Quick and Easy: Mexican-style Quinoa With Corn and Black Beans

A few days ago, my (new) sister-in-law sent me the below recipe, from Damn Delicious.  On my continued quest to empty our refrigerator and still cook healthfully before we leave this weekend, I decided last night was the perfect time to give it a try.  Almost everything in here comes straight from the pantry – and the best part: it all cooks in one pan!  (I think the Husband, on clean-up duty, appreciated that.)

Mexican-style Quinoa With Corn and Black Beans

  • olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 jalapeno (I didn’t have on hand, so I used a can of green chilis and of course, some crushed red pepper)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup chicken or veggie broth
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can corn, drained and rinse
  • a big handful of chili powder
  • a good dash of cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • juice from 1 lime
  • toppings: cilantro, avocado, cilantro, grated cheese
  1.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the minced garlic, the crushed red peppers (if you’re using them).  Also add your other “heat” factors – jalapenos, chilis, poblano pepper.
  2. Stir in quinoa, broth, beans, tomatoes, corn, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover and simmer about 20-25 minutes, or until the quinoa is cooked through.
  3. Remove from heat, stir in lime juice, and serve with your choice of toppings.
nonstop cilantro in our house
nonstop cilantro in our house…

The Verdict:

This was good, if not knock-your-socks-off.  Fresh ingredients – fresh jalapenos, fresh corn, fresh tomatoes – would really bring this up a notch.  And I’m not sure how I didn’t notice the lack of onion in the ingredient list – I’ve never met a recipe to which the addition of onion didn’t make it better!  Overall, though, this was quick and easy, a good way to use up the leftover ginger and cilantro sour cream mix from the other night, and it provided us with some great leftovers for lunch.  I might try this again in the future with more of a Mediterranean twist – I’m picturing garbanzo beans, sundried tomatoes, onions, garlic, tahini – tossed with fresh parsley and cucumbers?  Maybe the next time we need to clean out the pantry.

(Mostly) Healthy Living: Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

Before my parents moved out of our childhood home a year or so ago, my mom spent about a year prior to that downsizing all of our (material) things, including her collection of cookbooks.  Which means somehow I ended up with the 1998 Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook.  And I’ve actually cooked out of it…which leads us to tonight’s meal.

Spoiler alert: this (adapted) recipe is a go-to in our house.  I make it when I’m feeling run down, tired or feel like I really just need a big bowl of nutrition.  (Yes, that is a feeling).  I’ve made it with all different types of broth and greens; I think the combination of Swiss chard and beef broth is the best.

Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 cups beef broth (veggie, mushroom, chicken, beef, even mixed with water – whatever you have.)
  • 1 cup dried lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
  • 1 big bunch Swiss chard, leaves shredded (I like the red Swiss chard best, though we’ve also used mustard greens, collard greens, kale and even spinach.  The only big miss was the mustard greens.)
  • handful cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crushed red pepper
  • juice from 1 or two lemons
  • Optional: cilantro, parmesan cheese
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and then add onions.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes; add garlic.  Keep stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn, and then add broth and lentils.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are cooked through (about 35 minutes).
  2. Add the Swiss chard, cumin, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper.  Cook until chard wilts, above 5-6 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice.  Eyeball the broth – make sure there’s enough in there to meet your needs!
  3. Serve with cilantro and – if you’re feeling decadent – parmesan cheese.
does everything around here have cilantro? apparently so.
apparently, everything around here features cilantro.

The Verdict:

I made tonight’s version with a combination of chicken and mushroom broth, which didn’t quite pack the same punch as beef broth.  But it was delicious, all the same, and makes plenty of leftovers (again, if you’re feeding only two people).  And it would have been super healthy, too, had the Husband not had his with a side of…mini frozen pizzas.  You win some, you lose some.  At least we got that bowl of nutrition.

Old faithful: Unbelievably Good Chili.

I think almost anyone who spends any time in the kitchen has at least one or two “go-to” meals.  This is the meal you cook without ever consulting a recipe book, the meal you prepare when you know you need it to turn out well.  My “old faithful” is decidedly low brow, but simple to make, healthy, and (dare I say), delicious.  It’s chili.

This recipe is adapted – but still largely based – on my very first cookbook.  On a last minute trip to BJ’s Wholesale club the week before I went to college for the first time, my mom bought me The Complete Idiot’s Guide to 20-Minute Meals.  This book, with its step by step instructions, reliance on simple ingredients, and helpful hints, first convinced me that I could make something edible.  More than ten years later, this cookbook’s pages are falling out; they’re splashed with food stains; they’re dog-eared.  The book naturally opens to page 117 – the page marked “Unbelievably Good Chili.”

I will never get rid of it.

Varina’s Go-to Chili

  • 1 large can diced tomatoes (you can buy with chilis in them to spice it up!)
  • 1 lb ground beef (lean and mean!)
  • 1 can refried beans (non-fat works perfectly – this is the secret ingredient!)
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Large red onion, sliced/diced
  • Olive oil
  • Jalapeno or poblano pepper, diced
  • 1 can corn, drained and rinsed
  • Chili powder
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Cumin
  • Salt and pepper
  • Feel free to twist it up – I like to add – tomato paste, green peppers, other types of beans
  • Toppings: Sour cream, cilantro, green onions, cheddar cheese, raw onions etc.
  1. In a large dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat, cook the onions down in olive oil until they’re translucent. Pop in a dash of salt and pepper.
  2. Brown the meat in the onions – making sure not to burn the meat. Especially if the meat is super lean (healthy as possible!), make sure it crumbles all the way (otherwise it gets clumps together and is pretty tasteless.)
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, corn, kidney beans and then the refried beans. Mix it all the way through. (Note: if you’re using tomato paste, put that in first so it has time to develop flavor).
  4. Cook down for about 15-20 minutes.  (This is a good time to get your cornbread going!)
  5. I like to add the jalapenos/poblanos/chopped green pepper with a few minutes to go before serving time, so they retain a bit of crunch.
  6. Add spices – a good handful of chili powder, about half a handful cumin. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix it up and let cook through another couple minutes.
  7. Serve with toppings!
IMG_0152
deliciousness in a bowl.

Doctored cornbread muffins

  • 1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
  • one egg
  • splash milk (use slightly less than the back of the box calls for, to make up for the moisture in the creamed corn)
  • can creamed corn
  • diced jalapeno
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a muffin tray with paper liners (Tip: if you spray them lightly with non-stick spray, your cornbread won’t stick to the liner when it’s done.)
  2. Mix all of your ingredients together in a small bowl and pour into the muffin tins, until each cup is about 2/3 full.
  3. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.
IMG_0153
pink liners courtesy of my sister…

The Verdict:

See title of blog post.  Enough said!

(No, seriously.  And the bonus is, you can generally make this from ingredients you can keep for a long, long time – ground beef in the freezer, cans of beans/corn/tomatoes in the cabinet.  The fresh ingredients are an added bonus, but don’t make or break the dish.  And it makes a TON of leftovers, if you’re feeding only two people.)

“Fried” Fish Tuesday: Haddock and Mango Salsa

Years ago, my now mother-in-law gave me a cookbook called “Healthy in a Hurry.”  At the time, the book was an eye-opener.  Here was fast, easy, and (at least in the pictures) beautiful and hopefully tasty food.  To be honest, the recipes are sometimes a little hit or miss.  But I usually learn something from making them!  Today’s was no exception.

Beer-battered Tilapia with Mango Salsa

Fish

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • dash ground cumin
  • dash salt
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 bottle beer
  • 4 white fish filets (I used haddock)
  • oil, for the “frying”

Salsa

  • diced mango
  • diced pineapple
  • diced tomato
  • diced red onion
  • cilantro
  • salt
  • lime juice
  • dash apple cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour, cumin, salt and cayenne in a medium-sized bowl; whisk in beer to create a batter.

2. Heat oil in a large saute pan and dredge the fish in the batter.  Add the fish to the pan and cook until crispy, about 2-4 minutes per side.  Sprinkle with a healthy dose of salt right as the fish is ready to come out of the pan.

3. Serve immediately, with a large side of salsa.

The Verdict:

Won’t lie.  The fish in this one was a bit of a disappointment.  Even with the salt dosing at the end, the fish was…fishy.  And a bit flavorless.  This needed more salt.  More pepper. Maybe a good dose of lemon in the batter.  And maybe a whole other style of fish – something that actually packs some flavor.  Probably not a repeat.  The salsa, on the other hand, is a constant stand-by – great for chicken, fish, salad, the works.

IMG_0147
the only thing worth salvaging – the salsa did second duty as tropical bruschetta.

Wednesday at P.F. Chang’s

I was a truly picky eater when I was a kid.  I was a “vegetarian” – which basically meant I ate pasta, butter, cheese and milk.  And white bread, sometimes.  After an epic trip to Pizza Hut on the great college tour of 2000, all of that changed.  Well, some of it.  Trying new things, including new restaurants, like Chinese ones, was truly revolutionary.  Almost 15 years later, I’m still obsessed with their chicken lettuce wraps…which now, I can make at home in about 20 minutes.  Variations are endless; this is what I mixed up for Wednesday night.

P.F. Chang-inspired Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps

  • olive oil
  • diced onion
  • diced yellow bell pepper
  • leftover mushrooms
  • 1 package ground white meat turkey
  • minced garlic
  • a couple turns of soy sauce
  • a couple turns of rice wine vinegar
  • couple big spoonfuls oyster sauce
  • grated ginger
  • Srichacha
  • green onions, chopped
  • one head iceburg lettuce

Heat the olive oil, saute the onions for a few minutes, add the ground meat until mostly brown.  Tossed in the rest of the vegetables and let them cook down a bit before tossing in the garlic.  Adding the rest of the ingredients (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce and ginger) and finished with a big squeeze of Srichacha.  Tossed briefly with the green onions before serving with washed iceburg lettuce.  Bonus: no carbs meant a few extra glasses of wine.

The Verdict:

This is quickly becoming a staple in our house.  Easy (I mean, it’s almost impossible to mess up, unless you add too much soy and it becomes oversalted); quick (20 minutes, tops); relatively healthy (until you add the wine).  And you can use the leftovers in a big salad the next day for lunch, as it’s just as good cold.  Yum.