Monthly Archives: March 2013

What’s Cookin’?

Hello there! I’m sorry to say I don’t have a Wedding Wednesday planned for today, but I expect to be back with one very soon. I definitely won’t leave you hanging, though, so I’m here with another installment of What’s Cookin’?! And boy have things been cookin’ over here every chance I get.

I must admit I’ve been crushing on Asian flavors a lot lately. Like a lot a lot. I don’t know what it is–I guess Asian flavors are somewhat comfort food like for me. Plus, they’re an awesome way to create mega flavor and still keep things healthy. I may actually attempt to not cook something Asianish next week since it seems to be my new default and I should probably push the envelope a little more. But after looking over these recipes again I can’t make any promises…

Asian Pork Meatballs via Martha Stewart 

Asian Pork Meatballs served with brown rice and steamed broccoli

Asian pork meatballs served with brown rice and steamed broccoli

The original recipe calls for turkey, but I decided to give it a whirl with ground pork and it.was.awesome. While eating the meatballs Robert wanted to know how I got the meat so creamy. There’s nothing cream related involved, but the meatballs certainly have a kind of smoothness to them inside. I’m not exactly sure if “smooth” is an attractive way to describe meatballs so I’ll leave it at that and just say they’re great. Make them.

Roasted Salmon with Soy-Marmelade Glaze via Cooking Light 

Roasted salmon with soy-marmelade glazed, brown rice, and sauteed broccolini

Roasted salmon with soy-marmelade glaze, brown rice, and sauteed broccolini

This meal came after a very busy end to a very busy week last Friday. I met up with Robert after work to run errands at the Apple Store, Best Buy, and Binny’s to pick up some libations for the evening. (Boulevard wheat beer for him chilled white wine for me.) As we pulled into our apartment complex we noticed there was a pop up dog park happening across the street (in the park where we got engaged!) We grabbed both dogs, poured our cocktails into traveler mugs, and allowed the dogs to run their little hearts out while we sipped our drinks and shmoozed with neighbors. It was so fun and even though it was still pretty chilly outside it made me so excited for summer! There were also two adorable puppies that totally gave me puppy fever, but that’s another story. I got to work on this salmon as soon as we came back home. It was so easy to make and before I knew it we were enjoying a deliciously healthy and completely satisfying Friday night dinner.

Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken Curry via Love at Home  

Slow coooker thai peanut chicken curry

Slow coooker thai peanut chicken curry served over brown rice (noticing a trend?)

Another winner I discovered on Pinterest! It’s a total toss in the slow cooker and wait 6 hours meal. If you’re ever craving Thai this is an awesome way to skip take out and get something even better with minimal effort. I followed the recipe as is except I subbed about 1 1/2 cups of frozen edamame for the peas (achem….someone in this household doesn’t like peas..) and I increased the coconut milk to about 3/4 cup because I love it so much. Don’t forget to top with cilantro and chopped peanuts! It totally makes the meal.

Wedding Wednesday: The Dress!

Hi all!

So I’m a day late with my Wedding Wednesday, but I have a perfectly good excuse. I had my first dress fitting on Tuesday and I needed to let it all sink in. First of all, I couldn’t be more grateful that the place where I happened to find my dress is an eight minute walk from my apartment AND they do alterations there. Talk about convenient, right?! And the girls who work there couldn’t be sweeter or more helpful. (Chicago gals, it’s Weddings 826 on Armitage.)

Tuesday I was so excited to try on my dress. I was especially excited because I thought it was going to fit without being held together in the back by a few clips. Unfortunately, it was still way too big so I still don’t have a real idea of what it will look like when it fits. But I will soon! Taking the bodice in is one of the first things they do so by my next appointment in May I’m hoping they can zip me right into it!

Still, getting to try on my dress was such a different experience from when I first found it. Because this dress…the one I tried on on Tuesday…this dress is mine. This is THE dress. Wow. I can hardly wrap my mind around the fact that I really and truly own a wedding dress. My heart just skipped a beat writing that. Every big and small step we take toward September 28 just makes it all more and more real. I don’t know if I can possibly withstand excitement that’s greater than what I already feel.

But I have to tell you something absolutely crazy about THE dress. Let’s back up for a moment. When Robert and I were dating and I soon realized that this love was the kind that lasts forever I started to dream about our wedding day. Someone told me about a little website (achem, Style Me Pretty). I still remember the very FIRST wedding I ever saw on there and I immediately fell in love with the dress the bride was wearing. I learned the designer and name of the dress and my heart leaps every time I see it. Well, fast forward to my time to find a dress. I knew I had to try that one on. Unfortunately I discovered two things: 1) They don’t make that exact dress anymore and 2) Even if they did it cost way more than I had budgeted. So I let it go. But I didn’t give up.

That’s because my dream dress has the most beautiful sash. And thanks to Google, several months ago–even before I found my dress–I discovered someone was selling just the sash online because she’d paired the dress with a different one. So I purchased the sash for a ridiculously low price and figured it wouldn’t be a huge loss if I didn’t end up using it. I had to see for myself.

And so, on Tuesday, we pinned the sash to my dress and snapped a few pictures. Yesterday, I played around with the image on my computer (the lighting in the dressing room was kind of dark, which made the sash look much darker than it actually is.) Then, in an adjacent window on my iMac I opened the pictures from that very first wedding I ever saw on Style Me Pretty. There, side by side, I realized the dress I bought and the one I’ve always loved are nearly identical–same fabric, same shape of the skirt, similar in so many ways. And with the sash, well, it’s perfect.

I knew I loved my dress when I found it, but I had no idea just how much it looked like the one I’ve always loved. And in the end, with the sash, I can honestly say I get to wear my dream dress on our wedding day.

 

Chicken Vegetable Soup

Chicken Vegetable Soup via ABalancedLifeCooks.com

After 6.5 years of working from home, I did something for the very first time on Friday. At around 1:30pm I put on my PJ’s, shut the curtains, and climbed into bed.  I felt a cold coming on and could barely focus any more. So I got into bed and slept for a few hours. I can’t believe I’m admitting this here, but there you have it. In some way I think it represented a minor milestone: I gave myself exactly what I needed in that moment.

When I woke up to take the dogs for a walk outside it was cold and rainy. The worst, right? I knew there was just one thing that could heal it all: Homemade soup. I grabbed my canvas bags and drove to Whole Foods. There, I stocked up on as many antioxidant-rich foods as I could find. I chose those I could conceivably fit into my soup without requiring too much prep work.

Healthy ingredients

Healthy ingredients

It took about 30 minutes and turned out to be the most delicious soup I’ve ever made. Every single bite is packed with so many different flavors, textures, and nutrients. I sauteed a chopped jalapeno with the onions and garlic, which gave the broth a huge kick of flavor and heat that I’m sure played a role in helping me feel better. Because when I woke up the next morning, I was fine. Miraculous soup, I’m telling you!

When serving, I tossed in a bowl full of whole wheat cooked spaghetti (leftover from Robert’s birthday dinner the night before of spaghetti and meat sauce.) I love having some kind of grain/carb in soup, but I’m sure it would be just as delicious without it.

Chicken Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

5 carrots, chopped

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 can or tetra pak no salt added garbanzo beans (do not drain)

14.5 oz can no salt added fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and meat roughly chopped

2 bunches Swiss chard (I used one green and one rainbow), ribs remove leaves chopped

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz cooked whole wheat spaghetti or other pasta/grain (optional)

Preparation

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute onion, garlic, jalapeño, and carrots until veggies soften, about 5 minutes. Add broth, garbanzo beans (with liquid), tomatoes, and chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, add chard and parsley. Simmer until greens wilt, about 5 minutes. Add spaghetti, if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

New Series: What’s Cookin’?

Hi Friends!

When I started this blog a year and a half ago I wasn’t really sure what it would become. I knew I enjoyed writing here and sharing my kitchen adventures with you. This blog has become so much more to me. It’s given me so much more purpose whether I’m cooking alone in the kitchen, sharing a meal, dreaming up recipes, having adventures, planning our wedding, and more. Sometimes I ask myself, “what would I want to share about this moment?” And that’s lead me to create even more ways to share even more of my life with you like what I’ve got in store for you today.

And so…

I’m excited to launch a new series on A Balanced Life Cooks called What’s Cookin’? With these posts I’ll share images and links to recipes I’ve recently made and include any tweaks or tidbits based on my experience. Sometimes I may not have time to invent a new recipe, but I’m still cookin’ around here every chance I get. So I want to be able to share those delicious outcomes with you.

My mom has often said that coming up with what to cook is the most difficult part about cooking. She’s so right. Once you know what to make the rest is pretty easy (unless you decide to make something really challenging, but that doesn’t happen much around here!) Fortunately I have LOTS of answers for you. And if this helps you plan your menu in some way, to answer that what are we having for dinner question, well, my work here is done.

To kick things off, here are some recent favorites (if you follow me on Instagram (@pngpics) some of these may look familiar, but now you don’t have to wait for a recipe from me to get cookin’!)

Slow Cooked Jerk Pork with Caribbean Salsa via Skinnytaste.com 

Slow Cooked Jerk Pork with Caribbean Salsa

I pretty much followed the recipe to the word and OH MY GOODNESS. First of all, pulled pork in general is just the best (and this was the first time I’ve made it….the next time will involve globs of BBQ sauce I’m sure.) The flavors in here are wonderful and so unusual. I actually ordered the jerk seasoning the blogger recommends, but it took a little trip around the world and only arrived yesterday from London (I made this recipe a week ago). I kind of winged the seasoning with a random mixture of spices I already had and it was still fab. Make this. Just do it.

Spicy Tomato Lentil Soup via Heather Christo Cooks  

Doctored tomato soup

Doctored tomato soup

Let’s just call this doctored tomato soup becuase there’s very little cooking. And let’s face it, you don’t always have time or energy to cook, but you can still have something delicious for dinner. In all fairness my soup didn’t involve lentils because Trader Joe’s was out (even though I eye them every single week and finally had a reason to buy them–oh well!) The recipe I made involved these ingredients: Half an onion, two cloves of garlic, boxed creamy tomato soup from Trader Joe’s (you guys….it’s amazing…just buy it and you’ll see), 1 1/2 cups precooked brown rice, and a few heaping handfuls of pre-cut, pre-washed kale. In other words it took me about 7 minutes to make, which meant I barely had to step away during a House of Cards marathon with Robert last Sunday. See that cornbread? It’s from a mix from Trader Joe’s. Can you tell I’m totally becoming a convert? It’s awesome.

Foil-Baked Lemon-Garlic Fish and Asparagus via Pink Parsley

photo

I used cod, added some sliced bell pepper, and served with whole wheat couscous mixed with freshly chopped parsley. Other than that, I followed the recipe as-is. Fantastic weeknight meal. If this is your first time making compound butter, allow me to say this: It will change your life.

Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage & Kale

Whole Wheat Orecchiette, spicy sausage, and kale

Oh my. I’ve certainly come a long way. Remember how back in January I mentioned I hardly ever cook pasta and posted my first pasta recipe on the blog? Since then pasta of all kinds seems to have become a staple around here and is on the menu about every week or two. Well, now I’ve got another keeper. I’m not sure what changed exactly. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve found I can eat just enough without stuffing myself? Or maybe it’s because pasta recipes tend to come together quite quickly, which is always perfect on a weeknight. Whatever the reason, there are two very happy eaters in this household.

I’m especially excited to share this recipe. Orecchiette may be my favorite pasta shape–it captures just the right amount of sauce and other components so perfectly in every bite. I was thrilled when I found whole wheat orecchiette at Whole Foods (!!!) Of course you already know my love for kale knows no bounds and any time you add sun-dried tomatoes to something you know it’s going to be good.

The only ingredients you need!

The only ingredients you need!

After a bit of research, I combined a few different recipes to get this outcome. One of the things that really made a difference was a tip I gathered from this recipe, where you drain the sun-dried tomatoes in a sieve over a bowl and use some of the remaining oil when cooking. Unless you cooked the meal you may not know it’s there, but the oil imparts a certain kick that you could only get from oil that’s been hanging out with sun-dried tomatoes for who knows how long.

I used spicy Italian turkey sausage, but you can use absolutely any kind you like or sub it out and add some beans instead. Serve with a nice glass of red wine, some freshly shaved parm and you’ve got yourself a swoon-worthy dinner. Enjoy!

Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage and Kale 

Serves 2 with leftovers

Ingredients

8 ounces whole wheat orecchiette

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 pound spicy Italian turkey sausage, casing removed

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

16 oz kale

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Salt & pepper

1/2 tsp crushed red chili pepper (optional)

Preparation

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.

Drain sun-dried tomatoes in a sieve over a bowl. Roughly chop sun-dried tomatoes.

Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan and cook until sausage is browned, about 10 minutes, using a spoon to crumble. Transfer sausage to a bowl. Add onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and 2 tsp of oil from sun-dried tomatoes to the pan. Sautee about 5 minutes until onion softens. Add kale and chicken broth. Cover and simmer until kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in pasta, sausage, and reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with crushed red chili pepper.

Slow Roasted Salmon with Avocado Salad

slow roasted salmon with avocado salad via abalancedlifecooks.com

So there’s this little show that’s blowing up ABC called Scandal. Have you heard of it? Thought so! Awesome, right? We watch every single week and never have any idea what to expect. Well, there happens to be another reason why I tune in each Thursday besides getting to see the gladiators in suits do their thing and repeating out loud every time Olivia Pope declares, “It’s handled!” 

That reason? Katie Lowes who plays Quinn Perkins in the show. For nearly 20 years, our families have shared a ski house in Vermont. So every Thursday I look forward to getting to see Katie in our living room. On Valentine’s Day I was lucky enough to see her again when she appeared (as herself) on the ABC talk show The Chew. And she was so stinkin’ adorable! You can watch the clip here.

Ski House Ladies at Kaite & Adam's wedding (photo by Adam Pass)

ski house ladies with the beautiful bride at Katie & Adam’s wedding (photo by Adam Pass)

It just so happens that during Katie’s bit on The Chew they made a delicious looking (and crazy healthy) meal that I knew I had to recreate ASAP. I’m always looking for new ways to cook salmon and what could be better than a) slow roasting and b) topping it with an insanely tasty avocado salad?

With slow roasting, you cook the salmon at a very low temperature (225 degrees) for a bit of time (about 40 minutes). It cooks all the way through and stays totally moist (ugh I hate the word, but couldn’t think of a better way to describe it.) Bonus: It doesn’t stink up your apartment!

Then there’s the avocado salad: creamy chunks of avocado, orange zest and juice, diced shallot, spicy freshno chili, and spunky champagne vinegar. I mean really. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Slow Roasted Salmon with Avocado Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

Salmon

Side of wild salmon (0.75-1 lb)

Olive oil

Salt & Pepper

Avocado Salad

3 avocados, diced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 orange, zest and juice

2 Tbsp champagne vinegar

1/2 shallot, diced

1 fresno chili, minced

Preparation

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Place salmon on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Cook 35-40 minutes until cooked through.

Meanwhile, prepare the avocado salad. Place ingredients (avocados through chili) in a bowl and mix to combine.

Cut salmon into 4 equal-sized pieces. Top each piece with avocado salad and serve with quinoa if desired.

Recipe lightly adapted from The Chew