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Chicken Fajitas

September 27, 2010

Cumin is definitely my all-time favorite spice. Just by opening the jar I am enveloped in a warm puff of brown smoke, flown to an exotic land that is a direct contrast to Boston’s cold, drizzly day.

Foodie confession: I use cumin in everything.

From a rustic vegetarian chili, to a spicy Indian curry, to some salmon I’m just throwing on the grill, just a little (or a lot?) of cumin adds such a depth of flavor and fun that you really can’t go wrong. I’ve been known to go on cumin overload, dumping almost half my jar into whatever is simmering in the pan. But honestly, it just makes the dish better.

My Mom was visiting for the day yesterday and suggested I try serving up some of her quick and easy weeknight fajitas. When I realized that one of the five ingredients (and only spice) was cumin I knew that these sizzling babies were going to be on the menu. They didn’t disappoint. I threw them together in less than 20 minutes, perfect timing between Z coming home and my online class starting. And with just a few accompaniments of fresh salsa verde and a dollop of sour cream, you don’t need all of the usual cheese and tomato shebang. You just savor the cumin and lime juice in all of its glory.

Chicken Fajitas

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 chicken breasts, sliced into 1″ strips

1 onion, sliced into 1″ strips

1 green pepper, sliced into 1″ strips

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 – 3 tablespoons of cumin

Juice of 1/2 a lime

Salt and pepper

Corn or flour tortillas, salsa verde, and sour cream to serve

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken strips and cook until no longer pink in the middle, about 5 minutes.

Add the cumin and toss the chicken and vegetable mixture until everything is nicely coated and the cumin almost forms a paste. Add the lime juice and stir throughout.


Lucky me, I have enough leftovers for fajita salad for lunch tomorrow! If only I could make a cumin salad dressing too.


White and Green Crockpot Chili

September 25, 2010

I have fallen in love with my new best friend: the crock pot.

For our anniversary, Z bought be a giant crock pot. Unlike most girls who shiver at the thought of getting home appliances for special occasions, with this I was thrilled. I had been asking for one for months! If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, the crock pot is a girl’s own personal chef. Love at first sight, if you ask me. Z sure knows the way to my heart.

Though I thoroughly enjoy spending time in my tiny and counter-space-less kitchen, coming home at 10:30 pm after a night of classes to cook dinner is something I would dread with all my heart, and in reality I would more than likely end up at the take out joint down the street. Or even worse, at a Burger King. (I kid…however, there is one in direct view from my living room window.)

But walking into my apartment after a 15 hour day to the smell of chili that has been cooking all day, letting the spices marinade and the meat tenderize, is nothing short of a miracle. I may have slightly burnt my lips after kissing the glass lid, thanking Mrs. Crock Pot for saving me from low blood sugar and the $3.99 Steakhouse burger, but it was worth it.

I adapted this recipe from Eat, Live, Run. It worked wonderfully in the crock pot with some ground chicken instead of a whole breast, and the sour cream adds a tang that is so unique and delicious that I found myself licking the bowl after dinner. This chili didn’t even need the usual toppings of cheese and a side of cornbread, because it was perfection in itself.

White and Green Crockpot Chili (adapted from Eat, Live, Run)

1 lb ground chicken

1 medium onion, chopped

1 T vegetable oil

2 cans cannellini beans

14.5 ounces chicken broth

2 4-ounce cans chopped green chilies

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp oregano

1/4 tsp cayenne

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup milk

8 ounce reduced fat sour cream

Add all of the ingredients except for the milk and sour cream into your crock pot. Stir to combine and cook on low for 8 – 9 hours.

When you are ready to eat, mix in the milk and sour cream and warm the mixture up. Serve!

Please excuse my chipped bowl. I got a little too excited about dinner.

Swedish Meatballs with White Bean Mashed Potatoes

September 22, 2010

Some people may say that I have a slight cooking obsession. But then there’s home decorating.

My apartment is currently what I call “post-college chic”, meaning that I haven’t really invested much into my rental apartment. No more movie posters, but still using the clear plastic drawers from my freshman year dorm room. But if you find me perusing the internet and not looking for recipes, I’m usually looking at paint colors, new duvet covers, and the possibility of completely renovating our kitchen. If I could somehow convince my landlord to invest.

I love home decorating. I love looking at other people’s apartments, shelving ideas, color combinations. I love sitting in my own apartment, gazing at the walls, imagining what artwork I could hang and how at a cocktail party people would comment on my fabulous serving ware. Z thinks I’ve started to become a little obsessive, as any guy would who just needs a bed and an internet connection to be content at home. But I think its perfectly normal to have 15 web pages open at once while you carry around your laptop and “visualize” new crown molding and a leather ottoman.

A girl can dream, right? Or, she can go to IKEA.

IKEA is the perfect place for a decorating eye on a budget. Something for every taste, in every price range, with Swedish names that feel so European (if you can pronounce them). Don’t even let me go into the Marketplace. At least not without 2 shopping carts.

In my recent “OMG I really want to decorate my apartment now” mode, I’ve had to compromise. I need to just get through the next few busy weeks before I can have a weekend to do a little visual tweaking. And to get me through I made my second favorite thing at IKEA (besides the shopping): Swedish meatballs. In my opinion, even people who don’t like to shop should go to IKEA just for some good, cheap food. Or use their food as an inspiration to deter a possible spending spree that would make me wind up with more of those little wrenches than I can handle.

Swedish Meatballs with White Bean Mashed Potatoes

For the Meatballs
I slice bread
1/8 cup milk
1 lb ground chicken
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 egg while
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Salt and pepper

For the Potatoes (adapted from Oh She Glows)
1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper

For the Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup flour (I used GF Corn Starch)
14.5 oz chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400*

First, put the bread and milk in a bowl and let soak for 5 minutes.

Put all of the meatball ingredients in the bowl with the bread and milk. Mix together thoroughly. Shape into small, 1 oz balls and place on a baking sheet. Put in the oven for 20 minutes or until they are cooked through.

Put the potatoes in a pot, cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Drain and put back in the pot. Add the beans, salt and pepper and mash together.

In a saucepan, add the oil and flour and cook over a medium heat until they form a paste. Slowly add the chicken broth, adding about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup at a time and whisking until smooth. When all the stock is added, season to taste with salt and pepper.


This meal may have deterred me from making an IKEA trip this weekend. But then there’s always Home Depot.

Quinoa, Sweet Potato, and Spinach Bowl

September 20, 2010

Sometimes it takes a lot of motivation to make dinner on a weeknight. I demonstrated that to myself last week. With classes until 10 pm, group projects, and the need to buy more paper towels after work, I came home with no desire to set foot in the kitchen.

The first day this happens I am happy to order dinner out. The second day I’m happy to try someplace new. The fourth I cannot consciously eat something else out of a Styrofoam box. For my own health or that of the environment.

This just goes to show that I’m not without my flaws, so matter how “easy” I tell people it is to whip up a quick meal every night, in truth the recipe also comes with a dash of inspiration and a cup of try. Subtract Kraft singles and Lean Cuisine.  Which hopefully equals negative bags under my eyes and pimples on my chin. I don’t care if its fact or fiction, Mount Everest over here believes that too much junk food just leads to breakouts.

Tonight I have a class online, which is nice that I can sit around in my pjs and eat dinner at my desk instead of in a classroom 45 minutes away. It also means that I had an hour at home to make dinner to eat without a plastic fork or a to-go bag.

Whats nice about this type of recipe is its total versatility. Make all of the elements ahead of time, then throw them in a pot to heat them up. Switch up the grains and vegetables. Then sit back and learn about supply and demand curves. At least my stomach understands.

Quinoa, Sweet Potato, and Spinach Bowl

1 small onion, chopped

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 sweet potato, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 box frozen spinach, thawed

2 oz goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400*

Toss sweet potato with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put on a baking sheet in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice after 20 minutes.

In a pot, saute the onion in a little more olive oil until soft. Add the quinoa and stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.

Once the quinoa is cooked and has absorbed all of the stock, add in the spinach and cook until warm. Remove potatoes from the oven and add them to the mix.

Serve in bowls and top with goat cheese, which you can mix in until it melts and becomes creamy.

I totally get supply and demand curves now. This is what I call brain food!

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cake Cookies

September 17, 2010

I love to bake.

Most people wouldn’t believe it. Because A) I hardly ever bake, and B) baking isn’t necessarily creative, and I have creative juice pouring out my eyeballs. But I can’t even count the number of “I’m going to wing it” meals that I’ve failed at, testing and trying something to adjust the dish and the taste, trying to be creative and throwing it in the garbage. Baking is a science, an exact combination of flour, soda, powder, sugar, salt. No ifs, ands, or buts. That’s what makes baking so gratifying. When I follow a recipe exactly I am always given perfection. Every time. Never fail. The times I fail are when I try to mess with the recipe, substituting one flavor for another, or something to lower the sugar content and make a recipe healthier. Then I get soap flavored brownies.

But is it any surprise with my eyeballs gushing glittery rainbow creativity that I wouldn’t try to mix things up once in a while?

This past weekend I just wanted to eat cookies. Being gluten free I don’t really eat cookies all that often, but the winter hibernation bear is grumbling inside me and requesting something warm and gooey with maybe some chocolate involved. I have to do what the bear says or he’ll eat me.

So cookies it was. But Z and I are also on to a pretty great workout routine, and we didn’t want to mess everything up by eating an entire batch of buttery cookies on Saturday night. Along come the good ole substitutions. Its always a risk when baking, to try to sub out butter for vegetables, oil for yogurt. But I figured I had nothing much to lose, except for a batch of cookies. And it was raining outside. And I was bored.

That night I learned an important lesson: substituting apple sauce for butter in cookies makes them into cookie cakes. Instead of thin and crispy cookies you get puffy of cookie wonderfulness, soft and moist on the inside. And that, in my mind, makes life a whole lot better.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cake Cookies (adapted from Baking Beauties)

3/4 cup apple sauce
1 cups brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour (I used 3/4 gluten free flour and 1/4 corn starch mixed)
1/4 tsp xanthan gum (leave out if you use regular flour)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup oats
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350*

Mix together apple sauce and sugar. Add egg and vanilla.

In separate bowl, combine flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and baking soda

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.

Add oats and chocolate chips and stir until combined.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and scoop out portions of the cookie mix, about 2 tablespoons of mix per cookie. Shape into a general cookie size and shape, as they puff up more than they spread out.

Bake for 12 minutes.

Happy cookies = happy bear. Mission accomplished.

Lentil Okra Masala

September 16, 2010

The semester is back in full swing. Remember that scene in You’ve Got Mail when Tom Hanks comments how wonderful the fall is, swooning Meg Ryan with the offer to send her a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils? 1-800-FLOWERS should definitely get their hands on that. There really is nothing like a delivery of school supplies. The sweet smell of shaved wood and pink rubber erasers.

Being a student for the first time in 3.5 years definitely has its challenges. Some mornings I wake up ready to walk past Hendrick’s Chapel on the Syracuse quad or have the urge to take a study break down to M-Street. I scour AIM for friends to distract me. Lucky for them they deleted AIM when they put away their graduation caps. I sit and ponder new ways to redecorate our apartment or update my wardrobe now that I am making a paycheck. There’s even an Urban Outfitters down the street. Have mercy.

My favorite form of distraction over the past year, while Z was mulling over his books, was cooking. Great, extravagant recipes on a Tuesday night! But if I did that tonight I would have to stay up way past my bedtime working and not have a chance to watch last week’s Mad Men. And Z would give me the death glare when I complain that I still have so much work to do after an hour at the stove. So while cooking is still my favorite hobby, my menus are becoming quicker.

Last nights dinner was perfect for one of those “I have so much work to do!” nights. Literally adding ingredients to a pot, letting it cook for 25 minutes, adding a few more things, and eating. I was at the stove for a total of 5 minutes. But it sure didn’t taste like it. The dish was warm and sinfully comforting, calling for a cozy sweater and a fireplace or a middle schooler who just returned from a late fall soccer practice. The spices muddle beautifully with the rich lentils, and the okra adds pop and texture.

Lentil and Okra Masala (Adapted from Veggie by Season)

1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup dry lentils
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup tomato sauce
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 lb okra, chopped
Plain yogurt to serve

In a pot, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the lentils and stock. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat. Cook for 25 minutes or until lentils are soft and liquid has absorbed.

Add the tomato sauce, spices, and okra. Adjust spices to your liking.

Serve topped with plain yogurt, and naan if you like!

A simple, filling, gorgeous one-dish meal that would look beautiful next to my bouquet of #2s.

Quinoa Zucchini Lasagna

September 13, 2010

Sundays are my all-time favorite day to cook, especially in the fall. They remind me of days in the 6th grade, when I would spend the day raking leaves or hiking in the park and then come home to an afternoon movie while my Mom cooked dinner for the evening. The house would be enveloped in warmth and sauteed onions, cuddling me on the couch. It didn’t matter what meal we were having, but the Sunday night ritual of dinner table pajamas and the promise of school in the morning is something I’ll never forget.

Yesterday was a day like this, and ended up being a day I missed home. And missed being 11. Actually, make that 8, 11 was such an awkward age.

Despite the excessive amounts of cleaning I should have been doing or the stacks of reading that are currently sitting next to my laptop due for class on Wednesday, I wanted to cook one of those warming meals that you could smell throughout your house, that would make me want to curl up in its steam and make a bed for myself next to the stove.

So Z made marinara sauce, which bubbled away for 2 hours and was thoroughly distracting with the scent of fresh tomatoes and basil. I cooked up the quinoa, so thick and creamy with the addition of cream cheese that I could have eaten the whole pot just standing there. And then the zucchini, bright green and begging to be eaten, please it was picked before the first frost. The recipe came from Mama Pea, who I see as the queen of healthy comfort cooking, and boy did it impress. And to top it off, the vegetarian-ness was destroyed with the accompaniment of the best steak tips I’ve ever had, complimentary samples from The Meat House that just opened in Coolidge Corner.

Quinoa Zucchini Lasagna (Adapted from Peas and Thank You)

2 large zucchinis

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley

2 tablespoons light cream cheese

Salt and pepper

1.5 cups marinara sauce

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400*

Chop the top and bottom off of the zucchini and slice each one the long way into 6 pieces. These will be your noodles. Lay the zucchini on a paper towel, sprinkle with salt, put another paper towel on top, and let them sit while the water is released.

Combine the rinsed quinoa, chicken stock, tomato sauce, and onion in a pan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

When the quinoa is done cooking, add the cream cheese and parsley and mix thoroughly.

Wipe the zucchini clean of any excess moisture.

In an 8×8 dish, pour 1/2 cup of marinara sauce. Put 4 slices of zucchini, one next to the other. Top with a layer of the quinoa and 1/3 cup of marinara sauce.

Repeat: zucchini, quinoa, marinara.

Add the final zucchini, top with marinara, and top that with the cheese. Bake in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes, or until everything is heated through and the cheese is bubbly.

I just have to say, I’ve had my failure of vegetarian and zucchini lasagna before. But this stayed together perfectly. It was vegetarian lasagna heaven. The 8 year old in me went to bed warm and happy inside. And I’m pretty sure the 11 year old me would have been quite pleased too.