about 10 minutes. Heat the oven to 350, and spray some olive oil on a baking sheet and let it heat as well. When it's hot, put the mozzarella envelopes on the pan, spray the tops lightly with olive oil, then let them bake for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the  marinara sauce off and let it cool slightly. After removing the mozzarella balls from the oven, drain them (if needed) and let them cool slightly before eating.

*Basil. More is ALWAYS better. If you have extra, toss it in the marinara sauce.

This was good, but fairly time-consuming. It took me about an hour to prepare everything before putting the envelopes in the oven. This did not mesh with the time on the original recipe, so she might be a genie or something. I would assume you could make these ahead of time and refrigerate them for maybe 24 hours before cooking, but if you do, I would recommend keeping them in a sealed container, and make sure there is no moisture on them before you bake them.

Rating? 4/5
Why? They took a while to construct, but were really good once they were done. I ate too many. =)


Grilled Chicken and Barley Salad

Ugh....summer cooking. I just....don't. It's so much work. Fortunately, this one was easy, and only seems like it takes a long time. Most of it is just letting things cook while you watch Netflix in front of the fan. This was also the first time I have cooked with barley. It's pretty good, actually, and takes the same amount of time as regular rice. Original recipe here, which I followed with just a few tweaks.

1 chicken breast, fat cut off
1/2 cup barley*
1.5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup fresh or thawed corn
3/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup minced red onion
2-3 Tlbs cooked, chopped bacon**
10-12 leaves of basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1.5 Tlbs olive oil
1 Tlbs water
1 Tlbs red wine vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tlbs red onion
salt and pepper

Put the marinade ingredients in the food processor and process until smooth. Put 1/4 of vinaigrette/marinade into a plastic bag, add the chicken breast, and toss it in the fridge. Set aside the other 3/4 of the vinaigrette. Heat the broth and barley until it's boiling, then put a lid on the pan and turn it to low. Let it simmer, untouched, for 40 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and fluff the barley with a fork. Drain well and let it cool. Put the corn, cherry tomatoes, onion, bacon, basil, salt and pepper in a bowl. When the barley is cooled down, add it and the remaining vinaigrette to the bowl and toss well. Meanwhile, grill  the chicken until done, then let it sit for a few minutes before serving.

*I used pearl barley.
**I used previously cooked turkey bacon because I had it, she used 3-4 strips.

This was good, and like I said, really easy. I probably spent 10 minutes doing hands on chopping and prep and it was a good summer dish.

Rating: 4/5
Why? I'm not sure how I feel about the marinade being used on the chicken. I might not do that next time.


Chicken Francese (Lemon Chicken)

Sometimes you look at the chicken and potatoes in front of you on the counter and you just feel uninspired and unmotivated. If I'm not careful, that will end up as a trip to Taco Time, so usually I try to plan my meals at least a week ahead of time (which also makes for faster shopping trips and less $ spent). Sometimes that still leaves me uninspired, or with a recipe that takes more time than I am willing to spend, so I'll browse pinterest, which is where I found this recipe. I've made it a couple of times now, and it's definitely a keeper.

1 chicken breast
1-2 Tlbs whole wheat flour
1 egg white, beaten
olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tlbs white wine vinegar
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 Tlbs whole wheat flour
fresh ground black pepper
1 Tlbs fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp coconut oil*

Slice the chicken breast in half by laying it flat, putting your hand on top of the chicken breast, and using a sharp knife to carefully slice the chicken horizontal to your hand. This will give you two thinner slices of chicken (cutlets). Put the flour in one small bowl and the beaten egg whites in another bowl. In a third bowl, put the lemon, white wine vinegar, chicken broth, 2 Tlbs whole wheat flour, black pepper, parsley and coconut oil. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat, with a small amount of olive oil (if necessary). When the pan is hot, dip the chicken in flour, then in egg white, then saute it for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove the chicken from the pan, and pour in the lemon mixture. Heat it, stirring constantly, until it starts to thicken, then add the chicken back into the pan for a minute or two. Serve by putting the chicken on a plate and spooning a small amount of sauce over the top.

*the coconut oil can be switched out with butter...melt the butter first if you use butter. There is absolutely no coconut taste if you use coconut oil instead and it tastes just as rich.

This is really good and very light. It's even better served with these roasted potatoes (which I've also modified slightly). I changed her recipe a little bit - reduced it by fourths (her recipe is for 12 cutlets), replaced the white wine with white wine vinegar, cut out the salt, cut down the amount of lemon, cut out the lemon slices altogether, and replaced the butter with coconut oil. I like lemon, but this was really strong the first time I made it. It is important to do all the prep first, because this only takes a few minutes from start to finish, once you put the chicken in the pan.

Rating: 5/5
Why? It's fast, easy, light, and filling.


Balsamic Vegetables and Meatballs

I've never been a huge fan of meatballs, and after a recent attempt to make burgers, I've realized that I am no longer a huge fan of raw beef either, but this recipe looked good and I thought I would give it a try anyway. It was definitely worth it, although I will be making a few changes to the original recipe (from Clean Eating, naturally).

2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
1 onion, cut into wedges
1 small pkg of lean ground turkey
1 egg white
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
olive oil (or coconut oil*)
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
2 Tlbs balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil and spray it with olive oil. Spread the bell peppers and onion on the baking sheet, and bake for 40 minutes, until the edges are slightly blackened. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the turkey, egg white, pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder and rosemary. Form into small (1 inch) meatballs. In a large skillet, melt 1 Tlbs of coconut oil over medium oil, then saute the meatballs one batch at a time, until browned and cooked all the way through (mine took about 6-7 minutes). Remove the meatballs from the heat, but leave the pan on medium. Add mushrooms and thyme to the skillet and saute the mushrooms until they are golden brown (mine took 3-4 minutes). Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, then add the meatballs back into the pan. When the bell peppers and onions are done, add them in the mixture as well, and toss everything together. Serve warm.

The original directions included a yellow summer squash which I ended up disliking, so I left it out of the recipe above. It also called for this to be served over pasta, but I didn't like that either. It also called for fresh thyme, but I forgot to buy it. Heh. I used turkey instead of beef and to make up some of the flavor, I added the garlic and onion to the meatball mixture.

This was a pretty good recipe and actually came together pretty quickly. The meatballs totally made this though, they were amazing, if I do say so myself. I had some issues with splatter in the pan, and they were shaped more like pyramids than balls, but they tasted fantastic.

*I started using coconut oil and I really like it. We'll see how it goes.

Rating? 4/5
Why? it does take a while to make this, because of roasting the peppers and onions, but it is still good.