Megan Monday: Holy Guacamole

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hola, Megan.
Hola, Monday.

Per Megan's request, I'm making guacamole: her comfort food.

I will admit that there is little better than sitting down with a bag of chips and a bowl of salsa and/or guacamole, but it's so easy to get carried away. In general, there are about 12 chips in a serving. 12. Are you kidding me? I can go through 12 in about 2 minutes. Especially when I'm surrounded by some girl friends and a batch of margaritas (on the rocks, of course.)
Nevertheless, I still eat them, but I find it's easier to curb my chip desire when I have something else to dip. Let's be real, guacamole is not the kind of snack you can have on a spoon- you need something to go with it, and while guac is a relatively healthy snack, it's accesories are not.
When making guac at home, consider dipping it with cut veggies, i.e., peppers, carrots, tomatoes and broccoli, crackers, soy crisps (pcitured below: similar to rice cakes) and yes, tortilla chips. While those aren't the best option, there is nothing more classic than chips and guac.
When buying chips, look for once with low salt, made with whole grains, and cooked in oil such as sunflower, canola or safflower. Avoid anything with lard, non hydrogenated oil and weird ingredients like monopsychgiot (that's not a real word, but neither are half the words I see on labels.) You get the idea.
When serving your guac and dippers, count out a serving of chips for yourself and put your chips on a plate or something, so you avoid going overboard, drinking three margaritas and lose the ability to count how many chips you eat.

When going out or buying guac at the store, make sure it's not made with olive oil! Some places add olive oil to keep the stuff from turning brown. While we all appreciate that, it adds the most uneccesary amount of calories- read labels, ask questions and skip the oil!

Now, on to the recipe.
I did this recipe step by step, so Megan could know exaclty how it's done. I sometimes take for granted the little steps that are involved in cooking, and I tried to take it back to basics today.

This is what you need.

You'll also need salt, tabasco, garlic powder and red onion. I was out of red onion. I found a few slices, in the fridge, in some leftover salad, so you'll see it make an appearance later.

When picking out avocados, push your thumb gently into the skin. It should feel tender- your thumb shouldn't go all the way through, but there shoudl be some resistance. This is kind of a guessing game. Sometimes I fail miserably. If you need to ripen up avos faster, stick them in a brown paper bag with a banana overnight.

Cut the avocados in half.

Hold the avo in your hand and stick a knife blade in the middle of the pit. Make sure it's good and in there and then pull out the knife- this is the easiest, least messy way to remove the pit. Don't throw it away just yet!

Then make about 4-5 slices vertically, and do the same horixontally. You'll end up with little squares.

Take a tomato and cut a circle around the top- where the little stem connector is. Yes, stem connector. I don't know what th real word is, but I liek stem connector better.

Cut the tomato in half.

Then cut it in about 4 slices.

Then, cut it into cubes. You don't need the other half, stick it in the fridge for something else.

Next, cut your red onion. You'll be cooler than me and buy your own. You want in small pieces- you'll want about 1/4 cup.

And your lime.

I like to get all my cutting out of the way because I hate cutting.

When done, take a fork or a knife and scoop the flesh out of the skin and dump in a bowl.

With a fork, mash up the avocado. You don't want mush, but it should be fairly smooth.

The add the tomato and onion. DON'T add these before you mash uo the avos, or you'll end up making avocado tomato sauce, yuck.

Next. add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix in well. This is my cute little sea salt bowl I got for 99 cents. Isn't it just adorable?

Squeeze 1/2 lime into the mix and stir. Top it off with about 3 dashes of tabasco.

Now, this is important. TASTE IT. Some people like more lime, or salt or heat. Taste it and make the necessary changes- this is how you learn to cook- experiment.

If you're not eating the guac immediately, squeeze a little more lime over the top (this will keep it from browning) and stick one avocado pit in the middle (also helps with browning and I think it looks cool.) Finally, put plastic wrap over the bowl and push it down so it's touching the guac- you don't want a lot of air to seep in and brown your delicious efforts.

When you're ready, get your dippers and dig in!

These are scrumptous soy crisps- I swear they are good. I find them at Raley's- they should be in the cracker aisle.

If you need to double or triple this recipe, no big deal- just increase every ingredient as needed. We also served this guac on chili last night and it was a smash.

Butternut Squash Sauce

Friday, March 25, 2011

A continuation from yesterday:
To make the delicious sauce that goes atop your enchiladas, start by roasting some butternut squash. Peel skin on the squash (don't get one too large because it will be a pain to handle) Then, using a large knife, cut off the bottom and top. Then, cut the squash in half, vertically. Cut each half vertically, and then do it again. You wanna cut it so you can turn it into cubes, like this:

Put in the oven at 400 until tender. This process takes about 45 minutes. You can spead the squash in a casserole dish, or a cookie sheet. Line with foil, either way.
Let cool- you can even do this days ahead of time!
When you're ready, toss the suckers in a blender with 2 cups chicken broth, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon oregano.
When the mixture is smooth and the consistency of spaghetti sauce (maybe a little thicker) pour it into a saucepan, on medium high. Let cook for 5-10 minutes, until hot; allow all the flavors to marry. If it's too thick, add more broth. Finally, at the end, add about 1/4 cup half and half. Yes, half and half. It's not healthy, but it adds a great depth of flavor. If you love fat, use real cream instead. If you think fat is the devil, use fat free half and half. Do not use non fat milk- it's pointless. And why would you wanna go and ruin all your efforts?!

Tomorrow, we'll put the whole meal together, and you can serve it for your next vegetarian friendly dinner.
P.S. You can use this sauce for more than enchiladas. Try it on penne, or even over chicken breasts.

A Lenten Friday Meal and Facebook update

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another post already- can you believe it?!
This is what happens when you're on Spring Break and stuck in a house with a cute baby all day, unable to expel some energy at the park, and playing soccer in the front yard; you get cabin fever and do anything to fill time. This is especially true when you've discarded facebook as a vice.
Believe it or not, life without facebook isn't too shabby. I will admit there have been about three times I've wished I could go on, but other than that, I'm barely noticing its absence in my daily routine. In fact, I'm starting to wonder just how I wasted so much time on there, now that I'm off, and still barely able to get everything done throughout the day.

On to tastier things...

I made these enchiladas last Friday. For those of you who don't know (or like to pretend to forget) Lent=no meat on Fridays, except fish. Why fish does not count as meat is beyond me, but I don't make the rules, I just follow them (sometimes).
I was semi-tired of the traditional enchiladas I make all the time, so I decided to find the foodie in me and get a little creative: enter roasted red pepper enchiliadas with butternut squash sauce.
I'm going to post part of this recipe today, part of it tomorrow, and combine the whole thing on Saturday, because the recipe has quite a few steps.
Today we'll start with how to roast your own peppers.
Stop your whining- it's really simple. Whenever I make them I question why I ever waste my money buying the ones in the jar.

Buy 3 red peppers- doesn't really matter what they look like, but you want them RED. Red red. Not sorta red, not I think these are ripe red, real red.

Turn on the oven to 450.

Cut your peppers in half, making a cut from the top (where the green stem is) to the bottom (where the butt is).

Try to discard most of the seeds with a spoon, your knife, or even banging it against the cutting board to knock em out. Just don't get make a mess and leave them all over the kitchen floor like I do. Sorry, Cass.

Now, here's the tricky part, you ready? Lay the red peppers on a cookie sheet, or some foil, with the inside of the pepper facing down, and throw them in the oven. Gasp! So much work.

I have no time measurement for this cooking process, but you need to keep them in the oven until they start to turn black. Yes, you GET to burn your food.

Once they are black, remove them from the oven and place them in a large ziploc bag, seal it up, and when the bag gets all steamy, remove the peppers from their sauna and peel the skin. Think peeling Elmer's glue off your hand, like in elementary school. Don't act like you never did that.

I like to store these in the fridge until I'm ready to use them for my desired recipe.

Tomorrow: Butternut squash sauce.

Bday cake

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Today is the boyf's birthday. Last night we had a little celebration at my parents house, which was complete with cake (of course).
When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted he gave me a typical, don't go to any trouble, answer: yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Seriously?! My creative energy cannot be tamed with only yellow cake and chocolate frosting.
So, I made yellow cake with a banana cream filling and chocolate ganache on top. Ah, much better.
This cake came together really well. I baked two round cakes on Sunday night, using this recipe. *It's the Cooks Illustrated one* Although, I accidentally modified it slightly when I mixed the egg whites and yolks together, rather than beating the whites separately- oops.
I wrapped the cakes in two layers of plastic wrap and froze them.
On Monday afternoon, with my electric mixer, I whipped up one pint of heavy whipping cream with about 1/4 package of instant white chocolate pudding (I whipped it A LOT- so it was thicker than whipped cream, but not as thick as butter.) I also added 1 teaspoon of vanilla.
Then, I took a bread knife and shaved off the tops of the frozen cakes, to get them nice and flat.
I put the cake on a hat box lid, wrapped in plastic wrap, and placed one cake round on the box. Then I added one layer of banana slices to the cake. On top of banana laden bottom layer, I smoothed the whipped cream mixture, and topped that with cake layer two- think sandwich making.
For the delish ganache, I heated 1 pint heavy whipping cream to almost boiling. I removed it from the stove and added 5 oz semisweet chocolate and 5 oz bittersweet chocolate bits- yum! I whisked until smooth and let it refrigerate for an hour before I spread it all over the cake. Then I piped some buttercream for decoration and voila! The cake was ready a day ahead of time. It hung out in the fridge until last night when we...

fired it up.

Blew it out.

Sliced it up.

And ate it.

Besides Cass' graduation cake that my mom and I did together, this was my first attempt at a multi layer, fully decorated cake- I will def be doing this again.

Megan Monday: Cooking for the masses.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do you have a crockpot?
Yes, you.
All of you...not just Megan.
You don't?
I am in love with my crockpot. On days I want dinner to come together without much else than open the bag, dump that sauce, stir this up, my crockpot is my Savior. I think there is a shimmering, heavenly light over it (that could be the light beaming from the ceiling, but my crockpot is holier than that.)

This bbq style chicken serves as a Megan Monday because it's easy, can be made for the masses- hungry husbands, visiting inlaws- and doesn't require busy teachers to do too much work.
I served these on buns (go for whole wheat, without high fructose corn syrup!) and if you're feeling like you've hit your carb limit, serve it on half a bun, like I did. I served this with a salad (mixed greens with pecans, sliced apple and red onion) and baked waffle fries. These would also be great with baked beans or mac/potato salad.

Easy Peasy BBQ like Chicken:
2-3 lbs chicken breasts
1 bottle of your fav bbq sauce (check for no HFCS!)
2 cups water

In the crockpot, add chicken. Cover with water, and entire bottle of bbq sauce ( you'll want to buy another bottle for later...) Turn crockpot to LOW for 10 hours. Go to bed, go to work, go on vacation (just don't make it a week long trip)
When chicken is done, place it in the fridge for later, or if you're ready, serve it now.
If the chicken breasts are still pretty whole (meaning they look like full chicken breasts), pull them apart with two forks- you want it shredded. The crockpot should do most of this shredding for you, but sometimes it doesn't... don't judge.
Serve immediately on buns. Feel free to top these with sliced onion (white or yellow), bread and butter pickles and a drizzle of BBQ sauce (see why you need more?). You can also eat this 100% plain Jane.

IF you put the chicken in the fridge, when you're ready, reheat on the stove or microwave until hot.

TIP: You can basically put any meat in your crockpot with any type of liquid. Get creative: Pork and BBQ sauce, chicken and teriyaki sauce: serve with rice, or even tri tip with hot sauce and salsa: to go in tortillas.
Remember- meat+sauce=dinner.
PLEASE cook all your meats in your crockpot on LOW. They will be much more tender than when cooked on HIGH.

Menu for the Green Holiday

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Do you ever have those moments when you think, What I'm doing right now is so trite in comparison to the BIG things going on the world?
My desire to cook this all green dinner

and slave over cupcakes

for St. Patty's day seems to fall into the trite category for me right now. The fact that I have an abundance of food, shelter, water, and so much else, makes everything else seem so insignificant. Nevertheless, I am a person created to stop and be grateful for all my blessings and then (here is the key part) not waste them by basking in pity or guilt. I cannot squander these gufts I have while others are left wondering where their families are. For the moment, I will put aside those overwhelming feelings I have for the people of Japan and focus on the trite, but tasty things I've been cooking.

Spinach tortellini with sauteed spinach and asparagus. I tossed it all together with some grilled pesto chicken (yes, I bbq'd in the rain.)

Don't you just love my gold cuff bracelet?! Those are roasted garlic bits I'm adding to the dish...mmm.

Pot of Gold cupcakes- dye white cupcakes green, and fill the center with dulce de leche. Top with the best buttercream (2 sticks softened buttercream, whipped for 3-5 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 4 cups powdered sugar. Add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, to get desired consistency.) See how to make the pot of gold, here and here.

I hope you had a lovely green holiday...stay dry.

These photos are all courtesy of my talented mama.


Friday, March 18, 2011

I planned a "What I ate for St. Patrick's Day post", but we're going to do this instead and try for a little "green overload" post tomorrow.

Megan Monday: What's your comfort food?

Monday, March 14, 2011

These are extremely un-photogenic. They apologize. They are, however, delicious. My mom’s enchiladas are my all time favorite comfort food (my mom better remember to make them for me, even when I’m 80 years old. Yes, she will still be alive then), but comfort foods can often be laden with butter, carbs and a whole mess of other tasty but unhappy things. Never underestimate your ability to lighten up a heavy favorite.
Your task for the week, Megan- leave a comment with your all time favorite comfort food, and I will make a lightened up version next week.

Serves 4-6
6 whole wheat tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce
1 bag raw spinach
2-3 cooked chicken breasts, diced
1/2 sliced onion
1 sliced green or red pepper
1 small can diced green chiles
1/2 cup low fat cheese, if desired

In a large casserole dish, spoon sauce to lightly cover bottom of dish. One at a time, add tortillas; drizzle with sauce. To tortillas, add a small handful of chicken, spinach, cheese and sliced onion and pepper. Roll tortillas, place in dish. Repeat with all tortillas. When dish is full, cover with remainder of sauce, top enchiladas with green chiles.
Bake for 15 minutes at 350.
Serve with low fat sour cream, salsa, sliced avocado, and black beans.

TIP: Replace white flour carbs with whole-wheat ones. Be mindful that they often have the same calorie count, but they are complex carbs; they keep you more full because of the higher fiber count.

40 days and 40 nights

Thursday, March 10, 2011

This is not a post about running or cooking. It's a little out of character, but during Lent I will share my experiences dealing with what I decided to give up, something I decided to take on and once a week, a no meat recipe for you Lenten participants, abstaining from meat on Fridays.

For any of you who "celebrate" Lent, you're in the beginning stages of dealing with whatever you gave up. Perhaps experiencing a headache from no morning coffee, maybe wanting to kill that annoying intern at your office because you decided you need to cleanse yourself of getting mad at the little things, so you're holding it all in. Or maybe you've taken on a new habit, like biting your nails, to ignore the withdrawals you face caused by no late night dessert.
If you're me, you're finding ways to fill your time without going on

I have a sweet job that allows me to work in a house all day. For someone who likes to be on the go, this can get boring, draining, monotenous, unmotivationg, and about 12 other "omg how do people sit around and do nothing all day?!" type reactions. But when your boss is a baby and that baby sleeps, you need to do thinsg to fill time. Often I fill it with reading, homework, emails. some hulu and lots of blog reading. (Check this Lenten post- it rocks my socks.) In any case, A LOT, too much, mountains-I could keep going- of that time is dedicated to facebook. Much of the time I believe I am using it for good instead of evil- dropping a little note to a dear friend far away, leaving sweet words on a pic of a family member, or sharing links, articles, news and laughs for the good of the order. There is an evil side though That which fills me with procrastination, pettiness and general brain cell killing moments. I decided to give up facebook as a little experiment. Could I really do it? yes, I really CAN. How much time do I actually waste on there? You don't wanna know. I can't tell you how many times, in the past 24 hours, I've been bored and immediately thought to jump on And for the sociologist in me- what is it like to live in facebook's world? WITHOUT facebook?! I'm excited to see what it's like to live in facebook's world and not have an invitiation to their daily party. I actually hope fb takes the time to change their site (as they do ever other week) so I can experience what it's like to be out of the loop.
It seems silly, but I've become cognizant of how many times facebook is dropped into regular conversation, and it makes me slightly sick. As humans, we are nosy. Some of us more than others (points finger to self). I actually enjoy that self character trait, but I also think it breeds gossip, anxiety, self loathing, preoccupation and some other not so hot stuff.
My intent for Lent (I have no facebook, I'm bored, let me rhyme) is too document how it is to be one of the few people who don't have fb. I'm also hoping I will go without it for so long that I will end up not "needing" it, in the way I did up until Tuesday night. (Sidenote, I was never ever one of those people who played farmville, mafia wars, that game with the colored balls- I don't even know what that's about, and all that other nonsense.)
There are so many worse things to give up. Immediately I'm thinking soy capps, shopping, blogs, oh, the list goes on. Everyone has been super supportive of the idea. (Even those who play practical jokes on me, which I will address next week in another facebook post.) Still, I never pretend this will be easy. I know I will miss seeing pictures of my friends' adventures, I'm bound to forget someone's bday, as it isn't conveniently displayed on the right hand side of whatever website I'm on, and I'm already letting out an "ugh" at the fact that I can't go on fb and display the link to this blog post.
Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to more time to write, post blogs, read blogs, read, do homework, avoid gossip and deliver baked goods to food shelters- be on the lookout for posts about that.
If you're participating in Lent, PLEASE leave a comment with what you gave up, how you're doing and any general thoughts about this season.

For the record, because I know you're wondering...I tried to rid myself of all possible temptation. I thought I would find it too easy to semi-accidentally happen upon the website in a moment of weakness, so I gave the boyf my account and told him to give it a new password. Now I'll look like a complete crack addict if I ever try to get the password.

Author note: If any of you get engaged, have a child, or solve world hunger before Easter, you better let me know via text, email or phone call, so I don't miss out (the real me lives on, even without a facebook page.)

Megan Monday: Flawless Chicken Salad

Monday, March 7, 2011

I adore chicken salad. The best part is it truly can be a healthy option. On the other hand, it can probably be worse for you than a big mac, if you don't know what's in it.
Enter "Flawless Chicken Salad"
If not prepared well enough, chicken salad can be bland, too mayonnaise-y, too pickle-y or too "seriously, I paid 10 bucks for this sandwich?!"-y

I chose this recipe for MM (hey, that stands for Megan Monday and Megan's initials- at least for the next four months!) because it can be eaten for lunch, dinner, or a midnight snack. You can serve it on bread, in a tortilla, on an english muffin, maybe an onion bagel, on a bed of lettuce, with crackers, and even some celery stalks.
There are some days when stuffing chicken salad in celery doesn't do it for me- GIVE. ME. CAAAARBS. And then there are days when I've eaten my weight in Girl Scout cookies. There are also days I decide that I'm going to be good by working out and eating like a rabbit. On the cookie days and rabbit days, throwing something filling, like this salad, on some celery, or a bed of greens, is just the well balanced meal I need.
For Megan, this would be a perfect lunch, after your morning run, so you can stock up on that healthy protein.

Last night I made this for dinner and shoved in a whole wheat pita, along side tomato soup. For Megan purposes, I chose to display some of it on saltines. I can't count the number of times we would stand in our kitchen, at 4 in the afternoon, slabbing peanut butter and jelly over a handful of saltines- it really was a great snack. Just think of this as the grown up version of that treat.

On a little more personal note, the UPS man stopped by the house this morn to drop off a package from Jcrew. Yes, my friends, my dress for Megan's wedding is here. I hate ordering stuff online, never knowing if it will fit the way I imagine it in my head. Although, in my imagination, when I open up a package, the clothes seem to be meant for a Barbie, as I struggle to get it over my head, thus eliciting a rather dramatic scene with me sweating, crying, etc...luckily this is all in my head. In actuality, today was a success- the dress is beautiful and I'll make sure to eat lots of this health friendly chicken salad, to keep it that way.

TIP: When watching fat and calories, mayo can become the devil (especially when you order something prepared by someone else.) No one wants a dry sandwich, so opt for another spread: hummus, honey mustard, pesto, and tapenade all lend plenty of flavor without as much of the "yuck" that real mayo gives. When cooking at home, sub plain nonfat yogurt, or sour cream for mayo. Mix it with some lemon juice and garlic powder to give it lots of flavor. If you're really craving mayo, ask for it on the side when ordering out, or by low fat, olive oil or vegan versions to have at home.

Flawless Chicken Salad
serves 6 (feel free to half the recipe)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2-3/4 cup sour low fat/non fat sour cream or plain yogurt
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 half lemon, juiced and zested
1/4 cup bread and butter pickles, chopped (or use sweet relish)
1/3 cup red grapes, halved
1 small granny smith apple: cored and diced finely
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 bundle of green onions, chopped
1/4 chopped almonds or pecans (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon parsley
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Preheat oven to 325. Put chicken in a casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil and 1 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Cook for about 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through (may take longer depending on how thick the chicken is). When done, take out of the oven and place a sheet of foil over the dish- let rest for 10 minutes.
While the chicken rests, mix all other ingredients together in a large bowl- place in fridge.

When chicken is done resting, chop into bite sized pieces. Let cool for a few minutes and mix into bowl of ingredients. You can let this refrigerate for a couple hours, or serve now, if needed. celery