Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cobb-ish Salad

As you can tell from my previous posts, I had some blue cheese, lettuce, carrots and other miscellaneous veggies to use up. So I decided to make a Cobb-ish Salad, minus the ham because I don't really care for it and therefore didn't have any. I also made a honey mustard dressing instead of traditional blue cheese or ranch.

Cobb-ish Salad

2 cups lettuce
1/2 cup of the following: tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, avocado
1/4 cup blue cheese and shredded cheese of your choice
1/2 cup sliced turkey

Honey Mustard Dressing

3 Tbsp yellow mustard
2 tsp light mayo
1 Tbsp honey (I only had agave nectar so I used that--honey would have been better)
Salt and pepper to taste

Arrange everything in a bowl and toss with dressing. YUM!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chicken Fried Steaks with Spicy Blue Cheese Sauce

I got home from a work trip and didn't want to go to the store so it was time to create my own mystery basket contest from what I already had. I was actually inspired by a culinary competition I'd seen the night before--I just had to work with the ingredients I already had. You can see my choices below (well there were more choices, but this is where my mind went).

What is a Sirloin Tip Steak???!!! My mom had given me a variety of cuts from a half of beef they'd purchased. Beef cuts have so many different names--so I looked this up and found out that it's from the round. So its a lean cut! Awesome. That also meant it needed some "TLC" and probably shouldn't be grilled up as a normal steak. So I decided to make a sort of chicken fried steak. I put it on top of whole wheat pasta and spinach and then made a spicy blue cheese sauce.

Chicken Fried Steaks with Spicy Blue Cheese Sauce
1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta
2 beef sirloin tip side steaks
1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 Tbsp water
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp blue cheese crumbles
2 Tbsp light sour cream
hot sauce to taste
1 package frozen chopped spinach

Cook pasta and set aside. Place steaks on cutting board, top with plastic wrap and pound thin with a large pan or mallet if you have one. Pound until about 1/4 inch thick and cut each steak in half. Heat oil over medium heat in skillet.

In shallow bowl combine flour and salt and pepper to your liking. In second bowl lightly whisk egg and water. In third bowl combine bread crumbs, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Dredge steaks in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Place in skillet and cook about 3-5 minutes on each side until evenly golden and 145 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat spinach in microwave. Season with salt and pepper. Mix blue cheese, sour cream and hot sauce in small bowl.

Mound 1/2 cup pasta on plate, top with as much spinach as you'd like. Place two steaks atop pasta and spinach. Top with half the blue cheese mixture.

Makes two servings.

This was absolutely delicious. I also feel like it was a rather healthy version of chicken fried steak--if there ever was one. I sort of mixed it all up when I was eating it. I liked to have a taste of each item in every bite.

I'm making this again--but next time I'll have to go buy the steaks since I used my mystery meat successfully!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Craving Pizza...Only Have Leftovers?

I had chicken leftover from my Buffalo Chicken Salad and I was craving pizza, after looking at my friend Susan's Italian Honeymoon pictures. What to do? Make a Buffalo Chicken Pizza!

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

1 whole wheat pita
3 boneless, skinless chicken tenders, cooked
1 Tbsp Texas Pete's Buffalo Hot Sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp light mayo
1 Tbsp light sour cream
1 Tbsp skim milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 roma tomato, diced

Heat oven to 400. Dice chicken and toss with hot sauce. In a small bowl, mix together mayo, sour cream, milk, salt, pepper and blue cheese. Spread blue cheese mixture on pita. Top with 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Top with chicken. Finish with remaining shredded cheese. Bake for 10 minutes. Place tomatoes on top and place back in oven for about 2 minutes. Slice in quarters and enjoy.

Makes 1 serving. I didn't skimp on the cheese so this was a little point heavy. I counted 8 points, but it was delicious and worth every one of them! I served it with a crisp iceberg salad topped with carrots and celery that I had leftover from the salad earlier in the week.

Some Like It Hot: Buffalo Chicken Salad

I love Buffalo Chicken wings--boneless, breaded, bone-in, naked, you name it. I can't handle quite as much heat as Brent can, but I think I hold my own. If you want some good wings and you're in Denver I recommend: Piper Inn (ride your motorcycle and get some fried rice too) or College Inn.

Last week, I decided to make my own but in the form of a salad with boneless, skinless chicken tenders. I was inspired by Ellie Krieger's recipe on and on her show: Healthy Appetite. It was good, but next time I need to make sure I have Franks or Texas Pete's hot sauce on hand. Chalula wasn't the flavor I really wanted.

Buffalo Chicken Salad
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders
Hot sauce, to your heat tolerance
1 head iceberg lettuce, torn
3 cups romaine lettuce, torn
6 stalks celery, diced
1 cup shredded carrots
3 Tbsp light mayo
3 Tbsp light sour cream
3 Tbsp skim milk
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles

Cook tenders in skillet over med-high heat, flipping until cooked to 165. Remove from heat and toss with hot sauce until well coated--or until you think your mouth will be on fire--whichever you prefer. Meanwhile, toss lettuce, celery and carrots together. In a small bowl combine mayo, sour cream and milk. Stir in blue cheese crumbles. Plate salad, dressing and then tenders.

Serves 4. I counted 6 points for one serving.

Next time I think I'll add a little vinegar to the dressing mix. It wasn't as tangy as I would have liked it to be. And, as noted above, I'll use Franks or Texas Pete's Buffalo Sauce.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NoNo's Yummy Cajun Food and Beignets

Brent and I love NoNo's in Littleton. We've eaten there several times and always enjoy the atmosphere of a relaxed southern home and the cajun/creole/southern food made with soul.

Heavy handed mint julep
We had a busy Saturday and decided it was a great evening to sit outside and enjoy mint juleps. We had some crawfish to start--done up just right with andouille sausage, red potatoes, and corn. The seasoning was just right and absolutely delicious!

Crawfish "appetizer"

Brent had one of his standard dishes...the Crawfish Monica (left). A crawfish creamy tomato sauce atop curly pasta. And I had the special...Cajun Pasta (right). It was a creamy sauce made with white wine and lots of meat--crawfish, catfish, andouille sausage and probably more--atop angel hair pasta.

Both were so indulgent and filling. We traded dishes about half way through but we still only finished about 1/4 of the portions.

For dessert we shared some beignets. I've had beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. I've had the beignets at Lucile's in Denver. NoNo's won the "Closest to New Orleans" style. So good.

A Penne for Your Thoughts

This is one dish I make over and over. It’s affordable, easy to make, freeze-able, and tasty. I’ve made it lots of different ways. This time I had vegetables to use up, so I filled it up with zucchini, squash, onions and tomatoes. The basic formula is pretty much the same, just add in whatever you want and enjoy!

Baked Pasta

4 cups cooked whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
1 pound 95% lean ground beef
2 tsp minced garlic
1 zucchini, cut into “coins” and then quartered
1 yellow squash, cut into “coins” and then quartered
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 roma tomatoes, diced
1 cup light pasta sauce
2 tsp dried basil (or fresh if you’ve got it)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups light mozzarella cheese, shredded

Heat oven to 350°F. Cook pasta and set aside. Brown ground beef in skillet. After 2 minutes, add garlic and vegetables. Cook for 3 minutes. Add spices and pasta sauce. Cook 3 more minutes. In casserole dish, layer pasta, meat sauce and cheese starting with small amount of meat sauce, ½ the pasta, ½ the remaining meat sauce and 1 cup of cheese. Repeat ending with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. If cheese isn’t browned on top, turn on broiler for 1 minute until cheese is slightly brown and bubbling.

Makes 8 servings. Plugged into my WW recipe builder, it shows up as 5 points.

Building the layers
I've thought about adding some low-fat ricotta cheese to the mix, almost like a lasagna, but it would increase the points. It's good as it is, but I love gooey pasta--this isn't overly gooey.

I made this while my mom was here to visit and she loved it. She said my dad would even like it as long as you didn't tell him what was in it. Funny.

Slow Cooker Chicken with Figs and Blue Cheese

In last week’s search for dishes to fit into the menu plan, I ran across a meal for the slow cooker! I love using my slow cooker. I can come home for lunch, throw everything in the slow cooker and when I get home from work, dinner is ready! I already had polenta and onion as well as oranges for the zest. So I only needed a few more items.

Also, I’d never cooked with boneless, skinless chicken thighs—they were delicious! Even my mom, who doesn’t love dark meat, liked it. (She had leftovers over brown rice a couple days later.)

Chicken with Figs and Blue Cheese

1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 package (8oz) dried mission figs, stems removed
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp flour
3 cups prepared polenta
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese

In a bowl, stir together broth, vinegar, orange zest, and ¼ tsp each salt and pepper. Coarsely chop figs. Heat oil in skillet over med-high heat. Add chicken and cook 5 minutes per side until browned. Remove into slow cooker.

Add onion to skillet, sprinkle with ¼ tsp each salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Pour in broth mixture and bring to a boil. Add all contents to slow cooker, including figs.

Cook in slow cooker for 5 hours on low (or 2 hours on high). When chicken is ready, prepare polenta. Serve chicken mixture over polenta and divide blue cheese over servings.

Makes 6 servings. I pulled it into my WW recipe builder and it came up with 7 points.

Brent’s comment: “ I could eat this over and over.” He loves blue cheese!

I loved it too! Next time I might add the figs in later in the cooking process so they aren’t as soft.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Healthy Dining on a Budget Challenge Part 1

I've been dabbling in menu planning for a couple months now and it's been saving me a ton of money on groceries. It takes some time and patience and stick-to-it-ness but it's well worth every ounce of energy you put into it if you're trying to eat healthy, nutritious home-made foods on a budget.

So my newest challenge is to see if I can eat for a whole month on $200. That includes every meal I eat in- or out-of-home. I'd been sticking to about $200 worth of groceries a month and about $100 worth of dining out, so this will be cutting me back to only $200 for both! I'm up for the challenge.

Some tips I've been using:
1. Look at what's already in your refrigerator and pantry. Make use of those items first. If you have produce that's about to go bad, think about smoothies, soups and casseroles immediately. You can easily stretch these into quite a few servings.

2. Find recipes that use the items in your pantry. If you need to buy blue cheese for a recipe but you'll only need half of it, look for another recipe to make in conjunction so you use up all your blue cheese investment.

3. Look for items that are on sale for the week at your local store and consider making a recipe with that ingredient. I like to use as a resource. From that site you can search your local stores for sales AND coupons all in one handy place.

4. Utilize coupons. I'm not the type to go buy three boxes of cereal just because I have a coupon for them. I'm honest with myself and know that I won't use up all the cereal and sometimes the items with coupons aren't the healthiest items.

5. MENU PLAN your week. I cannot explain how important this step is. Once you've seen what's in your pantry, produce and what ingredients you might want/need to buy, the next step is plotting it all out. Does that chicken casserole make 8 servings? Then guess better find 8 places to eat that up. Don't waste your precious food investment. If you just can't handle eating it 8 times, consider making a smaller batch OR freezing individual portions for a couple weeks later.

6. Go to the store with a detailed list and your coupons if you have them. Only buy what's on your list. If you've truly planned your entire week out, you'll know exactly how many apples you need. Don't get extra. If you need extra, you can go back to the store. Stick mostly to the outer perimeter of the store...that's where all the freshest, healthiest stuff lives (think produce, meat, dairy, eggs).

7. When you're at the store look at the value per serving. Brand X string cheese may be $1 cheaper, but if you look at how many pieces are in the bag, you might be better off paying $1 more for Brand Y and getting four more servings. Same goes with produce...consider buying the exact quantity you need in bulk rather than pre-packed stuff--mushrooms are a great example.

8. Follow your plan and you should be on your way to healthy eating, providing you've picked nutritious recipes to begin with, on a budget.

So far June looks pretty good, having spent a total of $61.53 with two stops. If my menu planning is accurate, that will feed me for 1.5 weeks. There are four weeks in June, so if I average it out to $40 a week (so far on track) that would mean I'd spend $160 on groceries. That would leave $40 for eating out---that will be a challenge...more to come on that.

I'll be making "Chicken over Polenta with Figs and Blue Cheese" because I already had polenta and onion, "Buffalo Chicken Salad" using the rest of my blue cheese and some greens I needed to use up, and "Baked Beef Ziti" to use up my whole wheat pasta and pasta sauce. Recipe posts will follow. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Perfect Dessert Hunt Complete

My hunt for the perfect dessert yielded one of the best sweet treats I've ever made...well, besides my Tres Leches Cake, which I'll save for a later post. I'm not the world's best baker; Brent can vouch for that based on a Valentine's Day Red Velvet cake flop. But I can certainly cook, so I guess he can trade baking for cooking--if we need delicious pies with homemade crusts and perfect cakes, we'll just call up his sisters.

Back to the's the recipe for the mini-cheesecakes adapted from Cook's Country Magazine.

Mini Raspberry and Strawberry Cheesecakes

12 Keebler Sandies cookies (they fit perfectly into muffin tins--I used Pecan Sandies because I love pecans)
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup strawberry jam (I used sugar-free because I had it on hand)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
6 fresh raspberries
3 fresh strawberries

Heat oven to 300. Line a muffin pan with 12 liners. Place one cookie in the bottom of each liner. I decided to do half as strawberry and half as raspberry, so place 1 tsp of raspberry jam on top of 6 cookies and 1 tsp strawberry jam on the other 6 cookies.

Strawberry Jam on cookies
In a bowl, mix cream cheese at medium speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add condensed milk and mix 1 minute, scraping down sides as necessary. Add one egg at a time, beating another two minutes until well combined and smooth. Divide mixture evenly among liners. Bake 20 minutes, until cheesecakes are set--there should be no jiggle. Let cool about 20 minutes before removing from pan, placing in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Baked cheesecakes--light and fluffy

Microwave remaining jams for about 10 seconds until more liquid. Top each cheesecake with corresponding dollop of jam. Place one fresh raspberry on each raspberry filled cheesecake and place 1/2 of fresh strawberry on each strawberry filled cheesecake.

Makes 12 cheesecakes. I didn't count points. :) 


I had to mark the half of my pan with raspberry filling so I could tell them apart once they were baked. Then I placed the raspberry cheesecakes in a different container to cool. Otherwise I would have mixed them up before I topped them.

These were a huge hit with everyone who tried them! I'm planning to make them again for my PEO dessert next week, in a double batch. I may add in a blueberry flavor next time--red white and blue. So easy to do!

Have I Mentioned How Much I Love Cupcakes?

My friends know me so well! For May's monthly scrapbooking/craft session, my friends Ebeth and Leah celebrated my belated birthday with cupcakes!! It's become a tradition of sorts. We find something (anything, really) we need to celebrate each month and we get cupcakes from different shops. Someday we'll get through all the cupcake shops in Denver...well maybe.

This month Ebeth picked up cupcakes from Gigi's--one of the newest shops in Denver. I was so thrilled that my birthday was our excuse this month!

Overall, I was really impressed with Gigi's. Ebeth learned from the owner that they get their spices from a local favorite of mine, the Savory Spice Shop and they try to use mostly organic products. The consistency of the cake was PERFECT. It didn't crumble when we cut each one into thirds yet it was moist and flavorful. The frosting was delicious and thick--if not just a bit too heavy.

Our flavors for the night included (clockwise from top left) Tiger Tails, Southern Comfort, Peach Cobbler and Champagne. We each had our favorite. I loved the coconut laden Tiger Tails--a yellow cake with raspberry filling topped with buttercream and tons of coconut. Ebeth liked the Peach Cobbler--yellow cake swirled with peaches topped with peach cream cheese frosting. The Southern Comfort was really interesting, very dense and different--a pecan pie cake topped with caramel frosting. Leah's favorite was the Champagne with a nice white, champagne flavored cake and buttercream frosting. We were left suffering from a sugar rush-- we laughed the night away until we crashed!

Thank you to my friends for a wonderful cupcake birthday-month celebration. Oh and just in case you didn't figure this out after reading, I really love cupcakes. :)