Monday, May 23, 2011

Chicken Tostadas with Tomatillo Salsa Verde and Spanish Rice

My farmers market trip last week was, more or less, an epic fail. I marched down in my rain gear with an empty backpack, ready to stock up on the first produce of the season. Sadly, there were about 10 tents set up in total, with an assortment of baked goods and planted herbs, but no produce. It could have been because it's still early in the season for most crops, or maybe the rain deterred most vendors from setting up shop, but regardless, I was disappointed. This is not to say that the Copley Square Farmers Market is a bust. In fact, I've only heard phenomenal things about it. I still have one month before I leave Boston for the summer, so I'm crossing my fingers to get some good trips in before then.

Instead of getting down on myself, I walked straight to the grocery store and bought ingredients for my Tex-Mex dinner party. It was a huge success, and probably the least time I've spent in the kitchen compared to dinner parties past. I threw some chicken thighs in my crock pot before heading to work in the morning, so by the time I got home the meat was ready to go. I made the same mango salsa I created for my Chicken and Squash Quesadillas, and also tried my hand at salsa verde with these beautifully roasted tomatillos. My friend Shannon, who had just come back from a trip home to Texas, bought me a beyond delicious raspberry cilantro salsa for my birthday. I'm saving the last bits in the jar so I can attempt to recreate it myself.

Because I have a few vegetarian friends, I added Spanish rice on the tostadas to make them hardier for those forgoing meat. I don't know why rice isn't an ingredient in a traditional tostada - it was delicious! Even though my friends ate enough chips and salsa to make themselves sick, they all managed to happily finish their meals before rolling on the floor in agony. (Overeating, aka "food coma", is a regular occurrence at our dinner parties.) All in all, great last dinner party with all of my girlfriends together in Boston. Next time, we'll have to visit Jess in Texas ourselves. We'll miss you, Jess!

Chicken Tostadas with Salsa Verde and Spanish Rice
Serves: 6  Prep: 2 hour  Total: 10 hours

Tomatillo Salsa Verde:
1 pound tomatillos
5 garlic cloves
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 yellow onion
1 Serrano pepper

Chicken Tostadas:
6 chicken thighs
1/2 yellow onion
1 cup sour cream
1 package fajita spice mix
1 cup water
6 whole wheat tortillas
1 10-ounce package Spanish rice
1 can black beans
1 package shredded cheddar jack cheese
6 red Mexican peppers
Tomatillo Salsa Verde*

Tomatillo Salsa Verde:
Remove casing from tomatillos and set on a foil-covered baking dish, along with non-peeled garlic cloves. Set the oven to broil and cook for about 7 minutes until tomatillos begin to brown at the top. Remove and cool. Peel garlic and set aside.
Chop up cilantro, onion, and Serrano pepper. Add all ingredients into a blender and puree. Refrigerate until serving.

Chicken Tostadas:
Slice 1/2 yellow onion into rings and lay at the bottom of a crock pot. Place chicken thighs on top. Combine sour cream, water, and fajita mix in a bowl and mix well. Pour over chicken thighs. Cook on low for 8-9 hours. Using two forks, shred meat off the bones and wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm.
Following the directions on the package, cook the Spanish rice in a medium pot. Cook black beans over the stove in a small pot until soft.
In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large pan. Fry whole wheat tortillas 1-2 minutes on each side until lightly browned, and drain on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Dice red Mexican peppers.
When everything is finished, top the tostadas with chicken, Spanish rice, cheese, black beans, red Mexican peppers and salsa verde.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Quick and Easy Strawberry Kiwi Smoothie

I don't know what it is, but I've been on a smoothie fix recently. I'm pretty bad about eating enough dairy (unless it's cheese or ice cream, I'm pretty good at that). I can't stand milk, so yogurt smoothies are how I've been incorporating dairy into my diet. They take no more than 5 minutes to put together, and it's a great way to use up my fruit before it goes bad. Strawberry banana is a smoothie combo I make quite often and it's just as yummy as this one. I've heard of people putting vegetables like broccoli in smoothies as well... I don't think I'm ready to make that step yet.

Quick and Easy Strawberry Kiwi Smoothie
Makes: 1  Total time: 5 minutes

1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
4 strawberries
1 kiwi
1 tbs honey
4 ice cubes

Wash strawberries, cut off stems and cut into fourths. Cut a thin slice out of the middle of the kiwi for garnish, and spoon the rest out. Combine yogurt, strawberries, kiwi and honey into a blender. Mix on smoothie setting for 30 seconds or until ingredients are well blended. Remove the lid and add ice cubes. Mix on chop for 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Egg-y Eggplant Vegetarian Breakfast Sandwich

I adore eggplant - like, love an insane amount. If there was ever such a thing as a sexy piece of produce, it would be eggplant. It's best served in fat slices, grilled or sauteed in a spritz of olive oil until they're like thick, succulent steaks... mmmmmm. I have leftover eggplant in my fridge now and just writing about it makes me want to get up and fry me a slice. (It's 11 pm on a Wednesday. Maybe if I give it an hour it'll be an acceptable midnight snack?)

A very similar sandwich was the very dish that inspired me to start writing this blog. My first post ever was about an eggplant sandwich on a New Jersey bagel my roommate Dana had brought back from a trip home. My heart jumps for joy every time I see a perfectly plump Italian eggplant in the produce section and decide to buy it, without any care or thought for how I'll put it to good use.

I've tried to make my friends and boyfriend as enthusiastic about potential dinners of epic eggplant proportions, but to no avail. The poor guy just sits there in my fridge, waiting to be eaten slice by slice until the forgotten leftovers are tossed in the trash. Then the other night it hit me. Why should eggplant be limited to dinner? How about combining two of my favorite things, eggplant and breakfast sandwiches????

BOOM. Here you have it, folks. A tasty vegetarian alternative to the cholesterol-ridden ham, egg and cheese, with all the same meaty texture and juicy deliciousness. Prepare yourself for chin-drizzling joy.

Egg-y Eggplant Vegetarian Breakfast Sandwich
Makes: 1 sandwich  Total time: 20 minutes

2 thick slices of Italian eggplant
1 piece of artisan bread, large enough for sandwich
1 egg, fried
1 slice of tomato
1/2 cup spinach
Olive oil
Sea salt
Coarse ground pepper

Chop two slices of eggplant about 1-1/2 inches thick. Drizzle or spray olive oil in a medium pan and cook eggplant for 1 to 2 minutes on either side until lightly golden.
In the meantime, slice your piece of artisan bread through the middle to create a top and bottom piece. Toast for 3 minutes. Slice tomato and measure out spinach. Set aside.
In a small frying pan, fry one egg to desire doneness. Layer eggplant, fried egg, tomato and spinach on the bottom slice of bread. Season with sea salt and ground pepper. Cut in half and serve with a side of fresh fruit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spinach Salad Wrap with Green Apple, Dried Cranberries and Dijon Dressing

It's been difficult to get into the spring mindset due to Boston's dreary weather the past few weeks. Throwing on my clunky rainboats and heavy rain jacket on the way to the grocery store doesn't really get me in the mood for summer salads and barbeques. However, the good news is... the Copley Square Farmers Market opens tomorrow! Even though the forecast is more rain all week, the farmer's market will be my little ray of sunshine. I'm taking the day off work tomorrow to go to a networking breakfast at Fenway Park, then spending all afternoon wandering the local vendors down at Copley. Hopefully the rain will deter fairweather fans and I'll get the good stuff!

My roommates and I are hosting a going away dinner in our apartment on Thursday for my friend Jess, who just graduated and is moving to Texas to do Teach for America. Thursday night dinners became a sort of ritual this year with my girlfriends as a way to stay in touch despite our crazy schedules. (Look back here at my post about our first Thursday night dinner.) I always offer to cook on these nights, and this Thursday we're leaning toward Mexican so I'm hoping to find some nice produce for a few impromptu salsas at the farmers market. Whatever we stuff our faces with, the night is bound to be filled with lots of laughs and tears. It's my first college friend to graduate and move away, so this Thursday dinner will be bittersweet no doubt.

Anyway, enough blubbering. Here's a salad wrap I threw together yesterday for lunch. I'm trying to fill my diet with loads of fruits and veggies to counteract all the baking that's been going on in my apartment. I don't usually love veggie wraps, but this one was so hardy I had to bring the rest into work for lunch today. The Dijon dressing is perfect with the green apple and dried cranberries. I made a bunch of it to use in salads later this week. My trick - when your Dijon mustard is mostly gone, use the remains to make this dressing! Pour your olive oil and seasoning right into the mustard jar, shake it up, and store what you don't use.

Oh, did I mention my birthday is on Wednesday? Maybe I'll find a nice treat for myself at the farmers market for an early celebration. :)

Spinach Salad Wrap with Green Apple, Dried Cranberries and Dijon Dressing
Makes: 1 wrap  Total time: 15 minutes

1 whole wheat tortilla wrap
1 egg
1/2 cup spinach
1/2 green apple
1/8 cup cherry tomatoes
2 tbs Gorgonzola cheese
1/8 cup dried cranberries
2 tbs Dijon dressing*

Start by bringing a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add one egg and boil for ten minutes. Remove from heat, dump out the water from the pot and run cold water over the egg until covered. Let cool.
Lay out whole wheat tortilla on a flat surface and spread a bed of spinach across the middle, leaving room on either side to roll up the wrap at the end. Next, chop the green apple in half and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Half the cherry tomatoes and place apple and tomatoes on top of the spinach.
Crack the hard boiled egg and slice it into small pieces over the wrap. (Optional: For a healthier wrap, remove the egg yolk and add only egg whites.) Sprinkle Gorgonzola and dried cranberries, and add Dijon dressing. Finally, roll up the wrap, pulling the short sides up to close the ends and pull one long side on top of the salad, tucking it in tight before closing the wrap.

*Dijon dressing: Combine 1 part Dijon mustard, 1 part olive oil, sea salt, coarse ground pepper and lemon juice in a small jar. Shake well before serving.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownie Bars

I have finally purchased and started reading Anthony Bourdain's novel Kitchen Confidential. Being a student I rarely have time to read for fun, and honestly I'm a tough sell on books. I need to be fully absorbed in the first 50 pages of a book or else I'll never finish it. (It's a terrible habit, I know. I blame this on being born in the "video game era", a generation raised on cheap thrills and the birth of the Internet.) But because of my ever-growing curiousity obsession with the food industry, I was hooked on Kitchen Confidential at the introduction.

My favorite story so far is Bourdain looking back on his childhood vacations in France and recounting the moment he bravely and triumphantly swallowed a live oyster fresh out of the water, much to the disgust of his younger brother, and learned that "food had power." In his words, "It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me... and others. This was valuable information."

If I had to choose one recipe that signified the moment I thought of food as more than just food, it would be these brownies. A staple recipe of my mother's, this dessert began my love affair with food. It's the first sweet I loved, the first thing I baked, and the first food I was ever praised for by my peers. The biggest joy in cooking for me is knowing what I create makes people happy. This is my go-to last minute dessert, partially because I've never met someone who doesn't like them and mostly because they are the easiest. And how can you go wrong with anything that begins with "chocolate chip cookie dough"?

Wanna know the best thing about this dessert? I'll let you in on a little family secret... It's the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe, just put in brownie form! Now you're probably thinking, how unoriginal. BUT! The key to these melt-in-your-mouth doughy treats is how you cook them. You have to catch the timing just right so they're a little underbaked. That way, even the 3-day old leftovers have that gooey, fresh out of the oven taste.

If your mouth isn't watering at this point, something's wrong with you.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownie Bars
Makes: 24 brownies  Prep: 10 minutes  Total: 30 minutes

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Mix well. Add eggs one at a time, then add chocolate chips and mix until the dough is light and fluffy.
Spread the dough into a 9x13 greased baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Remove immediately and let cool before cutting.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Whole Grain Shrimp Pizza with Spinach, Tomato and Broccoli

I have a confession to make: I'm a planner. I like to plan my day in advance. What I'm going to wear to work the next day, what I'm going to cook for dinner, when I'm going to go to the gym... These are common thoughts prior to 9 in the morning. Despite my best efforts, occasionally I'll hit the grocery store with absolutely no clue what I'm looking for and stumble across one ingredient (usually a special) that jumps out at me. From there, my mind races with possibilities and somehow an entire meal falls into place. I came across some beautiful, pinked-up cooked shrimp at Whole Foods and decided to make seafood pizza for a dinner in with Dylan on Saturday.

I love making homemade pizza just the way my mom does, on a rectangular baking sheet with a thick, soft crust and loads of veggies. I stole a few tricks from my Aunt Deb for this pizza as well (or, as my Uncle Tim refers to it, "-za"). She bakes the pizza dough with olive oil and garlic for 10 minutes on its own to get it slightly crispy on the ends. Then, instead of using pizza sauce, she lays down paper-thin slices of tomato under the cheese and toppings. I've made plenty of homemade pizzas for Dylan before, and damn good ones too, but he raved that this was the best. Cooking the broccoli and shrimp in a lemon-lime creamy dressing before topping the pizza gave it an extra punch, and a mahi mahi dip with water crackers accompanied it perfectly. This was one of those meals that you throw together at the last minute and unexpectedly surprises you. I guess a little spontaneity can go a long way.

Whole Grain Shrimp Pizza with Spinach, Tomato and Broccoli
Serves: 4  Prep: 30 minutes  Total: 1 hour

1 whole grain pizza dough
1 tbs olive oil
1 garlic clove
1/2 large tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded 3-cheese blend (asiago, fontina, and parmesan)
3/4 cup spinach
1/4 pound cooked shrimp
1/3 cup broccoli
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tbs lime juice
1/2 tbs mayonnaise
1 tsp coarse ground pepper
1 tsp chili powder
Additional cheese if desired

Preheat oven to 350. On a greased baking sheet, stretch and lay out your whole grain pizza dough. Drizzle olive oil and minced garlic in the middle of the pizza where the toppings would go and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Place dough in the oven for ten minutes until the crust browns slightly.
In the meantime, chop broccoli into small pieces and cook in a lightly oiled pan. Peel the cooked shrimp and cut each shrimp in half. In a small bowl, combine lemon and lime juice, mayo, pepper and chili powder and mix well. Once the broccoli is almost cooked through, add the shrimp and this dressing and heat for several minutes until the shrimp and broccoli have absorbed most of the dressing. Remove from heat.
Remove the dough from the oven. Slice tomato from the horizontal center into paper-thin slices and lay on your dough. Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top of the tomato, and pile spinach on top. Carefully pour the shrimp mixture on top of the bed of spinach, drizzling any extra dressing on top of the pizza. Add a handful of additional cheese if desired and cook for 30 minutes. Let cool, cut into four large pieces and serve.

Pomegranate Margarita

I made these margaritas in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, yet another holiday where young 20-somethings pretend to honor a culture they have no affiliation with so they can get piss drunk. The original recipe called for limeade concentrate but the stores were out so I had to purchase the mix. When paired with the pomegranate juice, you can't even tell. If you're looking for a great tasting and strong summer drink, I highly recommend this margarita.

PS - This recipe is meant for a crowd. Don't go drinkin' 15 margaritas in one sitting.

Pomegranate Margarita
Makes: 15  Time: 10 minutes

12 ounces margarita mix
2 cups water
3 1/2 cups Jose Cuervo gold tequila
2 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup triple sec
4 cups ice
3 limes
1 cup pomegranate seeds

In a large pitcher, combine margarita mix, water, tequila, pomegranate juice and triple sec. Stir well. Pour half of the mixture into a blender, and add two cups of ice. Blend on pulse mode until the entire mixture is slushy, about 10 seconds. Repeat with second batch of margaritas.
Pour drinks into individual glasses. Garnish with a slice of lime, salted rim and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds.
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