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!

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Coconut Cream Yogurt Options

I want to confess that I like coconut. Coconut shrimp, coconut cream pie, tropical mocktails, you name it. The sweet, nutty taste, the unique texture that shows up unexpectedly… You’ll never get a complaint from me.

I had some coconut left over from making skinny pineapple cupcakes a while ago, and I had a sweet tooth after lunch one day, so I put this together.

Recipe

  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1-2T shredded coconut (I used sweetened because that’s what I had on hand, but next time I’ll seek out the unsweetened.)
  • 1/2 to 1 packet of sugar-free vanilla-flavored milk mix

Mix everything together!

Notes: I didn’t think of it at the time, but you could omit the vanilla powder and add some finely diced pineapple to this instead, going with the sweetness of the pineapple, or adding a little Splenda. Making it ahead of time may soften the coconut a bit as well.

To go a little heavier, make an Almond Joy-type dessert by omitting the vanilla powder and adding a little bit of crumbled almond and fat-free chocolate sauce into this, in place of the vanilla powder–I’m guesstimating a tablespoon of nuts and a tablespoon max of the sauce. Or, make it for breakfast with almonds and banana, with or without the vanilla powder.

I found the vanilla milk powder mix in the coffee aisle of my grocery store. It also comes in chocolate and strawberry flavors. Let me know of any experiments you make with them!

Kick Up the Flavor to Eat Less?

I read an interesting New York Times article a few weeks back, which said that people may be less likely to overeat if they are eating foods with strong flavors. The theory, posed by food author Peter Kamitmsky, is explored in his new book, Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well). He shares the idea of FPC, or flavor per calorie, encouraging people to eat more foods that have bold flavors in fewer calories (and to avoid high-calorie foods that are more bland).

Foods he likes: anchovies, chickpeas, capers, plain yogurt, olive oil, roasted almonds, bacon, butter, Italian sausage and dark chocolate. The New York Times author points out that Kaminsky is promoting small quantities of some of these foods, like a few crumbles of sausage or bacon in a lentil stew.

I don’t think this concept is suggesting something totally off the wall. I agree that it’s more satisfying to eat foods that richly satisfy the taste buds, and it’s definitely important to find the intersection of flavor and modest nutritional profile to avoid weight gain. Here are a couple of ideas I’ve tried out recently to do just that:

Jalapeno mustard: I found this in the market, and as a lover of spicy foods, I had to give it a whirl. It tastes like regular yellow mustard, but with a lot more attitude. One teaspoon is 0 calories.

Salad rocking the jalapeno mustard vinaigrette, with a lunch of black-eyed peas and ham with rice.

What I’ve done with the mustard so far is to use it in a relatively light vinaigrette: 2T of the mustard, mixed with 1/2 T agave nectar and 1 T apple cider vinegar. It made a slightly sweet, all-bold presence in a salad made of spring greens, grape tomatoes and vidalia onion. I think it would also be good on a turkey hot dog, served on a light hamburger bun. Add pickled jalapenos to give it even more punch. I’d also like to try making a potato salad, with the jalapeno mustard in place of good old yellow, and some southwest spices, to take this picnic classic into a new direction.

Balsamic vinegar: I have had balsamic vinegar in my house for a long time, occasionally using it in sauces for chicken dishes, and making a pretty standard salad vinaigrette out of it. I love the rich, subtly tangy taste of it, but I didn’t know what else to do with it. Then I got a mint plant, and I my brain pulled into focus on a simple dessert idea that many people enjoy: strawberries and balsamic vinegar.

A handful of sliced ripe strawberries; a few leaves of mint, shredded; a packet of Splenda, and a teaspoon of the balsamic vinegar is all you need. Mix the ingredients together, and enjoy the complex richness of this simple meal-ender.

I second Kaminsky’s suggestions for bacon and dark chocolate. I’d also add cheese to that list. A tablespoon of real bacon bits on a salad can be yours for 30 calories. A small piece of dark chocolate, alone or with fruit, is a good dessert or pick-me-up snack. The same goes for an ounce of a flavorful cheese, like a smoked gouda, chipotle cheddar, or havarti with dill. You could eat the cheese with an apple to make this snack a little more substantial.

Dessert: Chocolate Sandwich and Strawberry Chips

When you’re on Weight Watchers, sometimes you end up eating things that sound crazy on paper but really do taste good and cut corners on calories. One thing in this category for me is pairing half a light hot dog bun and 1 tablespoon of Nutella.

I always thought this was an odd combination, but it was the skinniest thing I could think of to go with the Nutella. I’ve been eating the half bun slathered with the Nutella, open face, with a tea to drink.

But then, with all of the pretty pictures I’ve been seeing on the Internet, and the lovely food I saw at Zahav recently, I decided to spruce this up a bit.

And this is what I came up with.

I call it a chocolate sandwich with strawberry “chips.” Cut the bun half in half and spread it with the Nutella. Rinse and hull the strawberries, then slice them and arrange them around the sandwich. Voila!

Two Days, Four Meals, Few Hours

I am a firm believer in cooking the majority of my food. But when you do that, you have to have a good plan to get everything done as efficiently as possible.

Here’s what I did this past weekend to get together meals for lunch and dinner. The things I made were two types of chicken breast, turkey kielbasa, a Cajun-spiced turkey dish, two types of rice, and pasta for my son. And then I made dessert! Here’s the chef’s log:

Saturday morning: started the Cajun turkey. This is a slow-cooker dish that became easier because I didn’t have onions or peppers on hand to chop. I placed two turkey thighs, skin on, in the slow cooker, topped them with a large can of crushed tomatoes, and added Cajun spice and onion powder. I let the meat go for 10 hours, checking in and mixing occasionally.

Saturday evening: I took the thighs out off the sauce and discarded the skin, gristle and bones. I shredded the turkey with two forks, then returned it to the slow cooker. That didn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes.

Sunday morning: I marinated the chicken. There were 16 breast tenders in the package; I put 8 in a bag with hot sauce and canola oil, then the other 8 in a bag with apple cider vinegar, oil and Adobo seasoning. I shook the bags and placed them in the refrigerator. That didn’t take more than 10 minutes.

Sunday afternoon: I started the white rice for my husband in a slow cooker, with a 32-oz box of chicken broth and some butter. I refrigerated the rice when it was  finished. Prep time was approximately 5 minutes.

Sunday evening: to grill the chicken and kielbasa, I started my indoor electric grill. While it was heating up, I started jambalaya rice in the microwave: two boxes of rice and seasonings, water, and some oil. I covered the container and let the rice cook for 25 minutes.

With the grill hot, I grilled one batch of chicken, then the other. Then, I grilled the kielbasa. It took maybe 45 minutes to an hour to thoroughly cook the meat. In the middle of doing this, I boiled the pasta water and then cooked and drained the pasta.

In the meantime the jambalaya rice finished cooking, but I heated it for another five minutes. I also mixed up a batch of diet Coke brownies and put them in the oven. They were the last thing to finish cooking.

As far as vegetables, I had heated a steamer bag of spinach earlier in the day, for breakfast. I will need to heat another bag of vegetables later this week.

Without a lot of effort, I was able to cook several meals for the week. The things that saved me time were the slow cooker, rice cooker, grill and microwave. Also helpful were the carton of chicken stock, the can of tomatoes, the large package of chicken, and the pre-seasoned jambalaya rice boxes.

This was the strategy I used to feed my family and save time. What divide and conquer strategies do you use?

Dessert Isn’t a Privilege, It’s a Strategy

Dessert is one of those areas of a person’s eating habits that’s a breeding ground for anxiety. If your memories of childhood include threats of no dessert until you’ve slogged through eating something you loathed, you’ve probably been set up to feel like dessert is a privilege: A sundae with a cherry on top is the cherry on top of your otherwise lackluster meal.

Dessert may then take on an air of indulgence for you when you are trying to eat more healthy–something to be enjoyed with regrets as a rebellion, or as a special treat when you’ve met certain conditions. Let me encourage you to think of dessert in another light.

I eat a dessert every day. I often eat two desserts a day. I especially hold my dessert after lunch in high regard and, after having initiated this midday treat this summer, I wonder how I got along without it. Continue reading

Diet Coke Brownies

If you frequent the Weight Watchers message boards, you’ll hear of various legendary recipes, like chicken taco soup. Another is the diet Coke brownie recipe that gets passed from member to member.

It sounds like a science experiment to add soda to a brownie mix, but it works. I don’t who created this recipe, or how it works, but you get a tasty pan of brownies for which the nutrition information is not much more than a serving of the mix, as quoted on the brownie box.

Here’s the recipe for the magic: Continue reading