A Year of Recipes: #12

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In my haste to prep the night before, I did not get an ingredient shot. I hope this snazzy closeup of sesame seeds toasting is an acceptable substitute.

I always feel a major sense of accomplishment when I am able to cook mid-week.  Between things like keeping my house clean, blogging and squeezing in a workout, I rarely find myself with time to spare. With careful planning, I was able to do a crockpot meal today, however!

The meal I chose was an asian inspired Slow Cooker Sesame Chicken.  The recipe basically involves creating the sauce and then cooking your chicken in it for a few hours.  The night before cooking I prepared the sauce and left that in an airtight container so all I would have to do is pour it into the crockpot.  I also toasted my sesame seeds ahead of time.

I went home on my lunch break, dashing into my house quickly to get the meal up and running. Put the chicken in the crockpot. Coat with sauce. Turn on low.  Done.  I was impressed with how quickly it went.

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Practically fell apart!

A few hours later I returned to a nice smelling house. That’s one of the things I love about using my crockpot – the smells!  The second I open the door from the garage to the house I feel excitement, knowing something tasty most likely awaits.

As per the directions, I removed the chicken and shredded it in a bowl. I barely had to touch the chicken to pull it apart, another great benefit of using the crockpot.  I then used cornstarch to thicken the remaining sauce.  It didn’t seem to get much thicker, so perhaps I needed to add more cornstarch?  Nevertheless, it was fine when I added the chicken back to soak up the rest of the sauce.

The most labor intensive part of this recipe was serving it.  I take my leftovers seriously, so I decided to go ahead and cook six servings of quinoa to go with the six suggested servings of chicken.  Sidenote: my mom taught me it’s pronounced quin-oa, not qui-no-a.  Thanks!

IMG_5083I used a steamer bag of broccoli and realized it was a little small and it would probably be best to only add the broccoli to half of my servings now, and steam another bag later for the last three. I only added the toasted sesame seeds to those three servings as well. In a few days I can toast more seeds and steam more broccoli.

I did not add scallions because as much as I love them, they tend to upset my stomach and I’ve had a lot of Sriracha this week so I didn’t want to test my limits.  I bet they would be a great addition to the recipe.

My mom would be ashamed of my Tupperware collection, but it gets the job done.

I told you I take my leftovers seriously.  My mom would be ashamed of my Tupperware collection, but it gets the job done.

Overall, I am happy with how this turned out. The flavor was a little more soy saucy than I expected and overpowered many of the other flavors. However, that it wasn’t bad, but I would use less next time so I could pick up more of the other flavors. The strong flavor was beneficial, however, because sometimes dishes with a non-creamy sauce like this can end up tasting a little bland as the sauce doesn’t get picked up by much of the food.

Finished product.  My shot of the meal in-tupperware turned out best...oops.

Finished product. And of course the picture of the meal in tupperware turned out to be the best…oh well 🙂

Taste: 2.5/4 – good, just not what I expected, some flavors were overpowered
Ease: 3.5/4
Guiltless: 3/4
Leftovers: 4/4 – As seen in the picture, I made up my tupperware ahead of time. The quinoa soaked up any extra sauce, the broccoli did not get squishy despite already being steamed, and the sesame seeds were fine.  Tasted almost the same as freshly made.

Thoughts on Driving Habits in IL, TN and VA

I’ve lived in three states and have some interesting observations on drivers in these areas. I find it quite interesting that people can have such distinct characteristics from region to region.

Illinois - #1 of 3 Fast and assertive.

Central Illinois – Rank #1 of 3
Fast and assertive.  Going places.

Illinois is my yardstick, where I was born and raised, and how I base much of my opinion on proper driving etiquette. Non-Chicago drivers honestly are pretty good. In Illinois we like to drive fast and see just how many cars we can get through once the light turns yellow or red. It can make left turns a little challenging when you have to wait and wait and then go.  Sometimes when your light turns green you have to look both ways before accelerating for stragglers. Yikes. If you’re going 5-10 miles over the speed limit, that’s just about right. People can be a little rude, but generally not that bad.

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Nashville – Rank #3 of 3.
Behind the wheel, we’re all tourists.

Tennessee drivers, or at least Nashville drivers, in general all drive like they’re on tourists and have never seen the route they’re on, whether they’re local or not! Nashville has a lot of lanes that are left or right turn only, and it’s amazing how many people go cruising along in one of these lanes and then suddenly slam on their brakes because OMG I NEED TO GO STRAIGHT. They bring two whole lanes of traffic to a stop as they wait to change lanes in what is typically busy traffic. If you’ve lived in Nashville more than a few days you should know ahead of time where most of these turn-only lanes are, or at the very least those on your regular commute. Add to this an interstate system with an inappropriate amount of on and off ramps and the confusion doubles. I also have never in my life seen more people go down one way streets the wrong way – my record in one day is seeing four. Again, if you live in this city you shouldn’t be making this mistake so often! Nashville drivers also have a knack for crowding their cars into the intersection when the light turns yellow (and obviously red shortly after) preventing the cars in the other direction from going on their green light. How frustrating. Aside from all the problems, Nashville drivers are probably the nicest of the three groups.

New River Valley - Rank #2 of 3. Don't understand how passing works. A few too many crazies in the mix.

New River Valley – Rank #2 of 3.
Nobody understand how the passing lane works. A few absolute psychopaths in the mix.

Virginia drivers are an interesting bunch. 95% of the drivers are nice and courteous, as you’d expect in the South (well…not we’re not that far south.) If you put your signal on they’ll gladly make room to let you merge. They wait their turn patiently during the occasional traffic backups. Honks are infrequent. However, that last 5% is some of the meanest, nastiest drivers I’ve ever seen. They seriously try to cut you off or run you off the road for no reason. You put your signal on and they do everything they can to prevent you from changing lanes.  It’s weird and I have no explanation for it. The other strange thing about Virginia drivers, which drives me crazy coming from speedy Illinois, is that everybody thinks it’s okay to drive 10 miles under the speed limit in the left/passing lane. This happens nearly every day and I just don’t get it. Move over!

A Year of Recipes: #11

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A lot going on here: flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, cauliflower, oil, hot sauce, Sriracha, paprika, chili powder, ginger powder, jelly/marmalade, juice black pepper

I’m obsessed with foodgawker.com, especially the search by ingredient function. Whatever food I’m obsessed with at the moment, I can type it in and the website spits back dozens of beautiful images and recipes. My current obsession is Sriracha, and using foodgawker I recently discovered a recipe on a vegan site for Mango Sriracha Califlower Wings. Such an odd concept…but as I read the directions I decided to give it a try. I always appreciate different, even if vegan sounds a little intimidating!

There are two parts to this recipe: bake and glaze. For the first part the head of cauliflower needs to be cut into bite size pieces. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I really enjoy chopping, dicing, and slicing. My cut cauliflower filled a large bowl and I wondered if I’d need to double the batter and glaze.

Glamour shot.

Glamour shot.

Ready to go in the oven!

Ready to go in the oven!

The batter to bake the cauliflower with was easy to mix up. I followed the recipe exactly and the result was thick enough to coat the cauliflower well. I coated the cauliflower by throwing it in the batter bowl and fishing it out with a fork, but there was still a lot of batter that dripped onto my parchment paper. Next time I might use another smaller bowl for coating in smaller batches so I don’t have that problem. The batter went very far and actually covered most of my cut cauliflower, so doubling the recipe was not necessary.

While the cauliflower baked I got my mango orange Sriracha glaze heating in a pan. I added an extra 1/8 cup of Sriracha because I love the burn! When I took the cauliflower out it was a little soft, so I ended up baking several additional minutes. After finishing baking, I noticed that the extra batter had cooked together so the pieces of baked cauliflower were one big piece. Nothing a pizza slicer couldn’t handle though. I sampled a bite and even without sauce the baked cauliflower was pretty tasty from the spices. I tossed the freshly cut bites into the sauce pan and turned up the heat, trying to stir gently to avoid mashing up the cauliflower.

The spicy-sweet glaze, ready for cauliflower

The spicy-sweet glaze, ready for cauliflower

Because of my pieces fusing together, I didn’t end up with a bunch of beautiful bite size pieces like the pictures in the recipe, but that was okay. I ended up serving with a half cup of cooked quinoa and the end result reminded me a lot of an orange chicken bowl from somewhere like Panda Express. Except it had an amazing spicy kick and was about half the calories 😉 No finished meal shot because it photographed so poorly.

I unfortunately could not find mango jelly at several grocery stores, so as mentioned, I used orange marmalade. In an attempt to compensate for this I used a mango blend instead of orange juice, but I couldn’t really detect that flavor. It looks like based on the comments it’s possible to sub in fresh mashed up mango, but I wasn’t feeling like enough of a kitchen wiz to try that yet. I want to make this again in the future, and I’ll definitely make sure I use mango next. That being said, the orange flavor was wonderful on this but I think the combination of spiciness with mango would be even better.

Taste: 4/4
Ease: 3/4 – Hard to get the cauliflower baked just right.
Guiltless: 2/4 – Sooooo much sugar in the marmalade.  Maybe making with fresh mango (or at least a no-sugar added jelly) would bump this up to a 3.
Leftovers: 3/4 – I went ahead that night and cooked extra quinoa to go in my 3 tupperware containers of leftovers to make my life easier. Some voodoo happened when I heated it back up and the cauliflower just kind of disappeared. I mean…it was it there, but it kind of fused with the sauce and turned into a big spicy orange quinoa mash. 4 on flavor but 2 for resembling the former meal.

Travel Woes and Obnoxious Optimism

Travel Woes and Obnoxious Optimism sounds like the title of a book.  A pretentious one I can only assume. Anyways, it’s merely the theme of my travel last weekend.  I want to share with you some travel lessons I learned, in story format.

With less than a year of full time work under my belt, I am still figuring out how to incorporate travel into my schedule best.  It was so much easier in school when we had a week off here…a Christmas holiday there…a week between mods/quarters…a few weeks before or after summer jobs and commitments.

One of my bffs (I know best means one, but screw convention, bffs make life amazing so I am going to have several) mentioned to me she was headed to Birmingham for the President’s Day weekend to visit her sister. Our corporate holiday calendar changed a few days for 2014 and to my surprise I had that Monday off.  Each day prior to a full holiday we are given a half day, so that meant I only needed to take a half day vacation to make it into a four day weekend.

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My first 5k! Proud to run as Iron Man.  A strained Achilles kept me from making great time, but what a milestone still for a “non-jogger.”

The trip itself was a lot of fun (Superhero 5K, sightseeing, mega church, puppies, babies at the park, good southern food, driving in the country and time to simply talk) but not something to blog about.  Oh no, the exciting part of this trip was getting there and getting back.  Like I said earlier, I’d like to share my woes and some travel tips I picked up!

I knew my trip was coming up, and we had an epic snow storm that started Wednesday afternoon and continued all day Thursday, enough to force me to take a snow day from work.  I knew I had to get to the airport late Friday morning, so every time I looked out the window and saw big, heavy flakes coming down I muttered curses at no one in particular.

There's supposed to be a road there. P.S.  Sorry for screen window shot.  I wasn't planning to make this a blog.

There’s supposed to be a road there.
P.S. Sorry for screen window shot. I wasn’t planning to make this a blog.

Friday morning came and surprisingly my flight was still on schedule.  I got ready, checking out the front window a few too many times along the way.  I watched as my neighbor’s SUV got stuck in the shared driveway.  He started shoveling it out.  I figured that could be a good thing…he’d get the snow moved.

Once I was ready to leave, I opened my garage door and what I thought was 4-5 inches of snow in my driveway looked more like 2 feet. I had planned on just backing out of my driveway through the more manageable 4 inches.  CRAP.

I didn’t have a shovel.  I realized it was either dig this snow out or don’t go on vacation.  So I got to scooping, with a dust pan.  A maintenance guy was passing by and helped me dig out a 2 foot wide path.  He assumed I wanted to walk somewhere (not sure where I’d be going…) not back out my entire car.  He had to move on to more important things than my driveway (completely understood) but at least he put a dent in the snow.  I asked him if he had another shovel and he mentioned my neighbor had one sitting on her porch.  I trudged through the 2 feet of snow to her porch and was ecstatic to have a shovel.  I immediately got to work.  I had a flight to catch.

Fortunately the snow was fluffy so shoveling wasn’t terribly bad.  Tip #1:  Always give yourself extra time to get to the airport on bad weather days.  You never know what will happen.  About 30 minutes later I had my driveway cleared out but realized the shared driveway still wasn’t great.  Would I have to shovel that too?  At that exact moment the neighborhood plow was headed up the street.  I think he noticed I was trying to dig myself out so he started on my shared driveway first.  As soon as he finished I had to decide: go or no go?  I put in so much work to get this far I couldn’t quit.  Vacation was waiting.  And I figured there’s no better time to get stuck in my driveway than when somebody was nearby to help push me out…

I flipped the switch to AWD on my car and backed out of my driveway.  My original plan was to turn around so I could exit the shared driveway going forward but that was not going to happen with the massive piles of snow on either side of my driveway.  Miraculously I was able to back into the street without getting stuck.

My neighborhood was only one lane wide due to all the snow and I carefully headed for the main road.  My tires slipped a few times but I built up enough speed to get up the main hill.

It’s a 45 minute drive to the airport on I81, which is accident and traffic prone, but I made it there, passing only a few icy patches on the way (scary icy patches, that is.)  When I reached the airport there hadn’t been any inbound or outbound flights in two days so the entire parking lot of cars was snowed in, strangely eerie to see.  As I made my way to the long term parking lot I saw dozens of cars parked in numerous locations not meant for parking.  It reminded me of post-apocalypse imagery from movies, seeing things abandoned and a general loss of structure.  As I walked from my car to the airport I wanted to shout and raise my hand in the air; I was so excited I made it!

Once I boarded my flight it was amazing to see how happy people at the airport could be.  We were officially the first flight to leave in two days, so everybody was grateful just to be able to leave.  Nothing could rain on our parades!  Tip #2: Always be grateful.  Flying is a privilege.  Things can and will go wrong, and you just have to be glad you’ll get there eventually.  I had a relaxing layover in O’Hare and made it to my final destination, amazed the whole time that I made it.

The return trip…oh man, now that’s where everything fell apart.  I got to the Birmingham airport that morning to see my second flight had been canceled.  Surprise!  Neither United’s automated phonecall nor their e-mail had come through…  Fortunately I had already been rescheduled on a later flight, however my 3 hour layover was now over 8 hours.  I could deal though – if you’re going to be stuck at an airport, O’Hare is not a bad one. I immediately bought an overpriced book, magazine and headphones and I was ready for the day.  Tip #3: Always have a book, music or puzzles on hand.  If you don’t have any, it’s worth the steep markup to buy them.

The O'Hare runway when we landed.  Looking back I am impressed we didn't end up sliding off the runway.

The O’Hare runway when we landed. Looking back I am impressed we didn’t end up sliding off the runway.

When my first flight landed we definitely slid for the first several seconds of landing.  I knew that did not bode well.  After I exited the plane I found a good location to spend an hour to relax before lunch.  Tip #4: Gonna be a while?  You don’t have to stick it out at your gate.  Or even your terminal.  Find somewhere quiet where you can spread out a little. Bonus: find a seat by an outlet.  You’ll be glad you did.

For lunch I headed to the Terminal C food court. It was a little walk to get there, but the moving sidewalks allowed me to relax.  Tip #5: If you’re stuck at the airport for several hours you’re clearly not in a hurry, so you might as well take your time, which might help you de-stress.  Instead of walking, I stood at the side of the moving sidewalk (so others could pass) and just soaked in the odd installed art and music.  My stress levels dropped.

Tip #6: Turn mealtime into a relaxing ritual.  I bought a Coke Zero from McDonalds and a personal pan Chicago-style pizza from a different vendor, and drug them to the food court.  I sat and listened to music while I ate. I pulled out my magazine. I checked Facebook.  I played games on my phone.  It was a welcome retreat from the busier parts of the airport.  It helped me to pass probably a good hour of my time.

After eating I headed back to find a quiet chair and outlet again, and went back reading on my book.  This leads me to Tip #7: Move around.  Sitting in one spot for an hour or two is good, but five or six hours…not so much.  Once your phone is back to 100%, get up, go into a store, buy a tea, look out the window, just do something.

Eventually the time for my evening flight approached so I set up camp at my actual gate.  We started out with a 15 minute delay.  No big deal.  However, as boarding time for our new departure time approached I looked up at the video monitor.  Delayed again.  Just another 10 minutes this time.  Shortly, the delay launched our departure time back again by 20 minutes.  And then another 15.  I kept holding my breath.  Soon.  Soon we’d leave and I could just focus on my 45 minute drive back.

I looked up.  Suddenly Halifax was on our video board.  Uh oh.  Before they even had a chance to make an announcement I marched over to the United service counter.  A line already was forming from the many other flights being cancelled that night.  O’Hare was pretty much shut down.

With no other choice I took a spot in line, and moments later a woman came around passing out slips of paper with a special hotline.  She urged us to call, since it could be at least a 45 minute wait in line.  I really wanted to speak with someone face-to-face, but I figured I could call while I waited in the line.  I’m glad I did.  Apparently I had already been rebooked for an additional two flights the next day.  Again…no phone call or e-mail but at least I didn’t have to wait in line!  Tip #8:  Listen to the people that work at the airline.  They kinda know what they’re doing.

I headed down to exit the airport and picked up another magazine on the way out, just in case I needed it the next day.  In picking my hotel, I probably could have done a better job and gotten something a little cheaper, but I went with Embassy Suites mostly because they had a) continental breakfast, b) a gym, and c) most importantly, an airport shuttle (the taxi line was long.)  So Tip #9: Know what amenities you really want in a crashing-for-the-night hotel.  Don’t be picky, spending an extra $20 can go a long way.  Something as simple as not having to go out for breakfast can really improve your morning.

I headed over to the shuttle hub, of course right as the Hilton/Double Tree/Embassy shuttle left.  I waited patiently for the next one and as soon as it arrived I bet over 50 people tried to cram into that little shuttle. Tip #10: Shared hotel shuttles fill up faster.  Be warned.  I don’t know how but I lucked out and got a seat on the shuttle…half sitting on my suitcase…but on the shuttle nonetheless.  I think the guy sitting next to me was losing feeling in his legs with a giant suitcase teetering on his lap, and my foot was definitely poking into the woman sitting next to me.

The windows were frosted up and we couldn’t see where we were going, making the ride seem longer as we couldn’t see our hotel in the distance.  As we cruised along, George Michael’s Faith quietly played over the speakers and the dark shuttle remained silent.  Everybody was exhausted and in the same situation as me.  Tip #11: Remember, you’re not the only one having a rough travel experience.  Be patient.

Check-in was quick and I made it to my room, feeling flustered but beginning to relax.  I laughed at the completely unnecessary conference table in my room, but was happy to have a place to sleep.

You can bet I sat by that man-made waterfall while I enjoyed my morning coffee.

You can bet I sat by that man-made waterfall while I enjoyed my morning coffee.   And enjoy it I did.

Tip #12: Enjoy the little things, sometimes that’s all you’ve got.  I took a long shower and went straight to bed.  I needed to get up in time to squeeze in a workout and catch the end of the continental breakfast!  I tried to really enjoy the fact that regardless of what was happening, I had the chance to treat myself with a long workout and a leisurely breakfast, including post-breakfast coffee.  Had it been a normal Tuesday morning I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.  Another long shower later I repacked my suitcase.

Oh, and that brings me to my next tip.  Tip #13:  Valet/green tag bags are the way to go.  I’ve learned if my trip is less than a week, it’s best to pack a small suitcase and a bag instead of checking luggage. (The small suitcase needs to fit in an overhead compartment.) Often there isn’t room for the small suitcase, but they will take your suitcase right before you board the plane and return it as you exit the plane.  I heard several people complaining at the airport the night before that their luggage was in the city they were trying to get to.  Green tag bags don’t have the problem, they are always in the same location as you are.  It was wonderful to have both pieces of my luggage with me this whole time.  If you can’t do a valet bag, at least keep some essentials in your carry on bag, like contact solution, deodorant and fresh socks.

I headed back to O’Hare on the courtesy shuttle and repeated the same process as the day before, making good progress in my book and enjoying another round of airport food.  Unfortunately in my flight rebooking I didn’t get a direct flight home.  I had to connect in DC first.  Ugh.  By the time my first flight of the day landed my positive attitude was beginning to feel strained. A little Chipotle made me feel better (Tip #14: some junk food is enjoyable, but a semi-nutritious meal will help more when you’re feeling run down.)  Soon enough it was time to board for my final flight – home was within reach!  Now DC Dulles is one odd airport, many of their gates have up to 6 planes boarding/leaving from them within the span of an hour.  I was convinced I would get on the wrong plane but fortunately each one had the correct sign lit up outside the plane.  As I sat on the last flight of the day I had an empty seat next to me.  I secretly hoped it would remain open, and it did.  Tip #15:  Until the plane door is closed, just assume that empty seat next to you will be taken.  Nothing hurts more than having to move your jacket from the seat as it is claimed.

Bonus tip: The best seat in the world only exists on small planes.  It’s what I like to call the “Holy Grail” which is the seat that is both window and aisle.  If you get this seat you win at flying for the day, no questions asked.

To conclude, they say travel expands the mind.  I believe travel is important because it gives us a chance to leave our context – the things we normally have in our lives that define what we are.  Our friends. Our jobs. Our hobbies. Our homes. Without those influences we can see who we really are.  I was reminded this trip that I am an extremely positive person, making the most of every situation. It was a rough two days but I managed to find myself enjoying myself at least 75% of the time. I’m proud of the way I handled my two crappy days, and I think my attitude really helped me get through!  I also may have realized this is a character trait I am now going to insist upon in future dating relationships…

A Year of Recipes: #10

plain yogurt, olive oil lemon juice, rosemary, Sriracha! garlic cloves, salt, pepper, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, Sriracha!, plain yogurt, salt, pepper, chicken thighs, garlic cloves

I wanted to do another recommended recipe, and my friend Molly had sent me a link a few weeks back for Crispy Rosemary Sriracha Chicken Thighs.  She eats gluten free fairly often and spotted it on a GF cooking site (which has several other nice looking recipes I hope to try in the future!)

This was a bit of a scary recipe to try for three different reasons!  First of all I am used to working with chicken breast instead.  Target did not have chicken thigh, but thank goodness Virginia Krogers have amazing meat and produce.  I went with a 4 pack, but if I make this again I’d probably buy the larger package and double the recipe.  The recipe called for bone-in chicken and the package did not clearly say bone-in…but I figured I had to just go for it because my options were limited (fortunately they turned out to be bone-in.)

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My kitchen was smelling divine at this point.

The second reason this was an intimidating recipe is that it it called for 2 garlic cloves, and I’ve never worked with fresh garlic before. Fortunately, a quick search of the internet taught me the proper technique to skin and chop the garlic.

Getting the marinade mixed together was easy (minus the brief garlic scare) and all I had to do was pour the marinade over the chicken in a gallon bag and leave it in the fridge for a few hours.  I did not use fresh rosemary, because what am I, a wizard?  Come dinner time all that was left to do was pop the chicken in the oven!

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Ready to soak up those yummy flavors!

The third scary part is that right before the chicken is done you have to cook it under the broiler for 4  minutes.  Yeah, never done that before either!  I did not have a broiler pan actually, I think I used to but never knew what that thing was, so it’s probably in a box now but an aluminum lined pan worked, fortunately.  I literally watched the chicken the entire 4 minutes and nothing caught on fire!

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Bow chicka wow wow.

I served this with sweet potato fries.  I am certainly happy with that decision 🙂 It was a bit of a pain logistically because the fries needed a little more time in the oven, and then the chicken started to cool so that had to go back in the oven but in the end both were hot and ready to eat at the same time.

Taste: 3.5/4
Ease: 2/4 – Broiling is scary.
Guiltless: 3.5/4
Leftovers: ?/4 – I decided instead of cooking all the chicken at once and reheating later this week, I’d leave the last two chicken thighs in the marinade bag.  The recipe says leftovers are fine with a quick reheating in the oven.

A Year of Recipes #9

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Quinoa, salt & pepper, condensed cream of soup, nutmeg, light mayo, milk, reduced fat cheese, broccoli, sugar

I decided on Wednesday night I really needed to cook something.  I think I have a good problem.  🙂  I planned ahead so I had all my ingredients already, so as soon as I managed to get in a workout I decided to make a Broccoli Quinoa Casserole.

Like most casseroles, this was easy to make.  Cook your quinoa.  Mix everything in a bowl.  Chop up your broccoli if you don’t like big chunks.  I could not find cream of broccoli soup at Walmart, Kroger or Target, so I went with cream of chicken.  I figured more protein, why not?  Looking back something like cream of celery or mushroom probably would have been a better option…  I also didn’t use freshly grated parmesan.

In my casserole dish, ready to go in the oven!

In my casserole dish, ready to go in the oven!  Look at that texture.

The biggest takeaway from this cooking experience is don’t do what I did – don’t make a casserole after working out, seriously.  I was tired and it made me very impatient with the whole cooking process.  Even though this was an easy dish every little step annoyed me.  Ugh you mean I have to cut up the broccoli now? Why do I have to stir all this stuff? Why are there so many stupid ingredients, there’s got to be at least ten.  Ugh.  I pushed through but would have been happier getting this in the oven earlier in the evening, haha.

Despite a few swapped ingredients, everything worked out, and I think this is possibly the best tasting dish I’ve made so far this year!  I don’t know if it is because of the cream of chicken substitute but it the casserole had a much more “tangy” flavor than I expected upon first taste (or perhaps the lite mayo is responsible.)  However, after another bite I really liked the bold flavor.

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Taking a picture of a casserole that doesn’t nasty is not an easy task!

Taste: 4/4
Ease: 3.5/4 – Cooking quinoa can be slightly tricky
Guiltless: 2/4 – Calories were good (four 320 servings) but not the most wholesome ingredients
Leftovers: 4/4 – These reheated perfectly!

A Year of Recipes Bonus: Experiments with Matcha #1

A few months ago I had the chance to visit a fantastic asian grocery in the Chicago area.  One of the items I bought was a small container of matcha/green tea powder.  I love matcha, but have never purchased it before.  Normally this stuff is so expensive for such a tiny amount you’d assume it’s some sort of recreational drug but this store had a reasonable price so I decided to purchase!

I was so excited but then I got home and realized I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to use the matcha in.  Several weeks later I spent part of a lunch break researching recipes but everything was just way too unhealthy.  (I also am quite aware of the fact that if I made a dozen delicious, buttery matcha shortbread cookies I would eat them all in the span of roughly 24 hours.  Yeah, I know my limitations.)

So, it was time to improvise!

Matcha, diet soda, and cake mix.  Will it blend?

Matcha, diet soda, and cake mix. Will it blend?

I am much better as a fake-adult about trying to avoid overly processed junk like box cake mix, but I made an exception this time around.  It was in the name of matcha and science!

Basically with a diet soda cake you take the cake mix, add 12 oz worth of diet soda, mix it up, and bake for the time determined on the cake mix box.  Very easy.

It was fun mixing up the bubbly sludge.

It was fun mixing up the bubbly sludge.

So I figured it would be easy just to use a white cake mix and add some matcha.  I had no idea how much to add, so I looked at a few random green tea baking recipes, and most called for 1-2 tbsp of the powder.  I mixed in 2 generous tablespoons.

HULK BAKE.

HULK BAKE.

The mix turned a beautiful color of green and into the oven it went!  Overall the cake turned out like any other diet soda cake I’ve had before.  My biggest disappointment is that he matcha flavor wasn’t very strong.  I don’t know if I’ll make this again, but I’d definitely use at least twice the powder.  It also might be interesting to use strawberry cake mix or soda, since green tea and strawberry tend to go well together.

Verdict:  Meh.