Weekend Catch Up

I know that my posting comes in waves; there are daily posts that dwindle to nothing for a month and then I’ll reappear.  I’m sure this is no way to garner an audience, but life happens.

I headed up to Albany after work on Friday, and Mister and I were both equally tired and hungry by the time it got dark out.  We agreed on take out from Rain on Lark Street, after having stopped in for a drink last week and agreeing the food smelled and looked promising.

We picked up our takeout, and ate it on the couch with our sweatpants on; which is the best way to eat any and all takeout.

This stuff was really good.  It wasn’t nearly as greasy as typical Chinese takeout, and didn’t leave us feeling like bloated, sweaty monsters.  There was flavor, texture, and quality to our order, and we would definitely order again.  The only thing I didn’t like, was their won ton soup.  Interestingly enough, the menu we were looking at online for ordering listed it only as “Shanghai style won ton soup.” The menu on their website lists it as “shrimp and pork won ton.” This additional shrimp information makes a world of difference; when I bit into the dumplings, the filling was almost sausage like in its consistency.  Lumpy and almost gristly, it was unappealing.  Knowing now that it was shrimp mixed with pork explains it enough, but I wouldn’t order again.

Saturday morning, Mister and I had our second wedding related planning appointment.  After a year of being engaged, we set a wedding date and booked a venue.  On Saturday, we also confirmed our photographer.  Since our wedding date isn’t until June of 2017, we’ve got plenty of time to worry about the small things, and I’m making sure to check off the big ticket items as soon as I can.

Sunday, was when the fun went into full swing.  We started the day off with a workout at Flight Trampoline Park, which I can’t recommend enough.  Want to work up a sweat, while laughing for about an hour? They have instructor led fitness classes Saturday and Sundays, where you get to jump around barefoot.

Following that class, I got to the serious business of meal prepping.

I like cooking, and I like eating.  But with my living/work situation I can’t always find the time to do both well.  So I’ve gotten in the habit of cooking up a storm for myself and Mister over the weekend, to last throughout the week.

This Sunday, I cooked up:

3 containers of lean ground beef, riced cauliflower, and mushrooms

3 containers of shredded buffalo chicken salad and broccoli slaw

3 beef burrito bowls with rice, beans, and veggies

4 plain baked/shredded chicken breasts.

1 dozen hard boiled eggs

This, combined with some leftovers, cut up veggies, and my office stockpile of oatmeal will get us both on a good start for the breakfast and lunches for the week.  Some will be eaten for dinner depending on our schedule, and I’m sure we’ll grab a sandwich or something else to add to the mix when necessary.  But my point is, this took about an hour of grocery shopping and an hour or two of cooking while watching TV.

With the wedding coming up, I’m trying to keep myself more accountable on watching the bank account and my dress size; so making sure we eat healthy meals on a budget is important.

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Tex-Mex Casserole

I’ll be honest, I usually call this Mexican Lasagna [mostly in my head…because I’m not talking about it all that often to other people in casual conversation] but I feel like its never referenced as that when I’m searching for similar recipes so we’ll just go with Tex-Mex Casserole.  This is mostly because I love casseroles, and the idea of a one dish, comfort food for a family.

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Just look at that cheesy goodness, gosh I’m proud of that and its making me a little hungry again.

I did research a few recipes to get ideas, then kind of figured it out as I was going along. I know thats not super helpful if you’re trying to copy this recipe but here goes:

010Brown some ground beef (I’m sure turkey could work just as well), Mom was a great hand model here.  She was nice enough to supervise the meat while I was chopping up red and green pepper, and a small onion.

Mom drained the beef in a colander, and the same pan was used to soften up the peppers.  I added chili powder and garlic powder to both the beef and the peppers.  I didn’t cook the peppers to 100% softness, because I wanted to reserve some texture for the final dish.

I cooked the onion with some Trader Joes frozen corn.  I love this stuff, its the fire roaster or grilled corn, something like that; it has a great flavor and can instantly pump up eggs or taco salad with minimal reheating.

Then came the fun part, assembly.  I used store brand, whole wheat tortillas because that’s what I decided on in the supermarket, no real reason. Use whatever you want, go nuts.

Cut the tortillas in half, so they can fit in the pan easier. Here’s the layering I went with:

  •  I did a light layer of enchilada sauce (canned, yup no shame), then tortillas
  • Thick layer of refried beans (also canned, please don’t tell me to make them myself when I can buy these babies so easily)
  • Beef and enchilada sauce
  • Mexican blend shredded cheese
  • Tortillas
  • Peppers, onions, corn
  • enchilada sauce

The whole thing was then covered with aluminum foil and baked for about 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Uncover, put as much cheese and you can fit on the pan and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes until browned and bubbly.  [I did increase the oven temp in the last 5 minutes just to help hurry up the melty goodness]

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After letting it cool for about 5 minutes, we dug in and oh man was it good.  Sour cream and guacamole on the side, fresh jalapeno for me as well.

It has the fire roasted flavor and pop of the corn, the crunchy peppers and onions, melty cheese, hearty refried beans, protein, not a ton of carbs and was really good.  I’m sure it will be even better reheated when it’s had a chance to really stick together a little more.

International Chili Day

Nope, I have no idea if it is.  I feel like everything has a day now.  Like October 15th is International Wash Your Hands Day.

I feel like the second it starts to turn from summer to fall, everyone whips out their chili recipes.  Maybe its the cold air, maybe its the football games; but Instagram and Facebook are loaded with pictures of chili pots and saucy bowls.

Of course I made some.

I really liked the bean-less chili I made last time. Chili is great to make when you really don’t feel like doing all that much.  Brown meat, put stuff in a pot.  Leave it alone for a while.  Eat.

This batch was ground beef (I did organic), sweet potato, butternut squash, fire roasted canned tomatoes, chicken stock.

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Reheated at work it was pretty great.  But I’m kind of thinking, does this count as chili?

I knew a family that just cooked ground beef with chili powder and tomato puree; ate it over rice and called it chili.  When I was there, this baffled me.  But now that I’ve gotten pretty hooked on this version, I’m wondering what qualifies something as chili.  Does it have to have beef? What about chicken chili, or veggie chili?  What does it have to have to be considered “chili”?

I don’t really care all that much, more a point of curiosity.  Mine was pretty good, and I’ve got about 4 quarts of it in the fridge, which was the result of about 10 minutes of work.

Soul Food

I’ve posted, more than once, about cooking being a comforting experience.  I like taking the time to focus on choosing ingredients, figuring out what I’m doing, chopping, dicing, stirring, watching.  Its 10, 20, 45 minutes to focus on something outside of your own head.  Sure there is laundry to be done, of course there is probably a bill that needs to be paid, or a schedule to stress over; but for those previous minutes just focus on the one recipe at hand.

Thankfully, yesterday I had the time to tackle two recipes.  I went my usual route of Google-ing various ingredients or themes that sounded good, found a few recipes and then never looked back at them.  I don’t measure, I don’t second guess; this makes it nearly impossible when people ask me for recipes, I apologize in advance.

Beef and Butternut Squash Chili

Beef & Butternut

Beef & Butternut

I diced up about half of that onion, and sauteed that and garlic in some coconut oil. I’m making a serious effort to cut down on anything refined, artificial, processed etc. Whole foods, clean, primal, paleo; whatever you want to call it, I feel better about my body when I know exactly whats going into it about 80% of the time.
This is why I went with the organic, pasture finished beef that seemed like the best choice on the shelf. The beef was added to the pot once the onions were just softened a bit.
Browned the beef, then added diced butternut squash, canned tomatoes, carrots, and a splash of chicken broth.

Beef & Butternut

Beef & Butternut

Again, I tried to choose the better options from the shelf.
Mixed everything in the pot with some chili powder, cumin, pepper, and garlic powder. Covered it with a lid and let it simmer while I started on my second recipe.

Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup

Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup

Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup

I wanted a lot of flavor, but a relatively simple soup. So I diced/minced/sliced a bunch of shallot, onion, garlic, and ginger to be sauteed in coconut oil. Once they were fragrant, I added thinly sliced zuchinni and a bag of matchstick sliced carrots (these are my favorite shortcut of all time). I let those soften just a tiny bit, before adding chicken broth.

Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup

Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup

I know I can make chicken broth on my own that would be less processed/healthier/better etc. etc. but those words are subjective and I’m not living in my own kitchen so time and space are more valuable commodities right now.

While the soup was simmering, I shredded a rotisserie chicken (“all natural”, purchased cold) into the pot.

Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup

Lemon Ginger Chicken Soup

Added a dash of Five Spice, some Braggs Liquid Aminos, and the juice of two lemons. Then simmer, simmer, simmer, simmer.

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These two pots yielded a lot of food. Some will be taken straight to the office, some eaten for dinners, and maybe some frozen if necessary. But I got to focus on just cooking, just stirring, just chopping for about an hour, which will result in quick meals throughout the week. Win-Win.

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Back in the Kitchen

Well that sounds like it should be offensively sexist. But I like cooking. And the kitchen exists on the same plane at running outdoors, and the gym; these place calm me. For that time I’m finding my way through a meal, I can forget whatever anxieties or stressful moments happened before. It’s just me, a pot, and a spoon. And a knife. And a cutting board. Well you get the idea.

Last night I made Beef Stroganoff. I’ve been making variations of this for a while now. I rarely remember to follow a recipe…throwing in what feels right at the time.

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Brown some flour coated beef in a hot pan. Stir occasionally while adding baby portabella mushrooms to the mix. Once brown add some liquid. I happened to remember a can of French Onion soup that was spot on. I can’t even remember why I bought it. I don’t even like French Onion soup.

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Since I was using canned soup to help things along, I went all out with it came to seasonings. And by all out, I mean I used a McCormicks seasoning packet. (Im bracing myself for the foodie backlash, sorry not sorry)

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I know these packets are a scam. I know I have most of the ingredients. But I swear a fairy godmother lives in that Stroganoff packet and makes it taste exactly the same every time. I kind of like that level of certainty.

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Brought the whole thing to a boil then popped the pot into a hot oven. Mister was working late, so I let it cook for about 45 mins – 1 hour before we ate.

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Once pulled from the oven I plopped that whole block of cream cheese in there. It was “light”, and from Trader Joes. So yea it’s pretty healthy, trust me on this one. Stir stir stir until the whole pot is an oddly unappealing color and you wonder why you ruined it with the cream cheese, but trust me. Jews know about the goodness of cream cheese.

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Typically I would serve it over egg noodles, but Trader Joes didn’t have any. And we’re pretending to be a wee bit healthier. So I used these noodles:

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I’m a huge fan of these. And finally Mister confirmed they taste just like regular pasta. Their slight density/bite made them the perfect counterpart the hearty beef. And I snuck some green beans at the bottom of the bowl. One bowl, two pot meal.

It was snowy and my belly was beyond full. So happy to be back in the kitchen.

Lack of Impression

Mister and I went to El Loco restaurant on Madison Avenue for an early dinner.

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The decor was interesting at first, slightly overwhelming by the end of dinner. The other aspect that felt strange was the large number of staff in such a small space.

Woman #1 greeted us at the door and got our menus, Man #2 took our drink order and brought our drinks, woman #3 took our food order and brought out food. Then Woman #4 checked on us after food arrived, Woman #1 checked on us again. At this point I can’t even remember which one of the waitresses brought the check, it was quite possibly a fifth person.

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Maybe I had a long day, maybe it was my contacts but the menu was hard to read. The lamination was lifting away from the paper just enough that everything was blurry unless you ran your finger along the words. I’m nitpicking and quite possibly crazy, I’m just going to blame the overwhelming decor. (There were three different types of lighting over our table alone)

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We settled on a carafe of sangria, an order of chips with guacamole, and then split an entree of one beef and bean chimichanga and one beef and bean enchilada.

It was standard, totally acceptable Tex-Mex (which the waitress actually called LA-Mex when explaining a dish. I’ve never heard this phrase before….is this a thing? Is it different?)

The beef was tender and shredded versus ground which I appreciated. The enchilada lacked textural contrast and was just on the side of dry. That might be because Mister got most of the sour cream topping though.

I personally liked the chimichanga much more; crunchy, spicy, goodness. While the sangria was just enough fruity goodness (although weak for sure), the guacamole and chips could be skipped. The guac was cold, which to me indicated premade and in this case meant muted flavors. The disproportionately large amount of chips was surprising for sure, but they were thick and had the mouthfeel of being stale even thought I don’t think they were.

Wow, that was a whole lot of negative. It wasn’t that bad, but it was American Mexican food, which is pretty standard and predictable. Maybe it’s even baseline of taste and textures should be comforting; like McDonalds, “Tex-Mex” varies little in this region. It’s a safe, easy choice.

Pot Roast Perfected

The crock pot is a wonderful thing. But there is the occasion where I just don’t want to use it. Pot roast tends to be that occasion.

It’s very name implies it should be cooked in a pot. I obliged the dishes title and followed Ree Drummond’s recipe.

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Heat up oil in your lovely Creuset. Brown the halved onions.

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Brown the carrots.

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Liberally salt and pepper the roast, then sear on all sides. Reserve it to the plate waiting on the stove already holding the onions and carrots. Add beef broth to deglaze the pot. Whisk that good stuff around, then return the onions, carrots, and beef to the pot. Top with fresh herbs.

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Cover and put in the oven at about 275°.

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Searing the meat is key. The deglazing is key. But even better is cooking it until perfectly tender but just barely holds it form. This doesn’t happen when using solely the crock pot.

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I plated it up with some steamed red potatoes and topped it all with a perfect mushroom gravy. (Frozen seasoned mushrooms from Trader Joes, mixed with butter, flour, and beef broth)

It was so incredibly perfect. Mister and I ate in silence, pausing between bites to agree how good it was. We had to pack up the leftovers to prevent ourselves from having seconds. I wanted another plate to savour, though I knew there was absolutely no room for it in my stomach. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers, this dish needing absolutely no improvement.