Friday, April 30, 2010

Shrimp and Beef Caribbean Tacos w/ Homemade Tortillas

I hate store-bought, bagged tortillas. This all stems from my childhood babysitter, Maria Martinez. Everyday she would make homemade flour tortillas. I remember watching her hands pat the dough back and forth, making a perfect disk, which she would then through in her cast iron skillet. We'd wait patiently until they were just cool enough to eat. I'd eat one plain. I'd eat one with honey. I'd eat one with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Then we'd make one with mayonnaise for her husband--his favorite 3:00 treat.

Maria gave my mom the recipe, but they were never the same. It must have been the love and history Maria had with those tortillas. They were beyond words.

Tonight's dinner was created because Brent had some leftover shrimp that he'd cooked the night before. I wanted to use them. He'd already seasoned them with salt and pepper and some Caribbean spice. So, trying to keep it fresh and healthy, I decided we'd do shrimp tacos with a mango salsa. That's when I realized it was time for me to attempt homemade tortillas on my own. Being a rebel, I decided not to seek counsel from tortilla experts. I was going to wing it with a general formulation in mind and the delicious memories of Maria's warm creations.

Here's my tortilla formula (warning: I would not use this again--it needs tweaking): 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup cornmeal, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 1/2 Tbsp oil, 1/4 cup & 3 Tbsp water. I was making a tortilla that wasn't truly flour and it wasn't quite corn. It was a mix. Maybe this was the problem before I even began. I made the dough and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then I divided it into six portions and began the hands-on "patting" to make the disks. It didn't work as well as I remember it working for Maria. Perhaps because I haven't been doing it for 30 years. In the end, they tasted good, but they were a bit denser and thicker than I prefer. Next time I'll add 1 tsp more oil and some more water.

So they weren't perfect...the rest of the dish made up for it!

Shrimp and Beef Tacos

Leftover cooked shrimp (probably about 20 small shrimp)
1/2 lb 96% lean ground beef
1/2 tsp Caribbean spice
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook thoroughly.

Shrimp and beef mixture

Taco toppings:
Spinach leaves
1 avocado, diced
Mango and Peach Salsa (I would have made salsa, but I figured the tortillas were enough for the night)
Queso Fresco
Queso Fresco--in case you have no clue what I'm talking about. Purchased at King Soopers

On the side I served no-salt-added black beans topped with some of the queso fresco. We each had two tacos. Then for dessert, we each had one more tortilla with honey and cinnamon.

The finished dish--served with a nice glass of white wine

Up close of the taco filling

Brent's commentary from dinner, "Very good. Filling yet not too heavy."

I figured that the points for two tacos each is about 11. The black beans and "dessert tortilla" added 4 more points.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Food Philosophy

Before I get too far into my food postings, I wanted to provide a bit more background on my “food philosophy.” I truly believe that we have look at food as fuel for our bodies. With the right foods, we can sleep better, run farther, live longer, and be happier. I read articles about different nutrients and their benefits every day. I’m not an RD, I’m not a nutritionist, but I do pay attention to how food makes me feel. During years of a career in the food industry, I’ve learned from brilliant chefs, RD’s, researchers and writers. Food should taste good and be good for you. End of story.

Not really…here’s where I fit into the mix. I love to cook. I rarely make the same thing twice, unless I’m trying to improve upon a previous creation or I really loved the dish! I enjoy the act of serving food I’ve created to the people I love. I believe it’s a way to give of myself and my time. It’s how I show you that I care. If you’re celebrating, in need, recovering, or just hungry I think a meal can make everything better—even if it’s only for the short time between the first and last bites.

I used to “live to eat.” I’d plan my next extravagant meal a week ahead of time. I’d browse (where I write reviews) for the coolest new restaurants or food trends. I still do all of that, but in a slightly different way than I used to. Maybe it’s the recession, maybe it was the feeling of a too-tight waist band, but the way I view my food now is that “I eat to live.” Notice the difference.

It’s not a big surprise to anyone that knows me—I’ve been working hard to become a healthier, more balanced person. Be it through what I eat, how much I work out, or balancing my personal and work life, I’ve been making positive changes over the past two years. I started going to Weight Watchers meetings in October of 2009. I had done the online program for a few years, on and off, mostly because I liked how I could track all my meals and figure out where my eating was out of balance. In October I got serious about it and joined the in-person meetings and what a difference it’s made! My meeting leader is exactly what she should be—motivational. She inspires me to push myself and try things that, at one time, seemed too daunting or to tweak my eating patterns slightly to achieve results. Since October I’ve lost 13 pounds—no, not as fast as you hear about on those bogus radio commercials for the latest diet pill, but it was slow and steady and safe and I have learned a lot.

I also decided I wanted to start exercising more consistently. So I signed up for my very first 5K, which took place in August 2009. I trained for it using the Couch to 5K plan (google it or use iTunes) and worked my way up to a pace I was comfortable with. I’m not a fast runner and I didn’t run the whole thing, but I did it. And since then I’ve done two more—still not “loving it” but pushing through. In April 2010 I had a moment of enlightenment. If I don’t love running and it makes me dread exercise, that’s defeating the purpose. You should enjoy the exercise you choose to do. It should make you happy. After you’re done, you should be content and proud of what you’ve just done. And I also believe that the time should actually go by faster than molasses, which is what running felt like to me.

During the same time I realized that I don’t love running, I was experimenting with all the different fitness classes at my rec center. I started with Zumba, which is a Latin dance cardio class. Before I knew what happened, an hour had passed and I felt great! I even met a new friend at my first class. We now try out different classes together. Having a workout buddy is more motivating that I had ever imagined! I highly recommend it. So far I’ve done: Zumba, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow Yoga, Kickboxing, Pilates, and PIYO. Still on my list: a Spin class, “buns-n-guns,” “butts-n-gutts,” and swimming. How can you possibly know what works for you unless you try it?! Much like food!

Each day is filled with new challenges and/or temptations, but as long as you have a plan to deal with it, you can make it through! Overall, it’s all about balance. Indulge in a food you really love, but balance it with quality foods the rest of the day/week. Work hard and give it your all, but balance it with “me time.” Relax and enjoy being a bit lazy, but balance it with movement, in some form or another. If you live your life in balance, it’s amazing how much easier it is to reach your goals. For me that means “Healthy Eating+ Zumba+ An Occasional Cupcake=Balance” (this week at least—next week it might be pilates and a cheeseburger)!

Since I got that out of my system, we can get back to the food!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cinnamon Orange Chicken with Dried Fruit Couscous--for Shiloh

Before I officially started the blog, I used to post my recipe titles on Facebook. It was like a big tease, I know. So just for Shiloh, here's the recipe for the Cinnamon Orange Chicken with Dried Fruit Couscous. Sorry there are no pictures--Brent and I ate it all before I realized I'd forgotten to take a picture!

Cinnamon Orange Chicken with Dried Fruit Couscous

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 tsp cinnamon, divided
1 11-oz can of mandarin oranges in light syrup
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3/4 cup dried fruit (I used golden raisins, regular raisins, and craisins), roughly chopped
28 oz reduced sodium, fat free chicken broth
2 cups whole wheat couscous
4 tsp fresh mint, thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper

Heat oven to 375°F. Season chicken with salt and pepper and 2 tsp cinnamon. Heat oil over medium-high heat in an oven-proof skillet. Saute chicken for 3 minutes. Turn and saute 2 minutes. Top with oranges and half the syrup. Place in oven and cook 20 minutes until chicken reaches165°F internal temperature. (By the way, you need to invest in a meat thermometer, if you don't already have one. I'm a stickler for safety) Remove chicken and oranges to a plate and cover with tin foil. Place skillet and drippings back on medium-high heat. Saute onion in drippings until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add dried fruit, 2 tsp cinnamon and broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in couscous, salt and pepper and 2 tsp mint. Place lid on skillet and remove from heat, let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork. Place 1 cup couscous on plate and top with 1 chicken breast and oranges. Garnish with remaining mint.

Makes 2 servings plus plenty of leftover couscous for lunch the next day. 

If you're counting points, one serving with chicken was about 8.

I LOVED this dish--the cinnamon was savory while the dried fruit and oranges added a nice sweetness. The leftover couscous was still good too. Brent added a little more salt to his, but I'd rather under-salt something than over-salt it. So he ends up needing more, usually. Next time I think I'll add some toasted pine nuts to the couscous or perhaps as a garnish. I think the crunch would add a little something to the dish.

Pantry Dinner: Open-Faced Italian Tuna Sandwich

Ahh, my first official recipe post. The inspiration came from what I had in the pantry and the fresh produce I had available. (see “ingredients” picture) It’s a Wednesday night and I’ve had a really busy, mentally exhausting day. The last thing I want to do is go to the store for special ingredients, so I need to use what I have. That meant canned tuna, spinach, tomato, a sandwich thin, parmesan cheese and various other staples had to make their way into my recipe. I suppose it’s an Italian type open faced tuna sandwich.

Ingredients from my pantry and available produce

I take every opportunity I have to sneak more veggies into my meals, so that’s how the fresh tomato and spinach ended up in the mix. Also, you’ll learn I like just a touch of heat in almost everything I eat—hence the red pepper flakes—you can leave them out if you can’t take the heat.

Open-Faced Italian Tuna Sandwich

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried basil (I didn’t have fresh or I would have used it)
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp minced garlic
1 5-oz can albacore tuna in water, drained
1 Tbsp shredded Parmesan, Reggiano, Asiago cheese blend
1 roma tomato, diced
1 large handful fresh spinach leaves, roughly torn
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 multi-grain sandwich thin (I used Orowheat brand and I LOVE them), lightly toasted

Mix together first five ingredients in small bowl. Add tuna and cheese, mix well. Toss in tomato and spinach, turn softly to coat veggies. Add salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, toast sandwich thin. Place toast on plate and top with tuna mixture. Enjoy.

Makes 1 serving

Final product

If I were to make this again, I’d like to add a little onion and some more tomato, but in the end, this completely made canned tuna delicious! This has roughly 5 ½ points, if you’re counting those.