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Variation on a Theme: Enchilada-Style Shredded Chicken

9 May

Guess who started a new job last month? Meeeee. I’m working as a pharmacy technician now, which means that I’m on my feet for 8 or so hours a day several days a week. It’s challenging work with a HUGE learning curve, but I’m slowly finding my way and learning to serve customers well. It’s very rewarding to help people stay well in this new way. I still miss teaching a lot, but am hoping (fingers crossed) to get back to that this summer now that I’m really starting to feel healthy again.

When last we met, I introduced you to one of my meal preps, pressure cooker shredded chicken. While it is filling and delicious, I like to make variations of it to keep my meals interesting and fulfilling. I’ve been making a real effort to shift my diet toward more whole foods and that means thinking about preparing things in advance so I don’t reach for a pre-packaged snack. Now more than ever I need foods that are easy to reheat so I have something healthy during my break at work that keeps me going for the rest of my shift. This hearty enchilada-style chicken checks all the boxes. It’s got a great, spice and aromatic-rich tomato sauce and tastes wonderful on its own, over rice, or even rolled up in a tortilla if you prefer.

This recipe uses a pressure cooker. I can do all of the steps in an Instant Pot, but if you don’t have one of those, just saute in your pressure cooker over medium heat for the first few steps.

Enchilada-Style Shredded Chicken

  • 1 ½-2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken breast tenders
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 jalepeño pepper, minced (seeds removed)
  • 1 white or red onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup no salt added chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt

Using the saute function on an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker over medium heat, cook the onions, jalepeño, and garlic in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and slightly softened.

Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock/broth, chili powder, cumin, and salt to the pot and bring to a gentle simmer.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and then add them to the pot and stir.

Seal the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. After the time has elapsed, use the quick release function or allow the pressure to release naturally.

Remove the chicken from the sauce and shred it. Store the chicken and sauce in separate containers for easy portioning.

I like to put some of the chicken and sauce over steamed brown rice and have that alongside some type of salad. It makes an incredibly filling meal without being heavy. Super energizing, healthy, and (so important) tasty! And it reheats easily—maybe even tastes better the next day.

I’ll be introducing you to more of what I’ve been working on the last month or so very soon. I’m learning a lot about how to eat in a way that fuels my body well and keeps me feeling happy and satisfied, and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Meal Prep: Shredded Chicken with Tomato, Carrot, Pepper, and Onion Salad  

21 Mar

I think lunch gets overlooked because most of us are busy in the middle of the day. All the more reason that a filling, healthy lunch is so important. You need that mid-day boost to keep your energy up. Preparing my meals in advance is one of the ways I keep myself spending money on buying something quick in the middle of the day. Sunday nights, I make enough food for four lunches, giving me one less task to attend to during the week when I’d rather be focused on other things.

This is another place where the pressure cooker comes in handy. You can have this all done in under an hour using two pots and one bowl. Easy, right?

Pressure Cooker Shredded Chicken

  • 3 ½ – 4 lbs. chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 carrots, cut into quarters or a handful of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into quarters
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups unsalted chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • A few stems of fresh parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Dried oregano

Tomato, Carrot, Pepper, and Onion Salad

  • 16 oz. carrots, diced
  • 16 oz. red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced
  • 8 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
  • 8 oz. red onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • Several grinds of black pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 6 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey

Brown Rice

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

First, get the rice started. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the rice, cover the pot, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the rice, covered, for 25-35 minutes until all of the water is absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork and then move to a lidded container for storage in the refrigerator.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the chicken. Place the onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and garlic in the pressure cooker.

Season the chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.

Add the chicken stock/broth and seal the pressure cooker.

Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes and then release the pressure naturally or using a quick release function.

Remove the chicken to a container, shred using a couple of forks, and then season with more salt if needed. Move to a lidded container and store in the refrigerator. Strain the broth from the pot and save it in another container in the refrigerator.

For the salad, combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and then divide among four containers. Whisk together the white wine vinegar, mustard, and honey. Divide the dressing evenly among the containers of salad, seal, and then shake each container to distribute the dressing.

Usually I take 5-7 oz. of chicken, reheat it gently with some of the leftover chicken broth and eat that over about a cup of the reheated rice with the salad on the side. It’s a really filling, but not heavy meal with lots of different textures. The savory chicken over well-seasoned rice is warm and comforting, and the salad gets better as the week goes on because the dressing really soaks into the veggies.

Taking a little bit of time to prep at the beginning of the week makes my lunches easy, inexpensive, healthy, and delicious; the best of all worlds! I hope this helps you out too.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Easy Eats: Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker Turkey Chili

27 Feb

When I’m short on time, I often turn to my pressure cooker for quick, big batch meals. It’s an easy way to throw a few simple ingredients together and make something filling and delicious without a lot of prep or clean-up.  As an added bonus, it can turn out some really healthy meals too, and today’s recipe ticks all the boxes. (For those readers on Weight Watchers, this is a freebie zero-point recipe!)

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, this can also be modified into a regular slow-cooker recipe. Just follow the steps, and saute the ingredients in a separate pan, add the ingredients to the slow-cooker and then cook on low for 5-6 hours instead of pressure cooking. It’s not as fast, but it’s still delicious.

Pressure Cooker Turkey Chili

  • 1 lb. ground turkey breast or ground turkey
  • 1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt

Spray the pot with spray oil or add a tbsp. of olive oil. Saute the onions and ground turkey for 5-8 minutes, or until the onions begin to turn translucent.

Add the garlic and bell peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes more.

Deglaze the pot with the chicken stock, being sure to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.

Add the cumin, chili powder, salt, crushed tomatoes, and beans and stir well to combine.

Seal the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. You can let the pressure release naturally or use the quick release function.

Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro (which I wish I liked but just tastes like soap to me, alas) and serve.

Definitely a one-pot wonder for sure. This turns out a rich, hearty chili that’s even better the next day. It also freezes really well. Super comforting for the cold, blustery days we’ve been having recently. Hope you have a chance to try it soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Seeded Delight: Sesame Semolina Bread

6 Feb

This week, I found myself in the mood for bread with sesame seeds on it. Normally I’d go for a crusty Italian braid studded with them, but this time I thought I’d try something even more sesame-forward and put them in the bread dough itself. This loaf has a wonderful texture as the bread flour adds chewiness and structure, while the semolina flour adds softness, and finally the sesame seeds add a nutty bite to the whole thing. Definitely a treat, and really easy to make as well. All this one takes is a little bit of patience in letting it rise twice.

Sesame Semolina Bread

Dough:

  • 12 ¾ oz. bread flour
  • 5 ¾ oz. semolina flour
  • 1 ¼ oz. nonfat dry milk
  • ¼ cup instant mashed potato flakes OR potato flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds

Topping:

  • 1 egg + 1 tbsp. water
  • Toasted sesame seeds

Combine all of the ingredients for the bread dough and mix well. Knead using a bread hook attachment (4-5 minutes) or by hand (8 minutes) until you have a dough that is smooth and elastic.

Grease a bowl or container and put the dough in it, tossing to coat with oil. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area until it has doubled in bulk, 60-90 minutes.

Grease a 3-4 qt. dutch oven and dust the bottom with semolina flour.

Punch down the dough and shape into a ball (boule), and then place that in the dutch oven. Put the lid on the dutch oven and allow the dough to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.

Near the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Brush the risen loaf with the egg white mixture and then generously sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Put the lid back on the dutch oven and bake the loaf for 25-27 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for 7-10 minutes more, until deep golden brown. The internal temperature should measure at least 190 degrees F.

Gently tip the loaf out onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

This bread has a crisp exterior and a beautifully soft crumb. The flavor is lightly nutty from the sesame seeds and is pretty much perfect for toast or grilled cheese. Looking forward to enjoying this over the next few days, and I hope you do too!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Petite Sweets: Mini Jam Tarts

3 Feb

My dad made a whole lot of jam and marmalade to hand out at Christmas this past year, and even though I wasn’t home, I got a package in the mail FULL of delicious treats. While the spreads are perfect on warm toast, I did make a blackberry version of this jam tart to bring on a visit home. But I also thought a petite pastry would be a perfect way to use just a little bit of the strawberry jam and orange marmalade.

Mini Jam Tarts

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cold
  • 2 tbsp. milk
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup preserves, jelly, or marmalade

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms.

Add the milk and vanilla extract and process until a soft dough forms.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.

Place one ball of dough in each well of an ungreased mini muffin tin.

Using your fingers or something with a rounded edge (I used the end of a rolling pin), press down on the dough ball to create a well in the center. The edges of the dough should reach the top of the cup.

Place about a tsp. of jam in the center of each tart.

Bake for 30-33 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the jam is bubbling.

Allow the tarts to cool for 30 minutes in the pan before removing to cool completely.

The crust is like thick shortbread, buttery and rich—perfect against the sweetness of the jam filling. Any flavor will work, so try preserves or jellies that float your boat. Mix and match for a special dessert platter. Since you need so little jam, these are a great way to use up those near-empty jars.

You can also fill these with buttercream or melted chocolate. Just bake the tarts without any filling in them, re-press the center divot when they come out of the oven, cool completely, and then fill. The fillings from this thumbprint recipe would all be excellent choices.

I hope you enjoy these easy to make bite-size treats soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Study Break: Maple Butter Cake with Bourbon-Maple Glaze

19 Jan

I’ve been down a schoolwork hole the last couple of weeks. I’m studying to be a pharmacy technician and while I’m really enjoying the program, I admit it is more science and math than I’ve done in years. That means I’m reading, re-reading, making flashcards, Googling formulas, performing lab experiments, and taking practice tests pretty much every day. Today it was time for a break, and there is no better way for me to relax than (what else?) baking! After all, too much of anything is overkill and after a certain point you stop retaining information.

I wandered into the kitchen and decided it was time for cake. Something warm and wintry felt right in the midst of all the recent ice and snow. What came to mind immediately was the combination of maple and bourbon with their sweet, rich caramel notes. And I thought a butter cake would be the perfect vehicle. So take a study break with me!

Maple Butter Cake with Bourbon-Maple Glaze

Cake:

  • 2 cups cake flour (can substitute all-purpose, but the final cake will be denser)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 6 oz. (12 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt (or strained regular whole milk yogurt)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Glaze:

  • 1 oz. (2 tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup bourbon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 or 10 cup bundt pan

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.

Add half of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated.

Mix in the yogurt and vanilla extract, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes and then invert onto a wire rack.

To make the glaze, combine the bourbon, butter, and maple syrup in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes or until it becomes syrupy.

Brush the glaze over the warm cake.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake is surprisingly light and very moist. The bourbon-maple glaze is sweet without being cloying and adds just the right finish to the rich cake. This one is perfect alongside coffee or tea and the flavor reminds me a lot of pancakes with butter and syrup.

Now that I’ve made some sustenance and taken a break to have some playtime, it’s back to the books. But don’t worry, I can never stay out of the kitchen very long.

Ciao for now,

Neen