Of Note – January 25

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Happy Saturday! How was your week? For me this week was a return to routines. Have I said how much I love a good routine? I went to the gym four times — the first time since before the holidays. I meal prepped and made delicious, healthy meals, one of which I talk about below. And we got back into some shows and found new shows to enjoy. Oh and we’re planning like crazy for the big day! It’s ok though — we’ve got this! Here are some recipes, TV shows, movies, and podcasts of note from this week. I hope you have a lovely weekend!

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I Made Nutella Crepes and So Can You

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When we visited Paris last fall, we stopped at the Luxemborg Gardens or the Jardin du Luxembourg, an attraction know for it’s cascading flower pots, serene pond, and tree-lined pathways. While we were there, I was feeling a little peckish (let’s just be honest, hangry), so we stopped at the crepe stand inside the gardens. I ordered the Nutella crepes, and to do this day, I remember it being one of the most life-affirming snacks of my life. Paris was already beautiful, but the gargoyles at Notre Dame really had a sparkle in their eye after that. I instantly felt energized and warmed by the gooey chocolate center enveloped by fluffy pancake. Ever since our trip, I’ve been dreaming about recreating it. Here’s the crepes recipe I followed. To my surprise, they turned out great!

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The Simple Pasta Carbonara Recipe That’s Great for Dinner Parties

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The kitchn Pasta Carbonara Recipe

Saturday night we had our friends and their two adorable children (brothers almost 2 and 4) over for dinner. We served pasta carbonara, two gorgeous salads, and garlic bread. A simple yet satisfying meal. It was the first time I made pasta carbonara and I was surprised at how easy it was. Although the online recipes kept warning me not to let the signature egg and cheese sauce turn into scrambled eggs when it hit the hot pasta. That part was easy. The hard part was deciding to have everyone over for dinner in the first place.

We had just been out of town for a few weeks and felt like we were still recovering from giant piles of laundry and a cluttered house. As a consummate homebody, I look forward to the weekends we get to spend at home. But one of the things that makes our house feel like a home is having friends over for dinner. And before our trip, that had not happened for a long time.

I couldn’t help but wonder what had been holding me back all this time. The only thing I could think of were a handful of excuses like: we’re too busy, the house is a mess, I don’t know what to make, what if it’s not good enough? Cooking for others is something I really enjoy. Thought I’m still a novice, it’s a skill I want to improve.

In the end, I decided that there will always be a list of excuses. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be memorable and meaningful. And, if your friends are truly great people (like ours), they will help make sure everything else goes smoothly. Even if that means bringing over a space heater when your heat suddenly stops working the night of your dinner party. The only things that truly matters are the memories you create around the table and the time you spend together because these moments seem more infrequent as you get older.

So, after a good pep talk with myself, I decided to make pasta carbonara. It’s something we had and loved while in Rome and I was intent on recreating it. I followed this recipe from the kitchn. I love the recipe because it includes a lot of tips from famous chefs. And it’s incredibly simple, focusing on a few high-quality ingredients as the stars. It proves that a dish doesn’t have to be complex to be impressive.

I thought the recipe turned out great, but there were a few things I could have done to improve it:

  • Add more pasta water

After stirring in the egg and cheese mixture, the recipe recommends adding some reserved pasta water. I should have added more because the cheese started to get a little sticky and the pasta ended up resembling a mac and cheese more than a pasta dish.

  • Serve right away

Between all of the stirring that must happen after the pot of pasta comes off the burner and getting everyone set up at the dinner table, it’s easy for the past to lose some of its heat. It tastes best when served hot, so I would recommend calling everyone to the table before taking the pasta off the burner.

  • Get the bacon a little crispier

The bacon was good but I should have gotten it a little crispier, using a pan that gets hot quickly like a non-stick or my All-Clad. A crispier piece of bacon will stand out in the pasta better, both in taste and appearance.

Zucchini Bread

With the colder weather we had this weekend, I was in the mood for baking, but I wasn’t ready to make something pumpkin just yet. So I turned to this classic summer baking project. It’s a go-to for people with an unsustainable amount of zucchini taking over their garden this time of year. I’ve never made zucchini bread before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. This recipe from a Dash of Sanity will definitely move to the top of my list because of how easy it is to make. It has just the right amount of sweetness, which tasted perfect with a little mascarpone. I made this while watching the Steelers/Browns game. I can’t believe they tied and how badly each team played! At least it was a close game.

Tuna Salad with Lemon Olive Oil Dressing

I hope you’re adjusting to your routine after the long holiday weekend! A few weeks ago I shared my pantry staples for having healthy lunch options ready to go. This week I’m using one of those staples to make this light and tasty salad. The albacore tuna in olive oil that I bought at Trader Joe’s is cheap (under $2) and can be stored away until you need it. With only five ingredients, plus olive oil and lemon juice for the dressing, this salad is a cinch to whip up. Add your tuna, two pearl tomatoes sliced, a few slices of red onion, a handful of arugula, and salt to your salad bowl. Mix in the juice from half a lemon and about a tablespoon of olive oil. (I use the olive oil I keep at my desk.) And your lunch is ready! It’s been in the 90s in Pittsburgh so simple recipes like this are helping me stay out of the hot kitchen.

Turkey Stuffed Peppers

These Skinny Taste Sante Fe Turkey Stuffed Peppers are packed with gooey cheese, ground turkey, corn, black beans, tomatoes, and a lot of flavor. You would hardly believe that one serving or half a pepper is 160 calories. Of course you’ll want to eat more than just half a pepper! I make a few modifications to this recipe. I keep the stems on the peppers. It’s easier to keep the meat in the peppers that way. And I usually use 1 pound of turkey and 5 to 6 peppers because these go fast at my house and the leftovers are great!

Summer Meal with Scallops

Being on vacation for a week has convinced me of one thing: relaxation time is essential. It wasn’t until I had to force myself to do nothing that I realized how much I was craving that time for myself. Now that I’m back to my regular life, I’m hoping to accomplish that a little bit each day by doing a little bit less. Dinner time is one of those areas where I feel like I can cut back. Sometimes I take on overly ambitious meals during the week that I don’t have time for when something simple is all I need. Take this meal for example. It took less than a half hour to prepare. Another thing I realized while on vacation is how much I love southern cuisine. While on vacation, I had the best scallops over cheesy grits at a new restaurant we tried called Peninsula Grill in downtown Charleston. This meal is like a subtle tribute to that. I hope you enjoy!

Scallops Recipe
I used this easy to follow recipe to get the timing right. 

Corn on the Cob Recipe 
Another recipe that is all about the timing. 

Tomato Salad with Burrata 

  • 2 to 3 garden tomatoes sliced 
  • Burrata cheese 
  • Basil 
  • A drizzle of balsamic vinegar  
  • A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil 
  • Garlic salt

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

I’ve made it a priority to make fresh meals almost every night for dinner. No packaged or frozen meals unless that’s all I have time for. With these sweltering 90-degree days we’ve had, it’s hard to want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. So I’ve been gravitating toward simple, no-oven-required recipes. This avocado grapefruit salad is perfect for hot summer days and it’s bursting with color and flavor. All you need are a few ripe avocados, grapefruit, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and kosher salt. I made this with fish tacos one night and it was bon appetit!

Burrata, Tomato, Basil Pasta

The last few weekends have been pretty quiet for me, so I wanted to spend some time really indulging in the activities I enjoy when by myself. I’ve been painting, reading, crafting, watching movies — whatever I feel like in the moment. As part of that, I didn’t want to commit myself to too many duties — cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, etc. The to-do list could go on forever. Saturday night I wanted a dinner that felt just as indulgent as spending my free time however I pleased but didn’t require a lot of effort. That’s where this pasta dish really shines, and it all comes down to one ingredient that really steals the show: burrata cheese. 
Burrata is essentially a mozzarella cheese pouch filled with cream and curd. It’s as ridiculously good as it sounds. I first encountered this type of cheese at one of our favorite Pittsburgh restaurants, Il Pizzaiolo. It was served with basil, tomatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The first time I had it, I felt like I never truly understood how good cheese could be. And I loved cheese before that, so this was a big deal. When I saw that Trader Joe’s carried it, I had to have it! The first time I prepared it, I copied the Il Pizzaiolo tomato salad recipe. For a homemade salad, it felt restaurant quality. When I saw this Camille Styles pasta recipe, I knew this would be the perfect easy yet indulgent Saturday night dinner. Trust me when I say, you have to try it!

Three Easy Healthyish Dinners

Dinner has become one of the daily rituals I look forward to the most. Cooking a meal allows me to get a little creative, have a little fun and unwind from a long day. My mind gets to let go and focus on a fairly conquerable challenge. And once at the dinner table, the beau and I get to share our days, sometimes over a glass of wine. But, planning and making time for dinner can sometimes be stressful. With all of our life commitments, making a fresh and healthy meal every night can be tricky. That’s why I’m slowly but surely developing a stable of tried and true healthy yet easy weeknight dinners that I can turn to when things get crazy. And I’m hoping you can enjoy them too!

Here are three that meals that I’ve been making lately:

Pork Tenderloin, Mashed Cauliflower, and Carrot Salad
  • Marinated Pork Tenderloin from Market District (Tuscan Herb); cook according to package instructions
  • Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower from Skinny Taste (Add 1/3 cup of cheese to make them cheesy)
  • Tangy Carrot Salad from Skinny Taste: peel 3 to 4 carrots into ribbons, add kosher salt, pepper, 4 teaspoons of olive oil and 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Zoodles
  • Roast shrimp with olive oil, minced garlic, pepper, salt, and tomatoes at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes 
  • Use spiralizer to make zucchini noodles and saute for about 3 minutes

Tilapia, Quinoa Salad, and Brussels Sprouts 
  • Season tilapia with salt and pepper and coat with flour; saute for 3 to 4 minutes on each side 
  • Roast Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes 
  • Cook quinoa using package directions; mix in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, 12 cherry tomatoes and 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley