Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Couscous Salad

How did you like Coconut Cake?

Well, it's Tuesday and this is the healthy recipe I promised you.

This salad is full of fresh veggies, chickpeas, and feta cheese.  It has just enough couscous to bind everything together.

It's super yummy.  Sometimes I make this at the beginning of the week and have a delicious lunch all week long!

It's a great excuse to eat a half a pound of feta cheese.

Start with the couscous because you can chop veggies while the couscous cooks.

Here's what I use:

And I cook it according to the package directions.  Except that I leave out the olive oil and substitute chicken stock for the water.  Stock adds a little more flavor.

Couscous is as close to non-cooking as you can get.  All you do is boil the stock, turn off the burner, stir in the couscous and cover it for five minutes.  Fluff it with a fork and it's ready.

So let's chop some veggies.

Start with a bell pepper.  I like red because I like the flavor and the color.  Reds are sweeter than greens.

Slice it into strips and then dice it into little pieces.

Now start on the onion.  You'll want a sweet onion like a Vidalia since it's going to be raw in the salad.  Some people are bothered by raw onions.  I'm not one of them.  Fortunately, my husband isn't either.  And neither are my kids.  Maybe raw-onion-tolerance is genetic?

Okay, now a cucumber.  You'll want an English cucumber.  These are also called Seedless, which is a misnomer in my opinion because they totally have seeds.  They're also called Hothouse cucumbers.  So many names for one simple vegetable.

Here it is:

Whatever name it goes by at your store, it does always have this plastic wrap on it.  So cut off the ends and then cut it in half and then split each half lengthwise.

See the seeds?  Told you they weren't seedless.

Now slice each fourth into about four slices.

And cube it up!

Very few things make me happier than slicing and dicing a fresh, crisp cucumber.  It ranks right up there with the joy I feel when Big Sister sleeps past 6:30 a.m.

So add the cucumber to the bowl.  I can't stand it any longer - I have to add the feta next.  Because it's the real reason I eat this salad.

Take an 8 ounce cube of feta cheese and chop it into little cubes. 

And then add some cracked pepper.  Freshly ground, please. 

Now let's add the chickpeas.  Or garbanzo beans.  They have two different names, too.  What is with the ingredients in this salad?  I had no idea it was so complicated.

Make sure you get rid of the yucky liquid that the beans are packed in.  Then rinse them well and drain them again before you dump them into the salad bowl.

Oh, look!  Our couscous is done.  Slice open two lemons.  We're going to flavor it while its hot.

Squeeze the lemon juice directly into the couscous.  The hot pasta will drink up the lemon juice and give it even more flavor.

Stir it up and add the couscous to the veggies.  Then slice some grape tomatoes in half and toss them in.  I used about half of one of these containers of tomatoes.

Now add some herbs.  Basil is best.  Normally basil grows wildly out of control in my yard, but I did not plant any this year.  It's a tragedy, I know.

So I had to use parsley from the grocery.  Parsley can't hold a candle to basil.  I agree.  But it's better than nothing.  If you, too, have to use parsley, just make sure it's Italian flat-leaf parsley.  Don't use the curly stuff.  It's not meant for human consumption.

Give it a big stir.  You won't believe how flavorful this salad is.  The veggies are so fresh and crisp, the feta is tangy and salty and creamy, the couscous is subtle out helps binds the ingredients together, and the lemon juice adds a surprising zip that you won't believe.  And don't be afraid of the raw onion.  It's so good.

Seriously, make this salad.  It's a great side dish to a piece of salmon.  Or it's a great lunch.  Or a light dinner with some fruit.

Couscous Salad

1 10 oz. box roasted garlic & olive oil flavored wheat couscous, prepared according to package directions using chicken stock instead of water (you'll need 1 1/4 cups stock)
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, sliced into strips and chopped into small pieces
1 sweet onion, diced
8 oz. block of feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 seedless cucumber, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well

Stir the lemon juice into the hot prepared couscous.  Add all of the chopped vegetables, pepper, parsley, feta, chickpeas and couscous to a large bowl and mix well.  Serve immediately at room temperature or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Coconut Cake

It's Monday! 

I love Mondays.  A fresh start to the week.

And nothing says a fresh start to the week like a cake soaked in cream of coconut and sweetened condensed milk.

If you came here looking for a healthy way to start your week, you're barking up the wrong blog.
I'm aware that I might lose any remaining readers with this recipe.  But I'm willing to take the risk because you won't be able to stop yourself from making this Coconut Cake.  It's ridiculous.  It's rich and moist and absolutely delicious.  It keeps for days in the refrigerator.  Not that it will last for days, but in theory, it could keep for days in the fridge.  It's a box of cake mix again.  But I don't think you would be able to guess that when you taste it.

Take a box of white cake mix. 

Mix it up according to the package directions and pour it into a greased glass 9x13 baking dish. 

Follow the directions except for the baking time.  What is with baking times?  Either my oven is about 100 degrees hotter than it says or every baking time is simply too long.  Whatever the case may be, bake this cake for exactly 23 minutes. 

Take it out of the oven
and immediately poke holes in it -- all over it -- with a fork.  The cake is hot, mind you, so it will make a mess.  Some holes will be bigger than others.  The cake will tear in some places.

This is what it is supposed to do.  Everything is okay.  All is right in the world.  Well, except for the housing market.  But that's another issue entirely.

Why are we poking holes in our nice cake?  Glad you asked.

Shake a can of cream of coconut well and then crack it open.  It's a very random thing, I know.  It's on the aisle with the mixed drinks, in case you were wondering.  But we are making coconut cake here, after all, so we need some coconut.  Or at least some cream of coconut.  My sweet husband was unable to find a can of cream of coconut (the can is about 14 oz.), so he bought this nice bottle of cream of coconut. 

Same thing, different package.  And different size.  And different brand.  But really, it's just the same.  This bottle was about 21 oz., so I left some of it in the bottle as to not completely drown my cake.  I won't say I wasn't tempted to try it, though.  Double-negative.

Cream of coconut should come with a warning.  But since it doesn't, I'm pretty sure I have a legal duty to warn you: do not, under any circumstances, read the nutritional information on the back of the can.  You will go into shock, be unable to complete the preparations for the cake, and your life will be ruined.  So be warned: the consequences you will suffer from reading the can will be worse than actually eating the contents of the can.

Now then, moving on.

Pour the entire can over the hot cake. 

Are you there?  You're not reading the can, are you?

Good.  You heard me.  The whole can.  Over the cake.

Don't play favorites.  Soak the edges and corners just as well as the middle.

Is it empty?  Good.  Now destroy the evidence.  Immediately.

Are you back? 

Good, because we're not done. 

Crack open a can of sweetened condensed milk.  You know, like Eagle Brand.  However, on that note, this is one of those expensive name-brand ingredients where the store-brand is exactly the same and like half the price. 

Pour it over the cake. 

You heard me.  The whole can.  Over the cake.

You can read the nutritional facts for the sweetened condensed milk if you want to.  Because as bad as you think it sounds, it's not nearly as bad as cream of coconut.  (Evil laugh.)

Now we just let the cake soak in the ridiculousness we just poured on top.

When it's cooled to room temperature, we're ready to refrigerate it.  This cake needs to be chilled before Cool-Whipping it and serving it.  About four hours in the fridge is enough time for it to set up and become dense and thick and rich and everything it's supposed to be.

When you're ready to serve it, spread the Cool Whip on top.  I forgot to photograph this step.  But I'm sure you can imagine it.

Oh, and Aletta, just for you I've created a new category called "How to Use a Cake Mix."  Hope you enjoy. :)

And tomorrow, I promise to post a healthy and delicious recipe.  For real.

Coconut Cake

18 oz. box white cake mix, prepared according to package directions, adding 1 tsp almond extract to the eggs, oil, water and cake mix
14 oz. can cream of coconut (on the mixed drink aisle)
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand)
8 oz. tub Cool Whip, thawed

Prepare the cake mix (adding the almond extract) according to the package directions.  Bake for the recommended time in a greased 9x13 baking dish.

Remove the cake from the oven and while the cake is hot, use a fork and poke holes all over it.  The cake will tear in some places and make holes, but that is just fine.  Immediately pour the cream of coconut all over the cake.  Now pour the sweetened condensed milk over the cake.

Let the cake sit at room temperature until completely cooled.  Cover it and refrigerate it until chilled, about 4 hours.  Before serving, spread the Cool Whip evenly on top.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grilled Chicken Smothered with Peppers, Onions, and Cheese

I don't normally post on Sundays.  But this is Part II of yesterday's recipe, and I have something special for you tomorrow.  So I had to squeeze this in on Sunday.  Make it this week.  You won't be sorry.

The other night I made Chile-Lime Grilled Chicken

And, because I just couldn't help myself, I covered it with sauteed onions, peppers and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

I'm a firm believer that if some is good, more is better.

Somebody help me.

Take two bell peppers.  I used a purple and a yellow.

I've never used a purple pepper before, and I learned something that made me vow to never use a purple pepper again.

Purple peppers are actually green inside.  And when you cook them, they lose all of their purpleness and become green on the outside, too.  What a rip-off.  I'm never again buying a purple pepper. 

So don't get ripped off.  Use a red bell pepper and a yellow bell pepper.  These are not posers.  They are actually red and yellow all the way through.

And slice up a nice big Vidalia onion. 

Saute the peppers and onions in some olive oil for about 10-15 minutes.  We want them to be soft but not mushy.  Season them with salt and pepper. 

Grate some Monterey Jack cheese while the peppers and onions cook.

When the chicken is done, push it together on the grill pan so that the sides touch each other.  This makes it easy to pile the peppers and onions on top.

And pile away!

Now cover the whole thing with shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  Pepper Jack would be good here too.

Stick it under the broiler for just a couple minutes - watch it because it will burn fast!

We ate it with a dollop of sour cream.  It was really fabulous.  We all loved it - right down to the baby of the family.  The spicy and zingy chicken, the sweet peppers and onions, and the stringy melty cheese...  It was a winner.  We'll be doing this again soon. 

This would also be an awesome twist on Chicken Fajitas.

You've got to try this.

Chile-Lime Grilled Chicken Smothered with Peppers, Onions, and Cheese

Chile-Lime Grilled Chicken, grilled until cooked through
1 T olive oil
2 bell peppers of assorted colors (red, yellow or orange), stemmed, seeded, and sliced into thin strips
1 large sweet onion, peeled, halved and sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
8 oz. block Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Sour cream, for serving

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Saute the peppers and onions over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are tender.  Sprinkle on the salt and pepper.

Scoot the chicken together in the grill pan.  Pile the pepper and onion mixture on top of the chicken.  Sprinkle with the Monterey Jack cheese on top.  Put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to melt the cheese.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chile-Lime Grilled Chicken

It's been almost 24 whole hours since I posted a chicken recipe.

We're going to continue on like this until we've eaten all the chicken in my freezer.

We've got a ways to go.

So let's get started.

This chicken is marinated in lime juice, which makes it so tender.  The acidity of the lime juice breaks down the chicken and actually begins to cook it. 

Weird that you can sort of cook chicken while it marinates in the refrigerator.

But cool at the same time.

This marinade also has orange juice and pineapple juice, which also tenderize the chicken but add a little bit of sweet. 

And then there's the serrano chile pepper and garlic that give it some attitude. 

Oh, and since I am in your head and know that you were dying to know the difference between chili and chile, you can read about it hereYou're welcome. 

This is so easy: mix up the marinade in a Ziploc, throw the chicken in, and put it in the fridge until dinner.  Grill it and serve it!  Simple.

This is a great marinade for Chicken Fajitas.  Or you can smother this chicken with sauted onions and bell peppers and Monterey Jack cheese like I did.  I'll show you that tomorrow because it was yummy.

You'll want to squeeze your own lime juice.  For sure.

About five will do the trick and yield about 1/2 cup or so of juice.

I like limes. 

And this is my favorite juicing tool right now.  My favorite changes occasionally, but at the moment this is it.

I have no idea what it's called, but if you have one, use it.  And if you don't, purchase one.  And be sure to put your limes in, cut side down.  You'll get the most juice that way.

And now for the other juices.  Here's what I used.

Not fresh-squeezed, but good nonetheless.  About a quarter cup of each.

And now for the zing.  Slice up a serrano pepper any old way - and toss it into the plastic bag with the juices.

For the garlic, take the back of your knife blade and smash a couple of cloves to smithereens.

And chop them up roughly.

Into the bag they go!

Now for some spices...I used cumin and chili powder.  And some salt and pepper.

This is a very flavorful marinade.

Dump the chicken in, and lay it flat so all parts of the chicken get hit with this juice.

Give it eight hours or so in the fridge so that the chicken really gets infused with the flavors.  Turn the bag over every couple hours or at least once hile it marinates so that both sides get equal contact time with the juice.

When you're ready, heat up your grill.  Or if your propane tank is empty, whip out your grill pan and heat it up.

Mine took about 5 minutes per side to cook. 

See, you can get nice grill marks even on your indoor grill pan!

Let the chicken rest for about five minutes and serve!

Chile-Lime Grilled Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Juice of 5 limes (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1 serrano chile pepper, stem removed and chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin

Combine the ingredients in a gallon food storage bag.  Marinate in the refrigerator for about 8 hours (but no longer than 12).  Turn the storage bag over occasionally so that all the chicken gets equal marinade time.

Heat a grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat.  Grill chicken until done, about 5 minutes on each side.  Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Italian Chicken & Linguine

I made this the other night.  I hadn't made it in awhile.  I had forgotten how good it is but I quickly remembered how much I love it.

It's a recipe from a family friend, Gail.  Gail babysat my brother while my parents were at the hospital having me.  That's how long she has been a friend of my family.

Gail also happens to be a wonderful cook.  I always loved going to her house because she would always make such wonderful food for us!  And one time she made this Italian Chicken for us.  I've been making it ever since.

Italian Chicken & Linguine is chicken cooked with tomatoes and artichokes in a flavorful sauce served over linguine.  You can make it low-fat without compromising any flavor, which is one of the reasons I love it!

Start with the chicken.  Take four boneless skinless breasts and slice them into strips.  You'll get 3-4 strips per breast.  Lay them in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.

Open a can of diced tomatoes and drain most of the juice out.  Open a can of artichoke hearts in water and drain them well.

Sprinkle the tomatoes and artichokes evenly over the chicken.

Now for the sauce.  We're going to need a packet of French onion soup mix, Italian dressing, and white wine. 

I didn't have any white wine so I left that out.  But the wine does give it a yummy zing.  And here's where you can make it low-fat: use reduced-fat Italian dressing.  I've tried it using reduced-fat and full-fat dressing and I can't tell the difference.

So mix the dressing, soup mix, and wine together.

And pour it over the chicken!

Bake it on 350 degrees just until the chicken is done - it should take 30 minutes or so.

I love the way the whole artichoke hearts look.

Put some linguine in a bowl.

And use a spoon to pour over plenty of chicken, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and sauce.  It's all about the sauce, you know.

Sprinkle some shredded parmesan cheese on top.  We saved calories with the dressing, after all.

And serve it with a bowl of fresh fruit.

Thanks, Gail, for the awesome recipe!

Italian Chicken & Linguine
Recipe From Gail Ramsey

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, mostly drained
1 15-oz can whole artichoke hearts in water, drained well
1 envelope French onion dry soup mix
8 oz. Italian dressing (regular or reduced-fat)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound linguine, cooked according to package directions

Slice each chicken breast into 3-4 long strips.  Lay the strips in one layer in a 9x13 baking dish.  Sprinkle the tomatoes and artichoke hearts on top of the chicken. 

Whisk together the soup mix, dressing and wine and pour over the chicken.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through.

Spoon chicken, vegetables and sauce over linguine.