Monday, August 25, 2014

Salsa Chicken

There are many ways to cook chicken and one of my favorite (and flavorful) ways is in salsa. You can make your own or just use your favorite jarred salsa. It's so simple, healthy, and versatile! I like to shred the chicken and use it in salads, lettuce wraps, tacos, and stuffed peppers, shown here.
As you'll soon find, the chicken is so tender, it literally falls apart on it's own which makes shredding a breeze! Here's my method...are you ready?
In a deep pot drizzle in a drop of oil and add your chicken breasts. You can brown them on each side if you choose, otherwise just add in your seasoning. 
*side note, this would be great cooked in a crock pot!
Use a taco seasoning packet or make your own blend. I used oregano, garlic salt, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. A dash of everything... Because I didn't measure!
Any salsa will do.
Dump it over the chicken and add in about 1/4 cup of chicken stock if you have it. Put the lid on and slowly simmer this for about an hour, or until your chicken falls apart when you poke it with a fork. 

Shred the chicken and continue simmering with the lid off if the sauce is too liquidy. You could then chill it and store it in the fridge for future use, if your cooking in advance as I sometimes do.
Now, halve and hollow a bell pepper.
Fill it with a couple tablespoons of brown rice and shredded chicken.
Sprinkle on a little bit of cheese, I used jack and cheddar, and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the pepper is tender and the cheese is melted. You could also broil the cheese to get a deep golden color.
Oh yum! Now, to make this like a taco I added some back olives, green onions, hot sauce, and lime juice. Top it with your favorite fixin's!
These were so good, I didn't even drool over Sean's burritos I made for I normally do. I used lime and cilantro rice, cheese, and this shredded chicken for him and wrapped it in a whole wheat tortilla for mini burritos. This is a weekly staple in our house! Although mine normally consists of lettuce cups without rice and cheese, I definitely feel deprived without those goodies! Hope you try this recipe! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lightened Broccoli Cheddar Soup

The last few days in Chicago have been beautiful and would be absolutely perfect weather for say... October. I don't know what happened to summer but I'm getting the impression we're entering sweater weather sooner than I'd like. Don't get me wrong, I love the fall! Nothing is better than pumpkin spice lattes, layered clothing, sunny warm days with brisk evenings, and cozy bowls of soup. But I was hoping to enjoy a few more weekends spent poolside! Nonetheless, I felt the urge to kick off these lower than normal temperatures with a batch of broccoli cheese soup. Of course, it's a rich soup and much of what makes it delicious can't be replaced but I did attempt to make it a tad bit healthier by using chicken broth instead of milk as the base and using full flavor cheeses to make sure it's cheesy as it should be!
Naturally, I had to pair something equally cheesy and decadent for dipping, so I made some turkey and cheese paninis but feel free to serve it in a bread bowl or top it with toasty croutons. Here's how I did it.
In a large pot melt 2 Tbl butter with 1 Tbl olive oil. Add in 1 diced medium onion ( about a cup and a half) and half a cup of diced carrots. Sauté over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the carrots and onions are looking tender add in 3 cloves of minced garlic. I like to add garlic at the last second so it doesn't burn or caramelize. 
Add in 1/3 cup flour and stir to combine. 
Cook that raw flour flavor out for about a minute until the flour coats the veggies well. Season with salt and pepper. 
Deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup (but who's measuring?) of white wine. You could certainly omit this and just go straight to chicken broth... But it's so much better with it!
Now pour in your chicken broth, about 6 cups. I used 1 1/2 of these cartons. 
Now add in 1 Tbl lemon zest, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and about 4 cups of chopped broccoli, stems and all.
Put a lid on it and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes or until the broccoli is tender and the soup thickens. 
Meanwhile, get to work on preparing what makes this soup so good, the cheese! I used Cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan for a nice combo of cheesiness.
You could buy shredded cheese but I like to grate it myself. The pre-shredded stuff is normally tossed in a starch to keep it from sticking and I don't think it melts as well into the soup.
Once the broccoli is tender it's time to purée.
I happen to love this kitchen tool. Blenders work as well but can be messy and a bit more time consuming having to work in batches. These immersion or stick blenders are amazing and very affordable. Worth the investment! Anyway, purée the soup until pretty smooth. 
Like so. I have an additional 2 cups broccoli being steamed. Once tender, shock in ice cold water and drain. Add it into the soup reserving a few florettes for garnishing, if you so choose.
Since typically this soup is made with milk or cream, I added in a few splashes of heavy cream. This just rounds everything out and makes it extra creamy!
Add in your shredded cheeses, I used about 2 1/2 cups of cheddar, 1 cup of gruyere, and 1/4 cup Parmesan. 
Give the soup another few pulses with the stick blender leaving it as puréed or chunky as you like. The additional steamed broccoli adds a deep green color and bright broccoli flavor. Taste and adjust seasonings as you need. I needed a little more salt and a generous amount of freshly grated black pepper. 
Ladle it into your bowl and garnish with a little more cheese and some of the steamed broccoli (optional). 
It's rich, creamy, warming, and a little healthier than the classic. Best of all? You can freeze leftovers and save it for a rainy day ;) Enjoy!!

*After a few family members made this soup I received some feedback that the texture is not what was expected. Their expectations was that of Panera's broccoli cheddar soup and I want to clarify that this will not compare. Since typically broccoli cheddar soup is made of thickened milk and heavy cream it produces a richer, thicker soup. If you desire a thicker consistency add a few extra tablespoons of flour or add a small diced potato with your veggies in the first step. The potato will absorb the broth and naturally thicken the soup when pulsed. 

If you finish the soup and the consistency is just not thick enough you can add a few tbl of soup with equal parts of cornstarch in a small bowl, combine until smooth, and stir this into the soup. Once simmered you should find a thicker consistency. 

Hope this helps!

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Sister's Wedding

I know my blog is about food but I wanted to share some pictures of my sister Emily's wedding this past weekend! I'm still in shock that she's married and even more surprised how quickly this day came and went. I couldn't be more happy for her and her new husband, Joel! She truly was the most beautiful bride and I feel so lucky to have been a part of her big day!
The bride and groom on the trolley
The bride and her bridesmaids
My sisters and I
My sweet niece Jenna, the flower girl
My sister Cate, my Mom, and I
My family
Me and my handsome boyfriend Sean

Typically, my Sunday night routine is to enjoy a nice meal, most likely prepared by myself, and enjoy the last few relaxing hours of the weekend. But last night was an exception...We got take-out Chinese food from our favorite spot and ate it on the couch during a cozy storm. It was amazing :) Even though I didn't cook one thing for 4 days straight, I have to say it was sort of nice! No dishes, no mess, but no new recipes to share. After a long weekend full of reuniting with close family friends and relatives, eating delicious food, and even meeting a friend's 6 day old baby girl, I would have to say it was one heck of a weekend! Hope you had a great weekend too!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lara Bars

I am a big fan of anything sweet. I love candy in all forms and practically foam at the mouth at the sight(or smell) of chocolate. Knowing I can't eat that all the time I look to the better-for-you bars that make me feel like I'm eating something decadent when in fact I'm feeding myself something nutritious. If you ask, I'll share some of my favorites out there! Just last week, a friend and colleague introduced me to Lara Bars. At first bite I was tasted okay. It had that "healthy" after-taste and it wasn't life changing. Luckily, I bought a few flavors to compare and explore and the next day, tried the Jocalat chocolate mint bar. Within the first few seconds I was in heaven. It was rich, chocolaty, everything I've been missing since cutting out candy a month ago. It wasn't until the next day, trying the crunchy peanut butter bar that I decided to recreate these genius treats. I was hooked.

I searched various recipes and found that none of the ratios seemed I decided to wing it and create my own. The outcome? Heaven.

In a food processor combine 1 cup of pitted dates with 1 cup of walnuts (mine were raw) until combined and a thick ball forms. It should be sticky and textured.
To this, add in 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and 1/2 tsp of mint extract; pulse until thick dough forms.
Meanwhile, line a rectangular dish with plastic wrap and sprinkle with cocoa powder.
Drop the mixture on top, pressing evenly to fit the mold.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or until the bar sets.
Slice into 6 even slices, or 12 squares, and individually wrap for easy grabbing on the go! Store them in the refrigerator tightly wrapped.
These bars are truly delicious! Fudgey, chocolatey, a hint of mint with a delicious texture. After "researching", or sampling, the best way I found to eat these is chilled. You have to give this recipe a try, I'm telling you!
Ohh yaa! Up next? Peanut butter chocolate!