Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Dinner 2014

This year was special. It was the first year that my sister and I cooked the entire Christmas meal, from the turkey to all of the trimmings. After hours of being on our feet, chopping, sautéing, mixing, kneading, basting, and roasting, it was incredibly rewarding to sit down and enjoy a meal that we labored over and to see our family enjoy it as well. But let me tell you, it was hard work! Wow. At some point, we both looked at each other and said mom does this every year?! Because we like to be ambitious, we decided to put new spins on the classic holiday meal sides. Check out our menu below.

Oh and everything was made from scratch!


Menu
Sweet potato cornbread stuffing
Jalapeño and bacon macaroni and cheese
Cheddar bay biscuits
Garlic mashed potatoes with spinach and bacon
Roasted vegetables
Cilantro and curry jasmine rice






Desserts
Banana cream pies (one with a ginger molasses crust and one with peanut butter)
Sweet potato pie
Blueberry hand pies

After dinner we went to see the Christmas lights they put up every year.



I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sugar and Spice and Sweet Potatoes!

I'm not even going to attempt to mask my deep love for the sweet potato. It's one of my favorite things to eat.  When I go out to restaurants it's the first item I scan the menu for. If I were stranded on an island, and could only eat one thing, it's the one thing I'd choose. So when I came across a sweet potato bread recipe here I knew that I had to make it. This recipe is bananas (technically it's sweet potatoes, but you know what I mean).




This bread will have your home smelling amazing. I mean the smell literally beckons. Beyond the smell, it tasted incredible. My sister, who I consider the resident baking expert in our family tried it and loved it. I got the recipe here. I initially baked the bread to take to a potluck dinner with friends. It was so good that two days later, I baked it again, only this time as muffins, to take to my school's Thanksgiving pot luck luncheon, and I have every intention of baking it again for Christmas 2014.



Make this bread!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Culinary Pursuits: Baked Gingerbread Oatmeal Cups

When I think of the holidays, one of the first things I think about is all of the amazing seasonal food that I start seeing on restaurant menus and grocery store shelves. And since they'll only be around for a limited amount of time, I try to convince myself that it's okay to indulge. Well I'm all for indulging every so often, but at some point it can get to be too much. Between the cookies, muffins, cakes, and pies, I can start to feel a little guilty. The truth is that you can enjoy those holiday seasonal treats without all of the guilt attached to it. Enter these baked gingerbread oatmeal cups. They deliver on that comforting and familiar gingerbread Christmasy taste while skipping the tons of sugar and icing that usually comes along with it. Check out the easy recipe below:


Ingredients:

2 cups of old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 cup of light brown sugar
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
a pinch of sea salt
2 cups of almond milk
1 beaten egg
3 tablespoons of coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of honey

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners.

Combine oats, baking powder, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and sea salt.

Add almond milk to dry ingredients, then beaten egg, then melted coconut oil, then vanilla extract, and then honey.


Add 1/4 cup of batter to each cupcake liner.


Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.


Enjoy!

One of the great things about these cups is that they're so customizable. Similar to my frittata muffins that I've made before (see here), I can switch up the ingredients to satisfy whatever craving I may be having. I'm already planning to do a maple sweet potato version, a banana chocolate chip version, a white chocolate chip and cranberry version, and a mango pineapple version!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Culinary Pursuits: Pumpkin Chocolate and Cinnamon Chip Bars

In case you have yet to get your pumpkin fill I have a pumpkin recipe especially for you. Last month I made some pumpkin bars to take to class mainly because I had leftover pumpkin that I needed to use up. I wanted to make them health*ier* so I used white whole wheat flour and coconut oil in place of any butter. Well, they came out amazing. And don't just take my word for it - my classmates agreed too. So of course I had to share the recipe. Check it out below!



Ingredients:

2 cups of white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2/3 cup of coconut oil (melted)
1 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon + 1 teaspoon of nutmeg + fill the rest of a 1/4 cup with brown sugar
1 cup of canned pumpkin (I used Libby's found at Walmart)
3 tsp of sweetened almond milk (you can also use water)
1.5 cups of dark chocolate chunks, cinnamon chips, and white chocolate chips (about 1/2 cup of each)



Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9x13 inch pan with PAM (or a coconut oil spray if you have it - it's not necessary though)

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt. 

In a separate large bowl, combine the pumpkin, oil, sugar, vanilla, and milk, until smooth. 

Gradually mix in the dry ingredients until smooth. 

Fold in the chocolate and cinnamon chips and then spread the batter out on the pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving




Enjoy!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

2014 Budget Friendly Christmas Gift Ideas

One down! I just finished the first semester of my program, and I must say that it went really well. I definitely feel like I learned a lot this past semester which is exciting. Ask me about symbolic interactionism or media dependency and I'll prove it to you! Now that I have a chance to catch my breath, I can't believe how quickly it went by. It didn't feel that way during the semester, but now it seems like orientation was just yesterday. I have big plans for my break including the three R's (rest, relaxation, and reading).

Anywho, I imagine everyone is knee deep in Christmas shopping. Maybe now you're beginning to contemplate cutting off some friends before your wallet becomes weightless. Well, I come bearing ideas for a way to save some money and keep your friends too.

On some random weekend night, I was in Target with my sister. As soon as we walked in, we saw their section with cute little one dollar Christmas-themed gifts and knick-knacks. They had thank you cards, pens and pencils, notepads, stickers, and all kinds of other things. What instantly caught my eye were some aluminum tin buckets. They were so cute and for only one dollar I had to get some (read: ten). I just couldn't help myself. Then I thought it would be cute to fill them with chocolate and other Christmasy things and give them as gifts to my cohort. Just call me Mrs. Clause!


Now this may sound weird but I actually had fun putting each person's little bucket together. I tried to personalize them so that all nine people wouldn't be getting the exact same thing.


I bought some gingerbread twix that I found at Target, some hot chocolate and red velvet truffles from World Market, some vanilla roasted almonds, some red and green Starburst candy canes, some starburst and m&m filled plastic candy canes, and some hand-sanitizer wipes because, let's be honest, this isn't just the season to be jolly, it's also the season to be sickly:-(







As a separate idea, I also bought some mini champagne bottles, a bag of Hershey's kisses, and put the kisses in the tin buckets to do "champagne on ice." My classmates loved them!



It's just a matter of being a little creative. These gifts didn't break the bank, but they look nice and people really appreciate all of the different elements that go into them. The last time I went into Target (which was a couple of hours ago lol), they still had the buckets, and the other little knick knacks that I originally found. You can also put in socks or gloves, some jewelry, like a nice necklace or pair of earrings, or you could even do baked goods. The possibilities are literally endless. I hope this gives you some gift-giving inspiration.

Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Culinary Pursuits: White Bean Chicken Chili Soup

You may want to grab your iPad or a pen and paper and take notes because you'll want to make this soup. It was so incredibly good, that I can't wait until I have people over so I can make it for them.


Ingredients

1 large yellow onion, diced
32 oz of Thai ginger chicken broth
1 15 oz can of fresh cut corn
1 15 oz can of cannelini beans
1 10 oz can of Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies
3 cups of shredded Rotiserrie lemon pepper chicken
1 medium sized red bellpepper, diced

Spices (1 healthy sized teaspoon of each)
Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
Rosemary Garlic
Cilantro
Sea salt
Curry
Cumin
Crushed red pepper flakes
McCormick Fiery 5 red pepper



1. Chop all your veggies.
2. Saute your onions until translucent (about 2-3 minutes on medium heat) with a tablespoon of olive oil, sea salt, and cilantro in a big pot.
3. Add your bell peppers and sauté for an additional 2 minutes.
4. Add in the Thai ginger chicken broth.
5. Add in the shredded chicken, turn the heat down to a low to medium heat and cover for 5 minutes
6. Add the spices and cover for another 5 minutes.
7. Add the Rotel diced tomatoes, the corn, and the cannellini beans.
8. Cover and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
9. Let cool and then serve.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Healthy Sweet Treat: Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread

Yesterday one of my cohort members had a small birthday get together at her place. As I was trying to decide what to make, three quickly ripening bananas were staring me in the face. Decision made. Now I just had to find a good recipe. Fortunately, I found the perfect one online (check it out here) and ventured into the very unfamiliar territory of baking banana bread.



It came out wonderfully. It smelled amazing, it looked great, and most importantly it tasted delicious. I was so pleased with the results that I thought I'd share. You should definitely give this one a try if you're looking for a healthier banana bread. The recipe calls for white whole wheat flour and no oil (used vanilla greek yogurt instead).





P.S. I had a slice today with some maple almond butter and it was amazing. Hope your week is equally amazing!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Culinary Pursuits: Spicy Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili

It's officially chili season! I don't know about you but chili and soup are about all I want to eat in the fall. They're just warm, feel good meals. I wanted to make a black bean chili but with sweet potatoes so I decided to wing it and create my own recipe. I loved the end result, so I had to share. Check it out below!

Ingredients:
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 15oz can of reduced sodium black beans
1 15 oz can of corn
1 10 oz can of Rotel diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime juice
1 10 oz can of Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 large onion, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
goat cheese

Seasonings:
Sea salt
cumin
Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning
curry powder
Fiery 5 red pepper
chili powder
cilantro
crushed red pepper flakes

I had initially planned to add chick peas but later decided against it.




Instructions:
1. Spray a baking pan with canola oil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Chop your sweet potatoes into 1/2 in cubes, spread them across your pan evenly, spray them with olive oil, and sprinkle on some sea salt.
3. Put them in the oven and let them cook for about 40 minutes.
4. Turn the stove on to medium heat and spray some olive oil on the bottom.
5. Sauté your onions for 2-3 minutes, then add the diced bell pepper along with some sea salt and cumin.
6. Let them sauté for another 3 minutes.
7. Add your cans of Rotel diced tomatoes and add one teaspoon of Tony Chachere's creole seasoning.
8. Add the corn (don't drain the liquid!) and let that cook for about 5 minutes.
9. Next, add the black beans (again, don't drain the liquid), and let that cook for another 5 minutes.
10. Continue to stir your chili and add crushed red pepper flakes, cilantro, curry powder, and sea salt.
11. Bring to a simmer for about ten minutes. If it's still too thick for you, add one cup of water at a time, until desired consistency.
12. Once they're done, add your sweet potatoes to the chili.
13. Let it cool.
14. Spoon out some chili and sprinkle with goat cheese (or plain greek yogurt).
15. Enjoy!



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Culinary Pursuits: Coconut Curry Kale Chips

What to do when you have a half of bag of kale in your fridge that you don't want to go to waste? You make kale chips. I've wanted to try making my own kale chips for a while especially since it seemed so simple. Well it was! Check out the recipe below:

Ingredients:
5 cups of kale
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1/2 cup of Coconut Milk
Olive oil spray
Red Pepper Flakes
Sea Salt




Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spray a baking sheet with canola oil.
Mix together the coconut milk and curry powder.
Toss the kale in the coconut curry mix.
Lay pieces of kale flat on the baking sheet.
Spray some olive oil over the kale, and then sprinkle on some sea salt and red pepper flakes
Put them in the oven and  cook for 10 minutes or until crispy.


 Enjoy!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Culinary Pursuits: Warm Kale Quinoa Salad

I've officially been a PhD student for a month now and so far, so good. Balancing a full course load with my research assistantship and taking time to just breathe has been a challenge, but I'm hanging in there. No rest for the weary! Fortunately, I'm surrounded by good people and that has made all the difference. It also helps that I have a great space to come back to after a long day. I love my apartment (especially my kitchen). It's so nice and spacious so I feel like I have to put it to good use. One of the first dishes I made in it was this warm kale quinoa salad. It was too yummy not to share the recipe so check it out below!



Ingredients
1/3 cup of coconut milk
1 cup of quinoa
Kale (6 cups)
4 cups of sweet potatoes
15 oz can of black beans
15 oz can of garbanzo beans
curry powder
sea salt
Olive oil spray

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Dice two medium sized sweet potatoes, spray them with olive oil and sprinkle on some sea salt.
Pop them in the oven for 35-40 minutes
Follow package instructions for cooking quinoa. I like to add sea salt and curry to the water I use to cook the quinoa so it's more flavorful.
While quinoa is cooking, cook the beans (adding curry powder and sea salt to taste) on medium to high heat for 3-4 minutes (Don't drain the sauce from the beans. You'll use that for the kale).
Once the beans are done stir in the kale one cup at a time until it shrinks in volume.
Once quinoa is done add coconut milk and stir.
Add the sweet potatoes and the kale-bean mix to the quinoa and stir.
Optional: Garnish with goat cheese and sliced honey roasted almonds.



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Work Wear Inspiration

For the final week of my fellowship I wanted to kick my work looks up a notch. Hope you enjoy!

Blazer and Top: Forever 21, Skirt: Modcloth, Shoes: Aldo, Necklace: Target

Top: JcPenney, Trousers & Bracelet: J Crew, Shoes: Aldo, Necklace: Versona

Top: Ralph Lauren (thrifted), Skirt: Madewell, Shoes: Aldo


While one fellowship has officially ended, another has begun. I'll be sure to post my outfits and style inspiration as a PhD student for going to class, attending research meetings, or when meeting with advisors. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Peace Out Atlanta

Terra Terroir


I went to dinner last night with a group of friends at a restaurant called Terra Terroir. I had such a great time! You should definitely check them out if you're in the Atlanta area. In case you're interested the cami and the shoes are from Forever 21 and the tulle skirt is from Asos:)


You may have noticed it from some of my previous posts, but I'll be leaving Atlanta soon. Yes, I know I just got here! Things have been a little hectic these past six months but I'm so grateful for all of the opportunities I've received. I had flirted with the idea of doing a PhD program for a while but I wasn't sure exactly which programs to apply to (public health or communication) or where I wanted to go. As it turns out, not landing a full time position right after graduation was a huge blessing. It gave me time to think about exactly what should come next. When I finally applied to programs, I tried not to have any expectations about the outcomes. I could not have imagined, however, that things would turn out as incredibly as they did. It just provided extra confirmation that I was staying the course.

I'll be starting a communication PhD program focusing on health communication at a great school that also happens to have a very reputable and highly regarded public health program (totally un-biased opinion). Ultimately, I chose to do a PhD program because I think it's critical for my career development to receive education and training in effective communication methods and principles so that I can apply them to health issues. I'm so excited about the opportunities, challenges, and knowledge that this program will bring.

As a bit of an aside, I want to stress the importance of taking a chance on yourself. Personally, I have to be willing to try things even if I think my efforts will be unsuccessful. This isn't because I'm supremely confident that things will work out, it's because I don't want to be tormented by the unknown. A willingness to see things through is great for your peace of mind. The odds were certainly stacked against me during my application process. These programs say no far more than they say yes. From the very beginning I prepared myself for the reality of a "no," but I still forged ahead.  I felt like I would be cheating myself on living if I did not. By only making safe choices there may be no chance of rejection, but there's also no chance of a real reward. Keep that in mind as you go about the days ahead. 

Here's to a fabulous week!!!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chi's Thoughts: Cooked by Michael Pollan



Many moons ago I mentioned that I was going to do a review on Michael Pollan's Cooked. Well, I finished reading it but never got around to publishing the review so today I made myself.

I can always be guaranteed three things when I read a Pollan book and that is to walk away with more insight on food science, food trends, and food politics. This book certainly did not disappoint in any of those areas.

The Basics
The book itself is split into four sections - one for each of the major categories of cooking (barbecuing; cooking in a vessel - boiling or braising; baking, and fermenting) which each correspond to one of the classical elements - fire, water, air, and Earth.

A New Way of Thinking
I appreciate that Pollan makes you think about things in ways you never thought about before. For example, he mentions that all cooking starts with an act of destruction - killing, cutting, chopping, or mashing. I never really thought about it but it's true (unless you count cereal as cooking which some people do).

He also notes that cooking makes us human. For one, it's something we can do that other species can't (pretty sure). Two, cooking opens up a wider variety of food sources to us, and allows us to get a more energy-dense and digestible diet which allowed our brains to grow bigger (as a result of more and better nutrients) and our guts to shrink (cooking eliminated some of the chewing and digestion restraints so we didn't need such large digestive tracts).

Food Science
Fermentation also pre-digests food for us. Fermented food like breads or cheeses contains live cultures (bacteria) that are steadily at work transforming the contents of the food they're contained in, into by products that we can consume which are then further digested in our stomachs. These bacteria also contribute to the diversity of the bacteria in our gut (gut microbiota) where food gets further digested.

The same molecules responsible for making you cry when you're chopping onions may also be protecting you from dangerous bacterial growth.

Food Trends
If you're on Instagram you've seen your fair share of raw foodie advocates showcasing their raw food dishes. That's all well and good but a completely raw food diet is not sustainable according to Pollan. He notes that raw foods take more time to chew and digest which is why raw foodies rely heavily on juicers and blenders. Without them, he says, they would spend as much time chewing and digesting food as chimps do (several hours a day).

Apparently, there is not enough energy in raw foods to sustain our brains and bodies. We tend to introduce a lot of calories when we cook food with our sauces and oils and other ingredients, and as a natural by product of cooking itself, which is actually beneficial (to an extent of course)

Food Politics
I never thought about barbecuing as being inherently political but that quickly changed after reading Cooked. The methods for barbecuing - whole hog vs. section, what wood to use, even whether or not to use coals, can vary significantly from region to region, state to state, and county to county, with each group feeling that their method is superior, more authentic, or better tasting, than all the others.

Sometimes, I could do without his belabored style of writing. These are obviously topics that Pollan cares deeply about but sometimes I would read a passage and think, "Wow, that was a bit much."

Overall, I enjoyed the book and think it's a solid read for anyone wanting to learn more about some of the history behind the different cooking techniques we use and the evolution of cooking itself.

I hope you all are having a fabulous week!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lazy Girl's Guide to Quick Meals: Bumblebee Sensations

Meal prepping can be a big time saver, but it still takes time to do. There are some weeks I just don't feel like it, and other weeks where I underestimate my healthy appetite and don't prep quite enough. During these instances, I like to make sure that I have items on hand that lend themselves to quick meals. I'm not a big fan of frozen dinners or canned soups since they tend to have extremely high sodium content, so I keep things like sweet potatoes around that can be microwaved relatively quickly or deli meat to make sandwiches. One type of sandwich I love but didn't really eat for a while was tuna. 

Tuna salad typically has mayonnaise in it which by itself can be a big calorie booster (1 tablespoon has about 90 calories). More recently, I found these Bumblee tuna sensation cans (no mayo) in several different flavors that were much lower in calorie count than your typical tuna salad. Spicy thai chili is my favorite but I also really like lemon pepper. I put the entire can on top of some toasted Ezekiel bread with a sprinkle of goat cheese and I have a yummy tuna sandwich for under 350 calories. I can pair this with some fruit or rice cakes to enjoy a full and filling meal.


I hope you're enjoying a restful Sunday!