Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What's for dinner, Mama?

My daughter is at the age where it's still novel that we carry on real conversations. Those consist of her saying things like, "I don't like monsters. Do you like monsters?" and "What'd you make for dinner, mama?" Whenever it's time to eat, I list foods that will be on her plate and she can hardly contain her excitement. "Olives and tomanos (tomatoes), yummy in my tummy!" All whilst doing a little shimmy.  When she does that, I am absolutely elated. I'm sure every child gets excited about food but her excitement thrills me. Maybe it's because I hold food to be incredibly important, maybe it's because I'm proud of her for liking foods such as olives and tomatoes, or maybe it's because it wasn't too long ago, more like yesterday, that I got as excited about and did a dance for food.

I'm the type of mom who makes one meal for dinner. While I try to incorporate ingredients that everyone loves, I'm not about to be a short-order chef, and I have to say, it works out quite well. I know toddlers love options so I leave those for the beverage department (do you want water or milk?). The minute I start throwing out random options that are not on the table, I consider myself doomed. That could come from my upbringing. I remember sitting at the table for a solid hour after my family finished, just staring at my plate. My parents would tell me that I can't get up from the table until I finished (insert a Lebanese dish here). I was stubborn and ironically did not enjoy eating. Pause for confusion. I fought the good fight and some days, I'd shove three bites worth in my mouth, others, victory was mine. This went on for years. Sorry, parents!

That being said, I now delight in most foods I did not enjoy in the past. I credit my parent's perseverance but also not budging on what we have for dinner. I remember my mom would say "this is it, and you're going to eat it." I actually have an apron that says "you're going to eat it, and you're going to like it," one of my favorite humorous aprons gifted to me from a dear woman I've known and loved almost my entire life.

On days when the kids go to daycare, Juliana rushes through the door with arms open wide to give me a big hug only to immediately ask "what did you make for dinner?" Last night I told her "We're having rice and mushroom soup." As she took her first bites, I asked if she liked it. After smacking her tongue to the roof of her mouth she said, "yes, it's good! It's yummy in my tummy!"

Well, there you have it, folks. A promising recipe loved by all is upon you, just ask my 2.5-year old. I got the original recipe from APinchofYum, one of my favorite recipe sources, and made a couple adjustments. Sidenote: Her recipe is great, I just decided I wanted a heartier soup so I did a long grain/wild rice combo instead of solely wild rice. Since I made that adjustment, I had to tweak the liquid ratios. I also added more (like double the) mushrooms because, well it's mushrooms. If you have something against mushrooms, substitute another mild vegetable, like green beans or asparagus!

1 yellow or sweet onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
16oz mushrooms, roughly chopped
5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped 
5 stalks celery, chopped
1 box long grain and wild rice combo (I used Rice-a-Roni)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp thyme
6 tbsp butter
2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup all purpose flour

In a large pot over medium heat, saute onion and 2 tbsp butter until translucent and soft. Add the vegetables, garlic, and seasonings, and half 1/3 the pack of rice seasoning. Stir every few minutes for about ten minutes so that the flavors can meld together before adding the broth. Add the rice and broth, give it another good stir and close the lid. Lower the heat to medium-low. In the meantime, make the roux. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add flour and quickly whisk or stir together so that it becomes a smooth paste. Add the milk and continue stirring to avoid burning the roux. It'll thicken quickly, keep stirring. Once the consistency is that of a thick gravy, pour it into the soup. Stir the soup, and simmer for about ten minutes longer. You'll know the soup is finished when the rice no longer has a bite to it. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

What's in a Kitchen?

What's in a kitchen? I'm not talking about the obvious appliances and cookware that comprise  a literal kitchen, but rather what happens in a kitchen. I'm certain that I've already lost about half of you with my philosophical question. "This is a food blog!" say some of you, only to unfollow and never return. Others of you might be intrigued, and for you, I'll ask it again––what's in a kitchen?

A photo of my sister's lovely kitchen
There are a lot of changes happening in our near future (more on that in another post), some that will affect this website, my family, and especially my culinary goals. As we process through the changes, my mind started to think of all the should's––”I should blog to document this adventure for when I'm older and forget everything!” I contemplated starting a new website, but husband rightfully talked me out of it. It occurred to me that I'd be wasting my time starting an entire new blog with a brand new domain name (A Taste for Wander), because it's ALL in the kitchen!

"You've lost me", the few remaining might mutter, but I don't believe I have. Think about it, not only does the preparation of food the take place in a kitchen, but life happens in the kitchen. Family gatherings, arguments, moments of joy, serious talks, belly laughs, and simple starts to the day of brewing coffee or steeping tea–all of it happens in the kitchen. Our days begin and end in kitchens! Actually the bed, but you get my point.

So with a generic name like Christina's Kitchen, it took me a little while to accept it as something that is all-encompassing. I thought that it limited the content I could write about, that being food. I wanted to write about food and life. Because at the end of the day, they both go hand in hand; you can't have one without the other.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Keep Calm and Keep it Simple

Newest addition (Alexander)
Life has changed so much in the last six months. I now have a 6-month old boy, Alexander, who is such a calm cutie. My daughter is a vibrant ray of sunshine and also a miss-independent who apparently has difficulty accepting any sort of help from people. I started working again part-time. We sold our condo and moved into my parents home (more on that in another post).  One of the most difficult parts of these changes is the adjustments to our rhythms. What Brian and I had created to be a well-routined, at times even easy environment with a little toddler turned into "ALL HANDS ON DECK!" chaos for the first two months.  I felt like Juliana; I had to accept that I needed help. So I did. I also needed to accept where I was in this stage of life and allow myself to learn how to be a parent of two. Did you know that we aren't born with that knowledge? In my experience, most of it flourishes from instinct, advice, lots of prayer, and good 'ole fashioned trial and error.
While it would be absolutely laughable to expect our life to be consistent, we still require some consistencies.  For me, those are friends, family, and date nights. We have date night every week that consists of us going out and staying in every other week. We're surrounded by my family because, well, I live with them. So there's no shortage of hugs, kisses, and love from my parents toward the grandchildren. Last but certainly not least, I need time with friends. It's absolutely essential. I have the ultimate blessing to be surrounded by friends and mentors who challenge, accept, and love me. It allows me to be a better wife, parent, daughter, and friend to have people who tell it to me straight whether I want to hear it or not. 
My sister is one of those people. It's wonderful because she's my family AND friend. If only I could tell 4th grade self that we'd love each other a mere ten years later. Get this–she lives just fifteen minutes from me and is the mother of my gorgeous nephew. Yes, our sons are basically twins from different mothers. It's fantastic. We see each other regularly and our sons play, er lay next to each other.  My time with her is always relaxed and rejuvenating. She invited us over for lunch yesterday and made a delicious salad. It was quite simple really (recipe below), but beauty, freshness, and nutrition burst out of it.  It's a bit like life. When we make it too complicated, we lose sight of the beauty and richness of it. What's more, we take simplicity for granted. I'm going to try to stop doing that, one simple joy at a time. 

A little hike before a day trip to Young's Dairy during
Brian's staycation last week
Brian and I decided that we want to embrace simplicity in our lives. We're still working on what that looks like, but the small changes tend to make the biggest impacts. 

Spinach Salmon Salad

What you'll need
4–6oz salmon fillets
Blackening seasoning
8 oz fresh spinach
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, trimmed, and sliced
1/2 English cucumber
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
1 avocado, cut into 1/2" cubes
Lemon halved 
Extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Cracked sea salt

What you'll do
Preheat oven to 400degF. Coat the salmon with blackening seasoning and bake for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut all vegetables and place in a large bowl or in individual bowls. Top with the cooked salmon fillets (skin removed). Drizzle olive oil and squeeze lemon across the salad. Finish with cracked pepper and sea salt. Enjoy!

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

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

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


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


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!