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Happy Birthday to Me!

Mark and I are headed off for a long weekend in Vermont to celebrate my Golden Birthday ~ 30 years old on April 30! We are staying at a culinary spa resort near Burlington. I’ll definitely be blogging about it when we get back!

MEANWHILE, CHECK OUT MY BIRTHDAY GIFT:

I think it adds just the right amount of pizzazz to my kitchen, don’t you?

Drinks & Smoothies · Recipes

Chocolate-Almond Protein Shake

When Mark had to get ready for a role last year that might involve a shirtless scene (it didn’t in the end, much to his relief), he signed up for a boot camp at our gym that totally kicked his butt and left his muscles in deep need of recovery. The instructors advised the group to eat something before the workout in order to have enough fuel to power through — ideally, an easily-digestible meal with a high carb/moderate protein/low fat ratio — and to recover with a small meal or drink one to two hours after working out. The pre-workout meal was easy: whole wheat toast, a boiled or scrambled egg, one orange and plenty of water. But the post-workout meal was a mystery. What would help him recover but not plateau?

I did a little research and then devised this delicious and easily customizable protein shake. Now, he takes it on the go when he has short meal breaks during rehearsals and needs to refuel quickly without getting too full. The best part? You can tweak it to your liking very easily. Swap peanut butter for almond butter, or combine equal parts of each; add more banana if you like the taste (Mark doesn’t). You could use soy or rice milk instead of almond, but I wouldn’t use dairy since the whole idea is that this is easy to digest. If you really want to make this an indulgent treat instead of a post-workout recovery shake, you could even toss in a scoop of chocolate gelato ūüôā

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup almond milk

  • 2 spoons full of almond butter (and/or peanut butter to taste)

  • 1 spoon full of chocolate protein powder (I like Trader Joe’s organic hemp version, above)
  • 1 frozen banana (you can also use fresh; I keep plenty of frozen ones around in small pieces so they are easy for the blender to process in smoothies)

  • optional: cashew cream to taste/creaminess level

  • also optional: ice and/or water to chill it or thin it out

Directions

Starting with the liquid on bottom, blend all ingredients until smooth; taste and adjust to your preference. I often add more almond butter if it’s too chocolate-heavy, or I might throw in another piece of banana to thicken it (or a splash more almond milk to thin it out).

Serve cold and enjoy!

Recipes

Spring Desserts: Key Lime Pie & Strawberry Shortcake

Confession: I’ve been eating dessert after dinner EVERY NIGHT this week to chip away at the leftovers of these two desserts, which I made for Easter Dinner. I couldn’t decide between the two so I made them both, and they each came out great! Both are perfect for when the weather is turning nicer and you need something that’s light, sweet and refreshing ~ not heavy.


Before you get started making the Key Lime Pie, you need to make a crust. Sometimes I buy them pre-made if I’m really stressed or pressed for time, but they take 5 minutes to make from scratch with two ingredients. You can customize your crust by adding additional sugar or cinnamon, but I find that it’s not necessary.

Directions: Graham Cracker Crust

Combine about 2 cups of graham crackers, smashed into crumbs, with about a half stick of melted butter. I actually used a combination of graham crackers and gingerbread, because I had leftovers of both frozen from the holidays.

Press mixture into a pie plate or 9-inch pan, and cook at 375 for about 7 minutes. Cool at room temperature before filling.

Directions: Key Lime Pie

First the ingredients — you’ll need about half a dozen limes, enough to juice 1/2 cup. (hint: if you can’t find key limes, sub 1 or 2 lemons for a couple of the limes, nd you’ll get a similar tartness. I tried this and it worked very well.) Make sure to only buy organic limes and lemons — you’ll notice a real difference in flavor and fragrance. I just grabbed one bag of each at Trader Joe’s and they were deliciously fresh.

The citrus scent these left lingering in my kitchen was glorious!

In addition,¬† you’ll need 5 egg yolks (but save the whites to make yourself a healthy egg white omelette like I did!) and also one can of sweetened condensed milk.

Start off by emptying the condensed milk into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, separate the eggs (reserving whites) and add yolks to the sweetened condensed milk.

Stir until smooth. Juice the limes (and lemons, if using) and add to the egg-milk mixture. Whisk.

Pour the mixture into the crust and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes (watch to make sure it doesn’t burn, especially if you’re using a non-stick pie pan).

Garnish with lime slices and serve with whipped topping or vanilla ice cream!

Strawberry Shortcake

This is literally the easiest dessert you’ll ever make. ¬†Buy a pound cake or some shortcake shells at the grocery store for about $3, and then pick up a pound of strawberries. Hull and chop them, mix in 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, and let it sit on the counter top while you cook other things.

The sugar will melt and draw out the juices of the fruit, so in just a little while you’ll have delicious strawberry sauce — no heat required. I like to keep mine at room temp, but you can refrigerate it. And if you let it sit awhile but don’t think there’s enough liquid to make a true sauce, just add a bit more sugar and let it sit again.

Serve the strawberries atop the pound cake with a side of fresh whipped cream.

YUM!

Recipes

Fresh Caesar Salad

I love to make Caesar Salad from scratch. Whip up some dressing, chop some romaine & toast some day-old bread into garlicky croutons. So much more satisfying than bottled dressing or salad mix from a bag. Here’s my easy recipe. Make it fully vegetarian by omitting the anchovy paste and Worcestershire sauce. Or, enjoy as is, with a zesty bite to it.

Ingredients

  • 3 heads of romaine
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated roughly on a large microplane
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • juice of 1 organic lemon
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard (or spicy brown)
  • a couple squirts of anchovy paste

Directions

Make the dressing: Mix the oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce & anchovy paste (if using). Whisk briefly in a bowl.

Coarsely chop, rinse and spin the salad dry (or run under cold water and pat dry with paper towels).

Place the freshly grated cheese in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Add the romaine, pour the dressing on the top, and toss to combine.

To make croutons, simply tear up or cut day-old bread (I actually like to use English Muffins that are about to go stale, or have already turned a bit in that direction).

In a small saucepan, mix a little bit of olive oil and butter with salt and garlic powder (or just use garlic salt). You can also add in some dried parsley flakes if you have them hanging around. Mix over low heat until the seasonings are dissolved and the liquids are melted.

Take off heat, and in a bowl combine with the bread chunks. Toss to coat, then spread on a lined baking sheet for 15 minutes at 300. Stir, then let cook for another 10 or 15 minutes until nice and brown.

Top salad with croutons and serve!

If you aren’t using the croutons the same day, they’ll keep fine for a little bit in a plastic bag.

I served this on Easter Sunday and have made it for Mother’s Day, too. It’s very light and refreshing in the spring! I hope you enjoy.

Recipes

Seafood Pasta Bake

Hurray! This is the new pasta dish I’ve been looking for.

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a bag of¬†frozen seafood blend from Trader Joe’s for about $6. With bay¬†scallops, shrimp & calamari, I figured there was something tasty I could find to do with it. Figuring that something might involve pasta, I also grabbed a can of organic diced tomatoes and linguine¬†…¬†but my ingredients never developed into a plan, and the stuff sat in the fridge. Until I stumbled upon this easy seafood pasta¬†recipe by the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.¬†This baked dish is so flavorful and comes together quickly, since you start it on the stovetop and then¬†bake it for just 15 minutes! I made it for Sunday night dinner before Mark had to dash off to tech¬†rehearsal for the show he’s opening this week, and it kept him satisfied through hours of work.¬† And for seafood that came out of the freezer aisle, the taste was incredibly fresh. This one’s definitely going into our regular meal¬†rotation.

Directions

Set on a large pot of covered water, unsalted, to boil.

While the water is heating up to boiling, melt a tablespoon of butter and a dash of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.

Toss the frozen seafood (I thawed mine a bit for a couple hours in the fridge) into the skillet once the oil and butter have melted together, and saute the fish for a few minutes until just warm and translucent. If there’s too much liquid in the pan, scoop a bit out and reserve in a measuring cup. You want the seafood to get browned a bit, and depending on how frozen they are when you saute them, they may let off too much liquid (they did to me). But don’t throw out that spare fluid! It’ll come in handy later.

You want to undercook the pasta a bit since it’ll be baked some more in the oven, so keep that in mind after you toss it in the boiling water.

Once the seafood is browned a bit, remove it from the heat and set aside. If you haven’t drained the extra liquid off, then set the seafood aside on a plate WITHOUT a paper towel so you can reserve the juices. If, like me, you’ve already poured off the juices, then set the seafood aside on a paper towel.

Turn the heat down in the skillet and add 3-4 diced garlic cloves to the pan with a bit of olive oil. Don’t let the garlic burn.

Then, add a dash of white wine to the pan and deglaze it, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.

Cook, stirring, until the wine reduces and a thin sauce starts to come together. Again, don’t let the garlic burn.

Then, add the can of diced organic tomatoes and a couple spoons full of capers to the pan, stirring. (The original recipe did NOT call for capers, but I love them, and I think they add a certain saltiness that pairs well with seafood. You could also add Kalamata olives; the only reason I didn’t is because Mark dislikes them).

Stir over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Take care to salt and pepper it generously. I also added a teeny dash of red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile, prepare a casserole dish for baking. Doubling up on foil, you want to line the dish with enough overlap that you can fold the edges over the entire thing, like you would when baking in foil over a campfire. These little packets are going to blend all the flavors together and make the dish really harmonious!

Next, pre-heat your oven to 350.

When the pasta is nearly done — you want it a little firmer than Al Dente, because it’ll continue cooking in the oven — drain it and lay it in the casserole dish. A little cooking liquid is OK; if they’re on the slippery side when they go in the dish, the linguine will have just the right amount of moisture to bake well.

Pour the cooked tomato mixture on top of the pasta, then top with the reserved seafood pieces. If the whole thing feels or looks a bit dry, pour some of that reserved cooking liquid (remember the butter and olive oil I had you set aside when the seafood was sauteeing?) on top before you put it in the oven.

Then, fold up the edges to completely encase the food and seal it off so it blends together nicely in the oven. You don’t therefore need a lid on your baking dish.

When it comes out, just unwrap it……

And voila!

If I had any fresh basil on hand, I would have topped this with some basil leaves. Otherwise I can’t imagine this tasting any better. Enjoy!