Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Couple of Super Soups

Now that it's fall, I can't get enough soup for dinner!  It is so comforting and usually doesn't require much hands-on time.  Just throw everything in a pot and simmer away.  Or, better yet, make it the night before in the crock pot so that dinner is ready and waiting when you get home!

As I predicted, the squash, sweet potato, kale, and white bean soup I made the other night was just the beginning of many a soup night at our house.  Here are a couple more tasty recipes that I have made in the past week!

Pumpkin "Chiloup"
The ingredients in this recipe are very much like a chili, but the texture is more liquid-y, like a soup.  Hence the name "chiloup."  I'm sure if you wanted to make it thicker you could just reduce the broth.  Regardless of what you call it, it tastes great and is super healthy and filling.  I enjoyed it along with a pumpkin beer and my pumpkin candle (is that overkill?).

Total time: 30 minutes

1 tbsp. EVOO
3-4 cloves minced garlic
2-3 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 15 oz. can pumpkin
2 cups (or 1 15 oz. can) black beans
2 cups (or 1 15 oz. can) garbanzo beans (chili beans would also be good)
1 15 oz. can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3/4 cup salsa (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional garnishes (cheese, sour cream/greek yogurt, cilantro, hot sauce, etc.)
1. Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium heat.

2. Saute garlic, cumin, and chili powder until garlic is slightly browned and fragrant.

3.  Add broth, simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.

4.  Add remaining ingredients, simmer for 10 more minutes.

5.  Eat as-is, or garnish with chili toppings of your choice.  We used fresh cilantro, Daiya cheese, and Sambal Oelek in ours.

Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup 
(based on this recipe by Martha Stewart)
I wasn't exactly sure what to do with the big bunch of Swiss chard that I bought at Whole Foods last weekend.  I thought it might work well in a soup with lentils, so I took a look online to see what I could find.  This was one of the first recipes that came up, and I just-so-happened to have all the ingredients on hand already.  I'm glad I used the chard this way, because the soup was a real winner!  The only thing I did differently from the original recipe was add a little extra lemon juice and red pepper flakes.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, in juice
2 bunches (about 1 1/2 pounds total) Swiss chard, stalks cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, leaves torn into 2-inch pieces (keep stalks and leaves separate)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Bread, for serving (optional)


1. In a large saucepan with a lid, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes; stir to combine.

2. Add lentils, 5 cups water, and tomatoes with their juice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 20 minutes. Add chard stalks and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add chard leaves; season with salt and pepper, and cook until lentils and chard are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Stir in lemon juice; ladle soup into bowls.

Since Jay and I both love our food spicy, we always add hot sauce to just about everything.  My friend Vanessa recently told me about a sauce called Sambal Oelek that she declared to be even better than Sriracha!  I didn't think this could possibly be true, but I bought some to try it out.  I hate to say it, but I think she might be right! (Sorry, Sriracha...)  This sauce added an amazing kick to both soups, but it worked especially great in the pumpkin chili.  I have been putting it on everything ever since, and the jar that I just bought last week is already almost gone!  I need to find a jumbo size. 
BREAKING NEWS:  It's a good thing I've found a Sriracha back-up, because right before publishing this post I came across this article:

Intolerable spicy fumes?  Really!?  If you ask me, these people are being big babies.  I, for one, would love to be able to smell Sriracha all day long!  I am keeping my fingers crossed that the judge does not stop production.

Happy hump day! 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Weekend Highlights: 10-26

Friday night consisted of some exciting volleyball action.
Casady dominated one of their toughest rivals in the last home game of the season.  All that's left is the big championship down in Fort Worth in two weeks.  I will definitely be there cheering these guys on.  It has been quite the exciting season!

Saturday was a bit rainy, and I wasn't feeling the greatest from chemo on Friday, so we had a pretty low-key day.  I spent a lot of time camped out on the couch watching football and at the table grading piles of papers.
Jay and I did make it to Whole Paycheck Foods for this week's groceries.  While it doesn't make good financial sense for us to do all of our shopping here, we always have a ton of fun when we go and usually come away with some new and exciting finds.  I also love that all the meat at Whole Foods is raised humanely.  The chicken is completely free-range and the beef is grass-fed.  Aside from the local farmers market, this is one of the only places I will buy meat.
Some of our fun finds of the day included:
  • Daiya Cream Cheese!!  
  • Alvarado Street Sprouted Wheat Sesame bagels
  • Norwegian Smoked Salmon
  • Engine 2 Curried Lentil Plant Burgers 
  • Cage-free buffalo chicken breasts
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Organic smokey tempeh strips
  • Newman's Own Organic Ginger O's (I am addicted to these but only buy them when I spot a sale!)
  • Blue Diamond Artisan Nut Thins
  • More purple sweet potatoes
  • An organic pomegranate 
  • Organic swiss chard
  • Organic grapes and apples
  • Fresh pressed kale, melon, cucumber, celery juice
I just ate a sprouted wheat bagel with Daiya cream cheese and smoked salmon for lunch, and it was heavenly.  

We also managed to squeeze in a simple little craft project on Saturday afternoon.  We have a big digital thermostat in the hallway right outside our bedroom, and the bright blue light drives Jay crazy at night.  We stopped by Hobby Lobby to get some wood for him to build a small box around it, but I spotted one that was already painted and decorated that we bought instead.  Jay simply sawed the back off and affixed it to the wall around the thermostat.  The front of the box was coated with chalkboard paint, so I used a chalk maker to label it.  I may write something more exciting down the road than just "thermostat," but it works for now.  The box totally covers the light and looks like a cute little piece of artwork in the hall!
Sunday was another laid-back day, although my friend, Zenie, and I did walk-jog in a 5k for a local Weimaraner rescue organization.  There was a surprisingly big turnout of both people and dogs.  Many dogs ran in the race alongside their owners, and a bunch were even dressed up for Halloween.  It was so cute!  I asked Wendy and Oliver if they wanted to come run, but they were less than enthused.  
In their defense, they did get out of bed to come cheer us on for a bit with Jay, even though they didn't run.  It was a beautiful day to be outside!
If you are still in the mood for more healthy reads, I saw this article posted to Facebook this week and thought it made some great points:

8 Foods Even The Experts Won't Eat

Most of these foods I already stay away from, but I can always stand to do better.  For example, I try to use canned tomatoes sparingly due to the bisphenol-A in the linings, but they are so easy and cheap I still occasionally turn to them.  I really need to find a reasonably priced glass-bottled brand so that I can eliminate the cans all together.  And, I completely forgot that potatoes are on the dirty dozen!  That is one thing I don't usually buy organic, but I need to start!

Hope everyone has a great week!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Salads with Staying Power

Jay is super lucky that he doesn't ever have to pack a lunch for work, because his school provides an awesome meal every day for teachers free of charge.

 Back in the day when Jay and I attended Casady (the school where he works), we all ate our lunches family style each day in the cafeteria.  There was one main entree and a few side dishes that were served, and students and teachers would pass around big platters and bowls just like a family at dinnertime.  While this made for a very pleasant lunchtime atmosphere, the meals were often times far from nutritious.  I can remember lots of breaded items, mashed potatoes, heavy casseroles, and no-bake cookies, cinnamon rolls, and cakes for dessert.  Good, yes.  Healthy, not so much.

A few years ago, Casady hired a new food provider in order to focus on healthier fare and fresher ingredients.  They have maintained the family-style setting, still passing around a main meal each day, but now students and teachers have the additional option of visiting expansive soup, salad, and sandwich bars.  If only my school district would follow suit...
Jay raves about the selection and eats a huge salad pretty much every single day.  This means that most days he is not in the mood for more salad when he gets home, so I didn't include it in the dinner rotation too often in the past.

Kind of like "big bowls," giant salads are one of my favorite easy meals to make, and I was starting to miss them!  We finally figured out that we could instigate "Salad Tuesdays," since Jay has a faculty meeting that day and does not eat in the cafeteria.  They usually order some type of pizza or takeout for their meeting, so he is more than ready for greens when he gets home.

I am glad to be making salads regularly again, and I must tell you there have been some pretty epic ones over the last few weeks.  Lettuce and tomatoes alone won't keep me full for long, so I have been known to add in some pretty interesting ingredients to beef my salads up.  I usually like to include something hot to make them feel more substantial (like roasted or sauteed veggies, cooked beans, or a fried egg), and I always make sure to incorporate some protein and healthy fat.  After that, the sky is the limit!  Salads certainly do not have to be wimpy or boring.  Here are some of my faves from the past few Salad Tuesdays.

Tempeh "bacon," baby kale, black beans, hummus, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, organic ranch, Bragg liquid aminos, and multigrain chips.

Organic romaine, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, avocado, sauteed peppers, onions, and carrots, black beans, homemade jalapenos, peppers from our garden, Daiya cheese, Valentina hot sauce, organic ranch, and tortilla chips.

Organic romaine, yellow tomatoes from our garden, roasted cauliflower, carrots, and bell peppers, cucumber, black beans, hummus, avocado, organic ranch, Sriracha hot sauce, and tortilla chips. 

Organic romaine, sauteed yellow peppers and onions, black beans, hummus, pickles, bean sprouts, yellow tomatoes from our garden, cilantro, fried egg, Sriracha hot sauce, organic ranch, and tortilla chips. 

Organic baby kale, yellow tomatoes from our garden, avocado, bean sprouts, cilantro, brown rice, black beans, leftover sauteed potatoes and onions, roasted asparagus, bean sprouts, Daiya cheese, organic ranch, Sriracha hot sauce, liquid aminos.
What are your favorite salad toppings?!  I am always looking for new ideas!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Homemade Tofu Pad Thai

By most people's standards, I don't think I eat out all that much.  It is so much cheaper and healthier to eat at home, and I generally enjoy cooking in the evenings.  I find it sort of relaxing after a long day (especially when a glass of wine is involved).

I do have a pretty big weakness for Thai food, however, and it is something that I don't have much experience cooking.  As a result, I find myself frequenting my favorite local Thai place (Tana Thai) on a very regular basis, both with Jay and with friends.  They have the best pad thai, and I crave it all. the. time.

Jay kept asking why I don't try cooking pad thai at home since I love it so much.  I sort of just ignored him, until I saw some rice noodles on sale a couple weeks ago at the store.  There was a recipe for restaurant-style pad thai on the back of the box that didn't look too challenging, so I decided to give it a try.  It turned out good, but, sadly, not great.

The recipe had a lot of potential, so I gave it another shot last night, this time with a few more tweaks.  The second time was the charm!  While it still wasn't quiiite as good as Tana Thai (nothing is), I definitely thought it was great.  Plus, it is probably much healthier and certainly cheaper.

Tofu Pad Thai
Time: 45 minutes (plus the time to drain the tofu)
Makes: 3-4 servings

1 package extra-firm tofu
1 tbsp. refined coconut oil or vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 package (8 oz.) rice noodles
1 cup fresh bean sprouts

1/4 cup lime juice
3 tbsp. liquid aminos or soy sauce (traditional recipes call for fish sauce)
3 tbsp. sugar (I thought this seemed like a lot, but when tried cutting it back it was just not as good)
Pinch or two of red pepper flakes

Cilantro, rinsed and chopped
Roasted peanuts, crushed
Green onion, chopped
Lime wedges for squeezing
Sriracha or red pepper flakes (if you like it spicy like we do!)
1. Wrap your tofu up in a paper towel and place it between two plates.  Stick something heavy on top (I use my hardback Joy of Cooking cookbook) to help press the water out.  Leave it for about 30 minutes.
2. Once your tofu is drained, cut it up into 1-inch cubes.

3. Place tofu on greased baking sheet, drizzle with liquid aminos and Sriracha (if you want), and roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring once.

4. While tofu roasts, mix up your sauce and chop your garnish ingredients.

5. Soak rice noodles in hot water for 8 minutes or until barely tender (they will cook a bit more at the end). Drain.

5.  Heat pan over medium-high heat.  Add oil, garlic, and green onions and stir until fragrant.  Add in two eggs and scramble.

6. Reduce heat to low; add sauce, noodles, tofu, and bean sprouts.  Toss well.  Garnish as desired (I used LOTS of cilantro, peanuts, lime juice, and hot sauce).
7. Grab some chopsticks and enjoy!

I hope your week is off to a great start!  Today was an exciting day for the reached 5,000 hits! Thank you for reading!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekend Highlights: 10/19

This weekend has been filled with some of my favorite things!

Dog snuggles

Gym visit (I did the boot camp circuit workout I posted last week and am really feeling it today!)

Patio pizza date at the Wedge

Surprise birthday party for a friend at a bar

Giant veggie salad at Qdoba (I forgot to snap a pic until I was halfway through looked a lot more appetizing initially I promise.)

New living room rug from Target - I'm in love!

Amber pumpkin soy candle

Nice weather and lots of dog walks

Homemade Pad Thai - recipe coming soon!

I'm off to go watch The Walking Dead with Jay.  We are currently in the middle of season 3, and we are addicted!

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Heart Kale

Kale, aka "the queen of greens," is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Here are just a few of the great health benefits that it has to offer courtesy of
1. Kale is low in calories, high in fiber, and has zero fat. One cup of kale has only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. It is great for aiding in digestion and elimination with its high fiber content.

2. Kale is high in iron. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef. Iron is essential for good health, such as the formation of hemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function, and more.

3. Kale is high in Vitamin K. Eating a diet high in Vitamin K can help protect against various cancers. It is also necessary for a wide variety of bodily functions, including normal bone health and the prevention of blood clotting. Also, increased levels of Vitamin K can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Kale is filled with powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as carotenoids and flavonoids, help protect against various cancers.

5. Kale is a great anti-inflammatory food. One cup of kale is filled with 10% of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight against arthritis, asthma and autoimmune disorders.

6. Kale is great for cardiovascular support. Eating more kale can help lower cholesterol levels.

7. Kale is high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A is great for your vision and skin.  It also helps to prevent lung and oral cavity cancers.

8. Kale is high in Vitamin C. This is very helpful for your immune system, your metabolism, and your hydration.

9. Kale is high in calcium. Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk, which aids in preventing bone loss, preventing osteoporosis, and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Vitamin C is also helpful in maintaining cartilage and joint flexibility

10. Kale is a great detox food. Kale is filled with fiber and sulfur, both great for detoxifying your body and keeping your liver healthy.

We pretty much buy organic kale every week at the grocery store (it is on the dirty dozen, so organic really does make a difference). There are many delicious and easy ways to prepare it, so I really never get tired of it.

My absolute favorite way to prepare kale is to saute it with garlic and lemon juice.  I simply heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add in a couple cloves of minced garlic with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir for a minute or so, until the garlic becomes fragrant.  Add in kale (rinsed, stems removed, and chopped).  Squeeze in the juice of one lemon and stir until kale softens and turns bright green.  Top with a little sea salt and you are done!  I could really eat kale this way almost every day!

Another easy thing to do with kale is to bake it into chips.  Kale chips taste like really thin potato chips, and they are so good you will hardly even realize you are eating vegetables!  Just tear the leaves off the stems into bite-size pieces and spread out on a baking sheet.  Drizzle or spray with olive oil and sprinkle with a decent amount of salt.  You can also try adding some fresh Parmesan.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees, or until the edges are brown and the kale is crispy when moved in the pan.  Be careful not to overcook...I have learned the hard way that they can go from crispy to burnt in no time.  Eat the chips straight or drizzle on Sriracha or ketchup...whatever floats your boat!

A third way that we eat kale is in salad form.  To make it easy, I often buy prepackaged organic baby kale at the store.  It is more tender than regular kale and has a similar consistency to baby spinach.  
You can use other varieties of kale in salads, but some of them will be tougher and chewier than others.  Massaging the leaves, using a citrus-y dressing, and/or allowing the leaves to marinate for a bit are all things you can do to help soften up raw kale.  This BuzzFeed article lists seven helpful tips to making a better kale salad, so that the inside of your mouth doesn't "feel like it is being assaulted by a giant tree."  (I laughed out loud when I read that!)  They also share links to some delicious sounding recipes that I can't wait to try!   

Lastly, kale is great in soups!  There are tons of recipes on the net.  I am still enjoying leftovers of my squash, sweet potato, kale, and white bean soup that I made the other night.  If the weather doesn't warm up here soon, I'm going to be making soups every night!  Brrr!
Happy Friday!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fall Squash, Sweet Potato, Kale, and White Bean Soup

After loading up on squash at the grocery store this weekend, I needed to figure out what to do with it.  Aside from the squash, I had sweet potatoes and lots of kale on hand, so I hopped on the computer to look for inspiration.  We had our first legitimately chilly fall day today, so something warm was calling my name.  I decided to try a modified version of this butternut squash, kale, and white bean soup recipe I found here.

I used:

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 can Great Northern beans
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 to 2 tsp. minced rosemary
8 to 10 oz. kale, rinsed, stems removed, and leaves cut into 1-inch wide ribbons
1 medium butternut squash, cut into small cubes
1 medium sweet potato, cut into small cubes
4  cups organic chicken broth (plus additional broth or water as needed)
Parmesan (optional)
We picked up that funny looking purple sweet potato at Sprouts over the weekend.  I had never seen anything like it before!


1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and rosemary along with a pinch of salt. Sweat, reducing the heat if necessary, until the onion is very tender, stirring occasionally—about 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add the kale and a pinch of salt.  Cook until kale turns bright green and shrinks down a bit.
3.  Add the squash and sweet potato and cook for another couple of minutes.

4.  Pour in the broth and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until veggies are tender.

5.  Add the beans and additional water or broth if the soup is too thick.  Season with salt and pepper as needed.  I also added a few red pepper flakes for a kick.

6.  Simmer for 5 more minutes.

7. Serve and top with fresh Parmesan.
The soup took me about an hour to make from start to finish, but the hands on time was a lot less than that.  It turned out so good and hit the spot on this chilly fall day!  The purple sweet potato mixed with the orange squash also made for quite a pretty fall color combo.  I am all about fall things right I just have to go make something pumpkin for dessert!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Things I'm Loving Lately - Second Edition

Hello friends! I hope you are all having a great weekend!

I am currently enjoying my last day of Fall Break (tear).   I spent Thursday and Friday in Fort Worth with Jay cheering on his volleyball team.  I had every intention of taking lots of pictures and doing some sort of travel blog post, but somehow my camera never even left my bag.  Oops.

The trip wasn't too eventful - I watched some volleyball, obviously, and also ate some great meals, got in some shopping, and relaxed at the hotel.  It was nice to get away!

Yesterday we caught up around the house and had some friends over in the evening for Eggplant Parmesan and game night.  Again, I forgot to take pictures, but next time I make that recipe I will be sure to share it with you all.  It is one of my faves!

Speaking of favorites, I have lots of new (or new to me) products that I have really been loving lately, so I thought I would do another blog post to share.

1. New running clothes
I recently bought some running capris on sale at Old Navy and tried them out for the first time today.  They fit great and didn't move around or ride up when I was running.  And I really love the fun stripey pattern!  I'm sure I will be wearing these a lot this fall!
After our run this morning, Jay and I stopped by Academy to pick up a gift for a friend's birthday party later on today.  I just happened to notice a Nike clearance rack, so I had to take a look.  I found this running skirt for only $16, marked down from $52!  I am not exactly sure what the point of a running skirt is, but I have always thought they looked really cute.  Aside from being stylish, I like that this one has two side pockets and a zippered pocket on the back - very practical!  I also picked up a pink dry-fit Nike shirt from the same clearance rack for $15, marked down from $25.  I can't wait to try these out!  Now, if only my new clothes would magically make me better at running...

2. eos Organic Lip Balm
This lip balm is 95% organic, 100% natural, and paraben and petrolatum free.  The round shape makes it super easy to apply, and I also feel like it is easier to find in my purse!  The sweet mint flavor leaves your lips really smooth and tingly.  I am addicted to this stuff!

3. Squash Season!
I was so excited to see so many different kids of squash on sale today for just $.78/pound!  I wanted to buy them all.  Expect to see lots of roasted squash on the blog in the next few weeks!

I think it was my friend Eva who first told me about these natural perfumes a couple months back.  I've heard that most traditional scents contain lots of bad chemicals, so I have been meaning to look at healthier alternatives.  I recently stumbled across a big Love & Toast sale at Sprouts, so I decided that it was the perfect time to try a new perfume!  All of the fragrances smell wonderful without being too overbearing, but I especially liked the "Dew Blossom" scent.  I wore it all weekend in Fort Worth and kept thinking, "I smell good!"  The company also makes lotions and other natural beauty products that are very reasonably priced and adorably packaged, so I will definitely be trying them out. 

Speaking of things that smell good, I am also in love with my new Say Yes To Carrots Body Wash.  It smells sooo good, and it is really moisturizing.  Even though it's a bit more expensive than traditional brands, the bottle is big and a little goes a long way.  I think it's a much better value than Burt's Bees or some of the other natural body washes on the market.  The link above is to Amazon, but you can also buy Say Yes To Carrots products at Target...occasionally they will even offer a sale or coupon!
That's all for today!  I am off to enjoy the rest of my Sunday!