My Healthy Plate; Shrimp Bowl

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Makes four servings

One can yellow corn

One can or one cup frozen peas

One bell pepper

One onion (or two cups of a frozen bell pepper and onion mix)

Four servings of shrimp

Four servings of rice

Four servings of beans

Cook the rice in your preferred method. This is one of the only times you’ll see me do this, but I cook the rice plain, without any seasonings, for this recipe. The other elements of this dish have enough flavor that the rice doesn’t really need anything.

Cook the beans in your preferred method. I like to boil them with bell pepper and onion, and I’ve come to prefer cooking a big batch of dry beans and freezing some. Doing this lets me take advantage of the price decrease of dry beans versus canned, and also gives me the convenience of having prepared beans on standby.

Defrost, if needed, your shrimp. Peel and de-tail, if needed. Sprinkle with one packet of Sazon and set in the fridge to marinate, at least 30 minutes but preferably longer.

Chop bell pepper and onion. I like a pretty rough chop for this recipe, as it gives a better bite, but you can cut them as small as you like. 

Saute in hot cooking oil. Add salt and pepper, and your preferred seasonings. I like chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and oregano. 

When the onion starts to go translucent, add about half a cup of water, the peas, and the corn, and cover. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove lid. If pepper and onion are tender, remove from the heat. If not tender, add a little more water and continue to simmer until tender.

Saute the shrimp in a little cooking oil. Sometimes I cook them in the remaining seasonings from the pepper and onions, it depends on . Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently, until done. 

Assemble everything, sprinkle with cheese, and enjoy!

Remember when I said last week, that rice and beans are a great staple to keep in your pantry and build meals around? Well this week’s recipe has the same building blocks of beans and rice, and is a great option if you, like me, made a big batch of beans and now need ways to cook them.

I first made this meal a couple of months ago, and it has since become one of my favorites. Something about this exact combination of vegetables and spices just makes me really happy. And it’s a really colorful meal, too, so it’s visually appealing. 

Shrimp makes a great freezer staple, if you’re trying eat more healthy. It is super high in protein, as I’ve found most fish is. I have started keeping a bag of frozen shrimp or fish in my freezer at all times. It’s also great to have as a quick meal option, since both fish and shrimp defrost relatively quickly.

I haven’t experimented with variations to this recipe yet, but I’m sure you could make any changes you want. It works well with chicken instead of shrimp, and of course you could do red kidney beans or black beans instead of the pintos I used. For the vegetables, I think there are only certain vegetables that would work well in this meal. Carrots or broccoli may work well, though this will also be up to your personal taste.

This has been one of my favorite meals lately, and I really hope you enjoy it, too!

Shrimp Bowl Recipe Card

Makes four servings

One can yellow corn

One can or one cup frozen peas

One bell pepper

One onion (or two cups of a frozen bell pepper and onion mix)

Four servings of shrimp

Four servings of rice

Four servings of beans

Cook the rice in your preferred method. This is one of the only times you’ll see me do this, but I cook the rice plain, without any seasonings, for this recipe. The other elements of this dish have enough flavor that the rice doesn’t really need anything.

Cook the beans in your preferred method. I like to boil them with bell pepper and onion, and I’ve come to prefer cooking a big batch of dry beans and freezing some. Doing this lets me take advantage of the price decrease of dry beans versus canned, and also gives me the convenience of having prepared beans on standby.

Defrost, if needed, your shrimp. Peel and de-tail, if needed. Sprinkle with one packet of Sazon and set in the fridge to marinate, at least 30 minutes but preferably longer.

Chop bell pepper and onion. I like a pretty rough chop for this recipe, as it gives a better bite, but you can cut them as small as you like. 

Saute in hot cooking oil. Add salt and pepper, and your preferred seasonings. I like chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and oregano. 

When the onion starts to go translucent, add about half a cup of water, the peas, and the corn, and cover. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove lid. If pepper and onion are tender, remove from the heat. If not tender, add a little more water and continue to simmer until tender.

Saute the shrimp in a little cooking oil. Sometimes I cook them in the remaining seasonings from the pepper and onions, it depends on . Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently, until done. 

Assemble everything, sprinkle with cheese, and enjoy!

Budget Friendly; Rice and Beans

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Rice and Beans with Baked Chicken

One bag of dry black beans, cooked according to bag directions

A third of a bag of frozen peppers and onions

chili powder and cumin to taste

Rice, two servings

one cup chicken broth

one tbsp Sofrito

one large chicken breast, or two thighs

one packet Sazon seasoning

1/2 cup salsa

I cooked the entire bag of beans, then divided them into one cup portions, which will ultimately make two servings of 1/2 cup each. I froze all but four servings, and cooked the remaining with chili powder and cumin.

I cooked two servings, half a cup dry, of rice in chicken broth and a tablespoon of sofrito. I used my rice cooker, but you could cook it in any way you want.

I let the chicken sit for a few minutes with the Sazon seasoning, then placed on a baking sheet and spread with salsa. I baked at 375 F for about 15 minutes, until the internal temp read 165.

I don’t think we could discuss budget meals without talking, at least briefly, about rice and beans. It is one of the most common suggestions when you start looking into inexpensive food, and I think it deserves at least a short discussion. I don’t intend for either ingredient to make regular appearances in this series.

The thing with rice and beans, is you have to get creative with them. I would never tell you to cook plain rice and plain beans and that be the entire meal. You have to add seasonings and spices to them both, and I normally serve them as sides with something else. This week, I made chicken baked with Sazon, rice cooked in chicken broth and sofrito, and black beans cooked with onions, bell peppers, chili powder, and cumin. 

Along with being creative with the flavors, I have found dry beans take some practice. The first time I made them, I don’t think I let them cook long enough, and they weren’t very good. Of course, the next time I overcooked them, and they weren’t very good that time, either. But now that I have more experience, I do think they are a great pantry staple. I’ll probably never solely rely on dry beans, as they do take some planning and forethought. Lately, I have cooked a bag of dry beans, served part of the pot in that week’s meals, then froze the rest in one cup measurements in freezer bags. 

Rice has nearly as many cooking methods as varieties. It might be fun to experiment for a while, until you figure out exactly what you like. I find a good rule of thumb is to use chicken broth, normally in the form of the “Better than Bouillon” paste that I always have on hand. In the past, I’ve added ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sofrito, spices, salsa, and frozen vegetables.

There are also a ton of cooking methods for rice. You can boil it in a saucepan, cook it in a pressure cooker, or use a rice cooker. I think the absolute best kitchen gadget is a rice cooker. You can find them really inexpensive online or at a store like Walmart, and they are so useful and easy, I really think they are worth the money. When I first got one, my family was skeptical, but it has turned into one of our most used kitchen appliances (behind my coffee maker, of course).

A note on cost, yes, rice and beans are really cheap to cook. But they are not a meal unto themselves (unless you just really want to only eat rice and beans). They are budget pantry staples because they are really versatile, so they can be served with chicken, sausage, pork chops, nearly anything. My two favorite meals are chicken baked with salsa and Sazon with rice and beans cooked with peppers and onions, and smoked sausage with red beans and rice.

Budget Break Down

Rice; $1.49/32 oz = $1.49/ 20 = $0.07/serving

*I found varying information on how many servings of rice are in one 32 oz bag, and went with the smaller number of 20.

Dry Black Beans; $1.49/16 oz = $1.49/14 servings = $0.11 /serving

Frozen Chicken Breast; $7.99/ 3 lb = $7.99 / 6 = $1.33/ serving

Frozen bell pepper and onion; $1.39/ 12 oz = ($1.39/ 3)/ 14 = $0.03

Sofrito; $2.49/12 oz = $2.49/ 10 = $0.25

Sazon; $1.29/ 1.41 oz = $1.29/ 17 = $0.08

*this number may not be totally accurate. I don’t remember exactly how many packets are in the small boxes, as I usually get the largest box I can find.

Salsa; $1.29/ 16 oz = $1.29/ 8 = $0.08

Total; $17.43 = $1.95/ serving

Nutella Crepe Cake

⅓ C. flour

1 egg

½ C milk

Dash salt

Bigger dash sugar

Butter or cooking spray

I used a much smaller pan than is normally used for crepes, so it made a smaller cake that is more appropriate for two people. 

Set the pan over medium heat to preheat.

Combine all ingredients (except butter/ cooking spray), and whisk briskly. I mean go to town and whisk the you-know-what out of it, you don’t want any lumps. 

Turn the heat up slightly, and either melt the butter or spray with cooking spray. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, hold the pan in one hand and dip out an almost-full ¼ cup of batter. Pour the batter into the pan, then quickly rotate pan in every direction to completely coat the bottom. 

Cook for about one minute, until it starts to color slightly on the bottom and the edges are dry. Then use a spatula to carefully flip. And don’t worry, the first one always looks terrible.

Cook on second side for about 30 seconds, then remove to a small plate. Top with a small spoonful of nutella, then start second crepe. As second crepe is cooking, spread the nutella over the first one, and don’t worry if it doesn’t go all the way to the edge. 

When second crepe is finished cooking, stack on top of first, and again top with nutella.

Follow this order until crepe batter is gone. I prefer not to top last crepe with nutella, but instead I sprinkle with a little sugar right before serving.

Set aside to cool and set slightly. Can be eaten warm or chilled, according to your preference.

Hot Crab Crostini Recipe Card

(makes 8, or 4 servings for this particular meal. You could have it as two servings, if there are fewer other courses)

¾ tsp mayo

½ tsp onion powder

⅛ tsp garlic powder

⅓ tsp lemon juice

¾ tsp water

⅛ tsp hot sauce

2 oz cream cheese

4 oz imitation crab, chopped

4 slices of loaf bread

1 Tbs bread crumbs

1 Tbs grated Parmesan

Combine everything except the crab and microwave for about 20 seconds, until the cream cheese is soft. Stir in the crab meat as well and set aside until ready to assemble.

Lightly toast regular sliced bread, then use a shot glass to cut small circles out of the bread. I try to avoid the crust, and I use the scraps to make the bread crumbs for the topping.

Combine the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese

When nearly time for the meal, place the toasted rounds on a baking sheet, top with a mound of crab mixture, then sprinkle with bread crumb mixture. Broil for a few minutes, until tops are toasted to your liking. 

Serve on a small plate.

February; Date Night Ravioli

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I love being creative and trying new things with meals, and lately I’ve been experimenting with French cuisine. I recently found a second hand copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it has kicked me into a French phase with my cooking. The book is a wealth of information, and I think it will prove to be a great resource. I think the only “French” thing about this meal is the order of the courses. I quite like the French course order, as to me it makes sense to have the warm food first, then move to the cold food. Although, I don’t normally serve meals in courses, so it’s a new thing to me.

Course One; Hot Crab Crostini

Course Two; Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

Course Three; Salad

Course Four; Cheese Plate

Course Five; Nutella Crepe Cake

All the courses laid out together, with the additions of a glass of white wine and a small cup of Limoncello.

Hot Crab Crostini

(makes 8, or 4 servings for this particular meal. You could have it as two servings, if there are fewer other courses)

¾ tsp mayo

½ tsp onion powder

⅛ tsp garlic powder

⅓ tsp lemon juice

¾ tsp water

⅛ tsp hot sauce

2 oz cream cheese

4 oz imitation crab, chopped

4 slices of loaf bread

1 Tbs bread crumbs

1 Tbs grated Parmesan

Combine everything except the crab and microwave for about 20 seconds, until the cream cheese is soft. Stir in the crab meat as well and set aside until ready to assemble.

Lightly toast regular sliced bread, then use a shot glass to cut small circles out of the bread. I try to avoid the crust, and I use the scraps to make the bread crumbs for the topping.

Combine the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese

When nearly time for the meal, place the toasted rounds on a baking sheet, top with a mound of crab mixture, then sprinkle with bread crumb mixture. Broil for a few minutes, until tops are toasted to your liking. 

Serve on a small plate.

Spinach Ravioli with Lemon Garlic Sauce

Two servings of pre-made ravioli

2 Tb olive oil

2 Tbs butter

5 minced garlic cloves

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp dried parsley

1 Tb lemon juice

Salt and pepper

2 oz grated parmesan

Boil ravioli according to package directions, drain.

Heat oil and butter on medium heat until radiating heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. I like for the garlic to start turning golden brown. Remove from heat. Add the ravioli, lemon juice, cheese, and parsley. Serve, I prefer pasta bowls.

I think the ravioli filling should be the star, and this sauce lets the spinach and ricotta filling shine.

Course Three; Salad

Lettuce or salad mix of choice (I like romaine and spinach, but all my grocery store had was iceberg)

A small carrot, shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler

Parmesan cheese

Croutons (I cut up the scraps from the crostini to use as croutons)

A light dressing, I used a basic Italian vinaigrette

Course Four; Cheese

A few slices of whatever cheese you like. I’ve been trying out new ones lately, so we had a Whiskey Maple Gouda and a bit of Parmesan. I plated it with a few slices of bread with a small bowl of olive oil with italian herbs and salt. The plate stayed on the table for the entire meal, and we ate from it throughout, so I’m not sure this technically counts as its own course.

Course Five; Nutella Crepe Cake

⅓ C. flour

1 egg

½ C milk

Dash salt

Bigger dash sugar

Butter or cooking spray

Nutella

I used a much smaller pan than is normally used for crepes, so it made a smaller cake that is more appropriate for two people. 

Set the pan over medium heat to preheat.

Combine all ingredients (except butter/ cooking spray and Nutella), and whisk briskly. I mean go to town and whisk the you-know-what out of it, you don’t want any lumps. 

Turn the heat up slightly, and either melt the butter or spray with cooking spray. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, hold the pan in one hand and dip out an almost-full ¼ cup of batter. Pour the batter into the pan, then quickly rotate pan in every direction to completely coat the bottom. 

Cook for about one minute, until it starts to color slightly on the bottom and the edges are dry. Then use a spatula to carefully flip. And don’t worry, the first one always looks terrible.

Cook on second side for about 30 seconds, then remove to a small plate. Top with a small spoonful of Nutella, then start second crepe. As second crepe is cooking, spread the Nutella over the first one, and don’t worry if it doesn’t go all the way to the edge. 

When second crepe is finished cooking, stack on top of first, and again top with nutella.

Follow this order until crepe batter is gone. I prefer not to top last crepe with Nutella, but instead I sprinkle with a little sugar right before serving.

Set aside to cool and set slightly. Can be eaten warm or chilled, according to your preference.

Order of Operations;

The very first thing I did was to assemble the salads, except for the croutons and dressing. They were basic salads of lettuce, shaved carrot, and parmesan cheese. I put them into bowls then refrigerated until it was time to eat. Then I sliced the cheese onto a small plate and refrigerated that, as well. Next, I made the crepes and assembled the cake, also refrigerating until meal time, as I like it chilled and set. Then I mixed up the crab dip and prepared the bread for the crostini, but didn’t assemble until time to put them in the oven, as I didn’t want the bread to get soggy. Then I boiled the ravioli and started the sauce. Before I combined the ravioli and the sauce, I assembled the crab crostini and broiled for a few minutes, until the tops were toasted. Then I combined the ravioli and sauce, plated everything, and supper was ready! 

For February, I wanted to show a date night meal, since Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I’m sure a lot of people will plan a special meal. I think this meal is relatively simple in each part, but the combination of everything together gives it a fancy feel. My husband and I enjoyed this meal as a Wednesday night supper, but I think it would be great for a special occasion.

There are quite a few recipes in this post that originally came from elsewhere, then I modified. I’ve included the original links, but I’ve also posted the recipes as I made them. Some were as simple as reducing the number of servings, but I also made some proportion and ingredient changes, as well. 

Another thing I’ve been trying to do lately, is actually cooking for two people. For most of my experience, I was always cooking for at least five people, normally more. So cooking for two has been a new experience for me. Thankfully, my husband and I both enjoy leftovers, so it hasn’t been a huge issue. I would still like to get better about cooking for just the two of us.

I also want to note that there are a lot of shortages at the grocery stores in my area. This meal would look very different if I had been able to find everything I wanted, but I was still happy with how it turned out. My point is, don’t feel restricted to exactly what I did. Feel free to make substitutions and changes as needed (or wanted). 

I hope you can take some inspiration from this meal. Whether you follow the same menu, or pick and choose between the recipes. Whether you share this in a romantic meal, or with friends. I hope you have fun, stay safe, and eat good food!

Lessons from the Kitchen; Creamy Tortellini

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Ingredients

Diced onion

Minced garlic

16 oz sausage

20 oz tortellini

28 oz crushed tomato

Chicken broth

2 tbsp cream cheese

16 oz spinach

16 oz shredded cheese

Spices (depend on personal taste)

Saute the onions until fragrant and translucent. Add sausage, garlic, and desired spices, and cook until sausage is browned.

Add tortellini, tomato, and broth. Bring to a boil, then turn to medium low and simmer until tortellini is cooked through and the liquid is reduced. 

Add spinach and cream cheese, stirring until spinach is wilted.

Add shredded cheese and combine. Serve.

This is one of my husband’s favorite meals, and I love it, too. I don’t think I’ve ever had an Italian dish I didn’t like, so it’s no surprise I like this one. However, there is a lot of room for creativity with this recipe. 

Substituting a different flavor of sausage, different spices, and different cheese could give this dish an entirely different flavor. While I normally make it with Italian sausage, seasoning, and cheese, I really want to experiment with it.

One of my ideas has been a breakfast style dish. I think a breakfast sausage and cheddar cheese would be a great flavor combo. I also want to try Mexican flavors, by using chorizo sausage, a Mexican cheese, and a spice mix of chili powder, cumin, and paprika. I might even try adding black beans instead of spinach to the Mexican version. 

This is a great meal to practice your recipe creativity with. It is easy to halve, which would let you practice without committing to the entire 8 servings that the original recipe makes. I encourage experimentation with all cooking recipes, though baking is a different case. I hope this dish helps you get more comfortable with altering recipes.

I have a few suggestions for how to change this recipe, in addition to the different flavor profiles I talked about above. I think the vegetable aspect would be easy to change, and in fact the original recipe I adapted this one from didn’t have any vegetables in it. You could try corn, sweet peas, kale, even potatoes. Just make sure to adapt the cooking time accordingly. Something like potatoes would take a while to cook, whereas the kale could be added at the end, like the spinach. I don’t personally like kale, but I know a lot of people love it.

You could also use ravioli instead of tortellini, and I would like to make a seafood version one day. I love lobster ravioli, and I think this could be a great dish with lobster ravioli and shrimp. A cajun flavor profile would also be really good, I think. Andouille sausage and a cajun spice mix, maybe some shrimp, sounds really good.

Creamy Tortellini

Ingredients

Diced onion

Minced garlic

16 oz sausage

20 oz tortellini

28 oz crushed tomato

Chicken broth

2 tbsp cream cheese

16 oz spinach

16 oz shredded cheese

Spices (depend on personal taste)

Saute the onions until fragrant and translucent. Add sausage, garlic, and desired spices, and cook until sausage is browned.

Add tortellini, tomato, and broth. Bring to a boil, then turn to medium low and simmer until tortellini is cooked through and the liquid is reduced. 

Add spinach and cream cheese, stirring until spinach is wilted.

Add shredded cheese and combine. Serve.

My Healthy Plate; French Onion Chicken

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I introduced the budget friendly series last week, and today it’s time for the “Healthy Plate” series. 

French Onion Baked Chicken

One onion

Two or three cloves of garlic

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper

Chicken

One cup chicken broth

2 tbsp white wine or vermouth

Slice the onion very finely, and saute in a little cooking oil. After the onions start to color, add sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic. 

When onions are golden brown, add flour and mix together well. Add chicken broth to deglaze the pan, then add the vermouth/wine. 

Place in the chicken and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until chicken internal temperature is 165.

I’ve been trying lately to learn more about nutrition and how to eat healthy. I want to find a sustainable, healthy way to eat. In this process I came across a model called the “Healthy Plate,” which was created to replace the food triangle. So this series is going to be recipes that I’ve made that fit into the new model.

Today’s meal is baked chicken with rice, green beans, and a salad. I’ve found salad to be a really easy way to add vegetables into a meal and make it align more with the “Healthy Plate.” I also made green beans, which I cooked with chicken broth, onion, and a crushed garlic clove. I just used two cans of cut green beans, as the fresh green beans have not looked good at my grocery store lately. 

I love french onion soup, and I’ve been experimenting lately with baking chicken. I’ve found that when I bake chicken in some kind of broth or liquid, it results in the most tender, juicy chicken. So I’ve been trying it out with any kind of liquid I can think of. French Onion was just a result of that brainstorm. 

For the french onion flavor, I originally considered using cans of french onion soup. I still think that could be good, but this time I made it more like a thicker version of french onion soup and just added the chicken to it.

Unfortunately, I only had enough chicken for two servings. However, I saved the leftover onion soup, and I think it will still be good to bake more chicken in when I get more. My husband and I both like leftovers, and this was a great thing to add to the freezer. I’m looking forward to an easy, last-minute meal one day.

French Onion Baked Chicken

One onion

Two or three cloves of garlic

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper

4 Chicken thighs

One cup chicken broth

2 tbsp white wine or vermouth

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Slice the onion very finely, and saute in a little cooking oil. After the onions start to color, add sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic. 

When onions are golden brown, add flour and mix together well. Add chicken broth to deglaze the pan, then add the vermouth/wine and mustard. 

Add in the chicken and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until chicken internal temperature is 165.