Friday, February 21, 2014

Texas Chili

This has been the kind of winter when you feel like eating chili every single day. It's been so cold, so snowy and icy, that warm and hearty meals are pretty much required. This is a very different chili from what I typically make and what my mom made when I was growing up. Being northerners, we usually use ground beef and add lots of beans and veggies. This however, is Texas chili. From what I've heard, Texans scoff at any chili that has beans and don't even consider it to be chili. I ripped this recipe out of my Food Network Magazine about a year ago and I'm glad I finally gave it a try. I don't know that this would necessarily replace my usual go-to recipe, but it was fun to switch it up for a change.

Just a note - I wrote the recipe below as it was in the magazine. However, I forgot to get masa harina when I did my shopping for this, so I just used cornstarch to help thicken it. Having never cooked with masa harina, I can't really say how it compares to cornstarch, but I've read that it not only thickens, but also adds flavor, which cornstarch really doesn't have. I'd be curious to try it the correct way some day.

Texas Chili
From the January/February 2013 issue of Food Network Magazine

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 lbs boneless beef chuck or shoulder, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tbsp chili powder
4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup flour
2 Tbsp dried oregano
4 (14 oz) cans low-sodium beef broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup masa harina (instant corn flour)
Optional toppings: chopped onions, shredded cheese, jalapenos   

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half the beef and cook, stirring, until browned, about 4 minutes; transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil to the pot and brown the remaining beef, then return the first batch to the pot. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the garlic.

Combine the chili powder, cumin and flour in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the meat in the pot and stir until evenly coated. Crumble in the oregano with your fingers, then add 3 cans of beef broth, 2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper; stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low; partially cover and simmer until the meat is just tender, about an hour and a half.

Whisk the remaining can of broth with the masa harina in a bowl to make a creamy paste; stir into the chili. Continue simmering over low heat until the meat is almost falling apart, 30 minutes to an hour, adding up to 2 cups of water if the chili gets too thick. Divide among bowls and add desired toppings.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

No-Bake Energy Bites

Well, we've reached the point in the year when people's New Year's resolutions to eat better have started to waver. Right? No? Hmm. Maybe that's just me then. That's why these energy bites are the perfect snack. They're sweet and will serve as a dessert, but without completely blowing your diet. They have good-for-you ingredients in them, including chia seeds, which appear to be the super food of 2014. I'll admit, I've fallen for it and I add chia seeds to my smoothies every morning and have pinned a whole bunch of recipes with chia seeds on Pinterest. I have no idea if they're doing anything for me, but I like to think they are.

I made these bites pretty small, because I like to be able to have a couple of them without feeling guilty. I got about 30 bites out of the batch with them being at or just under an inch each. I kept them in the refrigerator because that's what the recipe I worked off of said to do, but just a warning, I think that makes them a little crumbly. With almost every one, they started to crumble a bit after the first bite. This could be solved by popping the whole thing in your mouth, but I annoyingly nibbled on them to make them last longer!

Important note here - when I say use ground flax seed, do what I say. Don't be like me and figure that to save money, you'll grind your own flax seeds that you already have at home. Do you know how long it takes to grind flax seeds into 1/2 cup of ground seeds? I do. It takes one hour. I started grinding them in the kitchen standing over the counter and quickly realized how long it was going to take. So I moved into the living room and watched an entire episode of Chopped while grinding the seeds. Granted, I did have to take a few very short breaks because my hands were cramping up (sad, I know) but it took a really long time. Don't be like me. Buy your flax seed already ground!

No-Bake Energy Bites
Recipe from Gimme Some Oven

1 cup old-fashioned oats (quick cooking oats would work fine too)
2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes*
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup maple syrup (you could also use honey)
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract

*To toast the coconut, spread the flakes in a single layer in a skillet and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until the flakes begin to turn golden brown.

Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour. Once chilled, roll into balls of whatever size you would like. Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to a week.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Creamy Tomato Soup with Garlic Brown Butter Croutons

Is it as horrendously cold and snowy where you live as it is here in Connecticut? I can't take it anymore. I don't usually mind winter all that much, but we have had endless weeks of blah frigid weather. I miss my flip flops! But, until it's socially acceptable for them to make an appearance again, one of the few perks of winter is that you can make delicious warm, comforting soups like this. This reminded me a lot of the creamy tomato soup from Panera Bread, which I love. But these garlic brown butter croutons are even better than Panera's asiago croutons, believe it or not. It's no secret that I'm fairly obsessed with brown butter, so it's not surprising that these blew me away.

I lightened up the soup from the original recipe I used, partly because I'm trying to be healthier, and partly because I didn't feel like spending money on mascarpone and havarti when the recipe only called for a little of each. For someone trying to lose weight, having extra cheeses hanging around the house is bad news. When I made this, I had some heavy cream leftover from the cheese sauce on my Pulled Chicken Jalapeno Popper Sandwiches, so I did add a little for some richness, but without spending any extra money, and I definitely saved a few calories too.

Creamy Tomato Soup with Garlic Brown Butter Croutons
Recipe from How Sweet Eats (my food blogging idol/pretend best friend)

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 sweet onion, diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp paprika
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 (28 oz) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/3 cup heavy cream

2 cups cubed whole grain bread
3 Tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced

Heat a large pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium-low heat and add olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter. Add onions, salt, pepper, and seasonings, then stir well to coat. Cook until onions are soft, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in garlic and tomato paste, mashing the tomato paste and stirring to evenly distribute it throughout the onions. Cook for another 5-6 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add in both cans of the tomatoes (with juice) and the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally and mashing the tomatoes down a bit.

While the soup is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brown the 3 Tbsp of butter as follows: add the butter to a small pan over low to medium-low heat. Allow butter to melt and cook, stirring frequently, until it turns an amber color and develops an almost-nutty fragrance. Keep a close eye on it - it can go from brown to burnt very quickly! Remove from heat and let it sit for 2-3 minutes, then toss in the minced garlic cloves and stir for 30 seconds. Add bread cubes to a large bowl and pour the garlic/butter mixture over the bread, tossing well to coat. Place the bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, tossing once or twice during cooking.

When the soup has simmered for an hour, use an immersion blender to completely puree all of the chunks of tomatoes, onions, and garlic. If you don't have an immersion blender, very carefully add the mixture to a regular blender (you will probably have to do this in two parts) and puree until totally smooth. Once smooth, stir in the heavy cream, then taste the soup and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve with a handful of croutons on top.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chocolate Cherry Promises

If you're looking for a perfect treat for Valentine's Day next week, look no further. I made these back in December, so the Dove Promises available at that time had snowflakes on them, but in stores now, you can get heart-shaped Dove Promises. The hearts, coupled with the pink and red colors in these cookies, would scream Valentine's Day, whether you need something for your own loved one, to send into the classroom with your child, or to drown your own sorrows in. I don't judge.

These are basically a shortbread-like base, trashed up with chopped up maraschino cherries and cherry juice. The chocolates (I prefer milk chocolate here) are the perfect finishing touch. You could certainly use Hershey's Kisses too, which is actually what the original recipe called for, but I like the seasonal touch, plus these are easier to stack if you need to take them somewhere. And, I just really adore Dove chocolate more than any other brand! If you need to take these somewhere shortly after making them, you might want to stick them in the fridge to cool. The heat from the cookies makes the chocolate very soft and while it will hold its shape if left alone and allowed to harden up again, if you touch or try to stack them too soon, the chocolate will completely melt and blob all over.

Chocolate Cherry Promises
Recipe from The Curvy Carrot

2 sticks butter, softened, but still slightly cool
1 cup powdered sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp maraschino cherry juice
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling the cookies (optional)
36 Dove Promises (or other chocolate candies), unwrapped

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to the lowest setting and slowly add the powdered sugar and salt. Add the cherry juice and the almond extract until combined. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the mixer speed to medium and add the cherries.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls, and place the balls on a baking sheet, approximately 2 inches apart. If you'd like a little extra sweetness you can either sprinkle sugar on top of the balls or roll them in sugar. Bake the cookies until the bottoms are lightly browned, about 14 minutes.

Once removed from the oven, press a chocolate candy into each cookie’s center. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Onions

This is less a recipe, and more a technique that can be used with any number of different vegetables, but this was my most recent roasting experiment, and it. was. delicious. The sweet potatoes were tender yet slightly crispy, and the onions, particularly the blackened parts, were filled with flavor and a satisfying crunch.

I ate this as a side dish, but you could easily make a meal out of it if you're so inclined. Not only is it really tasty, but it's healthy too. Good vitamins and beta carotene from the sweet potatoes, and healthy fats in the olive oil. Divided into four servings, it's only about 3 WW points plus per serving depending on the size of your sweet potatoes.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Onions
Recipe from Gimme Some Oven

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
1 onion, quartered then cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 Tbsp. oil (I used olive oil)
Salt and Pepper to taste (don't be stingy with the seasonings!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss until vegetables are evenly coated. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Transfer vegetables to the baking sheet, and spread so that they are evenly spaced in a single layer. If necessary, use two baking sheets - you don't want the vegetables crowded, or they won't get crispy. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until onions begin to brown and sweet potatoes are cooked through. I tossed the vegetables around about halfway through to make sure they roasted evenly.