Chicken-Spinach Wraps with Zucchini Fries

What? I’m supposed to go back to posting recipes now?!

Thanks for hanging in with me while I posted a weeks worth of Jeopardy updates. It was a close and hard fought game last night, one that I know my husband would love the chance to play again, but he had a fantastic run! Thank you for watching him and for all the support and enthusiasm!


Food wise, the last week has consisted of night after night of Jeopardy viewing parties. Chips, pizza, cakes… and all my work on food moderation flew out the door.


I’ve been noticing what some of my fellow grad students bring to class to eat or have at cookouts – yogurt/oatmeal/fruit mixture breakfasts, brie/bread/fruit lunches and lentil/brown rice/goat cheese sides for dinner with freshly baked wheat bread. The way they eat blows my mind, and I’m envious. On a weeknight when I’m strapped for time, my fall backs are spaghetti & marinara or a quickly thrown together chicken dish. I just never default to vegetarian dishes; I would have no clue how to make a filling meal out of it.. yet their dishes always look hearty, healthy, natural and delicious. I guess I have to reprogram my meat and potatoes brain?


So this meal was something I was able to throw together quickly, but I did try to venture somewhat outside the box. The zucchini fries don’t taste like french fries, but they are good. They’re crunchy and non-greasy, and depending on the spice you give them they can take on a couple different flavors. The original recipe for them is from Weight Watchers, but I kicked it up with some cayenne because I found the original to be a tad bland. I don’t do fake substitutes for fatty things (sorry dad, you can keep your cheeseless cheese), so I found these fries to be a nice compromise.


Chicken-Spinach Wraps with Zucchini Fries

For the wraps –
low fat flour tortillas
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (cooked and seasoned like this, except heat oven to 400F and cook for 20 minutes)
1 can black beans, drained and warmed
1/3 package of frozen spinach, cooked according to package instructions

For the zucchini fries (adapted from Weight Watchers) –
olive oil cooking spray
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne
dash of Old Bay Seasoning
1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp table salt
3/4 cups dried panko bread crumbs
2 medium zucchini, cut into 4 chunks, then each chunk halved
2 large egg whites, whipped to almost soft peaks

Begin to make zucchini fries when chicken is about halfway done cooking (using suggested method above).
Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix together Italian seasoning, Cayenne, Old Bay, flour and salt. Place panko in another small bowl.

Dredge a zucchini fry in flour mixture and then dip into egg whites followed by bread crumbs. Place coated zucchini on prepared baking sheet and repeat with remaining pieces; liberally coat with cooking spray and add to oven under the chicken (peaking at chicken for doneness). Turn once about halfway through. For crispier fries, cook longer.

When chicken is done, cool slight and cut into small pieces with a knife and fork. Add black beans, cooked spinach and chicken to wraps and fold. Serve zucchini fries immediately.

Moroccan Chicken Couscous

Earlier in the week Edwin tweeted that, “Sadness is over baking your lemon squares.” Today I’m going to counter that by adding that sadness is cooking something delicious and not taking good photos of it because (you later realized) your flash was on a wonky setting.

Oh well! I’ll do the best I can? How about a sweet picture of my pup as a peace offering?


Finding myself in a bit of a dinner slump after finishing my midterms at school last week lead me back to my trusty “Great Food Fast” cookbook by Martha Stewart (If you haven’t entered her contest yet to win a free new book, click here!). I flipped to the winter section before spring is upon us, and I found some great recipes I hadn’t made before.


I’ve made her Moroccan Chicken Couscous twice this week – once to test it out and play around and then later in the week to bring to a friends house. This is a great meal to turn to if you want something healthy, light, relatively fast and easy and flavorful without heat (for spice-wary people like Edwin!).

I only made some relatively minor tweeks because things are pretty good! I did change the ratio of things a bit, added more veggies and changed the proportions to serve 2 (with leftovers) or 3.

Moroccan Chicken Couscous
adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast

4 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs (if you can’t find skinless, you can remove the skin yourself with kitchen scissors)
5 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 can whole tomatoes (14 oz), drained
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (15 oz), drained and rinsed
1 3/4 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium canned broth
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 zucchini, halved lengthwise and quartered

In a 5 or 6 quart pot with a lid (or Dutch oven if you have one), combine all ingredients except zucchini. Break up whole tomatoes using a wooden spoon.

Bring the pot to simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, then add quartered zucchini. Replace lid and cook until chicken is done yet tender, approximately 15 more minutes.

When you have 5 minutes left, cook couscous according to package instructions or by using Martha’s “Best Couscous” method. Spoon couscous into bowls, then spoon chicken, vegetables and broth on top.

Chicken & Roasted Red Pepper Pizza

Hello, readers!

Yes, I was absent last week… and I didn’t even have the courtesy to say why, did I? You see, I was on a top secret mission to California! My husband (this dude) was on Jeopardy! It has been pretty much a lifelong goal of his to be on the show.


And now I’m on another top secret mission – I can’t reveal anything about what happened on the show! It hard… very hard… but I can tell you to watch Jeopardy on Thursday, April 8! I know it’s far away; it will be a long wait for us too, but you don’t want to miss the show!


Since returning from California I’m trying very hard to get back into the graduate school + DinnerCakes mindset. I often find myself daydreaming back to our time at Sony Studios and listening to Alex Trebek answer questions from the audience by going off on humorous rants (did I mention he’s also very polished in real life?).


Ok, ok.. I’ll try not to talk about it constantly. Let’s talk about this pizza.


Today’s pizza is probably the best one that we have made. The toppings work together flawlessly. I even took a page out of Chef Edwin’s book for the roasted red peppers. I had actually never roasted them before, but it’s definitely the way to go here.


There are a few steps to get all the toppings reading, but this pizza really comes together wonderfully. Enjoy!


Chicken & Roasted Red Pepper Pizza

1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked this way and sliced
1/2 cup frozen spinach, cooked according to package instructions
1 red bell pepper
freshly grated mozzarella cheese for sprinkling
1 ball of pizza dough from a local bakery or Italian store
1 batch of Mom’s marinara sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
flour, to sprinkle on work surface

Preheat oven to 525 F. Flour a cookie sheet and roll out dough to a 16 inch circle. Drizzle olive oil over the dough.

For the roasted red pepper, here’s what Edwin instructed me to do:

1) Cut the pepper in half longways, starting at the stem.
2) Put the pepper pieces directly on your burner, turning it as it blackens.
3) After it’s done, put the pieces in a gallon ziploc bag until it cools enough to handle.
4) When they’ve cooled, pull off the blackened skin using your fingers. Edwin adds, “If you have a hard time getting some skin off, just do what you can without destroying it and make a note of it for next time.” (Some other questions I had that he answered for me: No, the ziploc bag won’t melt when you put the peppers inside and no, don’t eat the black stuff).

Pour sauce over dough, then add cheese, cooked and drained spinach, roasted red peppers and sliced chicken.

Transfer cookie sheet to oven and cook for approximately 11 minutes (we use a pizza stone, so we preheat the oven with the pizza stone in the oven, then carefully transfer the uncooked pizza to the heated stone. It takes two of us to transfer the pizza without letting it fall apart, so proceed with caution if you go this route).

Let pizza cool for 2-3 minutes. Slice and serve!

So let’s talk a little about slow cookers first. If you’re new to slow cookers and this theme week is baffling you so far – slow cookers are electrical appliances built to cook food at a relatively low temperature over a longer period of time. A good machine will have a ceramic cooking pot that fits into the metal, electric part and can be removed for easy cleaning and at least a low and high temperature setting. Slow cookers are NOT pressure cookers, which cooks food in a sealed device.


Why use slow cookers?

  • It’s easy! You can throw some vegetables, uncooked meat and spices in the pot before work, and come home after work with a well-seasoned, fully-cooked meal.
  • No pots and pans to clean! When you’re cooking everything together in the slower cooker, there’s not as much clean up.
  • Such long simmering times can increase the flavor.*
  • blackbeansaddseasoning

    So why don’t we use slow cookers all the time?!

  • *Such long cooking times, while it generally won’t overcook your meats, can cause your vegetables to have their good nutrients cooked out of them.
  • The slow cooker is not great with all types of meats. Fish, for example, doesn’t do well in the slow cooker.
  • Mush – if left too long, some vegetables or meats can turn to mush
  • combinesalsamixsalsa

    But at the end of the day, slow cookers can really be a blessing. The recipe I’m sharing today, in fact, turned out pretty awesome, and I’m not really sure how I ever made chicken tacos before without the slow cooker.


    I love chicken. You may have noticed from the plethora of chicken recipes here on DC! Cooking it in the slow cooker creates the perfect consistency for tacos – the meat shreds effortlessly and it really picks up the flavor of the seasonings. Dry, rubbery chicken is a common problem with cooking chicken; the slow cooker is an easy fix!


    Shredded Chicken Tacos with Homemade Salsa
    adapted from The Pioneer Woman

    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    15 oz can of black beans
    grated cheddar for sprinkling on finished tacos
    optional – shredded lettuce, sour cream

    for the salsa:
    2 fresh jalapenos, diced (remove seeds for less heat!)
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 yellow bell pepper, diced
    2 15 oz cans Ro*tel tomatoes (I used Mild – Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles)
    salt, black pepper, garlic powder to taste

    for the seasoning:
    chili powder, paprika, onion powder, salt, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne, black pepper

    Added canned black beans, undrained, to the bottom of the slow cooker. Combine seasoning ingredients in a small bowl (I was heavy on the chili powder, paprika, and black pepper; then gave about 5 shakes of cumin; and 3 shakes of onion powder, garlic powder, salt, oregano and cayenne). Sprinkle seasoning over the black beans, then set the chicken breasts on top.

    Combine salsa ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Spoon salsa over chicken breasts.

    Cover and set to low for about 6-8 hours (my cooker runs a little hot, so my cook time was 6 hours). Makes enough for about 3 people.

    New Faves, Old Faves – Chicken Casserole

    I’m on a dinner roll this week (get it? dinner… roll…? i should not be allowed to tell jokes)! Shrimp & Grits on Tuesday was a new fave, today’s recipe is an old, old fave.


    This recipe is from a cookbook put out by the teachers and administrators at my elementary school. Yep, my elementary school… in the 80’s.

    But my mom tried it one night, probably almost 20 years ago, and it has been a family staple ever since. I used to request it for my birthday every year, and I never understood why when friends came over for a birthday dinner they never got as excited about Chicken Casserole as they did about Pepperoni Pizza.


    That’s right, I’m talking about casserole. I know that in today’s world the word “casserole” strikes a bit of fear into our hearts. We think of a leftover tuna casserole in our grandmother’s fridge… right next to the green ambrosia. You know what I’m talking about. Americans used to thrive on casserole, now we’re terrified.

    I’d rename it something with less baggage, but maybe I can reclaim the world and turn it back into something positive… take it back to when it meant making a quick and easy dinner and only having to dirty one pan. One pan!

    This dish makes enough for leftovers on a busy night. What I love most is the hint of white wine that comes through. Don’t overbake it, or you’ll be left with sad, dry chicken.


    Bringing Sexy Chicken Casserole Back
    adapted from Joan George

    6 boneless chicken breasts, halved longways
    salt and pepper to taste
    8 slices Swiss cheese (low-fat works)
    3/4 cup white wine
    1/4 cup melted butter (unsalted)
    1 1/2 cans cream of chicken soup
    2 cups Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix

    Preheat oven to 300F. Place halved chicken breasts in a 9×13 baking dish and top with Swiss slices. In a medium bowl, thin the soup with the white wine and mix until smooth. Pour mixture over chicken and Swiss. Rinse bowl, and combine stuffing mix and melted butter. Stir, moistening stuffing, and sprinkle over top of the dish. Season with salt and pepper.

    Bake at 300F for 1-1/2 hours. Can be made ahead.

    Note – I added a handful of green beans to my latest batch, just to introduce some veggies in there. I didn’t feel it added anything tremendous flavor-wise, so I might suggest making your veggies as a side rather than adding them to the dish.

    Spiced Chicken Kebabs

    I’m still trying to get the hang of the grill pan Morgan and I bought a few months ago. We don’t have an actual grill, so we were hoping the grill pan would give us similar results without having a massive, expensive grill in the yard.


    So far, not quite, but I’m still glad we have it. It’s fine with fish, shrimp and thin cuts of meat, but it can be a little tricky with chicken (if anyone has tips on how to cook the inside of something perfectly without scorching the outside – I’m all ears!). I pulled off today’s Spiced Chicken Kebabs using the grill pan, but if you have a real grill you’ll probably want to use that. If you do use a grill pan, make sure that the chicken pieces and vegetables you add to the skewers are roughly the same size – otherwise one side of the skewer might not be getting cooked as well as the other.

    Aside from horsing around with the grill pan, this dish turned out really well and it’s not difficult to make! Just make sure you’re checking your chicken so that it’s thoroughly cooked.

    mountain of kebabs

    Spiced Chicken Kebabs
    adapted from Great Food Great Beer

    1-1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into one inch pieces
    1/2 cup plain yogurt
    1 teaspoon ground coriander
    1 teaspoon paprika
    1 teaspoon cumin
    1/4 teaspoon turmeric
    dash of cinnamon and cloves
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 medium yellow onion, cut into one inch pieces
    1 green bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
    1 orange bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
    1/2 tomato, cut into one inch pieces

    Quick Raita
    1/4 cup plain yogurt
    1/2 tomato, diced
    1/4 cup fat free sour cream
    1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    dash salt, pepper and chili powder

    In a large ziploc bag combine all spices and the garlic. Add the chicken, seal the bag (try to squeeze out the air) and turn the bag to coat the chicken. Marinate for at least an hour.

    Soak skewers in water so that they don’t scorch. Heat grill pan on medium and add a little bit of oil once it’s hot.

    Thread pieces of chicken, onion, bell pepper and tomato alternately onto the soaked skewers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the kebabs on the grill pan and turn as needed. Your cook time will vary depending on how everything is sitting on the pan. Check chicken periodically to make sure it’s cooked throughout.

    Prepare the raita while your kebabs are cooking – simply combine all the ingredients and stir. Serve with kebabs as a dipping sauce.

    On Tuesday I told you all that I bought some fancy local cheese and made a great burger – well I still had a lot left, so I was brainstorming things to make.

    I remembered something I read by Martha Stewart that suggested using sharp, pungent cheese when making macaroni and cheese because, not only does it add some more pizazz and a grown-up twist, you also apparently fill up faster and so eat less (for a mac & cheese-aholic like me, this is great news).

    mac and chicken

    But I couldn’t just do mac & cheese either. I decided to try to recreate my favorite thing on the menu from my old haunt in Pittsburgh, PA – Rock Bottom Brewery‘s mac & chicken. I’m happy to report the result was pretty awesome.

    I adapted a great mac & cheese recipe from Alton Brown. If you use your time wisely and do a few things at once (e.g. start boiling the water for pasta once the chicken is halfway done) you’ll find that it doesn’t take you that long. This is something great to make early in the week or on Sunday night and have it last for several days.

    serving mac and chicken

    Baked Mac & Chicken with a Kick
    macaroni recipe adapted from Alton Brown

    1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
    1 pound shell pasta (small shells, not the kind used for stuffed shells)
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    3 tablespoons flour
    1 tablespoon powdered mustard
    2 cups milk (I used skim because that’s what we have on hand)
    1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
    1 teaspoon paprika
    1 large egg
    10 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
    1/2 ounce Red Dragon cheese (Click here for my blurb about this spicy peppercorn and brown ale cheese; if you can’t find it, pick another melting cheese that has some bite!)
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    fresh black pepper

    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1 cup plain bread crumbs (Panko are better, but use what you have)

    Preheat oven to 425F. Trim the fat from your chicken and cut in half longways. Set on a baking sheet and season generously with paprika, salt, pepper and a little Montreal Chicken Seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes.

    To make the best use of your time, as soon as you put the chicken in the oven dice the onion, shred the cheese and measure out your ingredients. When chicken is halfway done, set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and add pasta once it’s boiling. While you’re heating up the water and the chicken is still in the oven, set a medium size pot on the stove and melt the butter. Whisk in flour and mustard powder – keep the mixture moving. When it’s lump-free, stir in milk, onion and paprika. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes.

    The chicken should be done by now, so set it aside to cool and turn down oven to 350F.

    Temper the egg slowly, then stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper, then fold the cooked pasta into the mixture. Shred cooked chicken or cut it into small pieces and incorporate with the pasta and mixture. Pour into a large casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.

    Melt the butter for the topping in a small saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Sprinkle over pasta and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

    Chicken with Pineapple Relish

    The nursing program I’m starting next week assigned My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult as a summer reading book for all the incoming students (on that note – I was pleasantly surprised in the beginning; it wasn’t the book I thought it would be. But a twist ending left me aggravated). While about to purchase it at the bookstore I noticed the usual bargain book display in the checkout line, and a few interesting looking cookbooks caught my eye.


    For only about $8 I picked up Anheuser-Busch’s Great Food Great Beer cookbook. The book emphasizes beer pairings with food, but really it provides an assortment of simple and tasty looking meals that my husband or I could put together quickly on a weeknight – and as you know, that’s what DinnerCakes is all about!


    This recipe is adapted from a recipe for chicken thighs, because we never really buy or eat thighs. It doesn’t require much prep or cook time, but it does require a little time to marinate the chicken. I didn’t marinate mine quite long enough, so my chicken could have been a little more soy/satay glazed and less pineapple. I probably like the Pineapple Mango Chicken Curry I made last month more, but this was definitely good too. This recipe would also work well with shrimp instead of chicken (or, hey, in addition to it).


    Chicken with Pineapple Relish
    adapted from Great Food Great Beer

    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    1 tablespoon light brown sugar
    1 tablespoon sweetened lime juice
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

    1 can pineapple chunks (20 oz.)
    1 yellow bell pepper, diced
    1 small onion, diced
    2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    1 tablespoon light brown sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    dash of red pepper flakes

    In a shallow dish combine marinade ingredients and stir. Cut chicken breast into one inch pieces and add to dish to coat with marinade. Cover and leave in fridge for at least 15 minutes, but up to four hours.

    While chicken marinates, set a medium size pot to medium high heat and combine all relish ingredients (add pineapple juice as well, do not drain). Stir occasionally.

    Stir fry chicken pieces or cook on grill pan until white throughout (be careful not to overcook your chicken). Serve with relish over couscous or rice.

    Light Chicken Salad – What's Your Go-To Recipe?

    So recently I wanted to create a really great light chicken salad. I know Edwin and I mention the grocery store in our hometown all the time, Ukrop’s, but they really do have great light chicken salad. Sadly the store bought chicken salad I tried at Harris Teeter in Northern Virginia was, well, gross!


    This is not the spectacular replica I was hoping for, but it’s a start. I read some forums where others have tried to recreate it, and it seems that the only ingredients used are chicken, celery and mayonnaise. Since it’s labeled “light” chicken salad in the store, I assume that means a low fat mayo is used. I used fat free Miracle Whip in place of mayo, and it didn’t knock my socks off.


    I’d really love some help on this recipe if any of you have suggestions or recommendations! I know it’s easy to go wild with chicken salad recipes (adding nuts, cranberries, etc.), but I’d really just like something very basic. What do you think?

    chicken salad

    Light Chicken Salad

    1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
    2 stalks celery, diced
    1/2 to 1 cup of fat free Miracle Whip
    1 baguette
    paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste

    Preheat oven to 400F and bake chicken (seasoned with spices above) for 20 minutes. Cut celery while chicken is cooling.

    When chicken is cool, use a fork to shred. Combine shredded chicken, diced celery and Miracle with in a large bowl. Add additional spices as desired. Mix well, cover tightly, and chill until serving. Slice baguette while waiting.

    Pineapple Mango Chicken Curry

    If I seemed a little scatter-brained lately, there’s a good chance that I am. You see, there are some big changes going on in the Ghost Baker household…


    For starters, we’re moving! After three years in the DC metro area (four for Morgan), we’re picking up and moving back to Charlottesville, the town of our alma mater.

    This fall I’ll be starting a second-degree nursing program leading to a master’s of science in nursing, moving from the research side of healthcare over to the clinical side. I’m pretty excited about it!


    Though Chef Edwin and I will no longer be just a stone’s throw away and there might be a week period where my pots and pans are living in boxes instead of having culinary adventures, Charlottesville offers a lot of really cool things. In 2004, Charlottesville was ranked the best place to live in the United States in the book Cities Ranked and Rated by Bert Sperling and Peter Sander, based on cost of living, climate, and quality of life.

    I see many visits to the farmer’s market in my future. If you’re from the area, please let me know other great things to do, see and eat!


    In any event, the kitchen isn’t packed up just yet. So today I’ll share with you a very tasty pineapple mango chicken curry recipe. I adapted the original recipe for a mango curry chicken from Simply Recipes. I had to figure out a way to keep the mango flavor toned down because I’m not a huge fan of that particular fruit.

    This dish came out on the sweet side because of the pineapple and little bit of sugar (almost like a sweet and sour chicken, but really not quite). If you’d like to tone down the sweetness, add some vinegar. Neither the pineapple nor the mango are overpowering, though. I added most of the pineapple and almost all of the mango to the food processor instead of leaving more as fruit chunks at the end (since, as I said, I’m not a huge mango fan). You can of course vary this according to your personal tastes.


    Pineapple Mango Chicken Curry
    adapted from Simply Recipes

    Vegetable oil for pan
    1 large onion, diced
    1 red bell pepper
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
    2 Tablespoon yellow curry powder
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    1 mango, peeled and diced
    1 can chopped pineapple, drained (15 oz.)
    2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    1 Tablespoon Sugar
    1 1/4 cup water
    1 – 1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1/2 cup light cream
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    Dash of red pepper flakes

    Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions, stirring occasionally until soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes, then add red bell pepper. Add the curry powder and cumin, cook for a few more minutes. If spices begin to stick too much to the bottom of the pan, add a little more oil. Add the ginger and garlic, cooking for an additional minute or two.

    Add vinegar, water, 1/2 to 3/4 of the chopped mango and 1/2 to 3/4 the pineapple to the pan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and carefully add to food processor. Pulse until smooth, then return to pan.

    Add chicken and return to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

    Add remaining mango and pineapple to the pan. Carefully add cream and sugar and cook on low for an additional minute, uncovered. Do not boil!

    Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over rice. Makes about 3 servings.