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!…
I don’t know about you guys but my to do list is killing me these days! It just doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter no matter how many things I cross off. Sometimes I think that there is a little gremlin who sneaks out in the middle of the night to add tasks to the list(s). Stupid gremlin. I keep telling myself to just keep plugging away and it will all get done, somehow, and I know that is true, but there are definitely moments when it just feels like too much.
In the past few months I have read in a number of different places the analogy that self-care is like putting your own oxygen mask on first when a plane is going down—you can’t help anyone else until you are taken care of. As someone who is a chronic “helper” this can be very hard for me to do, but as much as I resist it, I have found that not only do I do better if I practice some self-care in times of stress, but everyone else in my family does too because I am more patient, kind, and efficient. At the same time, though, in these times of craziness I just don’t have time to go get a massage, sleep late, go to a yoga class, or take half a day off for some “me” time. So instead I have been working on finding ways to simplify and create the space for mini-breaks and I wanted to share them with you to help you get through the seasonal insanity, or to store away for a time when you need a boost….
We are on the edge of the holiday abyss. That time of year when there is so much happening and so much to do that we can easily lose track of our own self-care. Ironically, it is the time of year when we most need to be feeding ourselves well in order to fight off colds, flus, and other nasty bugs and yet we often find ourselves grabbing take out an extra time (or two or three or five) a week or falling back on convenience foods that we know don’t make us feel that great but are easy and comforting when we are feeling stressed. Yup, we are on the edge of that time. Ugh.
In years past I have shared recipes (like this, this, this, and this) and tricks (like these and these) that can help to boost ourselves up at these stressful times, but this time around I want to get super practical, people. I want to share with you what I decided was going to be the most helpful for me and it isn’t sexy or glitzy, but I am pretty darn sure that it is going to save my butt in the weeks to come… I am organizing and stocking up….
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?…
Eggs. They are one of the cheapest (even if you buy the pasture-raised, organic ones!) and most flexible protein sources around. But many people feel like they are incapable of making them well. The truth is, eggs are actually quite simple, they just need a little bit of attention. So today I want to break down for you the different ways to cook an egg so that you can add these to your rotation for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and then next time I will talk about different ways to use eggs in baking (i.e., beating an egg in all its stages)….
I want to start this post with one of the funniest cooking stories I have ever heard. One night a friend of mine and her husband, who were not very experienced cooks, decided that they wanted to cook a really special meal. So they went through all of their cookbooks, found the recipe they wanted to make, wrote down all of the ingredients, and set off for Whole Foods. It took them a while to find all of the ingredients, going up and down every aisle multiple times, and in the end there was still one ingredient that they just couldn’t find anywhere. They looked in the spice section, the dairy section, everywhere. Finally they went to customer service and asked where the “minus” (which they pronounced “meenus”) could be found. The man behind the desk had no idea what “minus” was, so he looked it up on the computer with no luck. They were irate. Here they were, trying to cook, trying to make a nice meal, they had come all the way to the “fancy” grocery store only to find it didn’t carry an essential ingredient?! Unacceptable! Finally they decided to just try the recipe without the “minus” since they only needed two tablespoons of it anyway. As they left Whole Foods with their groceries, though, they were still grumbling about what kind of grocery store doesn’t have an ingredient like “minus”?! When they got home and looked at the recipe again they realized that the recipe had called for “1 cup of flour, minus 2 tablespoons” but it just so happened that the “minus 2 tablespoons” was on the next line in the ingredient list.
When I heard this story I couldn’t stop laughing, but I also realized that this was an amazing example of how confused and flustered we can feel when we are looking at a new recipe, especially a relatively complicated one. For a lot of cooking, I find that measurements can be relatively approximate, but when we are trying a new recipe or if we are relatively new to cooking, having things be precise can be reassuring and helpful so I wanted to share some tips on measuring and also some equivalencies that can be really helpful to know for those times when you run out of clean measuring cups and spoons….
As I was driving today I looked down and saw the thermometer telling me that the temperature outside was 100 degrees. Brutal.
When it is as hot as this it can be incredibly hard to motivate to cook. Afterall, who wants to stand in front of a hot stove, turn on the oven, or even be out near a grill on a day/evening like this?! So I wanted to share five of my favorite easy-to-make meals that require little-to-no cooking.
- Chef’s Salad. The thing that I love most about this meal is that it can be made up of pretty much whatever you have in the house. Start with a base of greens (lettuce, baby spinach, arugula, etc.), add chopped vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, avocados, etc.), add some protein(s) (cheese pieces, deli meat cut up, leftover meat cut up, tofu cubes, hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas, beans, etc.), toss in any leftover cooked vegetables you have on hand, and top with your favorite dressing. Serve with some crusty bread, or even toast, and you are done!
- Gazpacho. A classic summer soup full of great vegetables. This is a fantastic version developed by my friend Aviva.
- Sandwiches. Use some fancy bread to make it feel more special, if you want. Stack on the vegetables—cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and avocados are all great additions. If you’ve got it, some pesto can be a nice change of pace. No matter what, though, there is no shame in sandwiches for dinner!
- Brazilian-style fried rice. Cooking is done in 5 minutes and you can use whatever you have knocking around in your fridge. Perfect.
- Leftovers. If you need to supplement, add a salad and dinner is done. Couldn’t be easier!
We’ll be having leftovers for dinner tonight. What about you? Any favorite summertime dinners that help to keep things cool?
For our second installment of the Cooking 101 series one reader asked that I talk a bit about heat levels on the stove and cooking speed. She said that she has always wondered what the different levels mean and how to know if you are doing it right.
So let’s dig in!
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!…
I have never much liked water. It always tastes bland and uninspiring to me, so staying well hydrated has often been a challenge. There are so many reasons why drinking enough water is important from decreased cravings and mindless snacking to better health to better skin. But none of these was really enough of a motivator for me… until recently. This is embarrassing to admit but the thing that really motivated me to start drinking more was a sign of aging that suddenly sprung up on my face. Yup, my vanity got the better of me when I realized that when I drank enough water in the day the lines on my face disappeared (or at least dissipated), but when I slacked off on the water those little lines started showing up again.
So I have started working on drinking more and there are a couple of things that have helped a lot. I thought that I would share them with you now that the spring is here and summer will arrive soon enough: