Stir-Fry Rice Pilaf

If I were to say that say I’m making a rice pilaf, you could probably conjure up images of several different rice side dishes you’ve been served at various restaurants or dinner parties. And you probably wouldn’t be wrong. The only thing required for a rice pilaf is to sauté the uncooked rice in oil or butter to give it a nice toasted flavor, and then to cook it in broth. Nuts, seeds, veggies, dried fruits, herbs, and meat are all optional add-ins. That makes rice pilaf an incredibly versatile side.

Most people use a long grain white rice to make a pilaf, but we keep this short-grain brown rice on hand, and that’s what I used. It worked just fine. I adapted the recipe from that website, where they posted the perfect template for a make-your-own-pilaf. I added sesame seeds and frozen stir-fry veggies, along with a bit of hoisin sauce and ginger to the broth. Though it takes a bit of time to make the rice from scratch, this was a delicious and versatile side dish. I know I’ll be making other variations when the mood strikes.

Stir-Fry Rice Pilaf

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 2 tsp oil or butter
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
  • 1/2 cup of toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 ½ cups frozen vegetables (I used a stir-fry blend)
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat. Add oil and stir with wooden spoon. Add rice and continue stirring for 5 min or until grains are toasted. Add broth, cover tightly and cook for 45 min. Stir in remaining ingredients and continue cooking for 5 min. Serve. Makes 6 servings.

Note: This made a lot of rice. I’d half this recipe next time, and probably still have leftovers. We served this with hoisin-glazed pork chops and grilled pineapple skewers. Yum!


Versatile Pilafs

Rice pilafs are a method of cooking rice that requires sauteeing of raw grains to add a nutty toasted flavor. Any combination of herbs vegetables nuts and seeds and meats can be used with the rice. Always use a wooden spoon to stir rice to avoid breaking the grains.

Cooking Instructions:

  • 2 cup Lundberg® Long Grain Brown Rice
  • 2 tsp oil or margarine
  • 4 cup broth or water
  • 1/2 cup any nutmeats or sesame seeds
  • 1 package frozen vegetables or
    2 cup fresh chopped herbs
  • salt and pepper as desired

Heat a heavy skillet on medium heat. Add oil and stir with wooden spoon. Add rice and continue stirring for 5 min or until grains are toasted. Add broth or water cover tightly and cook for 45 min. Stir in vegetables nuts etc. and continue cooking for 5 min. Serve. Makes 6 servings.



Congrats to Kat & Jeff!

Since I usually post pictures of my cake pops, I figure I might as well post these:

Devil’s Food Cake with white chocolate on the outside and sparkly silver crystal sugar (Courtesy of Duff, a.k.a Ace of Cakes). I made them Friday night for Kat & Jeff’s wedding shower on Saturday.

I’m especially proud of the little tags, actually. I thought they were a nice touch.

Thanks to Sarah and Leah for their help (mostly with tying those adorable little bows!).

Finally, a quick public service announcement: When it’s hot outside, cake pops melt. That is all.

Review: McDonald’s Real Fruit Smoothies

This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally review, because it’s not the kind of thing I would normally buy. I’m not that into sweet drinks, and I’m not a big fan of drinking your calories. But I’m recovering from multiple root canals and a wisdom tooth extraction, which has put half of my mouth out of commission. It’s also had me eating a lot of soft things, like oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, applesauce, and, well, smoothies.

I had the Strawberry Banana flavor, and I have to admit that the taste was surprisingly good. It tasted like “real fruit,” as advertised. Mostly strawberry, but with a touch of banana. This created a good balance of tart and sweet. There were strawberry seeds in the mix, and tiny bits of fruit, so it seems as though there’s some actual fruit in there somewhere. Not something I’m going to order all of the time, but I was surprised at how much I liked it.

The nutritional information wasn’t THAT bad, either. For the small size, the smoothie is 210 calories, only half a gram of fat, and 2 grams of fiber, (or 4 Points, for those counting). That’s a little on the high side for a snack, and a disaster if you buy a burger and fries to go with it, but if you were craving something cold and creamy like a milkshake, this is a pretty reasonable substitute. Just to compare, the same size Triple Thick Strawberry Shake will cost you 420 calories, and 10 grams of fat (9 Points) and a Strawberry McCafe Shake is even worse at 570 calories, 17 grams of fat, or 13 Points. In comparison, the smoothie seems downright angelic.

So do I recommend it? If you’re there, and looking for a cold treat, this is a pretty good option. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get to McDonald’s for one of these smoothies, but I’m not a big smoothie fan in the first place. The small costs $2.29 here which seemed pretty reasonable, but again, I’m not a regular at Jamba Juice or other smoothie places, so I don’t know how that compares. I liked the Strawberry Banana, but I’ve heard that the Wild Berry is a lot sweeter, which certainly wouldn’t be to my tastes.

Cookbook Review: Chicago Cubs Cookbook

Who didn’t see this coming? The Cubs came out with a cookbook, and I bought it. Pre-ordered it even. And it just came in the mail today.

I read through it from cover-to-cover today, and I’ve got to say, I enjoyed it. The pictures are great, the recipes are enticing, and it’s all for a great cause: to benefit the Dempster Family Foundation.

The recipes come from all over the Cubs universe, from players past and present (and even future!), the coaching staff, the broadcast booth, and even some Cubs-friendly Chicago restaurants who happily shared some top-secret recipes in the name of charity. I haven’t had the chance to make anything from the book yet, but I’m looking forward to trying a number of these dishes.

There’s also plenty of Cubs trivia and Wrigley Field history tucked into these 124 pages, making it a fun read for just about any Cubs fan.

I only see two drawbacks, and they’re minor. One, as you’ll see below, there are multiple recipes for some of the same dishes. Two for crab cakes. Three for meatloaf. I know this isn’t a traditional cookbook, but I’d still prefer a little more variety. Two, the book is bound with a plastic spiral, which I know is common in cookbooks, but I’m not a fan. It gets bent weird and twisty. I’d prefer a regular binding. (Neither of these are deal-breakers!)

It’s for a good cause, so Cubs fans should do their part and buy this fun book. You’ll be glad you did.

Chicago Cubs Cookbook: All-Star Recipes from Your Favorite Players

The book starts with a foreword from Tom Ricketts, an Introduction to Riley Dempster and the Dempster Family Foundation, and a short history of food at Wrigley Field. The first three recipes in the book are striaght from the concession stands, provided by Levy Restaurants.

From the Friendly Confines:

  1. House-made Black Bean Veggie Burgers
  2. How to Build the PERFECT Chicago Dog
  3. Signature Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli

Leading Off: Appetizers

  1. Mike Fontenot: Bacon-Wrapped Duck Breast
  2. Rudy Jaramillo: Baked Herbed Cream Cheese en Croute
  3. Randy Wells’ Hot Wing Dip

Pinch Hitters: Side Dishes

  1. Cubs Clubhouse: Yogurt Mashed Potatoes
  2. John Grabow’s Loaded Mashed Potatoes
  3. Pat Hughes: Grilled Asparagus with Garlic
  4. Len Kasper: Mother Kasper’s Slow-Cooker Stuffing
  5. Greg Maddux: Rosebud Restaurants Jalapeno Hash Browns
  6. Dave Keller: Blue Adobe Grille Green Chile Potato
  7. Alan Trammell: Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern Pepper Jack Creamed Spinach
  8. Carlos Zambrano: My Arepa Caraotas Black Beans

Heart of the Order: Main Courses

  1. Jeff Baker’s Mom’s Chicken Cordon Bleu
  2. Mike Bielecki: Protein Thai Noodles
  3. Ernie Banks: Harry Caray’s Tallgrass Meatloaf
  4. Maron & Andrea Byrd’s Baked Ziti
  5. Andrew Cashner: Grandma Pat’s Meatballs
  6. Tyler Colvin: Molly’s CHicken Broccoli Casserole
  7. Connie’s Pizza: Pizza Soup
  8. Ivan DeJesus: Pastelon de Amarillos
  9. Ryan Dempster: D’Agostino’s Grilled Chicken Parmesan
  10. Ryan Dempster: Hub 51 Broiled Sea Bass in Horseradish Broth
  11. The Fifty/50 Skirt Steak Sandwich
  12. Kosuke Fukodome: Hiro Aoyama’s Ginger Pork
  13. Jeff Gray: Southwestern Turkey Burgers & Sweet Potato Fries
  14. Pat Hughes: Caramelized Plank Salmon
  15. Jim Hendry: Crawfish Etouffee
  16. Jim Hendry: Chicken & Sausage Gumbo
  17. Koyie & Meghan Hill’s Pork Stew
  18. Hub 51: Build-Your-Own Steak Tacos
  19. Brett Jackson: Buffalo Spaghetti Squash Pasta
  20. Ted Lilly: Egg in the Hole
  21. Fergie Jenkins: Bagged Pheasant
  22. Derrek Lee: Wildfire Parmesan-Crusted Filet
  23. Ted Lilly: Stanley’s King of Chilis
  24. Sean Marshall: Sarah’s Mom’s Masterpiece Meatloaf
  25. Carmelo Martinez: Locrio de Pollo
  26. Lou Piniella: Anita Piniella’s Layered Chicken Salad
  27. Corey Miller: Corey & Maria’s CHicken Pasta
  28. N9NE Steakhouse: Ahi Tuna Tartare
  29. Lou Mitchel’s: Grilled Thick French Toast
  30. Xavier & Meredith Nady’s Meatloaf
  31. Mike Quade: Pecan-Crusted Snook with Cajun Cream Sauce
  32. Aramis Ramierz: Harry Caray’s Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
  33. Larry Rothschild: Wildfire Spit-Roasted Herb Chicken
  34. Ryne Sandberg: Margaraet Sandberg’s Chicken Tacos
  35. Ryne Sandberg: Harry Caray’s Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce
  36. Carlos Silva: Arepas
  37. Ryan Theriot: Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya
  38. Alfonso Soriano & Carlos Marmol: Mangu
  39. Geovany Soto: Arroz Con Gandules
  40. Geovany Soto: Harry Caray’s Bone-In Chicken Vesuvio
  41. Chad Tracy: Vinegar Grilled Chicken
  42. Steve Trout: Pan-Fried Trout
  43. Billy Williams: Sweet-Swingin’ Billy’s Grilled Pork Chops
  44. Carlos Zambrano: My Arepa Carne Desmechada

Extra Innings: Desserts

  1. Cubs Clubhouse: Peanut Butter Protein Truffles
  2. Sam Fuld: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
  3. Tom Gorzelanny: Grandma Ruby’s Oreo Cookie Balls
  4. Jim Hendry: Fig Cake
  5. Jim Hendry: Pecan Praline
  6. Micha Hoffpauir: Grandma Ernestine Adams’ Blonde Brownies
  7. Rudy Jaramillo: Cola Cake
  8. The Rickets Family: Cut-Out Vanilla Almond Cookies
  9. Len Kasper: Apple Crisp
  10. Jeff Stevens: Christina’s Banana Nut Bread
  11. Ryan Theriot: Joe’s Havana Dream Pie


Pork Chops with Country Gravy

As you can probably tell, I went on a Cooking Light recipe spree last week. I can’t help it; it’s one of my favorite places to get recipes, especially when I’m in the mood to really cook. The instructions are simple enough, but the recipes tend to be a little more involved than a lot of the other “light” recipe sources I’ve used. They also tend to focus on real ingredients, instead of canned soup or other pre-made products. I like that too. Finally, the website’s rankings, reviews, and comments all help me to determine which recipes are worth a try and what good updates might be. It’s all very helpful. (They have other kinds of recipes besides healthy; Cooking Light is just one of several magazines in the recipe index. Go to myrecipes.com).

This recipe is classic comfort food. It reminds me of the chicken fried steak I grew up with. Except for the nutritional information. This version substitutes lean pork chops for the fatty steak, skips the breading and deep frying, and uses a reasonable amount of butter with low-fat milk to form the gravy. You wouldn’t have noticed the “lightness” of this though, which makes it even better. Instead of the herbs listed below, I used a ¾ teaspoon of poultry seasoning, which worked great. I served this with mashed potatoes and reduced-fat biscuits (store-bought. Not everything can be made from scratch, especially on a Wednesday!).

Pork Chops with Country Gravy
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, June 2006

  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
  • 3/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried marjoram
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried thyme
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried rubbed sage
  • 4  (4-ounce) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 3/4 inch thick)
  • 1  tablespoon  butter
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2  cups  1% low-fat milk

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Place flour, salt, dried marjoram, dried thyme, and dried rubbed sage in a shallow dish. Dredge pork in flour mixture, turning to coat; shake off excess. Reserve remaining flour mixture.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Reduce heat, and cook for 10 minutes or until done, turning pork once. Remove pork from pan; keep warm.

Combine reserved flour mixture and milk in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add milk mixture to pan; place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Serve with chops.

Two-Corn Polenta with Tomatoes & Basil

David and I have not, historically speaking, been big fans of polenta. My first experiences with polenta were way back when my mom was doing Weight Watchers in the late 90’s, when someone on the message boards convinced her to try the pre-made kind. It came in a tube, we sliced it and tried to pan fry it with olive oil, or maybe even cooking spray. Yuck. No flavor at all. Weird texture. No thanks.

Then, Alton Brown convinced me to try again. Not really compatible with Weight Watchers this time, since his recipe calls for plenty of cheese, butter, and whole milk.  It was also mildly complicated, as he extolled the virtues of “real” polenta, and asked me to avoid the instant stuff. Trusting Alton, I did. This was better than the first time, but I still remember being disappointed. Handfuls of good-quality cheddar, wasted. I ate my spoonful, but I didn’t really like it at all. It was mildly better sliced and pan-fried, but not great. I was ready to write off polenta altogether.

Except…

Something makes me WANT to like it. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why I’m so determined. I’ve had it at restaurants, and still wasn’t a fan. Cheese couldn’t save it. But for some reason, when I saw this recipe at the Cooking Light site, I was willing to give it another try.

And this time, I was pleasantly surprised. The fresh sweet corn adds additional flavor and texture that the other recipes I tried were lacking. The parmesan added a salty richness, but the flavor wasn’t overwhelmingly cheesy. The fresh tomato and basil balanced the flavors. I subbed shallots for onions (I do this often—where onions are too much for me, I’ve learned to like the milder taste of shallots) and even liked the flavor that they added. It was really good. I went back for seconds. I’m pretty sure David did, too. And I even ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I never got around to slicing and frying this batch, but next time I make it, I’d make sure I got to try that with the leftovers. And there will be a next time.

Two-Corn Polenta with Tomatoes & Basil
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, June 2008

Ingredients

  • 2  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 2  cups  chopped onion (2 medium)
  • 4  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2  cups  fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
  • 2  garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1  cup  instant dry polenta
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup  chopped tomato
  • 1/2  cup  chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 8 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in broth, corn, and garlic; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Slowly add polenta, stirring with a whisk until polenta is thick (about 5 minutes). Add cheese, stirring to melt. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove from heat; sprinkle with tomato and basil. Serve immediately.

Note: Bonus points for this recipe—I got to use my dutch oven! A heavy saucepan would work just fine though.

Barbecue Chicken with Mustard Glaze

I was looking for grilling recipes and came across this chicken rub/glaze on the Cooking Light website. It looked promising, and the reviews were great, so I gave it a try.

The good news is, the ingredients were things I basically keep on hand. Sugar. Garlic Powder. Chili Powder. Vinegar. Mustard. Ketchup. I like when recipes can be made from the pantry staples that I keep on hand. (I also like stocking my pantry so I can make most things, but that’s another post). The other good news is that the recipe came out pretty tasty.

The not-as-good news was that it ended up tasting mostly like bottled barbecue sauce. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, but it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth if you’ve already got barbecue sauce on hand. Unless we’re out of our regular sauce or something, I don’t think I’ll be making this again.

The recipe called for bone-in chicken thighs, but I stuck with our standard boneless, skinless chicken breasts and everything turned out fine.

P.S. The tasty looking side dish you see with the chicken was an awesome two-corn polenta. Check back for that recipe tomorrow!

Barbecue Chicken with Mustard Glaze
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, July 2009

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons  dark brown sugar
  • 2  teaspoons  garlic powder
  • 2  teaspoons  chili powder
  • 1  teaspoon  smoked paprika
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  cup  ketchup
  • 1  tablespoon  dark brown sugar
  • 1  tablespoon  sherry or red wine vinegar
  • 1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard
  • 4  boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Cooking spray

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Combine ketchup and next 3 ingredients (through mustard) in a small bowl; stir with a whisk.

2. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Rub spice mixture evenly over chicken thighs. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 5-7 minutes. Turn chicken over. Brush with half of ketchup mixture; cook 5-7 minutes. Turn chicken over. Brush with remaining ketchup mixture; cook 2 minutes or until a thermometer registers 165°.

Cheddar & Brown Rice Risotto Cakes

We buy our brown rice from Costco, a 12.5 pound bag of short grain brown rice from Lundberg Family Farms. Recently, I checked out their website and was pleasantly surprised to find a whole slew of recipes for all of their rice products, including several for the short grain variety we buy.

Naturally, this cheesy recipe caught my eye. It was tasty AND healthy, which is a great combination. Kind of like a potato pancake–cheesy, crispy around the edges, with the nutty flavor of brown rice. We really enjoyed these, and I’m sure we’ll make them again. They’d be good with other kinds of cheese as well. If you weren’t worried about the health aspects, full fat cheese and butter or olive oil in place of the nonstick spray would be delicious, but honestly, they were great the healthy way too. 🙂

I used leftover brown rice to make these cakes, which makes it even better.

Cheddar & Brown Rice Risotto Cakes

  • 1 cup (4-ounces) shredded low-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Vegetable cookin spray
  • Applesauce (optional)
  • Lowfat sour cream (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked Lundberg Organic Short Grain Brown RiceCombine rice, cheese, onion, flour, salt and pepper in medium bowl. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar in small bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold beaten egg whites into rice mixture.

    Coat large skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat until hot. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons batter into skillet for each patty; push batter into diamond shape using spatula. Cook patties, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Serve warm with applesauce or sour cream. Makes about 1 dozen patties.

Molasses & Rum-Glazed Grilled Pineapple Skewers

After a long, hard day of shopping (he he), Leah and I came home to find a David ready to make us dinner. He grilled a tequila-lime chicken and these pineapple skewers as a side. And they were awesome. The pineapple gets all caramelized, which really brings out the sweetness, but in addition, the molasses-rum glaze tasted almost like toasted marshmallows by the time everything was done. Grilled pineapple is delicious, but this took it up a notch! I’d make this again anytime.

Molasses & Rum-Glazed Grilled Pineapple Skewers

  • 1/3 Cup Molasses
  • 1/4 Cup dark rum
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 Tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 small pineapple

1) Put the molasses, rum, lime juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium high and cook until reduced to about 1/3 of a cup.

2) Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.

3) Cut the pineapple into chunks, spears, or wedges, whatever you want.

4) Brush the grill grate with oil so the pineapple doesn’t stick. Put the pineapple on the grill and cook until nicely grill marked, about 3-5 minutes per side. Brush with some glaze during the last two minutes of grilling. Remove to a plate and brush with the remaining glaze. Serve warm.

Green Beans with Bacon-Balsamic Vinaigrette

It’s green bean season, and we got a whole bushel from my grandparents a week or so ago. I’m sure we’re not the only ones looking to use up some great garden green beans, but other than my friend Leah, who will sit and munch them like potato chips, everyone seems to do the same thing with beans. This time, I was looking for something a little different.

I found this recipe on the Cooking Light website. Despite the bacon and sauce, it works out to only a Point for a cup, which is nice. I used center cut bacon, and substituted chopped walnut pieces for the almonds in the original recipe (David’s not a fan of almonds).

I thought it was tasty, and probably worth another try. There’s sugar in the sauce, and that made it turn out sweeter than I had imagined, probably compounded by the fact that I also substituted regular balsamic vinegar for the white balsamic that the recipe originally called for. I was in a hurry, and ended up tossing things in the skillet a bit differently than called for, and so the end product had bits of candied bacon throughout (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I think, overall, the beans could have used more salt.

As I said, I’ll probably try this one again, following the original a bit more closely to see how things turn out.

Green Beans with Bacon-Balsamic Vinaigrette
Adapted from Cooking Light, November 1996

Ingredients

  • 2  pounds  green beans
  • 2  bacon slices
  • 1/4  cup  minced shallots
  • 3  tablespoons  coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 2  tablespoons  brown sugar
  • 1/4  cup  balsamic vinegar

Preparation

Cook green beans in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain well; set aside.

Cook bacon in a small skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet. Crumble; set aside. Add shallots to bacon fat in skillet; sauté 1 minute. Add almonds; sauté 1 minute. Remove and let cool. Add sugar and vinegar; stir until sugar dissolves. Add crumbled bacon.

Pour vinaigrette over beans, tossing gently to coat.