Thai Eggplant + Basil Chicken Curry

Thai Eggplant + Basil Chicken Curry

Last January, I decided to go outside my comfort zone of cooking.  I had never cooked anything African, Asian, or Middle Eastern.  The recipe I found is one I’ve now cooked many times:  African Peanut Soup.  I never realized how simple it was.  In college, I took a few cooking classes, and I remember making a hand-ground Moroccan spice blend.  Maybe I just associated those flavors with being very specialized, expensive to accumulate, and labor intensive.  But really, you can get lots of exciting spice blends for these kinds of cooking just like you can get Italian seasoning or taco seasoning.  I’ve incorporated these new flavors into my pantry, so I can make a curry or an authentic African stew at a moment’s notice. (I realize this is not important to everyone.)

For this curry, I used Red Curry with Chicken and Chickpeas as a guideline.  When you use coconut milk for curries, don’t use the kind in a carton (aka the kind you use as a milk substitute).  Use canned coconut milk.  I like to sauté the onion and garlic, but not the bell peppers or eggplant.  The reason is that I don’t want the peppers or eggplant to get overly soft, so I add them just right before the coconut milk and curry paste.  This is the brand of coconut milk I use, and this is the curry paste.

This recipe goes over Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice, but you could also serve it over Perfectly Cooked Quinoa.  I also did an adaptation of Basic Baked Chicken for this recipe.  The adaptation is for bone-in, skin-on breasts, and you can find it here.

Total Time:  90 minutesimg_5803

Serves: 8

Difficulty Level:  Easy

Ingredients

Vegetable oil

½ onion, diced small

2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced small

1 green bell pepper, diced small

½ medium eggplant, diced small (about 2 cups)

Small Diced Basic Baked Chicken, 3 bone-in breasts (use recipe adaption)

1 4-ounce jar of green curry paste

3 cans light coconut milk

2 recipes of Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice

Lime wedges

Torn basil

Directions

  1. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil to a large pot over medium heat.
  2. As the oil heats up, add the onion, and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, and saute for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Take the pot off the heat. Add the yellow and green bell peppers, eggplant, diced chicken, curry paste, and coconut milk.
  5. Return to heat. Bring the curry up to a rapid simmer (medium high heat).
  6. Let the curry cook for about 30 minutes. (**see note)
  7. Serve the curry hot over Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice. Squeeze fresh lime juice over, and sprinkle with freshly torn basil.

**Note:  You can either serve it now over rice.  Or you can turn it down to low, cover, and keep warm until ready to serve.


Grain Bowl Basics

Grain Bowl Basics

I think I mentioned this in another entry, but grain bowls and mason jar salads are what inspired me to start a blog in the first place.  It was right after the New Year in 2015, and I fixated on making both of these things.  I think I covered mason jar salads pretty thoroughly over 2 different posts (though my pictures could use some updating).  But I never got around to grain bowl basics until now (I first saw these “Health Bowls” in an old Real Simple issue.)  

Another new year, another reason to start fresh.  This year I’m planning to do a 10 Day Elimination Diet—not for weight loss, but because my stomach has been irritated a lot lately, and I’m curious if it’s because of certain types of foods.  I’m no expert, and I haven’t even started yet.  (As I write this, it’s New Year’s Eve.  I told my family I will not start this until everyone is back in school and at work because I don’t want to punish everyone by not having caffeine in the mornings if they’re all here). 

You may already know what an Elimination Diet is, and usually it is supposed to last for a month or so.  But I’m not sure I’m ready for that.  Instead I’m trying 10 days, and I’ll gauge it from there.  There is a long list of food types to avoid—types that can cause stomach irritation.  After you’ve done a week or more on an elimination diet, you’ve kind of given your digestive tract a restart, and then you slowly add back one food group at a time to see how you feel.  It doesn’t determine allergies, just sensitivities.  I’d like to know what I’m eating that’s making my stomach act funky. 

Some of the types of food you cannot eat include caffeine, alcohol (obviously), beef, pork, raw fish, shellfish, nightshades (like eggplant and tomatoes), white potatoes, soy, gluten, certain fruits like bananas and grapes, peanuts, dairy, and eggs.  It sounds like a lot!  But I decided to look at it as what I can eat:  chicken, fin fish, rice, gluten free oats, lentils, quinoa, sweet potatoes, lots of vegetables, lots of fruits like apples and pears, olive and coconut oil, every type of nut except for peanuts, tea, most herbs, almond milk and coconut milk, vinegars, even cocoa powder.  When I look at it this way, I think…hmmm, what can I make?  I have a lot of ideas coming very soon!

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Brown rice, chili and cinnamon roasted acorn squash, purple cabbage, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, avocado, hummus, and sesame seeds

Immediately I think of grain bowls.  My family likes grain bowls, and while I’m certainly not asking them to do this diet with me, it will be nice to make things we can all enjoy.  A grain bowl starts with a bed of grain– any kind you like.  For me, it’s usually Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice or Quinoa.  After that, I pick a type of protein like beans (if I’m doing vegan), or salmon or chicken if not.  I almost always add sweet potatoes, seasoned and roasted.  Then a few raw veggies and cooked veggies (for contrast), something rich like olives or avocado, some herbs, and a dollop of hummus in the middle.  I think of it as a salad, but the base is a grain instead of a lettuce.  From here on, I’ll just list some options, and let you go to work and become inspired.

 

Total Time:  10 Minutes plus time to cook any veggies or grains

Serves:  1

Difficulty Level:  Easy

 

Ingredients

  • Grains (Pick 1): brown rice, barley, quinoa, oats, farro
  • Proteins (Pick 1): Egg, chicken, salmon, tuna, cannellini beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils
  • Cooked Veggies (Pick 2-3): roasted sweet potatoes, roasted acorn squash, roasted red pepper, steamed mushrooms, blanched asparagus, shelled edamame, roasted kale, blanched broccoli florets
  • Raw Veggies (Pick 2-3): diced cucumber, scallions, sliced radishes, shredded carrots, shaved Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, purple cabbage, grape tomatoes
  • Something Rich (Pick 1-2): olives, avocado, feta, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
  • Herbs (Pick 1-2): basil, parsley, chives, cilantro
  • Extra Flavor (Pick 1): hummus, pesto, chimichurri, Greek yogurt, tahini, tzatziki, olive oil and vinegar

 

Directions

Assemble your meal in a large, shallow bowl.  Start with the grain, and then layer the different vegetables and toppings.  In the center of the bowl, add dressing or hummus.

 

 

 

 


Turkey + Wild Rice Soup

Turkey + Wild Rice Soup

This evolved from what started as Chicken Noodle Soup.  One night I was starting to make my old standard, but for some reason the Rice-A-Roni long grain and wild rice caught my eye instead.  So I did everything the same, but added Rice-A-Roni instead of egg noodles.  It turned out just perfectly.

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Then after Thanksgiving, of course I had lots of leftover turkey from making Ina Garten Roasted Turkey Breast.  I just tweaked the recipe again, and what once was Chicken Noodle Soup became Turkey and Wild Rice Soup.  Still so good, and still very very easy. 

Of course if you’re not making this at Thanksgiving, you could always add Basic Baked Chicken  or a store bought rotisserie. 

 

Total Time:  45 Minutes

Difficulty Level:  Easy

Serves:  6-8

 

Ingredients

2 cups of medium diced carrots

2 cups medium diced celery

1 cup medium diced onion

12-15 cups of chicken stock or broth

1 ½ pounds leftover roasted turkey, medium diced

2 boxes Rice-A-Roni Long Grain and Wild Rice (with seasoning packet)

8 sprigs fresh thyme, left whole.

 

  1. Saute the carrots, celery, and onion in olive oil and a little salt over medium for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened and become translucent.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then bring it down to a simmer.  Let the soup simmer for at least 30 minutes, but even longer is better.
  3. At the end, pull out the thyme stems since the leaves will have fallen off. Serve with freshly grated asiago (or other salty cheese) and some crackers or crusty bread.

Chicken, Rice, + Broccoli Casserole

Chicken, Rice, + Broccoli Casserole 

Usually I take my recipe inspiration from somewhere.  Mostly I’ll scroll through Pinterest, see something, and change it up.  I don’t think I saw this recipe anywhere.  I was just really craving a comfort food that I could make a little healthier.  This isn’t exactly healthy, but it’s better for me.  I use brown rice, white meat chicken, and broccoli.  But then I also put quite a lot of cheese in there. bb

Usually I just make this at home, and we’ll eat it until it’s gone.  But it would also be a great dish to take to a potluck.  I love doing casseroles for potlucks.  You can prepare everything ahead of time and just bake it before you leave.  If you are just wanting to bring a side dish, you could leave out the chicken and double the broccoli or add some blanched carrots.  There are really no rules here.

This dish does dirty a lot of dishes, but you can do it when you have time.  If you work, you can prep this the night before.  In my case, I prep when Ben is napping. 

Another easy thing about this recipe is that is actually just takes from 2 other recipes I use and adds some extras.  This recipe uses Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice and Basic Baked Chicken.  Make those, do the broccoli and the binders, then bake.  That’s it.  Yum.

You can use any grated melty cheese if you don’t have mozzarella (like cheddar or Monterrey jack).  More important than the type of cheese, it’s important that it’s freshly grated.  It’s cheaper, tastes way better, and it only takes a minute.

Also, this makes a ton.  Like most of my meals, I make a lot because there are 6 of us eating, but you can certainly half this.  I make it in one regular sized casserole dish plus one half size.aa

 

Total Time (not including the chicken and rice):  90 minutes

Difficulty Level:  Easy

Serves:  8

 

Ingredients

 

1 Recipe of Basic Baked Chicken (4 chicken breasts)

2 Recipes of Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice (6 cups)

6 broccoli crowns (2 bunches)

2 cans of 98% fat free cream of chicken soup

1 cup light mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream (light if you want)

2 cups freshly grated mozzarella cheese

 

2 packets of dry ranch seasoning

1 tablespoon of dried ground mustard

salt and pepper

1 ½ cups of seasoned bread crumbs

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Dice the baked chicken once it has cooled.  Add it to a very large mixing bowl.  Add the cooked rice to the bowl, and set aside.
  2. Cut the raw broccoli into bite-sized florets. You’ll need to blanch them.  I use my bamboo steamer, but you can also do it in boiling water.  In a steamer, it will take about 6-7 minutes.  If you blanch them directly in water, it’s only about 2 minutes. You just want to cook them enough so that it softens them and brightens the color without making them limp.  Remove them from the water.
  3. Add the blanched broccoli to the mixing bowl. Add the cream of chicken soup, mayonnaise, sour cream, mozzarella, ranch seasoning, and dried mustard to the large mixing bowl.
  4. Fold the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.  You shouldn’t need much extra seasoning, but go with your tastes.
  5. Add the mixture into one large and one small mixing bowl. Sprinkle evenly with breadcrumbs.
  6. Cook covered for 40 minutes. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees and continue cooking for 20 minutes, or until breadcrumbs are toasty.
  7. Let cool and set for 15 minutes before eating.

West African Peanut Soup

West African Peanut Soup14479589_356481904690452_8565524053409250890_n

If you’ve never heard of this, it may sound weird.  And offhand, a vegan, spicy, peanut buttery soup may not sound like comfort food.  It really is, though.  If you’ve never made African food, this is a great place to start.  The flavors are familiar enough, but a much appreciated change up from traditional soups like minestrone or chicken noodle. 

Because this soup doesn’t have a lot of ingredients, please use fresh garlic and ginger.  It really makes a difference.  The original recipe I used for this didn’t include sweet potato and or lentils, but I think it makes the soup feel more like a meal.  Regular white potatoes could be good in here instead of the sweet.  Also, garbanzo beans would be a tasty substitute for the lentils.  The original recipe also did not include the curry powder or Ras El Hanout (available on Amazon), and you don’t have to add them, but it adds a warm spiciness that I love.  

This soup involves making a slurry.  A slurry just means that you’re using some of the hot stock to thin out the peanut butter and tomato paste.  That way, when you add it back to the soup, it mixes evenly and smoothly, and you don’t end up with chunks of peanut butter.  You should do this any time you’re adding something thick to something brothy.  I’ve skipped that step before and added it directly to the soup, and it did not turn out right.

Like many of my dishes, this may not be 100% true to the original, but it’s delicious.  It takes about 1 hour to cook, but like most soups, it gets better the longer it simmers.  This is yet another recipe can be served over Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice.  The good thing about the rice is that you can either cook it alongside the soup, or you can even cook it the day before and store it until you need it.  Serve it with a torn piece of Naan bread and some chopped peanuts, and it’s the perfect dinner on a cold night.14570498_356481951357114_1835096097808545467_n

 

Total Time: 1 hour

Serves:  6

Difficulty Level:  Easy

 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium white onion, medium diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger

2 small sweet potatoes, medium diced

16 ounces dried lentils

6 cups fresh kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped

1 cup creamy peanut butter

6 ounces tomato paste

12 teaspoons or chicken base

12 cups water

1 tablespoon of curry powder

2 tablespoons Ras El Hanout

1/4 cup sriracha sauce

 

¼ cup roughly chopped peanuts

Naan bread

 

  1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium.  Add the onions, and saute until translucent.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute for another minute or two.
  3. Add the sweet potatoes, lentil, and kale.
  4. Add the peanut butter and tomato paste into a large mason jar.  Heat up water either in the microwave or in a tea kettle until almost boiling.  Add the hot water to the jar, and close.  Using oven mitts, shake vigorously until the peanut butter and tomato paste have dissolved into the hot water.
  5. Now add the peanut butter mixture to the pot.
  6. Add the chicken base, remaining water, curry powder, Ras El Hanout, and sriracha sauce to the pot.
  7. Bring the soup to a boil, and then bring it down to a simmer.  Cook for at least 30 minutes, but longer is better.
  8. If desired, serve over Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice.  Top with peanuts, and a side of naan bread.

(very loosely adapted from the Cookie and Kate blog)

 

 


Thai Beef Stir Fry

Thai Beef Stir Frythai beef stir fry - Copy

I lucked out getting this recipe.  My friend subscribes to Hello Fresh, and she gave me a week of free meals!  That was pretty exciting.  I didn’t keep the subscription after the free meals, but I can really see the appeal.  Each week you get three meals with all the ingredients needed to make them.  It forces you outside your comfort zone.  Of the 3 meals I got, Thai Beef Stir Fry was my favorite. 

Until I got this meal kit, I didn’t realize that you could buy “Thai Seasoning.”  But it’s just like getting an Italian seasoning or fajita seasoning.  I couldn’t find Thai seasoning at my local grocery store, but you can order it here on Amazon.

The whole thing took about 30 minutes to make, and I’ve actually made it again quite a few times since.  I usually double the recipe so Jon can take leftovers to work.

This recipe is directly transcribed from my Hello Fresh recipe card.  I actually tried to find it online somewhere so I could pin it and throw the card away, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. 

 

Total Time:  30 Minutes

Difficulty Level:  Easy

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

¾ cup basmati rice

¾ cup light coconut milk

6 ounces of fresh green beans, trimmed

Olive oil

1 red bell pepper, ribs removed and sliced thin

1 serrano pepper, seeds and ribs removed, and thinly sliced

2 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts kept separate

2 cloves garlic, minced

10 ounces lean ground beef

1 tablespoon of Thai seasoning

½ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

1 lime, cut into wedges

 

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. To make the coconut rice, bring ¾ cup coconut milk, ¾ cup water, and a large pinch of salt to a boil in a small pot.  Add the rice, cover, and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.  Fluff, and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, roast the green beans. First toss them on a baking sheet with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Roast for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.
  4. In a saute pan over medium high heat, add several tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the bell pepper and cook for 5-6 minutes.  Add the scallion whites, garlic, and serrano pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes, watching closely so the garlic doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add the beef and Thai seasoning to the saute pan with the peppers, and cook until meat is completely browned.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat, toss the basil in, and set aside.
  6. To serve, put the rice in the bottom, and top with some of the green beans and the meat mixture.  Garnish with fresh lime, and serve hot.

(recipe from Hello Fresh recipe cards)

 

 


Bamboo Steamer Salmon + Summer Vegetables

Bamboo Steamer Salmon + Summer Vegetables

bamboo salmon 3

The Final Product

As much as I like complicated food or greasy food, sometimes I actually crave steamed fish and veggies.  During my second pregnancy, I ate a bacon jalapeno cheeseburger with onion rings every single day for about 2 months, and that is not an exaggeration.  It was the only thing I would eat all day, and the only thing I really wanted.  Then about 3 weeks before Ben was born, I felt sick to my stomach.  Like, even though I needed all those calories, I just did not want any more greasy, spicy food.  That’s when I started making foil steam packets with fish. 

After I got Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook “It’s All Good,” I added a bamboo steamer to my Amazon wish list.  I had never really given one much thought before, or maybe I didn’t even know what it was.  Even though I make steam packets in the oven with tinfoil, I liked the idea of doing it on the stove. 

The steamer is really easy to use.  I got it here on Amazon.  You can line your steamer with parchment paper, but I use these pre-cut sheets (also here on Amazon).  Finally I got a steam ring (Amazon).  You just fit it over a small to medium pot full of water.  The bamboo steamer fits on top.  My steamer is 2 tiered, so you can do an individual meal in both.  You can also just use one tier at a time if you want.  Most steamers are 10 inches, but you should make sure the ring and parchment sheets are meant for a 10 inch steamer.

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Yum! That time I mixed up the salmon and mushrooms with shallot, grape tomatoes, and avocado…

I love salmon.  It’s my favorite fish.  I like it grilled, seared, roasted, and raw.  But my favorite way is steamed with dill and lemon.  It is so simple, and it flakes off and tastes so clean and buttery.  You can serve this plain (like I did), or serve it over a portion of Gwyneth’s Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice.

I feel lucky to live by the ocean and have a really good fish store a mile from my house because it makes the meal much better.  You really should use fresh fish and seasonal vegetables for this.  Since it is so simple, it’s important to have the few ingredients taste really really good and fresh.  If you are cooking this in the spring, cook it with spring vegetables.  I made this in August, so I’m using summer vegetables.  Just go with the season.

I haven’t gotten very adventurous yet, but I have seen recipes for boiling eggs in them.  And of course, you can do lots of Chinese food in them like dumplings and buns.  I’m excited to try something a little more complicated and exotic next time.  But for now, the salmon turned out just perfectly.

 

Total Time: 35 minutes

Serves 2

Difficulty Level:  Easy

bamboo salmon 1

How I Arranged My Meal

 

Ingredients

1 pound of very fresh salmon fillets

8 fresh button mushrooms

1 ½ fresh red bell pepper

1 medium zucchini

1 lemon

1 handful of fresh dill

 

  1. Place a parchment liner in each tier of the bamboo tray.
  2. Remove the skin from the salmon, and divide into 2 equal portions.
  3. Thinly slice the mushrooms and place around 1/3 the perimeter of each tray. Repeat with the bell pepper and the zucchini.
  4. Place the salmon in the center on the tray. Top each piece with lots of dill and several lemon slices.
  5. Fill a medium sized pot with water, and place the steam ring on top.
    bamboo salmon 2

    The completed steamer on the ring and boiling water.

    Place the Stacked up bamboo tray, lid on, on top of the ring.  Bring to a boil, and cook for 20-22 minutes.  Check once or twice for doneness of vegetables.

  6. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes before serving. Serve either by itself or over Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice –with another squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper, soy sauce, or sriracha sauce.