Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Tangy Slaw

Have I mentioned how much I <3 the crock pot? Because I really do. I have a few standard easy meals that use the crock pot, and this is one of them.

Here's what you do:

1. Spray the crock pot with cooking spray. You really should do this every time you use the slow cooker. Trust me.

2. Slice an onion and put it in the crock pot (optional).

3. Place meat in crock pot. I usually use pork tenderloin. I was too cheap to buy it this week, so I got pork shoulder roast instead. If you do the shoulder roast, you should trim off as much fat as possible before you put it in the crock pot.

4. Cover with your favorite BBQ sauce. We like Sweet Baby Ray's. You could make your own, but I am lazy.

5. Cook for 4-10 hours, depending on the meat, or until it is "shreddable."

Shred meat with 2 forks, place on bun, top with tangy slaw. YUM!

Tangy Slaw:

The Big Geek doesn't eat mayonnaise, so this was my solution. He still won't eat this. Damn, he is picky. However, it is good, so I still make it this way. Except when I'm extra lazy and buy the cole slaw kits. Which I've been known to do.

1 pckg shredded coleslaw mix, or shred a head of cabbage and some carrots, and maybe a red onion if you have it in the food processor.

1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp celery seed (or omit salt and use 2 tsp celery salt)
1 tsp dry mustard
1 cup vinegar (I use cider vinegar)
2/3 cup vegetable oil (Canola works well)

Combine dressing ingredients and bring to a boil (or if you are lazy and/or don't read the entire recipe and are like, "oh, crap, but I wanted to just throw this together," toss the bowl in the microwave for 2-3 minutes--assuming it's not a metal bowl). Pour over cabbage and toss. Cool, then refrigerate (if you were one of the "oh, crap" people you CAN put it on your sandwich at this point--it's just better if it sits for a while).

Pulled pork is from me. Coleslaw is from

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cornish Game Hens with Mustard and Herbs, plus Blue Cheese Muffins

I'd never made Cornish Game Hens before, but they were on sale at my supermarket and I am getting more and more frugal, so I figured they couldn't be that difficult and went ahead and bought two. Then I came home, and with the help of my friends at Google, I found several possible recipes. Of course I chose the easiest one (from Here it is:

1. Pre-heat oven to 375.
2. Remove giblits from game hens, rinse and pat dry.
3. Rub about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard over each game hen.
4. Sprinkle with tarragon, oregano, and basil (dried).

5. Bake for about an hour or until they reach 170.

If you like, you can deglaze the pan with about 3/4 cup of dry white wine (2 buck chuck, I love thee), and use that as a sauce for the hens. I thought this was a good addition. The Big Geek thought it was better without the sauce. If I'd had rice, it would have been good on top of the rice.

I must confess, I apparently did not put the thermometer thing all the way in to the base, so it didn't go off, and when I noticed and put it all the way in, the hens were all the way at 197. Oops. I figured we'd be eating super-dry hens, but they were moist and juicy. One hen was good for The Big Geek, and the little geek and I shared one. She's 3, so she didn't eat much of it.

If these are on sale again, I'd buy them again. The article on had about 10 different glazes/rubs to try, and they all look pretty good. You could probably do this to a regular chicken as well. Of course, you don't really NEED to since you can just use salt and pepper and get the yummiest roast chicken EVER, but that was a different post.

I also made these YUMMY blue cheese muffins from a weight watchers recipe.

cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp paprika
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup fat-free milk
5 oz blue cheese, crumbled (extra-sharp cheddar, shredded, would work as well)

Preheat oven to 375 (convenient if you're doing the game hens as well).
Coat a 12-hole muffin tin wiht cooking spray (or line with muffin liners).
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and paprika.
Create a well in the flour mixture with a spoon and place butter, egg, and milk into well. Mix until just blended (just use a spoon, no need for a mixer). Do NOT beat until smooth.

Fill each muffin cup with a Tbsp of batter (you'll have about 1/2 the batter left after this). Divide cheese evenly over center of each muffin, saving just enough cheese for a sparse topping. Divide remaining batter among muffin so each is 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. Sprinkle muffins with remaining cheese.

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes. They are best served warm, but even if they cool off they are YUMMY!

We also had steamed green beans, and after dinner the little geek and I used leftover marshmallows from the bunny cake to make rice krispy squares. I was so productive today. . .

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cookbook Review: The Best Light Recipe

Part of the reason I learned to cook was so I could eat healthier food. (Not that you can tell that by this blog.) Still, I do try, on a day-to-day basis, to make food that is mostly healthy. My BFF showed me this cookbook, and I liked hers so much that she sent me one, too.

This cookbook was put together by the editors of Cook's Illustrated, (think America's Test Kitchen). The best thing about this book is that, in addition to the recipes, they take you through their quest to lighten each recipe. You learn WHY the ingredients in the final recipe made it, and why others were cut. This is VERY helpful to those of you who, like me, are tempted to stray from the recipe or cut out steps that seem like too much work. It also makes it easy for you to transfer what you learn to other recipes. Plus it's just interesting.

There are a LOT of recipes in this book I haven't made. (Just give me time.) Most of what I have made, though, has been a hit. I was out of honey-mustard dressing once when I wanted a spinach salad, and so I made the recipe in the book. YUM, and better for you than what you'd buy in a store (plus I had the ingredients already, so it felt free). There is also a roasted garlic dressing my BFF says is good. If you're partial to creamy dressings, recipes include blue cheese, Parmesan-peppercorn (BFF approved), and ranch, among others. The section on salads includes recipes for croutons and a guide to lettuces and salad greens.

The soups section includes what you'd expect from a light cookbook (broth-based with lots of veggies), as well as cream-based soups. Cream of Broccoli, Asparagus, Sweet Pea, Roasted Carrot, Butternut Squash, Mushroom, and Tomato make up that section. There are even chowders, stews, and chillies.

The vegetable section includes the best method for preparing Stuffed Bell Peppers I've seen (even the very picky Big Geek liked the stuffed peppers), and their scalloped potatoes recipe is mouthwatering and surprisingly rich. They'll even tell you how to make your own veggie burgers (although I haven't tried it yet).

Many recipes start with a basic recipe, and are followed by variations. A section on risotto, for example, begins with a classic Parmesan Risotto and then gives three different variations for special risottos. The book is full of helpful information, like which vegetable protein tested the best for their recipes, how to cook beans, how to mince basil and how to cut chicken. There is no way I can explain how much information is here. This is the only cookbook I've ever actually gone cover-to-cover on, because their are tips on nearly every page that help me in my everyday cooking.

Some of my favorite recipes from this cookbook include the one-pot chicken and rice dishes, Pork Tenderloin with Apple and Sage Cream Sauce (oh, dear GOD, why haven't I made this recently??), several of the wet rubs and glazes for meat, and peach cobbler (it has brandy in it, and you know how I like liquor in my food). The oven friend chicken, which I make as chicken strips, is a huge hit at my house with both big and little geeks.

The only recipe I've tried from this book that gave me trouble were the cinnamon rolls (they are a quick bread, not a yeast roll), and my BFF swears they worked out for her. She also raves about the lasagna, chicken parmesan, and buttermilk biscuits.

The other thing I like about this cookbook is that if a recipe wasn't good, they didn't print it. Apparently, you can't make a decent "light" pie crust, and so none are included. They tried, and none met their standards. They did, however, manage a cheesecake (after trying 28 times).

Eventually, I will work my way through this entire cookbook. It's currently $23.10 on Amazon, and worth every penny. I'd pay significantly more than that.

My rating: 5 of 5 bytes

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peanut Butter and Chopped Bunny Cookies

There is too much Easter candy in my house right now. Someone in our playgroup mentioned chopping it up and throwing it into cookies or brownies. So tonight, when the little geek said she wanted to make cookies, we ended up with Peanut Butter and Chopped Bunny.

2 cups peanut butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
one Easter bunny, chopped (the chocolate kind)

I should pause here to say that you need to look closely at your Easter candy. Some bunnies are chocolate. Some are chocolate "flavored." Just throw the chocolate "flavored" ones out. I'm sure Grandma meant well when she bought it, and she probably didn't see the word "flavored" since they put it in tiny print with "Genuine Milk Chocolate" in giant print preceding it (because no one would purposely buy a chocolate-impersonating bunny), but chocolate "flavored" bunnies would not lend themselves to this recipe (or to eating, in my opinion). Only real chocolate will do here.

Mix the peanut butter, sugar, and eggs. Stir in the chopped bunny. Roll into 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheet (little geeks are good at this). Then take a fork and mash the balls, making a criss-cross pattern on the top (little geeks are also good at this). Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes. Mine cooked for 18 minutes, but I also have those "air cushioned" cookie sheets, and they sometimes take longer.

Let cool for 5-10 minutes on sheet, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Enjoy with a tall glass of milk.

Makes about 3 dozen.

These cookies are VERY sweet. I might try to cut down on the sugar the next time I make them, but I worry about that seeing as they're just peanut butter, sugar, and egg, and I don't want them to fall apart.

(If you have a good peanut butter cookie recipe, or even a mix, you could use that and just throw in the chopped bunny.)

It's just fun to say "chopped bunny."

I am sick.

Next I'm going to try to figure out how to use up jelly beans.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Three (or Four) for One: Smokey Orange Chicken

I got this recipe from some food network show where the host cooks once and preps a bunch of stuff for 3-4 meals. I've seen the show several times, and it generally works like this: roast chicken of some variety, then a chicken salad (duh--did I need your show to tell me that?), then something else with chicken.

Honestly, this recipe is not my favorite, but I do like the "cook once eat lots" aspect of it. So here you go.

Smokey Orange Chicken:

1 cup orange marmalade
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp liquid smoke
a bunch of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (at least 8, or whatever you can fit in the roasting pan)
cooking spray

Heat oven to 400.
Spray roasting pan/baking dish with cooking spray.
Salt/pepper chicken on both sides and place in baking dish.
In bowl, mix marmalade, soy sauce, and liquid smoke.
Pour mixture over chicken.

Bake 30-35 minutes.

Meal 1: Chicken breast with a veggie and a starch of your choice.

Meal 2: Garden Chicken Quesadillas. Slice chicken breast, green onions, zucchini, bell peppers, or whatever else you have (green onions really should be part of this). Place on one half of a flour tortilla. Top with cheese and fold tortilla in half. Heat on skillet on both sides until tortilla is browned and cheese is melted. These are surprisingly yummy for something so simple.

Meal 3: Chicken Enchilada Casserole. Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Add 1 chopped onion and cook until soft, then add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic and cook 30 more seconds. Add 1 1/2 cups shredded (or cut up) chicken and 1 tsp cumin. Cook until heated. In casserole dish, pour 1/4 cup enchilada sauce (I like green, but you can use red, too). Top with corn tortillas (tear them to make them fit if needed). Top with half of chicken mixture and a layer of cheese. Then pour another 1/4 cup enchilada sauce over that and repeat a tortilla, chicken, cheese layer. Top with tortillas, remainder of sauce, and a layer of cheese. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Meal 4: Chicken salad. Do you really need me to tell you how to make a salad? :) I think this particular chicken is good with a vinaigrette dressing (citrus would be good), and some almond slivers and mandarin oranges.

You could also use this chicken in a soup, or in any number of casseroles. Whenever I have chicken that will expire soon, I go ahead and roast it or boil it (sometimes just with salt and pepper), shred it, and freeze it for later use.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ham Glaze!

Because I wanted my kids to nap at home, I ended up hosting Easter. Part of that was cooking a ham, which I'd never done before. I just bought a spiral sliced ham from the store, and then looked online for a glaze.

You all know I love me some liquor in or on my food, so this is the one I used:

(makes enough for a 4-6 lb ham, although I'd double it and pour it on THICK)

One boneless, fully-cooked smoked ham half (spiral sliced is easier). This recipe is for a 4-6 lb ham, but if yours is larger just adjust the cooking time and make more glaze.
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup bourbon/whiskey
1 Tbsp finely grated orange peel (I left this out b/c I didn't have an orange)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice

Preheat oven to 325.
On a rack in a roasting pan, roast ham, uncovered, for abotu 20 minutes per pound, or until a meat thermometer reads 140.

Before ham is done (at about 100), simmer a mixture of the brown sugar, bourbon, orange peel, cloves, and allspice over medium low heat for about 15 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

Brush the glaze over the ham about 20 minutes before done (around 120).


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Antipasto Salad and--BUNNY CAKE!

Had some friends over today to color Easter eggs, and wanted an easy lunch, so I bought some hot dogs and threw together a pasta salad. It was based loosely on a recipe from Taste of Home.

1 package penne pasta, cooked (spirals would have been better, but I wanted to use up some of my excess pasta)
1 small jar quartered marinated artichoke hearts
1 green pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
bunch of cherry tomatoes, halved (I just kept putting them in until I thought I had enough)
about 4 oz provolone cheese, cubed
about half a can of black olives, halved
about 1 lb low-fat salami, chopped

1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
about 2 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped (or 1 dried)
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in large bowl. In small bowl, combine dressing ingredients. Pour dressing on pasta mixture and toss to coat.

I took out some of the pasta salad before adding the salami as one of our friends is Muslim and doesn't eat pork. But after she went home I threw it all back together. :) I know, I know, our Muslim friend came over to decorate eggs. It's a multi-cultural world, my friends.

Also, the original recipe called for chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), but I couldn't seem to find any at Safeway and I didn't have any at home (I could have sworn I did). It also called for pepperoni in addition to the salami, but they didn't have turkey pepperoni at Safeway and do you know how much fat is in that stuff?

It was good, and will be even better tomorrow. I may eat some for dinner, too.

Then after naptime, the geeks and I made a bunny cake.

Here's what you do:

1. Make a cake in 2 round pans. Whatever kind you like. Mine is carrot.
2. After they cool, cut one of the rounds to make the ears and a bow tie. It kind of looks like this when you cut it: ()() Ok, imagine those parenthesis are part of a big circle. If you google "bunny cake" you can find pictures.
3. Cover a cookie sheet or tray or something (piece of cardboard?) with foil and place the cake so that it makes a bunny with a bowtie shape.
4. Frost with white frosting. Since my cake is carrot, my frosting is cream cheese. I do not suggest using the low-fat cream cheese to make cream cheese frosting. It's kind of thin. But we survived.
5. Decorate. We put coconut on the bunny to give him "fur" and used candy and some pink decorator icing for the rest. Tint some coconut green by putting it in a ziplock bag with a few drops of green food coloring and shaking.
6. Admire your bunny cake!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quick Coq au Vin

This recipe calls for mushrooms. SIX CUPS of mushrooms. Which would be fine, except that I don't like mushrooms. It's a texture thing. When they are raw, they are spongy, and when they are cooked, they are slimy. The flavor of mushrooms is quite good, but the texture is not for me.

So when I make it, I make it with more carrots and throw in some pearl onions. I'll include the mushrooms in the recipe here for those of you who are less weird than me, but rest assured that you can make it without the fungi and it turns out just fine. I'm sure the flavor with the mushrooms is even better.

from Cooking Light

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
6 (4 oz) boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 cups quartered cremini mushrooms (optional if you are like me)
2 cups sliced carrots (or 3 if you leave out the mushrooms)
1 cup pearl onions (frozen is fine--this was not in the original recipe but I think they are good)
1/3 cup slices of Canadian Bacon, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry red wine (2 buck chuck works well)
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste (I confess I sometimes use ketchup b/c I don't want to open a whole thing of tomato paste)

Combne flour, thyme, and salt in a ziplock bag. Add chicken. Seal and shake to coat (I shake, and Mom bakes--remember that commercial?). Remove chicken from bag, shaking off excess flour.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken. Cook 8 minutes or untill browned, turning frequently. Remove chicken from pan.

Add mushrooms (if you use them), carrots, onions, and bacon to pan. Saute 2 minutes.

Stir in wine, broth, and tomato paste (or ketchup). Cook 9 minutes.

Return chicken to pan. Cook 8 minutes or until chicken is done, turning at least once (so the wine gets on both sides).

When you are finished there won't be much (if any) sauce left, but the chicken will be tender and taste AWESOME.

I like to serve this with rice (you can add the rest of the chicken broth to the water you cook it in).

The Big Geek likes the chicken but isn't a fan of the carrots. Of course, he's not a fan of anything that resembles a vegetable, except green beans and corn. And since neither of those would go well in this recipe, he's out of luck. I just eat his carrots.

He also told me the pearl onions were "weird" and "like grapes." I think they are good, and since I'm cooking, he can just pick around them.

I have no picture of this because I was really hungry. I plated the food, then thought, "I should take a picture." Then I thought, "screw that, I'm hungry." So you'll have to make do without one this time. :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lemon Basil Bow Ties

I think this is from Taste of Home.

This is a quick, easy side dish that could be made into a main course by adding some sliced grilled chicken or scallops (or other protein, although I don't think beef would be very good). It's meant to be served hot, but I served it cold as a pasta salad for a playgroup party today.

4 cups uncooked bow tie pasta (I used "easter" pasta today in the shapes of bunnies and eggs and carrots, but bow tie would work best with this sauce/dressing
1 garlic clove, minced
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (I thought it needed more)
1 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
1 tsp grated lemon peel (if you don't have a plane grater, you should get one, it works way better than my "lemon zester")
1/2 tsp salt (or less, I thought it could have used less)
1/4 tsp coarsely ground pepper
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to directions. Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute garlic in oil for one minute. Stir in the lemon juice, lemon peel, salt, and pepper. Drain pasta. Add to skillet. Add basil. Toss to coat. Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until basil is wilted. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

I will make this again--it was easy and good--as a way to use leftover chicken in the future.

Also, I hate dishes, so I put the pasta in a colander and did all the dressing in the pasta pot, then put the pasta back in (rather than use a skillet). It worked just fine, although I maybe could have let the pasta pot cool down a bit more.

Update: I made this again yesterday, using bow tie pasta. I used more like 5 tbsp oil, the juice and zest of an entire lemon, 2 Tbsp garlic, and doubled the salt and pepper. I also cut up some leftover chicken breasts that had an Italian marinade on them and tossed them in before I added the pasta. We ate it warm, and it was GOOD. This may become a staple in my house. The Big Geek loves lemon, the little geek likes eating "butterflies," and I just like eating. :)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Any Meal: Ham and Swiss Bread Pudding

This is meant to be a lunch or dinner, but The Big Geek likes it for breakfast. I like it for anything, because it's good.

from Cooking Light

Cooking Spray
1 1/4 cups chopped green onions
3/4 cup chopped ham (about 3 oz)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
7 (1-oz) Hawaiian bread rolls, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 3/4 cups fat-free milk (or whatever type of milk you have)
3/4 cups egg substitute (or 3 large eggs, lightly beaten)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (3 oz) shredded Swiss cheese, divided

Heat a small nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onions, ham, and garlic; saute 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Preaheat oven to 350.

Arrange bread cubes on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until lightly browned, turning occasionally (I confess I never turn mine--it's still good).

Combine milk and next 5 ingredients (milk through nutmeg) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Stir in ham mixture. Add bread, tossing gently to coat.

Arrange half of bread mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with half of cheese; top with remaining bread misxutre. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake an additional 20 minutes or until set.

I generally follow this recipe (maybe adding extra cheese, because cheese is good. But as I was typing this, I realized that for the ones I just made, I put in a LOT of extra eggs. I was doubling, and for whatever reason when I read the recipe I thought it said 1 3/4 cups egg--not 3/4 cup. So my most recent batch has an extra 1 1/4 cups of egg in it--and it looks fine. I made it for someone else. I hope it tastes fine. That would explain why it puffed up so much in the oven--but then fell back down. And why it seemed to have so much extra liquid. Oh, well.

I'm betting it tastes just as good, if not better, with the extra egg in there!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I had a can of sliced pineapple. I had a box of yellow cake mix. I had a craving.

This was the result.

1 box yellow or white cake mix (plus ingredients called for in the mix)
1 can sliced pineapple (reserve the juice)
sliced maraschino cherries (if you have them)
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar

Grease 9x13 pan with cooking spray (at least the sides). Slice butter and place in bottom of pan. While oven is pre-heating to 375, put pan in oven to melt butter.

In the meantime, make cake mix according to directions, using reserved pineapple juice in place of water (add water to the reserved juice if it's not enough). My box called for 1 cup of water, and I had just-almost-but-not-quite a cup of juice from the can of pineapple, so I didn't have to add much.

When butter is melted, remove pan from oven. Sprinkle brown sugar in bottom of pan (into butter). Place pineapple slices on top of brown sugar. If you have cherries (obviously I did not), place one in the middle of each pineapple slice. Pour cake batter evenly over slices.

Bake at 375 for 35-50 minutes or until done (check with a toothpick).

Place on rack and cool pan for 10 minutes. Run a small spatula or knife between edge of cake and pan.

Place a baking sheet over the top of the pan. Hold it in place and flip the pan upside-down.

Gently tap the bottom of the pan, then lift off.


Garlicky Mexican Chicken with Ancho Peppers and Crispy Polenta

I've had this recipe for a long time and finally got around to making it last night. It was relatively simple, and now that I've made it once I know that I SHOULD have done this during nap-time (or even before), because you could do a lot of it in advance. To clarify, it's not so difficult that I needed to do things during nap, but you can without impacting the result and why not make your life easier by doing things in advance?

from Weight Watchers

1 lb uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
1/8 oz cilandro, fresh, plus more for garnish (about 2 sprigs)
4 large garlic cloves, not peeled
2 dried ancho peppers, stems and seeds removed
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 cup uncooked cornmeal (aka polenta)
cooking spray
6 medium radishes, red, sliced (optional)
2 medium scallions, sliced (optional)

Place chicken (about 2 breasts) in a single layer in a large nonstick skillet and cover with water. Add cilantro sprigs and 1 clove of unpeeled garlic. Cook chicken breasts over medium heat until no longer pink in center, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan to cool. Pour reserved cooking liquid into a bowl and add ancho peppers. Cover and soak peppers about 10 minutes to soften.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 3 garlic cloves and roast in pan, turning frequently, until blackened in spots. Remove cloves and allow to cool. When cool enough, peel garlic.

Place peppers, roasted garlic, tomato sauce, and cumin in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Shred chicken.

Note: You could do all of the above in advance.

Place shredded chicken and blended sauce in a medium saucepan and heat through, stirring occasionally. You may want to save some of your shredded chicken without sauce for the little geeks.

To make polenta, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add salt. Then slowly add cornmeal, stirring until smooth, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Coat a 9 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray and pour polenta into pan. Smooth with a spatula and allow polenta to firm up, about 1-2 minutes (or longer if you choose to do this in advance as well).

When polenta is firm (or you are ready to make dinner), cut polenta into 4 slices (I did 6, but you could do 4). Coat a larege nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium-high. Spray polenta with spray and place in skillet (you may need to do this in batches). Allow polenta to cook for 2-4 minutes, then spray top with cooking spray and flip to cook for 2-4 minutes on the other side.

This was the trickiest part, because I had no clue what I was doing or when to flip the polenta. It got easier by the 2nd batch, and was WAY better by the 3rd batch. Spraying the polenta with cooking spray helped. I think it's just going to take practice.

The Big Geek, apparently, does not like polenta. He thinks it has a weird texture, and I don't know how to get it crispier for him. I thought it was good, though, and the little geek liked her "corn mashed potatoes."

I topped it with Monterey Jack, but it didn't need it (when I had seconds I forgot about the cheese).

I hear you can buy pre-made polenta at the grocery store and then just slice and cook it. However, since cooking polenta basically involves boiling water, I'm not sure why you'd do that. . .

Quick, yummy, and easy to prep in advance--that's what I call my kind of meal!

Two for one: Roast Chicken, then Chicken Chimichangas

I've roasted chickens before, and it usually involved some olive oil or butter, various seasonings, and lemons. However, this time I'd defrosted my bargain whole chicken purchased during a sale, but had forgotten to pick up a lemon. So I turned to google to see what I could find.

And I found this.

I was hugely skeptical. Roast a chicken at 450? With only salt and pepper? I was going to end up with really dry chicken at best, charcoal at worst. However, I always figure I should TRY new things, and if they really turn out awful I can order a pizza.

But let me tell you--it turned out AWESOME and was the easiest chicken I've ever made. This is the method I will use from now on, because why do all that extra work if it's not needed?

This was after we'd eaten half of it. I forgot to take a picture of the whole thing. But even in it's half-mangled state, isn't it pretty? And it was moist and YUMMY as well. I did not do the whole butter/mustard thing suggested on the site, and I didn't have any thyme, either, but it was still good.

One thing I noticed in the comments was that people complained of smoking a lot. I didn't have that issue at all. What I did, beyond what the recipe says to do (you MUST truss the chicken!! I didn't have any kitchen string so I used two bamboo skewers to hold the legs in place, but I've read that unflavored dental floss will also work), is line the roasting pan with foil (mostly b/c I'm lazy) and put some sliced onion underneath the bird. I also didn't really measure the salt or pepper--I just sprinkled it on. And instead of setting the timer, I used the oven thermometer thing (if you don't own a meat thermometer you put in your meat with a temp reading thing that stays outside the oven, go get one, seriously, they are awesome). I took the chicken out when the breast hit about 170. I set it for 165, but things happened.

Here's what the pan looked like after the chicken was removed:

I did notice that a lot of juice pooled inside the (empty!!) cavity of the bird. I just sort of tilted the pan to let it pour out, and then took a silicon brush and "basted" the bird before letting it rest, uncovered, while I made some mashed potatoes with roasted garlic (remember the roasted garlic from the other night?).

Then I put the half we didn't eat in a ziplock for dinner the next night, as roast chicken chimichangas. I also saved the carcass and all the junk from inside the bird to make chicken stock with, but I haven't gotten around to that yet.

So, night 2, Roast Chicken Chimichangas, from Cooking Light.

The cooking light recipe says to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which I'm sure makes these lighter, but I tend to use whatever leftover chicken I've got. You could also use your leftovers to make enchiladas, which I'm sure I'll post some day.

2 1/2 cups shredded chicken (tip: shred it while it's inside the ziplock, and your hands won't get all chickeny)
1 cup (4 oz) queso fresco cheese. You can use Monterey Jack in a pinch.
1/4 cup chopped green onions. You can use 1/8 cup dried onions if you don't have any green onions on hand.
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 (16 oz) can fat-free refried beans
6 (8-inch) flour tortillas

Cooking spray
1/2 cup green salsa

Preheat oven to 500.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl; toss well.

Spread 1/4 cup beans down center of each tortilla. Top each tortilla with 2/3 cup chicken mixture and roll up (this is the part I suck at--anyone want to give me a burrito rolling lesson??). Place rolls, seam side down, on a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat tops of chimichangas with cooking spray.

Bake at 500 for 7 minutes or until crispy/lightly browned. Top with salsa.


Sorry there isn't a picture, but I am self-conscious about my tortilla-folding skills. Oh, and if you have any of the chicken mixture left, you can throw it on top of some lettuce and make a yummy salad with it.

So, from one chicken we got two dinners for all the geeks (who eat real food), and lunch for me for two days. Not bad for a "bargain" bird.