Wednesday, September 14, 2011

S'mores Pops and Mini-S'mores Pops

S'mores, in my mind, have always been one of the most special perks of camping.  I haven't been camping in several years (although hope to change that soon), yet I often find myself daydreaming of their ooey gooey chocolately goodness in the late summer and early fall when the air gets a bit cooler at night and the smell of a fire burning in a nearby fireplace or backyard firepit comes my way. 

That was all it took on a recent late summer night to inspire me to make these again.  They're not only delicious, but also incredibly cute, no camping is required, and they're 100% less messy than the original.  And don't say I didn't warn you, but they're also impossible to resist! 

I have a feeling these will be popping up at many toddler birthday parties and get-togethers in my future...hence, the Mini-S'mores Pops.  Couldn't let all that extra chocolate to go to waste, so I put the mini-marshmallows to work and the result was a perfect little bite-sized treat for even the littlest of people. 

S'mores Pops and Mini-S'mores Pops
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1 (10 oz.) bag large marshmallows
1 (10.5 oz) bag mini-marshmallows
2 (10 oz.) containers chocolate candy melts (such as Wilton Candy Dips, Light Cocoa) OR 2 (12 oz.) bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
9 large honey graham crackers
35 count bag 6-inch lollipop sticks (available at craft stores in cake decorating aisle)

1.     Twist the lollipop sticks into the flat end of the large marshmallows until they’re just about to pop through the other end.  For the mini-pops, stack 2 mini-marshmallows on top of one another and stick a toothpick through the flat end of one of the bottom one until the toothpick almost pops through the other end.
2.     Put the graham crackers in a strong zip-locking bag and use a rolling pin (or the flat side of a meat tenderizer) to crush them to finely ground crumbs.  Leave a few slightly larger chunks if you want more texture.  Set them aside in a small bowl.
3.     Melt one container of the chocolate candy dips in the microwave according to the directions on the container, or melt one 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl in 30 seconds intervals (stirring in between) until melted smooth.  Be careful not to overheat the chocolate in the microwave.  *A double boiler would work as well. 
4.     Gently dip the marshmallows in the melted chocolate until completely covered (melt the second container of candy dips or chocolate chips in the microwave only once you run out of the first one).  Immediately roll the sides and top of the marshmallow in the graham cracker crumbs.  Lay the pops on wax paper to cool and dry.

S'mores Pops
Mini-S'mores Pops

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lemon Ginger Grilled Chicken

The end of summer is creeping up more quickly than I'd prefer, and that means grilling recipes will eventually have to wait until next Spring in most parts of the U.S.  This grilling recipe, however, can also be prepared under the broiler, so, thankfully, we'll all be able to enjoy it year round. 

Normally, grilled chicken doesn't do much for me.  Whether it's coated in barbecue sauce or one of a million other marinades, it just typically doesn't stand out for me on the plate, no matter how seasoned the grill master.  That is, until we tried this recipe. 

Ever since trying this grilled chicken, I now happily put it in the regular rotation.  I should've known the CIOA wouldn't fail me!  The flavors in this marinade are beyond delicious and bright, which make it the perfect staple for an end of summer Labor Day weekend BBQ.  Serve it alongside an ear of corn or your favorite veggies roasted on the grill and you're well on your way to a perfect summer meal.  Even better, leftovers (if you have any) go perfectly chopped up and thrown in a salad for lunch the next day.  Easy, delicious, and serves double duty when it comes to menu planning?  That's a win in my book.  And since my toddler happily scarfed it down with us, that makes it a BIG win.  Can't wait to try it under the broiler when the weather turns colder!

Lemon Ginger Grilled Chicken

3 lbs. chicken breasts or thighs, boneless, skinless
4 tablespoons lemon zest
2/3 cup lemon juice
4 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 teaspoons light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
4 Szechuan chili peppers, dried seeds removed

1.    Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, ginger, brown sugar, oil, salt, and chili peppers in a large zip-locking plastic bag. 
2.    Add the chicken to the bag, squeeze out the air, and seal.  Toss it around a bit to make sure the marinade coats all of the chicken and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes (preferably an hour or so).  Flip the bag occasionally while marinating. 
3.    Spray the grill or broiler rack with nonstick spray.  Preheat the grill or broiler on high.  Position the rack about 5 inches from the heat source if broiling. 
4.    Remove chicken from zip-locking bag.  Discard remaining marinade.  Grill or broil the chicken until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side.

Serves 8

Note:  Don't be afraid of the dried chili peppers in this recipe (you could probably leave them out if you want), but it really was not a "spicy" dish.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Never again will I buy pre-packaged taco seasoning from the store, and after you try this homemade version, I doubt you ever will either.  Not only is this beyond easy (the only steps are measure, dump, mix, and it will take you all of 3 minutes to make...if you're slow), but it's also so much healthier and cheaper.  Speaking of healthier, have you ever looked at the ingredients on a packet of store-bought taco seasoning? 

Well here is the list of ingredients from one popular brand (that shall remain nameless...but spelled backwards is Agetro) that I recently spotted: 

Yellow Corn Flour, Salt, Maltodextrin, Paprika, Spices, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Natural Flavor, Caramel Color (sulfites).

I'm no registered dietitian, but I do know that I rarely find many of those ingredients in my pantry.  I do, on the other hand, have a spice rack already full of the stuff needed to make this homemade taco seasoning below!  And if you're anything like me, I would much prefer to eat what's already in my spice rack than what's on that ingredient list above.  It's pretty much a no-brainer. 

I mean, really, autolyzed yeast extract?  Did you know that's just a less expensive substitute for MSG  and raises similar concerns?  Thanks, but no thanks.  I'll stick to my spice rack.

Oh, and did I mention the best benefit?  This recipe costs a fraction of the store-bought variety and you can even make it ahead of time and store it in an air-tight container (or an empty spice jar as I did) so you will always have it on hand when you need it!  Need I say more?  Now go make it!

I recently did (for the second time), and I used it in this Crock Pot Chicken Taco Soup with excellent results.

Homemade Taco Seasoning
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2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon oregano


1.  Measure all spices into a small bowl and mix well.  Store in an air-tight container until ready to use. 

Yield:  4 Tablespoons (approx 2 oz.)

Notes:  Approximately 2.5 - 3 Tablespoons = one packet

Source: Slightly adapted from Allrecipes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tex Mex Chicken Pizza

I mentioned recently that I've been on quite a pizza kick lately.  Take out pizza is the pits in the DC area (or maybe I'm just a pizza snob having grown up in Chicago?), so the best it ever gets here is frozen or homemade.  Homemade wins in the delicious (and nutritious) department every time, but sometimes it's a pain to make your own.  But not with this recipe. 

This recipe peaked my interest immediately when I saw it in a magazine while waiting in the check out lane at Whole Foods.  In fact, it's the reason I decided to buy the $8 magazine (ouch!) in the first place.  It's incredibly quick, pretty healthy, and even my toddler eats it (minus the jalapenos).  It's truly a 30 minute meal, as the magazine notes, if you use a store bought rotisserie chicken.  I still keep it a 30 minute meal though and make my own shredded chicken in the crock pot (recipe included below) on a day in advance so it's all set to go when I want to assemble a quick meal like this one.  Plus, as an added bonus, any leftover shredded chicken is great to have on hand in the fridge or freezer to use in salads, quesadillas, soups, sandwiches, etc. later in the week.

That being said, this recipe is one of my new-found weeknight favorites that even my husband has started to regularly request.  We cook a lot and are always trying new recipes, so I always consider it a big, big win when a recipe strikes a chord with him so much that he actually requests it again and again.  In fact, since first discovering this recipe, I've made it at least 3 times, and I already have it on our weekly menu for next week.  I think it's time to put it on yours!

Tex Mex Chicken Pizza
½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 (16 oz.) can refried black beans
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 (8-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas
8 teaspoons canola or olive oil
2 cups shredded Rotisserie or Crock pot chicken (crock pot shredded chicken recipe below)
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
½ cup chopped pickled jalapenos

1.     Adjust oven racks to upper and lower positions and preheat to 475 degrees.  Whisk together Greek yogurt, ¼ cup cilantro, and 1 tablespoon lime juice in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2.     In a second bowl, stir beans with remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice and chili powder.
3.     Brush both sides of each tortilla lightly with oil.  Transfer the 4 tortillas to 2 baking sheets and bake on upper and lower racks of oven until golden, flipping halfway through (approx. 5 minutes). 
4.     Spread ¼ cup of the bean mixture over each tortilla.  Top each tortilla with ½ cup shredded chicken, ¼ cup cheese, and 2 tablespoons jalapenos.  Bake on 2 baking sheets for 6-8 minutes or until cheese is melted and pizzas are heated through.
5.     Cut pizzas into quarters, top with a dollop of the greek yogurt mixture, and garnish with remaining cilantro.

Crock Pot Shredded Chicken

4 chicken breasts (or as many as you want), thawed if frozen
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder

1.     Place chicken breasts in crock pot.
2.     Mix water with spices and pour over chicken.
3.     Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
4.     Remove chicken from crock pot and shred with a fork.
5.     Use in pizzas, quesadillas, burritos, soups, salads, casseroles, etc.  Any leftovers can be frozen!

*Tex Mex Chicken Pizza recipe slightly adapted from the magazine America's Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers, Spring 2011 issue.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guacamole with Mashed White Beans

Guacamole is one of my favorite snacks.  It's also a great side or topping for just about any Mexican-inspired main dish, and is full of healthy fats, nutrients, and - thanks to the addition of white beans in this recipe - even more fiber and a good dose of iron.  A lot of people might balk at the idea of adding mashed white beans to a perfectly good guacamole recipe.  But what I've surprisingly found, after making it this way for several years now, is that I actually miss the addition of white beans whenever I have it elsewhere.  Shocking, right?  Well, it sure was to me.

But maybe you're still wondering, why add the white beans if you can't even taste them? 

Over the past several years I've learned more and more about the health benefits of including beans as part of your regular diet, and this is by far one of my favorite ways to include them.  White beans are a good source of iron, low in calories and sugar, but high in dietary fibery and protein, which may help control hunger, curb weight gain, and moderate peak blood sugar (source:  Sounds good to me...especially that part about curbing weight gain.  Can't hurt, right? :)

I’ve made this guacamole for friends and guests many times, never mentioning the healthy addition of white beans, and no one has ever suspected a thing.  They always devour every last speck of it, so I'm taking that as a good sign.  Even my young toddler devoured it as part of his lunch the other day…by the SPOONFUL.

I should note that this recipe works great as a base recipe.  For example, if you’re like my husband and don’t like tomatoes, leave them out or cut back a bit.  Same for the onions.  Or if you just don't like red onion, use white onion.  If you like a little kick, don’t forget to add the jalapeno.  If you’re nervous about adding a whole can of white beans, then only add a ½ cup or even a ¼ cup...and then try adding more next time when you realize it doesn’t change the taste.  I'll admit, that's what I did at first...shhh.

Guacamole with Mashed White Beans
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2 ripe avocados
1 (15 oz.) can white beans (“Great Northern Beans”)
½ cup tomato, diced (plum tomatoes are my favorite for guacamole)
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
Handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt (optional)
*Optional add-in:  1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

1.     Rinse and drain the white beans.  In a medium sized bowl, mash the white beans until smooth using the tines of a fork (or potato masher). 
2.     Scoop out the flesh of the 2 avocados and mash until combined with the white beans.  If you like your guacamole a little chunky, don’t mash until completely smooth.  Leave some chunks of avocado in the mix.
3.     Mix in the tomato, onion, (jalapeno if using), and cilantro.  Add a pinch of salt if desired, and serve with tortilla chips.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eat Your Veggies Pizza

I've been on a bit of a homemade pizza kick recently.  Not only are they pretty quick to throw together, but my favorite part is topping it with whatever your little heart desires!  Okay and it also doesn't hurt that my 14 month old usually loves whatever pizza we make.  I did not, however, expect him to love this version.  Eggplant?  Peppers?  Olives?  Those are 3 things I NEVER touched as a kid.  Ever.  It wasn't until I met my husband that I finally started branching out with what veggies I would eat, and since then, I've never turned back.  I love them more than I thought I would, and I'm no longer afraid to try even the ugliest of vegetables.  That being said, when I saw all the fresh and beautifully purple eggplant at the Farmer's Market the other weekend, I thought it was about time I try cooking with it.  Eggplant used to scare me away, but I'm glad I got over that fear because in this recipe it had an amazing flavor after soaking up all the sweetness of the peppers and onions. 

Even though I love healthy meals and try to add as many meatless meals to our weekly menu as possible, I'm definitely not a vegetarian.  My toddler isn't a vegetarian (the first time he tried bacon he smiled and promptly asked for more), and my husband most definitely is not a vegetarian either (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), yet we all LOVED this pizza.  I loved it so much that even I, who never touches leftovers (unless it's risotto), ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.  And so did my toddler son!!  I can't believe I just typed those words, but yes - he ate pizza topped with eggplant, peppers, onions, and olives!  We were all amazed.  If you're looking for a fantastic homemade veggie pizza chock full of flavor, this is a great one to try. 

Even my bacon-centric husband, who admittedly was a bit skeptical of this "veggie recipe" upon reading it, devoured half the pizza for lunch, and complimented me on it once again.  Now that's saying something!  

Eat Your Veggies Pizza
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1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, cut in strips
1 small (or half of 1 large) eggplant, cut into half-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, cut in strips 
1 yellow pepper, cut in strips
1 Whole Wheat pre-baked thin pizza crust (i.e., Boboli or Whole Foods 365 brand)
4 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Handful of fresh basil, chopped


1.    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.    Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.  Add onions and saute for 3 minutes.  Add eggplant and saute for 3 more minutes.  Add the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and stir.  Add garlic and red and yellow peppers and continue cooking for 3 more minutes, until veggies are crisp-tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.
3.    Spread tomato paste over pizza crust and top with half of the mozzarella.  Top with veggie mixture, remaining mozzarella, feta, and olives.
4.    Bake until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 10-12 minutes.
5.    Remove pizza from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Top pizza with fresh basil just before serving.

*slightly adapted from Loaded Veggie Pizza
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