Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Success on Lightening Up a Classic - Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo

One of Corey's favorite dishes is chicken, broccoli and penne with alfredo sauce. For me, as it is usually prepared, it is far too fattening and beyond my reach anyway, since I am semi-lactose intolerant.  (By this I mean that I can eat some things like cheese in limited quantities, but never regular milk or cream sauce.)
Recently I started thinking about how to make alfredo without the heavy cream so we both could enjoy it.  I considered trying it with mascarpone which has less lactose, but with the amount the dish would require, it would still be pretty high in fat.  If it's going to be really good, I'd rather it also be reasonably healthy, since I know I'll want to make it again and again.
A few weeks ago I switched from buying soy milk for my coffee to lactose-free milk. As much as I tried to like it, and after trying several different flavors and varieties, soy milk just adds an unpleasant aftertaste that I grew tired of.  With lactose-free skim milk I can enjoy my coffee again, and cereal too!  Some people think this is strange, but I have never used half and half in coffee, only skim.  (Thanks to Diane Field for suggesting - several times - that I try lactose-free milk!)
Anyway, back to this dish.  I found a recipe for fettuccine alfredo on which calls for milk and light cream, and decided to try it with my lactose-free skim.  I couldn't find lactose-free light cream, so I bought lactose-free half and half.  I used whole wheat penne instead of fresh fettuccine, both to make it healthier and because of Corey's aversion to long pastas.  I also added chicken and broccoli, as well as garlic to both the broccoli and the sauce.
The result - excellent!  I am definitely glad I added the garlic.  Next time, I think I will save a little of the pasta water to add in at the end, which would help to make it even creamier.  I had planned to do this last night, but in my excitement to have perfectly al dente pasta, all of the water went down the drain.

Oil spray
3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
Broccoli, about 1lb
1 large garlic clove, minced
Olive oil
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper
3/4lb whole wheat penne
1T unsalted butter
1C skim milk
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 1/2t cornstarch
1/4C light cream or half and half
1/2C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of nutmeg


Spray a large pan with oil spray (such as canola) and place over medium heat.  Add the chicken to the pan and cook, turning, until golden brown on all sides and just cooked through.  Remove to a bowl.

Add broccoli, 1 minced garlic clove, 1T olive oil, and 1/4-1/3C water to a pan and place over medium heat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook, about 5 minutes, until you can just pierce the broccoli with a fork.  Remove the cover, stir, and cook a little longer, about 2 minutes, until the water is evaporated.  Remove to a bowl.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, and return to the pot.

In a small saucepan melt the butter, add the milk and the smashed garlic clove, and bring to a gentle simmer.  Whisk in cornstarch, and continue whisking occasionally until lightly thickened. Remove the garlic.

Put it all together:
Add chicken and broccoli to the pasta in the pot and stir to combine over low heat. Pour in the milk mixture and stir. Add light cream, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg and stir.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.  Serve immediately, sprinkled with more parmesan if desired.

Adapted from

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Baked Eggplant with Tomato Mint Sauce & Feta, over Grilled Polenta

Yesterday I decided to try out a new eggplant recipe, in keeping with my resolution to try to observe Meatless Mondays.  It came out very good - similar to an appetizer available on many restaurant menus, but a little different with the mint & feta.
The original recipe called for goat cheese, which Corey absolutely hates.  I used feta instead, which isn't as creamy as goat cheese, but it still tasted delicious.   Usually this type of dish comes with parmesan, but I thought the feta was great, especially with the mint in the sauce.  Simmering the sauce for a little while before assembling the dish made it thicker and gave it a wonderfully rich oven-roasted taste.
I served it over grilled polenta.  Recently I bought a tube of polenta for the first time.  I've always made my own polenta before, but I thought it would come in handy at some point.  It was so easy, all you have to do is slice it and grill it.
Have a look-

When I want to make an eggplant dish, I always look for eggplants that are small and without any bruises.  If this is not possible, I usually just make something else altogether.  Larger eggplants can be bitter tasting, which can be remedied by salting, but to me the smaller ones always taste better.

Nonstick canola oil spray
2 1lb eggplants, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-thick crosswise rounds
1 1/2T olive oil
1/2C chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28oz can Italian-style diced tomatoes
3T chopped fresh mint
1/2t dried oregano
1/2C crumbled feta
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
Polenta tube

1. Preheat oven to 500°F.
2. Spray 2 large baking sheets with oil spray.
3. Arrange eggplant rounds on prepared sheets, brush lightly with 1T oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Bake until tender and golden on both sides (about 10 minutes per side). Remove from oven.
5. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
6. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1/2T oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.
7. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
8. Add garlic and stir 1 minute.
9. Add tomatoes with their juices, mint and oregano and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
10. Season with salt and pepper if needed.  (I didn't add any salt to mine, the canned tomatoes already contained plenty of salt.)
11. Spoon half of tomato sauce into shallow 2-quart baking dish.
12. Arrange eggplant rounds atop sauce, overlapping so that all will fit in the dish.
13. Spoon remaining sauce over.
14. Sprinkle cheese over.
15. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

While the eggplant is baking, prepare the polenta.
1. Heat a nonstick grill pan over medium high heat.
2. Slice the polenta 1/2 inch thick, as many slices as you need.
3. Add the polenta slices to the hot pan, and cook until golden brown.
4. Flip the polenta and cook until golden brown on the other side.

Place a few slices of polenta on each plate, top with the eggplant and sauce, and sprinkle with basil.

Recipe adapted from

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quesadillas are delicious, when made without 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs

Is it even possible to make 16 different varieties of guacamole?  I guess it must be...

I haven't posted anything in a while, so I think Friday's dinner is the perfect opportunity to start up again.
Sometimes we go out for drinks with friends after we've already had our dinner at home.  However, on Friday we went out for drinks first, and then came home famished.  While not normally recommended, doing it this way can make things a little more interesting.
I was just about to start cooking dinner when Corey called to suggest going out with some of his friends from work.  We went to a small waterfront bar nearby that had somehow evaded us for the past year we've lived here.  It was a fun time, with VERY cheap drinks and a short elderly man named Mudslide Walter directing the karaoke.  Once we got home, I wasn't so in the mood for cooking anymore. Luckily I had planned a simple dinner anyway, and we were eating in less time than it would have taken to get a pizza delivered.
I should mention that I don't think Corey had been appreciating my cooking as much as usual the past few days.  On Monday, I was going to make a vegetarian dish, until I realized I didn't have the time required to roast the squash I was going to use in the dish.  So, I decided to use up some stuff I had on hand instead, and made breakfast for dinner.  I made an egg scramble with feta & baby spinach, with roasted potatoes and bacon.  For me it was very good and a nice change of pace, and I think Corey didn't mind it, although I was told that usually when he's had breakfast for dinner it has been french toast.
The next night, Tuesday, ended up being meatless Monday rescheduled, and I made butternut squash & corn enchiladas, and a rice dish with all sorts of things in it like avocado, cilantro, lime, etc etc.  This one Corey was not so happy with, but you know, you win some...   Good thing I liked it, because there were leftovers. Vegetarian main dishes are usually not well received around here unless there are eggplant, sauce and pasta involved.  Sometimes I make complicated dishes that require a lot of time and ingredients, and are appreciated more by some than others.
Which brings me to the 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs....
Corey loved these quesadillas so much.  He actually said, and I quote: "These are so good, and you didn't use 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs."  I think he was as surprised to hear it as I was.  I really only make guacamole one way, and I've definitely never cooked frogs before (although I have eaten them, and they do taste like chicken).  Anyway, I guess he just liked them because they were simple, and we're still laughing about it around here.  They were delicious, and also reasonably healthy, with spinach and mushrooms, and not a ton of cheese.
I had never actually made quesadillas before.  I had bought the tortillas the other day, and by accident bought the larger size, instead of the smaller ones used for fajitas, and so I decided to try quesadillas.
Sorry I have no photo, but as I said, we did have some drinks before, and we were starving.  But I will be making these again definitely.  Before Corey left for work this morning, he asked if we're having quesadillas for dinner haha.  (No, we're having roast chicken.)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
1T oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
1 large onion, chopped
8oz button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1t ground cumin
1t chili powder
1t dried oregano
2C baby spinach leaves, sliced into ribbons
1/2t salt
1/4t fresh ground black pepper
6 (10-inch) flour tortillas
Shredded monterey jack cheese, cheddar, or a mix
Low fat sour cream

First, cook the chicken:
1. Heat a small nonstick pan over medium heat.
2. Place the chicken in pan and cook until well browned on both sides and just cooked through.
3. Remove and cut into small 1/2 inch pieces or shred.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients for the filling:
1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet (I used my anodized) over a medium heat.
2. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until the mushroom water is evaporated and they begin to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Add chicken, cumin, chili powder and oregano and stir until all spices are incorporated.
5. Add spinach, salt and pepper and cook until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.

Next, assemble the quesadillas and cook them:
1. Lay 1 tortilla on a flat work surface and sprinkle with about 1/4C shredded cheese.
2. Spoon some of the chicken and vegetable mixture on top of cheese, around 1/2C, then top with an additional 1/4C cheese and another flour tortilla.
4. Using the same large nonstick skillet, spray it with cooking spray and place over medium heat.
5. Carefully place 1 quesadilla in the pan and cook 3 minutes, until lightly browned.
6. Using a large spatula, gently flip quesadilla and cook an additional 3 minutes until lightly browned and cheese is melted.
7. Repeat with remaining 2 quesadillas.
8. Slice each quesadilla into quarters, and serve with salsa and sour cream.

I was originally going to make a side dish of sauteed black beans, bell peppers and red onion to go with this.  Since we got home late I nixed it and used the peppers and onion I had already cut up with this morning's eggs.

Recipe adapted from