Month: February 2014

lunchbox life: chicken enchiladas with homemade verde sauce


Happy Sunday!  This week’s lunch is something I made a variation of several times, but this time, I decided to make my own enchilada verde sauce.  You can buy your own in a large can, but this sauce is so easy, and it’s a great way to control the ingredients of your food without all of the additives that many factories use for longer shelf life.  I’ve only made three lunches this week because I have a training later in the week, but I’ve adjusted the recipe so that you could get five servings or one week’s lunches from the ingredient amounts.  This would also be a great weeknight meal!

Tomatillos are the main ingredient in the verde sauce.  You can find them near the tomatoes and avocados in the produce section of the grocery store.  When you remove the papery husks, the skin of the tomatillo will be sticky.  This is normal, but may feel a little weird to you, so I thought I’d give you a heads up!

I’m also featuring one of my favorite go-to ingredients: La Tortilla Low Carb-High Fiber Whole Wheat tortillas.  You can find these in the refrigerated section of the grocery store near the shredded cheese.  At only 70 calories each (or 1 PP if you’re a Weight Watchers person), that’s much better than the 120-170 calories that one flour tortilla will usually cost you.  That’s why you get two enchiladas per serving here–I’ll take it, won’t you?

Chicken Enchiladas with Homemade Verde Sauce

1 1/2 lbs. tomatillos

5 cloves garlic

2 poblano peppers

2 jalapeno peppers, roughly chopped with seeds and stems removed

1 bunch cilantro

1/2 Tbsp. salt

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts

2 cups white shredded queso cheese (you could also use a 4 cheese Mexican blend, but I like the look of the all white cheese with this dish)

2 cups arugula or spinach

10 La Tortilla Low Carb-High Fiber whole wheat tortillas

Turn on the broiler function in your oven.  Remove the husks of the tomatillos, halve them lengthwise, then place them cut-side down on a cookie sheet.  Add the garlic cloves in their paper exterior and place under the broiler for about 8 minutes, or until the tomatillos begin to char.  When you take this out of the oven, the garlic paper should easily slide off of the garlic cloves.

While the tomatillos and garlic are under the broiler, turn on the flame on one of the eyes of your gas stove.  (If you don’t have a gas stove, place the poblanos in the broiler with the tomatillos).  Place both poblanos directly on the eye and let the skin crackle and brown on both sides.  When the peppers have browned, place them in a plastic bag and gently slide off the excess charred skin, then cut out the seeds and stems.

In a food processor (or blender if you don’t have one), pulse the tomatillos, garlic, poblanos, jalapenos, a few handfuls of cilantro, and salt until is reaches a smooth consistency that looks like this:


Place the sauce in a medium saucepan.  Cut the chicken breasts into inch-wide strips and place directly in the sauce.  Bring mixture to a boil, then place a lid on the saucepan and turn the heat down to low.  Allow this to cook for at least 10 minutes, then take the chicken out the the sauce and shred it with two forks on a cutting board.  Place the chicken in a small bowl and mix in about 2 Tbsps. of the verde sauce; set aside.

Heat the oven to 375 F.  Pour about 1/4 cup of the sauce into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.  Assemble each of the ten enchiladas as follows: place about 2 Tbsps. cheese in a line down the middle of the tortilla (leaving an inch on each end free), then add a handful of the chicken, then a handful of the arugula.  Fold the top and bottom of the tortilla where the mixture is, then roll it up horizontally and place it seam-side down in the baking dish.  Do this for all of the tortillas.

Cover the enchiladas with the remaining verde sauce, then cover that with the remaining cheese.  Bake for about 25 minutes, or just when the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

wildcard wednesday: cheesy quinoa with power greens


Greetings from the ice storm, or something like it!  Alex and I have both had the day off because of the threat that the roads could be icy, so other than a jaunt to Pure Barre, I’ve been reacquainting myself with our sofa, blankets, cats, and the almighty Netflix.  Luckily I had already purchased the ingredients for this week’s Wildcard Wednesday, so I knew that despite the icy rain, we’d be in for a treat with this week’s nutrient-rich comfort food.  Instead of good ol’ mac and cheese, we had cheesy quinoa with power greens.

I’ve cooked with quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) for the blog before, but let me just remind you of its nutrient-rich benefits.  One cup of quinoa has 24 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber–MUCH more nutrient-dense than elbow macaroni.  I’ve also thrown in some power greens, more specifically the petite varieties of kale, swiss chard, and spinach.  These young greens fold in so smoothly and do not alter the smooth and creamy flavor that you crave with traditional mac and cheese.  I also used 2% milk and reduced fat cheese to cut down on the richness, but I promise you that this dish is plenty rich and will satisfy the masses.  I don’t pretend to know anything about child-rearing, but I even think that picky eaters would like this dish (yes, even with the greens).

You’ll notice from the photo that I topped this dish with a dash of crumbled bacon–yeah, I know, not too healthy sounding, right?  It’s certainly optional, but I cooked up a couple of slices to add a little bit of crunch and flavor.  A tiny bit of bacon never hurt anyone, can I get an amen?

Here are a few more photos and the almighty recipe:


Cheesy Quinoa with Power Greens

3 Tbsp. butter

3 Tbsp. flour

1 1/2 cups 2% milk

7 oz. reduced fat sharp cheddar (get a block and shred it yourself–the pre-shredded stuff doesn’t melt as well)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 large shallot, minced

3 cups cooked quinoa (cook according to package directions–I cooked mine with chicken broth instead of water for added flavor)

4 oz. baby power greens (just use spinach if you can’t find a mix)

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

4 Tbsp. butter, melted

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 pieces of cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)

2 Tbsp. picked parsley leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Melt 3 Tbsp. butter over medium heat in a large pan.  When butter is melted, whisk in flour to create a roux.  Slowly add the milk and increase the heat to medium-high.  Next, add the cheese, salt, nutmeg, and shallots.  Whisk until smooth, then turn off the heat.  In a large mixing bowl, mix the cooked quinoa, power greens, and cheese sauce together.  Pour into a casserole dish, dutch oven, or cast iron skillet (I used an 8-inch dutch oven, but didn’t use the lid).  Add the parmesan cheese evenly as a top layer.  Mix the melted butter with the panko breadcrumbs, then add this mixture evenly over the parmesan.  Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly, then serve.

lunchbox life: creamy tomato bisque


Happy Valentines Day Week, everybody!  Here in Macon, we’ve have a gorgeous weekend of mid-60s sun, but I hear that the cold may be coming through yet again.  I’ve got just the remedy: this nutritious, yet satisfying creamy tomato bisque that you’ll be surprised is actually really good for you.  I’ve paired it this week with some lean turkey and cheese on a sandwich thin that I plan to heat up for around 30 seconds in the microwave–just the right companion for a warm bowl of tomato soup.  I’ve also included some blueberries as a side because (a) they were on sale, and (b) they looked so pretty at the grocery store.

This soup is the perfect blend of wintry satisfaction and a siren call to summer.  The creaminess from the milk and flour roux rounds out this soup for the chills of February, but the tomato and basil call forth the future warmer months that I think we’re all ready for.  You’ll start with a slow cooker full of veggies that looks like this:


Then, after six hours, you’ll use an immersion blender (or a regular blender) to blend all of these morsels together to create a smooth, tomato-y concoction.  After creating a roux, you’ll add that to the slow cooker, cook for 30 more minutes, and then enjoy!  This would be a great dinner option for one of the colder nights this week, especially paired with a tangy grilled cheese from the broiler.

Creamy Tomato Bisque

Adapted from Skinnytaste

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped onion

1 chopped heirloom tomato

28 oz. can whole tomatoes, peeled

1 tsp. thyme

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

4 cups chicken broth

Parmesan cheese rind (or whatever remnants you have in the fridge)

1 bay leaf

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. flour

1/3 cup grated parmesan

1 3/4 cup warm 2% milk

salt and pepper, to taste

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan.  Add the celery, carrots, and onion and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the vegetables, fresh tomato, canned tomatoes, thyme, basil, chicken broth, cheese rind, and bay leaf to the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours.

After the 6 hours are up, remove the cheese rind and use an immersion blender the blend all of the veggies and broth together.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, pour the soup (only 1/3 at the time) into a blender, blend, the add back to the slow cooker.

Next, melt the butter in a smaller frying pan, then whisk in the flour for the roux.  Add 1 cup of the warm blended soup to the roux and whisk.  Pour and whisk in the warm milk about 1/2 cup at a time.  Add the roux to the slow cooker and stir, then add the parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.  Cook on low for 30 more minutes, then it’s ready!

wild card wednesday: grilled chicken and rice stew

chicken and rice


So, new month, new wild card topic. It is February, its a time when we are ready for a season change for being tired of the leaves being brown and that patch of snow on the ground. By golly, when the sun has gone down and the chill hits, you want nothing more than “comfort food”. The problem with that is that most comfort foods seem to derive their name from being carb and/or fat rich and that comfort you feel is that natural sedative of heavy, complex carbohydrates. So, why not come up with some ways to get those comforts of food that feel like a warm blanket while still being a little conscious of the fact that you have still been eating leftover sweets from the holidays. Thus, the challenge: healthy, nutrient rich comfort foods. (If you think of a snappy way to say it, let us know)

I must admit that this meal has its origins in the fact that the finale of Top Chef New Orleans is tonight and there always seems to be recipes starting with celery, carrots, and onions. At the store, I started there and just kept adding flavors to come up with a nice stew with some big flavors. MMMM

Grilled Chicken for the Stew:

Chicken legs and thighs, one each per bowl.
Zest of two lemons
Juice of 1 lemon,
3 cloves garlic, minced.
Salt and pepper

Mix zest, garlic, salt, pepper and 1/2 the lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread over chicken pieces and marinate about 30 minutes. Grill on a grill pan (or sear, depending on preference) until skin develops a good color, about 4 minutes. Place in 350 oven until it reaches 165 or so, 10 mins give or take). Squeeze other 1/2 lemon juice over chicken.


They call it mirepoix.

They call it mirepoix.

1 medium onion chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp sage, separated
2 tsp thyme, separated
2 tsp red pepper flake
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 bay leaves
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped discarding stems
4 cups chicken stock
1/8 cup flour

Heat oil and butter in dutch oven. Add the onions, carrot, celery and saute with 1 tsp of each sage, thyme, and red pepper with salt and pepper until softened slightly. Heat stock in separate pan.

Add flour to the vegetables and stir until coated. Heat for about 2 minutes to cool the flavor our of the flour. Stir in half the stock until the consistence of thick gravy. Add the remaining stock. Add in the sweet potato, remaining herbs and spices, and kale. Bring to a boil, stir, and simmer at least 15 minutes.

Serve the chicken and stew over a couple spoonfuls of a quinoa rice blend (2 cups water, 1 cup rice, bowl water, add rice, cook 15 mins until water absorbed) or brown rice.

This stew will have a light flavor will be packed with vitamins and fiber. The chicken will add a nice bright flavor that will mesh well with the flavors of the stew.

My belly was certainly happy. Hope yours will be to!

tasty tuesday: shrimp pad thai, lightened up


Happy Tasty Tuesday, everyone!  Tonight, I have for you some make-your-own-take-out that lets you control the ingredients, particularly the portions and the oil.  Pad Thai is a delicious indulgence, but its general unhealthiness sneaks up on you.  You may have had the following thought process: “What, it’s just chicken or fish, and it’s not fried!  What, they’re just peanuts, right?  Ok sure, there are a TON of rice noodles here, but so what?  Oh, it’s a little greasy?  Hmmm…” Yeah, Pad Thai is a sneaky mistress of calories, but this is a sneaky attempt to lighten it up without losing flavor.  Don’t get me wrong–don’t go crazy with your portions here.  The secret is three-fold: 1-use traditional shrimp instead of chicken or pork.  Shrimp is such a great way to get lean protein for such a low calorie bargain (or Points, if your a WW person like me).  2-be in control of the amount of rice noodles you use.  A box of rice noodles has four servings, so if you’re just cooking for two like me, only prepare half of the box.  3-use a low-calorie filler to make up for the smaller amount of pasta.  Here, I used mushrooms, which are great flavor absorbers, are pretty filling, are great for you, and most importantly: they take up a good deal of room on the plate to make you feel like you’re eating more.  I promise, you’ll feel fully satisfied after this bowl of tasty Thai goodness–the protein from the egg and shrimp, the satisfaction from the noodles, and the good fat from the peanut butter (and smaller amount of canola oil) will have you asking, “When are we making this again?”

Another note: do NOT leave out the fish sauce.  Fish sauce is an ingredient is several Thai dishes, and it’s what will take your homemade dish from lackluster stir fry to “wow–this tastes like someone who knows what she’s doing made it!”  It’s relatively inexpensive–a little over $3 at the grocery store (yes, you can get it at Kroger, Macon people), it has a distant expiration date and is a cheap investment.  A warning, though: if you haven’t used it before, know that fish sauce is quite “fragrant.”  It’s not to be consumed alone, but a few tablespoons in a large dish really give a huge depth of flavor, and I promise that your food won’t taste like this stuff smells.

Shrimp Pad Thai

Serves 2

4 oz. rice noodles (check the label of your box–Annie Chung’s brand comes in a box of 8 oz.)

1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 Tbsp. canola oil (don’t use olive oil–the flavor will overpower the dish)

2 eggs, whisked together

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced

1 shallot, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 Tbsp. fish sauce

1 Tbsp. crunchy peanut butter

juice of 1 lime

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (adjust heat to your taste)

4 green onions, thinly sliced

handful of basil leaves, thinly sliced

Place the noodles in a large bowl and, when the water from the faucet is super hot, run the noodles under the hot water until the water covers the noodles.  Set aside. You’re not boiling these, but this process will cook the noodles, so no worries.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil over high heat in a wok or large pan.  Add the shallot, garlic, and shrimp and cook until shrimp is translucent (probably about 2-3 minutes).  Remove the shrimp and set aside.  Add the other 1 Tbsp. of oil to the hot pan and add the eggs for a quick scramble.  When the eggs are scrambled, set aside.  Next, add the mushrooms and place the lid on the pan.  Cook until mushrooms get soft (about five minutes).

While the mushrooms are cooking, mix together the fish sauce, peanut butter, lime juice, and red pepper flakes.  When the mushrooms are ready, pour the water off of the noodles and add the noodles to the pan with the mushrooms.  Turn the heat down to medium-low.  Add the sauce and, using tongs, mix to combine.  Next, add back in the egg and shrimp, then turn off the heat.  Add the green onions and mix everything together.  Divvy the mixture up into two pasta bowls or onto two plates, then garnish with the basil.

lunchbox life: curried dal, southern style


I know you may think that an Indian-Southern fusion dish might not work, but let me tell you, this is going to be so good for lunch this week.

If you’re an Indian food junkie like me, you know that dal is a Sanskrit word that means “to split.”  Typically, a dal dish is comprised of lentils, but sometimes you also see chickpeas or even black beans in these dishes.  This is a riff off of a Smitten Kitchen recipe, which was based on a New York Times recipe.  Instead of using spinach or swiss chard here, I used ripped and torn collard greens, which marry beautifully with the sweet potatoes (also a southern staple), the curry, and the garam masala.

I know that this dish won’t win any beauty contest, but the flavor is pretty spectacular.  This is a one pot dish that would be great on a cool night and even better as leftovers (like chili or lasagna).

Curried Dal, Southern Style

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp. ginger, freshly grated

1 jalapeno pepper, minced (I kept the seeds in; remove them if you’re not as spice-hungry as me!)

1 1/2 tsp. curry powder

1 1/2 tsp. garam masala

4 cups vegetable broth (you can also use chicken broth if you don’t mind the dish not being vegetarian)

1 bay leaf

2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and small diced

1 lb. collard greens, stems removed and leaves torn into 1-inch strips (this doesn’t have to be precise)

1 tsp. salt

handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, chopped

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, ginger, jalapeno, curry, and garam masala.  Stir to combine.  Add the diced sweet potatoes, bay leaf, and broth.  Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then place the top on the pot and turn the heat back to medium; cook for 25 minutes.  Next, add the collard greens in one fistful at a time, letting the greens wilt with the heat and stirring.  Once all of the greens are added, place the top back on the pot and cook for 30 more minutes.  Serve the curried dal topped with cilantro and scallions.