Sweet and Savory Quinoa with Grilled Chicken

WOW it’s been a while. I have been meaning to post this for a week, but life gets busy. I have traveled to Boston to see friends, worked a bit extra, and watched UConn win the first two games of the March Madness Tournament (GO UCONN!) so this is one of the first times I am actually sitting down at my computer to post.

First, I love quinoa. I think it is the perfect base to a meal and you can do so many different things with it. Second, I love goat cheese. I have an issue. I can put it on anything and everything and I have no intention of slowing my pace. Third, there is nothing better than combining sweet and savory (aka salty) flavors. In keeping all of these ideas in mind, I decided to create this dish for a delicious and filling (and healthy, of course) meal. It’s super easy and you can throw in whatever you have lying around in your fridge. Did I mention I am a leftovers queen? If you are one of those people who throws away leftovers then you probably won’t have anything lying around… and I feel sad for you.

Onto the recipe!

What you will need:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 1/2 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 log of goat cheese
  • ~1lb of boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 bag of kale (or “bunch” of kale)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, diced in 1″ pieces and roasted in the oven
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • olive oil
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • salt/pepper/garlic powder

First pretend to rinse your quinoa. Okay, I admit it. I don’t rinse my quinoa. But I think you should? Does anyone know why? I would love to know. For now, I will continue my rebellious ways.

raw quinoa

I let it boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the quinoa. Personally I think the directions tell you to cook it too long so I keep a close watch and when almost all the liquid is out I turn off the heat. I “fluff” with a fork. “Fluffing” basically means not to hard stir it or it could all get mushy and clump together.

cooked quinoa

Voila. Place aside.

Next, onto the kale. I typically buy mine from Trader Joe’s because it comes pre-washed and chopped in a bag. So I boil a pot of water and toss it in, stems and all.

garlic_kale

As I am doing this, I am also heating a pan with olive oil, and sauteing some garlic. As soon as the kale is soft (it takes 7-10 mins) I place it right into the pan to finish cooking.

kale into pan

Mix it with the garlic and olive oil and allow the water to cook off (about 5-7 more minutes). Make sure to stir it.

mixed kale

Make sure to season this with salt, pepper and a little parmesan cheese. For all those scared of kale (I was for a long time) you will notice this ends up having a texture similar to broccoli rabe with the taste of spinach. Fantastic.

Now, you have the quinoa and kale ready to go. Quick tip, soak your craisins in warm water to plump them up and soften them. I do this anytime I use craisins or raisins in a recipe. If you get them soaking now, they will be ready when the chicken is done (~10-15 minutes).

I marinated my chicken breasts in 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of honey.

chicken and bowl

I love using a grill pan for chicken in the winter because it makes me feel like its summer time.

grilled chicken

I hope other people get excited about grill marks….

chicken and quinoa

In a big bowl, to the quinoa add the craisins (drain them from the water), kale, chopped walnuts, sweet potato (I didn’t show cooking this because I had it left over in the fridge), 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, drizzle of olive oil and 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar. I also mix in about half the goat cheese and save the rest for topping each plate.

Now, time to plate.

quinoa in bowl

And…

final

I sliced the chicken and added it to the top. This is a delicious meal and can also be served cold for lunch the next day! Enjoy!

Zucchini Noodles and Turkey Meatballs

Zoodles? Noochini? I tried my best to think of a clever name for this, but I thought people might be deterred from reading a post titled “Zoodles and Balls.” I don’t think I am a trusted cook yet, and I would send readers running. I will keep things straight forward (for now).

Boring name or not, this dish is delicious and a GREAT alternative to pasta. I try to keep my week night dinners lower in carbs, so I am constantly trying out new ideas. The first time I had vegetable “noodles” was at home over a year ago, when my dad took zucchini, quash and carrots and shredded them with a vegetable peeler into beautiful ribbons. I actually snapped a picture because it was THAT good, and still have it on my phone.

shrimp

No, this is not at a restaurant. This dinner was made at my house in CT. Didn’t I tell you (in my bio) that I learned to cook from my dad? Oh yea, I forgot to mention he could be a head chef in a Michelin star restaurant (if you asked me). I promise to post way more pictures of his masterpieces to impress/inspire you all.

So, using vegetables as a “noodle” has been on my mind for a while, and I decided to take a stab (or a peel) at it.

Zucchini “Noodles” and Turkey Meatballs
What you will need:

  • 5 small zucchinis or 2-3 large
  •  2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 jar or can of tomato sauce
  • 1 package of skinless boneless white ground turkey meat (my package contained 1 1/3 lb)
  • 1/2 carrot, grated/zested
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 3/4 cup steamed and drained spinach
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • Parmesan cheese (for the meat and for the top of the dish)
  • 1 tbsp basil, chopped
  • Seasoning: 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp garlic powder (and anything else you like)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil

First, peel your squash. You can use a regular vegetable peeler for this (like you would use to peel a carrot). The funniest thing happened to me. I took out a peeler from my drawer (a fancy one my boyfriend’s mom gave me for Christmas last year) and I always just assumed it was a regular peeler. So I began, and IT WAS A PEELER MADE FOR THIS DISH! IT actually turns the zucchini into angel hair strands. My mind is still blown and I can’t wait to use it again. Before I knew it, I had this:

shred

Next, get your sauce heated up. I personally make a quick sauce from scratch (which I will post at a different time), but you can use anything you like. Get it going over medium-low heat and stir it every now and again.

While that is heating, mix your turkey meat. I love working with ground meat because you don’t have to trim and clean it. Just toss it in the bowl. Also add the following ingredients: garlic, carrot (this should be grated/zested into very small bits), tomatoes, spinach, tomato paste, ketchup, basil, 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, and the salt/pepper/garlic powder). I know some people looked at the screen with a “wtf” look when I mentioned carrots. It seems odd but you actually do not taste the carrot, it just gives the meat extra moisture. My skeptical Italian boyfriend approves. You will too.

meat
Mix this all together (your hands work best) and start taking a small handful of the mixture and rolling it in the palms of your hands. If the meat sticks to your hands, you can run them (your hands) under warm water and it should help you handle the meat. You can make any size meatball you want, but if you make them too big they will flatten out when you pan-fry them and look like hamburgers.
Place them on a plate, and get 1 tbsp of olive oil heating in a pan (medium heat). When the oil is hot, place balls in the pan and let them brown on the sides. Don’t over crowd the pan, or you could end up with a mess. I had to separate the meatballs into 2-3 groups to cook.

balls

Once they are mostly brown on the outside, I add them to the sauce (that should be heated by now) and let them simmer in there and finish cooking. This takes at least 15 minutes, but the longer you leave them in there, the more moist and delicious they will be. (I’m sorry that I use the word “moist” so often. I’m ashamed).
While this is simmering away, get your zucchini ready to cook in the pan. This is a very quick process. Coat a pan in olive oil. Once this is hot, add the zucchini strings in and sauté them for ~5 minutes until they are tender but still have a little “bite” to them.

zucchini
Time to serve. Layer the zucchini in a bowl, and cover with the meatballs, sauce, and parmesan cheese. Top with basil. Fabulous.

zucchini plated

finished

bite

Yum. Enjoy!!

Weekend Baking

Good morning!! So I was home last weekend (in Connecticut) and decided to do a little baking with my mom.

photo(1)(1)

(Sisters, right?). My mom is a phenomenal baker. She can look at any recipe and immediately start rattling off substitutions to make the recipe more healthy. Sometimes this can get confusing and messy (think: every single paper recipe she owns has cross outs/white out marks and little notes written everywhere). Despite that, she always manages to transform recipes into something lower sugar, less fat, lower calorie but absolutely delicious. I think she gets a thrill out of it… so if anyone wants to challenge her with a recipe, bring it on.

So anyway, when I was home we decided to make one of her banana bread recipes (altered/healthified, of course). The result was moist, slightly sweet, delicious (and HEALTHY) banana bread. It’s perfect to bake on the weekends when you can meander around the house (or apartment…) with a warm cup of coffee smelling freshly baking bread.

This recipe is very easy and takes about 1 hour and 15 minute start to finish. The preparation is pretty quick (15 minutes or less) but the baking could take up to 1 hour.

So here is what you will need:

image(1)

  • 3 ripe bananas (medium-sized)
  • 1 1/2 cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half white. 3/4 cup of each)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce (I used cinnamon applesauce for added flavor)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup honey (OR you can use agave nectar, or 1 cup of sugar if you like things really sweet)
  • Optional: 3/4 cup fresh blueberries and 3/4 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds)

Before you start, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

First, you want to add the bananas to a bowl and mash them up. You can also use a food processor but I don’t have the counter space nor money for that! So my brokeass will use a wire masher.

mash

When you’re done, it should look like this:

mashed

Next, add in all of the other ingredients (but leave out the blueberries and nuts). Quick tip, don’t add the warm melted butter until it has come to room temperature or you could end up with scrambled eggs in your batter. You’ll be less than pleased. Mix everything together, and it will look like this:

mix

Next, fold in the nuts and berries.

Note: you can add ANY version of chopped nut you like. Also, you can swap berries out for chocolate chips (….I KNOW) but I gave up sweets for lent (and I shed a tear every time I have to say that).

bluenuts

Next, pour your batter into a well greased loaf pan/dish.

rawThrow this baby in the oven (actually, place gently). Depending on your oven, it should take about 60 minutes. I generally set a timer for 45 minutes and take it out and check it. Stick a knife in and see if it comes out clean. Usually it needs another 10 minutes so I set the times for 5 minute increments and keep checking. The last thing you want is to over cook or dry out your bread.

Be patient, and keep checking. You will end up with this:

fresh(1)

Cover the bread with aluminum foil (yet another genius tip from my mom, Jenny) and it will trap in the heat and keep it deliciously moist. Don’t get antsy, you must wait for it to cool before you remove the bread from the pan or you will end up with a crumbly mess. I know this is tough but worth it in the end.

cut

Now grab a slice and a steamy cup of coffee and go enjoy your Sunday!

Cinco de Marzo?

Even though we are a few months off from Cinco de Mayo, I recommend making this guacamole ASAP. There is no cooking involved, it’s easy clean-up especially if you lick the bowl, and you can put this on anything (chips, veggies, chicken, salad…..or eat it off the spoon).

image-7

Despite the simplicity of guacamole, I believe no two are created equal. This was one of the first things I ever attempted to “cook”, and I’ve spent the last 6+ years perfecting it. It’s all about fresh ingredients, using the best version of every ingredient, and being bold with your flavors.

You’ll need:

  • 4 ripe avocados (how do you know they are ripe? when you squeeze them you are able to push in the flesh a bit but they don’t feel mushy)
  • The juice of one lime, plus 1 tsp of lime zest
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • big handful of cilantro, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/2 a small red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup of sweet cherry tomatoes, diced
  • A couple dashes of tobasco sauce
  • 1/2 cup of salsa
  • Salt (dash)
  • Pepper (dash)
  • Garlic powder (dash)
  • Optional: minced jalepeno (if you’re feeling “hot, hot hot”)

Open up the avocados, take the pits out, and scoop them into a big bowl. Throw everything else in.
image-8

Personally, I like my guacamole on the chunkier side so cut the avocado into pieces and gently mash. If you prefer a smoother guac, you can mash the avocado completely and mince the ingredients into smaller pieces. Season to taste… and Ole! You’ve got a one portion serving. Kidding… kind of.

image-9

And now I’m starving.

Home Gym vs. Commerical Gym?

Good evening! I hope everyone is surviving this frigid weather. To be quite honest, this weather makes me reluctant to leave my apartment to do ANYTHING….including going to the gym. As I was amidst my hour-long subway commute up to the Bronx this morning, I was nose deep in the AMNY (which is the free paper they give out as you enter the subway). Featured in the health section was an article called, “Essentials for your home gym.” HOME gym? Genius. Also, can I mention that NYC gym prices range from $65-$250+ per month?? Staying true to my “penny-pinching” ways, I opt for the least expensive. When I lived in CT, I spent $10 a month for a top notch gym…. you can imagine my unbearable frustration.

      On to the “home gym” idea. Most tiny apartments don’t have room for a large treadmill or elliptical, but might be able to manage a yoga mat, some dumbbells and a resistive band. Listed in this article, the “essentials” included a yoga ball, step platform, resistive bands, dumbbells and kettle bells. For those of us living in small apartments and expensive cities, this investment makes sense. I think I could buy all of that with the money I spend on 1-2 months of my gym membership.
So here is what I have come up with:
Home gym
And here are some tips for working out at home (or if you are like me, in your shoebox).
  • Invest in 2 sets dumbbells. Or, convince your roommates to do so and reap the benefits (sorry Shannon/Jackie). Make sure one is your personal “lighter” weight, and one is more of a “heavier” weight.
  • Get a Yoga mat. Rug burn isn’t fun. Trust me.
  • Find some stairs! When I lived in Boston, I found a park with tons of stairs going to different levels. In New York City, I use the fire stairs. When home, I use the stairs leading to my basement.
  • Youtube workout videos! I like to use ToneitUp ($1 on iTunes), Jillian Michaels Yoga (FREE) and Livestrong Stronger (FREE). There are a thousand more. Find someone you like and follow them.
  • Get a chair (think step-ups, tricep dips, modified push-ups)
  • Use the wall (wall push-ups, wall sits, use for balance when doing your step-ups).

And the best advice I can reiterate about indoor cardio (particularly during this lovely winter we are having)…

photo-1(1)

And for all concerned friends, no one has been murdered in this stairwell (despite the rough appearance). It works, I promise.
For now, I plan to maintain my membership and switch back and forth from gym to home workouts. In the future, I could see expanding my “at home gym” and pulling out of that commercial gym racket!
What do you think??? Home gym, commercial gym or both?

Peanut “Noodle” Stir-fry

Welcome to my first post! I promise this will be a good one.

So, every once in a while I get a huge craving for Chinese/Asian food but I’m not crazy about ordering out from a Chinese restaurant. There’s always a ton of oil, and I seem to NEVER feel full or satisfied even after eating a decent amount of food (does anyone else have this problem?). I was also a vegetarian for 5 years so I get easily sketched out by “unidentifiable” meats. I prefer to cook it myself when I can. So, onto the recipe!

But first, why did I quote “noodle” in the title? Because I used spaghetti squash instead of noodles. Spaghetti squash is the yellow oval pumpkin looking thing that’s usually next to other squash in the grocery store.

Let’s start prepping…

Stirfry spaghetti squash 1

How to cook spaghetti squash:

1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise (usually a serrated knife works best) and clean out the seeds in the center (similar to scooping out seeds from a cantaloupe).

2. Drizzle the flesh of the squash with olive oil salt and pepper.

3. Place face down in a cooking dish, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes or until the flesh is soft when you poke with a fork and you can scoop out the “spaghetti”. Be careful to let it a cool a little before scooping… I’m usually in a rush and burn my hands but I try to be patient! Scoop the “spaghetti” into a bowl, and place aside for later.

Now it’s time for the chicken. I like to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts (organic when possible). I trim them up, chop into bite sizes, and get them marinating ASAP!

You’ll need:

  • 1 package of chicken (1-1 1/2 lbs) cut into bite sizes
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1″ “nub” of ginger (peeled and minced)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon of oil (I used sesame oil but you could use coconut oil also)
  • 3/4 cup of an Asian marinade (I used hoisen garlic sauce I found on sale)
  • 2 scallions sliced
  • Sriracha (if you like things spicy)

Put everything together in a bowl, and place aside. Don’t worry if you need to make substitutions. I do it ALL the time.

Stir fry chickenNow onto the vegetables. You can really get creative here. This is a great way to sneak in some healthy veggies that will be covered in a delicious sauce. I decided to use bok choy (Chinese cabbage) chopped, snow peas (sliced lengthwise), carrots (cut into thin sticks), broccoli (chopped) and onion (sliced). (I have also used peppers and mushrooms before).

Now the fun part (not!): get chopping

Stirfry veg

And lastly, the sauce. This sauce is plain heaven.

Peanut Stir-fry Sauce

  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon of brown rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of Sriracha
  • 1/2 cup of marinade from before (i used hoisen garlic sauce)

Mix everything together and set aside. This might seem pretty thick, but you will add this into the vegetables and chicken once they get cooking. The water that releases from the vegetables will thin it out to a perfect consistency.

NOW WE START TO COOK!

There is method to the madness when you make a stir-fry (in my opinion). The idea is first add the items that take the longest. If you add everything together, the items that take only 1-2 minutes will get mushy as they wait for everything to cook.

First, add some oil to a big pot (or a wok if you happen to have one lying around). I’d recommend using an oil with a higher cooking temperature like sesame oil,  or coconut oil (versus olive oil) since the idea here is to make the temperature super hot to quick cook the veggies and keep them nice and crisp. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion. Make sure to keep stirring everything so things don’t burn!

Wait 2 minutes, and then add the broccoli.

Wait 3-4 minutes, then add the chicken (KEEP STIRRING!)

Wait 4 minutes (or until chicken is mostly browned on the outside) and add the carrots

Wait 2 minutes and then add the bok choy

Wait 2 minutes and add the snow peas (these take no time at all – especially if you like things crisp).

Next add the sauce and the spaghetti squash. Like I mentioned, there should be liquid at the bottom of the pot which will thin out the sauce. If not, you can add some hot water. Mix it all up and let simmer for a few more minutes to allow everything to absorb the sauce.

Top with some roasted peanuts (or cashews) and fresh scallions and voila! Dinner is served.

Stirfry plate1

I hope you come back soon to see what else I have in store!!