Original and Practical Recipes. Inexpensive, Quick and Healthy.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympic Themed Sunday Night Dinner

My friends gather every Sunday for dinner.  It is a tradition that began before I moved to Chicago, and has continued for 5+ years.  Sunday Night Dinner is one of the highlights of my week.  It is quality time set aside with some of my closest friends.  We always enjoy recapping the events of the weekend, making plans for the week to come, and sharing food.  Dinner hosts rotate casually, there is no list or assigned dates, you host when you can, but things work out so we have dinner almost every Sunday.  The host makes the main dish, and everyone else brings appetizers, side dishes, and desserts.  Usually about 8 people attend dinner so there are many dishes to try.  Sometimes Sunday Night Dinner is assigned a theme.  Pasts themes have included: Childhood Foods, Minnie's (all the food was mini, in honor of a Chicago restaurant that had just closed), the color Blue, the Oscars, Christmas in July, Asia, Halloween, and Mad Men.

Charles and I jumped at the chance to host an Olympics themed SND since he is British and the Olympics are in London.  We instructed our friends to choose a country to represent and make a dish from that country.  For those who wanted to go the extra mile the could also wear an outfit to represent their country.  Charles finally got to wear the Union Jack bow tie I bought him for his birthday, even though he made Greek food.  Our Australian friend, Adrian, wore a jersey and brought Fosters beer.  Dre and Dimo represented Germany by wearing the colors of the German flag and bringing beer, brats, and sauerkraut.  John represented Italian sausage, Dana represented Thailand with Spring Rolls, Woody and Mary represented Sweden with Swedish Meatball cupcakes (Swedish Meatballs topped with Mashed Potato and Cranberry Sauce), Caroline represented Spain with Potatas Bravas, and I also represented Greece and made Moussaka.  I finally followed through with taking photos to document all the delicious foods my friends prepared.  My friends are a creative bunch, and they all did a great job tackling the theme.  We decided that people take the themed dinner more seriously and we always end up with more food then we normally do.

Thank you to everyone who came to dinner!  Later this week I will be posting the recipes for the Greek dishes that Charles and I made.  Here are photos of the delicious dishes my friends made:
Charles's Taramosalata
Charles's Tzatziki with Pita
Caroline's Potatas Bravas
Woody and Mary's Swedish Meatball Cupcakes

Dre and Dimo's Brats, Beer, and Sauerkraut

John's Italian Sausage and Peppers
Dana's Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chicken and Pesto Pasta

This is one of the quickest meals that I have made.  All in all it took only about 20 minutes to make.  I made this on a busy Thursday night when we wanted to have a quick meal before heading to the driving range for a couple hours.

Feel free to add more ingredients to this dish. Mushrooms, pine nuts, or garlic would be great additions.

Serves 2
You will need:
2 Chicken Breasts
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/3 cup Pesto
1 Tomato, diced
3 tablespoons Parmesan
Salt and Pepper

Step 1:
Put water on the stove under high heat to boil for the pasta.  Then dice the chicken breasts.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Generously salt and pepper the chicken.  Then add the chicken to the skillet.

Step 2:
Add 1/3 of the box of pasta to the water once it boils. As the pasta boils, keep an eye on the chicken. It will take about 4-5 minutes per side to cook, just make sure there is no pink in the middle.

Step 3:
The pasta and the chicken should be ready at about the same time. Drain the pasta and return it to the same pot. Pour the chicken over the pasta.

Step 4:
Using the same skillet you used for the chicken, heat up the pesto and tomatoes for 2-3 minutes, until hot. Then pour over the pasta. Add the Parmesan, stir, and serve.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Steak with Woody's Marinade

Our first meal at home as husband and wife!
Charles and I returned home late last Thursday and were so excited to spend Friday together.  I think that spending a weekday off in your home city can be the best because you can go to places that are normally packed on weekend and get in much more easily!  We spent the morning unpacking gifts and then spent the afternoon at our favorite taco place Big Star.

Saturday we decided to have a low key night at home.  Peapod delivered groceries on Saturday morning - so I was able to cook again!  I must admit that I did miss cooking a little.  I can't remember the last time I went 2 weeks+ without cooking anything.

I decided to cook a meal based on Charles's favorite foods, it was the least I could do after he planned such an incredible honeymoon.  Although this meal looks like it may have taken a while, I made it in under an hour (minus the time the steak marinated).

I am pleased to tell everyone that many wedding gifts contributed to making and serving this meal.  Thank you to: The Corgans/Pelleritos for the grill pan, Hanley for the steak knives, the Olcotts for the wine glasses, Helen and Dom for the bakeware, and the Blairs for the meat tenderizer!

Credit goes out to Woody whose marinade recipe I used!

For the Steak You Will Need:
Red Wine
Worcestershire Sauce
Soy Sauce
Olive Oil

Step 1:
Combine equal parts wine, worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce in a glass pan and let marinate for at least 3 hours.

Step 2:
Drizzle a little olive oil onto a grill pan (or any pan).  Heat the pan over high heat.  Then remove the steak from the marinade and generously coat with salt and pepper.

Step 3:
Add the steak to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes a side, until the steak had browned and there are strong grill marks.

Step 4:
At this point the steak will be rare.  To cook the steak more, put under the broiler in the oven, and cook for about 10-15 minutes more for medium temperature steak.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Greek Food

"You no eat meat? It's ok, I make lamb." That is one of our favorite quotes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and something Charles kept saying on our trip. As I have previously mentioned, we loved all the food in Greece- the only problem was that we were eating too much of it! Greek portions are much larger than portions in other countries, they are actually on par with American portion sizes. When you are traveling and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants its easy to over eat. After 2 days we replaced lunch with an afternoon snack.

I took a few of photos of the delicious meals we tried to share with you. I will definitely be making some of these dishes in the near future!
A platter of Greek appetizers.  The tomato fritters in the center were my favorite.  Also included: fava bean puree, tzatziki, grape leaves, eggplant puree, and fried feta cheese.
Moussaka - Santorini's famous dish, made with ground beef, potatoes and cheese.
Gyro platter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Tip: How to Make Powdered Sugar

What do you do when you have 5 pounds of granulated sugar, but the recipe calls for Powdered Sugar?  Pour the granulated sugar into the blender and make powdered sugar.  I recently tried this and it worked pretty well, the consistency was similar, I probably could have blended it longer.  It is definitely a great trick to know!  I read that it works best when you blend only a cup or two at a time.

I'm Back! And life is a bit different now.

Charles and I returned from our fabulous honeymoon on Thursday. Greece was incredibly gorgeous and the people were so genuinely friendly. (Go to Greece right now- it is deserted at cheap these days!) We both loved the food- so much do that Charles insisted on buying a cookbook so we can make Greek food at home.

Upon returning home everyone has been asking if things feel different now. Our relationship feels exactly the same- living together for two years was a lot like being married. We are very glad we lived together first- we can't imagine taking on moving after the wedding! There is one major difference in our lives these days and that is that we finally have free time!!! Charles is done with grad school and the wedding planning is over and we can finally relax. We can also spend much more time together. Instead of eating dinner together 3 or 4 nights a week we can dine together every night. Last night we had an impromptu dinner date at Cafe Ba Ba Reba, one of our favorite restaurants. In the past going to dinner together on a week night was nearly impossible with Charles's school schedule. I am very excited to spend more time with my husband, and since one of my favorite pastimes is cooking and his is eating, you can expect lots more blog posts!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Irish Coffee Chocolate Cake

Important life events need to be celebrated with cake!  Cupcakes are a huge trend these days, but there is something about a cake that makes things more festive.  My friend Zinni finally completed grad school - and he happens to be one of the biggest chocoholics I know.  I decided to take some of Zinni's favorite things and combine them in a cake.  I started with a Devil's Food Chocolate Cake Mix, and added espresso.  Then I made two types of frosting, one with whiskey and one chocolate.  My friends loved the end result - the subtle whiskey flavor combined with the rich chocolate and touch of coffee has a hit!

As a side note - at first glance my friends were hoping that I had made the same cake that I made for Zinni's birthday last October, which some of my friends actually said was their favorite cake.  That cake was a chocolate cake with Bailey's frosting topped with chocolate ganache.  I haven't posted the recipe - but I will soon, and I might just make that cake for Zinni's birthday this year!

You will need:
For the Cake:
1 box of Devil's Food Cake Mix (plus the eggs, water, and oil that requires)
2 shots of espresso
Butter to grease the pans

For the Whiskey Frosting:
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/4 cup of Whiskey, I used Johnny Walker Black Label
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
3 cups Powdered Sugar

For the Chocolate Frosting:
I used this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/chocolate-frosting-recipe/index.html

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the cake box.  Follow the directions on the cake box except for this: pour the espresso into a measuring cup and add water until it equals 1 cup (or whatever the amount of water is supposed to be).

Step 2:
I like to make cakes with thinner layers (which also means more frosting!), so I fill each cake pan half way - which means I can make a four layer cake.  Keep a close eye on the cake since the cook time will be quick - about 15-20 minutes.

Step 3:
Once all of the cake layers are fully cooked, let them cool.  While they cool mix the frostings.  For the whiskey frosting just use a mixer to combine all the ingredients.

Step 4:
Assemble the cake.  You can get creative - I chose to use the chocolate frosting between the layers and then put the whiskey frosting on the outside of the cake.  The chocolate frosting is a bit running - but it still did the job.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Southwest Chicken Wraps

Last weekend my friends and I had a casual picnic at my favorite park.  It was very spur of the moment, and we just to Trader Joe's, grabbed a few picnic supplies from my place, and made dinner.  We made Southwest Chicken wraps which were quick, easy, and healthy!

You will need:
Black Beans
Low Fat Ranch Dressing (Trader Joe's Parmesan Ranch is great)
Cooked diced Chicken Breast
Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Step 1:
Combine the lettuce, corn, black beans, tomato, chicken, cheese and dressing.  Toss.

Step 2:
Put in a wrap and enjoy!  Or just enjoy as a salad.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Artichoke Pizza

Just an ode to one of my favorite foods: Artichoke Pizza!  Yes, a singly slice is that big.  It is quite possibly the greatest food every made.  If you are in New York City I highly recommend you check it out!

Hello from Greece!

Our suite has wifi so I am taking advantage of the opportunity to say hi, while we lounge in the sun and Charles reads.
We started in Athens which is full of lively cafes and taverns with beautiful terraces. We toured the ruins by day and went on long walks in the evenings stopping for beers and dinner along the way. The food here is excellent, lots of fresh salads and grilled meats.
From Athens we took a ferry to Santorini which has more than lived up to the hype. The views are stunning, it is the perfect place to relax after what turned out to be quite the rowdy wedding weekend!
It seems that the news reports of riots in Greece scared off many tourists, because it is high season here and even Santorini is somewhat deserted. It is in our favor though as we are getting excellent service everywhere we go, and it seems totally safe!
I am going to sneak in a nap before our evening cocktails arrive! Here are a few photos!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let's talk about The Wedding

Oh my goodness I am married!  I know that this is a food blog, but I want to share some of what I had learned about wedding planning, because I have learned a lot.

On DIY Projects:
I picked projects that would be done weeks before the actual wedding.  Do not pick things that need to be done at the last minute.  Girl friends of mine had shared stories of brides making them help with silly projects into the wee hours the night before the wedding.  I wanted to avoid this.  I have tackled some major DIY projects though.
  • I learned calligraphy from a book my mother gave me when I was a kid.  Granted that it is not the most fancy calligraphy, but it gets the job done.  So I decided that doing the calligraphy myself would be a great way to save money.  I took a class at Paper Source to refresh my memory and then got to work.  I did calligraphy for the Save the Dates, Invitations, Table Numbers (which are really city names) and Place Cards.  The overall saving was probably about $4-5 a guest.
Place Cards

Table Names (before I erased the pencil)

On Little Ways to Save Money:
Weddings can be crazy expensive, so I thought it made sense to save money in ways that were easy and made sense.
  • We sent Save the Date postcards.  This saved money since we did not have to purchase envelopes, which can be surprisingly pricy, and the postage cost less.  The overall savings was a couple hundred dollars.
The Save the Date - scanned from a Vintage Postcard
  • Our Reply Card was also a postcard.  Again, no envelope and less postage.  This saved a couple hundred dollars.
The Reply Card - also scanned from a Vintage Postcard
  • We set up a great website.  We included all of the extra info on where to stay, how to get there, and what to do on the website.  This worked really well, because people tend to lose paper information anyway.  I used Wedding Window for our site.  It cost $70 and was easy to set up.
  • We sent Evites for all of the extra events.  We did this because it was easier, people reply to Evites more quickly, and because people tend to loose paper invites anyway.

On the Food:
My sister gave me great advice.  Hors d'oeuvres should never be too garlicy, too messy, or leave anything behind (like a shrimp tail or toothpick).  

On planning:
Try to do as much as you can, as early as you can.  My number one goal three weeks before the wedding was to make sure that everyone has all of the information they need before the leave for the trip.  I have been to weddings in the past where it wasn't very clear where the events where, how to get there, and where they started.  A little planning ahead can make things much easier for your guests.
  • Create a downloadable packet of information for your guests.  This was very easy to do.  Using Microsoft Word, I created a document that included key phone numbers, addresses, and a map.  Then I saved it as a PDF and made it part of the wedding website.
  • Google Documents can be your best friend.  They have templates for wedding planning.  I thought that their Seating Arrangement Template was great.  I used that as a base, but then added tabs for a To Do List, Meal Breakdowns, RSVPS, etc.
  • Have a To Do List.  Include anything you may forget.  My fiance gets an email from my every Monday outlining what we need to do, and who needs to do what.  This has been a huge help.  We are actually a little ahead of the game.  He likes to know what needs to be done so he can tackle projects whenever he has time.
  • Limit the number of times you contact your vendors, and give them clearly organized information.  I think most people prefer to receive one clearly thought out email instead of a bunch of back and forth.  I haven't been perfect with this, but I am trying.  Going the extra distance with organizing will probably pay off.  Clearly tell the caterer the final count, the breakdown of who is eating what.  Then take it a little further, how many tables are there, how many people at each table, and how many people are eating each dish at each table.  If there is a diagram that you can use to incorporate this information it will leave no room for confusion.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I am married!

Charles and I tied the knot on Saturday.  The weather called for thunderstorms, but it was sunny and perfect.  The most incredible group of people in the world came to Kennebunkport to celebrate with us.  There were also so many wonderful people who helped with the planning!

The ceremony was performed by a dear friend Rev. Corgan whose daughter was my best friend when I was a little girl.  Everyone commented on what a lovely ceremony it was.  I spent most of the ceremony trying to get my knees to stop shaking!  Thank goodness I wore a long dress.  Charles's hands were shaking when we exchanged rings.

My parents and sister came up with fantastic ideas to decorate the venue.  We got married at the Kennebunk River Club Boathouse - which is a stilted building in the river that looks out to the ocean.  It is the perfect place for a wedding.  My family brought in trees with lights to decorate, which looked incredible.  Other decorations included Chinese lanterns and vintage trunks.  My mother seriously thought of everything.  I think she needs to become a wedding planner!  My sister, Mom, Dad, and some of their friends spent the morning decorating, which was so nice of them!

My brother had a big surprise up his sleeve.  During a band break he and his friend set off a fireworks display!  It was the icing on the cake.

We had a rocking band - The Lisa Love Experience who kept the party going all night.  You can see from the photos that we got sweaty from dancing so much.  Lisa even had me and my friends Dre and Woody perform with her.  We sang Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  Even 2 days later our knees and feet hurt from so much dancing.

Our photographer, Meredith Perdue was great.  She was a huge help when it came to keeping us organized when we were getting ready.  She had lots of great ideas, and it was such a pleasure getting to know her, and I can't wait to see the photos!

We also hired Maine Photobooth Company.  I had no idea that they would do this, but they put together a guestbook for me, which I adore.  Friends added photos from the photobooth and wrote messages.  I was so excited to look through it.  The best part was that I got a memory stick with digital copies of all of the photobooth pictures.  Looking through those photos was the first thing I did when I got home!

The caterer Kitchen Chicks served what I was told was the best wedding food people had ever had.  It was delicious, and the best part was that I actually got to sit down and enjoy it.  The Kitchen Chicks staff was on top of things all night.  If someone saw me without a drink in my hand, one was delivered to me.  When someone asked if I needed anything, and I jokingly said shade, because the sun was right on me while I ate dinner and it was hot in my dress, someone actually stood and blocked the sun!  (and then I explained he didn't need to do that!)  Kitchen Chicks went above and beyond - they even had a waiter who spoke Spanish - which was a huge relief since my mother in law is Spanish.

I also owe HUGE THANK YOUS to my friends!  John and Lisa let me get ready at their home, which is right next to the wedding venue.  They also hosted the after party!  John also acted as chauffeur - he drove me to the wedding in his 1942 Woody.  It was so much fun!  I can't thank him enough!  I also owe a giant thank you to my friend Brian who hosted the after after party.  It was a blast!

Thank you to everyone who traveled to attend the wedding.  It means the world to me that so many people were able to join us.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Pre-Wedding Juice and Raw Food Cleanse

One day I was at work eating a giant Chiptole burrito, when I received an email from Gilt City offering a deal for the 3 day juice and raw food cleanse.  I looked at my burrito, realized that I am about to get married, and thought that signing up for the deal would be a good idea.  I had heard that there are great benefits to cleansing, like having more energy and glowing skin - so why not give it a try?  At the very least, cleansing would keep me from drinking beers and eating fried food over the weekend.

I purchased my cleanse through Peeled (which has locations in Chicago and Evanston).  I was given 4 juices, 2 raw food meals, and a snack for each day.  The staff explained the cleanse to me.
8am: Drink the Watermelon Juice
10am: Drink a Green Juice (it has 5 servings of veggies in it)
12pm: Eat Kale Salad
2pm: Drink the Lemonade
4pm: Drink another Green Juice
7pm: Eat an Asian Salad
8pm: Eat a Macaroon (I hate coconut, so I didn't eat these)

I started my cleanse on a Friday.  The Watermelon juice is pretty tasty, so I had not problem with that (except that it smelled weird).  The Green Juice kinda tastes like weird apple juice.  It has romaine lettuce, spinach, cucumber, parsley, celery, lemon, ginger root, and apple in it.  I wouldn't say that I enjoy it, but it is pretty filling.  The Kale Salad, was not the greatest thing in the world, the smell is actually the worst part.  By 3pm on the first day all I wanted was cheese!  Knowing that I could not have cheese, I had to make the most of what I was given.  The asian salad wasn't great, so I decided to cheat a little and I added some brown rice.  It definitely improved it.  I had about 3 sips of the second Green Juice, but it wasn't happening.

The second day I woke up at 7:30 feeling great.  This might have something to do with the fact that I was asleep on the couch at 9:30 on Friday night.  I had read that you should go to bed early the first day of your cleanse, I don't think it is much of an option.  I had my watermelon juice, since I was signed up for a 9:30 class at the gym (TRX, it's great), I decided to eat a few almonds too.  I decided to let myself cheat a little, just as long as I was sticking to raw foods.  I forced myself to drink the green drink and ate a few more almonds.  I didn't want to eat the Kale Salad, so I didn't.  I went to the beach, and I drank half of the Lemonade - before it got warm and gross.  Then I hit up the grocery store to buy some raw food.  For dinner I had an avocado mashed up with some lime juice and mixed with a tomato and some lettuce.  It was refreshing and delicious.  It might have been as full with nutrients as the food peeled gave me.... but I liked it!  I tried to drink the second Green Juice, and only forced down half of it.

Kale Salad: I was supposed to eat 4 of these, and I didn't.
The third day I woke up at 7 with lots of energy.  Again, I had fallen asleep early, so I think that was part of it.  I drank the watermelon juice, and had some cantaloupe.  Then I worked out, and came home and drank an entire Green Juice.  For lunch I had half of an avocado, mashed up with lemon juice and I dipped carrots in it.  Then I totally cheated and ate a couple veggie tacos for dinner.

Overall thoughts:
I decided to do this cleanse as an experiment.  I do feel healthy and refreshed.  The cleanse also prevented me from making poor food and drink decisions the weekend before the wedding.  Plus I lost two pounds.

Drinking on a Diet

My friends and I go out a lot.  Usually this involves alcohol.  Let's compare some beverages to see what the healthier choices are.

Beers (per 12 ounces)
Sam Adams Boston Lager: 160
Sam Adams Light: 124
Guinness: 125
Beck's Light: 64
Amstel Light: 95
PBR: 152
Bud Light:  95
Miller Lite: 96

Wine (per 5 ounces)
Red Wine: 106
White Wine: 100
Champagne: 91
Skinny Girl Wine: 110

 Hard Alcohol (per ounce)
Vodka: 73
Tequilla: 64

Rum: 64

Whiskey: 73

Mixed Drinks
Margaritas (10 oz.): 550
Skinny Girl Margarita: 110

Overall, the better choices are mixed drinks with low calorie mixers (like club soda).  I have definitely noticed girls ordering vodka soda with limes recently - I guess they did their research.  Another thing to consider is how much alcohol you consume.  I am likely to drink more beers than glasses of wine - so wine would be a better option for me.  You need to consider the amount of calories you consume in beverages when you go out!  Plus, how often does the drinking lead to late night snacking?  You don't want your weekend fun to cancel out your smart choices during the week!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pizza with Grilled Vegetables

I have been super busy, which means I haven't had enough time to cook!  Recently I was at Whole Foods figuring out what to have for dinner and I decided that pizza would be a quick and easy meal.  Whole Foods sells grilled veggies, which are the perfect topping for a pizza.  I chose grilled peppers, onions and zucchini.  This pizza only took 30 minutes total to make from start to finish, and was delicious!

You will need:
Grilled Veggies (I used green pepper, red onion, and zucchini)
Sliced Mushrooms
Tomato Sauce
Ricotta Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese
Pizza Dough (I purchased mine from Whole Foods)

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Then grease a baking sheet with a little butter, and then coat with flour.  The little bit of butter gives the pizza a great crispy crust.

Step 2:
Stretch the pizza out onto the pan.  Then top with sauce, cheese and the grilled vegetables.

Step 3:
Bake for 20-30 minutes until browned.  Enjoy!