Hello Fresh!

Howdy folks! Long time no chat. I’ve been keeping crazy busy planning Northern Virginia’s next YELPER PARTY!

I’m throwing Yelp’s Fire & Ice Ball at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner on April 19th, and Y-O-U are invited! This event is one giant extravaganza celebrating all things Northern VA. Pick out your best red or white evening wear, because I promise you, this is one night not to be missed. And best of all, it’s totally FREE!

This is my one event that literally anyone can attend, and I’d love for you to be there! Just head over to Yelp.com/Events now to RSVP, it’s easy as that! And feel free to share with family, friends, whomever!

Aside from planning the Fire & Ice Ball, I’ve been trying to lay relatively low. I had my second trip to Savannah for work a couple weeks ago, during which I got to see my favorite sister and niece again.

 
And I also have been trying out one of those meal prep delivery service things — Hello Fresh!

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Everything comes pre-portioned and ready to cook with, which is super convenient, and all the recipes I’ve tried so far have been great!

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Even though I already cook quite a bit (and enjoy doing so), I still find I’m learning quite a bit from the Hello Fresh meals I’ve been sent. Namely, the fact that they’re not always things I’d necessarily prepare myself is really helping me break out of my regular rotation of meals.

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The ingredients are also REALLY quality. They are delicious and VERY fresh (I mean, I guess they’d have to be, with a name like Hello Fresh, ahaha.) I actually find that they last longer than the week in which they’re delivered, so even if you get busy with other plans, you’ve got a while to make each dish. Plus, worst comes to worst, you can always freeze the protein and re-purchase the other ingredients if you really needed to.

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The price is $60 per box for two people, and each box comes with 3 meals. So, it’s not the cheapest option ever, but you can put your account on hold as frequently as you like, and it has been a lot of fun at least! Plus, if you’re interested in trying it out, I have a code you can use for $40 off your first box. So it’s only $20 to try (and I get an extra $20 to put towards my next box, too.)

So if you’re interested in trying out Hello Fresh, just use code SL7Z3J for $40 off your first box!

Hopefully I’ll be able to get back into the groove of regular posting soon, since the beginning rush prepping for my Yelper Party is starting to wane a smidge (now it’s just juggling LOTS of logistics, heh.) And with my birthday around the corner (the BEST DAY OF THE YEAR) as well, I hope to have more fun stuff to update you on as well! Alas, in the meantime… see you on the flipside!

Have you tried any meal prep delivery services (Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, etc) before?

It’s What’s For Dinner

Things are, surprisingly, still going pretty well workout-wise. Yesterday was a little bit rough for me, as I had a hard time falling asleep, and that grogginess wasn’t exactly motivating in terms of being active, but! You should be proud of me, because I did it anyway. See? That new leaf of mine is already halfway turned over.

As previously discussed, though, health, fitness, and especially weight loss is a two-part operation. And the what-you-eat part is, at this point, inarguably the more important part when it comes to actively trying to slim down. So I’ve been trying to be very mindful of what I’m eating, choosing deliciousness and whole foods as much as I can.

Even though my job brings me to the farthest and most delicious regions of Northern Virginia, you guys know I love to get down in the kitchen too. And even though I have no intention of stopping eating out altogether, we all know it’s easier to keep track of what you’re chowing down on when you make it yourself. So I’ve been cooking up some delicious at-home healthy meals & snacks lately, and I figured I’d share ’em with you!

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Clockwise from top left: jambalaya with sausage & chicken, roasted brussels sprouts, and salad; my beef stew with dried plums over rice; homemade Chipotle night; plain popcorn seasoned with Flavorgod pizza seasoning

Brown sugar & soy marinated salmon, snap peas sautèed in coconut oil, and coconut rice.

All of the above noms were delicious, but the real star of this week’s meals was this salmon dinner. Super easy, super flavorful, super delicious, and nutritious — even the rice got a nutritional facelift by adding some healthy fats in the form of coconut milk!

Brown sugar & soy is my absolute favorite way to marinate salmon, and while I don’t have a super precise recipe figured out (I’m a big fan of wingin’ it in the kitchen), I thought some of you might be interested in recreating this plate of raving deliciousness at home!

Brown Sugar & Soy Salmon

Ingredients:

2 boneless skinless salmon filets
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
~1/4 cup water (enough to make the marinade cover the salmon)

1. Combine the soy sauce, water, and brown sugar, and whisk until sugar is as dissolved as possible. Place salmon filets in the marinade and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Place in refrigerator if marinating for longer.

2. Heat a pan to medium-high heat with a bit of oil/nonstick spray and cook the filet for about 3 minutes on the first side and another 2 on the other (or slightly longer, depending on thickness). Enjoy!

Stir-fried Snap Peas

Ingredients:

1 package sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1. Heat oil in a pan to medium-high heat.

2. Cook snap peas, moving constantly in the pan. Add soy sauce, and continue stir-frying for another 5-7 minutes, or until desired doneness.

Coconut Rice

Ingredients:

1.5 cups white rice
1 can coconut milk
1.5 cups water
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Pinch of salt

1. Combine ingredients in a rice cooker. Or, you know, if you make your rice on the stove, combine in a pot and do it that way, haha.
2. Cook. Eat. Enjoy!

And there you go! The ratios probably aren’t exact, but put all these ingredients together and you’re bound to come up with something delicious!

Any tantalizing recipes you’ve been whipping up lately? I’d love to hear about ’em!

Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles

I am half-Chinese.

Some of you know this, but, understandably, some of you may be unaware of this fact. You know, even though I obnoxiously try to work the word “Whasian” into conversations and blog posts on an alarmingly frequent basis. I know, it’s a whole thing. I’m working on it. ANYWAY. It’s understandable, of course, due to the fact that at 5’9″ and 200 libbies, I am not exactly Lucy Liu-like in stature. Or, as it happens, in face…ness, either.

I woke up like this.
#iwokeuplikethis

Now, while this may have caused me untold emotional damage in high school (I tell ya, going to high school in Taiwan my genetically petite classmates wasn’t easy on the ol’ self-esteem), I’ve begun to make peace with my lack of outward Asian-ness. Because what I may lack in physical features, I certainly make up for when it comes to the interior stuff. And I have the Tiger Mom to prove it.

But I’m not here to talk about my cross-cultural upbringing, any of my weird Chinese traditions, or the like. Not today, at least. Today I’m here to talk about the single most important aspect of my Chinese heritage: the food.

Many folks can identify with eating spaghetti, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs for dinner when they were younger. I, on the other hand, grew up eating sweet and sour pork, handmade spring rolls, watercress soup, and bok choy. Of course, because the “norm” for me was eating all of that soulful Chinese goodness, on the days when we DID get to eat hot dogs or mac ‘n’ cheese for dinner (read: the days that Dad was cooking), were superduperextraspecial. It was like the rare occasion I got to to bring a Lunchables to school — it did not happen often, and it was AWESOME.

So, yeah, unfortunately, my attitude towards dinner was a little bit skewed as a kid. I was suuuper jealous of my friends that got pasta and hamburgers and meatloaf on a daily basis, completely oblivious to how good I had it. Of course, I now recognize, with the perspective that being an adult no longer getting free home-cooked meals on a daily basis provides, how lucky I was to grow up with my mom making all manner of delicious, authentic dishes for us. Because she really is an awesome cook.

And while I may not have inherited my mom’s height (she’s 5’2″) or many of her traditional sensibilities, I am proud to say that there are quite a few things she has passed down to me. Her love for karaoke, for one. Her flair for the dramatic (who, ME?!), perhaps. And, of course, her love of cooking.

Now, I might not be quite as accomplished as my mom is in preparing authentic Chinese cuisine (yet!), but I’m certainly working — and eating — my way there. And while I look forward to continuing to learn her traditional recipes from the master herself, I know how to put my own spin on things too.

So here, today, I’ve got some absolutely delicious, spicy, creamy, oh-so-awesome Peanut Sesame Noodles. They’re more Whasian than Asian, given my use of regular ol’ spaghetti noodles instead of something more, er, authentic, but hey, tasty is as tasty does. So read on for the reipe 不客气. (“You’re welcome.”)

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Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles

Makes 8 servings

This creamy, hearty noodle dish is the very best way East could possibly meet West. Add as much or as little chili sauce as you like for a slight kick or of a full-on wallop, and enjoy it hot or cold. I promise, it’ll be delicious either way!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 box thin spagetthi, soba noodles, or pasta of choice
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (low-sodium preferred)
  • 4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp chili garlic sauce, or to taste (I used Huy Fong brand, the same company that makes sriracha. You can find it in any Asian grocery store.)
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder, or 1 fresh clove, minced very finely
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, as needed
  • 1 finely sliced green onion, for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Cook pasta according to the direction on the box. Make sure to salt the water to give your noodles flavor.
  2. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl or blender, and blend or whisk together until completely combined. It should have a runny consistency.
  3. Remove the noodles from the water and toss with the sauce in a large bowl. I like to put a little sauce on the bottom of the bowl and then dump the rest on top for easy distribution.
  4. Eat hot or chill in the fridge and enjoy cold. Top with sliced green onion and enjoy!

Nutritional info per serving: 380 calories, 17 g fat, 43 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 15 g protein

Great Eggspectations (Giveaway!)

As you guys already know from last week’s egg-cellent post (ha!), I’ve got a small obsession with, well, eggs right now. But I’ve started to realize that it really extends to more than just eggs. It’s a current obsession with breakfast food in general. And just like the period I went through when I watched Pride & Prejudice (the Keira Knightly version) four times in a single weekend once in college (including one time when the credits finished rolling, the start menu came back up, and I just picked up the remote and pressed “Play” again), I’ve been bitten by the obsession bug baaaad. Like, breakfast for dinner every other night for the past couple of weeks-bad.

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It really is a bit of a weird food streak right now, actually, because aside from always wanting bacon (who doesn’t?) and the occasional pancake craving, I’ve never really been THAT into breakfast food. Sure, the novelty of brinner was fun every once in a while, but it’s never been like this. Maybe it’s just all of the years spent not eating breakfast finally catching up with me?

Either way, when an opportunity came along from AllWhites® egg whites egging me on (double ha!) to dive even deeper into my crazy cat lady obsession exploration of these foods, I couldn’t exactly say no!

Here’s a run-down of facts about AllWhites from the good people who make it:

AllWhites is a great source of lean protein, with five grams of lean protein and just 25 calories per serving. AllWhites is a fat-free, cholesterol-free and low-calorie alternative to shell eggs.

And for those of you who participate in the program, AllWhites is endorsed by Weight Watchers® and has 0 PointsPlus value per serving.

For recipe purposes, here are the recommended conversion amounts when substituting AllWhites for shell eggs:

– 3 tbsp of AllWhites = Approx. 1 large egg
– 1/3 cup of AllWhites = Approx. 2 large eggs
– 3/4 cup of AllWhites = Approx. 4 large eggs

Now, as someone who most definitely appreciates a good runny yolk but recognizes that — especially when it comes to cooking — using multiple whole eggs can add up quickly on the caloric scale, I fully appreciate the convenience and calorie-cutting power of egg whites. Plus, as the self-proclaimed master of weirdo breakfast combinations (What? Pasta, guacamole, and leftover steak are a totally legit breakfast combo, right?) it helps to know that at least one of the ingredients that I might be using is actually breakfast appropriate. Plus, hello? I get that egg yolks have their own nutritional value, but at 70 calories per egg vs. 25 calories per serving of egg whites, who says you can’t have your low-fat cake and eat it too?

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Introducing the latest in what has now become a rather lengthy lineup of Gretchen’s Breakfast Food Creations: the smoked salmon crepe-uritto!

This delicious culinary confection combines so very many of my favorite things: crepes, smoked salmon, cream cheese, eating with my hands… it’s like a bagel and lox that you don’t have to feel guilty about! Or a breakfast burrito, only fancy. Delicious, filling, nutritious, and only 150 calories per crepe — WHAT! You could eat both servings and have a totally satisfying, full breakfast… or dinner… for only 300 calories. You are oh so very welcome.

Smoked Salmon Crepe-uritto
Makes 2 crepes

Ingredients:
For the crepe:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
1 pinch salt
3 tbsp AllWhites® egg whites or 1 whole egg
2 tbsp almond milk, milk, soy milk, whatevs.
Very small pat butter or nonstick spray

For the filling:
3 oz smoked salmon
2 tbsp whipped cream cheese
1 tsp green onion, finely chopped

Instructions:

1. Combine flour, salt, and sugar (if using) in a bowl. Add egg whites and milk, and mix with a small whisk or fork.

2. Heat pan (preferably nonstick) to medium heat. Spray liberally with nonstick spray or melt butter in pan, then add half of the crepe batter. Swirl the batter quickly and evenly around the pan, then allow to cook for ~30 seconds (you have to work pretty fast!). Flip to the other side, cook for another 20 – 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Repeat for the second crepe.

3. Spread one tablespoon of cream cheese on each open crepe and add half of the smoked salmon and green onion. Roll up and enjoy!

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Nutritional info per crepe: 151 calories, 4.7 grams fat (healthy fat!), 13 grams carbs, 12.5 grams protein.

It’s the perfect grab-n-go breakfast if you still have to worry about that sort of thing (mwahaha), and it’s much better for you than an egg mcmuffin (and fancier, too!). I know crepes are kind of scary to think about making, but I promise, they are the easiest and quickest thing in the world! You could even add in some spinach or other greens into the wrap if you wanted to up the nutritional ante even further! Make it now, thank me later!

So not only do you now have this delicious new recipe in your arsenal, but you’re about to get your chance to win some monaaaay! AllWhites and BlogHer are generously offering you guys the opportunity to win a $100 Visa gift card (!!) as part of this campaign!

To enter, just comment on this blog answering the following question: How do you fuel the way to a healthier you?

Sweepstakes Rules:
No duplicate comments.
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

  1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
  2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
  3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
  4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the [email protected] email address. You will have 72 hours to respond, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
The Official Rules are available here.
This sweepstakes runs from 3/3/2014-3/31/2014.
Be sure to visit the AllWhites® egg whites brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

This post was sponsored by AllWhites® egg whites and I received compensation for my content. But all words, photos, and opinions are my own!)

Butternut Squash and Beer Mac & Cheese (Giveaway!)

*The winners for this giveaway have been announced! Please check this post to see if you won!*

‘Ello gov’nah! This morning I have a very, very special post for you, complete with giveaway! As some of you may already know, the illustrious, fantabulous Cassie from Back to Her Roots recently had her first (of many, I hope!) cookbook published: Cooking with Greek Yogurt.

Cooking with Greek Yogurt by Cassie Johnston

Not only is it impressive to get a cookbook published in the first place, but Cassie did almost EVERYTHING when it came to this book: the writing, the recipe creation, the photography, AND the design/layout/font selections/you name it. And as anyone who has visited her blog or has seen her design work in the past (including the cover of my own book!) knows, she has an amazing aesthetic and her personality shines through every page of this cookbook. The colors are vibrant, the photos are gorgeous, the tone of the writing is playful but easy to understand, and the recipes are pure gold. This is one damn beautiful cookbook, ladies and gents.

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I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of the book, and spent days poring over each recipe, trying to figure out where the heck I was supposed to start. Ultimately, I gave a few of her smoothie recipes and sauce combos (Sriracha spiced greek yogurt?! Why didn’t I think of that!) a spin before making the following recipe and knowing THIS was the one I had to share with all of you.

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Lo and behold, Beer & Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese. Right? RIGHT?! It was tastes just as awesome as it sounds, and with the amazing addition of hidden veggies AND the protein-packed Greek yog, it’s just about the healthiest mac and cheese I’ve ever had!

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I paired it with some chicken meatballs and it was soooo good. Creamy and cheesy without being heavy, and just a little bit tangy… mmm. Even Sean loved it, and I’ve never known him to willingly eat butternut squash anything in the entire time we’ve been dating! It complements the dish that well. So, without further adieu:

beer & butternut squash mac and cheese
From Cooking with Greek Yogurt by Cassie Johnston (reprinted with permission)

The inspiration for this fun twist on mac and cheese comes from my love of local beer. The cheese sauce combines Greek yogurt with wheat beer, butternut squash, and a mixture of two cheeses to get an incredibly unique dish.

INGREDIENTS:
1 (12 ounce) package whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and cubed
3/4 cup wheat beer
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup shredded Romano cheese
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare a 9 x 9-inch baking dish by spraying it liberally with cooking spray. Cook
elbow macaroni according to package directions, omitting fat and salt. Drain and set aside. In a large
saucepan, combine squash, beer, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and
simmer until squash is very tender, about 25 minutes. The mixture may begin to separate; this is fine.
Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, or a standard blender with the
steam vent removed, blend squash mixture together until very smooth and creamy. Pour mixture into a
large mixing bowl and stir in yogurt, Gruyère, Romano, and butter until cheeses are melted. Add in elbow
macaroni and stir until well coated. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs
evenly over top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and crunchy, and sauce is thickened.

Nutritional info per 1/8th serving: 245 calories, 13g fat, 17g carbs, 15g protein.

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I ended up making just a few adjustments based on what was available in my pantry (and because I have a REALLY hard time following recipes to the tee… I guess I’m just a kitchen rebel like that), but they were really small. I used two cloves of garlic instead of one (love my garlic!), didn’t have skim milk and didn’t think that vanilla almond milk would go very well haha, so I used 1/2 a cup of heavy cream + 1/2 a cup of water, and I ended up realizing after the fact that the box of pasta I used was larger than a normal 12 oz. package of macaroni elbows (’cause I got it from Costco). So there just wasn’t quite as much sauce per bite as there normally would have been, but really that worked out in the end because MOAR LEFTOVERS FOR ME BWAHAHA.

Either way, it turned out DELICIOUS, was incredibly easy, and VERY filling — the absolute definition of win-win-win! So I give major thanks to Cassie for giving me an awesome new recipe to add to my repertoire, and YOU are about to give major thanks to her too — because it’s GIVEAWAY TIIIIIME!

Yep, Cassie and her publisher are giving away two free copies of her cookbook! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post answering this question:

What’s your favorite way to use Greek yogurt?

I’ll announce the winners later this week. Good luck!