Working Moms’ Recipe for Lunch: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Super Working Moms’ Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Quinoa

I guess you can say I joined the bandwagon early during the quinoa craze. A girlfriend of mine made a quinoa salad for a baby shower that I thought was to die for. The salad included quinoa (and that great texture that this grain provides), cranberries, walnuts, green beans, garlic and green onions with a balsamic vinaigrette–“white” balsamic, that is! Turns out my friend’s mother tried variations of the recipe too, and insistently whispered in my ear at the baby shower that WHITE balsamic was the best vinegar to use since it didn’t turn the quinoa an unappetizing brown color.

The quality that I like best about this recipe was first, the texture of the quinoa. Nutty, chewy and filling. I also like the balance of the sweet cranberries with the light tartness of the balsamic.

Since tasting and trying out that recipe myself, I decided to put another twist on a quinoa salad that aligns with my love for Mediterranean food. It still has that great texture and tang but features Mediterranean ingredients such as low-fat feta cheese, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, red peppers and green onions with a lemon and extra virgin olive oil dressing. You can make it for dinner and serve it warm, and then eat it cold the next day for a healthy and filling lunch at work. Yum! After all, quinoa is considered a super protein food and you deserve super ’cause you’re a SUPER working mom.

The ingredients for the Super Working Mom’s Mediterranean Quinoa Salad are:

  • Two cups of quinoa, any type
  • Four cups of water
  • 1 cup of reduced-fat feta cheese, crumbled
  • 15 cherry tomatoes
  • One cucumber, peeled, sliced lengthwise and quartered
  • 1 medium red pepper
  • 4 green onions finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of chopped kalamata olives
  • Juice of 1 medium lemon and zest of half a lemon
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

First, boil the water, add the quinoa to the pot and stir. Turn the heat down to medium-low and place a lid on top. Cook the quinoa for about 12- 15 minutes. When the water is completely dissipated, turn the heat off and let the quinoa sit and cool without the lid. Fluff with a fork.

While the quinoa is cooking, chop the green onions, red pepper, cucumber and olives, and slice the cherry tomatoes in half.

Next, make the dressing in a bowl by whisking together the olive oil and lemon juice with oregano, salt and pepper until emulsified. Add the lemon zest for an extra lemony kick.

When the quinoa has cooled and is no longer warm to the touch, add all of the ingredients and toss together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this in place of your starch side dish for a high-protein dinner to serve your family, and save the left-over salad just for you to savor the next day at work. You know, ’cause anything that is SUPER is okay by me.

 

Working Moms’ Quick Empanada Dinner

In my book, mixing savory ground beef with pastry dough is a definite “must try.”

Yes I’ve done shepherd’s pie, which is basically browned ground hamburger meat mixed with garlic, onions, carrots and celery put into a pie dish, topped with whipped mash potatoes, and baked until the top is golden brown. (Oh words don’t even describe how much I LOVE this dish!). But no matter how much I love mashed potatoes and the sheer comfort I feel when I eat them alone or with anything savory, they cannot beat the buttery, flaky savoriness of pastry dough.

So when I recently saw an empanada recipe using ground beef and puff pastry dough, I decided to use my standby mixture of browned ground beef, garlic, onions, celery and carrots and tuck it inside some pre-made, fluffy puff pastry dough for a quick and easy, all-in-one, no-utensils-needed dinner with the fam. And to my surprise, my little ones–now age nine and six–had second and third helpings!

Here is what I did to make individual-sized savory, ground beef empanadas. Yum!

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed to room temperature 
  • 1 pound of 85% lean ground beef
  •  3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3/4 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp. water
  •  1 tsp. dried basil
  • Seasoned salt and pepper

First, it is important to make sure your beef is cooked all the way through and browned up nicely to give it that good caramelized taste. Saute your ground beef on high heat and make sure to drain any excess liquid. Season with seasoned salt and pepper and add the garlic, onions and carrot. Cook until the carrot starts to soften. Add the celery and cook until softened a bit.

Next, add the tomato paste and water and stir the hamburger mixture. Place a lid on top of the pan and simmer mixture on low heat so that the veggies are all soft. Then remove the lid when the water has absorbed and cool the mixture to room temperature so that you don’t end up softening your pastry dough when you stuff it for your empanadas.

 In the meantime, unroll the two sheets of puff pastry on a floured surface. Grab a bowl, mug or cup with about a four inch diameter. Use this as a cutter to cut out 12 rounds of the pastry.

Begin to wrap your empanadas by filling one side of the pastry round with about two tablespoons of the hamburger mixture. Then, grab a pastry brush or use your fingers to brush the egg mixture onto the edges of the dough that will be sealed together. 

Fold the other side of the dough over the top of mixture and either press together with your fingers and fold bits of dough over itself in a “fan” style to seal or use a fork to press down on the two sides to cinch them together. Make sure there are no holes in the dough and that the sides are sealed all the way to avoid the hamburger oozing out of the sides.Then, brush all the little beauties with the beaten egg mixture so they bake up gorgeous and shiny.

Stuff all 12 empanadas and bake at 400 degrees on a foil-lined and greased baking sheet for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow for about one inch of space in between the little gems.

Allow the empanadas to cool and enjoy the crunchy, salty, savory yumminess!

And don’t forget, the mixture can be anything you want it to be–turkey, pork, sausage along with most veggies such as peas or corn. Just make sure that it’s not too watery. You can also make sweet empandas with canned cherry or apple pie filling to satisfy that sweet tooth! I’m even considering buffalo chicken and cheese-stuffed empanadas or queso-stuffed. Both a match made in heaven.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes: Or As the Locals Would Say ‘Enchiladas Verdes De Pollo’


Saucy, cheesy, spicy goodness. That’s all I can say when I think of any type of enchilada dish. Even though I love all types, my favorite is made with the “verde” or green sauce. The sauce is pretty easy to find in most grocery stores too. I usually locate the one I like in the international isle. And make sure you get the BIG can if you like saucy!
One thing I observed about the way that enchiladas are traditionally made throughout the years though, is that the corn tortillas are usually quickly fried in oil to make them a little more pliable and easier to fold. I was almost positive there was a way to achieve the same effect by using a more low-cal approach without noticing a difference in flavor. I found one! So this is how I pay my homage to yet another classic, family-friendly Mexican-style dish that’s pretty darn easy to make after work.
Ingredients:
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups of shredded, cooked chicken breast (maybe left over from the night before, or if you can manage baking a couple of chicken breasts the same night with salt and pepper for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees)
  • 1 32 oz. can of green enchilada sauce
  • ¼ cup diced red onion
  • 2 cups shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • Shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, cilantro, diced green onions and sour cream to top.

 

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
First, line two large baking sheets with foil. Then evenly lay out six tortillas on each baking sheet with as little overlap as possible. Spray each tortilla lightly with cooking spray, flip and spray the other sides. Bake the tortillas in the oven a few minutes until they are soft and pliable but NOT crispy (they will only get crispier when you take them out of the oven.) This will give you the ability to easily roll the chicken and cheese inside the tortillas without them breaking or splitting.
Reduce the heat of your oven to 400 degrees.
Pour all of your sauce into a shallow bowl so you can dip each side of the tortillas. Next, line up your cheese, chicken, onions and sauce in an assembly line fashion and grab your largest rectangular baking pan. Spray the bottom and sides of the pan with cooking spray.
To roll the enchiladas, take a tortilla on a cutting board or large plate, coat both sides with sauce, fill it with 2 tablespoons of chicken and a small handful of cheese, spoon about a tablespoon of sauce over the mixture, and sprinkle with onions. Roll by tucking one side of the tortilla over and then under the mixture and continuing to roll into a cylinder. Place the enchilada seam side down in the baking pan. Repeat for all twelve.
Pour the remaining sauce over the whole pan of enchiladas and top with the rest of the cheddar cheese–I like to top with green onions before baking. Bake about 15-20 minutes until bubbly and brown on top. Top with your favorite toppings! Muy delicioso!

Bacon-Wrapped, Queso-Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers for Playoffs and Super Bowl

If you have read entries from this blog before, you might know that I absolutely LOVE Mexican food. If I were asked what my last meal would be, it would be some variation of a fried corn tortilla beef taco with guacamole and a majorly spicy red hot sauce. …I think I might have even written this before…and will probably mention it again…and again…

Luckily I’m not having my last meal but when the temptation for Mexican fare hits, I can race down to the nearest Roberto’s or Alberto’s or any of the other small drive-through Mexican eateries here in Southern California and stuff my face along with the local surfers.

Or I fix it DIY style.

This is one of those DIY American/Mexican-style recipes–the kind that calls to me after drinking some wine on a Saturday night or when I’m planning on making some appetizers for a big game day (football in our house). 

It’s a mixture of a cheesy, gooey queso cheese dip stuffed inside a BIG, fresh, spicy jalapeno. Then, best of all, wrapped in BACON! Yes.

On your mark, get set…here’s what you do to make these babies.

Ingredients:

-Six big, fresh whole jalapenos cut in half lengthwise with most of the seeds and membranes removed with a spoon (leave more for spiciness)
-4 oz. of Velveeta cheese or other American cheese
-2 tbsp. of regular or lite sour cream
-1/4 c. of chunky red, green or your favorite salsa 
-Two chopped green onions, white and green parts included
-Six slices of bacon, any cut, cut in half across 

Directions: 

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Take your beautiful jalapenos and cut them in half lengthwise, keeping the stem in tact for decoration. Take a spoon and run it through the seeds and membrane to remove most (if you like it semi spicy) or only some (if you like it muy caliente!) of the insides.

Then, put your cheese, sour cream, salsa and green onions in a medium-sized bowl, cover with a paper towel and microwave until the cheese starts to bubble a little. Mix, recover and microwave until smooth but not over cooked, too hard or brown. Sauce should be fairly thick and not runny since you want it to stick to the inside of the jalapenos and not ooze out when you bake them. Add more American cheese and heat if you need a thicker consistency.

Next, take your spoon and fill the jalapenos with the queso mixture. Once they’re all filled, wrap one half bacon slices around each jalapeno and make sure the seams are on the underside of the pepper. Lay each stuffed pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes to cook the bacon. Once the bacon is looking done, turn on the broiler and raise peppers to a higher rack and broil to get that extra crispness on top.

There you go! These guys are game changers.

 

Mexican Fish Stew to Warm Your Soul

The first time I tasted Mexican fish stew was at a little taquria in the small town of Alpine, Calif. Now if you know Alpine, there’s really not much going on there. A very active Kiwinis club, an even more active corner liquor store and some major Indian reservation casino action. There’s more but those are the main attractions.

But when you’re somewhere like that and you are stopped dead in your tracks by the smell of freshly, homemade corn tortillas wafting out of a small restaurant storefront, mixed with a savory carne asada and lime aroma, you are remiss if you don’t poke your head in and see what you can possibly dig in to for breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner.

See, most of the time in Southern California these little Mexican restaurants are owned by Mexican families that have their abuela (grandma) working in the kitchen and preparing recipes that go back generations. And I had one of those specialties at that taqueria. The best Mexican stew ever.

And what a relief it was. We were all coming down with the worst case of the flu and this was just the dish to lift my spirits. We ordered a big bowl of it and shared it family style–ladeling out big helpings of white fish delicately simmered in chicken broth perfumed with lime and cilantro, chunky tomato, shrimp, crab claws and corn on the cob. Heaven. And so simple.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I attempted to make this recipe. I wasn’t sure where to start and I began researching ingredients. I found some recipes with potatoes, fennel and other heavier ingredients. Which I love. But maybe not for this stew in particular. I liked the lightness of this stew and decided to create my recipe based on the simple ingredients that make this dish so delicious.

Here is what I came up with.

Ingredients: 

-4 medium-sized tilapia fillets, each cut into bite-sized chunks
-8 large peeled and deveined shrimp
-1 15 oz. can of roasted diced tomatoes
-1 large onion finely chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 bay leaf
-3 limes. Juice two and leave one quartered for garnish.
-1/4 cup of chopped cilantro
-1 tbsp. of Mexican or California chili powder (not too spicy) 
-1/2 tsp. of fresh thyme taken off the stem and chopped
-2 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
-2 15 oz. cans of fat-free chicken broth
-2 cups of water
-Salt and pepper to taste

 Preparing

Place the chucks of fish in a bowl and mix with the juice of two limes. Set the fish aside and start heating a dutch oven on medium heat. Once hot, add the olive oil, chopped onion, bayleaf and garlic and saute until onions and garlic are soft.

Next, add the chili powder and roasted tomatoes and stir together with the onion mixture. Then add in the marinated fish and add a good amount of salt and pepper. Simmer in the tomato broth, turning once, for about three minutes total.

Then add the chicken broth and water and bring to a gentle simmer. Once simmering add the shrimp, adjust salt as needed and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Ladle the soup into four separate bowls, top each with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge. Muy delicioso!

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Whole Chicken In a Crockpot: Who Knew?


Not this working mom. Because if I had, I would have been making this one for years! 
My picture of a whole chicken in a Crock Pot was either that I would have to smother it in some type of liquid which, for me, conjures up images of a slimy-skinned, wet and drowned whole chicken that is definitely not nice to look at and just as unpleasant to eat!
Or it could go the complete opposite way. A dried-up chicken with no liquid and a house ready to catch fire from a smoking Crock Pot when I returned home.
So I Googled it.
And low and behold there was a fool-proof recipe for a whole chicken in a Crock Pot. And it’s amazing! 

Now, I’m not trying to pass on a recipe that’s not my own. Because with everything I cook I like to put an extra spin on it. It’s the technique here that makes this so good. You could dress up your chicken any way you like and it would still turn out fantastic.
Not only that, whole chickens are about $4 each and sometimes you can stretch one chicken to make two meals such as chicken noodle soup and enchiladas, or chicken alfredo pasta and cold chicken salad. Endless possibilities for very little moola.
This is what I did the night before I was going to set up my masterpiece chicken in the Crock Pot.
Gathered my ingredients:

  • One whole chicken, innards removed and patted dry
  • Three smashed and minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. of grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tbsp. of orange marmalade
  • 1 tbsp. of soy sauce
  • 1 lemon with all of rind grated
  • Seasoned salt and pepper
  • 1 large whole white onion, roughly chopped

Put it all together:
First, in a medium bowl mix the orange marmalade with the grated lemon rind, ginger, garlic and soy sauce and squeeze half of the lemon into the mixture.
Next, with the chicken on a platter, spread the bulk of the mixture underneath the skin of the breast and legs and then some remaining on top of the skin. Season the whole chicken with a sprinkling of seasoned salt and pepper.
Then add your chopped onion to the bottom of the Crock Pot, place the chicken on top and when you’re ready in the morning—fire that Crock Pot up for at least eight hours. That’s it! The onion and chicken itself provide enough liquid for the chicken to braise. But what’s unreal is that there’s enough fat in the skin that the outside turns out golden brown and delectable. There’s nothing better than browned, wonderful crispy chicken skin. (Well…maybe.)
There you have it. Eat the chicken as is in one dinner setting or cut and divide for multiple dishes. It’s completely up to you!

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A Chance to Let Go In Colorado

Little did we know that a family vacation to Colorado in late August would actually give us the dose of “reality” all four of us needed! Although we have taken trips back to the Midwest to visit family, this trip was something different and the first of its kind for us!

We were fortunate that we could use my mother’s timeshare to exchange for a lakeside tri-level unit in Pagosa Springs Colorado, an hour outside of Durango. Our goal was to RELAX as much as possible. After all, I had just started a brand new public relations job in June, the kids were busy with their summer activities, and my husband had hardly taken any substantial time off in a year and a half.

It was time for downtime. And in my mind, that meant more time for cooking too. Fortunately, there was a fully-stocked kitchen in our room and we used everything that was available to us.

On the hour ride into Pagosa from Durango, we came across a country-style general grocery store–right out of the Old West. I went in alone and tried to select the essentials we would need over the next few days.

Of course fresh fruit was essential. I grabbed a pineapple, cantalope and some wonderful grapes. The veggies were a little sketchy but I found some great yellow squash. We were in the mood for steaks that night so I grabbed some rib eyes. I also grabbed some hamburger and thought, “a shepherd’s pie would be wonderful for tomorrow.” I made sure I had some onion, a bag of russets, butter and some sour cream for the ingredients of my pie–loving the idea of making mashed potatoes. One of my favorite things to eat on earth! The theme for this trip was comfort and simplicity.

When we finally arrived, it was heaven to look out over our small lakefront view, whip out some butter, throw it in a hot pan and sizzle those steaks while sauteeing some yellow squash on the side. We sat down–all four of us travel-worn but content–my husband opened some wine, we all breathed a sigh of relief, said a prayer and felt blessed that we were safe and sound in a world that belonged solely to us for an entire week. Simple as that.

If you would like to see the recipe for my shepherd’s pie, view this previous blog entry and enjoy!

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