Thursday, February 27, 2014

Our Home // Books, Art & Baby

As promised, I'll be sharing some of the decor projects of our latest abode. When we first moved in (quite a while ago now as I shared in my first post), I wasn't far off from bringing our little one into the world. So my very first motivation once I had the energy and ability to decorate anything was naturally the nursery. I didn't do much to it because we wanted to keep the space simple and safe. I wasn't concerned with a theme as some (very adorable, might I add) nurseries are decorated. That's just not my style. We live with a style - if you can call it a style - that's flowing and easy, very livable while thrifty and DIY. We just don't see the value in spending a lot on our space until it's a more permanent. Plus with a little one, your view on your awesome stuff changes really fast.

With that in mind, I wanted the room to be centered around safe, fun!, and neutral with colors from nature as a base - light blue, ocean blues, lighter greens, browns, wood tones, white - whatever felt calm and welcoming. I steered away from all loud colors - especially since babies' focus takes time to develop, and I also didn't want something matchy-matchy that would be hard to decorate as toys and other items move in and out of the room.
We also wanted the room to be focused on things we feel are important to expose our child to regularly (besides love!!) - and two things that worked well in the nursery were books and art. Before I decorated the room I naturally pinned tons of ideas on Pinterest and a super popular idea for books is to create a tiered bookshelf out of Ikea picture rail shelves. I've seen it done many different ways but since it's a focus for the room and the room had one large wall as a canvas, I chose this space as a good place to get baby's nicer books up out of reach until we are able to read them together. I can't credit the original source of the idea, it may be pinned somewhere deep in my many pins, but many clever bloggers out there have shared this idea, so thank you all for the inspiration.

At the point when I took these photos, the art theme was still under way but a few items in the room to point out are the original photos taken by a friend of my mom's who went on Safari in Africa right before our little one was born. She sent these great photos along to us and they were perfect since we also got lots of safari gifts at my shower. So we have a little bit of a theme and it works well with the earth tone themes. The photo in the corner is a piece of art that was in our little one's Auntie's room when she was growing up. Above the dresser we hung my husband's favorite Picasso that has special meaning to him.
We've since had several friends do paintings for the room which I will photograph and share in the first update of this room. We are entering toddlerville so the room is in transition now and when it is ready I'll reveal the next phase. The map on the wall is a DIY project, which I will also share soon. It's secret is it's magnetic! Which will be fun because LO is ready for magnet play now.

So this was our nursery. We'll be sharing our toddlers room and plenty more other beautiful house projects so stay tuned. Share/comment if you love it. And as always, enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good Eats // Spinach Quiche

We love breakfast. We feel it's not just reserved for morning and often partake in a regular Brinner (that's Breakfast for Dinner for those that don't know...if there is possibly anyone who doesn't know about this delicious idea!). I especially enjoy a breakfast that is ready and waiting for me when I wake up. Sometimes that is a Saturday morning and my husband's infamous eggs. But most mornings, that means I have to prepare breakfast the night before. A little muesli and yogurt is a great go-to for me and my little one, but most days I just want eggs. Scrambled and fried you have to make fresh, and hard boiled aren't my favorite for a breakfast meal - I want them hot. That's why this quiche is perfect! I can make it ahead, it's super easy, and I just pop out a slice and warm it in the oven. My husband can take it to go and the little one craves it. It's a win all around! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

One piecrust
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 eggs
1 cup spinach, thin cut
1 Anaheim chili, diced no seeds
1/2 cup baked and crumbled bacon (about 5 pieces)
1/2 cup cheddar, Monterey Jack or 4 cheese Mexican cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

How to make it::
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
2. Roll out your pie dough and form in pie plate. When forming the crust, don't bring it up over the edge of the plate, make a squared off edge around the top edge, or as close to the edge as it will go - it doesn't have to come up all the way. It is okay if your egg mixture fills the plate over the crust edge.
3. Stab your crust all over with a fork so the hot air escapes while it pre-bakes. Place the piecrust in the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes to allow the crust to cook. The crust should be light brown on the edges when removing from the oven. 
4. Cook bacon in the oven for 20 minutes at 350. Crumble.
5. While the crust/bacon cooks, whisk together the milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg and eggs in a bowl. 
6. In a second bowl, mix together the spinach, bacon, cheese and parsley. 
7. Add half of the wet egg mixture to coat the dry ingredients, again mixing well. Add this mixture to the cooked crust.
8. Add the remaining egg mixture. Some of the egg may pour out over the edge of the crust. That's okay, it will bake up with a nice edge of egg/crust. 
9. Bake in the oven until the middle of the quiche is set, about 40 minutes. Sometimes it puffs up a bit but I just stab the egg with a fork to let the steam out and it settles quickly. You can tell if the eggs aren't cooked if they look runny or shinny still. If they look the texture of scrambled they are done. You don't want to over cook them and loose the fluffy lightness of your quiche.
10. Remove and serve warm. This keeps very well for several days in the refrigerator. I like to make this on a weekend and eat throughout the week for breakfast.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Crazy Blondies // Made with Coconut Sugar

Did everyone have a sweet Valentine's Day? We did, thanks to King Author Flour for this yummy and unexpected Crazy Blonde Brownie recipe. Friday morning, in my latest Amazon Fresh delivery (read all about how much we love this new grocery delivery service here) I ordered a new bag of whole wheat white flour (my go-to alternative for recipes with white flour that I have never made before - I don't experiment with gluten-free flours or other types until I've tried something at least once). To my delightful surprise, this recipe was included on the back of my new bag of flour. Talk about a sweet treat to come my way on the morning of Valentine's Day since blondies are my husband's absolute favorite treat!

A special note about King Author:: They do this really cool thing with their flour called Bake Sale Heros where communities hold bake sales and raise money to help kids with cancer. Check out more at their site to see how you can help. Not only do they supply free bags of flour for bake sales, they match your contributions raised (up to $25,000!). Now that's a beautiful thing.

Here is the recipe from the King Author bag. I usually have to change up a baked good recipe quite significantly to make it healthier, but for this one I simply substituted Coconut sugar (which has a lower glycemic index than white sugar and is naturally processed), Carob chips, and organic butter. Not really much of a change up as these are all things I've switched out for the original ingredients in my pantry already so I didn't have to buy anything special to make these.
Showing you love your sweetie isn't something to do just in February. Make these for someone you love this week and enjoy!

NOTE: Coconut sugar is much better for you than regular sugar or even cane sugar. However, it is by no means a "health" food and should still be eaten sparingly. Here is an informative article about coconut sugar.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Good Eats:: No Lettuce Beet Salad

I pretty much avoid lettuce in all of my salads. The closest I think I get to lettuce in a salad is mixed greens (well, and the occasional red leaf lettuce from our CSA box). I really prefer dark greens in a salad since they actually have flavor. This is a simple salad where the flavors and textures come together nicely for a fresh, crisp and easy lunch.

The thing that makes this salad special is you have to eat every bite with a bit of hummus on your fork first. It mixes with the dressing and puts a slight tang in each bite and helps contrast the earthy beets. If you really like, you could just mix the few tablespoons of hummus in with your dressing before mixing with the salad. I like to savor a little in each bite making it more fun to eat.

I paired this light lunch salad with a rustic russet from our most recent CSA box with some butter and sour cream. It made for a filling lunch and complimented the cold brightly flavored crunch of the salad with a warm, creamy buttery goodness. Enjoy!

1 roasted beet (great for leftover beets)
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
handful or so of fresh spinach
1 Tbsp greek dressing (I use this one, which I first wrote about here)
2 Tbsp hummus (I used plain but garlic or roasted pine nut might be good as well)

How I made it::
1. If you don't know how to roast a beet, check out this previous post.
2. Dice your roasted beet and veggies.
3. Toss in spinach and season and dress.
4. Optionally, mix the hummus into the salad. Or serve on the side and enjoy bite by bite. Mmmm.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's On My Plate! // Sweet & Savory Kale Pasta

This is one of those recipes where I just felt the ingredients come together. It's not super complicated, but sometimes it's just a synthesis of simple ingredients that makes the flavor of a dish wildly delicious. I literally wanted more of this dish as I was eating it. Yet I was left perfectly satisfied with one serving; something I learned the importance of reading Peter Kaminsky's Culinary Intelligence. He knows how to explain the importance of flavor. I remember feeling as if I could taste the foods he described while reading about them (warning: don't read his book while hungry, or without time to go to the store).

The sweetness of this dish comes from a new product my mom got me recently. She loves bringing me new ingredients for my kitchen that she finds in the random treasure troves of shops she enjoys. This is from one of her (and many others) favorite stores: Trader Joe's. She found the Pomegranate Vinegar for this recipe there around the holiday season, so you may have to wait until next year to pick it up. I'm hoping they carry it regularly because it has really great flavor. Plus I'm going to need to eat this dish more than just what will last me through the winter!

The savoryness (or umami as many a foodie would call it) of this dish obviously comes from the earthy kale and baby bellas, but also from the red pepper flakes. I added just enough to give it warmth, not making it spicy but leaving you with a warm mouth feel at the end of each bite. Another savory element that rounded out the sweet of the vinegar and tang of the pasta sauce was the cheese. I'm still trying to remember what kind it was - another treat from my mom's last visit and as soon as I remember I'll update the post. But it was a mild hard cheese and I'm going to take a guess that it was an Irish white cheddar.

This dish is also delicious if you're a meat eater. Just add some lightly floured and seasoned baked or pan cooked chicken breast cut in strips.

Two days after I first made this dish, I had it leftover for lunch and was pleasantly surprised that out little one ate it and loved it. Pasta would normally go over well with kids but it hasn't around here until this dish - kale, mushrooms and all. It's a winner!

1 small bunch of kale
1 cup baby bella mushrooms
Red Pepper Flakes
2 Tbsp Trader Joe's Pomegranate Vinegar
1 jar Muir Glen Organic Italian Herb Pasta Sauce
Cooked whole wheat pasta
Irish white cheddar cheese for grating

How I made it::
1. Dice mushrooms and chop kale with hard stem removed.
2. Heat EVOO in pan. Add Kale and cook until lightly wilted. Add mushrooms, salt/pepper and red pepper flakes.
3. Cook until kale is well wilted yet has a light crunch to it still. You don't want to kill all the nutrients and flavor but you want to cut down that bitterness.
4. Add vinegar and heat a few minutes more to let it marinate.
5. Add pasta sauce and warm until heated through.
6. Serve pasta sauce over whole wheat spaghetti or other style noodle and top with grated cheese.  Enjoy! 

PS: Peter Kaminsky, if you ever read this recipe, I'd gladly welcome your critique of it. While I've read many foodie books CI is one of those that inspired me to change the way I do things in my kitchen, not only in terms of health but also by remembering the importance of seasoning (and through introducing some new items to my larder). Thank you for contributing to my growth as a smarter and braver cook. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Good Eats:: Savory Sage Breakfast Scramble

I love experimenting with flavors in eggs. I've shared before that my husband makes the most amazing eggs. I mean, better than the best hotel breakfast in bed you've ever tried. But, I like to change up the flavor of the classic scramble from time to time. It's something you eat often enough and are familiar enough with that sometimes you can just switch up your game.

Here's a switch I enjoy when I want to keep it healthy (as in no cheese/add veggies). I first shared these eggs with you on Day 1 of our Healthy Start 7 eating challenge this January where we gave up certain ingredients, including dairy. I enjoy these most when I'm into the fall/winter flavor pallet because of the savory sage that compliments the onion and peppers. I remember the first time I ever used Sage in my scramble and thinking I'm totally feeling this flavor but fingers crossed it turns out. Check out my original Sage Scramble recipe.

The true secret flavor ingredient to this recipe is something most of you won't know. I grew up eating this salad dressing from a little Greek restaurant that got so popular it ended up in many major grocery stores. It is amazing on salads in general but I fondly remember my mom marinating every pork tenderloin she ever made us in it overnight. It was succulent! As a young, single lady I discovered it worked really well when you accidentally ran out of olive oil as a little bit of seasoned oil for your pan, for things like cooking eggs. And it's just stuck around.

Fortunately, you can get the most amazing Greek dressing you've ever tasted online these days. The regular Greek is still our family's favorite (although the light holds up in taste if you want a lower fat option) and we always keep these on hand by the box full. In all seriousness, we even buy these as gifts for people for housewarming or dinner parties. They're so good I'd consider it just as acceptable of a gift as bringing a bottle of wine - in my opinion, and that's coming from a wine lover.

2 large eggs
1/4 small red onion
1/4 cup mixed colors bell peppers
2 Tbsp Gazebo Room Greek Dressing

How I make them::
1. Heat your pan. Add dressing and allow to heat.
2. Add onion and peppers, saute until slightly cooked (I like my veggies a little al dente in my omelet  and not mushy).
3. Add whisked eggs, salt/pepper and a generous amount of sage.
4. Scramble away and enjoy this new savory taste to your morning routine.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Food Discovery That Changed My Life // Amazon Fresh

Not only have we been busy lately cooking up ideas for the blog, in our absence last week we discovered the most amazing discovery to our food world - Amazon Fresh delivery service! No wonder amazing is part of Amazon's name, because seriously, they continue to change my life for the better with their awesomeness. (PS: If you aren't a fan of Amazon, this post is not for you. Clearly, I'm a major fan.)

We have had an Amazon Prime membership for some time now. Once I was facing motherhood, leaving the house to go shopping for every...little...thing was not happening. So when 2-day delivery for a relatively low-cost yearly fee ($79 when we started), plus additional perks such as movies and television shows we could stream online since we don't have cable we were totally sold in an instant.

Browsing my favorite site on the big wide web, I was exploring deeper just what "grocery" options Amazon could provide on prime when I discovered the link (accidentally) for Amazon Fresh. Side note: I have been using a local grocer's delivery service for the past year and while it's been convenient it's had some catches to it that I didn't love. I had to have a $150 order and a participating item to get free delivery, their produce selection was very poor (bringing me the strawberries with the most white on them) and not delivering the wild blueberries because they didn't have them but upon going to the store for something else they forgot the next day they did have them...were they out or did they just not look hard enough?). Anyhow, I enjoyed the service for what it was but inevitably a better option perked my interest.
Amazon Fresh promised so much more! Fresh and fast delivery, grocery and non-grocery items in the same delivery, and your regular prime membership is included. All that already had me. While we would have to pay a large yearly fee that was scary at first glance ($299/year), when you break it down it really is worth it. The grocery delivery we were already using was only "free" as I mentioned when I spent $150 on an order. Not hard to do buying pantry staples, but it would be hard to do every order for us. Especially because that store didn't carry a lot of the organic items I wanted, leaving me to go to other stores in person anyhow. A 1-hr delivery window was upwards of $9 and a 4-hr window was $6. If you break down Amazon's cost per week, it's only $5/week. And you only need $35 as your minimum delivery. I can do that several times a week and my $5/week delivery fee never changes. Plus, I can order all my prime items and get the video streaming features as well. My husband made the final call: It's a win!
So far we've had two deliveries. With both I chose a 3-hour delivery window because you don't have to be home so in case I was out with my little one, I didn't have to worry. With my previous service, I had to be home. You don't have to worry about your goods - they pack your cold foods in bags lined with a styrofoam cooler and your frozen food is packed with small dry ice packs and your fridge foods with frozen water bottles. Perk - free water bottles. I'm not a fan of water bottles because we use reusable bottles, but it doesn't bother me and they are convenient for guests. Don't get me wrong, I would never buy them but if they're free and they use them sparingly just to keep your food cold...I'm not going to complain.
Amazon dropped off our groceries in their reusable green bags both times with nothing more than a light knock the time they could tell we were clearly home. They have been professional, polite and quiet - all appreciated with a little one that was taking a nap during the first delivery. Also, you just set out their easy-to-break-down bags and they take them with them to reuse.
Our 6 bags broken down to 2 for easy storage.
Conveniently tucked away with our other reusable bags until the next delivery.
Now about the actual food! So many of the brands or comparable brands that we buy are available either for the same prices or less. I have scoured for very specific brands of foods that don't contain harmful added chemicals, or use bpa cans, etc. I even have a spread sheet to keep track of some of them that I don't use all the time or I'd forget and have to research them again.  I'd be happy to share it with any of you seeking healthier food options - or maybe I'll post it here sometime. Point being, I didn't have to research completely new brands to shop here.

There are some convenient shopping features so far and I feel they will improve as the site gains popularity. You can search foods and eliminate those containing certain ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Awesome! You can also make lists, which is helpful if you are organized and like that kind of thing. I made lists for our pantry staples, produce regulars, baby items and things I want to try soon. Or if you aren't so organized, you can always just check out your past purchased list which will show everything you've ever bought in gridded photos so you can quickly add popular items to your cart again. Milk, eggs, bread...check. Two minutes shopping and you're done.

Now for the next amazing part, it'll be here within 12 hours. Yes, basically same day delivery. When it's 10:00 p.m. and you realize you don't have enough milk to get through the next day with a little one in your house, it is a major gift to be able to get on my phone app and click a few things in my cart vs. having to get on some shoes and tiredly go to the store before bed or get up early and run in the morning, or the most fun...take a wiggly worm little one to the store when they'd rather be doing anything else. I made my second order this way...out of milk, click, click, added a few other items from my staples and one fun thing from my try it lists to meet the $35 delivery limit...all money I would have spent in that month/week anyhow, yet I didn't get in the car, I didn't stress, and the very next afternoon my items were quietly delivered.

And the last exciting part that I just can't hold back from ultimate test to whether I would enjoy this service:  I ordered ripe avocados. You can choose whether you want certain produce items ripe or unripe (avocados, bananas, etc). I ordered 2 for a recipe I was making that next day - chicken tortilla soup. My pot was simmering, and at 3:30 on Super Bowl Sunday (uh huh, if you weren't amazed before - you are now) my perfectly picked avocados arrived with the milk I didn't want to drive to get the night before. The test of a perfectly picked avocado passed with flying colors for me - they were dark in color, a light give when gently squeezed and stems still intact. They were bright ombre green inside and the seed removed without struggle but not too easily. I ordered the large size at $1.25 (the small were $1.00 each which is one of the best prices at a whole foods grocery around here), and they did not disappoint on size.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What's On My Plate! // Pacific Rockfish

Welcome to our first official What's On My Plate! post. If you don't know about #womp or what it's all about, read here.

My husband and I have started a new food tradition recently. Once a week he stops in at our local Santa Monica Seafood or other fabulous local fish market we have around SoCal - the pleasure of living near an ocean. I have never made pacific rockfish before. It was such a tasty and easy fish to cook. My husband asked for a few tips on how to cook it at the market, and the suggestion that caught my pallet that night was to put a little cajun seasoning on it. After searching how best to cook this new-to-me fish I found a Simple Cajun Seasoning mixture, and I read that dredging it in flour and sautéing it is a really great way to treat this fish. I served it with sautéed spinach with garlic and my husband's favorite - plain white, Japanese rice.

Here's how I made it::
1. Heat a pan on high heat for several minutes making sure it is hot and ready to go.
2. Rub the fish down with the simple Cajun seasoning and cover in a flour (I used a soft winter wheat flout - looks like and cooks like a white flour but healthier).
3. Add butter to pan and let melt.
4. Add fish to pan.  This fish was thin so I was able to keep the heat high without burning it. If your fish is thicker, turn the pan down at this point.
5. Now don't touch it!! Let it get a good crust and cook most of the way. You'll see the edges of the fish change color as it cooks.
6. Flip it, and cook at least half the time as it took to cook the first side. The fish is done if it starts to separate a bit.
7. Serve the beautiful crusty-side up and enjoy!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What's On My Plate: A New Series on Eating Whole Foods and Saving Money

We've been absent the past few days, but that's okay - and it's good news for you - because it means we've been cooking up new ideas for the blog. Literally! With that said, welcome to a new theme we'll be sharing with you regularly::  What's On My Plate!
We love these adorable healthy portion plates to
help encourage you to fill your plate with lots of healthy foods!

The idea is this:: Cooking in my house is an ongoing learning experience and adventure! I may not be a gourmet chef (although I've gone through several bouts of dreaming of culinary school in my life so far), but I do have a strong passion for food in my soul. You just have that and love to cook or you muscle your way through preparing meals. I think if you give it fair effort you can learn to love it though. My love for food and, in more recent years, my growing desire to eat healthier options and to understand what is truly healthy and what is not, is what drives me to just teach myself. And I want to share what I learn and the explorations of my kitchen with all of you. That's one of the main reasons I started this blog. However, I don't always create unique recipes. Once I'm comfortable with something I might make it more my own, especially if I'm swapping in healthier ingredients, and sometimes I just go for it and come up with something de-lish (see my most recent cooking experiment turned ah-mazing tasty new recipe!).

That said, let me share my idea for these upcoming new posts: What's On My Plate! (#womp!)

The idea::
I don't always have a new recipe to share but I do have food experiences to share. Maybe it's a new technique I learned. Or sometimes it's trying a new food for the first time or implementing a new ingredient in my kitchen as a regular staple like we did with our recent Healthy Start 7 challenge. Sometimes it could be a pairing of foods that ends up really amazing that I just have to share. There are a multitude of talented food bloggers out there and I often try other people's recipes (that's the main way I learn and grow as a home cook - other than devouring books all about eating au-natural and whole food cooking techniques. I'll have to share a list of my favorite reads some time.) When I try another blogger's recipe and it's nom-nom-nom worthy, I think I may just share that with you because how else will you discover it in the vast world of food bloggers? Maybe never....that's sad.

Another way these posts intend to share my tips and tricks in the kitchen is to show how one roasted chicken ends up making, and then enhancing, 3-4 other recipes. Yes, I said one whole chicken can end up in at least two other meals besides the main dish it is originally used in every single time I cook a chicken. That's something that comes with the experience of cooking whole foods. I think a lot of people new to cooking whole foods struggle in this area and I'd love to share how I make that easier by maximizing my ingredients, wasting less food, and eating way, way healthier. Almost nothing in our house comes out of a box anymore and that's definitely a transition you can make in your home as well, once you have some ideas of what to do. That is where these posts aim to help you.

Now, this is where I get really excited about cooking whole foods and sharing tips with all of you. IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY! (Read that sentence again.) If you don't know, my husband and I teach a financial class at our church - Dave Ramsey's FPU - and we are both just super thrifty to begin with, so saving money is fun to us. Plus, who doesn't want to save money, really?  When it comes to our food bill and eating whole foods, while I do spend more money on organic ingredients (at times) or on certain brands I deem worthy of a whole foods kitchen, I really win with my grocery bill in the end.

Here's one example how::  if I buy a good organic chicken I'm going to use the bones for chicken broth because I know it's a healthy chicken that will make good stock. So, that a $7-8 organic chicken that turns into a large 12 cup batch of homemade chicken stock with no additives, no extra salt, no preservatives, or sugar, or HFCS. It's just wholesome chicken broth. Oh, and did I mention it's organic? An organic 32 oz box of chicken broth will set you back $3-4 easy. Considering this, it greatly reduces the cost of your chicken because really you bought chicken and chicken broth. In my kitchen, it could mean even more items, but I'll share more on those details in another post about chicken!

Stay tuned for our first #womp! post about Pacific Rock Fish. Let us know if you enjoy these new posts in the comments!