A Little Help From My Friends

Am I the only person that sees Trader Joe's and Whole Foods as absolute playgrounds? For fat kids? The Trader Joe's in Thousand Oaks actually does WINE TASTING. For free! And don't even get me started on Whole Foods. I have a salad bar problem. And they always have cheese samples... nuff said. 

Obviously TJ's is a lot more grad-student-budget-friendly, so it's my go-to store. TJ's does samples, but they don't just cut up a block of cheese and call it samples... they actually make something that requires multiple ingredients. Hear that, Costco? That's called up-selling. It's genius from a retail perspective and it's also quite inspiring to the home cook! Last week TJ's featured a summery vegetarian pasta salad that was so unexpected and creative that I had to recreate it. It's mayo/yogurt/creamy-free, so it's a good summer potluck bring-along.  Also, it's a one bowl wonder and the flavors will knock your 1995 Cher Horowitz knee high socks off.

Italian Lentil Pasta Salad
Makes a HUGE bowl

1 lb fusilli pasta
16 oz tomato bruschetta (1 1/3 jars of TJ's brand)
12 oz part skim mozzarella, cubed (2/3 of TJ's block)
16 oz or 2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 c. white balsamic vinegar

In a large bowl, combine lentils, bruschetta, and vinegar.

Dice cheese into 1/2" cubes.

Fold into lentil/bruschetta mixture.

Cook pasta and rinse with cold water to bring to room temp.

Fold pasta into lentil magic.

Dream job: Trader Joe's Snack Director.


BB & BS B's

Today's recipe is for BB & BS B's... which translates to black bean and butternut squash burritos. And it is my new favorite food.

I have had this recipe pinned/bookmarked/evernoted since I laughably tried veganism for that one week. Minus a couple days. The original recipe for Black Bean and Butternut Squash Burritos comes from Oh She Glows. I mixed it up by adding spinach and de-vegan'd it by adding cheese. Like I do best.

It may sound like a weird combo, and def not the solution to a Mexican food craving, but trust me, it's good. I had this three ways: as a burrito, as crunchy taco's, and as a breakfast burrito. It would also be great in a burrito bowl, as soft tacos, on crackers, on a bed of lettuce, in a quesadilla, and probably many other ways. And it's super good for you, too! Oh, the fiber! The moral of the story is that it's very delicious and I encourage you to give it a taste!

BB & BS B's
six servings

1 tbsp EVOO
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 bag baby spinach
3 cups diced butternut squash
juice of 1 lime

Suggested extras
flour tortillas
sliced avocado
nonfat plain greek yogurt
shredded mexican cheese
chopped cilantro
red salsa
hot sauce

If you have superfluous amounts of free time, I would suggest roasting the butternut in a 400F oven for half an hour. But if ya don't have said free time, then nuke the butternut for 5 minutes in a steaming bag.

Meanwhile, heat EVOO over med-high heat. Saute onion and garlic.

Once softened, add seasonings. You may substitute your favorite taco seasoning for spices.

Add black beans, bell pepper, and brown rice. Saute for 5 minutes over medium, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking.

Add bag of spinach to the pan. Fold in. It will wilt to nothingness in about 4 minutes.

Add butternut and let everything get all happy. Taste for salt needs. Add lime juice and make sure everything gets nice and mixed around. You could squish the butternut or some of it to change the texture of the filling.

I made the perfect burrito with the BB & BS B mixture, avocado, salsa, shredded cheese, and greek yogurt.

Roll that business up and you've got a party.

And now I'm sad cause I ate all the leftovers for breakfast.


Say Cheese

My mom has been begging me for mac and cheese for weeks now. She pauses in front of the blue box and sighs at the grocery store... But we can do better than that, right?

I agree, the blue box and it's equivalents (i.e. Annie's brand) are delicious and really nothing can substitute for that weird yellow cheese sauce. But there's no way you eat two servings of that business and feel good about yourself.

This recipe idea has been floating around on pinterest for weeks and Kristin of Iowa Girl Eats "covered" it, for lack of a better term, a few months ago. The original recipe comes from Monica Nelson.  I modified the recipe for maximum flavorful-ness. But I'm not going to call it mac and cheese, cause that's a little misleading...

Cheesy Quinoa Bake
8 hearty servings

2 tsp EVOO
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium leek, trimmed, sliced in half, then sliced into half moons
1 1/2 c. quinoa
3 c. chicken stock
1/2 tsp. seasoning blend (I use TJ's Everyday Seasoning)
1/4 tsp. seasoning salt
1 1/2 c. 1% milk
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. shredded light sharp cheddar
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar mozzarella blend
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. red chili flakes
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 c. panko bread crumbs
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a pot, heat EVOO. 
Add garlic, shallot, and leek.

Saute for 4 minutes, or until softened.

Add in quinoa.

Stir constantly for 3 minutes, or until quinoa is starting to toast and is well coated.

Add chicken stock, seasoning salt, and seasoning.

 Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover for 17 minutes. Once liquid is all absorbed, remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes uncovered.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together eggs and milk.

Add in cayenne, chili flakes, white pepper, and onion powder.

Stir in quinoa and shredded cheese, reserving 1/3 c. of each cheese for the topping. I found a light celtic cheddar at TJ's - amazing!

Spray a 9x13 casserole with cooking spray. Pour in quinoa mixture, and then top with panko breadcrumbs and remaining cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes uncovered. You can broil for an addition 2 minutes if you want an extra crispy topping, but the oven does a great job as is.

Serve with hot sauce!

Definitely ate this with an egg on top for breakfast today. Stop judging me.


I Don't Think You're Ready For This Jelly

I'm pretty biased when it comes to jams and jellies. Give me strawberry, or give me nothing else. I mean, the others are good and tasty and all, but nothing satisfies like a strawberry jelly. My favorite is TJ's brand, but I may have created a new monster.

The problem with jelly is that even if it's naturally sweetened with fruit juices, it is still just a sugary fruit carb bomb, usually on top of a carb like toast. And while I don't have anything against carbs, per se, I don't see any nutritional value in jelly.

Until now that is.

Chia seeds create a natural gel when they are moistened. I make a mean chocolate chia pudding a la OhSheGlows, but just recently learned of chia jam. PB&J will never be the same. If you need a reminder of why we love chia seeds, go here.

Strawberry Chia Jam
 makes 2 cups

1 bag frozen organic strawberries
2 heaping tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp agave syrup or honey

Let frozen berries defrost overnight in the refrigerator, or leave on the counter for a few hours.

With the bag still sealed, use your finger tips to crush the berries.

Snip the corner of the bag and pour crushed berries into a jar or something that will seal well and keep in the fridge.

Stir in chia seeds.

Sweeten to taste!

Refrigerate for 1 hour to give chia seeds time to gel.

Then eat as you wish. I like mine with greek yogurt, cereal, and nuts as a treat or a light breakfast.



Stuffed Chicken Breast and Lemony Polenta

Chicken breast can get super boring unless you can stay super creative. I think this is the precise reason why "they" made Pinterest. You could look at about three bajillion different ways to cook chicken breast and never get bored. When I get sucked into the Pinterest vortex I get to the point where my hand starts cramping from scrolling on my trackpad. I try using my left hand for a while, but then I realize that it's probably a physiological indication that I need to back up from the internet machine. Sometimes I get so pathetic that I just hit the space bar to page down. This is real life.

The moral of the story is this: when life hands you left over arugula, make the following meal.

This recipe can serve as a template - change what you stuff the chicken with, change how you flavor your polenta, go bonkers. But this polenta...you must try it this way at least once.

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Creamy Lemon Polenta
for 4

  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2" thin
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 4 oz. smoked mozzarella, sliced into 1 oz. slices
  • 2 c. fresh arugula
  • 1/2 c. roasted red bell peppers, drained
  • 1/4 c. sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 1/4 c. chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 c. 1% milk
  • 2 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c. polenta
  • 1 tbsp lemon EVOO (or 1 tbsp EVOO + 1/2 tsp lemon zest)
We will start with chicken and once it is in the oven we will start the polenta. It's all about timing when you're trying to look pro. 

Preheat oven to 375 F.
In a food processor, process red bell peppers and sun dried tomatoes until it's a tapenade-like consistency.  Note: You could substitute a jarred red pesto for an easier way. TJ's version has basil and my guinea pig dinner company was allergic. 

Profess your love to this cheese.

And set up an assembly line. Note the cute little birdy toothpick thingy.

On the inside of each chicken breast, season with S&P and layer 1 tbsp red pepper/sun dried tomato mixture, slice of cheese, and bunch of arugula. Roll up and secure shut with 2-3 strategically placed toothpicks.

Heat EVOO in a frying pan over high heat and sear chicken on all sides until golden.

Move chicken to a baking dish. Deglaze the frying pan with chicken broth. Pour broth magic over the chicken, then top each roll with what is left of the pepper/tomato mixture.

Nestle any extra arugula around the chicken and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken breasts. When time is up, either sacrifice once to check for doneness or use a meat thermometer to confirm thorough cooking.

Moving on to polenta.

I follow the recipe on the bag for proportions, but have my own method. Once the liquid is boiling, it actually only takes about 5 minutes to finish the polenta. So time yourself accordingly.

My new crack dust:

Bring milk, chicken broth, lemon pepper, and salt to a boil.

Pour in the polenta.

Pay attention when trying to take the above shot, because you might burn your hand, flinch, and fling polenta all the eff over the kitchen.

Bring back up to a boil, then reduce heat to super duper low (I remove from heat for 10 seconds, then back on for 10 seconds). And stir, stir, stir. You can't walk away from polenta. It will come together quick! Once it's thick, swirl in EVOO and stir briskly. Remove from heat, and serve immediately.

Fun fact: I bought that bag of polenta in 2010. It has lived in three cities with me.


Another Strata ... but Wait!

That's not all!

This is a good one. One you can't pass up.

Like, good enough to make for your mother.

First step: Check your DSLR, smart phone, and point+shoot cameras. Are their batteries all dead? Ok. Then you're just like me!! (Congratulations!) Go borrow your mother's cell phone to take the photos for this blog post. Cause you're real professional and stuff.

Seriously, how do all devices go dead simultaneously like this? I honestly considered using my laptop's webcam for this blog post. Should have just made a video. But then you would see what a damn mess I make in the kitchen when I cook, and it's all about illusion up in here. Side note, did you know Adele wore four FOUR pairs of Spanx to the Grammy's? Ouchies. 

This one was Pioneer Woman's idea. But I made it healthier. Cause that's what good daughters do.

Mushroom and Kale Strata
serves 8 

cooking spray
6 slices whole wheat sourdough bread
1 bag sliced mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp EVOO
1 medium yellow onion, diced
6 cups kale
1 1/2 c. fancy pants gouda cheese (I used a Goat Gouda)
2 16 oz. cartons egg substitute
1/2 c. plain nonfat greek yogurt
2 dashes Tabasco
S & P

Note: This recipe starts either the night before, or several hours before (like if you're doing breakfast for dinner). 

Preheat oven to 425F. Spread mushrooms on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tbsp EVOO, S & P.  Bake for 15 minutes.

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tsp of EVOO.

Toss in kale and saute for 3 minutes, or until lightly wilted. Remove from pan, then saute onion in the same pan for 5 minutes, or until softened.

Grate cheese. Pick out a good stinky cheese with lots of flavor and meltability. Gouda is really good-a for this. Yeah, I said it.  

Cube bread.

Layer bread in a large casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Spread kale and onions evenly.

Sprinkle the cheese over the top.

In a blender, whip up the egg whites/substitute with greek yogurt, tabasco, and S&P.

Pour over casserole. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave a nice note for whoever gets up first in the AM.

Remove plastic wrap and set out on counter (to come to room temp).
Preheat oven to 350F
Cover dish with foil
Bake for 60 minutes
Remove foil
Bake for additional 30, or until golden

When I exported the images for this blog, I named the files "Kala_Strata" instead of Kale Strata.  Kala is a dog. For the record, I don't eat dog. Very often.