Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An easy & healthy way to do fish!

In my house, I'm always looking for ways to make my kids healthy food that they love. The healthier the better. The more fruits & veggies I can sneak in the better. And as I've said before, I'm lucky that my kids aren't really picky. I hope that comes from me changing up the menu as much as I do. I take flavors they like and mix it up to where they are happy, but I don't get bored.

And you're always hearing about how we're supposed to eat more fish. But a lot of people think of fish as fried or covered in sauce. Now, while I love me some good ole fashioned English fish 'n chips, I do like to get lots of healthy fish into our diet. And let's face it, the healthiest way to eat fish is to simply grill or bake it......no added oils or sauces. But a lot of people consider that boring.

So I've discovered a way to make a really healthy, really tasty fish dinner that my kids love. One that I can feel really good about serving. And the best thing is this works with any fish you like. However you like to cook it. I prefer salmon or mahi-mahi (I'm not a huge fish eater, but both of those go so good with this meal). And I cook it as simple and healthy as I can......baked at 400 with just a little sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper until the fish is done. And well honestly, I probably cook mine a hair beyond "done" cause to me that kills off any fishy flavor.

And then comes the magic: My two weapons that can kick up just salt & peppered-no oil added-no sauce-having fish. These two secret weapons can turn any fish into an awesome meal that is fresh tasting, easy on the waist, and kid friendly. What more could you ask for?

What are they?

Cilantro-lime rice. Yes, cilantro-lime rice is the stuff at the bottom of your Chipotle burrito. The first time I tasted it I thought it was pure brilliance.......and SO easy. Easy enough that the recipe is in the name. And it takes rice, which a lot of people think of as fill-you-up, stick-to-your-ribs, "heavy" food and transforms it to something light and fresh tasting.

And mango salsa. We're all mango freaks in my family. I actually created this stuff YEARS ago. Long before it was popular. Long before you started seeing it on store shelves everywhere. Long before (at least I ever noticed) it became a popular item on restaurant menus.

Trust me, these two secret weapons can make a fish dish awesome. And easy. It can be a 20 minute meal from start to finish if you're having a really busy day. Or you can make the salsa ahead and give it a chance to get even better (and make it even easier to fix come dinner time!) And if you don't think you like fish......try these two out with grilled chicken breasts. Or shrimp. Then work yourself up to a fish you kinda sorta like. Or trust me on the salmon or mahi-mahi. Just make sure they don't smell fishy at the store!

Cilantro-Lime Rice
4 servings
(I usually double the recipe so I have plenty!)

1 cup basmati rice
Juice of 2 limes
1 tsp butter or oil
4 tbsp chopped cilantro
salt to taste

Melt butter in large skillet (that has a lid) or a dutch oven. Add rice. Coat rice in melted butter and continue to cook over medium-low heat until the rice starts to smell nutty and turn light brown. Add 2 cups of water and about 1 tsp of salt. Stir well and cover. Let simmer on low, 15-20 minutes until the water has been absorbed by the rice. Remove from heat. Add the lime juice and the cilantro. Lightly stir & fluff rice.

Mango Salsa

2 ripe mangos, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 jalapeño, finely diced
1 cup cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Juice of 2 limes
4 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp corriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt & fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Note: if you have someone who doesn't like spicy, leave the jalapeño out. Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl. Divide the salsa into two bowls and just add the jalapeño to the other bowl. Then you have mild & medium (you can always add more peppers or hotter peppers if you like a lot of heat!). And to make the salsa even healthier, use unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar!

There you have it! The perfect (in my opinion!) fish dinner. Especially when you want a light meal in the summer. Serve with a salad or any veggie of your choice and you have a complete meal!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Waste not......

I can spend quite a bit of money on food. Like most people trying to raise a family on one income in this economy, I try to buy everything when it's on sale. But even limited funds don't stop me from buying an expensive cut of meat.....just because it sounds good. I'm a well rounded foodie - expensive or cheap, I make the best of every ingredient.

But truth be known, I am extremely frugal by nature. I hate throwing anything away that can be used. Almost to a fault. I have a hard time throwing ANYTHING away. But I'm the worst when it comes to food. Yes, I throw away the stuff that's gone bad. But I never toss something just because there really isn't enough left in the bottom of the box/bag/jar/what have you. I always assume there is something I could do with it.

The one thing that I really have a hard time throwing away is all the broken bits of cereal at the bottom of the package. You know the stuff that looks like this:

I mean seriously......think of all the "corn flake coated chicken" recipes out there that call for you to put perfectly good cornflakes in a bag and beat them to a pulp with a rolling pin! Surely, there is a use for all those crumbs left in the bottom of the bag, right?

I remember using the broken cornflakes to coat chicken & french fries with my mom as a kid. I remember using various cereal crumbs in muffins & streusel toppings. But it wasn't til one time I had bought a box of shredded wheat with my own money and saw that literally HALF the package was reduced to tiny little crumbs in the bottom of the bag, that I realized how wasteful it would be to throw it away. And no, eating it in a bowl with honey & milk like I do the big shredded wheat was not an option. That is way too mushy for my tastes. :)

So I decided to use those crumbs as the "flour" in some muffins. They were so yummy & healthier than using all-purpose flour. And it made me feel like I wasn't throwing away a lot of money simply because the cereal wasn't useable in it's intended form.

I've made these muffins a variety of ways. My absolute favorite is cranberry orange. Those flavors just go really well with the the texture of the shredded wheat. But feel free to take this recipe and use your own add-in choices (believe me, I've probably made them all from blueberries to blackberries to apple cinnamon to chocolate chip........the possibilities are endless!) I've even made just the base recipe without any "flavor" and served it along side a big bowl of fruit salad in the summer.

And bare with me......I actually planned ahead and took a couple pics. This is my first experiment with prettying up the recipe! I hope to get better & more creative as time goes on!

Cranberry-Orange Shredded Wheat Muffins

1 cup flour
3/4 cup of broken shredded wheat (frosted or not)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar (possibly a little less if using frosted shredded wheat)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup of milk
1/4 cup applesauce or canola oil
1 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
zest & juice of one orange
1-2 Tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Mix all ingredients just until moistened. Spoon into muffin cups, about 2/3 full. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with a little sugar (I used my homemade vanilla sugar - recipe to follow!). Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Vanilla Sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped (or whole if you desire!)
2 cups of sugar

And what better time to include my vanilla sugar recipe than a blog about not wasting anything. Next time you use a vanilla bean for a recipe, don't throw away the bean after you scrape out the seeds. Put it in an airtight container with 2 cups of granulated sugar. Shake the container from time to time. Can be used right away, but is better after a week or so. That simple! I keep it in my spice cabinet and use it in my coffee, cereal, or for sprinkling desserts & muffins. Enjoy!

To make another variety of muffin omit the cranberries, orange juice, and zest. The muffins are great by only using the first 9 ingredients, or you can use your imagination for other varieties. These muffins can get very crumbly, so you may need to adjust the wet ingredients if using whole wheat flour, or adding a lot of wheat germ, oat bran, flax seed, and other healthy stuff.

I hope this recipe inspires you the next time you start to throw away something that can be used in a different way! :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Changing just one ingredient.....

Sometimes a great recipe is as easy as playing around with a recipe that you already love. Or changing up a new recipe that you saw on a cooking show but didn't like one of the ingredients on the list. Cooking is a fun way to try something that takes your favorite ingredients and makes it great.

Yesterday, my mom was coming over for dinner. I make way too many desserts as it is, but I always make a dessert when I'm having company for Sunday dinner. It completes the meal. I had asked the kids if they had a preference for dessert for Gramma. All 3 wanted cheesecake, which I found funny since it had been a really long time since we'd had cheesecake of any kind.

Well, it was a bit late in the day to make a real cheesecake, and I really wasn't in the mood for a frozen one. So I started thinking about various no-bake cheesecakes that I had made before. And the more I thought about it, the more I started to crave peanut butter pie.

For those of you who don't know what peanut butter pie is --- it's basically peanut butter, cream cheese & cool whip whipped up together and thrown in a graham cracker crust. Of course, there are numerous recipes out there, and you can make it a lot more complicated than that (I usually make my own whipped cream or use Dream Whip instead of cool whip). I rarely eat make peanut butter pie, so I have no idea where the craving came from. But I figured since it is mostly cream cheese, I could call it a "cheesecake" to make the kids happy.

But then I saw the Nutella in the pantry. And I decided that sounded even better. I'm notorious for making up a batch of brownies and icing them with Nutella when I want my chocolate-hazelnut fix. But Nutella is the same consistency as peanut butter. And it is basically the same thing -- only better.

Now, had I had more time I could have made this better, I'm sure. I could have taken the time to make a homemade toasted hazelnut crust (or chocolate graham cracker crust). I could have made my own whipped cream. I could have made it two layered or who knows what else. But by keeping it simple -- taking a very easy recipe that is probably in everybody's family cookbook (or at the very least can be googled to yield 8000 various recipes) - and changing up just one ingredient, I made something great that I could call my own. Maybe another day I will fancy this up and repost. But for now, my intention was to show you how easy it is to make something super simple, super fabulous!

Nutella No-Bake Cheesecake

1 8oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup Nutella, microwaved for about 10 seconds
6oz Cool Whip
1 store bought chocolate pie crust

Whip cream cheese, powdered sugar & vanilla together until smooth. With a spatula, combine cream cheese with the Nutella until well blended. Carefully fold in the cool whip. Pour into pie crust. Freeze for about 2 hours. Slice & enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Taking the ridiculously simple and kicking it up a notch....

I'm all about REALLY easy. I've been a working mom. I've had one of THOSE days where I wasn't home long enough to take something out of the freezer to thaw, let alone figure out what I wanted to cook. I've had those days where I didn't feel like cooking. I get why so many of you don't cook. Or don't enjoy it. Or can't be bothered. I really do.

One dinner that I was notorious for back before kids (heck, probably even when my oldest was a baby and I was still working full time with an hour and half commute each way to work) was store bought refrigerated tortellini and a jar of sauce. It always tasted good. It was impossible to screw up. Even if the tortellini burst and I bought a different sauce that wasn't quite up to par with the sauce I normally bought, it still tasted good. It was still hearty, filling, and fairly nutritious (doesn't Ragu even claim to give you a full serving of veggies in every serving?)

One of my favorite sauces for pasta is pesto. I LOVE the stuff. There is something ridiculously fabulous about the combination of basil, pine nuts & garlic. I've never come across a store bought brand that wasn't edible, and as long as you don't way too much garlic in it, homemade is fantabulous. And let's face it, some refrigerated/frozen tortellini and some store bought pesto is simple & delicious.

Now, I have made my own tortellini in the past. But for a quick weeknight meal, that ain't happening. So yes, I do buy the refrigerated or frozen ones to help keep me sane. And since nowadays you can even find whole wheat pasta pre-made, it's even better.

I came up with a fantastic homemade pesto, so I don't bother with store bought anymore. If you haven't made your own, you must. It's so easy and SO much better. It's even a much prettier color green than the stuff you buy at the store. Feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your own tastes, but I've received many compliments from this recipe:


2 cups fresh basil leaves (tightly packed)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (I usually buy the block and just cut off chunks for this)
2-3 garlic cloves (2 large is usually perfect, remember smaller cloves are stronger)
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (toast in pan or oven until lightly brown)
salt & freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil til the right consistency (usually about 1/3 of a cup)


Allow pine nuts to cool slightly once they are toasted. Pulse pine nuts, garlic & parmesan in food processor until it's the consistency of peanut butter. Add basil, pepper and salt (You may want to skip the salt until you see how salty the end result is. The cheese will add quite a bit of saltiness.) and process until well blended. Stream in olive oil until the pesto is the consistency you desire.

I use this pesto in many dishes. It is great on salmon or chicken. It's really good mixed with cooked penne & roasted chicken. I've mixed it with cream cheese for a dip. I've added it to hummus. The possibilities are endless. And if you omit the cheese, you can make large amounts of this pesto and freeze it in 1 cup servings. Then you always have pesto ready to use. You can either add fresh grated cheese to it after it thaws, or just put lots of fresh grated cheese on your pasta after you mix it with the pesto.

Now you can just add that sauce the the pasta of your choice. Add a grilled chicken breast and a side of veggies and call it a meal. But last night I decided to raise the bar on flavor and nutritional value.

I've always searching for ways to get good veggies into my family without always having a side of veggies on the plate. I'm blessed with kids that aren't really picky and will typically eventually clean their plate. But the veggies are often last to go. Often take some coercing to get into their tummies. And let's face it, when you want dinner to be really quick, you don't always have time to fix them in a way that would wow the masses. Quite often you don't get enough salt on them. Or they are over-boiled. Or something goes horribly wrong. So I love it when I get a great idea of a way to sneak in a veggie, without really affecting the flavor (at least not negatively) or appearance.

I spent a large chunk of the day thinking of flavors that would go well with pesto tortellini. Cause let's face it -- pesto tortellini rocks all on it's own. I've seen numerous times on Food Network where someone makes a pesto that isn't pine nut-basil pesto. I've seen spinach-walnut pestos and arugula pestos. The limits are endless. But I rarely venture into creating a new pesto (or even trying one of their recipes) cause I'm a fanatic for plain ole tried and true pesto. But I figured since chopped spinach is often used in those other pestos and it sort of resembles pesto, it would blend into the dish well to boost the nutritional value.

And I love bacon & onions with my spinach. And with my pasta and my cheese. And the final result was devoured by my children. All 3 kids asked for seconds. And my poor husband, who had to work late, said it was great even after having to warm it up in the microwave. And for an added bonus, I decided to wait to post this recipe until after we warmed up the leftovers for dinner. Yes, this is a meal you will not dread having leftovers of. It is that good. It heats up that good. I rarely cook the same thing very often. I just don't. But this may become one of those recipes that the kids request on a regular basis.

Bacon-Mozzarella-Pesto Tortellini

2 (2.5 serving size) packages of whole-wheat cheese tortellini
Pesto sauce from above
3 slices of bacon, cut into small cubes
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 package of frozen, chopped spinach - thawed
1 cup fresh mozzerella (I used the tiny balls, or you could cut a large piece into cubes)
salt & fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Cook the tortellini according to package directions. Drain well.

In a dutch oven, fry the bacon & onions over medium heat. Once the onions are translucent, add the spinach. Continue to cook until the water from the spinach has cooked out. Add the tortellini and pesto sauce to the pot. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally (gently so you don't break up the tortellini) until the pesto is coating everything evenly. Add the fresh mozzarella, and additional salt & pepper if you desire. Keep on heat until the cheese starts to melt.

I think this dish would have been great with a pinch of red pepper flakes, but I omit it as to not get things too spicy for the kids. But as much as I love my spicy food, I'm such a pesto fanatic, I didn't miss it. :)

It's that simple. So without much effort at all, you have improved upon a simple pasta dish.