Friday, March 30, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Chicken and Black Bean Quesadillas

This meal came about in a rather interesting way. I wanted to give this recipe a shot and talked to bf about it. Here is how the conversation went.

Me: I want to try this chicken and black bean dish.
Bf: Ok, what's in it?
Me: chicken, beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes and then you put cheese and sour cream on it and serve it in tortillas.
Bf: It sounds like a quesadilla.
Me: Yeah it's similar to a quesadilla.
Bf: It is a quesadilla.
Me:.....(thinking if I could argue the point) yeaaah, I'm not sure why I didn't think of it like that.

This dinner was so fast and easy, as per the requirements of this series, and it was delicious! Despite the fact that I didn't originally visualize the dish correctly, it was amazing. Both bf and I scarfed down the dinner and burned our tongues. I'm noticing that I do that a lot. Clearly I should work on not humping head first into my food. The only change I might make is I would include a squeeze of lime juice just before baking to include some freshness.

Chicken and Black Bean Quesadillas
recipe from here

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 chicken breasts, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup salsa
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Splenda
One 14-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
Shredded cheese, sour cream, olives
about 6 whole wheat quesadillas

We started by heating the olive oil and then adding the onion, garlic and chicken. When the chicken was cooked through and the onion was soft, we added the drained tomatoes, salt, cumin, oregano, black pepper, Splenda, and black beans. We also preheated the oven to about 375.
 We stirred the mix and cooked for about 10 minutes until it thickened nicely and most of the liquid was gone.
We scooped several spoonfuls of the mixture onto one half of the tortilla and sprinkled some cheese on top. We didn't have sliced olives but if we did, those would also go in the tortilla.
 We folded the tortillas over and baked for about 10 minutes until the cheese was melted and the top of the quesadillas were slightly crunchy.
We enjoyed the quesadillas with a dollop of sour cream. They were so delicious and definitely something we will make again!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Restaurant Review: Evening Star Cafe

I'm not sure how, but bf found this place online and decided we needed to go. It definitely isn't located in our normal neighborhood (Del Ray in Alexandria), but I'm really glad we visisted. The menu was original and the food delicious and the entire restaurant felt like we had stepped back in time to the 1950's. From the decor to the lighting, it just felt so cozy and warm.

The service was quick and friendly, but we never felt rushed or forced to make a decision. Bf had the shrimp and grits, which were packed with flavor and I had the seared sweet potato dumplings with a blue cheese fondue sauce and a green salad. My meal was unlike anything I had tasted before. The combination of the sweet flavor of the sweet potato and the tangy sharp blue cheese did not originally sound good, but was incredible. We shared the homemade apple cobbler with biscuit topping and whiskey ice cream for dessert. It was so massive that we brought most of it home and enjoyed it the next day. I didn't partake, but the beer menu was also extensive, creative and had great local options.

I loved this restaurant, mostly because of the feeling it created. Don't get me wrong, I'd visit again for the food anytime, but the ambiance was so special, I'll be thinking of it fondly for weeks to come.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Restaurant Review: Bayou Bakery

As part of my Spring Break activities, bf and I have been exploring a few new places. Technically it's not confined to Spring Break and we've been in the adventure sort of mood lately, but since I'm here this week on vacation, I thought I'd share a few of my finds. Up first is Bayou Bakery. Located at 1515 North Courthouse Road, Arlington, VA, this coffee shop/cafe is one of a kind. I loved it's totally unique vibe and the fact that it couldn't be farther from a chain shop. No Starbucks sizes or specialty drinks to be found here. Not that I'm outright opposed to Starbucks, I'm a frequent visitor there as well, but a fun boutique store is always appreciated in my book. Bf was actually the one that found this place and since they had buttermilk biscuits, he figured I needed to give it a shot.
I intended to take a picture of my food before I started, but I was so excited to eat, I got to this point before I realized my camera was still in my purse. Oops. But here is my report: the tea and coffee were both excellent and on the strong side. The biscuits were large and hot, but a tiny bit dry, so the honey and apple butter really went nice. Bf said his breakfast sandwich was great.

The owner of the store was originally from New Orleans and apparently, he wanted to recreate a place that felt like home. While I've never been to New Orleans, it certainly fit the image I had in my mind. Bf has been and assured me it was quite authentic.
Just your average table decor.

The shutters above the counter really added a realistic touch to the whole place. The place is homey and charming and so incredibly neat. The menu is also pretty large (not just breakfast, lunch and dinner too). I think it's the kind of place where you could order and sit and read and not be bothered for hours. So you can be assured I will go back again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Curried Chicken Salad

As you may have noticed, usually I share my weeknight series on Friday. Well last week was a little unusual. Earlier in the week, my school work sort of took over my life. Then on Thursday I flew to DC to see bf for my Spring Break. My flight didn't go exactly as planned. I intended to use the hours to work on the paper that was due Friday. Unfortunately, the turbulence was some of the worst I've experienced. Motion sickness is something I've struggled with a lot since pretty much the day I was born. Needless to say I'm sure, I really didn't get a whole lot done. As a result, Thursday night and Friday was consumed with paper writing, and blogging kind of got put on the back burner. Anywho, I do have recipes to share and I hope you like them! This recipe is delicious. It's such a flavorful spin on an old favorite and is, of course because of the title of my series, easy to make.

Curried Chicken Salad
recipe from here

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Curry powder
Zest and Juice of half a lime
2 teaspoons sugar-free honey, agave nectar, or honey
Pinch of garlic powder
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups diced, cooked chicken
1/2 cup quartered grapes
1/4 cup diced red pepper
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 stalk celery chopped

 I started by cooking the chicken and dicing it up into small bites.
 Then I chopped the celery, red bell pepper, and grapes and added them to the bowl. I also added the almonds. Then, I added some extra grapes for good measure because I love them in my salad.
 In a separate bowl, I mixed together the mayo, curry, lime juice, salt, pepper and honey. Then I added the dressing and mixed everything together in the bowl.
I let the chicken salad cool for about an hour in the fridge. The time isn't really necessary for the temperature, but it really helps the flavor meld together. Then I put a dollop of the salad on a leaf of butter lettuce and rolled it up into a wrap. It would also be great on a sandwich roll and it's amazing plain also. Another great benefit? The salad only gets better with time, so it's perfect for lunch the next day!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thick and Hearty Oatmeal Bread

So this post was originally intended for yesterday. I hadn't written it yet, but in my mind it was set for yesterday. Below I have included what I originally intended to say. But I wanted to explain what got in my way yesterday. I don't know if any of you occasionally have issues with anxiety or stress. Sure, we all have moments where we feel overwhelmed and we all have moments when that stress is a good thing and drives us. I sometimes, less and less as I get older and learn how to cope with my issues, have a third kind of anxiety. A cement-in-my-boots kind that literally stops you in your tracks. Like all of a sudden a wall is in front of you with no way around it and no doors and no windows and it just keeps getting higher and higher. I was faced with a massive paper that is due at the end of the week and although I know that it's really, really important, I couldn't bring myself to work on it. I tried. I sat and stared at the computer screen. But for some reason I felt paralyzed. I think it might have something to do with a fear that I won't finish, or I won't finish to my satisfaction, but I'm no expert. Either way, I eventually got my fingers moving and was able to produce some work. Not as much as I had hoped for the day, but enough that I am not tragically doomed to failure. I don't share this story to ask for sympathy, everyone has their own burdens, sometimes mine is a tendency to be over-anxious. I tell you all because I know there are a lot of people out there who struggle with similar issues and are worried they are alone. Worried if they talk to people they will be judged. Mental illnesses or just difficulties with these sort of things are a tricky subject in today's society and while I don't think my humble little post will fix that, I do hope it's one step in the right direction.

Raise your hands if you like bread. Picture me raising both hands emphatically in the air, perched precariously on my tush as I try and raise both feet too. Ok, not such a cute image, but I really like bread. If I could live on bread, fruit, desserts, pasta and cheese I'd be a very happy girl. Fat, crazy unhealthy, but pretty happy. I'm always on the lookout for great bread recipes, and if it's quick and great for breakfast (as we know I struggle with that meal), even better. Since school has been gobbling up my time lately (the nerve! <- this is sarcasm by the way, I fully expect school to dominate my time, I entered grad school willingly) I need fast recipes. Multiple hour rises are not in the cards at the moment. So this bread worked great. Only one quick rise, no kneading involved, and it produces an amazing, hearty, flavorful bread. Warning: if you are expecting a sweet, dessert-like bread here, you will be disappointed. This baby belongs in the burly, masculine pile of breads. The loaf would definitely be a he if these things had genders in the English language. No frilly lace or bows or sparkles here. I digress....I really enjoyed this bread heated up in the morning with a little drizzle of agave nectar or honey over the top. The author initially added walnuts for additional nutty taste, which I preferred to leave out. Jam would also be an amazing topping. So without further ado...

Thick and Hearty Oatmeal Bread
from here

1 1/4 cups warm water (about 105-115°F–it should feel warm to your wrist but not hot)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet)
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup kamut flour/whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons neutral oil-> next time I'll use butter

 I started by mixing together the yeast, honey and warm water. Then I let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes.
In a separate bowl, I whisked together the flours, oats and salt.
 I also oiled up the loaf pan. Next time I'll use butter because the oil really didn't prevent the loaf from sticking.
After about ten minutes the yeast mixture was bubbly and foamy.
 Next, I mixed together the flour mix and the yeast and stirred until just incorporated.
 I put the mixture into the loaf pan and placed a slightly damp towel over the pan and let it rise for 30 minutes. This picture shows how bread looks after the rising time.
 I baked the bread for about 35 minutes, until slightly golden on top (see the next picture). The bottom was a little bit of a disaster. I had to work really hard to get the loaf out. So next time I'll use butter.
 Here is the loaf once it was cooling.
 Once the loaf was mostly cooled, I sliced a piece and drizzled some honey on top. It was so delicious and so filling!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy Monday!

I lie. There really is no such this as Happy Monday. Am I right or am I right? The only exceptions that come to mind are when it's Monday and you are on vacation all week which means you still have tons of time off. Or bf is visiting until Friday and so it being Monday means you still have several days left (that happened a few weeks ago, it was first time in a long time I was happy to see Monday on the calendar). This Monday just represents another day consumed by writing papers. Rarely, oh so rarely, I have moments when my words flow freely and I never have to battle to get the right words to come out of my fingertips. Writing is such a pleasure and I feel like I can accomplish anything. This past weekend and today have not been filled with those moments. Those special moments have been hiding. Like winter. So I remain at my desk, battling away until another one of those moments sneaks up on me. Or until my papers are finished. One of two has to eventually happen.

On another note, did you have a good weekend? I hope so. Mine was mostly writing, but on Friday I spent the day with my sister, mom and godmother. The four of us are NEVER together in one place at the same time and it was such a nice treat. My mom even surprised me with a little Easter guy. Bf- stop rolling your eyes. We all know how much you love them. But seriously, this one really isn't creepy. Not even close.

We were also planning on having my brother, sister-in-law and nieces over for dinner because it was my sister-in-law's birthday. But then we walked in the door and there wasn't power in the house. It had been raining for a while so we figured maybe a tree had fallen somewhere. And then I looked outside and it was no longer a mystery. PS- please forgive the terrible photos, in all the shock I forgot I had my camera and just used my phone.

My mom is all for impromptu landscape design changes, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't what she had in mind. Good thing she wanted to replace the fence anyway.

Can you believe the size of this tree? Totally insane. Thankfully, no one was hurt, the doggies were inside and the tree didn't fall on the house. All in all a lucky day. But that kind of put the brakes on dinner at my parents' house. I was planning on sharing some cooking items from the night, but we ended up schlepping the food to my brother's house and in the madness, documenting the meal sort of fell by the wayside. So, instead I'm sharing the dramatic tree photos and will return tomorrow with a delicious bread recipe. Stay tuned! PS- I think I deserve a tiny bit of credit for figuring out how to put text on my photo. Even if it's way too small. Technology and I aren't best buds. I'm proud I even figured out how to do it. Anyone else impressed? No? Just me?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Crustini with Hummus, Arugula and Roasted Tomatoes

Happy Friday everyone! Hope you are all having a wonderful day. I am very excited to bring you this recipe for a couple of reasons. 1) I made it up! And it was a success! That's very exciting for me. 2) It's vegan! While I'm certainly not a vegan, my sissy is and I always like to share recipes that she can make without tweaking. So without further ado, here is my dish!

I was watching a Rachael Ray the other day and she made crustini with the roasted tomatoes, but it didn't seem very substantial and I wanted this creation to be my dinner. I was also browsing through my recipes and I came across my post on the baguette with butter bean puree and arugula. I had a moment of inspiration and decided to combine the two ideas and create something amazing. At least I was hoping it would be amazing. Spoiler alert: it was!

Crustini with Hummus, Arugula and Roasted Tomatoes
1 loaf of bread, I went with French because you want it to be wide
5 Roma/plum tomatoes
1 can cannellini beans or butter beans
1/4 cup olive oil, plus a few tablespoons for drizzling
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
large handful basil, finely chopped

I started by pre-heating my broiler. Depending on your oven this may not be necessary but since my old, crazy oven leaves much to be desired, I have to give it some time to get going. Meanwhile, I sliced the tomatoes in half and drizzled olive oil over the top of each half. Then I sprinkled some salt, pepper and chopped thyme on each tomato. I should mention this part came from Rachael. The rest is my creation.
I roasted the tomatoes under the broiler for about ten minutes until the edges just began to char. Then I removed them and set aside.
 Once the tomatoes were out of the oven, I popped in my bread slices. Obviously if you were serving this dish as a side or an appetizer, you would slice the bread into smaller pieces. But since this was my dinner, I used major hunks. I popped the bread under the broiler for about a minute on each side until it was nice and brown. Keep and eye on it though, because the bread goes from nice and golden to on fire in no time flat!
While the tomatoes and bread were roasting, I started working on my hummus/bean spread. Put one can of rinsed cannellini or butter beans in a bowl. Add the 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt, pepper, chopped basil, lemon juice and zest. I used my emulsifier or whatever it is called, but you could also do this in a food processor. I prefer to leave mine slightly more rough so you can see and taste the bits of basil. This stuff is delicious- I have to refrain from eating it plain on a spoon. But it would also be awesome as a veggie dip or on a sandwich as a spread.

 Once the bread is done, spread a generous helping of bean spread on each piece and top with a small handful of arugula.
Cut each tomato half into 4-6 pieces (so a rough chop) and place tomato pieces on top of the arugula. For this size serving, I used 1 whole tomato, or two halves, for each piece. Then I sprinkled a bit of Parmesan on top. By the time I put my crustinis together, they were luke warm, but tasted incredible. I also tried them again last night with the leftovers. I just charred the bread without bothering to re-heat the tomatoes and they were amazing cold. Each time I scarfed down my dinner. This combination is truly amazing and one that I will recreate again and again. The best parts: super healthy, super fast, super easy. It also makes leftovers and I kid you not, I was able to make my dinner last night with leftover in 2 minutes. No exaggeration. So do yourself a favor and make this recipe!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Best Blog Day Ever!

Hello Everyone! I just wanted to say thank you for making yesterday my best blog day ever! (in terms of views and comments by strangers). It really warmed my heart to know that my little projects are going out into the big blogosphere world and people are enjoying them. It gave me warm, sunny, bunny-kiss feelings even though the day was grey and rainy. If you have ever had a bunny kiss you will know what this feeling is like! So sweet and tiny and gentle, but oh so happy! Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks and to tell you I'm sending lots of love back at you today even if you don't know it.

I had a bunny when I was little. It looked like these babies. It was called a Hotot show rabbit. Why I insisted on saving my money and buying an expensive show rabbit? No clue. But he was so cute and gave adorable bunny kisses.

Oh, and the other reason I started writing this post. My friend Kristin has this great food blog. I met Kristin through school and we have pretty similar lives (she's just about 5 years ahead of me). Like sort of freaky similar. But because of similarities, we bonded instantly. I couldn't be more excited for her because she and her hubby just bought a new house and had a baby! Talk about squeezing in those major life milestones into two weeks! And she is still working on her dissertation. The thought of it literally gives me hives. I don't know how she is juggling all of those incredible things. Anyway, because all of the craziness in her life, she is taking a bit of a blog hiatus and is hosting some guest bloggers over the next month or so......and I'm one of them! I'm sharing some of my favorites on her blog and I'm hoping a whole new audience will get to enjoy my recipes. The recipes I've posted aren't new, but Kristin has an incredible archive that she's collected over the years. Since Kristin is nice enough to post my recipes, I hope you'll return the favor and go visit her site. I promise you won't be disappointed!

I'll be back tomorrow with a new Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner installment and let me tell you, it is freaking amazing. I really out did myself this time, if I do say so myself :). Until then, hugs and kisses.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Pinterest Project

The Pinterest Challenge was the brainchild of Sherry and Katie. I love them. These two ladies make mornings slightly bearable. When the alarm goes off and I don't want to get up in the morning, which lets be honest is most mornings, I roll over, grab my phone and immediately read the morning posts of these two blogs. It's how I manage to keep my eyes open and not completely turn off the alarm and go back to bed. They started this project about a year ago and I started participating last time (I think). When they announced the newest installation, I immediately wanted to jump on board.

However, my winter school quarter ends next week. For those of you who are familiar with the quarter system, you'll know it's not always great. I love that I can squish in lots of classes and topics, but darn those quarters fly by fast! So as soon as I saw the announcement on their blogs, I immediately started brainstorming which project I wanted to tackle. I wanted it to be size-able enough that it meant something for a special pinterest project. However, a massive re-do or gigantic undertaking wasn't going to happen.

I've been thinking for the past week or so that I really needed to swap out my wreath for something new and springy. So I searched on pinterest and found this inspiration photo. It's so out of my usual box, but something really caught my eye. I love how sunny and happy it is! So despite the fact that it's a little intense, I decided to just go for it. I immediately ordered 144 ping-pong balls and headed out to Michael's to pick up glitter, yellow spray paint, ribbon and some fake flowers. (I already had modge podge).

 I started with a green foam base from Michael's and a can of Sun Yellow Krylon paint. A small note, next time I'd try and find a white foam base just so the color doesn't seep through the paint.
 After one coat of paint.
 After three coats of paint.
Then I flipped it over and made sure the insides and outsides were properly covered. I didn't care if the back wasn't 100% yellow because it wouldn't be seen anyway.
I let the base dry for about 24 hours then brought it inside and started preparing the ping-pong balls.
 I started with the outside ring. I put a tiny dab of hot glue on the ball and pressed it to the foam for a few seconds and then repeated. The next few layers went a bit more slowly because once the balls were off the table, I had to hold them in place until the glue hardened.
To finish the last ring of balls in the inside, I flipped the wreath over and glued them from the back. A quick tip: see the seam on the foam base? I started gluing each row just to one side of the seam so that if there was a gap in a row, all of the gaps would be in one place. I planned to have the ribbon in that section to cover the gap and the seam.
 All done gluing!
Then I took the wreath back outside and started spraying from the back. I gave the back side two coats, let it dry for about 8 hours, flipped over the wreath and gave the front side two coats. I let the wreath dry for about 12 hours and then brought it inside.

When I started the modge podge/glitter stage of this project, I began with just a small section that would be mostly covered by the ribbons, just in case I made a boo boo. Using a small foam brush, I painted on a bit of modge podge to each ball...
 The sprinkled my sparkles (say that three times fast!) onto the wet podge. After this initial section worked out well, I continued on. I also discovered a few things. I didn't need nearly as much modge as I usually initially and having a sparkle dispenser with small openings to facilitate sprinkling is awesome!
 See how when the modge podge dries it's invisible and you just see awesome sparkles?
 Working on the whole thing...
 Up close and personal...
And finally done! Once all the balls were glittered, I let the whole thing dry for a few hours then started with the ribbons.
 First, I hot glued to pieces of ribbon together to get a nice wide sash. Then I glued the ends together to make a ring (around the wreath). Once the glue was cool and solid, I found this little metal ring I had lying around and sewed it to the ribbons. I sewed through the part of the ribbon loops where it was glued just to enforce the bond. Oh and I know my sewing job isn't lovely but no one will see it so it's ok!
 Then I cut another piece of ribbon, fashioned a bow, and glued the bow onto the ribbon sash, just in front of the loop.
Then I hung up the wreath and started with the flowers. I cut off the long plastic/wire steps and placed a dab of hot glue on the base of the remaining stem. I tucked each step in the ribbon sash and allowed the glue to attach and dry to the ping pong balls.
All finished!!!! I love how the blue ribbon and the blue flowers really complement my door. And frankly, that really wasn't intentional. Just a happy coincidence!

Here is a side view to show a little more of the sparkle. I just loved how the wreath turned out! Although it took me a few days (mostly because of the drying time), this wreath really wasn't that hard. It was also very forgiving of any mistakes. My spray job was less than perfect and the glitter covered that right up!

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you would like to see more projects like one, head over to my new blog at