Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Whole Foods" Cherry Granola


Granola is one of those delicious treats that is quick and easy to make at home.  I started off making this Almond Coconut Granola but have been seriously inspired by Dana of Minimalist Baker and I'm hooked on her Banana Bread Granola.  In fact, my overripe bananas may never see actual banana bread again, banana bread granola is so good.  (Her Almond Joy Granola is bonkers too!)

However, this post is about a sweet and "naughty" kind of granola.  The kind with extra ingredients for preservation (like it ever lasts that long!).  We impulse bought some of Cherry Granola from Whole Foods and I can't seem to stop myself from scooping up more each time I walk passed!  But enough is enough, I needed to figure out how to make this myself.  Not only is buying granola more expensive, those preservatives were killing me.

So I made my own "Whole Foods" Cherry Granola.  It is sweet.  It is a treat.  A spot of brown sugar, maple syrup and a drizzle of honey, I wouldn't call this one healthy but it still feels right :) 







After a quick 20+ minutes in the oven this granola becomes even more delicious and photogenic...





"Whole Foods" Cherry Granola

Ingredients:

1.5 c rolled oats
3/4 c slivered almonds
3/4 c whole almonds or other whole nuts
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp coconut oil
1/3 c maple syrup
A drizzle of honey
1/2 c dried cherries

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 325 F and prepare a baking sheet with a parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl combine the first five ingredients and mix evenly.  In a small saucepan heat the coconut oil and maple syrup until melted and pour over the dry ingredients.  Evenly spread your granola onto the parchment paper and drizzle with honey.  Bake for about 12 minutes, remove from the oven to stir and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes.  Sprinkle with dried cherries and use a spatula to very lightly stir them in or press them into the hot granola.  Let cool completely before stirring further in order to create big chunks of granola (or stir right away if you prefer smaller bits!).

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.  I like to eat my granola in plain greek yogurt and berries or on its own as a sweet treat!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Thoughts on Turning 30...


Wow, guys...I'm 30!  I can't help but reflect on the past decade.  This is the first decade that really matters in life.  The first decade that you're a real person, in the real world, making your own decisions and then seeing how it works out.  (Sorry, teenage years, but let's face it, you kind of suck.)

Like most in their 20's, I did my best to figure out who I am and what to do with my life.  I made a lot of changes and tried a lot of different things.  I went to two colleges, lived in three cities - moving for a total of 17 times since I was 18 years old - I've worked at 3 different firms and survived a handful of relationships, from bad ones to finding the Absolute Love of My Life.

With all of the craziness, and sometimes messiness, that had been my life in early 20's, now, at 30 years old,  I can comfortably look back and say that I don't have any regrets.  Thirty, and no regrets, is pretty amazing.  Not every decision was a good decision but those decisions that were in the not-so-good category were never permanent and I knew that going into them (very important!).

I am 30 and I have built a life that I am proud.  I feel accomplished!  Of course, I have to give a ton of credit to finding the most perfect-for-me person to marry.  Let me get all cliché and declare that he is undoubtedly my better half and brings out the best in me and I'm so, so thankful.

But I don't want to discount that I created this life for myself.  I didn't stumble upon the person that I am.  Somehow I developed some decision making skills that helped me get here and I think they might be worth sharing.  In reflecting on this past decade, I came up with a short list of valuable lessons that I've learned along the way.  Some of you might think my ideas sound perhaps a little cold, but I like to chalk my outlook up to pragmatism and self-preservation.  Any youngsters out there who are interested in how I got to 30 without regrets, please do read on...

*If you're not interested in advice, I included a short preview of my 30th birthday celebrations at the end of the post, it was perfectly relaxing and food focused ;)

Lesson #1:  Be Confident in Your Decisions (and Embrace Change!)

As I said, your 20's is when your decisions are strictly your own so make a lot of them and get some good practice.  I've talked to a lot of people about decisions before I've made them but I always end up following my own intuition.  To break this down, I knew what I wanted to do - for example, I wanted to move to NYC despite having a great set up in Chicago - so I considered the best and worst case scenario of packing up and moving.  As long as I'm okay with the worst case scenario, I went for it and hoped for the best.  Change is scary but if you look at what worse case is, identify what you're really afraid of, it is easy to see that it isn't that scary.

People are pretty frivolous with their "you'll regret it if you do/don't do x".  Don't listen to them.  Make sure you aren't jobless, homeless, reliant on anyone else but yourself, hurt, broke, rushed marriage/having a kid, you'll be fine.  Make sure you focus on what you want - now and long term - and try not to get sidetracked.  I didn't know that I wanted to live in NYC forever, but I knew that I wanted to live there right then.  So I moved to New York.  And then I moved back to Michigan.

Lesson #2:  Spend Your Time on People Wisely

It took me nearly my entire 20's to figure this out but it is really not worth spending your time on people that aren't worth your time.  Defining "worth it" is up to you, but be selective.  Consider any of your relationships - friends, family, boyfriend/girlfriend, coworker, boss, ANYONE.  I know it sounds harsh but if someone is exhausting/stressing/hurting you and you take them out of your equation (or reduce your time on them at the very least), you'll never say to yourself, I wish I would have kept that person in my life that didn't make me feel good.  Look at it this way, you only have so much time and energy and it isn't fair to you or those that are in your life that are worth it, if you're spending that time on someone who is draining you.  Wouldn't you rather give more to those that deserve it?

Also people don't change.  I'm sure there are exceptions out there, but if you don't count on it you'll save yourself some time and heartache.

Lesson #3:  Take Care of Your Body

Take care of yourself with more lifestyle changes rather than cleanses/diets.  It is never too late to improve yourself.  Making healthy choices are so second nature to me now, but I haven't always been like this, it has taken years and years of practice.  I stand by my advice that people don't change but let me tack on that people don't change unless that person wants to make a change.  So if you want to be healthier or feel better, something isn't right, you have harmful habits, just figure out what you want to do, then make a plan of what you need to do.  You can only complain about something for so long until you must make a change or you become that exhausting person I mentioned in Lesson #2.  Procrastination never feels good.  If you keep falling off the wagon, figure out why.  If you had an awesome, feel good day, ask yourself why and so you know what to do in order to do it again.  If you're struggling to reach your health goals, step back and ask yourself why, for example, you aren't drinking enough water or eating enough vegetables, or why you don't make it to the gym (maybe you need direction/structure so bite the bullet and buy a package of classes or cheaper yet, find a workout buddy to hold you accountable).  Get a water bottle, check in with your water intake at certain times during the day.  If you don't like vegetables, don't give up.  Buy a vegetable that is easy, like carrots, and experiment with ways to enjoy them.  Shredding them over a salad, dipping in hummus, toss with olive oil/salt/pepper and roast in the oven, try my Cast Iron Carrots with Curry...my point is, if you if it is good for you, it is worth trying to figure out a way to enjoy it.  I promise if you don't give up, you'll come around to enjoying treating yourself well.

You all know you should wear sunscreen but don't forget your neck, décolletage and hands ;)  Thanks to Elle and Mama Joy for teaching me those lessons about 5 years ago!

Lesson #4:  Take Care of Your Mind

This goes hand and hand with taking care of my body for me.  If I'm not physically feeling good, my mood suffers.  One major self-realization that I made in the last decade is that I'm somewhat introverted.  When I was younger, I wanted to be the social butterfly, but it took me stepping back and accepting who I was to realize I couldn't keep up with a social butterfly and be truly successful and happy.  Managing plans with people has to be a balance for me.  It's not worth feeling guilty for saying "no" when I really want to go home, cook a healthy dinner, curl up with a book, get a full 8 hours of sleep and then feel awesome enough to go for a run first thing in the morning.

I also realize now that I was a pretty anxious teenager/child and was at risk of becoming an anxious adult.  However, since I realized this about myself, I now resort to dissecting a situation that is troubling me, instead of giving in to overthinking a situation that is troubling me.  This has hugely helped me to cope with normal (and sometimes not normal) life stressors.  If something is stressing me out, I revert to Lesson #1.  If someone is stressing me out, I try to put myself in their shoes, assume they aren't trying to hurt my feelings on purpose, maybe something else is going on with them, maybe they are stressed.  Essentially give them the benefit of the doubt and don't blame them for making me feel a certain way.  No one can make me feel a certain way, only I can make that choice.  I choose not to let them bring me down.  It is too exhausting.  Letting go of what I might have thought was stressful and starting over with a fresh outlook with a person has been awesome.  If it happens again and again, I revert back to Lesson #2.  Sometimes it is you.  Sometimes it is them.  Proactively step back and figure it out to save yourself some time.

Lesson #5:  Travel Whenever You Can

I think traveling helps you with Lesson #1 and Lesson #4.  Life will likely get more complicated as you get older, assuming your responsibilities grow over time, and so I fully encourage you to take any excuse you can to travel.  It makes settling down feel awesome too because you know more about yourself if you step out of your comfort zone (home) and experienced something that you can't experience without going somewhere new.  Of course it helps that I married someone who also values travel so we've continued to prioritize traveling as a couple but quite frankly I can't imagine spending my life with someone who didn't think traveling was important.  The obvious hold up on travel is that it is expensive but it doesn't have to be, you just have to get creative and proactive.  You just have to do it.  Your friend is having a bachelorette party in Charleston?  Guess what, you get to split the hotel room six ways so you go.  Another friend is working in Germany and wants to meet up in Vienna?  Find a cheap Air BnB to share and you go.  You and husband don't have plans for the year?  Find somewhere to go!

As far as not having time to go somewhere, sounds like Lesson #3 and Lesson #4 might be worth reassessing...anything is possible, you just have to adjust your priorities.  If you don't want to adjust, maybe it's not so important, and that's okay too.  With that, I have to caveat this lesson with, if you like to travel, travel whenever you can.  Some people don't like to travel and while I won't understand it, I can respect it.

Lesson #6:  Don't Ignore Your Finances

While this one is important enough to include I don't really want to get into details because everyone's situation is different.  But it must be said, don't ignore your finances!!!  Save or at least have a plan to save.  Know the interest rate on your debts.  Set up a budget and stick to it.  Keep track of where your money goes (hello Excel and Mint!) Don't live beyond your means - this one is hard sometimes and I've definitely been guilty of this in the past but that's why it is a life lesson learned!  By at least not ignoring your finances, you take ownership and hopefully you can set yourself up for success going forward.

Hopefully my apparent "seize the day" approach on so-called growing up is somewhat helpful, inspirational or, if nothing else, amusing to you - thanks for reading!

If you have it in you, continue reading below to preview my food-centric 30th birthday celebration...

--------------------------

For my 30th birthday we decided to celebrate with a lot of food and relaxation since I was just 2 days away from 40 weeks pregnant.  Drinks and dancing were not in the cards ;)  We started off the morning at Zingerman's Roadhouse for breakfast.  Then watched Bridge of Spies and lounged and then eventually made it out to Aventura for a birthday dinner!  We skipped dessert at the restaurant for some Talenti vanilla ice cream with peanuts at home.  It was all exactly what I wanted for my birthday <3

{Zingerman's Roadhouse Grits & Eggs}

{A light lunch at home with homemade pesto, tomato, avocado and leftover bacon from breakfast}

{Aventura:  Tomates Asados, herb roasted tomatoes, fried capers, boquarone, lemon aioli}

{Aventura:  Croqueta De Pollo, potato, roasted chicken, thyme, honey aioli}

{Aventura:  Goat cheese with lemon jam and baguette}

{Aventura:  Bolones Espanol, pork and beef ragout, pappardelle, shaved manchego, basil, espelette pepper}

{Aventura:  Pescado Blanco Tostado, pan roasted white fish, yukon potato puree, caper butter, berbed bread crumbs}

{Two days shy of 40 weeks pregnant, puffy, happy and ready for bed!}



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Moroccan Style Chicken with Spinach over Couscous


Our local fishery posts some pretty delicious looking recipes on their website and this one had me hooked one day.  While my husband is allergic to shellfish, I wasn't going to let that stop me!  Chicken is a valid substitute for any protein, amirite??

Beautiful readers of lemon butter love, let me present to you my Moroccan Style Chicken with Spinach over Couscous ---


A mix of Mediterranean and Andalusian, this dish is full of subtle flavors and just the right amount of vegetables - spinach, red bell pepper, scallions - and one of my favorites, cilantro!  Plus a zing of orange juice and orange zest.  Citrus in dinner is always a game changer for me.  Give.  Me.  More.

The buttery couscous gives this meal a little more substance since the main dish is rather light.  Here's the thing, this recipe is technically for four, but Andy and I definitely polished this off in one sitting guilt-free.  You can't go wrong with chicken and vegetables!


A little side story if you're interested.  You probably know I'm obsessed with cats.  And it is kind of gross to think about a cat in the kitchen but that's why we try not to think about it... whatever.  He is always interested in greens and so we play a game where I'll hang stems off of the counter (whether it is kale stems or in this case, cilantro stems) and he loves it, batting at them until they fall on the floor then he'll look up and wait for the next stem to knock off the counter.  He's just the best.

Anyway, the hopefully inspiring and useful part of this story is that whenever I get a bunch of cilantro or parsley, I always wash and spin the whole bunch even though any recipes calls for like a teaspoon or two.  Then I tuck in for the long haul and use scissors to harvest the leaf from the stem so it is ready to go and doesn't go to waste.  This is kind of time consuming but worth it for me and I recommend it.  If you leave the herb in its bunch, one part will get slimy and then it'll quickly spread and your fresh herbs are ruined.  I found that prepping it all from the get go ensures that I find a way to use it all up.

Coming soon to lemon butter love, Cilantro, Basil and Spinach 'Pesto'...you can really make a delicious pesto with any greens and herbs, it is fabulous!



You all know how much I love a photo of raw chicken (not), but I want to point out that the chicken should be cut up in pretty small pieces so it cooks quickly and evenly...





Kitchen Hack:  Use a meat mallet on seeds in a baggy to grind spices.

After toasting the coriander seeds and cumin seeds with the pine nuts, I was looking for a good way to grind these spices without a spice grinder and without a mortar and pestle.   My kitchen hack worked so well!!!  Hooray!











Moroccan Style Chicken with Spinach over Couscous

Ingredients:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped into smaller than bite sized pieces
1/3 c olive oil
2 cloves fresh minced garlic
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
6 scallions, sliced
1/2 c cilantro leaves
1 tsp orange zest, minced
Juice from 1/2 to 1 whole orange
2-3 c baby spinach
2 tsp ground coriander seeds, toasted
2 tsp ground cumin seeds, toasted
3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp chili powder
salt & pepper to tast
1 c dry couscous

Directions:

You'll want to make sure all of your raw ingredients are prepared before you begin to cook since everything happens really fast once you start.

To prepare your coriander and cumin seeds and pine nuts, in a medium skillet over medium to high heat, add your pine nuts and toss them until they start to brown.  Add your coriander seeds and cumin seeds to the same pan and toss them for a few minutes.  Set aside to cool for a few minutes and you're ready to grind them.

In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil over medium high.  Once oil is hot, add chicken using tongs to gently stir every few minutes so all sides are cooked.  This should take about 5-8 minutes.  When the chicken is nearly fully cooked, add garlic, red bell pepper, scallions and your spices (fresh ground and otherwise).  Stir for about 2-3 minutes until scallions and red bell pepper starts to soften.  Add orange juice, orange zest and cilantro, stir and cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Add spinach and stir until wilted.  Remove from heat.

Prepare your couscous as directed.  Once the water boils, couscous is ready almost instantly so I don't recommend doing this ahead of time.

Serve the Moroccan Style Spinach over Couscous.  Serves 2-4 people ;)





Saturday, March 5, 2016

Chocolate Cinnamon Coffee Cake


Isn't it wonderful when recipes go right?

I'm a little bit of a recipe hoarder.  I have a drawer with printed out and cut out recipes that I've always wanted to try and I finally got around to sorting my stash when I found this recipe for coffee cake.  I made a few minor changes - a little more Greek yogurt, swapped in pecans and semi-sweet chocolate chips.  The batter was thick and I was suspicious that the coffee cake would turn out edible (also, where is the brown sugar?) but as you can see by this post - it did!

This cake is lighter than normal coffee cake and moist from the generous amount of Greek yogurt.  It isn't too sweet and has a nice crunch...all the things I'm looking for in a coffee cake.

This cake is great in the morning with coffee or in the afternoon with a glass of cold milk :)


  
Chocolate Cinnamon Coffee Cake
*Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

Cake Ingredients:

1/2 c butter, softened (plus more for buttering pan)
3/4 c white sugar
2 c flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/4 c plain Greek yogurt

Topping Ingredients:

1/2 c chopped pecans (or your favorite nuts!)
1/2 c chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 c white sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F and butter 8" square baking pan, set aside.

Prepare and set your topping ingredients aside.  Feel free to chop the nuts and chocolate together.  Keep the sugar separate, it settles to the bottom of the bowl too easily if you mix it all together.

Whisk flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.

In an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter and 3/4 c sugar together for about 2 minutes, stopping at least once to scrape down sides.  Beat in vanilla and eggs, again, scraping down sides as needed.  With mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of dry ingredients, 1/2 of yogurt, then 1/3 of dry ingredients, 1/2 yogurt and final 1/3 of dry ingredients (stopping the mixer before each addition, of course!).

Pour half of the batter into prepared pan and use the back of a spoon to spread it around evenly.  Sprinkle with half of your topping ingredients then pour the rest of the batter into the pan.  The batter is thick and doesn't spread on its own so you'll have to delicately use the back of a spoon to spread it over the toppings without mixing the toppings in, to maintain the layer of nuts and chocolate.  Sprinkle the rest of the toppings over your batter and bake for about 45 minutes.

Transfer pan to a wire rack to let the cake cool in the pan before turning it out.

This cake can be made ahead of time and stays delicious in an airtight container for at least 4 days (that's as long as it lasted at our house!).