Just Messing Around

This week, we decided to put one of our favorite year round dishes on the menu, Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Sauce. However, considering that it is summer, we decided to deviate from the tried and true recipe and cook both the chicken and brussels sprouts on the grill. I thought we shouldn’t stop there, so I decided to play around with the mustard sauce as well. I browsed around a bit and then I remembered a time when we made a mustard and shallot sauce to put over poached eggs that was divine. Since we are trying to eat a little healthier I decided not to go with that recipe, which contains a cup of heavy cream, but I was inspired. And that was all I needed!

I thought about the shallots a bit and knew that using them raw or even cooking them on the stove top wasn’t the way I wanted to go for this sauce. As such, I decided that roasting the shallots might be the best preparation this time. I also did some looking around at some different mustard sauce recipes and was most intrigued by recipes that mixed varieties of mustard. We always have both dijon and whole grain on hand, so I decided I would use equal parts of each. Finally, I thought about what would complement the mustard and shallot and settled on white wine, lemon juice, and butter as my final ingredients.

Here is what I ended up using, but note that my quantities are estimates because, after all, I was making this up as I went along.

  • 2 large (really large) shallots
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2-3/4 cup white wine
  • 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp butter
  • salt & pepper

I began by roasting the shallots in a 375° oven for about 30 minutes. Trim the ends of the shallots and stand them on end. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. After 15 minutes or so, I turned the shallots so they stood on the other end. I used my small cast iron skillet so I would have the goodness left in the pan to add more depth to my sauce.

I let the shallots cool until they could be handled, then I chopped them roughly.

Next, I heated the cast iron skillet on a burner at medium to medium-high heat. When it was good and hot again, I added the wine and deglazed the pan. Then, I added the shallots to the liquid and brought that all to a boil.

Once the shallot and wine had boiled for a couple of minutes, I added the mustards and stirred until they were well incorporated. Then, I let the mixture heat until it began to thicken just slightly.

Just before I was ready to serve the sauce, I turned the heat off and added the lemon juice and butter. Then, I added just a touch more salt and pepper to suit my taste.

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All in all, I was really happy with the way the flavors worked in this experiment. It accompanied both the chicken and the brussels sprouts well. The only thing  I wasn’t particularly happy with was the final consistency. It definitely came out more like a topping than a sauce.

I’m definitely going to be trying this again with the ingredients in the same proportions. However, the next time, I think I will combine about half of the shallot with about half of the wine and use my immersion blender to puree it all and add the puree to the sauce with the rest of the wine after I have deglazed my pan. Then, I will more finely chop the rest of the shallot to add back into everything. That should definitely leave me with more of a liquid consistency.

What have you been trying out in your kitchen lately?

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Weekly Preview – June 12

It seems like now is a good time to link up with one of my favorite blogs, which I’ve been following for several years, Mommy Run Fast, to talk about what I’m doing for fitness and diet since my cesarean in the form of my plans for the week ahead.

During my pregnancy, I tried to keep up with my running and I was successful for a while. Then, right around Christmas I ended up with a horrible cold. After that, I just couldn’t manage to keep my heart rate down, so I ended up switching over to walking. I resumed walking about 5 days after my surgery at about a 30 minute pace with a quarter mile. Now, I’m walking up to 3 miles between a 15 and 16 minute pace. I’m happy with that progress i less than 5 weeks time, but that still means I haven’t run for 6 months. UGH!

On Thursday of this week, I have my 6 week postpartum visit with my doctor and I’m hoping that means I’ll be cleared to start running again. I won’t technically be at 6 weeks until next Monday, so I’m not planning to start mixing running in until that day, but this week I will continue my brisk walks to prepare my body for running when I get the all clear. I am still taking a rest day very frequently because a cesarean is major surgery and I want to make sure I am treating my body kindly to allow it to properly heal. I’m also leaving out strength training because I am not cleared for core work yet and I get enough upper body work carrying around the baby and pushing the stroller.

Here is how my week will look:

Monday: 35 minute walk

Tuesday: REST

Wednesday: 45 minute walk

Thursday: REST

Friday: 30 minute walk

Saturday: 1 hour walk

Sunday: REST

I’ve also been taking a bit of a break from meal-planning while I’ve been recovering. I have an amazing husband who has been meal-planning, grocery shopping, and doing most of the cooking since the beginning of my third trimester. I’m working on starting to make that more of a collaborative process again now that I’m feeling more recovered and have another month at home before the end of my maternity leave.

We can also plan some slightly higher maintenance mid-week meals right now, because I can typically get a some prep done during the day. If something happens and I have less time, we just switch the planned meal to something a little easier. What has made our meal planning much easier is buying a small dry erase board for the refrigerator. I picked up this days of the week dry erase board by Quartet days of the week dry erase board by Quartet from Amazon for less than $10. It is heavy duty and is magnetized so the dry erase marker sticks directly to it rather than having to stick it on the refrigerator next to it. We tend to stay much more organized with our meals when we use it. We also add when we have special things going on so it helps us to keep track of when we don’t need to plan meals or we need to make some other type of special arrangement. I only wish that the week on the board ran from Sunday to Saturday instead of Monday to Sunday as that is how we plan our meals.

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For this week we are planning to have a real mix of things:

Sunday: Summer Vegetable Risotto

Monday: Big Salad with Tuna Medallions ($6.99/lb at Harris Teeter this week)

Tuesday: Grilled Chicken & Brussels Sprouts with a Shallot Mustard Sauce

Wednesday: Pork Tacos

Thursday: Skillet Gnocchi with Spinach and White Beans

Friday: Cookout with friends

Saturday: Eat out or get takeout

Cake Challenge

I read a great article published by Food & Wine back in January about cake baking. The theory behind the article is that if you want to get really good at baking cake, you need to bake cakes on a regular basis. That way, you learn how cake baking really works and learn important lessons to help you improve your cake baking craft over time.

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Now, I don’t know about you, but when there is cake in the house, the cake goes into my mouth. So, while this is great in theory, it does pose some challenges for someone trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, I’ve been baking cakes when I have an occasion to attend, as most of our friend gatherings tend to be of the “bring something to share” variety.

For Superbowl Sunday, which was actually in February, I made the January cake, Citrusy Angel Food Cake. While I have baked cakes before, I had never attempted Angel Food. This one came out just a little more dense than I would have liked, but the important lesson I learned was to be careful about how long you beat your egg whites. I believe mine were just slightly overbeaten and that is what caused the cake to be slightly more dense. The other issue that may have given me some challenges is that I chose to use orange zest instead of lemon zest for this recipe. As I looked at the zest, it occurred to me that the orange zest was more wet than I typically see with lemon zest. Perhaps I should have modified my wet ingredients just slightly. Nonetheless, everyone raved about it, so it wasn’t a tragedy.

In February, I ended up skipping the cake of the month. My husband and I bought a blow torch and we tackled creme brûlée instead. He has made it again since our Valentine’s Day attempt, and we still feel like the consistency isn’t quite right. It tends to come out more like a pudding than a firm custard. So, it is still a work in progress. I, however, still want to come back to the February cake recipe, because who wouldn’t love a Molten Chocolate Cake as the conclusion to an intimate dinner party?

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I made my March cake for a gathering of the same group of friends who were together for the Superbowl party. There was a beer tasting party, so it seemed the perfect time to make a Porter Bundt Cake with Whiskey-Caramel Sauce. OMG, this cake was amazing, but definitely not kid-friendly! The Whiskey-Caramel Sauce packs a real punch. If I hadn’t been pregnant at the time you might have found me eating the sauce with a spoon instead of just drizzling it over the slice I ate. I had never baked a bundt cake before this attempt, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out. I will make this cake again around the holidays!

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April was a crazy month, I was miserably pregnant, so even though I had plans to make April’s Carrot Cake for a birthday party, I ended up skipping the party and sleeping instead. So, no cake. However, after the baby came, my sister decided to bring my nieces down to visit over Memorial Day weekend. My youngest niece adores carrot cake, so I decided it was time to break out the recipe. However, my older niece and my husband are not huge carrot cake fans so I needed a backup plan. Since the older niece loves chocolate, I settled on the chocolate cake recipe I grew up on. Now, in my family, we call this Grandma’s Chocolate Cake; truth be told, it is really the chocolate cake recipe from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa can. And, it is amazing. So, with a nearly 3 week old baby, I decided to tackle making two cakes in one day.

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I was kind of surprised that I managed to pull it off with only a little bit of support from my mom. She ended up having to take the chocolate cake layers out of the oven for me while I fed the baby. But, other than that, I did it! Important lesson learned from this cake baking day, however. My frosting for both cakes was so soft that I had trouble icing the cakes. It was a very warm day, and I had left the butter out for quite some time. While room temperature butter ensures a smooth icing, I may have let it get a little too soft. In the future, when I have an icing that feels soft after mixing, I will be sure to throw it in the refrigerator for a short rest before I put it on a cake!

Another important lesson I learned from this cake baking adventure is that the quality of your ingredients really matters! I grew up eating this chocolate cake made with Hershey’s cocoa. However, I had a good supply of Dutch process cocoa already in my kitchen cabinet so I decided to use that instead. Holy cow! It made the cake the regularly decadent cake truly unbelievable. I’ll never go back to using regular Hershey’s cocoa for baking again!

The cake on the calendar for May was Tres Leches. This is my mom’s favorite, so I’m looking forward to making it for her next visit. June is a white cake with chocolate ganache icing. I’m looking forward to finding an event for making that one.

I do feel like I am learning a lot from participating in a cake baking process on a more regular basis. And, now that I have a little one, I think it is safe to say that making cakes might become a regular thing even after these 12 months! As for the rest of this year, I’m looking forward to sharing my monthly cake adventures with all of you!

Have you ever set out to practice a skill that you wanted to improve by engaging in it on a regular basis? What do you think I should take on next?

Big Changes

There are more than a few things that have changed in a major way in our household since I last blogged. Man, I have missed writing on a regular basis, but priorities shifted around for a while. While things continue to grow and change, it hit me that blogging is something I want to make a priority. So, my new goal is not to write (almost) every day as I was doing before, but to get in a couple of quality posts each week. I’ll continue to write about what is happening in my kitchen, in my fitness life, and around the house. But now, I get to add my new role to the mix as well (more about that later). So, what are these big changes?

  1. We bought a house. We started house shopping back in spring of 2014, finally found something in the fall, and closed in December. So, we’ve been here for nearly a year and a half at this point. We’ve made some cosmetic changes, but we’ve been taking it one room at a time. Look for some blog posts in the future about what kind of changes we’ve made and what constraints we’ve had as we have done most of the work ourselves!
  2. I went back to school. I’m working on a post masters’ certificate in school administration and I’ve been working a bit on some professional writing. While I will keep the majority of my professional writing on my consulting website, I’ll be sure to mention when new posts go up so if any of my readers out there are also educators, they can keep up with the other side of my life.
  3. And, for the biggest change of all. Last week, I became a mommy. Our little PJ has quickly become the center of our universe. While I will not even pretend to be any kind of expert on anything childcare related, be prepared for some new mommy reflections and stories about my journey back to running for the foreseeable future.

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Looking forward to sharing more with you soon!

WIAW: Snacks

My appetite is endless these days. On days when I’m out and about in schools or training teachers, I keep it pretty well in check. But on days when I’m at my desk all day, I just can’t seem to keep away from the snacks. Yesterday is good evidence of that…

2014-09-09Breakfast: Typical egg, turkey bacon, and half a grapefruit–I can’t ever seem to remember to snap a picture of this before my coffee.
Morning Snack 1: An oatmeal “cupcake” and a banana
Morning Snack 2: Unplanned handful of peanut butter pretzels
Lunch: Leftover grilled vegetables and some of the black lentils that I’ll use for tonight’s stir-fry. I made way too many of these, so I’ll be eating lentils like crazy for the next week.
Afternoon Snack 1: Almonds–I think I needed something else with lunch, because I was starving again by 1:30.
Afternoon Snack 2: Edamame hummus with carrots and some red grapes
Afternoon Snack 3: Baby Snickers and a handful of salted nuts–Seriously. It was after 4, I had been super productive, and this was offered to me by a great coworker. It actually worked quite well as a late day pick me up before I hit the gym.
Dinner/Dessert: A lovely Sweet Josie Brown, Blackened Chicken over Lime-Cilantro Quinoa (with avocado/Greek yogurt sauce) and one square of Theo Classic Dark Chocolate with Orange

What strategies do you use when you can’t seem to stay away from the snacks? Or, do you just go with the flow?

Check out more Wednesday grub over at Peas and Crayons What I Ate Wednesday link-up!

 

Eyeliner Wars

I like eyeliner. At any given time, I have a few different varieties in my bag. But, over the years, I’ve never been very adventurous when it came to eyeliner color; I stick with black or brown/black.

So, months ago, when I received the Mally Beauty Evercolor Starlight Waterproof Eyeliner in a shade they call Sailor, I wasn’t sure what to think. Let’s face it, navy blue eyeliner isn’t exactly adventurous, but it wasn’t a shade I had thought much about. However, I gave it a try and it quickly became my favorite “everyday” eyeliner. I used it so much that the pencil became shorter and shorter. But, at $17 to replace it, I decided I should use it until it was too short to use before I dropped the money for a new one. I know, $17 isn’t much, but I’m a teacher, so I have to make sure I  get every penny of my money out of something before I replace it.

Fast forward, and I head out of town for a weekend to meet up with my family in Western Maryland. The first thing my sister tells me after I get out of the car is that she has forgotten her makeup bag, so we need to go shopping. I tell her not to worry about it, she can use mine. I mean, what are sisters for? Right? So we go about our evening, head to bed, and the next morning, it hits me that even though I made sure I packed everything into my makeup bag for the trip, I never actually picked up the makeup bag and put it into the duffel we had packed for the trip.

So, off we went! We decided the mall would be the best place to start, even though it seemed they fell a little short in the department store market. Fortunately, there was a BonTon on the backside of the mall, and the girl at the Clinique counter got me hooked up with a BB cream sample and my sister with her regular foundation and concealer. She powdered us up and then we went off for less expensive eye products. We ended up settling on a low cost waterproof mascara that we knew would come in handy at the beach and I decided to try a lower cost version of navy blue eyeliner by purchasing Maybelline New York Define-A-Line Eyeliner. This is actually the brand of brown/black eyeliner I use, so I decided it would probably be the best way to go.

This eyeliner goes on great! It is super smooth and because you turn it out rather than having to sharpen it, it’s super low maintenance. Since I like this eyeliner, I decided to see how it would stand up in head-to-head (or eye-to-eye) matchup with the Mally eyeliner.

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I started out by applying one of the eyeliners to each eye as part of my regular makeup routine. Then I photographed myself as a baseline for how each eyeliner looked compared to the other. At this point, there is no real difference. The only thing I really notice when I look closely is that the Maybelline has a slightly brighter color than the Mally. Satisfied that I didn’t look too crazy wearing two different eyeliners, I went about my day.

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I really almost forgot that I was wearing two different eyeliners. That is, until I went into the bathroom to get changed before my run. And that’s when I noticed the difference. Look below. See that smudge under my Maybelline eye? I had noticed that once or twice before, but typically after I had been in a sweaty situation. I just assumed it was the eyeliner running from that. After all, it isn’t waterproof like the Mally eyeliner. But, since I had been in my office all day, and hadn’t exerted myself or gotten overly warm, I realized this was a problem. After all, nobody wants dark blue circles under their eyes, right?

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As a result of this little test, I decided that they Mally eyeliner really is worth every penny, so treated myself this week by ordering a new one. The best part was that I found out the price dropped and it is down to $12.95 on Amazon right nowI can’t wait to get it!

See how others are treating themselves this week by checking out Olives ‘n Wine!

 

Weekly Recap: Getting It Back

There isn’t much new this week. In fact, I kind of stuck with what I did last week. Kept my mileage low, ran easy, and stayed away from strength.

Monday: 3 miles + 3 hours of raking, mowing, and yard clean-up – I had the day off thanks to Labor Day. Since my husband had to work, I took advantage of the time to get in my run early in the day. I managed to run the first mile, walk a minute, and then ran again until I got to about 1.75 miles. I walked a good bit after that and then ran in the last half mile.
Tuesday: 30 minutes on the stationary bike
Wednesday: Rest. I planned to run, but I ended up having to work late and was wiped out by the time I made it home.
Thursday: 3 miles – Managed to run a mile, walk a minute, and then run another entire mile. After that, I was pretty wiped out. I tried to start running again after a longer break, but I had nothing left in the tank.
Friday: Scheduled Rest Day
Saturday: 6 miles – My asthma has been acting up pretty badly the last couple of weeks, so I have cut my intervals back to 5 minutes. Even that has been a struggle, but I’m managing to put the miles in, even if I’m walking even more than usual.
Sunday: Rest – Per my doctor, I’m supposed to be resting for 48 hours in between my runs. I thought about hitting the gym for some bike time, but they don’t open until 1:00. We watched football and had beer and pizza instead. 🙂

This week, I’m going to start working in the strength training for sure. We are switching our runs to early mornings for a while, so I can get a short strength workout in the evenings of those days. I’m focusing on core work and some lower body exercises that don’t require squats or lunges. I’ll be sure to fill you in more on that in the coming weeks!

You may also remember that we’ve been house-hunting for a while now. While we look, I’ve taken to choosing one purging project each weekend. This weekend, I took on shoes. I started by laying out an old sheet on the bed (to protect our bedding), then I laid all of my shoes on the bed. I left out my really good shoes that live on the top shelf of the closet in boxes.

Yes, 8 pairs of running shoes. I have issues.

Yes, 8 pairs of running shoes. I have issues.

I sorted through them, pair by pair. Some went in the trash while some went into a pile for Goodwill. Then, I put them back in the closet. After I had sorted through all of my own shoes, I put all of Nathan’s shoes out and let him go through the same process. All told, we ended up throwing out 8 pairs of shoes and put 12 in pile for Goodwill.

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It feels good to get rid of extra stuff!

Have you got a good idea for a purging project? Please share!