Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lettuce Chicken Wraps

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Robert does this thing where if he really, really, realllllllly likes something he’ll declare it “top 5” or “top 10” of all time. Like these flaky biscuits he had in Sonoma this fall? Top 5 of all time. I think that entire breakfast ranked in the top 5 or top 10. I can’t remember. It was pretty spectacular.

Well, as I bit into one of these chicken lettuce wraps I immediately exclaimed, “top 10 meals I’ve ever made!” I don’t know if I was more in shock that those words came out of my mouth or because it was true. I could eat these once a week every week for the rest of my life and be happy as can be. They’re just the perfect combination of good for you foods (ground chicken breast and veggies!), texture (both soft and crunchy elements — the water chestnuts make all the difference in the world), and flavor (just wait until you see the list of ingredients in the sauce.) But worry not, all of the sauce ingredients are items you already have in your pantry or a good excuse to stock up.

These wraps are outstanding. They really are. The first time I made the recipe (a riff on PF Chang’s version) I followed the instructions exactly as stated in this link. (I think I found it on Pinterest, though it’s a wonderful blog.) I’ve never actually had PF Chang’s lettuce wraps, though I’m certain I’d love them.

After I made the recipe I decided there were just four small tweaks I’d make: Double the recipe so we’d have leftovers for lunch; add diced red bell pepper for more color and nutrition; increase the amount of sriracha for added heat (omit if you’re a spice-phobe, which I used to be); and serve with Boston lettuce instead of iceberg to keep the crunch but add a little more nutrients. Each tweak ended up having the exact effect I hoped it would.

Some extra Sriracha for good measure. I don't even know who I am anymore.

Some extra Sriracha for good measure. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Ultimately, I ended up serving it platter style instead of creating wraps because they get pretty messy when you wrap them up. You kind of have to eat the whole thing without putting it down between bites. But in case you love the lettuce wrap approach, know that Boston lettuce wraps just as well — and in some ways even better — than iceberg.

If you know what’s good for you (and your tastebuds and your loved ones) make these ASAP. You won’t regret it : )

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

Salt & pepper

1 3/4 – 2 lb. ground chicken breast

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2″ knob of ginger, peeled and minced

2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil

1/3 c reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp water

2 Tbsp peanut butter

1 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp + 2 tsp rice vinegar

1 Tbsp Sriracha (plus extra for drizzling)

6 green onions, white and dark green parts

8 oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped

1/2 cup peanuts, chopped

1 head Boston lettuce

Preparation

[TIP: Chop all ingredients that require cutting before you start cooking. Like this:] 

Like this!

Clockwise from left: water chestnuts, green onions, peanuts, red pepper, garlic and ginger, yellow onion

In a large skillet, heat olive oil (1 to 2 Tbsp) over medium-high heat. Add onion, season with some salt and pepper, and saute about 3-5 minutes. Add chicken. Use a wooden spoon to break up meat and cook until chicken is nearly done, about 8-10 minutes. Add red pepper, garlic, and ginger. Cook until chicken is cooked through.

Combine sauce ingredients (toasted sesame oil through Sriracha) in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for about 20-30 seconds. Whisk until combined. When chicken is cooked, add sauce to chicken mixture in the skillet. Stir to combine. Add green onions and water chestnuts. Cook until green onions begin to soften and water chestnuts are warm, about 2-5 minutes. Add chopped peanuts, stir to combine.

Serve chicken mixture with lettuce leaves (wrap the chicken in the lettuce if you like) and brown rice.

Recipe adapted from Iowa Girl Eats

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Wedding Wednesday: The Best Wedding Advice I’ve Heard

When it comes to wedding planning things. Are. Happening. Venue, photographer, videographer, and band booked? Check! Dress? Check! My wedding ring purchased? Check! Almost all save the dates addressed and stamped? Check (and squeal)! (We’re waiting for this snowstorm to end before we mail them. Yes I actually considered the weather.) Florist decided? Check! One block of rooms at a hotel reserved? Check! Meeting with a potential officiant this weekend? Yep!

I wasn’t lying when I said things were happening : )

With so much big stuff moving along nicely, I’ve been pondering some of the smaller details for the big day. I feel like I talk about details here quite often, but once we write the ceremony and address a few more big items, that’s really what’s left. And though it feels challenging at times trying to find my groove, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun to daydream about what the day will look and feel like.

If I may go off on a little tangent for a moment, sometimes I consciously notice how quickly an average weekend or a Saturday goes by and think to myself “That’s the entire length of our wedding weekend. That’s it!” It’s been a great reminder of just how quickly the weekend will fly by and I’ve heard it goes by even faster than I can imagine. It also helps me rein in, to some extent, how much planning I intend to do because I could easily spend the next seven months (from tomorrow!) planning every little detail for two days that will pass by in an instant.

But there’s something even more powerful that’s helped me rein in my daydreams (and Etsy browsing and SMP stalking). My sister reminded me of it when I sent her the link below last week. It’s a quote from a bride on the loveliest blog I discovered a few months ago, Em for Marvelous. The blogger’s sister-in-law wrote this about her own wedding:

We recognize it would have been different if it hadn’t rained — our guests would have gotten the chance to stroll the grounds during cocktail hour, our mothers’ hair would not have been flattened, and we would have had the photographs I had imagined. But our wedding wasn’t a photo shoot, and everyone we loved was there, whether their blowout held or not.”

Our wedding wasn’t a photo shoot.

How easy is that to forget? (Right brides?) After all, so much of the inspiration we see comes from photos so it’s easy to blur the lines and forget the truth: our wedding is not a photo shoot.

Sure, we’ve hired awesome photographers for the day, but we’re not two people dressing up as a bride and groom pretending to get married. We are getting married (!!!)  So when I start conjuring up images of us holding a thank you banner or the ring bearer carrying a cute sign, or the bridesmaids getting ready in the same attire or doing anything else I wouldn’t normally do I simply remind myself our wedding is not a photo shoot.

This is the very best filter when it comes to considering which details matter and which don’t. If an idea for a detail is only for a cute photo then I scratch it right away. If an idea will enhance our own experience or our guests’ experience in some way then we consider it. If it just so happens to make for a great photo along the way, well bonus. But that’s not the intention.

If it were entirely up to me, we wouldn’t take a single formal photo the entire day. For me, it’s about capturing those moments before, during, and after we become husband and wife. Plus, all of the joy, emotion, and celebration that comes with that as well as sharing the experience with our favorite people in the world.

Those are the moments that make the day and the weekend as wonderful and as meaningful as it will be. And for me, those are the moments I want to be able to hold onto, and continue, as long as we both shall live.

White Bean & Vegetable Soup

White Bean Soup (with lots of veggies!)

See that blue bowl in the picture above? I can safely say it’s one of the strongest bowls in the world–as is my entire multicolor collection of Fiesta Dinnerware. Want to know how I can tell? Lately, when I’m away and there are dirty dishes in the sink, Remy, our big 70-pound goldendoodle lifts the dishes out of the sink and licks them clean. So when I come home I find the dish, intact, somewhere on the floor. He has yet to break a single one of them! Of course I’ve been trying to minimize occasions where I leave dishes in the sink when I’m not at home (for the sake of his teeth), but it’s pretty darn impressive. I’d like to register for more neutral tableware when we get around to that (secretly can’t wait!), but I’m not sure anything else could possibly stand up to the Jaws of Remy.

Speaking of registering, if anyone has any insight as to whether it’s better to register at Sur La Table or William Sonoma for kitchen stuff, please please please share it with me. I’ve read pros and cons about both and am completely torn. (I’m still in shock that we actually get to go through this process and am already so, so grateful.)

So let’s talk soup. This is a reallllly basic recipe you can whip up during the week that’s totally packed with veggies and beans. (I had to balance out Sunday’s dinner and all of the leftovers we’ve been eating.)

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I learned a little trick from my sister (thanks L!) that made a huge difference in my soup making that I’ll now pass on to you: Don’t drain and rinse all of the beans. Adding some of the liquid that’s in the beans gives it a little bit of thickness/starchiness so the broth isn’t totally watery. I’m the first one to wave the red flag and exclaim “What about the sodium!? What about the BPA!?” So hear me out. Number one: Buy beans in BPA-free packaging. Next, use low-sodium vegetable broth, no-salt added tomatoes and don’t add any additional salt while cooking. You won’t need any anyway!

White Bean & Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients

About 3 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and diced

4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

2 (15 oz) cans Great Northern Beans (see instructions below regarding draining & rinsing)

1 (14.5 oz) can diced no-salt added tomatoes

1 bunch green chard, ribs removed and cut into pieces (or other green such as baby spinach, collard greens, or kale)

Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrot and saute until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Add vegetable broth. Drain and rinse one can of beans and add to soup. With the other can, add about 1/2 to 3/4 of the contents of the can (including liquid) into the soup. Drain and rinse the rest and add beans to soup. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add greens and cook about 5 minutes more until wilted. Add freshly ground black pepper, to taste, just before serving.

Slow Cooker Asian Shredded Beef

I feel like I recently entered a crazy new phase in my life–and not just because I cooked a roast for the first time on Sunday (which I did. And it was awesome. I’ll tell you about it very soon.)

For many years–even while living in Park City, Burlington, and Chicago–my day-to-day life looked almost identical: some combination of working all day at my computer, walking the dogs morning, afternoon, and evening, and practicing yoga after work. Though it may seem boring to you, I thrived on this routine. But lately, in this crazy new phase in my life, it seems as if every day and every week is completely different.

Some days I jump in to sub yoga classes with only a few hours notice, which can mean sometimes I teach as many as two or three yoga classes in a row (most are in the evenings after I’ve wrapped up work.) I can even feel my work life shifting. Although I still write a lot for magazines (my first love), I have new projects for different outlets going on that are challenging me in completely new ways. And then I’ve had some crazy awesome opportunities in recent weeks. Last week, I did a little photo session at Lululemon on Michigan Ave. and then taught a free class there on Sunday morning (I mean…what?!?!) Monday afternoon I was invited to speak on a panel at Northwestern about freelancing.

I still have Yoga Sculpt Teacher Training on Sundays, which has changed things up. And there’s my love for cooking, which sometimes leads me to chop onions at 7 or 8 a.m., slow-roast fish while still in my sweaty yoga clothes, and peruse cooking magazines and websites pretty much any spare moment I find. And let’s not kid ourselves, I dream about our wedding (and life beyond that) about 85 percent of the time. Okay fine. 90 percent of the time.

How I manage to do all this (and still walk the dogs three times a day) and spend all the QT I can possibly find with my guy, I have no idea. BUT I LOVE IT. I wouldn’t trade any of it for a moment and sometimes I feel like I’m strapped into the seat of a roller coaster with my arms in the air just along for the ride. I’ve never felt this way before in my meticulously planned, routine-loving life.

Sunday night dinner for two (though we could've fed about 10 more)

What all of this has to do with Slow Cooker Asian Beef? Well, I’m not exactly sure besides the fact that it’s totally different from anything I’ve ever made before and I actually felt quite fearless going into it. And with good reason: It’s ridiculously simple. This is the closest I’ve ever come to the toss-ingredients-in-the-slow-cooker-and-leave-it-alone-for-8-hours-without-sauteeing-a-darn-thing-first approach. The only part that took any work–and by work I mean patience — was reducing the sauce. I was determined to reduce it as much as I could to really amp up the flavors. It took about 25-30 minutes, but was worth every painstaking moment of wondering if it had reduced at all (kind of like watching water boil.)

Can I just say something about beef? I’m sorry if this makes my vegetarian friends cringe. Do with this what you may, but there is something so satisfying, so primal about sinking your teeth into meat. There just is. I don’t cook or eat red meat very often, but when I do I appreciate it so much. And when it tastes this good–somewhat sweet (honey!), the tiniest bit spicy (sriracha!), totally umami (soy sauce!)–I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it.

Slow Cooker Asian Shredded Beef

Slightly adapted from Foodie with Family (awesome blog, by the way!)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 3.25-pound boneless bottom round beef roast

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup plus 3-4 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp sriracha

6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

Preparation

Place the beef in the slow cooker. Top with garlic cloves and ginger. In a bowl, whisk together the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of the honey, soy sauce, and sriracha. Pour over the beef in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 7-8 hours.

When done cooking, use tongs to transfer beef to a large dish (9×13 baking dish worked for me). Pour juices from slow cooker into a small pan on the stove. Add 3-4 Tbsp of honey and stir to combine. Bring liquid to boil over high heat and continue cooking at a boil for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about half. While the sauce is boiling shred the beef using two forks.

Once the liquid reduces, pour through a mesh strainer over the beef and toss to combine. (Discard what’s left in the strainer – mostly garlic and ginger pieces.) Serve with brown rice and steamed broccoli.

Wedding Wednesday: Thoughts on Decor

Image via, photo by Jennifer Hughes

(Image via, photo by Jennifer Hughes)

You guys, I lied. I lied to you and I lied to myself. I lied when I said I didn’t really care about wedding decor. I really, truly, honestly, wholeheartedly thought I didn’t care. But I’ve come to learn that that’s a huge fib. I realized it was a lie the first time we recently met with a florist and my mouth basically rambled about my vision for nearly an hour straight. Thanks to Pinterest I actually developed a vision and once that happened, well, there was no turning back.

At one point Robert and I were cracking up about how I sounded like a Portlandia episode. “I want it to look like the flowers were picked fresh from a garden. But not wild flowers like they were plucked from a hillside, flowers that look like they were grown in a garden in Vermont. And I don’t want them to look too perfect. I want them to be somewhat asymmetrical with lots of different textures, just not too whimsical.” Oh geez someone put a sock in my mouth! We’re also going to serve local free-range organic chicken and his name is Collin.

I kid. (Although let’s face it, I’d totally be on board with that.)

I’ve just come to realize that flowers/decor are one of the biggest ways in which you get to put your stamp on the day. It’s one of those things that’ll make our wedding look and feel different from others that have happened before in that space. Of course, I still want to remain realistic and minimize unnecessary waste and expenses. In fact, there are several places in which we’ve decided to do little or no decor at all. For instance, in the room where we’ll hold the ceremony, the lovely bridesmaids, handsome groomsmen and their adornments will provide all the beauty we’ll need in that space. And for cocktail hour we may do little more than votives (supplied by the venue) on the few high tables.

But I’ve got a sea of ideas floating around in my head for centerpieces, bouquets, and other items, oh my!

You all know how much I loved the idea of a Vermont wedding. Sometimes a piece of my heart still wishes we were getting married outdoors surrounded by lush green rolling hills, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Still, even though we decided to tie the knot here in Chicago–at a venue without any outdoor element–flowers are one of the ways we can still bring that outdoorsy, countryside feeling into the venue. And to be honest I think that’s what helped me turn the corner: When I realized that with some smart floral decisions we could still get that feeling I wanted all of the pieces felt like they’d finally come together. It was the confirmation I needed to know we’d made the best decision, getting married in a place we live and love, yet can still feel that sense of nature around us throughout the day.

One of my favorite parts when it comes to discussing decor still makes me smile when I think about it. On our way to a florist appointment I asked Robert if there was anything he wanted or had in mind and he said he hadn’t really thought about it. I told him what I envisioned and he was on board (yay!) Well, we’re sitting with a florist and Robert’s being pretty quiet. Then all of a sudden he states exactly what he’d like for the guys’ boutenniers. And then he spits out a few other ideas and explains that he’d like to have them in some decor items, too. I’m not going to mention what those details are yet (they’re definitely different and you’ll have to wait and see!), but I’m totally game for all of them. The details he requested and the ones in my vision don’t exactly mesh so perfectly. Still, I’m in love because I think they’ll be the ideal balance between the things we both adore and the places we each come from.

As cliche as it may sound, we really are two very different people with unique experiences and complex personalities coming together to create a life, a family, and a future that’s distinctly our own. And as different as we are, together we just work. So what could be more fitting on the day we commit ourselves to one another than to be surrounded by elements that may appear world’s apart, but seamlessly fit together in a special, beautiful, and one-of-a-kind way?

Creamy Coconut Brown Rice & Edamame

creamy brown coconut rice with edamame

creamy coconut brown rice with edamame

Oh man I needed this kitchen success more than words could possibly say. Finally, after a streak of several kitchen flops something delicious (besides chocolate chip cookies) came out of my kitchen. I can’t say for sure the streak is over because the other components of this meal–red curry salmon and stir-fried bok choy–had a few flaws I’m still working out.

But this rice, oh this rice, is so ready for you to try. I didn’t even realize anything special was happening until I tasted it and proceeded to eat the rice straight out of the pan with a giant spoon. It’s so creamy! Add just the right amount of sea salt  (a generous sprinkle) and the subtle coconut flavor comes through even more. Then there’s the edamame, which gives the dish a variety in texture that takes it beyond your basic side of brown rice. I could eat this all day every day and I’m pretty sure it could be paired with just about any kind of protein you like. Although the rice comes out perfectly smooth, delicious, and flavorful I definitely suggest drizzling just a little bit of soy sauce right before serving for that final BAM your palate craves.

It’s simple, sure, but a great way to elevate brown rice for more variety in your daily grain repertoire.

Creamy Coconut Brown Rice with Edamame

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup long grain brown rice

1 cup light coconut milk

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups frozen shelled edamame

sea salt

soy sauce

Preparation

Combine brown rice, coconut milk, and water in a pot. Heat over high heat until boiling. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook 35-45 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, keep covered, and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

While the rice cooks, in a separate pot heat about 3 to 4 cups of water over high heat until boiling. Add frozen shelled edamame and cook 5-8 minutes until edamame is heated through. Drain and set aside.

After rice rests, add edamame and stir to combine. Sprinkle sea salt to taste. Right before serving, drizzle with some soy sauce.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

If food was a hug, this meal, right here, would be IT. Forget chocolate. Don’t bother with cupcakes. I can think of no better way to tell someone you love them than with a plate piled high with whole wheat spaghetti and meaty tomato sauce.

Unless they’re a vegetarian. That would just be mean.

If you’re still looking for a meal to make your honey for Valentine’s Day (which just so happens to be a week from today!) I’ve got your answer right here. The fact that it makes your home smell amazing is a huge added bonus, too. And you can whip it up in less than 45 minutes when you get home from work. Oh, and it involves wine.

Of course it involves wine.

I’ve made this dish three times since I first discovered the Epicurious* recipe a few months ago. Each time it gets better and better and the last time I made it–on Super Bowl Sunday–I made a game-changing move. I nearly doubled the sauce, which not only improved the pasta to sauce to meat ratio (super important), but also extended the leftovers. In other words, it provided an additional dinner plus lunch for three days for one lucky guy.

To fancy things up for V-day, serve it with a simple arugula salad on the side and a brick of parmesan cheese that you can generously grate on top.

Happy Love Day! Consider this meal a hug from me to you : )

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce via abalancedlifecooks.com

 

*If you prefer a higher meat to sauce ratio follow the Epicurious recipe. For more sauce, follow mine below!

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

16 oz whole wheat spaghetti

Olive oil

1-1 1/4 pound lean ground beef

1 onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (optional – I usually leave it out if I don’t already have it in the fridge)

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (FYI – this isn’t in the Epicurious recipe and I highly recommend adding)

1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained, chopped into chunks

1 15 oz can tomato sauce

1/2 cup red wine (such as merlot)

Preparation

Cook spaghetti according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef. Cook until brown, using a wooden spoon to break it up, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer beef to a bowl. To the skillet, add onion and garlic. Saute until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add parsley (if using), crumble basil between your hands and add to skillet, repeat with oregano, and add paprika. Continue cooking about 1 minute. Return beef to skillet. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, and wine. Turn down heat to medium or low, simmering until sauce thickens slightly, about 30-40 minutes.

To serve, place pasta on plate, top with sauce, add Parmesan as desired.