Meal Planning This Week and Testing out a New App- MealBoard

This week, I tackled the task of optimizing my meal planning strategy. True story– this is what approaching 30 looks like. It’s also a sign of the times that I’m actually not ashamed, heck, even proud! of this project.

I used to use ZipList to plan meals, and then it became so buggy that it was simply unusable. This was incredibly frustrating since I had invested a ton of time uploading all my recipes to my ZipList account and then it lost most mobile functionality. I tried using Menu Planner and didn’t like the interface; same story with Pepper Plate.

It’s unfortunate that Alex and I both have different phones (he has a Windows phone and I have an iPhone), so syncing across platforms was always going to be a tough hurdle for us. Keeping that in mind, and previous negative experiences, I decided I would focus on finding a planning app that contained specific characteristics:

  • Stable platform
  • Easy, drag-and-drop meal functions
  • Easy recipe creating and uploading from the web
  • Pleasing interface (it needs to be pretty!)
  • Intuitive to use
  • Creates a grocery list that I can later transfer to Wunderlist (which is the list app that my husband and I share)

I think I have finally found what I’ve been looking for: meet MealBoard.

It’s $4 at the app store. Not bad, and well worth it in my opinion (so far). Like any meal planning app, you’re going to spend a lot of time uploading your recipes. You won’t, however, spend a lot of time figuring out how it works since it’s super user-friendly.

You can also upload a ton of recipes from the web (including PaleOMG!), making it even easier to get your repertoire of dishes set up. I like that you can easily move meals around from day to day, in case Tuesday rolls around and you decide fish isn’t really what you’re digging anymore or you decided to dine out that night. There’s also a Pantry feature that lets you see what you already have in stock, a categorizing function for your meals (salads, appetizers, seafood, etc) and tons of other shiny bells and whistles.

I must say, thus far, I’m pretty impressed. First on the meal plan: paleo breadSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOm nom nom nom.

Christmas week: highlights and plans

Christmas week is here! I spent the past two days holiday-partying before everyone heads out of town to spend time with their families. My “festive” holiday sweater got a lot of wear… maybe too much wear. I opted for the unflattering, Fair Isle cotton-blend sweater that was on sale at old navy:

Perhaps the best $20 I’ve ever spent. It was warm, it was comfy and it was festive in a subtle way. Brava, Old Navy! Needless to say, others thought this sweater was awesome, too:

FOT82C4At the second party, which was Elf-themed, we drank some delicious Portuguese Douro red wine and at the end of the night were bequeathed with personalized mixed-drink recipes as a parting gift:

IMG_7510It suffered a little on the way home, hence it’s crumpled appearance. Not sure when I’ll have all the ingredients listed here but it sounds fabulous.

After the party we made a dinner trip to Big Star. We got Cheladas, the queso fundido and *all* the tacos de panza (pork belly) in the place. Mmmmmmm

original_Taco_de_Panza-Edouard_Pierre_resizeOn Sunday, I went a little crazy with the baking. I needed to get rid of a can of pumpkin I had in my pantry and decided why the heck not make a paleo pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie muffins from Elana’s Pantry recipes. After using canned pumpkin against Elana’s recommendation, I ended up with slightly soggier muffins and bread, but they were still delicious. One successful modification I always do to paleo breads from Elana’s website is adding about twice as much salt as she recommends and I think it tremendously enhances the flavor. I cannot recommend her paleo bread enough. I make it literally every week, which is why I require the Costco-sized box of eggs for my baking needs at home at all times.

From Elana’s Pantry

Later, I tried making sweet potato chips using the recipe on PaleOMG, but had varying degrees of success. I seriously need to get a dehydrator, my life would be so much easier! At least I had an opportunity to use my spiralizer, so that was exciting.

Other cool things that I enjoyed this weekend:

1. Finding the softest pajamas at Target

2. Finding out that I can get cans of Thai Kitchen coconut milk at Amazon for cheaper than my local grocery store

3. Finding out that I have a new little niece:

IMG_4351Baby Leia! Cutest little black lab puppy in the world. I can’t wait to meet her when we head to Pittsburgh this week for Christmas. I am beyond stoked.

Two nice reds

The other night my sis-in-law was asking me what some good wines were at Trader Joe’s. Right off the bat I made clear that Cabernets were usually off the table with me (pun totally intended) as they tend to be a bit too acidic for my taste. I did, however, remember a couple of favorites that I had in my wine fridge.

Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir. I believe this was recommended to us by the sommelier at Mariano’s actually, but it’s a smooth and rich wine that I really like.

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And this delightful Laurent Dublanc Cotes-du-Rhone. It’s very light and refreshing, which is surprising for a red.IMG_7449

I did advise her, however, to stay away from the VintJ label, which I’ve found to be not so great.

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Since it’s winter, most of what we’re eating is hearty and savory, which usually requires a nice balanced red to go along. Although, I must say, the occasional Viognier is never out of place at our dining table.

If you have any good wine recommendations I’d love to know (just drop a comment below).

It’s been too long

Thanksgiving just flew right past me! Can’t believe it’s already December and Cyber Monday! This year we were trying to find a good deal on a quality TV set, mostly because Alex likes to watch football until his eyes fall out. I tend to watch TV on my laptop… is that crazy? Even when I could be watching it in the TV right in front of me. I just find it strains my eyes less to watch it on my laptop, which is probably because our TV is pretty crappy. Womp.

So, we made our way out to Desert Ridge in Phoenix, AZ for Thanksgiving, as I previously mentioned. First I said farewell to work:

IMG_7399Then we hopped on the CTA to Midway airport, desert bound…

CTA photobomb
CTA photobomb

…and pretty much the first thing we did when we got to AZ was hit the pool, of course:

IMG_7402Like the absentminded fool I am, I totally forgot my bathing suit and had to borrow my mother-in-law’s, which was totally fine, especially since she also let me wear her matching white sunglasses. I looked pretty Miami-fabulous, and decided to top the look off with red lipstick for added flair.

No evening would be complete without a little game of Settlers of Catan in the Kandabarow household

IMG_7404Nerd-a-thon.

And, of course, a beautiful hike through the warm desert:

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Hydrate!
Hydrate!
"We look like a Susan G. Komen ad"- Liv
“We look like a Susan G. Komen ad”- Liv

The night after Thanksgiving, we did Mastro’s Ocean Club and, of course, Dad-in-law ordered the Seafood Tower:

IMG_7416I paired it with a SUPERB Fess Parker Viognier

IMG_7415Absolutely delicious, all around. I heart Mastro’s, especially their bone-in steak. mmmmmm.

The next morning we had breakfast at a place that basically looked like Happy Gilmore’s “happy place”

"We've only just begun to live..."
“We’ve only just begun to live…”

Then walked the grounds of the resort to get our body moving after a filling brunch. Wandering around the city we stumbled upon a pediatric dentist’s office that had an impressive space theme:

IMG_7423IMG_7424Pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. This guy really followed through on his vision.

After an exhausting week of eating, drinking, hiking, card/board game playing and shopping (so much ULTA), we finally came home to this baby:

"Where's my dinner?"
“Where’s my dinner?”

She’s working through a little Demodex infection, hence the little scar on her face. Poor baby, she’s always got something going on. But giving her a big ol’ hug was the perfect ending to a tremendous Thanksgiving weekend. Can’t wait for Christmas.

Spatchcocking for Friendsgiving, inter alia

Yesterday we had an amazing Friendsgiving feast! It was a huge success, due largely in part to my husband’s approach to cooking the bird this year: spatchcocking. This was the fourth time we’ve cooked turkey and I must say, this method has been by far the fastest and best method he’s tried so far. Just look at the delicious results:

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If you’re interested in learning how to try this method out for Thanksgiving, check out Martha Stewart’s how-to.

You should also brine the turkey overnight accordingly, rubbing your preferred salt under the skin and letting it stand overnight in the fridge for maximum flavor. We had an 18 pound turkey, 14 guests and practically zero leftovers (aside from a little breast, which we will be reheating tonight, for sure). I’m telling you, this method is legit.

I made a couple of sides, which were a hit. They were based on Food and Wine magazine recipes, but with a couple of tweaks:

Sausage and Apple Stuffing Muffins

Based on a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine

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Ingredients:

  • Olive oil cooking spray for greasing the muffin pan- but I prefer just using silicone muffin cups (on sale at Crate and Barrel!), no oiling needed
  • 8 ounces french bread cut into 1 or 1/2-inch cubes (3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 1/3 cups finely chopped fennel
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 12 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely chopped
  • 8 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons chicken or turkey broth
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease two 12-cup muffin pans with cooking spray OR I prefer using silicone muffin cups for even cooking and non-stick awesomeness. See below for a comparison of the results. The best part, you can just put the silicone cups on regular baking sheet, no need to buy a separate muffin pan!
  2. On a baking sheet, toss the bread with 4 tablespoons of the oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 10 minutes, until toasted. Transfer the croutons to a bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter in the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and fennel and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, garlic and sage and cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until no trace of pink remains, 5 minutes. Mix the sausage, apple, eggs and broth into the croutons; season with salt and pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  4. Pack the stuffing into the muffin cups and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a rack and let stand for 5 minutes. Loosen the muffins with a sharp paring knife and lift them out. Serve warm.
"Non-stick" muffin pan, never again!
“Non-stick” muffin pan, never again!

See the difference in the baking method? Silicone cups are much better, and they are also the environmentally conscious choice!

Another hit came from Food and Wine Magazine’s Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe.

The only changes I made were to use bacon fat instead of canola oil, omit the walnut oil and use hazelnuts instead of chestnuts. I also roasted the Brussels sprouts in the skillet for about 10 minutes on 400 after finishing off with the apple cider vinegar and nuts, then transferred the skillet to the stove top again to reduce the sauce before serving. It was a maaaajor hit.

I did unfortunately have a slight burn incident when making these little guys.

IMG_0015Word to the wise, DO NOT plop Brussels sprouts in searing hot bacon fat willy nilly. Be sure you are close to the skillet and drop them in slowly.

Luckily, we had plenty of wine and prosecco, so I quickly forgot all about these nasty battle wounds.

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I am now enjoying leftover pie and pistachio cranberry scones, and can’t wait to use the leftover gravy for all kinds of sauces. As you can tell, paleo takes a back seat this week. All worth it!

Kelp Noodles and Kombucha

I’m feeling a bit exotic this week…in terms of my food choices, that is.

On Tuesday I made myself a kelp noodle stir fry for lunch.

I used the recipe in the back of the bag!
I used the recipe in the back of the bag!

They were actually pretty good! A bit crunchy, but very tasty. At 12 calories per bag, 4 grams of fiber and pleasant taste, I think these are a winner! Just scramble them up with some sauteed veggies and broth and you are good to go.

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I threw in a bit of Raspberry Chia Kombucha for good measure:

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This drink is a powerhouse in terms of nutrition:

IMG_7363And it’s all thanks to those wonderful little chia seeds. It’s probiotic, of course, so it has excellent digestive benefits. This is good if you’re lactose intolerant and can’t get these probiotic benefits from yogurt or kefir, and you are wary of fermented veggies (like me). I must say, while kombucha is rather tasty, I do feel a little woozy after I drink it. I was feeling a  bit concerned about this, so I went over to the Synergy website and alas, it turns out their kombucha actually has a measurable amount of alcohol.

Woops.

I am, all in all, trying to keep healthy in light of this weekend being our first Friendsgiving! I’m very excited. Any activity that involves pies and friends is just swell in my book. As I mentioned before, we are doing Thanksgiving in Arizona, so we won’t have an opportunity to really prepare a turkey ourselves that day. That’s why this year Friendsgiving is where we will really go all out in our culinary experimentation. It will be a Christmas test run, for sure.

Apologies for today’s short post, but the days have been shorter with all the holiday prep and business a work.

There’s always enough time for a good throwback Thursday memory:

Who didn’t love this game?? I’m bringing it to Thanksgiving, for sure.

Until next time.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Kitchen

I remember the days when I used to go to Trader Joe’s and just buy ALLLLL the frozen Indian meals. And the pre-made refrigerated dinners. And then probably a few snack bars here and there. And cereal, oh yes, lots and lots of cereal and Almondmilk.

Honey Nut O’s!

That was my grocery list and while, I tell you,Trader Joe’s has some amazing frozen food, I really didn’t feel like I understood what eating right was all about. I just looked at calories and tried to get some veggies in, but I felt pretty clueless about the whole thing. And I didn’t feel great and I was constantly hungry.

The first time I really got my hands dirty in the kitchen was during my second year of grad school, when I decided to try out Jillian Michaels’ online fitness program. Little did I know it would really change the way I thought about food and eating and cooking. Jillian Michaels really places an emphasis on eating clean and unprocessed foods, and getting good food into your body, as opposed to processed crap.

It seems silly when I think about it now: Jillian Michaels’ was my cooking guru. Of course, I had help from a dear friend, Katherine, who patiently explained how to properly mince a clove of garlic (thanks Kath!) and my husband (then boyfriend) who experimented with me in the kitchen and put up with a lot of fails. Now, just a few years later, I really feel like I’ve gained an understanding of what eating right is sort of about. I’m not calling myself an expert, but there are a few practical tips that are guide my meal planning now.

1. Plan your meals
The first tip is actually meal planning. When you take a minute or two on Sunday to plan your meals, you really take control of what you are eating throughout the week. I like to use Wunderlist and have a “Meals” list, a new item is one day and a subtask is a meal. This helps me share the meals I’m having with Alex, who can get started on the cooking if I can’t get to work on time.

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2. Love your leftovers
Oh, I have heard it all before: I hate leftovers, they’re gross and soggy and tasteless. Whatever- the problem is that you are choosing to make the wrong foods that will make for terrible leftovers. Things that are meant to be crispy or fluffy are most likely going to make terrible leftovers. Meats that dry out because they have no sauce are another bad choice.

If you’re short on time, make a big batch of stew, chili or soup on Sunday, food that is meant to taste better the more it sits and the flavors blend. Choose sides that will hold for the next day, like roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips) or squashes (butternut, acorn, etc.).

Roast for 30 minutes at 350 degrees with butter and salt!

3. Invest in a few good tools:

  •  A  good knife: Yes, you just need ONE. This is the one that I own:
Cutco French Chef Knife

It will make allllll the difference in the world. Cooking will just be a breeze and a pleasure. Trust me. I’ve also heard great things about Wusthof.

  • A food processor: I own a Cuisinart mini food prep, but would seriously consider investing in a larger food processor because I firmly believe in cooking in big batches to save time and money. This tool is really a must, as you can’t make certain things without a food processor (for example, pesto. Not sure how you’d pull that one off easily)
  • Silpat: those French people know what they’re doin’. Silpats are basically a plastic liner thing for your cookie sheet which makes sure that things you cook on them don’t get burned onto your baking sheet and cook evenly (cookies, veggies, etc). It’s cheap on Amazon and also environmentally friendly (say goodbye to wax paper, parchment paper, aluminum foil, etc.), as it is reusable.
  • Cast iron skillet: Will make your food taste MAGICAL. You can buy pre-cured ones too: I’m very happy with my Lodge classic skillet. Pro-tip: if you want delicious pizza and also an enormous vegetable roasting pan, also get the cast iron pizza pan:
  • A grill. Any grill, even an indoor one. Or a cast iron griddle. Your meats will thank you.

4. Focus on quality protein (and food, for that matter). You’ve heard this before, but it’s all true. Protein will keep you satiated and energized. Quality makes a difference in nutrition and taste. Honestly, people complain that meats and organic veggies are too expensive- well maybe they should spend less money buying crap they don’t need (I’m looking at you, Sephora and Amazon!) and invest more in the quality of their comestibles! You will be living in this body a long time…

Some of my favorite proteins include:

  • Fresh salmon wait until it’s on sale at the market, then buy a couple of pounds to freeze. Wild-caught rocks the house.
  • Chicken breasts and thighs I don’t buy pre-frozen ’cause I think they taste less awesome. I’ll also wait for a sale on the refrigerated breasts and then individually wrap them in Saran wrap and freeze them up for later use.
  • Eggs- guys, cholesterol (in eggs or otherwise) is not primarily what causes you to have high cholesterol levels (you can read about it here, or you can just google “eggs and cholesterol level correlation”), that has more to do with your consumption of saturated fats and trans fats. Eggs are good for you! And, if you purchase good quality ones, they are delicious and versatile. You can use them to make an omelet or frittata out of anything that’s going bad in your fridge, too!
  • Grass-fed meats. You can taste the difference, trust me. And your body can tell the difference.

5. All (or at least most) veggies taste good roasted. Check out this roasting guide, buy up whatever veggies are on sale that week, toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, roast and you are good to go! Make sure you are roasting them long enough, though, or they will just not taste as good (especially brussels sprouts!).

Image from Foodness Gracious

Tie it all up:

Plan your meals each week (usually at least four dinners big enough to leave you with leftovers for lunch, some breakfast staples like eggs, and fruits to snack on), buy what’s on sale and preferably in season as long as it’s high quality and fresh, and cook in big batches.

Your meal should consist of: half a plate of veggies (mix of root veggies and non-starchy veggies, preferably) and 6 oz of protein. I tend to eat medjool dates for dessert once in a while. Yummmmm.

Drink with a delicious glass of wine (or coffee, if it’s morning, unless it’s brunch!), and enjoy!

 

I’m a Coffee Snob

Hi, my name is Vicky, and I’m a coffee snob.

Let me qualify that statement. I enjoy my coffee every morning and while I don’t think I need more than a cup or two to start my day off right (in contrast to the coffee addict)

I won’t settle for a regular old cup of Maxwell House. Oh no, my friends, I need the good stuff. Not watered down or burnt tasting muck, but delicious, shade-grown Arabica harvested by our good friends in Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kauai.

And where do I get this delicious stuff? Why, my local Trader Joe’s, of course! Check out this awesome guide to see what kind of “coffee character” you prefer!

They always carry some of my very favorites including:
-Peaberry (from Ethiopia is the best but all their varieties are winners for the most part)

and

100% Kauai Whole Bean Coffee

Another fantastic coffee roaster is La Colombe. I’ve tried their Haiti coffee and was very, very pleased:

True story, I walked into La Colombe today for a delicious cappuccino and they were all “cleared out” of Haiti! Instead I’m giving this Guatemala Tomastepec variation a try, with notes of tangerine, butterscotch and violets, per their suggestion, and I will let you all know how it goes:

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If you’re looking for something a bit more accessible or you’re not near a Trader Joe’s (but really, if you’re not near a Trader Joe’s you should consider moving…), I also really enjoy Gevalia coffee.
Traditional Roast:

and
Mocca Java:

Make no mistake, coffee preparation is a serious business: we buy the whole beans and grind them at home in our little Cuisinart grinder for optimal taste. Do not buy ground coffee at the store and then store it in the refrigerator! That’s asking for rancid coffee; just ask the National Coffee Association:

“It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.  Instead, store coffee in air-tight glass or ceramic containers and keep it in a convenient, but dark and cool, location. Remember that a cabinet near the oven is often too warm, as is a cabinet on an outside wall of your kitchen if it receives heat from a strong afternoon or summer sun.

The commercial coffee containers that you purchased your coffee in are generally not appropriate for long-term storage. Appropriate coffee storage canisters with an airtight seal are a worthwhile investment.”

Check the oiliness of the beans if you’re buying in bulk at the store: the more oil you see on the beans the darker the roast. I am not a huge fan of super dark roasts, as they can be too bitter for my taste.

And there you have it! Serve with yummy cream or half and half to taste and savorrrrr.

CHEERS!
CHEERS!

Scenes from Paradise

This is seriously one of the suckiest things about having an adult job: I have to come in to work on Veteran’s Day. Womp Womp. No better way to honor those who served our country than to champion that puritanical work ethic that keeps our ‘Merica great.

America.

I celebrated this morning by making myself a variation on the Swirly Quiche from Practical Paleo and created a patriotic frittata, which consisted of two eggs, rosemary, sun dried tomatoes, shredded zuchhini, salt and pepper. I cooked it on a frying pan for about a minute (buttered up of course) before transferring the pan to the broiler for about another minute, and voila:

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I paired it with some Simply Balanced Spinach and Garlic Chicken Sausage from Target. Check out the simplicity of these ingredients. I’m impressed… who said rampant capitalism would lead to a deterioration in the quality of our consumables?

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I was basically trying my darndest to make this morning a little more special since it is a holiday after all, and it is like beyond super gloomy here in Chicago. So for today I decided to share some scenes from our honeymoon in Punta Cana where we went this past September. We stayed at Secrets Royal Beach in a beautiful ocean front suite

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View from our cabana by the beach.
View from our cabana by the beach.
Hello ocean.
Hello ocean.
HOLA!
HOLA!

The best part: all inclusive. We just sipped mojitos by the beach for a week straight. It was fantastic. Highly recommend.