Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Perfect "Cute, Portable, Easy" Dessert Hunt

I love finding treasures in discount stores like TJ Maxx and Ross. I don't mind flipping through hundreds of items to find the perfect "thing" waiting for me. It's the thrill of the chase. I often feel that way about recipes. I'll have something in mind and I know, with just enough patience and searching, I'll find just what I'm looking for. Granted, I hardly ever follow a recipe exactly, but I like to have something solid to start with.

I'm bringing a dessert to a P.E.O. meeting in a couple weeks, so I've already been combing through websites and magazines for something cute (I'm serving it to lady friends), relatively easy, portable, and "light."

Just so happens that today two copies of Cook's Country Magazine landed on my desk. Its the magazine version of America's Test Kitchen TV show, in case you've never heard of it. They take a recipe and mess with it until they get the exact result they desire. I love that kind of recipe work!

In the April 2010 issue they feature Raspberry Mini Cheesecakes (not available on their site, I checked). Results: Portable-check. Cute-definitely check. Easy-we'll see. "Light"-well its not a heavy chocolate cake or pie, so I guess I'd consider it light. Plus it has fruit in it, that has to count for something. PLUS the "crust" is genius (that's bait to get you back for the recipe).

I'll post the recipe and results soon. But I just couldn't contain myself until then!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Leftovers: Italian Beef Stir-Fry

Leftovers. We have a love hate relationship. I love having enough for more meals, but I hate eating the same thing over and over. My Steak and Grilled Vegetable Salad from "Mmmm, Meaty Salad" had worn out it's welcome. It needed a face-lift. So for Sunday night dinner, I made what I'll call and Italian Beef Stir Fry. I cut all the ingredients (minus tomatoes) from my previous dinner into bite sized pieces. I also cooked some brown rice. I dumped all of that into a medium hot pan and sauteed with some light Italian dressing. At the last moment I threw in some arugula, just letting it wilt slightly. Topped it all off with some Parmesan cheese and we had a nice "leftover" dinner that felt new.

Guy take: "This is actually good." As if he doubted me.

I counted 6 points for my serving.

I cut some lilacs from Brent's neighbors bush. They livened up his bachelor pad.

An Italian version of a stir fry.

Crepes, Empanadas, and Cream Puffs--Oh My!

As mentioned in my "Sushi and Cream Puffs" post, I had a card for a free cream puff burning a hole in my pocket. After finding out that Rocky Treats had more than just cream puffs (things like sweet and savory crepes) I decided Brent and I should visit for brunch. The location was very plain and simple with just about six tables and one carafe of coffee available. But once the charming owner came out, we forgot all about the humble surroundings.

We chose two sweet crepes, an empanada and our free cream puff. The spicy beef empanada wasn't a traditional version--rather than being baked, the dough and filling where steamed to perfection. I could have eaten three of them, but instead I had one half after generously giving Brent the other half. My crepe choice, the blueberry and cream cheese, was the best. His banana and nutella was really good, but we both wished the banana had been cut into more manageable slices. And the green tea cream puff was made fresh in front of us. WOW! All that (the cream puff was free, mind you) was something ridiculous like $11.50.

We'll be back and we'll probably order one of each of the empanada flavors. And maybe one sweet crepe to share. I hope all my south suburban friends make the trip to Rocky Treats--its worth the trip!

The spicy beef empanada--this alone will bring me back for more!
Brent's banana nutella crepe
"Best in Show"--blueberry cream cheese crepe
The green tea cream puff. There are no words to describe a fresh cream puff!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mmmm, Meaty Salad

Thanks to Real Simple for a very beefy June issue. It inspired my dinner tonight, but of course I couldn’t follow the recipe exactly as written. The original called for skirt steak. First, I can’t find skirt steak all the time and second, there are so many great beef cuts—why limit myself? So I went to the store and they had Flat Iron on sale. It’s a pretty new cut, so you may not be familiar with it. It's usually vacuum packed in the meat cases. Here’s a picture of it.

Beef Flat Iron

It’s a nice lean cut and if it’s been cut right, it should have very little connective tissue. It performs best at medium rare, so be careful not to overcook it.

Steak and Grilled Vegetable Salad

1 pound beef flat iron (sub skirt or flank steak if you like)
1 large red onion, cut into ½ inch rounds
1 pound white mushrooms, halved
1 pound green beans, cleaned and trimmed
3 roma tomatoes, ½ inch slices then quartered
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, divided
4 cups arugula (or you could use watercress or spinach or romaine)

Heat grill to medium heat. (I used an indoor grill pan because I was out of propane) Toss cut vegetables into large bowl and coat well with 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill each vegetable, except tomatoes, until crisp tender 8-12 minutes. Grill flat iron, brushing lightly with 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, 5-7 minutes on each side until internal temperature reaches 145°F (med rare). Lightly grill tomatoes during the last 3 minutes. Remove beef and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing against the grain into thin slices. Place ¼ of the vegetables atop 1 cup of arugula. Lay 5-7 slices of beef on top of salad. Drizzle remaining olive oil and vinegar on top of salads.

Makes 4 servings.

My grill pan--love it!

All my finished grilled vegetables

This was a beautiful dish. They say you eat with your eyes first and in this case your eyes will make your mouth water. The peppery-ness of the arugula added a nice touch. I chose a beer to pair with the meal tonight only because I was out of wine and a beer sounded so good after mowing my lawn.

If you’re counting points, I counted 5 points for one serving. I’m satisfied and full.

A beautiful dish, if I do say so myself

Italian Scrambled Eggs

I love having breakfast for dinner. Sometimes its the only thing that sounds good. I didn't get enough protein yesterday, so I decided two eggs would help fix that problem. But what to put with them? Aha! I had spinach, parmesan cheese, and some light pasta sauce. If you've never had pasta sauce in your eggs, you're missing out. Might sound gross but I love it!

Italian Scrambled Eggs
2 eggs
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, torn
1 Tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 Tbsp light pasta sauce (I used Ragu Light Basil and Tomato)
Salt and pepper
1 tsp dried basil

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add eggs and mix lightly with spatula. When eggs are half way done, add spinach and turn to combine. Once eggs are done and spinach is wilted, add pasta sauce and half the Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste (you might not need as much salt since the Parmesan is salty), toss with spatula until well combined. Serve garnished with basil and remaning cheese.

If you're counting points this is really healthy at only five points. I added two slices of Sara Lee 45 calorie wheat bread for only one more point, so I had a six point dinner that provided protein, vegetables, and carbs.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Great Cheese Debate

I love string cheese! I take it as a snack nearly everyday, sometimes it's even part of breakfast. It provides some protein, low fat dairy and great taste all in a portable, single portion. So in my quest to save money and find a great tasting string cheese, I've chosen the following three brands. I'll buy whatever is on sale and gives me the best value (make sure you're looking at the cost per serving and not just the price). For instance, today the Sargento was "on sale" for $3.99 for a 12 pack. That's about $0.33 per piece. However, the Frigo was $4.99, not on sale. BUT there were18 pieces in that bag which means each piece was only $0.27. For a dollar more today, I got almost one more week's worth of cheese.
The Weight Watchers cheese has good flavor, but it's not my favorite. Every once in a while it's the cheapest, so I'll buy it. I've also found that some stores don't carry the WW string cheese.

Sargento Light has the best flavor, but I've found the size to be a little skimpy. I don't quite feel satisfied with just one. :)

My first choice, given that the price is right, is Frigo Light. The flavor is good and the size satisfies.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Brunch Rox

Brent and I had to run a bunch of errands on Saturday so we decided to enjoy a nice brunch to get us fueled up. We went to Blue Rox near Park Meadows. Its new, so you may not have heard of it yet. I'd eaten lunch there and enjoyed it, so we gave their weekend brunch a shot. Not disappointing...
Bottomless mimosas for $8 isn't a bad deal
My delicious breakfast of Houseboat French Toast--a special mix of Challah bread, Gran Marnier, cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest
Brent couldn't NOT order the "Pigs in a Quilt." Belgian Waffles studded with bits of bacon. Sweet and savory all in one fluffy carb loaded disk.
This was his caption necessary

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spicy Post-Zumba Dinner

Zumba is a cardio exercise class based on Latin dances like salsa, merengue and rumba. I’ve been going to classes for several months now. It makes me feel spicy and “saucy.” So that was my inspiration for tonight’s dinner. I had frozen salmon, remnants of different pastas, roma tomatoes, and onion to work with. It ended up being a salmon pasta with fresh veggies—with some heat to fit my mood.

Spicy Salmon Pasta
1 cup pasta, cooked and drained with 1 cup liquid reserved
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ yellow onion, sliced
4 oz frozen salmon filet, thawed
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 roma tomato, diced
2 Tbsp light pasta sauce
¼ tsp dried dill weed
¼ cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
1 cup torn fresh spinach
½ Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese

Cook pasta and reserve 1 cup liquid. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook 3 minutes. Add salmon and break it up with spatula as it cooks, about 4 minutes. Add in roma tomato, pasta sauce, crushed red pepper and oregano. Cook about 1 minute. Add in dill weed, white wine and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add spinach and cook 1 more minute, just until spinach is wilted. (Add reserved pasta liquid if sauce gets dry at any point) Top pasta with salmon sauce. Sprinkle cheese on top.

This dish smelled so delicious once I got all the herbs in the sauce, I had a hard time waiting to dig in. I enjoyed this with Conundrum White Wine—one of my new favorites. I also used this wine in the sauce so the flavors carried through. I had enough leftover for a small lunch portion to enjoy tomorrow.

If you don’t like spicy food, cut back or omit the red pepper--same goes with the dill. I happen to love it, btu if you don't, just use less. If you’re counting points, I’d guess my dinner serving was about 9 points.

You can see my random mix of pasta

My dinner serving with delicious Conundrum White Wine

Monday, May 10, 2010

Weekend Dinner with the Parents

My parents came up to Denver to celebrate my birthday and Mother’s Day this past weekend. So I had a dinner in mind that I wanted to make for them. My dad is a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, so this fit the bill perfectly for him. I’ve made this before, thanks to a recipe from Brent’s sister, Caren. It’s really easy, but a little time consuming.

Slow Cooked Onion Pork Chops
Thick Cut Bone-In Pork Chops (plan on about one per person)
¼ cup dried Italian bread crumbs
¼ cup shredded Parmesan, Asiago, Romano cheese mix
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 package onion soup mix (I used Lipton)
¾ cup water

Heat olive oil over med-high heat in skillet. Mix bread crumbs, cheese, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge pork chops in mixture until coated on each side. Place chops in skillet and brown on all sides. About 4 minutes each side, remove from heat. (You should see a nice browning on the coating). Heat oven to 300°F. In oven-proof pan combine onion soup mix and water. Place chops in pan and cover with foil. Cook for three hours. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.

There is no need to turn these halfway through cooking. Once they’re done you’ll hardly need a knife to cut them.

I served mine with red-skin mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus (just spray with Olive Oil Pam and salt and pepper and roast at 425°F for about 10-15 minutes).

Unfortunately, there are no presentable images for this dinner--we dug in and forgot to take a picture. I'll get the hang of this blog, picture taking, posting thing eventually. :)

I do, however, have a fun picture of the Lemon cake Brent got me from Nothing Bundt Cakes. It was so good.

Birthday Pancakes

Saturday was my birthday! My parents were in town for a visit, and knowing how my mom loves pumpkin, I decided to try out the Golden Malted Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Flour I’d been given as a gift (thanks Ryan and Tara!). It’s not just the kind of mix that you add water to, this is just the flour mixture. So I had to add in two eggs, buttermilk and melted butter. So this may require planning for those who don’t keep buttermilk in the house. It was well worth it though!

The pancakes were the perfect consistency. Not too chewy or wet! We tried them with butter and syrup first, but my favorite way to eat them was with Cool Whip and powdered sugar. You can only order the flour mix online so here’s the link if you’re interested: Looks like they have plenty of flavors. I want to try the Gingerbread next.
The mix

My yummy birthday pumpkin pancake

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sushi and Cream Puffs?

Last night Brent took me to our favorite sushi place, Yuki Sushi Robata, for an early birthday dinner. We sat at the bar as usual to engage with, Charlie, the chef and owner. Like always the sushi was delicious--if you ever go there, make sure to order the Dragon Boats, one of my favorite dishes ever. I can't even describe how savory and delicious it is. I snarfed them down before I remembered to take a pic--I'm new at this blog thing, ok?!

So where do the cream puffs come in? There's a new little shop in a different part of Highlands Ranch called Rocky Treats. I've driven by it a hundred times, but never stopped in. They sell sweet cream puffs, savory cream puffs, and crepes. Charlie and his new sous chef started a new partnership with Rocky Treats and they are now offering mini-cream puffs at Yuki Sushi. For three mini-puffs we paid $2.95. Pretty good deal!

We had one Rum Raisin, one Strawberry and one Vanilla. Brent's favorite was Strawberry and I liked the classic Vanilla. Charlie also gave us a card for a free regular cream puff (larger) redeemable at Rocky Treats (written in Japanese so I can't read a lick of it--I wonder if its a prank and he wrote something else on the card?) so I guess I'll be stopping into to Rocky Treats soon!

For your drooling pleasure...
Love the sparkler on the top--just for kicks

Up close with the puffs

Monday, May 3, 2010

Whole Wheat Pasta with Ricotta Sauce and Anchovies

Before you write off this recipe just because of the anchovies, I’d ask that you come into it with an open mind. Do you like salt? Do you like savory, umami-rich pasta dishes? If so, I bet you’d like this.

This was another of my pantry dinners because I really wasn’t in the mood to go to the grocery store. I’ve actually made this “sauce” and pasta before, which is a rarity for me. But this is soooo easy and good, it has become a go-to for me. The base “sauce” is as follows:

Ricotta Sauce
¼ cup low fat ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp light pasta sauce (I like Ragu Light Basil and Tomato)
Basil, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to taste

Mix all ingredients together in bowl. This is where I taste and adjust for more seasoning, etc. The consistency should be slightly thick but not dry. You can add garlic if you want.


This is what the sauce looks like

What goes into the pasta depends on what you have—that’s what I love about this dish. Start with boiling water and add the pasta. If you have frozen veggies, throw them in with the pasta and water in the last 3 minutes. If you have fresh veggies, cut them up and toss them in once you’ve drained the pasta. This time, I added 3 Roma tomatoes, 1 cup fresh spinach, and about 8 anchovy filets—all chopped roughly. This would be good with shrimp, chicken, steak slices, tuna, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, you name it. After you add the ingredients in, stir in the sauce and serve immediately.

I topped the finished product with some shredded Parmesan and more basil. My point calculation is about 6. Of course, the more veggies you throw in, the larger your portion can be, because you’ve bulked the pasta up with healthy veggies. So to tie this back to my first comment…don’t write off this base recipe just because you don’t like anchovies. You don’t have to use them but I would suggest you give them a chance sometime.

Brent’s thoughts: “This is something I could eat again and again.” I’m glad he feels that way because this is one dish he probably will have again and again in different iterations.

Finished dish

What a Sweet, Sweet Weekend!

I’m getting married! As if you didn’t know! Part of getting married is picking out the cake—or in our case—the cupcakes. I have a wonderful friend, Kristen Snow (she’s on facebook at Snow Cakes) who is going to make our special day even sweeter. I’ve had her carrot cake with cream cheese frosting several times, so I knew that was my request for one of our flavors. Brent loves red velvet, so that was his request. The other flavors we wanted to play with and make unique. So Kristen set up a deconstructed cupcake tasting for us on Saturday. We could hardly contain ourselves in anticipation of the event.

Saturday arrived and as we walked into Kristen’s apartment, I immediately knew we were in for a treat. She’d set up an adorable table for two with spoons, knives, plates and of course water to clear our palates. She served three varieties of cake: red velvet for Brent and then a vanilla and chocolate for us to play with. But these weren’t just any vanilla and chocolate flavors. The vanilla was more of a vanilla bean with special vanilla flavor, more intense than most people are familiar with. The chocolate was made with a Mayan cocoa powder with chili pepper. You can see everything in the “before” picture…Brent was excited, can you tell?

The toppings included cinnamon, peanut butter, raspberry, strawberry, and cream cheese butter creams. As well as a raspberry coulis (fancy word for jam/jelly basically) and a raspberry whipped frosting. We tried chocolate cinnamon, vanilla raspberry, vanilla peanut butter, chocolate cream cheese, red velvet cream cheese and more!

I don’t want to spoil the surprise at the wedding so I’ll wait to announce our final flavor choices, but I bet they’ll make you say “Hmmm” and then” YUM!”