Tag Archives: healthy

skinny chiles rellenos

plated_chile_relleno

One of my favorite things to eat is a Tex-Mex chile relleno. Even in the tackiest of Americanized Mexican restaurants, you can count on a roasted poblano, filled with cheese or ground beef, fried to crispiness, then smothered in tomato sauce to ensure sogginess by the time it hits the table. Even the laziest of kitchens produce a fine, if bland, version of this dish. I thought I could do better.

Since I’ve been on a bit of a health kick lately, I wanted to make these at home, creating a version that would be both healthy and delicious. That meant no batter and no frying. It also meant that the pepper had to be stuffed with meat – cheese would be too heavy, and we all need protein. To boost the flavor, lean ground beef is sauteed with onion and cumin.

ground_beef_onions

The tomato sauce that ties everything together is enlivened with dried chiles. I use two guajillos, which packs some heat. Feel free to use just one if you’re sensitive to spice, or substitute something milder like puja chiles. They can be found at many Mexican grocery stores.

The recipe is complex because there are many steps, but it’s easy to multitask and execute. You’ll need your broiler to roast the poblanos and add a smoky flavor to the onions and garlic. If you’ve never rehydrated chiles before, now’s the time to start. You’ll toast the dried peppers in a hot skillet, then cover them with water. After they soak, they will be soft, pliant, flavorful, and ready to add that extra touch to your sauce.

Use a pan large enough to hold all the chiles, but compact enough that the sauce covers them during baking.

Poblanos all ready to be stuffed

Poblanos all ready to be stuffed

If you use lean ground beef (96/4) and little to no cheese, this recipe could be considered healthy. With the explosion of flavor from the sauce, I promise you won’t miss cheese-stuffed chiles.

Ready for the oven...

Ready for the oven…

Recipe: Skinny Chiles Rellenos

2 dried guajillo chiles
2 small onions, one peeled and quartered, the other diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
6 poblano chiles
6 Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded (or 1 14.5-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound lean ground beef
Monterey Jack cheese, grated, to taste
Cilantro to taste, for garnish

In a small skillet over high heat, toast the guajillo chiles, flipping frequently, until puffy. Add enough water to cover them and let the water come to a boil. When it boils, turn off the burner and allow the chiles to soak for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rinse and place in a blender.

Meanwhile, over a gas burner or under the broiler of your oven, roast the poblano chiles until blackened on each side. Place the chiles into a plastic bag and close tightly, allowing them to steam for 10 minutes.

Under your broiler, roast the tomatoes (if using whole ones), onion quarters, and garlic cloves until they blacken a little bit. Place the tomatoes, onion, and garlic into the blender with the chiles. Add 1 teaspoon of cumin, coriander, and oregano, half of the salt, and a splash of water. Blend on high until smooth, adding a little more water if necessary to get things moving around in there. Remove sauce to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Allow it to simmer for 10 minutes, until it thickens slightly.

Meanwhile, grab the poblanos. Carefully peel off the blistered skin, being careful to keep the flesh intact. Cut a slit down the side of each pepper and pull out the seeds. Arrange in a baking dish.

In a saute pan, cook the ground beef with the diced onion and the remaining cumin. Salt to taste if you’d like. Drain off the fat.

Carefully spoon the ground beef mixture into each poblano pepper, using your fingers to push the flesh back together after you’re done. Cover generously with tomato sauce, sprinkle with a little cheese if you’re using it, and bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese on top melts and browns a little bit.

Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice and a salad on the side.

Serves two or three as an entree; six as an appetizer.

Chiles_Rellenos

abi’s chicken with peppers

This dish is what chicken parmesan would be if it grew up, ate mostly salad, and got a personal trainer, but still yielded to the occasional urge to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy. Is it perfectly healthy? No. But it’s trying, and it comes close.

Maybe this dish deserves a catchier name. But let’s be honest. Abi – Xavier’s daughter – is the one who requests this dinner most frequently. She calls it “the chicken with the peppers.” Then I wonder if it was the stir-fried chicken, where bell peppers were accompanied by a handful of broccoli? Or perhaps the curried chicken with caramelized onions and strips of pepper almost melting into the sauce? As it turns out, none of the above. Why not just call it “Abi’s Chicken with Peppers?”

Abi’s Chicken with Peppers was born by accident. Don’t you love when you throw together a random meal and it turns out to be a huge hit? The kind of meal that is requested again and again? That was how this happened. It was the end of the week and the fridge was looking bare. I had chicken breasts, some leftover tomato sauce, and a smattering of vegetables. What to make?

My first thought: chicken parm. Now, our household loves chicken parmesan. I mean, really, really, really loves it. Nobody is Italian, or even close to it – we’re a mixture of Eastern European and Ecuadorian – but somehow that dish has made its way into our hearts and souls. The only issue is, we feel guilty eating it. The chicken is breaded, fried, and smothered with mozzarella. Obviously we love our indulgences, but generally we try to stay active and eat healthy foods.

I decided to skip the breading stage, and just saute chicken breasts to give them a quick sear. Then I’d smother the cutlets in sauteed bell pepper. Crunch is great, especially when it comes from crispy veggies and not breaded chicken coating! The chicken is placed in a baking dish, just like chicken parmesan, where it receives a healthy splash of tomato sauce and a moderate sprinkling of cheese. Sure, you can skip that if you’re really going for the low-calorie version. But as I tell myself, our brains need fat to stay healthy and continue to think of healthy modifications to recipes!

abis_chicken_peppers

Abi’s Chicken with Peppers

Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pint tomato sauce, warm (my favorite)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
Olive oil, for sauteeing
1 bell pepper, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, grated, to taste (I use about 1/2 cup)

First, prepare the chicken breasts. Using a very sharp knife, slice the breasts in half lengthwise so you end up with four thin cutlets. Pound the cutlets (between two pieces of plastic wrap, or inside a plastic bag) until they are thin and somewhat even. I do this with whatever heavy object I have laying around, be it a wine bottle, a can of tomatoes, or sometimes my fist.

Right about now, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 425F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken breasts in the mixture. Pre-heat a large saute pan over medium-high. Add a tiny bit of olive oil and saute the chicken breasts until browned on each side. You may need to do this in batches. The chicken is thin so this won’t take long, maybe 2-3 minutes per side. The idea is just to brown them. It’s okay if they’re still a little underdone inside, because they’ll be spending time in the oven, and you want to keep them moist! When the chicken is done, place the cutlets in one layer on a baking sheet that fits them comfortably.

Add just a splash more olive oil to the still-hot pan, and saute the bell peppers for just a minute. You want them to cook just a bit, but keep them crispy.

When the peppers are finished, layer them on top of the chicken cutlets. Ladle sauce on top, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese on top melts and begins to brown.

With pasta and salad, this will serve four people… or two to three hungry ones.

Notes: I have been known to add onion and mushroom to the pepper mixture. You could definitely experiment here.

If you make Chiffonade’s sauce, you’ll end up with much more than you need for the chicken. Serve some with the side pasta, and refrigerate or freeze the rest.

running my second 5k, and honey-balsamic vinaigrette

Legs running a 5K

These are the legs of a tired runner

When I first started this blog, many of my posts discussed exercise: my desire to exercise, my struggles to stay motivated, my tendency to make excuses that allowed me to gain weight. Then, as it often does, my focus drifted to things that were more fun to write about. Things like cooking. Traveling. And of course, all of the random adventures that I create for myself. It was easy to neglect writing about exercising, because I simply wasn’t exercising.

Something changed towards the end of July. I was even heavier than I’d ever been before, and becoming quite miserable. Looking in the mirror was depressing. Putting on clothes was depressing. Even eating was depressing, since I felt guilty every time I so much as looked at food and wanted it. I felt like I was so heavy that I didn’t deserve to eat.

Well, I don’t know what sparked it, but something snapped. We’d been religiously attending two classes at the gym: a core class that targets muscles in the abs, and a cardio kickboxing class that’s just an overall barn-burner of a workout. But I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to see. Then I made the decision to start jogging at least once per week. And I dedicated an adorable puppy dog calendar to tracking my exercise.

By the end of August, I could look at my calendar and see at least four documented workouts per week. It felt great. Somehow – despite an off week when I was struck by cellulitis after scuba diving – I managed to maintain the pace through September. And all of a sudden, I started to notice changes. My clothes fit a little better. I could wear the tighter T-shirts that had been shoved to the back of my closet, and when I put them on with jeans, I wasn’t as self-conscious about my belly straining the fabric. I went jeans shopping – usually a traumatic, depressing experience – and came out with a pair in my target size that fit comfortably and perfectly.

What’s more, I started to enjoy running. This was shocking, to say the least. There was no sign of the aches and pains that plagued me when I’d randomly run every six months. I think it’s beacuse I started slowly and built up my muscles gradually. Beyond being pain-free, running has actually felt good. I finally understand the runner’s high, that feeling of elation that you get from breaking a sweat. This has been the strangest thing of all. In the past, running felt good for the first five minutes. Then it just hurt. Now, after about four months of practice, it’s bearable. And afterwards, when the endorphins kick in? It’s all worth it.

As fun as it’s been, I need to be proactive about making sure this hobby sticks. That’s why I signed up for my first 5K: the Atlanta Monster Dash. Yes, I get to don a costume for this race, and that’s the only reason I’m doing it. Well, there is one more reason. The fear of embarrassing myself will get me out the door and running well before the race. At one point in my life, I did a sprint triathlon with the goal of simply finishing. I met my goal, and felt good about it, but there’s room for improvement. Now, I’m ready to be competitive.

In a hilarious twist of events, after signing up for the first run, I signed up for another 5K that would actually take place before it. That event was somewhat painful, but went well overall. Afterwards, I was ready to break another record. Unfortunately, I just learned that the Monster Dash 5K is not a timed event. This works out well for a few reasons. First of all, Xavier is running with me, and the lack of timing will allow us to relax and enjoy the experience. Second, there is trick-or-treating on the race course – this means we can indulge in some candy! And that brings me to my next point.

I’m always going to love decadent food, both preparing it and eating it. (Yes, I’m already excited for Hannukah to make potato latkes, and it’s only October!). But it’s much easier to eat well when you’re in training mode. After a long run, you don’t want to negate your efforts by chowing down a double cheeseburger or half a pizza. So I’ve been making a point to eat lots of entree salads lately. It’s nothing fancy. There’s always some Romaine or green-leaf lettuce in the house, and usually some combination of cucumber, tomato, avocado, carrot, and pepper. I’ll rinse and chop whatever’s around. If there’s protein in the house – chicken tenders, shrimp, whatever – it’ll get a quick saute over high heat, after a dusting of whatever spices I feel like grabbing.

That would be a complete meal in itself, except lately lots of studies have come out saying that salads are actually healthier when you eat them with dressing. I’m no nutritionist, but I can tell you that the nutrients in vegetables are better absorbed into your body when they can bind to fat molecules. In light of this information, you should whip up a quick honey balsamic vinaigrette. Okay, it ups your calorie intake. But it also adds bright, complex flavor to the whole meal. And it makes the salad so tasty that nobody complains about only salad for dinner.

Recipe: Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp shallot or 1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup neutral-flavored oil (canola, grapeseed)
A few tablespoons olive oil (or substitute walnut oil, avocado oil, something flavorful)

In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, Dijon, honey, and shallot or garlic (if using). Alternatively, use a handheld immersion blender on a low setting.

Drizzle in the neutral oil, little by little, whisking or blending throughout. With each addition of oil, whisk until emulsified before adding more. When the texture is just about right, add the olive oil. Finish with a quick blast of the blender or just a little bit more whisking.

Toss with lettuce and veggies, then enjoy.

(Note: when I follow this recipe, it makes enough to dress quite a few salads. You’ll likely have leftovers. They’ll keep well in the fridge for at least a week, encouraging you throughout to make more salad!)