Thursday, March 26, 2009

Libraries Rock

When I was young and car-less, I knew the greatness of the public library. I methodically worked through the entire Nancy Drew series, and many other books by making my way down the library shelf. I looked forward to my weekly-ish trips to the library, and I always left with a new stack of books to devour. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how awesome libraries are. So sad.

I instead became sucked in to Barnes and Noble culture, buying books I thought I might someday want to read because they had cool covers or were on sale. And they languished on my bookshelf. I also bought a ton of books that I did actually read, and ended up selling these on or I read too much to keep all the books lying around. And I'm not really a re-reader. There are so many great things to read; I feel like I must move onward instead of rehashing books I've already covered. After moving to Lex (where there is no large bookstore), I switched my addiction to online book ordering. As soon as I saw a review for a book I wanted, I'd order it (and probably several other amazon suggestions), and then I'd get a happy surprise about a week later in the mail!

And then, it hit me. I work in the courthouse, and there is a public law library downstairs. I finally got around to asking if they did inter-library loans... and they do! All I have to do is go online and search the card catalogue and press a little button, and they deliver the book to the library in my building as soon as it's available. It's like amazon, but FREEEEEE!

So, thank you Roanoke Valley Libraries. Thank you very much.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Another great recipe! I found this one in Cooking Light. Apparently, I tore it out to save and try later in October 2007. I'm so sad that I waited so long to try it (but I am glad that I finally rifled through saved recipes to find something for dinner). While I've found Cooking Light's recipes to be hit or miss, this is definitely a hit. It's very light, but doesn't taste like it at all. And it has just the right amount of spinach - it's not overpowering. I'll enjoy these left-over lunches.

Cooking Light's Photo, not mine. Because I'm lazy today.

Spinach and Ricotta-Stuffed Shells

2 cups Basic Marinara, divided (I just used a jar of pre-made sauce. Next time, I might thin the sauce with some water first)
Cooking spray
2 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1 large egg yolk
1 garlic clove, minced
24 cooked jumbo pasta shells

Preheat oven to 350°.
Spread 1/2 cup Basic Marinara over bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.
Combine ricotta and next 8 ingredients (through garlic) in a large bowl, stirring well. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons filling into each pasta shell.
Arrange stuffed shells in prepared dish; spread with remaining 1 1/2 cups Basic Marinara.
Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 4 stuffed shells and about 1/3 cup sauce)

CALORIES 329 (27% from fat); FAT 9.8g (sat 4.8g,mono 3g,poly 1g); IRON 2.8mg; CHOLESTEROL 67mg; CALCIUM 377mg; CARBOHYDRATE 39.4g; SODIUM 552mg; PROTEIN 19.6g; FIBER 4.2g

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spicy Braised Beef with Sweet Potatoes

I found this recipe in Real Simple this month and gave it a shot - we loved it! Is is a surprisingly great combination of flavors, and super easy. I like easy. It is 500 calories a serving, but it's uber-filling, so I figure that is probably in line with the real calories of other lower cal recipes, once I eat enough of them to be this full.

(Real Simple's photo - because mine wasn't this pretty)

Spiced Braised Beef with Sweet Potatoes

Makes 6 servings
Hands-on Time: 0hr 15m
Total Time: 4hr 30m

1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into chunks
2 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 large red onion, cut into wedges
1/2 cup dried apricots
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
kosher salt
1 10-ounce box couscous (1 1/2 cups)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
2 cups baby spinach (1 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup roasted almonds, chopped

1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the beef, potatoes, tomatoes (and their juices), onion, apricots, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water.
2. Cook, covered, until the meat is tender, on high for 4 to 5 hours, or on low for 7 to 8 hours.
3. Ten minutes before serving, prepare the couscous according to the package directions.
4. Add the chickpeas to the slow cooker and cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach. Serve with the couscous and sprinkle with the almonds.
5. To freeze: Omit the couscous and spinach. Cool the beef to room temperature and divide among freezer containers or bags. Freeze for up to 3 months.