written by Jen
Thanksgiving has to be one of my favorite holidays. Growing up in a family of fantastic home cooks has always meant some pretty spectacular feasts. As a kid, Thanksgiving was always held at my maternal Grandmother’s house. We would start with Sweet Potato soup, a pureed soup similar to butternut squash soup but slightly thicker. Turkey was, of course, a highlight, but her creamy garlic mashed potatoes stole the show. After they retired to Florida, my mom took over hosting this holiday meal. Several new traditions were born, including a flavorful Cranberry-Apricot sauce and a crowd-pleasing French Bread Stuffing with Fennel and Sausage (both adapted from a Cooking Light cookbook). This year, I have the honor of hosting Thanksgiving in my Boston home. I will be keeping some traditions, as well as finding my own signature contribution. Here is a preview of some things that have caught Chelsea and my
eyes stomachs, all brought to you from fellow bloggers!
Quinoa Salad with Butternut Squash, Dried Cranberries & Pepitas by Two Peas & Their Pod
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon by My Kitchen College
Honey Butter Pumpkin Dinner Rolls by Averie Cooks
Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon & Apples by Little Pink Monster
Bourbon Apple Sangria by Climbing Grier Mountain
Hello! This is Jen, back for a quick post born out of a slow and reflective Saturday. My sister has done an AMAZING job with her last few posts, and has been brainstorming a few more ideas she has to share. I am so happy to share this creative arena with her, and am proud of her recent accomplishments in obtaining her board certification in Music Therapy! We are looking forward to a family Thanksgiving this year, that I will be hosting in Boston for the first time! I am sure that my sister and I will tag team a few posts featuring some of our family’s favorite holiday recipes and some that we are looking forward to trying! For now, I am excited to share some reflections that cooking has taught me about life.
1. It is okay to eat pizza and drink beer at the end of a really long week.
Currently, my fridge looks more like memories of my fiance’s college beer fridge than my normal, well-stocked produce preserver. This is a result of a LOT of recent traveling. Last week alone, I drove 650 miles, interviewed at 5 residency programs in 4 cities, and picked out the menu for my wedding. By the time Friday rolled around, I was exhausted. After a really brief trip to the gym, all I could think of doing was ordering a pizza, having a beer, and not moving for at least 12 hours. That is what I needed to recover in preparation for another tiring round of interviews, and so that is what I did.
Too often, I become regimented in life, and in eating. I feel guilty about my only vegetables for the day coming in the form of baby carrots on the fly or on top of my take-out pizza. I feel guilty for not filling my free minutes and hours with friends I haven’t talked to in weeks or chores that are slowly piling up. I am learning that, every once in a while, it is ok to just let go. Eat pizza. Sleep in. And refresh and recover, so that the minutes you do spend with friends and family are more enjoyable.
2. The more you learn, the more you realize that there is to know.
While I have spent a lot of time cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, there is still an entire world of cooking knowledge that I have yet to acquire. Similarly, I have spent the last 8 years of my life in higher education pursuing the now-near goal of becoming a physician. However, I know only the tip of the iceberg about medicine and patient care. I will spend the next 3 years in residency learning how to be a family physician, and then the rest of my life reading, practicing and growing that knowledge base. One question answered means that ten more are raised, both in and outside of the kitchen.
3. Some of the best meals, and the best parts of life, require patience…
Some of the best things that have come out of my kitchen involve slowing down and paying attention to details. I love making homemade pasta and ravioli, and continue to hone my skills in this art. My most exciting purchase this fall is a pasta drying stand – I have only used it once, but it has so much untouched potential! Since incorporating meat back into my diet, I have also fell in love with braising techniques. My fiance proudly advertises that my version of this Greek Lamb with Orzo by Frugal Feeding is better than a local restaurant’s.
Similarly, as with these meals, some of the best things in life are worth waiting for. Right now, I seem to be in a season of waiting. Waiting for my fiance to hear back about medical school acceptances. Waiting to finish my last year of medical school. Waiting to match at the right residency program. Waiting to get married. Waiting to start the next chapter of my life. All of these are incredible blessings, and will be worth the wait. Cooking slowly and waiting for the delicious results has taught me the importance of patience in the process.
4. And sometimes you just need instant gratification.
While homemade pasta and braised lamb have their place, so do quick meals and snacks. In this season of waiting, I have learned that there is also a place for instant gratification. This weekend, I needed to get my hands dirty in the kitchen. With an empty fridge and no desire to get out to the grocery store, I looked to my pantry for something quick and easy to make. I settled on Chocolate Covered Katie’s Healthy Nutella. If you haven’t made your own nut butters before, try it now. All you need are 15 minutes and a food processor! I love this drizzled on apples, but would also be great on toast in the morning!
5. You have to learn how to go with the flow.
In my need for instant gratification today, I decided to make Apple Butter Bread. I had some leftover Homemade Apple Butter that I knew would not get eaten on time, but no eggs and no loaf pan. Instead of finding another recipe, I simply replaced the egg with ground flax-seed, and turned the loaf cake into muffins by reducing the cooking time to 20 minutes. The result? Delicious. Sweet enough to be a dessert, but also healthy enough (sans glaze) to sneak into breakfast. Not only does this flexibility matter when cooking and baking, it also matters in life. Even the best planned schedules fall prey to life. Responding calmly and thinking of alternative strategies can help even the worst days run more smoothly.
Question: What life lessons have you learned in the kitchen?
Ok, so here’s my first attempt at a recipe post. I have made this sandwich for lunch three times this week and bragged to Jen about it so she encouraged me to share it as my first post!
So, who doesn’t love grilled cheese? There is something so remarkably comforting about a simple grilled cheese sandwich, especially when paired with a bowl of tomato soup. I also love the flavor combinations of Greek food, especially Tziki sauce. I was inspired to make this sandwich from a post I saw on Pinterest.
I love to make my own Tziki dip, but who wants to do all that work for a quick lunch sandwich, so I came up with a cheater to still get the flavor. This sandwich combines all the flavors I love, pumpernickel bread, cucumber, dill, and goat cheese, which packs a punch with flavor.
To begin, I weighed my goat cheese on a kitchen scale. It is easy to completely load or sandwiches up with unnecessary fat and calories, and until you have a great understanding of servings, this is the easiest suggestion to monitor calorie intake. You may be surprised with how much you end up with, a serving often being larger or smaller than you think. After weighing out an ounce of cheese, I popped it in the microwave for 10 seconds to make if more spreadable. You can skip this step if you leave the cheese sitting on the counter for a little bit, but let’s be honest, who thinks that far ahead? I know when I’m hungry, it is time to make that sandwich and eat it!I This makes the cheese wonderfully spreadable. Then layer the cucumbers up on top of the cheese. This is the fun part. No measuring, just as much as you desire. Nobody got fat by eating too many vegetables! I personally prefer my cucumbers sliced very thinly so I can pile them up higher and feel like there is more on there, but feel free to cut to your desire! I also peeled my cucumber, simply because it is on it’s way out of being good (frugality at its finest!) On this particular sandwich I photographed I do feel like I would have liked more cucumbers. Live and learn!
On the other piece of bread I make my quick tziki. I simply spread a thin layer of greek yogurt on the other piece of bread, sprinkled some onion powder and dill. These flavors combined with cucumber very successfully imitates the tziki flavor, though I will post the recipe at a later time, being that it is one of my favorite dips to make for veggies. After the sandwich was assembled, I sprayed both sides with cooking spray. This way, you achieve the buttery flavor on the outside without loading up on the calories of spreading butter all over. It also helps crisp up the bread. I cooked my sandwich on my George Foreman grill because I like the lines and even texture it gives, but there is nothing stopped you from throwing it in a frying pan the old fashioned way!
I accompanied my sandwich with a bunch of plain baby carrots. For me it added the crunch and sweetness I needed to feel completely full and satisfied. If you are counting calories or doing WeightWatchers, this entire sandwich is 7 points, mostly due to the pumpernickel bread which is 2 points a slice, but feel free to find a different brand!
Goat Cheese and Cucumber Grilled Cheese
serves 1, 7 points total
2 slices pumpernickel bread
cucumber (however much you desire)
1 ounce goat cheese
1 tsp Greek yogurt
1 tsp dill
1 tsp onion powder
2 sprays cooking spray
My sister is my best friend. Always has been always will be. We have been through everything together. From the day I was born, my sister was my watcher, my guardian. She thought I was her own personal baby doll that our parents created special for her to play with. My sister was my influence, whether it getting into trouble eating mom’s spices or playing “IFF” in the bathroom mixing chemicals, or my inspiration to do the best I can in school and life. My sister is the strongest woman I know. She was born with a one in a million birth defect leaving her to endure an absurd amount of surgeries. Despite the struggles and scars on her face, my sister has never thought of herself as different. Our mom tells a story about after one of Jen’s surgeries Jen looked into the mirror and saw her bruised and scarred face, which would have scared most children. Jen, always sunny and sparkling, smiled and said, “Mommy said it would be ok, it will all be better soon” and went on playing. She developed into a woman with not only a beautiful soul, but a beautiful exterior as well. My sister has taught me some of the most important lessons in my life. She has encouraged me to be a strong independent woman. She taught me how to be serious and determined, but also how to be the silliest person and let my freak flag fly. We have gone through everything together, and it is no surprise that we are now planning our weddings together! She has demonstrated her incredible faith in God through every challenge in her life, and also through every celebration. She is my constant reminder that nothing life throws at you is big enough to stop you. With faith in God and a strong supportive family, nothing can stop you. My sister is my best friend and my inspiration.
If you haven’t noticed yet, this isn’t Jen, this is her little sister and biggest admirer, Chelsea. As you can imagine, Jen is phenomenally busy keeping up with her 4th year of medical school, going to residency interviews (because of course everyone wants her so she has like 20 in the next few months) and planning a wedding with the love of her life. As I said, Jen has always been my biggest influence and inspiration. While most people say their mom and grandmother taught them to cook, I really credit my sister for teaching me to cook. Sure my mom taught me the basics, but my sister showed me the excitement and creativity in cooking. I remember when she came to visit me my sophomore year of college when I finally had a tiny kitchenette. We trudged over to the local grocery store and collected food to make a vegetable primavera dish. The space was so small, we had to cut the vegetables up on a cutting board set on a chair. We made a make shift table in the center of the tiny room and enjoyed our dinner together. The food was delicious, but more importantly, this was the turning point in when I discovered the fun in cooking. This has spurred me to believe I am always on “Chopped” and have fun creating all sorts of different creations, many from Jen’s blog. Since Jen is so busy and doesn’t have the time right now, I thought it might be fun to post a few posts for her.
So you know my sister, and have read some stories about me, but I figured I’d tell a little about myself. Recently I discovered I have an under-active thyroid. This has contributed to a large decrease in energy, and also some weight gain. My sister has been my biggest advocate in seeking proper treatment and also my coach in making healthy decisions to help keep my energy up and my weight down. I am proud to say that in the past 3 weeks, I have lost 3 pounds. Now this doesn’t sound like a huge accomplishment to most, but to me it is the world. After gaining nearly 25 pounds in 6 months without altering my lifestyle, I am happy my weight is going anywhere but up. And if it is a pound a week, I will be back to my slim happy self by the time my beautiful sister gets married. I also just recently graduated college at the end of August and passed my board certification exam to become a music therapist at the end of September. So I am now patiently (not really, but trying) waiting for the right job to come along, while embracing my lifestyle of being a housewife to my wonderful fiance, Mike, and raising my adorable puppy, Archer. I am not a vegetarian like my sister, so most of my dishes posted will probably contain meat. But right now, my focus is on healthy, low fat foods. I have a rehearsal dinner to attend tonight, so you can look for my first food post tomorrow. I’m excited to be apart of Jen’s blog, which has inspired me and many for years, and I do hope to be able to keep up with the high level of cuisine that she has previously posted!
I have also never blogged and am admittedly not the most tech savvy person. I prefer to stick to my acoustic guitar and piano. This being said, bear with me as I figure out this blogging thing.
If you haven’t noticed, I am rather passionate about those three words in the title. Food should be simple, healthy, and delicious. Simply put. I often feel like a broken record, but there are times where even I forget that. When life gets busy, take-out seems easier. Healthy seems to fall by the wayside. Delicious seems like a luxury.
I have been doing lots of reading and research for school about talking with and educating patients about nutrition and developing healthy lifestyle habits. It is remarkable how ineffective we as a medical community have been at focusing on prevention of chronic disease! As I read more about the “standard American diet,” often pithily labeled the “SAD” diet, I think that the lack of nutrition in the average diet can’t all be related to lack of access or knowledge. I often think that healthy eating, generally, feels the opposite of the things above. Prepping fruits and vegetables does not feel simple. It is time-consuming and takes planning and thought. Kale also isn’t always the most appetizing, even for the biggest veggie enthusiast. So… how do we find a way to unify these words again?
Take some short cuts every once in a while! I recently discovered the pre-cut items at Trader Joe’s and have instantly fallen in love. (I know, I catch on slowly.) Broccoli slaw, spinach, kale… you name it! Cut, washed and ready to go, there isn’t an easier way to get greens on your dinner plate! While the bag of kale will be marked up compared to a bunch of it, the time savings is often worth it. So that takes care of the simple, now what about the healthy? Trader Joe’s (and Costco!) also have a great line of flavorful chicken sausages that add tons of interest to any simple meal! I really like the Chipotle Mango Chicken sausage, but my favorite is the Spinach and Red Pepper Chicken sausage (from Costco). There is so much flavor packed into each bite of these sausages that a lot of the work in finishing off your delicious meal is done for you! Try out the recipe below- packed with protein, fiber, and flavor, there is no better quick fix to get greens on your weeknight dinner table!
Are you as convinced as I am that food should meet all of those three criteria? Then share with me your tips and tricks for making healthy eating simple and delicious!
Chicken Sausage, Kale and Quinoa Salad
1/2 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
1 cup quinoa
1 cup low sodium vegetable broth (or chicken)
1 cup water
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 Roasted Red Pepper and Spinach Chicken sausage links
Parmesan cheese, to serve
In a medium saucepan, saute garlic and onion in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes or until soft. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and stir for 1 minute. Add the quinoa, then stir for about 3 minutes or until the quinoa is well toasted. Add the water, broth, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until the quinoa is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Meanwhile, steam the kale until just before it is soft. (I microwaved it with a bit of water for 3 minutes). Also cook the chicken sausage links in a frying or grill pan until crispy on the outside and heated through. Slice the chicken sausage links into bite-sized rounds. Stir together the quinoa, cooked kale and chicken sausage until well-combined. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Summer happened overnight in Boston, it seems. It has been warmer here than it has been in Southwest FL for the past few days! Now that is hot. When my thermostat reads 88F INSIDE the house, there is absolutely no way you can convince me to turn the stove on for longer than absolutely necessary, let alone even think about using the oven. I have survived 4 Boston summers with no A/C, but if it stays this hot for much longer I might break!
To beat the heat, I end up eating a lot of salads in the summer. While I love my leafy greens, salads don’t have to be so monotonous. Here are some of the things I have been making lately:
A lovely, multi-colored, Mexican-inspired salad that is sure to brighten up any meal. I mixed mine all together right away and have enjoyed it for lunch for the past few days. You can eat it plain, serve it as a side for taco night, or even fill a tortilla with it! For those of you afraid of the long ingredient list, most of the work is just simple veggie chopping! Jicama is the most unfamiliar ingredient, but is a wonderful, naturally sweet, tropical starch-y vegetable that adds great crunch and flavor. I can see this recipe easily becoming a summertime lunch staple! I think it would be fun to turn it into a layered jar salad the next time I make it!
Who said fruit salads are just for dessert? This Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad also makes for another great lunch salad! The lemon-basil dressing is refreshing, and the blueberries and mangoes are unexpected but delicious. This is a must-make for any fruit lover!
The last summer salad I made to go along with these delicious Chipotle Shrimp Burritos with Avocado Crema. I would highly recommend these burritos – simple, spicy, and flavorful. I cheated on the avocado crema and simply mixed a store-bought packet of guacamole with a spoonful of Greek yogurt, some extra cilantro and lime. To balance out the spicy shrimp, I kept the salad on the lighter side. This literally came together with the odds and ends left in my fridge, freezer and pantry from the week! The palmitos are acidic, soft, and refreshing. The edamame provides protein and substance, and the corn has a great natural sweetness. The dressing is heavy on lime, giving it a nice, fresh summer flavor. It reminds me of a grown-up version of succotash with a little South American flavor. It could easily be made into a main meal by adding some avocado and increasing the portion size!
Question: How do you stay cool on hot summer days? My favorite response from a friend: “I eat popsicles in my underwear.”
serves 3-4 as a side dish
1 can hearts of palm (palmitos), drained and sliced
1 1/2 cups shelled edamame, cooked according to package instructions
2 ears corn, steamed (about 1 1/2 cups if using frozen)
1 cup loosely packed cilantro, minced
3 scallions, greens and whites, sliced
3 limes, juiced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp salt and garlic powder (or to taste)
Cook the edamame according to package instructions. Allow to cool. Steam the corn for 3-4 minutes. Once cool, cut the kernels from the cob. Mix the corn, edamame, and sliced palmitos together in a bowl. Add the sliced scallions and minced cilantro. Whisk together dressing of lime juice, olive oil, and rice wine vinegar. Season to taste with salt and garlic powder, then stir to combine. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
You guys remember my awesome roommate, right? She has made her appearance a few times on this blog, mostly during our crazy roommate dinner adventures… You may recall the voluminous winter melon soup mishap or this tasty sugar-free apple crisp we created together. She is getting married in less than a month (yay!) and I was excited to think of creative ways to make her feel loved for her bridal shower a week ago.
First, the non-food details! I had the week leading up to the shower off from school and studying, and so unleashed a bit of my crafty side in making these party favors. The small potted plants were her original idea for wedding favors, but the dirt and the size made them a bit impractical at her venue. Since we held her bridal shower in a park, I decided to make her idea a reality! The 4-inch pots are cheap, about $1 each at the hardware store. The flowers were also bundled in bulk, and so came at a steep discount. The signs also came together easily with some cardstock, popsicle sticks, and gel pens. My grandma and sister were a great help and sat for an hour on the patio with me, making each of the 25 “Let Love Grow Wild” signs in assembly line fashion. I think they came out well, and everyone loved them!
Another paper craft, this time made by a good friend’s mom. On the shower invitations, we asked everyone to bring a recipe for my roommate and her fiance to try out in their new kitchen! We gave her this book to help organize the recipes she has collected, as well as her new ones to try! This book is brilliant: there are blank cardstock pages to paste in printed recipes or ones cut out from magazines, and there are envelopes to store cards from friends and relatives. I have one of my own and I love it! I use it often to write down what I am making for the blog, which helps me to stay organized. If you are interested in getting one for yourself, contact Debbie at Life Is A Special Occasion (email@example.com)!
Now, onto the food. Since it was an afternoon affair, we served light picnic fair. I picked up a veggie platter at Costco, enlisted my wonderful boyfriend to carve me a watermelon basket for fruit salad, and threw together a quick Greek pasta salad. This salad has no mayonnaise, which makes it an ideal picnic and cookout side without fear of food poisoning. It also has some great bold flavors from the onions, feta, and olives. The dressing, borrowed from Ina Garten, brings the whole salad together. I made this in bulk, but halved the recipe below for more family-style cooking. If you are confused on the quantity of ingredients, I used entire standard-size jars of each ingredient labeled in ounces for the bulk recipe. (For example, a 6-oz jar of olives.)
Use your creative license with this salad – add some chickpeas, stir in some celery. Make it yours and bring it to your next summer party!
Greek Pasta Salad
1 boxes whole wheat elbow macaroni
3 oz pitted kalamata olives, drained and sliced
6 oz roasted red peppers, drained and diced
5 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
1/2 c feta
1 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (1/2 tbsp fresh)
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Meanwhile, slice the olives, red peppers and red onions and add to a large mixing bowl. Quarter the cherry tomatoes and chop the artichoke hearts; add to the bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix together the garlic, herbs, oil and vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the vegetables. Stir to combine. Add the dressing and stir until well coated. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, then add the feta. Serve cold or at room temperature.