Friday, March 30, 2012

Hola from Barcelona!

I have been in Europe for work since last Wednesday. It has been a very productive trip from a work standpoint, making some extremely good progress on a project I'm working on. I can say that I'm thrilled with my time here. However, this is the longest time I've been away from C, and the furthest I've been away from him distance-wise as well. With expensive or inconsistent internet access during my travels, and time differences ranging from 5-7 hours, it has been difficult at times to get ahold of each other. Since it looks like I'll probably need to come back at least once or twice more for this project, I felt it necessary to write down some lessons learned/observations made:

1. Schedule specific times to call your SO and stick with them.
2. Skype is amazing (you know, if you have internet access)
3. Having free time in Europe can be difficult without close friends or family to join you. It turns out my collegues don't all have the same passion for travel and sight seeing that I do.
4. When traveling to Spain, bring a few light snacks. They eat really late here (lunch and dinner). A girl's gotta eat.
5. Learn to say no to food or leave food on the plate. I'm pretty sure I've gained at least 5 pounds in the past 10 days. (This might seem like it contradicts number 4, but trust me, it doesn't)
6. Try to have more than 5 days notice so you can research the area, what to see, where to go, how to get around, etc. (Yes, my flight wasa booked on Friday afternoon and I left the following Wednesday. Life can be hectic. I think it's part of being an adult)
7. Don't give up meat before going to Spain. They eat a lot of meat here.
8. Don't plan on eating seafood in Spain in leue of meat. I'm sure it tastes good to people who like seafood, but it just looks scary and gross to me. I don't know what cuttlefish is, but they eat a lot of it.
9. Dessert does not need to be eaten with every meal and it's almost never as good as it looks (unless it's from a specific Italian Restaurant in the New Forest of the UK which will be talked about at a later date, then all bets are off).
10. Be thankful for C and remind him how much I love him. He has been so supportive and great through this last-minute whirlwind trip.

Number 10 should really be at the top of the list, but it seemed like a good way to sum up the post.

I'm sure there are more lessons I've learned during this trip, but have obviously forgotten to remember them. I'm looking forward to future trips and making more progress on our project, but more than anything I'm looking forward to going home, seeing my husband, and sleeping in my own bed. Sunday night cannot get here soon enough.

*On a side note, I apologize for any spelling errors in this post. However, blogger sees that I'm in Spain and apparently believes this should be written in Spanish because it marks almost every single word as misspelled. Technology fail.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Meatless Lent: Week 3

This was a crazy week. I spent most of the week confused that St. Patrick's Day wasn't until this weekend because we had already celebrated it last weekend. My calendar at work started the week off almost completely empty. By the end of the week, I had been to about 3 conference calls, a 2.5 hour training session, and booked a trip to Europe for this coming week. There will be a lot of packing in my very near future.

Meatless Lent is still going well. However, this week and next are bound to be difficult.
1. We've run out of new ideas and are having to remake recipes. Not a bad thing, but we could get sick of these quickly!
2. I leave Wednesday for Europe, which means my food options are about to become a lot more out of my realm of control. Healthy eating and vegetarian eating while traveling may be a little more difficult. I actually loaded up on some peanut butter crackers, fiber one bars, and trail mix to take with me so I don't starve!
3. While I'm traveling, C has assured me he's going to eat PB&J for the next week and a half. I've tried to buy some easy stuff for him to make that would offer some variety from just PB&J, but I know he won't remember. Someone please come feed him.

On a brighter note, once I return from Europe, we'll only have 1 week left of meatless Lent. I'll try to take pictures of the food I'm eating in Europe to share on here once I get back. Here's hoping I can stick to being meat-free!

What we ate this week: After we went to Carthage for the St. Patrick's Day party last weekend, we opted for a dinner of frozen pizza last Sunday night. We had a Digiorno Spinach and Mushroom pizza if you're interested. It wasn't as good as I had hoped. The rest of the week is pictured below.

1. Lipton Noodle Soup (I wasn't feeling well that day so I made C find his own dinner and I made soup. Pathetic, I know.)

2. Stir Fry with Tofu and Veggies over Couscous (I did some research this time around and did a much better job making the tofu!)

3. Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Provolone and Brussels Sprouts

4. Black Bean Burritos (We love these and eat them pretty frequently)

5. Blueberry Pancakes

6. Black Bean and Quinoa "Burger" with Baked Sweet Potatoes

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Green Velvet Cupcakes with Baileys Buttercream Frosting

This past weekend some of our good (Irish) friends threw their annual St. Patrick's Day Party. We had been unable to attend the past few years but our calendar opened up so we lucked out this year. They always supply all the alcohol and ask everyone to bring a snack or treat to share. Obviously I chose to bake something.

I have not one, but TWO cookbooks dedicated to cupcakes. For serious. I spent about an hour searching through these books and others and just couldn't find anything that was striking my fancy. Yup, I said that.

After turning to my friends pinterest and google, I finally came across this recipe for Green Velvet Cupcakes. I was extremely happy with how these turned out. They were very moist and have continued to stay moist all week long. I made these last Friday and a week later they are still moist and flavorful. I promise, I'm eating one as I type this.

Since this was an adult party, I wanted to make these a little bit boozy. I opted for a Baileys buttercream frosting. The Bailey's flavor came through very strongly but not overpowering. It will not disappoint.

Note: If you don't have buttermilk-which I didn't-just add 1 T white vinegar to a measuring cup. Fill the rest with milk to 1 cup and let sit about 5 minutes. Honestly I can't tell you what this does or why it works because I'm not a chemist, but I've found multiple websites suggest this and so I did it. The cupcakes may or may not have tasted exactly the same using plain milk. We'll never know...

Green Velvet Cupcakes
makes about 48 mini cupcakes plus 12 full size cupcakes (weird measurements, I know)

• 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 Tablespoon cocoa
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup oil (I used half cup of oil, half cup of unsweetened apple sauce)
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 1 Tablespoon vinegar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 oz green food coloring (or channel your inner first grader and mix equal parts blue and yellow food coloring to make green)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line muffin tins with cupcake paper liners.
3. Lightly stir eggs in a medium bowl with whisk. Add in remaining liquid ingredients. Whisk until blended and sit aside.
4. Place all dry ingredients in your mixing bowl and stir together well. Normally I don't follow this process, and just throw everything in the mixing bowl; however, I really wanted these to turn out well so I did this extra step.
5. Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients and mix on medium-high for about a minute or two until well combined.
6. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, pour the batter into cupcake pans for full size cupcakes. For mini cupcakes use 1 Tablespoon measuring spoon.
7. Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (about 13-14 minutes for mini cupcakes and about 20 minutes for full size cupcakes)

Baileys Buttercream Frosting
1 Cup Butter (2 sticks) softened to room temperature
2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream liqueur

Cream the butter in a stand mixer until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar until well combined. Add vanilla and Bailey's and mix for another 1-2 minutes. Feel free to add some extra Bailey's if you want it a little stronger! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Meat-free Lent, 2 and a half weeks Down

We're almost 3 full weeks into our meat-free Lent. At this point, it is becoming much more challenging. I still have 1 more week of meals planned before we have to start repeating meals and potentially get very sick of eating the same things each week. We discovered this week that eating on the road can be difficult when you can't eat meat. We took a mini road trip this weekend to visit some friends in Carthage, Missouri for their annual St. Patrick's Day party. In an effort to grab some dinner on the road, we found ourselves scanning our brains for fast food options that would have a meat-free menu choice. We ended up at Sonic for grilled cheese sandwiches from the kid's menu. Yuck! This was quite possibly one of the worst grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever had. First of all, it's on that uber thick texas toast. Big white texas toast does not appeal to me unless it has been made into garlic toast. Then the sandwich was more "steamed" than "grilled" given that it was all soggy looking. Do kids actually like these things?

I'm also noticing that I rarely feel truly full and satisfied after a meal. I just always have a little bit of a void feeling in my stomach these days, no matter what I eat. It's becoming difficult not to eat all the time! We have found a few meals that are pretty satisfying overall, so I guess we'll have to incorporate those into our meal plan more often.

Here's what we've been eating this week!

Lentil Tacos! (These were absolutely delicious. We will definitely be making these again!)

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions and Sauteed Mushrooms and Black Bean Soup

Lentil Sloppy Joes with Brussels Sprouts

Southwest Salad with Salsa Ranch dressing

Whole Wheat Pasta with Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Olives (carbo-loading for a Saturday Run!)

Veggie and Lentil Quesadillas

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Couscous with Chickpeas, Fennel, and Citrus

I dream of Sunday afternoons spent in the kitchen baking. I envision myself pulling fresh cinnamon rolls from the oven and completing the icing on the perfect, moist yet fluffy cake. Then the weekend rolls around, reality sets in, and errands and chores become more important than baking a cake. The dream of filling my kitchen with fresh breads and cakes seems much better than the reality of the dishes and mess and cleaning that come along with baking these things from scratch.

Between Pinterest and TheKitchn, I’m gathering quite a collection of recipes I want to try. Since I already know I have a folder full of untried recipes at home, I am becoming seriously selective about recipes I print or repin on pinterest. I think most people should be more selective about the things they are pinning, but that’s a whole different topic for another day.

I found this recipe on TheKitchn a few weeks ago. I knew it would be great for our meat-free Lent. I loved that it seemed fast and easy. C loved that it had kalamata olives in it. In fact, he kind of made me add extra olives because 10 just did not seem to be enough.

While the color of the dish reminded me of Johnson County beige (an analogy only people from KC might understand), I felt like the citrus was really evident and added a lot of flavor to a dish that could have been otherwise quite bland.

This was also the first time I’ve cooked with fennel and I must say…WOW! Raw fennel smells a little like black licorice (which I hate) and tastes a little like an onion. Weird, I know. But cooked, it gets just a little bit sweet, retains its crunch well, and makes me long for the next time I get to cook with fennel.

Couscous with Chickpeas, Fennel, and Citrus
Serves 2-4

1 large fennel bulb with fronds
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 cups (or 1 15-ounce can) cooked and drained chickpeas
10 Kalamata olives, halved and pitted
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup instant couscous

Trim fennel and cut into 1/4-inch thick wedges. Reserve fronds for garnish (we chose not to garnish ours and just threw the fronds away).

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Add coriander, chickpeas, olives, and lemon juice to pan and stir to combine. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, juice the orange into a liquid measuring cup and top off with water to make 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Add liquid to a small saucepan along with 1 tablespoon olive oil, orange zest, lemon zest, and salt. Bring to a boil and stir in couscous. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for at least 5 minutes.

To serve, fluff couscous grains with a fork and spread on a dish. Spoon chickpeas and fennel over couscous and garnish with fennel fronds.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Restaurant Review: Hot Basil

In an effort to break away from the quinoa and bean based meals we’ve been cooking at home, C and I checked out a “new to us” Thai restaurant this weekend, Hot Basil. We first heard about Hot Basil on a local PBS show called Check Please. If you live in the KC area and love food, I highly recommend watching Check Please. It’s a restaurant review program where people just like me and you get to recommend and try new restaurants and then discuss their experiences. C and I frequently discuss being on this show, we have even pulled up the application, but we can’t think of a restaurant to recommend that we haven’t already seen on the show. Bummer.

Hot Basil is in Overland Park at 119th and Metcalf. It’s a little hard to spot since it’s in a strip mall and blocked from the street by another building, but it’s worth finding. The atmosphere was great. It’s a small restaurant but not over crowded with tables. I think this helped keep the noise level down, even when the place was pretty full. I recommend making a reservation if you want to go on a weekend especially. We went Saturday night and had a reservation for 7:30. It seemed relatively empty when we showed up, but the place was full by the time we left. We were very impressed with the service, as our table was already set, with menus, when we arrived.

We went a little overboard with our menu selections. It’s all in the name of research. Trust me.

Appetizer: We ordered the Trio. It was part of the chef’s special and came with 2 vegetarian spring rolls, 2 vegetarian egg rolls, and 4 cream-cheese Rangoon. It was all delicious, but the vegetarian spring rolls did leave a little to be desired as they were mostly lettuce and bean sprouts filling. The appetizer was $10, but definitely had enough food for at least 4 people (or 2 hungry researchers) so we felt like it was a good deal.

Main course: I ordered the Phad Thai with tofu. C ordered the Spicy Peanut with shrimp (remember we allowed ourselves fish/seafood for Lent). We both ordered medium spice, which was just perfect for us. If you like spicy food but still like to enjoy what you’re eating, you should be good with medium. The prices for each main course were around $11-$12 and the portions were generous. I even took some of mine home, which made for a delicious Sunday lunch.

Dessert: We don’t always order dessert when we go out, but since we were at a Thai restaurant, we wanted to try something that would be a little different. We opted for the Fried Banana. This came with 4 halves of banana, each wrapped and fried in a wonton wrapper and a HUGE heap of vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey. Again, this could have EASILY served 4 people, but we were more than happy to finish it off between the 2 of us.

Overall our experience was really great. The service was fast and attentive. Our server was very nice about accommodating our no-meat options and answering our questions. I was even impressed that they thought to ask if I wanted egg in my Phad Thai since I had ordered Tofu and other vegetarian options already. The prices seemed very fair, especially given the quantity of food you get. Overall our bill before tip came out to right at $50. We felt this was pretty good for a large appetizer, two entrees, a large dessert, and 2 import beers (Chang from Thailand for C, and Sapporo from Japan for me).

So if you’re looking for a good Thai place in the metro area, you should check out Hot Basil!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Meat-free lent, week 1

We have successfully completed almost 2 weeks of our "no-meat" Lenten season. So far it has gone really well. We have found that some dishes are more filling than others; waking up hungry at 3 a.m. was a good reminder of that for me last week. Note to self: 1 1/2 eggs just doesn't add enough protein to a salad to keep me full all night.

The weather was really nice today, despite some pretty strong winds. As C and I went for an afternoon run we caught a few whiffs of grilling season starting up. Something tells me these people weren't grilling tofu and vegetables. I guess we'll keep our grill wrapped up for winter until after Lent is over.

Here's what we ate this past week!

Sunday: Baked Sweet Potato with leftover Vegan chili on top

Monday: Stir-Fry veggies with tofu and brown rice

Tuesday: Grilled avocado, provolone and pesto with tomato soup

Wednesday: Salad with hard-boiled egg

Thursday: Couscous with chickpeas, fennel, and citrus (recipe to come!)

Friday: Sauteed onions, peppers, fennel, and black beans over quinoa