Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where's the beef?

Mexican food is one of my favorite types of cuisine, but the refried beans, salty tortilla chips, and mounds of cheese can sometimes be a little too much for me. Recently, to get my Mexican fare fix, I've been making quesadillas at home and revising the recipe to make it more heart healthy - not to mention cheaper. A pack of eight wheat tortillas, a few avocados, a carton of grape tomatoes, one package of meat, and a bag of store brand Mexican shredded cheese comes out to be a lot cheaper than an entree and a few margaritas at the Mexican restaurant down the road. To make these quesadillas, I use ground turkey for the meat (in place of beef or pork), and load the sucker up with vegetables and some cheese for "glue." Below is the recipe for my turkey quesadillas, and as a disclaimer, I like my food spicy - so feel free to revise to your own tastebuds.

Turkey Quesadillas
Serves: 4

-4 whole wheat soft tortillas
-1 package ground turkey (or ground turkey breast)
-2 avocados, sliced lengthwise
-1 medium yellow onion, chopped
-1 carton grape tomatoes, cut in halves
-1 cup shredded Mexican cheese
-Jarred jalapenos, chopped (use to your heat preference; I use about 10)
-Several dashes of hot sauce
-Chili powder, cumin, dried cilantro, salt, pepper (I don't measure out my spices; just eyeball the amounts used)
-4 tbsp. sour cream (optional)
-1 tbsp. jarred garlic, minced
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-1 tbsp. lime juice
-1/2 bag of frozen corn

Heat olive oil in a frying pan. When warm, add chopped onion and cook until transluscent. Add ground turkey and cook until no longer pink. Pour in frozen corn. Add desired amount of chili powder, cumin, cilantro, salt and pepper. When almost done cooking, add garlic, chopped jalapenos, lime juice and hot sauce.

Butter one side of each tortilla, and place butter-side-down on frying pan. Sprinkle half of 1/4 cup shredded cheese on the bottom layer of each tortilla. Place two heaping spoonfuls of turkey mixture on top of cheese layer, and add chopped tomatoes and avocado slices. Top with the other half of the 1/4 single serving of cheese, and fold tortilla in half. Cook until tortilla is golden brown on each side (I place a bowl on top of the quesadilla so both sides get extra crispy and cook faster). Put 1 tablespoon of sour cream on the side of each quesadilla.

On the side, I normally have a 1 cup single serving of Success' Boil-in-a-Bag Brown Rice (it cooks in 10 minutes!), and I add a little butter, chili powder, cumin, dried cilantro, salt and pepper to add some flavor - it tends to be very bland without the extra spices.

What revisions do you make to recipes to make them more healthy, and/or affordable?

Monday, September 28, 2009

West Side Lounge offers upscale dining at an affordable price

Last week, my boyfriend's parents took us out to West Side Lounge on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. At first glance, the restaurant is high end, yet comfortable, and the atmosphere instantly screams "expensive." However, once I perused over the two-page menu, I was pleasantly surprised at the prices. For the location West Side Lounge is in, along with its physical appearance, it amazed me that most entrees were under $20.

As a table, we split several appetizers, including the Tofu Bites ($6.95), which were lightly fried with sweet soy sauce on the side, as well as a bowl of hand-cut French fries with a roasted garlic aioli for dipping ($4.95). For someone who is just starting to enjoy tofu, the tofu bites were perfectly crunchy on the outside and, most surprisingly, full of flavor. The hand-cut fries were nothing innovative, but I could have easily gulped down the garlic aioli like a shot of top shelf tequila. For an entree, my boyfriend's dad and I both ordered the Roasted Chicken with a Lemon Dijon Rub ($16.95), with garlicky broccolini. The chicken is normally served with fingerling potatoes, but the cold weather inspired me to substitute them for the mashed potatoes, which was a very successful decision. The mashed potatoes were obviously made with an artery-clogging amount of milk and butter, but the portion size was reasonable. The skin on the chicken was also crispy and full of fresh citrus and herb flavors, yet lacked the unnecessary grease (thankfully).

For dessert, we all split the Ice Cream Sandwiches ($7), which were two tiny sandwiches of homemade chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream, garnished with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

Overall, it was a delicious meal at a "fancier" restaurant that didn't have us worrying about the size of the bill at the end. In my opinion, any dining establishment that is afforable enough to get appetizers, an entree and dessert (and drinks) in the midst of a recession is doing something right.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Turning a once dreaded meal into a modern favorite

Growing up, I dreaded having pasta for dinner. I am one of four siblings, so my mother would make a lot of store-brand-name-food at dinner. So, pasta night was always Market Basket's vermicelli covered in the most under seasoned jarred pasta sauce. I didn't know that there were any other kinds of pasta besides vermicelli until I was at least 12 years old. Regardless, since my mother's large-family-on-a-budget dinners, I have become much more creative with my pasta - while still utilizing store band names. I almost always use Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Blend Pasta by Ronzoni, and I make sure to still buy store brand pasta sauce, but add my own flavor and texture to it. Last night, I had some leftover whole wheat rotini, and I stopped at Hannaford to grab their Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce, a red pepper, and a yellow onion. I came home and, to the delight of my roommate, filled the apartment with the tantalizing smells and the powerful sizzle of garlic and onion sauteing on the stove. Below is how I dressed up an otherwise ordinary pasta sauce, while adding more nutrients to it, too:

Tomato, Red Pepper, Onion & Basil Pasta Sauce
Yields: 6 servings

-1 jar Hannaford Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce
-3 small red peppers, chopped (I cut into larger chunks for more texture)
-1 large yellow onion, diced
-1 tbsp. garlic
-Olive oil
-Pinch of granulated sugar
-Crushed red pepper flakes (for heat)
-Salt and pepper

In a pan, saute diced onions until translucent. Add in chopped red peppers, and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until red peppers are slightly soft. Add in garlic, and saute for several more minutes. Pour in jar of pasta sauce, desired amount of crushed red pepper flakes, and a pinch of sugar. Let simmer for about 20 minutes (or longer, if you have the time). Pour over your favorite pasta, and enjoy!

On the side of this veggie-packed dish, I spread some butter on two halves of a Multi-grain Arnold Sandwich Thin, and sprinkled on some garlic powder and dried parsley. I popped them in the toaster oven, and had "homemade" garlic bread to go with my pasta.

What are some of your tips to make a delicious pasta sauce?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lamb burgers & plum beer at Watch City Brewing Co.

I try to eat healthy most of the time, mainly because I like to enjoy good beer, guilt-free. With that being said, I was ecstatic when my fellow beer-lovin' boyfriend (who introduced me to beverages other than Bud Light in the first place) brought me to Watch City Brewing Co. on Moody Street in Waltham a few weeks ago. Any American-style pub with beer samplers is O.K in my book, and the menu portrays the place as an upscale burger joint and brewery. On this initial visit, I went for the lamb burger ($10.99), which exceeded all of my expectations, to say the least. Although it was a few bucks more than the regular burgers, I had to try it - and was glad I did. Coated in tangy feta spread and an array of herbs that would make the stuffiest of noses tingle with delight, this innovative meat patty was the perfect companion to my beer sampler. My favorite beer that night: the juicy, refreshing, not-too-fruity Lil’ Jack Horner‘s Plum Suckin’ Wit brew.

My first meal at Watch City was so successful that I brought two of my cousins there last night. Needless to say, they left just as impressed as I did on my initial visit. Last night, I opted for the Chipotle Turkey Club Wrap ($8.99), which was just a basic sandwich wrap, with well seasoned, extra crunchy fries on the side. The portion was enough for at least two people, so I even got lunch for today out of it! For beer, I ordered their seasonal pumpkin ale, which is by far one of the best pumpkin concoctions I've had to date. My cousin described the drink as "pumpkin pie in a glass." Enough said.

Where's your favorite place to go for good beer and pub grub?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Warm welcome: chicken stuffed with goat cheese, arugula & tomatoes

Welcome blog readers! I am so excited to share my love for food with you. I have been the resident food blogger for Live Free or Dine at The Nashua Telegraph in Nashua, N.H. for several years now, and have recently moved to the Waltham/Watertown, Mass. area. I am eager to continue to grow my culinary experience in the Boston area, and I am happy you came along for the ride.

For my very first post, I thought I'd share a quick, healthy, budget-friendly recipe with you. I do most of my grocery shopping at Market Basket and Hannaford, so feel free to buy the following ingredients anywhere you wish. Chicken is inexpensive and, obviously, quite bland, so I'm always trying to make it more innovative and exciting. Below is one of my most recent creations.

Note to reader: Don't mind my tacky plastic plate. I warned you I was on a budget!

Stuffed Chicken with Goat Cheese, Arugula & Grape Tomatoes
Serves 2

-2 chicken breasts
-Handful arugula
-1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese
-1/4 cup grape tomatoes
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-Splash of sherry cooking wine
-Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: cut chicken breast almost in half (lengthwise), leaving a pocket in the breast (versus cutting through the entire breast). Stuff chicken with arugula, goat cheese, and tomatoes. Close breast with a toothpick. In saute pan, warm olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper on each side of chicken. Brown both sides of the breast, and add sherry cooking wine once both sides are browned. Let wine cook off, then cover pan with tin foil. Place in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

With this particular dish, I had a little over the recommended 1/3 cup serving of Betty Crocker's Potato Buds Instant Mashed Potatoes on the side. This 14 oz. box is cheap and delicious, and serves 17 people. For an unmarried person like myself, that's 17 dinners! I normally add dried chives, salt, pepper and a little butter to add extra flavor.

What's your favorite way to prepare chicken?