30 December 2009

Comfort Food for a Restful Break

Ahhhhhhhhh. Allow me to catch you up. After I submitted grades, I went to bed. I slept in without waking up at 2, 3 or 4 AM in a cold sweat, without even waking up when my cat meowed in my ear all morning. I logged into my email and didn't see 50 pleas or beggings for forgiveness, I drove to my office and didn't encounter a single student. It looked like a ghost town, and my blood pressure never rose once. Is it? Could it be? BREAK??!!

Yes, oh yes, it is break. I watched a line of cars the length of a football field head out of town from my little valley, and with their vacancy came the loud proclamation from the depths of my soul:


It isn't that I dislike the presence of students. I just relish the quiet. Pullman is a tiny town, and without the student population the whole town slows down. No rush, no bustle, just silent calm.

To commemorate my final winter break in Pullman, I decided on comfort food. Comfort food is stick-to-your-ribs delicious, but it doesn't have to stick to your waistline. Pork chops are lean enough that a simple pan sauce can be downright satisfying, and even though mashed potatoes have been given a bad reputation in recent years, without adding a pound of butter, the potato is one of the most nutritious vegetables around (they possess the highest amount of protein that any vegetable has to offer). Rounding out the meal with a big ol' pile of steamed broccoli and a salad, my version of "comfort food" was every bit as comforting as a steak and loaded baked potato dinner. Take that, end of semester!

Pork Chops with Sage Apple Sauce
(Adapted from Eating Well's Pork Chops with Apples & Thyme recipe)

3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons canola oil
4 4-ounce boneless pork chops, 1/2 inch thick, trimmed of fat
1 small onion, sliced
1 Fuji apple, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup apple cider, or apple juice
2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tsp. crushed sage

1. Mix 2 tablespoons broth and cornstarch in a small bowl.
2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add chops and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add onion to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until it starts to soften and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add apple and cook, stirring often, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining broth, cider (or juice), mustard, sage and the cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring, until thickened and glossy, about 1 minute. Return the chops to the pan and heat through. Serve immediately with mashed potatoes.

20 December 2009

Lighter Chicken a la King

When I was a kid, I loved sleeping over at other people's houses. There was something so exciting about sleeping in another bed and playing video games until the wee hours. However, the one thing I was always leery about was eating someone else's cooking. I was so used to my mom's cooking that sitting down at a different dinner table made me incredibly nervous.

Despite my apprehensive eating tendencies, one night at a friend's house I discovered what I can only describe as both the most disgusting and the tastiest meal ever: Chicken a la King IN A CAN. Yes, a can. Creamy chicken, tender mushrooms, salty and tangy pimentos: I had found my kryptonite.

Years later, I still have a taste for this comfort food now and again, but I tend to not eat meals from a can these days (I'm looking at you, ravioli and spaghetti o's). This lightened version was the answer to my craving, and I have to say it far exceeded my taste memory of its canned counterpart. Served over flaky biscuits or whole wheat egg noodles, I'm in heaven.

Chicken a la King
(Reprinted from Eating Well)

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
10 ounces white mushrooms, quartered
1 large green bell pepper, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry sherry, (see Note)
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup low-fat milk
1 4-ounce jar sliced pimientos, rinsed
1/2 cup sliced scallions


1. Toss chicken and flour in a medium bowl until coated. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Reserving the remaining flour, add the chicken to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
2. Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add mushrooms, bell pepper, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are softened and starting to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in sherry; bring to a boil and cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, 3 minutes.
3. Whisk broth and milk into the reserved flour until smooth. Stir the mixture into the pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Stir in pimientos and the chicken and return to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in scallions and serve immediately.

Note: Sherry is a type of fortified wine originally from southern Spain. Don't use the “cooking sherry” sold in many supermarkets—it can be surprisingly high in sodium. Instead, purchase dry sherry that's sold with other fortified wines in your wine or liquor store.

16 December 2009

Chicken Cacciatore, or the last slow cooker recipe you'll have to endure for a spell

I'm beginning to think this blog should be renamed Dr. Slow Cooker. It would be much more fitting considering I'm not a medical doctor and I'm only doing a PhD in English, but frankly, I don't give in easily. Ask my husband.

Ian isn't a mushroom fan. He picks around them usually, but I decided that every now and then a gal has to recreate her favorite dishes to keep happy. Luckily, Ian was receptive and ate up his plate in just a few scarfs. I'm a lucky, happy almost doctor of philosophy. Spring graduation here I come! Er, except I'm not walking.

Chicken Cacciatore
(adapted from All You, October 2005)

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 (14 oz.) Spanish onion, sliced into 1/2-inch wide strips
1 green bell pepper, sliced into 1/2-inch wide strips
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into 1/2-inch wide strips
1 (8 oz.) package baby bella mushrooms, quartered
1 (4 lb.) broiler chicken, quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 pound uncooked whole wheat egg noodles
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.

2. Add onion, bell pepper and mushroom. Put chicken on top; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour in crushed tomatoes; cover and cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low. Chicken should be very tender.

3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook whole wheat egg noodles according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.

4. Transfer chicken to 4 plates. Skim fat from surface of sauce and discard. Stir parsley into sauce. Spoon some sauce over chicken. Serve remaining sauce with pasta and cheese.

12 December 2009

Lentil Chili and the End of a Very Busy Semester

Ian graduated today, so we spent most of the morning and a good portion of the afternoon in an uncomfortable coliseum listening to speeches and recitations of names and chants and songs and...my butt still feels numb.

The one thing I didn't anticipate was that I would see so many previous students of mine graduating at the same time. I might preface this with the warning that I'm the type of person who cries at Discover Card commercials, and I'm pretty sure Rita Wilson was mocking my waterworks in that scene in Sleepless in Seattle. Needless to say, seeing students who were doe-eyed freshman ready to set the academic world on fire with their words (please, no Freedom Fighters references here) matriculating and moving on to greener pastures was entirely too much for this sappy teacher.

So what better way to celebrate than to make lentil chili? Yes, I'm the queen of the non sequitor. I may be done tearing up, but here comes the grading and advising. Sigh.

Lentil Chili
(adapted from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook)

1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, choped
1 jalapeno, finely diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. dry mustard powder
2 1/2 c. dried brown lentils, rinsed
8 c. vegetable broth
3 tbl. olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in slow cooker, except olive oil and salt. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Add olive oil and salt in the last half hour.

2. Serve with cheddar cheese and green onion toppings.

11 December 2009

In which I exhaust my slow cooker: Chicken Tagine

Yes, I'm addicted to my slow cooker. Yes, I probably need an intervention at this point. But really, why would you want me to quit easy cookin' at a time like this?

*Announcement alert*

Ian is graduating tomorrow morning, 12 December 2009 from Washington State University. He began his degree in 2000, the same year I began my undergraduate degree. He has taken a few classes at a time while working, and all of his hard work and perseverance is finally paying off. I couldn't be prouder of my love, my best friend, my everything. I know you're reading this, Ian. You rock.

Now that I'm done being cheesy, back to the food. I wanted to make this recipe the second I saw it in Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook (all the excitement around here has also meant a lack of creativity--sorry folks), but I didn't want to make the massive serving size outlined in the recipe, so I've adapted it to fit a two-person dinner without cutting out the flavor.

I also forgot the very last step, which is to stir the peanut butter into the cooker. I've made this recipe once before on the stove in its entirety, so I know what I'm missing, but it was still a fantastic way to end a rather hectic final week of classes. Can I just blame my gaffe on the excitement around these here parts as well? And exactly how far can I stretch this excuse? Not very far, you say?

Fine. Here's your recipe.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tagine
(adapted from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook

1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 can whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. water
2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp. peanut butter


1. Place the first 8 ingredients in slow cooker, and arrange chicken pieces on top. Cook on low for 6 hours.
2. Stir in the peanut butter and serve over couscous.

Note: I cook my couscous in chicken broth with a soup seasoning (separate post one of these fine days) and a tiny pat of butter. Toasted pine nuts and a handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley complete the base for this wonderful tagine.

10 December 2009

Easy Breezy Chicken Posole

I've been making a lot of soups and stews lately, mostly due to the cold and partly due to the fact that one pot is easier on crazy work days than four or five different pots. Feel free to use whatever meat you have on have that's cooked and ready to use up. I've used turkey and pork tenderloin for this recipe as well.

Chicken Posole
(reprinted and adapted from Real Simple)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
salt and black pepper
1 32-ounce container low-sodium chicken broth (or sub homemade stock like I did)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 dried ancho chili, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 15-ounce can hominy, drained and rinsed
Lime wedges

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1⁄4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
2. Add the broth, tomatoes, and chili and bring to a boil. Stir in the chicken and hominy and simmer until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with the lime.

See how easy that was? Now go cuddle under some blankets and forget about the frigid weather outside. Bring a furry friend:

06 December 2009

Acorn Squash and Black Bean Chili

Here's another very simple, very filling vegetarian recipe. I love black bean chili, and after a lovely day of grocery shopping and tidying up around the house, Ian and I decided the fiber-filled dish was perfect for a cold, lazy day.

I couldn't resist the gorgeous acorn squash from the Moscow Co-Op, and even though I can eat acorn squash simply roasted with a pat of butter straight out of the shell, I figured adding it to the chili might be a welcome twist to the evening. I'm so glad I did: this was fantastic!

Acorn Squash and Black Bean Chili
(Loosely adapted from/inspired by the NY Times)

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped
2 tbsp. tomato paste dissolved in 1 1/4 c. chicken stock
1/2 tbsp. cumin (or add a lot more...like I do)
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
Black pepper to taste
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 acorn squash, roasted and cut into chunks

1. Heat olive oil in a 2 quart pot and add onions and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent, then add next 7 ingredients, through black pepper. Turn heat down to medium low, and cover. Simmer for 25 minutes or until chili thickens.

2. Add acorn squash and frozen corn to pot and simmer for another ten minutes, uncovered. Serve with sour cream, chopped green onions and/or shredded cheddar cheese.

Pumpkin Lasagna with Italian Sausage

Last year you may recall I made a butternut squash version of this recipe.

After a repost on Foodmayhem's site of this marvelous recipe, I decided I should make it with pumpkin this time, but husband unit isn't too fond of lasagna and he objected to anything sweet, so I did in the end tweak the recipe to include one of his favorite meats: Italian sausage. I removed the casings and cooked the loose meat until crumbling. In the end, I was elated and somewhat sad that I didn't make this with pureed pumpkin last year--it's truly worth it!

Pumpkin Lasagna with Italian Sausage
(Adapted from Foodmayhem.com)

4-5 Italian sausage links, casings removed
1/2 a small onion, chopped
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. oregano
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
21 oz. fresh mozzarella
1 1/2 c. part skim ricotta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in a few pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 c. chicken stock
1/2 tbsp. each oregano and sage
1 tsp. kosher salt
16 oz. box lasagna

1. In a skillet, cook the sausage over medium high heat. Once the sausage is almost cooked through, add the onion, sage, oregano and pepper to taste. Cook until onion is translucent.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix ricotta with 12 oz. of fresh mozzarella, shredded. Set aside for lasagna assembly.

3. In a saucepan, melt butter and add pumpkin puree, along with chicken stock. Gently heat through (watch for too much heat--pumpkin splatters pretty easily!). Remove from heat and set aside for assembly.

4. Smear a thin layer of pumpkin mixture on the bottom of a 9×13 glass baking dish.

5. Place 3 lasagna sheets across. Spread a thin layer of ricotta mixture on the sheets, then a layer of pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle a layer of Italian sausage on top. Place 3 lasagna sheets across and repeat layering process until you reach the top. The final layer should be ricotta and pumpkin mixture--do not cover final layer with lasagna sheets.

6. Slice the remaining fresh mozzarella and arrange on top. Bake covered with foil in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes (I baked for 45 mins.) and another 5 minutes uncovered. Let the lasagna rest a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!!