The end of year is often a great time to take stock of what we have learned and how we have grown and changed. This year has been a big one for The Balanced Kitchen and I am so grateful to all of you for joining me on this journey to make cooking simple and delicious! In an effort to inspire you to get 2017 off to a delicious and happy start, I wanted to share with you the most popular posts and recipes this year. Enjoy and Happy New Year! Here’s to a joyful, delicious, and healthy 2017!…
While I am not a huge risk taker, I do love it when something pushes me outside of my comfort zone just a little bit. As my family and close friends will attest to, I love adrenaline rushes, as long as they don’t involve flying over water (I am cool with heights, but am terrified of drowning, go figure). So when this month’s The Recipe Redux challenge showed up I was psyched because it felt like a fun risk to take.
The challenge was to grab the closest cookbook and use a recipe from any page in the book that included the digits in 2016 as inspiration for a new recipe.
Why is this a risk? Because the cookbook that was closest at hand was a true favorite because the recipes are as close to perfect as I think you can get and because it already offers lots of variations, so coming up with a new version would be a challenge. Also because it is a cookbook by a chef, Rick Bayless, who loves to use spicy peppers, which was going to be tough on my kids and husband, none of who are big fans of spicy foods. But I was up to the challenge!
The recipe I landed on was his Seared Zucchini with Roasted Tomato, Chipotle and Chorizo (Tinga de Calabacitas). I decided I was going to focus on two areas of change, simplifying the recipe and making it seasonal. In order to simplify the recipe I removed two steps: rehydrating chipotle peppers and roasting tomatoes, especially since it isn’t tomato season. Instead I used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, which are canned, and canned fire roasted tomatoes. In addition, instead of zucchini I wanted to use a seasonal vegetable and ended up settling on potatoes. And that is when it hit me! I could change this sort of stew recipe into a gratin recipe instead! It would be simple, packed with flavor, and very flexible—all qualities I strive for in my recipes. Oh, and one last added bonus: the leftovers are to die for so it makes a great lunch the next day!…
Each week as I am deciding on our meal plan for the coming week I ask for input from my family. This is a technique I have used for years not only so that I don’t have come up with every single idea, but also because I have found that if everyone knows that one of their favorites is coming in the next few days, I get more buy-in for trying new or different recipes. For my boys the requests are always the same: spaghetti and meatballs, Grappa’s macaroni and cheese, taco/burrito night, hot dogs, and baked chimichangas. Similarly, my husband has a couple of go-tos that he likes to request and one of them is Moroccan chicken….
It’s that time again! Time for another Recipe Redux challenge recipe. And this time I get to share one of our go-to comfort food meals with you! The challenge this month was:
Packed with protein, fiber and color, plant power bowls are trendy and delicious. Show us the healthy recipe that’s in your bowl.
When I read this prompt I immediately knew what I was going to share with you! This is a family favorite that I developed as a quick and simple dish that is inspired by one of my all-time favorite Brazilian meals: feijoada.
For those of you who don’t know, feijoada is the national dish of Brazil. It is a black bean based stew that is filled with many, many different cuts of pork. It was developed by the slaves when all they had to work with was black beans and leftover pork. If you ever have a chance to have a real feijoada (and you eat meat), definitely do it! But the real deal is very labor intensive and requires a long, long time to cook. One day it occurred to me, though, that what I love about the dish more than the stew was the salty and sweet flavor explosion that is added through the use of toppings and that was something I could recreate very quickly and easily, so I did!…
This week I have something new to share with you! I was recently accepted into a really special community of food bloggers called Recipe Redux. Each month we are assigned a theme or challenge around which we have to create a new recipe. I am so excited to be a part of this community and also to have this new source of inspiration for developing delicious, healthy, easy recipes to share with you! So this month the theme was:
Stir up some of your earliest culinary recollections. Did you stand at your grandmother’s elbow to learn to cook? Or did you learn by stumbling through a cookbook by yourself? Share a healthy recipe and the accompanying story about one of your first cooking memories.
For me, it is all about my mom. I have so many warm and wonderful memories of her cooking, about how she always welcomed us into the kitchen to cook with her (which, of course, I largely rejected). I remember her ability to make any meal feel special, her enthusiasm for trying new things, and her passion for cooking from scratch. My mom also really wanted us to be good cooks and when I was in high school she announced one day that from that moment on my brother and I were each going to be responsible for dinner one night a week. We had to plan it and cook it. I was horrified!! But I started poking around in cookbooks and making dinners, some of which were absolutely inedible! One of the first dishes that I truly enjoyed making was eggrolls. I loved the ritual of it: the creation of a filling, the rolling them just right, the frying, and then the hot crispy pockets that you got to enjoy.
But, of course, they were deep fried, so as I got more and more wrapped up in teen body image issues I rejected them and forgot about how much I loved to make them… until this challenge!…
Over the past few days I have been having a lot of conversations with people about how overwhelmed they are feeling. I have come to think that for many of us September is a month of unexpected overwhelm. Here’s my best guess as to why September can be so brutal: for many of us September is a time of transition—a new school year, work commitments start up after summertime lulls, and other communities we are involved with start to kick into high gear with fall activities—and then there are all those pesky things that need to be taken care off that we put off over the summer, or maybe that is just me. So suddenly we find ourselves trying to get into new routines, take care of long lists of things that really should have been done months ago, and snap out of the slower pace of summer. It can be rough and oftentimes something has got to give… and for a lot of people that something is cooking.
But what if you don’t want cooking to be the thing that drops? What if you are working to get into a good routine with cooking so that you can eat healthier, save money, expose your kids to foods other than grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese, etc? Then it is time to do the bare minimum.
Many of you know that one of my main goals is to help people to realize how accessible and simple cooking can truly be. I firmly believe that even in the busiest of times, cooking is possible and worthwhile. So how to you keep cooking as a regular part of your routine when things are so crazy?…
I don’t know about you, but getting meals on the table during the summer can be a bit of a challenge. I always think that the summer is going to be slower and more relaxed, and in some ways it is, but then suddenly, because of that relaxation and lack of routine, it is 6pm, I’ve got starving kids, and I haven’t even started thinking about dinner yet! Panic!
That is where quick and easy dinners save the day and I have been depending a lot on quick pastas, egg dishes, and rice bowls of various sorts. These are all great, but we all need something new from time to time… or at least I do.
Enter the baked chimichanga. Now, I know that this is not even close to a traditional chimichanga, especially since they aren’t deep fried, but to be totally honest, calling them chimichangas was quite a selling point with my kids. They thought it was fun to say and if it is fun to say, then maybe it is fun to eat, and then suddenly I have two boys who are in love with a new dish to the point where one declares that he loves chimichangas more than hot dogs (true story!). So maybe I could call them baked-delicious-pockets-of-goodness, but it just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue in the same way….
A month or so ago I did a cooking demonstration and workshop where I talked about easy ways to integrate healthier alternatives into your daily diet. One of my props for that workshop was a jar of store-bought marinara sauce. Now, as many of you know, I usually make my tomato sauce from scratch, but I had this sauce sitting in my pantry and wasn’t about to let food go to waste, so the other night I decided to put it to use for dinner. To be totally honest, I was actually a little nervous about using the sauce. What if everyone liked it better than my regular sauces? What if it really saved a huge amount of time?
My fears of everyone liking it better than my regular sauce were quickly assuaged when I took my first taste as it had a very strong metallic taste. So with that little bit of relief in the back of my mind I set out to try to doctor the sauce so that it would taste better. In the end, it wasn’t my regular sauce and it really didn’t save me much time compared to my skillet sauce, but I was pretty happy with the outcome.
So you may be asking yourself, “why is she sharing this information with us when she is a proponent of home cooking?” Here’s why: because home cooking starts at all different places for different people. For some of us, cooking is a fun and creative outlet but for others it is stressful and kind of a huge unknown and doing something like doctoring a jar of sauce can be a great way to build up some confidence in the kitchen. Also because while there may be days when we have lots of time and energy for cooking, there are other days when we just don’t, but by doing little things we can make the processed foods we fall back on healthier and tastier! And, finally, because there should be no shame in jarred sauce or any food!…
We all know the benefits of family dinners— less picky eating, lower risk of obesity and eating disorders, higher academic achievement, lower risk of teen pregnancy and substance abuse, the list goes on and on. And we all have that idyllic idea of what it should look like—perfect table manners, no tension, everyone together, beautifully prepared meals.
The reality, though, can be very different. People can feel frantic, tired, and stressed. Family members can arrive late. Someone refuses to eat the meal in front of him or her. The presentation of the meal is haphazard. Or family dinners just aren’t even happening.
The truth is that family dinners can be a challenge, but they are a challenge worth having.
From my own childhood I have memories of long family dinners with wonderful food and tons of laughter from a seemingly endless stream of puns (yes, I come from a very verbal family), but I also have memories of tears, slamming doors, and meals I found unappetizing. The truth is, that is what family dinners are. They are a chance for us to be our best selves and our worst selves. It is an opportunity for everyone in the family to be themselves as they are in that moment, and to still be loved at the end of it.
A lot of my clients feel really guilty about what their family dinners looks like. People stressed, less-than-perfect food on the table, or not everyone eating together. And what I tell them, and myself, is that it is ok. We are doing the best we can and making due with what we’ve got.
So in an effort to help to take some of the angst out of the concept of family dinner I thought I would share what our family dinners look like at this stage in our family life….
Warning: This story contains injury, floods, smoke detectors, yelling and tears. And no pizza.
Last week was a rough one at our house. My husband had major deadlines that resulted in his working late every night, including one almost-all-nighter (he got 2 hours of sleep, can we just call that an all-nighter at our age?), and I was swamped with work and picking up the slack at home. So by Wednesday night I announced that on Friday evening we were going to order pizza. This was a bold statement for me as we almost never order delivery, but I was really reaching my limit and needed to have that light at the end of the tunnel. To be honest, I felt good about the decision. I was looking forward to that pizza. It was a motivator.
But then Friday came and I remembered that the boys were having pizza day at school and my guilt started to sneak in. Could I really legitimize feeding them pizza twice in one day just because I was tired? Pizza is one of those demonized foods and I am an advocate for home cooking, what was I thinking? Surely I could power through and make another home-cooked meal. So I tried to muster up a second wind. I took stock of what was in our freezer, fridge, and pantry and decided that I would make it easy on myself. We’d have a meal of appetizers. Some would be things I had stockpiled in the freezer and some I would make from scratch. In all, it would only take, I estimated, about 45 minutes, most of that just cooking time. I felt virtuous.
So I started cooking. I decided that since I was making mostly stuff straight out of the freezer, that I was going to try out a new recipe for the additional dish. It was labor intensive, but I figured I could make it work. I put the ingredients on to boil and started pre-heating the oven to a high heat and that’s when the trouble started. …