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!

Top Chef, Eat Your Heart Out

You guys know I love to cook, right? Everything about cooking, I love. Chopping, dicing, mincing, searing, simmering, blending, whisking… I love it all! Of course, the main reason I love cooking so much is because I love eating, naturally, but I think there’s something in the act of cooking itself that calls to me as well. The catharsis of working in the kitchen, the instincts that creative cooking calls upon, it lights me up!

So it is especially great to be dating a guy that has a passion for cooking as well, albeit with a slightly different twist. Sean is an engineer by nature, and while my cooking philosophy is all about a dash of this, a smidge of that, let’s add this and see how it all turns out, Sean is fascinated by the nuts and bolts and science of it all. So as molecular gastronomy and modernist cuisine has made its way further into the mainstream, he’s been especially enraptured. And his interest in that side of cooking means that I get to benefit from all his investments.

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Including sous vide cooking! While I was staying at my parents’ place last week during Jen and Mia’s visit, Sean and I cooked up a feast of epic proportions for the whole fam with his shiny sous vide machine.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of sous vide, it involves cooking food sealed in airtight bags in a water bath heated to a very precise temperature. This method allows food to cook for long periods of time (depending on the type of meat, you can cook some things like short ribs and other tough cuts of steak for several days!) without losing flavor, overcooking, or breaking down, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth textures and full-flavors.

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Sous vide tends to get a lot of screen time on Top Chef because it’s kind of a set-and-forget it method of cooking until it’s time to finish whatever you’re cooking, which frees up a lot of time to work on other stuff in between. Alongside the sous vide chicken thighs (and a roasted cauliflower steak for my vegetarian sister), I also whipped up some potatoes au gratin, green beans with caramelized onions, and a cauliflower puree. Mmm!

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Now, speaking of finishing whatever is being cooked via sous vide, the one thing about this method of cooking is that it doesn’t leave food looking particularly aesthetically pleasing when it’s all said and done. After all, when everything is cooked perfectly evenly, with heat permeating from all sides all at once, no browning, searing, or crisping will occur. Which just means it needs to occur after the food is finished cooking in the sous vide!

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By searing food in a pan, on a grill, or with a cooking torch at the end of its cooking process, you end up with a delicious, crispy skin and some color that makes it look just as delicious as it tastes! We cooked the thighs for about 90 minutes in the sous vide, then finished it in a hot cast iron pan for just a minute or two on each side. The result?

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A fabulous meal that I was even more proud of than usual! The consistency of the chicken was absolutely perfect, with the flavor completely permeating every bite. We seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper, put a little bit of butter, some thyme, and garlic into each of the sous vide packs before cooking, and it all was perfectly balanced at the end.

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On the same night we did the chicken, actually, we also experimented with eggs cooked via sous vide. I didn’t know this before, but you can actually pop eggs — in their shell and all! — into the sous vide at certain temperatures for the perfect cooked eggs! 145-degrees leads to amazing, soft poached eggs, a little bit higher and you get soft-boiled, all the way up to hard-boiled!

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We cooked the eggs for just shy of an hour, and they were pretty much the perfect Eggs Benedict consistency. This is particularly great, because there’s no limit on the number of eggs you can cook at once! So we were able to make a dozen poached eggs for a big brunch we held at the house later in the week, and it was awesome.

I can’t wait to experiment more with this fascinating form of cooking! In fact, as you read this, Sean has some pomegranate short ribs going in the sous vide. We’re letting these ones cook for a reeeeeeeeeeally long time, so here’s hoping it works out just as well as this one did!

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PassionFish

Herro. So, now that I’ve adequately covered the many emotions that came out of schnauzer poisoning scare from this past weekend, let’s tune back into our regularly scheduled programming, eh?

Friday, my family and I put the final pin in my birthweek celebrationgs (as opposed to birthday, since the events stretched quite a bit past the actual date, haha). My mom has been in Houston attending to my sister and niece for the past month, so we delayed our family celebration until she got back. The whole family headed out to the Reston Town Center to eat at PassionFish, a seriously delicious (but ‘spensive!) seafood restaurant with an Asian flair.

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When I made the reservation on Open Table, I did put in a note that we were celebrating my birthday dins, but I didn’t expect PassionFish to really do much with that info — maybe put a candle in my dessert or something? Well, imagine my surprise when we sat down and opened our menus, and this was inside:

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They had specially printed menus for our table that said “Happy Birthday, Gretchen!!!” on the left page! Totally unexpected and a really, really awesome touch.

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And they even packaged it up for me to take one home as a souvenir! I felt special. Heeeee.

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Right, so. Food. Instead of a bread basket, every table at PassionFish gets a plate of crostini with a crab/fish spread. I’m not actually sure what was in the spread, only that it was yummy.

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We also ordered shrimp & crab spring rolls and the kung pao calimari for apps. The appetizer list was really where you saw the Asian influence in the menu.

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Oh, yes, and obvs there were drinks, too. Tay got the “Dirty CEO” martini, and the rest of us shared a bottle of vino. Mmm.

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I also got a beet salad, with pecans, goat cheese, and greens, and a few other people got soups (my dad got this butternut squash & lobster bisque which was uhhhhhmazing!)

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My entree was a plate of seared scallops over a bed of corn polenta, these little spaetzel-like noodle things, and with super crispy ham (think basically bacon) on top. The scallops were cooked perfectly, and the combination of flavors were so, so, so on point. I tried everyone else’s dishes too (duh!), and whlie they were all really good, I still think mine was the best. Win!

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Even though we were all pretty much stuffed at this point, and we had cake waiting at home, our waiter informed me that I got a free dessert for my birthday. Never one to pass up free food, I selected the donut holes, which came in an adorable little mini fry basket and were hot and delicious. Just enough for the 6 of us all to share a bite or two! And they did, as you can see, come with that birthday candle. 😉

As mentioned, the evening wasn’t quiiiiite over yet though, as there was a cake at home for me!

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So the night ended with my family all sharing ice cream cake. My mom also gave me her present — a super gorgeous ring with diamonds from her jewelry collection! It’s really beautiful, I’m a little scared to actually wear it, hahahaha. You guys already know the unbelievable present Sean got me, and I had also already received my present from my dad, sister, and brother earlier — a Nike Fuelband! Which I’ve been wearing every day and it really is a great reminder of exactly how sedentary I am on an average day. I never really got the point of fuel tracker things before, but I definitely get it now — it’s actually fun to make sure you meet your goals and can track your activity!

Whew. So that does it. Thus, my week of birthday celebrations (and obvious gluttony) officially comes to a close. (Sad panda!) Wellps, guess now I can start planning out birthday #26 now, eh? Hehehe.

Before I go, I just have two quick things:

Caitlin from Cait Strides has put together a t-shirt fundraiser in the wake of what happened in Boston. 100% of their proceeds are going to One Fund Boston, and their goal is to raise $1,000 for the victims’ families! Check it out: http://skreened.com/janeofsometrades/keep-running-bahston

Lastly, the winner of the Shabby Apple giveaway is being chosen tomorrow, so get your entries in now!

Happy Tuesday, friendos! <3

Birthday Dinner

Hi dee ho, chickadees (and, uh, chicka…dudes?)! Happy Friday! It’s an especially happy Friday for me, given that I had an absolutely wonderful birthday yesterday — thanks in large part to all the wonderful messages I received from you all! You guys really know how to make a girl feel special. 🙂

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So, as you might have guessed, Sean did not in fact end up taking me Taco Bell for my birthday. No, he surprised me by taking me to 2941–a truly awesome (and swanky!) restaurant that I actually visited for the first time last year for my Mom’s birthday.

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2941 is in the Fairview Park area in greater Falls Church. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but in a really beautiful location because of it. It’s on the edge of a lake, and has waterfalls and stone paths and koi ponds (oh my!). It was February the last time I came, so it was already super dark when we arrived. This time, I got to appreciate the scenery for a bit before the sun went down!

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To start, I ordered a glass of Oregon pinot noir (the best!) before we tucked in.

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The restaurant focuses on french/italian-style haute cuisine. It was a real FEAST! Everything I tried was sol, so delicious–just see for yourself!

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The bread basket included three kinds of bread: a classic french bread, a soft wheat, and an olive loaf. The olive was my favorite! I totally ended up picking out the extra kalamata olives from the leftover pieces of uneaten bread, hehe.

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We also ordered an appetizer of calimari. I know it seems a little random, but honestly this may have been the best calimari I have ever, EVER had. The breading wasn’t heavy, but was super crisp (I’m thinking it must have been panko) and the sauces were just delightful–a tomato coulis and a light honey mustard that I think were supposed to be a play on ketchup & mustard. I demolished these little squiddos.

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2941 also orders both 2nd course-sizes and full-entree sizes of their pasta dishes. This Hawaiian prawn risotto just sounds too incredible NOT to try, so Sean and I ordered a small size to share. Oh. My. Lanta. The risotto was perfect–creamy and lemony and tangy and delicious–and the prawns were absolutely to die for. I almost–almost!–wish I had just ordered a full-sized version for myself. Luckily, what I did end up choosing as my entree was without a doubt the right choice.

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I got the roasted duck breast, served with zucchini and asparagus, and it was PHENOMENAL. Perfectly cooked, tender, flavorful… I was getting pretty full by this point (for obvious reasons, haha) so I ended up taking half home. Which means I GET TO EAT IT AGAIN FOR LUNCH AND I’M SO FRAKKING EXCITED OMG.

Aaaand recomposing myself… yes, I obviously loved this dish. I think it’s a tie between the duck and the risotto for best dish of the night.

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In true Gretchen form, I also insisted we order a side of Brussels sprouts, because evidently I am incapable of seeing them on a menu without ordering them. They were quite good, but I still think I make ’em better. 😉

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Of course, since it was my birthday and all, we couldn’t NOT sample a dessert! We got the crema fritta, which was a rich cream inside little crisp triangles, with root beer caramel (!!) and a cocoa nib ice cream. Really rich and tasty, and the perfect size to share.

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I had forgotten from my last visit here that you get complimentary beignets at the end of your meal, so Sean and I each had one little lemony donut hole to polish things off.

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And I capped off the night with a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea. Whew.

So, as you can see, the night’s meal was pretty incredible, though I’m sure I’m MORE than paying for it today. Hahahaha, between last night’s dinner, tonight’s Melting Pot excursion with Ai Rei and Aileen, and my birthday party tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’m never going to want to weigh myself again. Lololol.

Oh! And I can’t forget to tell you the BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE DAY! Yes, better than dinner last night, better than the free birthday scoop of pistachio almond ice cream I got from Baskin Robbins… check out the present my boyfriend gave me:

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Yep.

He got me a Vitamix.

*cue my complete and total freakout*

I am so flipping spoiled. I love it I love it I love it I love him I love him I love him. AHHHH!! And yes, I totally cried when I opened the box and saw what it was. Straight up burst into tears, just like I did when my brother got me my KitchenAid mixer for Christmas a few years back. What can I say? Evidently extravagant kitchen appliances are the true way to my heart.

There may be some of you who are shaking your heads or scratching your chins in confusion. What’s so special about a blender? you’re thinking. Well, to start, this is no mere blender. Sure, it blends. But it does so much more. You can COOK SOUP in this blender. You can make ICE CREAM with this blender. This blender can CHURN BUTTER. IT CHURNS BUTTER PEOPLE.

So, yeah. All in all, I’d say that 25 is shaping up to be one of my best years yet. Thanks again for all the birthday love, friendos! See you on the (post-Quarter Quell) flipside!

The Wine Kitchen

So, remember when I said that I was going to work on not eating out as much? LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. Yeah, apparently that’s not really happening quiiiiite yet. But! I did get some delectably delicious photos out of it (consider this your warning not to read the following post when hungry) so… you’re welcome?

Some of you may remember that a few weeks ago, I went up to Frederick, MD to participate in the Frederick Restaurant Week Sneak Peek. Well, this past week WAS Restaurant Week, so this past Saturday Sean and I headed back up to Frederick to meet the wonderful Lauren & her husband, Greg, for dins.

Photo stolen from Lauren :)
Photo stolen from Lauren 🙂

We actually first met up with Lauren & Greg at an oil & vinegar store that was a couple blocks away from the restaurant.

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I’ve been seeing these kind of places popping up all over the place (one that’s near me is called “Ah Love Oil & Vinger”, hahaha) and it’s super fun to go around to taste all the delicious infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

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This place had a MAPLE SYRUP balsamic vinegar that, I swear, I would have walked out with a gallon-tub of the stuff, had we not had to run to our dinner reservation. Next time, next time…

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We actually ended up eating at a new-to-me restaurant–not one of the ones that I visited during the sneak peek–based on Lauren’s recommendation… and the fact that we forgot to make our reservations ’til kinda late. Heh. It ended up being an absolutely AMAZING meal, so this was clearly fated!

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We ate at The Wine Kitchen, which is right on the little waterfront area that runs through downtown Frederick. Great location, and since the weather was so amazing this weekend, we took full advantage of embarrassing our men by taking lots of photos by the water.

Photo, again, stolen from Lauren.
Photo, again, stolen from Lauren.

The Wine Kitchen, rather obviously, has a fabulous wine menu. They offer lots of variety, and also tasting flights grouped together by wine type.

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I ended up going with the Pinot Evil flight (best name ever), and because great minds think alike, Lauren got the exact same thing!

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It consisted of three pinot noirs, one of which was from Oregon which means it was automatically the best one. Duh. 😉

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Then, we ordered a few appetizer/small plates to share. We got the bacon biscuits with maple butter (mmm, butter…) and the seasonal vegetable, which happened to be BRUSSELS SPROUTS. See? FATE. We actually ended up ordering a second order of the b. sprouts, hehehe.

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The Wine Kitchen’s Restaurant Week menu was a little different from what I’m used to… in kinda the best way possible. Instead of giving you a set prix-fix menu, they basically offer their entire regular menu! You could order any starter, entree, and dessert for the fixed Restaurant Week price (there was an upcharge for certain menu items). You know how much I love options, so I thought that their approach was really wonderful! I started off with the kale salad, which had shredded apple, cornbread crumbles, and ham. It was deliiiiicious.

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I also snagged a few bites of Sean’s tuna tartare starter, which was epicccc. It had pistachios in it! Brilliant.

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For my entree, I went with the crispy lamb belly, served with mushrooms, onions, and pureed sweet potatoes. It. Was. Incredible. Possibly the best lamb I’ve ever had, perhaps with the exception of the roast leg of lamb my family had at Zaytinya for my birthday dinner, like, 3 years ago.

And for dessert, I got what was essentially a deconstructed fruit plate, but none of my photos turned out (perhaps I’d just had too much wine at that point?).

Regardless, all in all, it was an EPIC meal, spent with some seriously epic friends. I’m so sad that Lauren & Greg are moving out to Colorado later this Spring! Ah well, guess that’ll just be my excuse to go back to visit Boulder, eh?

Actually, this weekend was full of fun blogger-y meetups, since Sunday I got to have brunch with Jen from Knack for Nutrition, too! Although, I was almost late because Daylight Savings Time really threw me for a loop this year. I kept looking at my computer clock (which gets updated automatically) and thinking that the time was off, and I had way more time than I actually did! Heh, you’d think after almost-25 years of time changes, I’d get used to it. Well, I guess it’s technically more like 22 years of time changes, since when I lived in Taiwan, they didn’t do DST. So let’s blame my years living as a teenager in Taipei as the reason why I can’t tell time anymore, yes?

Does Daylight Savings Time still mess you up? Or are you a clock-changing pro? Regardless of whether it’s got me outta whack these few days, I’m happy to turn the clocks back. With the days getting longer, and the weather this weekend being as beautiful as it was… BRING ON THE SPRINGTIME!