Thursday, October 21, 2010

Open Sesame!

I've been on a bit of kick recently... I've been transforming our favorite restaurant meals into something better, healthier and cheaper at home.  One of our weaknesses is Chinese food.  We had take-out on our anniversary while we were sick!  I can safely say that my egg drop soup and sweet and sour chicken are better than most of what you find in restaurants or cute folded boxes!

When I ordered the sesame chicken on our anniversary, I splurged on the majorly-battered, deep-fried bits of the fattiest cuts of chicken, smothered in a dark, sweet, and salty sauce.  Yum!  

I pondered a life where I could only savor this a few times a year... and it looked bleak.  Surely, I thought, there must be a way to eat this on weeknights, not just special occasions!

So I did a little research and hit the jackpot.  First step: use lean cuts of chicken and don't batter and deep fry it!  Simply cube some (2-3) boneless, skinless chicken breasts and brown in a bit of cooking spray or oil.  Once cooked through, remove and set aside.  The sauce is what Kendall and I really love, so that's what I focused on.

Sesame Chicken Sauce

1 C chicken broth
1/2 C white sugar
2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
Dried red pepper flakes to taste

Combine all ingredients except for pepper flakes and sesame seeds in a bowl and stir to mix well.  While it's still mixed (before the cornstarch and sugar settles and you have to stir it again!) pour it in a pot or pan and bring to boil.  Let simmer, bubble and thicken for a few minutes.  Turn down to very low heat and keep warm before adding the chicken.

Add the chicken and then stir in the sesame seeds and red pepper flakes.    Serve with steamed rice and steamed broccoli (or other veggie!).  Serves 4.

The verdict?  To quote my husband, "This is better than the restaurant!"  The sauce is thick and glossy and coats EVERYTHING.  It's loaded with flavor and feels a lot more like a splurge than a health food.  Granted, the sugar content is high, but the fat content is low.  Combined with simple sides, it makes a great dinner.

I had a little rice, about 1/2 C serving of the chicken dish, and about 1.5 C of broccoli.  For dessert, we had some delicious little mandarins!  I love those things... they are like candy.   

Wine note:  I poured some red wine (Pinot Noir), but the sauce is sweet and overpowers the wine.  I took a sip and almost spit it out because all I could taste were bitter tannins and alcohol!  I set it aside and am now sipping it with a cleansed palate.  A chilled beer or dry white wine might pair better with this.

Other suggestions:  This is quick and easy and would be impressive for guests!  Start with a simple egg drop soup and finish with a fun, bright fruit salad and store-bought fortune cookies.  You can cut back on how much protein (chicken) you serve because of the egg drop soup, which will help fill your guests up.  Everyone will leave full and happy, and with some prep beforehand, it's easy to put together.  And that's a fortune that will definitely come true. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lentils for Lunch

With temperatures cooling off, it's a great time to start making some yummy soups.  If you are trying to cut out meat from your diet, this Curried Lentil Soup is a great way to pack in a lot of filling flavor with a lot of fat or sodium.

1 C carrots, diced
1 C onion, diced
I C celery, diced
4 tsp canola oil
4 tsp curry powder
1 C dried lentils
4 C low-sodium broth of choice

Heat oil in a pot and saute carrots, onions and celery for a few minutes.  Add curry powder and stir.  Then stir in lentils and broth.  Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.  Makes 4 servings.

It's so simple, and so good.  The curry adds a depth and richness to the broth, which makes it hearty.  You won't miss the meat!

Sorry for the sideways photo!  But have your soup with a salad dressed in a vinaigrette and a whole-grain roll or English muffin.  It makes the perfect lunch! It leaves you full and satisfied without feeling tired and weighed down.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Drive A Lot? So do I, these days...

Since going back to school, I find myself in my car a lot.  I drive 30 minutes each way to get to campus.  That's a lot of time.  And while much of that is spent on the highway, there are some stops along the way.  So when I read this article on about some exercise you can do in the car, I was stoked.  I don't advise doing a lot of these while actively driving, but the abdominal exercise would be okay while driving.  But if you are in line for the drive-through bank, etc., these are great!  It's always fun to squeeze in a little healthy habit.

Safe travels, y'all!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Husband's Easy, Yummy Fish Quesadillas

What a great weekend!  We spent lots of time with the family eating, shopping, laughing and celebrating my nephew's birthday.  After lots of eating out, Kendall and I felt like throwing together something quick, yummy and light tonight.  Inspired by our Mexican food last night, we thought we might try our hand at some salmon enchiladas.  But time got away from us, the salmon didn't thaw quickly enough, and so Kendall took the helm at the stove.

Have I ever mentioned that my husband is a REALLY good cook when he gets behind the stove?  But a few burners in front of him, and the man's on fire.  Not literally.

After rifling through the fridge, he found some canned tuna, cheese, and lots of onions.  And lo, a delightful new dinner was born.

I know.  Tuna.  I was doubtful, but figured that it couldn't be that bad.  And I was pleasantly surprised!

I had two with a little leftover jalapeno ranch sauce on top.  But look at what was inside these things:

Tuna, lots and lots of diced onions and cheese.  Kendall used between 1/2 and 3/4 of an onion, and used a mix of red and a bit of a white onion we had left over.  He sweated them SLIGHTLY in a pat of butter, then mixed with tuna and heated through.  He also used some garlic salt to add a little flavor.  A sprinkle of cheese and layer of tuna mixture between corn tortillas.

The tuna added a nice fish flavor but what you really taste are the onions.  It's a new, fun, and easy way to get a little more fish in your diet.

I had a salad on the side with some lovely greens from Organic Girl that I scored on sale for a dollar.  Best deal ever!

On the subject of fish, I highly recommend checking out the Seafood Watch Program.  They have a pocket guide or free iPhone app that will tell you the best and most sustainable fish to buy, order and eat.  I personally love the iPhone app because it uses the GPS function to figure out where in the nation you are and then give you recommendations based on your area.  So get yours now!

I've got a crazy week ahead, so that's all for me for now.  Good night!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rarg! I am a terrible blogger!

Epic fail!  Things have been a bit busy with class and I just haven't gotten around to blogging.  I have been cooking and eating and I've started running again.  I think I posted previously about some of the apps I have on my iPhone to track my run distance and speed.  Still loving them!

It's apple season, and I couldn't be happier about it!  Neither could Kendall.  I think he's had 3 apples in the past 12 hours.  I've put our fall produce in a clear bowl on the buffet.  It makes for fun, colorful, seasonal decor.. that we can eat!  I don't have to worry about lugging it upstairs and boxing it up when the holiday decorations come out.  I've also put out some candles, but we haven't lit them yet.  We found that many of the scented candles are so smelly, you can pop off the lid and it scents the air around us without having to strike a match!  We found some great soy candles on clearance recently and stocked up.

The pups are doing well, and since the weather has cooled, we've all enjoyed lovely walks in the morning, afternoon, weekends, nights!  After sweltering heat this summer, the whole family finds any excuse to get outside and play.

School work has been going well, and it's hard to believe I am almost half-way through the semester.  It has flown by!  I have to remind myself of that when I have a difficult exam coming up.  It's almost time to schedule classes for next semester.  I am going to try to schedule my classes so that I have at least one day that I don't have to drive into campus.  Kendall and I have learned that I also need to make sure I can be home on Mondays and Wednesdays.  He works at home Tuesday and Friday, so the dogs are taken care of, but the other days... it's hard for him to get off work, etc.  This semester, Wednesday has posed the biggest problem, so I'll have to be mindful of that while scheduling courses for Spring.

Anyway, as always, I hope to post more often and hopefully will get some recipes up here soon!