Easy Pad Thai

Happy Halloween!

So I figured that in between all of the candy and desserts everyone will be consuming today, it might not hurt to sneak in at least a few vegetables…maybe? No pressure?

Either way, you’ve got to try this Pad Thai because it’s so good that you won’t even realize that it also just so happens to be healthy.

When Jose and I go out to dinner, we often end up at Asian restaurants. We usually go out as a result of a craving for pho, sushi, or Thai noodle dishes. However, while I love Pad Thai, I’ve come to find that it can be a bit “hit or miss “depending on the restaurant. I’ve had delicious Pad Thai and I’ve also had a bowl of grease and ambiguous brown/red/clear oily sauce. After the last bad experience I declared that I was not ordering it again. Thankfully, I came across this recipe for the easiest Pad Thai, using just a small handful of ingredients and coming together in 30 minutes or less.

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Since this recipe does not require a large number of ingredients (not the case for many Asian-inspired dishes) this has become another staple of our weekly dinner meals. And, like many of the recipes that we make regularly, this one is easily customized to what you have in your kitchen as well as your individual tastes. We’ve used quinoa in place of rice noodles when cooking this as a vegetarian dish in order to boost the protein content, and more often than not, add whatever vegetables we currently have, including Brussels sprouts, edamame, and broccoli. Add chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu (pictured). Any ingredient that you like in stir fries would likely work here.  The result may not be the most authentic Pad Thai in the world, but the flavor is still there.

Toppings are customizable as well. The standard ones are, of course, peanuts, cilantro, and lime, with a couple squirts of Sriracha. I also like to add shredded white cabbage to add more texture. I’m all about textures.

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So use this recipe as a starting point and make it your own, or be a Pad Thai purist and leave it as is. It is an easy yet delicious dish no matter what you decide to do!

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Easy Pad Thai 

From Brownies for Dinner 

  • 8 ounces dried, wide and flat rice noodles
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 squirt (about 1/8 teaspoon) Sriracha (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 
3 scallions (green onions), white and green parts, separated and thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 large eggs, light beaten (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 
1/4 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts

Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain.

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lime juice, soy sauce, and Sriracha.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.

Add scallion whites and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add eggs and cook, scraping skillet with spatula until eggs are almost set (about 30 seconds). Transfer eggs to a plate.

If you are using additional vegetables as we often do, add them to the pan now and cook, stirring often for 3-4 minutes until softened.

Add noodles, scallion greens, and sauce to skillet. Cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are soft (about 1 minute). Add egg mixture and toss to coat, breaking eggs up gently.

Serve noodles with lime wedges, topped with cilantro and peanuts, and additional toppings if desired).

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Vanilla Bean Custard

So, a couple weeks ago I mentioned my new favorite ingredient, vanilla bean paste:

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I purchased this at Williams Sonoma after attending one of their free morning cooking technique classes; this class in particular was about vanilla, and one of the recipes given to us that day was for crème brulee. Since then, I have not been able to get the idea of making a crème brulee out of my head, and finally decided to make a variation of the recipe.

We do not have a kitchen torch, so what I made is considered to be vanilla custard. However, in my opinion, it was equally delicious, thick and creamy, with only a few ingredients needed to truly allow the flavors of the vanilla to shine. With the vanilla bean paste, you can actually see specks of vanilla bean in the custard.

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They’re in there, I promise.

You could make so many different custard flavors with this recipe base. I am already thinking about chocolate, pumpkin (of course), and almond, to name a few. Or you can simply choose to enjoy the simplicity of the classic vanilla version. This custard can also be used as a filling for tarts, pastries, and a variety of other desserts.

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Vanilla Bean Custard

  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or ½ vanilla bean)
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Have a pot of boiling water ready.

Add vanilla bean paste to 2 quart saucepan. Add the cream, stir to mix and set the pan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat and set aside, about 3-5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt, and the ¼ cup sugar until smooth and blended. Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking until blended. Divide the custard among 3-4 5 or 6 oz inch ramekins, or 2 souffle dishes (this is what I used). In 13×9 inch baking pan, place ramekins and fill bottom of pan halfway up sides of ramekins with boiling water. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until custard is just set around the edges, 35-40 minutes.

Allow ramekins to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-4 hours, and up to 3 days.

Weekend Scenes.

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On Friday we went to a barn wedding which was just lovely, down to every small detail. I loved the wedding favors, which were recipes and bookmarks and am already planning a time to make that braised pork. Dinner was Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ and dessert was pie. Lovely.

Recipe coming soon for the dessert pictured above!

My new favorite breakfast=apple cinnamon oatmeal with peanut butter. Hooked on it lately. I added the oats to the jar of almost empty peanut butter to use up every last bit.

Not pictured from the weekend: Ohio State football game watching. Sunday tapas dinner at La Bodega with friends, followed by ice cream at Glace for dessert. I had butternut squash brown sugar and caramelized apple ice cream…in a pumpkin spice waffle cone! Hello Fall I love you and everything I eat apparently has to fit into the theme of Fall these. I’m waiting to get tired of pumpkin. It hasn’t happened yet.

Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta

Since I’ve discovered this recipe I’ve probably made this dish, or a variation of it, at least 10 times. More or less.

I’d actually had the recipe for awhile before I first made it, but, like many recipes, hadn’t gotten around to it for some time. This is the problem, I’ve come to find: between Pinterest, food blogs, magazines, recipe websites, cookbooks, and my own recipe archives, I’m often paralyzed with indecision. Too many choices!

Finally I had some heavy whipping cream leftover from another recipe that needed to be used up so I decided to make this pasta dish. And I am very happy I did.

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So creamy, with the perfect kick of Cajun spices. It tastes like there is more than the amount of cream that there is, creating a creamier, decadent pasta sauce that is secretly on the lighter side.

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This is Jose’s new favorite dish. He asks for it at least once a week (we don’t make it quite that much), but….it’s that good. And this is saying a lot, because usually when I am suggesting ideas for dinners he’ll respond unenthusiastically with some variation of “Yeah, that’s fine.” And being the indecisive person that I already am, this drives me crazy because I want to know what he really wants! So I ask him again and am displeased when he does not respond as emphatically as I’d like him to. In case it is obvious, this is a conversation we have often. You’d think I would have learned by now.

What I’m trying to say, is that this is a delicious dinner that you should make tonight.

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Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta

Adapted from Eat Live Run

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small bite size chunks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, divided
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (can sub with fire roasted, Rotel, etc.-we use whatever we have on hand)
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 8 oz penne pasta

Cook pasta in boiling water, drain, and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken and 1 tsp Cajun seasoning blend and cook until the chicken has just cooked through—about six minutes.

Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate and add the minced shallot, pepper, and garlic to the hot skillet (add a little more oil if necessary). Saute until the shallot and peppers are tender and then add the tomatoes, cream and additional Cajun seasoning. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for a couple minutes. Add chicken back to sauce.

Add linguine to the pan and toss to combine. Serve pasta with a grating of Parmesan cheese if desired.

Happy Friday!

Beef + Green Bean Stew in Tomato Broth with Orzo Rice

This is one of those family recipes that does not truly have a proper name. I just had to make up a recipe title that somewhat accurately describes what this dish is. My grandmother simply called it Beans and Rice, which does not quite convey what this dish is for anyone outside of my family.

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This dish satisfies my craving for warm comfort food, which is precisely what I wanted this past Sunday.

I don’t know if it’s the change in weather or simply stress and lack of adequate rest, but I’ve felt a cold coming on for the past few days. My sinuses have been unpleasant and I’ve been extra tired lately. I was craving a warm bowl of stew or soup. I was also craving red meat, which is unusual for me because I don’t eat a large amount of red meat (my husband is a slightly different story). I think that is a sign of some sort of vitamin/mineral deficiency? Anyway, I went with it.

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This recipe is so simple and easy. The longest amount of time is waiting for all of the ingredients to stew together until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are soft. It’s amusing to think that when my grandma would make her delicious home-cooked meals, it always seemed more complicated, and duplicating them seemed so difficult. I am by no means claiming to have perfectly duplicated anything that she makes-but the scent of the allspice stewing together after the beef was sautéed with onions and olive oil reminded me exactly of the smell of my grandmother’s kitchen when we would go to visit. At least I got that part right. Smell is such a powerful form of nostalgia.

I also made her rice recipe, one of my husband’s favorites, which is nothing more than basically rice and orzo cooked in a stick of butter, slightly browned. Obviously my grandmother knew what she was doing. And the scent of the butter cooking on the stove while browning the orzo is heavenly.

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This is a perfect meal for a cold Fall or Winter night. It is hearty and filling, yet the tomato based broth is light enough to help avoid the feeling of being over-stuffed (depending on how many bowls you have!). You can substitute peas for the green beans if you prefer, or if that is what you have on hand; otherwise, this recipe is simple, using minimal ingredients that you may already have in your kitchen. Unlike many other dishes I make, I didn’t modify this by adding in a plethora of additional vegetables, spices, or ingredients. Like most of grandmother’s dishes that come from a similar base of ingredients, this dish is perfect as it is. Enjoy.

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Beef + Green Bean Stew

Serves 4-6

  • 1.5 lbs stew meat, cut into small squares
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (you may need to add more)
  • 1-2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 12 oz can tomato paste
  • 4 carrots, chopped into 2 inch pieces
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 4-5 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons allspice (add more to taste)
  • Salt + pepper to taste
  • 1 14.5 oz can green beans, drained (defrost if using frozen)

Orzo Rice

  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • 2 cups rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt

For stew: Heat large stockpot to medium heat. Add olive oil, onions, garlic, and meat. Stir constantly until meat is browned. Add tomato paste, water, carrots, and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1.5 hours. Add green beans and serve.

For rice: Heat large sauté pan (or medium sauce pan) to medium heat. Add orzo and butter, stirring constantly until orzo is browned. Once orzo is browned, add rice, water, and salt. Bring to a boil then simmer until water is fully absorbed (as always, cooking times will vary based on type of rice used).

I highly recommend serving this with some crusty bread.

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Weekend Scenes.

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I know, just another bowl of oatmeal on a blog, but that was seriously one good bowl of oats that I had to share. Oatmeal+oat bran+ cranberries+banana+flaxseed+peanut butter+ vanilla almond milk. Highly recommend.

Although I didn’t run the Kansas City Marathon, I did happen to catch a glimpse of some of the (fastest) runners while walking out of my yoga class. There was even a live band playing! I am inspired.

Another great part of Fall is Honeycrisp apples. At least Michigan does something right?

Speaking of not liking Michigan, Jose got some new Ohio State gear just in time for the game on Saturday! Go Bucks!

On Sunday, we stopped at the new Hallmark design store, HMK. It was very cool. They have stations that help you to locate certain cards, so that you can peruse their entire collection before searching through the cards the old fashioned way. Once you find the one you like, it tells you where it is. Intriguing.

In other news, my new favorite snack might just be Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter and cream cheese on whole grain toast. So good.

Basic Pumpkin Oatmeal

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In case anyone hasn’t heard yet, it’s Fall, which actually means that you should eat all of the pumpkin-flavored everything while it’s available and in season, and socially acceptable. Make the most of  Fall.

Despite my love for all things seasonal and my tendency to be a little “proactive” (I got out the Fall decorations in the second week of September when it was still technically Summer and temperatures were still in the 90s), I actually only made my first bowl of pumpkin oatmeal this past weekend.

So cozy and creamy. The perfect Fall breakfast.

I forgot how much I love pumpkin oatmeal. I also forgot how nutrient-dense pumpkin is; almost 200% of your daily value of Vitamin A in a serving of pumpkin. If you want even more reasons to eat pumpkins, here’s a good article. I’m all for added bonuses.

These pumpkin oats are worth the few extra minutes in the morning.

Pumpkin Oatmeal

  • 1/3 cup oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or milk of choice)
  • ½ banana, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Sweetener to taste (optional; I don’t use)
  • Walnuts/nut butter for topping

Combine oats and milk in small saucepan over medium and bring to boil. Simmer and add banana and spices, cooking 6-8 minutes. Add pumpkin puree and vanilla and stir, cooking 1-2 minutes longer.

Serve with toppings of choice.

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Mujadara

I’d been meaning to make this dish for awhile now.

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I’ve had a bag of lentils that hadn’t been touched since I bought them almost a year ago (!).

I think I know what part of the problem was. You see, while I do love my adorable, sweet, thoughtful, and caring husband….he does have some flaws. He doesn’t like beans (or cheese). Seriously-I think I found the only Mexican that does not like beans.

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Jose’s face after trying beans.

Actually, this is one of my favorite photos of him. And he didn’t try beans, he had just tried coffee, which he also doesn’t like, and is, of course, another one of my favorite things.

It’s not that I can’t make what I like every now and then, it’s just that usually when I cook dinner, I cook for both of us, and it’s not as often that I bother to cook a whole meal that only I would like.

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Maybe it should happen more though.

Mujadara is a traditional Lebanese dish which consists of lentils, rice, and onions. That’s pretty much it. I am told that my grandmother used to make this but unfortunately never tried hers. I have, however, tried both good and bad versions at restaurants. Yet I hadn’t made it myself until now.

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I topped my bowl with some crispy kale because I had one of those days where I realized I hadn’t eaten a single vegetable…and I highly recommend this because crispy kale is delicious and is a perfect complement to the dish. You can also top with Greek yogurt or hot sauce but I didn’t feel that it needed anything more. I am usually all about toppings but sometimes it is enough just to enjoy the flavors of a few simple ingredients together.

Mujadara (Lentils + Rice)

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • I cup dry, uncooked brown lentils
  • ½ cup dry, uncooked brown rice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped/diced (does not have to be finely diced)
  • 3 ½-4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-2 cups kale, if desired
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring constantly, until browned.

Add rice and lentils and stir to mix with onions.

Add water, cumin, allspice, salt, and pepper, and stir.

Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for about 1 hour or until water is absorbed. You may need to add more water while cooking; I need to add an additional ½ cup after cooking for 40 minutes.

Serve topped with crispy kale, Greek yogurt, hot sauce, hummus-or as is!

For crispy kale: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add kale to small mixing bowl and massage olive oil into kale. Add spices, mix again, and spread onto baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until desired crispiness.

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Layered Chicken Enchiladas

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I cannot share this recipe without also sharing about one of my oldest, and closest friends, Michele. Image

After all, she’s the one that gave me this recipe. While most of my Mexican-inspired recipes are either from Jose’s family or modifications of dishes he’s had, this came from Michele….who is also basically family.

Though we are far in distance, we still talk almost every day. She’s one of those “pick up right where you left off and it’s as if you still see each other everyday” type friends whenever we get the chance to visit.  It seems that as we get older and transition into new phases in life, friends tend to come and go more and more, as a natural part of life, and this has made me realize how unique and lucky we are to have the friendship that we do.

We met when I was 5 and she was 6, soon after my family moved into the neighborhood in which she lived, in suburban Columbus. Her older brother was our paperboy who, upon meeting my family, told me that he had a sister my age I should meet soon. Well, I was so excited to meet my first new friend in the new neighborhood that I asked my parents if today was the day I could meet Michele every.single.day. Looking back, this was probably all in the span of a week or less but in my 5 year old mind it was forever.  Finally we met and we were pretty much inseparable ever since. We saw each other practically every day!

We always say that we are more like sisters than friends-we fought like sisters and love like sisters.  Though my family moved from Columbus to Cleveland while we were in middle school, we kept in touch, even writing each other letters, ended up going to the same college, and were just recently in each others’ weddings.

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Just putting on the garter, no worries.

Yep, guess we still pretty much do everything together.

Layered Chicken Enchiladas

(slightly modified from Michele’s recipe)

  • 1 rotisserie chicken
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 16 oz jar salsa of choice (I used a hot red salsa)
  • 1 can Rotel
  • 1 cup queso fresco

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Shred chicken in bowl; set aside.

Coat bottom of 13×9 baking pan with layer of salsa. Layer with tortillas to cover; layer with chicken, salsa and Rotel, and cheese; make another layer of tortillas, and repeat until tortillas are used up. The last layer should be tortillas. Top with remaining salsa and Rotel and queso fresco. To be honest, I never measure cheese, so use as much or as little as you’d like.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until heated through. Serve with toppings of choice: cilantro, avocado, hot sauce, sour cream, etc.

We were enchilada purists that evening and the meal was equally delicious. These enchiladas can certainly stand on their own.

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This is another easily customizable meal-use whatever salsa you prefer, or have on hand. Add ingredients such as bell peppers or other vegetables. Switch up the cheese.

My theory is that as long as a recipe involves tortillas and melted cheese, you cannot go wrong.

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Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Mascarpone

So, about that mascarpone cheese……Image

I wasn’t joking when I confessed my love for it. I just want to incorporate it into every meal. Creamy yet mild enough, not as tart as crème freche, slight sweet. So many possibilities….

I will admit that I easily slip into routines with most of my weekly meals and usually lunch consists of the same standard salad-a very good salad, but the same nonetheless. It’s just easier when time is limited, makes grocery shopping faster, and is one less thing to plan during a busy week.

However, I’ve been on a kick lately with roasting butternut squash and sweet potatoes and tossing them with some greens, nuts, cheese, and a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Easy and quick enough to make on an hour long lunch break (and to save even more time, you could roast the squash ahead of time!). Tip: Trader Joe’s sells pre-cubed butternut squash, which is an excellent time saver and much less intimidating than cutting into one of those.

This was simply too delicious not to share. Ahh, Fall, I love you.

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Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Mascarpone 

  • 1-2 sweet potatoes (I usually use 1 but this time the ones I had were tiny, so I used 2)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt + pepper
  • 1 cup haricot verts/green beans (I use frozen)
  • 1-2 cups mixed greens
  • ¼ cup walnuts (can also substitute pecans)
  • 1-2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Balsamic vinegar to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut sweet potatoes into small, one inch squares and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil , cinnamon, salt, and pepper until coated. Spread onto baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, flipping them at 10 minutes.

Heat green beans using method of choice if frozen; I heated them in the microwave and added them to the sweet potatoes and roasted for 5 minutes.

To assemble salads, simply add mixed greens to bowl.  Add sweet potatoes, green beans, walnuts, and remaining olive oil. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and top with mascarpone cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Obviously you can add or substitute ingredients to your liking, or even add chicken and/or quinoa to make this a more substantial dinner meal. Unless you are my husband. Even with added protein, he won’t eat this. Doesn’t like sweet potatoes, doesn’t like cheese. SIGH. I know. Lunch for me=eat all the food he won’t eat with me. I make it work.

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This salad is like taking a huge bite out of Fall-in the most appetizing way possible.