Quinoa Beef Stew


I didn't really do an excessive amount of things today - but I did get a few things off my to-do list. Reorganizing some of my pictures. Watched a Hallmark movie (or two). Ate leftover pizza ... and took a walk through the Hoyt-Hall trails in Marshfield. I rarely find a trail that I am disappointed in - but I really liked this one. It's essentially a big loop around a pond but with lots of ups and downs and tree roots and birds. One of the reasons it is so well maintained is because it is essentially brand new. If it was closer, I would be there so much more often. 
I've been trying to make a meal a week that is feasible for lunch at work or a fast dinner after the train home. While at the same time adding in two more goals: slightly less sodium and delightful in cold weather. The combination of those three goals somehow led me to this quinoa beef stew. I have a love hate relationship with quinoa. Sometimes I'm fine with it (like here) but other times it just feels far too healthy and bland as hell. 

But, this stew was a gamble. Any good beef stew - or similar meal - seems to require hours on the stove... and this one was only calling for an hour. So yeah, this isn't exactly a traditional meat-melting beef stew but I would immediately recommend it. Here are a few notes:

  • QUINOA // The quinoa worked out fine. 
  • VEGGIES // I went heavy on the carrots and peas here - not only for some color but also because I wanted to. Plus the carrots were from my garden.
  • RED WINE // There is something kind of particular about the broth. When the recipe called for chicken broth, I stuck to it. I think the next time I try this I might opt for beef broth with a dash of red wine. But this alteration might be because I was really craving a beef bourguignon or a bolognese.

Here's how it goes:
  1. Preheat large deep skillet on medium heat and swirl oil to coat. Add onion and carrots, cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Return skillet to medium - high heat and add beef, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown, stirring as necessary. My meat releases more juices than expected and so I just poured some of them out. I knew there was a lot of flavor in the juice... but trying to be healthy.
  3. Pour the chicken stock over meat and add in the cooked onion and carrots, garlic and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.
  4. Once the pot is at a boil, stir in the uncooked quinoa and frozen peas. Then reduce heat to low and cook covered for about 45 minutes.
  5. Discard bay leaves and you are ready to serve!
Shopping List
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cups of carrots, sliced
Olive oil
2 lbs meat, cut into 1" cubes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock, low sodium
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves
1 cup quinoa, uncooked
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

red velvet banana nut bread


Merry Christmas Eve!

Eleanor and I are currently in the middle of a long Hallmark movie marathon that has lasted for over a month. I started counting how many movies the other day and I can decide if I'm embarrassed or proud at the number. In my defense, I was on vacation for two weeks and I've pretty much stopped watching any other tv. Hallmark movies or bust.

So each Christmas I try to make a new Christmas-y recipe and I guess this is the one for the year. Although in hindsight the only thing that makes it Christmas-y is that it is red. (Prior Christmas recipes? madelinespancakes & stout bread). I'm not quite sure how I stumbled on this recipe but I figured it was worth a shot. Nobody hates banana bread and if they do, they probably have a good reason.

While I have nothing against using pre-made mixes, I didn't feel like going to the store to make this work. So I did have to cobble this recipe together a bit. Funnily enough there weren't that many other sources for "red velvet banana nut bread". My thought process was to determine what makes something "red velvet" and then just add that to a banana bread recipe. 
  • Red Velvet = buttermilk + cocoa powder + red coloring
  • Banana Bread = bananas + sugar + flour

A few other things about this recipe...
  • SUGAR // One of the only alterations I made to the banana bread recipe was to swap out brown sugar for white as a way of not diminishing the "red" effect. Brown sugar is a bit sweeter due to molasses so this recipe doesn't have that traditional sweetness you might associate with banana bread. Also, I just used butter instead of buttermilk. 
  • BANANAS // I left my bananas a little chunky in the batter and I really like how they came out in the end. You can see some of them peeking through the top and sides of the loaves.
  • SOUR CREAM // Next time I make this, I might try to add in some sour cream as a way of making this a little more breakfast-y. As is, it is absolutely more of a "cake" as opposed to a "breakfast cake". 

So here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease your pan(s) of choice.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Then add in the food coloring and mashed bananas until well blended. I left it a tiny bit clumpy because why not. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Combine the banana mixture and the flour mixture. Mix until blended. It'll never be smooth like a cake or muffin mixture so don't worry about it. Pour batter into prepared loaf pans. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top before baking.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. The timeframe is really dependent on your pan sizes. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
  5. After the loaves have cooled, drizzle melted white chocolate on top and sprinkle with sugar.
Shopping List2 cups of flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp red food coloring
1/3 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup white chocolate chips

chicken & spinach soup with fresh pesto


I never thought I would put pesto into a soup - but now I've done it ... and it's delicious. Turns out you don't need a ton of ingredients or sodium for a flavorful soup. It's pretty clear that I'm back on the soup train hard these days. 

One of the amazing things about my new job is that there isn't a free lunch every day. I say this is amazing because I feel like this will force me to eat healthier. My goal isn't to always bring soup to work - but it's winter and soup is really easy to transport especially given my vacuum sealer bags. Love those suckers.

So for this soup, I was not really confident about the flavor profile since it felt so easy and so few ingredients. But there are a few notes:
  • CHICKEN // You could probably tackle this a few ways. I think it was easiest to cut the chicken into small bites before cooking. This saved the step of cooking, removing from the pan, cutting, and then returning. One step is always better in my book.
  • PESTO // I made the pesto in this instance. But if you are looking to save another step, some dishes, or a few minutes - then feel free to just use some store bought pesto. Yeah, the flavors might not be as fresh but you just can't skip the pesto.
  • RED PEPPERS // The original recipe called for either red peppers or carrots. I went with red peppers because I had the perfect amount frozen from my summer garden. I'm always in favor of using these amazing home-grown veggies.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and chicken; cook, stirring the chicken frequently, until the chicken begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. 
  2. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in broth and marjoram; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add spinach and beans to the pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
  4. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, Parmesan and basil in a food processor. Process until a coarse paste forms. Take note, you don't need it to be the normal pesto liquid-y consistency. A paste is fine because it is going right in the soup.
  5. Stir the pesto into the pot. Season with pepper. Let simmer until you are ready to eat. I recommend serving with some tasty croutons as well. 
Shopping List
olive oil
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small bite-sized cubes
1 large clove garlic, minced
5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1½ teaspoons dried marjoram
6 ounces baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
⅓ cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground pepper to taste
¾ cup plain or herbed multigrain croutons for garnish (optional)

black bean croquettes


I'm not sure what drew me to making this recipe. I rarely make vegetarian meals in part because unless there is pasta, I'm convinced that I'm going to be hungry again in a hot second. I found this recipe when I was on the hunt for low sodium ideas. 

There isn't really a lot to say about this dish - but there is also very little that is challenging. The recipe got even easier when I opted to use a jar of salsa over making my own. If it was summertime, I would happily skip over to the garden, pluck a few tomatoes, grab some cilantro, a hot pepper, and make some salsa.... but it's December.

So a couple things:
  • FROZEN CORN // The recipe originally called for letting the corn defrost - but that felt like a waste of time. If you agree, just prepare yourself for how cold the black bean mixture will get. 
  • FOOD PROCESSOR // The recipe also originally called for mashing the beans with a fork. I did this for about 10 seconds before determining that would be exhausting. Save yourself the effort and use you food processor to roughly chop them.
I'm not sure when this will end up in my cooking rotation again - but they are a win. I feel like they'll also be great in the summer time as an addition to a caprese salad or just a salad in general. Here's hoping that they work well as leftovers because I only ate 3 for dinner... and now I have 9 for leftovers.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Roughly chop the black beans and cumin in a food processor. The goal is just to break up the beans and get as few whole beans remaining. Stir in corn and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs.
  3. Add a cup of salsa to the mixture and stir to combine.
  4. Mix the remaining 1/3 cup breadcrumbs and chili powder in a small bowl. Then roll the bean mixture into about 1/3 - 1/2 cup balls. Lightly press each bean ball into the breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake the croquettes for about 20-30 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
  6. Serve with additional salsa, chopped avocado... and maybe a warm tortilla. 
Shopping List
30 oz beans, black rinsed
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 cup corn, whole kernel frozen thawed
1/4 cup bread crumbs, fine, dry
1/3 cup bread crumbs, fine, dry
1 cup of salsa, plus more for plating
1 avocado diced

corn chowder with chicken sausage

Corn chowder is one of my favorite soups - and yet I've never made it before this time. Over the summer I traded some tomato jam and fresh garden veggies for my neighbor Tom's corn chowder... and it was amazing. I tried to file it away on my cooking to-do list, but completely forgot until yesterday. I was searching for low sodium recipes that I could make for my grandfather's Christmas present. I never realize how much sodium I must be consuming until I consciously try to remove it.

After spending some time on Pinterest, I landed on a few recipes for gifts. Sometimes healthy recipes really end up tasting healthy. This one tastes great. Like, I figured I had to try it to ensure that it was not poisonous - but I cleaned the bowl out. It did help that I added in some pan-roasted sourdough croutons. Since there was no added salt to the recipe (outside of chicken broth), I added a little extra to the croutons for flavor. Croutons are always a good idea - but they are not included in the gift :)

A few notes:
SO FAST // This recipe came together in less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Plus, I was watching a Hallmark movie about a romantic ice sculpture contest while I was cooking.
SAUSAGE // This was a great addition. In order to be healthy, I opted for chicken sausage as the recipe called for - but was sure to pick a flavor that would compliment the idea of corn. Plus, slice it really thin so that you end up with more sausage in each serving.
CROUTONS // see above. such a good idea... but I'd be happy to skip them if it meant taking the leftovers to the office.
Here's how it goes.
  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook 2 1/2 minutes or until soft. Stir in potato and next 5 ingredients (through corn); bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until potato is soft. Remove 2 cups, purée, and return to pan.
  2. Stir in sausage and milk over low heat; cook until thick (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Garnish with cheese if desired and parsley.
Shopping List
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cups cubed peeled Yukon gold potato
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1/2 package (about 6 ounces) chicken sausage, thinly sliced
1/2 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

my family of trees


I was talking to this guy at work the other day about home automation... and how one of the best perks is that I can turn on all the Christmas trees before I get home. To which he responded "... all the trees? how many trees are there?"  So yeah, I have four trees now which is double what I had last year.

I still have Marshall in my main hang out room and kept it exactly as it was last year. Even down to the wrapping paper. But, I fell in love with a white tree on Instagram and so now that one is in the hallway. Then, I volunteered to host Christmas morning breakfast... and that snowballed into tree number 4. To be clear, this tree had been in the attic so I didn't need to buy a new one. I just needed to haul it down three flights of stairs and untangle the branches.
["Marshall" // Hallway // Bedroom]
Given the colored lights and wanting to keep it simple, I had visions of a heavy white garland. And after two YouTube videos and a trip to Michaels, I had all the tools I needed to make a whole lot of pompoms. I also had a whole Saturday night to make all the pompoms. So a mere 5-6 hours later, I was the proud parent of 50+ giant white yarn pompoms. I'll be honest, when I realized that I needed about 15 more to complete the garland I decided to make less than that and just not do the back of the tree. Cheaters can win.

I never thought I would love a tree with colored lights... but I was wrong. This babe is growing on me.

my christmas card

After sending my first photo Christmas card last year, there was zero hesitation that I would send one this year. I broke the seal on whether it was appropriate for a single woman without children to send pictures of herself via snail mail - and I was not turning back.

I actually had to work a little harder for this one. Last year's card kind of fell in my lap - but there were no new designs for someone with more than 20 pictures. Shocking. So, I ended up cropping all the photos myself and putting the grid together via Powerpoint. I actually downloaded a Photoshop trial and it was too damn complicated and stressful.

Looking at the card gives me the same exciting, sentimental feeling that reading old blog posts does. I love looking at each photo and seeing how the year progressed. I like to think it's a little bit of a game for my friends and family to try and find themselves - or guess where each picture was taken. After tagging a bunch of photos in my phone, I initially started with a whole bunch of pictures of blueberry donuts, tomatoes, and hot dogs ... which does feel shockingly accurate. I did manage to cull it down to like one hot dog picture.

Merriest Christmas & Happiest New Year!

winter weekends


Recently it has been a real struggle to get any form of exercise. There is no one real failure point ... but really like three. New Job. Windy, cold weather. And the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. All the Hallmark movies. But, given these factors I'm still giving it a concerted effort to get out there at least once a weekend and see a new trail. I am absolutely failing at accomplishing any physical activity during the week .... so weekends are important. See the Fitbit stats below for evidence. Terrible.
So on Sunday, I charged up my iPhone, grabbed my camera, and headed out on errands. After buying two boxes of Little Debbie Christmas Tree cakes (embarrassing), I landed at Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield. I don't think I've ever been on these small trails before but I'll definitely be back. There isn't a whole lot to see here in terms of miles of trails - but you can walk through a big ole field, along a winding path through the woods, and check out the North River. It's really worth a walk to the river. 

This week it has been especially cold - and rumors of snow tonight - but, I'm in a pretty good place preparing for Christmas. Hopefully, I can cross off another trail before the work week starts again.

get outside


I started a new job last week - and was asked to provide a short description of myself for a company "get to know you" email. An introduction is such a tricky thing. It's a fine line in honesty and personality. Here's what I went with:
I'm Jen and super excited to join the team! I'm from Boston and currently live on the South Shore. Despite only having lived in Massachusetts, I love to travel and my favorite places have been Italy, Yosemite and Maine. I'm happiest when I'm able to combine the following: yoga, fresh air, bacon, and coffee. My tv interests are largely for laughs as opposed to educational. I have been known to binge on Friends and Golden Girls. 
And it's really the truth. I did leave out that I love blueberry donuts, Dunkin Donuts hashbrowns, and prefer to only wear pants with an elastic waist. Normally I write something like "happiest when I'm outside" and that's really an honest fact.

Over the past month, I've really made a strong effort to get out and explore different paths in the area. I love walking the neighborhood and looking for sea glass but I've discovered that some neighboring towns have land conservation programs... that include trail networks. In a moment of weakness I bought the domain southshoretrails.com because I keep looking this all up myself. If it only benefits me, there needs to be a website that lists all the trails in the closest towns with a check mark for those that include a water feature. We'll see if I get around to working on that site - but in the meantime, I've found some real favorites.
  • nelson memorial forest // the trails are really well established and wide. Not quite ready to bring a stroller but great for a group of people or even just to feel like you know exactly where you are going. I followed one main path that goes down to this landing area along the river. According to the New England Forestry website, "sailing barges that carried apples and firewood to Boston once stopped at a stone dock, called Packet Landing, on the North River of the Nelson Memorial Forest."
  • Turkey Hill // I've been here a lot but hadn't branched off the main trail. There is a great Holly Grove that makes you feel like you live in a Christmas story. Can't wait to come back when it has snowed. 
  • Rexhame Beach // Although this is only 20 minutes from home, I barely knew this place existed. I dated a guy a few years ago that talked about this beach a lot and I had no idea what he was referencing... so a mere 6 years later I made it over to see. The word "trail" is interpreted loosely but there is a great path via the beach / dunes / marsh river. I can imagine that in warmer weather it is all the rage for family picture sessions.
My secret to really enjoying these new walks?
  • big headphones // they act like ear warmers and let me talk to friends while my hands can stay in my pocket... or on my camera.
  • dunkin donuts hashbrowns // A small part of me wishes I could take a walk without going to Dunkin first... but I can't and I won't. I get a medium iced tea and an order of hashbrowns. It's perfect
  • Ruby May // stealing my parents dog has been great. It slows down the number of pictures of tree leaves and rocks. 
Even though it is getting a bit colder, I feel like I can keep this momentum going until we have serious snow on the ground. The upside of less popular trails is that fewer people are there... the downside is they'll be super covered in the snow.
[top, 1] Secret Beach, Scituate
[2-3] Rocky Beach, Cohasset Beach
[4] Secret Beach, Scituate
[5 - 11] Nelson Memorial Forest, Marshfield
[12] Turkey Hill, Hingham
[13-14] Rexhame Beach, Marshfield

brown sugar chocolate icebox cookies


I'm going to get straight to the point. These cookies are fast, easy, and delicious. There is also a high probability that you already have all the ingredients in the cabinet. I was sitting on the floor this morning scanning old pictures and really felt the urge to make some cookies. In between batches of photos, I found this recipe in one of the magazines my dad gave me this year. I'm not sure the last time I made two batches of cookies in less than a month - never mind maybe even six months. 

This recipe is a real winner. And here are a few reasons why:
  • limited ingredients // nothing complex here. Just don't forget the brown sugar. It's essential.
  • hint of chocolate // like barely a hint. The original recipe didn't call for it, but when I was grabbing stuff from the cabinet I thought it might be a good addition.
  • make ahead // the dough comes together super fast - like under 10 minutes - and you can keep it in the fridge and freezer for weeks if properly wrapped. 
I was really diligent about making sure that I didn't over cook these babes. The benefit of all that attention is soft, chewy, tasty cookies. I was pretty pleased with myself but the best review came from my little brother. He ate three and took a bag home with him. That's pretty much the measure of success in my book.
Here's how it goes.

  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Then add in the egg and vanilla. Mix well.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and cocoa powder. Mix into the other batter.
  3. Fold in the chopped nuts. 
  4. At this point, the dough will be kinda of sticky and maybe not all that pulled together - but don't worry too much about it. Dump the dough onto some wax paper and shape the dough into a long log. It should be maybe just under 3 inches in diameter (e.g. the size of fridge cookie dough you can buy in the store). Refrigerate dough for at least 4 hours.
  5. Unwrap the dough and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Bake at 375 for 7-9 minutes. 

Shopping List
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
2/3 cup chopped nuts (e.g. walnuts)
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