Fun and fantastic

This past weekend was awesome. The weather was great and Brian and I ended up doing some spontaneous things and really taking advantage of the city. Something I need to do more often. That’s why I live here, right?

Brian took me out to dinner on Friday night because our fridge was bare! We hadn’t really gone grocery shopping in 2 weeks and we had been squeaking by on pantry staples and freezer meals all week. The upside to this was that, our fridge was bare. How is that an upside? It was the perfect opportunity to pull everything out and wipe down the shelves. A task that was long over due! Look at its glowing beauty afterwards:

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After my speed cleaning fridge session, I headed out the door to walk to meet Brian for dinner. The weather was perfect for eating dinner outside and this place had a patio(no coincidence). We started off our meal with the bone marrow appetizer which came with a great arugula salad and pickled cherry. It was the perfect flavor combination.

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I had a delicious and dark beer made with 3 different types of coffee beans:

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And was only able to eat half of my Legend’s of the Daal wrap(very tasty):

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The place is mostly known for their burgers. Brian got Elvis’ Last Supper with house made peanut butter and bacon. Surprisingly delicious.

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On the way home, we decided to walk through Ribfest, which was happening right down the block. There was this sign:

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To which, Brian reacted like this to the thought of a deep fried Snickers:

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We continued walking, until we saw this sign:

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To which the possibility of deep-fried Oreos was too much for Brian to resist. We headed over to the ticket line and within 10 minutes had a tub of fried Oreos. To which, the man next to us in line got a deep-fried Snickers and insisted I take his picture.

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Because deep-frying candy and cookies isn’t enough, they top them off with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar:

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I tried one of the Oreos. It was actually pretty tasty. Like a funnel cake married and Oreo and made tiny funnel cake Oreo babies. Brian was in heaven.

A Friday night of indulgence meant a healthy breakfast and exercise Saturday morning.

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Followed by a trip to the garden. A very exciting trip where I would learn that all of my radishes had matured and were ready to be picked. I also got a few handfuls of kale and spinach and a lone strawberry. I think I’ve gotten more produce from my community garden plot in one month this year than I did all last summer!

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After lots of errand running we grabbed lunch and then hit up Margie’s for a scoop of ice cream. They were switching out containers on Brian’s chocolate peanut butter and he got a mega scoop. That got all over his beard and mustache, but loos at those abundant ribbons of peanut butter. I had some serious ice cream envy and Brian happily shared with me.

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Saturday we ate mostly vegetable for dinner. I grilled a ton of them for us to devour and a little chicken. I also made a delicious salad with the kale and spinach from the garden with a vinaigrette, hemp and sunflower seeds and blueberries.

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Sunday was to be filled with rain, but we were surprised by a sunny day instead.

I had a breakfast taco to start the day. The eggs ended up overwhelming the tortilla, but it was delicious!

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I slow cooked brisket in a marinade all day to make some delicious barbacoa for our tostadas for dinner.

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While that was cooking and making the house smell wonderful, I got to work on a big batch of pumpkin and chocolate chip waffles to use as breakfasts in the upcoming days:

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Made a tasty batch of tarragon chicken salad(can’t wait to share the recipe) that was the perfect meal of protein to sustain us on our 12 mile bike ride by the lake.

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I don’t think we could have packed much more into our weekend. It was a great one! Hope everyone had as much fun as I did.

Meal Planning 101

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about meal plans. I’ll give you a run down about how I plan our meals.

Brian and I pack and take our lunches to work most days of the week. It’s way cheaper and healthier. Even if you are getting an inexpensive meal out, just keep in mind that restaurants charge you at least 3x or more what it costs them to make it. Meaning: You can make it sooo much cheaper at home. Let’s do the math. If you spend $5 on lunch everyday eating out(which if you live in Chicago you spend more), that means that it’s costs that restaurant at most $1.66 to make your meal.

So $5 x 5 days per week is $25 per week on lunches.

If you made that same thing at home for $1.66 x 5 days a week, you would have spent $8.33.

$25-$8.33= a savings of $16.67 per week. Times 52 weeks per year = A savings of…

$866.84 per year

Wow. It really adds up, doesn’t it? Save almost $1000 per year just by packing your lunch instead of eating out. I bet you’d like an extra $1000 per year.

And really, it’s not that hard. It just takes a little planning.

I really like using paper and pen. Notice there is hardly any processed food on the list.

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First, break it down. How many meals do you need for the week? Check your fridge and pantry. What do you already have that you can use?

We both eat our breakfasts at work. So those need to be packed, too. Do you stop and buy donuts and coffee everyday? Don’t even get me started on how money wasteful that is. Make your own donuts/breakfast sandwiches/oatmeal and coffee for PENNIES. Seriously people. I bet it would take less time to make your coffee at home in a Keurig(yes, you can afford a Keurig if you stop buying your coffee everyday) than to stop, stand in line, order and buy it. So what do we eat for breakfasts? Cold oats, oatmeal bakes, tofu scrambles, egg bakes, donuts, muffins and waffles. Yep, make extra donuts, waffles, pancakes ahead of time and reheat. Just as good as the first time.

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Brian and I combined need 12 lunches. I only put 10 because I don’t usually plan the weekend out as strictly as the weekdays. The weekend is when we will eat 1 to 2 meals out. And if we are out running errands or have other obligations, we sometimes eat separately or we just have the leftovers from the week. I try to do one crock pot meal on the weekends. It saves time and makes a lot all at once. I don’t care if you are cooking for one or four, most recipes freeze well. Utilize your freezer, people. So, what are some of my favorite crock pot meals to make? Buffalo chicken, chicken curry, pulled pork, pork tinga, soups…or anything on pinterest. Start it in the morning. When it is done cooking, eat it for dinner. Then portion the rest out. Put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

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I have also made a very conscious effort for us to eat meat less. A lot less. I make veggie burgers often. They are simple, fast and incredibly inexpensive to make. They are also filling, low in fat, high in fiber and protein. Win, win, win, win.

Another thing that Brian and I love are macro bowls. I steam kale, cook black beans, roast sweet potatoes, cook quinoa and bake tofu. Then I divide it out evenly between bowls. These bowls pack a punch in the flavor department, are super healthy and filling. They are really easy to customize, too. You don’t like tofu, substitute meat of your choice. You hate black beans? Throw in any other bean or lentil. Don’t have quinoa, use rice. Kale grosses you out? Use broccoli. You get protein, fiber, veg, and antioxidants. Yes these take a little while to make since you cooking everything separately, but they come in at less than $2 per bowl, using all organic ingredients.

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Two other dishes that we love are rama chicken and orange chicken. Healthier versions of take out food, made at home. Both pack great for lunches, too. Substitute tofu for the chicken and they are vegetarian. Most things you order at restaurant can be made fairly simply at home.

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Are these too healthy of options? Make a pizza. Make your own crust. That’s an option that takes less than 10 minutes to make. Spread on some sauce, cheese and toppings. This makes a very large pizza or two, so you will have a few days of left over pizza, too. Another fast option. Kraft whole grain macaroni and cheese… add a source of protein and vegetables(a lot) to it when it’s done cooking. It saves you from eating the whole box, makes it much more nutritious and gives you 1-2 meals worth of leftovers. Win, win.

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Need a fast weeknight meal? Well, that pizza and mac and cheese come together in about a half an hour. Do you know what else cooks really fast? Fish! Seriously, it takes less than 10 minutes to cook most fish. While that is cooking, saute or steam some of your favorite vegetable(s). Tired of your same old, same old tuna sandwich? Make a tuna melt. Leave the sandwich open-faced, throw on a slice of cheese and broil it for a few minutes.

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Another thing I do that saves me a ton of time during the week is to prepare a lot of vegetables a head of time. It’s easy to cut root vegetables, potatoes, or brussies up and roast them while doing other things around the house. Then I have a quick side to go with any meal throughout the week. Or put some potatoes or sweet potatoes in your crock pot. I also peel and cut up the entire bag of carrots at one time to snack on throughout the week.

I also take full advantage of my weekends and get most of my cooking done then. Take 4 hours one day and see what all you can get accomplished. I bet you will be eating well for days. This weekend, I am going to try to make about 10 days worth of food so there are things in the house through next weekend.

What’s on the list? Crockpot buffalo chicken(some will go in the freezer), a batch of veggie burgers, macrobiotic bowls, pizza, grilled burgers, tilapia and asparagus packets and some sort of breakfast(donuts or waffles) to pack for Brian. There you go. Six recipes that will feed 2 people for 10 days, plus some fresh fruit and vegetables. Getting some done ahead of time sure beats scrambling to make dinner every night.

I can make all of that with less than $70 worth of groceries for about one week of food. That’s $10 per day for 3 meals for 2 people. That makes each meal average out to $1.66. Way cheaper than eating out. And much healthier.

You’ve asked. I’ve answered. A weekly meal plan to save your waistline and pocket-book!

Tips to succeed in healthy eating

It’s day 2 of the new year! How is everyone doing on their resolutions?

I had a very successful day yesterday. After having a few drinks on New Years Eve, I wanted to eat crap yesterday. Even if I only have one drink, I always want to eat crap the next day. I hate it. Which is why I have cut back and almost eliminated alcohol from my diet. But I didn’t eat crap yesterday. I knew ahead of time that I would probably want to eat crappy and safe guarded myself against it. How?

Planning.

That is the number one key to being successful in healthy eating. Plan your grocery lists and stick to them. Plan your meals. Plan to have healthy snacks ready. Look at restaurant menus ahead of time and decide on what you will order. Doing this will eliminate the impulsive poor decisions.

I almost always have eggs on hand. They are one of my favorite breakfasts and they are so filling and nutritious. They go great with a side of fruit or veggies. I will eat eggs for almost any meal as my source of protein. Even better…they are inexpensive. And cook very quickly, so they are a fast and easy meal.

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The other thing I do is make large batches of things. Eat some. Freeze some. Always have food on hand to eat so you don’t grab fast food or go out to eat. I dedicate a good portion of my weekends to cooking so I have food during the week and have no excuse for making poor choices when I get home late and don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen. I made a big batch of this amazing Moroccan lentil soup that Brian and I can’t stop eating.

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I also made two big batches of kale salads. The avocado kale salad and the detox kale salad. I love kale salads because they are packed with nutrients and kale is so hearty that it will last for days in the fridge without wilting. Pre-made salad? Perfect.

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Utilize your slow cooker. If you don’t have one, get one! They are great for making big batches of soup and a whole variety of other things, including desserts! Look what I made in my slow cooker while I went out to dinner yesterday.

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What are those mysterious bundles of aluminum foil? Sweet potatoes. Cooked in the crock pot. Ready to go so I can just reheat the sweet potato and have a filling and healthy side at any meal this week. Just wash, poke a few holes, wrap them in foil and place in slow cooker. Cook on high for 2.5 to 4 hours depending on size and amount of potatoes in crock pot.

Combat hunger by having healthy snack on hand. I always pack an extra piece of fruit or some carrots to snack on while I’m at work. I also keep a bag of almonds in my desk drawer.

So combat pit falls by planning. Always have something healthy ready to eat to avoid temptations.

Crockpot chicken curry

I love Indian food. I love curries. I love the way your house smells after you cook them.

What’s better than to come home to that smell and dinner made? Not much.

Adapted from this Pinterest recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
  • 5 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 large bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 5oz tomato paste
  • 14oz can light coconut milk(use full fat if you want)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 jalapeno(I used two and it was very spicy)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch

Place carrots in bottom or slow cooker.

Place cubed chicken on top of that.

Put everything else except the water and corn starch into the food processor. Process/blend until mostly smooth.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and carrots.

Cook on low 6-8 hours. I left it in while I was at work, which was probably closer to 10 hours.

When I came home, the crock pot looked less than appetizing.

I was a little worried, but I gave it a stir and it looked much, much better.

It was also much darker in color and more red than I expected. I attribute this two things. I used a red bell pepper instead of green and I used light coconut milk and the absence of the extra coconut fat could attribute to the darker color. I would like to prematurely note that the flavor is wonderful.

An hour before serving, mix water and corn starch in small bowl. Stir until corn starch is dissolved. Then add to the crock pot and stir to combine. Leave on low for one more hour, then serve. The corn starch helps to thicken up the sauce.

Serve over rice, with naan and garnish with cilantro(optional) and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.

This curry is awesome. It’s very thick, almost like a stew. We could have eaten it without the bed of rice. I ate leftovers on naan, almost like a sandwich for lunch. I also ate leftovers on a corn tortilla, topped with an egg for breakfast.

This curry is to good it can be eaten any meal of the day.

Easiest baked potato soup

I saw this pinned and thought it had to be too good to be true. I am so glad that I did!

A few years ago at Christmas time, my dad and I set forth in the kitchen with the goal to make loaded baked potato soup. Ok, so maybe it was my goal, I just drug him along for the ride. He was a good sport about it. It started with a roux and cooking things in bacon fat. All things that sound wonderful and delicious. It was a painstaking and time-consuming process and highly disappointing when we ended up with a blah product. So blah that we just kept adding things to it to try to give it flavor. It ended up turning out acceptable tasting after a lot of tinkering and no where close to the original recipe.

This soup is much different from that soup. Flavorful and couldn’t be easier to make.

I got the original recipe from here, but these were my measurements:

  • 3 pounds of russet potatoes, diced(I did not peel)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 32 oz chicken broth(you could sub veggie)
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon seasoning salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced dried onion
  • 8 oz cream cheese

Put everything but the cream cheese in your crock put. Set on low. Let cook for 8-10 hours.

When you come home from a day at work, it will look something like this:

If you like your soup a little chunkier, pull 1-2 cups of the diced potato out and set to the side. If you want smooth soup, leave everything in the crock. Add in cream cheese.

Use an immersion  blender(much easier and less dishes) or a regular blender(in batches and be careful due to steam) and blend until desired consistency reached. Stir in potato chunks if reserve don the side for a chunkier soup.

Top with bacon, cheese, sour cream(I used plain greek yogurt), chives or anything else you like on your soup.

This soup is honestly almost too easy and too delicious to be true. it would be perfect to serve for any sort of gathering with a toppings bar for people to top their own bowl. I can’t wait until lunch to dive into a bowl of leftovers. Mmmm.

Weekend pot roast

What’s perfect for a Sunday evening dinner? Meat and potatoes that cooked in the crock pot all day. Tender meat, warm and filling potatoes and vegetable with minimal work. Perfect. So do yourself a favor: stop at the grocery store on the way home tonight and pick up the stuff to make this easy roast so you can have a relaxing Sunday.

Salt, pepper, and rub herbs(thyme, rosemary and oregano) into a 2-3 pound beef pot roast. Place pot roast into bottom of crock pot.

Cover roast with assorted vegetables. I used 3 medium red potatoes and 2 purple potatoes cut into chunks. Two stalks of celery cut into 3 in pieces. A handful of baby carrots and a yellow onion cut into wedges. Pour vegetables over meat.

In a large bowl, stir together 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 package of dry onion soup mix and 3/4 cup water. Pour mixture over vegetables. This will make a gravy for the meat as it cooks.

Set crock pot to low and let cook for 8 hours. I did take off the lid after about 6 hours to stir the vegetables. After 8 hours, you will have an extremely tender roast in its own gravy with a side of vegetables.

Next time I will add more seasonings as it was a little bland, but nothing a little salt and pepper couldn’t take care of.

Bust-a-gut buffalo chicken

If you like buffalo chicken, this is a MUST MAKE recipe.

Why is it called “bust-a-gut”? Well, you won’t want to stop eating it.

The best part? Amazing simple. I adapted this recipe from What’s Cookin with Mary.

Put on your easy pants, because this easy. And make sure they have an elastic waist band.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of raw chicken breast(trim all fat off)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups Frank’s wing sauce (or your favorite wing sauce)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 5 cloves garlic(peeled and lightly smashed)
  • Additional wing sauce for sandwich

Place chicken in the bottom of your slow cooker, in a single layer if possible.

Tuck garlic cloves around chicken. Cube butter and place on top of chicken.

Pour wing sauce over chicken.

Place lid on slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours. After six hours, shred chicken.

It should be so tender that you can just shred it right in the slow cooker. My chicken was so tender I couldn’t lift it out of the pot without it all falling apart.

Stir chicken and remaining sauce together and cook for one more hour on low.

Serve on bun with your choice of topping.

I broiled bleu cheese on the buns for 3-4 minutes to make it warm and bubbly.

To die for.

I served our sandwiches with a nice side of asparagus.

Pork tinga and tortillas

The talented Kirsten over at More Cheese More Chocolate posted about this recipe last fall. I’ve been dying to make it ever since.

I made this recipe last Sunday during the Oscars. It was so good that I thought I had won a statue that had a giant sombrero on top. Upon MCMC’s advice, I also made my own tortillas. The flour ones were awesome and the corn, well, they were like all the actors that didn’t win awards…less than winners.

Pork tinga(adapted from More Cheese More Chocolate):

  • 1 lb red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 pounds pork loin, trimmed, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 28 oz fire roasted, diced tomatoes
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from chipotles
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Put cut up potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker.

 Put cubes of pork on top of potatoes.

In a separate bowl, mix together all other ingredients.

Pour on top of pork.

Put lid on slow cooker. Cook on high for 6 hours.

While this is cooking, feel free to run errands, watch the Oscars or do whatever you like to do. Upon MCMC’s recommendation, I started making the homemade tortillas about an hour before the pork tinga was done. Perfect timing.

For the flour tortillas, I adapted this recipe from Homesick Texan:

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour(I used half wheat and half white)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup warm skim milk

Mix together the first four ingredients in a medium to large bowl.

Slowly add in warm milk.

Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed. Knead for two minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft. Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, cut into 8 equal sections and roll them into balls with your hands. Place on a plate, make sure they aren’t touching and cover balls with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. It’s important to let the dough rest otherwise it will not be elastic and won’t roll out to proper thickness and shape.

After dough has rested, work with one ball at a time. Place dough ball on floured surface and pat it out to a 4 inch circle. Roll with a rolling-pin from the center until it’s thin and about 8 inches in diameter.

Heat skillet to high. Cook the tortilla about 30 seconds on each side. It should start to bubble and puff up when done.

You can keep the tortillas warm as you make them by covering them with a towel, putting them in a tortilla warmer or in the oven at 200F.

Your tinga pork should have been cooking for just about 6 hours now. It’s time to take off the lid, stir it up and scoop out some of that amazing smelling meat.

We topped our tacos with plenty of cilantro, queso fresco, jalapeno, avocado and a fresh squeeze of lime. They were awesome! The leftovers will be calling my name everyday until it’s gone.

Rubbed slow cooker pulled pork

I like the slow cooker pulled pork recipe that I’ve been using, but I knew it wasn’t “the one”. I knew that there is a better version out there and I want to find it. The one I’ve been using is a little too sweet and a little too saucy. Almost like those prepackaged bbq’s out there that you just reheat. I could continue to adjust the ingredients, but I’d rather try a whole new method all together. I came across this recipe on D.C. Foodies. Make a rubbed pulled pork and add the bbq sauce yourself.

Genius. Pure genius.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated on D.C. Foodies:

Ingredients(for 4-6 pound pork loin):

1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (only use 1 tsp if you don’t like it  spicy)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Directions:

  1. Mix together the rub in a large Ziploc bag. Shake it to combine spices throughly.
  2. Add the pork to the bag and shake to fully cover the pork in the rub.
  3. Place the bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. The longer it marinates, the stronger the flavor will be. I let mine marinate for 12-14 hours. I made it while I was making dinner and put it in the fridge until morning.
  4. When ready to cook, turn slow cooker on low, take pork out of bag and place it into slow cooker. Add 1/4 cup water if you want to end up with a little more sauce. Cover pot.
  5. After one hour, turn pork over. Recover pot.
  6. After another hour, turn pork over. Recover pot. Cook for 4 more hours.
  7. After a total of six hours, check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize.  If it is, shred the pork using a fork and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during the slow roasting.
  8. Continue to cook for one more hour. Serve on buns with desired amount of bbq sauce.

This pork is incredibly tender and moist with so much flavor and depth. Brian and I enjoyed eating it with and without bbq sauce. That says a lot, because Brian likes his pulled pork very sweet. This is a really great recipe and I’ll be making it again in the near future.

Wild rice and chicken soup

With the temperatures dropping again over the past few days and the possibility of more snow, I decided it was time to make another(and possibly the last of the season) batch of soup.

I adapted this recipe from the Feb 2011 issue of Midwest Living.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 cup baby carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 10.75 ounce can of reduced fat cream of chicken soup
  • 1 8.8 ounce package of long grain and wild rice
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper(black would work in a pinch)
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups water

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, stir together chicken, fresh mushrooms, carrots, celery, cream of chicken soup, pepper and rice.
  2. Gradually stir in chicken broth and water.
  3. Cover and cook on high setting for 3-4 hours(or low setting for 6-8 hours). Makes 8-10 servings.

 

This soup is filling but not heavy. It goes perfectly with a sandwich to help you make it through those final days of winter.