Tag Archives: food

Things I’ve Been Eating Lately

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been a very work-heavy few weeks for me. While I’ve resisted the urge to do a lot of eating out and ordering in, I’ve been mostly cooking other people’s recipes (mostly other bloggers!) instead of coming up with stuff of my own. But along the way I’ve discovered some great recipes – which I wanted to share with you! 🙂

Up first, this recipe for Light Sesame Chicken from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as the take-out version, or to be able to stop my cravings for take-out at all but I was pleasantly surprised! This chicken was easy to pull together and absolutely delicious! Now I just need to perfect a fried-rice recipe to go with it, and maybe I can be free of my Chinese take-out cravings forever! 🙂

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This recipe is definitely a keeper!

Up next, I decided to make Beef Stew in the crock-pot one day because I had some great grass-fed beef in the freezer that I wanted to use up. Plus, when the weather starts to get cold there’s not better than soups or stews in the crock-pot! I following this recipe from Real Simple almost exactly as is and it turned out great! I just made a few basic changes: I used my own homemade chicken stock instead of beef stock, I added a few cloves of garlic (because I’m incapable of making anything without garlic), and I didn’t bother with flouring the meet before browning it.

This is a great basic Beef Stew recipe to keep around as a go-to. And it’s easy to change up with other vegetables as you’d like! Sidenote: I had enough carrot skins, carrot tops, onion scraps, and garlic bits left over from this one recipe alone that I’m going to have to make another batch of my homemade stock very soon!

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Another sidenote: I completely forgot about the peas until after I took this picture, then I stirred them into the remaining stew

Speaking of soups and stews, I took a trip for work earlier this year to a very small town in Georgia. There were very few restaurants in this town other than chains – and I think all the restaurants were in a row on the road my hotel was on. One night, I ate at Olive Garden and I really loved their chicken gnocchi soup. Apparently a lot of people like this soup too because once I started searching for it I noticed about a million copy-cat recipes on Pinterest. I used this recipe from Pass the Sushi and really loved it!

Here are the changes I made:
– I used some home-cooked poached chicken and homemade stock from my making homemade stock post.
– I used frozen spinach (defrosted and wrung out) instead of fresh because frozen, organic spinach is seriously one of the best deals in the supermarket. Seriously, with how much spinach cooks down – just think of how much fresh spinach it takes to make that bag of frozen spinach! Unless you’re making a spinach salad, I don’t see any reason not to always use frozen spinach.
– Finally, instead of using half and half or cream I used one of my favorite healthy-eating substitutions! Puree a half cup of white beans with a 1/2 cup of milk in the food processor and use that instead of a cup of cream. It adds great fiber and other nutrition!

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Finally, on to dessert! I finally ran out of the cookies I was keeping in my freezer (for those of you who don’t know, another trick of mine is I like to make a batch of cookies and freeze the un-cooked dough in little balls so I can pop a cookie or two into the oven when I’m craving one). I really enjoyed the last recipe I used, but this time around I decided to try a new one for Chocolate Cherry Heart Smart Cookies from Kitchen Food Recipes. I forgot to take a picture of them, but I made little dough-balls exactly like before and they are delicious! (Note: I used all whole wheat flour instead of half wheat and half white like in the recipe)

Speaking of cookies, the other night I tried the “3-Minute Oatmeal Raisin” cookie recipe from Carrots’N’Cake the other day and it was ok. I much prefer my method of making a batch and freezing the dough to bake individual cookies later. Just my preference.

Slow Cooker “Refried” Beans

I took my second-ever spinning class last night and I think I’m in love. My first-ever class was last Wednesday, and I really enjoyed it but boy was my butt sore from that hard, plastic seat! A trip to Sports Authority to buy myself a gel bike seat cover ($20 – totally worth it!) fixed that problem and I was back in the saddle last night.

I’m a big fan of my instructor for this class. He’s got such a great positive energy! 🙂 And his music choices are fantastic. Instead of just one song after another, the songs are all remixed together DJ-style. Last night we did intervals to a mix of “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett and “TNT” by AC/DC. I’m not sure if this is a remix he bought already made, or if he’s awesome enough to be mixing it together himself. I feel like I should make friends with him and find out. Like, “Hey, be my friend…a.k.a. please send me your playlist”

I’m feeling a little burnt-out on running lately, so I’m thinking of taking the months of July and August “off” (meaning running only once or twice a week, low mileage) and focusing on some new classes like spinning. I find taking a new fitness class to be so refreshing, and it really motivates me to keep up with fitness. Plus, it’s finally entered that time of summer in Virginia where it’s so hot and humid outside that even the drive home from work leaves you needing a shower. I think some indoor-fitness is just what the doctor ordered.

Sidebar: it was only a week ago I announced I was going to try for a “50 Mile July.” Oh how things change so quickly! The “50 Mile July” idea was supposed to bump me out of my running rut but I think since I start official 10k/half marathon training in September that it might be best to take a break until then so I’m not completely sick of running before I even start training.

Now for the recipe I promised you – “refried” beans in the slow cooker! 🙂

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This is one of my favorite recipes – and it’s so easy! First of all, I love refried beans. They were one of my favorite parts of “taco night” growing up. And while the kind that comes in a can are perfectly tasty and convenient – these are even tastier, cheaper, and so easy to make! Every few months, I make a big batch and then freeze smaller portion sizes. That way, I can just pull them out a day or two ahead of time when I need beans for dinner. And taco/burrito/nacho night is a pretty frequent occurrence at my house, so I always need beans for dinner.

This recipe makes a huge portion size of beans – I would say 18 to 20 portions. I usually split it into five freezer-safe containers that would serve about four people each.

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Slow Cooker “Refried” Beans
Makes 18-20 servings.

    – 1, 32 ounce bag dried pinto beans (approximately 4 cups)
    – 1 onion, halved (leave the root end intact)
    – 2 jalapenos, diced (remove the seeds and ribs if you don’t like your food too spicy)
    – 3 teaspoons cumin
    – 12 cups water

First, dump the beans into the slow cooker. Always make a quick check through the beans for any rocks or other debris that might have snuck through. I actually found a corn kernel in mine once!

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Slice your onion in half and remove the outer skin. Throw the halves into the slow cooker (you’ll remove them when the beans are done). I’m actually thinking of trying a new approach next time where I chop up the onions and leave them in the finished beans – it seems like a waste to throw the onion away! 🙂

Next, slice the jalapenos in half and remove the seeds/ribs (if you want to tone down the spice). You may want to use gloves to handle the peppers, as I learned the hard way this weekend. Spice burns are no fun.

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Yep, those innocent looking peppers did me in

Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on high for 8 hours. No need to soak the beans first! That’s one of my favorite parts of this recipe! 🙂 At first it looks like a lot of water, but over time the beans really soak it up. I took some pictures throughout the afternoon:

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Beans don’t photograph very well, do they? 🙂 Sort of a brown mush…but they are delicious! And nutritious!

At the end of the eight hours, pull out the onion and mash the beans with a potato masher to your desired consistency. Drain off a few spoonfuls of water if it looks like there’s a lot, you can always add it back into the mashed beans until they come to your desired consistency. I get mine pretty smooth with a masher, but I suppose if you like really smooth beans, you could use a blender.

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Then, I package up my beans for the freezer! They freeze really well and are great to pull out for a variety of Mexican dishes, but they are also great as a dip or on top of salads.

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Questions of the Day!
Has anyone else gone through a fitness rut? How did you break out of it?
Is “taco night” a frequent occurrence at your house? What are your favorite taco toppings?

“Protein” Pancakes

Yesterday was one of those days when nothing seemed to go my way. The weekend in general seemed to slip by rapidly, which I think is what happens when you spend Saturday afternoon/evening on the couch not feeling well. At least I had the new show “Orange is the New Black” to binge-watch on Netflix (I highly recommend it by the way).

Orange is the New Black

On Sunday, I made a big batch of slow-cooker “refried” beans (recipe to be posted later this week! :-)) and for the first time in my life, I got a pepper burn on my hands from chopping the jalapeños. At first I couldn’t figure out why my hand was bothering me so much. I’ve chopped jalapeños numerous times in the past without incident, but this time around I learned my lesson and will use definitely be using gloves in the future. I spent the afternoon with my left hand throbbing, trying every home remedy in the book (lotion, aloe, dish soap, lemon juice, ketchup, yogurt, etc) with no luck. It turns out time is the only thing that really gets rid of the burn.

I had planned my first “long run” for Sunday (5 miles) and it did not go according to plan at all. My first mistake was trying to run outside at 3 in the afternoon. After about a mile, the heat and humidity had done me in and I jogged over to my community’s gym to run on the treadmill. Less than a mile in on the treadmill, I felt terrible. My stomach was starting to really bother me. Worried that the bug from Saturday was returning, and feeling utterly useless and disappointed in myself, I returned back to my apartment to shower and continue my “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” day.

Alexander's Bad Day
Alexander, I know how you feel brother

I made and ate a cheese pizza for dinner (pretty much the same one I had last Monday, as two crusts came in the package), which of course didn’t cut properly and stuck to my baking stone, in keeping with the theme of the day. A couple hours later, I was still hungry and looking for some sort of comfort food to heal my battered soul. I was considering making a couple pancakes using my whole wheat pancake mix, which is one of my go-to late night comfort food snacks when I remembered all the pins I’ve seen for making pancakes with bananas and egg.

You know the pins I’m talking about, don’t you? I think I’ve seen them a million times (though I’ve never re-pinned any). They all swear you can make pancakes using just eggs and banana (usually labeled “Paleo” pancakes, since they don’t contain grain and are high in protein). To say the least, I’ve always been skeptical that this combination would really produce fluffy pancakes like all the pins claimed. But I decided to give it a shot.

The ingredients – one banana, one egg, and a dash of cinnamon.

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I spent a few minutes mashing/mixing the ingredients together with a fork. If you don’t mind dirtying your blender or food processor, that would probably be a faster method but the “batter” came together easily enough using just a fork.

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I added a little bit of coconut oil to a hot pan and then dropped the batter in. The batter cooked just like normal pancakes, and I flipped them after they turned a nice golden brown. FYI, the one banana/egg combo made two pancakes – a perfect single serving! And, much to my amazement, the recipe did make nice, fluffy pancakes!

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The pancakes had a great texture, and a delicate banana flavor. They tasted way more like pancakes than I was expecting. I’m not sure what kind of black magic is behind this, but it’s a neat trick! I ate mine with a little butter and syrup, but they would be delicious with lots of other topping options.

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I’m already thinking about adding a few chocolate chips to these next time I need a late night, comfort food snack!

Have you tried any alternative recipes to traditional pancakes? How did it turn out?

Caprese Pasta Salad

For Fourth of July weekend, I went camping with my parents down on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I always try to split the food duties with my mom, so I brought down hot dogs and hamburgers for our 4th of July BBQ, as well as some pasta salad and succotash to have on the side.

I got the idea for this pasta salad because of my deep love of the combination of mozarella, basil and tomatoes (see my margherita pizza and bruschetta recipes). I absoluetly love when summertime comes and fresh, local tomatoes are in abundance. I used to have some success growing my own tomatoes on my apartment balcony, but last year I moved and my new balcony doesn’t get enough sunlight. My new apartment is terrible for growing plants, in fact – it’s where plants go to die.

I thought a Caprese Pasta Salad would be quick and delicious, and it would travel and sit outside well since the dressing is oil and vinegar. Perfect! And the recipe really couldn’t be any easier!

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Caprese Pasta Salad
Serves eight.

    – 2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
    – 1, 8-10 oz container mozarella balls (you can halve them if they are large, mine were super petite so I left them whole)
    – 1/4 cup shredded mozarella (optional)
    – A large handful of basil leaves, finely chopped
    – 1-2 cloves garlic, pasted
    – 10 ounces pasta, cooked and cooled (I used rotini, but any short-cut pasta would work)
    – 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
    – up to 1 cup olive oil
    – Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta and set it in a colander to cool. Halve the tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Chop the basil and add to the bowl.

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Add the mozarella balls, halving them if necessary. I would usually cut them in half, but this time the mozarella balls were super tiny so I left them whole.

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I also added in about a 1/4 cup of shredded mozarella because I was worried there wasn’t enough cheese. Is there such thing as enough cheese? 🙂 At this point, I also added the garlic, salt, and pepper and stirred to combine.

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Add the cooled pasta, and dress with the balsamic vinegar and oil. Stir thoroughly. We ate this pasta salad for lunch several days in a row on the camping trip and it was a big hit! I’ll definitely be making it again.

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Southern Succotash

In my box from Washington’s Green Grocer last week I got some beautiful corn on the cob. One of the first things I think of when I see corn (other than eating it off the cob) is succotash. Succotash is one of my favorite side dishes, and after I created this version a few years ago it really stuck. I was really proud because it was one of the first recipes I ever created totally by myself and it turned out so well! 🙂

The idea came from a corn side dish that I ate at Bonefish Grill which had bacon and red bell pepper in it. When I tried to recreate it at home, I added lima beans and thus this succotash was born!

First, a little trick for getting corn kernels off the cob that I learned from Rachel Ray. If you turn a smaller bowl upside down inside of a larger bowl, you can brace the corn upright on the small ball, and as you cut the kernels off the cob, they are caught by the larger bowl. Check it out:

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Pretty cool, right? I still manage to get a few kernels on the counter but it’s the least-messy method I’ve found so far.

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Southern Succotash
Serves six.

    – 4 slices bacon, chopped
    – 3-4 medium sized cobs of corn
    – 2 cups lima beans, frozen
    – 1 red bell pepper, diced
    – 2 cloves garlic, minced or pasted
    – 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
    – Salt and pepper, to taste

Sautee the chopped bacon pieces in a pan over medium heat until crisp. If there’s a lot of grease from cooking the bacon, you can drain off all but a few tablespoons. I usually use the center-cut bacon which is a little leaner and I don’t drain the bacon.

Add the red bell pepper and garlic to the bacon and grease and cook until tender, 3-4 minutes. Then add the corn and lima beans, crushed red pepper, salt, and cracked black pepper and stir to combine. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the corn is tender and the lima beans and heated through.

Note: this time, I added a few diced garlic scapes since I also got them in my Washington’s Green Grocer box. They were a delicious addition!

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Margherita Pizza & 50 Mile July!

I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July holiday weekend!

I did my best to “unplug” for the weekend and went camping with my parents down on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. We had beautiful, although very hot and humid, weather. We spent most of the weekend relaxing in the campground at the pool, or fishing off the pier but we also ventured out to two of our favorite wineries that happen to be on the Eastern Shore – Chatham and Holly Grove – and into the town of Cape Charles to a wine and cheese shop. Of course, I couldn’t unplug completely so I did Instagram a few photos. Follow me on Instagram if you want to see some of the food and other fun stuff that doesn’t make it to my blog.

Thanks to the insane traffic on Sunday it took me 6 and a half hours to make the 3 and a half hour drive home. My nerves were fried by the time I made it back to DC, but I forced myself to make a quick trip to the grocery store for smoothie making essentials and a few other items. When I finally made it home, all I wanted to do was relax and watch The Walking Dead marathon on AMC – but of course my cable was out. I made do with binge-watching my Game of Thrones DVDs.

When I got to the campground on Thursday, they were hosting a 10 a.m. 2 mile “fun run” which my family participated in. Actually, my parents were in the walker category and my sister ran most of the 2 miles with me before walking the last bit. It was my first two miles of July – which is good because I’m trying a “50 mile July” challenge. I read on Active that challenging yourself to get 50 miles in a month is a good way to establish a solid weekly base mileage. The months of July and August, I’m going to focus on running three times a week, establishing a solid weekly mileage, and getting in one hour per week of non-running cardio (i.e. swimming, elliptical-ing, or cycling). I’ve read that this hour of cross training is important to increase your cardio thresholds, without the wear and tear of running. Currently, the only cardio in my workouts is running so this is going to be a new challenge for me.

For Meatless Monday last night, I whipped up a quick pizza from a store-bought whole wheat crust, some tomato sauce, and sliced mozzarella. I drizzled the pizza crust with olive oil and some pasted garlic, because I can’t cook anything without adding garlic – seriously, I’m an addict.

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Then I topped the crust with sauce and sliced fresh mozzarella and a sprinkle of dried herbs (parsley, oregano, dill). Easy peasy! And delicious!

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It was a quick and easy dinner that my friend Heather and I shared while catching up on our holiday weekends. After a long few months of traveling, I’m looking forward to staying around the DC area for the next two months.

Question of the Day
What is your favorite form of cardio?

Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

On Saturday after Body Pump I headed over to Barnes and Noble to buy a planner for 2014. Around late summer each year, events start to pop up in the January/February timeframe for the upcoming year. In true OCD-planner-user fashion, I want to write them down, so I’m forced to hunt down a new planner for the upcoming year. I could say I wanted a new planner because I was excited to write my first half marathon on the calendar, which is true, but I honestly do this every year. Take note kids, this is what obsessive planner-ing will do to you.

I did find an adorable little paisley planner for 2014 which means I got to spend the afternoon filling it out with birthdays and other important dates. Seriously, these are the things that make me happy. I also used this as an opportunity to get an Iced, Soy, Chai Tea Latte from the “Starbucks” inside Barnes & Noble.

Iced Soy Chai Tea Lattes are one of my favorite drinks, and before Saturday I hadn’t had one in what feels like forever. The summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, and throughout the breaks of my junior year, I worked at a local coffee shop. I was hired at the coffee shop by the owner/manager before the grand opening so for the first few weeks the other staff and I got to learn and practice grinding espresso and pulling shots, grinding coffee, using loose leaf tea, steaming and foaming milk and mixing various drinks using the flavored syrups. We had the unique opportunity to experiment with different combinations of flavors and create the original drinks that ended up on the menu. The coffee house is still up and running (now with 2 locations! :-)), it’s called Bean There Cafe so if you’re ever in the Hampton Roads area, check it out!

As a perk of working at the coffee shop, we could drink all the coffee and tea our young-adult bodies could handle. And we took full advantage of this perk. The two exceptions to the “all you can drink” rule (due to their cost) were soy milk and chai tea concentrate.

Of course, these are the two ingredients in my favorite drink – an Iced Soy Chai Tea Latte. Isn’t that the way the world works?

So that summer I did not drink my body weight in Chai Lattes, instead saving them for special occasions. And it’s probably a blessing that I didn’t – seeing as to this day I don’t drink coffee because I feel like I overdosed on it that summer.

After absolutely inhaling my drink from “Starbucks”…err the Barnes and Noble Café, I almost bought a container of Chai Tea Concentrate until I noticed 1) the price and 2) all the unnecessary ingredients on the label. I had never thought of it before, but certainly this was something I could make myself at home! Pinterest to the rescue!

I found this recipe for Chai Tea concentrate which looked pretty straightforward. And it cooks in the Crock Pot! I love any excuse to use the Crock Pot.

I made two minor changes to the recipe based on what I had in the house. First, I used ground cloves instead of whole since I keep ground cloves on hand for my Cincinnati Chili and I didn’t want to buy a whole new bottle of spices just for this one project. Also, I had to substitute ground nutmeg for the cardamom seeds. This substitution was the result of me not paying attention – as I thought I had cardamom seeds in the house. Turns out what I have is coriander seeds – which I Googled and are unfortunately not the same thing. The wise internet suggested nutmeg as an alternative and I was happy with the final product, so I guess that was another spice bottle I was saved from buying.

Because of the ground spices, the final product does sometimes leave a little bit of “grit” at the bottom of the glass, but the drink was not gritty in texture at all. Personally, it doesn’t bother me but next time around I may use cardamom seeds and whole cloves like the original recipe.

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Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate
Adapted from ‘@ Home with Gina C’

Makes approximately 4 cups.

– 8 slices of peeled ginger*
– 2 cinnamon sticks
– 1 teaspoon ground cloves (see original recipe for whole cloves)
– 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
– 2 teaspoons vanilla
– ½ cup honey (I use raw, local honey)
– 4 cups water
– 6 black tea bags

*When I buy ginger, I peel the entire thing and place it in a ziplock bag in the freezer to keep it fresh. Then, it’s easy to grate or slice up for recipes.

Place all ingredients except for the tea bags in a slow cooker and cook on high for 3 hours. Add the tea bags and steep for 10 minutes.

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Strain out the solids with a fine mesh sieve or colander lined with cheese cloth.

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Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 7 to 10 days. I used mason jars with these reusable plastic lids which are my new favorite find!

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To make hot tea, mix equal parts concentrate with hot water. For an Iced Tea Latte, mix one part concentrate to two parts milk (hot or cold) of your choice. You can adjust the ratio to your tastes.

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