Spicy Margarita, Bread, and Something for the Dogs

This past weekend was pretty low key – and one of the first weekends that Mister and I both had busy Saturdays planned separately.  While Mister went skiing with my Dad, I met a few women for brunch in Manhattan.

It is nice being walking distance to a Metro North station in Westchester – within 35-40 ish minutes I can go from my front door to Grand Central. Thankfully, the women I met up with were kind enough to choose a place just a few blocks from Grand Central to make brunch even easier.

Salvation Taco was the perfect spot for a girl’s brunch ; there was a steady stream of spicy margaritas and sangria while we were able to lounge around a coffee table on couches.   Thankfully one of us took command and ordered food for the table, which meant we were all able to share tacos, quesadillas, and wings. Everything had great flavor, and I personally loved the extra salty chips that came with an order of guacamole.

By Sunday morning, we were both excited for a lazy couch day – especially Mister after a very early and long day of skiing. We had mini bagels with the works [i.e. smoked salmon, tomato slices, and red onion] and coffee while on the couch. 010.JPG

While waiting for the coffee to brew, I spied the bread cookbook my Mom  had gifted me last week and thought the rainy Sunday was a great time to give something a try.

Bread Illustrated   is an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook – which means I was in love with it before even cracking the binding. For all beginners, scientists, curious cooks, or experimenters – try America’s Test Kitchen. What I love is they explain the why and the how to every single thing. For example, with my favorite meatloaf recipe of their’s – they showed the results from baking it in a glass loaf pan, a metal loaf pan, and free form on a sheetpan. They explain the merits of each situation, and ultimately recommend free form on a sheetpan for the ability to crisp up all the edges. I trust their recipes because they work, and they explain why.

Bread and rice seem to be my two nemesis in the kitchen. I can’t cook rice, and I struggle with bread.

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While it didn’t rise as much as I would’ve liked, the Whole Wheat variation on the American Sandwich Bread was perfection. The taste, texture, and even crust was really impressive. Thanks to the cookbook, I think I was able to pinpoint why the rise wasn’t ideal [water wasn’t warm enough for the yeast in the first rise, and it might’ve been too cold/drafty in my kitchen for the second rise].

I can confidently say, however, that I used said bread for my lunchtime sandwich at work today.  Feels pretty good to say, hey look I made this! [I didn’t actually do that, because I’m pretty sure that would just be strange. But like if someone asked…]

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While all this baking was going on , I felt bad for the dogs. Yes I’m a crazy dog mom, but we keep the dog treats on the counter where I was baking and they kept running in exactingly.  Since I had the oven going, and we weren’t doing anything other than laundry and watching tv most of the day, I decided to try a batch of dog biscuits as well.

I happened to have a set of dog related cookie cutters we had received as a wedding gift – so I was able to come up with a pretty sizeable batch of dog bone shaped treats.  I purposely under baked them by a few minutes, to keep them soft per my dogs’ preference.  These were a HUGE hit – so much so that I’m considering making them as regularly as I can.

 

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Leftover Salad Surprise

Leftover Salad Surprise is what I like to treat myself to most work days.

Here’s how to build it:

  1. Grab a tupperware that looks too big.
  2. some greens
  3. any leftovers you don’t mind eating cold

 

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Yesterday this included baby spinach, leftover grilled vegetables, stuffed grape leaves (canned, Trader Joes), pitted mixed olives, grape tomatoes, and a snack pack of hummus.

Hummus is a great substitute for salad dressing, especially in a travel situation. No drippy oil on your work shirt, no spilled balsamic in your car.

 

New Year New Tradition

In my last post I noted that Mister and I eat the same dinner every year on New Years Eve. We didn’t really have a tradition for New Years Day – which seems to be the day everyone universally has off (except for my Mom this year, sorry Mom!).

With the long weekend of no plans, I knew I had some time to put together a decent brunch and liked the idea of starting a new tradition that’s all our own.  We invited my sister and her husband, and Mister’s brother and his wife – which is just about the top number of people that can fit in our kitchen. Did I mention that our house is tiny?

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Here’s everything just before we started, I’m incredibly proud of how well everything turned out. My list-making abilities paid off – as did the discovery that my magnetic notepad that I normally stick to the fridge can be stuck to the metal backsplash between our stove and the vent.

The complete menu:

Growing up Jewish, I have it ingrained in me that sweet foods should be eaten around the new year based on the idea that sweet foods are eaten on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.

The night before I started the baked french toast, and the pea salad. I don’t want to give away all the family secrets, but my Aunt Resa’s pea salad is one of my favorite things to eat on holidays. This was my first time attempting it, and it was the perfect acidic counter balance to all the sweet.

I’ll give you the recipe, but promise to give Aunt Resa the credit please.

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Mix one bag of frozen peas with one can of drained chickpeas.  Pour an entire bottle of italian dressing on top.  Let sit overnight, drain well before serving and toss with redskin spanish peanuts.  Enjoy! Its crunchy, tart, a little sweet from the peas. We’ve eaten the leftovers as a snack or even a light lunch.

While everyone was arriving I made sure we had a cheese plate out, nothing fancy, but an opportunity to use the monogram marble cheeseboard we received as a wedding gift.  Aren’t weddings fun?

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And of course, what would a New Years Day brunch be without a champagne bar?

 

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The Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail started a conversation about how I am a sucker for all things seasonal. If you put up a sign that says “Limited Edition” I will most likely buy it, for no other reason other than it is seasonal and/or limited. This is how I ended up with Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.  I don’t even eat regular cheerios. And yes, they were as bad as you would think.

This Winter Wassail though – incredible stuff.

Even if you’re not a songbird, Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail is so festive, you may find yourself spontaneously bursting into carols of the season with every sip. Our Winter Wassail was modeled after the spiced beverage enjoyed during 12th century Christmas celebrations. Years later, we’re still impressed by the drink’s ability to turn humbug feelings into holiday spirit. A sweetened blend of black currant, apple, and lemon juices produce a punchy punch. The cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and orange peel punches it up even further. Enjoyed hot or cold, the flavor and aroma will instantly kindle feelings of holiday cheer. It’s a merry mixer with red wine, simmered on the stovetop and served steaming. Winter Wassail will be with us through the holidays. If merriment is your manifesto, you’ve met your match. Each 64 fluid ounce bottle is $3.99, until the last carol is sung (or we run out).

The ingredients are pretty straightforward:

INGREDIENTS: WATER, CANE SUGAR, APPLE JUICE CONCENTRATE, BLACKCURRANT JUICE CONCENTRATE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVOR, SPICES (CINNAMON, CLOVES, NUTMEG, CARDAMOM, GINGER), LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, ORANGE PEEL.

Weirdly enough, that list turned a few people off – whom were pleasantly surprised by the actual juice once trying. Its like a holiday spiced cranberry juice.  More sweet and spiced than tart.

I love those champagne coup glasses more than anything. How can you not feel incredibly fancy while drinking from them? Its as if they require me to throw on some kitten heels while I slice up some snacks.

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Cheers to new drinks, to new family, to new traditions. Happy New Year!

Meal Prep: 5/22

This past weekend was on the busy side, so I didn’t have the time for a full meal prep, but I’m pretty proud of how I improvised.

Saturday Mister and I went suit shopping, he wanted a good basic suit that could be worn to a handful of weddings we have coming up. We went to Lord & Taylors, Rothman’s, and Nordstroms.  We eventually took a break for lunch at the Iron Tomato, and went back to Lord & Taylors for the first suit he tried on of the day.  I think he finally has an idea what wedding dress shopping has been like for me!

Sunday, we went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour on Broadway as a belated birthday present for my Mom.  We went to Liebman’s in Riverdale for dinner after, which brought us back to Mom’s house with little energy and less time.  I ran to the grocery store with a specific list, and managed to get my all the meals done in record time.

For this week, I relied on my pantry for breakfast; I’ve said it before, but I always have granola, almond milk, oatmeal, and protein powder on hand as a backup. This was perfect for this week, when I didn’t feel like baking something or eating anymore egg whites really.

Lunch was salad mason jars.  I know that mason jars have been done to death, but these particular size and shape are just so convenient.

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I brought in a bag of romaine lettuce and a bag of arugula to be mixed as a base for these toppings.  Each jar has either chickpeas or red kidney beans layered with black olives, diced cucumber, and cherry tomatoes.

These new topper options, and I picked up some new salad dressings (Cesar vinaigrette and raspberry walnut).021.JPG

Every day I can toss together the contents of a jar, over some lettuce, add any of the toppings, and or roasted red pepper and or tuna or salmon. Its like a choose your own adventure salad.

I’ve learned that I can eat the same thing every day, but I can’t eat the same salad every day.  Even if they’re all practically the same, just the tweak of a different dressing, or a different crunchy topping, can make it a different salad for me.

As always, I made sure to grab some snack options as well; having my breakfast and lunches all planned out can still be a recipe for disaster when that 3pm sweet tooth hits if I don’t have a planned snack.

Snack options: sabra hummus single serve with pretzels, sargento balanced breakfs (cheese, nuts, dried fruit), and mini chocolate rice cakes.  I try my best to include options that cover salty, sweet, crunchy, and savory.  That way, no excuses for running out and grabbing a junk food alternative.

Meal Prep:5/15/16

I’m officially in the habit of prepping all of my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on Sunday for the upcoming week.  In the past I would do it if I had time, or really felt like cooking a particular dish but it wasn’t a true habit.

This past weekend, however, Sunday night came around and Mister and I were tired, busy, and I only had a few hours left before I had to head to bead early in preparation for my 4am wakeup call Monday morning.

Friday after work, I got in to Albany at about 8pm.  Monday afternoon, Mister and I drove to Binghamton to visit with his family.  We drove to Saratoga to meet with our wedding Rabbi on Sunday, then had to drive to pick my car up from being worked on, then finally arrived back to Mister’s apartment in Albany at about 5pm.  I cooked like a crazy lady to get everything squared away (there was a cutting board casualty) and this morning when I piled all my prepped meals into my work fridge I was finally able to relax.

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For breakfast:

  • Option 1:Full fat pineapple cottage cheese
  • Option 2: Granola and almond milk
  • Option 3: oatmeal (I always have oatmeal and almond butter on hand as an alternative or addition to anything)

For lunch:

  • option 1: salmon (broiled with Trader Joes vidalia onion/bacon vinagrette) over broccoli slaw with green pepper slices and oven roasted portabella mushrooms
  • option 2: baked teriyaki ginger tofu with stir fried vegetables (shredded cabbage, carrots, snow peas, portabella mushrooms) and rice

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For Snacks:

  • Hillshire small plates
  • Sargento balanced breaks
  • sugar snap peas
  • Kind bars

 

On any given work day, I’m in and out of my car or running around Manhattan via subway.  I like to have a stash of snacks on hand for between appointments, or when I have to run out last minute but I’m verging on hangry.  Having lunches cooked and ready is great, but when I can’t get back to the office on time to keep my stomach from grumbling, having a Kind bar or a bag of snap peas in my tote can keep me from buying the first Snickers bar I see.

Weekend WrapUp

Happy Monday!

This past weekend I meal prepped again, Mister and I both agreed we liked the convenience of fully prepared and packaged meals versus just a big ol’ container of say chicken and another tupperware of veggies, so we’re going to stick with this format.

I ordered the containers via Amazon, they’re the Fitpacker brand and so far so good.  I’m actually considering investing in some of the sectioned off containers for snacks or easier packing of different meals.  But let me make sure I can keep this good habit up before I go down that path.

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This week I kept it simple, Mister and I each got five containers of the same meal (1 per weekday for lunch or dinner per our schedule)  Mashed sweet potatoes, mini meatloaf, zucchini and summer squash.  Easy. It helps if you lay out the logistics of what you’re trying to do ahead of time.

  • preheat the oven for the meatloaf
  • get the potatoes in water, bring to a boil on a back burner
  • mix up meatloaf, form, put in oven
  • chop up onions/garlic/veggies
  • saute veggies (or you can throw them in the oven)
  • puree/mash potatoes
  • put everything in containers and refrigerate

From start to finish, this was about two hours.  And at least thirty minutes of that was me on the couch watching TV.

For breakfast this weekend, I’m still on my big avocado toast binge.

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Mash the avocado right onto some toast, drizzle with lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper.  There’s something so satisfyingly decadent about this simple recipe.

In the glass is greek yogurt mixed with berries.  With the parfait and the toast for breakfast, I’ve got healthy fats, protein, a little sugar, complex carb, sweet, and savory.  And the hardest part was making the toast.

On Sunday it was the anniversary of Mister asking me to be his wife, so we took a break from food prepping and wedding planning to enjoy some sunshine.  We debated where to go, and just by chance ended up taking our dogs to the same dog park where we met three years ago.

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(Bulldogs aren’t built for endurance)

I wanted to cook up something special for dinner, without incorporating our go to steak and potatoes.  Since it was nice out, Mister wanted to grill, but I had my belly set on pasta.

We picked up some italian sausage for the grill, and then the ingredients for a healthier version of a creamy pasta.

If you’ve never mixed ricotta cheese with pesto; do it now.  Ricotta can be the easiest way to make a creamy pasta dish, without tons of cream/butter/parmesan type foods (especially since both Mister and I have dairy sensitive bellies).

  • boil pasta water
  • slice and saute garlic and baby bella mushrooms, set aside in a bowl
  • trim and saute green beans, add to the bowl
  • add the pasta to the water whenever its boiling, set a timer so you don’t have to pay attention
  • thinly slice and saute yellow or red pepper, add to the bowl
  • when there’s only a few minutes left on the pasta, add chopped up broccoli florets to the pot.
  • drain pasta/broccoli
  • toss the veggies, pasta, ricotta, cheese, pesto all together.

At this point, it looked great but was missing a little pizzaz.  I thought for a minute and realized that ricotta usually needs a little acid to jazz it up; so I grabbed a whole lemon and squeezed it into the dish, along with a hearty dose of salt and pepper.

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I plated up the pasta and veggies in wide pasta bowls, and sliced the sausage on the side.  Mister did a perfect job grilling the sausage to crispy, charred goodness.

 

The Iron Tomato, White Plains

Yesterday morning Mister had an appointment in White Plains, so I made plans to meet him for lunch.  Looking online, there were a ton of options, so I consulted Yelp and found great reviews for The Iron Tomato.

It fit all of the criteria: (1) walking distance from Mister’s appointment (2) quick/not too fancy (3) good reviews

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Walking in can be a little over whelming, with the shop set up more like a market or cafeteria than a standard restaurant or deli.  The shop has a great flow to it, just make sure you go to the right when you first enter to prevent fighting the procedure.

To the right of the entrance is a bakery, continuing straight there is a salad station, cold prepared foods, and some refrigerated desserts. Once you make your next right (the layout is a rectangle, more or less), there is a smoothie counter.  The next section has the deli counter, lastly a pizza counter and you’ll then return to the register area across from the front doors.

We ordered a sandwich to share, neither of us being too hungry.  You grab a number from the dispenser, and wait to order.  It was organized and efficient, even with the crowds waiting for food.  Menus are clearly displayed in several spots, so there wasn’t that moment of dread waiting to be able to see the menu and hoping that happened before it was your turn to order.

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Splitting the Iron Tomato Special was the perfect amount of food.  Crusty bread with a fluffy, oil drenched interior.  Cold chicken cutlet, savory roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella.  You can see the line of balsamic soaking into the bread on the lower half.  It wasn’t the best sandwich in the world, but it hit all the good flavor and texture points for sure.  I would definitely try an italian mix next time.

There is a seating area in the front corner, and we were given a plate at the register to help us share more neatly.  Its clearly a place that’s popular for lunch, with quick turnover.

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After the sandwich, we couldn’t resist the glowing bakery case.

We walked for a bit and ate our dessert outside, an eclair for Mister and a nutella tart for me.  It was like a melty hershey bar atop a crumbly crust, but in a way that’s way better than that awkward description.