Cooking in the Heat of the Summer

Goodness me, cooking used to be something I loved but have fallen somewhat off the band wagon.  I think it’s much more enjoyable when you can make a recipe together or at least share it with other people.  Since most nights I’m cooking for one, it doesn’t always have the same effect (always, key word).  Most days I’m perfectly content with my grilled vegetables, sweet potato and eggs affair.  Well, I’m trying to get back in my groove and of course starting to cooking the heat of the summer.
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^^ don’t those colors just scream summer?
  • Yes, good plan – to start cooking again when we should be suffering through the hottest temperatures all year?  Well, why now?  Because summer produce, that’s why.  Maybe global warming has hit the east coast or we haven’t been graced with the August humidity just yet, or it just hasn’t been that bad of a summer so far.  What I think is more accurate is that I spend my time inside an air-conditioned office building, so my view of nature has been distorted.  But, between committing to and from work, my November Project workouts, and weekend jaunts, it’s been pretty nice.
But really, back to summer produce.
~ basil, blueberries, broccoli, CHERRIES, corn, cucumbers, EGGPLANT, green beans, PEACHES, plums, raspberries, summer squash (squash all day every day please), tomatoes, and watermelon ~
  • Doesn’t that all sound divine?  If you are really into summer produce, you could sign up for a CSA program in the city where you sign up for 6 or so months and receive a weekly shipment of fruits and vegetables.  You have no clue what may be in those boxes, but it’s neat to know that you essentially have access to the best quality and freshest produce from local farmers.  Most of these farmers also set up shop at our local farmer’s markets, my favorite being around Union Square.  I honestly could wander those all morning, thinking of new and exciting recipes to make.
  • So what recipes have I been obsessed with lately?  It’s all about the heat.  No really, because I don’t get enough of it outside, I’ve been supplementing by adding flavor into my weekly dishes.  From peppers to wasabi, I along with many fellow humans have a bit of a strange relationship with such hot and spicy products.
  • I think the Wall Street Journal summed it up perfectly in why we are attracted to spicy foods.  We go day to day with the same schedule, sometimes dreaming about the days we can set off and explore the world, but for now are plugging along in our corporate (or tech startup) worlds.  Eating spicy things, especially hot chili peppers enables to test out danger without too much risk and activate that adrenaline rush, while receiving those feelings of pleasure and pain.
  • Take me and wasabi for example. I like to dab it on my sushi rolls and more often than not, dab a bit too much on.  Once I shove one slice in my mouth and it’s like a fire alarm went off.  This usually results in me swallowing as quickly as possibly, holding back tears, and throwing back the nearest beverage.  But, instead of learning my lesson, I repeat the process.  It’s like a strange addiction, the heat satisfying some craving, clearing my senses, a rapid heat flowing throughout my body creating a fight or flight moment.
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^^ another example of heat with the momofuku chilled spicy noodles – sichuan sausage, spinach, cashews
  • Are you sold yet?  How about the countless health benefits spices offer or the fact that eating hot and spicy foods can help spur your metabolism or weight loss/maintenance?   From cayenne to black pepper, turmeric, dried red chili pepper flakes, and even cinnamon for those with a sweet tooth.
– antioxidants
– anti-inflammatory
– weight loss
– appetite management
Knowing all of this, what are some of the best pepper recipes for the summer (or really year round)?
Viva la Pepper! 
IMG_6288^^ hundred acre’s brunch take with poached eggscannellini bean & fall squash succotash,braised mustard greens, topped with pepper
 Hopefully I’ve inspired some to jump back into the kitchen, despite rising temps this month 🙂
A good spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavour and fear.” – Adam Richman
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Some Perks of Work

We may not have endless massages or gourmet food on every corner, but I like to think my job has its perks.  There’s the occasional yoga, kickboxing, and pilates class.  We happen to work right outside Central Park (who could argue with this view?).  Oh, and there are tons of lunch and learns and other activities put on through our parent company, which means learning yes, but free food = better.  With the amount of money from my paycheck that goes to my rent, I live for the free, and often gourmet, lunches.

Williams Sonoma Kitchen - Test

One of my recent favorites was a end of summer grilling tutorial at Williams-Sonoma.  I still stand by the fact that summer is not over until September 28th! So, let the grilling and fruit festivities continue in full force.

When we first arrived, we were greeted with a small cup of mint-limeade granita and a slice of festive flatbread (w/ burrata & figs)

Fig Flatbread

Next up was a tutorial on how to de-backbone a chicken and use a cooking stone.  One could use a stone or brick (cleaned and covered in foil of course) or even the backside of a cast iron skillet.

Williams Sonoma CookHere we have our head chef teaching us how to take the backbone out of the chicken.  Looks fun, right?

While we were listening and learning, we were handed plates of pre-prepared chicken and roasted vegetables to munch on.  Then, a meal would not be complete without some dessert.

Williams Sonoma FoodOn the right was a mighty fine piece of lavender pound cake, topped with berries and vanilla ice cream.  I love how she brushed the cake with some olive oil and threw it on the grew for extra crunch (and flare).

After leaving with a full belly (and ever so ready for a nap…too bad we don’t have napping cubes like Google) I was inspired to check out other cooking classes offered in the city, especially if it comes with a meal as tasty as this 🙂

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients” – Julia Child

What I’ve Been Eating This Summer

Goodness gracious.  It’s been ages since I shared some good ‘ol WIAW eats and I thought it would be fun to share some worthy summertime goodies of late.  Bon appetit!

BREAKFAST

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Most days I have been creating my own sort of parfait with frozen blueberries + frozen peaches + oat bran/granola + fage yogurt

IMG_5229Stuffed French Toast

IMG_5337Ess-A-Bagel
~ whole-wheat everything w/ blueberry schmear + iced coffee ~

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iced coffee for the win

LUNCH

Most of my lunches are quite forgettable.  No really, either “eh” or just pictureless.  Salads from our cafeteria, trips to Dig Inn, sometimes a splurge at Whole Foods, or just leftover snacks from my fridge.

DINNER

Balance between the usual salmon + grilled veggies and oodles of kale + omelet at home and cooking up a storm with friends

IMG_5319summer produce cooking w/ some new friends

~ watermelon + feta + argula salad ~
~ spinach + blue cheese + pecans + dried cranberries salad ~
~ grape tomatoes + sautéed peaches + corn + squash ~
~ string beans + caramelized onions ~

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Nectarine Pizza w/ Basil and Mozzarella
Recipe inspired from here

Ingredients
1 bag Trader Joe’s pizza dough
1 large nectarine
buffalo mozzarella
handful fresh basil leaves
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar (we used reduced-fig flavor for extra fruity punch)

Directions
Preheat oven to 425F
Let dough sit at room temp ~ 20 minutes
Roll out and set on an oiled baking sheet (flip once so both sides are rubbed with EVOO)
Slice mozzarella and layer on top of dough
Alternate nectarines + basil
Pop in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the bottom of the crust starts to brown and the cheese has melted.
Dig in

 DESSERT

IMG_5318it’s cherry season folks…good ‘ol fashion pitting party

IMG_5298the finished product = gluten-free cherry cobbler

IMG_5188blueberry pie + ice cream

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What have you been enjoying during these summer months?

Lent, Eats, and a NYC Anniversary

Well, well, well.  Not only am I back for this week’s WIAW party at Peas & Crayons, but it marks my 6th month anniversary in the concrete jungle!

  • Manhattan is not just Manhattan.  In fact, there are tons of little neighborhoods that people refer to all the time.  Yeah, I definitely was not an expert at this when I was looking for housing.
  • Don’t expect to leave the house and not spend at least $20.  I’m lucky during the week because I pack most of my meals, stay in the office, and my gym membership is paid off at the beginning of the month.  Weekends are an entirely different and often scary story.
  • More than half of your paycheck will go to rent.  That is unless you work in finance.  Then your work hours suck so I guess it’s worth it.
  • The people who operate the subway are not always happy people.  You can hear their lovely voices screaming for you to “stand clear of the closing doors”.  But, I understand why they get annoyed when citizens feel the needs to thrust themselves into the already packed car, making it look like a can of sardines.
  • The winter isn’t that cold if you have the right gear – I’m talking one of those Metropolis North Face coats and Uggs or Sorels.  Sure we’ve had some snow storms and sub-zero days but hey, spring is on its way.  Maybe because I spend most of my time in a warm office building or run on the warm side, but I haven’t been affected (knock on wood).
  • Stay out of Times Square and Macy’s if you don’t want to be trampled by tourists.
  • Definitely try the bagels and pizza.  I’m not an expert on bread products, that is my sister’s area of expertise, but New Yorkers do know how to make their bagels and pizza dough.  I think it has something to do with the water used, but whatever it may be, keep it going.
  • Even though there is quite the hustle and bustle, there is a great deal of chivalry still alive.  It’s rare that a man does not hold open the door for women, which is something I thought long gone.
  • You can buy your groceries pretty much anywhere but make sure you have cash on hand.  Those ATM fees are not fun.
  • There are so many hidden gems in the city – from food to fashion to plain ‘ol people watching.  You just need to get out of your apartment, stop looking down at your phone and take a look around.

So, as you may have read, the last six months have been quite a journey.  From finding roommates, housing, an internship, and landing a job, I’d say that’s only a part of the success I’ve had as my first big steps into the adult world.

As for work, now that we are approaching March Madness, the load has picked up significantly.  I have never had so many e-mails come in, be flagged, and left outstanding at the end of the day, which is sometimes late.  All in all it’s been a great experience so far – very taxing at times but helpful to learn and grow.  I also love working in such a close knit group.  My colleagues are definitely part of the reason I love my job.

I now understand what it means to be so stressed you don’t feel like eating or plumb forget to eat. Below is a look a my more recent food choices, most of which occur at the office.

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Breakfast – Yogurt, granola, and berries

Lunch – Leftover eggplant lasagna with arugula

Snack – seemingly gross but actually delicious green juice from the overpriced Whole Foods

Dinner – eggplant lasagna with salmon and arugula (I’m not usually a fan of leftovers but Sunday’s cooking extravaganza lasted me quite a few meals)

Dessert – my new favorite coconut milk mint chip ice cream with whipped cream and strawberries

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Today also happens to be Ash Wednesday.  For the past four years I’ve been able to attend Ash Wednesday service at the Santa Clara mission, but obviously that’s bit difficult to achieve this year.  I also usually plan to give up some sort of food during the Lenten season, what my family jokes is the “Lenten Diet” as my sister and I have very little religious education.  When I thought about what I could abstain from, I realized I don’t eat that much junk food, have gotten smart about my desserts, and haven’t been drinking since I’m training for a half marathon.

I’d like to consider ways to stress-less and instead focus on the good things in life.  Maybe I’ll make a point to do one random act of kindness each day or just smile more.  Although, that could be creepy, so only the future will tell.

IMG_3187Have a fabulous Wednesday!

Fresh Pick – Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are often considered a fall produce, but with the access to most veggies year round, I will for sure continue to consume them in mass quantities.  Who knows, maybe by Christmas I’ll be orange.  It could me my backup to tanning, right?

It’s safe to say this is one of my favorite foods.  I don’t think it was until The Counter came out with sweet potato fries that I even knew such things existed.  I’ve expanded my repertoire to include baked sweet potato, fries, and soon this scalloped sweet potato recipe with Greek yogurt.

It’s completely possible to lighten up some of your favorite potato recipes by swapping in sweet potatoes.  These starchy orange root vegetables actually have many more health benefits than their white counterparts, and in my opinion, pack much more flavor. 

79450eaf305c824ae1ddab14842118dbCountless bloggers have shared their favorites and this is just one random one I picked off Google. Control appetite, curve sugar cravings, cancer-fighting, heart-healthy, and beauty-boosting (vitamin C & E).

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Taking a little bit of this research and recipe linkup from RealSimple:

How to Choose: Select small to medium sweet potatoes, which are sweet and creamy (Larger varieties are starchier).  Skin should be firm, smooth, and even-toned. The deeper color of the sweet potato, the richer it is in the antioxidant beta-carotene.  Picking smaller ones is helpful when cooking for 1 or 2 people, reduces the logistics of reducing recipe sizes, etc.

How to Store: Keep in a cool, dry place (pantry not fridge) for up to 2 weeks.  Any longer and the sugar content causes them to spoil (oops, made this mistake before)

Is it a Yam?: True yams are starchy, white-fleshed tubers common to tropical countries.  Honestly I’m not sure how to tell the difference but thankfully there are countless articles, even one by the Huffington Post.

COOKING UP AN ORANGE STORM

Sweet Potato Wedges w/ Rosemary (Opt – brown sugar): Toss sweet potato wedges with olive oil or coconut oil, salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary.  Roast at 400F for about 40 minutes, tossing once through. **Absolutely my favorite way to enjoy!

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Sweet Potato & Bacon Pasta: Saute peeled and diced sweet potatoes in olive oil with smashed garlic cloves until tender. Toss with cooked pasta (maybe zucchini pasta??), grated Parmesan, crumbled bacon, and chopped fresh chives.

Baked Sweet Potatoes w/ Chipotle Yogurt Sauce: Pierce whole sweet potatoes with a fork.  Bake at 400F until tender (45-50 minutes). Serve with a mixture of Greek yogurt and chipotle chili powder.  Top with chopped fresh cilantro.

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Sweet Potato Pancakes w/ Sage: Mix coarsely grated sweet potatoes with grated onion and chopped fresh sage; season with salt and pepper.  Cook as though you would pancakes (suggestion – pan-fry spoonfuls of mixture in EVOO or coconut oil) until crisp and cooked through.

Spiced Mashed Sweet Potatoes: Boil peeled and cut-up sweet potatoes until tender.  Mash with unsalted butter (or Greek yogurt) and honey.  Season with ground cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper.

19f1ca1aff9f312d153abe693f507109Because this showed up in my feed when I searched “sweet potato”.

What is your thought on sweet potato?  What are you favorite recipes to make with it?

The Power of a Weekend

The weekend really never seems long enough.  One minute it’s Friday afternoon and the next thing you know it’s pitch black on a Sunday night.  However, we are getting closer and closer to the official holiday season!  While I have been a supporter of Starbuck’s red cups and Christmas beverages, I really think that the day after Thanksgiving is the time to bring out all the bells and whistles.  The Christmas market at Union Square has already opened, so I’m super pumped to check that out when I return from Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure how much damage my credit card can handle at one time, so I might as well push it off as long as possible.

So, while we are just four days away, let’s get a recap of what’s marvelous in the world.

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Marvelous is … Spending your Friday night cooking up a storm.  I went over to Laura’s apartment where we proceeded to make homemade pesto, stuffed kale red peppers, AND homemade enchiladas.  All recipes I pulled randomly from my Pinterest boards.  How’s that for being productive and crafty?  The family dog Hercules could smell what was happening in the kitchen and was bound and determined to obtain some of that ground beef.  Sorry bud, don’t think that’s good for you.

IMG_1395Marvelous is … finding a new ice cream flavor.  This was also a part of my Friday night shenanigans and boy was it good.  What’s funny is we went out to get ice cream before meeting up with Laura’s friends at a local bar.  Usually ice cream comes post drinks, but really ice cream is good any time.

IMG_1400 Marvelous is … coming home to this sign.  My roommates knew I was going to be running on Sunday and made an adorable sign.  One of my roommates had also run cross country in high school, so she included the phrase her coach would always use.  Don’t worry Mother, I did not steal anything. 🙂

IMG_1414_FotorMarvelous is … proving a point.  Ok, maybe it was just a point to myself – the idea that I can handle the elements.  I tend to have a “I can do anything” mentality, which sometimes gets me into trouble.  I’ll have a better recap on Wednesday but basically Sunday’s forecast called for winds of 20-40mph and a temperature of around 9F.  13.1 miles later … you get the picture.

This week shouldn’t be too bad as I’ll be heading out for Thanksgiving on Wednesday afternoon.  It will be the first year I’m not with family but am stoked about going to see our family friends in Philly.  What’s strange (maybe a good thing) is that I’m not uber homesick. I was able to see my mom last week and call everyone pretty often.  I don’t really know what I would do without the daily calls to my mom, dad, and sister, and weekly calls to my girlfriends back in California, so that obviously helps a ton. I even got to facetime two of my best friends in SF last night, which was amazing.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill