Irish Stew with Guinness, Beef, and other Yummy Goodness

Last month I took a wonderful week-long trip to Ireland. While many people look forward to seeing the sights, I may be the only person to ever look forward to Irish food. In a perfect world where calories don’t matter, pub grub would be my main food group. While in Ireland, I ate an abundance of fish and chips, mashed peas, shepherd’s pie, and Irish stew while I listened to musicians play traditional Irish music in cozy little pubs – of course, all paired perfectly with a rich, delicious pint of Guinness. As the trip came to an end, so did my lavish eating of hearty, tasty pub grub. But with St. Patrick’s Day only two days away, I’m bringing it back for the special occasion.

You may think I’m crazy and think that Irish food is bland, but I will prove otherwise. This Irish stew has an amazing depth of flavor, layered with the smokey, chocolatey Guinness, fruity red wine, earthy thyme, spicy garlic, and sweet onion and carrot. Of course, you couldn’t have a hearty Irish stew without potatoes. It takes a little bit of time and love, but this dish is really easy to make. Whether you’re Irish or not, throw it on the stove this Sunday and celebrate the holiday.

Delicious, hearty goodness.

Delicious, hearty goodness.

What you’ll need:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 teaspoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
6 cups beef broth
1 cup of Guinness
1 cup of red wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
1 large onion, chopped
5 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons parsley (optional)

What you’ll have to do:

Find the biggest pot or Dutch oven you have, at least 5 quarts. Heat the pot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Salt the beef and add to the pot. Spread them out as much as you so that they make up one layer. Brown the meat on one side for about 3 minutes and then use tongs to turn the pieces over to brown on the other side. Continue cooking in this manner until all sides are browned.

If the pot is crowded (like mine), turn the heat up to high and cook for a shorter amount of time so the meat browns, not steams.

If the pot is crowded (like mine), turn the heat up to high and cook for a shorter amount of time so the meat browns, not steams.

Add garlic to the beef and saute for one minute. Add the beef broth, Guinness, red wine, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, and bay leaves. Stir the mixture to combine. Bring it to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for one hour, stirring occasionally.

This looks super brothy, but it will cook down while it simmers a bit. The potatoes also thicken it up later.

This looks super brothy, but it will cook down while it simmers a bit. The potatoes also thicken it up later.

**You only need one cup of Guinness, so enjoy the rest while you’re cooking!

While the meat and stock are simmering, put another large pan or pot over medium heat and melt your butter. While the pot heats, peel and chop your potatoes.  Add your potatoes to the pan in batches as you chop them. Turn the potatoes in the pan every few minutes to evenly cook them. As soon as you get the potatoes in the pan, start on the carrots. Peel and chop your carrots and fold them into the potatoes so the mixture can evenly cook. Once the carrots are in, chop the onion and add it to the mixture. Let the potato, carrot, and onion mixture cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes or until soft.

Use a much bigger pan than I did! Turn the veggies over constantly so that they evenly cook.

Use a much bigger pan than I did! Turn the veggies over constantly so that they evenly cook.

**I like to get the potatoes in the pan as early as possible. If there’s one thing I hate more than anything else, it’s an undercooked potato.

After the beef and stock have simmered for one hour, add the vegetables to the stew. Simmer uncovered until the vegetables and beef are very tender, or for about 40 minutes. If the stew looks really thin or watery when you first add the vegetables, have no fear – the starch from the potatoes thickens it up. Add salt and pepper to taste, and top with parsley for a pop of color.

Enjoy!

If you’re looking for other fun St. Patrick’s Day recipes, try my Sweet Potato and Turkey Chili Shepherd’s Pie or my Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes!

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Healthy, Easy Slow Cooker Jumbalaya

Andouille sausage, shrimp, brown rice, loads of veggies, and a kick of hot sauce … need I say more? This simple slow cooker dish is packed with flavor and texture. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday at home while we wait for the weather to turn slightly nicer, and it makes delicious grab-and-go leftovers to pack for lunch during the week.

The best part is that it’s healthy, though you’d never guess it. You can add whatever veggies you have lying around the kitchen that need to be eaten, and the hefty dose of satiating protein and healthy whole grains keep you from heading back to the fridge for a midnight snack. It’s a fun dish to throw into the week’s lineup!

This dish is a quadruple threat: delicious, hearty, healthy, and easy to make!

This dish is a quadruple threat: delicious, hearty, healthy, and easy to make!

What you’ll need:
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons (or cloves) garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 medium bell peppers, chopped – I used sweet red bell peppers
1 can (15 ounce) crushed tomatoes
1 cup brown rice
1 package (12 ounce) andouille sausage, cut into 1/2 inch rounds – use turkey or chicken sausage if possible
1 teaspoon hot sauce – I used sriracha
2 tablespoons thyme, minced – fresh or dried
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups water
3 tablespoons parsley, minced – fresh or dried
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

What you’ll need to do:

Start by chopping and mincing all your veggies.

Place the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, rice, and sausage in your slow cooker in that order. Add the hot sauce, thyme, salt, pepper, and water.

Cover and cook on low for about 9 hours.

In the last hour of cooking, add your shrimp and parsley. Stir to combine.

Enjoy!

Mom’s Crazy Chili

Nothing sounds better on a freezing cold night than a big bowl of chili. It’s warm, hearty, delicious comfort food – but it can be healthy comfort food! The best thing about chili is that you can pretty much add whatever ingredients you want as long as you have the basics: meat, beans, beer, and the right spices (that’s right: beer).

I may be biased, but I believe my mom makes the best chili. When I called her to ask her for the recipe (for about the 15th time), she replied, “Well, I just add a little of this and a little of that.” I asked, “Well do you know how much chili powder or cumin you add?” She answered, “I add enough to make it taste good.” So I improvised. That’s why I call it my mom’s crazy chili recipe – there really isn’t any set recipe. But those basics I mentioned are in there, and that’s the key. I also truly believe that beer is the secret ingredient to setting this one over the top.

I’m going to break down necessary ingredients and optional ingredients. I’ll also give you healthy and indulgent options. Lastly, you can make this either on the stove or in the crock pot, so I’ll give you both options there, too. However, there is one area where you don’t have an option: you cannot make just a little bit of chili. You have to make a giant pot. But that’s a good problem to have because chili makes the best leftovers!

This one was hard to tag because you can make it as healthy as you want! As long as you have the basics, it's delicious.

This one was hard to tag because you can make it as healthy as you want! As long as you have the basics, it’s delicious.

What you’ll need:

Necessary ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1.25 pounds ground meat – use ground turkey for a healthier option, but I love the taste of ground beef.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic – not necessary to have fresh garlic, but garlic in general is necessary. Use more garlic powder if you don’t use fresh garlic.
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder – garlic powder is necessary, even if you use fresh garlic. If you don’t use fresh garlic, too, then triple the garlic powder.
  • 4 tablespoons cumin
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can or bottle of dark beer – ales, nut browns, stouts, or porters are the best. In a pinch, you can use a light beer, but stay away from IPAs.
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, rinsed

Optional ingredients:

  • Bell peppers, chopped – I like green because it adds color; I use 2 bell peppers
  • Cayenne pepper – adjust the amount to make it more or less spicy; I use 1/2 teaspoon
  • Celery, chopped – it adds a nice crunch to the chili, just use however much you have in the fridge
  • Carrots, chopped – it adds a little sweetness to the chili, again, use however much you have in the fridge
  • Bacon, crumbled – either turkey bacon or regular bacon is delicious, turkey bacon is healthier
  • Rice – it’s traditional in my family to serve chili over rice
  • Cheddar cheese – I love topping my chili with cheese!

What you’ll need to do:

Brown your meat in the two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat on the stove for about 5-7 minutes. If you’re going to use a crock pot, use a large pan. If you’re going to make the chili in a pot on the stove, just brown the meat in the pot. As the meat is browning, constantly break it apart with a wooden spoon. You want the meat to be smaller crumbles instead of large chunks.

Or, as an alternative, cook the bacon in the pan first. Cut or tear the bacon into smaller pieces and put them in the pan so that they cook faster and so you don’t have to crumble it later. If you’re cooking turkey bacon, cook the turkey bacon in the olive oil. If you’re cooking regular bacon, don’t put any oil in the pan. Then brown your meat in the same pan with the bacon drippings.

When the meat has browned, turn the heat down to medium and add the onion. If you’re using fresh garlic or bell peppers, add those at this time, too. Cook for about 3 minutes or until the onion has turned translucent. Add all your dry spices, except the bay leaves, and stir with the spoon until the spices thoroughly coat the meat and veggies.

I used turkey chili here, but the spices added the darker color.

I used turkey chili here, but the spices added the darker color.

If you’re cooking in a crock pot, transfer the meat and veggies into the crock pot. Add the can of crushed tomatoes, beer, and bay leaves, either in the crock pot or big pot on the stove. Stir to mix.

Cover and let cook for many hours. If you’re using the crock pot, set on low heat for at least 6 hours – you can let this cook all day if you’re making it on a work day. If you’re cooking on the stove, turn the heat to low and let simmer for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally. The chili generally tastes better the longer you let it cook.

This will make your house smell wonderful all day!

This will make your house smell wonderful all day!

In the last hour of cooking, add your kidney beans. You can also add celery or carrots at this time if you’re using them. Stir and cover.

I love serving my chili over rice and topping it with cheddar cheese. In my family, we’ve also been known to put chili over tamales, but that may be a Southern California thing. Of course, chili is also delicious on hot dogs, fries, or other ballpark food. I’ve also heard of people putting chili over noodles. If you want to make it healthier, chili would also be good over quinoa. But you don’t have to pair it with anything at all – this chili is also delicious all by itself.

Enjoy!

Thanksgiving: The Feast

The Feast.

Thanksgiving is a cook’s Super Bowl. It’s an opportunity to break out all the favorite dishes and go nuts. Rather than a typical meal with one or two side dishes, Thanksgiving calls for at least five – and that doesn’t include dessert. It’s also an opportunity to cheat a little on the healthier options I usually cook and add a little butter. Besides, there is nothing more relaxing to me than cooking all day.

I’ve had the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a couple years now, but this year was my best yet. My whole family flew out to Chicago to celebrate and SeaJetCook in action (get it?!). This year, my lineup included a beautiful turkey with gravy, sourdough bread stuffing, a tangy cranberry pear sauce, sweet potatoes in orange cups, a skinny scalloped potato gratin, steamed green beans, fluffy biscuits, and two kinds of pie: the obligatory pecan and pumpkin.

I’m going to do this series of posts a little differently than normal. This post won’t actually include any recipes. Instead, it’ll be a play-by-play of how I organized the day. Don’t worry, I’ll include links to all the recipes, too. But the most daunting part of planning Thanksgiving is figuring out how to make everything by yourself in one oven. So here’s my game plan. Enjoy, everyone!

A Few Days Before the Big Day

Get all your groceries, including the turkey. You can also get all your veggies and keep them in the crisper in the fridge. Only potatoes and onions need to stay out on the counter.

I generally like getting  a fresh turkey instead of frozen. But if you do buy frozen, put it in your refrigerator to defrost over the next few days – it generally takes 24 hours for every 5lbs to defrost. If you’re in a hurry to defrost, you can put the turkey in a big pot of cold water (like my chicken recipe). It takes about 30 minutes for every pound to defrost in water.

The Night Before the Big Day

Double check that you have all your ingredients for the next day. There’s nothing worse than running to the grocery store on Thanksgiving Day while juggling 5 side dishes because you forgot something.

Clean the turkey. Remove everything from the cavity (giblets, neck, and plastic bag) and discard. Place the turkey in the sink and thoroughly rinse the inside cavity and skin with cool water. This helps remove any bacteria within the cavity or on the skin.

Brine the turkey in a large pot. This takes about an hour to prepare the brine, so don’t do it too late! Store in the refrigerator overnight. I’m all about brining these days. It’s makes the turkey perfectly moist and seasoned. Brine the turkey no matter how you cook it!

The Morning of the Big Day

8:00 A.M. Wake up and make a good breakfast for the family. Our tradition is Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.

  • While the cinnamon rolls are cooking, start preparing the pumpkin for pie. Cut the pumpkin from the skin and steam for about 15 minutes. If you want to use canned pumpkin, skip this step.
9:00 A.M.Start making the pumpkin and pecan pies – this takes about 15 minutes. Make sure both are ready to go in the oven at the same time.
  • Start with the pumpkin pie. It takes 15 minutes on 425 degrees before you turn down the head to 350.
  • When you turn the heat down to 350, pop the pecan pie in. Both pies cook at 350 for an hour.
  • While the pies cook, peel and prepare the potatoes for the skinny scalloped potato gratin. Have the gratin ready to go in the oven as soon as the pies are done.
  • If you have extra time, skip ahead and start getting the sweet potatoes ready – these take a long time!
9:30 A.M.The pies should done. Take them out of the oven and set them aside to cool. Crank the temperature back up to 425 degrees and bake the Skinny Scalloped Potato Gratin for 45 minutes.
10:30 A.M.(with a little time buffer) Your gratin should be done, and the sweet potatoes and the stuffing should be prepared. Turn the temperature on the oven back down to 350 degrees. Put the sweet potatoes and the stuffing in the oven for 40 minutes.
  • Do some dishes, then go relax! You deserve it!
11:20 A.M.Pull the sweet potatoes and stuffing out of the oven and set aside to cool. Get the turkey out of the fridge and start getting it ready for the oven.
  • Place the turkey on a roasting pan and season with garlic salt, Italian seasoning, and melted butter.
  • Chop up some leftover veggies and fill the cavity of the turkey (I used 4 stalks of celery and 2 small onions). This adds flavor and moisture to the turkey, even if you’re not going to be eating those veggies.
11:30 A.M.Put the turkey in the oven at 325 degrees. Here’s a timetable for roasting the turkey from the USDA:
  • 8 to 12 lbs: 2 3/4 to 3 hrs
  • 12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 3 3/4 hrs
  • 14 to 18 lbs: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hrs
  • 18 to 20 lbs: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hrs
  • 20 to 24 lbs: 4 1/2 to 5 hrs
  • Cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
The Afternoon of the Big Day
11:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M.Relax! Play board games with the family. Have a glass (or two) of wine. Put your feet up. Every couple hours check on the turkey and baste with more melted butter.
3:30 P.M.Check the turkey. If it’s done, take it out of the oven and let it rest so the juices can redistribute in the meat.
  • Turn the temperature up to 350 degrees and pop in some Pillsbury rolls. I know I cheated a little bit here, but those are so delicious and easy! They take 15 minutes to make. I don’t have a recipe for this one, so don’t forget them at the store.
  • While the rolls cook, get the gravy and the cranberry sauce on the stove. Both are easy to make and only take about 15 minutes.
  • After the gravy and cranberry sauce are simmering on the stove, prepare your green beans.
4:00 P.M.FEAST! Break open a couple bottles of wine, set the table, and dig in.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and can use my guide for next year. Until then, enjoy all the components by themselves! Turkeys are on sale now, so I already bought a couple small ones and stuck them in my freezer. Sometimes in January I’ll pull one of them out and have a feast, part two.

The Feast on my plate!

Parmesan-Sage Pork Loin with Oven Roasted Veggies

The colder it gets in the Midwest, the more I crave a hearty meal. I knew this would be the perfect winter meal with the first bite I took – I was instantly transported back to the cabin in the mountains my family used to visit when I was a kid. Sage is such a warm-tasting flavor, especially when it’s rubbed over a juicy pork tenderloin resting on a bed potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery. It’s a delicious one-dish meal perfect for winter hibernation.

While chicken is my usual go-to protein, pork is a great, inexpensive substitute for when you want to mix things up.

What you’ll need (makes 4 servings):
2 cups diced red potatoes, unpeeled
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup sherry
1 2lb. pork tenderloin
2 tbsp. dried sage
1 tbsp. dry garlic
1 tbsp. dry basil
1 tbsp. dry oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

What you’ll need to do:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Chop all your veggies, and then arrange them in a large roasting pan (if you don’t have one, like me, use a 9×13″ pan). Pour the chicken broth and sherry over the veggies and mix with your hands.

Rub the pork all over with the sage, garlic, basil, oregano, and salt and pepper. Place the pork on top of the veggies and sprinkle with Parmesan.

I sprinkle a little bit of the herbs over the veggies, too!

Roast until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit when inserted into the thickest part of the tenderloin. My roast took about an hour.

Let the roast rest for about 10 minutes – cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while roasting. Then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices and serve with the veggies and brothy sauce.

The delicious smell that fills your house while this cooks is intoxicating.

Enjoy!

Crock Pot Corn and Cheese Chowder

It’s soup season! Which also means it’s time to break out the Crock Pot. I love cooking in the Crock Pot because it’s so easy. Spend a little time in the morning prepping a few ingredients, and by the time you get home from work you have a delicious dinner and leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

I like this dish in particular because it tastes indulgent but it’s still fairly healthy. I love chowders and cream-of-whatever-soups, but they’re often not figure-friendly. In this dish, I swapped out some of the less healthy options for healthier ones (did you know they made reduced fat evaporated milk?!). I kept the potatoes because a chowder has to have potatoes, but you’re really not eating too much of them with the amount of servings this makes. Just serve this creamy soup with a tossed green salad and crusty French bread for a complete, delicious family meal.

Creamy, sweet, with spice from the cumin makes this a delicious cold weather meal.

What you’ll need (makes 6 servings):
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. cumin
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into small, bite-sized pieces
1 can creamed corn
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (I used frozen and threw them in un-thawed)
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped (dry works fine, too)
1 cup reduced fat sharp shredded cheddar cheese
1 can reduced fat evaporated milk
2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped (you need fresh here; green onions will work, too)

What you’ll need to do:

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until golden.

There’s the golden color we’re looking for. That’s when the onions and garlic lose their bite and become sweet.

While the garlic and onion cooks, peel and chop your potatoes. Throw them into the crock pot as you go.

Add the can of creamed corn, frozen (or fresh) corn, parsley, and cumin. Add the onion and garlic when it’s done cooking. Pour the chicken broth over the top and mix thoroughly.

I love the cumin in this dish. It gives the dish an unexpected warmth.

Cover. Cook on low for 8-9 hours or until the potatoes are tender. In the last hour of cooking, add the cheese and evaporated milk. Garnish with chives before serving.

Enjoy!

If you like this dish, check out my Turkey Bacon and Lentil Soup.

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!

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!

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Bowl

To date, Chicken, Pesto, and Spinach Quinoa is by far my most popular recipe. So I wanted to do another little spin on that bowl, this time with a Mediterranean twist. And instead of making a pasta bowl or a rice bowl like in the aforementioned recipe, I swap in still-incredibly-tasty-but-much-healthier quinoa. This dish is high on protein and fiber with all the flavors of the Mediterranean, so skip the line and cost at your local lunch place and make it yourself. Plus, it makes great leftovers!

This one is a big hit!

What you’ll need:

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
4 chicken breasts or 8 chicken tenders
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2  red pepper, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp basil
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp oregano
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

**Don’t be afraid of the ingredients list. You should already have the quinoa, chicken, olive oil, and herbs in your kitchen staples, and the herbs can be either dry or chopped fresh. The red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard are almost always in my kitchen anyway because they last forever and you can use them in other recipes. So all you really need to pick up is the spinach, tomatoes, pepper, shallot, olives, and cheese – that’s less than half the ingredient list!

What you’ll need to do:

Start cooking the chicken so that it’ll be done by the time the rest of your ingredients are assembled. For instructions on how to cook the chicken, check out my post “Let’s Talk Chicken.”

Right after you start the chicken, get the quinoa on the stove. Combine the water and the quinoa in a small pot over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes. For more detailed instructions and pictures, check out “Quick and Easy Quinoa.”

While the chicken and quinoa cook, chop all your veggies into similarly sized, smallish pieces. As you chop, throw them into a large salad bowl to get them out of the way.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something relaxing about chopping veggies. It helps me unwind at the end of the day.

In a separate container or bowl, mix together your red wine vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Set aside.

When the chicken is done, cut it into small, bite-sized pieces and add to the large bowl. After the quinoa is done, add it to the large bowl with the veggies, chicken, feta cheese, and herbs (by this time, all your ingredients are in the bowl except the dressing). Lastly, toss all the ingredients with the vinegar, oil, and mustard dressing.

Enjoy!

Yum!

Garlicky Shrimp Fajitas with Guacamole

I have recently become addicted to Pinterest. Along with my friends and Food Network, I’ve found that Pinterest is an awesome source of cooking inspiration. While browsing one day, I came across a recipe for garlicky shrimp fajitas with guacamole that sounded easy and delicious. So I took a little twist on the idea by adding some flavors, some veggies, and my homemade guacamole. And in 15 minutes, I had a flavorful, filling dinner.

This delicious dish only takes about 15 minutes to make!

What you’ll need (makes 2 servings):
2 cups shrimp
1 bell pepper
1 small onion
3 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sherry
6 tablespoons guacamole (store-bought is fine, or see my homemade recipe)
4 whole wheat tortillas

What you’ll need to do:

I usually like to buy the frozen, already cooked, peeled, deveined shrimp to make things easy. So start by defrosting your shrimp in water. It’s super easy. Just put the shrimp in a bowl and run cold water over it, changing out the water every couple minutes until the shrimp are defrosted.

While the shrimp is defrosting, chop your pepper and onion. Set aside.

Put a large skillet over medium-high heat and coat with the olive oil. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes until just slightly tender.

Since your shrimp are already cooked, they just need to be warmed with the pepper, onion, and garlic. Add them to the pan when the veggies are almost done. Then, add the sherry for taste.

The sherry adds flavor, color, and texture. And fajitas just aren’t fajitas without peppers and onions!

**Tip: Sherry is in your kitchen staples. But if you don’t have it, tequila or white wine would also be tasty! The sherry is added to deglaze the pan and add a little extra flavor.

Let the sherry reduce for about 2 minutes, and then turn the heat down to low. Heat your tortillas over the stove or in a microwave.

**Tip: If you have a gas stove, throw your tortilla right over the flame. Start the flame and turn down to low, put the tortilla on the burner and turn the heat up to medium-high for about 10 seconds. Turn the heat back down to low so you can flip the tortilla, then repeat on the other side. If you don’t have a gas stove, warming your tortillas in the microwave is fine. Simply cover them with a damp paper towel and heat for 30 seconds on high.

I love a slight char on the tortilla – for whatever reason, it makes it taste homemade.

Smear about 1 1/2 tbsp of guacamole on each tortilla and add your shrimp and veggies. Crack open a nice cold beer and enjoy!