Friday, January 30, 2009

Taco Salad

When they're on sale, we like the Fiesta Salad mix (you know, the bag has the salad, dressing, cheese and tortilla bits all in it) so I decided to try to imitate the dressing and I think this worked really well! I think that people know what salad proportions they like, so I'll leave that to you.

Taco Salad
Prep time: 20 min

Lettuce (iceberg is what the bag kind has, but anything works)
Cheese (I prefer cheddar or monterrey jack)
Lean ground meat
Onion, chopped
Flour tortilla (1 per person)
Chili powder
(or your favorite spice blend)

Brown meat with chopped onion, minced garlic and spices. Assemble salad while meat cools a little. Lettuce, sliced tomato, grated cheese. Spray both sides of the tortillas with cooking spray and toast in a 400 degree oven or toaster oven until crunchy, about 3 minutes. Top salad with meat, broken tortilla pieces and dressing (below).

Taco Salad dressing
Directions are per person - depending on the salsa, will almost always be fat-free.

Plain nonfat yogurt

Mix 1/4 cup yogurt with 1/4 cup salsa. Pour on salad!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shrimp and Sausage Paella

I should admit that this isn't exactly a paella recipe. I looked up a bunch of paella recipes online, and then made something that is similar, but faster to make and skips the pricey ingredients. That is why I say this isn't exactly paella - the only ingredients it consistently includes are rice and saffron. And I skipped the saffron. Feel free to put it in if you would like a more authentic flavor.

Shimp and Sausage Paella
Prep time: 25 minutes (depends most on how quickly your rice cooks) Servings: 2-4

1 cup rice, uncooked
water for rice
1/3 pound turkey sausage
2-3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups shrimp (I used pre-cooked salad shrimp)
1 medium onion
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 bell pepper
1/4 cup peas
(other spices if you'd like)

- Start rice cooking.
- Chop all vegetables into bite-size pieces.
- Brown turkey in frying pan. Cooking spray or oil shouldn't be necessary. (If you are using raw shrimp, add during the last 2-5 minutes of cooking, depending on size.) Remove from pan when brown.
- Cook all vegetables (including peas) in pan (I didn't use any oil here, either) until they sweat a little, at most 5 minutes. Carrots should be easy to bite, but still very firm.
- Add rice, sausage and spices to vegetables. Mix. Add shrimp and mix just to warm shrimp through.

Nutrition info (based on 1/4 of recipe): Cal: 354 Fat: 3.1g Carbs: 52.2g Protein: 26g

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seafood and warehouse stores

Yes, those do go together. First, the seafood. You probably know that seafood is often naturally low in fat, while being high in protein and has other good things like the helpful fatty acids. The price at the fresh counter is what we don't like. If you buy your seafood frozen, you get a much better deal at $3-6 dollars a pound, depending on the exact type and whether there's a sale.

Growing up in a family of 8, we always went to warehouse stores to shop. While I was an undergrad in college, I occasionally went with family to get snacks and quick meals, but that was about it. This year for Christmas, I was given a membership and so I have re-discovered how great they can be. In our area, you can get just one gallon of milk, and basic staples (oil, milk, eggs, bread, baking mix) are a much better price. Even if it hadn't been a gift, the $40 a year membership is less than what you could save on milk and bread alone.

There are a few other items that are cheaper here, too, while still being small enough quantities for two people - nuts, dried fruit, frozen meats, and frozen seafood. Lately, I really like the pre-cooked frozen salad shrimp. They are so easy to throw into or on top of anything, and at a great price. The only drawback is that they take a while to thaw, but with a little planning that is not a deal-breaker for me. We also got tilapia for something like $3 a pound. It's a 3 pound bag, so it still fits in our normal fridge, and each filet is individually packaged so it's very easy to thaw just the amount you need.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Crock pot corn chowder

This recipe is from another cooking blog but I am including the version of it I made here because I had to scale it back to fit it into my 1.5 quart crockpot. The recipe as written is very low in calories and fat, so feel free to top with sour cream, plain yogurt, grated cheese, bacon bits, hot sauce, etc.

Crock Pot Corn Chowder
Prep time: 15 minutes before cooking, 5 minutes after Serves: 4

1 cup broth (mine was made from bullion)
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 half a medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper
1 peeled and chopped carrot
2 medium potatoes
1 cup frozen corn
Spices (to taste)

- Put the broth into pot. Mix (cold) milk and corn starch, add to pot.
- Coarsely chop all fresh vegetables. Add to pot.
- Add corn, and any spices you like (I added a couple of dashes of chipotle tabasco, 1/4 teaspoon of poultry seasoning, and a little fresh ground black pepper.)
- Let cook in crock pot on low at least 6 hours.
- Before eating, blend partially using an immersion blender, or puree half in a stand blender or food processor.

Nutrition info per serving: Cal: 150 Fat: 1.3g Carbs: 32.6g Protein: 5.9g

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Crock-pots (or slow cookers - whichever name you like)

Before going to college, my mom bought me a 1.5 quart CrockPot. Being 17, my thought was "what am I supposed to do with this??" and it sat in my closet for a couple years. I had grown up on slow cooker meals, but I associated them with cooking pinto beans, starting from dry beans, or with pot roast and potatoes - not college food.

When I moved off-campus, I started using it and realized how nice they can be! Mine is actually not meant for cooking full meals, though I think it works fine, and only has the "low" setting. I would recommend one that does have the "high" option. It works especially well for things like chili where you want the flavors to really mingle. If you don't have one, consider it and look at the recipes here. If you do have one, those recipes still look super yummy.

For our crock pot recipes, we will put the prep time and the cook time, but the tags will be based on the prep time because that's really all the attention you'll have to give it. You can find safety tips, including how to tell if your cooker heats properly, here if you want to be sure you are using your cooker properly to avoid undercooking and the possibility of food poisoning.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Taco Salad bowls

This was an idea I found in Family Fun a magazine from the Disney Company.

large flour tortillas - enough for each person to have 1.
aluminum foil
cooking spray
cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Crumple foil into a fist size ball. Put balls of foil on a cookie sheet. Spray each side of tortilla with cooking spray. Drape tortillas over balls of foil. Gently place cookie sheet in oven. The balls and tortillas have a tendency to wiggle at this point but are easy to rearrange. Bake for 5-7 minutes until they are golden brown. The tortillas will naturally fall over the balls forming the bowls. Remove from oven and let set for 2 minutes. Fill the bowls with taco salad or chili and enjoy!

Couscous & chickpea salad

A recipe to go with my favorite pasta recommendation. The time I took a picture, I added 1 bell pepper and 1 small cucumber, cut into small cubes. Olives would be a good addition, too.

Couscous & chickpea salad
Serves 3-4 (as main dish – 6-8 if a side!)

1 c water
1 c couscous
1 cube/teaspoon chicken (or veggie, or anything) bullion

1 (15 oz) can chickpeas
1 med. tomato (or 2 roma tomatoes)
1 clove garlic
¼ t chili powder (I used chipotle chili powder, but cayenne or another would work)
1/2 t dry basil
feta cheese

- Boil water with bullion in medium sauce pan. When water reaches a steady boil, remove pot from heat and pour in couscous. Cover with lid, let sit for 5 minutes while you prepare the rest.
- Chop tomato into small cubes, put into large bowl. Mince garlic (I use a press) and add to bowl with tomatoes. Open and drain chickpeas, add to bowl. Add chili powder and basil to bowl, stir.
- When couscous is ready (when the 5 minutes is up) add it to the bowl and mix.
- Serve immediately or put in the fridge to chill. I like to have the feta available for those who want it to put on top of their own.

Friday, January 23, 2009

To meat or not to meat?

If you haven't noticed already, one of the ways to make food cheaper and quicker is to skip the meat. I'm not advocating a vegan or vegetarian diet here - just pointing out a fact. I know that some people are really attached to eating meat with every meal, so I looked up the USDA dietary guidelines. They recommend that a 2,000-calorie diet should include 5 1/2 "units" of the meat/poultry/fish/eggs/beans/nuts group a day. How much is a unit? 1 oz of meat, poultry, or fish, 1 egg, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans or tofu, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds.

How much is one ounce of meat? Well, a piece the size of a deck of cards is 3 ounces - so cut that in 3. How much is one half ounce of nuts or seeds? One small handful. You can find actual numbers of nuts and their fat content here, if you'd like. Just remember that it's a healthier fat than you find in most foods.

After gathering that info, I realize it's really easy to get as much as you need! So, go do it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

This recipe is also based on one from Cooking Light (original here) but the puff pastry it asks for is one of those things I don't buy often, and some of the other ingredients don't find their way into my cabinet, either. Instead of making a pie crust topping, we decided to try cornbread, and it worked really well! I didn't time how long this took, but it is relatively long for me.

Chicken Root Vegetable Pot Pie
Serves: 4-6 (makes an 8x8 square dish)

2 cups chicken broth (I make mine with bullion)
1 medium red potato
1 medium white potato*
1 1/2 cups (est.) butternut squash*
1/2 onion
1 large chicken breast
1 cup frozen peas (a can would work, but be softer in the end.)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (to thicken - use flour if you don't have cornstarch)
cornbread mix for 6 muffins (one of the Jiffy blue boxes would work)
water (or other ingredients mix calls for)
*Feel free to replace either of these with sweet potato, I've used it before and it works really well

- Preheat oven to 375
- Put chicken broth in a large pot over medium heat. It will eventually boil.
- While broth is heating, cut vegetables into approx. 1/2 inch cubes. To make sure it all gets fully cooked, start with the potatoes and add them as you finish, then peel, chop, and add the squash. Cover the pot when you're not adding ingredients.
- Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir occasionally. Chop onions, but leave them out until after chicken is cut.
- Cut chicken breast into cubes and add into the pot (yes, it will cook completely)
- Once chicken has turned white (3-5 min) add peas and onion.
- Mix cornstarch with cold water in a cup, then pour into pot, stirring the whole time.
- Turn pot to low and prepare the cornbread batter.
- Pour mixture from pot into 8x8 pan and carefully pour cornbread batter over the top. Put a baking sheet below the pan in case it boils over.
- Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until cornbread is as done as you like it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I love my microwave

But sadly right now it's broken, so preparing dinner takes a lot of time and fore thought. When my microwave is running one of my favorite things to use when making dinner are the Ziploc Zip & Steam bags.

I'm not trying to be a commercial but they really are are great as all the commercials make them seem. They don't take any additional water, butter or oil (they use the water found in foods to cook).

There are recipes on the actual Ziploc website and others can be found can of course be found with a search engine.

The bags can be found at most every grocery or department store with the other Ziploc products. I buy mine at the warehouse store in packages of 40. I believe they are labeled one time only use, but if I've only cooked vegetables I do rinse and reuse them, just not if I cooked meat.

Try it out, and think of me having to defrost meat for days in the fridge and be glad your microwave works!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Real Frozen Yogurt

It may seem simple and silly, but this is amazingly good! The sugar is helpful because the yogurt becomes more tart as it freezes. I have put this on graham crackers, cookies, and brownies, all with very good results. The prep time is under 5 minutes, though the freeze time will vary.

Frozen Yogurt without an ice cream machine

- Take 1 container yogurt for every 1-2 people and pour into zip-lock bag
- Add 2 tablespoons sugar per container (I use 6 oz containers here)
- Close bag and mush around with your hands
- Toss into the freezer for at least 15 minutes (could be a whole day or two ahead)
- Mush with your hands again before eating and enjoy!

Frozen Yogurt with an ice cream machine

- Put one container yogurt for every 1-2 people into canister of ice cream maker
- Add 2 tablespoons sugar per container
- Let the machine do it's thing - mine takes about 10 minutes for 12 ounces of yogurt to be ready
- Enjoy!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pear Oven Pancake

My mom had an old recipe box with recipes written on 3x5 cards where this was called "Galette," but I have never seen it called that anywhere else. It was a yorkshire pudding recipe that added cinnamon and nutmeg while replacing the meat drippings with butter. I've been cutting the butter in half for years, but today I decided to take it out completely and was really pleased with the result (at least in a glass pan!) Cooking Light has a good apple one here but it takes about an hour to make, and is so good that I tend to eat half of it, which defeats the "light" part. I usually make this with apple, but I had a pear, so I used it.

Pear Oven Pancake
Prep time: 10 min Cook time: 25 min Serves: 1-2

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 pear (apple, dates, or other fruit would work, too)

- Preheat oven to 425 and put in empty pie plate to heat
- Slice fruit (1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, or halve dates)
- Combine egg, milk, and spices in a small bowl
- Add flour and baking powder to wet ingredients; stir until it's all moist (it will be lumpy)
- Remove pie plate from oven, spray with cooking spray
- Arrange fruit on the bottom of the pie pan
- Pour batter over fruit
- Cook at 425 for 25 minutes

You can leave out the fruit or double the recipe in one pie pan. If you double it, turn the heat down to 375 after 10 minutes and cook until the top is golden brown.

Nutrition facts (whole recipe, with pear):
Fat: 6.6g Cal: 470 Pro: 17 g Carbs: 88

Apple version (show to the right with Satisfying Hot Chocolate):

Friday, January 16, 2009

Baked potato with tempting toppings

This was found on our school lunch menu in elementary school at least once a month, and the name sort of stuck in my house. It's a great way to use left-overs in a tasty way, though freshly chopped or cooked toppings work just as well.

Microwave "baked" potatoes
- Take one medium/large potato per person. Wash and remove eyes.
- Prick several times with a fork and microwave for 4 minutes per potato.
- Test potato doneness with a fork, and turn on for 1-3 minutes more per potato as needed.
- Top and eat!
- Note: with a large number of potatoes, it may be quicker to bake the potatoes in the oven. Turn it on to 425, wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes.

Topping ideas - to be gathered while potatoes are cooking
- Bacon bits
- Sour cream or plain yogurt
- Left over meat (ground beef, chicken, turkey, deli meat that needs to be used, etc.)
- Grated or sliced cheese
- Ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, or ketchup
- Chopped onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, or avocado
- Refried beans (may seem weird, but I like it)
- Soups (tomato or cream of whatever-you-like)

Thursday, January 15, 2009


This is not a recipe, but it is essential to quality healthy cooking. Less fat in your cooking often means less flavor - unless you throw in some great spices. Theoretically, we are all supposed to change our spices every year or two because they lose their potency. As in throw out the old ones and buy all new. Since a jar of spices can easily be $3, for us poor starving students, this will just not do.

Enter bulk spices. Once I worked up the courage to try these, I have not gone back to pre-bottled spices. (Well, I buy it in a container once, just to get the container.) Bulk spices are great for college students, people who don't cook much, for trying something new, or things like pumpkin pie spice that you might only use a couple of times a year. I re-filled my chipotle chili powder and cumin jars for about 50 cents each, and they are good quality, too.

You can use bulk spices to re-fill an empty jar, buy a new jar for about $1, or just leave them in the baggie you bought them in. Whole Foods has a large selection and they have zip-top bags that you buy them in, so our curry powder stays in the little bag. You really can buy as much or little as you need, so get just that 15 cents of pumpkin pie spice and don't worry about whether it will taste as good next year.

Where can you get them? Since grocery stores are so regional, my general advice is to look in the bulk foods section. I have bought them at Whole Foods, Central Market, Fred Meyer (a Kroger store) and small independent natural foods stores.

Chicken and Couscous

This dinner takes a bit longer but makes a good portion, great for taking as a lunch later in the week!

Prep time: 20 minutes plus 20 minutes marinating time - Cooking time 10 minutes - 4 servings

1/2 c orange juice
2 T honey
2 T soy sauce
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 lb chicken cut into 1 1/2 in peices
2 T olive oil

1 c chicken broth
1/2 c orange juice
1 scallion (green onion)
1 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1 c uncooked couscous

In a large bowl, combine the orange juice, honey, soy sauce, and garlic. Stir in the chicken until well mixed. Marinate at room temperature for 20 - 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.

Prepare the couscous. In a medium sauce pan, combine the chicken broth, orange juice, scallion oil and salt.

Heat the broth mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the couscous. Cover the pan, remove the pan from the heat and set aside for at least 5 minutes

Meanwhile, pour 2 T of olive oil into small frying pan. Add chicken to pan, without marinade. Stir fry quickly for 5 - 7 minutes or until chicken is opaque in center

Serve chicken over couscous and enjoy!

(this recipe is derived from Grover's Chicken and Couscous with Juice-Juice from C is for Cooking)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fish sticks & tartar sauce

The fish part of this recipe is pretty typical. For the tartar sauce, I looked up what people normally put in it to come up with my own yogurt version. The mayo or salad dressing keeps the typical flavor while the yogurt makes it guilt-free.

Fish "sticks"

One small fillet of white fish (I use tilapia) per person
1/4 cup flour per person
1 egg per 3 people, beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs per person

- Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels.
- Cut each fillet in half the long way.
- Heat frying pan on medium heat.
- Put flour, egg, and bread crumbs each in their own shallow dish or plate.
- Flour each piece, then dip in beaten egg, followed by breadcrumbs. Press bread crumbs into fish.
- Spray each side of fish with cooking spray
- Cook in pan on medium heat until browned and cooked through (3-5 minutes per side - I tend towards 5 to be safe)

The tartar sauce is quick, so you can make it ahead to let the flavors mix, or while the fish is cooking.

Tartar sauce (for two)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise/miracle whip
1/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 medium pickle, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dill (or 1 Tablespoon dill relish instead of the pickle & dill)
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

- Mix all ingredients and enjoy!
- You can add hot pepper if you want a kick to it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Couscous: World's fastest pasta

First, I am not talking about the boxes of pre-flavored couscous. I mean the canisters you can get from the grocery store in the pasta aisle or, better yet, in the bulk foods section. Couscous is a type of pasta and comes in regular or whole grain. And not Israeli couscous, either, it is bigger and takes a little more attention. Though some say that the time and attention is worth it. (You will know the difference because the package will say.)

Basic stovetop preparation:
- Boil 1 cup water.
- When water is boiling, take off heat, add in one cup couscous, cover.
- Wait 5 minutes, fluff with a fork.

Basic non-stovetop prep:
- Put couscous in a bowl or container with a lid.
- Boil 1 cup water.
- Add water to couscous and cover with lid, plate, or plastic wrap.
- Wait 5 minutes, fluff with a fork.

You can make any amount you need, the only thing to remember is equal parts water and couscous. Couscous is versatile and more like rice than noodles - you can add sugar, fruit, and milk for breakfast or top with meat, veggies, and sauce for dinner.

Serving size: I usually eat 1/4 or 1/3 cup (measured when dry), but 1/2 cup would be reasonable for a larger appetite.

Yogurt Scones

This recipe is heavily based on a savory scone recipe from CookingLight magazine. I loved how quickly it goes together!

Yogurt Scones
Serves: 8 Total time: about 25 min.

1 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour (if you use only white flour, then use 2 cups)
1/4 c granulated sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 cup fruit (raisins, craisins, chopped dates)
3/4 cup fat-free plain yogurt (or one six oz. container)
1 large egg, separated
1 tsp vanilla

1 - Preheat oven to 425
2 - Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl
3 - Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal
4 - Stir in fruit
5 - In a small bowl, combine yogurt, egg white and vanilla
6 - Add yogurt mixture to dry ingredients stirring just until moist (will be very sticky)
7 - Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface, sprinkle flour on top; knead 4 times.
8 - Pat dough into an 8-inch circle, cut into 8 wedges and place on a greased cookie sheet (or on parchment)
9 - (Optional) Beat egg yolk and brush over tops of scones
10 - Bake at 425 for 15 minutes or until golden (mine took about 9 minutes)

To make 24 bite-size scones (pictured): After kneading, divide the dough into 4 equal portions. On a heavily floured surface, shape into 4 small circles (make sure they are still at least an inch high.) Cut each small circle into 6 equal pieces and bake. Cook time will be shorter, maybe 7-10 minutes but I didn't time it (sorry!)

Nutrition per large scone: Fat - 6.8 g (6.2 without egg yolk); Cal - 258; Protein - 5.2 g; Carbs - 47
(If the fat doesn't seem low to you, compare it with the 12-19 g in a regular recipe)

Vegetarian Chili

This is a favorite recipe I found in college. Not all of my recipes will be this detailed, all the info is included on this ratty old piece of magazine in my recipe binder.

It is dated 9/1/98 and it's from Woman's Day
Prep: 3 min Cook 10 min
Cost per serving (in 1998) $1.38

2 cups uncooked instant brown rice
2 cans (10 oz each) dices tomatoes and green chilis
1 can (about 19 oz) black beans, rinsed
1 can (15 oz) corn and red peppers (southwest style)
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 Tbsp lime juice

Optional toppings - sour cream, cilantro, grated cheese

1 - Cook rice as directed on package. Remove from heat, stir, then cover and let stand 5 minutes.
2 - Meanwhile heat remaining ingredients in a covered saucepan, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until slightly thickened.
3 - Fluff rice with a fork. Serve with chili and Toppings.

Serves 4. Per Serving (without Toppings): 339 cal, 12 g pro, 72 g car, 10 g fiber, 3 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg chol, 1,028 mg sod.

I have a relatively picky husband and 3 small who kids who will all eat this!

Monday, January 12, 2009

What we're here for

Hello fair readers,

This blog is about fast, easy, cheap food that is still (relatively) healthy. I am a graduate student, so I am perpetually short on time and money, but refuse to eat ramen or dollar menu daily (or ever.)

Luckily, I've been cooking and baking as long as I can remember and my brilliant sister and I have decided to share our favorite recipes. Some will be our own, others will just be good finds (because finding a good quick recipe can take longer than making a 3-course meal.) If anyone wants to give us more ideas, we're happy to have them and give credit where it's due.

Really, my biggest reason for posting these is to find new good things to eat and not forget the good treats that I've found in the past. If anyone else gets any use out of these, it'll just be icing on the cake!