Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My New Best Cooking Ally

For the past few months, I’ve come to a new appreciation for Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix.  It is one of the few gluten-free, low fat / cholesterol cooking aids I was already familiar with, was cheap enough to stockpile, and could find lots of uses for.  Lately I’ve come to utilize it quite a bit.  It finds it’s way into several recipes, sometimes as a substitute for something else, sometimes as a brand new experiment. 

I have a deep & abiding love for shortcuts in cooking.  I don’t love to make stuff from scratch, simply because I’m lazy & it takes lots and lots of time, preparation and ingredients that aren’t always easy to just keep on hand.  Something like Onion Soup Mix comes in very, very handy then.  I can stockpile it in my pantry & it keeps for a very long time.  Also, it’s pretty cheap as far as gluten-free products go.  (Only the Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix is gluten free, not their other soup mix options, FYI.)

Here are a few easy recipes that I’ve prepared quite a bit lately using my new food pal:

Chicken, Onion & Potato Bake
2-4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
4 large red potatoes, cut into bitesize chunks
1 medium onion
1 pkg Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix
3 T water

Mix everything in a large Ziploc bag and shake to coat.  Spread in a shallow baking pan (I use my round stoneware baker).  Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.

Onion Chicken
2-4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1/3 C Miracle Whip (we use Light)
1 pkg Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix

Mix Miracle Whip & soup mix.  Spread onto chicken breasts and top with breadcrumbs, if desired.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until chicken juices run clear.
*I’ve been substituting Rice Chex crumbs for breadcrumbs and love the crunch.  Jake is not a fan, so we just leave them off for him, which he likes fine.

Onion Roasted Potatoes
1 pkg Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix   
¼ C olive or canola oil
2 lbs potatoes, washed & cubed (red potatoes work the best)

In a large bowl, add all ingredients and toss until potatoes are evenly coated.  Spread potatoes in a shallow baking pan.  Bake for 40 minutes at 450 degrees or until tender and golden brown, stirring once midway through. 

Quick Onion Rice Pilaf
1 ½ C Minute Rice
1 ½ C chicken broth
1 pkg Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix

Mix all ingredients together in a 2 quart microwave safe dish.  Microwave on high for 5 minutes.  Stir and let rest for 1-2 minutes.  (This can be made with regular long grain rice: 1 C rice, 2 C chicken broth, 1 pkg soup mix.  Cook as regular white rice.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Perfect Saturday Morning

A few Saturdays this summer have been spent just the way I like them:  meet up with my friend Erin to head to the farmer's market and snag a cinnamon roll at Bliss Bakery afterward.  I haven't gotten to experience this routine nearly as much as I'd have liked to.  I can't believe it is already mid August!!  

But Erin & I have both been anxiously awaiting the farmer's market's fruit season and it is upon us FINALLY.  She and I have each gotten some good finds in the meantime, though we've both been extremely busy this summer so our farmer's market runs have been sparse to say the least.  Anyway, now we're finally coming together again and I'm certain we're going to find an abundance of the fruit of our labors.  (Get the fruit pun?!) 

This is our routine: we find a parking space, if there is one to be had - avoiding the pay garage if at all possible, though it's not always possible.  Then we start at the end of the market near 10th & Jackson and work our way through, going counter clockwise.  We check out all the booths before we make a purchase.  We like to know what each other is looking for so we can both be scouting the best product for the best price.  After we've made the circuit, we go back to the booths that we've selected as our top contenders.  

My favorite farmer's market finds:  cucumbers, tomatoes (if I can't get them through family & friends, which is indeed the case this year due to our weird, tomato-unfriendly weather patterns), zucchini (same exception applies), summer squash, melons - especially black diamond - and pork burgers.  Yep, pork burgers.  They are cheap & delicious.  And I grew up on them.  (Jake's not as big a fan, though I've turned several friends and their families onto them as well.)  

After we've made all the purchases we can stand or spent all our cash, we head over to Bliss Bakery on 11th & Jones, one block south of the market area.  We purchase our enormous cinnamon rolls, sometimes splitting one due to the massive proportions.  Erin usually takes one home to her hubby too, though my hubby's gluten free diet doesn't allow them and I don't want to tempt him.  Those rolls would definitely send him over the edge.

Today I'm making an exception to that rule.  Today our husbands and a few extended family members (my brother's wedding was yesterday - CONGRATS TO ALEX & KRISTINA SMITH!!! - so we have extra family still in town who are also lovers of Bliss) are joining us.  So I'm allowing him at least one of the gooey, delicious rolls to enjoy & savor.  It might be his last one for awhile.

What's your perfect Saturday morning activity?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fish Faves

We've been eating a lot of fish lately.  We both love seafood (refer to my first posts!!).  And fish fits well with Jake's (and thus, my) new diet restrictions.  Mostly I've been buying tilapia and salmon fillets, prepackaged in frozen, single serve portions.  At Aldi I can buy a bag of about 6 fillets of either tilapia, flounder or salmon for $5-6.  I tried the flounder and Jake thought it was fine, but I wasn't a big fan.  

My favorite way to cook the fish is to bake it in my round stoneware baker (a pan with sides) at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.  I usually season it with salt & pepper, maybe some olive oil and lime juice or some dijon mustard and honey.  If I use the olive oil & lime juice, we love to cut up avocado to top it with after it's done baking.  This is a fast, delicious, nutritious protein and goes well with rice pilaf and a veggie.  Most often we pair it with two kinds of veggies.  Usually this makes a really colorful plate, which I really enjoy.

Do you like fish?  How do you like to prepare it?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cupcake Wars: Bliss Bakery

Two nights ago, we met several of our pals downtown at Bliss Bakery / Aroma’s Coffeehouse to watch Autumn (owner, proprietor & all around amazing person) & Kacie (baker extradonnaire) compete on Cupcake Wars, a reality program on the Food Network. 

It was a fun-filled, armpit-to-armpit crowd downtown.  (Well, maybe not THAT crowded, but pretty close.)  Several large TVs and a huge screen with projector aided us all in watching our favorite hometown bakers work their magic. 

Having never watched the show before, I didn’t really know what to expect, other than from some snippets I’d heard here & there.  So I knew Miss USA was going to be a guest judge and that the contest was geared in that general direction.  Apparently our reigning Miss USA is from Middle Eastern descent, so the first round was a challenge to make a cupcake that included at least 3 of a variety of ingredients hailing from that region:  honey, cloves, orange, pistachios, rosewater, etc.  (Let’s be honest – I wasn’t intent on memorizing all those ingredients.  I was focused on more important matters, like how beautiful my two gals looked!)  The four challengers and their assistants took off, having a limited amount of time to create a fabulous cupcake.

Autumn & Kacie owned that challenge!  Their cupcake was a pistachio cupcake with a honey cream cheese frosting and topped with sugared orange zest and a sliver of pistachio brittle.  Some of the others succeeded as well, though I’d have to say Autumn’s was on top.  One of the contestants was eliminated, and it wasn’t Autumn!

2nd Round:  create 3 cupcakes with the “classic Americana” or “pageant” theme.  Autumn & Kacie came up with a lemonade cupcake filled with lemon curd & topped with a super cute straw, a chocolate beer cupcake topped with salted peanut butter frosting and caramel corn reminiscent of American’s favorite pastime (baseball, for those of you who are sports-challenged like myself), and an apple pie cupcake topped with a dried apple slice and a cheddar cheese crisp to represent how it is served in the south (the cheese creates a yummy chewiness that’s perfection!). 

Unfortunately, our girls didn’t pass the 2nd round.  (There are 3 rounds.)  Autumn and Kacie exhibited amazing grace under pressure, whereas I’m sure I would have been alternately sweating, swearing and crying!  Watching the show with a crowd of supporters was definitely the way to go – lots of cheering and booing, in all the appropriate places. 

They sold boxes of the 4 cupcakes they made on the show for $13 after the viewing, which was a perfect treat for those of us who had watched.  The cupcakes were all amazing, but my favorite was definitely the pistachio one from the first round.  I hope they make that a regular menu item! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sugar Free Summer Time Goodness

Remember that last post I wrote about how I’m supposed to give up snacks if I want to lose weight?  Well, I DO want to lose weight.  So, with the help of my sugar-free strawberry shortcake gum and sugar free popsicles, I’m fighting the good fight against my sweet tooth.  Most days.

It’s really the sugar free popsicles that do the trick.  They are cold, sweet nectar on hot summer days.  I get the Popsicle brand with the grape, cherry & orange flavors.  They are 15 calories each and I can suck down 2 a day with no worries or cares. 

I know, you’re thinking, “Hasn’t this chick written about these popsicles before?!”  And yes.  Yes, I have.  And I will probably do so again.  Because they are just that good. 

And yes.  I did just write in the last post that I don’t like “diet” versions of things, which usually contain some sort of artificial sweetener.  And yes, these popsicles do contain an artificial sweetener.  But I don’t taste it AT ALL! 

So go out & grab yourself a box and thank me later.