Thursday, May 31, 2012

Laura's Chicken Fajitas

This is my friend Laura.  With her hair a little blonder, and her skin a little tanner, she is preparing to move to San Diego next month.   Of course, I'm a little sad that we won't live on the same coast anymore, but since we've been living hundreds of miles apart for the last four years anyway, I'm actually looking forward to having a west coast crash pad of sorts in her new home.  Yes, it will have a second bedroom, and yes, I am claiming it as my own (her boyfriend, Rusty, might refer to it as his "office," but I know better).  This will also come with my own balcony, bathroom, and closet.  Let's face it, once I go visit, I'll probably never come back.

Before they drive off into the sunset next month, a few weekends ago all of our college friends gathered in Boston to send them off appropriately.  This meant some pub time, blueberry beer, Dark and Stormies, and lots of 80s dance partying.  I arrived the night before the festivities, after a 5 hour train ride and an extremely dull, all day work conference, but was greeted by Laura's delicious chicken fajitas.

I had heard about this concoction over the phone, but was amazed by how easy they were to make once I saw Laura in action.  She used chicken cutlets that were the perfect size straight from the store, pre-cut vegetables, and packets of taco seasoning.  These beauties were whipped up in no time and I was thoroughly impressed.

Instead of helping with the cooking like I usually would, I followed Rusty's instructions by looking pretty and taking care of this:

I have to say, I was really good at it.

Laura used a big griddle to cook the fajitas, but two frying pans would work just as well.  She heated olive oil on the griddle and threw on the chicken and vegetables.  On the chicken, she sprinkled juice from half of a lime and one packet of taco seasoning.  After about 5 minutes she flipped them over and repeated the lime juice/seasoning process.  In another 5-10 minutes they were done!  The vegetables took about the same amount of time.  She stirred them every once in a while and they turned out perfectly crisp-tender and not soggy.

Meanwhile, Rusty prepared the toppings - fresh avocado, sour cream, and salsa.

I followed Laura's instructions and spread the toppings on my tortilla first, then added the chicken and vegetables.  Then we folded our fajitas up and dug in!

The best part was Rusty taking care of the dishes after dinner, leaving Laura and I free to catch up.  Can you believe he does this every night?? Laura sure is a lucky girl!!

Thanks, Laura, for sharing your creation with us!

Laura's Chicken Fajitas
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds chicken cutlets
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 onion, sliced
2 packets taco seasoning
Juice of 1 lime
1 avocado, mashed
Sour cream
Corn or flour tortillas

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on a griddle or in two large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the chicken on one side of the griddle and the peppers and onion on the other.  Juice half of the lime over the chicken and sprinkle it with one packet of taco seasoning. After 5 minutes, turn the chicken over and repeat with the lime juice and taco seasoning.  Cook 5-10 minutes more, or until browned and cooked through.  Meanwhile, stir the vegetables occasionally and cook until crisp-tender. 

To assemble the fajita, spread a spoonful each of sour cream, avocado, and salsa on a tortilla.  Top with chicken and vegetables and serve immediately. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cathy's Banana Bread

If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to hang out with some Greek women, take it!  You won't regret it, and will probably get to eat some delicious food in the process.  I learned this the easy way in my  senior year of college, when I shared an apartment with a Greek girl (hi, Kristin!).  Rumor had it that her mom once ran out of food at her childhood birthday party, and she had been making up for it ever since.

Any time Kristin would come back to campus after a visit home, she would shower us with amazing food that would sustain us through the week ahead.  The best was after a family party, when we would get all of the leftover desserts.  Once we had enough chicken salad to supply our entire apartment building for several days.  I would come home from class at different times throughout the day to find yet another person making themselves a sandwich.  Oh how I wish her mom was still an hour away to feed us!

My favorite treat that Kristin would bring back with her was her mom's banana bread.  It was moist and just sweet enough, perfect for a quick breakfast before running out the door to class (in retrospect, those 10 am classes really weren't so bad, compared to office life!).  After lots of begging I finally got the recipe from her and make it as much as I can now.

Like a couple of weekends ago, when my favorite artist graduated with her MFA.  We all congregated in Philadelphia to celebrate with her, and of course I brought along a couple loafs of banana bread for a quick and easy breakfast.  The weekend itself was great fun - a thesis opening, graduation, Reading Terminal, cheesesteaks, studio tours, and cocktails.

Jana was a wonderful hostess and fed us the most amazing food.  I couldn't show up empty handed, and a loaf of bread was easy to transport.  I whipped this up the night before, left it out overnight to cool, and wrapped it up the next morning before I left.

Banana bread is a great way to use up over ripe bananas, too.  Whenever my bananas get a little too ripe, or if I'm going out of town and can't eat them all before I leave, I peel them, put them in a ziploc bag, and throw them in the freezer.  It's super easy to pull out a bag of frozen bananas when you're ready to do some cooking.  This recipe also adapts to muffins, if you're so inclined.  Enjoy!

Cathy's Banana Bread
Yield: 1 loaf, or 12-15 muffins

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon milk
3 drops white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar.  Add the egg and banana and mix well.

In a small bowl, mix together the baking soda and milk.  Add three drops of white vinegar (the mixture will sizzle when the vinegar is added) and mix to combine.

Add the vinegar mixture to the bread batter and mix well.  Mix in the vanilla and salt.  Finally, slowly add the flour in small increments, mixing to combine after each addition.

Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees for 60-75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad

I don't know about you, but some weeks just really kick my ass.  No matter how hard I try to get a good night's sleep, eat healthy food, fit in a run, keep my apartment looking semi-presentable, and still have time to get all my work done, sometimes I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.  Those are the weeks that a little preparation on Sunday goes a long way to helping me survive until Friday.  Whenever I have a chance, I try to make a big batch of a flavorful, microwave-friendly dish that I can eat for lunch or dinner throughout the week.  This way, I know I'll save time, eat at least one healthy meal per day, and save a boat load of money by not buying takeout.

A few weekends ago, I was driving around the city with this girl trying to shop for some decent outfits for the plethora of weddings, showers, and graduations I'm attending this summer and mentioned a desire to make something different for my usual Sunday dish.  She's been eating super healthy and mentioned a great salad she had made with quinoa, brussels sprouts, and feta.  I decided to immediately steal adapt her idea and took it one step further by bumping up the amount of veggies.  Thanks, Calla!

What I really like about this salad is how adaptable it is.  You can easily swap out the vegetables for whatever you have on hand or with what is in season.  You can eat it hot or cold, as a side dish or as your main (so great that quinoa is a protein!).

To start, prepare your vegetables.  Slice the brussels sprouts in quarters (make sure to trim the ends and remove any bad outer leaves).  Peel the sweet potato and slice it into bite-sized pieces.  Pour both onto a greased cookie sheet, drizzle them with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Bake them at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until they begin to brown.  I love when brussels sprouts are crispy!

While the vegetables are roasting, cook the quinoa.  For this recipe, I cooked it in vegetable broth instead of plain old water to give it more flavor.  I also used the little bouillon cubes to make the broth.  Homemade is always better, but it's so easy to keep these in the cupboard and they don't take up that much space.  Critical when you have a tiny kitchen.

The last thing to do, since it only takes a few minutes, is to sauté the kale.  Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan.  Add the garlic (I used 4 cloves because I can never have enough, but you can adjust it to your palette) and kale and sauté for about 5 minutes or until the kale is wilted.

Now all that's left is to mix it all together.  In a large bowl, mix the quinoa, brussels sprouts, sweet potato, kale, and feta until combined.  Serve it warm, either right away or reheated later.

And now you have lunch for the week!  Store single-servings in take-away containers and pull them out of the fridge when you're leaving in the morning.  Maybe it won't make your work day any easier or run 5 miles for you, but at least you have one thing taken care of, and I'll take what I can get!

Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad
Serves 5-6

1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 - 3 cups quartered brussels sprouts (1 bag)
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
4 - 5 leaves kale, chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Prepare quinoa.  In a medium saucepan, add quinoa and broth and stir until combined. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Set aside.

Toss the brussels sprouts and sweet potato with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until beginning to brown.  In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and add garlic and kale.  Saute until wilted.  

In a large bowl, mix together the prepared quinoa, vegetables, and feta cheese.  Serve warm.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

What My Twenties Are Teaching Me: Kitchen Edition

Over on Fairy Tales Are True, Sarah has been hosting a wonderful series this week on "What My Twenties Are Teaching Me."  Since my cooking has come a long way since my college days, I thought I would link up and share some of the food-related lessons I've learned over the years.  I've always loved to cook, but years of eating in a cafeteria in college, cooking in a tiny college apartment kitchen, and living with my parents caused any cooking I did to become sporadic and lacking in motivation.  Why spend time cooking when there's a plate of dinner waiting for you in the fridge after work?  {Note: Looking back, I was pretty spoiled that year.  Thanks, Mom!}

Since I moved out on my own at 22, I've had a lot of freedom to try all sorts of things I never would have otherwise.  Not sure if a spice works in that dish?  Go ahead and try it!  No one will know if it turns out horribly.  Hosting dinner parties has become one of my favorite activities (although now I just need a big table - they're definitely informal dinners right now, but I still get to cook up a storm).  Many of the lessons I've learned don't only hold true in the kitchen; many can be applied to the rest of life as well.  

Here's to learning even more during what's left of my twenties and to making lots of delicious food!

What My Twenties Are Teaching Me
  • Don't be ashamed to drink $3/bottles of wine (Three Wishes, I'm looking at you)
  • If you're going to eat meat, it's worth spending extra money on meat from well-raised, humanely treated animals.  
  • Know that you'll learn as you go.  Don't be afraid to try new recipes - even if they turn out to be total flops, you'll have learned something from it.  
  • Food always tastes better when it's cooked outside.
  • Always buy produce in season.
  • Pay attention to how food makes you feel after you eat it.  Don't waste your time on food that tastes good in the moment, but makes you feel crummy afterward.
  • Never go grocery shopping when you're hungry.  Always have a list!
  • It's worth investing in good appliances.  The right tools will make food preparation a million times easier.
*Photos via We Heart It here and here
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