Posts tagged ‘healthy’

So Long Sweet Summer

Happy Labor Day Weekend Friends! This weekend traditionally marks the unofficial end of summer or, to anyone who grew up near the beach, the end of shore traffic. This summer has certainly been eventful, though not in ways it has been in the past. While I haven’t taken any vacations or blogged very much, I do feel quite accomplished. I started my intern year, “caught” more than 20 babies, and did not catch the “peds virus.” I have settled into my new roles of wife and doctor, as well as into my new house and city. I have found new friends and a new church, and have explored some of the surrounding area with my loving husband and puppy.

And I have cooked. A lot. I have fully embraced trying to eat as locally and seasonally as possible, and am loving every minute of it. Since no summer meal is complete without tomatoes, zucchini or corn, here is a mini-roundup of some of my summer favorites! Hopefully you can still find some great tomatoes and zucchini in your garden or farmers market before fall is officially upon us!

Zucchini Fritters

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Fresh Pasta with Blistered Tomatoes and Eggs

Gnocchi Skillet with Blistered Tomatoes

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Tomato and Zucchini Frittata

August 30, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Farmers Market Finds

Farmers Markets were not something I frequented while living in Boston. While there were some great ones to choose from, I was intimidated by the crowds and the price tag. Since moving, however, Dan and I have become major converts to all of the fun, fresh, local ingredients that you can find at the market. While certain items can still be pricey, there can be some great deals on seasonal fruits and vegetables that all begged to be picked at once. We have also learned that there are some things that are worth the extra dollar or two! The best part is getting to know the vendors and supporting local business. We are on first name basis now with “The Egg Lady” and know who has the best tasting tomatoes or the best prices on lettuce. We go every weekend that I have off for some staples (eggs, seasonal vegetables, and occasionally some local berries or peaches) and allow ourselves one splurge per visit (usually locally-raised meat, fancy cheese, a bottle of local wine, etc.)

Here are some of the things we have found lately!

Staples: Seasonal Green Vegetables

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One of my menu planning strategies is to not plan my vegetable sides. Why? This allows me to look for deals on what looks best or has the best price at the market. I am able to make a list generated by the main component of the meal for the grocery store, and then make sure I pick up 4-5 varieties of vegetables to accompany my meals for the week! Some of my farmers market favorites are zucchini, sweet corn, and lettuce, as these are low-fuss to prepare during the week and are usually abundant. The most notable find, however, was this gigantic bunch of kale grown by the local middle school gardening club that I picked up for just $2!

Worth it: Eggs

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Farm fresh eggs are worth every extra penny, in our opinion. Not only do the chickens that lay them live a happier and healthier life, but the resultant quality of the eggs is incomparable to anything you could get in the grocery store. Not a believer at first, my husband directly compared a cage free, organic egg from Trader Joe’s to one from our favorite vendor at the Delmar Farmer’s Market. While the egg at Trader Joe’s was sunshine yellow, there was no comparison to the golden yolk that came from the farm fresh egg. The egg whites are also less runny, which means that our fried eggs are much easier to cook perfectly. He is now such a convert that we are now on first name basis with the egg vendor, and may even head to their farm one weekend to meet the chickens and pick our own dozen!

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Not convinced? Here is a picture of our typical Sunday morning breakfast. Drool.

Treat yourself: Flowers

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For weeks, I had been eyeing the gorgeous zinnias and dahlias, lusting after the gorgeous colors. While flowers are never cheap, some farmers market bunches can run upwards of $10 for a small bouquet. Since they are not a necessity in our weekly budget, I held out for the perfect occasion to splurge on these beauties. Finally getting the new table that my sister and brother-in-law hand-crafted for me seemed like the perfect occasion!

Putting it all Together: My Favorite Meal

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One of my favorite meals from the summer is actually one of our simplest. We put together a salad from the bounty we had picked up at the market the day before, and boy was it good! The base was a baby lettuce blend with arugula, topped off with cucumbers, local aged goat-milk cheese, and a poached egg. I also threw in a handful of sweet strawberries that we picked ourselves at a local farm, and finished the salad with a simple balsamic vinegar reduction. I wish salads always tasted this good!

Question: Are you a farmers market fan? Share some tips and favorite finds below!

August 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

Meal Planning

Hello Friends! I am proud to announce that I survived my first week of residency! After finally feeling adjusted to life in our new house as newlyweds, we are going through another series of changes with the start of my intern year. I am starting off on one of my more taxing inpatient rotations, which means long hours and 1-day weekends. My husband has been very helpful with pitching in to do some cooking and general house up-keep, but being in the kitchen is still very therapeutic when I have the time! We have started loosely planning our meals for the next week on Saturday or Sunday to help us stay within our food budget and waste less food. This also helps guide us when we are grocery shopping! We have been doing this for a month now with great success, so I wanted to share some tips that have really helped us. If there are any veteran meal planners out there, I would love to know some tips that help you stay on track!

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1. Write it out
We use two chalkboard canvases (leftover from our wedding) to catalogue what our plans for the week are, what meats/staples we have in the freezer, and what homemade meals we have frozen away for really busy nights! They hang right next to the fridge so that we always know what we have around.
2. Plan for the main dish, but keep a loose idea of the sides
We tend to plan only the main theme, or central dish. For example, I will plan to make marinated chicken, but will decide on the vegetable to serve on the side when I get to the farmer’s market or grocery store and see what looks freshest or on sale. This way, my grocery list ends up being staples (meat, beans, lemons, eggs, grains) plus 5-6 vegetables and 2-3 fruits.
3. Pick seasonal meals
This sort of goes with what I mentioned above, but you can save money and get better tasting ingredients if you plan your meals in concordance with the season. For example, my husband loves this Israeli Cous Cous salad, but we only make it in the spring and summer when squash and cherry tomatoes are in abundance. In contrast, hearty chilis and bean soups simmer and heat up the house while cooking on a hot summer day.
4. Plan with ingredients that you can buy/prepare in bulk.
For example, we are big brown rice eaters. At least 2-3 of our meals per week will be served with brown rice. Instead of making rice every night, we make it once and then keep it in our rice cooker for the next few days. In order for the rice to stay fresh, we try to plan to have the meals that go best with rice in a row.
5. Always buy salad greens.
As a veggie advocate, having fresh lettuce on hand for quick salads is the best way to ensure that something fresh and green makes it to the table on even the busiest of nights. Even with the best pre-planning, life happens and salads are the easiest, albeit not always the most exciting, way to get your veggies in.
6. Plan at least one meal with lunch leftovers.
We are lucky enough as a family of two to often get lunch leftovers out of most of our dinners. If your family is larger, though, plan for one meal that makes great leftovers. Vegetarian bean dishes, lentil salads, pasta salads, and curries tend to be our favorite to eat the next day!
7. Be flexible.
If you know that things frequently come up in your week or you often find yourself with unused ingredients in the fridge by Friday, build in some wiggle room. For example, we always plan for a date night, and frequently leave one more night “unplanned,” leaving room for impromptu dinners with friends or pantry creations.

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This is some of what we have learned so far. Any other thoughts or things that you have found to work for your family or lifestyle? Share in the comments section!

July 6, 2014 at 1:42 pm 2 comments

Summer BBQ

Everyone has a slightly different meaning of appropriate cook-out foods depending on your cultural and regional backgrounds. Growing up in NJ, a summer BBQ always meant hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and chips. To my husband, who was born in Brazil, no cook-out is complete without linguica (Brazilian sausage) and short ribs. I have also heard that BBQ and cook-out can signal two totally different affairs if you are from the southern US.

No matter what, it is hard to disagree that anything off the grill just screams summer. My husband got a new Weber charcoal grill for his birthday yesterday, so we are excited to have many grilled treats this summer. Here are some of my favorite summer recipes for the grill. These are all perfect for any special graduation celebrations or Memorial Day BBQs coming up!

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Homemade Shake Shack – Two Ways

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Fingerling Potato and Asparagus Salad

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Grill Basket Veggie Panini

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Sweet Potato Grill Fries

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Greek Herbed Turkey Burgers

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Grilled Pizza

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Beer Can Chicken

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Drunken Grilled Fruit

May 23, 2014 at 7:43 am 1 comment

Slow Mornings

One of the benefits of this little extended vacation before residency starts is the slow mornings. While our days seem to be filled with endless piles of paperwork (marriage license hiccups, name changes, residency paperwork, apartment applications… it never ends!), we have been starting each day slowly with really good coffee. I got Dan a Beehouse pour-over coffee dripper and burr coffee grinder for Christmas, and we have been enjoying getting good use out of it these past few months. We first got hooked on this coffee-brewing method at The Thinking Cup near the Boston Commons. Dan was intrigued by the science behind it – they used kitchen scales, electric kettles with thermometers and long spouts, and timers to brew the perfect cup of coffee. While we don’t get quite that fancy at home, we have found that pour-over coffee is worth the extra few minutes, when you have them.

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From some reading I have been doing for this blog post, I have learned that this coffee brewing method is originally from Japan and has taken off in the US because of the low cost of the associated equipment. While espresso is a much more well known international coffee style, there is a high cost of equipment for DIYers. Pour-over kits can be assembled gradually, and the parts are relatively inexpensive. A good coffee dripper will run around $15-30, and you can be as fancy or as simple with the grinders and kettles as you want.

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The magic of pour-over coffee comes from the small brew method and slow pour. As a coffee-enthusiast, you can control every step – from the bean (we prefer a light roast with more earthy flavors), the coarseness of the grind (we find that a medium grind works well), the temperature and amount of water, all the way up to the length of brew time. Each cup that you brew is unique, and somewhat maker-dependent, which can be both a good and bad thing depending on who you ask. The most important thing we have learned making this style of coffee is the slow pour, as this is what sets it apart from regular drip coffee. American coffee machines, while noteworthy for their convenience, work by pouring a single batch of boiling water over the coffee grounds and then dripping through the filter. This initial boiling water bath can create bitterness that many dislike about American drip coffee. It also does not fully utilize the flavors from the coffee beans as it creates a thick cake that prevents all of the grounds from soaking. Making pour-over coffee allows you to hand pour the hot (not quite boiling) water over the beans in a pulsatile method. (source) The resulting cup of coffee is free of the bitterness that many people dislike about American-style coffee, and is rich and flavorful with a smooth finish. Even my Dad, a dedicated milk-and-sugar kind-of guy, will happily drink pour-over coffee black.

There are plenty of great informative articles out there, from the history of pour-over coffees to comparisons of different drippers to the basic how-to instructions for how to make the perfect cup of coffee. If you enjoy a good cup of coffee or are looking for alternative ways to brew yourself a single cup of coffee, I would highly recommend making the small equipment investment! We have started with a basic dripper and coffee grinder, and currently use an electric kettle to boil the water and a spouted Pyrex measuring glass for the pour. Eventually, we may expand our gadgets but are more than happy to enjoy our simplified, homemade version for now!

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If you are not a coffee fan but are still looking for a slow morning treat, then try out these muffins! I adapted the recipe from my mom’s Better Homes and Gardens magazine to use some dying bananas, and have been greatly enjoying the subtle chocolate flavor and how it compliments my coffee! Do not be intimidated by the name – these muffins are not overly sweet or heavy, and the cocoa comes across more in color than taste. If you are looking for a more decadent treat, try adding chocolate chips or walnuts for a more dessert-like breakfast muffin!

Question: What is the best cup of coffee you have ever had?

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Dark Chocolate Banana Muffins

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens (April 2014)

makes 12 large muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2/3 cup milk

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 eggs

3 tbsp melted butter

2 overripe bananas, mashed

handful walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a 12-muffin tray; set aside. In a stand mixer, combine all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine milk, yogurt, eggs and melted butter. Add to dry ingredients in the stand mixer; stir until just moistened. Add the mashed bananas and mix until combined. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling 3/4 full. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes, then use butter knife to loosen. Store in air-tight container.

April 23, 2014 at 7:48 am Leave a comment

Change of Seasons

The weather is finally starting to warm up in the New Jersey, getting me excited for grilling season! While many people think of seasons in terms of weather, I often think in term of food seasons. The fall and winter are roasting seasons, perfect for root vegetables and hearty meals; the spring and summer are grilling ones, great for fish and grilled peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing I like better than both cooking and eating outdoors when the weather allows. However, I will miss my oven, which usually goes neglected from May through September to keep the house cool. If you are looking for a final oven meal to warm up with during cooler early spring nights, this one is a great staple!

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I found a basic roasted chicken recipe in one of my mom’s many food magazines. (Being on this extended vacation is seriously great for my cooking creativity!) I tweaked it slightly to use up what I had on hand, but have so many ideas for variations! I used red onion and thyme as called for in the original recipe, but decided to use chicken thighs and baby bella mushrooms for a bit more flavor and earthiness. I think that shallots or Vidalia onions would actually be even better than the red onions, and that a little more garlic would be welcome. I would also love to play with the herbs, switching out the thyme for rosemary or basil. If you aren’t a mushroom person, you could easily leave them out, or add some cherry tomatoes in their stead. Since I am currently cooking for 4-6 people on a regular basis, I couldn’t quite make it a one-skillet meal, but think this would be an easy task if cooking for one or two! Just throw some cubed potatoes (parboiled to make them cook at the same time), vegetables (I love asparagus and Brussels sprouts in the oven), and the chicken thighs into an oven safe skillet and bake!

Question: What is your favorite “food season?”

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Roasted Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms and Red Onions

serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1 – 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (organic if possible)

1 red onion, sectioned

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, halved

salt, pepper and thyme to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Heat olive oil over high heat. Quickly sear the outside of each chicken thigh over high heat. Add red onion sections and mushroom halves, then season to taste with salt, pepper, and thyme. Place skillet in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until chicken thighs are cooked through. Remove and allow to cool prior to serving.

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April 14, 2014 at 7:55 pm Leave a comment

Five Life Lessons Learned in the Kitchen

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.

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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…

Original photo from Frugal Feeding, click through for the recipe

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.

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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.

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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?

November 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm Leave a comment

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