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Grilled Tomatoes with Garlic and Lemon Thyme

April 9, 2015

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It’s official… my month-long East Coast and European adventure is just over a week away and I can’t wait.   With the joyful knowledge that I’ll be indulging my taste buds with all-things-delicious-and-naughty, I’ve been making an effort to modify what I’m eating both in terms of quality and quantity.

 

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I haven’t been ruthless and have definitely succumbed to moments of weakness, such as my untimely arrival to my sister’s right as her famous chocolate cherry chunk cookies were coming out of the oven.   For the most part however, I’ve successfully reduced my consumption of the usual suspects of carbs and saturated fats.

 

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Dieting isn’t easy for anyone, and I’m certainly not an exception to the norm.  In focusing primarily on protein, vegetables and low-fat dairy, I’ve had to get a bit creative in order to find dishes that… well… don’t taste like I’m on a diet.

 

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Finding dishes that aligned with my dietary modifications requited a bit more creativity and consideration than simply succumbing to my usual cravings. Throughout my menu planning and recipe experimentation, I’m pleased to have discovered a handful of seriously healthy recipes that are both flavorful and satisfying.

 

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This week I’m sharing my recipe for grilled tomatoes with garlic and lemon thyme.  Two halves make for a perfect meal when served over a bed of leafy greens, or one half works perfectly as a side for just about any main dish.

 

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Enjoy, and happy thankful Thursday!

 

 

Ingredients:

4 large tomatoes (ripe but still firm)

8-10 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 lemons (preferably Meyer if in season)

1 healthy bunch lemon thyme

Salt and pepper

 

Directions:

Heat your outdoor grill, cast iron grill pan or George Foreman grill.

While the grill is heating, rinse the tomatoes and cut in half lengthwise.  Brush the “tops” of the tomato halves with olive oil, and set aside.

Rinse the lemon thyme and using your fingers, remove the leaves from the stems to the best of your availability.  coarsely chop if desired.

Using a grater, shave the peels of 2 lemons into a small bowl.   Add the juice of 3 lemons, olive oil, garlic and lemon thyme and mix thoroughly with a small whisk or a fork.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Take the tomato halves and place facing down on the grill for approximately 3-4 minutes, or until just beginning to show the char marks.

Using tongs or a spatula if needed, turn the tomatoes over and cook on the other side until the skin just begins to blister (approximately 1 minute).

Remove from grill, drizzle with the garlic and lemon thyme mixture.

Serve individually or over a bed of leafy greens (the garlic and lemon thyme mixture doubles as a great dressing).

 

 

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The Perfect Spring Salad: Shaved Asparagus Ribbons with Burrata & Roasted Pistachios

April 2, 2015

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I love Spring… especially when it feels like Spring.  While I could stand for the weather to warm up a bit more than it has, I’m soaking up the fresh flowers, colors and flavors that accompany the season.

 

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As much as I love most seasonal Spring produce, I’ve never been a huge asparagus person.  I don’t have an aversion to it and do enjoy it on occasion, but I’ve also never experienced a craving for it, nor have I gravitated towards asparagus over other vegetable options when perusing a restaurant menu.

 

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I recently realized that my lack of enthusiasm for asparagus is a direct result of the fact that I’ve simply been eating it wrong.  And by wrong, I mean cooked.  Raw asparagus, my friends, is an entirely different ball game.  It’s crisp, flavorful, and the slightest bit sweet compared to its temperature-modified counterpart, and makes for a delightful addition (or base) of just about any Spring salad.

 

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In an effort to create a salad whose flavor profile effectively highlighted the raw asparagus without overpowering the accompanying ingredients, I used a vegetable peeler to shave the spears into delicate ribbons.

 

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Pairing the asparagus ribbons with roasted pistachios and fresh burrata added a crunch as well as a creamy texture, both of which paired perfectly with a drizzle of fresh lemon and olive oil with mild seasonings.

 

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Happy Spring, and bon appétit!

 

Ingredients:

1 bunch asparagus spears, washed

1/2 cup pistachios, roasted and salted

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 lemons (preferably Meyer)

1 ball fresh burrata cheese

1 tsp sea salt (preferably Maldon)

Freshly cracked pepper, to taste

 

Directions:

Using a vegetable peeler, create asparagus ribbons peeling from the base to the tip (you do not need to break off the base, but hold the asparagus by the base and begin peeling about an inch up).

Using a large sharp knife, coarsely chop the pistachios and set aside.

Using a grater, grate the peel of 1 lemon into a bowl.  Add the juice of 1 lemon, the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Whisk thoroughly and taste, adding juice from the 2nd lemon if desired.

Arrange the asparagus ribbons on a plate, and sprinkle with pistachios.  Drizzle the lemon and olive oil dressing over the top, one teaspoon at a time (you will have some left over).

Place the Burrata as desired, either alongside the asparagus or on top (hint: I removed the skin of the cheese).

Serve and enjoy!

Almond, Honey and Coconut Granola

March 26, 2015

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We all love a good food pairing.  You know, like fried chicken and waffles, steak and potatoes, eggs and bacon, or the all-American classic of peanut butter and jelly.  Certain flavors and textures were just made for each other.

 

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This is how I’ve always felt about granola and Greek yogurt.  The sweet balances the tart, while the creamy counters the crunch.  There is simply no better breakfast pairing in my book (until the day comes when a warm fudgy brownie and vanilla ice cream are an approved breakfast standard).

 

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Considering the depth of my appreciation for home-made granola, I can’t explain why it took me this long to try making it myself.  It’s easy-peasy with little mess and therefore minimal clean-up, and the actual labor time maxes out around 15 minutes.  So naturally after sampling the final product and discovering it was delicious in addition to being fast and easy,  I immediately made another massive batch.

 

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The almonds add a delightful flavor and texture, but it’s the almond extract that definitely provides the wow-factor in this dish’s flavor profile.  I brought a bunch along with me to a bachelorette weekend, and was delightfully surprised at both its warm reception as well as the fact that so many people picked up on the extract.  Apparently, it’s a thing.  As in people love using it in the kitchen as well as dabbing it behind the ears before dates to add a certain mystique.  You heard it here first, ladies.  (Or maybe I’m just behind the times). Regardless, almond extract is my kitchen’s new staple ingredient.

 

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Having never made granola before, I tried out a recipe from Lovely Little Kitchen, tweaking the ingredients here and there to highlight flavors that I personally love.  It was everything I had hoped it would be and more, but I do look forward to playing around with different flavors and recipes in the future.  I’m thinking cardamom, pistachio and vanilla, or perhaps maple and thyme…

 

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Bon appétit!

 

Ingredients:

1 cup almonds

3 cups whole rolled oats

1/2 tsp salt (preferably Maldon)

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup honey

3 tbsp coconut oil

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a blender or food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the almonds until finely chopped.  With a sharp knife, coarsely chop the remaining 1/2 cup

Combine almonds into a large bowl with the oats, salt and brown sugar.  Stir to combine

In a microwavable bowl, heat the honey and coconut oil together for 30 seconds.  Remove from microwave, stirring in the vanilla and almond extracts before pouring over the oat mixture.  Mix thoroughly until evenly coated

Pour the oat mixture over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (baking sheets with sides are preferable)

Heat for 5 minutes in the oven.  Remove to stir before returning to the oven.  Bake for another 10 minutes, then remove from oven to cool completely (at least 30 minutes)

Break into pieces and store in airtight container such as tupperware or a large mason jar.  Freezes well, too!

Light-as-Air Lemon Cookies

March 19, 2015

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It is so important to invest our time and energy in the things that make us happy. In today’s world of electronics and gadgets and never-ending deadlines… we can easily be swept up in the day to day necessities, unintentionally allowing the little things that bring us joy to fall by the wayside.

 

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Life is happy, wonderful, adventurous and amazing… but it can also be stressful. Children who used to be outside playing kick the can or comparing Skip-It records are now taking lessons in exotic instruments and learning multiple foreign languages in an effort to get into a good college.  And before we even have a chance to worry about college, we’re struggling to pull every string to get our 3 month old into a decent preschool.

 

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So yes, we live in a stressful world. Which is why it’s more important than ever to counterbalance this everyday stresses with activities, environments and people that bring us joy.  Life is too short to not appreciate the little things (that, as a friendly reminder, are really the big things). The key is to proactively and consciously put this time aside.

 

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Many have mastered the art of justifying why we don’t work out, eat well, take time off of work and get enough sleep. The truth is that in having the best of intentions and taking care of others, we often forget to take care of ourselves.  And I know I don’t need explain the madness in this logic, because we all know that we can’t successfully take care of anyone else until we take care of ourselves.

 

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This week, I encourage you to make a list of 5 simple things that you love, and to set aside an hour or two to just indulge in something that brings you effortless joy.  Whether it’s running, painting, playing chess, golfing, reading, surfing, needlepointing or napping… take time this week to make it a priority.  For me, it’s cooking (no surprise here).

 

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And spending time with my amazing friends and their adorable dog, Reagan.

 

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Happy Thankful Thursday :)

 

Light-as-Air Lemon Cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp sea salt (preferably Maldon)

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 tbsp. sour cream

2 tbsp. full-fat milk or half and half

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt

In a stand mixer using a paddle attachment (as opposed to the whisk), combine the butter, 1/2 cup of the sugar, egg, sour cream, milk, lemon juice and vanilla and mix thoroughly.  (Hint:  be sure not to melt the butter, but just to soften.  Melted butter will result in sticky dough that cannot be formed into balls)

Once the ingredients are thoroughly combined and while the mixer is running on low to medium speed, slowly add the flour mixture until combined

Using your hands, form the dough into small balls approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Roll in remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, and place on a greased cookie sheet.  If consistency of dough is sticky and too difficult to roll into a ball, freeze the dough for 5-10 minutes

Bake for 10-12 minutes max, being careful not to allow them to cook any longer.  They will quickly dry out and burn along the bottom if left for a longer period of time

While allowing for the cookies to cool, grate lemon peel over the top and then serve

Store in an air-tight container for up to a week

 

*Adapted from Yes to Yum

Spaghetti alla Carbonara {and thoughts on gratitude}

March 12, 2015

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One of my new years resolutions for 2015 was to start each and every day off by writing down 10 things that I’m thankful for.  Not only something or someone I’m thankful for, but also (and most importantly) why I’m thankful.   It’s pretty easy to say  “I’m thankful for my health”…  but writing “I’m thankful for my mental, physical and emotional health because they collectively allow me to experience and enjoy life to the fullest” packs a much bigger punch.

 

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Not wanting to write the same things over and over, I try to keep my lists as varied as possible. And as much as I have to be grateful for, it’s not always easy coming up with 10 new things each morning.  Especially before coffee.   While some mornings I have to give serious time and thought to what I eventually scribble down, this week I’ve had so much to be thankful for that it’s been more difficult narrowing the list to 10 things I’m grateful for than it has been to come up with them.

 

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I’ve always enjoyed a naturally positive disposition, but I’ve noticed that the little things (and even some of the big things) that would normally bring me down are now things that I’m able to brush aside with [relative] ease.  The gratitude notebook doesn’t magically eliminate all negative feelings, but it definitely helps in keeping them to a minimum.  Life is too beautiful and full of opportunity to be tainted with chronic anger, sadness, resentment and bitterness. While these are all natural feelings that none of us are immune to, we should never allow them dominate over happiness, gratitude and love. I emphasize the word allow, because we are absolutely in control of our mindset (and subsequently our feelings).

 

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Unfortunately, this magical control over happiness doesn’t extend past ourselves.  We can (and absolutely should) do things that result in happiness of loved ones and strangers alike, but we can never actually control how they feel. And as someone whose greatest personal joy is bringing joy to others, this is a tough pill for me to swallow sometimes.  It’s in those moments when leafing through my gratitude journal has the greatest impact in reminding me how fortunate and blessed that I am.

 

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Whether by keeping a gratitude journal or finding a different way to count your blessings, regularly (and sincerely), practicing gratitude will absolutely make you happier, and will never, ever make things worse. Kind of like this heaping bowl of spaghetti carbonara….

 

Ingredients:

1 pound spaghetti (fresh or boxed)

4 strips bacon

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 large eggs

1 cup freshly grated parmesan

1 large handful of flat leaf parsley

1 tsp red chili flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp fresh sea salt (preferably Maldon)

 

Directions:

Cook bacon as desired, reserving drippings for later use.  Once cooled, chop the bacon into thin slices and set aside

Add salt to a large pot of water over medium to high heat.  When water reaches a rolling boil, add pasta, cooking until “al dente” according to box instructions. For fresh pasta, it usually takes approximately 8 minutes but varies based on thickness of the noodle.  Be sure to keep a close eye on it and check for consistency

Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the water to be used in the sauce if desired

Heat 2 tbsp. of bacon renderings in a large skillet over a medium flame.  Add garlic and sauté for just less than a minute to soften.  Quickly and carefully, add the hot, drained pasta and toss until thoroughly coated in bacon fat and garlic.  Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Beat the 2 eggs then stir in the cheese, and pour mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly to thicken the eggs (eggs should not scramble).

Add reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time as desired for consistency

Mix in the bacon, red pepper flakes, ground black pepper and salt (if needed)

Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve immediately

 

 

Black Bean and Lentil Tacos with Grilled Avocado

March 5, 2015

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I enjoy a day of R&R as much as anyone, but generally speaking I operate best when I have a few balls up in the air. So while navigating through the process of applying to nursing school, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping busy whether in the kitchen, working out, catching up with friends or immersing myself in various projects (ie: I’m on a first name basis with the entire staff of Paper Source). I’ve also been working for a finance company in the city, and am absolutely loving it.  I’m so fortunate to have such a wonderful opportunity until the time comes to go back to school full time. The people are amazing, the company culture is fantastic… and the hours are early.  As in, I’m walking into work as those crazy young folk are stumbling home from a night out on the town.

 

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I definitely don’t mind the 4:00am wake up call, but my energy level at the end of the day is noticeably reduced from what I’m used to.  As a result, I haven’t been experimenting quite as much in the evenings and instead find myself defaulting to some easy, fast and ridiculously yummy tried and true recipes.  Like this one.

 

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This, my friends, is the perfect lunch or dinner for those times when your taste buds crave something zesty and exciting, but your energy level is best suited for a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese.  {We’ve all been there!}  And, it’s pretty darn healthy!  Adapted from a fantastic recipe by Naturally Ella, I’ve tweaked the ingredients a few times and settled on this version which I simply adore. I stayed true to the original recipe’s flavor profile, as the sweetness of the honey pairs beautifully with the fresh lime and spices.

 

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Introducing my zesty black bean and lentil tacos with grilled avocado!

 

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Ingredients:

8 small tortillas (flour or corn)

1 can black beans

12 oz cooked lentils (I cheat and get the pre-steamed package at Trader Joe’s)

3 oz goat cheese

3-4 limes, juice and zest

6 tbsp honey

2 avocados, sliced

1 healthy bunch of cilantro

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp ground oregano

Salt to taste

 

Directions:

Drain and rinse the black beans, and mix with cooked lentils

In a skillet, heat up the beans and lentils with the juice of 2 limes, honey, cumin, oregano and a pinch of fresh sea salt

Stir occasionally and allow to simmer on medium heat

While the beans and lentils are heating, grill the slices of avocado using a cast iron grill, gas grill, or even a George Forman. Cook on each side for approximately 1 minute

When the liquids have soaked in and evaporated, remove the beans and lentils from heat and set aside

Prepare each tortilla with the bean and lentil mixture, adding sliced avocado, goat cheese, and cilantro leaves as desired

Take the last lime, and grate lime zest over the top of the tacos, adding a squirt of fresh lime juice if desired

Serve and enjoy!

 

Leg of Lamb Gyros {with lemon garlic aioli}

February 26, 2015

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I have an unfortunate history of being pretty wasteful with food. The thoroughly embarrassed, defensive part of me assures you that anything not consumed is composted.  The authentic part of me, however, admits that most of this waste can usually be avoided.

 

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When I’m browsing a market, I have to bring a list. And stick to it. If I don’t have a clear outline of what I need, I come home with bags of what I want.  Bags full of things I selected because they were on sale. Because they looked good. Or because I’m certain that the satisfaction I get from that pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is going to be worth the caloric indulgence.

 

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And then there’s the whole being single factor which adds an even trickier dynamic to this whole scenario. I’m sure most of you are familiar with how difficult that it can be to cook for one person, as almost all recipes yield 6-8 servings.  And as good as that meatloaf is, I have no desire to eat it for 8 meals in a row.

 

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The problem is bigger than spoiled food, though.  I also end up wasting an obscene amount of money. Being smart about food shopping takes serious strategizing, so lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to focus on ingredients that I can use in a variety of dishes… before they go bad.

 

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I recently had a great friend come to visit who loves cooking as much as I do. So naturally after setting the date of her arrival, the primary topic of discussion was what we were going to make for dinner.  Kelly had a leg of lamb recipe she’d been wanting to try, which she marinated in rosemary, garlic, lemon, olive oil and pear slices (for tenderizing the roast…… who knew?).  It was out of this world!  Of course even though we both pride ourselves on our healthy appetites, we had our fair share of leftovers.  Not willing to let something so special and delicious go to waste, we decided to make lamb gyros for lunch the next day.

 

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In the spirit of not being wasteful, I incorporated the leftover lemon and garlic aioli from the BLT scallop bites featured in last week’s blog post.  The aioli and lamb were meant for each other, giving me a new found appreciation for this sauce which pairs just as beautifully with seafood as it does with red meat.  Seriously though, I’m talking a perfect marriage of flavors……  like peanut butter and jelly, or even steak and potatoes.  We spread the aioli liberally over flat bread with sliced pimiento olives, mint, white onion, tomato and feta.

 

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The result was out of this world.  But don’t take it from me… try it for yourself.

Happy Thursday, and bon appétit!

 

 

Leg of Lamb Gyros

 

Instructions:

Slices of cooked lamb (we used this awesome recipe)

6 flat breads (try to find ones that are soft and not too thick)

10 tbsp lemon garlic aioli (recipe found here)

1 sweet white onion, chopped

1 heirloom tomato

4 oz crumbled feta cheese

Fresh mint (enough sprigs to provide 30+ leaves)

12-15 pimiento olives, sliced

2 tbsp butter

 

Directions:

Heat the butter in a non-stick skillet until melted.  Add the flat bread, heating in butter for about a minute on each side

Remove flat bread and spread 1-2 tablespoons of aioli over the top

Add a mixture of lamb slices, onion, tomato, feta, olives and mint over the top

 

**Makes 6 gyros