January 30, 2015

Kale and White Bean Soup

Growing up in Florida, I never really appreciated the greatness of a warm bowl of soup. Then, I experienced my first New Jersey winter.

At first, as a broke college kid, I turned to the semi-familiar Ramen noodles... Those cheap simple noodles coupled with that sodium-laden broth, (which still holds a place in my heart), were my first foray into my new found love of soup. Next came an obsession with the corn chowder sold at the Au Bon Pain on campus. (A big step up!)

More than ten years later, I still enjoy a good bowl of soup... particularly when there is snow on the ground.

The other day, in preparation for our "big snow", I made a pot of this soup to keep me warm- and to freeze for another cold day! (Having two kids in the house is inspiring me to make ahead more meals.) It was perfect. Comforting, simple and quick to make- this soup is a great way to stay warm and enjoy some veggies (although, I'd bet it would also be good with some bacon or sausage too!).

Kale and White Bean Soup
Makes 6-8 servings

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped carrots
2 14.5 oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
small bunch fresh thyme
8 oz fresh kale

Add oil to heavy bottomed pan on medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots and thyme to pan; saute, stirring occasionally, until onions/carrots are softened- about 5 minutes. Add half of beans, slightly mashing with fork. Add chicken broth and water; bring to boil. Add the remaining beans, along with salt, pepper, and kale. Reduce heat and simmer until kale is tender- about 20 minutes. Serve as-is, or with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

(Makes a great lunch when paired with half of a cheese sandwich!)


*If freezing for later, ladle into tupperware container, leaving room at the top. If stored correctly, soup should last in freezer for 2-3 months.

January 29, 2015

How I Think About Food

Good morning!

A lot has happened since my last post! About two weeks ago, we welcomed our second baby boy into the world. It was a wonderful day; full of joy, nerves, and a few curveballs.

I gained a lot of weight with my pregnancy... about 65 lbs. (I was all belly!!) I had gained a lot during my first pregnancy- about the same 65lbs- and after 39 weeks I had a 9lb 4.5oz healthy baby boy. This time around, our second son surprised everyone in the room when he weighed in at 11lbs 2oz!

Because of his size and other factors, the Dr. almost immediately came to the conclusion that I had probably become a gestational diabetic after the screening period was over. Not cool. I had been tested a few times and had been cleared... Unfortunately, later on in my pregnancy I had been on medication which can elevate blood sugar- and had been taking the medication during prime Christmas cookie season. (Not a good combo for someone who loves baked goods!)

So, what now? I need to be tested in 6 weeks to check my blood sugar, and will likely need yearly monitoring of my blood sugar to keep a close eye. (Women who develop gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life). I need to lose my remaining weight. I need to exercise. Most importantly, I need to be consistent. The idea of becoming a diabetic scares me... as a nurse, I have seen what diabetes is capable of, and it's not pretty. I have taken care of people who are fed up with medications, needles, and monitoring; and of those whose bodies are ravaged by the effects of the disease. As a mom, I don't want to end up with a health condition that could potentially change my quality of life and impact my children- now, or 30 years from now.

I have to do everything in my power to stay healthy.

I have to re-think how I think about food... I need to think about what I give my body.

At different points in my day and my life, I think/have thought about food differently. I, like many other people, spend New Years fantasizing about the new and improved healthy lifestyle I'm going to lead. I pledge to eliminate and restrict, then punish myself for "cheating"... I think of food as the enemy. I get busy, and think of food in terms of convenience  or pure necessity, rather than as nutrients, and I grab what I can/whatever looks good (even if it means raiding the vending machine) so that I can continue on with my day. I get lonely or stressed or cold, and think of food as comfort, often overindulging. Sometimes, I seek out food for pleasure- a new recipe, a decadent chocolate cake, my favorite dish at a restaurant... The problem is, those thoughts shouldn't be mutually exclusive.

Food isn't the enemy. Not by far. It's our friend; delicious fuel for our body and soul. Healthy food can be convenient. Comfort food doesn't have to mean cream, sugar and fat (or if it does, it can do so in small portions)... and there is pleasure to be found in all kinds of food. Some days, a dish of cold watermelon is more satisfying than that slice of chocolate cake! The trick is to find balance.

I am setting out to think about what I eat. Not just because it looks or tastes good, but thinking about what it gives my body, and what it will do for me- and my family.

To me, this means thinking about the quality of the food I eat... and I don't mean Organic vs. not. The "organic" chocolate and snacks can be just as empty calorie and nutrient wise as the others. I mean choosing lean proteins, fiber rich foods, whole grains, and less added sugar. But, I'm not going to exclude the treats that make me and my family happy- like ice cream- it just wouldn't be realistic or enjoyable... I'm just going to keep a more watchful eye on the nutritional facts and serving sizes. Everything in moderation!!! I want be realistic, and set us up for success!

For the last week, armed with MyFitnessPal, I have been keeping closer tabs on what I eat, and am making some conscious decisions to make healthier choices. (Switching from vanilla greek yogurt to plain greek yogurt is saving me about 10g of sugar!!)

Don't worry! This blog is not going to change into a diet blog, and I'm not going to attempt to teach anyone how to be healthier... I just wanted to share my story and my goals. I'll keep sharing recipes, stories and experiences, and we'll see what happens!

January 08, 2015

Holiday Eats: Christmas Brunch

Good morning! As I set out today to pack away our Christmas tree and other decorations, I thought I'd take the opportunity to recap some of our holiday eats.

My favorite Christmas tradition- which we started the first Christmas my husband and I were married- is Christmas brunch! Every Christmas morning, my hubby and I (and now the boys) get together with my in-laws to exchange gifts while sipping hot cocoa, and enjoy a special brunch. I love breakfast food, but seldom really get the chance to make it very special. (Lately I've been getting lazy and not cooking much on weekend mornings).

Christmas brunch at our house means really doing it up: we break out our fine china, champagne
glasses for mimosas (or sparkling cider like this year), fancy table settings (hubby learned how to fold napkins like Christmas trees!), and a decadent menu. I typically choose to make special items for a little challenge in the kitchen (a gift for me), and to pamper my family (a gift to them). Last year, for example, I made eggs over cheesy grits, served with freshly baked cinnamon scones and fruit salad with kiwis cut into the shape of stars.

This year I kept things much simpler... our son was super excited about Christmas this year, and I knew that I didn't want to miss a second of his enthusiasm and play time by being in the kitchen. My goal was to find something special that could be made mostly ahead so that I could be sipping cocoa, snapping photos and enjoying Christmas through the eyes of a 3 year old. I am happy to say that I succeeded! We had a very leisurely Christmas morning, and even got to go out for a family hike in the early afternoon.

The menu: Eggnog Breakfast Bread Pudding, Applewood smoked bacon and fruit salad.
I found the bread pudding recipe on thekitchn.com which is one of my favorite food/kitchen sites/online magazines. The fruit salad, I kept simple and Christmas colored, using sliced bananas, sectioned pink grapefruit and diced kiwis- a fresh and light accompaniment to the more rich and silky bread pudding.

I highly recommend the breakfast bread pudding to anyone who will be entertaining over the holidays and wants to serve a special breakfast/brunch and still be able to spend quality time with their guests! I prepared the bread pudding the night before, and let it rest on the counter as the oven was warming up to help ensure even cooking.

Eggnog Breakfast Bread Pudding
thekitchn: Serves 8-10 

1 (12 oz) loaf French bread, sliced
4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups eggnog (I used light eggnog)
2 cups whole or 2% milk
5 large eggs
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 tbsp bourbon (or 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract)
Confectioner's sugar and/or warm maple syrup for serving

Butter the bread slices. Cut buttered slices into 1-in cubes and pile into a 2 quart baking dish (9x13 pan). Heat the eggnog and milk in a large saucepan over medium heat until bubbling gently but not boiling. Meanwhile, combine the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until light and frothy. Whisk one cup of the eggnog mixture into the eggs to warm them. Gradually whisk in the remaining eggnog mixture and the bourbon. Pour the custard over the bread cubes, and gently mash down with your hands to make sure the bread is saturated. Set aside for a minimum of one hour or refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the casserole dish inside of a large roasting pan and transfer to the oven. Carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, so that it comes halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is light golden brown. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, then carefully lift the casserole dish out of the water. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy!!

(We found it sweet enough without using maple syrup).

What kinds of holiday food traditions do you have?? Any favorite holiday foods- please share!!

January 07, 2015

Must-try: Slow-Cooker Creamy Chicken with Biscuits

I love my slow cooker... I think that I've proclaimed my love for hands-off cooking several times, so I won't rehash it again. 

I also have a love for Chicken Pot Pie. Or, at least I have a love for Chicken Pot Pie type meals... I'm not particularly fond of pie crust, however, or the calories that come along with the traditional chicken pot pie. Still, there is something simply decadent about a creamy sauce, tender chicken, vegetables and a pastry element that makes for one of my favorite meals. 

I am always on the lookout for new recipes or ways to bring my favorite flavors together simply and easily enough to enjoy on a weeknight... I found exactly what I was looking for in my inbox a few weeks ago, thanks to an email from Real Simple. Their Slow-Cooker Creamy Chicken with Biscuits proved to be exactly what I was looking for. It has now replaced my old go-to "pot pie" recipe and will definitely be making it into regular rotation for winter/rainy day comfort food meals! The best part is, this recipe can be made with ingredients that I always have on hand at home- it doesn't get any better than that!

Slow-Cooker Creamy Chicken with Biscuits
*Slightly adapted from Real Simple: Serves 6

3/4 pound whole baby carrots*
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts*
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used cooking wine)*
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
6 biscuits (store bought or easy drop biscuits)*
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a 4-6 quart slow cooker, toss together the carrots, celery, onion, and flour. Place chicken on top and season with the poultry seasoning, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Add wine and broth. 
Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or on high for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. 
If baking biscuits, consult recipe for cooking time- begin to prepare biscuits approx. 30 minutes before serving. (This lead time will vary depending on what type of biscuits you will use). 
Ten minutes before serving, break up chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces with spoon, and add peas, cream, and 1/2 tsp salt to the chicken; stir to combine. 
Cover, and cook until heated through- about 5-10 minutes. 
To serve, place the bottom halves of biscuits into bowl, then top with chicken mixture and the biscuit top. 

You can find the original recipe here.

*I made just a few small changes/substitutions- the original recipe called for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, for which I substituted boneless skinless chicken breasts due to personal preference/what I happened to have in the freezer, I also used whole baby carrots rather than the chopped carrots they called for. I chose to use store-bought biscuits the first time I made this dish, but I would also recommend using a simple biscuit recipe such as the Bisquick biscuits... I can't vouch for the simplicity or taste of the East Drop Biscuits mentioned in the original Real Simple recipe. Due to being pregnant, open bottles of wine aren't in my refrigerator to use for cooking, and would go to waste if opened so I substituted cooking wine which keeps much longer; if you prefer to cook without any alcohol whatsoever you can always substitute the wine for an additional 1/2 cup of chicken broth.

January 06, 2015

Low and Slow: Beef Bolognese

I can't believe that it has been a month since my last post! I am very disappointed that I missed out on the holiday food blogging... but things happen. I came home early on maternity leave to end up sick for 2.5 weeks, but ended up happily healthy just in time for Christmas and New Years... Cheers to that (with sparkling grape juice)!

Now it's time to play catch-up!

Winter is the perfect time to enjoy comfort food. Food that will warm you up from the inside... food that you can cook low and slow while enjoying time with your family, or alone curled up with a good book! This Beef Bolognese is that kind of food.

I served my bolognese over pappardelle pasta, with a simple side salad for a complete, delicious, hearty and comforting meal. It would be a great recipe to double for entertaining, or to freeze for a snowy day!

Beef Bolognese
Serves 4

1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. 90% lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/3 cup chopped celery
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dry red wine (I used cooking wine)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt

8 oz. uncooked pasta of your choice
Chopped fresh parsley and/or grated parmesan cheese for serving

Melt butter/heat oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef to pan, and cook until mostly browned- stirring to crumble. Remove meat from pan. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic to pan and saute until onion is translucent. Add tomato paste; saute 1 minute. Add stock and wine to pan and bring mixture to boil. Cook 1 minute, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Return beef to pan, add diced tomatoes, salt and pepper; stir. Cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to prevent burning/sticking. Cook pasta and serve with sauce- garnished with parsley and/or cheese. Enjoy!