Plans, plans, plans

I have been planning on updating my blog since last weekend. But those plans got blown out of the water by plans to spend more time at the gym. I am currently planning on throwing at least 2 new posts your way in the next 24 hours. One for takeout fakeout Rama Chicken. Seriously, go buy a potato, broccoli, chicken(or tofu) and peanut butter right now so you can make it this weekend. I’ve made it twice for us in the past two weeks, with extra for leftovers to pack in our lunches. It’s so good. And what goes well with peanut butter? Chocolate. Yep, the other is a recipe for vegan chocolate brownies that are super fudgey. And since they are vegan, there is no guilt in licking the batter off the spatula. Mmm mmm mm.

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Today, I am planning out this next week’s meal plan. Last week I made a big catch of  grilled veggies, Rama Chicken, BBQ chicken pizza, and a tofu curry that we have been eating off of all week. I proportioned it out for the week and it has made packing lunches this week so much easier, just add fresh fruit and veg and it’s ready to go! I want to continue the trend. The planning makes my week much less stressful. I have also been trying to cut down on our grocery shopping. Outside of some fresh fruits and veg, I am trying to have us grocery shop 3 times a month. We had been doing it weekly, but I think eliminating one grocery shopping trip a week will help. And it should help me be more creative with my meal planning and use some of the stockpile of dried beans and lentils in our pantry. After wracking my brain about what we already have and what we need, there are only SIX things on the grocery list that should get us through to next weekend! Pretty good!

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Delightful things

Here are a few things that I have found absolutely delightful lately.

My favorite shampoo and conditioner from high school has been brought back! Hallelujah!! I’ve even gotten compliments on my hair this week.

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Iced green tea while shopping at Target:

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Roasted acorn squash topped with coconut butter:

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This lip gloss:

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Healthy comfort food( steak, mashed cauliflower, roasted mushrooms, and grilled asparagus):

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And these little gems from the bulk bins at Whole foods. Dates(ground up) then rolled in unsweetened coconut. They are my new favorite sweet treat. At 40 calories a piece, they have more potassium than one banana. Perfect post workout snack. I’m going to try my hand at making them this weekend.

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Sometimes, it’s the little things that make me happy.

Update from the garden

My potted plants have really taken off from all the rain over the past week. Look at their progress!

The cherry tomatoes are starting to turn:

I still don’t have an heirloom tomato growing(frown) but this puppy is going to taste great on a turkey bacon BLT soon:

This pepper needs to grow a little more and turn bright red before I can slice it up and dip it in homemade hummus:

Fortunately, this pepper has a few friends ready to grow with it:

Eggplant parmesan is going to be such a great comfort food on the first chilly days of fall:

AND… LOOK AT MY NEW WATERING CAN! There was an unfortunate occurence where I almost launched my other watering can off the patio because it got more water outside of the pots than on them, so I had to buy this cutie:

Goodbye July

July was a great month at Spatoola.

It started out with my boyfriend and I moving in together. We love our new place. Here he is at Bed Bath and Beyond picking out a new bath towel for himself that, as he proclaims, is “soft as a baby lamb”.

It ended with a visit from my college friend Mel. We went to breakfast at one of my favorite’s, Glenn’s Diner. We split crab cakes eggs Benedict and fresh blueberry pancakes. Their crab cakes are to die for.

We spent our afternoon at the pool with our fellow Hawkeye alum, Katie:

Then we headed over to the world-famous Newberry Library’s book sale where they had over 120,000 books for sale.  It was super busy and we had to have Mel jump out of the car and go stand in a parking spot so we could park. We are serious about our books!

On our way from dinner on Saturday night we walked past a parked car that had this lovely stuffed animal on the hood.

Mel was so upset that we wouldn’t let her keep it, she had to console herself with a fishbowl that tasted like grape koolaid.

Goodbye July. Hello August.

Pots and plants

A few Home Depots runs were made when we moved. I went to get a few things and ended up coming home with four more plants. A cherry tomato, a patio tomato, red bell pepper and an eggplant.

Yes, I am now up to 4 different types of tomato plants and Brian doesn’t even eat tomatoes!

Here’s the storm brewing overhead as I went out to take pictures:

Look at the start of my first little eggplant!

My poor basil nearly drowned in the storm the other day. There was over an inch of water sitting on the top of the dirt when I got to it, but it’s still growing.

Remember big beef and the windowsill gang? They have grown into quite the jungle but have yet to produce a blossom or fruit. I want some heirloom tomatoes!

I have some blossoms on my red pepper plant.

 A few small green cherry tomatoes and green patio tomatoes have formed, but aren’t ripe, yet. I can’t wait for a bountiful harvest and lots of caprese salad.

Peeps freezer pops

Just when you thought “sugar-free” Peeps were too good to be true and they couldn’t find another way to market their marshmallow chicks, they came out with Peeps freezer pops.

 

My boyfriend Brian picked up a box of 10 at the bargain price of $1 at Walgrens. A sucker for anything sweet and fearless at trying new foods, he popped them in his freezer and waited for them to firm up. Apparently they were frozen today, as I got an email saying, “FROZEN PEEPS ARE VERY GOOD!” Yes, in caps lock and all.

I am quite skeptical of trying them. Every time I think of how sweet and sugary they could be, I have flashbacks to the time I made a catastrophic decision and ordered a cotton candy blizzard at Dairy Queen. I’m sure my curiosity will get the best of me and a Peeps popsicle will be in my near future… that is, if there are any left.

Candied ginger and ginger simple syrup

Instructions: The only thing you have to bring to New Year’s Eve is a bottle of top shelf alcohol and the ingredients to make a signature drink.

If you know my friends and their level of creativity, that is a tall order. After searching several food blogs, food magazine and top shelf liquor websites, I combined a few recipes and created the Ginger Smash. Also inspired by the incredible Whiskey Smashes I had on Christmas at NoMI with Brock.

The first thing I needed to do was to make candied ginger so that I would end up with ginger simple syrup to put in the drink. I mostly followed David Lebovitz’s recipe.

I started out with a pound of ginger. Yes, that’s a lot of ginger.

Then I peeled the pound of ginger. I used a knife, not the suggested back of the spoon method that was recommended.

Next up, I hauled my trusty mandolin out of the cupboard and sliced it very thin. He recommends 1/8in slices. My slices were a little thinner. The important thing is that they are uniform.

Put them in a non-reactive pan on your stove top and just cover them with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and let ginger simmer for 10 minutes.

Drain the ginger after 10 minutes and return to pan. Add four cups of water and four cups of sugar and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer. Simmer until consistency of thin honey.

Pour syrup and ginger through a strainer. Separating syrup and pieces of ginger. Toss pieces of ginger in granulated sugar and lay out to dry(at least overnight). The candied ginger can be stored an in airtight container for a month. It’s delicious on its own or can be used in other recipes like ginger scones.

Pour syrup in jar and use for cocktails!

Ginger Smash:

Pour one part ginger simple syrup and two parts Makers Mark into shaker filled with ice. Squeeze one half lemon or lime in to shaker, then add lemon or lime half into shaker. Shake for 20-30 seconds. Strain and pour over rocks in a highball glass. Garnish with piece of candied ginger if desired. Strong and tasty.

A marathon of a brunch

10-10-10. The Chicago Marathon.

While thousands of people were busy running 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago, I sat back, relaxed and had mimosas and bunch on my patio. Ok, so I got up and ran 4 miles before making brunch…and got passed by the Kenyan’s twice.

On the menu was:

I’m going to have to ATTEMPT to do the scones justice and give them their very own post. For today, you’ll have to settle for the quiche and candied bacon.

Artichoke quiche taken from weightwatchers.com:

Ingredients

1 spray(s) cooking spray
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion(s), red, thinly sliced
13 3/4 oz canned artichoke hearts, without oil
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 cup(s) regular soy milk
2 large egg(s), lightly beaten
2 large egg white(s), lightly beaten
3 oz regular soy cheese, grated mozzarella variety, divided (about 3/4 cup)
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Boil 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan.
  • Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add artichoke hearts and tarragon. Cook until artichokes are heated through, about 2 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together milk, eggs, egg whites, 1/2 cup of cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Pour into prepared pie plate. Scatter onion mixture evenly over egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.
  • To bake quiche, create a water bath: Set a large sheet pan with sides on a flat surface. Place pie plate on sheet pan. Pour hot water around pie plate so it goes 1/2 inch up sides of pie plate (do not get water on quiche). Carefully lift sheet pan to prevent splattering water and place in oven. Bake in water bath until quiche is set in center, about 45 minutes.
  • To remove pie plate from water bath, slide 2 large spatulas under pie plate and remove pie plate from oven (make sure to wear oven mitts). Leave sheet pan in oven so water can cool before removing pan from oven.
  • Turn oven to broil. Broil quiche 3 inches from heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before cutting into 8 pieces.

Accidentally candied bacon

I’m not sure exactly what I was trying to do with this bacon but it turned out pretty good. I just knew that I didn’t want bacon sitting around and I might as well have company help me consume it. Much healthier to split a package of bacon up amongst friends than to consume it all by oneself.

My initial plan was to pop the bacon in the oven(still on 350F for the quiche) with some freshly cracked pepper on it and a nice dusting of brown sugar. Doesn’t that sound tasty? Well, I went to the cupboard only to discover that I was out of brown sugar. I did find some maple syrup though. So, I layed the bacon out on a tray, generously cracked fresh black pepper over it and gave it a nice covering of maple syrup.

I popped it in the oven and headed out to the patio to enjoy a mimosa and start in on the brunch foods. I got a little distracted by watching the marathoners and forgot that my bacon was in the oven all together.

The maple syrup may have gotten slightly over-cooked and became more of a toffee like substance that turned in to almost candied bacon when it started to cool. The final consensus: surprisingly tasty and all the bacon was consumed. What a successful mistake!

Melted leeks and poached disappointment

I had been excited about making this recipe for a long time. I had found it this summer and stuck it away waiting to make it for one of the first chilly nights, causing my expectations to rise. Well, they rose and they rose and I thought about this recipe day after day. One day, the temperature dropped and so did my love for this recipe. I had already decided it was a keeper and would be great to make as a starter for dinner parties. I was wrong.

These are the quantities per person:

  • 1/3 cup melted leeks(about 2 cups uncooked) 
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup simmering chicken stock
  • a handful of Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated as finely as possible (about 1/2 oz)
  • 1 large egg( and a tsp or 2 of vinegar to poach)
  • 2 Tbs butter

Use mostly white part and a little bit of green part of leeks. Cut in half lengthwise and wash well to get grit out. Slice into thin(about 1/8in) semi-circles. Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Once the butter is melted, add leeks and a table-spoon or two of water. Simmer until water is almost all evaporated, adding more as needed to soften the leeks. I cut the amount of butter in half to one tablespoon to save on fat and calories. I don’t think this really affected the overall outcome at all. Once water evaporated and leeks softened, put 1/3 cup of the melted leeks into the bottom of a soup bowl.

While you are cooking the leeks, heat water on the stove top to cook quinoa according to directions on the box. When done and fluffed, put 1/2 cup of the quinoa on top of the leeks in each bowl.

In another pot, poach an egg. I have linked to you how to nicely poach an egg. I am terrible at poaching eggs and much like Julie in Julie and Julia, I really need to commit myself to the kitchen one day and go through a dozen eggs or two to perfect it. Take your beautifully poached egg and set it gently on top of the pile of melted leeks and quinoa you have placed in the bowl.

Also, simmer chicken stock in another pan on your stove top. This might be where I messed up. I happened to be at Brian’s when I was making this and he has limited cooking supplies. So instead of heating it up on the stove top, I simply microwaved the stock to warm it. Well, while the broth is simmering you are to slowly whisk in the 1/2 ounce of parmesan. I pulled the stock out of the microwave and attempted to do this and my parm clumped together and made a melty parm ball in the broth(which you can see sitting on top of the egg). Once simmered and whisked, slowly pour around your mountain of leeks, quinoa and egg.

There, now you have melted leeks, quinoa and poached egg in Parmesan broth. Taste it. It tasted buttery and salty to me. Tasty but not amazing like I thought it was going to be. It would be delicious when I was sick and salty was the only thing I could taste. Quite honestly, when I’m sick enough that all I want to eat is salty soup, I won’t be feeling well enough to stand in the kitchen to make this.

Fortunately, we had gone to the farmer’s market that morning and bought really delicious multi-grain bread. I spread some herbed goat cheese and sprinkled a little extra parmesan on it and broiled it in the oven for a few minutes. Toasted cheesy bread can save any meal!

Some like it hot…

A few highlights from the month of August:

Brian and I ran the Elvis 5K at the beginning of August. While neither of us are where we want to be with our running yet, our times had improved from the previous 5K.

After the 5K, we showered and got ready to met Aaron who was in town for some meetings. The meeting of Aaron and Brian turned into a draw-off. A Justin Bieber draw-off to be exact.

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