A Flavorful Evening

Yesterday I went to a baby shower for  an in-law relative who lives four hours away. As we chose seats to settle into for the festivities, the smell of lighter fluid and pungent spices filed the air, as more guests trickled in. Grilled chicken was on the menu.

My family and I chatted amongst ourselves, watched the children play,  reminisced on the old music playing, and took in the new tunes with interest. And, of course, we kept inhaling the delightful spicy chicken smell.

Presents were exchanged, a prayer was said, and then it was time to eat. We were treated to chicken leg quarters that were blackened with a crust of spices, and fried plantains and attieke, a West African couscous made of cassava, were also on the menu. I savored every bit of the chicken and  plantains that I had.

We spent the night with relatives a couple of hours closer to home and debated getting more food for a post-dinner, but when we thought about it, we realized we weren’t really hungry enough for a full-blown meal. I ate a couple of oranges from the refrigerator instead. It has been a while since I had had oranges, and their sweet juciness was a revelation.

It was a long day of hastily eaten meals in the first half, but the second half of the day was punctuated with meals that reminded me of the importance of choosing simple foods with big flavors, something that seems to be key to satisfying meals.


The 10-lb. Ham Challenge: Two Days, Seven Recipes

Around Easter time, I learned that I qualified for a free ham from my grocery store. But I had no plans to cook it for the holiday, so off it went to my freezer.

Every market day since then, I found myself staring at the 10-lb. ham in my freezer when I went to store other items, marveling at how much space it was taking up. This past weekend, I vowed to do something about it. I brainstormed and made a list of recipes, gathered some necessary groceries, thawed and boiled the ham, and made these items. (Note: If you don’t happen to have a 10-lb. ham lying around, don’t eat ham, or want to make these dishes a little lighter, you could substitute in turkey ham instead.)

About 2lbs. of the ham have been accounted for at this point.

Split Pea Soup

I made the soup to the specifications of my recipe using turkey ham, just substituting in a pound of the ham and using the water from the ham in place of water or fat-free chicken stock. (Next time I think I’ll do half ham water, half regular water, or just the chicken stock, to lessen the fat content.)

Ham and Apple Salad

  • 2-3 oz. ham, diced
  • 1 oz. of a smoky and/or sharp cheese–I went with gouda
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, diced (Go with your preference for peeling. I kept the skin on.)

Add the ingredients on top of a bed of spinach (as I did) or lettuce. I ate it without dressing, but if I had it handy, I would’ve used low-fat honey mustard dressing. Thinly sliced red or white onion also would’ve been a nice addition.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This one also uses the recipe I usually use for turkey ham. The only substitution this time was using the ham.

Ham and Pineapple Grilled Cheese Sandwich

This is similar to an earlier recipe I posted, with bacon and fat-free American cheese. This time, I’ve used the ham instead and given a foodie-worthy upgrade to the other fillings.

The before pic.

  • 2 oz. ham, thinly sliced
  • 1 light hamburger bun
  • 1 slice smoked cheddar
  • 2 thinly sliced pineapple rings
  • 1T I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light

Preheat a nonstick pan to medium-high. Separate the bun halves. (You’re going to use the bun inside out, so the butter toasts the bread better.)

Add the slice of cheese. Top with a pineapple slice. Add the ham, then the other pineapple slice, and close the sandwich.

Spread 1/2T of the butter spread on one of the buns (again, on the white side, not the brown side). Add the sandwich to the pan, butted side down, pressing down on it a bit. Add the rest of the spread to the unbuttered bun half at this time. Flip the sandwich when the part that’s cooking is brown enough. Repeat with the other side.

The after pic.

Notes: The only thing I’d change with this would be to let the pineapple get to room temperature. Mine came from the fridge and it didn’t get warm, even though the cheese did melt.

Jerk Ham and Pineapple Hash

  • 1lb ham, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • Approximately 2c diced pineapple (fresh or canned in juice and drained)
  • 4-5T jerk marinade
  • 4-5T apricot preserves
  • 2T balsamic vinaigrette

Heat the onion in a pan (with or without oil) until it’s translucent. Add the ham; heat through.

Mix the marinade, preserves and vinegar together while the ham and onions are heating. Add the pineapple to the pan once the ham mixture is heated through. Pour the jerk mixture into the meat mixture; heat everything through.

Notes: I used the vinegar because I didn’t have a full bottle of jerk marinade. But if I did, I would’ve used two more tablespoons of the marinade and omitted the vinegar. (The vinegar didn’t dramatically alter the taste of the sauce, though.)

Serve the hash over brown or white rice or whole wheat or regular couscous, or as is, with a starch vegetable. Another interesting idea: Serve it as a burrito/wrap sandwich, with black beans and rice or arroz con grandules.

Creamy Spaghetti With Ham and Garlic Peas


I was inspired to make this by a gigantic pasta cookbook I got as a wedding present. Pasta with ham, peas and a heavy cream sauce or a boatload of parmesan cheese seems to be a beloved Italian meal; this is my attempt at making something skinny and also quick to bring to the table. (Again, using turkey ham instead of pork would lighten things up a bit more.)

  • 1/2 lb. of ham
  • 1 package Birds Eye Steam Fresh Garlic Baby Peas & Mushrooms
  • 1/2 jar light Alfredo sauce (I went with Classico, but Ragu makes it, too.)
  • 1/2 package whole wheat spaghetti

Cook and drain the spaghetti. Heat the vegetables in the microwave according to package instructions, then heat the ham in the microwave in a microwave-safe container.

Mix the pasta, ham, vegetables and sauce together. Voila!

Note: I typically don’t cook with Alfredo sauce and I was a little afraid scorching it, so I didn’t heat it up. Feel free to heat it if you’d like. Also, in researching it a bit, many recipes I’ve seen use a chunky pasta, like shells or bowties, or fettuccine over thin spaghetti; you can always go with your favorite pasta shape.

Epilogue: After making these recipes over the course of two days, I set aside a pound of ham for miscellaneous use (including omelets and other salads), and I gave the remainder to my mother, along with some of these things I made. In the future, before freezing the ham, I think I’ll cut it into 1-lb. and 1/2-lb portions, using my food scale as my guide.

I doubt I’ll find myself in this predicament again, but at least I know there are simple ways for me to make a ham disappear!

Bold Shrimp Cobb Salad

A month or two ago, I had an excellent chicken cobb salad. I don’t know what restaurant it came from, but I requested it during a working lunch to keep myself nourished and engaged, and it definitely hit the spot.

I have wanted another cobb salad since then, but I wasn’t really inspired to do something about it until I saw jalapeno bacon bits on the shelf recently at Walmart. And then it clicked: I wanted to make a cobb salad, but I also wanted to turn up the volume on the flavor. And because the combo and quantity of ingredients in a cobb salad are often pretty heavy, especially when you’re talking about a restaurant entree, I knew I wanted to start with a lighter protein that would still enable me to enjoy all the other usual flavors. I drafted shrimp for that role. Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 oz. shrimp (I grilled them earlier, dusting them with Adobo spice, cumin, chili powder and garlic powder. If you can’t or don’t want to grill, you could also pick up steamed shrimp from your grocery store, with Cajun or Old Bay seasoning. Use room temperature shrimp, or if refrigerated, microwave them briefly, about 20 seconds.)
  • Your favorite type of lettuce
  • 1/4 of an avocado
  • 1-2T jalapeno bacon bits
  • 1 boiled egg, sliced
  • 1-2T blue cheese (I didn’t have any in the house when I made this recipe, but I would definitely add it next time!)

Add the lettuce to a bowl. Top with the shrimp, egg, avocado, bacon bits and cheese. You could also garnish with thinly sliced red onion.

I didn’t add salad dressing to my salad, but you could go with light or fat-free ranch dressing. Or you could omit the blue cheese and use a light blue cheese dressing.

Things I Learned From a Month of Salads

My 2012 started off with me stocking up on lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, onions, red cabbage, peppers, and other kinds of raw vegetables to turn into salads. In the month of January, I embarked on a challenge to eat a salad a day.

I was sick and missed dinner on Day 7, and on Day 26, the realities of salad fatigue had set in. But after those two missed days, I ate two salads on the following days. So I eventually crossed the finish line into February, today, with 31 bowls of veggies and proteins having made their way through my body in the month before. Someone figure out how to turn a radish into a medal for me!

I am happy to have completed my challenge with minor hiccups. I will be glad to get back to not having to limit my food options, but I think I will incorporate more salads into my life in general. I came up with a bunch of tasty ideas that I won’t let go to waste!

Besides filling up my mental recipe box with ideas, I learned a bunch of other things about salads and their place in my life. Here are 10 of those things: Continue reading

Chicken Thighs: My MVP

Call me biased, because the chicken thigh has always been my favorite part to eat, but 9 times out of 10, when I make a dish using chicken these days, it’s with chicken thighs.

Why the love? Chicken thighs are more flavorful than breasts, in my opinion, and they are less likely to dry out in cooking. Plus, with their small size, they are already portion-controlled.

I can buy a bag of 8 to 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs for $5.99 from Aldi. Once I thaw out these thighs, here are some of my favorite things to do with them:

Grill them. This is the easiest way to prepare the thighs, and the one that I use the most. Sprinkle them with spices or marinate them, then throw them on the grill. My favorites are barbecue rub and sauce; jerk spice; and salt, pepper and garlic. Eat them in a light hamburger bun or sliced in a fat-free tortilla, on a salad or with your favorite side on a plate.

Light chicken parmesan. I grill the thighs seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and oregano, then top them with a tablespoon or two of spaghetti sauce, then a half or full slice of provolone cheese. Eat this with a little pasta and sauce and a salad, or worth your favorite sides.

In the slow cooker. I’ve made a chicken curry with the thighs, with sliced onions and green peppers, curry powder to taste, and chicken stock as the liquid. In the past, I’ve slow-cooked chicken breast with a couple jars of salsa verde; I’d try it with thighs as well, to eat in tortillas. Or, I’d experiment with one salsa verde jar, chicken stock, onions, white beans and cilantro to make a white chili.

If you decide to make boneless chicken thighs your go-to poultry option, like I have, lot me know what you come up with!

My Salad Days of January: 10 Ideas

In years past, I’ve felt no interest whatsoever in eating salads this time of year. Who wants cool, crisp lettuce when the outdoors ground cover it resembles is coated with a layer of frost every morning? This was my previous line of thought.  Roasted veggies, or those that have taken leisurely baths in soups or stews sounded cozy and nutritious, while raw veggies fresh from the fridge sounded as appealing as a December swim in the English Channel.

But for some reason I’m interested in salads this winter. Maybe it’s the guarantee of getting in a bunch of veggie servings, or maybe that means I, as someone who dislikes winter, am really trying to ignore the fact that the season is here.

Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to kick off the New Year by eating a salad every day for the month of January. I look forward to this challenge after having had a heavy eating holiday season.

This Web MD article agrees that a salad a day is a good idea, for the fiber, the nutrients in the ingredients, the ability of salads to fill you up on minimal calories, and because it can be a good way to get in healthy fats (if you add nuts, avocado, or olive oil to your salad).

Here are some salad ideas I will undoubtedly use in January:

  1. Turkey or chicken Caesar salad: top lettuce with the meat, add a light Caesar or Caesar vinaigrette dressing, and a tablespoon or two of grated parmesan. Pass on the croutons and opt for a carb side instead.
  2. Tuna salad: top your veggies with 1/2 cup of tuna (packed in water), with 1T of light mayonnaise mixed in. Salad dressing is optional.
  3. Taco salad: the next time you make tacos, add the leftover meat to your vegetables, along with reduced fat cheddar. As dressing, try mixing salsa (1/4 or 1/3 of a cup) with 1 or 2T of fat-free ranch.
  4. Salmon salad: top your greens with grilled or blackened salmon, or canned salmon. If I’m eating blackened salmon or a flavorful grilled salmon, I might pass on the salad dressing. Otherwise, I’d go with a fat-free honey mustard vinaigrette.
  5. Grilled shrimp salad: just like it sounds, grilled shrimp over veggies. I’d choose the dressing depending on the spices the shrimp are seasoned with (or go with no dressing).
  6. Jerk pork or chicken salad: toss a little avocado in with the meat. I might also try adding a little pineapple or mango. I’d probably pass on the dressing to let the spicy flavors have control.
  7. Cheeseburger salad: crumble a turkey or lean ground beef burger over the greens. Add reduced fat cheddar, Swiss, feta, or any other kind of cheese that you’d normally put on a burger.
  8. Buffalo chicken salad: microwave and dice a breaded chicken patty. For the dressing, mix 2T of light or fat-free blue cheese dressing with hot sauce to taste.
  9. Harvest turkey salad: along with the turkey, go with an ounce of Havarti cheese and a tablespoon or two of dried cranberries.
  10. Italian salad: pair part-skim mozzarella or provolone with  turkey pepperoni and/or salami. Add pepperoncini if you’d like.

Here are 10 ideas, enough to get me a third of the way through my month of salad days! I’d generally eat 3 or 4 ounces of the meat (exception: 2 oz of sliced turkey breast, and 2 or 3 oz of the shrimp) and a carb side with the salad–pretzels, baked chips, tortillas or cheese curls, or a a slice of toast or a light hamburger bun (served plain or topped with light butter substitute or olive oil, with or without spices). As far as the greenery, I’d recommend anything but iceberg lettuce (like romaine, spinach, spring mix, etc.), because iceberg will have the least nutritional value.

If you are interested in ramping up your salad eating, I hope you find something you enjoy! If you have any additional easy salad ideas, please feel free to share.