Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Overnight Oats

Wait... isn't that why they made "quick oats"?  So it doesn't take so long to make oatmeal?  Why spend the time cooking your oatmeal overnight when can be cooked in 90 seconds in the microwave? I'm talking about steel cuts oats, "same same, but DIFFerent" (like the Thai people would say when they try to sell you the same trinket you saw at the previous 10 street vendors).  Steel cut oats are simply better for you, have more fiber, and they are processed less (I think they are more delicious and appetizing, but I can leave that to you to decide.)  Read this article for a more in depth comparison.

I started with a recipe from Alton Brown (though if you google 'overnight oats' or 'crock pot oatmeal' you will get very similar recipes).  I like to make them because they take 2 minutes to prep, then in the morning I scoop it into individual containers for the week so I can just grab one from the fridge on my way out the door.  Alton's recipe calls for dried cranberries and dried figs.  The first time I made this recipe, I only had dried cranberries, so that's what I used!  I substituted extra cranberries for the figs, but you could use practically any dried fruit (prunes, raisins, dried apples, dried pineapple), whatever you feel like.  If you're like me, you will use whatever is in the cupboard!  This recipe is nice because you don't need to add extra sugar.  Most dried fruits have added sugar anyways, so the tangy sweetness comes out from the fruit.  I also split my oats into 5 servings instead of the listed 4, because the first time I made it, I got SOO full every morning, and decided I would feel better eating a bit less of it (I know, crazy right? ..but oatmeal is solid, so it fills up the tummy very quickly!)

Here is what has become my standard recipe the last three times I made this.

Overnight Oats
(modified from Alton Brown's Overnight Oatmeal)

1 cup steel cut oats
4 cups water
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup dried cranberries (or more if you really like them!)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

Put all ingredients in a crock pot, stir, cover with lid, and set on low for 8 hours.

That's it!

{ready to be cooked overnight in the crock pot}

{after 8 hours of crock-pot-cooking}
...looks a bit like red beans and rice, huh?

{why hello there, delicious healthy breakfast}

PLEASE let me know if you try any of the recipes!  I encourage feedback (even if you had an awful experience, haha)

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Quick Red Pasta Sauce

Ok ok ok... I know, if you want to make a quick batch of pasta, you just open a jar (for heaven's sake there's an entire isle at the store these days for red pasta sauce, why on earth would you want to MAKE it yourself?)  Well, its because you haven't tried simply using a can of crushed tomatoes.

We always have canned tomato products on hand for nights like tonight, when we want to make a quick meal, or for when we want to make fancier pasta sauces, pizza sauce, soups, we use it in braised meat dishes, there's always a time when we are in the midst of cooking and say "Hey babe, can you see if we have any crushed tomatoes?"  But you would never use jarred "pasta sauce" in place of using crushed tomatoes, right?  Right.  That's because pasta sauce usually has lots of other ingredients in it that you don't need for that particular recipe.  But crushed tomatoes are crushed tomatoes.  Just with salt and citric acid added.  No herbs, no cream, no cheese, nothing to change the flavor away from just crushed tomatoes.  The versatility of canned tomato products is endless, and that's why we don't clutter our shelves with jarred pasta sauce.  Plus, its usually a bit cheaper than jarred pasta sauce, AND we get to add our own herbs and spices without going overboard or being limited on what we can do with the sauce based on the herbs and spices pre-added.

Tonight we sauteed all the leftover veggies in a hot pan with olive oil, then added a big can of crushed tomatoes, added some salt, pepper, sugar, all-spice, and sherry wine, let it simmer down, added a bit of heavy cream to make it a bit orange, and presto!  Sauce was done before the pasta!  If that's not quick enough for you, I don't know what is!!

Quick Red Pasta Sauce

1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 14-oz box of pasta (any shape!  tonight we used mini tomato bow-ties)
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 onion, diced (or rough chopped if you like big pieces)
1 green pepper, diced (or rough chopped if you like big pieces)
1 head broccoli, cut into florets/bite-sized pieces
1 tsp salt, plus 2 tbsp for pasta water
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp all-spice
1 tbsp sherry wine (its ok if you don't have it, but it helps to break up the brown bits off the bottom of the pan)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup heavy cream (optional, but makes it yummier)

Fill large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the entire box of pasta.  Stir until pasta does not stick to each other.  Add broccoli florets and cook as per pasta package instructions.

While waiting for water to boil, heat olive oil in large pan (dutch oven if you have one) over high heat.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).  Add onion and green pepper and cook until onion is translucent.  Add crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, all-spice, and sherry wine.  Turn heat to low and allow to simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on the pot, stirring occasionally, making sure not to burn.

When pasta is finished, drain water.  When sauce is finished simmering, add cream (if you choose), stir until cream is thoroughly mixed, add pasta and broccoli, stir until thoroughly mixed.

Presto!  Garnish with freshly-grated parmesan if you have it :D

You COULD go as basic as just the pasta and the crushed tomatoes.  We have done it before, and it turns out delicious!  But, if you have veggies just sitting in the fridge, or if you just want to eat more veggies, add them!  Add other types of veggies too! Zucchini would be good, and carrots, whatever suits your fancy.  And if you have spices in the cupboard, by all means use them!

Hope you enjoy this super quick weeknight meal!


Sunday, November 27, 2011


Driving, driving, driving, food, food, food, driving, food, driving, driving, driving.

That's how we spent our Thanksgiving weekend (or so it felt).  What makes the loooong drive to Ohio tolerable, however, is the fact that we get to spend time with our families that we don't get to see nearly as much as we would like to (and Mr P's Pandora Radio requests of Rihanna, Nelly Furtado, and JT... so glad we have such similar tastes in music).  We are both so grateful that we were able to spend time with Mr P's family (very LARGE family) and mine as well.  Even though we are both from Ohio, our parents still live a little over 3 hours apart, turning a long weekend into a crammed weekend pretty quickly.

Before we headed off for Ohio, however, Mr P and I decided to volunteer at Manhattan's Bowery Mission.  The Bowery Mission provides the needy with a hearty lunch and dinner everyday, all stemming from donations and many many volunteers.  After chatting with a worker, I found out that the Bowery Mission serves 100-150 people per meal, but on Thanksgiving, however, they serve around 5000 people.  Preparing for that many people requires lots of help, so Mr P and our friend Sarah gave 2 hours to the Bowery Mission cooking, peeling sweet potatoes, moving around boxes and furniture, and serving those who came in for Tuesday's 7pm meal.  It was such a good feeling to give our time to those who are less fortunate.  Mr P and I want to volunteer our time on Thanksgiving Day next year, most likely in Cleveland.  If you know of a place, give us the good word, and come with us and volunteer your time too!

We spent Thanksgiving Day first with Mr P's immediate family and closest friends.  Mr P's mother always cooks a lot when we come home, so this time she wanted us (i.e. the children) to cook.  Though it was a little hectic for a few hours (come on, it's Thanksgiving, it's a must that the kitchen is a madhouse), but we successfully whipped up a turkey, beef roast, Honey-Baked Ham, hot pot, and a bazillion sides.  Not too shabby considering the guest list included us coming from NJ and Mr P's brother and his girlfriend who came in from Chicago.

We lounged around all day, with full bellies, watching the Macy's parade (where we explained to Mr P's mom that Mr P walks past that exact Macy's everyday on his way to and from work!  ..I might be a little jealous, not that he gets to walk in over-crowded midtown Manhattan, but that he works in the city), napping, and prepping ourselves for round 2 at Mr P's cousin's house (Anh Gau) where it was a PACKED house with so many little kiddos running around (not that I'm complaining, I'm basically an intentional-child/baby-magnet).  It was so nice to see everyone, and makes us sad we don't get to go to get-togethers like that more often.

The rest of the weekend was spent in my hometown, where I got to see two friends from high school, and went to a wedding reception.  My mom asked that we bring our nonstick pan with a steel handle, because she wanted to make us a frittata for breakfast!!  Well, it was more like Mr P taught her how to make it, but it was such a perfect breakfast, and perfectly paired with peppered bacon from a local butcher (sooo much better than store-bought bacon!)  Now that she knows how to make it, we can expect to have this delicious breakfast every time we come home (maybe? please?)

We requested that my mom make beef and noodles and mashed potatoes (Mr P's favorite dish that my mom makes).  We promised to bring homemade noodles, but we failed.  So, Mr P, my mom, and I worked together to hand roll and hand cut homemade egg noodles (it CAN be done... they didn't have a pasta roller attachment for a Kitchenaid mixer 100 years ago did they? no.)  The only sad thing about making the dish was that we didn't bring any of it home with us!!  Once you have homemade noodles for this dish, you will NEVER go back to the egg noodles in the store.  There's not even a comparison.  They are just.. that.. good.  If you have never had beef and noodles, google it and try it (my mom hasn't given us the recipe yet... maybe it's a scheme to get us to come home more often!)  There are certain times when you don't need herbs, you don't need veggies, you don't need color to make it look appetizing.  You need beef and noodles.  It doesn't really LOOK pretty, but I assure you it TASTES sooo pretty :P

Mr P and I got up super early this morning and hit the road for NJ.  It felt so nice to get back at a decent time for once!  We're totally unpacked and ready for the work week, our fridge filled with 437289473289 banh mi sammiches from Mr P's mom so we have lunches for the week (yum!)

(we already ate 4 or 5)

Now, onto the new project... I snagged this gem from home:

Mr P and I have been perusing craigslist and home stores for an accent chair to go in the corner of the living room... home stores because we wanted something nice with a funky pattern, craigslist for the slim chance we would find a classic vintage style that we could get reupholstered.  It just so happened that my mom had this HIDING in her basement, with no plans to use it.  Thanks, Mom, for letting me steal it from you!  Now we just have to find a fun fabric and a good reupholstery place to give it a fresh, fun look, but keep the vintage-y style.  Considering everything in our living room is from a big box store (Ikea or CB2), we were in desperate need of a one-of-a-find.  Any suggestions on types of fabric? Colors? Patterns (or solid)?

It already makes our living room look much homier than before, so we're in no rush to get it done, so we are going to take our time in finding a quality re-upholsterer and in choosing a fabric.

Wish us luck!  ...and hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving too!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Chi-Town and Chinatown

Chi-Town and Chinatown = mega detox needed.

Mr P and I had such an amazing time in Chicago this past weekend.  Mr P's brother (and friends and girlfriend) are great hosts, and knew the best places take us...  places with good cheap food, and good cheap beer!  ...and we did it all with enough time to have a night "in" drinking wine and playing games.  They know us too well!

Friday night:

We started off with a few relaxing beers at Monsignor Murphy's, a pretty standard pub with lots of TVs and a chill crowd.  AND $11 pitchers!  I don't think anyone was really in a mood to drink a lot until Mr P heard those words.

After a few drinks we headed to Cheesie's, because we heard that the mac-n-cheese grilled cheese blah blah blah... I think we were sold with the idea of putting mac-n-cheese inside a grilled cheese sammich.  The last time we were in Chicago Mr P was inspired to start making pizza after having Ian's mac-n-cheese pizza... I wonder if he's going to be a grilled-cheese-making machine after this trip?

Cheesie's mac-n-cheese on grilled cheese sammich


Mr P's brother's girlfriend (KP... no that's really his name for her) recently found out she was gluten-intolerant (not sure if that's the correct way of saying it, but you know what I mean).  She wasn't sure what to think of it, and when she first found out that's what was causing her to not feel well, she wanted to only eat things that normally didn't contain gluten, because she thought that using substitutions for foods that normally contain gluten would taste "sub-par" to the real thing.  No so, my friend.  She was pleasantly surprised of the delicious "substitutions" that everyone can enjoy, regardless of dietary needs.

We started off the day at a gluten-free bakery in Lakeview near their home called Cassava.  Everything in the bakery is gluten-free, and the baked goods are made with tapioca flour (from a cassava plant).  We were impressed from the start at what was to come for the rest of the day!  This place is SOO good!  The cassava rolls were kind of gummy, almost like Japanese mochi, but each was flavored with either bacon, jalapeno and cheese, or dark chocolate. You can also get empanadas with similar fillings, and equally as delicious.  Mr P also ordered their gluten-free chili with grass-fed beef (the name itself is not exactly appetizing) but it was some of the best chili we've ever had!  It was sweet, spicy, and rich, making us want to savor every bite.

dark chocolate cassava roll

hot chocolate and cassava rolls

cassava empanada

cassava empanada

gluten-free chili with grass-fed beef

Next we headed up to Pilsen, a predominately Hispanic community (or so it seemed) on the southwest side of Chicago, to stop by a model-train shop/bar called Zientek's.  Yes, it was both, and yes, it was odd.  It was so awkward it was uncomfortable, yet comical at the same time.  We met friends there who were interested in model trains, so we thought "why not?"  The placed was locked, even though it was supposed to be open.    A man later came to the door to unlock and let us inside.  The place was cluttered with old model train parts and model train magazines.  The "bartender" had to shuffle dusty magazines off the "bar" to have a clear space for us to sit.  We all ordered a drink, chatted with the man (who really just wanted to know why a group of 20-something guys and girls in pea coats and scarves were doing at a place like that), and then checked out the model train shop upstairs.  As awkward as it was, it was pretty impressive the amount of things this man had, and apparently he had a pretty sweet model train (collection, maybe?) in the basement, but I chose not to go down there.

obsessed with Pilsen train stop artwork
We then took the bus to a more hoppin area of Pilsen and had Mexican food at Nuevo Leon.  I was sold when we were promptly surprised with a taco-like thing for each person as well as the standard chips and salsa with red and green salsa before we even ordered any food.  We let the "locals" (i.e. our friends) order the food for the table as we munched on the delicious freebies.  Not 10 minutes later we had enchiladas, tacos, and tamales filling our table.  The enchiladas were the best (even though we insisted on getting tacos because we just had amazing tacos in Philly).  They had a sort of sweet, rich mole sauce on them that i had never tasted before, and they totally got the prize for the best!  Tamales have become another favorite, with my newly-found cravings for all things made in corn flour.

freebie taco-like deliciousness

freebie taco-like deliciousness, pinch it and eat it!

freebie chips and salsa

tacos with corn tortillas (of course)

enchiladas with mole sauce


sort-of-sweet roll with chocolate on top (bakery down the street)

We headed downtown to check out the Christmas decorations being put up for the parade later that evening, but quickly realized it was too busy for us, and definitely not our cup-o-tea. We did get to see this puppet-show-on-a-bike-thing that seemed to catch the attention of at least 100 children near us, as well as our own boys, before we stopped in the Billy Goat Tavern for a drink (delicious beer btw... dark, not heavy, with a more-than-a-hint of honey taste).

Macy's never lets you down with Christmas decorations

puppet bike show?

don't mind the butt shot... he's stabilizing the bike for the show!

Billy Goat Tavern dark beers

Before heading to the Clamans' home in Lakeview, we were pleasantly introduced to Binnie's, an alcohol mega-store right down the street from Mr P's brother's apartment.  Liquor was cheap, and plentiful, the shelves full of basically any kind of liquor you wanted.  We picked up our goodies and headed in for a night filled with more food, more drinks, and super fun games!

Mr Claman himself with a machine-gun-shaped vodka at Binnie's

Mr P promised to make pretzels (after his brother talked them up so much to his friends), so we headed back to the Claman's home in Lakeview, where we grabbed our 3rd coffee of the day, and Mrs. Claman made gluten-free cake for KP's birthday and Mr P made his famous pretzels.  The cake was made with simple ingredients, and chickpeas instead of flour!  The flavor was rich and chocolaty, and the texture was right between cake, brownies, and fudge, all in one bite.  It wasn't a cake you could stab with a fork, as it was much more crumbly, but it almost melted in your mouth.

Mrs. Claman's gluten-free chocolate cake

As the pretzel dough was rising, we ate take-out from Crisp, and my Korean fried chicken cherry was finally popped.  THIS is what I was missing?!?!  How did I hide from it for so long??  I am the kind of person who enjoys wings and fried chicken, but I would never crave it (unless I smelled it of course)...  but THIS is something I will crave.  It's sort of like getting wings, but instead of the normal bbq sauce or buffalo sauce, it's spicy Korean flavors that compliment the chicken so, much, better.  You just have to try it (but beware, you will feel like a total fatty as you get your hands and face all messy and can't stop yourself from stuffing more in your mouth until it's gone).

ahhhh... Korean fried chicken....

The rest of the night we had Mr P's pretzels, drank, played drinking games, and ended the night with "the game of things".  I hereby pronounce "The Game of Things" the best game for breaking the ice at occasions when friends don't know other friends.  It was so fun, giving us all tears and tummy-aches induced by hardcore laughing.

pretzel balls beginning to bake

starting to rise and get golden

about to be taken out (yes, I stood in front of the oven the entire time watching them)

ready to be eaten!!

...we had to save some for everyone else.

happy birthday KP!

It's a good thing The Clamans live only 4 buildings down from Mr P's brother and KP... after a day like THAT, we were totally exhausted.


After sleeping in late, and KP grabbing me an amazing cup-o-joe from Intelligentsia, we rushed to Chinatown to meet with more friends for dim sum (as if we didn't feel like fatties enough already).  Some people LOVE dim sum, but Mr P and I like to go just because it's a great kind of food to eat with a big group of people.  People come around with carts of hot little Chinese dishes and you pick what you want from the carts.  I have no idea what anything is called, I just know that it's all pretty good.  It's mostly dumplings, small beef or pork or shrimp dishes, and fried goodness.  It's totally deceiving because you never have an entire table full of food, and they bring food and take it away so quickly that you just keep eating, and there comes a time that quickly smacks you in the face and your tummy tells you that you ate too much.  Every , single , time you eat dim sum, that's what happens.  We sat there for a long time catching up with friends before heading back to Lakeview to head off towards the airport.

What a whirlwind of an amazing weekend.  Excellent hosts, excellent food, and we will be back!  Next time we will have to make solid plans for ALL of those we plan to visit (who knew there were so many people in Chicago we needed to see??) especially since my cousin lives in Lakeview and it just didn't work out to meet up!! Grr...

But for now, it's detoxing with lots of gym time and lots of veggies and lots of fluids before another food-filled long Thanksgiving weekend begins on Wednesday.

thanks KP and Chris :D