Sunday, May 25, 2014

At-home Crunchwrap Supreme


It’s really embarrassing how often I’ve thought of crunchwrap supremes from Taco Bell during this pregnancy. If I got one every time I thought of one…well…I’d probably deliver a baby covered in nacho cheese. LOL ew!!!

Anyway, I had a lightbulb moment the other day when it occurred to me that I can make a crunchwrap at home. DUH. I did some web searching and it turns out there are other crunchwrap lovers who had the smarts to try it years ago. The ingredients are obvious, but I thought it would be helpful for you to know exactly what I did/bought. If you can’t find tostadas, you could break taco shells in half and make two rounds or buy the “crispy rounds” chips by Tostitos. Some of the recipes I found said their large tortillas weren’t big enough to wrap around the tostada shell. Mine worked fine and looked exactly like the picture below.


At-home Crunchwrap Supreme
makes 6 (one was enough for me, Andy ate two)
takes around 20 minutes

1 lb ground beef or a little more (mine was 1.18 lbs, and I bought 85/15)
1 package of large flour tortillas (I bought store brand because they were the cheapest)
1 package of tostada shells (I used La Casona brand from the international aisle)
1 can of nacho cheese (I used regular el Rio that I found in the international aisle)
1 packet taco seasoning (I usually get whatever is on sale and is low sodium. This time I used Ortega.)
chopped lettuce
sour cream
tomatoes (though I didn’t use any)

1. Brown ground beef and add taco seasoning (following directions on packet).
2. Pour some nacho cheese into a small saucepan and heat over low, stirring now and then. (You can also heat the cheese in the microwave. You only need 1-2 Tbsp per wrap.)
3. While the beef is cooking and cheese is warming, set up your other ingredients for easy assembly.
4. Spoon several spoonfuls of cooked taco meat into the center of a large tortilla. Spoon some nacho cheese over the meat.
5. Top the cheesy taco meat with a tostada, then top the tostada with sour cream, tomatoes and lettuce.
6. Fold the tortilla over the tostada. I pulled from left to center and then right to center, and then had to fold twice along the top and bottom. If that doesn’t make sense…just try to imitate the pic above. :)
7. Once your crunchwraps are assembled, place a nonstick skillet over medium heat until the pan is nice and hot.
8. Carefully place your crunchwraps seam side down in the skillet. At least two will fit in a large pan, if not more.
9. After a minute or so, use a spatula to carefully lift up the crunchwrap. It should be browned but not super dark. If it looks ready to flip, turn it over and heat the other side for about a minute. Adjust heat if you’re having problems—cooking mine over medium heat was perfect.

You’re gonna love ‘em.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Laura’s chicken bacon alfredo over spaghetti squash

Oh, pregnancy hormones. You are such a pleasure.

I was super proud of myself for taking New York by storm. No naps! Little sleep at night! Lots of walking! When I got home, though, it was like I had been hit by a truck. After having a few big “I don’t know why I’m crying" cries, I realized I was beyond exhausted. I started making a short to-do list for each day, thinking that if I only gave myself a few tasks to accomplish then I wouldn’t feel so guilty for falling asleep on the couch. I’m walking every day (not very far), but I know that eating better would go a long way in giving me more energy. I’m finally back to eating eggs for breakfast most mornings—yay! I’m hoping to start adding oatmeal in as well. Both foods sounded horrible to me during my first trimester! 

I had one of my college roomies in town this weekend and saw her visit as an opportunity to get back on the healthy cooking wagon. Amy is gluten-free and tries to take it easy on sweets. I’m on a mission to get people to start eating spaghetti squash, so of course I had to make it for her! I came across a recipe for Skinny Spaghetti Squash Alfredo recently and knew I wanted to make something similar. I didn’t take a picture of mine because I stirred it together in one big pot and it wouldn’t have photographed well, but I’ll try to remember to take pics next time I make it—which will be soon! It was fantastic. We all loved it.

(But, if you’re pregnant and exhausted and have just spent 5 hours on your feet, maybe get take out. Otherwise you might drop every cooking utensil accidentally and almost forget certain ingredients and eventually say to your friend or spouse, “I might cry any minute now.”)

-I used way less cheese (and a little less milk) than my inspiration recipe called for. We didn’t miss the extra cheese, but I’m sure it’s delicious both ways. I like the idea of adding red pepper flakes and plan to do that next time.
-The second time I made this dish I added sautéed bell pepper and mushrooms. We loved it! I used one half of a yellow and one half of a red, but you could use less. I used maybe 5 or 6 large button mushrooms.
-The leftovers are GREAT. The sauce will thicken a ton in the fridge, but just scoop out a spoonful and add it to the pan when you’re reheating leftovers.


Laura’s chicken bacon alfredo over spaghetti squash
serves 4

1 large spaghetti squash
3-4 slices of bacon
1 lb chicken breasts or tenders, sliced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3/4 cup milk (I used low fat)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus 2 extra Tbsp for topping
2 Tbsp flour (I used 2 Tbsp of Pamela’s Baking Mix to make it gluten free for Amy)
2 Tbsp butter
1 or 2 Tbsp cream cheese (optional—it adds creaminess but isn’t necessary if you don’t have it)
1 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
3-4 leaves of fresh basil, chopped (optional—but worth it!)

1. Cut the squash in half length-wise using your incredible muscles or ask your husband to do it if you’re weak like me. Scrape out the seeds and goopy squash into the trash. Place half of a tablespoon of butter in each piece of squash and microwave each piece for 8-9 minutes. (I put mine in the microwave cut side up, but you could do this instead, and microwave both at the same time.) Use oven mitts when removing the squash from the microwave. Move on to the following steps while the squash is cooking:
2. Fry bacon. While bacon is frying, slice the chicken and dice the onion if you haven’t done so already.
3. Season chicken pieces with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.
4. Remove bacon from pan and pour out most (but not all) of the bacon grease. Sauté onion in remaining bacon grease over medium heat until nicely browned, then remove from the pan.
5. Add oil to the pan you cooked the bacon and onion in and turn to medium heat. Add chicken pieces and stir often. Covering the pan will make the pieces cook faster. Keep an eye on it—it’s ready when you can easily use a spatula to chop the chicken into even smaller pieces. Remove pan from heat. (Don’t forget to microwave your second piece of squash if you haven’t already done so!)
6. In a small saucepan, heat remaining tablespoon of butter over medium low heat. Add minced garlic. Whisk in 2 Tbsp of flour and cook for two minutes (continuing to whisk), then slowly add in milk, raising the heat to medium and continuing to stir. Add cream cheese if desired. Whisk until smooth, then remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese.
7. Using a fork (or two), shred the spaghetti squash. You’ll get a ton out of it if you just keep scraping the sides!
8. Place shredded squash in the pan along with the chicken. Add crumbled bacon and onions and stir to combine, then stir in alfredo sauce. You will probably need to add more salt and pepper since the squash isn’t seasoned. Sprinkle with fresh basil and additional 2 Tbsp of parmesan cheese and serve!

What do you think of the way I’m writing out my recipes? How can I make them more user-friendly? Would you like the ingredient list to be bulleted or numbered? Should I nix the numbering of steps? I’d love your thoughts/suggestions!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Laura’s favorite steak salad

Why don’t I make this more often? It’s SO good. I picked up sirloin steak because it was buy one get one free, but I’ve use skirt steak in the past (and flank would work, too). I used my cast iron skillet to cook the steak. If you don’t already own a cast iron skillet, I highly recommend getting one! My steak came out medium, so adjust cooking times if you like it more or less cooked. You could nix the shallots (raw red onion would be yummy), swap feta for goat cheese, gorgonzola or blue cheese, use fresh blueberries or cherries instead of dried cranberries…the possibilities are endless. You’ll have leftover vinaigrette, but it will keep well in the fridge for a week or so.

Steak salad 
with crispy shallots, sugared pecans, dried cranberries and feta cheese
makes two generous portions

a little under 1 lb. steak (this gives each person a LOT of steak—which was awesome—but you can certainly use less)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp butter
3/4 bag of mixed spring greens
1 shallot, chopped into rings
1/4 cup chopped sugared pecans (you can buy these at the store or make them yourself. They keep well!)
1/8 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp feta cheese
salt and pepper

for the dressing, shake the following in a jar:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1.5 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey (add more honey to taste if needed)
1 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper

1. Rub steak with vegetable oil and generously sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Let the steak sit on the counter 10-30 minutes under some plastic wrap—long enough for the steak to come to room temperature.
2. When you’re ready to start cooking, preheat your oven to 350 and place a dry large cast iron skillet on the stove over high heat.
3. Rub some butter in the pan—just enough for it to coat the pan and stat bubbling. Place your steak in the pan and leave it alone for three minutes.
4. Flip the steak and cook for two and a half more minutes.
5. Move steak to your preheated oven (still in the cast iron skillet) and cook for three minutes. Use a meat thermometer if you’re unsure if your steak is cooked enough. If it’s not, you can pop it back in the oven and check on it every minute or so.
5. Remove steak from the pan and let it rest while you prepare the salad, shallots and vinaigrette.
6. Fry shallot rings in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium high heat for several minutes, stirring until they are brown and crispy. Move shallots to a paper towel to soak up any excess oil.
7. Mix up vinaigrette and combine salad ingredients (minus the steak). Pour a few tablespoons of dressing over the salad.
8. Before serving, slice the steak against the grain and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed. I found it helpful to mix the salad up a little after adding the steak. This helped to further distribute the vinaigrette and kept the pecans, cheese and cranberries from congregating at the bottom of the bowl.

ENJOY! I know you will. :)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

weekend in NYC

When my girl Sam moved to Brooklyn last year I immediately began counting down the days ’til spring, which I knew would be the ideal time to visit. I’ve been to NYC three times before—twice in December, and once in January. Brrr! Most of those visits were spent between Central Park and Herald Square, so I was looking forward to spreading my wings a bit.

I had the pleasure of seeing not one but TWO Samanthas while I was in the city. Samantha H., my friend since freshman year of college, is now a teacher in Queens and offered to pick me up from my bus stop in her car. She took me to Strand bookstore—a must stop for book-lovers! We popped into Ribalta on a whim for dinner and ordered a white pizza with mozzarella, provolone, gorgonzola, parmigiano reggiano and honey. We swapped the gorgonzola for ricotta, which was a BALLER move. We were nervous about the honey, but once we tasted it drizzled over the pizza our lives were changed forever. Truly. I wasn’t planning on having a pizza experience over the weekend but I’m SO glad I did.

The drive from dinner to Sam C.’s apartment in Brooklyn was the perfect ending to my time with Samantha. She turned on the soundtrack from “Inside Llewyn Davis” and I listened to her sing along while taking in the views. It was so, so good to see her.

Once I got to Sam’s place in Brooklyn my only thoughts were, “make plans, then bed.” Of course, I had a nightmare hours later that we got into a big fight because Sam stayed in her pjs all day Saturday and I felt like I had come to the city for nothing. (I have the most bizarre dreams.) Thankfully, my dream didn’t come true and we headed for Central Park first thing in the morning. We started by the Guggenheim and made our way past the Met and Turtle Pond, up and around The Lake and then exited by Strawberry Fields. From there we took the subway to our first lunch destination: Hampton Chutney Co. on Prince Street. I had read about it on a blog and was excited to try a dosa for the first time. We each ordered an iced soy chai latte and split the #6, which was stuffed with masala potatoes, spinach, roasted tomatoes and jack cheese. We picked curry chutney for dipping. It was superb!

From there we bussed to The High Line, a historic elevated freight train line that has been turned into a park. We started from Gansevoort St. in the Meatpacking District (which was a neat little area to walk through) and got off at W. 18th.


Remember Sam from when she guest blogged about being from Maryland?
We heart our Tevas
Guess what we did after The High Line? We went right back to Prince St. for our second lunch at Café Habana. Sam told me about the Mexican-style corn at this place when she visited NYC before moving there, and it’s been on my “must eat” list ever since. We split an order of corn and the fish tacos. I can’t wait to try this at home!

What do you do after second lunch? Have dessert in Little Italy, of course! We walked along Mulberry Street, which hosts Italian eateries left and right. We split the lobster tail and cannoli (my two favorites) at Ferrara Bakery. YUM.

We somehow managed to stop eating and made our way down to the Financial District. Sam works at Fast Company at 7 World Trade, which is right next to Freedom Tower. The views from her office were incredible. I felt like quite the VIP! The view of Ground Zero took my breath away. You can’t see it in this pic (it would be just to the right), but Freedom Tower is VERY visible from this window. It seems like you could reach out and touch the scaffolding if you stretched enough!

Empire State and Chrysler Building!
I was hoping to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun set, but it started to get cold and rainy and we were tuckered out. Sam kindly obliged my wishes to snap a couple of pictures of Manhattan once we got over to Brooklyn, but they didn’t turn out very well because of the weather. The best shot was this one—baby’s first photobomb!

We took blissfully hot showers immediately after getting home and noshed on popcorn and chocolate for dinner. (I also had several pieces of baguette slathered with butter, because bread is life.) We watched Mad Men while we ate, which was lovely because we started the series together two years ago and have bonded over our love/hate relationships with pretty much every character. 

I have no pictures of Sunday to share. Sunday was our rest-in-Brooklyn day. We got bagels at The Bagel Hole and walked around Park Slope, where I saw a TON of pregnant ladies and families dragging strollers and dogs all over the place. We got mani/pedis for TWENTY THREE DOLLARS and then met up with a few of Sam’s friends for brunch at Sheep Station. Bagels, cheap mani/pedis and brunch. Does it get any better? Plus, our main topics of conversation at brunch were food and books, so I was in heaven.

Sadly, brunch was the end of my NYC adventures (unless you count the subway ride to my bus stop and then my bus ride back to DC). On the way to the bus I picked up the perfect “I didn’t forget you” gift for Andy—Chicago mix popcorn from Garretts.

I’m exhausted just blogging about all we did! Sam, you’re a keeper.

P.S. Here’s a pic from my first visit to NYC. My fabulous grandma completely spoiled me with tea and dinner at The Plaza Hotel, a carriage ride around the park, tickets to Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Saturday Night Fever, breakfast at Tavern on the Green and more, but I look MISERABLE in all of our pictures from the trip! I have no explanation for this. Look at us in our black outfits and jaunty hats…aw.

And then there’s baby Laura and Andy, from our trip to the city in ’07 with college pals.
Andy insisted on wearing my mom’s ancient ski hat, which he had found in our basement.