roasted tomato and corn salsa with charred poblano peppers (perfect for tacos!)

My produce box came with two surprises this week: four poblano peppers and two heads of bok choy. While I haven't quite figured out what to do with the bok choy yet (stir fry maybe later this week?), I immediately knew what I was going to do with the peppers. After a quick search on the internet for a poblano salsa recipe, I didn't find what my mouth was craving, so I set out to make my own – which turned out to be a mix of roasted poblanos and Roma tomatoes, along with corn, onion and more. I made it Sunday night (giving the flavors time to marry and to save in the post-work dinner effort later in the week) and plan to serve it on top of pork tenderloin tacos, using the second pork tenderloin and the same seasoning as shown in this meal, Mexican-spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin.

 Roasted Tomato and Corn Salsa with Charred Poblano Peppers
  • 4 poblano peppers, quartered lengthwise and seeded
  • 6 Roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 - 3/4 c corn kernels
  • 3/4 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/3 c cilantro, chopped
  • 1-2 limes, juiced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Coat the tomatoes and pepper with olive oil and salt and pepper, making sure that peppers remain skin-side up. Roast peppers for ~10 minutes, until the skin is blistered (like in the photo, above), and the tomatoes ~15 minutes, until withered and soft. Set aside to cool. When cooled, peel the skin off of the peppers slowly (it should peel off in one or two pieces).
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the onions, corn, cilantro, and salt and pepper. Chop the cooled tomatoes and peppers and add them to the bowl. Top with lime juice; stir. Serve with chips or on other delicacies, like Mexican-spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin tacos. :)


cowboy steak with coffee and ancho rub

This Ellie Krieger recipe has been on my to-make list for quite some time. I've never made a coffee rub for beef, but I've heard so many great things. And I really have no excuse: I have a coffee grinder to ensure the most flavorful coffee-scented rub. So, finally, after nabbing an on-sale porterhouse (thus ensuring both a taste of filet AND N.Y. strip - two of my favorite cuts), I had my excuse. Plus it gave me the opportunity to use up the fresh veggies from my produce box, rounding out the meal with some simple roasted tomatoes and sauteed spinach. This is easy enough for a weeknight, folks. I'm living proof. Enjoy!

Cowboy Steak with Coffee and Ancho Rub
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ancho chili or regular chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. finely ground coffee or espresso beans
  • 1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander (a little-known fact: coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • Optional: 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 to 1 1/4 lb. beef, such as a porterhouse steak
  1. Combine chili through pepper(s) in a small bowl. Rub evenly into both sides of the steak. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before cooking.
  2. Grill the steak to desired doneness. Allow it to sit for five minutes before cutting into it.

Roasted Romas with Parmesan and Basil
  • Roma tomatoes, cleaned and quartered lengthwise
  • Fresh-chopped garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan
  • Freshly julienned (thinly sliced) basil leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 400.* Toss the tomato quarters with a little olive oil and a little fresh garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring every five to ten minutes, very gently.
  3. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese and basil. Serve immediately.


slow-cooker stuffed peppers

In preparation for a long day ahead, this is what we're having for dinner. It's easy to prep in advance (even the night before) and turn on in your slow cooker as you walk out the door. The best part is returning home to the warm and inviting smell of these peppers, ready for you to eat.

They're super healthy and figure-friendly. And though they are vegetarian, you won't miss the meat. They're filling due to the high fiber and protein (from the beans) and satisfying Mexican flavors, especially when you top them with salsa and sour cream.

Make this the next time you need a guilt-free, healthy, quick dinner.

Slow-cooker Stuffed Peppers
  • 4 green bell peppers 
  • 1 can (about 15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained 
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded pepper-jack cheese 
  • 3/4 cup medium salsa, plus additional for topping
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn 
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions 
  • 1/3 cup uncooked long-grain converted white rice 
  • 1 tsp chili powder 
  • 1 tsp ground cumin 
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sour cream
  1. Cut thin slice off top of each bell pepper. Carefully remove seeds, leaving pepper whole.
  2. Combine beans, cheese, salsa, corn, onions, rice, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper in medium bowl. Spoon filling evenly into each pepper. Place peppers in slow cooker. Cover; cook on LOW 4 to 6 hours. Serve with sour cream, salsa or any other Mexican-friendly topping, like avocado, jalapenos, etc...


thoughts on "dieting"

I used to watch "The Biggest Loser" fairly regularly, but with less time for television, I only catch a few shows of anything here and there. It has probably been a season or two since I have really committed to an episode of it, but this past season I have partially watched two episodes. Both times I was horrified.

Not only is the show one giant promo for food products, the show has lost its core value of doing what's best for the participants. After a work out, a trainer approached a still-chubby man and advised him to eat a chocolate-flavored Fiber One bar because it "has the fiber and nutrients he needs" to recover. Panning in on the logo on the label, the man ate it as eagerly as he would a chocolate bar, desperate for the processed junk that got him in his dire situation in the first place. The second episode, clearly sponsored by the Dairy Association, showed yet another still-chubby man at the table eating a bowl of cereal with a large, attractive glass pitcher of milk sitting next to him. Before the trainer walked in casually, he poured another dollop of milk into his bowl. While, I totally agree that milk is a healthy, natural food, the trainer really irked me when she said that she was so excited to "see him eat a bowl of cereal with healthy, fat-free milk, which is filled with calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium, to fuel his upcoming workout," making sure to emphasize that it should be part of everyone's diet on a daily basis. Not only that, but the show feeds these folks protein waters, artificial sweeteners, and other junk when in reality the show should be teaching them how to eat real food.

The same thing bothers me about "healthy" vitamin waters (why do you need added nutrients, artificial flavorings and colors in your water?), protein supplements (Americans get plenty of protein in their diets – the excess is secreted through urine, so you're literally urinating away your money), artificial sweeteners (skip the carcinogens and eat dessert in moderation), and other products that make "health" claims. And all the diets endorsed by Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Special K and the like are a bunch of garbage as well. Guess what? If you eat only 1200 to 1500 calories of real food, and exercise, you'll lose weight, too, with the added health benefits. Madness.

My point is, I am an advocate for food. Whole, fresh foods that are minimally processed and prepared as close as possible to eating time. Food manufacturers are out to make money, not to keep you healthy. You have to be your own advocate. The less health claims on the label and the more whole the food, the better off you will be.

And as you fill your plate with them, you'll find that there's less room for the junk anyways.

healthy, tasty banana bread

When I was a girl scout, my mom and I made banana bread for a baking contest. The recipe won the blue recipe for taste, but not necessarily for health. Don't get me wrong, it was delicious, and is still a family favorite, but the loads of butter, sugar and white flour made it more of a dessert than a healthy bread loaf.

Since graduating college, I've been on the hunt for a better-for-you, yet still tasty, banana bread. Almost six years later, and somewhere between five to ten recipes discarded, I have found it. It goes easy on the butter and sugars, heavy on the whole wheat and spices, uses yogurt instead of oils and packs a health punch with the addition of flax.

Give it a try; you won't be disappointed. And your waistline will thank you, too.

Healthy, Tasty Banana Bread (very modified from Cooking Light)
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (~2 large ripe bananas)
  • 1/3 cup plain fat-free vanilla or plain yogurt
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted, or canola oil 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar or honey (decrease the cooking time slightly if using honey)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed. Add granulated and brown sugars and vanilla; beat until combined.
  3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through ground allspice). Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended. Pour batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan; cool completely.


carolina-style bbq and grilled romaine with blue cheese-bacon vinaigrette

I love BBQ sauce. Like for real love. But I like the mustardy, vinegar sauces. A little bit spicy, with the bold taste of the yellow mustard, the sharp tang of vinegar, and only a touch of sweetness. Finger-licking perfection. For this dinner, I needed to use up some Romaine from my organic produce box and found a Guy Fieri recipe that grilled it and topped it with a little bacon, red onion, and bleu cheese. Yes, please. So, that's what we had. Here's how you can make it, too.

Carolina-style BBQ Sauce
  • 1/2 c yellow mustard
  • 1/4 c apple-cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. mustard powder (I skipped this because it's a little like horseradish, which I don't care for)
  • 2 tsp. hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
Whisk above ingredients together. Season chicken (~8 chicken thighs or legs is a good number for this amount of sauce) with salt and pepper before slathering with sauce and cooking. Make sure to wrap the meat in foil for five to ten minutes before eating.

Grilled Romaine with Blue Cheese-bacon Vinaigrette (courtesy Guy Fieri, serves 6)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 pound bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 heads romaine lettuce, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 2-3 tomatoes, diced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the grill to high heat.
  2. Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a saute pan over high heat. Add the onions and bacon and cook until the bacon is crispy. To the same pan add the balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Brush the romaine lettuce with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, place on the grill cut side down, and quickly sear.
  4. Serve the lettuce, cut side up, and drizzle the balsamic dressing over the lettuce. Sprinkle with blue cheese and garnish with cracked black pepper.


mexican spice-rubbed pork with quinoa

This recipe is an especially healthy one because it calls for lean, roasted pork tenderloin and flavorful, corn-filled quinoa (both whole grains). It's flavorful from the spice rub (hello, antioxidants!) and proved to be a very filling meal with a little side salad.

For those of you who have never tried quinoa, let me tell you that you are really missing out. This hearty whole grain is power packed with nutrients, such as fiber, protein, magnesium, riboflavin (a B vitamin) and more. Combined with the double-duty second whole grain, it's a power-house side. Enjoy.

Mexican Spice-rubbed Pork with Quinoa
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pork tenderloins (1 3/4 pounds total), halved crosswise
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced (I used home-grown chives)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Jarred salsa or salsa verde, for serving (optional)  
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Combine the paprika, red pepper flakes, cumin and two teaspoons salt in a shallow dish. Rub the pork all over with the olive oil, then roll in the spice mixture to coat. Transfer to a roasting pan and roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 140-145 degrees F, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest, wrapped in foil, five minutes.  
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and fluff with a fork. Toss with the corn, scallions, and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Slice the pork and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with the quinoa and salsa verde, if desired.


summertime cinnamon-orange iced tea

Though I'm from the deep south where syrupy sweet tea is offered in every restaurant and premade in every grocery store, I don't care for it. I usually opt for unsweetened with lemon when I'm out to eat (something that took a little getting used to, but now I crave) and almost daily drink a mug of hot cinnamony decaf tea in the afternoons at work. Chocked full of antioxidants and flavor, I find that the spices in my "Christmas tea" (as our intern dubbed it) replace the need for sugar. It's a nice alternative to the calorie-packed sweet teas and artificial sweeteners that I avoid.

So, as a cinnamon lover and a tea advocate, I knew I would like this recipe the minute I saw it. It makes eight cups and can be made on the weekends for weeklong enjoyment. It does come with a simple syrup, but I used a quarter of the recipe for the whole carafe. Perfect. Enjoy it on a warm, sunny day when you need some cool refreshment.

Cinnamon-orange Iced Tea
  • 2 large pieces of orange peel, plus orange
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 black tea bags
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 quarter-sized coins of peeled ginger, chopped
  • 6 sprigs fresh mint
  1. Make the tea: Combine 8 cups water, tea, orange and cinnamon sticks in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and remove the tea bags after they have steeped for five minutes (any longer and the tea will become bitter). Set aside to cool.
  2. Make the simple syrup (again, I only made 1/4 of this recipe and found it to be perfect): In a small sauce pan combine 1 cup of water with the sugar and ginger. Slowly bring to a boil and remove from heat. Tear the mint leaves and sprigs into smaller pieces and add to the mixture. Give it a good stir and allow it to sit for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the tea with the orange peel and cinnamon stick to a pretty pitcher and stir in a little of the syrup. Taste and add more as needed. Serve over ice with a pretty orange slice and a fresh cinnamon stick, if desired.


fudgy white-chocolate chunk cookies

Start with 8 oz. of chopped white chocolate (I was a little short, so I had to supplement with some extra milk chocolate). Melt 7 oz of baking semi-sweet chocolate in the microwave, stirring every :30 until it's creamy.

On medium mixer speed, cream 1/4 c softened butter and 3/4 c brown sugar. Add two eggs and one tsp vanilla. On low speed, add 1/2 c. flour and 1/4 tsp baking powder. Add the melted chocolate.

Stir in by hand the chopped chocolate and one cup of chopped walnuts (if you skip the nuts, increase the flour by 1/4 c).

Drop 1/8 - 1/4 c spoonfuls of batter on to an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 13-15 minutes; allow to cool for a few before eating.

Note: The batter and cookies do freeze. Just cut off chunks of the frozen dough and bake without thawing.


seared rosemary-garlic pork with polenta and balsamic glaze

This recipe attracted me first because my rosemary bush is out of control and I was desperate to use it and second because I've always wanted to make a balsamic glaze. It actually came together really quickly, even though it looks (and tastes) impressive. Tangy and sweet, creamy and juicy, salty and woodsy, this. is. it. 

Seared Rosemary-garlic Pork with Polenta and Balsamic Glaze

  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup uncooked, instant polenta (on the pasta aisle - kind of like grits) 
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • Salt/pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 (4-ounce) bone-in center-cut pork chops, trimmed
  1. Combine rosemary, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper, and garlic; rub mixture on one side of the pork. Allow to rest five minutes.
  2. Bring two cups milk and broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add polenta. Whisk until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Stir in cream cheese, salt and pepper it, and taste. Keep warm.
  3. Place vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half (about five minutes).
  4. Place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Place pork in pan; cook for 3-5 minutes on each side or until just browned. Let stand five minutes wrapped in foil before slicing. Serve with polenta; top with juices from foil, glaze and a sprinkle of leftover chopped rosemary if you have it.


beef shepherd's pie topped with cheesy garlic smashed potatoes

This is one of my husband's favorite dinners. It's meaty, chocked full of veg and layered with cheesy, fluffy, garlicky smashed potatoes. And it's easy! I make it every couple of months, when I'm craving beef and potatoes. It never fails to satisfy. If you want to have a lighter dinner, serve it with a leafy-green salad.

Also, I use these smashed potatoes as a side dish frequently ... they're fantastic with or without the pie underneath. Enjoy!

Beef Shepherd's Pie Topped with Cheesy Garlic Smashed Potatoes
  • 1 1/4 lb red potatoes (use up any extra potatoes by roasting them with garlic and rosemary)
  • 3 large whole garlic cloves, peeled 
  • 3/4 c sour cream
  • 1/2 c cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 4c frozen mixed veggies (corn, lima beans, peas, carrots, onions, whatever you can find in the freezer section)
  • 3/4 c beef broth
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (or ketchup)
  • Optional: 2-3 shakes of Worchestershire sauce
  • Salt/pepper
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Dried parsley
  1. Cover potatoes and whole garlic with water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain. Return to pan and mash with 1/4 c cheddar cheese and sour cream. Season generally with salt and pepper (and then taste them for "quality purposes").
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brown beef in a deep dutch oven. Drain fat from pan. Add flour to meat in the degreased pan; cook 1 minute. Add veggies, broth and tomato broth and Worchestershire, if you like it. Cook 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and a pinch or so of crushed red pepper.
  3. Cover the meat-veg mixture evenly with mashed potatoes. Top with a little dried parsley for color. Bake for 18 minutes sans lid. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 c cheese. Bake for two more minutes; serve.


hearty cinnamon-raisin bread

This recipe comes with a funny story - and a lesson. I skimmed the steps instead of reading them thoroughly, like usual. By doing so, I missed a crucial rising step that required an additional hour and a half of waiting ... after the first hour and a half rise time. So when I started this at 9:00 p.m., I didn't know what I was in for. It's now 2:00 a.m. and I just wolfed down two slices out of sheer hunger and exhaustion (and because it's homemade bread fresh from the oven!). Admittedly, it's delicious. But next time ... I'll start it in the morning. :)

Here's how it began: I love the way this special bread is warm and sweet and spicy all at the same time, but the grocery store versions are just too refined for me. I recently saw a how-to article in one of my food magazines about how to make whole-wheat cinnamon-raisin bread. Ellie Krieger (one of my favs) lead the way, which gave me a little more confidence since I typically enjoy her healthy recipes. It actually uses half whole-wheat and half bread flour, but the fiber and nutrition is upped tremendously over the grocery store kind because of the swap. The recipe also gave me the opportunity to use my bread hook, a device I've had for five years and never once used (sadly – I'm usually a fan of quick breads, like this zucchini-pineapple quick bread.)

It's a little time consuming, so save it for a rainy weekday inside and then treat yourself to a toasty slice with some coffee. Or, better yet, try making French toast with it. You won't be disappointed!

Hearty Cinnamon-Raisin Bread
  • 2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk (reviews said that warm milk could be substituted here, just omit the water)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for brushing
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • Cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon plus 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  1. Make the dough: Measure out 1 1/4 cups very warm water and check the temperature; it should be 120 degrees F to 130 degrees F. Combine both flours, the dry milk, egg, canola oil, honey, salt, 2 tsp. cinnamon, yeast and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix three minutes on the lowest setting, then increase to the next highest setting and mix five more minutes. The dough should be soft and sticky (and warm!).
  2. Let it rise: Transfer the dough to a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled in size, about one hour, 30 minutes.
  3. Soak the raisins: Dry raisins will rob moisture from the bread, so soak them first in boiling water until plump, about 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
  4. Fold the dough: Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Picture it as a loose square. Lift up one side of the dough and fold about one-third of it across; press down on the dough with spread fingers to remove any air bubbles. Repeat with the remaining three sides of the dough.
  5. Add the filling: Mist two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray. Divide the dough in half; roll out each half into an 8-inch square. Brush each square with canola oil, then sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon (it's high in antioxidants!), brown sugar and raisins.
  6. Form the loaves: Roll up each square of dough into a tight cylinder; place seam-side down in the prepared pans. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough fills the pans and springs back when touched, about one hour, 30 minutes.
  7. Bake the bread: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaves with canola oil and bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the pans and transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Next time I will roll mine a little thinner and tighter to help the cinnamon and raisin filling to more evenly distribute throughout each slice. Still delish, though.