Tag Archives: quick meals

Restaurant Junkie


Just so you know, when you eat out or order in for a full month your wallet shrinks and your waist-line bulges. It may be fun and relaxed during that time. The feel of a menu in hand may become second nature. Different places you “always meant to try” are given a chance. You call a friend up for a quick bite out more often. If your poison is dining out, you may stroll around the neighborhoods, taking walks after meals more readily than if dining at home.


“Try this,” prompts the bartender and suddenly you are tasting an amazing wine you’d be ignorant of had you been home sitting in your pajamas drinking PBR eating PBJ. Ordering in allows you the luxury of trading in that humble PBJ for a swankier calzone while still donning  pajamas. Eventually however, you do not come to feel very well. Your body becomes accustomed to, addicted to even, greasy take-out. Your cells yearn for fresh produce. Lack of dish-washing, it seems, also equates to lack of energy. The doorman might receive you with looks of either pity or judgment each time you go to pick up your super spicy hot pepper beef with extra veggies and a side of egg rolls. Your neighbors may single you out as the one whose recycling burgeons out with plastic take-out trays and menus.


And even if you have mastered the art of ordering the healthiest dishes offered, it is unlikely your income can keep up forever. $40 worth of food ordered from a restaurant is not equivalent to $40 worth of groceries. No amount of justifying leftovers or Groupons will make up for that. Also, dining out often leads to drinking out which ups the tab considerably, 1- because drinks are expensive and 2 – drinks make you forget the price of drinks which leads to ordering more rounds of drinks.


It wasn’t an experiment or a  conscious decision. I have not been travelling (unfortunately) or trying to woo anyone incessantly. It just somehow happened that I ate out for an entire month. Whether ordering, picking up food on the way home or eating out I avoided home-cooked meals. My bank account and body suffered tremendously as a result. To break myself of this terrible streak I made a shopping list the length of a Russian novel and headed with my boyfriend- the incredibly patient Ryan – to the grocery store to fill the pantry and fridge with mostly healthy things.


Following my absence from the kitchen (aside from re-heating delivery pizza) I decided to ease back into cooking with a fond, nourishing dish easily thrown together with sausage, swiss chard and some type of grain. Luckily I had picked up farro, one of those versatile, filling grains with a deliciously nutty quality that I somehow always, and unforgivably, overlook.

I am not sure if it is every Trader Joe’s or just the one we go to down State Street, but it has about two dozen different varieties of chicken sausage.  Curiosity led me to grab the Maple syrup and apple package that works in this dish  if you love sweet and savory flavors together, but I see how it could be more successfully highlighted at breakfast.


So here is a recipe after a month-long hiatus of cooking. Something simple, clean and refreshing after all of the deliciously heavy meals I have had this month. Something to warm you up if you are as cold as I am here in Chicago and something to fill you up if you are lucky enough to be warm right now and just simply hungry. Enjoy.

Farro and Chicken Sausage with Rainbow Swiss Chard

For the farro:
½ c quick-cook farro*
1 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
olive oil
2-3 chicken sausages, cut into rounds
1 Tbsp butter
½ c diced onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

For the swiss chard:
1 bunch rainbow swiss chard, cleaned and dried
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp olive oil
¼ cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper, to taste

Add farro to 1 cup broth in a saucepan. Set on high and cover until boiling. Watch as it has a tendency to boil over at this point. Reduce heat to low, cover again and let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat  when it’s al dente and let farro stand for another 5 minutes, still leaving pot covered. Drain any excess liquid. Season with some salt and pepper and set aside.

Next, prepare the swiss chard. I chose rainbow to add some color to the meal, but it really doesn’t matter. You can even substitute kale. Take the swiss chard stalks and chop them into small pieces. Set a medium sauté pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the garlic and sauté until it becomes lightly golden in color. Add the swiss chard and the broth and stir to coat the leaves. Cover pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir leaves again and check for tenderness. They should be just wilted but not too crunchy in the center. Add the red pepper and salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat add a dash of olive oil. Add the chicken sausage pieces to the pan and brown them. Once done, remove these to a plate.

Add the butter, onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté these until tender, adding a little pat of more butter if you need to. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the farro, chicken sausage and stir everything together until warmed through. Serve on top of or stir together with the swiss chard.

* I found quick-cook farro at Trader Joe’s, however this can be done with regular farro just be sure to pre-soak the grain for 30 minutes, drain and then gently simmer for about 30-45 minutes.


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Baby Steps

So this will be my first post on a baked-good item. It has only been nearly a year…my falling into any sort of baking habit will be fumbling, like baby steps. I am not scared to bake or horrible at it. The thing is, I associate baking with sweets – cakes and cookies – which are not popular in my house. We have had a box of Frango mints in the freezer since last Christmas and will occasionally retreat to that box after dinner for a single mint. This box is still half full.

My little brother visited over the weekend. For lunch we went to the amazing Kuma’s Corner, then decided to walk off our gluttony. We walked four miles and, inevitably, covered topics from how awesome it would be to own a house in Lincoln Park to the genius of Southpark episodes. A college kid, he expressed that he wants a stand-up mixer when he eventually gets his own apartment. Guiltily, I told him that both my sister and I have one (hand-me-downs). They are rarely used. Since life is often about making goals, however trivial, I’ll strive to get out my mixer this winter, affix the dough hook and turn on the oven for some fresh focaccia and extra heat in the apartment.

This morning I woke up to eat my breakfast choice of the month, greek yogurt with granola, yet realized I finished the granola yesterday. At this point I contemplated having leftover chili to start the morning.  I remember visiting family when I was younger and witnessing one of my aunts steaming clams and boiling spaghetti for breakfast. I suppose this is the side of the family from where I draw my fondness for savory and salty foods. Though the cowboys used to do it, I closed the fridge door on the chili pot. Luckily, a good granola is incredibly easy to put together.

My granola recipe is very bare-bones. Notice how I didn’t even chop the nuts. The recipe does, however, serve as a pretty good foundation if you wanted to add anything else like coconut or ginger or sunflower seeds. I used agave nectar to cut down on sugar, but alternatives like honey, maple syrup and brown sugar would produce a sweeter and richer result.

I should add that making your own granola is deeply satisfying and makes your house warm and smell like a bakery. Teeny baby steps. Some homemade chocolate chip cookies sound good right about now.

Homemade Granola

2 cups rolled oats
Salt, to taste
1 cup mixed nuts of your choice
2 tablespoons seeds (flax seed, sunflower seed etc.), optional
½  teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup warm water
¼ cup agave nectar or maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup dried fruit

Set the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with some foil and either butter or spray to prevent the oats from sticking. In a large bowl stir together the oats, salt, nuts, seeds (if using) and cinnamon. In a separate bowl stir together the warm water, agave nectar (or maple syrup) and vanilla, pour this mixture over the oat mixture. Stir to combine. Spread the oat mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake this for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the mixture doesn’t burn. You want the granola and nuts to be nice and golden brown. Once done, remove from oven and sprinkle the dried fruit over granola. Let cool and enjoy! Will keep in sealed container for about a week or refrigerated for one month.

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Don’t Waste a Thing

I must have been about seven at the time because we were living in the house where my brother was born. I recall my sister and I sitting at the kitchen table after dinner with our bowls in front of us being told that if we didn’t finish up, we couldn’t leave the table. What we had done was fish out all of the chunks of beef from my mother’s stew, leaving the barley, carrots, onion and celery. At the time, the ‘punishment’ was a terrible injustice. Now as an adult facing fall in full force with the threat of a mid-western winter just on the horizon, I would happily down vats of my mother’s hearty beef and barley stew or chicken soup made from leftover roast chicken the night before.

After an autumn storm in Michigan

It was a wonderful surprise to have the afternoon off the other day and, with that, the time to cook something nourishing and homey. Whether it be a thought-out appetizer or some cheese and crackers, Ryan and I usually like to nibble on something before dinner. This is especially true if the dinner will be boiling on the stove for awhile. Last night, with some green tea in hand instead of wine (head-cold), I put together an avocado and feta dip. We have an abundance of avocados because I snatch some up whenever I see them on sale. There really isn’t a true recipe for the dip. One whole avocado, about a half cup of feta cheese, some white wine vinegar, a little olive oil and lemon juice, oregano, pinches of salt and pepper – blend all of this into a fine puree and spoon onto toasts or cucumbers. Add a dash of cayenne pepper for some heat. It actually keeps the next day either on toast or straight out of the bowl with a spoon…

This I made and snacked on while my ‘peasant stew’ bubbled away on the stove-top and the cold night set in. Kale I have sautéed, baked into chips and steamed, but never added to a soup before. Incredibly simple, filling, and very delicious.

Lentil and Kale Soup with Sausage

Adapted from Gourmet

1-2 tbsp oil
1/2 lb kielbasa sausage, sliced
½ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package of lentils, rinsed
4-6 cups chicken broth
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bunch kale, de-ribbed and cut into small pieces
1 tbsp balsamic or red-wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage and brown the pieces. Transfer sausage to a plate. Add another tablespoon of oil, if necessary, and add onions and garlic to the pot. Cook, stirring, until onion is softened. Add lentils, broth, sausage and thyme to the pot and simmer, covered, for 40-50 mins until lentils are cooked. Add kale and simmer, this time uncovered, for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

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Chunky Bunny.

The other day, well, yesterday actually, I went to go put on a pair of jeans I quite like. They did not fit. It wasn’t just the common but endurable “oh these are rather snug” tightness. The button and hole suffered a good inch or so gap. Opting for some denim with more give I pondered my culprits. The third helping at Easter brunch? The weekend of discovering the best places for beer in our new neighborhood? The empty dish of what was once filled with cheesy strata after one of those bacchanalian nights? Hmmm… Summer is just around the corner and in Chicago, as in most places, this means the beaches open up and the bulky clothes that let us ‘conceal’ a few extra pounds when we indulge in winter comforts like pot roast and shepherds pie, well, those fleeces and sweats are replaced with shorts and two-pieces.

Eating out needs to quiet down in my household. Not only is the dining tab pricier than cooking at home, but unless I am in a situation where it is nearly impossible to gorge yourself (tapas-style with 5 servings of each item and 6 guests) I will overeat and usually order something richer than I would eat at home. Having recently moved back to the city from a two-year stint in the suburbs I feel so spoiled with dining options. I have to pace myself or I’ll be crawling back to the suburbs just to afford rent again. It will be my challenge this week to figure out the best grocery stores in the area and get back into a routine of weeknight cooking. All the money I save with grocery shopping can go towards a new pair of jeans…maybe a scale wouldn’t be a bad plan either?



Tuna Salad with Dijon-Citrus Vinaigrette

When I mixed this little salad up I had a genuine hankering for some canned tuna. Unlike many times, this wasn’t one of those moments where I am just trying to tastefully get rid of my canned foods. Whats so great about a simple recipe like this is once you have the dressing and proteins, you can throw in anything else you like. If I had some tomatoes and a cucumber in my fridge, those probably would have been in there too.

1 can albacore tuna, drained
1 can cannellini beans, drained
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup kalamata olives, halved

Add the tuna and cannellini beans together in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice and mustard together. Sometimes I will throw in a splash  of white wine vinegar to give the dressing a bit more of a bite. Pour this onto the tuna and beans. Add the celery and olives. Toss everything together gently until blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


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