10.27.2013

clean & healthy spicy cajun chicken noodle soup

Wait, has it really been nearly 2 weeks since I last posted?! How did that happen?!

Okay, I actually know exactly how it happened. I have no time! Very, very little free time means less cooking and less blogging. Ugh. Only 6 more weeks of classes though, and then it's back to a "normal" schedule... Like, 40 hours a week! Amazing! I'll actually have time to blog regularly, cook new foods, work out more than twice a week, do some wedding planning (7 months to go!), work on my dissertation, clean my house, practice yoga... I can't wait! Just gotta make it through. 

I can't say I haven't cooked at all though... It's just been mostly the basics. I've still been prepping all of my lunches (lots of spiced chicken being made around here!), making some tasty dinners, and trying to fuel my (usually exhausted) body with healthy, nutritious foods. One of my best meals of late?

Chicken noodle soup. A totally healthy version, too! And spicy! I wouldn't say I'm normally a huge chicken noodle soup person, but there are times when it's just perfect: like when you're craving something hearty on a cold day (the chilly-ness is officially here to stay!) and/or if you have a cold you need to kick.



This version is particularly great when you're sick, because it's a spicy cajun version! The spiciness clears those sinuses right up and the heat warms your body. So comforting and delicious, and it's also healthy and nutritious. Just what your body needs when you're sick!


This recipe lies somewhere in the middle between shortcut chicken noodle soup from a can and chicken noodle soup that requires you to spend all day cooking chicken and parboiling bones to make your own stock. Its taste is worlds away from the canned kind, but you don't have to kill yourself to make it (which you don't want to do if you're sick!). We get help from a store-bought rotisserie chicken and pre-made chicken broth, but we make it taste much more flavorful and home-cooked by simmering it with onions, carrots, garlic, parsley, and celery tops. The addition of spicy chicken sausage and cayenne lead to a wonderfully unexpected spiciness. Just wait until you smell that aroma filling your house as you cook this -- it's amazing!

This soup is heavier on chicken and noodle than broth, which is how I prefer it. I found it easiest to eat with both a fork and a spoon -- a fork for the goodies and a spoon for the broth! If you're like your chicken noodle soup more brothy though, feel free to up the chicken broth in the recipe.

Here's how to make it:


Gather your main ingredients.


Pull all of the meat from the rotisserie chicken and set aside in the fridge.


Boil 12 cups of chicken broth. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, a carrot, the leafy tops of the celery, and a handful of the parsley. No need to peel or dice anything yet- this part is just for flavor. Return to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for about an hour.


After an hour or so, drain the stock, reserving all of the liquid and discarding the vegetables and herbs. Actually, don't discard those carrots -- eat them while you cook! They're delicious.


Return the liquid to the pot. Return the pot to the stove and turn heat to low.

Dice your carrots, celery, and about 2 tbsp of fresh parsley. Also dice your chicken sausage into bite-sized pieces.


Heat olive oil in a pan and add the veggies, sausage, and your spices. Sauté over medium heat until soft, about 8 minutes.



Pour all of that into the broth and turn heat to high. Once boiling, add your pasta. If you don't have enough liquid to cook the pasta, add a bit more broth. About 2-3 minutes before the pasta is done, add the chicken that you set aside.


Cook until the pasta is al dente, then serve immediately.



So comforting! :)

Clean & Healthy Spicy Cajun Chicken Noodle Soup
For 4-6 servings

Ingredients
-1 natural, organic rotisserie chicken, fully cooked
-8 oz. whole wheat fettucine (or noodle of choice)
-6 oz. spicy chicken sausage (bought fully cooked), casing remove
-1 white onion, chopped in half (peel on is fine)
-4-5 cloves garlic, chopped in half (peel on is fine)
-3-4 bay leaves
-4 large carrots, scrubbed
-4 stalks celery
-96 oz. (12 cups) organic low-sodium chicken broth
-1 bunch parsley
-1/2 tsp cayenne (*less if you don't like spicy)
-1/2 tsp paprika
-1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
-1/2 tsp garlic powder
-1/2 tsp dried thyme
-1/2 tsp pepper, or to taste
-1 tbsp olive oil

Directions
-Remove the all of the meat from the rotisserie chicken, discarding skin. Set the pulled chicken aside in the fridge until ready to use.
-Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large stock pot. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, 1 of the carrots (broken into several pieces), the leafy tops of the celery, and a handful of the parsley (be sure to reserve some though). Return to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for about an hour.
-After an hour, drain the stock, reserving all of the liquid and discarding the vegetables and herbs. Return the liquid to the pot. Return the pot to the stove and turn heat to low.
-Dice the other 3 carrots into slices. Dice the celery. Dice the sausage. Finely dice about 2 tbsp of fresh parskley.
-In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add sausage, carrots, parsley, and celery. Sprinkle on the cayenne, paprika, salt and pepper, garlic powder, and thyme. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes.
-Pour the carrot and celery mixture into the broth and turn heat to high. Once boiling, add the pasta. If you don't have enough liquid to cook the pasta, add a bit more broth. About 2-3 minutes before the pasta is done, add the chicken that you set aside. Cook until the pasta is al dente, then serve immediately.
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10.15.2013

loving lately.

I'll be honest. My life has been stressful lately. Of course, this is relative to my own experiences and not others', but there have been a lot of demands coming from multiple directions. Clinical work, classes, research work, dissertation, wedding planning.... it never stops! There's not enough time in the day! The hard work and busyness shouldn't come as a surprise to a PhD student, but... it hasn't been easy.

Rather than complain and focus on what is not-so-awesome about this situation, however, I thought I'd share what has been awesome lately. What's been getting me through these long weeks. Because there's still a whooole 'lot-a good in my life, that's for sure!

1. Tuesday walks.

Tuesday is the one weekday that I get home early. I'm in the door at 4:30 -- awesome! So, Ryan and I started a Tuesday tradition. I cook an early dinner (the only "real" sit-down dinner I cook some weeks!) then we go on a nice, long 4 to 5-mile walk together. Fortunately, the weather has been perfect and the sunsets beautiful, which I hope lasts for at least a few more weeks. This has quickly become my favorite part of the work week.





2. Weekend eats.

During the week, I have to prep most of my meals ahead of time and they are [mostly] healthy, clean, and.... pretty boring. This is fine because honestly, food isn't my focus on my busy days in the clinic or lab. After all this healthy eating during the week, though, I've been enjoying cooking up more fun and tasty meals on the weekends.

For example: These adorable and delicious bacon egg cups and roasted red potatoes for Saturday breakfast. SO tasty and easy! Quick and easy recipe at the bottom of this post.



3. This shirt that I got on sale at Anthropologie on my birthday. While I love Anthro, it's not exactly in my grad-student budget. I always beeline it to the sale rack, and sometimes I find something pretty awesome! This shirt was on double-sale -- down to $19.99 from $69.99! The back is really low and pretty too. Love! 



4. Popcorn (no, not the healthy/light kind... the buttery kind) and a glass of red wine after a long day.

Let's just leave it at that.

5. Honeymoon planning! I hope it's not wrong that I'm more excited for our honeymoon than our wedding. Don't get me wrong -- I'm ecstatic to be getting married and I think the fact that we get to have a big party with both of our families and all of our closest friends is pretty much the coolest thing on the planet. However, Ryan and I are both pretty private people so the thought of being the center of attention for an entire day is a jussssttt a little nerve-wracking. So there are lots of mixed emotions about the actual wedding -- excitement, anxiety, fear, happiness, nervousness. The honeymoon, on the other hand? One emotion. EXCITEMENT. We've started the planning and booking process and we're going to....

Anguilla! A little 16-mile-long island in the Caribbean near St. Martin. A quiet, remote paradise without much more than powdery white sand, crystal clear water, a few delicious restaurants and some lovely resorts. What else could you need?

Yep, the thought of this 10-day trip can definitely get me through a difficult schedule for the next few months.



6. Boot camp classes at the gym. Finding time to work out on my own is difficult lately. If I can make it to 6am boot camp class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, though, I'm feeling great! This hour long class is intense and always leaves me feeling sore. I'm happy if I can pair two of these classes with a couple of long walks throughout the week and maybe a couple of quick home workouts if I have time. No, it's not as much as I'd like to do and it's not as much as I used to do... but that's okay. I'll pick up the intensity and frequency of my workouts in the winter and spring when the rest of my life calms down a bit. Priorities are important!

7. This edamame trail mix I found at Costco. Edamame, dried cranberries, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Yum! I keep a big baggie of it in my work bag and snack on it when afternoon hunger strikes. It's filling, healthy, nutritious, and really tasty.



What gets you through tough days or weeks? It's nice to focus on the positive, as it is usually there :)

Oh, and recipe for those bacon and egg cups below!

10.09.2013

coconut oil & honey roasted sweet potatoes

Just popping in to share a delicious side-dish recipe that I already can't wait to make again: coconut oil and honey roasted sweet potatoes. Chopped sweet potatoes are tossed with melted coconut oil, sea salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then spread on a baking sheet and drizzled with honey. Roast them for half an hour and you have 1) the best smelling kitchen on the block -- without a doubt! and 2) some freaking delicious and nutritious sweet potatoes.


Ryan made the official statement that I should no longer cook sweet potatoes any other way after we had these for dinner. As someone who used to claim to not like sweet potatoes, he was totally obsessed with these. When he took leftovers for lunch the next day, he texted me and let me know that "those sweet potatoes are seriously little pieces of heaven." Yep, pretty much. I served them alongside almond crusted mahi mahi (which I made based on my almond crusted tilapia recipe, but cooked in coconut oil instead -- to keep things consistent!), and a cucumber and red onion salad. 


The potatoes stole the show. How did I never think to use coconut oil for roasting potatoes? Especially sweet potatoes? It's the perfect combo! Here's how to make them:

Chop up 2 sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Leave the skin on for extra nutrition.



Next, melt 2 tbsp coconut oil over medium heat until it's a liquid. 



Add the potatoes to a bowl and pour the coconut oil overtop. 


Mix in 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp sea salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper. 


Pour onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with honey. 


Spread out evenly across the pan. 


Roast at 375 for 30-35 minutes, or until slightly browned on the outside and tender on the inside. 


So tasty! These would make a nice Thanksgiving side dish. Give them a try :)

Coconut Oil and Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes
For 2-3 servings as a side dish

Ingredients
-2 medium to large sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean and dried
-2 tbsp coconut oil
-1/2 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp sea salt
-1/4 tsp nutmeg
-1/4 tsp pepper
-Honey

Directions
-Preheat oven to 375. 
-Chop potatoes into bite sized pieces, leaving the skin on. Add to a medium sized bowl. 
-In a small saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium heat until it's a liquid. 
-Pour the coconut oil overtop of the potatoes. Add cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Mix well to combine everything. 
-Pour potatoes onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle liberally with honey. Spread out using around the pan using a spatula. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERCROWD THE PAN. If needed, use 2 pans. 
-Roast for about 30-35 minutes, or until the potatoes are slightly browned and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. 
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10.04.2013

crockpot honey sesame chicken

As you have probably figured out by now, I'm a big fan of the crockpot. It's just so EASY! And I'm continuously surprised by the epic deliciousness that comes from throwing a bunch of random ingredients into a big pot and turning it on. It's like magic. I don't know what I did before I got one a couple of years ago -- I use mine at least once a week! There's my crockpot barbaco beef and my more recent (and unexpectedly popular on pinterest!) red wine beef and onions, plus countless "basic" crockpot meals I make all the time -- shredded chicken with salsa, beef stew, barbecue chicken. Then there's my all time favorite crockpot recipe: Indian butter chicken. To die for.

Well, guess what? The time has finally come for my butter chicken to move out of the way: it is no longer the BEST CROCKPOT RECIPE EVER. I know... it's a bold statement, and I had to think carefully before choosing to make it. But it's true. There's officially a NEW number one crockpot recipe in my life. Crockpot honey sesame chicken.


Holy crap this stuff is good. And it's even easier than my butter chicken! No browning the meat, no strange ingredients, it's done in half a day (perfect for weekends when the idea hits at 1pm!). I have made several similar recipes before -- throwing some chicken in the crockpot with Asian ingredients (soy sauce, mirin, honey, and sesame oil are usually my go-to's) is nothing new to me. But this one is worlds above those. I'm not even entirely sure how it turns out so good but IT DOES. Basically... if you make one recipe from my blog... let this be it.



The sauce is thick and sticky and sweet just like when you get Chinese takeout -- which is a surprisingly difficult task for me to accomplish most of the time (at least without adding tons of sugar). The chicken thighs are perfectly moist and tender -- much better than breasts for this, I promise! Served over brown rice and topped with sesame seeds and green onions, and best served with roasted broccoli or another veggie, it is a near perfect Asian dinner. Delicious, easy, flavorful, and healthy.



I hope I've convinced you, because this recipe deserves to be enjoyed by all! Here's how to make it:


10.01.2013

make-ahead healthy breakfast: pumpkin oatmeal muffins

Okay, y'all, I drank the kool-aid and I'm officially on the PUMPKIN PUMPKIN PUMPKIN EVERYTHING bandwagon. Yes, that's a thing -- have you not noticed our annoying club yet?! I think there's just something about that pumpkin flavor in the fall -- it's comforting! Especially when you add a cup of coffee to whatever pumpkiny treat you're enjoying.... Mmm.

It doesn't hurt that pumpkin is super healthy, as long as you're buying plain pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) with no added sugar or anything else. It's full of fiber! One way I've been incorporating pumpkin into my diet is by adding a scoop to my oatmeal in the morning, along with some almond milk and cinnamon. It's delicious, but the truth is... while making this oatmeal takes a whopping 5 minutes, even that has felt like too much of a hassle lately. I wondered how I could make more of a "grab and go" version for my busy morning... soo, why not toss it all into a muffin pan and bake??

Success.


These babies are really making my mornings lately. Throw one (or two) in the microwave for 20 seconds, spread some almond butter or coconut oil on top, pair with a hot cup of coffee.... immediate delicious breakfast! 

These muffins are full of autumn-y spice and that comforting pumpkin flavor. They're moist and dense rather than light and fluffy -- so they're actually more oatmeal-ish than muffin-ish -- which isn't a bad thing, if you ask me. Just important that you know what to expect if you make them! 


Each one has 100 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 2.5 grams of protein. No flour, no oil, no butter. Have 2, or 1 with some nut butter on top, and you have a healthy, filling, tasty breakfast!



You'll notice that I added dark chocolate chips to half of them. I wanted to try it both ways and here's my verdict: while the chocolate takes away from the health factor a TOUCH (and it's not included in the nutrition info above), if you ask me, those 5 or 6 chocolate chips are totally worth it. They take the muffin from "tasty, for a healthy breakfast" to "delicious, and not even just for a healthy breakfast." Make sense? Plus, if you use dark chocolate, you're just getting your necessary antioxidants :) 


I hope that, like me, you'll think that these are the perfect make-ahead breakfast for fall! They're super easy to make, too... prepare a batch on Sunday and enjoy all week! Here's how: 

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