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Comfort

Last weekend, I found myself craving my favorite comfort foods, so I had to indulge. In Texas, we have at least another month or so of the hot heat, but that doesn’t stop my taste buds from wanting slow cooked soups, chilis, and stews, roasted meats, and other pots of deliciousness.  My body knows we’re approaching the fall season.

In my first few years living in Texas, I would get tremendously homesick in September. The seasons are so distinct in Chicago and fall was my favorite. There really isn’t a fall season in Austin, Texas. December and January are more like fall to me.  My body knows fall starts close to September.

August has been a stressful and busy month. Cooking my favorite foods is a way to sooth myself.  Two of my favorite vegan soups are recipes from the vegan cleanse I do at least once a year: Fennel Lentil and Ginger Zoodles (I modified the recipe into a soup).

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Ginger Zoodles Soup. LPC

I even got the idea to cook a Haitian soup, or Bouillon, my mom used to make when I was growing up.  It’s basically a beef soup with lots of vegetables including lots of watercress. I initially thought I would make it last weekend, but I spent that time gathering the ingredients from different stores. I’m still in need of a few more items.

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Malanga. LPC

I’ve only made this Haitian soup once since I’ve been living in Texas.  I remembered that I found Malanga at one grocery store in Austin….Fiesta. Malanga is like a potato with a gummy texture….my favorite part of the soup followed by the broth and watercress. I was disappointed by the Malanga selection, but I still picked up a few. I had intended to pick up the watercress from the same store, but they looked more pitiful than the Malanga. I made a trip to Central Market to pick up the watercress.

I learned early on from my mom the importance of marinating meats. The start of a delicious dish is a well seasoned protein. In Cajun and Creole cuisine, there is a trio of flavor called “mirepoix”, which is celery, onion, and bell peppers. I do enjoy that combination, but I believe the “mirepoix” of Haitian cooking is parsley, green onions, and garlic. I make a marinade often that includes, parsley, green onions, garlic, a pepper of some kind (jalepeno, hatch green chili), olive oil, fresh lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. I made a large batch enough to marinade my chuck roast and cornish hens.  By Sunday, I decided I’d make the Bouillon the upcoming weekend since I’d gone through so much trouble and still didn’t have all the ingredients. I still need to buy potatoes, plantains, and carrots. On Monday, I eventually put the chuck roast in the freezer.

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Roasted Cornish Hens. LPC

The cornish hens with rice and beans (not pictured) were delicious although I was disappointed I was the only one who ate Sunday dinner. My two teenagers had eaten fast food earlier and I don’t remember my husband’s excuse. However, he made up for it the following days because he did what he said he would do, “Since you made it, I’ll eat it!”

I enjoy cooking and eating delicious and healthy food.  It makes me happy. I also find cooking stress relieving.

I can’t wait to let you know how the Bouillon comes out. I took the marinated chuck out of the freezer to dethaw. I’m looking forward to my Saturday dinner!

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Spice in my life

I was tickled reading my blog post from back in March 2018 called Spicey Escapade. I love being able to find the lesson in any story, even in one about an ordinary trip to the grocery store. I hope you find a lesson in this post about using spices to create delicious food.

I debated about sharing this picture because, as you can see, some jars have labels, most don’t. A couple of jars have torn labels from the packaging I bought them in. Some jars are stained. It’s on my to do list to buy a package of labels for uniformity and run the jars through the dishwasher, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. My spice rack isn’t perfect, but it’s beautiful to me because I love my spices. I’ve filled these jars many times over the years. This spice rack is one of my favorite purchases from IKEA.

Although this post is about spices, I will take the opportunity to share a light lesson pertaining to perfectionism. The significance of me posting this imperfect picture points to my progress with releasing the desire to be perfect. Don’t get me wrong I still struggle and suffer because I’m constantly fighting the ideals and pressures to be perfect. There is a lot of pressure to be perfect….Period.

Our culture seems obsessed with everything “looking” perfect: perfect produce, perfect meals, perfect houses, perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect cars, perfect children, perfect relationships, etc. Trying to be perfect kept me in bondage for many years, but not anymore. If I continued to wait for perfection, I would never be able to share my stories through my blog posts. I’d be too consumed with perfect grammar and perfect pictures. Since I’m more concerned about sharing a piece of myself through my blog site, you get to see my imperfectly labeled spice rack with the knowledge that I intend to buy labels in the near future.

Purchase from my “spice run” earlier in the week. LPC

My love for spices has surpassed the amount of jars on my spice rack. The cover photo shows the extension of spice jars in my spice cabinet. I do love a couple of spices from Trader Joe’s. Another money saving tip I use is to repurpose the Trader Joes spice jars, once used up, for other spices. This allows me to expand my spice collection.

The benefit of buying spices in bulk is that you purchase only what you need, which helps reduce wastes. When I learned that spices have a shelf life and lose their potency after a while, I invested in a spice rack and only bought what I needed. This is another tip to ensure I’m optimizing my grocery budget. There are a few spices I buy in large quantities because I use them often in my cooking: salt (my new favorite is Himalayan), black pepper, and taco seasoning.

Shrimp Stir Fry. LPC

Technically, I don’t think I can call this dish a stir fry because I used a cast iron skillet instead of a stir fry pan, I didn’t use traditional stir fry vegetables, and I used creole seasoning on the shrimp. The creole seasining is a blend created by the store where I buy my spices. It’s delicious!

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For a dish with multiple components, I season every layer. For example, I roasted the broccoli and cauliflower with a sprinkling of spices, I marinated the shrimp in creole seasoning and other spices prior to sauteing, and seasoned the other vegetables as they were sauteing. I taste constantly to ensure everything is on track to taste amazing, then I add salt at the end. I served the shrimp stir fry dish with jasmine rice.

Warm spiced almond milk. LPC

Warm spiced almond milk is a soothing “must have” at the end of a busy day. It’s a daily habit I’ve carried over from my vegan cleanse. I’ve given the drink my own flare by steeping a cinnamon stick in the liquid and adding turmeric (if I feel like it). The other basic ingredients are maple syrup to sweeten, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, a pinch of cayenne, and a tablespoon or two of almond butter. Once warmed, you can blend these ingredients in a blender. I tend to omit the almond butter and blending. It’s a soothing night cap.

I encourage you to experiment with spices. It will change your life! Spices will take a simple dish like stir fry to another level…I promise!

As an extra side note, don’t let the impossible goal of being perfect stop you from achieving your goals!

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Healthy food on a budget

I’m a cook. I cook healthy and nutritious meals on a budget. I’ve been toying with the idea of sharing on my blog site secrets of how I manage to cook high quality meals on my household’s one salary.

We’ve been living on one income for over a year and a half. I make a decent income, but when your household is used to two, being downgraded to one can be a challenge regardless of how much you make, in my opinion.

Because eating healthy is important to my husband and I, we haven’t sacrificed our food budget too much. I realize some people have a smaller budget than ours. It sucks that eating healthy is expensive, but it is what it is and we do what we need to do. One big thing we do is cook homemade meals often. We’ve drastically reduced “eating out” at restaurants, which means we cook at home. As I share more of my recipes in this blog, I’ll share my tips on saving money.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. LPC

If you’ve ever heard the expression, “Never Say Never”, then you may appreciate that I’ve said many times what I’d never eat by way of food, but I had to change my thinking. Here’s an example. I’ve said I will never buy chicken thighs or chicken legs. Yet, I’ve also learned from renowned chefs of various cooking shows just how flavorful the dark meat of the chicken is. They love it!

I’ve preferred white meat for many years. I think mostly because I was so burned out from the “pinwheels” (leg/thigh combos) my mom used to buy when I was growing up due to their affordability. I’ve been cleaning chicken since I was about 12 years old. In the summers, it was my job to cook dinner for the family before my mom came home from work. Cleaning the dark meat of the chicken grossed me out.

Building the foundation for my meal. LPC

For years, I’ve said I’d never buy dark meat chicken, then I found myself considering dark meat chicken because it’s much more affordable. I love chicken wings, but have you seen the price of chicken wings? They’re expensive in Texas. I also love chicken breasts, but you have to find them on sale. I’ve found dark meat chicken is always less expensive than white meat. In the past year, boneless, skinless chicken thighs have become my staple. It’s much more messier to clean them from the bone than the boneless, skinless kind. I can cube the boneless, skinless pieces in a breeze for a chicken and mushroom teriyaki dish like I made this evening.

I don’t know the history of how Trader Joe’s started, but MAN!!! I love this store for quick meal ideas. Tonight, I also made an udon noodles stir fry. I simply used a bag of broccoli slaw as a vegetable saute. I added onions and a jalepeno, which I add to most everything. I also added two eggs, soy sauce, and spices. Another secret is I shop at several different stores to get the best deals.

Today, I attended a 2+ hour Zumbathon for a special cause and tried a new exercise platform called Kangoo Jumps. It was AMAZING and scary!

Kangoo Jumps Demo about to start. Be brave and try new things! LPC

When I returned home from the Zumbathon, I was so happy to drink the watermelon kiwi banana green smoothie I made earlier. Although this smoothie was made with all fresh ingredients, I buy large bags of frozen fruit from Costco for my green smoothies.

Watermelon kiwi banana green smoothie. LPC

Two or three frozen fruit bags from Costco will last me through the month. It’s much more affordable to buy fruit for my smoothies this way, especially since I drink them daily. Also, my usual grocery store had some varieties of their store brand organic frozen fruit on clearance. I bought a few. I have a variety of healthy add ins on hand such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. I purchase from whatever store has the best deal. I also buy a large piece of fresh ginger and freeze it so it doesn’t spoil before I can use it all.

Tonight’s meal was delicious. I seldom cook from recipes, except when I’m cooking vegan or baking. By the way, I haven’t found vegan cooking to be less expensive than cooking with meat. I do a 21-day vegan cleanse about once or twice a year. It can also get expensive (variety of nuts, fresh produce, avocados, specialty ingredients like nutritional yeast, etc.)

I literally create meals and get inspiration from a variety of sources. I also use a lot of delicious spices and herbs to layer on the flavor. Yes, I have two starches on my plate (jasmine rice and udon noodles), but I only added a small portion of rice. I burned hundreds of calories today, so I can afford the carbohydrates.

O Organics Jasmine Rice. LPC

I’ve found store brand organic and non-organic foods to be less expensive than the name brand versions. The day I bought this rice, I had an online coupon for a 36 ounce container of Organic Texamati Jasmine rice for about $4.55. It just so happened it wasn’t on the shelf. I kept looking and noticed this 32 ounce of store brand organic rice for $2.99.

I’ve had a Sunday that made my heart and belly full. That’s what I call a Happy Sunday!

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Thai Tuesday

Nope…it’s not Taco Tuesday. It’s Thai Tuesday. I’ve been looking forward to trying out this Organic Thai Style Curry Chicken Broth. I don’t always cook during the work week, especially since I arrive home late most days, but when I have a taste for something, I make the effort.

I’ve been thinking about my mom, Solange, today and how much she loved the show Chopped on the Food Network . I wrote a post on my mom teaching me how to cook, which you can read about here. I’ve never really liked the show Chopped, but my mom watched it every day, for hours. I’m more of a 30-Minute Meals, Pioneer Woman, and Master Chef kind of girl.

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Chicken Breasts, chopped vegetables, lime, oil and vinegar

This whole dish was inspired by the Organic Thai Curry Chicken Broth. I’ve never heard of it until I saw it in the grocery store a few months ago. This meal was really quick to prepare. I’m an experienced cook and am used to making meals quickly. I also use whatever ingredients I have and enjoy being creative.

I set the bone-in chicken breasts out last night to dethaw. I chopped up some vegetables and prepared Vermicelli noodles (not pictured). Bless my husband’s heart! He attempted to make dinner and made the grave mistake of boiling the broccoli. I haven’t boiled broccoli in years. I prefer roasted broccoli and so do my kids. In fact, I prefer all of my vegetables roasted. There was no undoing the boiled broccoli, although I could have used it for one of my favorite vegan broccoli potato soup recipes. However, instead, I decided to roast it and use it as a garnish for my soup. I don’t like wasting food.

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Sauteed vegetables. LPC

My oil of choice was coconut oil. After seasoning the chicken, I sauteed the chicken, then vegetables, then added the Thai Curry Chicken broth (plus added 2 cups of my homemade chicken broth), and then the noodles. Ordinarily, I’d marinate chicken for a day or two, but I didn’t have the time. I’ve read a few articles on how healthy bone broth is, particularly because of the collagen. I also attribute my immune health to eating my homemade broths and soups weekly.

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Thai Curry Chicken Soup. LPC

I ladled the noodles and broth in a bowl, then topped with the chicken and broccoli. I didn’t want soggy chicken or broccoli. If I weren’t so hungry, I would’ve been patient enough to add a touch more red pepper flakes, carrots, and green onions for the visual, but I ate it up. The dish came out DELISH! Bon Appetit!