Monday, January 5, 2015

Tex Mex Chicken & Quick Meal Ideas

Back in the days when I was teaching full time and the girls were all in school, I used to brag that I could make dinner in 15 minutes. And guess what? - Because I had a few tricks up my sleeve, I actually could! One little strategy involved baking or grilling a large batch of Tex Mex Chicken. The night I actually made the chicken, we would either eat it as it was or add salsa and melted cheese on top. Then I would put the left overs in Zip Lock Freezer bags and freeze them. It was so nice to be able grab some already cooked chicken out of the freezer and use it in soups, salads, and many other ways. One thing the girls really enjoyed was a Tex Mex Bowl. I would heat some of the chicken in the microwave and put out bowls of shredded cheese, salsa, beans, etc. Everyone made their own bowl and surprisingly we found spinach leaves were a tasty addition! A yummy variation was to load everything on top of corn tortillas and either bake at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes or microwave them to melt the cheese. However, I found that how I used the chicken was not as important as my main goal, which was making sure we somehow sat down together and ate as a family. In the 2012 book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg wrote that families who habitually eat supper together raise children with greater emotional control and more confidence. I really felt that having dinner together grounded us and made our family strong. For a link to an article I wrote about how important sharing a meal together is Click Here. And, although it really doesn't matter whats on the menu when the family is communicating, it might as well be something delicious! For even more ideas on using this Tex Mex Chicken, Click Here.

Tex Mex Chicken 

This recipe yields 4 chicken breasts. Double or triple the recipe to make larger batches. 

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine the chili powder, cumin, salt, garlic powder, and pepper together. Generously sprinkle the mixture on both sides of the chicken breasts and rub it into the meat.  Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes or grill over medium heat, 10 minutes per side. 

To make the Tex Mex Bowls, slice up the chicken and put out bowls of rice, beans, cheese, salsa, avocado, spinach leaves, etc. - what ever comes to the imagination.  Let everyone pile on their preferences.  The girls really liked to make their own bowls, their own way!

This is a great way to feed a crowd as well - fast, healthy, and delicious.

Switch out the rice with a corn tortilla and heat it up to melt the cheese for another option.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Brazo de Reina - Queen's Arm

Simple yet impressive at the same time, Brazo de Reina (Queen's Arm) is pretty darn delicious. This light and airy sponge cake rolled up with a layer of caramel filling inside is a great finish to any meal. A couple of years ago we had a cookout and Allison's friend from Chili, Grace, brought it for dessert. It was a huge hit since anything where Dolche de Leche is involved is scrumptious. Several months later I went over to visit with Grace's mom, Mariana, and she served me a slice of it with coffee. It was so yummy that I quickly said yes when she offered me of a second piece! She shared the directions for making it and I was surprised to learn that all it consists of is six eggs, six tablespoons of sugar, and six tablespoons of flour. And glorious Dolce de Leche. I use Nestle brand; it is found by the canned condensed milk in the grocery store. The only thing tricky about Brazo de Reina is peeling the parchment paper away from the sponge cake, but I learned that if you grease the paper with a bit of butter, it is easy. Even if the edges get torn a little (which happens to me), they are hidden when the cake is rolled up. After it is baked and assembled, a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a sprinkling of fresh raspberries are all that is needed to finish it off. Everyone will think it's something extraordinary (and it is) just don't tell anyone it wasn't hard to make! For a Cranberry Bliss variation click HERE.


6 eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1 (13.4 oz.) can Dulce de Leche

Fresh raspberries and a tablespoon of confectioner's sugar for garnishing

Also needed:
Parchment paper and a smidgen of butter
Clean cloth dish towel and 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
Small mesh strainer 


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat it with the butter. Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until very stiff.

 Then, beat in the sugar and the yolks until mixed in.

 Now add the flour and mix it in.

 Pour the batter onto the parchment lined baking sheet and with a rubber spatula, spread the batter out evenly. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  When it is done it will be more pale that brown. The key is that when it is touched it bounces bake and makes a distinctive sound.

 Immediately, sprinkle the 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar evenly all over the dish cloth and invert the baking sheet on top of it. Lift the baking sheet up to release the sponge cake. Gently peel the parchment paper away from the sponge cake. 

Starting at one end, roll the sponge cake up - dish cloth and all, Set aside and allow to cool. 

When the sponge cake/dish cloth roll is no longer warm, gently unroll it. Carefully smooth the Dulce de Leche over the top, making sure it goes edge to edge. 

Now reroll the sponge cake up - this time without the dish cloth. 

Place the sponge cake roll on a serving platter. Put the extra tablespoons of confectioner's sugar in the fine mesh strainer and sprinkle it over the top of the roll. Garnish with raspberries.

Variations: Mix the Dulce de Leche with 2 tablespoons of orange juice or chocolate milk. Or fold 1/2 cup whipped cream into the Dulce de Leche.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Just Cauliflower Aloo Gobi

Everyone in our family knows I love Indian food.  Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way as I do. Roy, Caroline, and her boyfriend Adam lobby against it. I have converted Jenn, but it's not her favorite. Only Allison likes it as much as I do, and she's not even in the same country right now. So I have to get my fix at lunch time when I whip up something for myself. If I have fresh cauliflower around, aloo gobi is a quick way to satisfy my craving. I should  just call it gobi, because I leave out the aloo (potatoes).  This version is heavily influenced by the Jamie Oliver way of making curries since it contains coconut milk as an ingredient. It's an interesting side or cooked and chopped chicken could be added to make it a main entree. It is also a great "Meatless Monday" dish as well. 


1 head of cauliflower
1 medium onion
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
1 small jalapeno pepper
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1914 oz.) can coconut milk


Wash, core, and cut the cauliflower up into florets. Peel and dice the onion.  Use a vegetable peeler to get the skin off the ginger and finely dice it. Remove the seeds and membranes from the jalapeno pepper and dice it up. Use only half of the pepper if less spiciness is desired.  Set aside two tablespoons of cilantro leaves, then chop the rest of it up, stems and all. Heat the oil up over medium low heat in a pan and add the onion, ginger, pepper, and chopped cilantro. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the onions are soft and tender. Then add the cauliflower florets, mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Mix well and continue to cook for another minute. Add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Bring everything up to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and let the mixture simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and you can stick a fork into it easily.   Sprinkle the reserved two tablespoons of cilantro leaves over the top and serve with rice and/or naan bread.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Simple Apple Crisp

Around our house the acronym "OPR" means Other People's Recipes. This little term came about after Jenn and I spent a frantic day last November making and photographing eleven recipes. I had come up with the idea of doing an article featuring the favorite holiday recipes from the writers who contributed to the community magazine I write for. The deadline for the piece was several days away, but it fell right when Jenn and I were to be driving her car across the country to move her to California.  So, the two of us had a wild time using just about every measuring spoon and baking dish in the house while depleting all of our baking supplies. The results were interesting; some of the dishes were delicious and some were a little different than our palates were used to. The main thing I realized though, was that each recipe had a memory behind it which made it special to the person that submitted it. We had a great time that day and I wouldn't trade that memory for anything! For the sake of curiosity, click HERE for the online version of the resulting article - although unfortunately it seems that the photos didn't make the transfer. The apple crisp recipe posted here happens to be an OPR as well. It belongs to my friend Dory and it's one of the easiest yet yummiest versions I'd ever had. It's an OPR to keep!

Ingredients for an 8 by 8 Inch Baking Dish

6 cups of peeled, sliced apples
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
(1 tablespoon lemon juice mixed with 1 tablespoon water if using sweeter apples)


I use an apple peeler to cut away the skin of the apples. Then I quarter them, cut out the core, slice them up, and place them in a baking dish.  My favorites to use are Granny Smith, but I also like Jonathan. If I am using a sweeter apple such as a Fuji, I mix one tablespoon of water with one tablespoon of lemon juice and sprinkle the mixture over the apple slices.

While the oven is preheating to 373 degrees, mix together the brown sugar, oatmeal, flour, butter, and cinnamon until crumbly. Spoon evenly over the apples in the baking dish.  Place in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until it is brown and bubbly. This is especially good served with vanilla ice cream or even just a drizzle of heavy cream.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Autumn Veggie Question: Salad or Bowl?

Kale Brussels Sprout Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette...

Or... Copy Cat Version of Starbuck's Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl?

I can't help but jump on the fall band wagon with these two autumn veggie dishes.  The colors of the vegetables are exactly what I see outside: white frost on the ground, orange pumpkins on porches, and purple chrysanthemums in pots.  The flavors are heartier than lighter summer salad stuff and with chilly mornings and nights, they are what I'm craving right now. A few weeks ago I met a friend at Starbucks to chat. I had been busy all morning and hadn't eaten yet so I took a chance and got their Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl. It was so yummy that I've been making excuses to have it for lunch ever since. I figured I'd better find a way to duplicate its Lemon Tahini dressing at home, or I was going to bust my lunch budget before the end of the month.  I think I've gotten pretty close and the result is posted below. Also posted is another of my current salad obsessions, a kale Brussels sprout salad with a great Dijon vinaigrette.  However, any of the veggies listed below could be combined together and either of the two dressings posted below could be used. The possibilities are endless and delicious! 

My Favorite Vegetables for an Autumn Salad or a Rice Bowl:

Red cabbage: sliced and "strands" separated or chopped

Lucinato kale: "rib" cut out and leaves chopped

Broccoli: cut into florets, drizzle w/ 1 tablespoon olive oil and roast 20 minutes at 350  degrees 

Cauliflower: cut into florets, drizzle w/ 1 tablespoon olive oil and roast 20 minutes at 350 

Brussels sprouts: cut stem off, halve if big, drizzle w/ 1 tablespoon olive oil, roast 30 min at 350

Beets: peel, quarter, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, roast 60 minutes at 350

Butternut squash: halve, scoop out seeds, drizzle w/ 1 tablespoon olive oil, roast 50 min at 350

Optional brown rice for bowls: cook according to package directions

Dressing Option One: Dijon Vinaigrette

Whisk together for Dijon Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup champagne, rice, or white vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon country Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, put through a press
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Dressing Option Two: Copy Cat Version of Starbuck's Lemon Tahini Dressing

Whisk together for Starbuck's Lemon Tahini Dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons light soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons fresh flat leave parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey or blue agave syrup
1 clove garlic, put through a press
1 pinch of salt

Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

To make enough for four servings use two bunches of kale, one medium butternut squash, 1 pound Brussels sprouts and 1/2 head of cabbage. Cut the Brussels sprouts in half if they are big. Chop the kale by first folding each leaf in half and running a sharp knife down the edge of each "rib" to remove it, then continue cutting up kale. Roast the vegetables at 350 degrees until tender: 30 minutes for the Brussels sprouts and 20 minutes for the cauliflower, but about 50 for the butternut squash. They should be able to be pierced by a fork and a bit brown on the edges. Remove the skin from the squash and cut into bite sized square pieces. Combine chopped kale with roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and butternut squash. Drizzle with the Dijon vinaigrette and serve.

Copy Cat Version of Starbuck's Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl

To make enough for four bowls use 1 bunch of kale, 1 medium butternut squash, 4 medium beets, 1 head of broccoli, 2 cups sliced red cabbage, and 2 cups cooked brown rice. Chop the kale by first folding each leaf in half and running a sharp knife down the edge of each "rib" to remove it, then continue cutting up the kale. Roast the vegetables at 350 degrees until tender: 20 minutes for the broccoli, 30 minutes for the squash, and 50 minutes for the beets. They should be able to be pierced with a fork when done.  Remove the skin from the squash and cut into bite sized square pieces. Slice the beets. Put 1/2 cup of rice in each bowl. Divide the kale, squash, beets, broccoli, and cabbage among each bowl.  Drizzle with the Lemon Tahini dressing.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Field to Fork - Fall Fresh Flavors

Andy Warhol is quoted as saying that everyone experiences 15 minutes of fame. I guess I've had about 15 seconds of it, which is the amount of time it took the nice photographer guy to shoot this particular photo here on the left. I'm the person in the middle of the cover of the October issue of the Greenwood Community Newsletter.  To my left and right are Adam Moody and Cathy Richards. Both are part of the local farm to fork movement.  Each of their third generation family farms has been honored for being a leader in their industry by using best agricultural practices. I had the privilege of featuring them in an article I wrote. My story also included recipes made with the products they raised and grew. The dishes I shared had to be simple and easy to keep the word count down, but they are still delicious - Enjoy! To see the inside of the publication and read my article on page 37,  Please Click Here.

Giant Chicken Bombs

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 slices of high quality bacon
2 to 4 fresh jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup prepared barbecue sauce 


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the ends off of each pepper and then slice them down the middle length-wise. Discard the membranes and seeds, keeping each half intact.

Butterfly each breast by slicing it long-wise through the middle, but not cutting all the way through. Place two halves of each pepper inside each piece of chicken and close it up. Wrap two pieces of bacon around each chicken breast by winding one slice of bacon at a time around it.

Place the chicken on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 55 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush each piece with a tablespoon of the prepared barbecue sauce. Replace back in the oven and bake for five more minutes or until the sauce begins to bubble and brown.

Sauted Kale Bacon Salad

2 large bunches of Lacinato kale
6 slices high quality bacon
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
pinch of sugar (optional)


Cook the bacon until crisp, then remove from skillet, and set aside leaving 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. Rinse and pat the kale dry with paper towels. Fold each leaf in half and remove the rib by slicing along the edge of it with a sharp knife. Chop the kale leaves and saute them  over medium low heat in the skillet with the bacon drippings. After about 5 minutes, add the vinegar and pinch of sugar if using. Saute for 5 more minutes. The kale will be "wilted" but still have a lot of texture when chewed. Remove to a serving dish. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top.

Beets and Butternut Squash with Lemon Shallot Dressing

4 medium beets
1 medium butternut squash
1 shallot
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Rainbow chard for garnish


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Wash the beets, slice off the stems, and cut the bottoms off.  Wrap them in another sheet of aluminum foil and place on one side of the baking sheet. Cut the ends off the butternut squash, slice it down the middle lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and place on the other side of the baking sheet.  Place in the oven and bake for about an hour or until tender (easily pierced with a fork). Check at 50 minutes; the squash may be ready, but the beets might take another 10 minutes or so. When the vegetables are done and have cooled down enough to handle, cut the skin away and cube into large pieces. Place the rainbow chard leaves on a serving platter or individual plates and arrange the squash and beets next to them. Peel and finely dice the shallot. Place in a small bowl along with the oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and whisk to combine.  Drizzle the lemon shallot dressing over the vegetables.