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Fall Inspiration

Know that feeling when you have been pushing yourself in a particular part of your life for a while and then all you want to do is enjoy the fruits of your labor? That’s kind of how it’s been for me with food in the last few weeks. I spent a lot of time earlier this year discovering and making new recipes, so now I just kind of have my routine of making my favorites every week and don’t look for new ones very often at all…

This has been going along with a general absence of running in my life, picking sand volleyball, tennis, and hiking over logging lonesome miles this summer. I will have to change that tendency rather quickly because Dave and I have agreed to participate in a relay race in late October- the Tussey Mountainback! We’ll have a team of 7 or 8, but I’m not sure yet what leg(s) we’ll each be running. But regardless, training must begin now. I’m excited to be doing something new and to enjoy this event with friends. And I think I’m scared of it enough to actually get moving again.

As far as new recipes go, I’ve found a few and am committing to making them all sometime in the next few weeks. That should give me some fresh stuff to blog about as well. Because really, who wants to read about me eating quinoa stuffed peppers for the umpteenth time? I know I don’t.

So here is some inspiration —

Poblano White Chili
Eggplant Parmesan
Falafel with a Twist
Creamy Avocado Spaghetti Squash
Peppered Pumpkin and Potato Ragout

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September 10, 2013 · 10:54 pm

Homemade Mashed Potatoes

It all started at the grocery store yesterday when Dave brought three packets of instant mashed potatoes to the cart, proclaiming he wanted to buy them because they are “so good.” I asked if I could look at the list of ingredients, which was about as long as a book chapter. I pointed to some scary names and asked him if instead I could make my mom’s recipe for him. 

This sounds awfully home-maker wife-ish (brrrr), but I really want our grocery cart to be as healthy as possible. Eating out is a different story and we splurge often there. Also, Dave readily agreed when I told him the recipe had cream, butter, and nutmeg in it – maybe the nutmeg intrigued him the most.

So today during lunch I called my mom just to confirm that I remembered the recipe right – I hadn’t made it in about seven years and never think of it anymore now that cream and butter rarely appear in my refrigerator. Turns out, her version is actually made with milk, so I “unhealthyfied” it in my memory. It was too late though. I had already bought the cream and wasn’t going to throw it out without using any of it.

So after work, I set to making very high-calorie mashed potatoes.

Ingredients:

– 5 small to medium sized potatoes, peeled and cooked in salt water
– 1/2 cup cream
– 1/4 water (my mom recommended this to thin out the cream. Her recipe would take 2/3 cups of milk)
– 1 tbsp butter
– a generous amount of nutmeg

Mash the potatoes up with a fork at first, melt a tablespoon of butter over them, pour in the cream/water or milk, and then use a mixer until you have a nice, smooth consistency. Then add as much Nutmeg as your tastebuds call for (I used a lot). 

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Here is the not so appetizing photo of the result, although I promise the potatoes were delicious. I poured the vegetables over them awkwardly to re-warm them up a bit (I was cooking various dishes at once, so I got a bit distracted). There is also some tilapia pieces on there, which are barely worth mentioning.

Now I have to go and make some dark-chocolate covered strawberries to enjoy during yet another game of Settlers of Catan!

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Work Week Prep

I’m about to start my third week at my new job at Penn State. I love working there A LOT so far – the people are fantastic, my projects thrilling, and the resources to build marketing campaigns are ridiculously awesome.

I also love having two extra hours in my day now that I don’t have to drive an hour each way to work. This is especially great when dinner is already prepared and I can spend my night reading at the pool, as I have done many times in the recent heat.

Today, I decided to take work food prep to another level. Instead of prepping one or two days ahead, I made four different things at once. This should get us to Thursday, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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I formed four groups of ingredients for my four recipes, which I could reference on my computer while watching my favorite trashy German soap. Four hours of bliss ensued!

Now, we have eight stuffed vegan peppers, a bin of delicious basil and veggie quinoa salad, some vegan mushroom meatloaf, and gluten-free banana bread. I also made a spinach salad with goat cheese from left-overs for lunch tomorrow, and I’m working on my first home-made batch of Kombucha! More on that to follow.

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Transitions

This weekend has been a time of transitons. In June, I went to Turkey on a whim for three days because my grandma was in the ICU and my whole family as flying in to be with her. We expected her pass away within a few days, but she made an astonishing recovery and was even able to go home after a couple of weeks.

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This was at dinner with my brother, dad, two cousins, and my uncle. It was great to see my family. I left knowing that I would probably not seeing my grandma again, which was hard. But we thought she was getting better. Then, yesterday, my mom called to tell me that she had passed away unexpectedly over night. She was 90 years old and had a great life. She died without much pain and surrounded by family, which is a great comfort to all. But we will all miss her and cherish her memory forever.

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This is her as a young girl. She had four kids, five grandkids, and as of now, has five great-grand kids. She loved her beach house in Datca, swimming in the Mediterranean, and eating watermelon and feta together, like a real Turk. 

This weekend also marks the beginning of a new chapter in my professional life. Tomorrow, I start a new job as Marketing Strategy Specialist at Penn State Outreach. I am beyond excited to be working in higher-ed and non-profit, to cut my commute from 60 minutes down to 15, and to become part of an amazing group of people. My responsibilities will be coordinating between clients and units within the division to create detailed marketing plans for all kinds of initiatives to benefit the local community and beyond. In particular, I’ll be working on taking successful offline programs, like continuing education classes, conferences, and business development events, online. 

After the craziness of traveling and navigating my move between jobs, it has been hard to stay on track with my usual cooking ambitions and exercise. But I’m slowly getting back to planning, a routine, and feeling in control.

I made this vegan kale salad yesterday, which I highly recommend.

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Dave and I have embarked on a great house-cleaning adventure this weekend, the frige is full of healthy ingredients, we have a schedule for early-morning German lessons and exercise, and I’m excited to have an extra 1.5 hours a day which I will not spend driving.

Last night, we had some friends over to play Settlers of Catan, so it’s not all serious prepping around here.

In other news, my co-worker gave me a Belgian cherry beer for my last day and recommended I mix it with Guinness. I am hooked!

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Vegan Stuffed Peppers

This is a winner-dish all around. Unlike many vegan dinners, it filled me up and also did exceptionally well as a left-over lunch.

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Nom, nom, nom. Here is the recipe. The stuffing is quinoa and black bean based. It also contains some healthy spinach and tomatoes, as well as great herbs and spices. I added some Daiya Cheeze on top, which was not part of the recipe, but I would highly recommend it. 

It doesn’t get healthier and more satisfying than this. A wonderful addition to any weekly menu and they keep well in the fridge for left-overs.

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Elk Creek Cafe

It’s astonishing that we’ve lived in State College for a year now and have only made it to this amazing restaurant twice. It’s about 34 minutes from our place, so I guess it takes a special occasion to go there. The first time, we went for a friend’s birthday, and the second time to take Dave’s parents there while they were in town.

It was a big hit, not only because of the food and ambiance, but also because it’s located in Millheim, PA, which is this tiny town that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a different time. I can’t even really describe it. Amish people and buggies roam the streets, there is little boutique stores, and the buildings almost have a Wild West feel to them.

Elk Creek Cafe is an eclectic place that calls itself a local brewery and music hall on its Facebook page.  They thrive off of their proximity to State College, which has many people interested in local food, home brews, and a hipster-type ambiance.

They have local meats and dairy products and many vegan options. They brew their own beer and make a big deal out of fresh and sustainable eating. I love it there. We will have to get out there more regularly. Millheim also has a Saturday farmers market, so the two can easily be combined.

We started with a hummus platter to share as an appetizer.

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It was a delicious as it looks.

And then, I had the best cheeseburger and fries combo of my life.

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The beer was really good too, served at a temperature every German living in the US would adore – read: not too cold.

We all left very happy and parted ways with Dave’s parents outside because they had to head back to Philadelphia to fly home.

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Salmon Lasagna

We had a great time with Dave’s parents during their four-day visit. Having them over for dinner after I got back from work on Friday made me wish we could love in the same town and have family dinners and game nights on a regular basis. We’d love to one day move back to Dave’s home town, Portland, OR, but academic careers don’t often allow people to freely choose where they live. Fortunately, we love Central PA as well and enjoyed showing off our favorite spots.

After boating at Bald Eagle State Park and fire works at the foot of Mount Nittany on the 4th, they came out to Woolrich to see where I work on the 5th. They got a mill tour and we had lunch at Leo’s in Lock Haven, a small and delicious, authentic Italian deli place my co-workers and I love.

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I had a mozzarella sandwich, which is my favorite. Their bread is so fresh and amazing.

When I got home, I started making one of my specialties – salmon lasagna. I learned how to make this when I worked at a restaurant during college in Germany.

Salmon Lasagna:

Ingredients:

– 12 cooked lasagna sheets (boiled in oiled and salted water for 10 minutes)
– 18 ounces cooked salmon (I used Trader Joe’s wild Pacific salmon)
– 2 16 oz. bags of frozen spinach, thawed (I used Trader Joe’s organic)
– 1.5 cups of Hollandaise Sauce (can buy ready-to-eat at TJ’s)
– medium bag of shredded cheese (I used a three-cheese blend)
– Garlic salt and pepper

Directions:

After boiling the lasagna sheets, I put the pot in the sink and run cold water into it until I can touch the pasta sheets. I separate them and put them on a plate, alternating a horizontal one and then a vertical one. I end up using only 9 sheets for the lasagna, but cook 12 because there is always potential of some breaking. It helps to stir the sheets up while they’re cooking in oiled water a few times.

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While the sheets are cooking, cook the spinach and press it in a colander; then spice it thoroughly with garlic salt and pepper.

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Now, line up all the ingredients to assemble the lasagna.

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The Hollandaise cups from Trader Joe’s are a pricey alternative to packets, but buying them ready-to-eat saved me some time.

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I used one and a half of these packets and saved the rest in a zip lock bag.

For assembly, begin with a layer of Hollandaise sauce, then add three sheets of lasagna next to each other lengthwise in a casserole dish. Add another layer of Hollandaise sauce, then spinach, then salmon. Add a new layer of pasta sheets and repeat, then another. Add Hollandaise sauce at the top of each layer as well as the bottom to hold them sheets together better. Finally, sprinkle with cheese and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 40ish minutes. Check the oven to see how the cheese is doing. You can decide how brown you want it to get.

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I served this with some fresh, white baguette, which we also had with brie, olive oil, and wine for appetizers. Dave’s parents loved the lasagna and Dave and I enjoyed the left-overs two days later for lunch.

For desert, I went the easy route and bought Trader Joe’s Creme Brulee.

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As you can see, pretty much the entire meal was courtesy of Trader Joe’s. I was working and had limited prep-time, so going the ready-to-eat route with a lot of the ingredients was ideal for me.

Dave and his dad did the dishes, we all went for a walk around the neighborhood, and then we taught his parents how to play “Settlers of Catan,” during which we enjoyed more chocolate and wine.

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