Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mango Chicken Curry

I happened upon the book Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist last month, and her writing style and food philosophy totally resonated with me. At one point she describes her dining room table as being the heart of her house, and I just loved that. I ended up ordering a copy for my mom on Amazon, and she finished it in in just a few days. 

While my mom was in town visiting, we cooked this amazing curry from the book. These pictures do not do the dish justice, though I will not apologize as our priority that night was sitting down together around the table, enjoying a great meal, and celebrating our family time. You can see my dad had worked up quite an appetite doing yard work - there is a reason we nicknamed him "the human machete" and we later dropped off 300 pounds of yard brush at the dump! 

Since moving to the new house, I have found myself less willing to push off dinner in order to get a couple of great pictures. I'm sure you understand that real life must take priority over the blog, and this book was a good reminder to live in real time. 

With that being said, DO try this curry and DO read Bread & Wine, it's truly a wonderful read. Here are a few of my favorite ideas from the book - 

* we learn by DOING - not reading magazines, watching the food network, and eating out. Get in your kitchen and cook!

* when in doubt about what to cook for dinner, start with an onion. Even if you don't use it that night, the kitchen will smell amazing. 

* need an easy 30 minute meal - default to salad, or soup, or a rice bowl, or taco night. 

* the goal of entertaining is to be a happy and CALM host that greets your friends with a hug, glass of wine, and smile. Set your menu so that you can be that host, not the frazzled one in the kitchen. 
Mango Chicken Curry
from Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist
¼ cup all-purpose flour 
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2-4 tbsp coconut oil
2-2.5 lbs chicken breasts, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
¼ cups raisins
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 mango, pitted and diced
1 tbsp fresh lime juice (approx ½ a lime)
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 cups dry rice (white or brown) prepared according to package directions
  1. Mix together flour, curry powder, salt and pepper. Cut chicken into small pieces, and toss with mixture until each piece is well coated.
  2. Heat 2-3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until a drop of water fizzles 
  3. Cook chicken pieces just until brown and crispy (only a few minutes, it's ok if it's not fully cooked) Set aside.
  4. If pan seems dry, add a little more olive oil and let it heat back up. Combine onion and red pepper in pan and cook until onion is softened (about 4-5 min). Add ginger and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, watching carefully to make sure the garlic doesn't burn.
  5. Add chicken back to the pan and lower heat.
  6. Add 4 cups chicken broth. Simmer until the broth reduces by about ¼. This takes some time...(I let mine simmer for 45 minutes)
  7. Add raisins, tomatoes, and mango until they are heated through.
  8. Remove from heat, and stir in lime juice, cilantro and basil.
  9. Serve over rice. 

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*


  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
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. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

weekend inspiration - thoughts on mentors

The day I sat down with my journal and wrote out my list of mentors and life coaches was one of the best things I've ever done. On those days I feel a little stuck in a rut, I have a list of mostly women who can guide me to be the woman that I strive to be. If you haven't made a similar list, grab a pencil, paper, and start writing. I promise it will be a powerful tool in your life.

I have kept my career mentors private, as they prefer anonymity. However, I think that having a career mentor is essential, someone you respect, admire, and strive to emulate. In tough situations...I often ask "what would Dr. --- do", and that guides me to do what is right. 

--a few folks on MY LIST--
1 - My mom

Simply stated, my mom is an eternal optimist who radiates positive energy. She loves people. She is selfless and showers her friends and family with homemade food, bouquets of flowers, and personal gifts like quilts and small paintings. My favorite Mumford quote is "where you invest your love, you invest your life" and she was the first to really teach me that valuable lesson. 

2 - My dad

If you follow my blog, you have seen my GaryTalks where I reflect on the many life's lessons that my dad has taught us over the years. If there is one phrase that my dad embodies, it's from the movie Shawshank - "Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying" - and he is out raising hell, doing what he loves, enjoying life, and not taking a single day for granted. 

3 - Ina Garten

I love Ina's simple French style and her passion for SLOW food and sharing homemade meals around a gorgeous table with flowers, candles, and simple serving dishes.  Ina  surrounds herself with beautiful people, beautiful things, and keeps it simple. 

4 - My favorite aerobics instructor 

This lady ROCKS - she has kids, an amazing body, an upbeat energetic personality, and always gets me to the gym on days I am close to opting out. She lifts heavy weight, doesn't look a year over 35 though I know she's in her 40's, and is clearly taking care of her body.

5 - J.K. Rowling

If you are not familiar with her story, take a minute and read it. I am a feminist in that I respect and admire intelligent, articulate, creative, ambitious women who manage to retain their femininity yet have real substance and grit.

6 - Gretchen Rubin

Reading The Happiness Project secured my belief that little changes lead to big results. Gretchen is always trying to turn the volume up on making her life happier, and she does this by making little changes in her daily routine. I love subscribing to her daily quotes by email. 

7 - Nina Garcia (author of the Little Black Book of Style)

My mom recently introduced me to this book, and Nina is my new style guru. I'm giving copies to all my favorite girls this year. Nina advises to invest in the bones - pieces that are classic, timeless, and fit YOUR figure perfectly.  She also emphasizes that less is more, and that you should be smitten with every single item in your closet.

8 - Oprah

Live your best life. Period. That is my ultimate goal. Do your very best, where you are, with what you have. Fail today, do better tomorrow. I just love that. Oprah also coined the AHA moment which I can completely relate to. She loves people and she loves to get to know people. She has inspired me to ask more questions and get to know peoples stories.

SO THAT'S MY LIST. Sorry if I bored you. Please share your mentors with me! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Homemade Peach Ice Cream (& lessons from the kitchen)

The kitchen is a magical place for learning life's lessons. Let me share with you a recent example, along with one of my favorite Henry Ford quotes. 
This week, I was served a big lesson on reading instructions carefully before you begin. I made homemade ice cream for the first time in this Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment. I did freeze the ice cream bowl for 15 hours, however I did NOT chill the batter. I followed the recipe below and poured the cool (not cold) batter right into my ice cream bowl. What resulted was a delicious tasting batch of softer than soft serve cream. Woops. 
I brought my failed effort over to my father-in-law's house for his birthday present and we had a nice little laugh. 
The next batch I made was perfect, and I think it's important that when we face failure, rather than throwing our hands in the air we decide to try again and do better. 
I plan on making lots more homemade ice cream so please share your favorite recipes with me! 
Homemade Peach Ice Cream
from Glorious Treats

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup honey, warmed slightly
6 Tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp) sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large (or 3 medium) peaches

1. Prepare peaches by peeling, and removing the pit. Puree ONE of the peaches (in a blender or food processor) until smooth. Dice the other peach into small pieces (about the size of a pea). Set peaches aside.

2. In a large bowl add the cream, milk, honey, and sugar. Whisk a minute or so, until the sugar has dissolved.

3. Add vanilla.

4. Add peach puree and diced peaches and whisk or stir until well combined.

5. Taste for sweetness and if desired, add additional sugar (1-2 tablespoons), then whisk until dissolved.

6. Pour ice cream mixture into an ice cream maker and follow the freezing directions.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Caprese Pasta Bake with Fresh Garden Tomatoes

Call me crazy, but every morning I walk out to my garden with my mug of coffee and admire my tomatoes. I daydream of recipes like this one or biting into a juicy tomato sandwich. 
Back when I was young, our neighbor taught me that the uglier the tomato, the better the flavor. The heirloom varieties tend to be deformed and remind me of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but don't we all know not to judge a thing by it's appearance. Little life lessons from the garden. 
This simple pasta is divine. I came across the recipe on Instagram and the rest is history. Add it to your repertoire of thirty minute meals. 

Caprese Pasta Bake with Fresh Garden Tomatoes
adapted from the Reluctant Entertainer

1 (16 ounce) box whole wheat pasta (I like whole wheat Dellalo)
1 (25 ounce) jar of tomato basil pasta sauce
2 cups rotisserie chicken, chopped *optional - I left out*
16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Make pasta according to package directions, making sure it’s cooked al dente; drain. Chop rotisserie chicken and basil and set aside. Slice tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
  2. Returned the drained pasta back into the pot, and combine the pasta, tomato sauce, chicken, and half the basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat lightly throughout.
  3. Turn the oven on to broil. Place the mixture in a 9x13 greased pan. Top with the sliced tomatoes and the sliced cheese.
  4. Broil for about 5-7 minutes, until the cheese begins to brown and is bubbly.
  5. Serve sprinkled with the remaining chopped basil leaves.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Maternity Style

If you are not pregnant, completely ignore this post and do me a favor this evening- enjoy a vodka martini and 8 hours of uninterrupted blissful sleep! However, if you are knocked up, tired, missing vodka, and in need of bump style inspiration, read on...
Below are a few tips from my favorite bloggers on maternity style. I've had great luck at Target and Old Navy, and picked up an adorable swim suit (here) from ASOS. My mom bought me a beautiful beach tunic and I've been cinching everything with colorful skinny belts from Target above the bump (advice from Emily Henderson).
So far, I've avoided buying expensive denim, though I LOVE the white skinnies Kacia is sporting in her blog post. The gap and target have great solid tanks that I've been living in, along with these black capri leggings. I've found a few cotton maxi dresses that are comfortable and flattering. Around the house, you will easily find me in one of my husbands XL t-shirts and leggings, but on date night and when I'm out I make an effort to style my bump! 

For those looking for cute work-out clothes, the Athleta Contender capri is my absolute favorite.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Currently Enjoying...

- this healthy treat tastes like dessert (at 100 calories, 5 grams of protein, and 9 grams of  
   fiber) - VitaTops Banana Choco Chip though I love all their flavors - find in frozen  
   organic section of grocery.
 - this book should be on every woman's bookshelf for a source of inspiration. On those  
   days when the closet is an enemy, read chapter one for a fresh outlook on confidence, 
   attitude, and how less is truly more with killer shoes and accessories! 

- this summer scent - BEACH by bobbi brown - smells like coppertone, salt, and sun. 
 - this natural stretch oil on the bump twice a day - Earth Mama Angel Baby brand

 - iced tea made with Lipton cold brew and crystal light lemonade with a few sprigs of mint
 - this Lulu Lemon practice freely tank - my all time favorite work out top 
 - this BKR water bottle - definitely a splurge but I swear water tastes better out of a glass   
   bottle! (I bought the color gloss)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Peach and Basil Frozen Daiquiri

I just returned from our family reunion beach trip at Topsail island, and looking back through my vacation pictures brought a great big smile to my face. After a week of stand up paddleboarding, long walks, kindle reading club, a fabulous beach baby shower, phenomenal meals, long talks, and live music every night, I'm really quite exhausted and happy to have a recovery Sunday! We hosted a nightly happy hour to transition from beach time to party time, and it was such a blast. I've included our happy hour menu below, as well as the grand finale cocktail. 

Here are a few of my favorite pictures of the week.
Happy Hour (with link to recipes)
Sunday: moscow mule
Monday: sangria
Tuesday: BBCs
Wednesday: mojitos (classic, raspberry, and watermelon)
Thursday: margaronas
Friday: peach and basil frozen daiquiris

Peach and Basil Frozen Daiquiri
from Giada at Food Network with *my modifications

1 cup sugar
2 packed cups fresh basil
1 pound frozen peaches (*blanched and peeled)
1 cup light rum (*bacardi)
1/2 cup orange liqueur (*GranGala)
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
Lime wedges
Fresh basil sprigs

For the mint syrup:
Boil 1 cup water, sugar, and basil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool, about 15 minutes. Strain before using. 

Place the syrup, peaches, rum, orange liqueur and lime juice in a blender. (*add a cup of ice). Blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and garnish with lime wedges and basil sprigs.