Monday, January 28, 2013

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Pesto Pasta with Chicken Apple Sausage and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This meal was a natural mid-week dinner choice. By which I mean, lately I've been making a big dinner once, maybe twice a week. I eat the leftovers for days and the other nights have oatmeal or cereal. It's quite ridiculous, but I don't want to waste food and I am so over cooking for one. So I made this dinner a few days ago and I'm finishing up the leftovers today. The meal was easy and delicious and the leftovers were tasty both hot and cold. I also loved cooking the Brussels sprouts this way and will do so in the future. As a side note, I also want to try roasting broccoli and cauliflower this way, I bet they'd both be delicious.

Pesto Pasta with Chicken Apple Sausage and Roasted Brussels Sprouts
recipe from here

1 lb fresh brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and any yellowed/browned outer leaves removed, then sliced in half
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
1 lb (16 oz.) orecchiette (or any pasta, I used whole wheat fusilli because it is what I had in the house, but next time I'd go with orecchiette)
4 chicken sausage links, sliced into 1/4″ thick coins
5 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup pesto
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Note: my kitchen light isn't working. I swear this happens wherever I live. I had to use the surface light and the weird hall light. So the pictures are a bit wonky or I'm holding them up so my man hands make an appearance. Try and look beyond this unfortunate reality.

I started by trimming and slicing the sprouts then tossing them with two tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper.

Roast the sprouts at 400 for about 10 minutes, then stir and roast for another 10 minutes. You might need to do a bit longer or shorter depending on the size. You want the outside to be crunchy and slightly browned and the inside to be soft.
While the sprouts are cooking, slice your sausage and cook in the remaining olive oil until browned. Add the sliced garlic and cook for another two minutes or until the garlic is golden.

Cook the pasta and toss it with the sprouts, the sausage, the pesto and up to 1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Pocketful of Posies

Part of the January Cure is to force yourself to do the cleaning that no one wants to do. Let's be honest. No one likes dusting, organizing, vacuuming or the like. Especially with carpet. Is it just me, or are pets and carpets not compatible? My apartment is permanently dusty. Anyway, that's why the January Cure is excellent because it forces me to do the cleaning I'd much rather avoid. But even though I'm having some major organizational successes and tidiness victories, you really don't need to read about them. Flowers are a much better blog topic. Am I right?

Another major January Cure theme is the importance of flowers. Why is it we only have flowers around when we receive them as gifts? Why don't we buy flowers for ourselves? Anyway, part of the day 8 and day 13 assignments are to purchase flowers for the week (I've decided to skip the assignments that no one cares to know about, like cord wrangling, paper organizing or bedding laundering. You are welcome). So this week I decided to hope on board the bloom bus. I've been missing fiance like crazy and in need of a little pick-me-up. While nothing can replace his company, I am just amazed at the impact wielded by a few dollar bouquet. Every time I see these cheery poms, I just can't help but smile. Think about it. Flowers all week for less than you'd pay for a drink. Totally worth it. Join me and pick up some posies today!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lightened-Up Shepherd's Pie

I've committed myself to cooking in a healthy, flavorful way. Fiance has been a great inspiration, because I want to come up with recipes that he likes and will enjoy eating, but will fit our health plans. Not always the easiest feat, but once you know where to look, it's not so bad. Don't get me wrong. There are days I want to eat an entire box of cornbread. But I'm trying not to give into this desire when possible. I found this recipe and was pretty excited to give it a try. My negative notes: this recipe does take up a few dishes and given that my dishwasher is pretty much broken, dishes make me grumpy. Positive notes: the dish is super tasty, cheap, healthy, and great on the calorie bank. As in 174 calories for 1/6 of a large pyrex. No I didn't invert the numbers. 174 calories for a big bowl. The leftovers were also fantastic and froze really well. Perfect for lunches!

Lightened-Up Shepherd's Pie
recipe adapted from here

1 lb. ground turkey or beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots,chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, divided
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, divided
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme, divided
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp chicken stock
1 Tbsp potato starch
1/2 head cauliflower, chopped
1 egg
Salt and pepper, to taste

I started by browning the turkey in a large skillet.
Then I added the vegetables, carrots and garlic and cooked for about 8 minutes, or until the veggies are soft. Then I added the corn, chicken stock, and corn starch and brought the mixture to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the fresh herbs. Also add some salt and pepper. Make sure you use fresh herbs, that flavor is really necessary. Set aside.

While you are working on your turkey mix, bring a pot of water to boil. Add the cauliflower and boil for about 8 minutes until soft. You want the cauliflower to be really soft. Put the cauliflower in a large bowl, add a few tablespoons of broth, the egg and mash until soft. I used a fork because I was too lazy to get out my immersion blender. But next time I'll take out that awesome tool because my cauliflower was a bit too lumpy. Add the remaining fresh herbs and some salt and pepper.

Spread the turkey mash all over the bottom of the pyrex. Spread the cauliflower over the top.
Bake the dish for ten minutes at 400 degrees, then turn on the broiler and broil for ten more minutes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chewy Lemon White Chocolate Cookies

So I saw these cookies on my usual baking site. I was intrigued. Not because I thought they sounded particularly good, but they were unusual cookies. They were so....unique. I watched the 49er game with friends on Saturday (go niners!) and the gathering seemed the perfect opportunity to pawn off baked goods. The cookies were super easy, so I whipped them out Saturday morning. Initially I was skeptical, but I've been converted. Like worship at the altar of these cookies converted. They are especially magical frozen.

I'd make a few tweaks. Like, maybe I'd refrigerate the dough for a bit to make it less runny. Or I'd cook them at a slightly lower temperature. Don't get me wrong, they were amazing, but the initial recipe showed the cookies a bit thicker.

Also, be very very careful to let the cookies cool on the sheets for about ten minutes and then let them cool completely on cooling racks. 100% cool I tell you. Don't move them a centimeter.

Chewy Lemon White Chocolate Chip Cookies
recipe from here

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups white chocolate chips
zest from one lemon (or more depending on the size. you want lots of lemon zest!)

Start by whisking together the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and the lemon juice and mix again.
Make sure you zest your lemon(s) before you juice them!
Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Gently fold in the white chocolate chips and lemon zest. As your can see my dough was just a touch too wet, so next time I'll add a tablespoon or more flour if necessary.
Using a one tablespoon scoop, put balls of dough on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
Bake the cookies for 7-8 minutes at 400 degrees. Let cool completely and enjoy!

Monday, January 14, 2013

January Cure Day 4 & 6: Artwork and Pillows

Clearly I'm not going in order with my January Cure posts. I hope you forgive me. I think it's pretty indicative of my January, so I'm going to embrace the chaos, so long as I get my stuff done. I've had to alter a few of the January tasks due to my impending move. But that's ok, I'm focusing on the spirit of the task and I figure that's ok.

So, without further ado, Day 4. Day 4's task was to spend ten minutes sitting in a corner of your room that you rarely use. Take this new perspective to think about the things you'd change. Since my 2013 focus is positivity (and since I'm trying not to undertake too many large projects in my apartment given the move), I decided to take a different approach. What from my apartment do I love? What do I dislike? More specifically, what sort of feeling do I want to create in my new home (because most of my belongings are going with me)? I found this question to be quite enlightening. So I came up with a few pros and a few cons.

My cons: the kitchen. I need a bigger, more efficient space. Even if the square footage isn't much larger, I need more functional cabinets. Carpet. I'm over it. The bedroom doesn't matter so much, but carpets in the living room have got to go. Winston hair wiggles its way into the carpet and refuses to come out. I feel like I can never get my apartment clean. Efficient windows and sturdy screens. I'd love to be able to get fresh air without fearing that every bug in the neighborhood would enter my apartment.

Ok, so those are a bit nitpicky. But my pros are more big concept. Here we go...

Books. My bookshelves are a bit chaotic and I'd love to streamline that a bit in the future. At this moment it's about as good as it can get. I need all my books and can't put away any. But, I'd love to have my fiction or pretty hardcovers out and then my school books in a study. Either way, I will always incorporate books into my design. They are a huge part of me and I love them.

My couch and pillows. I love the coziness of my couch and definitely have a love affair with pillows. I wouldn't mind having a little pillow collection that I can rotate depending on the season. I have a good start with a few Christmas pillows, but I'd love to incorporate more colorful, feisty options if I'm in the mood. I'm clearly not the only one who likes the couch. Look at those leopard spots!

Art. I've worked hard to build up my art collection and incorporate more art into my life. I love the color and whimsy and it will be a life-time love.

Speaking of art, here is Day 6's project! The assignment was to frame a piece of art. Fortunately, I had this project in mind before the email arrived. I've mentioned several times my art calendars. See past months posts here, here and here. Over Christmas, I received a new box for the new year. My excitement was a little embarrassing. It's just so exciting to have something to change out every month with so little effort. I was getting ready to recycle my old calendar, but felt quite sad and guilty about throwing away all of these beautiful prints. So I came up with a way to reuse the July print.

Fiance and I got engaged on July 7, so I decided to draw a red heart around the number and make it art. Nothing fancy and certainly not complicated, but it's meaningful and makes me smile every time I see it.

I picked up a cheap frame at a local outlet store. I decided to go with this white-washed wood option because it reminds me of the beach, just like the print.

I chose this corner of the room to hang the print. It seemed like it fit the space nicely and I see it all the time.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Chickpeas and Spinach

Fiance and I looked through the January Bon Appetit over the holidays and found tons of amazing tips, recipes and tools. Not that I need more clutter in my kitchen. Actually, I need to de-clutter and then buy a few more tools because there are some things a chef/baker should really have. But I digress. This recipe is one of the dishes we picked out to try immediately. It was pretty tasty and had great flavor, but I think I would change a few things in the future. With those changes, the meal will be a total knock-out.

First, I'd use less broth. The dish I used was perhaps a bit smaller than the one in the picture, so the broth came up higher on the chicken and it didn't get the braised flavor as much as I would like. Second, I would use breast meat. I used dark meat to honor the recipe. I try and always honor the recipe the first time I try it before making changes, but my gut instinct was right. Breast meat is less fatty, has fewer calories, and I think it would remain juicy and tender with the braising method. Finally, fiance suggested we pass on rice or quinoa to reduce the carbs. I didn't want to make rice for myself, so I skipped that step, but I think that was a mistake. This dish definitely needs a grain or some roti (a while wheat naan). So, take my tips, and create a masterpiece!

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Chickpeas and Spinach
recipe from here

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6-8 chicken breasts, depending on size, skin removed
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
2 cups (or more) low-sodium chicken broth
5 ounces baby spinach (about 8 lightly packed cups)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems

Heat up the oil and cook the chicken in batches until the chicken is browned on all sides. Remove the chicken to a separate plate. Add the butter and let it melt. Once it's melted, add the sliced onions and cook until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.
Add the garlic, ginger, and the spices and mix to incorporate. Add the chickpeas, chicken and broth and bring to a simmer. Ideally the brother should cover about half to 3/4 of the chicken (depending on the size of your pot) for it to braise properly. Start with two cups and add gradually from there. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover the pot, and put it in the oven. While the pot is in the oven, make your grain.

Cook the chicken for 45-55 minutes at 325, until the chicken is fork-tender. This term just means you should be able to put a fork into the chicken and remove it easily. Remove the pot from the oven and add the spinach. Stir and let the spinach slowly wilt for about five minutes. Add the yogurt and stir to melt. Add salt or pepper to taste. Serve the chicken mix over your grain and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January Cure Day Five

I've been keeping up with my January tasks, but I'm sharing them a bit out of order. In order to share day 4, I need to take a lot of pictures, and I'm feeling lazy today. So day 5 it is. As you saw on Monday, one of my tasks was to wrangle my holiday decorations and Christmas tree ornaments. There were three major problems.

First, my collection wasn't static. It has been gradually growing over the past several years. I inherited many hand-me-downs from my mom when I moved out to California and every year both fiance and I get a new ornament in our stocking. In addition, we try and buy an ornament whenever we go on trips to help us remember our experiences. Second, all of my decorations were smashed into one crate. Of course, they didn't all fit. So all of my lights were in a bag (Halloween and Christmas), and everything else was in the bin. And it was a disaster. Every Spring, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I had to drag out the bin and dig through everything to find the desired season. This mess resulted in Christmas tree needles on the floor in July and Easter bunnies spewed all over the floor in December. Not desirable. Third, my ornament situation was precarious at best. I had a big, flimsy cardboard box with a gazillion pieces of tissue paper inside to wrap up the ornaments. When I moved out to California, some of my ornaments were casualties in the move. It was pretty devastating to see some ornaments I've had since I was a kid in tiny pieces. I was determined to make sure that didn't happen again. I wanted a more organized system, but more importantly, I needed a more protective option to make sure ornaments didn't break in the next move. I figured there is no time like the present to make the future move easier. One more organizing task I do now, is one less task I have to do later. Yay!

I started my new year holiday organizing by purchasing an ornament box from the Container Store. I was going to make a similar box, but frankly, I'm not sure I could do better than $17 anyway!
Here is my former ornament box. Clearly I was in need of assistance.
This is the box once it was full. The best part? I've got room for another row and years of new ornaments. I pushed bubble wrap around the sides and foam "s" on the bottom to protect the ornaments. I also filled up the empty space on top with additional bubble wrap.
Here is previous bin that now only holds the spring, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations.
Here is the new bin that is full with only Christmas stuff, yay!
Here is the new ornament bin, all safe in the corner! Holiday re-organizing complete!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The January Cure

So I guess it's officially 2013. There is no turning back to 2012 now, especially since I start my new quarter today. I have come to the conclusion that there are two January options. There is the "it's a new year! here are my goals! I feel so full of optimism and energy! I will accomplish so much this year!" option. See my post from last New Year's to read more about what I'm talking about. I definitely had the January yellows. The January optimism. This year I have the other option. The "'s a new year...already. I have so much to do. There is so much I didn't finish. How am I supposed to do all of this? I have no energy." The January blues.

I've mentioned in the past that I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past. I call it my little black rain cloud. I think it's something I'll always have to work on, but over the last few years I've developed a conviction that it is indeed something that can be worked on and improved. I'm always keeping an eye out for techniques, activities or strategies to prevent these "episodes" or to try and turn things around if they sneak up on me. The worst thing I can do is nothing and allow myself to sink deeper into the dark whirlpool. I sound positive, but believe me, it's taken me many years to get to this place where I feel powerful enough to handle my moods. And if I'm being totally honest, I'm not always successful. I do get in funks and need Winston or fiance or my mom to snap me out of it.

Anyway, this new year saw a case of the January blues. Fiance and I had a long conversation about all of the things we have to look forward to this year and that definitely helped. In fact, I felt encouraged to make one resolution for the new year. Just one. Not a list like last year. Those sorts of list make me feel guilty when items remain unchecked. This year my task is simple. Or to be more specific, simplicity. I want to remove negativity and focus on positivity. I want to streamline my life. Remove things that make me unhappy, do things that make me happy. Reduce clutter and purge things that I don't love. That means clothing, house items, kitchen stuff, etc. 2013 is the year of purging and organization. I like it.

Then my friend told me about the January Cure. It's Apartment Therapy's program to start your year off on a clean and organized note. Exactly what I need. I started a few days late, but I figure it's better late than never, right! I cleaned a ton on the first and organized, so that's kind of my day three task. I'll share some of those items later. And I got rid of tons of stuff when unpacking from the holidays, so that's progress towards my outbox. Lord knows I have a ways to go. So day 1. Make a list of house projects I want to do this year.

I am moving back to DC this spring/early summer and fiance and I are buying a house, so this list really can only go through the spring. I'm certain I'll have a completely new list in the new house. But until then, here are the things I want to do to embrace simplicity and make my move easier.

1. Clean out my bathroom cabinets and drawers. No I don't need bags and bags of extra makeup I never use. And those headbands. My head looks terrible in them. Keep two in the event a case of whimsy strikes and get rid of the rest.

2. Clean out my unmentionable and sock drawer. It's really absurd the things I've kept. I'll leave it at that.

3. Clean out my closet. If I haven't worn it since I moved to California in August of 2011, donate or throw it away. If I don't love it, it doesn't belong. I need to focus on pieces that will last and work forever.

4. Hang my new piece of homemade art. I'll share later.

5. Organize decorations and ornaments.  Wahoo for finished tasks! More details to come!

6. The papers. My files. Ugh. Worst task ever. They need to be organized and recycled if unnecessary. This task is the one I'm most dreading.

7. Discuss kitchen items with fiance and only keep things we really need and use often.

8. Find a mover.

9. Pack up apartment in a strategic and sensible manner. Don't throw things in boxes. Label precisely. Hope things don't break.

10. Fill nail holes. Sand.

11. Paint walls back to horrible-apartment-white.

12. Create a home out of our new house.

I hope you will all be inspired to join me in the January Cure. I hope it brings you peace and optimism as well!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon

New Year's Eve called for a special dinner. We spent the evening together as a family, which although we have lots of family time, New Years Even hasn't been a family night in a long time. A super fancy dinner and an awesome chocolate cake seemed appropriate. I've been wanting to try some dishes lately. You know those big scary dishes? The ones that are like THE DISHES. You know coq au vin. Chocolate souffles. Beef bourguignon. Those dishes. The ones that really aren't that hard except that everyone in the world has heard of them and has preexisting expectations.

So anyway, I mentioned to my mom that beef bourguignon was on the list and she immediately suggested we give it a go. Here are my thoughts: It needed a bit of salt, but other than that I loved the flavor. We served the dish over really high quality noodles, but I think next time I'd do potatoes. The noodles just kind of got lost because they were so delicate and tender. I think stouter potatoes would have stood up to the flavors better. Finally, there are about a million steps in the recipe directions. But the steps weren't particularly difficult, it just takes some time and attention. I'd definitely make the dish again and I felt encouraged to take other big culinary challenges. I shared my pictures below, but don't have the energy to write out all of the directions. Fiance is leaving today and all I want to do is spend time with him. I've gotten used to having him around again and I dread the minute he's leaving. So I'm spending every minute I can with him, not typing out 45 steps. So I've listed the ingredients below and provided a link to online directions for the recipe. I hope that's sufficient.

Anyway, the lesson I take away from this experience is to challenge yourself and don't let your fears get in the way!

Beef Bourguignon

1 6 ounce piece chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stew beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1  onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full bodied
3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1  bay leaf, crumbled
20 small white onions
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered

For step by step instructions, go here.

And for fun, the chocolate cake