Let’s Talk Steak

Steak is a treat food for me. I don’t eat it all that often because it’s a little pricier than my go-to chicken and it’s not as healthy to eat all the time. But if you do it right, steak can be budget-friendly and good for you. Plus, I think it’s even easier to cook than chicken. Steak is a lot more forgiving because you can cook it to your liking, whereas you can only cook chicken until it’s done (no rare or even medium-rare chicken, please). So before I get into a simple steak recipe, I want to share some basic tips for cooking steak.

Steak is a delicious, easy treat.

Have you ever heard of the hand test to check if the steak is done? No? Well no more cutting the steak open to see if it’s cooked! And no meat thermometers either. Cutting the steak open or poking a hole with a meat thermometer lets the juices run out and makes the meat dry (not to mention it’s not super pretty either). Instead, all you need is the palm of your hand to check if your steak is rare, medium rare, medium, or well done. Simply press on the meat and compare to the pad of your hand as is shown below:

Raw: Open the palm of your hand. Relax the hand. Take the index finger of your other hand and push on the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm. Make sure your hand is relaxed. This is what raw meat feels like.

Rare: Press the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. The fleshy area below the thumb should give quite a bit. This is what meat cooked to rare feels like. Open up your palm again and compare raw to rare.

Medium rare: Gently press the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. This is medium rare. Press on the steak and see if it feels similar – this is my favorite doneness.

Medium: Press the tip of your ring finger and your thumb together. This is what meat cooked to a medium doneness feels like.

Well Done: Now gently press the tip of your pinky and your thumb together. Again feel the fleshy area below the thumb. It should feel quite firm. This is what well done meat feels like when you press on it.

Got it? It’s pretty simple really, and it’s amazing how accurate that test is. Just remember that the meat continues to cook for a little bit after you take it off the stove or grill.

Next tip: Always let the meat rest so it can reabsorb the juices. Don’t you hate when you cut into a steak and the juices run all over your plate and into your potatoes? Instead, let the steak rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it. Cover it with aluminum foil to keep it warm.

Last tip: When buying steak, I generally gravitate towards less marbling (less fat). More marbling may mean more flavor but I think it makes the meat tough and chewy, not to mention much less healthy for you. If you get a cut with the fat around the outside instead of throughout, then you can cook the steak with the fat on for the flavor and then just cut it out when you eat it. Also, you don’t have to buy filet mignon to have a good steak. You can get decent cuts of meat for a decent price if it’s just any regular weekday night. Save the splurge cuts (like filet mignon) for special occasions.

Ready for a super simple steak recipe? Here goes…

What you’ll need:
2 steaks, any cut
1 teaspoon steak seasoning

What you’ll need to do:

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray. Get your pan really hot before you put your steaks in – searing the meat will lock in the flavor and juices. Season both sides of the meat with the steak seasoning (if you don’t have steak seasoning, just use some salt and pepper). Cook the steak for about 5 minutes on each side using the hand test to check doneness. Serve with your favorite side dishes and enjoy!

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Healthy Bacon Mac ‘n Cheese

A good friend (and regular reader) recently challenged me to make a healthy version of mac ‘n cheese. Since this good friend was also my college roommate, I know how much she loves this delectable comfort food. I admit, it’s one of my guilty pleasures, too. I love the rich, gooey, creaminess of mac ‘n cheese. One of my favorite tricks is throwing in some smokey, crispy bacon (yum!). However, since neither of us have the metabolism of an 18-year-old anymore, we can’t eat mac ‘n cheese nearly as often as we’d like and still fit into our jeans. So, challenge accepted.

Keep in mind, I don’t think there’s anything that can truly replace the fake, bright orange Kraft mac ‘n cheese with whole milk and real butter. But this dish gets pretty darn close. I swapped out the milk, butter, and cheese with low fat cheese and Greek yogurt. I love the Greek yogurt because it adds in that creaminess that you might be missing, plus it’s loaded with protein for added health benefits. I also added in some onion and garlic to add taste and fill you up on virtually-no-calorie veggies. I also used turkey bacon instead of real bacon, and I used whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. While it’s not the healthiest dish in the world, it’s certainly a great substitute for the much-less-waistline-friendly version. Plus, it only took about 20 minutes to make and it makes great leftovers!

Make this dish the next time you have a comfort food craving.

What you’ll need:
1 box (about 13.5 ounces) whole wheat elbow pasta
1 medium yellow onion
9 tbsp minced garlic (yes that much)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 cup low fat sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup low fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
4 strips turkey bacon (but feel free to add more!)

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to package directions. Drain when it’s done, and then add it back to the pot.

Whole wheat pasta keeps you satisfied longer.

While the pasta cooks, chop your onion as finely as you can. Set a medium-sized pot over medium heat and coat with the olive oil. Add your chopped onion, minced garlic, and dry mustard. Stir often and cook until the onion is transparent (this should take just a couple minutes).

Chop those veggies very finely so they mix in with the cheese sauce. Honestly, you barely notice they’re in there. The onions and garlic are slightly sweet and add tons of flavor.

After the onion-garlic mixture is done, add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Turn off the heat, then add the Greek yogurt and stir.

Creamy, gooey, and delicious. It’s not that same fake bright orange, but it’s very tasty!

Add the cheese sauce to the cooked macaroni noodles and stir until combined. Add to the 9×13 inch baking dish, and then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the Parmesan is melted and the macaroni is hot throughout.

You could certainly eat this as-is, but let’s top this with a little turkey bacon…

While your mac ‘n cheese bakes, put a pan over medium-high heat on the stove to cook your turkey bacon. Spray the pan with cooking spray, and cook the turkey bacon for 5 minutes on each side. Your turkey bacon should be done at about the same time as the baked mac ‘n cheese. The reason I cook the turkey bacon separately and add it to the dish at the end is so that it stays crispy.

Lastly, tear the turkey bacon into small pieces and sprinkle over the mac ‘n cheese.

The bacon adds some smokey, crispy, saltiness that puts this dish over the edge. You’ll hardly notice it’s healthy!

Scoop into a bowl and enjoy!

Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

When Parmesan is included in the name of a recipe you immediately think indulgent, right? Believe it or not, this dish was inspired by a Biggest Loser Recipe. So not only is this dish delicious, but it’s deceivingly figure-friendly too.

I find that I get into a veggie rut every once in awhile. I cycle through broccoli, green beans, and Brussels sprouts throughout the week. Occasionally I’ll throw some asparagus into the mix, but that’s just another green vegetable. Don’t get me wrong, I cycle through them because they’re my favorites. Cooked carrots or corn are too sweet for me. And unless it’s a salad, I often forget what else I can put on my plate. Cauliflower is the perfect answer to mixing things up. It’s low in calories, high in fiber, a great source of Vitamin C, and even has a little protein. So throw a little cauliflower in your weekday routine to mix things up! And use this easy, delicious recipe is a great excuse to do so.

I like to sprinkle on a bit of dry parsley to add a pop of color, and fresh parsley spoils too quickly in my fridge. Remember, you eat with your eyes first!

What you’ll need:
1 head of cauliflower
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt (or just regular salt)
1/2 tablespoon dry or fresh chopped parsley
Cooking spray

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut your cauliflower so that you’re just left with the florets.

**Tip: If you want to just buy the cauliflower in already-cut florets to save time, use about 4 cups of florets.

Spray an oven-proof covered casserole dish with cooking spray. Put your cauliflower florets in the dish, and spray them lightly with the cooking spray. Mix with your hands to evenly coat. This helps the Parmesan, garlic, garlic salt, and parsley adhere. Once evenly sprayed, add the seasonings and mix with your hands.

Cover and bake for 15 minutes.

Enjoy!

Chinese Chicken Salad

Every once in awhile, I crave a good Chinese Chicken Salad. The salad is tangy, sweet, sour, and just a little spicy. And I don’t know what it is, but there’s something special about those little Mandarin oranges that makes me feel like I’m eating a treat. It’s a perfect full meal with your protein, veggies, and carbs. But the most beautiful part of making a meal like this is that you can easily double or triple the recipe to make awesome leftovers. Just pack leftover salad in containers and you’ve got easy grab-and-go work lunches. It’s an easy, quick, healthy, and delicious meal that’s always a big hit in my house!

Not only do I love the taste, but I love all those beautiful colors!

What you’ll need:

  • For the salad:
    • 4 chicken breasts or 8 chicken tenders
    • 1/2 head napa cabbage, thinly shredded (about 6 cups)
    • 1/2 head red cabbage, shredded (about 2 cups)
    • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
    • 5 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
    • 1 (11-ounce) can Mandarin oranges in water, drained
    • 1 package plain Ramen noodles, dry (seasoning excluded)
  • For the dressing:
    • 4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
    • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
    • 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon minced fresh or dry garlic
    • 1 tablespoon minced fresh or dry ginger
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
    • 1/2 tablespoon hot sauce, like Sriracha

**A few tips on the ingredients: Buying heads of cabbage is very inexpensive, but if you want to save some time you can buy bags of already shredded cabbage instead. If you can’t find Mandarin oranges in water, buying  them in syrup is fine. Just drain and rinse them. Also, notice all my dressing ingredients are measured by the tablespoon… to save a dish! Just make sure you measure the dry ingredients first (ginger, garlic, brown sugar) before you measure the wet ingredients, and just eyeball the hot sauce.

What you’ll need to do:

Start by cooking your chicken in a large pan (see “Let’s Talk Chicken” for instructions).

While the chicken cooks, chop your veggies. Have a large salad bowl handy so you can toss your veggies in as they’re chopped. You’ll want to slice the cabbage thinly. I like to cut the head of cabbage in half, cut out the hard core, place it on the cutting board on it’s flat side for stability, and then just slice right to left. Then, peel and chop your carrot. Chop your scallions (green onions) thinly and toss them in the bowl. Drain and rinse your Mandarin oranges, then add them to the salad.

Your chicken is still probably cooking at this point, so move on to the salad dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together all salad dressing ingredients. Or, if you have a container with a lid (like a salad cruet or even a small Tupperware), add all ingredients, cover, and shake to combine. Make sure you read my tip about adding dry ingredients first and then the wet ingredients! Set the dressing aside.

Once your chicken is done, chop into bite-sized cubes and add to the salad. Toss the salad with the dressing. Lastly, crumble the dry Ramen noodles with your fingers and top the salad for an extra crunch.

Enjoy!