Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Ya Having For Dinner?

Since we've been in France, I've had to get a little creative for dinner.  Considering our refrigerator is the size of something you had in college, we can't keep a lot of food in the house.  I also don't have my usual cooking spices and whatnot so putting together dinner has been a little like being on my own personal chopped.  I stop at the market on the way home from class, grab a few things that look good and put them together.  It's been pretty fun.  Here's what I've come up with so far...

Sautéed Chicken with Smashed Potatoes and Haricot Verts

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce with White Bread we made in class

Baked Chicken Parmesan

Up next...what's been going on in class...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Things Are Different In France

We have officially made it through our first week in France.  As I look back over the week, if I've learned one thing it's that everything is different in France.  Even the smallest things are different.  We've learned, mostly the hard way, that if you don't have any expectations for your day, you'll be fine.  However, if you actually have an agenda you'd like to complete, there are a few important things you should know.

Distance - Since we don't have a car, everywhere we will be going will either be on foot, by bus or by train.  Mostly, we've been walking everywhere since the town we are living in is not very big.  Here's the trick.  If you ask a French person how long it takes to walk somewhere, you can count on doubling the amount of time they tell least.  For example, my patisserie class is at another location than where we are staying.  I was told that it was "just down the street" and "only a 15 minute walk".  Thankfully for me, and all of us, we were led there the first day.  I don't think I would have made it had that not been the case.  True, it is technically on what the French would consider the same street.  However, there are several turns you have to make to get there.  And 15 minutes?  It's more like 30, if you're walking fast.  At least I know I'll get exercise twice a day!

Restaurants - Most everything, restaurants included, close down for a few hours in the middle of the day.  Typically from 12 or 1 to 3 or 4.  The tricky part about restaurants is that when they open back up for dinner, they aren't actually open for dinner.  Most restaurants we have seen will open at 5 or 5:30 but only for drinks.  Dinner doesn't actually start until 7.  If you come early for a drink or two before dinner, you can often spot the staff partaking in family meal, which is usually consumed at the end of the shift in America.  Just remember that you can't eat out for dinner in France before 7 and you will be fine.

Time - I could talk a lot about having to learn how to tell time en francis, but I won't.  The only thing I will say is that the way French people speak their time is very confusing.  I don't want to give it all away.  That one you will have to learn for yourself should you ever decide to speak French.  Time here in general is just different.  There isn't the same sense of urgency that there is in America.  This can be a good thing to help you slow down your pace and relax a little bit, but just be prepared that trying to get something done is going to take longer than you think it should.  Even checking out in the line at the grocery.  Trust me...less expectations are a good thing!

Some valuable lessons from my first week in France.

Stay tuned to see what I got to cook this week...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Our New House

I can't even begin to describe how amazingly patient our little one was on the trip getting to Le Cap d'Agde!  She slept a good bit, but when was awake, she played with her Leap Pad and talked about going to "my new house".  So that is what we have coined our apartment.  After all, it will be our home for the next three months, so let's roll with it.  Here it is, our new house!


Apartment number 59.  It's not much, probably somewhere between 500 and 600 sq feet.  But enough for us.  I can't imagine sharing the space with three total strangers, but since that's not something I have to worry about, I'm thankful.  There are two small bedrooms, a bath and a combined living area and kitchen.  The little one has had a blast unpacking her things in her room and making herself at home.  To me, it feels a bit like being back in college again as the hubs and I are sleeping on two twin beds pushed together as opposed to one bed.  But, hey, it's home.  Just outside our apartment is a nice little playground that the little one has enjoyed many times already.

She is having a blast and, not surprisingly, everyone she meets loves her.  There's also a pool, restaurant and market on site.  So, at least until November when most of the city shuts down, we don't have to venture very far off the property if we don't want to.  However, if we do decide to venture out this is just a 10 minute walk from where we are living...

Stay tuned for some of our first adventures...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Misadventures In and Outside of Paris...or...How NOT To Spend Your First Day In France

Based on my last post, I'm sure you're all thinking that after the family and I landed in Paris, we were flown on the wings of angels and placed loving in our new home in Le Cap d'Agde.  I WISH I could tell you that something even remotely close to that happened...but it didn't.  I figured this would be the best place to rehash what was probably one of the worst 24 hours of my life instead of having to retell the horrific story over and over and over again.  So, here it goes...

Our plane landed in Paris around 8:30am Paris time, which makes it 2:30am to our internal clock.  Thankfully, the little one slept very well on the plane and had a good 6 hours under her belt.  We went through border security with no problems, though I'm not sure why the little one's passport was stamped and neither the hubs or mine was...hope that's not a problem later...but these security guys aren't one to answer American questions.  Baggage claim was as expected with the exception that baggage carts are free in France.  What a concept, right?  We gathered all our belongings, strategically placed them on the cart the only way they would all fit, and headed off to find the train station.

What I had been told about the train station was that it was at the airport.  What I had not been told about the train station was that it was a 10 minute walk from our terminal.  Yeah, the airport is THAT big.  To make matters worse at first, the arrival gate was flooded with people.  The hubs is trying to manage our overflowing luggage while dodging people also carrying overflowing luggage, which was difficult to say the least.  When we finally made our way to the train station, it took a while and one very nice French lady to point us in the direction of the right kiosk in which to print our tickets.  That successfully done, we could do nothing for the next hour and a half or so but sit and wait.  See, in France, they don't post what platform your train will be leaving from until 15 minutes before the train was to leave.  We would find out soon how big of a problem this would be.

Once posted, we did our best to navigate ourselves...and our luggage that we no hated...through the crowd of people to the platform.  When the train arrived, there seemed no rhyme or reason to which door you got on.  We went to one with a relatively short line but were refused entrance to the train as one of the workers pointed us further down the tracks.  We made our best attempt to get there, but the train left us, screaming for it to stop, standing on the platform, totally frustrated.  We did manage to exchange our tickets for a later train, but given that we would be in the same predicament as before, we decided we would rent a car and drive down to Le Cap d'Agde ourselves.

Here's where I'm going to skip over some of the details.  In short, it took us an additional 2 hours to locate and secure a rental car.  There were lots of bumps along that 2 hour road, but as we finally set off in our rental car, I was glad for that moment to be out of that airport...and still married.  There was only one problem with the GPS.  The company didn't have GPS.  So we would be forced to return to our childhood roots and buy a map to get us to our destination.  Thankfully, we come from a generation that still knows how to read maps.  Had I been 10 years younger, I'm not sure I could have done it.

Two gas stations and two maps later, we finally had a plan on how to get where we needed to go.  Here's where we incurred another road to speak.  The car also had no navigational direction on the dashboard.  You know, that little N or S or E or W that tells you what direction your headed?  Yep, none of took us about another 2 hours just to get 30 miles or so outside of Paris.

The rest of the day and night consisted of constantly taking wrong turns on the confusing small French roads and having to drive miles out of the way just to turn around.  The French love to put blockades between the lanes of the roads and separate their exits by a good 10 miles, so if you make a wrong turn, you basically have to drive in the wrong direction for 15 or so minutes before you can turn around to the way you need to be going...paying tolls along the way, of course.

After almost 8 hours in the car (the total amount of time it should have taken us to get all the way to the school), we pulled off into the town of Clermont to get a hotel for the night.  We were guessing at that point we would have 3-4 more hours of drive time in the morning...if we went the right way the entire time.  The hotel we chose was small, incredibly hot and all around miserable.  Since the little one had spent most of the day sleeping in the car...which we didn't complain about...she spent most of the night awake...which was rough!  The upside...we had a room, wifi for the night so we could tell our family we weren't dead and I could contact the school who was expecting us at the train station, and a hot breakfast in the morning.  Things had to get better, right?

And thankfully, as the sun came up the next morning, things did get better.  We were able to plot our course with the help of Google maps to find that it was a strait shot on the highway to get to our new home.  We found the school with only a few wrong turns in our way and the staff was really friendly.  The hubs got our baggage settled into our new apartment while I got registered and fitted for uniforms.  Our new home is small, but plenty of room for the three of us.  I found out that my only task the next day was a French placement test in the morning and then I had the rest of the day free until meeting the staff at a cocktail party that night.  This gave us a nice chance to take the car to what the staff at the school called, the big grocery store, and load up on some supplies.  The big grocery store was in fact a cross between a Target, Costco, Best Buy and Department store.  It was MASSIVE.  Thankfully, by the end of Monday, we were fairly settled in and I was ready to get started.

So now the journey officially begins...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How The Other Half Lives

This past Friday, my family and I boarded a plane to leave for our adventure in France.  Thinking that it may be easier traveling with the little one if we had more room, we splurged and bought business class seats for our long flight from Miami to Paris, almost 9 hours.  I was expecting a larger seat and some extra leg room.  What I got, in fact, was a whole lot more.

This plane was pretty big and our seats were ridiculous.  You know how you've read about those seats on the airplanes that fold all the way down into a bed.  Yep, ours did that.  The flight attendant greeted us with champagne and passed out individual tablets and noise cancelling headphones to each passenger.  The tablets were loaded with tons of movies, games and reading material...definitely something for everyone.  When dinner time came (I know...airplane food, right?), we were given an option between four different entrees each served with appetizer, salad and dessert.  Little miss enjoyed her ravioli and ice cream.  The hubs and I ended up with the same choices: smoked salmon, mixed green salad, steak with mashed potatoes, roasted tomatoes and a pretzel roll and a cheese plate to finish things off.  After dinner, the little one drifted off to sleep courtesy of her "airplane bed", I watched Hangover 3 and the hubs watched the new Star Trek.  Had it not been for the extremely drunk lady next to the hubs and the deafly loud snorer to my left, it would have been a perfect evening on an airplane...something I thought could not exist.

A few hours before our plane landed in Paris (what was 2 am our time and 7am Paris time), we were served breakfast.  I opted for the simpler fruit and cereal with croissant and coffee since I was still pretty full from the dinner before.  I almost chose to forgo breakfast, but thought it might be good to have a little something since I wasn't sure what our dining options on the train we were going to have to take would be.  The little one enjoyed a nice muffin and her morning milk as we gently landed down in Paris.

Now, I know that sounds like a story that couldn't happen, but it did.  The next story I have to tell also sound like one that couldn't have happened, but it did...

This time without all the roses and butterflies.  There was none of that...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Salad Even the Hubs Enjoyed!

A few days back I smoked a duck for the first time in my oven.  Although it came out really well, it didn't have as much smokiness as I would have liked in the end.  I think I left too much water in with the wood chips that prevented them from letting off enough smoke to really flavor the duck.  However, the meat came out tender and flavorful anyway.

The second I found this salad in Food and Wine magazine, I knew it had to be part of the dinner.  The pepperiness of the endive really played off the sweetness of the raspberries and the nuttiness of the walnuts.  I think had the smokiness been heavier in the duck it would have added another level of flavor.  Still, it was a hit, and I look forward to making it again!

Smoked Duck Salad with Walnuts and Raspberries

1/2 lb smoked duck breast; skin and fat removed and reserved; meat thinly sliced
1/2 c walnuts; toasted
2 T sherry vinegar
2 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 T walnut oil
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
6 oz Endive lettuce; cut into 1 inch pieces
1 c raspberries

1 - Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the duck skin and fat out on a baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes, until crisp.  Drain on paper towels.  Break into small pieces.
2 - In a large bowl, mix the vinegar with the mustard.  Gradually whisk in walnut and vegetable oils.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3 - Toss lettuce and walnuts in the dressing.  Top salad with raspberries, duck and crispy skin.

So what are we having for dinner...

What A Last Weekend In The States!

This past weekend will be our last in the states until the middle of January.  We spent the weekend surrounded by lots of family and friends, saying goodbye, celebrating birthdays and babies.  It was a wonderfully exhausting weekend!  Signing on today to share some pics from the weekend as a brief rest from packing.  What do you think?

Radicchio, Banana Peppers and Pine Nuts Slaw Wrapped in Salami

Dungeness Crab Salad with Gazpacho Water

Five Spice Chocolate Cake with Pear Mousse, Do-Cro and Earl Grey Fluid Gel

Soccer Ball Cake for My Nephew's 6th Birthday (Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate Mousse Filling)

Baby Shower Cake (Brown Butter Yellow Cake with Dark Chocolate Mousse Filling)

Stay tuned for a closer look at the wine dinner and baby shower food!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Do You Smoke In Your Kitchen?

Today I did something I've never done before.  I smoked a duck.  You know that scene in Julia and Julia where she's scared of boning a duck?  That's how I felt about this task.

For the dinner I'm hosting tomorrow night, I found a wonderful idea for a salad with smoked duck on top.  I LOVE duck.  It's one of my favorite proteins.  I've cooked it many times with great results.  The only thing is, you can't but it already smoked so I would have to do it myself.  The other thing is, I don't have a smoker.  Now I've seen things be smoked on the stovetop before at a restaurant I interned in.  However, I couldn't give up that much oven space on a massive prep day, so I hit up Google on how to do it in the oven.

Surprisingly, it didn't sound that hard and even more surprisingly, it wasn't that hard.  It does take a good amount of time, so plan ahead, but that's the only complication to this method.  You'll only need a few things:

1 duck
an aluminum pan
hickory wood chips
a baking rack

1 - Put the wood chips in the aluminum pan and soak in water for 1-2 hours. 
2 - Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
2 - Season the outside of the duck as desired.  I used a wonderful salt mix that I bought at a local spice shop.  The key is to make sure your seasoning has a high salt content so it soaks into the skin during the cooking process.
3 - Drain the wood chips leaving 2-3 T of water in the pan.  Place the pan of wood chips in the oven and lay the baking rack on top.  Put the duck on top of the rack and cover with aluminum foil.  Cook 4-6 hours until the internal temperature of the duck reaches 140 degrees. 

4 - Crave and serve as desired

Hungry for more?  Wait until you see what I did with this duck...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Here a Cake, There a Cake

Hello, my name is Andie and I am a yes-er.  For those of you who are wondering what that is, a yes-er is the term I've come up with for a person who says "yes" to pretty much anything someone asks them to do regardless of what's going on in their life.  Worse than that, I'm a volunteer yes-er in that I don't actually wait most of the time for people to ask me but volunteer my services up in advance.  This usually involves me overloading myself, stressing about whatever it is I'm doing and (of course) setting those wonderfully high expectations that everything I make needs to look like it came out of the pages of Food and Wine magazine.  When times like this come up, the hubs usually rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head.  He used to ask me "why do you do this to yourself?"  But after a while, he learned that didn't curb the problem.  So now he just steps out of the way and sits on the sidelines as the madness ensues.

As of today there are exactly 9 days before we leave the country.  To see that we have hit single digits makes me want to crawl up in a ball and find my happy place.  What I SHOULD be doing right now is taking my time to get things in order, making sure the essentials are packed and the necessities of home are taken care of.  That should be enough to get me through the next 9 days.  But, true to form, I've added a few more little gems to my plate. 

One of my best friends in the world is pregnant.  I couldn't be happier for her...except...she's delivering in December, and I won't be here.  So Sunday, myself and some other friends are throwing her a baby shower.  I've taken up the reigns on doing all the food and the cake...for 35 people.  I'm happy I can do something for her and the baby before I leave, but even she thinks I'm crazy for this one.  But, it doesn't stop there...

Since out of town friends will be in town for the shower, I thought it a perfect time to get everyone together for one last dinner before we leave.  What wonderful restaurant in town have I picked for this celebratory occasion you ask?  My house.  Friday night, one week exactly before we leave, I will be hosting a wine dinner for 20 of our closest friends.  I finally settled on a menu this past weekend, which is anything but simple, but to go out with a bang...right?  Oh, and one more thing...

My nephew turned 6 this past week.  His birthday party is on Saturday...and I'm doing his cake.  When I asked him in the beginning what he wanted on his cake he informed me that he wanted a picture of his face wearing a party hat with his name written across his forehead.  I don't know who this kid thinks I am, but if I even attempted that it's liable to look like something out of Picasso's worst nightmare.  He's getting a soccer cake.  Done.

So today was cake day and here's what the final product of all the different cakes looks like.

Front to back we have chocolate cake, yellow cake and spiced chocolate sponge cake.  The chocolate cake is for my nephew, the yellow cake for the baby shower and the spice cake for the dinner.  I got the chocolate cake recipe from Food and Wine Magazine, March 2013 addition.  It's super moist and oh so chocolaty.  Perfect for any kids birthday!  The spiced chocolate cake came from Johnny Iuzzini's cookbook Dessert Fourplay.  If you've never checked out Johnny Iuzzini, DO SO NOW!!  I want to be him when I grow up.  Some recipes may be a little tricky for a beginner, but it's worth the extra effort. 

My favorite of the bunch was the yellow cake.  My friend told me her favorite cake was yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  Since I've sworn off the boxed stuff forever, I was happy when I ran across this little nugget in Bon Appetit.  It will change your mind about yellow cake forever!  If you're a fan of the boxed variety, try this once.  I would be willing to bet my favorite knife that you won't ever want to go back...even if you do take a shortcut now and then.  Here's what you'll need:

Nonstick vegetable spray
4 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c sugar
1 c unsalted butter; room temp
1/2 c brown sugar; packed
1 vanilla bean; split and scrapped (or 2 tsp extract)
6 egg yolks
3 whole eggs

1 - Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray and flour 3 x 9 inch cake pans and shake out excess flour. 
2 - Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3 - In another bowl, combine buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
4 - In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar, butter, brown sugar and scrapped vanilla bean.  Beat mixture until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Add yolks and eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and scraping down the bowl often.  Beat 5-6 minutes until mixture has doubled in volume and is very light and airy.
5 - With mixture still on low, add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk mixture. 
6 - Divide batter evenly between pans and bake 30-40 minutes until cake is spingy in the middle and tester come out clean.  Cool in pan for 30 minutes then on wire rack until completely cooked.

So what goes with cake...

Monday, September 9, 2013

How Exactly Does One Pack For 3 Months In Another Country?

I know it's not like we are going someplace strange and unusual, but serious, how do you pack to be away from home for 3 1/2 months.  I know we will have laundry facilities and all but I also have a little one that tends to have a growth spurt about this time of year and we're heading to a climate that can be a little unpredictable.  On top of all of that, the apartment we are staying in doesn't supply us with towels and other "nonessential" items.  Which led me to think, what do I need to take with me that I wouldn't have thought of before?

I've traveled out of the country several times in my life.  I always know to bring clothes for various weather conditions, and I have my trusty power converter ready to go.  But what else?  It's difficult to get my mind around the fact that next Friday we will be boarding a plane and saying au revoir to the states until the middle of January.  I'm a terrible overpacker, something I'm trying very hard to work on, and I don't want to pack up the whole house to take on this trip.  So...what am I forgetting.  What essential things, other than clothes and toiletries, could you not live without for 3 months?  What are some things that I may "think" I can find in another country that would really be difficult to get?  I know I have some travelers out there.  Now help me fill my suitcase with the things I really NEED to bring :)  Because right now I feel like this...

When I want to feel more like this...


The Craziness of Life

Have you ever had one of those days that no matter what you do or what your intentions are everything just goes haywire?  You know those days when some idiot cuts you off as you hurry to get the kids to school then hubby comes home sick then your front door starts to leak in the rain then your little one gets home won't nap and drives you crazy being cranky?  By the time the day is officially over you realize that you haven't really eaten at all today and result to eating popcorn over the sink with a glass of wine as you try and get some peace from the day?  Tell me I'm not the only one here...

Those days happen, and they stink.  Those days happened to me during the Whole30...more than once.  The best part is, there is an answer for those days.  Here's where planning comes into play, but if you do it right, it can help alleviate the stress of these days...for your diet at least. 

Breakfast - FRUIT!!

I will be the first to admit that the meal I am worst at keeping up with is breakfast.  It's not that I don't like breakfast foods, I actually LOVE them.  But I find it hard most days to do anything but cram a protein bar down my throat as I chug my cup of coffee.  Here was my solution to a quick breakfast.  Fruit, cashews and coconut flakes topped with almond milk.  I found the nuts and coconut at Trader Joe's and could easily throw everything together quickly and...usually...get the little one to sit down with her breakfast long enough to get it down.  Surprisingly too, it kept me full until lunch.  Load it up with as much as you want so you're not hungry, after all, all the ingredients are completely Whole30 approved.  If I can't help clean up the other morning messes in your life, at least I can get you started eating on the right foot :)

Lunch  - The Whatever is in the Fridge Plate
Anybody else remember eating Lunchables as a kid?  For me it was a rare treat that my mom would get at the grocery store and it was by far my favorite thing to eat for lunch.  Nothing much has changed as an adult as I'm still a huge sucker for a good meat and cheese tray.  Unfortunately, dairy is one of the things I had to ditch on the Whole30 so I had to tweek my idea of the Lunchable concept.  On a day I had time, I made sure I cut up lots of fruits and veggies and kept them in the fridge for afternoons when things got nuts.  I could make a plate of meat, veggies and fruits and eat them on the go if I needed.  At the very least, it was easier to shove a carrot in my mouth while I wrangled the little one than it was to actually sit down and eat something.  I also found a recipe for a non bean red pepper hummus (who knew right?) that added a little zing when things got boring.  For that wonderful recipe click here.  If you are a hummus lover, as I am, this is a wonderful substitute during the Whole30! 
Dinner  - Hello Crock Pot!

I, like most moms out there, have a fond place in my heart for my crock pot.  You put your goodies in the morning and no matter what happens during the day, dinner is waiting for you that night.  Whoever the genius is that invented this handy kitchen tool better be sitting in a mansion somewhere being waited on hand and foot...just saying.  In this little crock pot creation I made BBQ.  I know right, who new you could make BBQ in a crock pot?!?  It was wonderful!  Best of all, all I had to do that night at dinner was heat up some veggies to go with and BAM dinner.  It made enough for us to eat and have leftovers and leftovers come in handy when days get crazy!  Here's what you'll need:

3-4 lb pork shoulder
1 bunch green onions; rough chop
3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
4-5 cloves garlic; smashed
2 T chipotle seasoning
2 c chicken stock
salt and pepper

1 - Put all your goodies in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  If you need to push the time, you can do 4-6 on high but it won't be as tender.  Shred it up when it's done, discard the stuff in the crock pot and enjoy. 

Now the BBQ meat is good on it's own, but being an Eastern NC gal born and raised, I needed a little sauce.  Here's the best one I've found:

2 c apple cider vinegar
2-3 T ketchup (check the label here and make sure there's no sugar)
2 t red pepper flakes
1 t ground black pepper
1 t kosher salt

1 - I found it easiest to put it all in a squeeze bottle and shake away.  I had to play with it a little bit before it all came together, so you may need to adjust for your tastes too.  It's not exactly eastern NC BBQ sauce, but it's the closest I could get with the Whole30 restrictions.

So there you go!  Three ways of cooking on the Whole30 based on the amount of time you have...or want to put into it.  Some days were easier than others, but I'm happy to say that I survived and would even do it again in a heartbeat!  If you want to get some more ideas about Paleo eating and the Whole30, there are TONS of websites out there devoted just to that.  My two favorite sites were ChowStalker and Nom Nom Paleo.  These two blogs helped inspire my creative and nurture my overachiever side while still giving me some ideas on what to do when time ran short.  ENJOY!!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Now for a normal day

Whenever I start something new, I always start off with grand plans and high expectations of exactly how it's going to go.  The hubs thinks this is one of my worst habits.  I set the bar so high there's no way I can actually keep up with things and then I get upset when life kicks in and I can't do everything just the way I planned in my head.  I've always been that way, but I blame Pinterest for how bad it's gotten.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Pinterest, but it does have a tendency to make me want to turn into Martha Stewart overnight.  Anyone else have this problem?  There really should be a support group for this... 

In the last post, I gave you an idea about how grand I started off with my Whole30 adventure.  That isn't even half the things I found and "wanted' to try.  There are some AMAZING blogs out there completely devoted to Paleo eating and Whole30 with more incredible, overachieving recipes.  I have some of those pinned on my Pinterest page, so follow away.  For now, I'm going to give you a glimpse into what the "normal" for me was during this process.

- EGGS!!

This was my "go to" breakfast that I ate almost every morning.  Scrambled eggs or a quick omelet mixed with whatever meats and veggies I had available in the fridge.  It became a great way to use up extra produce that didn't get eaten the night before at dinner too.  Most mornings I paired my egg creation with some fruit and that was that.  It was quick, easy and kept me full until lunch.  Which was good since snacking is frowned upon in the Whole30 as well.

Lunch - SALADS!!

For this, I reverted back to my teaching days and made 4 or 5 salads on whichever day of the week I had some extra time and kept them in the fridge as a quick and easy lunch.  Top your salad with as many veggies as you like, fruits too if you desire and don't forget a little protein.  Since I had left over chicken salad from my overachieving days, I would add that to some lettuce and call it a day.  My favorite was to pick up some pre-sliced salami from the deli at the grocery store and throw a few slices on the salad.  I must admit that I missed my ranch dressing, but a well seasoned balsamic vinaigrette goes a long way too!

Dinner - Tortilla Free Tacos

I know what you're thinking.  What's a taco without a tortilla?  However, if you season everything really well, sooner or later you don't really miss it...that much.  After all, it's only strict for 30 days, and then you can adjust as you would like.  For these tacos, I sliced a yellow pepper into long strips.  I cooked the hamburger meat mixed with a store bought taco mix...with no mystery ingredients in there and sautéed the peppers in olive oil, salt and pepper.  To top it all off, I made a batch of super quick fresh salsa while everything else was cooking and viola, dinner.  Quick, easy and best of all, delicious!  Here's what you'll need for the salsa:

1 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1/2 red onion; cut into chunks
1 jalapeno pepper; seeds removed (or left in for more heat...I'm a wimp when it comes to spice)
3 T fresh cilantro
2 large tomatoes; cut into chunks
2 T lime juice
salt and pepper

*Quick note - There are 2 ways to make this salsa, the fast way and the not so fast way.  If you want a chunkier salsa and have the time, mince the garlic, dice the onion, mince the jalapeno, mince the cilantro and dice and seed the tomatoes.  Mix all ingredients by hand and you have a nice, fresh salsa. 

But on a normal night, who has time for all that?  Pull out the trusty food processor and do the following:
1 - Pulse the olive oil, garlic and red onion together until minced.  Add in the pepper and cilantro.  Pulse again.  Add the tomatoes and lime juice and pulse until everything is mixed.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

So what happens when a day is anything but normal?  Find out tomorrow...





When Overachievment Strikes

As promised, I'm going to share with you some of my favorite Paleo recipes I made during my Whole30 challenge.  As I looked back over what I ate that month, I realized everything could be grouped into three different categories based on the amount of effort on my part it took to prepare.  Of course, my overachiever spirit was high and strong for the first few days and gradually depleted over the course of the month.  So I'm going to start with a day in the life of an overachieving Paleo cook.  These are by no means difficult recipes, but more time consuming than anything else.  You know, for those days when you don't have anything better to do than spend most of your day in the kitchen because you have that much free time.  Funny...I know...insert sarcastic eye roll here.

Breakfast - Prosciutto Egg Cups

Making these ended up being one of the best things when I needed a quick breakfast days later.  They were a little time consuming for a morning put together breakfast, but reheated well.  The cook time on this will provide you with an egg that has a cooked through white and a slightly runny yolk, so adjust your time if you like your eggs more or less done.  I found for reheating, 30-45 seconds in the microwave was perfect.  Here's what you need:

6 slice prosciutto ham
6 eggs
1 leek; cleaned, thinly sliced white part and 1 inch of green part only
3 cloves garlic; finely minced
salt and pepper

1 - Arrange the ham slices in a muffin tin, one slice per muffin.  There's no need to grease your pan since the fat from the ham will provide enough grease to keep them from sticking.  Make sure all areas of the individual tins are covered with ham.
2 - Evenly divide the leeks and garlic between the 6 muffins.
3 - Crack one egg into each cup.  Don't break the yolk unless you would like the yolk to cook through as well.  Season with salt and pepper.
4 - Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Lunch - Chicken Salad with Cucumber Chips

I know what you're thinking.  Why would I consider chicken salad an "overachiever" lunch?  The time it took to make this particular chicken salad is what puts it into that category.  Typically, when I make chicken salad, I used canned chicken and store bought mayo.  But I just couldn't do that in this situation now could I?  Instead of canned chicken, I boiled chicken breasts and made my own mayo.  Homemade mayo is completely Paleo and tastes much better than store bought.  If you've never made it before, click here for a fool proof easy way to whip it up.  Works every time!  Of course, I made more than I needed for today's lunch to have leftovers for those days when things got crazy.  Here's what you need:

6 chicken breasts
homemade mayo
6 stalks celery; diced
1/4 c fresh dill; chopped
salt and pepper

1 - Boil the chicken breasts in salted water until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.  Allow to cool then dice into bite size pieces.
2 - Add to the chicken enough mayo to help the pieces "stick together".  I'm not a huge fan of heavy mayo chicken salad, so adjust this to your liking.
3 - Mix in celery and dill, adding more mayo to bring it all together if needed.
4 - Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Dinner - Grilled Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potato Fries and Cucumber, Avocado Salad

A while back, my cousin got married in Chicago.  As party favors, the bride and groom gave out vials of seasoning mixes from their favorite shop.  I have never received a better party favor!  Unfortunately, there aren't any ingredients listed so I can't give you the scoop about what exactly was inside the Brisket BBQ rub I used for the chicken.  Rubs aren't that hard to make though and fun to play around with.  So throw some spices together to make your chicken tasty or buy a premade rub from the store and grill those puppies up!  Just make sure to check the ingredients of any store bought rub when you're doing Paleo to make sure nothing sneaky gets into your diet.  I used skin on thighs in this picture, by far my favorite part of the chicken!  And since your not eating sweets on Paleo, feel absolutely no guilt about eating that chicken skin!!

For the roasted sweet potatoes, I sliced them up like fries, drizzled them with olive oil, a little chipotle powder and salt and baked them at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Toss them once or twice throughout the cooking process and don't let them get to mushy.

To cool things down a bit, I finished the plate with a cucumber and avocado salad.  This was a huge hit and paired so well with the spice in the fries and the smokiness in the chicken.  Here's what you need:

2 avocados; cut to medium dice
1 English cucumber; cut to medium dice
1/2 red onion; small dice
1/2 red pepper; small dice
1 T lemon juice
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper

1 - Mix everything together in a nonreactive bowl, careful not to break the avocado up to much.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Stay tuned to see what happens with overachieving gets old...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Playing with Paleo

A while back, a good friend of mine posted all kinds of things on Facebook about the Whole30.  I had no idea what it really was, other than a healthier and stricter way of eating, and didn't give it much thought after that.  Then I went to culinary school and gained an appreciation for food and where it comes from that I never really had before.

Then, I graduated culinary school and took a "food trip" to NYC.  While the trip was AMAZING and the food was even better, a few pounds that I didn't invite followed me home.  I started to notice once we got back and things started to calm down a much as they can anyway...that our eating habits had really taken a plunge.  I had been in school non-stop for a year and a half.  A lot of nights I wasn't home to cook, and when I was, I was so overwhelmed with school work that we often turned to eating out and take out more that I really want to admit.  With our France trip coming up and knowing we would be in a town where the multitude of restaurant options aren't available, I decided it was time for a change.  It was time to get ready to cook the way I will have cook oversees.  It was time to get the crap out of our diet.

I got back in touch with my friend who hooked me up with the book It Starts With Food.  This book is wonderful!  If you've never read it and have any interest whatsoever in how food affects your body, read it!  It will change your outlook on everything you put in your mouth. 

To help get the yuck out of our system, I decided to put the hubs and I on the Whole30 challenge.  The basics of the diet is to cut all processed food, grains, beans, dairy and alcohol out of your diet for 30 days.  I must admit that I shed a few tears (ok, I cried like a baby) when I had to put my beloved cork screw away for a month, but I figured if I could do it while I was pregnant, I could do it in order to detox and make my body more healthy. 

I would LOVE to be able to say to you that everyday was roses and I felt wonderful all the time.  That would not be the truth though.  So here are a few things I learned from being on the Whole30:

1 - Detoxing your body is tough!  Aside from our recent indulgence trip to NYC, I thought I ate pretty well.  Even with all the meals we ate outside the home, I thought I made some smart choices...considering.  I don't drink soda that much and only have one cup of coffee a day.  I've never been that big on sweets (strange but true coming from a pastry chef), so I thought I wouldn't have that much trouble.  However, there were days that were tough.  I had a pretty bad headache for the first few days and the hubs was really tired.  All the sudden all I wanted was sugar because, well now, I couldn't have it.  When these side effects hit, I decided to look back at the book.  Apparently, you are suppose to ease yourself into this "diet" and not really go cold turkey to take the edge of the detoxing effects.  Oh well, guess I'll remember that next time.

2 - Don't underestimate the power of menu planning!  This is really essential to make it though without loosing your mind.  This wasn't that difficult for me since I'm a big planner anyway.  But if I can offer some advise, remove the temptation from your fridge and pantry!  Trust me, even with the best planning in mind, if you're having a bad day, you will sit down with the bag of potato chips if they are there...and wind up eating the whole dang bag and feel miserable about yourself...can you tell I've done that before?

3 - It's really not as hard as it seems!  I started off pretty grand, making wonderful Paleo recipes I had found on Pinterest for breakfast, lunch and dinner so excited about the new tricks I had found.  That lasted about 2 days.  Then I realized that I was making it more difficult for myself than it needed to be.  I started looking at things my family ate anyway and how I could change those to fit the plan.  Take spaghetti for instance.  My family LOVES spaghetti and would probably eat it every day if I cooked it.  The only problem was, now we couldn't eat the pasta.  So, I picked up a spaghetti squash at the store and roasted it in the oven.  Added to that some yummy meatballs, topped it all with tomato sauce and served it up.  The little one gobbled it up and the hubs barely new the difference!  He didn't even miss the sprinkle of cheese that wasn't on top.

4 - It will change you!  Yes, there were hard days.  Yes, there were days when I wanted to give up and call Sir Papa John to save dinner.  Yes, there were days when all I wanted to do was hit the snooze button on my alarm instead of getting up to make breakfast.  Yes, there were days when I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom for a bubble bath and a nice big of wine.  But then there were days that I had the energy I had when I was in college.  There were days when I would take the little one to the grocery store and let her pick out the veggies for dinner.  There were the days where the number on the scale got smaller and my clothes fit a little looser.  There were the days that I finally felt good about myself.  Those were the days that made it all worth it!

There's the overview of my Whole30.  Stay turned for some of my favorite recipes I concocted during the course of the month...and some things that didn't work so well!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The adventure begins!

My professional life has always been a little crazy.  I'll be the first to admit that my interests are varied and have always found it difficult to settle on one thing.  Who could really blame me though?  If you asked when I was little what I wanted to be when I grew up I usually said something along the lines of: "I want to be a ballerina, a doctor, a teacher and a mommy."  Well, many years later as I look back over my life, I realize that I haven't done half bad on that goal.  I danced for over 20 years, though never professionally.  I was a teacher for 7 years.  Three years ago that most amazing little girl made me a mommy.  So, I never did the doctor thing, but three out of four ain't bad right?  Still, something was missing.  As a teacher, I was good at what I did, but I wasn't happy.  As a mommy, I'm good at what I do, but I needed a little more for myself.  But what?

Enter my hubby.  Over the years we've been together he's witnessed my love for food.  He's watched it blossom from reading recipes and watching cooking shows to hosting lavish dinner parties and dream of cooking professionally.  When I decided I needed more in my life to feel fulfilled, he suggested I go to culinary school.  But after attending college not once, but twice (varied interests, remember?) did I really want to do it again?  The answer came to me as soon as I first visited the school...yes!

That was a year and a half ago.  Today, I am a proud dual graduate and valedictorian of the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Charlotte.  It's taken many years and lots of trials to get here.  But, FINALLY, I am at a place where I have found a career that I don't only excel at but am passionate for.  Thank goodness!!!

Now, I'm preparing for my next big adventure.  In 15 short days, I will be packing up my knives, tools, toys, hubby and little one as we all venture across the Atlantic to spend 3 1/2 months in France!  Three months will be spent studying pastry on the French Riviera and the remaining traveling Europe.  It's a huge step that I'm nervous about, but thankfully I have a wonderful support system to help me through!  I thought the best way to document this next chapter was to start a blog.  So here's the back story...stay turned for more!