Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wild Blueberry and Pecan Oatmeal

Kent and I love a steaming bowl of oatmeal in the morning—especially on a cold winter’s day. Traditional rolled oats cooked over the stove are amazing and much superior to the instant variety. And they are still a quick breakfast taking only about 5 minutes to cook! You can usually find them in the bulk section of the grocery store. Then pop over to the freezer and try my latest obsession: Wyman’s Wild Blueberries.  I eat these little guys straight from the bag! They are so sweet and make a great midday (or midnight :) snack. These wild blueberries are really quite affordable and the perfect addition to yogurt, muffins, waffles—and of course, Oatmeal!

Wild Blueberry Pecan Oatmeal
2 cups cooked old-fashioned rolled oats
2 Tbsp brown sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
½ cup frozen wild blueberries
Pinch of cinnamon
Steamed milk

Cook oats according to package directions and to desired consistency. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Remove from heat once the sugar has dissolved. Gently fold in the wild blueberries, being careful not to puncture their delicate skin (or you will have purple oatmeal:) Spoon into two bowls and pour the steamed milk over the top.  Yum!

A note: If you like your oats a little more firm, decrease the water by ¼ cup and add more towards the end of the cooking time as needed. When the berries stay whole, they kind of burst in your mouth as you eat, releasing all of their delicious juice. So fun! Keep them frozen, so they are less likely to break. The heat of the oatmeal will thaw them completely.

Wyman’s Wild Blueberries are produced in Maine and Prince Edward Island, Canada. A family owned company, they are available in many grocery stores and now also online! They are committed to sustainability and healthy farm practices. Read about them here:

I hope you enjoy this delicious, and healthy, breakfast treat!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Italian Joes

Ah Sloppy Joes-- the potluck standby. Kent is not a big fan of traditional sloppy joes, but every once in a while I just get a craving for something meaty with a lot of memories. This recipe is an adaptation of one that my sister-in-law Katie makes in her crockpot. I’ve lightened it up a bit, using ground turkey and low-fat cheese.  You can use any sauce you like-- 1 ½ cups is about half of a large jar of pasta sauce. If you have leftovers, go ahead and use them up!

Italian Joes
1.25 lb pkg lean ground turkey
1 ½ cups tomato-basil pasta sauce
½ medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup ketchup
1 cup low-fat Italian or mozzarella shredded cheese
1 tsp dried basil

In a fry pan with high sides, sauté minced onion in a tsp of olive oil over medium-high heat until soft. Add ground turkey and cook thoroughly. Put in the minced garlic and stir for 1 minute.  Reduce the heat to low and add the sauce, ketchup, cheese and basil. Stir until well mixed. The cheese will melt and incorporate into the sauce. Cover and cook for 10 minutes on low, stirring occasionally or remove to a crock-pot of sharing.

You can serve this dish in a lot of ways: on pizza, over green salad, on toast, with chips, or traditionally in a bun. Since it is pretty heavy, I like a green salad with this one.

Go-Share- Potluck!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Caesar Wrap for One

Every restaurant seems to have chicken caesar salad, a chicken caesar wrap, or chicken caesar something on their menu—and I am almost always tempted to get it! Why?! This is the easiest thing to make at home! And it is a lot healthier (and cheaper) if you do. Here is my version of a healthy wrap I like to make for lunch:

Caesar Wrap for One
1 whole wheat/ multigrain tortilla*
3 oz sliced deli turkey breast
1 oz Neufchatel or light cream cheese
1 Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
Tomato or assorted sandwich veggies (optional)
1 Tbsp of your favorite Caesar dressing

Spread the cream cheese in a 2 inch stripe down the center of the tortilla. Top with the sliced turkey and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Microwave the tortilla for 30 seconds on high until the turkey is warm and cream cheese begins to melt. In a small bowl, toss the lettuce with the dressing. Top the turkey with the lettuce, and add tomatoes or other veggies you like as garnish. Wrap and enjoy!

*There are two different wraps that I would recommend for this: If you like a really hearty tortilla, French Meadow Bakery’s Fat Flush spelt tortillas are great for sandwich wraps and high in fiber. Otherwise if you usually like a plain flour tortilla and want to try something healthier, I’d definitely recommend Joseph’s tortillas. They are made with oat bran, flax, and whole-wheat flour and are really tasty with a great “just like regular wrap” texture. Plus they are only 70 calories and a good source of omega-3s! You can find both of these in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.( Try Lunds and Byerlys, or Kowalski's.)

Time for a quick lunch! Yum!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kent's Famous Pico de Gallo

Making pico is much more of an art than a science—so it is funny that my scientist husband is better at making it than I am! But it is true—pico is Kent’s domain. In this entry we are going to share what we have learned from making pico de gallo together for the last 5 years.

Pico de Gallo
Tomatoes: Through trial and error, we have found that the firmness and sweetness of a few good roma tomatoes really works wonders. They tend to have less juice—a desirable trait for tomato relish, and they are readily available year round. Avoid the really red ones. If they are soft, they are likely a little mealy on the inside. You are better off buying them slightly under ripe and letting them sit on the counter at home.  This will also keep them from getting bruised. Discard the seeds and pulp before you chop so the salsa isn't too runny. We’ve learned not to use a metal bowl because it reacts with the acid in the tomatoes and can change the flavor. Use a glass or ceramic one instead.

Onion: We buy sweet yellow onions almost exclusively at our house, and so we always use them in our salsas. We prefer the flavor. Having tried a white onion in the past, the flavor just overpowered the tomatoes. A sweet yellow balances with the tomatoes beautifully.

Jalapeno: Sometimes these little green babies just aren’t hot enough. Buy one more than you think you will need. We also remove the ribs and seeds. There is a more latent heat from the green and more punch from the ribs/seeds. If you set aside the insides, you can always add some kick later.

Garlic: Fresh garlic is a must. The powders and the jarred variety will really flatten the flavor. You won’t need much—especially if your clove is really potent. If you are afraid of garlic—trust! You will miss it if it isn’t there.

Cilantro: Fresh cilantro is the ticket to best fresh Mexican food. The flavor is so light and citrusy, and it adds beautiful color. We are pretty generous with our fresh cilantro. Remove the parts of the stem that are leaf-less and only chop parts with leaves attached.  

Limes: We use lime juice rather than vinegar for the acid in our pico. Buy two in case the one isn’t juicy enough. You can always squeeze the extra on your taco or in your beer! Roll the lime on the counter a bit to get the juices flowing, or microwave for 10-15 seconds.

Salt and Sugar (may or may not be needed)

Patience: Definitely a must. You are going to be chopping a lot. Consistency matters here so make those tomato cubes small and regular. It's a labor of love. Turn on some music and grab a friend to help chop.

Basic Ratio: (Makes about 2 ½ cups)
6 medium Roma tomatoes
½ medium yellow onion
1/3 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
2 small cloves of garlic, minced
½ lime, juiced
Tortilla chips for tasting

Using patience cut in half, seed and then dice the tomatoes into fine cubes.  Put into a glass bowl. Finely dice the onion and taste one. If it is really flavorful, add half and stir gently into the tomatoes. You should see about 3 tomato chunks to every one onion. Taste to see if it is balanced. *The biggest sin is putting in too much onion and having it over power the tomato (part of the reason the store bought stuff isn’t as tasty).

After you add the onion to your liking, mince the garlic and stir it in. Then remove the seeds and white ribs of the jalapeno and set aside. Mince the green. Taste for heat and put in the desired amount. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

Taste for balance between the sweetness of the tomato, spiciness of the jalapeno and pungency of the onion. If you like more kick, chop a bit of the ribs/seeds and add in, mixing well. Add the lime juice. Taste again. If you can’t taste a hint of lime, add more. If you think “something” is missing, add just a pinch or two of white sugar—especially if the tomatoes were a little under-sweet. If the tomatoes are flavorful, you might like just a dash of salt to brighten it all up.  If it doesn’t need anything, your ingredients were perfect and you are ready to eat!

Top your tacos. fajitas, soup or salad--stir into melted "fake cheese" for queso sauce--mix with chopped avocados for quick gaucamole!

We hope you enjoy making our pico! It is worth every chop!
-Kent and Nikki

Friday, February 10, 2012

Food Plug: Better than Bouillon

You may have noticed that I have been making a lot of soups and using a lot of broth. This is not uncommon--I used to have to buy cartons of chicken broth every time I went to the grocery store! I’ve found these broth cartons lacking in flavor, expensive and total pantry hogs. Growing up on traditional bouillon cubes, I loved the freedom of adding as much or as little flavoring as I wanted—but that freedom comes with a price: high sodium and MSG. Then I found the best thing since sliced bread---well since bouillon cubes—

Better than Bouillon
This stuff is made in Ontario and is available in a lot of grocery stores. I’ve bought it at the Wedge, Kowalski’s, and Rainbow foods.  If you find it, I recommend trying it in your next recipe!

What I like about it:

Healthy: It is actually lower in sodium than regular store bought chicken broths coming in at 680mg per cup (regular broth). The low sodium variety has 500mg. They also don’t have any mystery ingredients. Here is what is in the all-natural varieties:
Chicken Meat with Natural Juices, Salt, Organic Cane Juice Solids, Maltodextrin (from corn), Chicken Fat, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavors, Dried Onion, Potato Flour, Spice Extractives, Turmeric.

Freedom: The base to bouillon ratio is 1 tsp per cup of water. If you need something more concentrated, you can add at will.  You can also make the exact amount you need and not have to figure out what to do with that half a can you have leftover.

Flavor: No more boring watery soups! The flavor of this is wonderfully rich, plus they offer lots of different varieties. We have had the beef, regular chicken and low-sodium chicken and think they are stellar. At the Wedge, they also carry mushroom, turkey, ham, vegetable, and all of the low-sodium varieties.

Shelf life: These soup bases stay fresh for 2 years from production (kind of bionic, I know…) and should be refrigerated after opening. Those cartons only last 7 days in the fridge, so this is huge improvement! I usually go through about a jar a month.

Volume: Each jar of pasty deliciousness makes 38 cups of broth at regular concentration. That is a lot of soup! And they average about $5 per jar in the store—much better than $3 per 8 cup carton.

If you are feeling a little weird about buying paste to make food, I completely understand—but if you read some cartons it may say that it is “reconstituted” or “from concentrate”. This is the same kind of stuff that many companies and restaurants use to make their canned and cartoned broth. Homemade from scratch broth is no-doubt the tastiest, but this better than bouillon is more like the best bouillon.

Simple Chicken Noodle Soup
Making the perfect chicken noodle soup to me is all about texture. I like everything kid-sized, so I use Creamette fine egg noodles and cut up all of my veggies super small (usually in my slap chopper if I am lacking in patience). If you like big chunks of veggies, increase the cooking time and just ignore all of my excessive chopping.

6 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 lb. chicken breast tenders, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 Tbsp butter
3 stalks of celery cut into very fine pieces
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 carrots peeled, cut into very fine pieces
Dried parsley
½ lb of Creamette or other fine egg noodles

Chop up all of the vegetables as fine as possible. Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat and cook your veggies for about 5 minutes until softened. Pour in the chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. Carefully add your chicken pieces. Boil for 6 minutes. Grad a big piece of chicken and check to be sure the inside is cooked through.

While the soup base is cooking, cook your egg noodles according to package directions in a separate pot.  Drain and return to the same pot with a bit of butter to keep the noodles from sticking. Noodles (especially egg noodles) get very soggy when added to the main soup base, and especially when refrigerated as leftovers. If you keep them separate (a la Bri Wright J), your soup will taste freshly made every time you reheat it. This is a great trick!

Add pepper and parsley to taste. Put a ½ cup of noodles into the bottom of each bowl and ladle 1 cup of soup over them. Stir and enjoy!

I hope this soup has you remembering snowy days-- and Campbell soup commercials.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Coconut Spiced Chai Tea

I absolutely love chai tea! When the weather begins to turn, I can’t wait to get my hands on a glass. Namaste restaurant on Hennepin has a Chai Coconut Crème that is delicious and after a little working, I think I have a variation that is just as good. 

Homemade Coconut Spiced Chai
4 cups water
4 Tbsp loose-leaf black tea, or loose black-based blend
3 cups 2% milk
14oz can coconut milk (full fat because you want the cream)
3/4 tsp masala tea spice (* see below)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Chai Masala
Ethnic grocers would be the place to look for chai masala spice mix. Read the ingredients to be sure that it doesn’t have any milk powder or sweetener added. This would be absolutely amazing with freshly ground spices—I don’t have the patience nor the tools, but if you do…
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
Pinch each of ground nutmeg, clove and cardamom

In a large sauce pan bring the 4 cups of water to boil. Add the loose leaf tea and cook for 6-8 minutes. It will be very dark and flavorful!

Remove from heat and pour in the 2% milk, star anise, cinnamon stick and spice mix. Stir and return to low heat. Cook for 10 minutes stirring frequently. Avoid letting the milk boil, a small bubble is ok.

Add vanilla and the sugar and stir until dissolved. Taste and add more sweetener if desired. Strain the tea.

Shake the coconut milk can vigorously to incorporate the cream and milk that may have separated while on the shelf. In a glass mug pour ¼ cup coconut milk. Pour in 1 cup of the strained tea. Stir and enjoy.

I hope you enjoy this sweet and spicy treat!

Sweet Potato Peanut Curry

Kent and I occasionally treat ourselves to Thai food, and every time we go we end up ordering something with peanut sauce. Yum! We love the rich flavor! After having a delicious peanut curry at a Thai restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis, I decided to make this version of our own. And we had a random sweet potato in our onion bin that needed to be eaten :)

Sweet Potato Peanut Curry
1 small red onion, cut into thin strips
1 lb chicken breast, cut into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
2 small baby bok choy bunches
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 cup chicken broth + 1 cup water
1 Tbsp Penzeys Maharaja* curry powder, or other yellow curry powder
6 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
I cup coconut milk
Peanut oil

In a deep fry pan, pour 1 Tbsp peanut oil and drop in the onions. Cook covered over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes to caramelize. When they are quite brown, add the chicken strips and cook through.  Pour in the broth plus the cup of water, and add the sweet potato cubes. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender and not mushy.

Reduce the heat to low and measure in the peanut butter, curry powder, brown sugar and soy sauce. Stir to combine. Add the red pepper strips. Separate the leaves and the stalk of the bok choy. Add the white stems of the choy and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the green leaves and cook for another minute.

Remove from heat and fold in the coconut milk. Taste and add sugar, salt or red pepper flakes to your desired sweet and spiciness. Serve over a half of a cup of brown rice or wilted kale.

*Maharaja Curry Powder—another amazing blend from Penzeys spices. It is a basic yellow curry but also has cayenne and saffron! So flavorful!

I was curious about the nutritional facts of this recipe with all of that peanut butter, so I loaded the recipe into a calorie calculator:
Serves 6 (without rice) 327 cal-- 18g fat—20g carbs—23g protein

Thai-night delight!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Food Plug: Penzeys Chili 9000

Penzeys Spices (no apostrophe…) was started by a husband and wife team in 1957. Based out of Milwaukee, WI they sold their spices out of their family store, until their son started the mail-order business in the 80’s. It really took off! Now they have more than 30 retail fronts nationwide while still selling over the internet and out of their catalogue. Based out of Wisconsin, their Wauwatosa plant freshly grinds, blends and packs all of their spices. There is a store just down the street from my house and I love going there to browse and sniff interesting blends to add to my collection. Here is one of my favorites:

Chili 9000: The future of chili is here

What I like about it:

Sold by weight:  You can buy as much or as little as you need. They prepackage in 1.2 and 2.1 oz glass containers (that you can reuse!) or you can buy bulk bags that vary in weight depending on the herb or spice. Chili 9000 spice ratio is 1 Tbsp per quart of chili, so a little goes a long way.

Complex blend of spices: This blend hints at North African and Mid-Eastern cooking. It has the following ingredients:
ancho chili pepper, cumin, garlic, cilantro, onion, paprika, cayenne pepper, lemon peel, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cocoa powder, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, natural smoke, fenugreek, cloves, fennel, nutmeg, white pepper, anise seed, jalapeno pepper, star anise, and cardamom.

Can you believe that list? When I read it in the store, I couldn’t wait to try it!

Flavor: The flavor of this chili is deep and complex without being overly spicy. The cinnamon and ginger add this hint of sweetness that balances it out wonderfully! ( I am sure it would also make an amazing rub on the grill, too.) If you like your food a bit more spicy, you can always use a fresh hot pepper or a bit more cayenne for punch.  I think this spice blend works best in a simple and basic dish so the flavors can really sing!

Basic Beef and Beer Chili

Don’t mess with a good thing—but maybe use a really good beer? A boring old can of Bud just won’t do.

1 lb 80-85% lean ground beef
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 clove minced garlic
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (keep seeds and ribs to add spice—if desired)
12 oz bottle of good dark beer (minus a few sips of course!)
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2-3 Tbsp. chili powder
14 oz can black beans
Salt and pepper
White rice and garnishes

In a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, cook the diced onions in a bit of oil for 3 minutes. Add the ground beef and green peppers. Cook the beef completely as you break it up into small bits. Add the jalapeno and garlic and sauté 1 minute. Take a few sips of beer (wink*) and pour the rest in. Still over medium heat, allow the beer to cook until it is no longer foamy and add the can of crushed tomatoes.  Measure 2 Tbsp. chili powder and dump it in (You can add more if you feel it needs more flavor). Stir and cook until it begins to boil and reduce the heat immediately to low. Add the beans and simmer covered for 45 minutes-1 hour. Stir occasionally and add salt and pepper to your liking.

Cook up some white rice and prepare your garnishes. Suggestions: avocado, fresh cilantro, sour cream, cotija cheese*Place about ½ cup of rice in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle to soup over the top. Let your guests/family garnish as desired.

*cotija cheese: Oh my gosh—this is best cheese on chili ever! It is a dry, salty complex and crumbly cheese that tastes similar to feta but grates more like parmesan. You only need a little bit—it is so flavorful. It also has a really high melting point so it doesn’t get all stringy in your hot bowl of goodness. If you can find it at your grocery store, go for it! (I have also seen it sometimes called Queso Blanco.)

Penzeys Spice, Inc. Order online or find a store near you:

It is a good day for chili! Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Beef Ramen Soup for One

I love ramen, but monosodium glutamate (MSG) makes me ill. When I saw that you can buy uncooked ramen noodles in the Asian food section of the grocery store, I was hooked! My favorite brand is Hokan—curly noodles. They only take three minutes to cook!  This is a really quick recipe that I like to make myself for lunch.

Beef Ramen Soup for One
2.5 oz. Hokan curly noodles (one sheet)
2 cups beef broth
1 cup water
1 tsp. peanut oil
3 oz.  lean stir-fry beef, cut into strips
2 tsp. soy sauce
Ground ginger and garlic powder
1 green onion, chopped

Sear the stir fry beef a bit in the peanut oil. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. (The beef will continue to cook through as the water boils.) Pour in the soy sauce and add a dash of ginger and garlic powder. When the water has boiled, add the curly noodles. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a big bowl. Garnish with the chopped green onion.

Time to slurp! Enjoy!