PROJECT RECIPE: Shrimp Pad Thai on the Lighter Side

I’ve never actually had pad thai before. So I have nothing to compare it to. But, it’s noodles, shrimp, egg and Asian spices, all things I love, so I figured what the heck? It had to be good, right? Of course it was.

I found this recipe for Shrimp Pad Thai on pinterest, like I find most of my recipes these days. When I started this series, it was as an effort to cut down on some of the recipes I had piled up from beautiful food blogs. It was before I was on pinterest. And now, I’ve only piled up more recipes with beautiful and interesting pictures that I want to try. At least now that pile is digital, and not taking up space on my shelf with cookbooks.

shrimp pad thai

The recipe is from Skinny Taste, which has a ton of healthy, quick and easy recipes. This is perfect for January, if you’re still trying to stick to your New Year’s Resolutions, like me.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper. This was quick and easy, healthy and tasty. That’s a grand slam. You seriously don’t even think of it as being healthy, it’s so yummy. You’re too busy slurping down those noodles.

How I changed the recipe: In the interest of saving money, I bought whole wheat spaghetti instead of soba noodles, since they are about a third of the price. There wasn’t really a noticeable difference. I also didn’t have crushed peanuts or bean sprouts, but those two things are kinda garnishes. Because peanuts (I’m guessing) are important to pad thai, I didn’t leave them out all together, I used a tablespoon of natural crunchy peanut butter, to at least give it the flavor. It was pretty good.

shrimp pad thai (1)

This is definitely a recipe to pin (click through the link above) for busy weeknights. You can skip the calories and fat from ordering takeout and have this dinner on the table is pretty much the same amount of time with little effort.

Maybe I’ll order it sometime just to see how close I got here. On a “cheat” day, at least.


Charleston Restaurant Week is back!

I am so thrilled to be a part of Charleston Restaurant Week this year. Last year, I missed out. I waited too late and couldn’t get a reservation at any of the participating establishments. This year, I got in early and got my reservation.

image credit: Charleston Restaurant Week Facebook page

image credit: Charleston Restaurant Week Facebook page

The main reason I’m thrilled to be eating out during restaurant week this year isn’t the fabulous food that I’m sure I’ll have. That’s definitely a reason… But the main reason is because of the story behind the concept.

This time last year, we had just gotten cleared to flush our pipes by the local authorities following the water crisis that hit Charleston and the surrounding areas when a chemical spill contaminated the water source for 300,000 people. It was awful, but we didn’t have it as bad as some. My mom’s water was unaffected forty miles away, so I was able to do my laundry. The Hubs hauled a five gallon jug of water home that he filled up at his office thirty miles away, also unaffected. We used it to brush our teeth with, cook with and drink. One day during that week, it rained pretty hard, so I sat some empty coolers and a big tub out in the driveway to collect rainwater to wash my dishes. Cases of bottled water were sold out everywhere. I didn’t get to wash my hair one day that I would have liked to before work, but really that was about the worst of it. I can’t even imagine what families with small children that didn’t have family to lean on nearby did.

It wasn’t only residences affected by the chemical spill. Many local businesses such as hotels, bars and restaurants were forced shut their doors until the water was safe to use again. Employees didn’t get to work, and as a result, didn’t collect any pay for the week or so during the time the water was contaminated.

In order to restore the public’s enthusiasm for eating out at our local restaurants, a local food distributor, Buzz Foods, came up with the idea for Charleston Restaurant Week. Last year, only a handful of establishments participated, but the response was beyond anyone’s expectations. All the restaurants offered a prix fix menu, with the idea to get people interested in eating somewhere they might not have tried before, or bring people in who hadn’t been there in a while.

The turnout was so great, there was a lot of momentum to have restaurant week again this year. And the number of restaurants participating has more than doubled. There is a Facebook page promoting the event:  You can check out all the menus at the participating restaurants, as well as see pictures of some of the dishes and get more details.

This year, I got a reservation at South Hills Market and Cafe, a place right in my neighborhood I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never eaten at. I did pick up breakfast for take out one morning the Hubs and I were home. It was fantastic, but I decided I needed to support my neighborhood eatery with a butt in a chair during restaurant week (and probably frequently thereafter). I’m trying to decide if I want to make another reservation, but honestly, I can’t decide where to go there are so many fantastic choices.

You might still have time to get a reservation, but you better get on it. It was wildly popular last year, and this year it’s only going to grow, I imagine.

PROJECT RECIPE: Mushroom. Lemon and Lentil Salad

I found this recipe for Mushroom, Lemon and Lentil Salad on pinterest. Seriously, pinterest hasn’t made Project Recipe easy. I’ve only amassed a larger collection of mouthwatering recipes to try.

I’m always looking for vegetarian recipes for Meatless Monday. I try to make a vegetarian dinner once a week. Meatless recipes are by and large easier on the grocery bill, not to mention healthier. Pinterest has been great for that. I’ve found so many blogs dedicated to vegetarianism with beautiful pictures of food, that I’m good to go on Meatless Monday pretty much from now on out.

I thought this one sound easy and delicious, a win, win in my book. It was.

mushroom lemon lentil salad

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper. This was so easy. I really read the recipe a couple of times thinking “Is that really all there is to this?” Even though it was a simple recipe, the flavors were big and bold and worked so well together. It was pretty hearty, but low in calories. This is perfect since I’m still living in New Year’s Resolution mode.

How I changed the recipe: Instead of cooking the lentils in water, I used about 1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock because I had some opened in the fridge. I made up the difference for two cups with white wine. This amped up the flavor a bit. Also, I didn’t have arugula because the grocery store was cleaned out of it I bought some mixed greens instead, which had arugula in it. I could see why using straight arugula would be really tasty in this salad.

This is definitely a recipe to keep on hand for busy evenings when you need to get something together fast. I was late getting home from work today, and was starving. It’s a good thing this was pretty quick. I’m guessing it was pretty healthy, too, with the greens and lentils. I’ll definitely make it again, maybe in the spring when I have arugula from my backyard.

Dr. Bronner’s prescription for winter blahs

I used to hate this time of year. The holidays are over and it just seems like the remaining winter months would stretch on with no end in sight. I would vow that I was moving someplace with warm weather year round when I was younger.

But the past few years, I’ve really started to appreciate this time of year. I don’t know why I had a change of heart, but I can point to a few things I think swayed me. I try to eat locally and in season more now. That takes some planning for the long dark months of winter. I really appreciate all those jars of summer vegetables I canned. Also, I think it’s because the more I garden, the more I notice little changes outside. Like how the frost sparkles on the grass by the mailbox or the way the sun shines through the trees in my backyard when they don’t have any leaves. Even though it’s not my favorite time of year, I find something to appreciate in each season. There are plenty of things to love about this time of year, like being curled up by the fireplace with a cup of tea on a snowy Saturday afternoon. Or taking a walk in the woods this time of year. It’s so quiet and peaceful. And who doesn’t love the food we eat this time of year like big pots of chili and hearty casseroles right out of the oven?

For all the wonderful things about winter, there are always going to be the things about that aren’t as fun. Cases of the sniffles going around my office is one thing I can always do without. Another annoying thing about winter is how dry my skin gets, particularly my hands. This year, I found some things that make the bad parts of winter a little easier to live with. The fine folks at Dr. Bronner’s sent me a package of goodies that are perfect to brighten the winter blahs.

Dr Bronners (2)

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Bronner’s, it’s a soap company that’s been around since 1948. The high-quality liquid soaps really took off as people began to become environmentally conscious in the 1960s and 1970s, because the company was absolutely committee to using the most sustainable and fair sources of ingredients to formulate its soaps. Today, there are a number of other soap and personal care products that maintain the same integrity to their ingredients that are part of the Dr. Bronner’s family. All of their products are organic, fair trade certified, and come in post-consumer recycled packaging to the extent possible.

Dr. Bronner’s sent me a bottle of their 18-in-1 castile soap, which I absolutely love and already use all over my house. I also got two tins of organic body balm and a bottle of organic hand sanitizer. I’d never used either of these products, but I knew if they were anything like the castile soap, I would love them. I’ve been using the body balms on my hands and elbows, and any where else that gets dry and scaly this time of year. They are absolutely wonderful for softening my hands. One is the “naked” version, which is unscented. I even use this one on my lips since they get really chapped no matter how much you try to prevent it this time of year. I have them on my nightstand, so I get a good coating on my hands and lips right before turning out the light each night. This allows it to really soak in while I sleep so I wake up with less scaly skin on my hands and lips. The other tin is lime patchouli scent, which is really nice and not too strong. Dr Bronners (5) The hand sanitizing spray is really nice, too. It is made with organic alcohol to kill germs, and also with organic glycerin, which keeps it from being so drying. I had stopped using other types of hand sanitizer because they dry your hands out so bad, it seems like they do more harm than good. There are tons of people at my office every day this time of year, touching door knobs, the coffee pot, and everything else. And my office isn’t safe from the run-of-the mill colds and viruses that are going around this time of year, not unlike any other public place. Washing your hands with soap and water is the best thing you can do to keep from getting sick, but this hand sanitizing spray is another layer of defense in between those times.

I’m a long-time fan of the 18-in-1 castile soap. I might not use it for 18 different uses, but it’s pretty close. I have been using the tea tree scent to clean my bathroom for about a year, since tea tree oil is a natural anti-fungal agent. I have a bottle of the lavender-scented version in the shower that I use as body wash and to shave my legs. It’s the best stuff ever for shaving your legs, and I figured it out on a whim one time when I ran out of shaving cream. I have made foaming hand soap with the peppermint scent they sent me with this package. The scent is perfect for this time of year–minty and invigorating. Dr. Bronner’s actually hand soap, though, if you wanted to go that route. I’ve never tried it, since I always have a bottle or two of the castile soap around my house, I just use that.

The thing I like about Dr. Bronner’s is that all the products are completely free of nasties like parabens and sulfates that I’ve mentioned on this blog before. We’re learning more and more about how those things interact negatively with our bodies, and thankfully many companies are starting to reformulate their products.

I can find Dr. Bronner’s at my grocery store, drugstore and at my health food store. But you can also order it on their website, You can peruse the products and learn more about how they source their ingredients. Also, if you are a devoted Dr. Bronner’s fan, (or if you’re new and decide you just love ’em) be sure and “like” them on Facebook at I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, I’m just over here enjoying my goodies from them and making my winter blahs a little less blah.

The legal jargon: This is a sponsored post. The opinion, photos and text are all mine.

PROJECT RECIPE: Crockpot Bourbon Chicken

I am always scoping out new recipes that you can make in a slow cooker. I have a few regular recipes in my rotation, but it’s always nice to mix it up a bit. I am a huge slow cooker fan because I love walking in my house when I get home from work and smelling dinner that is already done and ready to eat. It’s especially nice when my work gets really busy this time of year. After working long hours, it’s so nice to not have to worry about a hearty, healthy dinner when I get home. I ran across this recipe for Crockpot Bourbon Chicken on Pinterest from the Spend With Pennies blog.

Since I had to work Sunday afternoon, I knew it would be the perfect time to test this one out.

crockpot bourbon chicken

Even some leftover for lunch.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Eh, I wasn’t wowed by this one. It was pretty good. But there was a little more involved than throwing everything in the slow cooker. After it was cooked, the recipe was to take out the chicken, cut it up, then cook the sauce down with some cornstarch to thicken it. The sauce was very good, actually. I wish I’d put some green peppers or onions in when I cooked the chicken, so I compensated by making fried rice loaded with veggies. If I were going to make it again, I would definitely put some onions and peppers in when I cooked the chicken.

How I changed the recipe: Well, I didn’t have bourbon when I got around to making this on Sunday because Friday night, the Hubs finished off the dab we had left. I might have helped. So, I thought about what I could substitute for it. It’s hard to replicate the oakey bourbon taste, but I used the next best thing, a little chardonnay. I also didn’t have apple juice, so I used vegetable stock. That’s all I changed.

There are some really great looking recipes on this blog, and I’ve already pinned and printed the recipe for cabbage roll soup to try. There will be many more late nights at the office in the next couple months, and I’ll need some more slow cooker recipes to rotate through my usual routine.

Stocking Up

canned stock (3)

Do you make your own stock? If you don’t, and you own a slow cooker, you need to give it a try. It’s crazy-cheap and you know exactly what ingredients are in it. You can even control the amount of salt–since so many store-bought stocks are way to salty.

It’s so cheap because I make it out of stuff that I would otherwise be throwing away. What is cheaper than free? I mean the vegetables and the bones aren’t free, obviously, but I’ve already used them once, so they kinda are.

I written about how much I love bone broth on here before, and even done a post about how to make and can turkey (or chicken or any kind of bone broth) stock. Vegetable stock is just as easy.

I save all my vegetable scraps in a gallon-size zip lock bag in the freezer. Save the stuff like carrot peelings, stems of parsley, the root end of onions, skins from tomatoes when I can them, whatever vegetable scraps leftover from your cooking that you would otherwise compost or throw away. What is in my stock changes with the seasons. In the summer and fall there are lots of tomato skins and stems from peppers. In the spring, I toss in the woody ends of asparagus, and in the winter, it’s lots of cruciferous vegetables like kale stems and the cores of cabbage. It makes each batch unique.

New Years day (5)

I recently started also tossing a few egg shells in my vegetable stock. I read that they are a great source of glucosamine, which helps your joints to not be so achey. I can’t tell any difference in taste of my vegetable stock, but it does mean it isn’t vegan. And who knows if you even get enough of the mineral to matter just from cooking a couple egg shells with that much water. I figure it can’t hurt, though. Definitely make sure to rinse your eggshells if you’re going to do this.

When I get a full bag, I toss everything into a big stock pot with a splash of white wine and some salt and pepper. Sometimes, I also put some minced garlic in, sometimes a bay leaf. Fill up the stock pot with water. My stock pot holds eight quarts, and a gallon bag of scraps is perfect for that amount of water.

I simmer my vegetable stock on the stove for 45 minutes or so. It doesn’t need to cook as long as bone broth, because you’re not extracting out all those trace minerals from the bones, which takes several hours. As a matter of fact, once I put vegetable stock in the crock pot and cooked it for six hours or so, and it had an off taste like it was over cooked or burnt or something. I strain it through a strainer that isn’t too fine to allow some of the very fine bits through.

New Years day (4)

Now you can put all those scraps in the compost pile or in the trash.

Pressure can the quarts according to the instructions. Mine tells me to process at 11 pounds pressure for 25 minutes. If you don’t can it, you can just let it cool and put it into quart containers in the freezer. I have a mix of both.

I even started buying shrimp with the shell on so I can use the shells to make shrimp stock. This version is probably one of the best–and it’s a secret ingredient in clam chowder or jambalaya. It’s kind of a pain to peel shrimp, but once  you get the hang of cleaning and peeling them, it’s worth it for the extra use of those shells in the stock. Using shrimp stock really does make a huge difference in seafood-based dishes.

canned stock (2)

You’ll always have stock ready when you want to whip up a pot of soup without having to run to the grocery store to pick some up. If you eat a lot of soup like we do, the money you’ll save will really add up.

Give it a try! It’s easy!

PROJECT RECIPE: Quick Tofu Cauliflower Korma

I love, love, love Indian food. And I used to hate it. My first experience with Indian food wasn’t a good one, and it took some convincing for me to try it again. I especially love to make it at home because I find it to be a challenge. It seems so foreign to me–no pun intended. I’m not familiar with the ingredients, so every time I make Indian food, it’s like I learn something new.

I found this recipe for Quick Tofu Cauliflower Korma on Pinterest, and anything with “quick” in the title instantly catches my eye.

Toful Cauliflower Korma

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper. This really was fairly quick and easy. Forty-five minutes or so–and a good chunk of that was simply simmering the ingredients, so you can sit down and relax or do something else or whatever while this is happening. Not just quick and easy, it was so freakin’ yummy, too. If you like spicy Indian flavors, this is your game. It could even win over those who would turn their noses up at tofu. Or cauliflower, for that matter.

How I changed the recipe: I bought silken tofu instead of extra firm, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Also, I didn’t have garam marsala, so I made my own (easy–just search for a recipe on the internet). But I didn’t have cardamom or ground cloves, two ingredients in it. So, it might have been even better had I had those. Also, I didn’t have pink peppercorns, so I just omitted them.

This recipe is perfect for Meatless Monday, and it’s pretty healthy to boot. Nothing bad for you in it.

This whole blog, The Yummy Beet, actually looks pretty amazing. Click through the link above to go straight to the recipe, or go straight there and check it out. The pictures are absolutely beautiful. There are lots of yummy recipes that I cannot wait to try. It’s a blog after my own heart, as I, too, think beets are yummy.

Mexican Chocolate Protein Smoothies

Apparently, I’m on a smoothie roll, here. I sorta just came up with this one on a whim. Just in time for New Year’s resolutions.

 It tastes decadent, but it’s actually very healthy.

Traditionally, chocolate in Mexico (and Central America) is served as a smooth, creamy drink, sorta like hot cocoa. However, in Mexico, it’s flavored with cinnamon and other spices, to give it a rich spicy flavor. The spices compliment cocoa perfectly. If you’ve ever had it, it’s like there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on that tastes different. It’s delicious. The flavors lend themselves perfectly to a protein smoothie for breakfast.

Mexican Chocolate Shakes

Mexican Chocolate Protein Smoothie (makes 2)

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (you can also use regular milk)
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 serving chocolate protein powder (I used Manitoba Harvest Hemp Protein)
  • 1/3 cup plain non-fat greek yogurt
  • 1 Tb flax meal
  • 1 Tb unsweetened 100% cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 3-4 ice cubes

Put everything in the blender in this order. Blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Mexican Chocolate Shakes (1)

I used almond milk here, but you can easily use regular milk. Sometimes I do use 2% cow’s milk. It just depends on what I have in the fridge. Also, I had low-fat vanilla yogurt, but it’s better with plain non-fat greek yogurt. I don’t like smoothies super sweet, and this is just on the border with the vanilla yogurt, but maybe that’s how you’d like it. Of course, like the eggnog smoothies I made, you can use whatever protein powder you like. I really like hemp protein because it doesn’t have a bunch of scientific sounding ingredients and is also pretty high in fiber–something that keeps you from getting hungry for a few hours.

Now, that was way to easy. And you’ve just upgraded your boring daily smoothie to something kinda fancy and exotic. Booya.

2015: Resolve to do more of what makes me happy

Fun fact: New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday. I love any opportunity to wear sequins and drink sparkling wine. But I also like the feeling of turning a page. I like looking back on all amazing memories of the past year, and vowing to have more of those for next New Year’s Eve. It’s an opportunity to reflect and take stock of your love life, career, closet… all of the above, or whatever is important to you.

The Hubs and I stayed in last night, as we have sometimes before. We had a sushi picnic in the floor of the family room and watched some shows on our DVR queue. Even though it’s my favorite holiday, I don’t need a big fancy party to enjoy it. On New Year’s Day, we celebrated in our usual fashion by watching the Rose Parade, followed by the NHL Winter Classic and lots of college football. In keeping with tradition, I made reuben loaf, so we could have cabbage on New Years Day for good luck.

It was practically a perfect day, filled with stuff that makes me happy.

I drank coffee and read the paper in bed. I did lots of cooking–the reuben loaf, cabbage soup, and I pressure canned several quarts of stock. I was even nice enough to make an extra reuben loaf for my brother, and he came over to pick it up. He stayed and hung out for a while watching football with us. I cuddled with my cats a lot. And, I finished the day by flipping through seed catalogs by the fireplace.

New Years day (2)

soup, stock and reuben loaf in progress

Now who's going to do all the dishes?

Now who’s going to do all the dishes?

New Years day

I need to remind myself that life is to short to not do what I can to be happy every day. It’s something I wish more of us would embrace. We all need to be reminded of this from time to time, because it’s easy to forget. Literally, stop and smell the roses. Don’t be in such a hurry all the time, smile at strangers you pass in the hallway of the office, put down your smartphone every once in a while and hug your loved ones extra tight. You’ll be happier, I’ll bet.