Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stuffed Zucchini and Life Updates

Now that summer is nearing an end, I figure I'd post the perfect summer dish. Yes, I seem to be a step behind on pretty much everything these days.

It's been a crazy summer here at Chez Shea, but a good one, for the most part. We bought a house and closed in July, then took off for a trip to the west coast for a friend's wedding, returning to get settled. I'm in my third trimester of pregnancy, which still feels pretty unbelievable and incredible. I'm very grateful for every little kick! We have just a little over 2 months to go. I'm anxious, but am trying to be patient. I'm hoping our little guy will stay in until he's fully ready. Being a first-time mom, I'm also very nervous.

Back to the food, I love this time of year when huge zucchini are easier to find at the farmer's market (next year: our garden!). I typically stuff them with whatever I have on-hand. Sometimes I will choose leftover meat of some sort (e.g. shredded chicken or crumbled ground turkey), but the emphasis should be on showcasing good, fresh vegetables. If doing as a side dish, I will omit a protein altogether. This time I went all vegetarian with chickpeas. I often bind with some sort of breadcrumbs, but the beans and fresh corn added enough starch in this case, so didn't want to add to it. My last a1c was a 5.4 and I'd like to keep it that way. Keeping blood sugar in check while pregnant is enough of a challenge!

Stuffed Zucchini

It probably could have used a nice herb garnish for more visual appeal, but I was really into simplicity tonight. And I may also be a little more lazy and anxious to just eat these days.

The constants, other than the zucchini, of course, are tomato, garlic, parmesan cheese, and oregano (fresh or dried). I will often add a second cheese, as well. If your house is too hot in which to bake, this dish also does really well on the grill! See the note below.

This particular batch included:

1 large zucchini, halved length-wise
2 c. garbanzo beans (organic canned)
3 T. fresh basil leaves, chopped
5 T. fresh oregano leaves, chopped
2 ears fresh corn (kernels removed from cob)
6 oz. extra, extra sharp cheddar, cut in a small dice
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper to taste
parmesan cheese to cover (approx. 1/4 c.)

Heat oven to 400 F. After halving the squash, scoop out the insides to make canoes, chop the insides and add to a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except for the parmesan. Place the filling back in the hollowed out zucchini (in a large baking dish) and top with half of the parmesan cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven for approx. 40 minutes. Remove the cover at 40 min. and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Brown for an added 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!

Note: To grill, wrap stuffed halves loosely in foil (careful, it will get juicy when opening), place on medium heat, close the lid, and walk away for 30-40 minutes. Vent the top and add the parmesan in the end for about 10 minutes until golden.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


It has been a few months of a lot of changes. I'm pregnant!! Yesterday marked 13 weeks, the last of my first trimester. My husband and I are absolutely elated. Of course, this means my eating habits have only gotten better. My only trouble seems to be in getting enough food! I've upped the fat count a bit here and there (healthy fats) to help with extra calories, but my main focus is on getting all the right nutrients, feeling satisfied, and being properly hydrated. We are expecting the arrival of our new child in November.

I am showing slightly, though most onlookers at this point would probably just assume I'm pudging out. It's not necessarily a recognizable baby bump. I lost a bit of weight my first trimester (not unusual), but what I do have has pushed straight out in front of me, so some new clothes were in order.

We're also in the midst of buying a house, so lots of changes coming up. I'm looking forward to the new kitchen! It's not that much bigger, but has a lot more cabinet space and a bit more counter space. Plus, since it's ours and not a rental, we can change whatever we like. Sweet.

I'm in the middle of final exams for school and will be glad to get them over with. It's been a long and trying semester in school. I'll begin posting more regularly after that is done!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Easy, Make-Ahead Chicken Pot Pie

Happy Pi(e) Day! I was really craving chicken pot pie a couple of weeks ago, so I whipped up a batch of filling for the freezer. That way, we could just pull out some individual servings, mix a quick crust, and have it whenever we wanted. It's so satisfying! I went with a biscuit crust because, well, it's really easy and fast and I'm not all that crazy about pie crust to begin with. Pot pie filling is very simple, but it's even easier to do it batch-style and just defrost in the microwave while whipping up the biscuit dough so you can pop it in the oven quickly. It's so much more worth it than the pre-made boxed kind. And you know (and can pronounce) all of the ingredients. This recipe easily doubles (or triples).

Chicken Pot Pie Filling (makes 4 generous servings):

My husband put this together (photo and all) while I studied in the other room. Hooray for easy freezer food!

  • 2 skinless chicken breasts, poached (if you've de-boned it yourself, toss the bones in the poaching liquid for extra flavor!). See *note below.
  • Whatever vegetables you like! Onion, carrot, and celery are a given for me, but I toss in whatever else is my whim in the moment or what is staring back at me from the crisper. This time I added mushrooms, broccoli, corn, and kale. I generally do about a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of vegetables to meat. You could easily make this vegetarian, too, and leave the meat out of it.
  • 2-3 c. chicken veloute (see below)

  1. Poach the chicken breasts. You can do this in seasoned water, but if you have chicken or vegetable stock around or some stock paste (Better than Bouillon is pretty great), even better. Once you are done, save the poaching liquid! You'll need some of it for the veloute.
  2. Saute whichever vegetables will need extra cooking time beyond the oven (e.g. onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms) until just starting to soften, so they don't overcook. You just want to give them a little head start.
  3. After the chicken has been removed, strain the poaching liquid and set it to simmer.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil and whisk in 2 Tbsp. flour to form a paste (roux). Whole meal flours may get a little gritty, so white flour is traditional here. In this case, I don't mind white whole wheat. If using veloute where it's more exposed, a smoother texture is much more preferable. (A purist would use butter instead of olive oil, but I don't even keep it in the house. I'm a real rebel.)
  5. Stir the roux over low heat until just beginning to turn golden. You want to keep it light in color (and flavor). 
  6. Slowly whisk in the liquid 1/2 c. at a time until approx. 2-3 c. have been absorbed. Simmer for 1-2 min. to thicken (it will thicken further upon cooling). It should be the consistency of a light gravy when finished. If it's too thick, you can always add a little more stock to thin.
  7. Shred or cube the chicken and mix with vegetables in a large bowl.
  8. Stir in veloute. Add half and slowly incorporate the rest to taste, desired consistency (this can depend on personal taste and the vegetable assortment).
  9. Pour filling in individual containers. At this point, you can freeze it for later use or bake it up in some pies!
  10. For a crust, just use your favorite biscuit recipe. You'll want enough for approx. 1/3" layer of dough to cover each. Pierce the dough before baking to keep from over-rising. Then again, if you want it fluffy and more dumpling-like, forgo the piercing and bake as-is.
  11. Bake at 400° F for approx 25 min, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165
    °F in the middle
  12. Enjoy!
*Note: poaching lean meat, like skinless chicken breast, is a great way to keep it from drying out. It's not actually the liquid that keeps it moist, but the process. High temperatures can cause the muscle to tense, essentially squeezing out extra moisture the longer it cooks. The slow poaching leaves it nice and relaxed while still bringing it up to a safe internal temperature. The nice thing is that the temperature for poaching (aim for ~160-165°F) is in the same neighborhood as the desired internal temp, so it is almost impossible to overcook. Periodically check the temperature of the liquid and adjust. Look for bubbles that are about to break, just below a simmer. If you have a cool infrared thermometer, it makes it super easy (I love being married to a tech geek), but an instant read thermometer will also do. The chicken should be removed when it's approx. 160°F (internal) so that residual cooking will bring it up to the safe internal temp of 165°F.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bean With Bacon Soup Makeover

Bye bye, Campbell's. No MSG-laden bean with bacon soup for us! Okay, I have actually found another brand that doesn't have that junk in it, but this version is better for us and even tastier! I use turkey bacon (it's not like you get the texture of perfectly crispy bacon in this dish anyway) and add a bunch of nice, leafy kale. I love the texture the kale adds, not to mention the nutritional punch it brings to the party. Cannellini beans add a lovely velvety finish while still retaining their shape, but you could really use any white beans you like or have on-hand. If you're looking for a more traditional texture, navy beans are perfect.

For a vegetarian version, you could even omit the bacon altogether. Just up the amount of salt and add a couple of drops of liquid smoke to finish.

Bean With Bacon Soup (4 large servings or 6 starter servings)
Healthier Bean with Bacon Soup

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil (omit if not using lean bacon)
  • 1 medium cooking onion, finely chopped (white or yellow will do)
  • 6 slices of turkey bacon, finely chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 4 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 4 c. chicken or vegetable stock (plus water, if needed)
  • 3-4 c. white beans, cooked (or a 16 oz. can, drained) - I used cannellini beans
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 4 c. kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped (it will cook down in the soup)
  • salt, to taste (you won't need much because of the bacon)
  • pepper, to taste
  1. Add oil to a hot dutch oven.
  2. Add onion and cook until just beginning to caramelize. 
  3. Add bacon and cook until onions are glossy and bacon is cooked through
  4. Add thyme, carrot and celery and stir to incorporate until vegetables are just beginning to soften
  5. Pour in stock and add tomato paste
  6. Add beans
  7. Simmer until veggies are cooked through
  8. Add kale
  9. Add more water, if needed, then adjust seasonings. I like mine pretty thick, more like a stew, but add more water if you're after something that is more soup-ish.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Freezer Food

I'm back to school tomorrow. How did time fly so quickly? Before heading back to a full schedule of classes, I'm adding to the freezer and pantry. Including:
  • Mushroom beef stew
  • Carnitas
  • "Refried" beans
  • Split pea soup
  • Granola (adapted from the America's Test Kitchen DIY book, but using a combination of whole grains rather than just oats, a lower sugar content, and pumpkin/sunflower seeds instead of deathly tree nuts)
Along with a few things I've added throughout the month, this should help keep us in yummy convenience food until warmer weather hits.

The stew is pretty simple. Use your favorite recipe, incorporating a lot of good, hardy veggies. I add a lot of mushrooms to lessen the need for too much meat. Instead of thickening with a floury roux, I typically toss in a handful of red lentils (always on-hand for this purpose!). They cook quickly and break down easily to thicken the sauce.


4 lb. pork shoulder ("butt") roast
3 cloves garlic
*1 tsp. salt
*1 tsp. oregano
*1 tsp. chili powder (or a combo of paprika and cayenne)
*1 tsp. cumin
*1/2 tsp. cinnamon
*fresh ground pepper (a few grinds)
2 bay leaves
enough water or chicken stock to cover by half

*All herbs are to taste. These are approximate measures.

Note: I also add 1-2 lbs. of carrots to add some extra nutrients and naturally add a hint of sweetness.
  1. Combine spices/herbs (except bay leaf) and rub onto roast
  2. Add a small bit of olive oil to a hot pan. Sear roast, one side at a time, until completely browned on all sides
  3. Add enough liquid to pot to cover half of roast
  4. Add garlic and bay leaves to liquid
  5. Slowly simmer until meat is tender and easily separated with forks
  6. Enjoy!
I usually serve with veggies and plain Greek yogurt in fresh corn tortillas with a side of refried beans and Mexican brown rice or quinoa.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year (Fondue, Shrimp & Grits)

Hi again. Happy new year! I realize I never finished my pre-Christmas post. Things got a little nuts here. Luckily, there has been plenty of good with the bad. The bad is mostly aches and pains, hopefully temporary, so things certainly could be worse.

Now onto the food! Unfortunately, for both dishes that I want to share we gobbled up the food before I even thought to get a picture, but they were both super-delicious. And one evening's menu led to a few others, which is always nice.

For New Year's Eve, we hosted a small dinner party of a 3-course fondue menu: cheese, broth, and bananas foster (the dessert was based on the recipe from The Melting Pot). The cheese was beer cheddar and really nice and smooth. It was perfect with tart apples, chorizo sausage, and crusty, whole grain bread (I stuck to mostly apples and a bit of bread). For the broth course, we did surf and turf, specifically sirloin and shrimp. We also had carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and little roasted new potatoes (red). I made 3 dipping sauces- a creamy whole grain mustard with yogurt, cocktail sauce, and ponzu. The broth itself was just simple vegetable broth (heavy on the carrot and mushroom flavors). For dipping in dessert, we had banana chunks, fresh pineapple, brownies, pound cake, soft macaroons, and marshmallows. Yes, I ate processed sugar and flour voluntarily. I think my body can handle it once a year :-) But I still tried to stay more with the bananas than brownies (though I perhaps should not have made my favorite brownie recipe).

In addition to the shrimp and grits (below), I also made stew with the leftover beef (mushroom stew, adding the beef at the last minute to just cook through so it wouldn't get chewy.) and strata (a savory bread pudding) with the leftover bread cubes. I love when several days' worth of leftovers can be spun into completely new meals.

Silky Cheddar & Beer Fondue: (serves 4-6)

16 oz. sharp cheddar cheese (I used 2%)
1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other healthy fat (extra virgin olive oil would do- unrefined coconut would affect the flavor too much)
1 tbsp. flour (I actually used white flour for this since there is so little, but white whole wheat would work, just not be as silky)
1 c. winter ale (or brown ale, such as Newcastle, would work), preferably flat

Note: Rather than starting in the fondue pot, start this in a skillet.This allows easier incorporation of ingredients and a larger cooking surface for whisking. If you don't want to use beer, you could substitute

1. Heat the skillet on medium-low heat. Melt fat and whisk in the flour to create a roux.
2. Alternate adding a little beer and cheese at a time, whisking in thoroughly.
3. Add to fondue pot to keep warm and dip away!

Leftover-inspired Shrimp and "Grits": (serves 2)

When you have uncooked shrimp, there is a very small window in which to use it, so needed a way to use up the shrimp the day after fondue. I was inspired by the shrimp from the broth course and the chorizo from the cheese course. I was even able to use the prosecco leftover from our midnight toast. This one was more shrimp and polenta, but it's what I had on-hand. Either will do. It was very simple, but these are by far the best shrimp and grits I've ever had. This would be delicious over grits or polenta, so use what you have. I made 1/2 c. dry polenta for the 2 of us and stirred in approx. 1/4 c. asiago cheese when cooked.

2 links chorizo sausage (I prefer veggie or chicken), sliced into coins
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
approx. 1/2 c. vegetable broth/stock (chicken will do, if that's what you have)
approx 1/3 c. prosecco or champagne (optional)

1. Heat oil in hot pan.
2. Add chorizo and sautee until browned
3. Add garlic and sautee briefly to soften (careful, this will burn quickly!)
4. Add stock and prosecco and let reduce by about a third.
5. Reduce the heat and shrimp and stir until it turns pink and is just cooked through.
6. Remove from heat and serve immediately over polenta or grits


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy December!

Finals are almost done. Two more days and I will be on winter break! Very exciting. It's been a tough semester for a number of reasons. I'm looking forward to a couple of days of sleep then jumping back into the real world for a bit.

I've seen this on a few blogs now, so figured I would jump on the bandwagon. I haven't done much cooking lately, outside of Thanksgiving, so figured this would be a good way to get back to blogging.

I'll spread this out over a few entries leading up to the holiday.

1. My absolute favorite is "The Year Without a Santa Claus." Heat Miser & Snow Miser-- how could it possibly get better?? Overall, though, I'm a sucker for Christmas specials in general. I do at least a couple of marathons during the season. Charlie Brown and the Grinch trail closely behind the #1 slot. If you want to get technical and go for a full-length Christmas movie, it's probably "A Christmas Story."

2. I candy apple red, Dolphin ukelele. I typically hate Christmas lists and giving people hints, but this year I actually found something I really want. I've been tempted to just buy it for myself, especially since Amazon (the best price I've found by a LOT) seems to be close to running out, but I figure it's kinda' mean to do so since I finally have an answer to "What do you want for Christmas?"

Other than that, just that everyone is happy and healthy and that I'm surrounded by good people that I care about. Seriously, it's the best part of Christmas.

3. I honestly have no idea. I think it came to me somewhat gradually. I don't remember any big revelation moment. I think it was once my mother just got lazy about hiding it. It was pretty obvious at that point.

4. "Let it Snow!" It is hands-down the best Christmas song to me. My first real professional singing gig was as a Dickens caroler when I was a teenager and it was our quartet's favorite song to sing. I still have very fond memories of signing it and the job in general, so it makes me happy whenever I hear it. "Away in a Manger" is second for the same reason, but I want to hear it in tight harmony.

5. Hmm... best gift I've ever received? My husband proposed to me in the wee small hours of Christmas Eve. Best. Gift. Ever.

6. I have so many ornaments that I love! I collect them. I get one whenever I travel anywhere so that I can always remember my trips and other occasions each year as we decorate the tree. My favorites are probably the first ornaments I really had, though. I have a set of Winnie the Pooh ornaments that are just sweet. Sadly, Eeyore got lost at some point, so I'm missing him. Piglet was on his back, so I'm actually missing both of them. Somehow it went missing in my move to the east coast.

Okay, back to studying! I'll post the next 6 next time. I hope everyone is having a great holiday season! I'll be back to cooking once school is done for the semester and I have caught up on sleep.

Friday, September 7, 2012

CSA Box #15

Mmm... we have leeks this week. They're so tasty, especially with the potatoes we've been getting recently.

With the big bunch of celery this week and plenty of onions and carrots on-hand, I'm planning on making a large vat of chicken stock over the weekend. I usually use vegetable stock as my go-to, but I have 3 chicken spines in the freezer (we typically break down whole chickens ourselves, rather than buying pieces), so I'm going with what I have on-hand. It's an excellent way to use up any vegetables that may be on the edge and need to be used soon. It's easy, incredibly cheap and can add a quick shot flavor to just about anything.

This week's haul:
  • potatoes: a mix of red and what look like young russets
  • leeks
  • green jalapeƱos
  • sweet Italian red peppers
  • celery
  • arugula
  • spinach
  • *mystery green-- This one wasn't on our list and I have no idea what it is. I'll have to post a picture at some point to see if anyone knows what it is. It's peppery/bitter, similar to arugula, but isn't baby arugula (I looked up photos to make sure). We made pasta with it last night, though, and it tasted very good.
*EDIT: Mystery solved! Before I even had a chance to snap a photo, our CSA sent a follow-up email. The "mystery green" is actually mizuna, a Japanese mustard plant.

Free Pumpkin Cookbook

Photo: Petr Kratochvil
It's approaching that time of year! Farmer's Market Foods has a free pumpkin cookbook available in PDF format. I've perused it and it appears that it has some great recipes. Of course, you can always change them up to make them your own. Don't forget that if you use fresh pumpkins, you can also save the seeds and roast them for a tasty snack.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

CSA Box #14

Now that I'm back in school, time is flying quickly. I'm still able to carve out time to cook, but school work is definitely increasing with every blink.

This is what was in our box on Thursday:
  • Beets (More beets! I feel like Lucy in the chocolate factory. They just keep coming down the conveyer belt. Thank goodness I love beets.)
  • Spinach
  • Beefsteak tomatoes
  • Red potatoes
  • Dandelion greens
  • Hot peppers
  • Onion
I'll admit that dandelion makes me just want to stick my head in the sand. I'm not a fan of bitter greens. I just need to leap in the deep end and balance some of that bitterness (and mellow it with cooking). But I still don't wanna'.