Sunday, December 11, 2011

Delicious Madrid on a Budget! Part I

I have been on hiatus for a while and really have missed checking out my favorite blogs!  I miss you all!  Since I have been gone, our house went under contract and we are scheduled to close on our next home at the end of next month.  I need to pack up the whole house - what a daunting task!  I really wish that it was in the budget to hire movers to pack for us - oh well it will get done somehow! 
 We just got back from visiting our daughter who is studying abroad in Madrid, Spain.  The timing wasn't perfect with everything going on with the house but there was no way that we weren't going to make it to Spain to visit our daughter.  We booked the flights long ago and were determined to enjoy Spain on a shoestring! 

Matt and I both worked a full day, took the train to Newark airport and boarded the plane to Madrid.  That was the very same day that we signed the contract for the new house.  Faxing of forms, juggling funds for the down payment and making sure that everything was in order at work and not missing the train or forgetting our passports - STRESSFUL.  Luckily Matt's co workers came up with Euros we could borrow so that we had a little cash in our pockets! 

We arrived in Madrid a little bedraggled and headed for the Metro - only 2,50 € to get to our hotel versus 32 € for a cab.  One problem - we had two close to 50 lb. bags, a laptop and carry ons - oh and I am terrified of escalators!  I can go down no problem but up... that's a problem.  My poor husband had to take both large bags and I ran up all the flights of stairs and grabbed my bag off when we got to the top.  We must have made quite the impression!  Pink line, blue line... we arrived at Plaza de España, our home for the next 10 days.  10 days of great food and plenty of wine! 

We settled into our hotel - Suites 33 on Calle de Leganitos.  The hotel was small but quite adequate.  The location was perfect and we had free wireless and a small kitchen.  The kitchen had a stove but no cookware - odd.  I did at least have the forethought to bring a paring knife, ziploc bags and a wine opener. 
While we were waiting for our daughter, we headed out on Calle Gran Vía to look around.  We had our first of many jamón sandwiches (amazing!) and bought some wine.  Ham is everywhere- literally hanging everywhere!- in Madrid.  Our favorite sandwich was from Don Jamón on Calle Gran Vía - made with Iberian ham, a bargain at 2,30€.    So simple but so good.  Thinly sliced Iberian ham and tomato slices on fresh bread.  We also tried Museo del Jamón's Serrano ham sandwich which was good also and cheaper at 1€.  Iberian ham comes from acorn-fed Iberian pigs and Serrano ham is from white pigs.  For 3,30€  we had a sandwich-off between the two ham sandwiches.  We returned to Don Jamón a couple more times during our trip.  Oh how I miss the ham and the inexpensive but wonderful wine of Spain!

Jamon Iberico Sandwich from Don Jamon
Ashley met us at our hotel. We were positively exhausted so we had dinner at a cervecería near our hotel.  We had fried calamari, tortilla española (Spanish omelet), croquetas and empanada gallega de atún (Galician tuna empanada). We were also served a complimentary olive plate.  After an inexpensive but tasty meal of typical Spanish tapas we headed back to the hotel. 

The next day we went to El Corte Inglés, a large supermarket below a huge department store where we bought bottled water, wine, beer, orange juice, croissants and chocolate.  Wine is super inexpensive and I really liked the Rioja and Ribera del Duero - wonderful reds.  We just loved the Valor dark chocolate bars with almonds.  We became regulars at the market.  A few notes on the supermarket:
  • You need your passport if paying with a credit card (they let us use a driver's license)
  • You cannot touch the produce (you ask for what you need and it is weighed for you or in some markets you put on plastic gloves and weigh/price yourself)
  • You can buy single beers (Mahou is the regional beer)
  • Bring your own bags (you pay for bags)

We spent the day getting familiar with the city and walked countless miles.  We visited the Prado (Madrid's famous art museum), which is free to visit on Sundays, so of course we visited on Sunday!  Our dinner pick was Casa Mingo, an Asturian cider house that was established in 1888.  Many restaurants in Madrid are closed on Sundays and Casa Mingo is open so it was a perfect day to go.  They have an amazing homemade hard cider that is an unbelievable bargain at 5,30€.  We ate delicious roasted chicken (10€), chorizo in cider (3,40€), salad and bread.  The chorizo was my favorite and the salad was the only disappointment.  It was very plain and looked pre-packaged but everything else was really good. I wanted the queso cabrales (aged blue cheese) but I couldn't have eaten it all myself... I craved it from then on...It was approximately 40€ for three of us.  Bargain!

Right next door to the restaurant there is a lovely church San Antonio de la Florida with the most beautiful frescoes painted by Francisco de Goya.  A must see!  Free admission too!

The next few days Ashley had classes so Matt and I continued to explore the city and eat well.  We visited the Mercado de San Miguel which I was extremely excited for.  We did have some amazing ham there but I found it to be very pricey.  We had a few bites to eat and moved on. 

We wandered the rest of the day and got lost!  We walked completely in the wrong direction from our hotel and it was raining, pouring actually.  We eventually found our way to familiar territory but we were quite a distance from our hotel, as we were near the Prado.  We stumbled upon the best fried calamari sandwiches with salsa bravas (mildly spicy tomato-based sauce) at a bocadillo shop on the Paseo del Prado.  So good and such a bargain at 3,30€.  Not low calorie but just delicious!  Good thing we walked so far!  We nicknamed it grumpy guy's calamari.  In Spain, takeaway doesn't seem to be popular and is kind of frowned upon.  In Madrid, meals are enjoyed for hours, not eaten on the streets.  I really like that but we were starving and wanted to get back to our hotel so we asked to take it to go and then (yikes!) asked if he could cut the sandwich in half!  Grumpy guy's reaction was too funny.  But hey, the sandwich was worth it and we walked all the way back another time and brought Ashley! 

At this point in the trip,  I started really feeling like I needed a healthy meal.  We had way too much salty and fried foods and few vegetables.  We do not eat that way at home.  I was determined to find somewhere for a healthy dinner.  I was so grateful that we brought a laptop and I could research.  I stumbled across good reviews of Al Natural, a vegetarian restaurant near the Prado.  Sold!  Ashley, Matt and I went for dinner.  We had a complimentary appetizer of the most wonderful spinach and pear croquetas.  I plan on writing in to Bon Appetit magazine in hopes of attaining the recipe.  So good!  We also had the best veggie burgers of our lives.  Who would even think that a veggie burger could be that good?!  Eggplant with a pistachio sauce and a wonderful salad were also enjoyed.  Rolls were served and put on the check even though we did not order it.  Apparently that is done in Spain.  No big deal as the rolls were excellent and they were only .70€ a piece.  Ashley enjoyed a vegan apple cake and tea for dessert.  We were also given complimentary after dinner drinks of rum with honey.  The atmosphere was very relaxing.  Fabulous meal!  We returned another day for lunch. 

To be continued... churros con chocolate, Indian food, tapas, pizza, the best croissants and more!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Great Grandma Pie in NJ - Krispy

Admittedly I am a pizza addict.  I could probably eat it ever day if I let myself!  A while back I posted about the different regional pizza styles and vowed to try them all.  Well grandma-style pizza can be best described as a thin-crust Sicilian.  It appears to have originated in Long Island and spread to the other boroughs of New York.  A friend who grew up in Brooklyn highly recommended Krispy Pizza to me.  They have their original pizza shop in Brooklyn and a newer shop in Old Bridge, NJ and they serve a fabulous grandma pie.  The crust which is cooked in an oiled pan was perfect.  The pie was topped with real fresh mozzarella - no imitation cheese here!  The sauce was light and tomatoey and the perfect amount of fresh basil was dusted across.  Oh my!  Maybe a trip to Chicago for deep dish next?! 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Grilled Coleslaw and What's Up with Nitrates?

Grilling time is here and who doesn't love a good hot dog?  Sure, I try to eat a healthy diet but every once in a while just crave a good old fashioned grilled hot dog!  Some of my very favorite hot dogs are homemade from D.A. Barsch German Butcher Shop in Toms River, NJ.  If you are ever in the area  it is a great place to check out - fabulous German sausages and cold cuts.  They make a mean potato bratwurst! 

I couldn't make it to the butcher so I picked up a pack of Trader Joe's all-natural no nitrate added hot dogs since they were giving out samples which were quite tasty.  I got a nice cabbage in my CSA box and wanted to make grilled coleslaw from a recipe I found on  The grilled coleslaw was fabulous and made for a fantastic hot dog topping along with some spicy Kosciusko mustard - my favorite! 

Did you know that all-natural and organic hot dogs still contain nitrates?  Manufacturers use celery juice and sea salt which are naturally high in nitrates to cure the hot dogs as opposed to chemically produced sodium nitrates.  There was an interesting article on the subject in The New York Times.  My takeaway is that all hot dogs are cured and contain nitrates.  Are natural nitrates found in celery healthier?  Is it worth extra to purchase no nitrate added products? Are nitrates really harmful?  Nitrates come from nitrogen found int the air and soil...  I'm not sure of the answer.  The quality and source of the meat used may be the most important aspect of a good hot dog.  I will continue to splurge on an occassional hot dog, emphasis on occasional, and will definitely make the grilled coleslaw again - anything in moderation! 

Kristin Donnelly - Food and Wine
One 3-pound head of green cabbage, cut through the core into 8 wedges Vegetable oil, for brushing
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 pickled jalapeños, seeded and minced, plus 2 teaspoons pickling liquid from the jar

1.Light a grill. Brush the cabbage wedges with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the cabbage over high heat until charred, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a work surface. When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, finely slice it crosswise with a sharp knife.

2.In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the cider vinegar, jalapeños and pickling liquid. Add the shredded cabbage and toss well. Season the grilled coleslaw with salt and pepper and toss again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kale Caesar Slaw

Who knew a raw kale salad could be so fantastic?!   This salad was so good that I ate the leftovers for breakfast - a little weird but since there is egg in it, I think it counts as a breakfast food!  The leftover salad may have been even better than the fresh one.  I loved the traditional Caesar dressing ingredients paired with the crisp kale.  Tasty!

A big thank you to Tami and Bill from Earthen Harvest.  The CSA season has been great!  The vegetables are all so fresh and wonderful.  I look forward to each and every box!  The kale was tender and delicious - perfect for a salad.  The recipe was a find from the July issue of Bon Appetit.  Two of my favorite things are getting new food magazines in the mail and my weekly vegetable box on the doorstep - actually the CSA newsletter that comes earlier is fun too!   The little things in life can bring so much happiness!

Tuscan Kale Caesar Slaw
Courtesy Bon Appetit, July 2011

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
8 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled
14 ounces Tuscan kale or other kale, center stalks removed, thinly sliced crosswise (about 8 cups)

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a blender; purée until smooth. With machine running, slowly add oil, drop by drop, to make a creamy dressing. Transfer dressing to a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. DO AHEAD: Dressing can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Separate egg white from yolk. Place egg white in a coarse-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Press egg white through strainer with the back of a spoon; scrape egg white from bottom of strainer. Repeat with egg yolk, using a clean strainer and bowl. DO AHEAD: Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover bowls separately and chill.

Toss kale and dressing in a large bowl to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and sieved eggs.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kohlrabi, Fennel and Blueberry Salad

One of this week's CSA box items was kohlrabi. What to do with kohlrabi?  Well I started hunting around for some interesting use for it and turned to the ever reliable Food and Wine ingredient search.  The search brought me to Top Chef Stephanie Izard of Chicago's Girl and The Goat's Kohlrabi, Fennel and Blueberry Salad.  A quick Google search revealed just how well-liked this salad is so I became sold on making it.  I had wonderful local organic blueberries on hand - bonus!  All I needed was the fennel and some goat cheese. 

While I was making this salad, with the help of Cailyn, I really began to doubt my sanity!  So many ingredients - could this possibly work and actually taste good?  Cailyn claimed that the combination of ingredients sounded disgusting and Matt walked by and said, with a look of disgust, "there are blueberries in the salad?"  Well, once the salad was all assembled it looked pretty and fresh.  All of the components were really delicious on their own (I tasted along the way...) Crisp kohlrabi, toasty almonds, juicy blueberries... and the cheese I chose Cypress Grove Midnight Moon goat cheese - amazing!  I love, love, love this cheese. 

We all sat down and with trepidation took our first bites of the salad.  Well it was amazing!  I absolutely adored the salad and every last bite of it disappeared.  If you see kohlrabi at your local farmers market or get it from a CSA box, make this salad - you won't regret it!  Thank you Stephanie Izard!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tuscan Lemon Muffins

On Sunday afternoons, Matt and I head to Manasquan Beach.  I bring food magazines, which I resist reading earlier in the week, and Matt brings his Kindle.  I love summer!  I don't bake that often but these lovely lemon muffins from Cooking Light just called to me.  The use of olive oil really appealed to me.  I have been experimenting with replacing olive oil for vegetable oil where possible.  I made Swiss chard lasagna a few days ago and had just enough ricotta left over for the recipe (full disclosure: not part-skim as called for in the recipe).  These muffins had a wonderful texture, were moist, and lightly lemony.  The turbinado sugar (raw sugar) on top was also a nice touch.  I imagine that this recipe could be easily adapted with other citrus fruits (meyer lemons, oranges, etc.) or complemented with fresh berries. Perfect! 

Tuscan Lemon Muffins
Maurren Callahan, Cooking Light - May 2011

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour  (7 9/10 ounces)
  •  3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese (I used whole milk ricotta)
  • 1/2 cup water
  •  1/4 cup olive oil
  •  1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  •  2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt); make a well in center. Combine ricotta and next 5 ingredients (through egg). Add ricotta mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

3. Place 12 muffin-cup liners in muffin cups; coat with cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin cups. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over batter. Bake at 375° for 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mustard Greens in the Box

Mustard Greens - oh how I love this cholesterol-lowering cruciferous vegetable!
Red Beet Risotto with Mustard Greens and Goat Cheese
I was lucky to get nice big bunches of mustard greens in my CSA box over the last two weeks.  Thanks to inspiration from Bon Appetit, I made these tasty mustard green creations.  If you haven't had mustard greens in a while (or ever) don't be afraid to pick some up.  They are super healthy and really delicious with a little spicy kick. 

Well aesthetically this dish is a little odd and kind of screams Christmas (not what I was going for in June!)  The taste, however, was phenomenal - sweet, creamy, salty, tangy and even a little bitter.  I added a few shrimp because; well, just because I like shrimp!  The risotto recipe is quick with little fuss.  I stirred the mustard greens in at the end just to wilt them.  I will be making this again!  Bon Appetit Recipe Link

Goat Cheese Pizzas with Indian-Spiced Tomatoes and Mustard Greens
The recipe is for topping and flatbreads.  I shortcut it by using store bought naan for the crust.  Well, I love pizza!  This Indian style pizza was no exception!  The topping is amazing and I can't wait to make this again.  Seriously good! 

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 large shallots, finely chopped
3 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes with added puree
2 cups chopped mustard greens

For topping:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and next 5 ingredients; sauté 3 minutes. Add tomatoes; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes to thicken slightly. Add greens; stir until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place breads on baking sheet. Spread 1/4 of topping over each. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake until heated through, about 8 minutes.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mizuna in the Box

My CSA box is back and so am I!  I survived (sort of) our biggest deadline date of June 15th.  It was quite a taxing season - pardon the pun!  Cooking is now all about what's in the box.  This week we received beets, French breakfast radishes, kale, mustard greens and mizuna.  Great box!  Oh but mizuna, that's a tough one and Matt claims that he hates it.   I was determined to cook every bit of these lovely vegetables!  Well, I am proud to say that we ate all of the mizuna and loved it!  So this is what I made:
Mizuna and Goat Cheese Quiche with an Olive Oil Crust

My daughter Cailyn found an olive oil crust recipe that she wanted to try.  We didn't want all of the butter or God forbid lard found in most pastry recipes.  We need to reserve our butter consumption for the radishes!    The crust recipe couldn't have been any easier and it was tasty - who knew?! 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup ice water
Mix flour and salt together.  Whisk the water and olive oil together.  Combine the flour and oil/water with a fork.  Press into a pie plate.  Crust in minutes! 

I used my go-to quiche recipe found here and substituted sauteed mizuna for the asparagus.  (Wash the mizuna thoroughly, remove stems and chop).  I baked the quiche at 400 until set (35 - 40 minutes).  Fabulous!

Soba Noodles with Mizuna
I was inspired by this recipe from the lovely blog Clean & Delicious with Dani Spies.  I changed up the recipe a bit by stir frying the carrots, using about 2 inches of minced fresh ginger instead of dried and cooking the garlic for about 30 seconds (with the ginger).  The carrots were sweet and still had a bit of crunch to them -yummy.  What a delicious and healthy lunch!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Roasted Whole Red Snapper and...

My birthday is this week and I have been reflecting back over the past year.  It has been a year of change - change that I did not necessarily want.  “People are always telling me that change is good. But all that means is that something you didn't want to happen has happened.” - Meg Ryan

I had two kids at home, a sweet little dog and a nice, suburban home.  Well change is inevitble, kids grow up and dogs grow old...  The perfect home is suddenly too big and not quite what and where you want it to be.  Yes, with very mixed emotions we are putting our house on the market.  

While this year has been filled with change, it has not all been bad.  Matt and I not only got used to our empty nest but are enjoying our time together.  My recent health scare has really gotten me to ramp up my healthy eating and exercising.  I just got a clean bill of health and feel great.  (Thank you so much for all of the well wishes!)  We've seen both of our daughters settle happily into college life and look forward to their arrival home this week. Yay!  Life is good. 

On the food front - I made my own bread!  I finally picked up Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a book that I have wanted forever.  I made the basic no knead recipe and boy was it good.  If you are a bread lover like me, this is a must have cookbook. 

I also cooked a whole fish!  Red Snapper was on sale at Whole Foods and despite my trepidation, the whole fish was super easy to make and just delicious.  I was inspired by this recipe on Food and Wine's website.  Parsley, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt, and capers with a little oil stuffed into the fish and roasted on a sheet pan at 425 degrees for 30 minutes - phenomenal! 
I think I will tackle homemade ice cream next!   (I attempted once before and it was a big fail.)

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful spring!  I am beginning to dream of farmers markets and CSA boxes... won't be long.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Seared Sea Scallops with Garlic-Orange Vinaigrette

Spring has finally sprung and I am enjoying fresh asparagus once again!   I am extra excited for the local crop which will be available soon.  In addition to a nice bunch of asparagus, I had some fresh spinach.  I decided that fresh scallops would be great with my spring vegetables.  An orange vinaigrette, courtesy of Martha Stewart, made for the perfect light meal.  In the original recipe, Martha pairs the vinaigrette with pork tenderloin and sauteed spinach, which is super tasty.  I thought that the vinaigrette would work well with scallops.  Boy was I right - delicious!   I seared the seasoned scallops in a cast iron skillet coated with a little olive oil.  I roasted the asparagus and sauteed the spinach with olive oil and garlic.  I served the scallops over risotto - perfect!   The vinaigrette came together in a minute with the help of the food processor.  I will be repeating this meal soon!  The vinaigrette is so good that I will be trying it on salmon too! 

Garlic - Orange Vinaigrette
courtesy Everyday Food

1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

By the way, NJ got a nice mention in the May edition of Bon Appetit as producing some of the country's very best asparagus.  Yes, I can attest to it, we do have some of the best asparagus!

On a side note:  Thank you so much to everyone for your kind words both regarding the loss of Chloe and my health scare.  I received a message from the doctor's office that my results are improving.  I will do follow up tests in another two weeks. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tears in NJ

March was not a good month for me...  I am heart broken over the loss of my sweet little Cocker Spaniel Chloe.  She was the best dog ever and we were blessed to have her as part of our family for so many years.  Normally she would be at my feet - snoring loudly...  oh how I miss her and wish that I could have kept her here with us forever...

Thank you so much to everyone for sending well wishes my way.  I appreciate each and every comment so much.  I will be having more tests done on Thursday and I am hopeful that I will get better results. 

This week's Eat. Live. Be. topic is "Creative Ways to Eat all Your Fruits and Veggies". 

I love, love, love vegetables and eat plenty each day.  Omelets are a great way to incorporate vegetables into breakfast.  Big salads, vegetable rich soups and sandwiches loaded with veggies make great lunches.  The focus of dinner is usually in-season vegetables with an accompanying protein and starch.  I like to add zucchini or eggplant to pasta.  Fresh greens like spinach or arugula are also fantastic wilted in pasta.  I even like to add greens to my favorite food - pizza!  Below is one of my favorite pizza combinations - amazing!

Basil Pesto, Mozzarella, Goat Cheese, Tomatoes & Arugula

Getting enough fruit in my diet is slightly more of a challenge to me.  Here are some ways that I incorporate fruit into my diet.
  • Mix fruit and granola into yogurt. 
  • Fruit with pancakes, waffles or French toast makes a great weekend breakfast. 
  • Fruit is also fantastic added into a salad. 
  • Freeze some grapes - so good!
  • Chocolate Covered Strawberries
  • Freshly squeezed grapefruit or orange juice
  • Peanut Butter & Bananas - Matt's favorite not mine!
The key to getting more fruits and vegetables in your diet is to make sure that you have plenty of fresh options on hand.  I once again joined a local CSA for the season.   During the winter, I have enjoyed fresh boxes of organic produce from Suburban Organics.  I encourage everyone to support their local farms this season.  I would love any ideas that you have on enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Eat. Live. Be. and Please Forgive My Absence

A quick note on where I've been:  Unfortunately I wasn't away somewhere fun for spring break!   A few weeks ago I got disturbing results from routine blood work which surprised me since I thought that I was the picture of health.  I felt and still feel just fine.  I've been tested for everything under the sun from Celiac Disease to Wilson's disease - all negative.  The specialist said that she is convinced that a supplement that I was taking is the root of the problem...  she is hoping that it will be out of my system and everything will normalize within two months.  I will have levels checked again in two weeks and pray that what she suspects is the case.  

On a more cheerful note, I did have my daughters home over the last couple of weeks - which I loved!  Despite my busy work schedule and all of the medical appointments, we did take a whole day off together to shop and of course eat!  I miss them both already...

This week's Eat. Live. Be. topic is Go-To Lunches

Nine times out of ten my lunch is dinner leftovers.  I like to make extra and wrap it right away so it is ready for lunch the next day.  I also love soups and stews in the wintertime.  In the summer, I prefer salads and tomato sandwiches!  I can't wait for big ripe Jersey tomatoes - *drool*.  I really don't like cold cuts; therefore my sandwiches are usually comprised of chicken, tuna, or are vegetarian.  For an all-ready option, I love Buck's tuna salad and the cranberry tuna salad from Whole Foods - a little pricey but delicious - still way less expensive than the cafeteria at work! 

Today's lunch was Grilled Balsamic Chicken with Sauteed Onions, Blue Cheese and Arugula on Ciabatta - delicious!  The chicken is marinated in white balsamic and topped with herbs de Provence.  I grilled the chicken and sauteed the onions last night.  I heated the chicken and the onions at lunchtime, added sliced blue cheese and topped it with arugula.  What a fabulous lunch!  So good!

I adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit.

Marinate boneless, skinless chicken breasts for at least two hours.

For the marinade:

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Remove the chicken from the marinade and sprinkle it with herbs de Provence.  Grill the chicken until cooked through.  Serve with sauteed onions, sliced blue cheese and arugula on a ciabatta roll.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Eat. Live. Be. Topic #8: Let’s Talk Portions

In an attempt to curb my portion distortion, I use luncheon plates and salad forks.  I prefer a fuller small plate than an empty dinner plate.  There is something more satisfying about eating from a full plate.  I also like to pre-portion my food and resist the urge for seconds by wrapping the leftovers, placing them in the refrigerator or freezer before I eat.  I use a kitchen scale when portioning meat and fish and a cup measure for cereal.  Another trick is to fill at least half your plate with vegetables before adding the protein or starch.  I don't buy cookies or chips so I don't have to worry about portioning those items :)  Pasta is where I go the most astray - I over make it and overeat it!  I have banished the pasta bowls that I used to use and pasta is now also served on a luncheon plate (piled high!)

Individual Crustless Quiche

Here are a few links to delicious portion controlled dishes from some of my favorite sites:

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins topped with Spinach and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes For the Love of Cooking
Individual Potato Gratins Stacey Snacks
Mini Ricotta, Eggplant and Pasta Timbales Proud Italian Cook
Red Peppers Stuffed with Orzo and Feta Cheese One Perfect Bite
Dad's Rice Pudding Kalofagas
Lasagna Cupcakes  The Kitchn
Crustless Quiche Mark Bittman
Bouchons au thon  Journey of an Italian Cook

Muffin tins, ramekins, cookie and biscuit cutters are all great tools to use when creating individual portions.  Sharing is another way to exercise portion control - half the calories!  I would love to hear any ideas that you have to keep portion sizes under control.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Summer Foods in February

I am positively craving summer foods!  I want corn on the cob, grilled clams and fresh local berries!  One problem - it is February...This is the time of year when I am officially done with winter.  No more snow - please!  I want to wear flip flops and sunscreen.

I guess that summer will be here eventually, but in the meantime, I made a summer meal in February.  On the menu was Cilantro-Lime Chicken with Avocado Salsa (a delicious and simple five star recipe from Cooking Light), saffron rice and Cornmeal-Olive Oil Cake with Balsamic-Macerated Strawberries and Basil.  Delicious! 

I followed Emeril's recipe for the cake but he serves his with poached peaches in rosemary-honey syrup (I will try this when good peaches are available).  I used a biscuit cutter to make individual cakes and served them with balsamic-macerated strawberries and fresh basil.  
Cake Recipe Courtesy: Emeril Lagasse


3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease and flour a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan.

Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the cornmeal.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer beat the eggs, egg yolk, milk, olive oil and lemon zest until frothy. Add the sugar and honey, and mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few crumbs adhering.

Macerated Strawberries - granulated sugar, balsamic vinegar, sliced strawberries

Monday, February 21, 2011

Favorite Healthy Grab and Go Snacks

The Eat. Live. Be. topic of the week is "Favorite Healthy Grab and Go Snacks". 

The key to healthy snacking is to have healthy foods on hand and ready to go.  Dips are great.  They can be made ahead of time and portioned out into single serve containers.  I like to stock up on nuts and fruit at Trader Joe's and I always have a container of fresh ground almond butter in the refrigerator.  Cut up vegetables and seasonal fruit are always great options.  I don't think that I can pick just one healthy snack favorite so I will go with my top ten.  Happy Snacking!

White Bean Dip with Pita Chips
Favorite Healthy Grab and Go Snacks

  1. Yogurt with Fruit and Granola
  2. Mixed Nuts/Dried Fruit
  3. Hummus with Vegetables or Pita Chips
  4. White Bean Dip with Pita Chips (pictured above)
  5. Roasted Chickpeas 
  6. Frozen Grapes (So Good!)
  7. Almond Butter on Whole Grain Bread or Crackers
  8. Olives and Cheese
  9. Tuna/Chicken Salad on Whole Grain Crackers
  10. Mediterranean Organic Orange Marmalade  or Cascadian Farms Strawberry preserves on a Whole Grain English Muffin
What are your favorite healthy snacks? 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Simple Arugula Salad

This week's Eat.Live.Be topic is about healthy advice from the experts.  Since I have been religiously checking food labels and avoiding processed foods, I will share the following links with information on the topic:
I just love Michael Pollan's advice to not eat anything that your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food or ingredients that are unpronounceable/unrecognizable (see the Unhappy Meals link). 

I recently discovered David Rocco's Dolce Vita on the Food Channel and I love it!  He makes simple delicious Italian food and focuses on quality ingredients.  I saw him make an arugula salad with cubed pears, grana padano cheese and toasted pine nuts dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.   I made it right after watching the show since I was fortunate to have all of the ingredients in the house.   It was just delicious.  I recommend the show and the salad!



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Trader Joe's Shrewsbury, NJ Update

Just a quick update on the new Trader Joe's for those who are anxiously awaiting the grand opening like me.  I took a drive by on my way home from work on Friday to see if I could get an idea of when the store would be opening.  The sign is up, the shelving is being installed inside and the staff has been hired.  Maybe it will open next month?  I hope so! 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chinese Take-Out at Home

I had a craving for Chinese take-out but I am trying to stay on track with eating well.  So what to do? ...

I made a healthier version of chicken and broccoli at home.  I already had a nice bunch of beautiful, organic broccoli and boneless chicken breasts on hand, so chicken and broccoli stir-fry it was.  I love this Food Network Kitchens recipe because it is A:  delicious; B: uses the broccoli stems in addition to the florets - no waste; C: it's easy to put together; D:  it's way healthier than take-out!  I like to be able to control the quality of ingredients and ultimately calories.  Give this stir-fry a try - guaranteed you will love it! 

Carrots, mushrooms, red peppers, water chestnuts and corn all would make great additions - a stir-fry is a great way to use up the produce that you have on hand.

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry
Courtesy:  Food Network Kitchens

Marinate the chicken while you prepare the rest of the ingredients

1 pound chicken breast (about 2 breasts), cubed
3 scallions, whites only, thinly sliced on an angle
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
About 1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 to 6 cups broccoli, trimmed sliced stalks and medium florets (keep the 2 cuts separate)
3/4 to 1 teaspoon red chili flakes, optional
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
Garnish: toasted sesame seeds, optional
Serving suggestion: Jasmine rice


In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with the scallion whites, about half the garlic and ginger, the soy sauce, sugar, 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of the salt, the sherry, and the sesame oil. Marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes. Mix the remaining cornstarch with 1/3 cup water.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat. Add the broccoli stems, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the florets and the remaining garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons of water, and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Stir-fry until the broccoli is bright green but still crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Get the skillet good and hot again, and then heat 2 more tablespoons oil. Add the chicken and chili flakes if using. Stir-fry until the chicken loses its raw color and gets a little brown, about 3 minutes. Add the hoisin sauce, return the broccoli to the pan and toss to heat through. Stir in the reserved cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil to thicken. Add more water if need to thin the sauce, if necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if you like. Mound the stir-fry on a serving platter or divide among 4 plates and garnish with sesame seeds; serve with rice.

Eat. Live. Be. Results Update:

It is the first Monday of the month and time to reflect on the progress of my goals.  Well my pantry looks as bad as ever - big fail in that area!  I am making a really big effort to use what I have in the house and have resisted the urge to overbuy (especially produce).  I even put my vegetable box on hold for now.  I have been religiously reading labels and eating really well.  I also have been exercising regularly - yay me!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kale and White Bean Soup

I completely missed Monday's post!  I've had a crazy busy week and haven't quite gotten my act together... Snow, ice, more snow, and work...  and a few unexpected obligations and now it's already Wednesday!  This week's Eat. Live. Be. topic is sharing your favorite healthy lifestyle change.  Hmmm, what is my favorite?

Well, I have gradually been making healthy lifestyle changes.  I have recently added regular exercise and guess what?  I don't hate it!  I actually kind of, sort of, like it!  When I miss a day, I am disappointed.  WOW! 

Healthy eating is a choice that I've made, not a punishment.  I enjoy fresh vegetables and whole grains.  I have scaled down the amount of meat that I eat and I don't miss it.  I mostly buy organic vegetables and meats from local farms.  I cannot tell you the last time I ate fast food and I avoid any processed, well heavily processed foods.  Olive oil is my oil of choice and I avoid butter - though I do love Kerrygold Irish butter which I became addicted to after a trip to Ireland.  I had a slice of whole grain bread slathered with Kerrygold butter with my soup the other day and I don't regret it!   I also still do love pizza ;) and succumb frequently to chocolate cravings.  Overall, I eat a very healthy diet and it is way better than five years ago!

Another change that I have made is to eat throughout the day.  I now enjoy breakfast.  This may be my favorite change since it does of course involve extra food!  I was guilty of not eating all day, then coming home and more than making up for it.  Now, I do not leave the house without something healthy.  I really like yogurt sprinkled with granola and fresh blueberries.  Almond butter on whole grain bread is something I can grab without any thought.  If I have extra time I like mini omelets made in a muffin tin or healthy pancakes.  I really look forward to breakfast now and I feel a lot better with that simple change. 

I have also changed my attitude.  I don't care about a number on the scale or about being a certain dress size.  I just want to feel good and receive clear doctor reports (cholesterol, glucose, etc.).   I am not dieting, just treating myself well! 

I want to share a recipe for Kale and White Bean Soup.  It is delicious with bread and butter (Irish butter of course!)  Healthy, quick and delicious! 

Kale and White Bean Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, chopped,
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 can of white beans drained (cannellini)
1 can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper
grana padano cheese, grated
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven.  Add the carrots and onions.  Saute over medium heat until softened, stirring often.  Add garlic and cook for one more minute.  Next add the chopped kale and cook until it is wilted down.  Season with salt, fresh pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.  Add the chicken stock, beans and tomatoes.   Simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with plenty of fresh grated grana padano cheese and some crusty bread.  Enjoy! 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Slow Cooker Shredded Mexican Style Beef

Eat. Live. Be. for a Better 2011 Challenge Week 3

This week the group is talking about their biggest challenge to living a healthier lifestyle.  I really thought about it and I think that planning and prioritizing (or lack thereof) are my biggest challenges.  Planning healthy meals and actually having everything on hand to make what I plan is key.  I don't know how many times I have been missing one ingredient from five potential meals!  Straying from a healthy meal plan can be dangerous since my fall back tends to be pizza or pasta.  Planning is also extremely important in my goal not to waste.  I still struggle with overbuying produce!  There is something about a bunch of beets or a big bell pepper that I find irresistible - okay I'm weird ;)    I also have to keep in mind that I am cooking for two, not four when the girls are at school. 

I have been trying hard to stay on track.  I have made it a habit to pack a healthy breakfast to eat at the office every day.  The few extra minutes are well worth it since I feel better and tend not to eat as much the rest of the day.  This morning I had yogurt with fresh blueberries and a sprinkle of maple granola - so good.  I also have made it a point to not deprive myself when I really want something.  When I had a craving for nachos, I had them.  I just made sure that my plate was filled with plenty of lettuce, avocado and salsa.  I added shredded beef, cheddar cheese, and some crushed tortilla chips.  It was so delicious and satisfying!  No more craving and not too much guilt.  When I crave chocolate, I have a square of Trader Joe's dark chocolate with Valencia peanuts - delicious.  

A healthy lifestyle takes some planning and requires making some time for yourself.  The time that you give yourself to exercise or make a healthy meal will be rewarded.  Have a wonderful week! 

I want to share the recipe that I used for my nachos which would be great for upcoming Super Bowl parties.  I used 2 lbs of rump roast which was really lean since it was grass-fed beef (from Simply Grazin').  Yes, I spent $12.50 on meat for tacos/nachos!  I hardly ever buy beef, so when I do, I buy really good quality.  The meat goes a long way too so actually it is a good value. 

Slow Cooker Shredded Mexican Style Beef
Courtesy:   Cooking Light

2 lb. london broil or lean beef roast (trimmed of fat)
taco seasoning - homemade or from a packet
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles
1 chopped onion
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Spray the inside of the slow cooker with vegetable oil spray.  Coat the trimmed beef with taco seasoning.  Place in slow cooker.  Top with chopped green chilis, chopped onion and white vinegar.  Cook on low for 8-9 hours.  Shred with two forks. 

Perfect lean, tasty shredded beef for tacos, burritos, nachos, etc.  Enjoy!