Monday, May 13, 2013

Chicken and Black Bean Soup

My brother, bless his heart, sometimes needs help in the gift giving department. Usually, if there is a girlfriend in the picture around Christmas and birthday months, things go pretty smoothly.  And there are other times when, left to his own devices, things turn out less so.  I don't want too sound ungrateful here, but I must say that there was a Christmas where gifts were wrapped in brown paper and duct tape.  I realize that is almost too prime-time-sitcom to believe, but it is the truth.  

I had been craving a Crock Pot ever since I had moved out on my own.  It seemed too perfect not to own one, yummy meals ready upon your arrival home.  After a few years of being on my Christmas list, I was lucky enough to have one show up on my doorstep a few days before the big holiday, courtesy of my brother.  Excited, I opened it up immediately. However, within seconds afterwards, I was on the phone with my mother upset.  He had bought me a refurbished crock pot.  I didn't even know you could buy refurbished crock pots, but somehow he had managed it.  I sat there, cross legged on my shag brown carpet, on the phone with my mother, upset and sadly rocking the lid back and forth on my refurbished crock pot.  It wasn't supposed to rock that much.

After a few failed attempts and a good amount of phone-bitching to Ben, he has just about convinced me to send the crock pot to Goodwill and simply buy a new one, when the lucky boy proposed.  I then promptly talked myself out of Goodwill/buy a new one plan, content to wait for the glorious days of wedding registry and gifts.  However, that left me with several months without one.  And I'm not about to give up on yummy, convenience dreams.  Enter, tinfoil, stage right.  A few extra minutes in the morning, along with a few choice words, and I have a somewhat tight seal on my crock pot.  Those few strips of tinfoil is what I plan on getting me through the next months.  Not that that will spare poor Ben from a few annoyed phone calls, but hey, he knew what he was getting into.

PS - My brother does now have a wonderful girlfriend who he is living with, whom we all adore.  Basically, we're waiting for her to officially join the family, hint, hint, wink, wink...

Chicken and Black Bean Soup
Adapted from: A Year of Slow Cooking

As is the theme as of late, this was a quick and easy dinner (inherent to crock pot meals).  Simple, yummy and it makes great left overs.  Extras go great in the freezer and make for some additional quick and easy lunches later on (tried and true).

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1 c. frozen corn
1 jar (16 oz) prepared salsa (I used Pace Medium)
1 1/2 tsp. cumin

Plain Greek Yogurt
Cheese (sharp cheddar or pepper jack)
Cooked quinoa

Layer black beans in the bottom of the crock pot.  Lay chicken breasts on top.  Pour remaining ingredients over top, making sure chicken is submerged in liquid.  Cook on low for 8 hours.

Once done, remove chicken from soup.  Shred chicken into bite size pieces.  Using immersion blender, blend soup into desired thickness.  Return shredded chicken back to soup.

I found the best way to serve this was to place some cooked quinoa in the bottom of a bowl and ladle a good amount of soup over top.  Garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of cheese.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lemongrass Chicken Stir-Fry

I am pretty pumped about getting married.  Yes because the whole forever and ever, love of my life, marrying my best friend deal and all.  But if you were to ask Ben why I am so excited to get married, he'd probably be able to tell you the deep dark secret: I am most excited about getting married so that we can get a puppy and I can have a big kitchen.

Seriously, forget the pretty white dress, the flowers and unity candles (do you really need one of those??).  What I am most excited for starts after the big deal.  Ben, me, a house with a big kitchen and a puppy.  Really, that's all I want, all I need.

So instead of getting excited about centerpieces or worrying that our venue won't allow us to have lit candles on the tables, I spend most of my evenings thinking of our life post-big-happy-day.  Important things too, things like who's going to be the main dishwasher in the house?  Will I ever be able to get over my trust issues and let Ben do a load of laundry on his own?  Am I actually going to have to make real, balanced dinners every night?  Really?  No more bowls of cereal (me) or tall glasses of protein shakes (him)?

So, in order to put my mind somewhat at ease, the Chinese cooking has been on the uptake the last few months.  There are several hard and fast reason why this is the case.  To start with, anything stir-fired is by nature quick.  Also, after a few shopping trips to invest in things like fish sauce and rice cooking wine, I usually have all the ingredients on hand.  Plus, I can sneak whatever veggies I want in with the meat and ta-da! the meal has suddenly become a balanced meal.  Veggie, grain, protein, the works.  You know, if I could only learn to let go a little bit over my laundry-OCD-ness, I may be able to wrap my mind around the whole marriage/man/wife deal.  Just maybe...

Most of our adventures lately have come for the pages of Quick and Easy Chinese, a cookbook that was part of a gift from my future mother-in-law, along with a gorgeous cast iron wok.  True to the title, they are quick, easy and most importantly yummy.  We usually alternate serving the various stir-fries over brown rice or quinoa, but I have it in my mind to try a different whole grain soon, as I did just pick up some farro.  This little number came from Cooking Light's January 2013 issue.  As is the theme here, it was quick, easy and yummy.  It was not cut out from the big green cookbook though simply because it just wasn't unique enough.  But it is still definitely a great contender for Thursday night dinner.

Lemongrass Chicken Stir-Fry
Adapted from CL Jan. 2013

1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. chicken stock
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. sweet Asian chile sauce
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)
1 Tbsp. lemongrass, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 c. (or big handful) fresh green beans
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced to bite sized pieces
1/3 c. unsalted cashews
1 Thai chile, thinly sliced

Heat large wok over high heat.  While it is heating up, combine first 5 ingredients in small contained to make sauce.

Once wok is hot, swirl 1 tablespoon oil.  Add lemon grass and garlic, stir frying for about 30 seconds. Remove from wok with a slotted spoon.  Add remaining vegetables to wok, stir frying until bright and crisp, about 2 minutes.  Remove from wok and add to lemongrass mixture.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pan, swirl to coat.  Add chicken and spread into single layer.  Cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, 3-4 minutes.  Add cashews and chile to the chicken and continue to stir fry until chicken is cooked through.  Add in vegetables and toss to mix.  Pour sauce over top.  Bring the sauce to a boil, tossing the chicken and vegetables to coat.  Sauce will thicken (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat and serve immediately over rice or quinoa.