Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Time to Clean Out the Pantry

I’m getting ready to go on vacation to a warmer clime and wanted to clean out the pantry before leaving.  It minimizes the sting from returning from a relaxing vacation when you find a nice clean kitchen.

I had some boneless chicken in the freezer and red and green bell peppers that would spoil if I didn’t use them soon.  I also pulled out some rice, chicken broth and the remaining Sazón seasoning mix I had left over from another recipe I made during the holidays.   I really like this seasoning mix.  It’s sold several packets to a box and adds a good punch of flavor and color in just one ingredient.  So after studying the result of my pantry clean out for a few minutes I decided on a chicken and rice dish that would come together fairly quickly and use up all these ingredients. Smart Meals clean out the pantry!

Hearty Chicken ‘n’ Rice

Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
1 ½ cups long-grain rice
3 cups fat free chicken broth
¼ cup tomato paste
2 packets Sazón Goya® con azafran seasoning

1.     Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat.  Add chicken and cook until browned; remove from skillet.

2.     Add onion, red and green peppers and oregano.  Cook and stir for 3 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp.  Stir in the rice.

3.     Add the broth, tomato paste and Sazón seasoning.  Heat to a boil.  Add chicken; reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 20 minutes or until rice absorbs the broth.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Stir rice mixture and serve.

Nutrition Information per serving: 453 calories, 12 g. total fat, 3 g. saturated fat, 101 mg. cholesterol, 745 mg. sodium, 44 g. carbohydrate, 2 g. dietary fiber, 4 g. sugar, 40 g. protein

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dinner That's Ready When You Are

I often choose to make a pot roast when I want to serve beef for company.  Two reasons:  I don’t have to worry about precision timing for the right doneness for steak or tender roasts, and I don’t have to cater to differing doneness preferences in the group.  Cooking a tender pot roast might take a bit of time, however, you have serving time flexibility if any of your guests are running late or if you’re having a great time catching up and want to push dinner service a little later.

I also like the convenience of cooking the roast in the oven once the browning of the meat and cooking of the vegetables are done.  I don’t have to worry about constantly checking the stove to regulate the heat to keep it simmering at the right level. 

In honor of Valentine’s Day I added a bit of chocolate to the simmering liquid to pump up the rich flavor of the braising liquid. 

Smart Meals are flexible meals!

Herbed Tomato Pot Roast

Makes 8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (3 to 3 ½-pound) boneless beef chuck roast
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup shredded carrots (about 2 carrots)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
3 stalks fresh thyme
1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in puree
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1.   Heat oil in large heavy pot over medium heat until hot.  Add roast and brown well on both sides.  Remove to large baking dish.

2.   Add onion, carrot and garlic to pan drippings.  Cook and stir until tender.  Add wine and simmer for 3 minutes.

3.   Tie the stalks of thyme and rosemary together with string.

4.   Add tomatoes, herb bundle, bay leaves, cocoa powder, salt and pepper.  Heat to a boil then reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to break up tomatoes.

5.   Pour tomato mixture over roast.  Cover baking dish tightly with foil. 

6.   Bake at 350°F for 2 hours.  Remove foil and bake 30 minutes more or until roast is tender.  Remove herb bundle and bay leaves.  Slice meat and serve with pan sauce.

Nutrition Information per serving: 394 calories, 13 g. total fat, 4 g. saturated fat, 151 mg. cholesterol, 460 mg. sodium, 9 g. carbohydrate, 2 g. dietary fiber, 4 g. sugar, 53 g. protein

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fast and Flavorful Meal

We’re turning the corner on winter and it’s time to change up the hearty comfort food repertoire with a colorful flavor packed dish.  This recipe comes together in about 30 minutes.  Most of the work is in the preparation of the ingredients, so if you want to save even more time and spend a bit more money, buy the vegetables and chicken already sliced.  Smart Meals are fast meals!

Chicken Spinach Stir-Fry with Quinoa

Makes 4 servings

2 cups fat free chicken broth
1 cup quinoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
½ pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
1 pound boneless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1 bag (6 ounces) baby spinach

1.      Heat the broth and quinoa in a medium saucepan over high heat to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 15 minutes or until the broth is absorbed.  Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

2.      Meanwhile, heat the oil in large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the red pepper, onion, mushrooms, garlic and oregano.  Cook and stir for 3 minutes or until the vegetables tender-crisp.

3.      If the skillet is large enough, push the vegetables to one side of the pan and add the chicken.  If the pan isn’t large enough, remove the vegetables from the skillet before adding the chicken.  Cook and stir the chicken until done.  

4.      Mix the vegetables with the chicken, and then add the spinach.  Stir until the spinach wilts.  

5.      Fluff the quinoa with a fork and serve with the chicken stir-fry.

Nutrition Information per serving: 487 calories, 19 g. total fat, 4 g. saturated fat, 101 mg. cholesterol, 520 mg. sodium, 35 g. carbohydrate, 6 g. dietary fiber, 4 g. sugar, 45 g. protein

Monday, January 30, 2012

Warm Up Winter with a Hearty Pot Pie

A pot pie recipe contest inspired me to create my own rendition of the hearty savory pie.  Although my recipe didn’t make the cut in the contest, it was a winner on my dinner table.  The ingredients and flavors of Tuscany are among my favorites and are the heart of the recipe.  I chose boneless chicken thighs for their moisture and flavor as well as being cheaper than boneless breasts.  Since I wanted this to be a quick dinner, I went the convenient route and used a prepared pie crust, but added my own homemade touch by flavoring it with some fresh rosemary and Parmesan cheese. 

If you want to save some calories and time, you can serve the chicken filling as a hearty stew.  Versatile dishes are Smart Meals!

Tuscan Chicken Pot Pie

Makes 4 servings

¼ pound pancetta, diced
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup white wine
3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
1 (15 ounces) white kidney (cannellini) beans, drained
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 9-inch refrigerated prepared pie crust
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

1.      Heat oven to 350°F.  Spray 10-inch deep dish pie plate with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2.      Cook pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Remove pancetta from skillet.

3.      Add chicken to pan drippings and cook until browned.  Remove chicken from skillet.

4.      Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and heat for 1 minute.  Add onion, red bell pepper and garlic.  Cook and stir for 3 minutes.  Add wine and 2 teaspoons rosemary.  Cook and stir until wine evaporates. 

5.      Stir white beans, cooked chicken and pancetta into onion mixture.   Sprinkle flour over chicken mixture and stir until dissolved.  Stir in chicken broth and heat to a boil.  Spoon chicken mixture into prepared pie plate. 

6.      Unroll prepared pie crust onto lightly floured surface.  Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary.  Using rolling pin, gently roll rosemary into pie crust. 

7.      Place pie crust over pie plate and firmly press edges around rim of pie plate.  Slit crust in several places to allow steam to escape.  Brush crust with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

8.      Bake for 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Nutrition Information per serving: 620 calories, 30 g. total fat, 8 g. saturated fat, 134 mg. cholesterol, 1384 mg. sodium, 28 g. carbohydrate, 5 g. dietary fiber, 3 g. sugar, 52 g. protein

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Braising a Winter Winner

Brisket is one of my favorite go-to meals during the winter.  Braising the meat slowly not only tenderizes this cut of meat, but also adds delicious, mouthwatering aromas to the house.  With a few simple, but flavorful ingredients, you have an easy hearty meal perfect for family or entertaining.

This may not be a meal that is doable on a weeknight if you’re not home to assemble and put the dish in the oven during the afternoon, but the leftovers certainly make a welcome quick night meal.

If I’m serving this recipe when I’m entertaining, I time the brisket to come out of the oven at least an hour ahead.  This gives me time to slice the meat and thicken the cooking liquid for the gravy.  I simply arrange the sliced meat in the roasting pan, cover it with the prepared gravy and keep warm in the oven until serving time.  I usually round out the meal with egg noodles or mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.  Smart meals fill the house with delicious aromas and make for a satisfying dinner.

Balsamic Brisket with Onions

Makes 12 servings

1 (5 pound) beef brisket
2 large onions, halved and sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups balsamic vinegar
½ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1.    Heat oven to 325°F.  Spray a roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray. 
2.    Place brisket in pan and top with onions and garlic.
3. Mix balsamic vinegar, ketchup and brown sugar in a small bowl; pour over  

4.   Cover pan tightly with foil.  Bake for 3 hours or until tender.
5.   Remove brisket to cutting board and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.
6.   Heat oil and flour in large saucepan over medium heat until mixture bubbles. 

7.  Add pan liquid with onions and cook over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens. Serve gravy with sliced meat.

Nutrition Information per serving: 409 calories, 14 g. total fat, 5 g. saturated fat, 168 mg. cholesterol, 239 mg. sodium, 8 g. carbohydrate, 1 g. dietary fiber, 5 g. sugar, 58 g. protein

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A New Twist on Lentil Soup

The lentil soup my mother made always started with a meaty ham bone after a holiday meal.  I’ve similarly carried on the same tradition of making lentil soup with a ham bone, which means we don’t have it very often. 

Then I happened upon the most amazing tomato lentil soup at Caviar and Bananas while on vacation in Charleston, SC.  Lentils and chick peas were simmered in a rich tomato broth.  My requests for the recipe in store and by email went unanswered, but I was determined to recreate it.  Although not identical, this recipe is pretty delicious, and vegetarian too if you use vegetable broth.  I made up a pot today to have on hand if I run out of time to make dinner during the holiday rush.  It also travels well in a lunch bag and is better the second day. Smart meals take the stress out of “What’s for Dinner?”  

Tomato Lentil Soup

Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, chopped (about ½ cup)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
5 cups vegetable or chicken broth*
2 cans (about 15 ounces each) diced tomatoes
1 cup dry lentils
1 can (about 15 ounces) chick peas, drained

1.      Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, Italian seasoning and pepper.  Cook and stir for 5 minutes or until tender.

2.      Add broth, tomatoes, lentils and chick peas.  Heat to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. 

Nutrition Information per serving: 203 calories, 7 g. total fat, 1 g. saturated fat, 1 mg. cholesterol, 762 mg. sodium, 28 g. carbohydrate, 6 g. dietary fiber, 7 g. sugar, 9 g. protein

*If you like a brothier soup, increase the broth to 6 cups.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One Pot Cooking

I love this recipe because it’s a complete meal in one pot with easy clean up.  I picked up many of the fresh ingredients at our local farmer’s market.  The butcher even sells the stew beef already cut into the perfect size cubes trimmed of all the fat! 

When I brown the beef, I make sure I don’t crowd the cubes in the pan to be sure they get nicely browned.  If there are too many cubes in the pan at one time the beef will steam rather than brown.  Covering the stew with a tight fitting lid while cooking over low heat keeps the moisture in and allows the mixture to cook without stirring.  However, the stew liquid may thin down a bit during this time.  So I uncover the stew for the last period of cooking to allow some of the liquid to evaporate and thicken up the stew. 

Don’t worry if you have leftovers….the flavor gets even better the next day!  Smart meals are great meals!

French Onion Beef Stew

Makes 8 servings

¼ cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds beef round, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can (10 ½ ounces) condensed French onion soup
1 ½ cups dry red wine
1 pound small new potatoes, halved
6 carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced 1-inch thick
1 package (10 to 12 ounces) baby bella mushrooms, halved
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed

1.      Mix flour and pepper in resealable plastic bag.  Add beef cubes and seal bag.  Shake the bag to evenly coat the beef cubes with the seasoned flour.

2.      Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Brown the coated beef cubes in 2 batches in the hot oil. 

3.      Return all the beef cubes to pot with the soup, wine, potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, garlic powder, thyme and rosemary, stirring to blend.  Heat to a boil.

4.      Reduce the heat to low and cover.  Cook for 1 hour.  Remove the cover and cook 15 minutes more or until beef and vegetables are tender and gravy thickens. 

Nutrition Information per serving: 341 calories, 10 g. total fat, 4 g. saturated fat, 77 mg. cholesterol, 491 mg. sodium, 17 g. carbohydrate, 3 g. dietary fiber, 4 g. sugar, 28 g. protein