Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Musings: Happiness Project, November

October was a very fun month because of Halloween!

Also, Blogtober added to my enjoyment of the month. I'm really proud of the fact that I met my goal to blog at least once a week. It was especially fun to do some Dracula-themed posts. Here's a list of October's recipes:

Piperade Egg Cups
Monday Musings: Happiness Project, October
Green Beans with Mustard and Pine Nuts
Pommes de Terre Boulangere
Slow Cooker Boeuf Bourguignon
Stake Steaks
Eggplant Impletata
Quick Braised Red Cabbage with Green Apple

I also had the goal to make new recipes. I made five more new than the recipes above, but they needed to be tinkered with to perfect them for a blog post. I also had more Halloween recipes to post but I ran out of time to make them or take photos. They're perfect for cool weather so they'll be posted eventually this fall or winter!

Two books that I read for fun were:

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant
A History of the World In Six Glasses by Tom Standage

The first one was a quick read which focuses on meditation and simply saying "I love myself" either out loud or to yourself over and over again. Whether you feel silly about saying "I love myself" or maybe doubt whether you believe it, it really is uplifting to show yourself some positivity. It motivated me for my November goals, which are to be thankful for not only the other people and things in my life that make me happy, but to celebrate what I am able to do for myself as well.

The next book crosses over into my goal to become a minor expert. I've become fascinated with food history, so this was perfect. It discussed beer, wine, cola, coffee, tea, and spirits. The beer chapter was particularly interesting because of the discussion of the start of grain consumption and bread making.

Aside from reading and enjoying more cooking videos, I attended a cooking demo at the Culinary Institute of America. I've never cooked duck, so I thought a demo taught by real chefs would be the perfect way to learn. They made duck breast with cherry sauce, which was delicious. It was served with an herb salad, smashed potatoes, and a lovely Merlot.

I have to confess, I didn't do any Duolingo lessons. As Gretchen Rubin talks about on her podcast Happier, I working on another language is something my fantasy self wants to do. I've tried many times but I've not made it a successful habit. I think I'm going to put it on the back burner and try again in the future when I feel more inspired.

Onto my goals for November. I'm a little late getting them out but November has been a hectic month so far.

An obvious choice is to enumerate all that I am thankful for. I think we look for external things in our lives to be thankful for, but I want to recognize and thank myself and my body for all it does for me. One September goal was to exercise, along with other ways to take care of myself. I loved checking off my list when I worked out because I am visual. I want that accountability again this month, but from a different source of motivation. I want to celebrate my body’s ability to propel me through life. I also want to care for and celebrate my energy systems and mind. To do this, I’m following the exercises from the book Intuitive Self Healing by Marie Manuchehri and also doing her Affirm Your Worth cards. The cards act like a springboard to make me realize all I should be thankful for. I feel energized when I flip through them. I used to journal a lot, but I kind of drifted away from it. By the time I go to bed I feel too tired, but I love looking back on my journals and recalling good moments in my life. I’m going to create gratitude lists to count my blessings and also to celebrate the little things in life. Usually it’s watching the sun rise through my bedroom window, which has been much easier due to the time change.

I’ve been evaluating my Happiness Project so far. Is it making me feel happier? I don’t feel bounce off the wall happier, but I feel more content. I’m less reactive to stressful things. I’m calmer in general. I’m not so hard on myself. In the past, if I got writer’s block or wasn’t into whatever I was working on, I would berate and push myself. Now I just accept it and take a break or move onto a different task. It’s refreshing. My negative self-talk has declined because monitoring all the things I do has helped me appreciate what I do for myself and what I’m good at. I carve out more time for joyful activities because I’m monitoring them. 

My November goals:

Journal what I'm thankful about
Do the chakra balancing activities in the Intuitive Self Healing book
Show my body gratitude by exercising
Read the Affirm Your Worth cards
Celebrate the Ordinary

Sunday, November 6, 2016

My Top Tips To Make Meal Prepping a Breeze

I have been meal prepping for quite a while. My favorite things about meal prepping include the overall time savings because most of my food is cooked and the majority of my dishes are washed for the week. I also save money because I'm not stopping for dinner on the way home nearly as much since I know I have a plate of food waiting for me at home. Meal prepping keeps me on track with my healthy eating because I have already composed healthy, balanced meals that only need to be heated up.

Here are my top tips to streamline your meal prep!

Balance easy foods and recipes:

Though I love making up my own recipes and trying new ones, I quickly learned that if everything I was prepping required a recipe it would take a huge amount of time! In order to not make meal prepping a day-long ordeal, simple dishes like roasted starches, vegetables, and meats should be balanced with more time-consuming dishes. Balancing simpler dishes with more elaborate ones can give you enough variety to prevent meal monotony.

Therefore, I might make some easy veggie sides like roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts and some simple starches like roasted sweet potatoes or regular potatoes, but I might get a little more involved with the protein by making taco meat or bacon-wrapped chicken. The starches, veggies, and meats can be mixed and matched to add interest to your meals.

Calculate it out:

Whether you follow a strict meal plan or not, you will either know or be able to approximate how many servings of each food you will need. For example, I typically prep lunches and dinners, so I know I will need 10 servings of protein, starches, and veggies for each meal to get through the week. Multiply the number of servings by the number of ounces per serving and you have a ballpark of the volume you need to buy. Keep in mind raw food loses water as it cooks, so add an ounce or two of raw food per serving to make sure you end up with enough. Here are some raw to cooked weight conversions for meat and vegetables.

Also consider the amount of condiments and snacks you will need and calculate the volume. I like to have a piece of fruit or a small salad with lunch, so I make sure to prepare enough vinaigrette, have enough lettuce (about a cup for each salad) plus a few other chopped veggies, and enough pieces of fruit. I also like fruit and nuts or nut butter for a snack, so I make sure I count those too.

Order of operations:

Besides making the shopping list and filling out a meticulous spreadsheet of what and when you are going to eat for each meal, it's important to have a game plan of how you are going to cook the food. For example, if you have too many things to make on the stove top, you may create a traffic jam, prolonging the meal prep.

Before you even go to the store, pick out your simple and more complicated dishes. Then, read the recipes! This is a tip Julia Child mentioned often. It's not enough to buy the ingredients. Reading the recipes all the way through gives you an idea of when you will need to use each ingredient and if it would be better to start a dish early in your meal prep or later. You will also learn the volume of food it will make in order to determine the amount of servings to budget for. Then you can properly allot enough time in your order of operations.

I start with the things that take longest to cook yet require little monitoring such a roasted squash, sweet potatoes, and regular potatoes. I cook them at 400 degrees F on foil-lined baking trays for easier clean up and just get them out of the way while I work on things that require more monitoring, cook quickly, and/or require the stove top. It can be very gratifying in the first 15 minutes of your meal prep to already have sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and brussels sprouts on their way to being done! Another thing to note, I typically get most of the veggies out of the way before starting on meats because it limits the amount of time I have to go back and forth washing my hands between meat and vegetables.

Mise en place:

Mise en place is a French culinary term meaning "everything in place." Taking time to set up everything before you start cooking will help you get through it faster! It can be so frustrating to require an ingredient a few times only to keep putting it away every time. It can also be annoying if your hands are all gunky from mixing meat only to realize you need to get something out of your fridge (if you made your order of operations, then this likely won't happen). Having everything out and ready saves time because you won't be searching for things and stopping to wash your hands a gazillion times.

My mise en place includes:

Having a cutting board and knife out for meat and as well as for produce. You don't want to have to keep washing the same cutting board and knife or your hands over and over again. This also reduces risk of cross contamination.

If you need an ingredient twice (or more), chop it once. You might be making several recipes with chopped garlic, for example. Chop it all and save it on the corner of your cutting board for each recipe.

Get all your spices out and have them ready. Pilfering through your spice rack every few minutes uses valuable time.

Get all the dishes and baking trays out and ready to go.

Make room in the fridge and freezer.

Allow the store to lend you a helping hand:

Though it can be more expensive to buy pre-chopped food, if you rationalize the time it takes to chop the ingredients yourself it may be worth it. This is especially the case for hard to chop veggies like butternut squash, which takes a bit more effort than something like broccoli. Since my food processor went kaputz, I also buy pre-made cauliflower rice.

Pre-marinated meat may be worth looking at, but be sure to check the ingredients to make sure there's no ingredient that doesn't align with your diet (especially important if you have allergies).

Seasoning mixes are a great way to add a lot of flavor without getting a bunch of spices out. Just be sure there's no bad additives. You can even make your own! Here are a couple recipes:

Salt-Free Old Bay Seasoning
Roasted Chicken Seasoning

Have enough cooking ware:

Related to mise en place, having enough pots, pans, skillets, measuring cups and spoons, aluminum foil, baking trays, cutting boards, knives, prep and storage bowls, are a must. Take inventory before you go shopping.

Small appliances like an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processors may be something you want to consider, but aren't necessary for a successful food prep. Just be sure to read your recipe to make sure these aren't required.

Serving it up:

Some people may want to divide the food into different storage containers so all you have to do is grab a container and go. Others may want to choose their foods each day based on their mood. Try both and see which is more convenient for you. Personally, I like the grab-and-go method. On a busy morning I don't want to dole out the food for my lunch. I just want to take a homemade "tv dinner" as I call them. Whether your portion food or not, along with my previous tip, have enough containers.

Those are my top tips for meal prepping. The first few times you give it a try, it may be difficult but stick with it and you will be a meal prep champ in no time! Do you meal prep? Please comment below if you have any other tips to streamline the meal prepping process!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Paleo Halloween Dinner: Quick Braised Red Cabbage with Green Apple

I've given you a couple of Dracula-inspired Paleo-approved main courses (check em out here and here!) so it's about time I gave you a side dish that would be perfect with these Eastern-European dishes.

I imagine the peasants in Bram Stoker's Dracula cooking cabbage. The scent of cabbage wafting through the Romanian countryside...ok not so romantic. But the color of this dish is! I love how Halloween decor is not only including black and orange now, but also purple and green! I left the peel on the green apple in this dish, and the cabbage and red onion provide lots of color, kept vibrant by the acid in the apple and the apple cider vinegar. This is a sweet and tangy cabbage with a little caraway to boost the tart factor. I was hesitant to call this a braise because it cooks so fast, but it kind of is!

Quick Braised Red Cabbage with Green Apple
Printable Recipe

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced
1 large green apple, julienned
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth (more, as needed)
4 cup shredded red cabbage (half a small cabbage)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add onion and apple. Cook until tender. Add remaining ingredients, stir, cover, and cook about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Taste for seasoning and serve. Good warm or room temperature.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Paleo Halloween Dinner: Eggplant Impletata Inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula

I have lots of fresh eggplant from my garden to help me with this next recipe!

Part two of my recipes inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula is Eggplant Impletata, or stuffed eggplant, which has quite a few interpretations across cultures. As described in the text:

"I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was 'mamaliga', and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call 'impletata'. (Mem., get recipe for this also.)"

I love Harker's memo to remember the recipe.

From a quick Google search, I found quite a few interpretations of this dish (as well as fellow Dracula enthusiasts), many of which involve a sausage stuffing. I wanted to make my own interpretation and highlight some of the Eastern European spices I've been loving lately. I modeled this after a Turkish stuffed eggplant dish I made many years ago from a cookbook I no longer have. Basically, you prep the eggplants like you would twice baked potatoes. The trick is to salt the eggplant to remove the brown, bitter juices. As these eggplant were small and fresh from my garden that wasn't much of an issue. Then you need to cook them until the center is soft and silky, which is used in the stuffing. My interpretation of "forcemeat" has sweetness from the tomato and paprika but also some herb flavor and a nice chili kick. I bet it would also be awesome stuffed inside a baked sweet potato!

Eggplant Impletata
Printable Recipe

3 small eggplants (about 1/2 lb each)
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
chili flakes, to taste
1 lb ground beef
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp dried savory
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
Salt and pepper, to taste
Minced fresh parsley for garnish

1. Trim the stem of the eggplant so it's very short. Pull back on the leaves to remove them. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise. Using the tip of a paring knife, score the eggplant flesh, in a cross-hatch pattern, being careful not to pierce through the skin. Sprinkle cut-side with salt and place cut-side down on several layers of paper towel to catch the bitter juices that will come out, about 30-60 minutes. Afterwards, rinse salt away and pat dry. Turn upside down on more paper towels to dry further while you finish the filling.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the "forcemeat": heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and chili flakes and cook until translucent. Add the ground beef and cook, crumbling, until cooked through. Add all the seasonings, tomatoes, and tomato paste along with salt and pepper. Stir in until combined, and simmer uncovered 20-30 minutes or until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. This can be done a day or two ahead.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place dried eggplant cut-side up on a baking tray (line with foil for easy clean up). Brush each half with remaining olive oil. Roast for 40 minutes or until the flesh is fork tender.

4. Using a fork, remove some of the flesh leaving a shell for the filling, being careful not to pierce the skin. Blend the eggplant flesh with the meat mixture. Stuff each eggplant half generously with filling. Place in a greased 13x9" baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes more, making sure the eggplant is fork tender all the way to the skin and the filling has set on top. Rest 10 minutes before removing. Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Paleo Halloween Dinner: Stake Steaks Inspired by Robber Steaks from Bram Stoker's Dracula

Halloween is my favorite holiday, and considering my goals for October's Happiness Project I have lots of spooky recipes coming at you this week! I thought of this one back in December. When it was more appropriate to be reading A Christmas Carol, I was reading Bram Stoker's Dracula (just call me a non-conformist). It has been one of my favorite stories since reading it in 9th grade English class. In the story, Jonathan Harker describes in his diary the food he is eating, including "Robber Steaks". Is it weird that I found Harker's character instantly likable because he described the food on his journey (before all hell breaks loose)?

Here's the passage:

"There are many odd things to put down, and, lest who reads them may fancy that I dined too well before I left Bistritz, let me put down my dinner exactly. I dined on what they call "robber steak"-bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks, and roasted over the fire, in simple style of the London cat's meat!"

So I tucked the idea of making this a Halloween recipe in my mind until now!

I took some creative liberty with the spice mix by researching spices typically used in Eastern European cuisine. Since I started reading about these spices, I've become fascinated with Eastern European cuisine. My palate typically slants towards Mediterranean cuisine, but I feel very inspired to start incorporating different herbs and spices. Because of the richness of beef, I think you can get away with a lot of spices. For instance, cloves may sound weird, but without the sugar of a baked good cloves add warmth rather than bakery flavors. I also wanted a nice garlicky flavor to scare away the vampires.

I am particular about how I cut up the vegetables and the meat for kebabs. The vegetables tend to take longer than the meat, so I cut the vegetables smaller than the chunks of meat and made sure not to cram too much on the skewer. A little space is needed between each piece of meat and vegetable or they don't cook all the way to the skewer. I like to cut my own steak cubes rather than getting stew meat because the pieces are so irregular and cooking is less even. Also you never know which cut of meat you're getting in stew meat and could be getting something that requires braising, meaning you're going to have chewy kebabs. As far as cooking meat wrapped in bacon, or in this case, a piece of bacon on the kebab, I like to pre-cook it because it will never get crisp otherwise. I think the extra effort is worth it.

As much as I love the silly Halloween foods, I wanted to make something for an elegant Halloween party meal (though I couldn't resist a silly name). However, smaller skewers with just one piece of each item would make great appetizers! What's even better is many of these steps can be done in advance, which is always helpful when you're having a party.

Keep checking in for the next recipe in my Paleo Halloween Dinner series!

Stake Steaks
Printable Recipe

6 slices bacon
1 1/2 lb thick-cut steak, cut into 24 cubes (good choices: top sirloin and tenderloin because they're easy to cut into uniform pieces and stay tender)
1/2 tsp dried savory
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground mustard seed
pinch of ground cloves
2 garlic cloves, grated
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, cut into square, leaves separated
1 large red bell pepper, cut into squares
Salt, to taste
Six kebab skewers

1. Par-cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat, about 3 minutes per side. Can be done a day or two ahead; refrigerate until use.
2. In a gallon-sized food storage bag, add steak cubes, savory, thyme, marjoram, paprika, pepper, mustard, cloves, and garlic. Massage the herbs and spices thoroughly into the meat. Allow to marinade 20 minutes at the minimum to overnight.
3. If using wooden skewers, soak 30 minutes in water.
4. Cut each strip of bacon into 4 pieces.
5. Skewer the steak, bacon, onions, and peppers, alternating, with 4 pieces of steak.
6. Skewers can be grilled, approximately 2 minutes per side, or until the outside is lightly charred and the onions are translucent. Alternatively, if you don't have a grill you can preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and roast the skewers until the onions are translucent but the meat is still slightly pink, about 18-20 minutes (Depending on how large your steak pieces are and cut of meat you chose). Broil to create a little charred flavor, watching carefully if using wooden skewers.

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