Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Weeknight Dinner: Vietnamese Meatball Lettuce Wraps

The grill just calls to you when it's too hot to turn on the oven, doesn't it?  But sometimes I find myself a little sick of grilled food.  Most of the time, you're just grilling a big hunk of meat and while that's great, that certainly isn't helping me fit into a bridesmaids dress for my sisters wedding.

John has been good about giving up those big slabs of meat for more manageable dinners that can still be enjoyable, although how much he enjoys them is up for debate!  These, though, were a favorite in the house.  The meatballs are completely flavorful and for an easier dinner, you don't even have to make them into meatballs.  Just saute it all up for a quick dinner and then wrap that in lettuce leaves. 

Vietnamese Meatball Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Food and Wine)
Serves:  4 (12 wraps)
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 red onion, half finely chopped and half thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
12 Boston lettuce leaves
1/4 cup cucumber, julienned
sriracha, for serving

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat*.  In a large bowl, combine chicken, soy sauce, chopped red onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Form into 12 meatballs.   Cook on the greased grill 4-6 minutes per side.  Place a meatball in each lettuce leaf and top with remaining red onion, cucumber, and sriracha. 

*You can also make these in the oven:  preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cook 12-14 minutes on a greased cookie sheet or until cooked through. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Date Night Dinner: Chicken Mofongo

When John and I were in Puerto Rico for his birthday last year, we both fell in love with Mofongo - probably because it has every unhealthy ingredient you could think of mashed with plantains and stuffed with meat.  I mean seriously people - what could be wrong with that?  We've been talking about making it for some time now but never got the chance.

But as soon as I walked into the neighborhood grocery store and saw green plantains, I knew what dinner would be this weekend!  I was so excited.  Of course, this recipe is a little indepth.  It requires time, patience, and reading the directions.  Usually, I have none of these things but at least on Saturdays I do have time. 

We didn't have those great little mofongo cups you see all over Puerto Rico (in the restaurants AND souvenir shops) but serving it in any large dish and building a cup for your meat is the way to go here.  The spicy tomato sauce sinks into the luscious plantain, well, it is just a treat!  And if you've never had it, I couldn't think of why you'd pass up the opportunity to give it a try.
Chicken Mofongo (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves:  2
3 plantains
1 teaspoon salt
2 strips bacon
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
6 ounces chicken stock, divided
1/2 pound chicken breasts, diced
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
6 ounces tomato paste

Slice the plantains into 1-inch cuts and place in a large bowl.  Add salt and enough water to cover the plantains fully.  Let sit 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot to boil.  Drain the plantains and boil for 15 minutes, until slightly tender though not mushy. Meanwhile, cook the bacon strips over medium heat in a thick-bottomed skillet until crispy.  Remove and crumble into a large bowl.  Mix with garlic. 

Drain the plantains and pat dry.  Saute the plantain slices in the bacon grease until golden brown on each side 3-5 minutes.  If you need more oil, supplement with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Add the plantains and half of the chicken stock to the bacon-garlic mixture and using a potato masher, mash until the plantain mixture resembles mashed potatoes. 

Meanwhile, using the same skillet, brown the chicken.  Add the onion and peppers and saute 3-5 minutes.  Add the remaining chicken stock and tomato paste.  Simmer until the sauce is thick, 7-10 minutes.

Place the plantains in a large bowl and make a large dent in the middle.  Spoon in the chicken and serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Copycat Vanilla Frostys

There's something about the summer that makes you feel, more alive.  I'm not sure that's the right wording but maybe you know what I mean by that.  I'm not working less hours but we're staying up later and waking up earlier, and somehow feeling ready to go every minute of the day.  Needless to say, there is a lot getting done in our house and at my office, too!

The one thing we've been avoiding lately is the car.  It's just too nice to spend a long time driving anywhere.  But without a car, we're back in our neighborhood grocery stores that are, let's just face it, totally overpriced because most people don't have a car and they have a captured audience.  As you could imagine, it makes some purchases very tough.  Like ice cream. I know, the building block of my existence, hasn't been in the freezer since before we left for Alaska. 

We've been craving soft serve ice cream as of late so no one was more excited than I was when I found a recipe for a copycat Wendy's Frosty!!!  They had chocolate frostys but I wondered if we could make vanilla (to appease that picky man who lives in the house).  We have been making them almost every night since (thank goodness for the two ice cream bases, right?  You take one out of the freezer and use it and stick the second one in there for tomorrow).  They're so easy, it's hard to resist!
Copycat Vanilla Frostys (adapted from Dine and Dish)
Serves:  2
1/4 cup Cool Whip
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 cup skim milk**
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar

In a small bowl, whisk Cool Whip and sweetened condensed milk until fully combined.  Pour into your ice cream maker, already on.  Then, in that same bowl, add skim milk, vanilla extract, and sugar.  Whisk until fully combined and add to the ice cream maker.  Let the ice cream maker run for 12-15 minutes, until the mixture is fully frozen and at soft-serve consistency.  Serve immediately!

**Substitute the skim milk, vanilla extract, and sugar for an equal amount of chocolate milk and make chocolate Frostys instead!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weeknight Dinner: Chopped Cobb Salad

This is the perfect summer meal.  Our kitchen is so small that when it gets to be this hot and humid out, just standing there to fix a sandwich is torturous.  John and I have been loving easy and simple dishes that require little to no cooking.  It's almost sacreligious of a food blogger to say that, isn't it??  But the truth is, I don't know anyone who wants to sweat making dinner.  It's just unseemly and a great way to lose your appetite.

Now that I've talked all about sweat, let's talk about this dish (if your appetite is still holding on).  A cobb salad is one of my absolute favorite salads. We have a cute little tavern right around the corner from my office that I literally take everyone that I meet for work and for personal life to lunch.  They have this delicious kale salad that I get because I'm trying to be good (ugh).  But, every few times I go, I make it a point to get their cobb salad.

Everything is chopped perfectly and tastes delicious.  In fact, I'm practically drooling while I think about it.  Let's be honest, the salad is practically an afterthought after all the tasty ingredients that go into it.  But it's one of those perfect salads that can really fill you up for dinner, especially if you're good about not adding too much bacon!
Chopped Cobb Salad
Serves:  4
1/2 pound chicken breast
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large cucumber, diced
4 slices bacon, crumbled
1 avocado, diced
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/2 cup blue cheese dressing

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Grill 5-7 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Dice and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  Spoon into 4 bowls.  Top each bowl evenly with bacon, avocado, diced chicken, blue cheese crumbles, and blue cheese dressing.

Serve immediately.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Time-Out: Light Blue Cheese Dressing

Incidentally, they do not make "light blue" cheese.  There is just blue cheese, but lightened up.  Every time I read this post back I confuse myself so I thought I needed to make a disclaimer right at the very top.  Now you can continue...blue cheese dressing is a favorite of mine.  Or, it used to be before I decided to pack away these 5 extra pounds.  Now, it's the enemy and must be avoided at all cost.  Or so I used to think.  Isn't it funny that sometimes dishes you know you can't have makes you want them all the more?  That's the way it is with me, I've decided.

I threw out all the creamy dressings in our house a few months ago when I decided to start exercising and losing weight for real.  None of that fake "oh I'd love to lose some weight, now excuse me while I sit on the couch and eat bonbons".  I've never eaten bonbons but I bet they are tasty.  Anyway, a few weeks ago I was craving some salad with blue cheese dressing.  Weird, I know, but also true.

Of course, a quick little search told me that others had also had this problem and you could actually make a light blue cheese dressing that, while missing the mark a little bit, was still delightfully tasty and very close to the real thing.  And there you have it, a light blue cheese dressing was available and after I had it that one time, my craving went away.  Now if we could only figure out a similar fix for ice cream.

Light Blue Cheese Dressing (adapted from SkinnyTaste)
Serves:  8 (1 cup dressing)
1/2 cup blue cheese
6 ounces fat-free greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a small bowl, combine blue cheese, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Stir until the mixture is uniform but the blue cheese is still chunky.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Date Night Dinner: Cuban Stuffed Pork Chops

This is what I like to call a Sunday night Special!  Since we're at Mom and Dad's every Sunday, I rarely make something that's in-depth and delicious.  I'm not complaining.  After all, who could complain about a free meal, right?!  But, sometimes it is nice to take the weekend for ourselves and relax.

Knowing we'd be in ALASKA this week, I took the weekend before for ourselves to chill out which I almost feel guilty about, until something like this comes out of my kitchen.  Ostensibly, we were supposed to be packing in advance of the trip but instead it was more like a sitting on the couch, reading a book, cooking a lot, and doing laundry type weekend.  John and I have fallen into a terrible habit about packing.

Quite simply, we just don't pack until the day before we need to leave somewhere.  This usually causes very late nights, very grumpy people, and inevitably, something that we were supposed to remember which ends up sitting on the couch while we are off doing whatever we are supposed to be doing.  This Cuban Pork Tenderloin is similar - it sounds sophisticated and grown up but in reality, you likely have most of the ingredients in your fridge right now.
Cuban Stuffed Pork Chops (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves:  2
2 boneless center cut pork chops
4 tablespoons dijon mutard
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
2 dill pickles
4 slices Swiss cheese
2 slices ham
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Slice the pork chops lengthwise, stopping when it is almost fully cut through.  Pound out the pork chops so they are thin and rectangular in shape.  Spread dijon mustard evenly over each pork chop.  Add cilantro, pickles, 2 slices of Swiss cheese, and 1 slice of ham to the middle of each pork chop.  Carefully roll the pork chops up and put them rolled side down, side by side, in a baking dish.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pork is fully cooked through.

Alternatively, you can do these on the grill.  Just be sure to secure the chicken rolls with twine so they do not come undone on the grill.  Grill 15-20 minutes in total.

Serve with Cuban Rice & Beans.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Stand Out Sides: Cuban-Style Rice and Beans

I'm interrupting this blog for a big announcement - we are actually in Alaska!!!  Yes, that's right.  Talk about a mixture of cultures - Cuban and Alaskan all in one day.  We have talked about this trip with my sisters and their husbands (husbands to be) and my parents for a long time now.  It seemed like it would never get here.  But, now we're off and away!

Whenever we go away, I always find myself desperate to use up everything and anything in the fridge.  Please tell me I'm not the only crazy who does this.  Even if we're going away for a weekend, I do this which I know is somewhat pointless because if we were going to be at home, I wouldn't likely touch the groceries during that time.  But, what can you do.

In an effort to make a simple meal before we left, I turned to this side dish which uses almost all pantry staples and is extremely filling.  And any leftovers can be easily repurposed.  We like to use them in burritos for lunches the next day.  Or, if we're feeling adventurous, we'll make a couple of eggs for the top of it.  Instant brunch!
Cuban-Style Rice and Beans (adapted from SkinnyTaste)
Serves:  6 (4 cups)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup rice (we used long grain wild and brown rice blend)
15 ounce can black beans, undrained
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon cumin
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the peppers, onion, and garlic.  Saute until softened, 4-5 minutes.  Then, add rice, black beans, water, cumin, bay leaf, and oregano.  Let the rice simmer until the water only just covers the top of the rice.  Then, cover and steam for 20-25 minutes until the water has been absorbed.  Remove the bay leaf and stir in salt and pepper.  Divide amongst 6 plates and serve immediately.
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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