This is new and strange, and I don’t really like it

I love to cook. Always have, and I hope that I always do. I love to play and experiment and whip up delicious creations. I rarely struggle with recipes, and right now I’m struggling. This is a completely new and strange experience. It’s stressing me out.

Last weekend I went to Phenix City, AL (just outside of Columbus, GA) where my Diamond sister, Anna, lives with her husband Tim and their son Caden. For those who don’t know, a Diamond is the equivalent of a “big” in a sorority, but my sorority, Alpha Delta Pi calls them Diamonds. Our symbol is a diamond, and they changed the name in order to better create a sense of equality among the members. Everyone is a Diamond, no distinction between “big” or “little.”

While we were there visiting Anna, they took us to lunch at a place called Zoe’s Kitchen. It was the epitome of comfort food with a Greek/Mediterranean twist. Lots of wraps, pita sandwiches, hummus, all filled with delicious flavors- the perfect combinations of crunchy and soft, sweet and salty.

Each entree selection comes with your choice o several delicious sides. Tim selected their braised white beans with rosemary. The depth of flavor in these beans (he insisted I try a bite!) was out of this world. It was a bowl of beans. And it was also one of the single most delicious bites of food I have ever had. Creamy, complex, hearty and warm with this slight sweetness, almost like a shortbread cookie that has delicious bits of sweetness among the thick, bread-like cookie. No, those beans didn’t taste like shortbread, but the way the sweet fragrance of the rosemary crept out over the meatiness of the beans and completely enveloped every taste bud.

It was the type of bite you don’t want to chew or swallow. You just want to hold it in your mouth and taste it forever.

Ever since then I have been trying to recreate the recipe. There is surprisingly little on the internet in terms of similar recipes, so I’ve attempted recreating this one on my own. I’m so close. It has all the same flavors, all the same known ingredients, but it’s still missing something. You can taste the garlic, taste the rosemary, and the beans are creamy and cooked perfectly. Something is missing, though, and the flavors are just not marrying the way that they should.

I’m not giving up, but it’s definitely a struggle and I don’t like it one bit! I guess this is just part of the process. I’ll dive back in to my falvor bible, research the herbs, taste everything again, and throw on another pot tomorrow. Alex is probably going to kill me (he hates the smell and taste of Rosemary, the smell gives him a headache, the taste makes him retch) but I will press on! Any of you chefs with advice out there in cyber-land, I sure would appreciate some guidance!

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New things to try and play with!

After work yesterday, Alex and I went a little out of our way to visit one of my favorite places, the Super H Mart. This is an Asian food megastore located right next door to the ITT Tech I used to work at.

The produce section alone is out of this world, but I love looking at everything. There are so many foods I never knew existed, so many flavors I’ve never even heard of. It can be alienating at first, especially since I can’t tell what I’m looking at half the time (most of the packaging just has characters, English, if there is any, is usually tiny and only on the back) but it is still a ton of fun.

Yesterday I got some new fresh produce to try including shitake mushrooms (I’ve eaten these, but never prepared them at home,) and Kubocha squash. In more familiar territory I also got some Romaine lettuce because it was only $0.99 per head, and some fresh Rosemary for the recipe I’m trying to replicate this evening (Braised white beans with Rosemary from Zoe’s Kitchen.)

After perusing around the rest of the store I picked up more Soba noodles (I still have 2 bundles from my #Foodiepenpals friend, Lauren, but after my delicious Shrimp/Spinach/Soba goodness, my whole family wants it for dinner soon) and grabbed a package of shirataki noodles to try, a large package of pre-shelled edamame, and a few little treats for Alex!

Definitely on the prowl for some new recipes, particularly any that include Kubocha! I can’t wait to get back home and get cooking!

Shrimp, spinach, and Soba noodles with garlic and white wine

One of the items in my first ever #Foodiepenpals box was Soba noodles from Lauren at Lauren Living Locally. Since I didn’t have Kale or Walnuts on hand to try the recipe she gave me, I decided to pair some great ingredients that I did have on hand. The result was Soba noodles with shrimp and spinach, and a garlic and white wine sauce. This recipe was for 1 person, so you would just need to multiply all ingredient amounts by the amount of people you want to serve. Both mom and brother sampled the recipe, and believe me- you’ll want to serve this one. It is ridiculously quick, simple, and one of the most incredible meals I have ever cooked solo at home!

Soba noodles with Shrimp, Spinach, and Garlic and White Wine Sauce

Ingredients

7-10 medium shrimp (I used frozen)

2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed (adjust depending on your tastes)

1 bundle Planet Organic Soba noodles

2 cups fresh spinach

1/4 cup white wine

2 tbsp Grape Seed or Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/8 cup butter or margarine (I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and had no issues)

Preparation

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat with the garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. Once the oil is heated, add the shrimp and cook 3-4 minutes per side, until each side turns pink and becomes opaque.

In a sauce pan heat water to boiling, and add Soba noodles once boiling. Reduce heat and let simmer for 4-6 minutes until tender.

While noodles are cooking, remove shrimp from skillet and add butter and white wine to the same pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes over medium heat, until mixture begins to thicken, and then cover with a lid and simmer for 2-3 more minutes. Add the shrimp back to the sauce pan and let sit in the sauce for 1-2 minutes while you drain the noodles.You can add the spinach to the shrimp mixture to wilt slightly if you prefer, but I like mine with a bit of crunch, so I simply put it in the serving dish, mixed it with the still-hot Soba noodles, and let the spinach only wilt slightly.

I mixed the sauce with the noodles and tossed lightly with tongs. After adding a shake of some grated Parmesan, I dug right in to this exquisite dish!

Calories according to the MFP Recipe Tool: 476 calories, 62g of carbs, 10g of fat, 33g of protein, and 4g of fiber!

Foodie Pen Pals!

So last month I read about the Foodie Pen Pals program from Dena at 40 Fit In The Mitt, and I just knew that I had to sign up! It’s a really fun program started by Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean  that matches bloggers and readers across the country get matched and send each other foodie-inspired packages. Now, first let me say this: KUDOS to Lindsay. This is not only the best idea ever, but she does an absolutely fantastic job organizing everything. There will be more about Foodie Pen Pals after my post for anyone interested in participating, but for now…here is my first box reveal!

This month my foodie pen pal was Lauren, from Lauren Living Locally. I visited her blog before receiving my package, and I was extremely excited to be paired with her! I just knew she would send me different, delicious treats, and for my first #Foodiepenpals box, she definitely did not disappoint!

In my box Lauren included lots of yummy goodies, including Almond butter from The Orchards inPomona,NY(something I have been dying to try, but never purchased because Alex refuses to try it!), Bread and Butter Pickles (again, much to Alex’s dismay! *More on that later!), Roasted Natural Sea Weed, Soba noodles, and a recipe for Soba noodles with kale and walnuts!

The absolute first thing I did was stir up the almond butter and gently spread it across a piece of honey wheat bread. Emphasis on gentle. The almond butter was much crunchier than traditional peanut butter, and had a prominent saltiness mixed in among the sweet. It wasted of delicious toasted almonds- I really cannot explain how delicious it was! It is definitely something I will continue to treat myself with, whether Alex partakes in it or not!

*When I opened my package I took out the most gigantic jar of delicious, home-made looking pickles that I have ever laid eyes on. Anyone who knows me and Alex knows that I love pickles more than most any food in the world, and the simple smell of pickles will send Alex into fits of retching that can last for hours. Seriously, I once ate a cheeseburger with pickles on it for lunch, and he could still detect pickles when I kissed him hello six hours later. The look on his face was quite possibly the funniest I have ever witnessed, and I could not have been happier to receive this glorious jar of pickles!

When I opened the jar and took the first bite, it was out of this world. A lovely crunch, with a soft, tart center- the perfect punch of sour, followed by that distinct, buttery sweetness. I am in pickle heaven.

The roasted sea week is the item I was both most scared, and most interested to try. Lauren warned me in her letter that they were an acquired taste, but I was determined to try them! They’re really not bad. I finally understand what contributes that flavor to sushi, as I never really attributed it to the sea weed before for some reason. Definitely not a snack I can eat a ton of at once, but it definitely is a nice alternative for a salty snack.

The final item was a package of Planet Organic Soba Noodles. I’ve never tried soba noodles, but have heard only good things about them. Not only did Lauren send me some, but she was sweet enough to include a recipe for soba noodles with kale and walnuts. I haven’t had the chance to try it yet (I haven’t been out to get the kale and walnuts) but I did try the noodles tonight with some ingredients I had on hand, and made a killer meal for dinner!

Remember to check out more information about #Foodiepenpals on Lindsay’s blog, and sign up to participate soon! Stay tuned for a guest post from my #foodiepenpals recipient, Amanda, in the next post!

Who says healthy can’t be tasty?

This will be a short post, as I’ve discussed all possible relative topics to death, and nothing is really a new “recipe” (excepting maybe the quinoa.)

This, is why I am in love with my grill. And salmon.

The zucchini, squash, and asparagus was done in a basket on the grill. In cheated and microwaved the quinoa in a little water, and when it was finished I added roughly 1/4 cup of chopped grape tomatoes, and a tablespoon of tomato basil feta. The salmon got nothing but a pinch of salt and pepper, and a salt-water soaked cedar plank. De-lic-ious.

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I’m having an affair

I have fallen in love with another. Alex need not worry, this new love is certainly not a man. It is not my grill, either. It is a food. A delicious, versatile, filling, fantastic food. My new love is none other than Quinoa.

Even before I made the decision to get healthier, I kept stumbling upon delicious looking recipes using quinoa on Pinterest. Mixtures of luscious vegetables, flavorful meats, and creamy sauces, all mixed in with these tiny, moist, soft little granules.

It is ridiculously simple to prepare, both on the stove top and in the microwave when I’m feeling lazy. I have paired it various proteins, using it as a side with broiled salmon, as a main course with chunks of chicken, veggies, and soy sauce, and as a southwestern casserole with black beans, corn, salsa, and cheese. It is the perfect base for any accompaniment.

Tonight Alex started on his quest to perfect the “Juicy Lucy” (apparently this is the popular term for a burger cooked with the cheese on the inside, who knew?) He even made a special Lucy for me, stuffing mine with a little Atheno’s Tomato and Basil feta, and topping it with fresh spinach.

While he was busy on the grill, I was busy whipping up a delicious quinoa side. The amount prepared could comfortably serve about 8 people, and I am super excited about the leftovers. I am affectionately referring to tonight’s concoction as, simply, “Italian Quinoa.”

Italian Quinoa
-1/2 cup Ancient Harvest Quinoa
-1 can of Del Monte diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
-1/2 10oz package of Fresh Express baby spinach
-1 cup baby bella mushrooms, chopped

I prepared the quinoa in the microwave using the directions on the box (2 parts water to 1 part quinoa, loosely covered in a microwave safe bowl for about 8 minutes) so that I could use the stove to prepare the veggies without having to stress too much. (I’m PMSing this week, forgive me.)

While the quinoa was cooking, I sauteed the mushrooms with a little grape seed oil in a saucepan. Once tender, I added the spinach and let it cook down. I drained a little excess liquid out of the tomatoes, and added them to the pan along with the now finished quinoa.

I seasoned with a pinch of salt, pepper, garlic, and McCormick Perfect Pinch Italian Seasoning, and about 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. I brought the mix up to a boil, reduced to simmer, and let it cook for just a couple of more minutes (until the Lucy’s were ready for consumption.)

The whole meal was a bit above where I typically like to stay, coming in at 734 calories, but again- PMS. It’s getting really hard to behave right now, and I’m proud I’m doing as well as I am.

The quinoa dish breaks down as follows per serving: 84 calories, 13g carbs, 2g fat, 4g protein, and 2g of fiber.

Have you tried quinoa? How do you like to prepare it?

Salmon- my new obsession

Prior to starting this journey, I wouldn’t touch salmon with a ten foot pole. I don’t know if I just never had it prepared well, or if I was just too scared of fish to really give it a fair chance, but literally…the pole would have had to be ten feet, at least.

Alex and I went to O’Charley’s one night with some friends at the beginning of my healthy eating revolution, before I was really comfortable ordering off of a menu at a restaurant. Since I knew salmon is supposed to be super healthy, and the meal only came with a side of broccoli, I figured it would be a pretty safe (and healthy!) bet (minus all of the additional sodium that I feel is in pretty much any meal that I don’t prepare myself…)

I tried their cedar-planked salmon, and I have not turned back since. O’Charley’s is not my favorite restaurant, and some of their food is slightly strange, so I was definitely a little nervous. But both of the friends that we went to dinner with either previously worked at O’chuck’s, or currently work there, and they both stood by the salmon as one of the highest reviewed and biggest selling dishes they offer. So I gave it agao, and it was love at first bite.

I can’t fully describe the absolute succulence that pours through every taste bud with this dish, but I knew that I had to learn how to replicate it at home. Alex and I picked up a four pack of cedar planks at our local Kroger, and got them soaking in some salt water. Essentially what I have learned is to let them song as long as possible. Our package said at least 1 hour in salted water, but everything I read online said the longer, the better. We settled on about two hours since we didn’t have much more time to prepare, and while I don’t think the fish even needs a strong marinade when cooked on the plank, the recipe below was one of the most delicious pieces of fish I have eaten, ever. Bar none. I’ve peaked, it will never, ever get ANY better than this salmon. On a side note, you can use cedar planks in the oven, but it’s 80 degrees in March, so we used the grill, damnit!

Cedar-Planked Asian Salmon
2 mid-sized salmon fillets, skin removed (this is kind of difficult pre-cooking, but do it.)
1/2 cup soy sauce (I use low-sodium Kikkoman)
Dried mustard (I don’t do measurements when I cook…)
Grated ginger (see above…)
Granulated garlic (see above…)
Granulated onion (see above…)

I split the fillets into four equal pieces, and stirred the marinade together in a bowl. Once the ingredients were well-mixed, I placed the fillets inside and refrigerated them for 2-3 hours. During this time the planks were also “marinating” in the salt water.

When everything else is getting ready to go (you want to be out 20 minutes out from everything being ready) fire up the grill. You want the grill right around 350-400. Heat the cedar planks on the grill for 3 minutes, then flip and place salmon fillets on heated side. Close the grill lid and let salmon cook without flipping at all for between 10 and 15 minutes depending on the size of your fillets.

We paired these with some baked potatoes and roasted asparagus for one of the most succulent, juicy, smoky meals that grill has ever produced. Each bite was like walking one step further into heaven. The salmon was smoky, meaty, and full of Asian flavor. It paired perfectly with the potatoes and asparagus, and even had my salmon-hating mom’s mouth watering!

If you’re skeptical about salmon, give this recipe a go- you’ll never doubt it again!

I don’t have caloric information for the entire meal, but the Salmon breaks down like this: 199 calories per serving, 4g carbs, 9g fat, 27g protein, 1g fiber. The recipe claims a large amount of sodium, but you don’t drink the marinade, so you don’t really get as much as it says (so much so that I won’t list it here!)

Enjoy!

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