Monday, February 24, 2014

Make your Own Mix

Instead of using added fats and sugars in my meals, I love cooking with fresh herbs and dried spices to flavor my dishes. The packets of seasonings that you can find in the grocery store seem very convenient and can certainly add tons of flavor to your dish (especially if you are unfamiliar with what spices go well together), but I avoid them. Why? I don't like to add unnecessary amounts of sodium and additives that are common in the packets. Many companies use flavor additives like MSG, fillers like potato starch or anti-caking chemicals like silicon dioxide. As a clean eating cook, I just don't want to take chances with my family's health since I'm unfamiliar with how these additives affect the body long-term.

Rather than participate in a food science experiments, I have taken to creating my own spice mixes to have on hand, for simplicity and ease in quick weeknight meals. Here is my favorite blend for seasoning my favorite Tex Mex meals like burritos, tacos and the Wake Up Your Palate recipe of the week, Chicken Meat Ball Chili.
Money saving tip: purchase the main ingredients chili powder, paprika, garlic powder and ground coriander at a bulk supply like they have at locally in Alpena at Neiman's Family Market or Gordon Food Service. You'll use them up (especially if you cook many of the Wake Up your Palate recipes) and save yourself money in the end.

Kelly's Tex Mex Seasoning Blend

2 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP ground coriander
2 TBSP paprika 
1 TBSP garlic powder
1 TBSP Kosher salt
1 TBSP ground oregano
2 tsp. Ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne powder
1 tsp. crushed red pepper

Blend well in a small bowl and transfer to one of those old Parmesan cheese containers (if you have) or anything air tight. Stores great at room temperature, but try to keep moisture out of the container.

My fiance, Jody, wanted to call this Chicken Burrito Soup since it has many elements of our favorite weeknight meal, but after seeing the blend come together, we agreed it certainly looks and eats a bit more like a chili. It's great the same night you cook it, but really blends together so well the longer it marinates. Enjoy!

Chicken Meatball Chili

1 ½ lbs. ground chicken
2 TBSP oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
32 oz. unsalted chicken stock
1 can of black beans, drained  and rinsed well (feel free to sub in your favorite bean)
1 can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed well
½ cup frozen corn kernels
1 TBSP of Kelly's Tex Mex Seasoning
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
1 bag of spinach, chopped
1 cup of cilantro, chopped
Greek yogurt, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll ground chicken into small meatballs, about ½ inch in diameter, so they are bite sized. Place on a cookie sheet and drizzle 1 TBSP of oil over the meatballs. Add to the warm oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot heated over medium heat, add the chopped onions. Stir frequently to avoid burnt edges. After about 5 minutes, add the seasoning to the pot, stir well and heat for about one minute to infuse the flavor of the spices. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, cherry tomatoes and corn. Turn the heat up to bring the mix to a slow boil and cook for about 15 minutes or until the meatballs are finished baking. Add the chicken meatballs, cilantro and spinach to the mix. Stir to combine and wilt the greens. Remove from heat and serve 1 cup per person. Garnish with a squeeze of a lime wedge and a dollop of Greek yogurt if desired.
Kelly Bowlin
Kelly Bowlin
Administration Director & BAC Foodie :) 
Bay Athletic Club
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Monday, February 17, 2014

White Chicken Chili Salad

Growing up in the Midwest, and immersed in a very homogeneous culture, I was not exposed to many new flavors, foods or meals outside the American classics like meatloaf, breaded chicken, mashed potatoes and pot pies. While I still find these childhood classics comforting and inspiring nostalgia when I think of them, they do not fit in with my style of cooking today. Cooking a meal that lacks in vegetables is just not appealing and the nutrition is seriously lacking.

I do find myself drawn to traditional meals like chili, quiche, and chicken noodle soup. I have experimented with updating them and trying to draw in more nutrition if I can. In previous Wake Up Your Palate articles, I've made quiches with a squash crust, chicken noodle soup with spinach and peas, and this week I'm going to re-invent white chicken chili. This chili is typically as white as you would imagine it would be based on the name.

The problem with this is other than cauliflower, butter beans, garlic and onions, most food that is lacking pigment, often times is lacking nutrients especially the powerful antioxidants from the plant's natural defense system (phytonutrients).

I went out on a limb and created a new take on a traditional family favorite and created a white chicken chili salad. I added tons of vegetables like spinach, micro bok choy, and other mixed greens for the base, topped the salad with cherry tomato

es and added a pop of healthy fats and a little crunch with sunflower seeds. 
 Remember the article on eating the rainbow? We added so many new colors to a previously two color spectrum. Green (baby greens, chilies), red (tomatoes), orange (butter beans) and blue/purple (sunflower seeds). 

So, how did I end up replacing the iconic white sauce found in white chicken chili? Easy, a salad dressing of Greek yogurt, the green chilies found in the regular recipe, ground cumin, ground coriander and a little splash of vinegar. It's a fun weeknight salad that comforts and fills you just as well as the original but with a healthy dose of nutrition from the added veggies.

 White Chicken Chili Salad

4 cups of mixed baby greens
1 lb. boiled chicken breast
1 tsp. cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste
½ cup water
1 15 oz. can of butter beans, drained and rinsed well
½ cup of sliced cherry tomatoes
¼ cup of raw sunflower seeds

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 4 oz. can of green chilies
1 TBSP rice wine vinegar (or any light vinegar you have on hand)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Shred the chicken and add to a small pot with the water, spice, salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a simmer, uncovered, and stir often. Continue until the water is evaporated, then add the butter beans, stir to combine, cover and remove from heat. Meanwhile, mix the Greek yogurt, vinegar, chilies, spice and feta cheese in a small bowl and keep cold until ready to use.

Assemble each salad in this order: 2 cups of mixed greens, a handful of sunflower seeds, 1 cup of chicken and bean mixture, half of the cherry tomatoes. Top with dressing to taste. Serves 2 .  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Soup Up your Lunches with this Quick and Easy Soup

This time of year, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to find truly fresh ingredients for lunches. You might find yourself turning away from the salad bar and opting for a quick can of soup. Unfortunately, like my office-mate, Sarah Morrison pointed out to her husband recently, you simply "cannot find healthy soup in a can, so you better make your own." I love her spirit!

You might be saying, hey, there are many health minded options with low sodium and lots of vegetables. However, if you look closely at the label, you'll find items like modified food starch (to increase viscosity and texture) monosodium glutamate (MSG anyone?), and autolyzed yeast extract...sounds delicious. All sarcasm aside, even vegetable based, low-sodium soups are less than healthful because of the added ingredients that add not to the nutrition but to the "flavor and texture" of the soup.  

The additives yeast extract and MSG, concentrated flavor enhancers, are present because they are made up of almost all glutamate. Glutamate refers to a number of forms of glutamic acid (responsible for the umami or fifth taste of savory, meatiness in food), an amino acid found naturally in many foods like cheese, milk, peas, seaweed, mushrooms, miso and anchovies. However, MSG and autolyzed yeast extract are so powerful that just a few drops can change the flavor of a dish. Perhaps this is why they are found in most all canned soups? What would these canned concoctions taste like otherwise? My guess? Salt, the other big flavor enhancer.

Let's avoid all of them and clean up our lunches (or dinner) with some healthful and easy weeknight soups. Make a large batch on a Sunday and "can" in little glass jars. Healthful, easy and inexpensive. 

This recipe is so easy to prepare (as evidence, I made it when I was sick). I have complete faith you can make and enjoy this.  If you don't have all the exact ingredients on hand or would like to add more, go for it! Mushrooms, carrots, sweet potatoes, butter beans, green beans would all go really well with this basic soup. In the recipe below, the peas add to the umami flavor enhancement, no MSG needed.  Enjoy! 

Chicken, Wild rice, Pea and Spinach Soup

-1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
-1/3 cup wild rice
-1 cup water
-1 TBSP salt
-1 small onion, chopped
-1 TBSP. olive oil or butter
-32 oz. unsalted chicken stock
-3 cups water
-1 cup frozen peas
-3 cups baby spinach

In a small stock pot, add wild rice, salt and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and turn heat to very low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, add whole chicken breast to a large pot of water. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until completely cooked. Drain and using 2 forks, shred the chicken by pulling the meat in opposite directions.

Add 1 TBSP oil and the onion to the large pot over medium low heat. Cook for five minutes, add the shredded chicken, stock, water and the wild rice. The rice might not be completely cooked but it will have time to finish in the large pot.
Cook for another 15 minutes and right before you are ready to eat, add the peas and spinach. Turn the heat off and stir the greens into the soup. The heat of the soup will wilt the greens and warm the peas through without overcooking and leaking out the nutrients.

Ladle into a bowl or a little glass jar for your lunch. Serving size is 1 cup.  
Kelly Bowlin
Kelly Bowlin
Administration Director & BAC Foodie :) 
Bay Athletic Club
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