Venturing out

So one good thing about this whole real foods adventure is that it is forcing me to be more creative not only eating out but also in the kitchen. I am trying to find ways to eat less meat since that is what is recommended, and also it gets expensive buying organic meat. I came across a recipe for Quinoa Zucchini Fritters, I have never made fritters before, but I had all the ingredients already and thought why not?! OH….MY….GOODNESS!!!

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These are my new favorite! They were so delicious and filling! The crispiness on the outside and then the cheesy goodness on the inside….yum! I am not goonna lie, the husband  looked at me like ‘this is what we are really having for dinner??’ But he even thoroughly enjoyed them (or was nice enough to eat them and say he loved it for my sake 😉 ). They take a little time to prep, which I am finding is going to be something I am just going to have to get used to in this whole process, but they make 12 fritters. It was even better for my lunch the next day!

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Parmesan Zucchini Fritters

Ingredients: 

  1. 3 medium zucchini, grated
  2. 1/2 cup quinoa
  3. 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  6. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  7. salt and pepper

Directions: 

  1. Place a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl. Toss the grated zucchini with salt and place in the strainer. Allow zucchini to sit about 12 minutes, then press and squeeze all water from zucchini. Repeat the process, tossing with an additional salt and allowing zucchini to sit an additional 10 minutes. Again press and squeeze all water from zucchini.
  2.  Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the quinoa and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until the water is absorbed, about 6-9 minutes
  3. Combine zucchini, quinoa, parmesan, egg, thyme, garlic powder, and black pepper. Scoop small handfuls of the zucchini mixture and form small, round patties.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fritters to the pan and allow to cook until edges begin to turn golden, about 4-6 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook about 4 minutes more.
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Sometimes I am lazy in the kitchen….

So far the hardest part of this whole “real” food adventure is the planning. After cooking all week, planning and prepping for each meal, I just did not feel like doing it all weekend either. There are times where I just want to be lazy in the kitchen. So I pulled the contents of my fridge and came up with a quick an easy meal that can be done for breakfast or lunch or really even dinner, a frittata! I sauteed a red pepper and an onion in some olive oil until translucent, added 8 beaten eggs, sprinkled with goat cheese and baked at 350 for 15 mins. And that was it! Meal was done! I felt accomplished.

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Later that afternoon we went to a friends house for an oyster roast, and I wanted to contribute an appetizer I knew I could eat. I was drawing a blank….either it required to be hot and in the oven, or required a lot of preparation that clearly I was not feeling. Then it hit me…..Brie drizzled with honey, sprinkled with pecans and served with apple slices! This will be my new go to app. Easy, simple, and a crowd pleaser!!

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Whats your favorite lazy recipe?!

Honey Spiced Chicken Thighs

When I buy chicken at the grocery store, I always just go for the boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Why? Well I am not really sure, its what I have always done. I have cooking chicken breasts down to a science; slice them in half length wise, heat olive oil in a pan over med heat, cook for 5 mins on each side and you have a perfect chicken breast! So while grocery shopping the other day, you can imagine my shock when I arrive at the meat section to find no organic chicken breasts available….. Standing there a little stunned, I was faced with 3 options:

1. Change my whole dinner plan completely (not gonna happen, already had groceries in the cart)

2. Buy organic chicken wings (ehh)

3. Buy organic chicken thighs

Clearly, I went with option number 3. I have never bought chicken thighs before and was really unsure as to what to do with them, but I was planning on baking my chicken so figured it couldn’t be that much of a difference. Oh my! What have I been missing out on?! Seriously this chicken was the best chicken I have ever fixed! It was tender, it was juicy, it had a little sweetness followed by a kick of spiciness.  This is a definite must try! Serve it with cauliflower rice and sauteed asparagus and you have a perfect “real” food meal!

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Speaking of which, so far week 1 of no processed hasn’t been too difficult. Definitely more planning and cooking involved, which for the most part I enjoy 😉 .  I have been making smoothies for breakfast and making double the portions of dinner, so I can take the left overs for lunch! Hopefully week 2 will be as easy as the first has been….we shall see…..

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Honey Spiced Chicken Thighs:

Adapted from: Budgetbytes

Ingredients:

  1. 4 Chicken thighs
  2. 3 tablespoons honey
  3. 1 tablespoon cider vinegar (I used a little less then a full tablespoon)
  4. 1 tsp chili powder
  5. 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  6. pinch of paprika, cumin, and cayenne pepper
  7. Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine everything except the chicken thighs (honey, cider vinegar, chili powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin, and salt). Stir until combined.
  2. Place the chicken thighs either on a baking sheet and brush the honey spice mixture over the surface of the chicken thighs, using about half of the total honey mixture.
  3. Roast the chicken thighs for about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken thighs from the oven and use the remaining honey spice mixture to brush on a second coat. Return the chicken to the oven and roast for another 20 minutes.

Bye bye processed foods

So this year for lent I am giving up processed foods.  After watching the movie Food Inc. and recently finishing the book, “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan, I have decided its time to really cut out a lot of the food thats actually not food. I have learned so much on this topic, its even turned my husband away from certain foods. For one, we will NEVER ever eat subway again, I just cant do it (wont spoil it for subway lovers). And yes for about a year now, I have been that crazy person in the grocery store standing in the aisle, reading the ingredients. But when we go out to dinner or we travel, I am not as conscious as to what I am putting into my body. My guildines are based off of the 100daysofrealfood.com site. So here goes the next 40 days…….

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Luckily the first meal of this no processed ordeal is actually something I cook all the time and is one of my favorites! I LOVE curry. I have found that most people either love curry or hate it. Luckily the husband loves it as well (or at least pretends to enjoy it). Not only does this dish taste phenomenal, look how pretty it is! Served over brown rice and this is a very satisfying “real” food dinner.  Maybe this wont be such a hard 40 days after all……

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Chicken Curry

Ingredients: 

  1. 2 tablespoons red curry paste
  2. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 1 15oz can coconut milk (full fat and organic for real food)
  4. 2 chicken breasts cut into pieces
  5. 1 tablespoon curry powder
  6. 4 bell peppers of any color, chopped
  7. 1 leek, chopped
  8. 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, saute olive oil and curry paste, pressing the paste into the oil for 1 minute.
  2. While that sautes, combine chicken, curry powder, salt & pepper in a small bowl and toss to coat. Set aside.
  3. Add half the coconut milk into the pan and whisk together until it’s incorporated with the curry paste. Then add remaining coconut milk and simmer for 3 minutes.
  4. Add seasoned chicken and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add vegetables and cilantro, stir, cover and cook for about 5-7 more minutes until chicken is fully cooked.
  6. Serve over brown rice and garnish with additional cilantro.

Honey Cashew Chicken

Chinese food is my all time favorite food.  I could seriously eat it all day every day, and it does not help that PF  Changs is right across the street from our house! But the reality is my favorite chinese food is not a healthy choice to eat everyday.  So when I am craving the deliciousness of chinese takeout and feeling the laziness of ordering in, this is my go to recipe.

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Oh my this satisfies every taste bud! The sweetness from the honey and the spiciness from the Sriracha (which if this is not part of your pantry it should be!) really brings this dish together.  And its so easy to make! It takes less time to make this then to call in and pick up chinese takeout. I added way more veggies to this dish then chicken and served with brown rice.

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If you are a lover of chinese food like me, then is a definite must try!!

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Honey Cashew Chicken 

Adapted from Cooking Light:

Ingredients:

– 1 Chicken breasts cut into small cubes

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– 2 cups broccoli florets

-1 zucchini cubed

– 1 red pepper diced

– 1 onion chopped

– 1 cup of baby bella mushrooms

– 1/4 cup cashews

– 3 tablespoons honey

-1 tablespoon rice vinegar

-2 tablespoons soy sauce

-1 tablespoon Sriracha (and if you are like us more for topping!)

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper

2. Heat a large skillet over medium- high heat. Add olive oil. Once hot add the chicken mixture and saute for 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Add all the veggies to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender and chicken is done. Stir in cashews

3. Combine the honey, vinegar, soy sauce and sriracha in a small bowl and whisk together. Pour over chicken and veggie mixture. Cook until thickened and serve over rice!

Cast Iron Cooking

I LOVE my cast iron skillet! Nothing gets a better sear, which in turn provides the meat with so much flavor that you just cant get from a regular nonstick pan. I know they get a bad rep for being heavy, hard to clean and a process to season blah blah… But trust me, once you have a seasoned cast iron skillet, taking care of it really isn’t as much of as hassle.   For me I have found if I clean it with warm water and a sponge right after cooking works best. You will be left with a pan that provides the best even cooking, easy stove top to oven transition, and a sear that just cant be beat.

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As I was flipping through my Southern Living I came across this recipe that not only recommended a cast iron skillet but also was a one pot meal. Done and done!   Let me say it did not disappoint! I am not normally a fan of cooked apples, but in this dish they worked really well. I didn’t cook them for as long so they still had a little crunch to them and were not mushy. This will definitely be a recipe I use when I need a quick, tasty weeknight meal! Its even good enough to impress company with!

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Skillet Pork Chops with Apples and Onions

Adapted from Southern Living

Ingredients: 

  1. 2 bone-in pork chops (1 to 1 1/4 inches thick)
  2. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  3. 1 granny smith apple cut into slices
  4. 1 medium onion cut into thin slices
  5. 1/3 cup chicken broth
  6. 1 cup whipping cream
  7. 1/4 cup dijon mustard
  8. 2 tablespoons bourbon (I used jack daniels b/c it was what we had)
  9. 8 fresh thyme springs
  10. salt and pepper

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet (or a regular non stick skillet) over medium heat. Cook the pork chops 5 to 6 mins on each side till they are nice and golden brown. Remove from the skillet.

2. Add the apples and onions to the skillet. Cook until browned about 4 to 5 mins (I added my apples a couple mins after the onions). Remove from skillet.

3. Add the broth to the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes loosening the browned bits from the skillet. Whisk together the cream and mustard and then add to the skillet. Cook and stir constantly until bubbly.

4. Remove skillet from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Add the pork, apples, onions and thyme to the skillet.

5. Bake at 450 for 10 mins and then let stand in skillet for 5 mins before serving!

Braised Beef Short Ribs

I do not buy into all the hype over Valentines day. I do not like chocolate (I know I am a weird one), I do not enjoy going out to eat with 1000’s of other couples and fighting the crowds/reservations etc, and even attempting to walk into a Hallmark stresses me out.  But I do enjoy a nice dinner at home, splurging on a nice bottle of wine and I am very thankful for the man I married. So on this Valentines day we opted for dinner in, per usual, and had Braised Beef Short Ribs with Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes and a salad!

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Ok trust me on this, this really is an easy recipe…don’t be intimated by the ingredients or length of time. It does take some preparation and  a little while to cook (we didnt eat till after 8 so in anticipation I bought cheese for the husband to munch on…heaven forbid he starves 😉 ). But once the dish is in the oven (maybe 30 mins prep time), you can pour a glass of wine, sit back and relax until your dinner is ready! The hard work is over and its just a waiting game. And was it worth the wait! The meat was fall off the bone tender and melted in your mouth. Then pair that with the creaminess of the goat cheese mashed potatoes and the red wine sauce that braised with the meat, well you pretty much have perfection

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If your mouth isnt watering it should be! Also this makes a lot when serving just 2 BUT makes a great left over lunch 🙂 .

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Braised Beef Short Ribs

Adapted from Bon Appetit:

Ingredients: 

  1. 5 lbs bone in beef short ribs (I think I only had 4 lbs)
  2. Salt and pepper
  3. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 3 medium onions chopped
  5. 3 medium carrots chopped
  6. 2 celery stalks chopped
  7. 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
  8. 1 bottle of dry red wine
  9. 10 sprigs flat leaf parsley
  10. 8 sprigs thyme
  11. 2 bay leaves
  12. 1 head of garlic halved
  13. 4 cups of beef stock

Directions: 

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 Tbsp. drippings from pot.

2. Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.

3. Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

The Kale Bandwagon – Mushroom and Kale Pasta

So I am trying to get on the kale bandwagon. While I still can’t do raw kale, I am enjoying it more and more cooked in dishes. I saw a recipe for a mushroom and kale pasta that looked amazing and knew I had to try. Of course while in the store I did a quick scan of the recipe and grabbed the ingredients I thought I needed. I guess I was in too much of a hurry (story of my life) that I either missed half of the ingredients or I thought I had them at home, only to realize in the middle of cooking that I did not. So this is what I call my pantry pasta. (I promise there is more kale in the pasta then the picture shows haha)

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I am still learning how to not freak out when not following a recipe and this really put me to the test. I had no idea how it was going to turn out, but thought “worst case its a learning experience and we order take out when its all said and done!” To my surprise it actually turned out to be pretty good. Not my best dinner and definitely would make improvements to it next time but a solid first attempt! The original recipe called for dried mushrooms and mushroom cooking liquid which of course I did not have.  Instead, I used portobello and just substituted the pasta water for the cooking liquid (next time I would prolly skip this step, maybe add a little chicken broth).  Also while tasting before serving, I determined it needed a little something else to bring the dish together so I added goat cheese and that did the trick! Next time I would also let the sauce sit for a little longer to get thicker but we were too impatient and hungry to wait 🙂 .

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Mushroom and Kale Pasta:

Ingredients: 

  1. 8 ounces whole-wheat pasta, boiled and drained according to pasta directions
  2. 1 cup reserved pasta water
  3. 10 oz portobella mushrooms sliced
  4. 1 tablespoon butter
  5. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  6. 1 medium onion chopped
  7. 1 cup white wine
  8. 2 cups kale chopped
  9. 3/4 heavy cream
  10. 2 oz goat cheese
  11. Salt and pepper to taste
  12. Red pepper flakes to taste

Directions: 

1. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook till the onions are translucent.

2. Pour in the white wine, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil. Cook the wine until it almost boils off. Add the 1 cup of reserved pasta water and cook until reduced by half.

3. Turn the heat back to medium and add the heavy cream, goat cheese, kale, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to the pan. Cook until the sauce thickens. Fold in the noodles and serve!

Pork Banh Mi

Anyone that knows me knows that my favorite food is Chinese, but what people may not know is that I have a lot of  second favorites. One of those would be Vietnamese food. I have many favorite restaurants in Charleston (I mean how could you not, there are so many good places to eat), but one of those many is CO, a local Vietnamese restaurant. Some good friends of ours introduced us to this place and ever since I seriously cannot get enough! Me and the husband visited not to long ago and he got the banh mi sandwich. It did not disappoint, as usual. So good in fact I wanted to recreate this dish at home.

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After some major foodqawker stalking (which if you have not been to foodqawker.com and you enjoy cooking, stop what you are doing and go right now), I came across a recipe that I thought would capture the essence of the banh mi I was looking for. Not only was this a quick meal to put together, it was delicious!! The saltiness from the pickled carrots and cucumber, combined with the spiciness of the mayo, and the freshness of the cilantro, was a mouth watering combination. This was my first time pickling vegetables. The recipe I went off of said you could wait up to 5 days or they used theirs after an hour in the jar. Mine were pickling for 4 hours and I thought it was perfect!

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Now I can get my cravings at home anytime I want! However, I will say it will not stop me from visiting CO, now I can just order different things on the menu! 🙂

Pork Banh Mi Sandwich

Adapted from Use Real Butter

Ingredients: 

1. 4 thinly sliced pork chops

2. 4 tablespoons soy sauce

3. 2 tablespoons fish sauce

4. 2 teaspoons brown sugar

5. 1 teaspoon chili garlic paste

6. 3 cloves garlic, smashed

7. 1 large shallot sliced

8. 1 tablespoon olive oil

9. 1 whole wheat baguette

10. Spicy mayo (I just mixed Sriracha and mayo together)

11. Fresh cilantro (this is key, dont skip this ingredient!)

12. 1 medium cucumber, julienned

13. 1 carrot, peeled and julienned

14. 1/2 cup rice vinegar

15. 1/2 cup sugar

16. 1/2 water

17. Salt

Directions: 

To make pickled vegetables

1. Combine the vinegar, salt, sugar, and water in a jar and shake until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cucumber and carrots and store them sealed until ready to use

Pork banh mi

1. Combine soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, chili paste, garlic, and shallots in a ziploc bag. Add the pork and marinate for 1-4 hours.

2. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook on each side until done, about 3 mins per side.

3. To assemble: Slice the baguette into the size sandwich you want and then slice lengthwise. Toast the bread. Once toasted add the cooked pork, pickled vegetables, cilantro and spicy mayo. See how easy that is?!

Sauteed butternut squash salad

I don’t know if I am getting more adventurous in the kitchen or just coming into my own, but I have once again not followed a recipe AND with something I have never cooked before! Yes, I am ashamed to admit, I have never had butternut squash up until I made this dish and omg I have been missing out! This salad not only makes me want to eat more salads, but makes me crave them! I had read a couple recipes with pan sauteed butternut squash and the pictures looked so pretty that I thought, why not give it a try?!

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Ok first off, does anyone have any tricks/tips on cutting butternut squash?? That was an interesting task and pretty sure I wasted a lot of butternut squash, but once completed the rest of the dish was put together in no time!! The caramelization on the butternut squash gave the salad a nice sweetness which was paired nicely with the tartness of the goat cheese.  It was a very comforting and satisfying weeknight meal!  This was also a much needed healthy dinner after all the not so healthy things we consumed over the holidays 😉 .

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Sauteed butternut squash salad:

Ingredients: 

  1. 1 box of fresh Arugula
  2. 1/2 red onion thinly sliced
  3. 1 medium butternut squashed chopped
  4. 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  5. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  6. Goat cheese crumbles (as much as you prefer)
  7. Balsamic vinegar dressing*
  8. Pecans (as much as you prefer)

Directions: 

  1. Heat a the olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Add the butternut squash and brown sugar. Saute until there is a nice brown color on the squash. Reduce heat and cover until the squash is cooked through, about 15-20 mins.
  2. Mix arugula, red onion, goat cheese, pecans and balsamic dressing in a bowl. Place cooked butternut squash on top and serve.

See how easy that was?!

*I always make my own balsamic vinaigrette dressing: mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, shallots, salt and pepper and shake in a salad dressing shaker! So easy and way cheaper then buying it at the store. (I actually never measure any of this just go by taste and adjust)