Sunday, August 24, 2014

Virtual Book Club

I know I'm hooked on a novel when I get home from a long day at work, grab my kindle and a sprite zero, and trek up the stairs to the bedroom where I curl up with my snoogle pillow and read. Quite the life of adventure, right! I finished I Capture the Castle last night, and I absolutely loved it. Highly recommend.

Next up...

Greek Cucumber Noodles


Since purchasing my Paderno spiralizer on Amazon and catching crap from my husband for buying yet another kitchen gadget, I'm trying to use it more often. This was the first time I tested it with cucumber, and it made such a fun and pretty salad!
If you like Greek food, this salad has the right combination of kalamata olives, feta, red onion and hummus. I'm sure a little grilled chicken on top and pita on the side would be perfect for a dinner.
I was talking at work a few days ago about my favorite "healthy" kitchen gadgets - ones that encourage me to eat more fruit and veggies. Here are my top 3 - 

1. Tribest persoanal blender - for protein fruit smoothies. This blender makes the perfect individual smoothie and only takes a couple of seconds to rinse out. I like using EAS lean 15 vanilla protein powder, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, and a handful of frozen berries.

2.  Paderno spiralizer - for veggie noodles! 

3. Breville compact juicer - anytime  I'm craving a healthy juice I whip this baby out and feel like my life is back in balance, especially after those pizza & pasta dinners or big weekend trips.

Greek Cucumber Noodles
from Two Peas & their Pod
2 seedless English cucumbers
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 Tbsp hummus
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Olive oil (optional)

Make the cucumber noodles using a spiralizer (I love my Paderno from Amazon)
Divide the cucumber noodles onto plates. Top with tomatoes, olives, and red onion. In the center of the noodles add a spoonful of hummus. Sprinkle feta cheese over the noodles. Top with a little olive oil (optional) and season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Serve immediately. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Babymoon - a trip to Charlottesville


You may wonder why our babymoon looks more like a pub crawl, though I promise there was plenty of fun for me as well! Josh promised I could take as many photos as I like of him, the scenery, my meals, and the beautiful UVA campus, and boy did I take full advantage! On top of that, I got to world-class pizza and try a new restaurant in Charlottesville. The campus is breathtaking. We stayed at the Inn at Dresden, and it was  located right on campus. I would definitely recommend it to all my friends. The Omni was booked for the night and I stumbled upon the Inn on Expedia which was cozy and quiet.
This trip was a surprise for Josh, I simply told him that I was kidnapping him for the night and on the drive I handed him a sheet before every stop. He totally thought we were going to The Homestead in West Virginia. The brewery sheets had a list of all their draft beers and the restaurants had copies of the menu. It was so much fun for both of us. You see, I'm the planner who loves doing crazy things like this, and he enjoys the surprise and exploring a new place. 
The Babymoon was a reminder that every couple needs an adventure every now and then, and for us this was a break from nursery projects, baby talk and long work weeks. Just a weekend of fun, exploring, and lots of great food! 

The Brew Ridge Trail, Crozet Pizza, and Charlottesville!

Stop 1 - Blue Mountain Brewery 

Stop 2 - Wild Wolf Brewing Company

Stop 3 - Devils Backbone

Stop 4 - Lunch at Crozet Pizza *featured on the Food Network and Nat Geo's "best in the world"* -- pizza lovers paradise!


half "special" and half "harvest pie" with squash and peanuts

Stop 5 - Starr Hill Brewery - located down the street from Crozet Pizza

Stop 6 - check in at our hotel (The Inn at Dresden)

Stop 7 - dinner at The Whiskey Jar (I highly recommend the hushpuppies and sweet potato biscuits appetizer and the fried chicken and collards entree)

We spent Sunday morning walking around the campus, the downtown mall, and had a great brunch at Ace Biscuit & BBQ. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Virtual Book Club

When I saw this book appear on the Goodreads book list "The Most Comforting Books (The Literary Version of Bread Pudding)" I was sold. Every now and then we just need a feel good movie or a feel good book to get that warm and fuzzy feeling about humanity. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Slow Cooker Creole Chicken and Sausage

The last two evenings have been cool, and I decided to break out my slow cooker in preparation for October. I'm already planning a crazy freezer project to get us ready for the arrival of baby Charlie, including chili, spaghetti sauce, and a few of my favorite hearty soups.

I wasn't planning on blogging about this recipe, but after eating it for the 3rd day in a row (my leftover lunch container is shown above) and loving every single bite - I wanted to share it as an EASY slow cooker Cajun meal. It's spicy, hearty, healthy, and will be in my slow cooker rotation this fall. Enjoy! 
Slow Cooker Creole Chicken and Sausage
from  Pinch of Yum

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
12 ounces smoked Andouille sausage, cut into small rounds
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves minced garlic
1¼ cup low sodium chicken broth
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes *I used rotel*
3 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup tomato sauce
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning *Tony Chachere's*
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Optional Extras: 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 14 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 green bell peppers, chopped
½ cup sliced green onions for topping
2 tablespoons almond butter (randomly delicious)
salt to taste

brown rice for serving *my favorite baked brown rice recipe is below*

Instructions

  1. Place the essential ingredients in the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3 hours.
  2. Shred the chicken directly in the crockpot to your desired texture. Add the extras, if you want, and cover and cook for another 20-30 minutes. This is also a great time to make your rice, if you're serving it with rice. When everything is ready, taste the chicken mixture and season with salt. Serve the creole chicken over rice and topped with green onions.   
Baked Brown Rice
from Alton Brown

1 1/2 cups brown rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish or dutch oven.
  3. Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or lid of dutch oven. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately.
 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Easy Mexican Refried Beans


After relaxing with Ella on the beach and hearing her talk of the authentic Mexican recipes she made with her mom growing up, I've been craving Mexican food like crazy. I've had this recipe in my stash for awhile, and pulled it out for dinner last week. I can already say that I will be making this one forever, it's just that doggone good. While it was a little more of a time commitment starting with dry beans, it was completely worth it! 
I made the oven beans in the morning, and then stored them in the fridge until I was ready to cook dinner. The oven beans are very easy and the best part - they require no overnight soaking!  You can serve them as a side dish, or scoop them inside corn tortillas and add toppings. 

Easy Mexican Refried Beans
from The Wanderlust Kitchen

4 Tbsp vegetable oil or lard
1 batch oven beans (see recipe below)
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp Goya all-purpose seasoning
Cilantro, chopped scallions, and cotija cheese for garnish
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beans, stir well, then cover and let cook for 4-5 minutes.
  2. Once the beans are warm, begin mashing them by using the back of a wooden spoon. As you mash, the insides of the beans will come out and make the mixture quite dry. Keep the water close to the stove so you can drizzle some in as needed throughout the process. If the beans don't seem to want to mash, just put the lid back on and try again in a few minutes. Sometimes they just need to warm up a bit more. 
  3. Keep mashing away and adding water as needed until you get the consistency you prefer. If you add too much water, just keep the lid off and let the liquid cook off through the steam. Stir in the cumin, cayenne pepper, and Goya. 
  4. Serve warm, topped with cilantro, scallions, and cotija cheese. 

No-Soak Oven Beans
from The Wanderlust Kitchen

1 lb pinto beans
Salt 
Seasonings (bay leaf, cumin, chili powder, minced garlic, black pepper)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Sort through beans and remove debris.
Place dry beans in a 3 quart dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid.
Add 2 tsp salt, and other seasonings as desired. 
Add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch.
Put on the lid and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Check the beans and stir them. If they are tender, take them out of the oven. If they aren't done, put them back in the oven for 15 minute intervals. If they appear to be drying out, add 1 cup of hot water.
Store in the fridge, covered. You can also divide the cooked beans and freeze them for later use. 

Ella's Guacamole


On our recent family vacation, I was finally able to meet my cousin's amazing girlfriend Ella. She is from Mexico and loves to cook, travel, read books, and has two adorable maltese dogs. I'd been waiting to meet her for the past few years, and before we left the vacation she was generous enough to share her personal guacamole recipe with me so that we could all benefit!
Growing up in Mexico, her mom cooked up authentic meals daily. Ella was in charge of making the guacamole and salsa, and she has been making this recipe for years. I could not resist making my first batch with one of my giant heirloom garden tomatoes that was one day from being too ripe, and next time I will strictly follow her recipe for a more creamy texture from the avocados. Ella did say, make this your own! 

Ella's Guacamole
3 ripe Hass avocados, halved and pitted
2 to 4 fresh serrano peppers, coarsely chopped including seeds
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 limes (bright green color)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (add more to taste)

For heat - add a dash of Ella's favorite hot sauce Valentina (or other favorites Cholula or Tapatio)

In a blender: add the peppers, half of the cilantro, 3/4 of the onion, tomatoes, juice of 1 lime, and salt. Blend until smooth. 

Scoop the avocado flesh with a spoon into the blender jar and blend until creamy. Scoop in a bowl, then add 1/4 onion and remaining cilantro as garnish and cover with juice of 1 lime.