Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Super Bowl…of Chili! - Beef Chili to Die For

Hey America: Ready for some football? I'm guessing you are. Maybe you're even toying with the idea of having a Super Bowl party? Whatever you decide, you're gonna need to eat during the big game. As football food goes, few things are more classic than Chili. That's why we set out to perfect a pot of delicious, slow-cooking goodness that will make your crowd go wild. Coffee, dark beer and get this - cocoa powder, all conspire to create a rich and hearty chili with exceptional depth and flavor. Try it and you'll understand!

Beef Chili to Die For, Photo: NK
Beef Chili to Die For
Adapted from A. Oates
Serves 6

2 teaspoons of Olive Oil
2 Vidalia Onions (or other yellow onions) chopped
3 Large Cloves Garlic, minced
1 3/4 Lbs Ground Beef, half of it lean, the rest, your choice (we used short-rib blend)
1 (14.5 ounce) Can Diced Tomatoes (we like Muir Glen Organic)
12 Ounces Dark Beer or Stout (we used Founder's Breakfast Stout & highly recommend!)
3/4 Cup Strong Brewed Coffee
1.5 Cans (9 ounces) Tomato Paste
1 Cup Water mixed with 1 teaspoon Salt
Spice Blend
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar 
2 teaspoons Cumin
2 teaspoons unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1 teaspoon Cayenne
1/4 teaspoon Ancho Chili Powder (optional)
3/4 teaspoon Coriander
2 (15 Ounce) Cans Low-Sodium Kidney Beans, well rinsed (use 3 cans for extra-thick Chili)
3 Jalapeño Peppers Chopped* (*leave seeds in all three jalapeños for spicy chili, in two for medium chili, and in one for mild chili)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Optional Toppings
Extra Thinly Sliced Jalapeños
Extra Chopped Onions
Grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese
Sour Cream

1. Heat Olive Oil over in a very large pot over medium flame. 
2. Add the Onions, Garlic, and Ground Meat. Allow the meat to fully brown, stirring, about 8 to 10 minutes. Break up any chunks. 
3. Add the canned tomatoes, coffee, beer, and tomato paste. Stir, and then add the cup of water with 1 teaspoon of salt mixed into it. 
4. Now add all the spices (listed under spice blend). Stir. 
5. Stir in 2 cans of the rinsed Kidney Beans and Jalapeño Peppers. 
6. Reduce the flame to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours, covered. You can certainly cook for longer if you like, but be sure to leave cover on so Chili does not reduce too much. 
7. When ready to serve, stir in a 1/2 teaspoon of Salt. Taste for seasoning and adjust Salt if needed. Keeping the cover of the pot off, simmer a few more minutes to allow chili to thicken and any condensation to evaporate. Serve with any optional toppings. Enjoy!! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dinner in 20 - Fusilli with Classic Pesto (& Pomegranate!)

Around here, weeknight dinners are rarely more than a thirty minute affair, but when I'm looking for something even faster (case of the Mondays, anyone?) a simple pasta meal is always my go-to. Seeing as it's Meatless Monday, I'm sharing our latest recipe for traditional pesto (check out two more unique versions here and here) perfectly sized for a quick and hearty meal for two. If you're open to a tasty and unexpected twist, follow our lead and sprinkle tart, crunchy pomegranate arils for an extra antioxidant punch. Enjoy! 

Fusilli with Classic Pesto (+ Pomegranate!) Photo: NK 

Classic Pesto for Two + Pomegranate
Serves 2 as a hearty main course

1/2 Pound Pasta of your choice - (we love Fusilli - the shape really lends itself to pesto!)
1 1/2 Cups whole Basil Leaves, lightly packed
2 Tablespoons Pine Nuts (substitute finely chopped walnuts or almonds)
3 large Garlic Cloves
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup grated Parmigiana Cheese + more for serving
1/8 teaspoon Salt
Several pinches Black Pepper
A squeeze of Lemon Juice, optional
Crushed Red Pepper, optional
3 Tablespoons Pomegranate Arils, optional

1. Set a pot of salted pasta water on the stove to boil. Once boiling, prepare pasta according to package instructions.

2. While water is heating, prepare the pesto. Place Basil, Pine Nuts, Garlic and Oil in a food processor. Process until fully combined and finely chopped, about 30 seconds or more. Add the Parmigiana Cheese and Process again along with an 1/8 teaspoon (a few pinches) of Salt. Add several pinches of Black Pepper and remove pesto to a small bowl. Add a squeeze of Lemon Juice and taste the Pesto for seasoning. Adjust if necessary. 

3. When pasta is finished, drain it and return it to the pot. Add at least three heaping tablespoons of Pesto to the pasta (more if you like) and stir to combine. Add an optional pinch of Crushed Red Pepper and add the optional Pomegranate Arils. Serve with extra grated cheese. Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lightened Up Classics - Figure-Friendly Waldorf Salad

A few weeks into January and we've been fairly successful in keeping on a healthy track this New Year. Yup, we're celebrating a steady record of gym-going with only a few minor moments of food-driven naughtiness. A whole nineteen days worth! We know, you're impressed. With these lofty resolutions in mind, I had asked my husband to get me the new Giada De Laurentiis cookbook for Christmas, Giada's Feel Good Food. If you aren't familiar, it's the bombshell book where adorably petite GIada lets us in on what I've suspected all along: there's no way she's eating all those delectable bowls of pasta you see her cooking on TV. 
Lighter Waldorf Salad Prep, Photo: NK

My verdict on the book is that it's a pretty good read and there are a great many straightforward, light, and appetizing recipes throughout. Think California spa food gone just a bit more substantial. It even includes some nice tips on how she cares for her skin and hair as well. The first recipe that spoke to me was a much healthier remix of an old classic, a guilty pleasure of mine - Waldorf Salad. Could Waldorf Salad be good without the mayonnaise?, I wondered aloud. Turns out, it can. I hope you enjoy our light adaptation of Giada's recipe (we used crunchy jicama instead of fennel). We found it every bit as satisfying as the original, and filling enough to require only a small accompaniment to make an entire dinner (in our case, we added a crab cake on the side, no bun). As a lunch portion it is perfectly sized. Enjoy!

Lightened Up Waldorf Salad, Photo: NK 

Lightened Up Waldorf Salad
Slightly Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 2

Dressing Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons Grapeseed Oil
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar (we like Bragg Vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Several Pinches Black Pepper
1.5 teaspoons Light Agave (or Honey)

Salad Ingredients:
1/2 Cup Cooked Grains of your choice (we used Farro, barley or brown rice work well)
1/2 Cup Toasted Walnuts, chopped
1/2 Cup Seedless Red Grapes, sliced in half
1/2 a Granny Smith Apple, cored and cut into a 1/4 inch dice
4 Large Radicchio Leaves
1/2 Cup diced Jicama (1/4 inch dice) or Fennel Bulb, or Celery, diced the same size

1. Combine ingredients for Dressing in a small bowl.

2. In a larger bowl, toss the Apple, Jicama, Grapes, Walnuts and Cooked Grains. Drizzle the dressing over the salad (you'll only need about 3 teaspoons), mixing gently until coated. 

3. To plate, place 1 or 2 Radicchio Leaves on the plate. Spoon salad into the leaves (use both if you can't fit the whole portion, or one leaf if it's big enough to accommodate).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Small Wonders - Easiest Ever Mini Chicken Pot Pies

For me, there's really nothing quite like the exhilaration of receiving new kitchen stuff. Fellow home cooks, I know you feel me. The holidays were especially sweet this year because my thoughtful family and friends showered me with some seriously amazing cooking swag, not to mention several new cookbooks and cooking gadgets that I simply cannot wait to use. I'm a lucky girl and I know it. Today's dinner inspiration comes from the positively swoon-worthy set of four Le Creuset Mini Cocottes that my mom-in-law gifted me. 

These beautiful Mini Pot Pies are incredibly simple to make, Photo: NK
To say that I have been fantasizing about these mini ovenproof bakers for a little while would be a major understatement. And the colors! Oh, the colors. They're just beyond. From soufflés to individual baked egg dishes, these little pots can do it all. Plus, they go straight from oven to table making a smashing presentation in the process. 

When it came time to decide how to christen my new cocottes, the answer came in seconds thanks to my comfort food-lovin' husband. According to him, it just had to be Chicken Pot Pies. Perfect! Not only will they be cute, individual servings, but also, we'd make sure that they'd also be incredibly simple, fast, and delicious. YES.

Mr. NK and I created today's dish by joining the best features of two popular recipes, as usual, with an eye towards taste and convenience. We had a great time cooking them together and they were done in a flash!! Enjoy these pot pies piping hot, straight out of the oven! We sure did. 

Mini Chicken Pot Pies
Adapted from Rice "Chicken Pot Pie IX" & Inspired by Le Creuset's Mini-Cocotte Cook Book 

Yield: This recipe below makes exactly enough filling for 4 Le Creuset Mini Cocottes (8 ounce capacity each) or about 4 light servings
If you would to make the filling for two large pot pies, double the recipe below (not the puff pastry) and you will end up with 8 modest servings. 

1/2 Pound Organic Chicken Tenders, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1/2 Cup Peeled Baby Carrots, sliced about 1/3 inch thick
1/2 Cup Frozen Green Peas
1/4 Cup Celery, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Butter, divided
2 Medium Shallots, finely chopped
2 3/4 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour 
1/4 teaspoon Salt, plus more
1/8 teaspoon Black Pepper
9/10 Cup Chicken Broth (aka: just shy of a cup) 
1/3 Cup 2% Milk (you can also use whole if you like)
4 Sprigs Fresh Thyme plus more for garnish 
1 Egg Yolk, beaten
2 Sheets Frozen Puff Pastry, unrolled and fully thawed on a non stick surface for 40 min
Equipment: 4 mini Ceramic Cocottes or Oven-Safe Ramekins (8 Ounce capacity each)

Pie Filling. Photo NK
1. Preheat the oven to 400 with a rack in the middle. 

2. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high flame and heat until shimmering. Cook chicken, stirring occasionally, until opaque and almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken and juices from the skillet. Set aside.

3. In the same pan as the chicken, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring
occasionally, until translucent and tender. About 4 minutes. Now stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Slowly add the chicken broth and then the milk. Add the 4 sprigs of fresh thyme and bring the liquid to a boil by turning up the heat. As soon as it bubbles,  lower the heat way back down to a simmer. Allow mixture to simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquids have thickened. Turn off the flame and remove and discard the thyme sprigs.

4. Meanwhile, in another medium sauté pan, add the last tablespoon of butter and melt over medium heat. Add the carrots and celery. Cook the vegetables, stirring often until somewhat tender but still al dente - about 6 to 7 minutes (it will be done one or two minutes after the pot pie filling mixture is finished). Turn off the flame. Hit them with a good dose of more salt and pepper.

5. On a lightly floured, non-stick surface, cut four circles out of the puff pastry leaving about 1/2 inch overflow that will spill over the sides of the cocottes. You can measure by inverting the mini-cocottes on the dough and drawing a slightly wider circle (about a 1/2 inch wider) with your knife.
Assembling the Pot Pies, Photo: NK

6. To assemble pot pies, pour the reserved chicken and the celery carrot mixture back into the saute pan with the cream filling. Stir until everything is incorporated. Taste for salt and add a bit more to your taste if you choose. Pour the filling evenly into the 4 cocottes. Divide the still-frozen peas among the 4 cocottes.

7. Brush the edges of each cocotte with the egg yolk wash and press a puff pastry round on top of each to close. Fold down the 1/2 inch overhang to seal the edges, and create some fluting along the edges with your fork to seal the pastry. Finally, paint the tops of the pastries with more egg wash, and pierce the middle of each pot pie in order to vent.

8. Place cocottes directly in the oven on the middle rack a few inches apart. Cook for 16-17 minutes until the puff pastry has risen and is golden brown. Serve immediately with fresh Thyme Garnish, a fork and a spoon for the delicious creamy filling!

Golden and crispy outside, bubbly and savory inside. Photo: NK

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Paleo On The Go - Banana & Almond Flour Energy Muffins

It's resolution time! Would you believe that I'm good at keeping resolutions? Yeah, me neither. But it turns out that I actually am, providing that I also happen to be cut off from the outside world

Paleo Banana & Almond Flour Energy Muffins, Photo: NK

Since a blizzard, nearly sub-zero weather, and a subsequent tri-state area-wide sheet of ice has had me and the husband reluctant to venture out for the past few days, we've been quite disciplined. We even visited our building's gym for a record breaking three times in since Friday. So, a big five days into the new year, we're feeling pretty smug about keeping our promises to eat better and workout more.  

Then came Sunday afternoon. A time for rest, a time for reflection, a time to get the blues. Fearing that boredom would cause my idle hands to morph into one heck of a devil's workshop (aka: should I attack that jar of marshmallow fluff in the pantry?), I knew I'd better peel myself off the couch and set about creating something nutritionally redeeming. It seems that the Sunday blues can give rise to good things:

When today's oven adventure, Paleo Energy Muffins With Banana & Almond Flour, proved successful, I knew I'd want to share them with you. 

These easy to make muffins take just five minutes to prepare and will help us in our quest to be a bit more balanced in our eating, use our calorie allotment more wisely, and choose foods packed with energizing protein and slow-burning fiber. We're not a Gluten Free household by any means, but today's muffins are. They're also fit for Paleo and Dairy Free diets. 

Why make them? Paleo Energy Muffins With Banana & Almond Flour are a healthy, stick-to-your-ribs, breakfast on the go. They'd also make for a good pre-workout bite because they have a good helping of protein and slow releasing carbs to keep you going. A little sweet but not too much so and surprisingly filling, these tasty little guys keep well in the fridge and can even be frozen for up to a month. Sure, we may fall off the resolution wagon in a little while, but I'm happy to share today's healthy and satisfying on-the-go recipe for your future enjoyment. Good luck in your healthy endeavors this new year! 

Paleo Energy Muffins With Banana & Almond Meal
Adapted from
Yield - 10 Muffins 
Per Muffin: 235 Calories, 18g Fat, 7.5g Protein, 12g Carbs, 3.2g Fiber

2.5 Cups Almond Meal (we use Bob's Red Mill)
3/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Salt 

2 Medium Bananas, very ripe 
2 Organic Eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon 
1 teaspoon Unsweeted Cocoa Powder
2 Tablespoons Light Agave (or Honey)
1 teaspoon good quality Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Melted Coconut Oil or Canola Oil
1 teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar (we like Bragg Mother Vinegar)

Finished in a flash, Photo: NK 
1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a regular sized muffin tin with 10 muffin cups.

2. Combine the first three dry ingredients in a Large bowl.

3. In a medium bowl, mash the Bananas extremely well until almost smooth. Add the beaten Eggs, Cinnamon, Cocoa Powder, Agave, Vanilla Extract, Oil, and Apple Cider Vinegar. Combine well. 

*If you like, you could add other mix-ins here such as carob chips or raisins.

4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and combine well. Pour mixture 3/4 of the way up the muffin cups. Bake for 18 minutes until the center of the muffins is set and the edges have become a bit golden. Remove tin to a rack for cooling (at least 20 minutes). Enjoy! 

To store:
Freeze in an airtight container for up to 1 month
Store at room temp, sealed, for 2 days
Refrigerate, sealed, for about a week