Category Archives: Everyday Meals

Easy Weeknight Dinner

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Last Monday night, Mister E came over to my apartment after work to hang out. It was nearing dinner time (as indicated by my rumbling belly), and I had nothing planned for meal time. I suggested that we go out to eat a restaurant that I had a Groupon for, but Mister E was pretty insistent on staying in.

I racked my brain for meal ideas before remembering a few canned items I had stashed in my pantry. And in less than ten minutes (!!!) we had a pretty fun make-your-own taco dinner ready.

On the tray was:

  • Shredded chicken (that came from a chicken breast that I poached the day before) mixed with enchilada sauce and heated in the microwave
  • a can of refried beans that were heated in the microwave
  • Chopped romaine lettuce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Although it might not have been the best dinner I’ve ever thrown together, it still managed to impress even me with how tasty it was. I’ve resolved to always make sure I have refried beans and enchilada sauce in my pantry and tortillas tucked away in the freezer.

    An added bonus was a few nights later, I threw all the leftovers into a bowl after being heated up and I had my own version of a Chipotle burrito bowl! Ok, so it wasn’t as good as a Chipotle bowl, but not bad considering it was leftovers of a dinner that came together in less than ten minutes!

    Eat Real Meals

    In the year 2012, I have decided that I need to make a bigger effort at eating real meals at home. I used to be so good at this, and I’m not quite sure how or when I got off track. Sure, I would have good weeks where I would have a large bowl of Peanut Chicken Pasta Salad or a pan of turkey lentil meatloaf prepared and ready to go for an easy lunch or dinner. But, by the end of 2011, I found myself passing something like chips and salsa off as my dinner. And there are only so many times that you can getaway with doing that by using the excuse that you live by yourself.

    With all that said, in 2012, I am going to try my darnedest to eat real meals with better consistency. I’m hoping to accomplish this by putting a bigger focus on prepping ingredients (like my most dreaded kitchen task – chopping vegetables) on the weekend and making large batches of food that can then be frozen for quick and easy options when I find myself not in the mood to cook on the weeknights.

    So far, I’m off to a pretty good start if I do say so myself. One of the first weekends in January, I made Mini Broccoli, Tomato, and Pesto Quiches and White Chicken Chili. This time with the chili, I subbed in 0% plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream and could barely taste the difference! I love to think that with the substitution of the Greek yogurt, this chili really is a healthy option and packed with so much fiber and protein!

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    The mini quiches resulted in a dozen and I wrapped half of them up individually in wax paper and stored them in the freezer right away. I’ve eaten these at all times of the day by themselves, alongside a salad, and sandwiched in an English muffin with a squirt of ketchup as a makeshift egg sandwich.

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    I’m not a huge red meat person, but boy do I love me some chicken! Another tactic that I’ve been trying to use to help make meal time easier is to poach chicken breasts on the weekends. To poach my chicken, I bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil and drop in four chicken breasts. I reduce the heat to low-medium and let the chicken cook for about 14-16 minutes. I’ll usually cut one of the chicken breasts open just to make sure that there’s no pink left and that it’s fully cooked through. I’ll let the chicken cool a little bit so that it’s not too hot to handle, and then using two forks, I shred the meat.

    I’ve used the shredded chicken on top of salads, in my Curry Chicken Salad, and on top of BBQ Chicken Pizza.

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    I’ve also been keeping chicken breasts on hand for quick dinners like the one below. I’m proud to say that this dinner came together in under ten minutes (with the help of Trader Joe’s microwavable mushroom ravioli)!

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    And you know how I mentioned above that chopping veggies is one of my most dreaded kitchen tasks? Thanks to certain mischievous cat, I found myself awake one morning at a very ungodly hour, unable to go back to bed.

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    I decided to put my extra time to good use and grabbed my cutting board and a bunch of vegetables out of the fridge and carried everything out to the living room. With the help of an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I found that chopping veggies can be a lot less painless if done in front of the tv instead of the kitchen.

    And with all the prep work done of chopping the vegetables, making a veggie stir-fry the following night was practically a breeze!

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    I’m hoping that I can keep this momentum up of taking the time to make real meals. I think I really just have to remember:

    • Prepare ingredients ahead of time like chopping vegetables
    • Make large quantities and freeze leftovers that can easily be reheated

    Do you have any tips for making dinner time easier? Do you have standby meals that you turn to that you know will come together quickly? What’s your most dreaded task in the kitchen?

    Holiday Brunch

    The holiday season sure can be a hectic one! It seems like starting in October, the social calendar starts filling up with events and get-togethers between Thanksgiving and New Years faster than I can keep up with adding them to my calendar. With my weekend evenings filling up fast, I decided to take a little bit of an untraditional route for a party and hosted a holiday brunch yesterday for a small group of friends.

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    It was a nice change of pace having guests over during the daytime and it made for a nice and relaxed setting.

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    When everyone started trickling in around 10 a.m., I had a few small snacks waiting for them to nosh on while I finished preparing the rest of the food. On the appetizer list was sun-dried tomato olive tapenade

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    …and chocolate peppermint pretzels (you’ve been warned: they are tasty and highly addictive).

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    Later on, a few more additions found their way onto the table including Lydia’s delicious Harvest Loaf

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    …and cookies from Caitlin!

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    To accompany their little bites, everyone sipped on coffee (or tea) and mimosas that were prepared by my friend Lauren. This was my first time having a mimosa and they are so good!! I’m a little disappointed that I’ve been missing out on such a delicious drink for so many years. I would love to try and create a non-alcoholic version using some sort of fizzy drink instead of the champagne to drink on a daily basis.

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    For the main dish, I made two quiches – one veggie and one meat. The veggie one consisted of a layer of spinach pesto (made with walnuts, not pecans), steamed broccoli, sliced grape tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. The meat quiche was made up of turkey sausage, sliced red potatoes, green peppers, onion, and cheddar cheese. I used store-bought pie crusts and added about seven eggs whisked together with a small splash of heavy whipping cream to each quiche.

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    And on the side, we had croissants that Kyle had picked up from a local French bakery

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    …delicious (and healthy!) blackberry-lemon and apple scones made by Jennifer

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    …and a variety of bagels and yoga bread that I had set out.

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    To go along with all of the bread and pastry items, I set out regular butter, my cinnamon apple butter, and a cranberry orange cream cheese spread that I made following this recipe. I fell in love with cranberry orange cream cheese last year and several of you suggested that I tried making it myself. Since I couldn’t find it in stores this year, now seemed like the perfect time to give it a go.

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    Also on the side, I had a large bowl of mixed fruit served along with a yogurt dip made by combining 2% plain Greek yogurt, honey, and cinnamon.

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    You might have noticed that all of the food had little descriptions next to them written on holiday cards. This was a super easy project. For the cards, I used gift tags that I already had on hand from all of my present wrapping and just wrote a short description of each dish up top. For the stand, I used corks that were leftover from another project and cut a small slit in each one with a knife. I loved how the use of gift tags added to the holiday theme.

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    Oh, and here’s my plate loaded up with the broccoli and tomato quiche, fruit and yogurt dip, a chocolate croissant, half of a blackberry-lemon scone, and a small piece of bagel covered in apple butter.

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    It was so much fun hanging out with friends and I’m so happy that we could all find the time to get together in our busy schedules. Even though there wasn’t a lot of cooking or baking involved to prepare for the brunch, I still felt like I was in my kitchen for FOREVER preparing for it! After everyone left, Prince and I crashed hard. I didn’t get out of my bed until a few hours later to sneak some of Caitlin’s cookies and have another cup of coffee.

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    How cute is this mug that I got from Lydia for Christmas? My inner bookworm absolutely adores it.

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    Did you guys have any holiday festivities going on this weekend? Do you prefer getting together with friends during the daytime or in the evenings?

    Thanksgiving Weekend

    Alright, I know this recap is WAAAAY overdue, but I didn’t want to not do it and skip over what a great weekend it was!

    Just a few days before Thanksgiving, it dawned on me that this was going to be my first Turkey Day with family for the first time in FOUR years! It made me a little giddy just to think about it. For Thanksgiving, the plan was to go over to my uncle’s house for dinner with Mister E where my two cousins, my two cousin’s daughters, and another uncle would be. Later in the evening I would transition over to my mom’s cousin’s house where several other cousins (second cousins? cousins once removed?) would be.

    The morning started off hectic at 6 a.m. as I frantically got myself ready and prepared my butternut squash and acorn squash (the two side dishes my uncle put me in charge of). My original plan was to leave my house at 11 a.m. to start driving to my uncle’s house in the New Haven area, but thanks to a head’s up from Caitlin, I realized my street was going to be shut down early in the morning for a Turkey Trot race. This necessitated the madness to get everything ready early so I could leave my house by 8:30 a.m.

    It might be a little horrendous that someone who categorizes herself as somewhat of a food blogger didn’t take any food pictures at all on the biggest food holiday of the year! I was so caught up in the moment of being with family that I didn’t want to disrupt anything by having to awkwardly take pictures of my dinner plate. Suffice it to say, the food was delicious.

    Of course the real highlight of the day was getting to play with these two munchkins:

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    My cousin’s eldest daughter had just turned eight years old a few days prior to Thanksgiving, so instead of doing a traditional dessert of apple or pumpkin pie, we capped dinner off with birthday cake! (Some of us where a little neater than others while eating.)

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    After the birthday cake, I made my way over to my mom’s cousin’s house and was greeted with lots of family members to hug. Thankfully, I arrived just in time for their dessert course and happily accepted a piece of pumpkin pie to work my way through.

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    (photo courtesy of Crystal, my mom’s cousin’s wife – second cousin-in-law?)

    I wasn’t planning on staying for too long, but of course, plans don’t mean much during the holidays. It was so easy getting caught up in the conversation and I stayed out much later than I anticipated. It was so worth it though!

    Unlike last year, I didn’t have any Black Friday shopping plans, so I relished the opportunity to sleep in on Friday morning. Still feeling a little “stuffed” from all the food the day before, I kept breakfast on the lighter side, but still decadent, with a pumpkin pie smoothie.

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    Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

    • 1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
    • 1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree
    • 1/2 cup milk (regular, almond, soy, etc.)
    • 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice (could use cinnamon as an alternative)
    • 6 ice cubes
    • pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon sticks for garnish

    Directions:  In a blender, combine together yogurt, pumpkin, milk, pumpkin pie spice, and ice cubes. Pour into glasses and garnish with additional pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon sticks. Makes two small servings (snack size) or one large serving (meal size).

    By the late morning, the allure of a good bargain got the best of me and I ventured out to the mall to check out the Black Friday sales. It was a relief to see that the mall wasn’t too chaotic and I found that I could easily navigate my way through quite a few stores with little stress. I’m also happy to report that I managed to not buy anything for myself and only bought items that will be Christmas gifts for others.

    Well, I guess there is one exception. I did buy an artificial Christmas tree for my apartment that was on sale at Target (but home decor doesn’t really count as buying something for myself, right?). This is my very first year putting up my own tree and it makes such a difference with putting me in the holiday spirit!

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    The tree came pre-light, so the most difficult part of setting up the tree was arranging the branches to try and make it look as full as possible. I would have loved to have put up a real tree, however, since I’ll be travelling over the holidays, it didn’t make much sense to get a tree that I wouldn’t be able to care for while I was gone.

    After getting the tree fully decorated, I got to work on putting out some other decorations that I had been working on earlier in the week (I was so sad to have to pack my beautiful pumpkins away!).

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    I’ll probably do a short recap later on in the week about how I made my winter decorations even though they’re mostly very straightforward.

    My other large accomplishment for the weekend was to finally put some finishing touches on my living room by hanging up some pictures and putting up curtains! These two tasks have been on my to-do list for FOREVER so it felt great to finally complete them. Young House Love says that installing curtains is the easiest thing you can do to revamp a room and they are so right! My apartment is finally starting to feel more like a home rather than just a space that I rent out.

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    Of course no Thanksgiving weekend would be complete without the famed leftovers! My uncle had sent me home with plenty of leftovers from our dinner and I was more than ready to put them in a sandwich form just like last year.

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    For those that are too lazy to click over to last year’s sandwich, the basic concept is to create a turkey melt using up several leftovers. The secret ingredient is a spinach pesto sauce (this year, I made my pesto using walnuts instead of pecans since that’s what I had on hand).

    Also in the sandwich was a hefty slice of turkey breast, cranberry sauce, butternut squash, baby spinach, and sharp cheddar cheese. I used my favorite yoga bread which is filled with cranberries and pumpkin seeds so it complimented all the other flavors very nicely.

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    And because I can’t resist, here’s a link to the video of the infamous Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich from Friends!

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    The rest of my weekend was spent relaxing and also hanging out with one of Mister E’s close friends from college. Even though I’m usually restless by the Sunday evening on a long weekend, going back to work on Monday is always such a challenge! I have to keep reminding myself that there are only a few short weeks left before my vacation for Christmas and New Years.

    The countdown is ON!

    Again, I know that I’m late to the game, but does anyone have any good Black Friday deals that they want to share?

    Even though most retail stores were offering 40-50% off on most items, I found that things were still quite expensive (i.e. a sweater was still $40 after the applied discount – I don’t like paying more than $40 for a sweater at full price!)

    Breakfast Talk

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    Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t screw it up and whether it ends up being cereal or eggs, it’s always satisfying. Unfortunately, during the week, I find that I don’t have time to sit down and eat a proper breakfast. So, I’ll usually eat a piece of toast (my favorite is this Yoga Bread that is filled with cranberries and pumpkin seeds) with a schmear of cream cheese on the go and will later eat a banana once I get into work.

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    Even on weekdays that I do find myself with enough time to sit down to eat, I’ll still usually stick to my toast, but will throw an egg in on the side for a little protein punch.

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    But on the weekends?

    Well now, breakfast on the weekends is a different story.

    Weekend breakfasts may just be my very favorite thing in life. I get to start my weekend mornings off by making myself something that I will actually be able to sit down and enjoy. I feel well-rested after not having to wake up to an alarm. There’s (usually) no rush to get anywhere by a certain time and I can sit and read the news or a new book while eating to my little heart’s content. I have a full day ahead of me to make completely my own and do the things that I feel like doing. It’s the absolute best.

    There are always plenty of egg sandwiches in every shape and form to be had.

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    Or cheesy baked eggs with garlicky zucchini.

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    Or eggs with leftover bruschetta. Are you getting the impression that I like my eggs? Good.

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    Sometimes I’ll ditch my eggs for a yogurt parfait. (This one is made with Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt, frozen blueberries that were thawed in the microwave, a banana, and Trader Joe’s vanilla almond granola – seen here.)

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    I try to savor my weekend breakfasts as much as possible since, before I know it, it’s Monday morning again. And I’ll be eating a piece of toast on my way out the door as I simultaneously double check my hair in the mirror and change out of my slippers and into my work shoes that I’ve waited until the very last possible moment to do.

    Or, I’ll  be standing over the kitchen sink eating my bowl of cereal while I wait for my coffee to finish brewing and have my daily chat with Prince and Kaylie.

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    Not that there’s anything wrong with that (the cereal part, I mean. I know the animal part is kind of pathetic). It’s still breakfast after all. It’s kind of hard not to enjoy it.

    Fall Dinner Party

    My friend, Jennifer, and I had so much fun planning our Pinterest Party that we decided we should plan something similar, except this time with a theme. Given the season, it wasn’t too hard to decide upon throwing a Fall Dinner Party! Feeling bad that guys were excluded from the Pinterest Party, we invited our significant others as well as our friend, Kyle, to join in on the food this time.

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    For starters, I made butternut squash pizzettes as an appetizer by using my Butternut Squash Pizza recipe and using Cuban bread as the crust. Everyone was a huge fan of them, although I definitely prefer a regular pizza crust over the Cuban bread. I think if I were to serve this again as an appetizer, I might use regular pizza dough and shape it into small, individual pizzas.

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    I also made an Autumn Chopped Salad from Espresso and Cream found via Pinterest. This salad combines the sweetness of pears and cranberries with a nice tanginess from the combination of a vinaigrette and poppy seed dressing. The only changes I made were to omit the bacon and sub goat cheese for blue cheese.

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    For the main course, Jennifer made Apple and Sage Porkchops (found via Pinterest). I’m not a huge pork-eater, but boy, were these good!

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    For sides, Jennifer made a Apple and Cranberry Stuffing (found via Pinterest)

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    while I made a Pumpkin Mac’n’Cheese from Healthy Food for Living (yup, you guessed it… found via Pinterest). I changed things slightly by turning this into a baked mac’n’cheese and also added breadcrumbs to the top.

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    Here’s my plate with a little bit of everything on it:

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    Our dinner reminded me of a Thanksgiving Day Dinner with a twist. My absolute favorite item was definitely the apple and cranberry stuffing. I’m a sucker for anything sweet though, so I might be biased.

    For dessert, Jennifer made Apple Cupcakes with a Caramel Buttercream Frosting. We all agreed that the cupcake had more of a muffin consistency rather than that of a muffin. However, Mister E declared these his all-time favorite, so you know that they were still delicious!

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    And there you have, our Fall Dinner Party! I really liked how all the flavors came from things that are in season and how they complimented each other so well. I find that planning dinners can sometimes be stressful since I usually find a recipe for just the entree or just the side dish, and I struggle finding complimenting items. Perhaps I should think more seasonally when trying to pair my food from now on.

    Oh, and P.S. I already made my own personal version of the Autumn Chopped Salad for lunch over the weekend – this time subbing salad greens for the romaine lettuce.

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    It was delicious!

    Cold Pizza

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    During my freshman year at college, I was introduced to the idea of cold pizza for breakfast. I saw my roommate eat a slice straight out of the box one morning and was instantly turned off. No thank you. “Pizza is meant to be enjoyed hot with a crispy crust and gooey cheese”, I said as I popped my slice in the microwave.

    It only took one desperate morning where I was still reliving the effects of the night before and had hardly any food in my fridge besides a leftover pizza. With my eyes still partially glued shut, I ate of slice of pizza… cold.

    And it was the bomb. And I’m proud to say that I’ve been eating cold pizza for breakfast for the past six years and never looked back once.

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    My personal favorite leftover pizza as of late is the Richy Rich pie (with added broccoli) from Mulberry Street. The crust is crispy. The tomatoes are juicy. The herb ricotta is flavorful. The caramelized onions are sweet. And the broccoli is healthy, which pretty much makes this pizza healthy.

    In short, it is one divine little pie.