Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Response to the Crock Pot Challenge

Several weeks ago Julie at PB Fingers posed a challenge to her readers- come up with some crock pot recipes during the month of January. Considering I have an ongoing love affair with my crock pot, I knew I'd have to share something. I'm cutting it close posting this on January 30, but it still counts!

There's one crock pot trick that I've been keeping to myself for awhile now.

The story begins a few years ago, when a coworker was telling me about how she throws all of her leftovers into a large Ziploc bag in her freezer and then when its full she takes it out, heats up the contents, and has a bizzarely delicious meal. Her story reminds me of my days at summer camp when every camper brought a can of something random and we dumped it into a cauldron type thing over a fire and then ate it. At the time I thought it was the coolest and most wonderful thing ever.

I don't really do that anymore, but I stole the freezer concept.

You know how Rachael Ray keeps a bowl on the counter while she's cooking and throws all of her vegetable scraps in to it? I do that too, except I don't throw out the scraps at the end of the day. Yep- they go into a Ziploc bag in my freezer.

Pepper tops, onion peels, carrot nubs, kale stems, trimmings off of green beans, corn cobs in the summer. EVERYTHING. If you have some herbs that you can't use up before they go bad, throw 'em in.

Soon you will have a lovely garbage bag of veggies in your freezer. Yum!

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Vegetable Stock

  1. Dump frozen vegetable scraps into crock pot.
  2. Fill crock pot with water.
  3. Cook on low for ~8 hours.
And now you have your own supply of vegetable stock.

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I let it cool then measure it into smaller sized Ziploc bags (usually 1 or 2 cups at a time) and then lay the bags down in my freezer, stacked on top of each other. Doesn't take up much room and they are ready to go when I need one.

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Remember that the stock is unsalted- you can salt it before/ during crock-potting or you just wait and salt depending on the dish you create with it.

Enjoy getting every last benefit out of your veggies and never having to pay for veggie broth again! Kills two birds with one stone, I'd say.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Super Bowl Sliders

Apparently the average person consumes 1,200 calories while watching the Super Bowl. Clearly, that's a lot. However, say you typically need 1,500 calories per day, you exercise for an hour that morning (~400 calories) and you scale back a bit on the food. Not so bad. Especially if you make those calories count by filling up on nutrient packed foods.

Last year for the Super Bowl I made about 100 different foods, which was way too much for just Brian and I. This year I'm planning on scaling back a bit, but one dish that will definitely be included are sliders. Just one of these sliders, placed on a whole wheat mini pita, provides 16% of your daily iron requirements, nearly 19 grams of protein and more than 4 grams of fiber.

Yesterday morning, my office opening was delayed because of the weather, so I worked from home for a few hours before heading in and I had time to make some pita in the morning. It only takes a few minutes of actual effort and the rest of the time is just waiting for the dough to rise to rise. The recipe typically makes eight pitas, but since I was prepping for sliders I cut the dough into 12 pieces and cooked them for four minutes instead of five.

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It smelled SO good.

After work I threw together the rest of the sliders- I used a half pound of ground beef to make four patties and loaded them onto a bun with lettuce, ketchup, caramelized onions, tomato, cheese and avocado.

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These will be perfect for Sunday. If you don't want to make the pita, you can usually find mini-sized pita at the grocery store, and you can also use store-bought dinner rolls as a last resort.

To round out the meal I chopped up some veggies for chili.

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Into the pot went pepper, carrots, onion, zucchini and garlic with a little olive oil. I make my own chili spice mix, but if you find a chili spice packet without additives that works too.

Chili Spice Mix

  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
I add the chili mix after sautéing the veggies for about 5 minutes. I heard that adding spicy spices (hm, is there a better way to word that one?) at the beginning of the recipe allows the flavors to develop more fully. Might need to try it out a few more times before I come to a verdict.

I added a large (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes, 1/2 can of water and 1 1/2 cups of dried beans that I had soaked during the day. I let it simmer for about an hour to cook the beans, then tossed in some frozen corn and chopped spinach.

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Topped with a little cheddar cheese and cilantro. Throw the whole batch into your crock pot (set on warm) during the game and let guests help themselves as they get hungry.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

First Day Post Vacation

While we were away I stayed on pretty much the same sleep schedule so other than the late night getting back to DC, I felt pretty normal today and woke up around 8 AM. 

There's so much to do on the first day after a trip. I thought I would be a little bummed to have to start cooking for myself again, but that really wasn't the case. I was so ready to make a healthy weekend breakfast.

Between January and March our farmer's market opens a little later, 10 instead of 8:30 AM, which meant the day got started a little later too. I stuffed handfuls of granola into my mouth while I made up a full menu for the week with shopping lists for both the market and the grocery store, then headed over to the market when it opened up. (In lovely 30 degree weather… welcome home to me!)

I made breakfast as soon as I got back… sweet potato hash (sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, sausage, spinach and rosemary) with eggs.

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So good. Usually on weekends we have two big meals- a late breakfast and dinner- and this was definitely filling enough to keep me going until dinner.

I got started on dinner during the afternoon. While catching up on some of the blogs I read, I saw a post on KathEats for pork chops that sounded so easy I had to try it. I made a few small changes.

Slow-cooked Pork Chops

Recipe adapted from KathEats.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Drizzle of oil
  • 2 pork chops
  • 2 large apples, sliced
  • 1/2 white onion, sliced

Instructions

  1. Mix together the apple cider vinegar through maple syrup
  2. Heat a pan and drizzle in just a touch of oil, add pork chops and sear on both sides for about a minute each
  3. Pour water into the bottom of the crock pot and then place in pork chops
  4. Cover with sauce then place onions and apples on top
  5. Cook on high for 4 hours

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This smelled SO good while it was cooking. After 4 hours I threw a mix of stir fry greens that I picked up at the market into pan with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper for a side. I think its a mix of kale, swiss chard and spinach- I love it.

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I thought the end result was excellent.

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The meat was really tender. Brian commented that the meat itself didn't have a ton of flavor, but if you included a bite of onion and apple with it (which I did on every bite) then it kind of takes care of that issue. It reminded me a lot of how I used to eat pork chops with apple sauce when I was younger, so if you've ever enjoyed that then I think this will be a win. 

I went to Whole Foods today and stocked up for the week and I'm planning some Super Bowl recipes for the week which means lots of fun foods for our dinners :) For now, I'm headed to prep a salad for lunch tomorrow. One thing I noticed from Mexico was a lack of greens and I missed my salads!

Cancun Recap

We are back! Brian and I were in Cancun last week on vacation, and we got back in last night at about 1 AM. It was so nice to be away on a beach and not have to cook, clean or work. That said, it's good to be back and I'm already looking forward to getting back in the kitchen.

We left bright and early on Monday morning to avoid the inauguration crowd that was already starting to swarm DC when we flew out at 6 AM.

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We arrived at our hotel around noon, but had to wait a few hours to get into our room so we walked around and checked things out then had some lunch and drinks. We stayed at the Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe in Cancun's zona hotelera. Basically, on the same strip as all of the other resorts. 

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It was so nice out- we were really hot in our jeans- and the resort was so pretty. Later in the week we discovered that we had the BEST beach. The resort was far back off of the water so that there was plenty of sand, and the hotel was more horizontal than vertical so there was a lot of beach front space. 

When we got into our room we were really pleased to see that we were on the second highest floor, and we had an end unit with great views.

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We purchased the trip off of Living Social, and we were kind of worried we'd be treated as second-class because of it, but that was definitely not our experience. In addition to a great room, we also received two 50 minute massages and two perks we didn't even know about until we arrived- free WiFi (which we didn't use) and free gym access (which we did). 

There were several restaurants and bars to choose from… one of the fun bars was a rooftop bar that opened in the evenings. It was pretty quiet when we went up there, but that was fine with us!

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Most days we spent at the beach. The weather was always a little breezy and it didn't really get hot until the last day. On Wednesday and Thursday there was quite a bit of rain, and the clouds were overcast, but we were pleasantly surprised that Friday and Saturday turned out to be gorgeous. 

Beachy

We planned our travel so that we would have maximum beach time. We got to the beach early for our last day on Saturday, around 7:30 AM and stayed until 11 AM. Then we cleaned up, checked out and had another couple of hours to have lunch and drinks before we were driven to the airport.

I'm so glad that we decided to go… it was nice to get away especially when the weather was so cold here in DC. I think we both feel pretty recharged, although I think Monday morning will be a rude awakening regardless :(

More posts about a snorkeling day trip and a review of the food to come!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Birthday Dinner

For my birthday, Brian and I had reservations at Founding Farmers for dinner. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, watching movies and running. It was the perfect day to have after a crazy busy work week, and before a week of traveling! 

We decided to walk the mile to the restaurant because it was fairly nice out for January. When we got there, the place was PACKED. It seemed like there were 50 people in the waiting area, with a constant stream of people coming in and out. DC is pretty crowded this weekend because of the inauguration, and since the restaurant is located on Pennsylvania Avenue I imagine that tourists made up a good part of the crowd. We only had to wait about five minutes or so to be seated.

I had been "preparing" for this dinner for weeks now, so I had an idea of what I wanted to order. By preparing I mean that I read reviews of the restaurant online so I would know what the best dishes were. Clearly, I was very excited about this meal!

We started off by ordering a bottle of wine- a pinot noir from Oregon. 

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It was very different than the types of reds we usually drink, but I actually really enjoyed it. It was very easy to drink and I would definitely get this again. 

Then we moved on to appetizers. Based on the reviews, I knew that the two we had already been looking at were going to be winners. 

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We split the fried green tomatoes and those meat skewers were actually "bacon lollies." The tomatoes were crispy and delicious. They were served with two dips- goat cheese and green goddess, which is a variation of a salad dressing I like to make. I preferred the goat cheese and Brian liked the green goddess, so it worked out well. The bacon lollies were also good- I think it was just bacon covered in brown sugar. The online reviews were right and should you ever visit the restaurant I'd definitely recommend them both!

My entree was actually a switch. I had really wanted to go with the lobster macaroni and cheese. Since Brian can't have dairy, I don't really make mac and cheese anymore and I like to get it when I go out. After reading some more reviews yesterday afternoon, I decided to go with something I've never tried before: fried chicken and waffles. 

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AMAZINGGGG. Definitely the right choice. The meal actually came with a side of mac and cheese (hiding behind the gravy there) and another side- I chose roasted winter vegetables. I was a little leery about the idea of eating a piece of chicken and a piece of waffle in the same bite, so I started off just eating them separately. The chicken was great. I didn't even use the gravy with it. It had the right amount of breading and was super juicy. The mac and cheese was perfect (the lobster version would have been an excellent entree as well I am sure!) and the roasted veggies were nicely cooked. Eventually I got around to eating the chicken and the waffles all together. I think it was pretty good. Like the bacon lollies, it had that salty/sweet combo that I really enjoy. 

Brian had the surf and turf- a filet and scallops on a bed of risotto with sides of mashed potatoes and root vegetables. He really liked his choice too and I sampled the steak and risotto- yummy.

As you can imagine, by this time we were stuffed. The portions were served Kim-sized (aka gigantic) and apparently now that I'm old I can't eat as much as I used to. 

However, it was my birthday and I wasn't going anywhere without some cake. So, we ordered it to go with the plan that after the walk home we would have some additional room in our bellies.

Before we left, our waitress surprised me...

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I am guessing that Brian told them it was my birthday! He denies it, but I did not get carded when we ordered wine (clear sign of my aging) so I'd say he's lying.

We walked home and enjoyed our desserts on the couch. The huge portion sizes definitely were carried through to the desserts, so I actually have half of this giant slice of carrot cake to enjoy today. I don't like typical cake frosting, but cream cheese frosting is pretty awesome and I think this slice has the cake/frosting ratio down right. 

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The verdict: Founding Farmers was great! I would definitely go back, and it would be a good place to go with a crowd because the menu has so many options that I think everyone would be pleased. The prices are very reasonable- my huge entree was only $16. I was also really happy that animal welfare and economic viability are important practices to the farms they source their products from. Food you can feel good about.

And with that, I'm off… probably to devour the rest of my cake!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Peanut Thai Noodles

Dinner tonight was something totally different. I bought some Japanese-style linguine at Whole Foods earlier this week, but then on Monday I learned that Brian does not like soy sauce. So, I needed a new plan for those noodles.

I tried to think of a different type of sauce that also wasn't too spicy because I don't like that. I decided on a peanut sauce and this is what I came up with:

Peanut Thai Noodles

Ingredients

  • 1 13.5 oz can full fat coconut milk (shake can well)
  • 1/8 cup roasted red curry paste
  • 2/3 cup natural peanut butter (salted)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 package rice noodles
  • 1 package extra-firm tofu (pressed)
  • 2 tablespoons oil (I used safflower because of its high smoke point)
  • 1 cup snap peas
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos, to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil
  2. Combine the first six ingredients (everything before the noodles) in a sauce pan and bring to an easy boil
  3. Reduce heat and whisk everything together as it warms up
  4. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn off heat
  5. Drizzle soy sauce or Bragg's Aminos on tofu and cut into bite-sized cubes
  6. Heat oil in a large sauté pan and drop in tofu for a quick fry when hot
  7. After a few minutes, when the tofu starts to crisp up, add the snap peas and cook for another two minutes
  8. Turn off heat and add in grated carrot
  9. Drop the noodles into the boiling water and allow to cook for about a minute or two- they only need to become soft and flexible
  10. Combine noodles, sauce, veggie/tofu mix and serve
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You could easily sub in chicken for the tofu if you'd like.
I really enjoyed this. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about a peanut sauce, but it worked out well. I reduced the amount of sugar dramatically based on other recipes I saw, and I think you could reduce the amount even more if you wanted. The coconut milk adds a really creamy texture to the sauce without adding any dairy, but keep in mind that it is not low-cal (and that you are going to fill up really quickly). You can find coconut milk in a can, as well as curry paste, in the international/ Asian section of most grocery stores. 
As you can see, I served this with an interesting looking salad. It was wakame (a variety of seaweed). I had a wakame salad at a sushi restaurant last month that I LOVED and I wanted to recreate. This did not taste good. And, to be honest, it smelled pretty gross when I was cooking it. Maybe that had something to do with my inability to eat more than one bite. Maybe that's a once-in-awhile-when-I'm-out kind of thing. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baked Kale Chips

Kale is super healthy.

It has a texture more substantial and hearty than spinach, and although it has a distinct flavor, its definitely less 'green' tasting.

If you haven't tried it yet, this recipe is a good place to start. I know for sure that my dad is particularly excited to try out some kale… :)

Kale + olive oil + salt finds its into my mouth at least once a week.

There are many varities of kale. The most availible to me are curly kale and lacinato (or dinosaur) kale. I've made this recipe with both, but primarily stick with curly kale because you get a little more crunch due to the shape. To start out, maybe choose lactino kale for a more traditional chip shape.

Curly kale

Baked Kale Chips

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt, to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325F
  2. Tear kale into bite-sized pieces and lay on baking sheet
  3. Drizzle with olive oil
  4. 'Massage' the olive oil into the kale for a full minute- each leaf should be glossy
  5. Sprinkle with salt. Go easy at first because the volume of the kale is going to decrease as it bakes
  6. Bake in oven at 325F for about 15 minutes. I usually check on the kale at about 10 minutes and either flip the leaves, or pull out some of the smaller leaves that have fully baked.
  7. After 15 minutes ensure that all of your kale pieces are crisp (if not, just pull out the ones that are and keep the others in for a bit) and enjoy as a snack or a side!
KaleCollage

Monday, January 14, 2013

Trip to the Corcoran

Months ago, Brian and I bought memberships to the Corcoran Gallery of Art through Living Social, but we never had a chance to go visit and take advantage of our free admission. When we heard that this weekend was supposed to be nice, we decided to take advantage of the weather and walk down to the museum and look around.

I wasn't sure what to expect, because I know the Corcoran features a lot of contemporary art exhibits. I tend to prefer Medieval and Early Renaissance and then  some Impressionists, so I was pretty excited to see that they had early American art and European art.
Early Ren
Corcoranart
What I was most impressed with, however, was how gorgeous the building itself was.
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Each room was different and it really complimented the different pieces. I loved the paint colors... especially in that turquoise room. The Corcoran is located downtown, pretty close to the White House, and I know that lately they've been facing some financial troubles and are looking are relocating to a new location. I really hope it doesn't come to that!

We spent most of our time in these galleries, and then we headed upstairs to browse the special exhibits before heading home.

I think I was inspired by the warmer weather (it was almost 50) and couldn't stop thinking about smoothies on the walk home.

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Brian had a banana/berry smoothie (frozen banana, frozen strawberries and raspberries, and milk) and I had a peanut butter oatmeal smoothie (frozen banana, peanut butter, oatmeal and chia seeds).

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Renovations

The blog is undergoing some major renovations over the next week or so before a relaunch- see you soon! Kim