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Dine In: Chile Relleno Soup

Chile Relleno SoupThere was a time when I made it my mission to taste every chile relleno at every Mexican restaurant in a 100-mile radius.

I think I was pretty successful; there’s really no more relleno dishes left that I haven’t taste-tested. I know to avoid the soggy, greasy dish at one certain restaurant. I know that at another, the golden, crisp goodness and gooey cheese is what I’m going to eat before I even open the menu.

I’ve tried making chile rellenos at home, with varying degrees of success.

However, this soup highlights the essence of the dish, without having to deep-fry anything.

The best part is that you can eat it at home on your back porch in front of a roaring fire on a lazy Friday night. No reservations or gratuity required.

Chile Relleno Soup

4 poblano peppers
4 Tbs butter
1/4 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 oz cream cheese, cut into cubes
3 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Roast the peppers over a gas flame or in the oven under the broiler on high heat until pepper skin is charred and blistered. Put peppers into brown paper bag, and close bag. Let steam and cool for about 20 minutes. Rub the skin to remove as much char as possible. Then, remove seeds and pith; finely chop.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and cook until foamy. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin and poblano peppers. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add in the chicken broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the chicken, and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Incorporate cream cheese and cheddar cheese into the broth, whisking until smooth. To serve, divide into bowls, and then top with remaining cheese. Serve immediately with finely diced tomatoes and minced fresh cilantro, optional.

Nutritional Information: Calories from Fat: 341, Fat: 38 g, Carbohydrates: 10.24 g, Fiber: 2.64 g, Protein: 41.11 g, Cholesterol: 183 mg.

Dine In: Slow Cooker French Onion Soup

Slow Cooker French Onion SoupA few weeks ago, I had lunch at my favorite local bakery and café, a place I eat so frequently that everybody knows my name. It helps that my BFF’s daughter is the manager there, too.

I went in for lunch, and the owner greeted me and suggested that I try the French Onion Soup.

To be totally honest, while I like French Onion Soup, it’s never something I crave or choose off a menu.

She brought me a little cup of soup, and I was hooked. I even went back later in the week for some more, and now I’ve made them promise to alert me on days they are serving the magical soup.

Their French Onion Soup is a secret family recipe. No amount of cajoling could get them to give it up. However, I do know one of the major ingredients, so I set off to find a similar recipe featuring red wine. I also know it’s slow-cooked for hours.

French Onion Soup is definitely a meal that you can dress up for a stay-at-home date night or serve as a hearty fall family dinner.

I can’t wait to make it at home, and then enjoy the leftovers all weekend long.

Slow Cooker French Onion Soup

1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 large yellow onions, slivered
8 cups beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 tsp pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1 loaf French bread, sliced into 4 thick slices
6 Tbs butter
1/2 lb Gruyere cheese, sliced

Combine bay leaf, garlic, onions, beef broth, wine, salt and pepper in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours or more.

Spread butter on 4 slices of bread. Ladle soup into four oven-proof bowls. Top each bowl with a slice of bread, butter-side up, and then add a slice of Gruyere cheese. Broil on high until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 648, Calories from Fat: 351, Fat: 39 g (22 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 108 mg, Sodium: 2470 mg, Carbohydrates: 32 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 8 g, Protein: 32 g.

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Healthy Living: Autumn in a Skillet

Autumn in a SkilletLast week, my aunt from Maine flew down to visit my mom in Virginia.

I was a little jealous. My aunt is one of the most amazing people I know and certainly one of the strongest women (aside from my mom) in my life.

They had four days filled with fun sister time (again, I was a little jealous). They walked through a designer house, took in the sights and sounds of Richmond, and finally went to western Virginia to visit some historical sites and go apple picking.

Going apple picking is one of my favorite memories from this time of year in Virginia. We did it as a family growing up, but I even went a few times in college, since the picturesque mountain where the orchard was located was also close to the school I attended.

The cool air, crisp fruits and distinctly fall aromas made for the perfect day. There’s nothing like apple picking in the fresh air except maybe turning those apples into delicious treats. This dish combines protein, good fiber, and a ton of vitamins and nutrients in one quick and easy skillet dinner.

Autumn in a Skillet

1 Tbs olive oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 slices bacon, chopped
3 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken stock, divided

Heat olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet until fragrant and shimmering. Add chicken, salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned and cooked through. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the bacon; cook until the bacon is crisp. Remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and add to the same plate as the chicken.

Turn the heat to medium-high. Add Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and onions. Cook and stir until the vegetables are crisp-tender and the onions are translucent. Stir in the apples, garlic, thyme and cinnamon. Stir in 1/2 cup of the broth. Bring the broth to a boil, stirring often, and cook down until the broth has evaporated. Add in chicken, bacon and the remaining 1/2 cup of broth. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 425, Fat: 20 g (6 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 106 mg, Sodium: 1250 mg, Carbohydrates: 25 g, Fiber: 6 g, Sugar: 10 g, Protein: 38 g.

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Healthy Living: Stuffed “Pumpkins”

Stuffed “Pumpkins”It’s never too early to trot out the fall treats!

These fun and fanciful “pumpkins” don’t have to wait until Halloween to make an appearance, and they might even entice your kids to devour this healthy meal.

You can stuff the bell pepper “pumpkins” with almost anything you want: a mixture of ground turkey, quinoa and corn; this chicken mixture; or even make it all veggies and grains.

Your family will get vitamin C and antioxidants from the peppers. The chicken and black beans provide protein, and there’s lots of beta-carotene in the tomatoes in the salsa.

Plus, you can make these in advance, and just pop them in the oven for dinner when you get home in the evening. They’re a fun and healthy way to feed your family!

Stuffed “Pumpkins”

4 large orange bell peppers
4 cups rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup onions, diced
1 Tbs cumin
1/2 Tbs garlic salt
1/2 Tbs chili powder
1/2 to 1 cup salsa
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Slice the tops off of the orange peppers, removing seeds and pith. Using the sharp tip of a paring knife, “carve” faces into the peppers, small enough that filling won’t come out but large enough to see a pumpkin “face.”

In a large bowl, mix together shredded chicken, black beans, onions, spices, salsa (to taste) and cheese. Stuff 1/4 of mixture into each pepper, and cap with the top of the pepper.

Place in a baking dish with a lid or cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove cover, and bake for 15 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 568, Calories from Fat: 138, Fat: 15 g (7 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 137 mg, Sodium: 480 mg, Carbohydrates: 46 g, Fiber: 12 g, Sugar: 10 g, Protein: 61 g.

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Dine In: Date Night Greek Lemon Chicken

Date Night Greek Lemon ChickenWhen Friday nights don’t involve football or driving the Mom taxi, I love a date night dish that can be prepared in one pan.

This Greek chicken is bursting with flavor, is healthy and good for you, and comes together in just a few minutes. Definitely marinate this overnight to let the lemon permeate the chicken. It’s so delicious that way. You can marinate the chicken as you’re preparing the rest of the meal, but the flavor is more intense if you do it overnight.

You can buy cauliflower already riced and packaged. It’ll be near the prepared bags of salad in your store, or you can buy a head of cauliflower and pulse it in your food processor. It’s that simple. You can also skip the cauliflower entirely and serve this with a side of orzo.

Date Night Greek Lemon Chicken

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lbs)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs Greek seasoning
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white onion, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts
12 oz cauliflower rice
1/2 lemon, sliced

Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, Greek seasoning and salt in a small bowl. Pour into a gallon-sized, zip-top plastic bag. Then, place chicken in the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

When it’s time to eat, heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sear the chicken, skin-side down, for 5 to 6 minutes without moving. Flip the chicken, reduce heat to medium-high, and continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through and juices run clear. Remove to a plate.

Lower the heat to medium. Add the garlic and onion, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and artichokes, stirring frequently. Add the cauliflower rice; cook for 5 minutes. Add the lemon slices, chicken and any juices from the chicken. Heat through and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 477, Calories from Fat: 181, Fat: 20 g (5 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 151 mg, Sodium: 1027 mg, Carbohydrates: 21 g, Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 55 g.

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Healthy Living: Back to School Breakfast Baked Oatmeal Cups

Back to School Breakfast Baked Oatmeal CupsBack to school breakfasts are wreaking havoc with my psyche this year.

I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day (and my personal favorite), and the PRESSURE to deliver a nutritious, delicious, easy and convenient back to school breakfast is mounting.

I haven’t stressed out about breakfast in the past, but this year, one of my kids will need to take his breakfast to school. For whatever reason, this is throwing a kink in my best-laid breakfast plans.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for his school breakfasts.

I was referred to this recipe on a blog called “Flex with Faith Fitness,” written by a super mom, teacher and fitness instructor committed to a healthy lifestyle. It fits all my requirements for a fabulous school morning breakfast: it’s healthy, easy and can be made ahead of time. It’s also delicious.

I can’t wait to try these!

Baked Oatmeal Cups

coconut oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large bananas (or 2 cups unsweetened applesauce)
1 Tbs raw honey
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
pinch of cloves
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
toppings of your choice (such as fresh berries, chunks of fresh fruit, nuts, pure maple syrup, chocolate chips, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Coat muffin tin with coconut oil or nonstick cooking spray, or use paper liners. Paper liners tend to work best if you’re freezing these.

Combine eggs, vanilla, bananas and honey in a large bowl. Mash bananas and mix well. Set aside.

Combine oats, cinnamon, cloves and baking powder in a small bowl. Stir well and combine with banana mixture. Stir in almond milk and mix well.

Divide oatmeal evenly between prepared muffin cups, and add toppings of your choice.

Bake for 26 to 30 minutes or until golden-brown.

Serve immediately or freeze.

Makes 12

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 175, Fat: 4 g (1 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 31 mg, Sodium: 35 mg, Carbohydrates: 30 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 6 g.

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Healthy Living: Kid-Friendly Breakfast Sushi

Kid-Friendly Breakfast SushiSchool started last week, and I’m up against an added challenge this year: getting a kid to an athletic practice in the morning before school.

He’s STARVING by the time he finishes practice, but he can’t eat anything heavy before he goes to the workout.

We came up with breakfast sushi, a “roll” that gives him some energy, but it doesn’t weigh him down. It has protein, potassium to help rebuild muscles, and “good” carbs that he can burn during practice.

Bonus points: my other son loves them, too.

Breakfast Sushi

1 large, firm banana
1 Tbs plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbs natural peanut butter
2 Tbs granola or other whole-grain breakfast cereal, crushed
1/4 cup strawberries, finely chopped

Peel banana.

Mix together Greek yogurt and peanut butter. Roll banana in mixture, and then coat with a layer of crushed cereal. Sprinkle with strawberries. Refrigerate overnight, and serve first thing in the morning.

Serves 1

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 262, Calories from Fat: 145, Fat: 16 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 1 mg, Sodium: 17 mg, Carbohydrates: 50 g, Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 24 g, Protein: 13 g.

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Dine In: First Week of School Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

First Week of School Slow Cooker Chicken SoupThe first week of school did me in.


Between wrangling school supplies, gym clothes, homework, backpacks, instruments, equipment and early mornings, I’m done with a capital “D.” Done.

It was imperative that I serve an easy but healthy meal to cap off the first week of school.

This chicken soup fit the bill perfectly. It slow cooks all day, so you don’t have to wrangle dinner, on top of everything else Friday afternoon. It’s also Paleo, low-fat and full of flavor. Don’t skip the bones or the skin; they add flavor and nutrients to the soup. If you can make a clean cut, you can even cut through the bone with a cleaver (like I said, clean cut so there’s no shards in your soup), so the bone marrow can leach into your soup and infuse it with flavor and health benefits.

It’s a great meal for a Friday night or any school night.

First Week of School Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs basil
1 Tbs oregano
2 organic chicken breasts, bone-in and skin-on
2 organic chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups filtered water

Layer onions, celery, carrots and chicken in the slow cooker, ensuring chicken is bone-side down on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle with spices and apple cider vinegar. Add water to cover the vegetables, and come up to the midway point of the chicken, between 3 to 4 cups.

Cook on low for 8 hours.

Remove the chicken from the slow cooker. Remove meat; discard skin and bones. Shred the chicken meat, and add back to the slow cooker.

Add more seasoning, if desired; heat through and serve.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 462, Calories from Fat: 153, Fat: 17 g (5 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 202 mg, Sodium: 704 mg, Carbohydrates: 7 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 67 g.

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Healthy Living: Super Simple Marinara Sauce

Super Simple Marinara SauceSummer is the perfect time to make a healthy and hearty marinara sauce, using the freshest of summer vegetables and herbs.

It comes together quickly, and it is so fresh and tasty that simmering and stirring on a stove all day is not required (but it sure smells great if you do!).

Right now, tomatoes are at their peak, so grab some for your sauce today. You could also use a hybrid combination of fresh and canned like I do.

The beauty of a marinara sauce is that you can combine any herbs you like, not just limiting yourself to what’s traditional. Everything is at the peak of freshness and flavor right now.

Today, I have some simmering with Cuban oregano from my friend’s garden. She gave me a sprig last week that I’m trying to root hydroponically, but in the meantime, it smelled too good not to use. I also have fresh basil from my garden as well as locally grown onions and tomatoes.

I like a chunky marinara, but you could always give this a whirl in the food processor if you want it to be smoother.

The tomatoes are full of antioxidants and cancer-fighting agents. Make a huge batch of this, and freeze what you don’t use for later use.

Toss with a rigatoni pasta, or serve over slices of eggplant (my plan).

Super Simple Marinara Sauce

1 lb local tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs fresh basil, chopped
2 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 can Italian diced tomatoes
2 oz tomato paste

Preheat oven to 450° F. Spread tomatoes and onions on a baking sheet. Roast until the edges turn dark, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a large pot.

Add garlic, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Process in food processor until smooth, if desired.

Serves 6

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 57, Calories from Fat: 5, Fat: 1 g (0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 406 mg, Carbohydrates: 13 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 7 g, Protein: 2 g.

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Dine In: Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed MushroomsOn some Friday nights, I just don’t feel like cooking an elaborate meal, but luckily “appetizer night” always works well in my house.

These stuffed mushrooms are always one of my favorites. You can also vary this recipe easily, swapping out sausage for bacon or red onions for green onions, or adding hot sauce, bleu cheese and a variety of other ingredients.

They cook up quickly in the oven, and they are great with a meat and cheese board, an antipasto platter or just by themselves.

Stuffed Mushrooms

8 oz large button mushrooms, stems removed and brushed clean
4 oz cream cheese
4 oz bacon, cooked crisply and crumbled
4 Tbs green onions, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the cream cheese, bacon, green onions, and salt and pepper.

Remove stems from mushrooms and brush clean. You might need to scoop out some of the mushroom gills if the caps aren’t big enough to hold the filling. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in each mushroom.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Place mushrooms on a baking sheet, and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 266, Calories from Fat: 197, Fat: 22 g (10 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 62 mg, Sodium: 743 mg, Carbohydrates: 4 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 2 g, Protein: 15 g.

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