Monday, April 30, 2012

Make a Meal: Spicy Shrimp and Polenta

There are some days that I look forward to just sharing a recipe because we enjoyed it and I want someone else out there to be able to enjoy it too. There are other days that I look forward to the aspect of being able to write about food and life, how they connect with one another. Today is a day I feel like writing, so I will. Ahem...

For a few months toward the end of 2011, I had a little side gig as a contributor to Dallas Observer's City of Ate blog. A friend had sent me an ad they posted about looking for writers with new and different perspectives, so I decided why not. I submit an idea to take restaurant favorites and recreate to try to make them easier, cheaper and healthier than going out to dine at a restaurant. It was a fun bit to have, but one that didn't fit in well with my work schedule. I found I was spending much more money dining out, then buying ingredients for the recreation, and more time dining out, then creating, then potentially creating again, then writing, then editing, then re-writing.... it was much more than I had planned on in order to meet their deadlines and expectations. I realized that my hobby was just that, a hobby, and I would keep it as such on my own time and on my own terms.

However, I've had fun with that premise, it's intrigued me for years, and it is something that has inspired a lot of recipes I've made. When Max Man and I first started dating, he was finishing his masters and was in study mode for finals. We got to know each other by staying in and cooking together, rather than going out to eat a lot. That set the tone for our relationship where we would scour restaurant menus and look for appealing dishes to make at home or wander the grocery stores of Central Market putting together a basket of food, then making it work back at one of our apartments. The next year of our little courtship, he started the CFA exam - only offered once a year, this takes up much of his spare time in the spring months before the June test. During that time, we started coming up with low-key date night alternatives, which if we weren't going to a cooking class, we were studying various cooking school menus, researching recipes and making those at home, learning and trying new things together. It has been an activity that encompasses the beginning of our relationship and a common interest that we bonded on early. We always look forward to the nights we get to cook together - and of course, I'm biased, but I have the best sous chef in my kitchen! He is the left-brain to my right-brain tendencies and it's a great balance for us.

Max Man is typically apart of the Sunday meal planning exercise, though during the spring, with his work busy season and study season for the CFA, he can't help cook very often. We chose our challenge dish for the week and decided to make it on a night that he could get off work early enough to cook it up together.

Tonight's Make a Meal dish is inspired by a plate at a local restaurant favorite, Victor Tango's, where my Lobster Mac and Jack post derived from. We tried it recently at a birthday dinner: chili-garlic shrimp served over creamy polenta - it was to.die.for. I had a few shrimp dishes that I've made before using Sriracha, sweet chili sauce, some garlic and honey so I decided to resort to those for some ingredient choices. I searched for a lighter, lower cal polenta recipe, not wanting to compromise the creamy consistency and this one did the trick! This was just as good as the restaurant and definitely met my three objectives to be healthier (more than likely because I was in control as to what went in it), easier and cheaper than going to Victor Tango's and getting this on any given night.

Grocery List:
For shrimp - enough for 3 servings. Nutritional facts found here, calculated to 2 WW points, serving size is 5-6 shrimp.
  • 3/4 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 tbsp. low sodium Ponzu (a citrus enhanced soy sauce - great for cooking with fish)
  • 2 tbsp. chili sauce
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 2 tbsp. Sriracha
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Scallions, chopped
For polenta - enough for 5 servings. Nutritional facts found here, calculated to 5 WW points, serving size is equal to 1/2 cup.
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dried thyme and parsley to taste
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups fat free skim milk
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
The polenta takes about 15 minutes to make, compared to the 10 minutes for the shrimp, so we will start with the polenta. In a large stock pot, heat the butter and olive oil on medium heat to melt the butter. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the thyme and parsley.

Pour in the chicken broth and skim milk, bring to a boil.

While you are waiting for this to boil, start the shrimp. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the ponzu, chili sauce, mirin, sriracha, and garlic.

Add the shrimp to the sauce and mix to fully coat. Heat a skillet to medium-high heat and pour the shrimp in. Cook for about 2 minutes and flip to cook another 2 minutes on the other side. 

As the shrimpies cook, slowly whisk the polenta into the pot, a little at a time to prevent from clumping. Turn the heat down to a medium-low heat and continue to whisk as the polenta thickens.

Add the parm and stir until it is melted in.

Ladle one scoop of the polenta into a shallow bowl and top with the spicy shrimp and any additional sauce. Top with chopped scallions and serve!

Tastefully yours,

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Balsamic BBQ Grilled Chicken

Aside from the mosquitoes and moths, this weekend provided some great patio weather! We enjoyed a lot of time outdoors with a Friday night fundraiser, birthday parties and a baby shower - to end the weekend like we spent it, we decided to grill out on the patio tonight. Browsing through the recipe binder, I came across notes I had scribbled from a Giada DeLaurentiis episode for a Balsamic BBQ glaze. We grabbed some already tenderized chicken cutlets from Whole Foods and fired up the grill to make this delicious dish.

Click here for the nutritional facts calculated from For Weight Watchers, this chicken dish is only 5 points!

Grocery List:
Sauce measurements makes up to 6 servings
  • Desired number of chicken breasts, 4-6 oz. each (we grilled a total of 6 to have leftovers for the week)
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, not packed
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
In a sauce pan, heat the balsamic, garlic, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard over medium-high and bring to a simmer.

Stir well and let bubble for about 10-15 minutes, to reduce by about 1/3 of the starting amount, having thickened like a syrup.

Pour into a bowl and reserve about 2 tbsp. worth for dipping.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste, then lightly coat with the BBQ sauce then set on the grill. As the chicken cooks, brush with BBQ sauce every few minutes to enrich the flavor. Grill for about 5-6 minutes each, then remove.

Served with *lemon-grilled asparagus adding only 2 WW points for a 7 point meal.

*in a small prep bowl, mix 1 tbsp. olive oil with 1 tsp. lemon juice. Brush over the asparagus spears and top with a veggie seasoning or garlic powder. Set in a grill basket and cook for about 10 minutes, flipping the spears half way through. Remove from grill and keep warm until ready to serve.

Tastefully yours, 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Soba Noodles with Sweet Chili Sauce

Catching up on posts, at our March Girls Night In, my contribution was this recipe for soba noodles in a sweet chili sauce. Soba noodles are a Japanese noodle made of buckwheat that contains all eight amino acids and complex carbs. I decided to add some pre-chopped veggies including squash, zucchini and bell pepper, to add more to the nutritional value of the dish. I played with the ingredients, greatly modifying the recipe.

This was simple from start to finish, taking about 20 minutes. Click here for the nutritional facts for my recipe calculated at Makes a total of 5 side portions, 1 side portion is 5 WW points.

Grocery List:
  • 9 oz. Soba Noodles
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 cup squash, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup scallions, diced
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup Shoyu or Tamari (organic, low sodium Soy Sauce)
  • 2 tbsp. Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1.5 tbsp. minced ginger
Start by filling a pot of water with 6 cups and bring to a boil. Add your noodles and cook until softened.

In a small bowl, add your honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, sweet chili sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, cilantro and scallions.

Stir and mix well.

When the noodles are done, drain, place in a bowl, pour the sauce over top and add the veggies. Toss and serve as a side, or you can add chopped chicken, beef or shrimp to add some protein for a full meal.

Tastefully yours,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Black Bean Veggie Quesadillas

I ran by the grocery store on the way home to grab ingredients to make a quick and easy black bean quesadillas, knowing I had a can of black beans in my pantry. I was craving black bean casserole enchiladas but wanted something a little lighter. As I strolled the produce section of Whole Foods, I had grabbed a large tomato, red bell pepper, fresh corn, zucchini, onion, poblano pepper... then I looked up and noticed there was a black bean fresh "salsa" combo in the fresh chopped area next to the pre-chopped onions and garlic. I eyeballed the contents and realized this $3.39 plastic container had everything I needed inside, so I was saving money and time by grabbing this little chunk with about 2 cups worth of the blend, perfect amount for our dinner needs.

I grabbed whole wheat tortillas, cilantro, some low fat mexican-blend cheese and I was on my merry way. This meal took all of 15 minutes to make, but allow more time if you are going to chop through the process yourself. Click here for the nutritional facts calculated at, this dish is 6 WW points per quesadilla.

Grocery List:
Recipe Yields 4 servings
  • 1/2 cup black beans (drained and rinsed if making on your own)
  • 1/4 cup tomato, diced
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup corn
  • 1/4 cup zucchini, diced
  • 3 tbsp. poblano pepper, diced
  • 3 tbsp. red onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, diced
  • 1.5 tsp. taco seasoning
  • 4 whole wheat tortillas
  • 3/4 cup low-fat Mexican Blend cheese, shredded
In a bowl, mix your veggies and cilantro together. Sprinkle taco seasoning in and stir to coat.

Heat a skillet on medium heat to saute the veggie blend, softening the vegetables.

As the veggies saute, spray a griddle pan with non-stick spray and heat on medium-high (7 on a dial). Once nice and hot (about 3-5 minutes), place a tortilla down and let sit for about 1 minute, then flip. This creates heat on the surface that you build the quesadilla on, helping the cheese to melt faster on the already heated tortilla side.

Next, add about 1-2 tbsp. of cheese, trying to spread evenly across the tortilla surface. 

Add a generous scoop (2-3 spoonfuls) of the veggie mix to one half of the tortilla. 

Top the veggies with 1/2-1 add'l tbsp. of shredded cheese to help adhere the contents to the folded over side.

Fold the other half over and press for about 30 seconds, then set aside on a plate, keep warm by setting in the microwave to contain and maintain the heat. Repeat instructions to create up to 3 additional quesadillas with the given amount of ingredients. 

Serve with a side of fat-free sour cream and/or guacamole. Dig in and enjoy!

Tastefully yours,

Monday, April 23, 2012

Quinoa "Mac" and Cheese

It's been a very busy two weeks since the last post. To catch up a little, after celebrating Easter and my parent's 30th Anniversary, the following week was full of spring season events for work. That weekend, Mr. Max lured me to his home state of Wisconsin and asked me to be his Mrs!!! It's been a whirlwind since then and I still have a number of recipes drafted that I haven't been able to get around to - oops.


This past Friday, I got to partake in another moment a girl looks forward to, the ability to ask two of my oldest and dearest friends, Amy and Greer, to be my Maids of Honor! These two have been mentioned in several posts, and they are part of our monthly Girls Night In cooking group. We met circa 1988-ish after my family had just joined University Park United Methodist Church. I have very vivid memories of the first time I met both of them and how our friendship grew from there: play dates, family dinners, singing in the church choir together, musicals, mission trips, summer camp, homecoming and prom dress shopping, visiting each other in college and starting our lives post-college in the real world. I feel so blessed to have known these girls and their families for all these years, they are the closest things to sisters to me, and know me better than I know myself sometimes. Greer was coming into town this weekend so I knew it was my chance to get them both together for dinner and the big ask.

As we talked everything wedding, we shared our common love and bond of friendship, food! Greer provided appetizers for us to graze on as we made dinner and caught up, Amy ran point on the quinoa recipe that she found, and I prepared the salmon dish. Due to everything going on, I actually missed the first couple steps in pictures, but still wanted to share because it was so good, applause to Amy for suggesting it! You can add broccoli or spinach to the mix, but we decided to roast our broccoli and eat it as a separate side dish.

Click here to read the nutritional facts calculated at According to Weight Watchers points, for a 1/2 cup serving, this is 5 points.

Grocery List:
(makes 6 servings)
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup non-fat skim milk
  • 1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (optional)
  • Creole Seasoning (optional - but so recommended!)
To start, preheat your oven to 425 degrees and grease an 8x8 casserole dish. Rinse the quinoa in a fine-strain colander, then lightly toast in a pot on low heat until it smells a little like popcorn, stirring frequently to prevent from burning. Add the water and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Lower the heat and allow the quinoa to absorb the water until it is gone and the curlicue in the grain has popped, about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the eggs and milk, mix well until egg is fully beaten. Fold in the quinoa, garlic and half of the cheese, stir well to combine. 

Pour the quinoa mac and cheese into the casserole dish, then lightly top with the Panko bread crumbs and remaining cheese. Finally, dust the top layer with Creole seasoning and pop in the oven for 20 minutes until bubbling and lightly browned.

Remove from oven, dish it out and dig in!
Served with 4 oz. honey-soy glazed salmon and roasted broccoli with garlic

Tastefully yours, 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lighter Scalloped Potatoes

It's Spring-time y'all! Dad, Mom, Brother - Michael, Brother - Patrick, Yours Truly, Mr. Max

The scalloped look has taken the fashion world by storm the past few months; it's a dainty look with an edge, perfect for the spring! For Easter Sunday and I decided to pair my scalloped hemline Easter dress, with my food contribution for the family Easter dinner - scalloped potatoes.

Really quick though, I have a personal story to share. This Easter was extra special this year, as we were able to give my parents a special gift and lasting memory. They recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary so my brothers and I decided to do something to acknowledge that. For months, we worked on a surprise party with the family but the week before, dad got baseball tickets for the Texas Rangers and we couldn't seem to get around this issue without giving away our scheme. Once my dad decides he's going to do something, you can't really come between it - he is next to impossible to plan for or surprise! Mom then announced that we will forgo the traditional Easter brunch with just our immediate family and do a big family dinner instead, with everyone from both sides of the family, potluck style. The brothers and I decided with our parents unknowingly impeding on our surprise, we would just culminate our efforts into their Easter Sunday plans. There wouldn't be the big SURPRISE! factor as they walked in somewhere, but we had a  few special things that would garner the same reaction.

We contacted members of their wedding party, their college friends that knew them as individuals and later as a couple, their friends that knew them as newlyweds and apart of their lives as they grew a family. We asked them to send us a letter that shared memories or advice for the next 30 years and bound them together as a memory book, with photos from their engagement and their wedding day.
Cutting their cake as Mr. and Mrs. on March 27, 1982
I worked with a baker to do a simplified version of their wedding cake for our Easter dessert! She was so amazing, Dallas area people, go to Rachel Barbosa with Sugar Ray's for any cake or cupcake needs, she is fabulous! I highly recommend the chocolate hazelnut with vanilla cream icing.

Last but not least, we matted a picture from their special day, one taken as they were leaving the ceremony and looking out of the limo heading to the reception, just beaming. The whole family signed and we presented it on an easel. It made for such an incredibly special Easter Sunday!
My Precious Parents cutting their 30th Anniversary Cake!
Now for the recipe, adapted from the Skinnytaste blog, here's a lighter version of a potluck favorite without the heavy cream and as much butter. Click here for the nutritional facts calculated at One serving is equal to about 3/4 cup, for a total of 3 WW points.

Grocery List:
  • 6 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, sliced into thin 1/8 in pieces
  • 2 tbsp. light butter, unsalted
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup fat free skim milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • Chives
Start by pre-heating your oven to 425 degrees and grease a baking dish. I knew we didn't have a lot of time before we had to get to my parents and the potatoes would take nearly an hour to cook in the oven. To speed up the process, I took my potatoes and let them simmer on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes to help soften them up. 

As your potatoes are softening, heat a small sauce pan on medium heat and add the milk, paprika, thyme, bay leaves, garlic and butter. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Discard bay leaves.

If you boiled your potatoes to soften, let drain in a colander and cool a little. Begin to stack a thick layer on the bottom, then top with half of the shredded cheese. 

Top with another thick layer of potatoes, cover with the milk and herb mix.

Top with the rest of the cheese and the chives. 

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes if you've pre-softened the taters. If you didn't soften them before, cook for 45-50 minutes.

Let cool, then dig in. Enjoy foodie friends!

Tastefully yours,

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