Sunday, January 7, 2018

BIG Flavor, Little Cleanup

This weekend was a weekend of one-dish meals.  Friday night, I made Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole (say that ten times fast), and I have Kusa (with ground turkey) in the oven as I type. I've realized that as time changes, my preferred cooking methods are also changing. Look back five years ago and you'd see my table strewn with three side dishes (usually two veggies and a carb) and a protein. I was the side dish queen, and still favor them in any meal. But now, I'm finding the beauty in less cleanup. Not long ago, I used to wash a minimum of two pots per meal and did so willingly because I knew it was worth the deliciousness I had just experienced. But is that necessary? It's not! Don't get me wrong, I have my evenings when nothing but the full spread will do. It's in my DNA to have plenty of food scattered on tables and enough for people to have seconds or thirds. The latter will never change, but I'm all about finding balance in compact meals. 

Being a personal chef for the last five years and counting, I've learned new ways to incorporate balance in meals while keeping it simple. You'd be surprised how many clients will tell me, "the food was great, but can we have more simple meals?" I remember how bewildered I would be, thinking-- you're hiring a PERSONAL CHEF and you want a casserole?! Yes. That's exactly what they wanted, and as a personal chef it's my job to give them what they want. 

Maybe it's the fact that I'm almost eight months pregnant, or the fact that I have a toddler, but my cooking style is definitely shifting in my day-to-day meal prep. Which is what leads me to the tongue-twister that is the buffalo chicken casserole. It's low-carb, healthy, and full of flavor. If you want to add a carb, you can always crunch some corn tortilla chips on top as well!

Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole
Servings: 4      Prep-time: 10 minutes      Cook-time: 1 hour

Ingredients:
2 small to medium spaghetti squash
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, boneless and skinless
3/4c. chicken broth
1 c. buffalo sauce, I used Frank's
1/2 c. ranch dressing
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
8oz mild cheddar or colby jack, finely shredded
2 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Steps:
Preheat oven to 400 deg F.
Place chicken breasts in aluminum foil on a baking pan and fold it into a pocket to allow steam to generate. Slice off the stem end of the spaghetti squash's and slice them in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds (be sure to do this PRIOR to baking, as it's a lot easier to do so now then when it's cooked). Drizzle olive oil on each half of the inside spaghetti squash and sprinkle salt and pepper as well. Use your hands to rub each half to ensure seasoning is evenly distributed. 

Place spaghetti squash halves on a second large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake both the chicken and the spaghetti squash for 30 minutes on different shelves in the oven. While that's baking, reserve half the cheese and scallions, then combine the rest of the ingredients into a medium-size mixing bowl. Don't worry about the cream cheese and shredded cheese not being warm, the chicken will warm it up. 

Take the chicken and squash out and lay the chicken aside to rest while you use a fork to empty out the spaghetti squash halves into a large casserole dish. Note: Resting allows the juices to retain back into the meat. Use two forks to shred the chicken and place in the mixing bowl with the sauce. Don't discard the juice that occurred during roasting, pour it in the bowl as well! Combine the ingredients from the bowl with the spaghetti squash in the casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese and scallions, reduce heat to 375 deg F, and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm with crunched corn tortilla chips and enjoy.








Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Is food relaxing?

What is your relationship with food? Is it merely a substance that keeps you energized, or a delicious comfort that you make every attempt to enjoy? Is it a wasteful dread, or something you look forward to? Over the past few weeks, I've thought more about how spoiled I am to have practically every food that I want at my fingertips. I can go to the store, and create a Vietnamese dish within an hour, exotic ingredients included. How fascinating.

Lately, I've attempted to reduce my stress. Not that my life is anywhere close to unmanageable, rather ever-changing. It requires a sporadic recharge, and I haven't mastered how to do that. A few changes that have affected my stress-levels-- work has increased (great problem to have), I'm trying to be well-balanced for those around me (husband, daughter, friends, family), and the largest factor, I am pregnant and expecting my son in February (two-under-two). Side note: being pregnant doesn't offer any help in terms of being rational, energized, and not-emotional. These are all very minor but to someone who hasn't mastered handling stress, (is that any of us?) it can be a bit overwhelming when things fall through the cracks.

I've also processed how to relieve stress. What is key to approaching stress, handling it, and moving forward? Anybody, Bueller? I've considered several outlets-- reading, watching movies, spending time with friends, quiet time/journaling-- all good things but difficult to maintain on a regular basis. What is something I do on a regular basis that brings joy and comfort? I eat.

I did some research to find the percentage of people who eat for comfort and was disappointed with the results; 15% of people eat pizza for comfort, 67% of people eat fattening comfort food when feeling depressed, and my favorites... 35% of people reach for potato chips when sad while 32% for ice cream.  I can't relate to these statistics. While I enjoy my share of junk food, it's not something I crave or reach for in times of distress. Is there anyone out there who simply enjoys, dare I say healthy food in general, as opposed to guilty pleasures?

This brings me to my own relationship with food. I'm fascinated by food. I'm someone who cooks up to twelve meals for clients in one day only to find myself cooking a separate meal for my family that same evening. I like to experiment with flavors and ingredients. It's an outlet, it's a time when I am alone in my thoughts creating things, it's relaxing. So when I have to go to the store four times per week, I don't do so begrudgingly, rather embrace the experience. Julia from 'Julie & Julia' put it so eloquently, "I must be the only American I know who thinks shopping for food is just as enjoyable, if not more, than buying a dress". Amen, sister.

So maybe that's what I should do. I should prioritize flavors, technique, and reading cookbooks to begin my journey of managing stress, for stress is only as unmanageable as I make it. After all, I have the world at my fingertips for inspiration.

I'm aware that cooking as a relaxing hobby is questionable and at times a rarity so I wonder-- what do YOU do to relax? What can you incorporate in your day, be it five minutes or two hours, that recharges you? If you don't know the answer to that question, I highly recommend you test some options out and find something. I'm also curious so feel free to comment below if you have an answer! In the meantime, you can crunch on this--a quick snack that is packed with flavor, crunch, and relaxation.


Bold Popcorn


Ingredients


1/3 cup popcorn kernels
2 tbs oil/fat-- equal ratio of coconut oil and ghee is always a crowd-pleaser
Seasoning salt (I use Lawry's)
2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp taco seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground black pepper

Steps

Add oil and three popcorn kernels to a 3-quart pot over medium heat. Once those kernels pop, add the remaining kernels to the pot and cover immediately.
Once there are more than 2 seconds in-between pops and the batch is popped, add the popcorn to a slightly larger bowl.
Add seasoning ingredients, and toss away!
Bon appetit!



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Only Reason Why I Eat Cinnamon Rolls

A sad excuse for icing
You guys, let's talk about cinnamon rolls. I'm not talking the homemade kind (lo siento), I'm talking the ones you get from a can (off-brand no less). What's with the "icing pack"? I vote it shouldn't be called a pack, more so a taste, smidgen, and even molecule. It barely is enough to cover a small fraction of the rolls! Now, I'm aware that I already lost this argument when I used the word 'can' or 'off-brand'. Those of you who whip up EVERYTHING from scratch 1. well done, that is incredibly admirable, 2. Are probably are saying "you got what you deserved", and "you're a chef, why wouldn't you just make them yourself?" Because I didn't. There are times when I say, forget it, and I purchase foods instead of cooking them. I'm not kidding when I say, I'll eat anything. That's for another post, we have more important things to discuss.
Homemade cream cheese frosting

Anyway, I popped open the lovely can and read the instructions.  Side note: does anyone else catch themselves waiting to read the instructions until after the can is already popped? I read to preheat the oven to 350 degrees, yada yada yada, and to spread the icing over the rolls once out of the oven. I took one look at the pack of icing and chucked it aside with disdain. I opened my fridge in a panic only to remove half a pack of cream cheese, then raided the pantry for vanilla extract and confectioners sugar. Normally, you're supposed to bring the cream cheese down to room-temp but I was desperate so I drenched a dense cloth with very warm water and wrapped it around the mixing bowl. Quickly following, I let the mixer beat the cream cheese until it was soft only to add about 3/4 a cup of confectioners sugar and soon-after 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. I turned the mixer off, delicately dipped my index finger in the icing, and voila; it was delicious. I slathered the rolls with the homemade cream cheese icing then tented them, allowing the steam to assist in melting the icing juuuust enough. Once I licked my finger after the final bite of icing cinnamon roll, I took one look at the sub-par unopened 'packet' of icing and thought to myself... "never again".



The proper way to ice cinnamon rolls

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reacquainted

Oh, hello. So nice to see you again. What's that, you don't remember me? Not surprising considering my last post was back in April of 2016. It was written thirteen days before Juliana came into this world, yet I feel like I just wrote it. Now she is 9.5 months old. I guess I finally understand why people say, "the days are long but the years are short".

Side note, I never reread my blog posts. I write them candidly, force myself to edit as much as I can before getting distracted, and send them off into the abyss of swiping thumbs and clicking mouses. Since it had been such a long time, I decided to read my last post for perspective. It was enlightening and accurate. While I can say I finally have a routine down with my baby, I'm trying to maintain the same for myself. While I'm first and foremost a mom, I am still an entrepreneur, wife, friend, and individual. That is where the blog comes in. For months it makes its way into my thoughts. Right as I think "I want to update my blog", poof it's gone.

Patience has been the ever-present lesson over the past year and I've learned it's 100% necessary when applying it to self-growth. While this post does not have a recipe, snippet of my daily food of choice, or restaurant review, it is symbolic of the growth you will start to see in the blog. After all, it has my name on it, I own it, and I will reclaim it. It will just take a vision and patience. Thank you for yours.

Until then, you can view snapshots of life and food on my Instagram page

Friday, April 15, 2016

We're Having a Baby, So We're Eating Ramen (the Good Kind)

Baby girl is due in just over two weeks, so you can imagine that mind is filled with countless thoughts; thoughts of excitement, anticipation, preparation, and the unknown.  Thankfully, thoughts of dread have not made an appearance and I pray that they don't.  Let me clarify something-- although I do not dread the difficult times, it doesn't mean I do not anticipate them.  I know there will be moments (most likely in the quiet of the night) when I'm trying to figure out how to make my baby girl stop crying for not only my sanity, but also the courtesy of our poor neighbors. If whatever comes to mind doesn't work, I most likely will begin to cry too; and it'll be a girls cry-fest. Now doesn't that sound lovely?

All that paired with the countless messes, hair-tugs, and dirty diapers, I'd say I have the best time of my life to look forward to! Wouldn't you? All joking and sarcasm aside, I truly am excited for this next chapter in life. It's a challenge and a feeling that I can honestly say I've never felt before. It'll be such an adjustment adapting to life with a baby, but how awesome will it be to go through a daily routine WITH MY BABY?! Thankfully, I've been surrounded by people who for the most part send positive and loving vibes my way, and I'm grateful for that.

All that said, I won't be able to spend my days JUST staring at my child. I'll eventually have to create a routine that will allow me to go about my life, and that includes cooking! I've been making meals and freezing them, but I also know that I'll be in the mood for something quick and easy that I might not have prepared ahead of time.  A couple weeks ago I made a new favorite for Brian and I-- Ramen Bowls. They're actually well-balanced, packed with veggies and protein, and still offer a fun twist to your meals. The recipe is ridiculously simple and you'll be amazed that you can have such a beautiful meal with such little effort.

Ingredients

2 packs of ramen or ichiban noodles (I was going to go authentic with the ichiban but it was incredible similar ingredients-wise to Maruchan Top Ramen, so I went for the cheaper pack
2 baby bok choy, washed and halved lengthwise
1 can baby corn (you'll most likely find this in the international section)
1/2 cup purple cabbage, washed and shredded
1 medium carrot, peeled into slivers
1/2 lb chicken breast
Pinch of salt and pepper to taste
Dash of garlic powder
Optional light dusting of buttermilk ranch seasoning for chicken
1 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
Optional poached or lightly boiled egg
1 scallion, sliced thin

Instructions

Follow instructions on the back of the ramen pack. Make sure you account for the number of packs you make. In the meantime, season chicken then in a small sauce pan over medium heat, drizzle olive oil, let pan get hot enough, and sear chicken until it is golden brown on each side (about 5 minutes). Once each side has some color, add a couple tablespoons of water, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pan so that the steam cooks through the middle of the chicken. I tented the pan with aluminum foil. Once chicken is complete, in the same pan, sear the bok choy over medium-low heat starting with flat-side down. 

Once chicken and ramen are complete, grab a large soup bowl and go to town with the ingredients. Start by placing ramen and broth into the bowl. Top it in sections with each ingredient to give it a colorful and artistic look. If you're adding an egg, do so in the center of the bowl. Top with scallions, find some chopsticks and a deep spoon, and enjoy!