Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

2014-02-09 15.47.02Happy Friday, readers! Let me just say, it feels great to be writing to you all again! I know I have been distant lately, but I really want to work on our relationship. 😉

Things have gotten a little chaotic…. the past month or so has been a blur of trying circumstances and tough decisions, and that’s not to mention my hectic daily work schedule and quite a bit of travel mixed in. I have no doubt that life, fickle as it is, has thrown some lemons at some of you in the past few weeks, too!

I admit that, under these kind of circumstances, my first instinct is to drop those activities that I usually deem less “urgent” than my daily to-do list; for me, these include working out, reading for pleasure, and, of course, cooking.  I have done little of any of these tasks in the past few weeks, meaning that, on top of just generally feeling stressed, I noticed that I have also been just plain unhappy. That is, until I finally got a much-needed reality check from a friend and reader: “You can’t stop cooking your way through life!”

My friend was completely right. I realized that when life gets crazy, the absolute last thing anyone should do is drop those activities that provide the most happiness; they are what drive us to keep wading through the muck to get to the other side of the turmoil. So, I have decided to rededicate myself to the cause I set out to write this blog about, and I empower you to do the same, readers. We can get through this together!

2014-02-09 15.20.21As of today, I am officially recommitting myself to being kind to my body, both by feeding it well and by exercising it regularly. I will continue to search for and find pleasure even in the most unexpected places. And, finally, I pledge to keep cooking through the crazy! And to document it all here on these (virtual) pages.  While we each, of course, will have our own goals and means to achieve them, the end result is, hopefully, exactly the same: happiness and inner peace.

So, readers, I hope you enjoy making (and eating) these delicious strawberry chocolate chip muffins as much as I did, and prepare yourselves for the landslide of yummy, joy-inducing and (hopefully semi-) healthy recipes coming your way in the coming days and weeks!

2014-02-09 15.47.37Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

Adapted from Damn Delicious

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup strong coffee, cooled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup diced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

2014-02-09 15.21.15Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.

In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together butter, coffee, sugars, egg and vanilla. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined (do not over mix). Add strawberries and chocolate chips and gently toss with rubber spatula to combine.

2014-02-09 15.29.18Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tray. Place into oven and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Namas-tasty!

Challah French Toast

2014-01-01 10.49.21HAPPY NEW YEAR my faithful, fabulous readers!! I hope Father Time helped you all usher in a fantastic and fun 2014. I, personally, have vowed to make this year the most fit and fabulous one yet (don’t you love the alliteration?? Twenty-fourteen is now officially the year of the ‘F’), and have come up with lots of resolutions to keep myself motivated in the new year — one of which is writing more frequently to you wonderful people! Another is to run a half marathon… we’ll see which one is more successful.

Yet another resolution of mine is to try lots of exciting, new and exotic foods. After all, isn’t that one of the major perks of living in Chicago, the ethnic food mecca?? I decided this resolution will have to wait until tomorrow, however; today, January 1, 2014 would not be the day for New and Exotic. Instead, I elected to make breakfast this morning following the theme of Tried and True. During my first waking moments of the new year I went back to the basics, back to my roots, and whipped up some phenomenal Challah French Toast. This recipe, though a rare treat reserved only for special occasions, is an absolute favorite of mine and it is genuinely simple to make. The braided challah, in my opinion, is the secret ingredient because it is so deliciously fluffy and light (it is even better if you use bread that’s been sitting around a few days, because it absorbs more of the egg batter before cooking). But the richness of the batter and the combination of textures from the crispy fried shell and the slightly sweet, moist interior made it the perfect way to say “Hello” to a florid 2014!

And, if you’re looking for some inspiration for your own resolutions for the upcoming year, check out this great list I found on Pinterest to help get your ideas flowing.

Challah French Toast

  • 12 slices challah, sliced 1 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup lowfat milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • unsalted butter or cooking spray

2014-01-01 10.49.34In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, flour, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the liquid mixture into a shallow baking dish or pie plate. Soak slices of challah in the liquid for about 60 seconds, turning once, until the bread is soaked through on both sides.

Heat skillet over medium heat or griddle to 350 degrees. Grease the surface with butter or cooking spray. Fry the toast in batches, sprinkling a bit of extra cinnamon over the top, if desired, for a fancier look. Let the slices brown on each side for 3-5 minutes.

Plate the French toast with fresh fruit and garnish with powdered sugar.

Namas-tasty!

Alton Brown wants you to throw out that recipe!

“A home cook who relies too much on a recipe is sort of like a pilot who reads the plane’s instruction manual while flying.” – Alton Brown, The Food Network

When I first started cooking, I stuck faithfully to the words and measurements provided on the recipe, no matter what. The only way that I could function in the kitchen was to have my recipe right there on the counter next to me at all times, practically glued to my hand. If I, heaven forbid, accidentally added too much or too little of an ingredient, the entire batch had to be thrown out.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as when I first started out I had a very limited palette and had no sense of good flavor pairings. Had I not stuck to the recipe, no doubt I would have ended up with some pretty funky-tasting meals. Baking is also more of a precise science than simply mixing together ingredients. It typically involves an application of heat, setting into motion a series of chemical reactions that (hopefully) leave you with something delicious to eat, as long as you did everything right!

However, sticking exactly to the recipe is not always the way to go; a chef should rely on his or her own natural instincts and ability to create distinctive and yummy concoctions. How do you think Penicillin or the Reese’s peanut butter cup (pure genius) were invented?! Definitely not by sticking to a recipe, I’ll tell you that.

So, my advise to you readers is simply do you. If, like me, you need that recipe as a safety blanket at all times, by all means keep it there. There is no need to add anxiety into the mix when cooking. However, once you start to feel more comfortable in the kitchen and get to know your own taste buds a little better, I encourage you to throw out your recipe every once in a while. Ok, maybe not throw it away completely, but look away from it. Unglue it from your hand, if you will. Add a little more of a certain spice if you know you’re a fan of the flavor. Use low-fat milk instead of whole if you know you’ll feel less guilty eating the final product. The confidence you’ll gain from creating a uniquely scrumptious dish will make it entirely worthwhile.

Namas-tasty!

Creamy Cilantro Shredded Chicken Tacos

Last weekend was one of the craziest and most stressful in a while. As a part-time gig (as well as part-time obsession) I work for Major League Baseball, and after working a game at Wrigley on Friday night I volunteered to drive down to Milwaukee to work the next night. I am always up for seeing new ballparks, of course, and was excited about the opportunity. The only problem was, I had no idea the kind of time commitment I was making; I also ended up getting roped into working another game on Sunday. Long story short, I worked three baseball games in three nights, and drove a total of seven hours to do so. This left practically no time for homework, working out, or hanging out with friends, making me feel pretty guilty and horrible.
 
I am a firm believer in the power of food to bring people together; I feel that there is no better time for a family to connect, a couple to reestablish their romantic bond, or a pair of friends to catch up than over a meal of some sort. This is probably one of the reasons why I get so much satisfaction out of cooking, because I know that I am, in some way, bringing people together with my food. In all of the craziness of last weekend I decided that I somehow had to figure out a time for my friends and I to get together for a meal (that “how” turned out to be at the expense of this week’s homework).
 
2013-09-22 14.10.40-1So, this was our Sunday lunch. I prepared some easy and delicious shredded chicken tacos in a spicy cream sauce, which we enjoyed over a couple of beers along with the view from my balcony. The weather could not have been more beautiful; it was just what we needed to reconnect and decompress, and it made me glad that I had made the decision to set everything else aside for a little while. How lucky am I to have found some people in my life worth cooking through crazy for!
 
Creamy Cilantro Shredded Chicken Tacos
Adapted from Taste and Tell Blog

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4 oz cream cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1 (4 oz) can Old El Paso diced green chiles
  • 2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 box (4.6 oz) Old El Paso® taco shells (12 shells), heated as directed on box
  • Lettuce, avocado, salsa and additional cilantro, for serving

Prepare the chicken to your preference. I grilled it on my Cuisinart Griddler and then shredded the chicken with two forks. If you prefer, cut it into bite-size pieces and sauté it in a pan with some olive oil.

DSC02046In a medium skillet, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth, constantly whisking to avoid lumps. Cook until it starts to thicken, a minute or two. Add in the cream cheese and stir until melted and combined. Stir in the green chiles. Add the chicken back in and stir to coat.

Fill the taco shells with the chicken mixture and top with shredded lettuce, salsa, diced avocado and additional cilantro.

Namas-tasty!

Advice to cooking newbies

Having mentioned in my last post that Nick recently decided to (gasp!) cook one of his first-ever meals, I wanted to give some advice to any readers who might be relatively new to the kitchen. But sometimes I feel I am slightly under qualified to give anyone expert advice on subject. I, after all, received no formal training other than spending hours and hours in the kitchen with my mother. Instead of always rambling on from my own limited experience, I would rather pass on advice from someone who actually studied the art of cooking, and who lived, breathed, and ate (literally) their work. So, again, I look to my good friend (I wish) Julia Child for my cooking quote of the day:

‎”This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun”  –Julia Child

Frequently, we (myself included) forget that cooking should be about having fun. Recipes are simply a road map for your own personal culinary adventures; you choose the path you want to take. One should always be able to get something more out of cooking than just nourishment. For me, it is how I (at least try to) escape the chaos of life around me, my to-do lists and my anxieties.  For you, it can be whatever you’d like. Cooking is yours. Do with it what you will, just don’t ever be afraid to try it.

Southwestern Skillet Breakfast

2013-09-15 10.50.29

Last weekend, ladies and gentlemen, Nick decided to make breakfast. That’s right, you read correctly! Nick cooked. He chopped. He mixed. He fried. He actually made an entire meal. I thought I was dreaming!

Ok, enough of this exaggeration. I am only making a big deal of it because Nick does not like to cook (probably because he thinks he’s not good at it; you know how men are). And I probably shouldn’t even be bragging because the only reason he decided to cook was to save me from having to exert any more brain power, since my entire capacity had been used trying to accomplish a difficult assignment for school. BUT, I was still thrilled nonetheless, and, as you can see, the food was more than edible!

So, I’ve since come to an important realization for people like me who need to always be in control. Sometimes, you simply have to sit back and watch. Occasionally, there are moments that provide more piece of mind than completing tasks. One of those moments is realizing that someone cares about you enough to make a little sacrifice of their time and energy to let you know that you don’t have to do everything; to allow you to escape the crazy by simply RELAXING. So, even though I did not prepare this meal (yes, he should get ALL the credit), I wanted to share it, along with some encouragement to let go every once in a while. It might sound scary, but sometimes just a few deep breaths or even a whole morning of doing absolutely nothing is just what you need to come out on the other side of the crazy and conquer the rest of the day.

2013-09-15 10.50.41

Nick’s Southwestern Breakfast Potatoes

adapted (generously) from The Pioneer Woman

  • 6 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •  salt pepper
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss together the potatoes, garlic, onion, bell pepper, olive oil, butter, paprika,  and some salt and pepper to taste.

Pour potatoes onto a baking sheet covered in tin foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring the potatoes twice.

Raise the heat to 500 degrees and bake until crisp and brown, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring twice.

Meanwhile, fry eggs on the stove. Serve the potatoes in a bowl, sprinkled with a little more salt and pepper and topped with a fried egg.

Namas-tasty!

Why “Namas-tasty”?

In reading this blog you have more than likely come across this phrase that I like to use in closing each of my posts… so what, exactly, does “Namas-tasty” mean, you might ask? In conjunction with my post a few days ago about cooking as a holistic experience, I thought now might be a good time to explain the inspiration behind “Namas-tasty.”
“Namaste” is an ancient Sanskrit word that is still used today as a greeting on the trail in the Nepal Himalaya in India. Rough translated, it means  “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you.” This phrase is commonly initiated by the teacher after yoga practice because the mind of the student is more at ease and at the energy in the room is at peace. In using “Namaste,” the teacher expresses gratitude and respect toward her student and to those teachers who also guided her. It allows the two individuals to come together in a common energy, and, if done with commitment and with the mind surrendered, it is believed that a deep bond between spirits can form.
If cooking is to have any sort of positive effect on the mind, I believe we must surrender ourselves to the process completely in that moment, as is common practice in yoga. In doing so, we not only become more aware of ourselves, but we form a deep connection with the food that we create and eat.  At the end of my cooking “practice,” I like to express my gratitude to the tools, recipes, and ingredients that have taken me on a unique culinary journey. So, as my mind is surrendered and at ease and I am ready to enjoy the meal my hands have prepared, I say…
Namas-tasty!