Summer Watermelon Salad

It’s summer!  The time of fresh fruit and lazy days… the time when you want to be able to go outside and enjoy your friends and family… the time for easy or starter recipes…  This is when I like to have a few recipes on hand that make my life a little easier, especially on those days when the temperature is high and my energy is not.  For those days, I give you the Summer Watermelon Salad!

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This recipe couldn’t be easier… four ingredients and easy to adjust for the number of people you’re feeding!  This is actually one of my favorite lunches… light and simple, it just screams “SUMMER” to me.

Ingredients:

  • Watermelon – cut into bite-size pieces.  Use as much or as little as you like, but this is your *main* ingredient.  I typically use about 3 cups.
  • Feta cheese – I like to use crumbled *light* feta, but you can use whatever type makes you happy.   I dump in some from the container – about 1/2 cup.
  • Basil – if I have fresh, I take a small handful and cut into a chiffonade (little ribbons).  If not, I take a generous pinch of dried.  I’ve done both and fresh is definitely better in this – it’s a wonderful flavor!
  • White wine – I use what I have in my fridge, about 1/8-1/4 cup total.  I’ve used dry (Chardonnay and Pinot Gris/Grigio) and I’ve used semi-sweet/off-dry (Vidal Blanc and Viogner)… use what you like!

Directions:

  • Cut watermelon into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with feta cheese and basil.  Toss lightly and adjust amounts as needed.
  • Thumb 1/8-1/4 cup of white wine over the salad and allow time to marinate before serving.
  • I typically drain a bit of the liquid off before serving.  This ends up being a mixture of wine and watermelon juice that isn’t really necessary.
  • Enjoy!

This is a great example of how I use “The Force” when cooking… so many variations to make this salad and it’s always delicious.  Hope you’ll try it and come up with your own favorite way to make this salad!

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Recipe: Red Meatloaf & White Carrots

Dinner last night was one of those “comfort meals” that everyone talks about… meatloaf and mashed potatoes… classic, right?  I have a habit of taking classics and adding a new “wine’d up” spin on things, so this dinner was no different.  I was craving meatloaf and I had a small bag of baby carrots in the fridge, so I came up with a way to cook both dishes at the same time.  Brilliant, right?  Actually, it was more of a fluke the first time I tried it last week, but it really does work!RedMeatloaf&WhiteCarrots

I started out making the meatloaf.  I used one package ground turkey, two palms full of seasoned bread crumbs, some dark red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon that my neighbor had given me… yummy!), a hefty squirt of dijon mustard, some Montreal Steak Seasoning, an egg, and some parsley.   I mixed everything together until it was nicely combined (feel free to add a little more of the bread crumbs if it’s too moist).  Then I assembled the baking portion of the meal.

Using a loaf pan, I sprinkled a layer of baby carrots on the bottom of the pan and poured some white wine (I used the Chardonnay I had in the fridge) over top.  I then put a large piece of foil over the carrots, to create a new “loaf pan” for the meatloaf, and sprayed it with cooking spray.  I formed the meatloaf into the pan and made a bit of a well down the center.  Before I popped the pan into the 375 degree oven for an hour, I added a touch of ketchup on top for color and sweetness.

  DOnce the meatloaf had cooked for the hour, I removed it and let the pan sit for 5-7 minutes before lifting the meatloaf off the carrots and slicing the loaf for dinner.  The white wine had cooked the carrots to a perfect al dente’ and the meatloaf was dense and tasty.  Adding some homemade mashed potatoes was just the perfect accompaniment.

If you’re looking for a simple way to make comfort food, this really did it for me.  I hope you’ll try it and let me know how it turns out for you!  Enjoy….

Recipe: Chicken Veggie Gris

Ok, I’ll admit that this is a strange name for a recipe, but at least it gives you an idea of what you’re getting… right?

Let me share a little background before launching into this recipe with you.

We recently relocated to a new state, in a new town, in a furnished corporate apartment.  Have you ever had to do this?  It’s sort of like cooking in “your own” kitchen, but it’s not.  The pots and pans are different… the utensils are unique (even though I *did* bring my own)… and even the cooking vessel (an electric stove instead of my beloved gas range) is different.  Challenges to be sure, but I was determined to make our transition to this new place as smooth as possible… which meant cooking dinner each night.  

Yesterday, our first weekday in our new apartment, brought on my first challenge.  I had to purchase *enough* food and seasonings without purchasing *too much* because, remember, this is only our temporary home.  I already have the necessary pots, pans, seasonings, etc to make the meals that I want to make… but they’re currently sitting in a Jessup, MD storage unit.  So, in the meantime, I’ll be doing my best to create delicious meals without purchasing too many items that will end up being duplicates if I don’t use them up before we move from our current residence.  I hope you find my journey to be interesting and maybe even a little helpful!

Dinner on Monday was a challenge.  I went to the local Walmart to pick up some things, but this particular store was rather sparse in selection, especially since it carried no fresh produce or proteins.  This is where I bought the kitty litter, toilet paper, skim milk, orange juice, spaghetti sauce, canned chicken, a loaf of bread, foil, and a large bag of individually packaged chips. While I could have stopped at the Fresh Market store a block from our apartment, I was on a particular mission to find something that would help me get groceries (and cat litter) from my car to our new home, so I was traveling around town with this goal in mind.  I eventually found a collapsible cart that will be perfect for my needs and darted into the closest grocery store to stock up on some fresh items.

Since this was my first venture out for supplies, I was trying to mentally flip through a number of meal options that could create the most amount of duplicate ingredients.  I ended up choosing two packages of ground turkey, two packages of chicken breasts (with three in each, which could yield three meals for the two of us), some broccoli slaw, a bag of onions, romaine (for my lunch salads),  a bag of onions, a small box of frozen meatballs, cooking spray, and spices (garlic salt, herbs de provence, dry mustard, italian seasonings, pepper, and Hungarian Paprika).  Using these basics, I decided to go with something very simple for dinner… and my Chicken Veggie Gris was born.ChickenVeggieGris

I started by seasoning two chicken breasts with garlic salt and herbs de provence.  Using the apartment’s skillet, I turned the electric burner to “8” and allowed the pan to heat.  Clearly, this is not the way to do things with an electric oven because when I added some margarine and a thinly sliced onion to the pan, there was entirely too much smoke in the apartment. I quickly turned down the heat and turned *on* the vent fan to keep from setting off the fire alarm so things calmed down a little.  NOTE: there was never any real danger, but it really did freak me out a bit. 

Once the onion had time to saute in the margarine to soften, I opened a bottle of white wine (I used a Pinot Gris, but only because I couldn’t find a bottle of James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay fast enough) and added that to the onions to allow them to soak up some of the yummy wine flavor.  I then moved the onions away from the center of the pan, placed the chicken breasts in the center to brown, and seasoned the underside of the breasts with the same seasonings as mentioned above.

Dinner was looking a little bleak at this point so, after I flipped the breasts over to cook through, I added some broccoli slaw to the pan for color and veggie-goodness.  Seasonings were now the priority… dinner couldn’t be bland, especially for my first attempt.  I opted to add a few dashes of soy sauce, some balsamic vinegar, and about a half cup of the wine to create a sauce that would make things come together.  I then cooked everything until all the flavors combined, about 10-15 minutes.  The chicken was poaching nicely and, while I would have preferred to have the veggies with a little more crunch and color, the softened broccoli slaw suited my husband’s tastes and still looked pretty on the plate.  To finish off the meal, I cooked a packet of brown and wild rice and used that as our starch for dinner.  It wasn’t exactly the meal I’d planned, but it was tasty and home-cooked… the best way to finish out a stressful “first day”.

I’ll continue to add recipes, both from before and during our move, so I hope you’ll check back to see how things are progressing.  I have some recipes that I never had the chance to share, so I’ll let you know when those are posted.  My attempt tonight is going to be something along the lines of a lasagna, without lasagna noodles…. will that even work?

Follow me on this journey… I promise to share both the highs (yummy recipes) and lows (how in the world am I going to learn to cook without a gas stove?) of the coming weeks.

Recipe: Breakfast Egg Casserole

I’ve been trying to plan my meals and eat better this year, so I’m always on the lookout for a fun and tasty breakfast that will fill me up without a sugar-rush.  Being able to make this casserole at home and control the ingredients is a definite bonus.  My college friend, D, shared her version of this casserole with me and I knew I just had to give it a try.  The wine I use is a surprising ingredient, but one that adds a lovely depth to this recipe.

I started with 1/3 package of bacon.  I diced the bacon and cooked it in a skillet until the bacon was nicely toasted.  I then added about a cup of frozen sweet peppers.  I chopped them fairly fine and used red, yellow, orange, and green peppers, and allowed them to soften with the bacon.  Once this was done, I spooned the bacon and peppers to the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish, leaving a little of the bacon grease in the skillet.

BreakfastEggCasserole

I gathered 2 cups of kale, removed the ribs, and roughly chopped the kale.  NOTE:  You can also add in some spinach if you prefer. Using the remaining bacon grease in the skillet, I tossed in the kate and added 2 oz Dry Rose wine (like Boordy Dry Rose), sauteing the kale until it had wilted and the bitterness had dissipated.  NOTE: If using full leaves of kale, be sure to massage the kale to remove some of the initial bitterness from the leaves.  Trust me… this is important.  I like to season the dish while cooking the greens so the spices have time to develop – for this dish I used salt, pepper, herbs de provence, and smoked paprika. Once I finished sauteing the greens, I layered them in the casserole dish, on top of the bacon/pepper layer.

Here’s the easiest part of the recipe… I poured 1 1/2 cup fat-free egg substitute into a Pyrex measuring cup, gently poured the egg over the entire contents of the casserole dish and pressed the bits of vegetable down into the egg mixture.  How simple is that?

Once everything was in the pan, I popped it into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  If your oven runs hot, you might want to check it after 25 minutes, but 3o minutes seems to work best for me.  I allow the casserole to cool for at least 10 minutes and then cut it into 6 square, equal-sized pieces and wrap each in Saran to store in the fridge.  It’s easy to reheat (30-45 seconds in the microwave) and tastes wonderful in a breakfast sandwich, using bread thins.

Hope you’ll consider trying this fun recipe sometime.  Use what you like or what you’ve got in your fridge and it can take on whatever flavors you want.  I love it…. especially when I realized that it’s only 91 calories per square… SWEET!

Enjoy!

Recipe: Banana Raspberry Wine Muffins

I promised to have this recipe posted today, so please forgive my tardiness.  Here’s a yummy way to use up some of those browning bananas that we all seem to have from time to time.  This recipe is loosely based on one that I found on a Food TV recipe app, but their recipe called for a few ingredients that I either didn’t have or didn’t want to use.  I hope you’ll try it and see what works best for you.   I loved the lightly pale pink color but if you want to make them a touch more vibrant, I would suggest using some extra food coloring.  The taste was delicate… nothing was exceptionally strong (other than the banana), so it would be a fun addition to a luncheon or “afternoon tea” sort of thing.  I thought they were terrific… and since it started with a ‘real” recipe, you’re going to get it in “real” recipe form, complete with exact ingredients.  Score!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup butter/margarine
  • 4 medium bananas, very ripe20140228-133053.jpg
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup fat free egg substitute
  • 2 Tbs raspberry syrup
  • 2 Tbs white wine (I used James River Chardonel)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbs chia seeds
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Melt butter/margarine and then mash bananas into butter
  3. Add sugar, egg, vanilla, raspberry syrup, and wine into the banana mixture
  4. Fold in remaining ingredients until just incorporated
  5. Spoon into 24 mini-muffin tins and bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

I like to add a little sanding or raw sugar on top for decoration, but it’s not necessary.

I shared these with some random people at a recent event and they were highly complimentary of the taste and texture.  You can make these into 12 individual muffins, if you prefer, but this full recipe made a perfect set of 24 mini-muffins.  Great for sharing and just enough of a snack at only 102 calories per mini-muffin… yes?  Enjoy!

Crock Pot Recipe: Tuscan Chicken and Sausage Stew

I love using my crock pot.  Having a slow cooker can help you make a lovely, healthy meal any night of the week.  All it takes is a little thought beforehand and a few minutes in the morning before you leave the house (or start working from home).  This was a recipe that I thought looked particularly yummy, but the ingredients needed to be changed out before I could make it for my family.  I know that they balk at large pieces of mushroom or the texture of artichoke hearts, so I did some substituting and came up with a version that worked well for me.

Since I started with an actual recipe (thanks to Weight Watchers for the inspiration) so the ingredients are much more accurate that I typically offer on my blog.  I used “The Force” for this recipe, but vaulted from the actual recipe, so I’ll be kind today and share it with you that way.

Ingredients:TuscanChickenSausageStewMB

  • 8 small chicken thighs, skinless and boneless, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1 package Turkey Polska Kielbasa, cut into 2″ chunks
  • 1 cup, chopped Onions, raw
  • 1/2 cup Chicken broth, canned, low sodium
  • 1/2 cup James River Cellars Montpelier Wine – you could use a nice Chardonnay, if you prefer
  • 1 cup, cubes, all varieties Squash, winter type, baked, no fat or sugar added in cooking, butternut
  • 1 cup, sliced Pepper, raw
  • 4 cloves Garlic, raw
  • 3 tsp, leaves Spices, oregano, dried
  • 1 tbsp Spices, rosemary, dried
  • 2T cornstarch, if needed for thickening

In true “not originally mine” style, here are the steps to follow when you make this recipe, using the ingredients I’ve used in my own swap.

Instructions

  1. Chop onion and butternut squash into chunks – place on the bottom of a crock pot.
  2. Collect the thighs and sausage that you’ve already cut into 2″ chunks and layer them on top of the onions/squash
  3. Layer peppers (in a variety of colors) on top of meats, then top with spices.
  4. Add broth and wine.
  5. Cover and cook until chicken is tender and vegetables are cooked through, 4-5 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.
  6. If you want to thicken the broth at the end, whisk 2T of cornstarch with some of the cooking liquid (in a separate cup) until there are no lumps, then return it to the pot and allow the broth to thicken.
  7. Serve over polenta (which my family doesn’t like) or mashed potatoes (which my family *does* like).

I’ve been trying to be better about using a “recipe builder” application (for my iPad) so that I know the actual nutrition analysis of my recipes.  I got a FitBit Flex from my husband for Christmas this year, so I’m coupling that with the (free) MyFitnessPal app to get a better handle on my own health.  To that end, I’m working to make better choices with regards to the foods that I make.  This stew actually makes six servings, with the following nutritional information:  Calories 302, Total Fat 14g, Saturated 3.9g, Polyunsat.  2.9g, Monounsat. 5.4g, Cholesterol 80mg, Sodium 903mg, Total Carbs 16g, Dietary Fiber 2.5g, Sugar 2.8g, Protein 25g, Vitamin A 129mcg, Vitamin C 20mg, Calcium 51mg, and Iron 3.3mg.

I hope you’ll consider playing around with this recipe.  I really loved it, and had it for the next few meals before it was gone.  At only 302 calories, it seemed reasonable and tasty at the same time.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Petit Goulash

I’ve been told that this isn’t really a goulash recipe, but since that’s what my husband called it, that’s what I’m going to call it as well.  This was a two-pot dinner… one medium pot for the pasta and one large skillet to brown the meat and mix everything together.  Simple and comforting… that’s what I was craving last week when the snow hit our area.

PetitGoulash

I started by dicing together a large onion and half a large green pepper and sautéing them together in a pat of butter.  Once the vegetables were browned, I added a package of ground turkey and cooked this until the meat was thoroughly browned.  To this mixture, I added a healthy pour of a dark Petit Verdot and cooked the meat mixture until the wine had been thoroughly absorbed.   The last “flavor addition” was a can of petit diced tomatoes, which added some great color to the dish.

While I was cooking the meat, I started cooking a pot of water with jumbo elbow macaroni and salt.  Once the pasta was cooked, I drained it and added it into the large skillet and stirred everything together, seasoning with garlic, salt, pepper, and paprika.  This recipe is very similar to the mazetti that my mother-in-law makes (which is absolutely delicious) and was a huge hit with my family.  The flavors melded together nicely and the dish was hearty enough to be filling without adding bread on the side.  A simple green salad would have been a nice addition, but not totally necessary.

Enjoy playing with this recipe if you choose to make it for your family.  A wonderful Hungarian smoked paprika would be fabulous – Think  I might be able to talk my local grocer into stocking this spice if I whine about it enough?  Have fun making your own family’s favorite “goulash”… after all, you’re creating something for those you love.  What could be wrong about that?  Enjoy!