Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Massaged Citrus Kale Salad

I have always loved kale as you all know...but it wasn't until a few months ago that I discovered the awesomeness that is massaged kale. "What are you doing, turning your kitchen into a spa?" Well...in a way yes since you are massaging kale with olive oil, which does make your hands silky soft. But still, why massage? Well, the same texture you get from sautéed kale can be achieved by massaging raw kale as well. By working a mixture of oil and vinegar/citrus juice into the kale, you actually break down the fibers that makes the leaves tough. The result is a delicate, yet still crunchy salad. The best part is, you can massage the salad the night before, and it just gets better the more you let it sit in the fridge!

Sorry, there was no way for me to get actual pictures of myself massaging the kale since I like my phone "oil-free". However, the best way to massage is to...
  1. Grab a big bowl.
  2. Mix up a vinaigrette of 1 teaspoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons vinegar/lime/lemon juice (I like Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar), 1/4 teaspoon (or a squirt) mustard, salt/pepper to taste. You can add dry or fresh herbs here if you like as well.
  3. Add 4 handfuls of kale (trimmed and chopped)
  4. Get in there with both hands for 2 minutes. 
Alas, there are no photos of me massaging since I don't have three hands. However, if you'd like to come over and be my extra set of hands, I'll gladly share my food with you after! You know, a little bit of you you massage my back and I'll massage your kale kind of trade...

Hmmm, was that too cheesy?

Anyway, I like to top this citrus salad with sliced strawberries and pecans; although I've been known to add poached chicken, goat cheese or anything else looming in my fridge. Pictured above I served it with an open-faced sandwich of whole grain toast, avocado and an over easy egg.

So, how do you massage YOUR kale?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fun Food App: LevelUp

Some friends of mine told me that I always know about the coolest apps. I don't know about that, but when I see an app that rewards me for doing something I already do, I download it immediately and tell the world about it!

LevelUp is my new favorite payment app. Think of the Starbucks payment feature on their app, but instead of pre-loading money onto your account, your credit card is connected to the app and can be used at local restaurants. In DC, I've used it at Sweet Green, Boloco, Protein Bar, District Taco, BGR, and Taylor Gourmet, but they also service several food trucks and other restaurants around the city. LevelUp providers are listed according to what is geographically closest to you, which makes choosing your lunch spot a breeze.

Besides being able to pay for your bill (as well as tip if you like), you will get money off your purchases immediately after downloading the app, as well as once you reach various spending levels at each restaurant. I love that I don't have to carry around several loyalty cards to get free food! I still have $5 off Taylor Gourmet I need to use plus the ones pictured below. Talk about saving money! That's pretty much my entire bill!

Whew, can you tell I'm getting excited about this app just talking about it? Now, back to the serious matters at hand. I know the biggest issue with these types of apps are security. LevelUp doesn't keep your card number on their servers, but keep them directly with the merchants, so it's just as safe as swiping your card at the restaurant itself. Now, that's not to say it couldn't potentially be stolen (I had my credit card number stolen at a pizza place in New York, so it can happen anywhere these days!) but I think this is one of the most convenient and safe payment apps I've seen thus far! Hopefully vendors will see this is a great service to offer customers and will expand to more restaurants throughout the city!

I am not getting any referral perks for mentioning this app on my blog. I simply want to share this amazing app with all of you!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sipping Chocolate

I'm stuck inside during a snow storm...in March! Plus I have to telework, so no adult snow day for me....What is this world coming to?!  How do I turn a cold day working into a comforting day indoors? Sipping Chocolate!

I first learned the difference between my childhood hot cocoa and sipping chocolate when I went to Angelina Cafe in Paris, France back in 2010. Seriously, if you are ever in Paris, go to this place and wait in the 40 minute line to get a table. Please just trust me on this one.

When I think of typical hot chocolate, I think of the little powder packet from Swiss Miss. The difference between typical hot chocolate and Angelina's "sipping chocolate" is the consistency and amount of sugar. Angelina's is like drinking a chocolate bar. But not just any sugary, overly-sweet Hershey bar. I'm talking rich dark chocolate. Belgian dark chocolate. Ok, well, it was probably French dark chocolate, but go with me here! Sipping chocolate has a thicker consistency than it's Swiss Miss counterpart, so think thicker than a latte, but thinner than chocolate sauce that you would put on an ice cream sundae. When you take your first sip, it's like drinking directly from Willy Wonka's decadent chocolate waterfall that's flowing from an airy chocolate cloud...

Ahem. Now that my obsession is evident, it's time to dig into making some sipping chocolate at home. The key to a good sipping chocolate is high quality chocolate, milk, and vanilla extract. That is it. No sugar. No powder. The point isn't to have a sweet drink but a rich, velvety chocolate experience.

To make a single serving...
  • First pour a mug 3/4 full of the milk of your choice (I use vanilla almond milk).
  • Next add 1/8 of a capful of vanilla extract (aka, more than a few drops, but less than a teaspoon). 
  • Finally add chocolate. I used 1.5 handfuls of Trader Joe's semi-sweet chocolate chips. The amount of chocolate you add is completely up to you! I like mine pretty rich, so for your first try, start with 1 handful of chocolate, then add more as your tastebuds prefer.
  • Stir the ingredients together over medium heat with a whisk until the chocolate has dissolved into the milk and it's heated to your preferred temperature (around 5-8 minutes). Please do not heat this on high heat because you will scorch the milk and potentially burn the chocolate.

That's it! Of course I'm a purist so I drink this as is, but if you want to mix things up add whipped cream, cinnamon, chili powder for some kick, or whatever else your tastebuds may demand! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tip: How to Fill a Ziplock Bag

Has this ever happened to you? You want to freeze a soup or sauce in individual Ziplock (R) bags but you you end up spilling more on the counter than you put in the bag? Here's my completely logical, but rarely thought of trick...Put the bag in a container to hold it first!

As with most of my tips, I thought this was a fairly well known tip, but any time I pull out this trick at a friend's dinner party, I always get one or two "why didn't I think of that" comments!

There's really no method to this tip. Simply open a plastic bag into a cup, fold the opening over the mouth of the cup, then fill with any soup, sauce, icing or in the case of my pictures, salad dressing. It's like having a third pair of hands!

My only word of caution is to make sure that the liquid you're using is NOT boiling. This will cause the bag to melt, which would lead to an even bigger mess! So if you are storing a soup, make sure it sits at room temperature for at least 10 minutes. 

Enjoy your cleaner counter and freer hands!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Orecchiette & Zucchini in Meat Sauce

Tonight I was craving beef for dinner, which is crazy because I hardly ever eat red meat these days. So I walked into Trader Joe's to grab the ingredients for a meat sauce when I saw the most beautiful yellow local zucchini. I knew then and there that I must have it! But how to eat it?...

Why with pasta of course! I love adding zucchini into my pasta dishes. They help bulk up the nutrition, plus, since they have such a light flavor, they don't really alter the flavor of the sauce. Win win! Although, I actually like to eat zucchini raw, so I may be a bit biased....

What do I love about this dish?
1.) I made it with local fresh ingredients.
2.) I spent less than $4 (see my calculations below).
3.) It took me less than 30 minutes to make.
4.) I got to use my fun-shaped orecchiette pasta (aren't they the cutest?!)

Orecchiette & Zucchini in Meat Sauce
Servings: 2 larger dinner servings, 3 medium lunch servings

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 1/4 cup (or a heaping cup) dry orecchiette pasta
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into quarter moons
  • 1/2 jar marinara sauce
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt & pasta, then cook according to the directions. I like my pasta very al dente so I cooked mine for 9 minutes instead of the recommended 12. Drain and set aside.
    • TIP: orecchiette pasta likes to stick together due to the shape of the pasta. To try to avoid that, stir continuously for 30 seconds after adding the pasta to the water. 
  • While the water is coming to a boil, chop the garlic and toss it into a large skillet with the olive oil. Heat on medium high heat until fragrant then add the meat. Separate the beef with the back of a wooden spoon and cook until there is no red color to the meat.
  • Add zucchini and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes or until softened. If you like your veggies more well done, cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Stir in the marinara sauce and the drained pasta, then cook until heated. Check the seasoning and you're good to go! I sprinkled a little parmesan cheese on top of mine to finish it off.

Cost of my Dinner
When I do my calculations I don't include pantry items. This includes things like seasonings (salt, pepper, herbs, etc), garlic, oil (olive, coconut, sesame), soy sauce, dry pasta, rice, flour, etc. This is because all of these items are minimal cost in the total of the recipe, especially cooking for one.

$1.845, ground beef - $3.69 per pound; I used half a pound and put the rest in the freezer
$0.645, marinara sauce - $1.29 per jar; I used half in the recipe and put the rest in my fridge for later
$0.79, zucchini
$0.25, orecchiette pasta - $0.99 per bag; I used approximately 1/4 of a bag

Total cost of tonight's pasta dish - $3.58
Price per serving (3) - $1.18

That's cheaper than fast food! Isn't being a Graduate Gourmet fun??

This recipe may seem too simple to be gourmet, but some of the best dishes simply enhance the ingredients so that they can shine. I really wanted beef tonight, and this recipe let the meat take the lead. Plus I get to enjoy it for two more meals...how yummy will this be tomorrow?!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tip: Juicing Citrus


Hate it when you squeeze lemons or oranges into a sauce and get the seeds in the pan? Well, just squeeze the fruit with the cut side up. This allows the juices to run over the sides of the fruit, while keeping the seeds within the peel.

You may think this is a silly tip, but I suggested this to my friend once and she exclaimed "why hadn't I thought of this?" Plus, why dirty another bowl by squeezing the fruit there first, then picking out the seeds. This way you save hassle and dirty dishes!

Monday, June 10, 2013

I'm back!

I've been without a personal computer for almost a year. Can you believe that I survived that long?!  Although, to put things into context, I've had my iPad/iPhone at home and can do anything I need a keyboard for while I'm at work. It hasn't been terrible, but I am SO glad to be back online!

Why have I been without a laptop? Well, I woke up one morning to find my latptop on the floor...which isn't odd except that I hadn't put it on the floor but on my side table the night before. When I opened the laptop I saw that my screen was broken. I went to Apple to see if I still had AppleCare (because all that info was on my laptop of course), and of course it had expired. The cost of a new laptop screen?? $350-400. Oy. So instead of putting money into a laptop that I was hoping to last another 6 months before buying a new one, I just decided to go laptop-less until I saved enough for a new one.

My saving strategy started off with a monthly saving plan. I wanted a laptop that would be at least $1000 plus taxes & AppleCare, so I budgeted $1200. If I saved $200 a month, I could have a laptop in 6 months, easy! I already was saving about $100 a month, so I knew I could save another $100 by reducing my "dining out" budget.

Well, as happens most times in life, I wasn't able to execute my plan as I had hoped. I was without a roommate for 2 months and had to pay both halves of the rent/utilities until I found one! I also had to dip into savings to pay for one of the months rent, so the 6 month plan stretched to a year or more plan.

Thanks to a little creative saving (and buying a refurbished laptop instead of a new one) I finally have my new laptop! Be on the lookout for more posts on saving money as well as recipes!