Leftover Veggies Pizza

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My refrigerator is often like a jungle of commestibles, plastic and tin cans, a dense, Amazonian jumble of meals, future meal ingredients, and condiments, where no light gets through.

Sadly, from time to time, I lose something in this food jungle. I hate wasting food, but like everyone else, it does happen from time to time. I’ve been trying a little harder lately to avoid being wasteful, and the recipe I have for today is one of the things I’ve done recently toward that.

I found myself with roasted tomatoes, from this sophisticated BLT idea (though I adapted it a bit to make it more flavorful; see below). I also had extra sauteed kale (again, see below). I took these leftovers, placed then on a garlic pita, topped then with an ounce of mixed Italian cheese, and had a sublime vegetarian pizza.

Roasted Tomatoes Recipe

Four medium-to-large, or 8 small tomatoes, sliced. (The original recipe called for Roma tomatoes, but the regular ones I had on hand did just fine. I’d cut the Romas into thirds, and regular tomatoes into quarter-inch slices.

1T olive oil

Salt, garlic powder, oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste

Put the sliced tomatoes in a bowl. Top with the oil and spices and mix thoroughly.

Place the tomato slices on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Place in an oven heated to 250; roast for 2 to 3 hours until desired doneness. (Mine weren’t super-dry like sun-dried tomatoes; I left in a smidge of liquid.)

Sauteed Kale Recipe

1/2 bag washed kale (next time, I’d remove the thick stems)

1/2 large onion

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1 T olive oil

1 c fat-free chicken broth

Heat the olive oil, and add the garlic and onions; cook until the onions are translucent. Add the kale in handfuls at a time. When some has wilted, add the chicken broth. Simmer until desired tenderness. (I left mine a bit crunchy still.)

Notes: if you wanted, you could add a couple slices of center-cut bacon or grilled or roasted turkey or chicken. Turkey ham our pork loin would also work.

Roast Beef Chipotle Mini Pizza

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After I completed the challenge of making as many things as I could off a turkey breast last week, I got the insane idea to get a turkey breast again this week. Needless to say, we’re getting tired of turkey.

So I backed away slowly from the turkey and the carving board. And put on my thinking cap. I did some grocery shopping list night, and I knew I would need something to make that night that would be easy to put together. So I went with deli roast beef, and I went with pizza. And I went with my adventurous taste buds and came up with this idea.

1 pita of your choice, wheat or white (I went with a flavored one: garlic pita)
1 to 1.5 oz deli roast beef (with the size of my slices, this meant about 1.5 slices; be sure to weigh yours!)
2T Taco Bell chipotle sauce (found with the Mexican/Southwest foods in the international aisle)
1 oz mozzarella or Italian cheese blend

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. On an oven-safe pan or cookie sheet, assemble your pizza: top the pita with the sauce, top three sauce with the cheese, and tear/shred the roast beef and put that in to of the cheese.

Put your pizza in the oven until the cheese is melted to your liking.

Notes: if I had time and the ingredients, I would’ve added some grilled onions and peppers to this, to add another dimension of flavor.

Not in the mood for pizza? Try this as a wrap sandwich in a tortilla. Add the peppers and onions and salad greens of your choice.

Barbecue Chicken Pita Pizza

I’m not too proud to buy the reduced price items at the market. In fact, I’m a bit of a proud cheapskate. Why not take advantage of sales like that when they cross my path?

It’s a fun, exhilarating game to me, to scour the market and find amazing deals on things I actually buy. (I don’t coupon because coupons typically are not for things I’d buy. Someone call me if they ever start offering produce coupons, though!)

One thing I’ve been able to find on sale consistently is pita bread. A market that I frequent has had pita on sale the last couple of times I’ve been in the store. Four for a dollar! I bought a couple bags each time.

I had been using the pita for a vegetarian lunch, of pita, hummus, and a salad, but I’ve also made pizza with the pitas as well, like I used to when I started Weight Watchers. But recently I decided to mix things up, with a barbecue chicken pizza. Here’s how:

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Your favorite barbecue sauce, 2T

1.5-2 oz. chicken breast, diced or shredded (leftover chicken works perfectly!)

1 pita–whole wheat, plain, or garlic

1 oz. part-skim mozzarella

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread the barbecue sauce on the pita. Top with the cheese, and then the chicken. I then spritzed the pizza with a little cooking spray, to keep the chicken from drying out so much, but that’s optional.

Heat the pizza in the oven until the cheese is melted to your liking.

Notes: I first encountered barbecue chicken pizza at an Italian restaurant around my way, and they also put red onion on the pizza. That’s another option for you. In place of the barbecue sauce, you could go with light or fat-free ranch dressing–that’s another tomato sauce alternative I’ve seen for chicken pizza.

These Cooking Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Last night, I was preparing fish to bake. It was a 2-lb bag of tilapia fillets, and I planned on doing half with salt, pepper and garlic, and half with Cajun seasoning. While visions of dusting the fish fillets with their respective spices danced in my head, I noticed a warning on the plastic that wrapped each fish fillet. It said that you should remove the fish from the plastic before thawing.

Too late! I routinely thaw the fish individually wrapped, in the main packaging, in my freezer. And they taste just fine, whether I’m baking them or grilling them. No harm, no foul.

Just like my fish experiences, there are other times when you can break the rules that recipes scream at you. Here are 8:

  1. Use your favorite vegetables. When you’re making a casserole or slow cooker dish, go with the vegetables that you like (or the ones that you have on hand), as long as you time their cooking in a way that ensures they get cooked to appropriate doneness.
  2. Go with yogurt. Fat-free Greek yogurt can stand in for cream, or for sour cream. Try topping your nachos or baked potatoes with some, mixing some into your chicken pot pie stuffing, in soups–the possibilities are endless!
  3. Alternatives for desserts. Diet lemon-lime soda and liquid eggs in yellow and white cakes. Diet cola and liquid eggs in dark cakes and brownies. Pumpkin puree in spice cake. Fat-free Greek yogurt works here, too.
  4. Ditch the butter and oil. No, you won’t get the same flavor, but if you want to save on fat and calories, opt for cooking spray or water for sautéing (or nothing at all, if you don’t have your temperature super-high).
  5. Tweak the spices. Fresh or dried? Go with what you have, using more dried if the recipe calls for fresh. Leave out the salt if you have high blood pressure, or switch to a low-sodium salt, because if you’re cooking with certain items (like spaghetti sauce, cheese, or broth), you’re still getting sodium in the mix anyway. There’s a reason many bloggers (myself included) don’t give exact measurements for spices–part of the art of cooking is figuring out what works best for your taste. Experiment and go with the proportions that work for you.
  6. Switch up the meat. Rather than a pork shoulder, try pork loin. Instead of high-fat ground beef, try lean ground beef (93% lean) or learn ground turkey. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe vegetarian, either–for many dishes, you’ll be safe opting for beans or textured vegetable protein (TVP).
  7. Take shortcuts. As a rule, or in a pinch, you can buy rotisserie chicken or rotisserie turkey breast. Or, get the person at the seafood counter to steam the shrimp or crab for you, before tossing with grains, vegetables, or pasta. For vegetables? Buy pre-cut veggies from your produce section, or even frozen peppers and onions from the freezer section.
  8. Don’t braise meat for slow cooking. As with using butter or oil for sautéing, braising does add another dimension of flavor, but if you want to cut corners on time, you can get along fine without doing it.

Whether you’re starting to cook more healthy now as part of a resolution, or you’re plugging away at healthy eating as a long-term lifestyle, there are areas where it’s perfectly fine to bend or break the cooking rules to bring your food to the table faster, or more in line with your taste preferences. I wish you hours of happy rabble-rousing in your kitchen!

Question of the day: What rules do you break in the kitchen? What tips do you have for making your life as a cook easier?

Review: Mexican Weeknight Easy

I read. A lot. Whether it’s reading what my digital peeps and Tweeps are up to, reading music blogs, scouring Pinterest for new recipe ideas, or trying to make a dent in my Kindle book pile (I’m currently reading the Sherlock Holmes collection, in hopes of getting ideas in how he survived the fall on the British show), I’ve always got words whizzing by my eyes for some reason.

Sometimes the writing comes from magazines that I’ve picked up at the market. That’s how I got my hands on Mexican Weeknight Easy, a magazine devoted to Mexican cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as information on spices and produce that figure prominently in Mexican cooking.

I probably confess to my Mexican food addiction just about every week, but let me tell you, I still learned a lot from this publication.

Here are the 5 most useful things I got out of parting with $5.99:

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One of the five things I learned was how to make this!

  1. How to make sophisticated chips. I routinely microwave tortillas into crispy chips, but I typically don’t spruce them up with anything more exciting than salt. I will, however, be trying the smoked paprika, cumin and salt chips, as well as the lime jalapeño ones.
  2. How to pickle red onions. There’s a pretty easy recipe for picking red onions in citrus juices and spices that sounded interesting. A little web research told me that picked red onions, aka cebollas encurtidas, pair nicely with a variety of foods. I have a weak spot for onions, so I will definitely be doing this!
  3. How nachos (supposedly) got their name, and other tales. I won’t spoil the story for you, but I really enjoyed this, and the other factoids that run throughout the magazine.
  4. What to do with a chayote. I’ve seen this puffy pear-looking piece of produce in the market, but I didn’t know it was (technically) a fruit. Or that I could cook it like squash.
  5. How to make a delicious, healthy Mexican breakfast. Huevos oxaqueños, eggs poached on a bed of vegetables, will become a staple dish for me, served with corn tortillas and a little cheese.

I’d recommend this magazine to anyone who likes Mexican food like me, or anyone who’s looking for new ways to make flavorful meals with tons of fresh ingredients. I’m looking forward to expanding my Mexican repertoire!

Salsa Verde Enchiladas

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I eat a lot of Mexican/Southwestern food somehow. It’s something about the spice combinations, the use of fresh vegetables in salsa, and the unique dimension that a bit of chopped cilantro adds to whatever you throw it on.

I recently found myself with a lot of leftover turkey breast on hand, and my first thought was to turn it into enchiladas. (Apparently my brain is hard-wired with this appreciation of all things Mexican.)

Here’s the road I took to further feed my Mexican food addiction:

  • 1 lb. turkey breast, diced or shredded
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 1 jar salsa verde
  • 1 to 1 1/2 c cheese (reduced-fat cheddar or a Mexican blend)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the turkey breast with half of the jar of salsa. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes to give the meat a chance to get marinated (or leave overnight, if you’d like to prep in advance).

Heat the tortillas a little. I did this in the microwave for about 30 seconds, and then I kept then covered with a damp paper towel as I began to work on the next step.

Take a tortilla and fill it with the turkey mixture. Roll up the tortilla, and place it seam-side down in a square baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Repeat for the rest of the tortillas and turkey.

Top the rolled tortillas with the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tortillas are heated through and the cheese is melted. Serves 4.

Notes: you could also use a rotisserie chicken as your meat source. Or try using leftover pork loin.

Question of the day
: what is your favorite kind of food? What country or ethnicity of coking will always have a place in your stomach?

Keeping the Balls in the Air

I’ve stepped into a very busy work period lately. That’s because I’m trying to juggle 3 projects at the same time. And write this blog. And maybe get some time in with my family, and some time for myself as well. It’s trying, but I’m making the best of it that I can. (One thing I’ve done for myself is to halt the kebab challenge I wanted to embark on this summer, making a kebab recipe a week for this blog. Sorry, maybe I’ll pick it up again next year.)

I found myself finishing up my work yesterday, with no dinner or complete lunch for the next day on deck. I quickly decided on grilled chicken breast and turkey chili.

I bought chicken and ground turkey from the store, and some cheese to go with the chili. (Thankfully I keep beans, crushed tomatoes, spices, onions and garlic handy, so this wasn’t a major shopping expedition.)

At home, I pounded the chicken uniformly flat, then marinated it with spices, a little olive oil, and vinegar. I chopped some onion and smashed and minced garlic. Then, I went to sit in with my husband and son for reading practice. It’s a special treat when I’m home early to get to be part teacher, part cheerleader!

After that, it was back to the kitchen. I turned on the grill and heated my skillet. I rinsed and drained my beans while everything was heating. Then I threw the chicken on the (indoor) grill and began on the chili. Fast forward about 30 minutes, and everything was ready. We live to eat again another two or three days, and I also get the satisfaction of knowing that my loved ones are well fed with quality food.

That’s a glimpse into how I pull healthy meals together, how I juggle kitchen duties, how I make room for family time, and what I keep in stock to make life easier for myself. But I know I’m not the only person juggling life needs and a desire to eat healthy. How do you keep all the balls you have to juggle safely in the air? What are your quick, healthy go-to meals?