1.28.2014

tabbouleh crusted salmon

When I imagine my ideal future life, this is my typical weekday: I work all day at my fulfilling job (until a reasonable hour like 4 pm of course), then I come home and cook up a delicious, creative, fresh meal (with all of the high-quality ingredients I can't afford now) while I leisurely enjoy a glass of wine and a charcuterie/fresh fruit plate with my husband. We enjoy dinner while John Legend is playing on the stereo, the windows are open and there's a slightly salty breeze coming in, and our dog is running around by our feet. After dinner, we go for a long walk, hand-in-hand, talking about our days and planning out our upcoming trip to Greece.

Okay, am I getting carried away? Really though, these are the dreams getting me through grad school. So just let me have it, okay?

Being able to cook complex and creative dinners regularly is definitely part of my dreams. I truly enjoy cooking -- the recipe development, the prep work, the chopping, the sautéing. But right now, I don't have as much time for it as I'd like. Sure, I cook most of our meals, but I have to rely on *quick and easy* much of the time. Like this tabbouleh crusted salmon, which came together in 20 minutes with 3 main ingredients and virtually zero effort. I mean, this was EASY.


Honestly though, this might be a recipe that I keep in my back pocket *even if* I find myself with more time and energy and money one day. It was goooood, regardless of how quick and easy it was! Tabbouleh is a whole grain Mediterranean side dish made with bulgar, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and usually chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. It's relatively simple to make yourself, but I like to buy the prepared kind from Costco or Trader Joe's because it's easy and just as tasty. While I usually eat tabbouleh as a side dish (i.e., with the meat on top of it or beside it), I had an idea to bake it on top of these beautiful fresh salmon fillets with a bit of panko bread crumbs. I was hoping it would turn into a flavorful crust that paired well with salmon... and it did! With all of the nice flavors of the tabbouleh -- especially the lemon -- and the slightly crunchy panko with the flaky baked salmon, it basically melts in your mouth. 


This is a seriously easy, seriously healthy and nutritious, and seriously fast meal. If you have salmon, prepared tabbouleh, and panko, then you'll have dinner ready in 20 minutes (with approximately 1.5 minutes of "work"). Serve with a side salad or veggie and you're good to go! 


This will probably become a weeknight staple for us. I think it's my favorite way I've prepared salmon yet! Here's how I threw it together:

1.21.2014

braised beef brisket

How about a tiny bit of wedding talk before I share today's delicious recipe? (*hint... scroll down if uninterested). Somehow, someway, we're now only 4 months away from our wedding date. HOW has it been nearly a year since we got engaged?! Time has flown! And now, suddenly... it's crunch time. We've already gotten all of the big stuff done, but there are definitely a lot of little things that still need to happen. I'm hand-addressing all of the envelopes, for example, which is waaayyy more time-consuming than one may think. I wouldn't say I'm DIYing a TON of stuff, but there's certainly a lot to do in my oh-so-elusive free time. Plus, once classes pick up next week, I'll be back to going to class after work -- with three 13 hour days where I'm not home until 9pm -- so I guess you could say I'm starting to stress a litttttllllle about how (when) everything is going to get done. Fortunately I have lots of kind friends and family that have offered to help, so I'll certainly be taking them up on their offers.

I'm also finding it helpful to rely on my #1 piece of wedding advice that I've carried with me throughout this process: there are no rules except for the rules you care about. It's easy to get sucked into the wedding whirlwind and the pinterest pictures and the opinions of nearly everyone around you and the pressure to do things the way they're "supposed" to be done... but at the end of the day, the wedding is yours. Yours and your partner's. Are there wedding traditions you value? Then by all means, share in those traditions. But if there are traditions that you just don't care about, don't identify with, or don't understand the meaning of, then SKIP THEM. It should be simple. And we're trying to keep it that way. Sure, parents have a say (especially if they're helping to foot the bill), but it's your day. It's strange, but I have to constantly remind myself of this fact as I plan. Probably because things are often presented to you as rules, when really.... no. The lady at the invitation store, for example, told me that I have to have an "inner" envelope within the "outer" envelope, and I have to call my mom (and my female married guests) Mrs Husbandfirstname Lastname because that's traditional, and I have to have embossed font if I want to convey formality and blahblahblahblah. While these things were presented as rules, guess what? They're not. Many others probably choose and like these things, and that's just fine. But this is our wedding! And we don't want to follow those rules!  My mom has her very own first name, thankyouverymuch. I don't see any reason to spend hundreds more dollars to have embossed font. And I really don't see any reason to have 2 envelopes and multiple pockets and cards. We'd rather keep it simple and eco-friendly. And us.

My point? Do you. That's my take-it-or-leave-it advice for anyone else planning a wedding. Make the day true to you and your partner. Follow your values and preferences, not someone else's. At the end of the day, if it's a FUN and meaningful celebration that you and your guests enjoy and that you feel represents you as a couple, you've done it right.

Okay, enough of the wedding talk?

How about some brisket? That will SURELY make up for all of that chatter, huh?


BRISKET. It's mouthwatering, fall-apart, flavorful meat. I loooove it. While brisket is actually a tougher meat due to all of its connective tissues, we can fix that. All we have to do is marinate it for a lonnnnggg time, then cook it for a lonnnggggg time in the oven at low heat. It turns into tender magic. Truthfully, my favorite way to eat brisket is smoked from a BBQ joint, with the burnt edges and smoky flavor (in fact, that's what we're likely having to eat at our rehearsal dinner! I told you we're staying true to us). However, I unfortunately do not have a smoker in my backyard, and this is the next best option. Don't worry, it's still awesome.  


I tried out Pioneer Woman's brisket recipe after seeing her cook it on her Food Network show this weekend because it just looked sooo irresistible. Ryan and I went directly to the store after watching it and bought a 5 pound brisket. Marinated it for 24 hours then had it for a delicious Sunday night dinner. Of course, I made some tweaks to her recipe, but all in all, it's a winner. Whether you eat it plain or leftover on a sandwich with melted provolone like I did yesterday, I think you'll be happy. 



Yes, you need about 2 days in order to enjoy this brisket, but other than the time it is SO EASY. For real. Couldn't be easier. Here's how to make it:

1.17.2014

whole wheat almond butter banana bread

Aahhhh, banana bread. I love it. I used to make "real" banana bread very often -- you know, the kind with white flour, half a stick of butter, white and brown sugar. All that good stuff. I must say, I made a pretty mean loaf and we really enjoyed it throughout the fall and winter months. Ryan reminded me of this fact earlier this week: "hey, you haven't made banana bread in a while." True. While it's not that I don't eat white bread and sugar and such at times (i.e., if someone hands me a cookie), I shy away from cooking that sort of thing now except for special occasions.... so no banana bread around here in quite a while. I saw that we had some ripe bananas, though, and responded to Ryan with, "I know. I'll make some this week."


He was quite excited when he saw the loaf sitting in the kitchen after work yesterday. He ate a piece right up, licking his lips. Yeah, I still haven't clued him in that this loaf has none of that "good stuff." No white flour, no butter, no oil, no refined sugar. He didn't even notice a difference! 


I smiled from ear to ear when I first tried a bite of this banana bread. It was definitely an experiment to try to create a moist, dense, and slightly sweet banana bread without any of my "I don't cook with that" ingredients, but it worked. This banana bread seriously hits the spot. It's definitely not super sweet -- more of a breakfast food than a dessert -- but I like it that way. It still has that banana flavor and the consistency is very similar to my original. And it's SO easy to make. How did I do it? Let's just say I turned to some old friends: whole wheat flour, greek yogurt, apple sauce, honey. And almond butter! Almond butter is the perfect accompaniment to the banana here. And the best way to enjoy this bread: Warm and topped with a bit more almond butter. Heaven!


Now we can enjoy our banana bread and not feel an ounce of guilt about it. This stuff is all healthy and all clean. It's nutritious! It's full of protein and fiber! Eat it up for breakfast with your cup of coffee... what a great start to the day :)




Here's how to make it:


1.16.2014

lemon chicken stir-fry

I'm an odd mix of a perfectionist and not-a-perfectionist-at-ALL. With some things, I'm obsessive (perhaps too obsessive at times) about getting the details right, and with others, I'm perfectly okay with a less-than-perfect product (okay, sometimes to the point of careless). For example, I definitely have perfectionistic qualities when it comes to my professional writing, my schedule planning, my clinical work and preparation, my work-related organization... basically, in areas where I believe top-notch effort is worthwhile. However, I'm certainly not an all-around perfectionist. Don't look in my drawers or cupboards, don't search my blog posts for typos, and don't look for neat note-taking or super detailed emails or high-quality photos. Trust me, you won't find perfect. I'm starting to realize that even though this means, yes, I half-ass things occasionally, it is this mix that allows me to be productive and efficient in daily life. I am increasingly adept at recognizing when attention to detail and striving for perfection is worth it, and when it simply isn't. Not putting in extra effort when I don't see the effort as necessary or worthwhile gives me much more time to spend on things that are higher on my priority list.

Why am I telling you this? Well, to be honest, it's a lead-in to the less-than-perfect photos of this lemon chicken stir-fry. The pictures might verge on horrendous, but really, that should come as no surprise to me since I snapped them with an iPhone over a time frame of approximately 30 seconds under artificial kitchen light at 7:30 pm when I was starving and just ready to eat after a long day. Did I know that they were far from perfect? Yes. Did I care? Not so much.


There are so many food blogs out there with beautifully styled photos taken with fancy cameras, complete with rustic props and serving dishes, cute forks, and perfect lighting. I love these blogs. I love looking at mouthwatering, inspired food photography. Can I just throw it out there though? This is clearly not one of those blogs and I don't think it ever will be. You do know where to find all of those beautiful, lovely blogs, right? I'm sure you do. If not, start with smitten kitchen and joy the baker. Beautiful, right? But please don't look for it here. Focus on the yummy recipes, or just keep coming back because you kind of like me. Deal? Please?


It's not that I don't prioritize my blog, because I do. I keep coming back, right? I really do love sharing my recipes and ideas and thoughts here! I just don't prioritize perfectionism here, because my blog is not my wellbeing, it's not my job or my source of income, and it simply can't take up a whole lot of my time. So, yeah, the photos take a hit. But that's okay, right? Because while it's not beautiful, this lemon chicken stir fry was pretty freaking delicious. If you love lemon -- and you must love lemon for this -- you will love this stir fry. It's pretty simple and easy, but the citrus-y flavor and onions puts a twist on your everyday chicken stir fry.


It's a healthy and light dinner served over brown rice. Steam up some broccoli and you have a complete, nutritious meal in half an hour. I used chicken thighs, but you could also use breasts (and I don't always say that... sometimes I'm adamant about sticking to thighs... with this though, either one works!) Here's how to make it:


1.14.2014

kindness

I had plans to cook more this weekend, but I didn't. I had plans to prepare a blog post, but I didn't. I had plans to do all of my laundry, but I didn't. I meant to fit in an extra workout, and I meant to get ahead on work.

After a 13 hour day yesterday, I came home, thought of all of these things, and found myself exhausted, stressed, and frustrated with my self. When will I fit everything in? 

My typical response would be to make a plan, wake up early, and work towards getting everything done. Have to meet my expectations, right?

Not necessarily. I woke up and realized that that's not what I need right now. How about I focus on the positive? My strengths, my intentions, my heart.

Instead, I need to practice being kinder to myself. Being gentler with myself.

www.thewayofthehappywoman.com

I'm going to spend my extra time this morning on me. On efforts to cultivate my capacity for kindness. I will focus my loving-kindness meditation on myself, rather than others. Because really, being kind to yourself and being kind to others should be one and the same. Don't choose one or the other.


To learn more about loving-kindness meditation, or metta, google is your friend. There are lots of resources out there; even free audio files to lead the meditation for you. I recommend starting with you, then practicing loving-kindness towards others.

www.joythruyoga.com

1.08.2014

{lightened up} chicken, roasted broccoli, & mozzarella pasta bake

Okay, let's just get it out of the way: it's f'ing cold outside. This polar vortex, or whatever they're calling it, is making me one miserable lady. Traveling to an 8 a.m. meeting downtown yesterday morning when it was 5 degrees outside (and feeling more like negative 50 to me with the wind) was pretty much the worst idea anyone has ever had. When it's this cold, we should all be bundled up inside with a hot cup of coffee, layers of blankets, and a fire. Life outside of the front door should be canceled for the day. Do you guys agree? Maybe we should protest?

I know. I'm kind of a baby. It's even colder in other parts of the country, and I should be grateful that I have a warm coat and a job and a heated home. I just need to keep repeating that. And also reminding myself that I WILL live somewhere warmer one day. Cold winters are simply not for me.

You know what does make me feel pretty warm and happy and grateful though, even in such unforgivable weather? This pasta bake. Filled with chicken, oven-roasted broccoli, herbs, and cheese. Topped with fresh mozzarella slices and baked to warm, melt-y perfection.


I made it this past weekend and fell in love with every bite... so much so that I was tempted to gobble up the whole thing in one sitting (with Ryan's help, of course). I'm so thankful that, instead, we enjoyed two hearty portions then froze the rest to have for dinner again tonight. I get to enjoy this baby again! In less than 12 hours! Knowing that, I can brave the bitter outside world today.



Yes, roasting the broccoli before adding it to the casserole is an extra step, but it's totally worth it. And easy. So do it! It adds that nice roast-y flavor to the bake and takes it to another level. And the fresh mozzarella slices on top? Perfection. Yes, you could use shredded mozzarella if it's what you have, but promise me you'll try it with fresh sometime! Cause it's awesome.



I didn't calculate calories or fat for this dish or anything, but it's definitely healthier than it tastes. There's no butter, and greek yogurt replaces more than half of the cream cheese to keep it light but still creamy. By using just a small amount of parmesan IN the dish and single slices of mozzarella on top, we cut down on the amount of cheese while still keeping each serving tasting super decadent. Use whole wheat or fiber-enriched pasta and you have a nutritious dinner filled with protein, healthy carbs and fats, and veggies. Win!





This is one you want to try. Here's how:


Chop about 12 ounces of broccoli into bite-sized florets. Place on a foil-lined baking pan and drizzle with 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil. Toss to mix, then spread out on pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.


Roast broccoli for about 20 minutes at 375, or until the broccoli is starting to brown. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Cook about 2 minutes less than you normally would, so that it is still extra al dente, because it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain. Then, in a large bowl, mix the cooked pasta, roasted broccoli, parmesan cheese, greek yogurt, cream cheese, milk, and spices.


Mix well until it's all incorporated and the ingredients and distributed evenly.


Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour the pasta mixture into the dish evenly.


Top with the 6 slices of mozzarella.



Bake uncovered at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and it's starting to brown slightly.



Chicken, Roasted Broccoli, & Mozzarella Pasta Bake
For About 6 Servings

Ingredients
-12 oz. farfalle pasta (or penne; rotini; your choice), whole wheat or fiber-enriched if possible
-12 oz. broccoli, chopped into bite-sized florets
-2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-2 cups shredded or diced cooked chicken
-1/4 c. parmesan cheese
-3/4 c. greek yogurt
-1/4 c. whipped cream cheese
-1/2 c. milk
-1 tsp garlic powder
-1 tsp sea salt
-1/2 tsp dry basil
-1/2 tsp dry oregano
-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
-Fresh mozzarella, cut into 6 round slices

Directions
-Preheat oven to 375.
-Line a baking sheet with foil. Lay broccoli down in a heap and pour 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil on top. Mix well, then spread out across the baking pan (be sure not to overcrowd). Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the broccoli is starting to brown. Remove from oven.
-Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Cook about 2 minutes less than you normally would, so that it is still extra al dente, because it will continue to cook in the oven. Drain.
-In a large bowl, mix the cooked pasta, roasted broccoli, parmesan cheese, greek yogurt, cream cheese, milk, and spices. Mix well until it's all incorporated and the ingredients and distributed evenly.
-Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour the pasta mixture into the dish evenly. Top with the 6 slices of mozzarella.
-Bake uncovered at 375 for about 30 minutes.
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1.06.2014

peanut sauce two ways: chicken pad thai spring rolls & thai chicken satay

This week marks the jump back into reality. Sure, we eeeaaased back in last week, but we had it pretty easy with the New Years holiday and snow. But now...it's here. Time for the first full work week since mid December. Say it ain't so!

Diving back in is sure to be a little rough -- I was really starting to get used to part-time work! But no time for complaints, 'cause there's no going back. And actually, productivity and a full schedule feels kiiind of nice after all that rest, right? Time to get stuff done!

In light of getting stuff done, I'm just popping in real quick; no step-by-step recipes or tons of pictures. BUT, I'll make up for the lack of detail with not one, but TWO new recipes! And they both involve my new favorite sauce... a spicy, flavorful, creamy Thai peanut sauce. I could eat this stuff with a spoon. Okay, so maybe I DID eat this stuff with a spoon. Just a bit! Don't judge. At least not until you taste it!

So how are we enjoying this peanut sauce? I have two options: DIY chicken pad thai spring rolls and grilled chicken satay.



Don't make me pick which one I liked better. They are totally different, but both so delicious! The spring rolls are fresh-tasting and unique. The chicken satay is perhaps a little more familiar to the taste buds, but is equally satisfying and so flavorful. The common denominator is that tasty peanut sauce... it takes both dishes to another level of awesome.

The spring rolls were a new adventure in the kitchen for me, as I had never rolled rice paper before. It isn't the easiest task, I will admit, but it's totally doable and definitely worth the effort. While spring rolls are traditionally a Vietnamese appetizer, I put a Thai twist on them by using pad thai-esque ingredients. In fact, these spring rolls are VERY similar to my pad thai recipe, just in rolled form! Hint: the hidden benefit of this is that *even if* you screw up the rolls, you can just throw everything else in a bowl and call it pad thai :) These spring rolls are healthy and refreshing, and they make for an impressive party finger food. Or just enjoy them on the couch while watching football, like we did!



The chicken satay is much simpler... just chop some chicken, mix up a flavorful yogurt marinade, slide onto skewers, and grill. Simple. And equally wonderful with that peanut sauce! Serve with a mixed salad and you have a healthy, filling, delicious meal.


Can't decide which to make? Try them both! We had enough peanut sauce to cover both meals. And if you're anything like me, you won't mind having this sauce twice in one week. 

Here are the recipes:

1.01.2014

healthy quinoa & oat granola

Happy 2014, friends! I hope everyone ushered in the new year as happily as I did. For me, NYE involved filet mignon, champagne, and a house of cards netflix binge with my husband-to-be and cat. Not gonna lie, staying in on new year's eve rather than partying was new for us, but I don't know if I ever want to go back. No crowds, no uncomfortable tights and heels, no makeup, no overpriced cocktails. Just comfy, quiet happiness. And it was wonderful.

So now it's 2014. The first day of a brand new year... and I always love the start of a new year! I'm not typically one for official resolutions -- I try my hardest to make changes as I see fit throughout the year, not just at the beginning. But still, starting a new year always feels like an opportunity. A time to reflect on what went wrong and right during the past year, to look forward to what's to come, and to imagine the way you want things to unfold. For me, 2014 will be a big one: we're getting married! While Ryan and I have been together for a looonngg time and already live together, our wedding in May represents something new... an official promise of mutual support and love (forever!) and a joining of 2 families. We'll always remember 2014 as the year we became husband and wife. That's pretty big, huh? This year will also involve new directions in my academic/professional life (a dissertation! a new clinical experience!), travel to new places, and hopefully a lot of new learning experiences. In general, for 2014, I hope for health, happiness, love, and personal growth. In fact, these are the things I hope 2014 brings to everyone I care about.

So how about a recipe to usher in all of this positivity?


I thought this granola recipe was the perfect one to share on the first day of this new year. If you want to start 2014 off on a healthy, clean, rejuvenating foot, this is a recipe you want! Oats, quinoa, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, dried cranberries. I mean, come on, could we BE any healthier here? Coconut oil and pure maple syrup bring it all together. Oohhh yeah! Just wait till the smell hits your nose as this bakes.


Does quinoa in granola sound strange? It kind of does, right? But I promise you'll barely notice it's there. It adds a nice nuttiness and, along with the chia seeds, a big fiber boost to already-nutritious rolled oats. The base of this recipe is Gwyneth Paltrow's "favorite granola," which is already a BIG winner. My aunt first introduced me to goop's granola earlier this year and I have to give it to Gwynnie, it's definitely the best homemade granola I've ever had. Not too oily, slightly sweet but not overly so, and with a slight, interesting hint of Indian spice (I know it might sound weird, but just stay with me here). I made a few adaptations to the original recipe to make it even healthier and it's officially become my favorite breakfast and snack. If you care, it's also vegan and gluten-free. My favorite way to eat it? Sprinkled over plain Greek yogurt and drizzled with honey. The perfect post-workout breakfast! 


This recipe is completely adaptable. Leave out anything you don't like (well, besides the oats, that would be problematic) and add anything you do like (within reason). Add pumpkin seeds like Gwyneth did, add flax seeds instead of chia, toss in some dark chocolate chips or cocoa nibs (I like the way you think), use dried cherries instead of cranberries, replace the garam masala with nutmeg or cardamom, sprinkle in some hemp seeds instead of sunflower seeds. If you like it sweeter, you may want to add in a few tablespoons of agave nectar or stevia extract... as is, it needs a drizzle of honey to really get that sweetness (which is how I prefer it so that I can tailor the sweetness to the way I'm serving it/who I'm serving). What I'm saying is, this granola is your playground! As is, each 1/2 cup serving of this granola has approximately 300 calories, 14 g fat, 7 g fiber, and 6.5 g protein (though I tend to eat more like 1/4 cup since I serve it over yogurt)... all from foods that your body LOVES. 


If you've never made homemade granola before, I totally recommend that you start here. It is SO easy and much more cost-effective. This recipe makes a whopping 5 cups of granola to last you for several weeks in an airtight container or big ziploc baggie. Here's how to make it:


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