Tasty, Healthy Mexican Flavor

Last night I tried out a new recipe that was so, so good.  And vegetarian!  I doubled the recipe and made modifications to the ingredients, and I think it worked really well.  I pre-soaked my dried black beans and then cooked them while I prepped everything else.  We served this up with sliced grape tomatoes and red and yellow bell peppers. 

Black Bean and Quinoa Casserole
Makes 6-8 servings.  Originally recipe found here on Sparkpeople.

• 1 c. cooked quinoa
• 3 c. cooked black beans (or two 15 oz cans, drained)
• 2 large sweet potatoes, shredded
• 1/2 a large onion, diced
• 1 1/2 c. frozen corn
• 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
• 1 1/2 Tbsp. ground cumin
• 1 tsp chili powder
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• 1/4 tsp ground jalapeno pepper (optional)
• liberal pinches of salt and pepper
• 2 eggs
• 1 1/2 c. salsa (we used the roasted tomato salsa from Trader Joe…so good!)
• sour cream for garnish
• 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
• olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Oil a 9×9 baking dish. 

In a medium pan, heat a little bit of olive oil.  Once hot, saute the diced onions on medium until softened.  Then mix in the chili powder, cayenne pepper and ground jalapeno pepper.  Mix well.  Then add the frozen corn and cook until soft.  Take off heat and set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine the black beans, quinoa, sweet potatoes, cumin,  1/2 c. cheddar cheese, and the onion corn mixture.  Mix together the eggs and salsa and pour over the mix.  Mix well, thenpour into prepared baking dish.  Sprinkled remaining cheese on top.  Bake for 30 minutes. 

Serving size is 1 cup.  Top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro.  Serve with a salad or veggies.

This is a super high protein meal, suitable for vegetarian friends.  Oh, and delicious beyond belief.  We all gobbled it down and looked forward to leftovers today.  Heats beautifully the next day!

I’ll be doing a price breakdown of these meals later, but seriously, even doubled this wasn’t more than $12 for 12-16 servings. 

Coffee On A Snowy Day

We recently picked up some new mugs at Crate and Barrel.  They hold 15 oz and fit into my hands like they were molded for me.  I love the scent of the coffee as it hits me, cozy, warm, harkening me back to when I was a wee little girl sneaking sips of my grandmama’s cup.  The heat radiates down through my fingertips, warming my hands.  The taste, like comfort tinged with the bitterness that sometimes comes in life. 

I’ve always drank coffee.  I honestly cannot remember a time when I haven’t.  And though we get some odd looks, Nora drinks coffee as well.  We learned quickly that the only way to keep her little paws off our mugs is to tell her that it is “très chaud” (very hot)*.  That usually works.  I drink mine with a splash of milk, though if we’re out I’m not above drinking it black.  G likes his sweetened with a bit of sugar.  I always tease him, and he says I’m already sweet enough so I don’t have to use any.  Nora likes to eat chocolate covered espresso beans, so she’s not particular if her coffee is sweetened or not (I usually make what we grew up calling coffee milk for her). 

It’s snowing hard, G got sent home early, and there is a good chance that tomorrow will be a snow day as well.  I love these times.  The quiet city.  The hot drink warming me.  Simple luxuries that make my life beautiful.

*For some things I use more French than English.  For instance, “listen to me”, “very hot”, “stop”, and “it’s finished” (my way of telling her the tantrum is done) are almost always in French. 

Style Sunday: Bedding Choices

G and I have been trying to set up a guest bedroom.  First, we tried matching to my grandmama’s vintage curtains.  But in the end we realized that in nighttime light, the curtain background was too tan.  But laying in the guest bed, thinking like Pooh Bear (E’s current favorite film), I realized that the solution may already be at hand.

This was our bed.  The awesome DwellStudio duvet cover is one G picked out back before Iraq and E.  But, sleeping on the third level of a rowhome, where the heat rises to sweltering, we rarely use the duvet.  Instead, it’s simple a pretty bedspread.  **Further, it’s shorter than it should have been and it can’t tuck in much at the bottom and reach the top well.  So last night I asked G to grab it off our bed and try it on the guest bed.  Turns out that it is the perfect modern pop (without being too modern) to our antique bed.  So, we’ve decided to try out new options for our own bed.

I found these quilts originally while looking at options for the guest room.  However, I quickly realized I liked them way too much to leave them in a room that will seldom be slept in.  Trying to decide between the two was ridiculously difficult, so we’ve decided to order them both.  It will allow us to switch it up seasonally if we like.  I like that they are both modern and a nod to the old (with the patterns reminding us of moroccan tile work. 

So, switching up the style of our room, we’ll see how it goes.  We both love these sorts of patterns, so perhaps next we’ll try stenciling a rug using an ikat pattern? 

**When I e-mailed DwellStudio to complain about this I never got a response from them, so we basically avoid buying their products, particularly ones where size is an issue.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup On Rice

First up for new recipes I’m trying this month is a thai flavored soup made of sweet potatoes, ginger, peanut butter, cilantro and lime.  I decided to alter the recipe in order to make it thicker, perfect for eating over rice as a meal.  Here is how I did it:

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup 
original recipe found here on allrecipes.com, makes 8 servings

• 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
• 1/2 c. sour cream
• 1 tsp grated lime zest
• 1 tbsp butter
• 1 onion thinly sliced (yellow or white)
• 2 cloves of garlic sliced
• 4 cups chicken stock (I used turkey stock I made from our Thanksgiving heritage turkey)
• 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
• 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
• 1/4 c plus 2 tbsp peanut butter
• 1 lime, juiced
• chopped fresh cilantro
• salt to taste (I don’t know that I used any!)
• 1 large roma tomato, seeded and diced

First, I pre-heated the oven to 375F and roasted my sweet potato chunks the night before in order to have them already cooked (cuts down on cooking time the next day substantially).

Combine sour cream and lime zest and allow to sit and flavor (this was amazing and I’m making this for mexican from now on!).  

In a larger pot, heat butter over medium heat until melted.  Add the sliced onion and garlic and cook until softened.  Once soft, add the sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cumin, red pepper, and ginger.  Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.  Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth.  (If you’re using a regular mixer, allow to cool a bit and add a little soup at a time, pureeing.  Caution because hot soup can explode in a mixer.  After done pureeing, heat again.) 

Add peanut butter and mix.  Next add the lime juice and mix in well. 

To plate, we simply put some freshly cooked basmati rice on a plate, then ladled on some of the soup, topping with a spoonful of the sour cream mixture, cilantro and tomatoes.  Bon appétit! 

I highly recommend this soup.  We all loved it, Nora ate every last bite each time it’s been served (we had enough leftover for 2 more meals).  I think it would be even more amazing with some grilled chicken sliced and placed on top of the soup before the toppings.  We’ll be trying it that way soon. 

Mission delicious budget dinner: winner. 

What’s On The Menu?

Most people laugh when I say we’re sticking to a food budget, because they don’t believe it.  But the reality is that I am trying very, very hard to stay under $175 for every pay period.  Which may sound like an astronomically large budget, but that’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  We also eat mainly organic (which would be a discussion for another time), and real food, not highly processed.  So I sat down the other night and painstakingly worked out menus for the rest of the month.  Many of the recipes are new ones I’m trying (actually almost all of them), and I’ll be sharing them here as I go along. 

We realized that in order to stick to the budget, we really have to utilize our love for beans, legumes and veggies.  Most of this is meat free if not actually vegetarian (some use chicken
stock, which I’m subbing in homemade turkey stock for).  And most have
salad or some other veggie side, to make them well rounded meals.  As
for breakfast I make a delicious slow cooked oatmeal (cooks overnight)
that will basically be a staple. 

Here are some things on the menu for the next 2 weeks (we eat a lot of leftovers around here):

• Spicy Sweet Potato Soup Over Rice
• Tomato Basil Soup (which I have actually never made!) with Grilled Cheese (Mozzarella and Parmesan)
• Butternut Squash Tian with Herbed Bread Crumbs
• Quinoa and Black Bean Casserole
• Moroccan Chickpea Curry (we’re actually using my lamb heart recipe only utilizing chickpeas)
• Quinoa Veggie Burgers with Homemade Baked French Fries
• Black Bean Burgers with Homemade Baked French Fries
• Spaghetti Squash Curry with Roasted Chickpeas
• Pork Chops with Black Beans and Corn Salsa with Garlic Mashed Cauliflower
• Niçoise Salad

Sounds tasty, non?  I’m out to prove that you can eat very inexpensively while still eating whole foods with flavor. 

Lamb On A Budget

Lamb is a delicious, but somewhat expensive meat.  After moving here we noticed that our local Whole Foods gets in about 4 lambs a month, and butchers them in house, including organ meat.  So over the last few months I grabbed lamb heart whenever I saw it, slowly gathering 6 lamb hearts.  I’ve previously written about using a recipe called Moroccan Lamb Heart, but recently really changed how I did it and wanted to share how we ate enough lamb for 3 meals, for less than $9 spent on meat. For those who can’t stomach the idea of eating heart, regular lamb or chicken would work well too.

Moroccan Lamb Heart Curry
adapted from this recipe on moroccanfood.about.com

• 2 lb. lamb hear, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
• 4 tsp. paprika
• 2 tsp. ground cumin
• 1 tsp black pepper
• 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
• 3 tsp salt
• 2 Tbsp. vinegar (I used regular white vinegar)
• 2 Tbsp. olive oil

Combine all ingredients and marinate for 30 minutes-3 hours in a container in the refrigerator.

Now, for the other ingredients:
• 1 large white or yellow onion, sliced thinly
• Can of tomato paste (I used tomato paste I made which is super thick)
• 3 carrots, diced
• Approx. 1 1/2 c. frozen peas
• Olive oil
• Water
• Flour (I added it to thicken it a bit)

When it’s about 1/2 an hour before you want to cook the lamb (based upon how long you choose to marinate it), add a little olive oil to a pan, heat and then cook on med-low the onions, allowing them to soften and turn golden.  Once they are cooking, add your tomato paste. 

Let the tomato paste cook in with the onions, adding extra olive oil if it starts to stick.  In a separate small skillet, add a little olive oil and heat.  Once hot, add carrots and cook until softened.  Once soft, add peas and begin to cook. 

Then, take out the marinated lamb and scoop all of it’s deliciousness into the pan with the onions and tomato paste.  Combine, and begin cooking.  The lamb will cook fairly quickly, so once it’s been brown for a bit, take a piece out and cut to check if it’s simply pale pink inside.   If so, add the carrots and peas.  At this stage add about 1 cup of water and mix to make a sauce.  Continue to cook as the sauce thickens.

I added a small handful of flour, sprinkled on top and mixed to combine to make it a thicker sauce (without having to add a cream).  If you are okay with a thinner sauce, you can omit that step.

Once the thickness is to your liking, turn off heat.  Serve over basmati rice.  Bon Appétit!

Style Sunday: A Little Polish

I bought a new nail color last month that I love, love, love.  Swaying slightly from my love of dark blue/purple/grey polishes, I was attracted to this one because it reminds me of a deep claret wine.  Called “In The Cable-Carpool Lane” by OPI it’s a beautiful wine red, perfect for the cozy month of January (reminding me of mulled wine).

 Me typing with a sleeping E on my lap.
And for a better look.  Image from MakeupandBeautyBlog.

Taking the time to myself to soak my hands, clean up my nails, paint them and moisturize them is a delightful little luxury.  I’m hard on my hands with all the cooking and deep cleaning I’ve been doing, so taking the time to pamper them a bit was nice.  

And the color reminds me of the Jimmy Choo Rosalie bag in plum that I fell in love with this fall.  A nice, warmer color for the cold winter months. 

Any colors you are rocking this winter?

Salad Additions On A Budget

We’ve been trying really hard to incorporate veggies as at least half of every meal.  And salads in the winter time seem such a luxury that we’ve been gobbling them up by the head-ful!  My biggest advice for saving money on salads is to buy heads of lettuce and prep it yourself at home.  A salad spinner helps you wash the lettuce, as well as keep it nice and fresh for up to 3 days in your refrigerator.  I’ve found that the bags or containers of lettuce simply don’t keep well once you’ve opened them and we end up (even with as much salad as we eat) wasting some of it. 

Obviously for a punch of flavor, lettuce alone doesn’t do it.  So, I like to add carrots, tomatoes (we buy some local grape tomatoes that have been tasty), red onion, and bell pepper.  But dressings can be where it starts to go downhill.  You want a dressing that is delicious, inexpensive and easy to make, but that doesn’t overpower everything else.  For me personally that means a simple balsamic dressing I can whip up into an old dressing bottle and keep in the fridge.  Here’s how I do it:

 
It looks a little off on the ratio because I already has some in the bottom.

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing 


• Olive Oil (You want to use a robust one, in my opinion)
• Balsamic Vinegar
• Onion Powder
• Salt
• Freshly ground pepper
• Herbs and/or spices, to your preference  (I like oregano lately, but herbes de provence works well)

Here’s where it gets a little complicated and G tells me I’m worse than a little old lady.  It’s hard to give exact measurements of the seasoning, because it’s really to taste.  The most important rule is to do a 3:1 ration of olive oil to vinegar (no matter if you’re making a red wine dressing, champagne dressing, or balsamic).  So, for my bottle of dressing, I pour in my olive oil, and then add in the vinegar to equal approximately 1/3 of the oil. (easier in a straight up and down bottle).  Then I add in the seasoning to taste, a little at a time until it tastes right.  It keeps easily in the fridge, but it never lasts long around here.  This dressing is also great on chicken, grilled veggies, and a caprese salad. 

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We haven’t been eating much carbohydrates with our main meal (we start out the day with slow cooker oatmeal), so I wanted croutons to add to the salad.  But if you’ve ever looked at most boxes of croutons you know the ingredients aren’t usually the best, and any good ones seem pricey for how little you get (we’d need a bag of Trader Joe’s croutons for 2-3 meals…and at $2.99 that seems a little ridiculous).  So instead, I’ve been making my own for years.  It’s easy, tasty, and they make a ton from one loaf.  This recipe leaves me with a quart sized bag full, even after one meal. 

Croutons (for salad and soup)

• Loaf of ciabatta or a baguette, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch chunks.  (chunkier works better for soup)
• Olive oil
• Salt
• Oregano (or other seasoning, base it off your tastes)
• Onion powder (I like the way the powder seeps into the bread and flavors it)

Pre-heat oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up.  Mix together the oil and seasoning, whisking to combine well.  Then pour over your bowl of bread chunks and mix with your hands, really making sure they are coated well.  Then spread on the lined baking sheet and bake for 10-20 minutes, checking for when it turns golden brown. 

So, two recipes to help improve your salad on a budget that always seem to get rave reviews.  I’d love to hear your suggestions for salad toppings, or if you have a great dressing recipe!  

Entertaining Simply

This year G and I have decided to put ourselves on a fairly firm budget.  The last two years we didn’t do well budgeting, and our savings account shows it.  The beauty of this is that I work well in tight constraints.  If you give me a deadline for a writing project, I will get it done, and done beautifully…..but not until the 11th hour.  I was up until 7:30 a.m. Christmas morning putting the last coat of paint on Nora’s play kitchen.  And if you give me a tight budget, as well as a goal to entertain more, than I have found I really enjoy the challenge.

The aftermath, empty champagne bucket (thrifted), and a sad mostly empty plate of brownies.

Because of the budget, going out for drinks with friends is simply not going to be happening very often.  So, instead, I’m opening up my home more.  I invited 2 good friends over for New Year’s Eve.  Nothing fancy, they brought cheese and I provided chili, salad and brownies (along with wine and bubbly of course!).  I decorated the chalkboard and made a pennant banner that said “2014” out of a brown paper bag, gold spray paint (sprayed into a cup and then hand painted) and garden twine.  It was a fun night, and a great start to a new year.

Last weekend I invited a friend over on our snowy night for dinner and coffee and it was nice.  Later this month I’ve invited a few friends for dinner.  The weekend after that I’m having a friend join us for a brunch.  All will be simple meals (think quiche and frittata), but I’m hoping to be more relaxed.  Practice makes perfect, after all.  I have a goal to entertain in some way (coffee or a meal) each month.  I’ve finally figured out that keeping it simple is key to not stressing.  And a tighter budget necessitates simpler meals. 

It’s actually been fun, the idea of people popping in more.  Tonight after discussing the menu for the dinner party G and I agreed that this year really feels like it’s going to be great.  And because I know that we’re not the only ones who’d like to entertain more, but are on a budget, I thought that I would love to share tips and tricks as I go along (along with any mistakes!).  Let this be the year that we charge forth boldly and with bubbly. 

Style Sundays

In order to keep myself on track in my own life, both in the pampering way and the blogging initiative way, I’ve decided to take a page from Michelle at Italia Gal‘s book and institute Style Sundays here at Une Vie Chic.  What this means for me is anything to do with style, from beauty/hair, to entertaining with style, to decorating my home.  Anything is up for grabs really, but I want to write in a way that inspires you and myself.

So this first Style Sunday is dedicated to hair.  More importantly a shampoo and conditioner combo that I literally have been raving about.  I discovered it as a sample from Sephora, and then ordered it before Christmas as a gift to myself.  And after I’ve washed and blow dried my hair, I repeatedly touch it, have G touch it and say, “It’s like my hair is after the salon, only every time.”

I’ve tried buying the same shampoo that my salon uses (a pricey organic, usually Italian line….they occasionally try new ones).  But it just never works the same.  We’ve still yet to install the water softener in our basement and the water here is just harder than the water at the salon.  So, ultimately I end up disappointed.  When you leave the salon, your hair tends to be super silky, like butter, and I think we’d all agree it’s heaven.

So, Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Replenishing Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner ($54 for a set at Sephora…pricey, but it’s concentrated and I see that lasting me months), is amazing.  It makes my thick fine hair super manageable and silky.  My hair actually has seemed healthier since using it (and I have a pretty good head of hair!).  Overall, I’ve been super impressed and after using it for weeks, decided to share.

Pros:

Silky, delicious hair.  I make other people touch it.  Yes, yes I do.

Smells divine.

Super concentrated, so even with all of my hair, a little shampoo goes a loooonnnng way.

Formulated without parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.  I can’t use things with any sort of sulfates in them because it ruins my skin quick.  So, this point is important for me. 

Cons:

It’s a bit pricey, definitely on par with salon brands.

The bottle twists open on top, so if you have soapy hands it can be a bit of a pain.

Neutral:

It contains caviar extract, so if you are vegetarian or vegan you might not want to use it.

So, if you are looking for something that will completely revitalize your hair, I recommend this.  The best part is that you can give it a try and if you don’t love it, Sephora has an excellent return policy.  This is just me sharing something I love, not working with either Alterna or Sephora (though they can be free to get ahold of me anytime!).

P.S. Also got a sample of the Caviar Dry Shampoo…..it has turned out to be the perfect thing for my bangs (which always get oilier than the rest of my hair).  So, if you’re looking for something for bangs, I totally recommend that too!