Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Szechuan Chicken and Veggie Bowl

I recently gave a tour of the hospital campus and it followed with lunch in the cafeteria to continue discussion. Let me add that this cafeteria is amazing, it is not your average hospital food. The special of the day was a Szechuan chicken and I remember thinking to myself that I don't think I've ever actually opted for Szechuan anything, always choosing the sweet and sour, or teriyaki version. I didn't know anything about Szechuan sauce so I asked what it was, the answer? It's spicy. I decided to try it and I found that I really loved the savory heat of the sauce. My mouth was on fire and I loved it.

In forecasting the meal plan for the week, I thought about trying my own version at home for Mr. Max. I took to and came across a few recipes that provided some good base ingredients, then continued with an inventory of our pantry/fridge to create my own recipe based on what I had and combinations I already knew we liked.

The nutrition facts for this meal are found here, calculated at If you want to try the sauce alone on your own creation, the nutrition facts for the full serving (5 servings worth) of the sauce can be found here.

Grocery List:
Yields 5 servings
  • 1 lb. chicken, cubed (about 2 chicken breasts)
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, julienned (roughly 3/4 cup of carrot shreds)
  • 4 tbsp. Safflower oil, divided (or olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup tamari
  • 2 tbsp. hoisin
  • 1-2 tbsp. Sriracha
  • 1 tbsp. agave nectar 
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 3/4 pack of whole wheat Udon noodles   
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
To begin, start by cooking your chicken in a large saute pan or wok. Everything will end up in the same pot so make sure you have something large enough to put it all in. Using about 2 tbsp. of safflower oil, heat to medium high and then add the chicken chunks to start cooking.

In a pot, boil water and then add the udon noodles. Cook until al dente (about 7 minutes), then drain in colander and set aside.

Once the chicken is almost cooked through, drain the skillet and then add the additional 2 tbsp. of oil. Add your onions, broccoli and bell pepper. Cover and let cook for about 5-6 minutes, allowing the veggies to soften and the chicken to finish cooking, then add the julienned carrot and cover again for an addition 3-4 minutes.

As you wait on your veggies to cook, begin the Szechuan sauce. Combine the tamari, hoisin, sriracha, agave, green onion, garlic and the melted butter in a dish. I rarely ever cook with butter but I needed an agent that would enrich the sauce, providing another dimension of flavor while also thickening it, clearly butter was the answer! When veggies and chicken are done, add the noodles to the pan and toss together with the sauce. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, I lightly dusted the pan, the sriracha was already working in the sauce but it just needed one more punch.

Plate and serve, using additional green onions as garnish if you prefer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Best Salad Dressing, Ever.

I realize this title is a very bold claim. 

Let me rephrase this: if you like a hint of sweet and a punch of heat, if you are trying to get away from consuming fatty oils, if you are looking for a fat-free, sugar-free, practically carb-free salad dressing that you can make yourself... then yes, this is the best salad dressing ever

I came across the recipe last summer from Our Best Bites blog. It was a water-vinegar based marinade tossed with cucumbers, red pepper flakes and red onion. I made it as such, then put it on a bed of spinach leaves and paired it with simple chicken kabobs. It made for a wonderfully simple, delicious and nutritious dish!

Fast forward to now and I have my monthly girls-night-in cooking group. With swim suit season officially here, we decided to go with some light favorites with leafy greens and grilled lean proteins. I volunteered to contribute the salad and thought I would use this marinade as a salad dressing. Making a small edit to the original, I nixed the sugar and added a splash of red wine vinegar to the mix instead. Combining a plethora of baby greens, I added this cucumber and sweet/spicy "dressing" with avocado and feta cheese. We served it with chicken and shrimp skewers, the result was fantastic.

This week, I wanted to re-make that salad for Mr. Max in our weekly meal plan, but planned to take another past recipe that we loved and do a little recipe mash-up. For this dish I re-did the skinny Bangin' Good Shrimp originally acquired from Gina over at Skinnytaste. I made some very slight adjustments to her recipe the first time, mainly subbing the mayonnaise for Greek Yogurt to cut down on excess calories and fats, a wonderful result.

The two together were fantastic, it was perfect for a light week night meal, but definitely have a glass of water handy. The nutritional facts for the dressing alone can be found here; this is for a full 4 servings of the dressing, 1 serving would look more like this! The nutrition facts for the whole meal can be found here, both calculated by meal combo is low in fat, calories, carbs, high in protein and fiber! Try this salad combo out, or make the dressing alone for your next summer salad and let me know how you like it!

Grocery List:
Recipe amount yields 3-4 servings

For Salad
*denotes ingredients used for dressing only
  • *1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • *1/4 cup water
  • *1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • *1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • *1/4 cup red onion
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, de-seeded, chopped (about 1.5 cups cucumber)
  • 3-4 cups mixed greens
  • 1 small avocado, chopped into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
For Shrimp
  • 1/2 lb. cooked shrimp, tail removed
  • 2 tbsp. plain, non-fat Greek yogurt (I used Oikos)
  • 1 tbsp. green onion, diced (start chopping from white tips for most flavorful part of the bulb)
  • 1 tsp. Sriracha
  • 1 tsp. Sweet Red Chili Paste 
Start by making the dressing by combining all italicized ingredients into a small sauce pan, minus the red onion. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce by almost 1/3 cup. This allows the liquids to thicken slightly and become a little more syrupy.

Once reduced, take off the heat and add the red onions. This time around, because I was adding a shrimp with some spice to them, I drained the liquid and discarded of the chili pepper flakes and seeds before adding the red onion. Let sit and cool for about 15 minutes or until room temperature. 

I chose to get already cooked shrimp on this grocery run. Okay, maybe it was not a cognitive decision, it was done on accident, but it worked to my benefit. It decreased the time to prep the meal, which is always nice! I simply took the cooked shrimp, removed the tails and combined them with the mixture of the greek yogurt, green onions, sriracha and sweet red chili sauce. 

I decided to heat this in the microwave for a mere 30 seconds to warm up the already cooked shrimp just a tad.  Adding the lettuce, feta, cucumber and avocado to the bowl, I poured in the dressing and mixed the contents well. Plated the result and topped with the shrimp (5 for me, 7-8 for Mr. Max). 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day Gifts: Special Edition for the Expecting Mama

As soon as we finished a year of weddings, the next thing we know it's babies, babies, babies! I have four sweet friends all expecting little ones this fall and what a start to it all it has been! Recently attending my college roommate's gender reveal party, I returned home wanting to send her something special with Mother's Day around the corner and now that she knows she is seeing PINK.

Check out these gift ideas to love on an expecting mama to celebrate their exciting news!

You can go to Kendra Scott, in-store or online, to design jewelry at the Color Bar with four shades of pink to choose from and more than twenty jewelry piece options depending on your price range. Here are a few examples of designs to get your mind flowing: top left, Genny pendant necklace in Rose for $45; top right, Jayna bracelet in Coral $80; bottom left, Dayla earrings in Coral $65; bottom right, Rena earrings in Rose $85. They can wear this special jewelry to showers, baby events and more! The mama could even pass it down to that little girl someday as something special she wore during that time.

OPI Soft Shades Nail Polish - It's a Girl! NL-H39

You could send her a gift certificate to have a little maternity pampering with a nail appointment or simply gift this OPI color, It's a Girl, for $8.

Baby Headband, Girl Headband, Peach Coral Lace Headband, Baby girl Headband, newborn headband, vintage headband toddler fabric headband

 And what baby girl doesn't need enough bows! As seen on Etsy for $8.

Again, some of my Kendra Scott jewelry favorites. Choose from the hues ranging from cobalt to baby blue, or head to their Color Bar to create your own piece within your budget. Special tip, if you shop on a Wednesday night, their Ladies Night, there is a 15% discount off either a certain style in any color or off your entire purchase. From left to right we have: top left, Tavi stud earring for $50; top right, Carissa pendant in light blue for $45; bottom right, Genny pendant in Iolite for $45; bottom right is the Elle earring in turquoise for $52.

For little boy mommies, here are two colors they may love, Essie Baby's Breath for $8 or
Baby Blue from Sephora by OPI for $9.50


And a baby with a mustache is always funny, found here for $10

But what about those that don't know yet OR want to find out to find out when the little one arrives? Some special gift ideas for the surprise-loving mama include... 
You could give mother of pearl jewelry, like these Kendra Scott Elle earrings for $52.

My good friend has created a side business for paintings called MereWil Designs. I had her take this phrase and paint it for me on a pale yellow background for an expecting mom who does not know the gender. Click on her link to check out her store and contact her for your own custom 10x10 canvas for just $25! Or, for a quick fix, you can print it and frame it yourself.

Regardless of boy or girl, this is funny and fitting at the same time. Find it here for $8.

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