Last summer when I was in Vietnam I had an experience we now call the “Mue Ne brie cheese incident” and it changed my diet drastically. Before our travels I was somewhat of a cheese addict, I added it to EVERYTHING, even when the dish probably didn’t need a cheesy addition. But in Asia, cheese or any dairy for that matter are rarely incorporated into dishes, so by the time we reached French-influenced Vietnam I couldn’t wait to chow down on my old friend again. Alas, I should have known by then that cheese really isn’t Asia’s strong suit, and in my opinion, one really shouldn’t consume cheese in 105-degree heat. I did both…and it didn’t end well.
In the end, it was probably for the best. When I returned home I decided to cut out cheese from our weekday meals. Now, I only eat it occasionally and only when the type of meal actually warrants it, like some Mexican meals and of course, pizza. And you know what, I feel better! Now, 90% of the time the meals I make are either Mediterranean or Asian inspired and I’ve been forced to get more creative in the kitchen and build flavor in my meals without the help of cheese.
One of our favorite carry-out meals is chicken shawarma with rice topped with cucumber tomato salad and hummus from Sultan’s Market, so I decided to create a healthier version at home. In the old days, I might have been tempted to add some feta cheese to this recipe, but instead I added some tang with the help of a homemade tzatziki sauce with non-fat Greek yogurt, fresh cucumber, lemon and chopped garlic. The recipe serves two, but is easy to double for a family!
I’ve been a huge fan of boil in bag rice for years now so I was absolutely thrilled that Success Rice reached out to me to partner with them on a recipe post! I use boil in bag rice for a ton of recipes; I’m a notoriously bad rice-cooker if I don’t have a little bit of help. Success Rice has perfected a seamless method for well-cooked rice every time. One of my favorite recipes with rice is a classic stir fry and I’ve created a new vegetarian version that anyone will love!
Since Taste Tester #1 and I have kicked it into full wedding-mode, I’ve been focusing on making healthier versions of our favorite recipes that are still just as filling. Instead of using meat, I substituted tofu in my stir fry recipe and added some extra veggies as well to make sure we are full. I’m newly obsessed with bok choy, a Chinese cabbage-like vegetable that is wonderfully crunchy and adds a unique and tasty flavor to soups, stir fries and salads.
The first blog post of 2015 has arrived! Last year I had a personal goal of trying to post an average of once a week and in the end I was pretty darn close with 42 blog posts published in 2014. 2015 is going to be even bigger and better, as you’ll continue to find my take on great Chicago spots, recipes, and culinary products. Thanks for your continued readership and get excited for 2015!
Over my version of “winter break” (oh for the days of 3 week long winter breaks!) Taste Tester #1 and I traveled to Los Angeles for a few days and got into the great habit of eating fresh, healthy So-Cal food. This included lots of produce such as kale and we wanted to incorporate more of it into our diet at home. I found this kale-heavy recipe from epicurious and adapted it with the foods that I already had in my cupboard. Adapting a recipe’s ingredients to incorporate what is already in your pantry is a great way to create a unique recipe and also save money. Feel free to substitute similar ingredients with what you have in your own home!
Vegan Maple-Glazed Butternut Squash and Tofu
One of my favorite things about coming home after traveling is getting back into my kitchen and being able to make a good home cooked meal. For me, traveling usually means a lot of eating out and splurging a little bit in the calorie department… vegetables are often neglected more than they should be. This week when I got home I was craving something fresh and flavorful and found that in preparation for my return Taste Tester #1 had gone grocery shopping and picked up some of my healthy favorites, butternut squash and tofu.
Recently Taste Tester #1 and I have made it a point to enjoy the beautiful weather and make use of the communal grills on our apartment’s rooftop. Neither of us has owned our own personal before, so this summer has been a new cooking experience and adventure for us. I’ve seen Taste Tester #1 blossom from my kitchen sous chef into our grill-master.
With all the new BBQ, Fried Chicken and cocktail spots popping up around the city and causing havoc on the waistline, we have been trying to eat healthier when at home. Grilling vegetables is a great way to impart new flavors onto old standbys and still coming away feeling that you ate a great, filling meal.
As the weather is finally heating up in Chicago I find myself making a lot more salads these days. Besides feeling light after eating, salads usually don’t require me to turn on the oven, which keeps my apartment nice and cool as well. I put together this salad using an interesting new ingredient I discovered while browsing the expo floor at the National Restaurant Association Show this year. Sid Wainer and Fresh Origins offers a line of flavor crystals by taking herbs and flowers and cooking them down with a bit of sugar. Currently they offer rose, fennel, basil, and mint.
I used the basil crystals for my salad, but mint probably would have tasted great as well. While I was whipping up this salad I was thinking of other ways I could use the crystals in the future. I think that the rose ones would taste great sprinkled on some fresh vanilla ice cream, and the mint ones would be the perfect accent to a glass holding a mojito.
Yesterday I decided that all this rain we’ve been getting in Chicago marks the official start of spring, and thus the idea for this springy salad was born. I love this dish because it’s a full meal in a bowl. If you’re feeling hungry though, you could do what I did and pair some delicious Trader Joe’s rosemary and raisin crisps with goat cheese to go along with it! I’ve been super into adding spinach into everything lately and the addition of the green spinach leaves in this salad really gives it a pop of spring color! I’ve also been craving crab lately and picked up a few cans of crab meat at the grocery store the other week. Canned crab is super versatile, fairly inexpensive (albeit more than canned tuna), and is great in a number of easy dishes. If you are sure to drain all the water out before fluffing up your crab with a fork, you’re sure to get a successful dish.