Thursday, February 26, 2009

Taco Soup/Chili

I've been trying to be more careful with how I'm spending our food dollars and trying to get the most bang for our buck. So in shopping good sales and using coupons, I've stockpiled quite a random assortment of items in the freezer, fridge and pantry. I've never been one of those cooks that can just look in the pantry and come up with something for dinner...I always have to have a carefully laid out menu. But I'm trying to get better about that. I'm hoping to skip a trip to the store at least once a month so we can use what we have at home.

So this week after perusing the kitchen, I thought I had the makings of what could be a really good taco soup! I think it turned out really tasty...slightly more on the chili side than the soup side due to its heartiness, but overall I was really excited with how this original creation turned out!!

Taco Soup
1lb lean ground beef
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
Taco Seasoning to taste
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1.5 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
14.5 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
8 oz tomato sauce
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green pepper, celery and onion
Small can diced green chilis
1 package frozen corn, thawed
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
8 dashes Texas Pete
1. Brown ground beef while sauteeing peppers and onions. Once beef is browned and veggies are tender-crisp, add taco seasoning, chili powders, cumin and garlic powder stirring until everything is coated.
2. Transfer beef and veggies to a large stock pot. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, chilis, corn, black beans and Texas Pete (I did not drain the tomatoes before adding but did drain the chilis). Let simmer over medium heat for at least 20 minutes or until ready to serve!
We topped ours with some shredded cheese, sour cream and sliced jalapenos! The chipotle chili powder really gave it a nice kick and the leftovers the next day were even better!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Million Dollar Dog

In this time of economic turmoil, I thought I'd share with you one of our most significant investments. Quite costly, lots of risk but really great rewards....some days more than others as you'll read below...

His name is Deacon, but he responds only to Sir. As in "Excuse me, Sir...would you like to go outside now?" or "If it's not too much trouble, Sir, I'd love to have my seat on the couch back."

I blogged about Deacon's hip surgery and recovery numerous times on here over the last 3 months. We definitely breathed a sigh of relief when that was all over...the surgery, the prescriptions, the followup xrays...let me tell you, that doesn't come cheap. We naively thought the worst was behind us.

We've had quite a crazy 72 hours with our wonderpup. Turns out pink eye is just as contagious among dogs as it is kids and apparently just as rampant in daycare. You want to have a good time? Try getting eye drops in a wriggly dog that is pretty sure you are trying to kill him. After about 10 minutes of trying each time (3 times a day) he pretty much has eye drops everywhere but in his eye.
But it gets better (or worse). Yesterday when I got home, I found several hot pink shards in the bathroom that looked a little suspect. Upon closer examination, I was able to fit some pieces back together...just enough to clearly see the word "Bic"...and that's how I discovered that Deacon had eaten a disposable razor. Ugh.

So after a panicked phone call to Jake and the vet, off we went to get xrays which confirmed the genius that is Deacon by a shiny, bright razor-shaped spot in his tummy. And now we're playing the waiting game for the next 36 hours and maintaining a vigilant poop patrol to make sure all passes uneventfully. Isn't that fantastic?!?

I asked the vet if they would consider a frequent patient discount program...they tried to tell me about pet health insurance but I'm pretty sure we'd have a tough time sneaking Deacon by the rigorous insurability questionnaires. I'd wager a guess you have to pay big time premiums for a dog who has shown a penchant for razors in the past...
For now Deacon is relaxing and enjoying the extra's hoping everything comes out ok!! :)

He doesn't seem overly concerned...he tends to leave the worrying to his mama!

Friday, February 20, 2009

California Caviar

We're not talking fish eggs here, people. Instead, allow me to introduce you to one of my FAVORITE dips/appetizers ever. Not only is it delicious, but it really couldn't be any easier to make. I made some California Caviar this week to take over to a party a neighbor was having and picked this particular recipe because it is still homemade but fits into the hectic work week/rushed evenings.

So here's how you make California Caviar. You take 8 oz of your favorite Italian dressing, 6 oz crumbed feta cheese, 1 medium tomato (seeded and chopped), 1 small can of chopped green chile's, and 1 small can of chopped black olives. Mix it all together and throw in some cilantro to taste and then just let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. It is great served with corn chips and until last night, that's the only way I'd ever had it.

But then I had a brainstorm. We're getting to the end of the week, need to make a trip to the grocery store, and generally by this time in the week the dinner supplies are running a little low. What I did have on hand was some chicken and a little bit of the California Caviar I had set aside. So here's where I got really smart.

Turns out California Caviar makes an AMAZING topping for grilled chicken. It's based on Italian dressing which in and of itself can work as a simple marinade. But throw in the other ingredients and you've got yourself a seriously delicious piece of chicken. So good! From now on, I'm setting aside a bit of the dip every time I make it for this purpose!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chicken with Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Cheese Grits

Can you believe this weekend was the first time I ever cooked a whole chicken?! I discovered I didn't care for the fact that there was no "neat" little bag of innards inside like you find with turkeys...I reached in expecting to find said bag and pulled out an actual chicken liver. Gag. So the first thing I learned was to look into the cavity before reaching inside!

And there was another first this weekend. For the first time ever I actually tried a recipe out of the Food & Wine magazine I've been receiving for the past several months. I got some crazy good discount on the magazine but overall have found the recipes way too complicated in terms of ingredients and actual work. But this one for Chicken with Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Cheesy Grits didn't seem too difficult...and honestly, you throw cheese grits into any recipe and I pretty much have to make it.

The chicken and tomatoes were super easy to make and were really tasty. The chicken stayed really moist and I loved how hands off the whole meal was...until it was time to make the au jus. Still not complicated, but I think I used almost every dish and utensil in my kitchen before we finally sat down to eat. Another annoying thing about Food & Wine...this was deemed a Week Night Deluxe dinner...week night?! Who has roughly 2 hours to prep and roast a chicken on a week night?! Finding the time on a Sunday afternoon was pushing it!

8 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large rosemary sprigs
One 3 1/2-pound chicken
2 white onions, cut into wedges
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
Cheese Grits

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Turn the tomatoes cut side down and scatter the rosemary around; bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until very soft and starting to brown. Let cool, then discard the skins.

2. Meanwhile, in a roasting pan, rub the chicken all over with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the onion wedges around the chicken, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken and onions in the upper third of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

3. Increase the oven temperature to 450°. Add the wine to the pan and roast the chicken for about 20 minutes longer, until the onions are well browned and the chicken is golden and the cavity juices run clear. Pour the cavity juices into the pan. Transfer the chicken and onions to a platter; let the chicken rest for 10 minutes.

4. Set the roasting pan over moderately high heat and add 4 of the tomato halves and 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, scraping up any browned bits and mashing the tomatoes, until reduced by one-third. Strain the jus into a saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Carve the chicken and serve with the tomatoes, onions, tomato jus and Creamy Cheese Grits.

If this recipe piques your interest, use these cheese grits instead of the recipe included in Food & Wine...I haven't found any that beat these yet!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ready for Spring...and Pink Lemonade

It's another 80 degree day here which makes it feel like spring is already here! So that gets me thinking of fun spring-time things which includes one of my favorite cocktails ever!

This Pink Lemonade Cocktail from Southern Living is sooooo good! It's really refreshing and is definitely one of my go-to drink recipes for spring and summer entertaining. Though truth be told, I made some of these for a get together for the AFC Championship this year in January. Don't judge me. It's Florida, anything goes around here.

All you have to do to make these drinks is combine 1 (12-oz.) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed with 3 (12-oz.) bottles of chilled beer (not dark beer) and 3/4 cup chilled vodka.
Serve over ice and garnish with fresh citrus slices. Enjoy!

I'm not a beer drinker by any fact, this is the only way I'll actually drink beer. So don't let that dissuade you from trying these if you aren't typically a beer fan either!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Skinny Spinach Dip

You have got to try this dip. But a fair warning...once you do and you realize you can have spinach dip at home any time you want it, in no time, and you don't even have to feel guilty for eating it, you could very easily become obsessed.

This Spinach Dip was my latest trial from Hungry Girl's cookbook and as I'm finding with all her recipes, it did not disappoint!

Hungry Girl's Rockin Restaurant Spinach Dip

4 oz. Lifetime Fat Free Monterey Jack Cheese (or another fat-free white hard cheese, like Muenster or Mozzarella)
4 tbsp. fat-free sour cream
10 tsp. Kraft Reduced Fat Parmesan Cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. shallots, chopped finely
6 tbsp. fat-free mayo
1 oz. light soy milk
1 – 10 oz. pkg. chopped spinach, thawed and drained
4 oz. water chestnuts, chopped

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt your Monterey Jack over a low flame.

2. In a separate pan, saute garlic and shallots with some nonstick cooking spray.

3. Add soy milk to melted cheese, stirring continuously.

4. Next, add mayo, sour cream and parmesan into your cheese mixture, still stirring over low heat. Add your sauteed garlic and shallots, as well as water chestnuts. Add your well-drained, chopped spinach and mix thoroughly.

5. Spoon your dip into a medium-sized casserole dish and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Voila! Your spinach-y masterpiece is complete. You may add salt and/or pepper if desired. Serves 6-8. (1/8 of the dip is 1 point)

I followed the recipe pretty closely...I did use regular skim milk instead of light soy because it's what I had at home. I also used a reduced fat cheese instead of a fat free...and it was closer to 6oz than 4oz. I found these Kraft blended cheese blocks (I think the one I used was swiss, monterey jack...and something else I can't remember) and it worked perfectly! So while my final version wasn't quite as skinny as Hungry Girl's it was still a very delicious, guilt-free snack.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grilled Sirloin Salad

Isn't this a summery looking salad that gets you thinking warm thoughts of cookouts and lazy days at the beach?!

That's what I was going for when I threw this steak salad together last night anyway. Had to use the Foreman Grill since it was something ridiculously cold here in Florida yesterday evening. But it turned out really well (I'm really looking forward to my lunch break and the leftovers).

Grilled Sirloin Salad
(Source: Cooking Light, June 2003)

1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound lean boneless sirloin steak, trimmed
8 cups spring-blend salad greens
1 1/2 cups red bell pepper strips
1 cup vertically sliced red onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 (8 3/4-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained and rinsed

1. Combine first 7 ingredients; rub over both sides of steak. Heat a nonstick grill pan over medium-high heat. Add steak; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Cut the steak across grain into thin slices.

2. While steak cooks, combine salad greens and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; toss well to coat. Top with steak.

Nutritional Information: Calories: 278 (28% from fat) Fat: 8.7g (sat 2.7g,mono 3.7g,poly 1g) Protein: 30.4g Carbohydrate: 22g Fiber: 6.1g Cholesterol: 76mg Iron: 6.1mg Sodium: 530mg Calcium: 106mg (Just 5 little Weight Watchers points per serving)

I left out the lemon juice just because I forgot to add it...didn't miss it though. I also did throw in some grape tomatoes and thought those were an excellent addition to the salad. Overall very flavorful, very quick and easy, and definitely makes me ready for summertime!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


SuperBowl XLIII did not disappoint! Not only did my Steelers pull it off but it was such a great game with such an exciting ending! Jake was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the big game...and his seat was in the front row of the upper deck in the corner where Holmes made the catch...leaving him with a perfect view of the greatest moment in the history of the Super Bowl. Just sayin.
Deacon enjoyed Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl far more than the real game...but he was a trooper and hung out with his very own terrible towel.

Still trying to eat lighter and leaner is a bit of a challenge when there is yummy Super Bowl snack food on the table. But this Hungry Girl Ate-Layer Dip was actually really tasty! My sister put this recipe together in what seemed like no time. The butternut squash layer is a bit unusual...tastes fine but the texture is a bit odd...I don't see any reason why you couldn't use fat free refried beans instead.