Four Cheese Ravioli

When I was growing up, ravioli was one of the things that we got as a treat on special occasions. My mom would get one of the giant cans from Chef Boyardee, add some cheese, and bake it in the oven. When I got older, I realized how unhealthy that stuff was, and what was more, how slimy the pasta was, and stopped eating it altogether. Then while reading a book called Cook This, Not That I found a recipe for ravioli and realized how easy it would be to make my own. This recipe is loosely based on that recipe.

1 package round wonton wrappers
16 oz ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated mozzarella
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 egg white
1 Tlbs milk

In a bowl mix the ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, and garlic powder together. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white and milk together. Take one of the wonton wrappers and put a small amount of the cheese mixture on one half of the wrapper. Make sure to leave 1/2" or so of free space around the edge of the wrapper. It takes some practice to get the amount right. I would say 2 tsp or so of the mixture, or an amount no larger than the size of a small super ball. Form it to make a half circle shape within your wonton wrapper. Then, using a small paintbrush, paint the edge of the wonton wrapper with the egg white mixture and fold over the wrapper so that you now have a closed half circle. Press the two edges together, using the egg white mixture as the "glue" that holds the two halves together. Make sure to press firmly and seal it completely from end to end. Then repeat until either your cheese mixture or your wonton wrappers are gone.

This is the perfect recipe to make and freeze. There is a bit of work that goes into assembling the ravioli, but to make it from frozen takes me exactly 5 minutes from freezer to plate. To freeze the ravioli, spray a cookie sheet with olive oil and lay the finished ravioli on the pan as you make them. Freeze them for half an hour, then lift them off the sheet, throw them into a ziploc bag, and put them in the freezer. To cook them, slide the desired amount into boiling water for about 2 minutes, then top with your desired sauce. Including the time to boil the water, it takes no more than 5 minutes. Perfect. It is important not to overcook the ravioli or the edges will come unsealed and then you have a mess, so keep a close eye on them. I would say between 1.5 and 2 minutes at the outside, if you put them into boiling water.

Although I haven't yet done it, I think this would be a great recipe to easily modify. It would be really easy to disguise steamed cauliflower (which I hate) or mushrooms (ew) or even good stuff like broccoli in these babies and no one would be the wiser. I do wish I could find whole wheat wonton wrappers, but this is still so much healthier and delicious than the canned version that I really don't mind.

Rating: 4/5
Why? This is a time-consuming recipe to put together. It takes about an hour or so, depending on how fast you are, to make an entire batch. However, when you are done, you have a large amount of ravioli that will last for months in the freezer, and if you keep the pasta sauce on hand, you have a dinner that takes less time than ordering a pizza and is far healthier. I think 4-5 of these would make one serving, topped with 1 cup or so of the tomato pasta sauce.


Cheese and Corn Lasagna

I think lasagna is one of the most comforting of comfort foods. And living in Washington, it can get pretty cold and dreary, one of the main causes of needing comfort foods in the first place. Being a teacher provides the rest of the motivation. =) This recipe is my own, very loosely based on what my mom used to make when I was little.

This is the recipe for an 8x8 or 9x9 pan

6 whole wheat lasagna noodles
8 oz low fat ricotta cheese
15 oz can tomato sauce
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated low-fat mozzarella cheese
1.5 cups fresh or frozen corn
1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp basil
2 tsp parsley
1/8 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper

Prepare the noodles according to the directions on the package. Make the sauce by combining the tomato sauce, basil, parsley, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper. If desired, you can do this over medium heat for 15 minutes or so. Spray the pan with olive oil. Spread 2 of the noodles with the ricotta cheese and lay them in the pan. There should be some extra of each of the noodles, cut it off and use it for the third row in your pan. Spread a thin layer of the sauce on top of the noodles, then 1/3 of the cheddar cheese. On top of that, put 1/2 cup of corn, then 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat the process twice more, for three total layers. On top of the last layer, sprinkle the parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

I love this recipe but have to be careful not to eat the entire pan in one sitting. =) I have tried to clean it up with the whole wheat noodles, corn and low-fat cheeses, but it is not entirely healthy even so. I do not use the pre-cooked noodles for this reason, even though they are easier, they are not nearly as healthy as the whole wheat ones. I also make my own sauce to cut down on the not-so-great stuff, but you could use jarred pasta sauce if you wanted to. It would also be easy to add ground turkey, steamed broccoli, or other additions if you wanted to do so.

Rating: 5/5
Why? It's the perfect comfort food. 'Nuff said.


Chicken Alfredo

I love cream sauces, but try to stay away from them as they are generally full of fat. But in the September/October 2010 Clean Eating issue there was a recipe for Alfredo Cream Sauce, so I decided to give it a shot.

2 handfuls of whole wheat pasta (I used spirals)
1 chicken breast
1.5 cups non-fat milk
3 tsp arrowroot
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp black pepper

Cook the pasta according to the directions and grill the chicken (I did mine on the stovetop on medium heat). When the chicken is about halfway done, start the sauce. Whisk together the milk and the arrowroot and warm it over medium heat until it starts to thicken. It took me about 5 minutes or so. Then turn the heat to medium low, add in the nutmeg and the pepper and stir to combine. Add the parmesan cheese and continue stirring until it is mostly melted. Add the yogurt and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes more until everything is smooth. By this time the chicken should be done. You can either add the chicken into the sauce, or put the chicken on top of the pasta. Also, you can stir the sauce and the pasta together or you can pour the sauce over the pasta.

I had some trouble finding arrowroot, so the first time I made this I used cornstarch instead. I like it a little better with the arrowroot, but the difference is minimal. It works just fine with cornstarch. although you may need to adjust the amount a little bit. This recipe starts out a bit oddly, since the milk and the arrowroot frothed up as I stirred it. But as soon as I added the nutmeg it calmed right down. Which brings me to my next comment...I never knew that nutmeg was the flavor in Alfredo sauce!

Rating - 4.5/5
Why? This tastes pretty close to the real thing, in my opinion, although the texture is just a little different. Good with chicken, and would also be really good with broccoli.


Baked Cornbread

Remember that chili from the last post? This is the perfect accompaniment! This recipe is adapted from my mom's Jungle Camp Cookbook.

1 cup whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups cornmeal
1.5 cups milk
2 eggs
1/3 cup applesauce

Fold the ingredients together just until blended. Pour into a oiled 9x9 pan, and bake at 350 for 35 minutes, or until slightly brown.

Rating: 4.5/5
Why? This is pretty good cornbread, and has been cleaned up quite a bit from the original recipe, which called for oil in place of applesauce, white flour in place of whole wheat, and triple the amount of salt. The original recipe also was designed to be baked in a cast-iron frying pan, but I have never managed to cook it that way without burning it.


November Chili

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we either have absolutely glorious Novembers, full of crisp mornings and flaming yellow leaves, or we have dreary, sodden, dripping days of rain. Apparently, this year it's our turn to have a dreary November, and there is nothing better to ward off those days than slow-cooked chili. This recipe is adapted from one off of allrecipes.com.

1/2 bag of mixed dried beans from the back of the cupboard
2 cans of low-sodium black beans
2 cans of organic tomato soup
6 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 medium sweet onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb low-fat ground turkey, cooked
2 Tlbs ish of chili powder
1 Tlbs basil
1 Tlbs oregano
2 Tlbs red wine vinegar

Soak the dried beans overnight, covering them in at least an inch of water.

In a large pot, combine all the ingredients. Add more chili powder if you want it to be more intense. Bring it to a boil over medium or medium-low heat, then turn down to low and simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

This recipe is infinitely malleable. I also call it "end-of-the-month-chili" since you can throw leftovers in there too - like rice, peas, broccoli, whatever. The original recipe called for 1 can of crushed tomatoes, but I just got regular tomatoes instead, and added the tomato soup since I happened to have it on hand and wanted to adjust the consistency of the soup.

Rating: 5/5
Why? There is nothing better than opening the door to the smell of chili after a long, cold day. This recipe is amazing, and the red wine vinegar totally makes it. I also recommend replacing the red wine vinegar with cider vinegar, as that tastes pretty good too!


Poppyseed Chicken

This is the family recipe for a close friend of mine but the original recipe was something that could only be eaten by people with excessively low cholesterol levels, as it was somewhat unhealthy, to put it mildly. I have been thinking about the recipe a lot lately, so decided to play with it and see what happened. The original recipe is from the Danley Family.

2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/8 cup olive oil
1 Tlbs butter, melted
1/8 tsp ground mustard
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp tarragon
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp thyme
2 Tlbs poppy seeds (approximately)

Mix the shredded chicken, yogurt, chicken broth, and mozzarella cheese, then put them in a 9x9 pan. In a small bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients, except for the poppy seeds. Spread the bread crumb mixture evenly over the chicken mixture. Then sprinkle the poppy seeds over the top of the bread crumbs - as thick as you want. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

This looks a little odd, but it is goooooood, and really comforting. Just to show you how much I have changed the recipe, the original recipe called for a cup of sour cream, a sleeve of Ritz crackers, and a stick of butter. Yeurgh. But deeeelicious. My upgrades don't taste exactly the same, but it is close enough to make this occasionally and still not die of a stroke immediately afterwards.

Rating: 4.5/5
Why? I put too much oil in my version, although I reduced the amount when I wrote it above. And nothing quite replaces the taste of the Ritz, but it is still pretty good.


Oatmeal Pumpkin Muffins

Growing up, I was not a huge fan of pumpkin, and I still look askance at the gelatinous goop that comes out of cans, but I stumbled across a recipe for pumpkin puree and it looked so good that I bought a sugar pumpkin and gave it a shot. It was super easy and the puree is this bright, beautiful orange color that calls to me. Everything I put it into turns out tasting like autumn, including these muffins. The original recipe was from allrecipes.com.

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raw sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree

Mix the canola oil and the oatmeal together and let it sit for 5-10 minutes while you do the next steps. In another bowl, thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil/oatmeal mixture. FOLD the ingredients together JUST until mixed. Spray oil into the muffin cups and then flour the cups as well....or use cupcake liners. Fill the muffin cups with batter to 1/4 inch below the top, then bake in a 350 oven for 18 minutes.

The original recipe called for raisins and walnuts, but I don't like those, so I left them out. It also called for 1/2 cup of honey instead of sugar, but I was out of that, so I used sugar instead. It seemed like a lot of sugar, so I cut the sugar in half and the muffins were still plenty sweet, in my opinion. I would also have preferred to use applesauce in place of the oil, but I was out of that too. (Thank goodness payday is tomorrow!)

Rating - 5/5
Why? Pumpkin and spice and everything nice, that's what these muffins are made of.


Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

This is the best recipe in the History of Time. I am not going to put it here, because the original site has beautiful photography and I followed her recipe exactly. Seriously. Click here. It will Change Your Life. It is like fall in a little twisted bun. Sooooo good.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls


Creamy Shrimp and Bacon

I have modified this recipe quite a lot from the original. It is really filling, but takes a little prep to make. The original recipe is from Real Simple.

1 cup brown rice
1 cup water
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 slices turkey bacon, cooked
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 cups milk
1.5 Tlbs whole wheat or rice flour
1 lb medium-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups of corn (can be fresh or frozen)

Cook the rice in the water and chicken broth. Chop the bacon into small pieces. Heat a nonstick pan with a little bit of olive oil and saute the onion until soft. Add the rice vinegar and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the milk and flour and bring to a simmer. Add the shrimp, bacon, and corn and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5-7 minutes until the shrimp is thoroughly cooked and the sauce has thickened. Serve it over the rice.

The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of wine instead of vinegar and 1/4 cup heavy cream instead of milk. To make it healthier, I use turkey bacon, vinegar (because I don't have any wine), and nonfat milk. I also prefer it to be creamier, which is why I use so much more milk. I also bake the bacon ahead of time and freeze it to use in recipes like this one, but you could also use fresh cooked bacon.

Rating: 4/5
Why? I don't like to peel shrimp. =)


Jalapeno Poppers

Back in college, my friends and I looked forward to that one month a year when Sonic would have half price jalapeno poppers. Growing up, I had never really eated jalapenos, especially jalapenos that hadn't been chopped up and put into something else, and these were amazing! As I got older, of course I realized that the poppers were really unhealthy, so I stopped eating them, until I found this recipe on allrecipes.com.

4 oz neufchatel cheese
3 oz grated sharp cheddar
2 oz grated mozzarella
1/8 cup sour cream
7-8 jalapenos
1 egg
1 Tlbs milk
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 Tlbs dried parsley
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper

Wash the peppers and bring a small pan of water to a rolling boil. Drop the peppers into the boiling water and boil for 2 minutes. Then put them under running cold water to blanch them. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise and remove the seeds, membranes, and stems. Mix the neufchatel, mozzarella, cheddar and sour cream together in a bowl. In another small bowl, mix the egg and the milk (I put the milk and egg in a bowl with a tight lid, then shake it until well mixed). In another small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper. Take one half of a pepper, dip the skin side in the egg/milk mixture, then in the breadcrumbs, and place it in a pan. Repeat with all the peppers. Then take a spoon (or a plastic bag with the corner cut out) and put the cheese mixture in each of the peppers. Sprinkle the remainder of the breadcrumb mixture on top of the cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

This is pretty good as is, but when I make it again, I will increase the amount of grated cheese and reduce the amount of neufchatel cheese. I think the filling is a little too creamy, but that is my personal taste. This is not going to taste like fried poppers, but it is crunchy on the outside, and definitely is pretty close to the fried popper feel. The original recipe called for mayonnaise instead of sour cream, but I hate mayo, so I never have it in the house.

Rating: 4/5
Why? Nothing can replace the serious crunch of the Sonic poppers, but I do like these quite a lot. It is an excellent way to use leftover jalapenos (because I always end up with too many) and they make a great snack, as they are easy to freeze and reheat.


Chicken Adobo

I teach in an area with a very large Filipino community, and apparently this is the national dish of the Philippines. It was quite delicious, although I would like to find a way to adjust the salt a little. This recipe is based off of one from allrecipes.com.

1 Tlbs black sesame oil
1 chicken breast, cubed
1/4 onion, chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup low sodium tamari soy sauce
1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 Tlbs cornstarch

Put the black sesame oil into a skillet and heat over medium heat. Saute the chicken breast until mostly done, then add the remainder of the ingredients and simmer over low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally. Serve over brown rice.

I don't use a lot of salt, in fact, I generally cut the salt out entirely from almost everything that I eat (high blood pressure runs on both sides of my family), so maybe that is the reason that this was so salty to me. I am not sure how to adjust that, since I don't think you could realistically cut any of the ingredients with salt in them and still have adobo sauce. The only thing you might be able to do is to use water in place of the chicken broth and replace the sesame oil with olive oil, although I am not sure how that would effect the saltiness. The cornstarch is optional, since apparently adobo sauce is supposed to be thin, but I wanted it to be a little thicker.

Rating 3.5/5
Why? The flavor is good, but the salt is a lot for my taste. Simmering this for an hour means the chicken is super tender, which I loved.


Thai Chicken Pizza

This is easily one of my favorite recipes of all time. It takes some effort to make it, but the end result is fantastic, filling, and fabulous.

Pad Thai sauce
1/2 cup dried unsweetened dates, pitted and chopped
3 Tlbs hot water
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 Tlbs low-sodium tamari soy sauce
2 Tlbs fresh lemon juice
1 clove chopped garlic
2 tsp cornmeal
1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella
1 chicken breast, cooked and thinly sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/8 cup green onions, sliced
2 Tlbs unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Make the Pad Thai sauce first. Let the dates sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients in the food processor (or blender) and chop until relatively smooth. Then start the pizza. In a cast iron frying pan (or pizza stone), spray olive oil, then sprinkle with the cornmeal. Tap the sides of the pan until there is a thin layer of cornmeal on top of the olive oil. Roll out the pizza dough, and put it in the bottom of the pan. Top with the pad thai sauce (I don't use all of it), then half of the mozzarella, then the chicken, then the bell pepper, then add the rest of the mozzarella. Put it in the oven at 475 for 15 minutes, or just until the tips of the peppers start to get brown. Pull the pizza out, and top with the green onions, bean sprouts, cilantro and peanuts. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so before serving.

I have a fairly small 12" cast iron pan, so that is what I use to make this. You could also use a pizza stone or a larger pan. I have tried making it on a cookie sheet type of pan, but only succeeded in ruining the pan, so I don't recommend trying it.

Rating: 4.5/5
Why? This recipe is delicious, but does take some time to make. But on the other hand, it is so filling, one piece of pizza will fill you up quite easily. It is packed with vegetables and fiber and is incredibly satisfying.


Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

I love pizza, so when I finally found a whole wheat pizza dough recipe that isn't too dry or chewy, I was very excited. I will publish my favorite pizza recipe on the next post. This is from Clean Eating.

1 Tlbs raw honey
1 C (-1.5 Tlbs) warm water
2.5 tsp yeast
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
4 tsp gluten
1 tsp salt
3 Tlbs evoo

Breadmaker instructions: Put the honey, 1/3 cup of water and the yeast in the breadmaker and let it proof (rise undisturbed) for 10 minutes. Add the rest of the water, flour, gluten, 2 Tlbs of oil and salt. Run the breadmaker on the dough setting until finished.

Regular instructions: Put the honey, 1/3 cup of water and yeast in a bowl and let it proof (sit undisturbed) for 10 minutes. Add the flour, gluten, salt and mix it together. Then add the rest of the water and 2 Tlbs of oil, and mix well. Let it rise in an oiled bowl until doubled in size. 

Whichever way you make the dough, after it has risen once, punch down the dough, knead it for a few minutes and form it into a ball. Let it rise in an oiled bowl for 30 minutes. Roll out half of the dough for a medium pizza. You can freeze the remainder for up to 2 months or refrigerate it for about a week. When you want to reuse it, thaw it (if frozen) and bring it to room temperature before trying to roll it out.

Do not skip adding the gluten. It makes all the difference. I get mine in bulk, so I can buy just a little at a time.

Rating: 5/5
Why? I have tried different whole wheat doughs, and they are either made with half white flour or they are dry. This is the recipe that taught me that gluten makes whole wheat dough elastic. I have since used it in different applications, like in cinnamon rolls, where I want the dough to be softer and more elastic. It takes time to make this recipe, but I can get two pizzas out of it, which is about what I go through in a month.


Red Chicken Curry

I never cared for Asian food when I was growing up. I tried Chinese food several times and never liked it, and then living in Dallas didn't really help the situation, as they aren't known for their stellar Asian cuisine. But now that I live in Seattle I have learned what truly good Asian food is, and this has opened up new possibilities. This is a foodie town and I have grown up. One of my favorite Asian foods is red curry and I have  finally found a recipe that tastes comparable to that at my favorite Thai restaurant. This is modified from a recipe off of http://www.allrecipes.com/.

1 Tlbs olive oil
1 Tlbs sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chicken breast, sliced very thinly (1/4" thick or less)
1 red bell pepper, sliced 1/4" thick
1/2 sweet onion, sliced 1/4" thick
14 oz can of lite coconut milk
1 Tlbs cornstarch
2 Tlbs red curry paste
2 tsp lime juice
2 Tlbs sugar
a handful of mung bean sprouts

Heat the oil (both of them) in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Toss in the garlic and saute for a minute or so. Then throw in the chicken and saute that for 2 minutes or until it is about halfway done. Then throw in the onion and pepper and saute for another 3-4 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Meanwhile, in a bowl with a tight-fitting lid, mix the coconut milk, cornstarch, red curry paste, lime juice and sugar. Put the lid on and shake thoroughly. The red curry paste will still be a little lumpy, but that's ok. When the chicken is cooked, turn the heat down slightly, and add the curry mixture, smashing out any lumps as you do. Let it simmer for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the bean sprouts and let it cook for another minute. Serve over cooked brown rice (or plain, if you prefer).

A few notes....If you don't have sesame oil, just use olive oil, but consider getting some sesame oil. It adds a really great taste. The curry should have a fairly thin consistency, so if it is too thick and you don't have any more coconut milk, add regular milk a tiny bit at a time until it is the consistency that you want. I prefer to slice the chicken really thin because that is how they serve it in my favorite restaurant, and it cooks faster, but do what works best for you. The original recipe also called for mushrooms and zucchini, but again, I was sticking to the recipe I like, so I didn't add them. Because you have to add things fairly quickly in this recipe, I would recommend prepping everything first before you start cooking.

Rating: 5/5
Why? the first time I tried this recipe, I followed the suggestion of one of the commenters and added peanut butter, which I did NOT like. This time I left the peanut butter out and really focused on making the smell match what I remembered. It turned out great, and is a pretty quick meal, which I like a lot. It took me about 15 minutes, including prep time, to put this together (not including cooking the rice). It is hot and spicy, another plus for me, and is fairly healthy if you use the lite coconut milk and go easy on the chicken.


Apple and Bacon Grilled Cheese

I have never been a big fan of grilled cheese, and used to ask my mom to make me just a plain cheese sandwich instead, but then I grew up, and one day a picture in Cook This, Not That! caught my attention. I love the sharp bite of this particular combination.

half an apple (I use a green Golden Delicious)
3 strips of turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
2-3 Tlbs dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese OR enough very thin slices to cover the bread
4 slices of bread

Peel, core, and dice the apple, and eat the other half while you are waiting for the sandwich to cook. Mix the diced apple, crumbled bacon and mustard together in a bowl. The key to a good grilled cheese is to cook it low and slow, so heat a nonstick pan over medium low heat. Spray one side of one piece of bread with olive oil and place it oil side down on the pan. Spread 1/4 of the cheese on the bread (or enough very thin slices to cover the bread) and then spread half of the apple bacon mixture on the bread. Top it with another 1/4 of the cheese, and then another slice of bread. Let it grill very slowly (it should take at least 8-10 minutes at least) and then spray the top of the bread with olive oil and carefully flip it over. Let it grill for another 8-10 minutes, then enjoy!

The original recipe called for a sliced apple and bacon strips, but I found that the apple didn't cook all the way through, so I changed it. This is the adult version of grilled cheese that is just the perfect thing on a cold, rainy afternoon.

Rating: 5/5 (when I take the time to cook it right)
Why? The thing with grilled cheese is that it takes time and just the perfect temperature on the stove top, which I have struggled to get right. When I get it right though, it is completely worth the 20 minutes of cooking because it really is quite amazing. I love the bite of the mix of sharp cheddar, sour apple, and dijon mustard and the slight saltiness of the bacon is perfect with it.


Chipotle Chicken and Rice

I am not quite sure how I feel about this recipe yet, so if you have suggestions on how to improve it, feel free to let me know. There is something....savory? missing I think. This recipe is from the Mustard Seed Cafe Cookbook.

1 Tlbs unsalted butter
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup water
1.25 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 chopped chipotle chilis in adobo sauce
1/4 tsp cumin
1 cup brown rice
1 chicken breast, cubed or cut into small strips

In a 2 qt saucepan, melt the butter until it sizzles. Add the garlic and cook over medium heat until softened. Add the water, broth, chipotle and cumin. Bring to a boil. Add the rice, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook 45 minutes or so until the rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, pan grill the chicken, then add it to the rice (if you want it flavored as well).

Rating 3.5/5
Why? I have never cooked with adobo chilis before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I love the smell of the chilis and because of that I think I was expecting the savoriness (is that a word?) of the rice to be stronger. I will probably try this recipe again, but maybe add some of the flavors of the adobo sauce to the rice. It wasn't as saucy as I would like, so another option would be to actually make adobo sauce to put over the rice. If I did that, I would probably add the chicken to the sauce and simply pour the sauce over the rice to serve.


Oat and Whole Wheat Waffles

This started as a recipe from Clean Eating for Oat and Whole Wheat pancakes, but I liked the flavor so much that I modified a family waffle recipe to include oats and whole wheat. I make a batch of these and freeze the extras for a quick breakfast on mornings I don't feel like eating cereal.

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tlbs applesauce

Mix all the ingredients and let sit for 10 minutes to allow oats to soften. Put 1/3 cup or so at a time into the waffle iron.

The original recipe, in addition to using white flour, also called for 2 Tlbs oil. I replaced the white flour with whole wheat, and replaced the oil with applesauce, which does the same job as the oil in this case. I also use a Belgian waffle maker, which I prefer to traditional 1/4" waffles, and it seems to work particularly well with this recipe. This is a relatively large recipe (at least for me), so I usually end up with 6-7 waffles, and I freeze all but 1-2 of them. To warm them up in the mornings, I put one in the microwave for 1 minute or so, then pop it in the toaster to get it crispy on the outside. Mmmm....delicious. And full of fiber, so it's a tasty and healthy breakfast!

Rating: 5/5
Why? They are easy to make, delicious, and full of fiber, so they fill me up until lunchtime, and I love how crisp they are on the outside.


Chicken Fajitas

This recipe is my go-to easy dinner recipe. I always have these ingredients on hand and it is fast and easy to make when I get home from a long day at work.
1-2 chicken breasts
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 medium sweet onion
whole wheat tortillas

Cut all the ingredients except the tortillas into thin strips. Start sauteing the chicken in a nonstick pan sprayed with olive oil. When the chicken is about halfway done, add the veggies and finish cooking until the vegetables are tender. Wrap some of the chicken-veggie mix in the tortilla and top with low-fat sour cream, salsa, and/or guacamole.

I make this recipe at least once a week. The original recipe called for about equal parts chicken and peppers, but I have added in more veggies until it is mostly veggies at this point. I don't season the chicken because I like the natural flavor, but you could add salt, pepper or whatever you wanted to flavor the chicken. I also warm the tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds before wrapping everything up.

Rating: 5/5
Why? It is super fast, filling, and delicious, plus it's full of protein, fiber, and vitamins. An all around winner in my book!


Baked Mac & Cheese

Sorry for the lack of posting over the last week, it was Homecoming Week at school and I didn't cook so much as forage.

This recipe is one from Clean Eating that I make at least 2-3 times a month. It takes only slightly more prep time than traditional boxed mac and cheese, is super easy and is amazingly delicious. I will never make mac and cheese from a box again.
2 cupped handfuls of whole wheat pasta, something like shells, elbow macaroni, or spirals
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 pinch of sea salt
1.5 cups milk
grated sharp cheddar
grated low-fat Swiss
1/8 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/8 cup grated parmesan

Cook the pasta, drain it and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 375 and spray olive oil in a medium size casserole dish. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm the milk, flour, and oil. When the milk mixture is warm, add the Swiss cheese and stir until smooth (1-2 minutes). When the Swiss is completely incorporated, add the cheddar cheese and stir until smooth (30 seconds-1 minute). It is really important to stir the sauce constantly, and it comes together really fast, so don't try and cook the pasta at the same time. When the sauce is done, add it to the pasta, and mix it together. Put it in the casserole dish, mix the parmesan and breadcrumbs together, and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top of the pasta mixture. Bake it covered for 10 minutes, remove the top and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes.

In the original recipe it calls for panko breadcrumbs and brown rice flour, but I only had regular breadcrumbs and can't find brown rice flour, so I replaced them.

Rating - 5/5
Why? Once I tasted these, I will never eat boxed macaroni and cheese again. This is almost as easy to make, tastes better, has so many fewer calories and a tenth of the sodium, and no chemicals.


Black Bean and Corn Salsa

I have been waiting and waiting for tomatoes to ripen so I could make this recipe! It is based on a recipe from a friend, which evolved into me using the last of a lot of pieces of things in my refrigerator. It turned out pretty good!

10 chopped Roma tomatoes
1 large heirloom tomato
1 cup chopped sweet yellow onion
1/8 cup salt
3/8 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbls honey mustard
2 Tlbs red pepper flakes
4 chopped red bell peppers
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 chopped gypsy pepper
5 chopped tomatillos
3 very finely chopped super chilis
3 finely chopped jalapenos
1.5 cups corn
1.5 cups cooked black beans
1 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a large pot and simmer gently until peppers are soft (about 20 minutes, more or less). It will start out very chunky and gradually cook down until there is a pretty juicy tomato base. Stir it fairly often so it doesn't burn. When it is done, stir in the cilantro and turn off the burner. Let the salsa mix sit for 10 minutes or so before canning it.

This is a pretty organic recipe, you can add or subtract things pretty easily. I love corn and black bean salsa, so that is what I made, but those ingredients were not part of the original recipe. In addition, the only peppers that were originally part of the recipe were the bell peppers, the jalapenos, and the red pepper flakes. I added the rest because I had them and needed to use them and I think it tastes great. If you use super chilis, make sure you cut them while wearing gloves, or your fingers will burn for a couple of days. I also prefer chunky salsa, so I hand-cut the vegetables, but the friend I got the recipe from puts hers in the food processer for a smoother salsa. She also uses tomato paste as well as tomatoes and mustard seeds instead of honey mustard.

As you can tell from the ingredient list, this makes an enourmous amount of salsa. I ended up with 12 half pints and a quart of canned salsa (or a gallon, if you add it all up...) which is why I canned it. But it is also good fresh.

Rating - 4.5/5
Why? It was surprisingly satisfying making this from scratch, but it could be a bit more spicy. =) Next time, more jalapenos.


Shrimp Soft Tacos with Citrus Coleslaw

I love this recipe! It is especially good on a hot day, it is very refreshing and super easy to make. This recipe is from Real Simple.

1/8 cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbls fresh lime juice
2 Tbls sour cream
salt and pepper if wanted
8 oz broccoli slaw mix (I use half a package)
1 cup corn
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped finely
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
whole wheat tortillas

In a bowl with a lid, mix the orange juice, lime juice, sour cream, salt and pepper. Add the slaw, corn and jalapeno, put the lid on it and shake well to combine. Let the slaw mix sit for at least ten minutes, but shake it up every now and then.

If desired, season the shrimp (I don't) and saute them over medium high heat until opaque (3 minutes or so), then warm up a tortilla, put 5-6 shrimp on it, and top with the slaw mixture. Mmmmmm.......so good......

Rating - 5/5
Why? I've made this recipe several times and really like it. The original recipe called for cabbage slaw, but because I don't really care for cabbage, I replaced it with broccoli slaw and love this recipe. The dressing on the broccoli slaw has a sharp bite that is totally refreshing on a warm day, and that, combined with the warm shrimp and tortilla, is a fantastic taste. The slaw mixture keeps really well and can be eaten alone as a salad. I will say that the dressing can be a bit runny in the tacos, but either increasing the sour cream or decreasing the orange juice will eliminate that problem.


Pepper Lime Chicken

I did not really care for this chicken recipe the first time around, but I had some leftover glaze and gave it another shot and it was better the second time. I don't remember where the original recipe is from.

4 chicken breasts
1/2 tsp lime zest
1/4 cup lime juice
1 Tlbs oil
2 cloves garlic
8-10 fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp black pepper

stir together all the ingredients and put chicken into marinade for about 30 minutes. Grill until center is no longer pink.

Served here with quinoa and fresh green beans

rating - 3.5/5
Why? The original recipe called for the chicken to be broiled, and I am not a huge fan of broiling as it uses a lot of energy for not much result, but I tried it to give the recipe a fair chance, and it was just not great. It was burned on the edges and I just didn't really care for it. I used the glaze as a marinade instead on the next piece of chicken and it was better. I still think this recipe sounds better than it tastes, but I am going to keep it in then recipe box and play with the proportions a little.


Oat and Whole Wheat Pancakes

I love this recipe! I have to get up really early to get to school, but I  make a batch of these on weekends, put the extras in the freezer, and warm one in the toaster for breakfast instead of having cereal. Yum!

1.25 cups rolled oats (not quick oats!)
1.25 cups skim milk (I have also used buttermilk, see below)
1 large egg
1 Tlbs canola oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder

In a bowl, combine the rolled oats and the milk and let it sit for 5 minutes or so to allow the oats to soften. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until just blended. Getting them golden brown is a bit tricky, I use a nonstick pan sprayed with olive oil over medium to medium low heat. It takes several minutes to cook each side, but I hate burned and raw pancakes, so I do it slow. Side one is cooked when bubbles start appearing in the batter you can see and the sides look a little dry. Flip it and side two will take just a hair less time than side one.

I top my pancakes with peanut butter and a tiny bit of honey, but you can top them with whatever you want. One pancake is pretty filling, and this recipe makes about six 5" pancakes, which is why I freeze them. To freeze them, cook each pancake and let it cool completely on a baking rack. Then stack them up, put them in a plastic freezer bag, get as much air as you can out of it, and toss it in the freezer. To use one from frozen, grab one, put it in the microwave for 1 minute or so, then pop it in the toaster. It comes out hot all the way through and with that awesome crust on the outside.

I have also made buttermilk pancakes by replacing the milk with buttermilk. To do that, just add 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar to your milk. I have also developed a corresponding oat and whole wheat waffle recipe from this which I will post soon.

Rating - 5/5
Why? I like dense pancakes and these fit the bill. I am a huge fan of rolled oats, and because of this recipe I learned how to add them to many different types of breads. I like that they are easy to freeze and eat on your way out of the door.


Oat and Whole Wheat Bread

Due to a broken arm and subsequent installation of a plate in my right elbow, I don't have the right arm strength to mix bread doughs, so I use a bread maker on the dough setting to do the various doughs that I use. I used to make the entire bread process in it, but I don't like the hard crust that results, so I just use the dough setting and then let it rise again and bake it in a pan in the oven. This is my favorite recipe, I use it once a week to make a loaf of bread, since it is close to impossible to find bread in the store that doesn't have preservatives and high fructose corn syrup in it unless you are willing to spend around $5 a loaf. This recipe is based on one from the All New Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook by Tom Lacalamita, although I have changed it up a bit. This will make one large loaf.

2/3 cup warm water
1 cup lukewarm milk
3 Tbls unsalted butter, room temperature
1.5 tsp sea salt
3 Tbls raw honey
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick oats!)
4 cups whole wheat flour
2.5 tsp yeast

Add ingredients to the breadmaker in the order specified. Put it on the dough setting and turn it on. When it is finished (mine takes 1.5 hours), take the dough out and knead it for a few minutes. Form it into a loaf shape and put into a bread pan sprayed with olive oil. Cover the loaf and pan with a non-linty towel (like a flour sack kitchen towel) and let it rise for 30 minutes in a warm spot (I put a glass of water in the microwave for 3 minutes or so, then let the bread rise in the warm microwave). After 30 minutes, put the loaf in a 375 oven for 20-25 minutes, depending on how dark you want the crust. After removing it from the oven, LET THE BREAD COOL COMPLETELY, no matter how much you want to tear into it. It is extremely difficult to cut when it is even slightly warm and will make the center of your bread all doughy. It needs to be completely cool before you slice it.

I have talked to many people that say they love the taste of homemade bread, but don't have the time to make it. I completely understand, but let me say that having this machine makes it quite a lot easier, and the hands on time to make fresh bread once a week is never more than 10 minutes total for me. I would highly recommend investing in one if you have been debating about making your own bread. My mom picked this up for me at a garage sale for just a few dollars and my cost to make a loaf of bread is literally pennies, so it has saved me quite a lot of money over the last year.

Rating 5/5 - when I contain my impatience and wait to slice it
Why? There is just a hint of sweetness with the honey (and I have actually cut the amount down slightly from the original recipe) and the oats make it hearty and filling. Toast made from this bread is so good that I eat it plain on a regular basis. It has a lot of fiber too, because of the whole wheat flour and the oats, so that makes it more healthy than the original recipe.


Mashed Potato Leek Soup

I love thick soups. I have never really liked broth based soups, but I really like thick soups, especially on a rainy day. It hasn't been raining, but it has been cool and cloudy, so it counts as soup weather. This recipe originally came from Real Simple, but I have changed it quite a bit.

olive oil
3 leeks, cut into 1/4" pieces
salt and pepper
3 cups mashed potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
1 bulb fennel, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 cup chicken broth
1.5 cups milk
1 cup water
2 cups corn
grated cheddar

Saute the leeks and fennel in a pan with a little olive oil until soft (about 5-6 minutes)

Put all the ingredients into a large pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 hours (or as long as you want). Puree in the pot using a blender and serve with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese on top.

rating - 4/5
Why? I liked the use of the fennel and the leeks and the simplicity of the ingredients, but I think there are unnecessary steps in this recipe. If I were to make it again, I would not mash the potatoes first, but just put them into the pot as is and simmer for several hours. I do like the smoothness of the soup, but the original recipe called for more liquid and I may add a little more to make it just a bit smoother.


Penne with Chicken in Lemon-Cheese Sauce

Holy Moley, I want to put this sauce on EVERYTHING. I don't remember where this recipe came from, I got it from a roommate's cookbook in college I think.
3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/8 cup non fat sour cream
1/8 cup grated parmesan
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
3/4 tsp dill
a little pepper
olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cupped hands of penne
1 chicken breast cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 small yellow squash, sliced about 1/4" thick
2 cups green beans (original recipe called for asparagus, but I didn't have any)
1/4 cup chicken broth

In a food processor (or blender), blend the cottage cheese until smooth. Add the sour cream, parmesan, lemon juice (then pick out all the lemon seeds your dropped in it....oh....that's just me?), lemon zest, dill and black pepper and process again until it's smooth.

In a saute pan, saute the onion on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then add the chicken and saute for another 4-5 minutes. Then add the vegetables and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender (5 minutes or to taste).

Add the pasta and lemon cheese sauce to the chicken and vegetable mixture and toss to coat.

rating - 4.5/5
Why? only because I think it would have been better with asparagus rather than green beans. The sauce is like 18 stars out of 5. Holy cow,  I want to put it on everything. Seriously, I may be putting it on my cereal in the morning.


Sweet and Sour Chicken

I have been wanting to try this for a while but finally got around to it today. It calls for fresh pineapple, but I used canned chunked pineapple instead. This is from Clean Eating

1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce (I used tamari because that is what I had)
2 Tlbs raw honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into 1" pieces
1 medium red bell pepper (I also used a red pimiento just because) cut into 1" chunks
1 medium green bell pepper (I also used a green Anaheim - I think), cut into 1" chunks
1 small white onion, chopped
1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into 1" cubes (I used a can of chopped pineapple instead)
12 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped (I forgot this...oops, but I bet it would be good)
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice (optional, but I used it)

Put the chicken, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in a ziploc bag (or sealable bowl) and let it marinate at least half an hour. I let mine marinate for about 3 hours in the refrigerator.

Spray some olive oil into a nonstick pan and heat over medium to medium-high heat. Add the chicken and marinade and saute for 5 minutes or so, then add the peppers and onions and cook for another 5 minutes or so until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Toss in the pineapple and cook for another couple of minutes.

Top with chopped cilantro and serve over cooked brown rice.

Rating - 4.5/5
Why? It's my own fault, I forgot to add the cilantro to the top, which would have added that little something that was missing. I am not a huge fan of pineapple, but I did really like this. I will make this again. I liked the marinade a lot.