Posts tagged ‘family’
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
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.
Nothing screams springtime like fresh ingredients and brightly colored veggies. As soon as the first warm day hits, I am craving salads, slaws, and anything on a grill. These fish tacos fit the bill perfectly! My boyfriend and I recently returned from an amazing Florida vacation, where we visited my grandparents and extended family, explored Ybor City in Tampa, and replenished our Vitamin D levels on the beach.
All of the sun kicked my veggie cravings into overdrive, and so I jumped at the opportunity to make a fun lunch for my grandparents!
Fish tacos seem to have become rather trendy these days, and come in several varieties. My requirements for a good fish taco are as follows: good grilled fish, not the fried stuff. Traditional corn tortillas, not flour. Avocado, in some form. Lots of cilantro. And a good, tangy, fresh cole slaw. Hold the mayo.
Simple, right? Still, many places don’t hold a candle to this homemade version. This recipe was inspired from bits and pieces of many that I have read, taking my favorite parts from all. Feel free to do the same with mine, or try out my version to let me know what you think!
16 corn tortillas
1 lb white fish fillets (use what is local to your region – I have used Cod in NE and tilapia in FL both with great results)
spices: paprika, chili powder, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, pepper
1 small head purple cabbage, finely sliced (you can also use green, but the color makes these fun)
1 bunch scallion, whites discarded
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp lime juice (I used from a bottle, but fresh is always fun!)
3 tbsp cilantro, finely minced
1 jalapeno, finely minced (use 2 if you like more heat)
for avocado cream:
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 tbsp minced cilantro
Assemble slaw first. Slice cabbage and scallions finely, then mince garlic and jalapenos. Combine with lime juice and minced cilantro. Add a pinch of salt if desired. Combine and refrigerate while preparing other components to allow flavors to combine.
Next, combine avocado, greek yogurt, and remaining cilantro in a food processor. Combine until very smooth. Cover in a small bowl and refrigerate.
Wrap corn tortillas in foil and place in oven to warm while cooking fish. Alternatively, place tortillas individually on a warm griddle after cooking fish for a crispier taco.
To prepare fish, begin by washing filets and patting dry. Season both sides with aforementioned spices according to taste. (More cayenne for the spice lovers, more paprika and chili powder for a deeper and sweeter flavor.) Salt and pepper to taste. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet with a cover. Add fish filets but do not crowd the pan. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes. Flip, then cook for an additional 3 minutes, or until fish is flaky and cooked through.
To assemble tacos, take warmed corn tortilla and spoon avocado cream across the bottom. Top with slaw and a small piece of fish. Fold in half and enjoy immediately!
I come from a long lineage of good cooks. My great-grandmother was a farmer’s wife and was famous for her Jell-o salad molds. My grandma put on seemingly effortless holiday dinners year after year. My mom is adventurous and instilled me with a creative passion in the kitchen. I am thankful for the lessons I have learned and recipes that have been handed down to me from each of these women! During my week in Florida, I got to spend a little bit of time with Grandma in the kitchen. She keeps up with my blog and says she has picked up a few ideas along the way!
I was honored to get to create a meal with her! As is our usual style, we looked in the fridge and pantry to see what was on hand and had to be used up. We found some zucchini, peppers, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, cannelloni beans, spinach and mushrooms. We sautéed some cubed chicken, added the veggies, and then added a few splashes of sherry cooking wine and Balsamic vinegar. We served this over quinoa, my Grandma’s new favorite grain, and added a bit of shredded Parmesan on top. The light and refreshing flavor of the veggies really shone through in this dish, enhanced by the vinegar. Plus, there was a lot of staying power thanks to all of the protein!
I also got to enjoy my family’s famous jambalaya! As you can see, I put my normal eating preferences on hold to allow for some family traditions, and this meal made it worth it! My uncle created this dish years ago during the days of family camping vacations in Cape May, NJ. We would have 3 adjacent campsites and cook huge family meals on outdoor camp stoves each night. This was great because it is one pot, hearty, and tasty! While I still do not know the exact family recipe, I did find out some secrets! As with any good stew, the base starts with onion, garlic, celery and peppers. After that softens, canned diced tomatoes and cubed chicken are added. Next, spicy andouille sausage enters the mix. This adds a huge amount of flavor and a nice punch of spice! After this has simmered for a while, the shrimp enters the pot. The secret ingredient: spicy V8 juice. This is the real trick to getting a nice, spicy tomato base! Added with the canned tomatoes, the extra spice really punches up the flavor as it simmers with all of the other ingredients. If you are anything like me or Uncle Dave, you will still have to add a bit of hot sauce to the mix to get it to your preferred spice level, but our family lets us do that in our own dish rather than the communal pot!
Question: Who has taught you the most about cooking?
Hello from sunny Florida! Even though this winter has been mild, there is still never a need to rationalize a week spent in the Florida sunshine. Add in a visit with your amazing grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousin, and then there is even more reason to escape to the sun! I have spent my mornings squeezing in some studying, afternoons soaking up some sun at the beach, and evenings running as my Grandma makes amazing dinners. I could get used to this! Here are some pictures from my Tuesday, and look forward to a travel post on Southwest Florida when I get home!
Grandma is an oatmeal fan as well, so I have still been able to enjoy my favorite breakfast! It is strawberry season in Plant City, FL, so the berries are abundant and cheap in the grocery store. I love them mixed in with some banana and cinnamon into plain oats!
We headed out early for the number 1 beach in the US: Siesta Key! If you don’t get there early, you are unlikely to get a parking spot, so we spent the morning reading and watching the beach slowly fill up. Nothing like a morning in the sun and a swim in the Gulf to work up an appetite! I enjoyed a great wrap: basil hummus, sunflower seeds, sun dred tomatoes, tomatoes, and baby spinach. We have been adding spinach or field greens to all of our sandwiches or wraps, and always include a toss salad with dinner to make sure we get in our greens! Lunch was rounded out with a handful or two of potato chips (I am on vacation!) an apple, and lots of water, of course!
After we got our fill of sun and sand, we headed to Nokomis Groves for their famous orange soft serve ice cream! This is one of my favorite parts of my visits to Florida. The orange-vanilla swirl cone is like a creamsicle, but better since it is made with fresh, Florida oranges. I was adventurous this time and got pineapple as the other swirled half and loved it! There is nothing better than a cone of soft serve ice cream on a hot afternoon.
My grandparents are well-traveled and love good food, so they like to be adventurous in trying restaurants. One of their favorite finds is the Curry Creek Cafe in Nokomis, FL. It is easy to pass by on the outside, but this place should not be missed. The cuisine is a fusion of classic Indonesian and Florida seafood, and the service is incredible.
We all started with a house salad, bread and olive tapenade. The salad is incredibly fresh and tasty, and the bread comes warmed from the oven.
For dinner, I enjoyed the Spicy Eggplant with Grouper cheeks, covered in an amazing spicy, tomato based sauce. Yes, that is from the fish’s head! My grandparents said that the grouper cheek is incredibly tender and well cooked at this restaurant, and so I had to be somewhat adventurous! This was incredibly spicy, but the rice and cool cucumber salad on the side tempered it. I could hardly put my fork down, this was so good! The chef himself came out to see how we liked our meal, and I tried to get the secret for the recipe I liked it so much!
We enjoyed watching the sunset over the inlet after dinner, a peaceful end to a day of beautiful weather and good eats! Hope that you are enjoying your week, whether it be routine or vacation!
Question: What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?
Yesterday was a very special occasion: I got to spend the day at home and meet my best friends’ brand new baby! I was lucky enough to have the day off from my scheduled clinical classes, so I drove home Monday night and am leaving bright and early today to head back for Boston! A quick trip indeed, but I made the most of my day! Here is a peak into a day where I’m not stuck behind my desk:
I woke up early to get some studying done, and so was already a cup of coffee and a few pages into studying before breakfast rolled around. I couldn’t pass up a family breakfast now, so I took a study break to enjoy some banana bread oatmeal with my parents before Dad left for work!
Mom took the day off, so we had a lunch date to the Loving Hut in Matawan, NJ. We were excited to try out a totally vegan lunch place, since Mom is trying to stick to a more plant-based diet since our vegan challenge. This lunch was a treat!
We split spring rolls for an appetizer – tofu, carrots, cucumber, and lettuce wrapped in rice paper with a peanut dipping sauce.
For lunch, we each ordered a sandwich and then traded halves. Mom got a Portobello panini, which came on a great seedy bread with avocado, a chipotle veganaise, and a side arugula salad. I ordered the Philly cheesesteak, which was soy sauce-marinated soy protein with mushrooms, onions, and a nutritional yeast vegan cheese sauce, served on a great toasty bun with sweet potato fries. We split the sandwiches and sides so we could try a bit of everything!
Since it was Valentine’s Day, we couldn’t pass up dessert, so we ordered a piece of Coconut Cake to share. It was a bit heavy for my tastebuds, but that didn’t stop us from polishing off our shared piece. Mom and I both agreed – all vegan food should be this flavorful and creative! If you live in NJ or near a Loving Hut, definitely check it out. There is some really great food to be tried!
I can’t mention meeting a little one without sharing some pictures! Baby Ben was the point of my visit home… It killed me to not be able to be home through labor, delivery, and get a chance to visit in the hospital, but it was nice to be able to be the first house guest! I got to spend an hour holding him as he slept, giving her time to unpack, change, and relax! I am so excited for both of my friends, and cannot believe that they are parents! I am honored to hold the title “Aunt Jen” and look forward to watching this cutie grow in front of our eyes!
After baby bonding, Mom and I spent some girl bonding time. We picked up some necessities at Costco, and then got manicures and pedicures. We came home to enjoy a glass of red wine while waiting for Dad for dinner!
After a large lunch, we kept dinner light and healthy. We roasted some broccoli and cauliflower with tumeric, garlic and onion, served with a side of brown rice pilaf (a mixture of brown rice, sprouted beans, leeks and pine nuts). My portion was pretty small after such a huge and filling lunch, but there were a few unpictured broccoli florets speared from my Dad’s plate!
A small dinner left room for a small dessert – a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream with sliced strawberries, enjoyed while watching Chopped with my mom. I’ll be a more studious med student
Question: Did you love your veggies and your sweets this Valentine’s Day? Who did you spend your day with?
You have seen my progress in the Vegan Challenge, and have occasionally heard from my parents and friend, but I thought I would give them a chance to share about their experience in their own words! One of the highlights of the month for me was recipe swapping with my mom. She taught me the basics of cooking and shared her passion of good food with me at a young age. I was excited to be able to share some of the tips I have picked up along the way with her, and am amazed by her creativity with vegan cooking! I hope you are as inspired by my mom as I am!
Somehow my daughter was able to talk my husband into going vegan for the month of January. I don’t think he really had any idea of what he was agreeing too, but I had wanted to try going vegan for some time. Some of my friends had done the Daniel Fast, a “spiritual fast” based on the book of Daniel in the Bible in which he ate only vegetables, fruits, and drank only water. A “side effect” of their fasting was weight loss. So needing to shed some pounds and really cleanse my body and mind, I thought, “Why not join him in this challenge?!” So during the Christmas holidays, with help from my already vegetarian daughter, I prepared both my mind and my kitchen for the challenge. She gave me tips on how to incorporate protein into each of our meals so that we wouldn’t go hungry. I stocked my kitchen cabinets with beans, quinoa, and rice and my refrigerator with fresh vegetables and fruits. I had recently started getting a weekly delivery of organic fruits and vegetables which proved to be a huge help during the challenge. She took me to Whole Foods and taught me how to read labels to find all those hidden sources of off limit ingredients and introduced me to tofu and tempeh. I replaced cow’s milk with almond milk–which I now absolutely love and will not go back to milk. We even found some different coconut creamers for my husband’s coffee in the morning.
For breakfast, I made oatmeal with a variety of different fruit mixed in. I took Jen’s advice and made sure to add either almond milk or sometimes peanut butter to give the oatmeal some protein. On the weekends, when I would normally have loved scrambled eggs, I began making hash brown potatoes, something I learned from my younger daughter. On a recent Saturday morning, I shredded some sweet potatoes I had gotten in my organics box, added some onions and black beans, and fried them in olive oil for a delicious and filling breakfast! I discovered a love for hummus at lunchtime, which also helped to keep me full. My favorite quick lunch is spread some hummus on a wrap, add some mixed salad greens and diced cucumbers or any leftover grilled vegetables. Fabulous! I had a lot of fun finding new recipes and enjoying all the things that I could eat. That was the best advice that Jen gave me at the start of the challenge. It was never about what I couldn’t have but making the most of what I could have. I made homemade pizza with caramelized onions, roasted artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers for a topping—I didn’t even miss the cheese. I made chili with sweet potatoes instead of meat. I even made a vegan macaroni and cheese using butternut squash and some nutritional yeast to make the “cheese sauce”.
So, after my thirty days as a vegan, I definitely feel better and lost 12 pounds in the process. I learned a lot about healthy eating and filling my body with good food. It definitely takes a bit more planning and preparation to be vegan and social settings are definitely hard. I had friends over for dinner during the challenge and fearing that they would have to be satisfied with a weird vegan dinner, the men all admitted to having eaten meat or chicken BEFORE they came over to eat my vegan food. So I do agree with Jen, being Vegan with Benefits is much easier. That’s pretty much what I have been doing (significantly reducing my meat and dairy intake) since the challenge ended as well and plan to continue doing, although I do admit to having some pepperoni pizza while cheering the Giants to victory over the Patriots in the Superbowl this past weekend! So thanks, Jen, for the encouragement and support in helping me succeed in this challenge!
The question still remains: how did Dad fare? Well, he has been busy with a snowmobiling and business trip, but I will try to wrangle a paragraph or two of thoughts from him as soon as I can! Looking at the pictures of what my mom cooked throughout the month, I can assure you he didn’t starve!
Please tell me that Bon Jovi immediately popped into your head when you saw the title of this post. No? Just me? Great, well now that’s out of the way… We are already halfway through our vegan challenge, and there already some exciting results to share! First, I’ll let my friends and family do the talking, and then I’ll add my two cents at the end.
I am still in shock that we are two days into the challenge and my dad is still pretty enthusiastic! He proudly recounted all of the fruits and veggies he ate on his first day as a vegan, and even went for a walk with my mom! My mom is a great cook, so I think my dad is realizing that he won’t starve and is beginning to calm down a bit. I asked my parents and friend to answer a few questions for me at the beginning stages of our challenge, and am excited to see how their feelings change as we progress throughout the month!
1. What made you accept this challenge?
Dad: For my heart, and Jen. (Aw, thanks Dad)
Mom: Do you really think Dad could do this on his own?! (So true, Mom)
Dan: I am addicted to the phrase, “challenge accepted.” (It is that competitive spirit that landed us in a triathlon last summer!)
2. What are you most looking forward to this month as a vegan?
Mom and Dad are both looking to lose a bit of weight and have more energy
Dan: February 2nd. (Positive attitude, there, buddy. Nice ;)
3. What are you most concerned about?
Mom: making good food choices on busy days
Dad: Mac Attack
Dan: Jen’s tempestuous malicious jolly making should I fail.
4. Do you think you will be able to last the whole month? 3 resounding yes’s!
5. What one item will you miss the most?
Dan: well, pretty much everything.
It looks like everyone is feeling pretty good at the beginning! I am still chuckling at some of Dad and Dan’s responses – they are being pretty good sports! Even if they aren’t looking forward to it, they are too competitive to back out now!
Question: What would be the hardest thing for you to give up if you started to eat vegan?
My mom made it very clear to my sister and I that she did not want us to get her a Christmas present this year. Since both of us are still poor students and on the family “pay roll,” she didn’t want us spending money on her and my dad. “My gift is having both of you home,” she said over and over again. Cute, Mom, but we weren’t buying it. We couldn’t do nothing, considering everything you do for us! We decided to give them the gift of food: a gourmet dinner at home, cooked by us. We wanted them to have something to unwrap, so we got creative and stenciled some placemats and wine glasses as well. We set the table with our gifts and got to cooking!
Appetizer: Petite Beef Wellington and a Cucumber Gin and Tonic
My Food Network addiction finally paid off! I saw this recipe last year, and the idea stuck with me when my sister and I were brainstorming an appetizer that would thrill my dad. He is a meat lover, and so we knew our Christmas present had to present at least a few morsels of beef. With sauteed mushrooms and shallots wrapped with a bite of beef in puff pastry, this appetizer was a hit! The recipe is simple, with just 5 ingredients, and can be found here. Since this appetizer was Dad-inspired, we knew a gin and tonic was in order! To take it to another level, we mashed some cucumbers into the gin and let them sit for a half hour. We strained them from the gin, and then mixed a standard gin and tonic. The cucumbers really shone through, and added a nice twist to my dad’s classic favorite.
Salad: Warm Beets and Goat Cheese over Baby Spinach
Nothing is better than warm beets with baby spinach. We chopped the beets and roasted them with olive oil, salt and pepper for about an hour. We spooned them over a bowl of baby spinach leaves with crumbled goat cheese, olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, and cracked black pepper. The warm beets made the goat cheese melt in your mouth, and the spinach was tender and amazing. I would eat this salad every day if I could!
Entrée: Lobster Ravioli with Vodka Cream Sauce
We flew by the seat of our pants for this part of the meal! We cooked two lobster tails, chopped them, added them to melted butter and some reduced white wine, stirred in some sauteed shallots and grated Parmesan cheese, and allowed it to simmer for a minute or two. The filling was not quite thick enough for ravioli, so we made a roux of flour with a bit of milk, and that thickened the filling perfectly. We spooned that onto sheets of fresh pasta dough, and cut out the ravioli. My sister made a vodka cream sauce that complemented it perfectly. She doesn’t follow a recipe for this sauce, telling me that she “cooks by color.” The base of the sauce was sauteed onion and garlic with a bit of vodka. After the alcohol cooked off, she added some tomato puree and paste, seasoned it, and added light cream until it was the perfect reddish-pink. We spooned the sauce over three cooked ravioli and served it with a touch more of shredded cheese. Another hit! My sister and I are perfectionists, and so we were disappointed that the lobster was a little chewy and overcooked. However, the flavor of the filling for the ravioli was amazing, and the sauce my sister created was a highlight. My parents loved it!
Dessert: Rum Poached Pears with Dulce de Leche Ice Cream
As good as the rest of the meal was, this was the true highlight! We found a great recipe at Baking Bites, and followed it exactly (with just a 1/2 cup less sugar). The pears were so sweet and took up the rum and vanilla flavors, and practically fell apart in your mouth . We reduced the rest of the liquid to make a caramel sauce, and then served the melt-in-your-mouth pears with a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream. We wanted to serve them with egg nog ice cream, but couldn’t find any at the grocery store! (We know this exists out there somewhere, my sister has definitely seen that flavor before!) Our game plan was to use creme brulee ice cream instead, but a brain fart during my grocery run led to my picking up dulce de leche. Still a great combo with the pears, though! Next Christmas, maybe someone will ask for an ice cream maker so we can make our own eggnog ice cream! ;)
The meal was a success, and it has been another great Christmas with my family. I am so thankful for this past year, with all of its highs and lows, new experiences, and great memories. Now that our Christmas celebrations are over, we can look forward to the next year!