Category: Eating Well

Minor Kitchen Woes: Living with and Loving Those on Restricted Diets

Not to be dramatic, but life in this kitchen has been a little rough the last few days. I am fine and everything is fine but I’ve had to eat a restricted diet since a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday afternoon while I’m having some routine tests done. And with my love of cooking and my plans for blogging from my kitchen every day this month, eating a banana and an egg for breakfast (I’m not actually sure that egg is allowed) and eating plain rice, baked chicken, and steamed veggies for lunch and dinner for three days straight is starting to break my foodie heart.

Meal of Champions.  Sometimes I even change out the broccoli for green beans.

Meal of Champions. Sometimes I even change out the broccoli for green beans.

I’ve always known that it was hard for gluten-free or dairy-free or nut-free families to adjust, but this week I have developed mad respect for the people in my life who have to abstain from fun things like cupcakes and cookies and ice cream and – oh my – cheese. And while my restricted diet should only be a temporary thing, it’s actually really hard to be out running errands and not be able to purchase a snack. And I’m, like, 28 and ¾ years old, not 7. I can’t imagine being a mom constantly telling a 7-year-old why everyone gets a snickers bar EXCEPT FOR YOU.

Our weekends usually include trying a fun new restaurant or grabbing tacos at a new-to-us taco place (we really love tacos), so this first weekend where new or exotic food can’t be one of our activities is a pretty big shock. We went to the movies last night, but ate our own meals individually first.

I think it must get easier with time. (Any restricted dieters out there who can confirm?) I’m trying to think ahead to handle my restricted diet while I’m on work travel next week, which will be challenging but is really just a minor inconvenience in the scope of real problems.

I still have lots of fun kitchen –themed content coming your way, so do not despair! This is just a tiny, hopefully temporary change-up.


If you or someone you love lives life with a restricted diet, would you post any good resources or tips for coping that keep life fun? I’m suddenly remembering a lot of tips I’ve read on gluten-free or vegan-friendly food blogs and even some lifestyle-blogs, which I’ll add on below as I find them. I’m sure there are a lot of us who would appreciate them.

  • Jamie Oliver has a “Special Diets” recipe library with a library of recipes for Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan, and Vegetarian dishes.
  • Tips for Gluten-Free Birthday Parties from Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery.
  • I also enjoyed this essay from a Kitchn Contributor about her transition into a restricted diet.
  • Oh, and PINTEREST is a huge resource here.  I found this blog and tons of awesome resources there.  (Frankly I’m not sure why I didn’t just start on Pinterest…)


This post is number 25 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.


Emergency Pie

Sometimes you just need pie.

Well, let me rephrase that: there are moments in my life where I have a sudden and uncontrollable urge for pie. I’m not sure it happens to other people quite like that, but it absolutely happens to me.

Last Sunday, after the guys ran the marathon, and while we were entertaining my inlaws, it happened. I needed a pie.

I didn’t exactly have time to go to the grocery store, and I didn’t exactly have the energy to make a pie, but I did it anyway, because it was an E-M-E-R-G-E-N-C-Y.

The requirements for this pie were A) not too hard and B) made from ingredients I had in the pantry.

Emergency Chocolate Pie

emergency pie2

Here’s what I did:

You have to make the crust first, and I know it sounds hard but it isn’t – IF you have a food processor. (If you don’t have a food processor I have no idea how to make pie crust and I’m very sorry.)

PIE DOUGH. Grab your food processor and throw in 1 and ½ cups flour, ¼ tsp. salt, and 1/3 c. shortening. Pulse until pea-sized balls form. Grab a small cup of ice water and your tablespoon, and get ready to move fast. Press “ON” and quickly drizzle (sorry that’s an oxymoron I know) 4-5 Tablespoons of ice water in until it turns into dough. Press “OFF” as soon as it is dough. It takes about 45 seconds and yes, it is seriously that easy.

PREP CRUST. The way you prepare your crust depends on what type of filling you will use: hot or cold. If you choose a filing that requires baking, your crust is ready. If you choose a filling that does not require baking, you need to bake your crust. I chose a pudding base so I had to bake:

(a) poke fork-holes all along the bottom of the pie crust with (you guessed it) a fork,

(b) line the crust with two sheets of aluminum foil,

(c) fill that foil up with dry beans,

(d) bake at 450 for 8 minutes,

(e) remove foil and beans and bake for another 6 minutes.

Let it cool before you fill it with pudding, but the dough is currently ready for consumption.

PREP FILLING. Because emergency pie requires that you have all ingredients on hand, I recommend this pie recipe from the Pioneer Woman. I used skim milk and it was fine. Two tips for making this recipe:

  • It is probably more delicious if you use whole milk but I used skim anyway. I’d personally rather save the calories and eat two slices of skim milk pie.
  • Add cinnamon and cocoa powder to the pudding at the end. It makes it rich and slightly spicy.

FOUR HOURS?!?! This is emergency pie. Four hours of chill time is unacceptable. Once I stirred in the extra flavorings (see up there^^) I put the entire pot of chocolate pie pudding into an ice bath. In my huge, deep skillet I put two handfuls of ice cubes, about two inches of water, and set my hot pudding pot in the middle. I poured in a bit more water so that the ice water came up along the sides of the pudding pot without getting inside the pot. Then I spent 10 minutes stirring my pudding while it was in the ice bath. It chilled it very quickly, so when I poured it into the crust it was pretty well cooled. We sliced and ate after only two hours of refrigeration and it was delicious.

Is this pie beautiful? No. Is this pie something I would typically photograph and instagram and brag about? No. Well, probably – I mean, I did make this pie from scratch. While my inlaws were visiting. After waking up at 6:00 AM and biking six miles and dealing with crazy marathon crowds. That’s pretty impressive.

(Confession — we ordered pizza for dinner because after surviving that crazy day and making this pie? I was exhausted.)

Lazy Tomato Sauce (Part 2 of the Spaghetti and Meatballs Series)

I like to read a lot of recipes and then make my own version that is as lazy easy as possible. I LOVE Deb at the Smitten Kitchen, and I love Jessica at How Sweet Eats, and so many other incredible food bloggers. I love reading their intricate recipes and seeing how they add little flavors and special touches to take their food up a level. I can imagine a world where I have the time and money and ingredients and dishes to make the kind of food they make regularly, and it is a good life.

But I don’t live in that world.   For my life right now, the fancy-pants cooking required by a lot of recipes I read online isn’t worth an extra trip to the store or any additional dishes to wash. So I modify.

Below is a lazified version of a fantastic recipe that Deb from the Smitten Kitchen posted a few years back. The recipe was for homemade lasagna made from homemade pasta and homemade sauce. And holy cow – I would love to try making pasta and maybe one weekend it would be fun to try making the whole thing. But what I learned from this wonderful recipe was that you can make your own tomato sauce from regular old canned tomatoes. So we gave just that piece a try.

When we first made the recipe, my husband liked the flavor but hated the texture. He is usually open for most anything but couldn’t stand the lumps in the sauce and basically refused to eat it. To problem solve, I ended up putting half of the entire original recipe in the blender, then pouring it back in the pan and cooking the whole thing down until it looked right. Even then it was delicious, but it created a huge mess and there was no way I was doing that again.

Here’s my shortcut method for getting the consistency and flavor our family likes using the ingredients we keep on hand.

Lazy Tomato Sauce (best served with yesterday’s Turkey Meatballs)

spaghetti and meatballs

If you can’t tell from the photo, this sauce is fantastic.

Here’s what you need:


½ white or yellow onion

Red pepper flakes


28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

15 oz. can of diced tomatoes

Red wine (I always use leftover drinking wine so it’s usually a cab sav or something Tuscan)

Here’s what you do:

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a big pan over medium heat.

Chop up about ¼ of a white onion (more if you love onion!) and throw it in the melted butter to soften. Add in ½ tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes and 1 tsp. of salt.

Once the onions are soft and smelling awesome, pour in some red wine. The original recipe called for a couple of glugs, but I think I use more like 4-5 glugs. In my medium-sized pot I pour in about an eighth of an inch of wine. It sizzles and smells divine. Let it cook until the wine is bubbling and beginning to cook down.

Open up two cans of tomatoes: One 28-oz. can of CRUSHED tomatoes and one 15-oz. can of DICED tomatoes. (For the diced, I often get yummy fire-roasted or even the basil and oregano flavored tomatoes.) Pour in the tomatoes and stir.

The sauce looks a bit soupy right now. I usually have a heart attack every single time (OH NO! I PUT TOO MUCH WINE!), but it’s always fine. So don’t worry. There’s no such thing as too much wine.

Turn the heat up pretty high. You want popping bubbles but you don’t want to clean tomato sauce off the side of the refrigerator so find a good balance and stir every now and again until you like the consistency. I’d say 30 minutes on average. You aren’t really “cooking” any of the ingredients at this stage, you’re taking it from good to great and you can’t do that wrong. Take your time with it and let it go until you know it is ready.

I prefer to serve this with yesterday’s meatballs over spaghetti. And, I usually freeze a quart-sized freezer bag full of sauce so that I can grab it and thaw for dinner emergencies.

This sauce is easy to make and it is delicious. Give it a try.


This recipe is modified from Deb Perelman’s Fresh Pasta + Basic Tomato Sauce recipe available at:

This post is number 22 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Turkey Meatballs are Not Lame (Part 1 of the Spaghetti and Meatballs Series)

I really love meatballs. They are warm, delicious, and slightly spicy comfort food. Meatballs in tomato sauce are superior to regular old meat sauce in just about every way.

I know what you might be thinking: spaghetti and meatballs are for little kids or, maybe, anyone can grab freezer meatballs, a jar of sauce, and boil up some spaghetti. But freezer meatballs and a jar of sauce are not what I am talking about.

I’m talking about meatballs you make yourself and tomato sauce you make yourself and when you combine them with delicious carby spaghetti noodles they are life-changing. I started with a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa (she won’t steer you wrong – except please don’t make those cranberry-orange scones) and these meatballs are to die for. Seriously, if you are even thinking of making meatballs, you want to use this recipe.

My Spin on Ina’s Spicy Turkey Meatballs

I'm very sorry about this photo.  I don't know what to tell you -- meatballs are not very photogenic.

I’m very sorry about this photo. I don’t know what to tell you — meatballs are not very photogenic.

Here’s what you need:

Four slices of whatever kind of bread you normally eat (we don’t eat a lot of bread so I keep a loaf wrapped tightly in the freezer)

1/3 c. skim milk (or milk of choice)

2 lbs. ground turkey meat

½ lb. Italian sausage (you can get it in the meat section under PORK)

½ cup grated aged asiago cheese (INA you are a GENIUS)

½ tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

½ Tbsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 eggs

Here’s what you do:

Grab your broiler pans and heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Throw the four slices of bread into the food processor and pulse until it looks like bread crumbs.

Put the bread crumbs into the bottom of a huge bowl and pour the milk on top. Walk away for 5 minutes.

5 minutes later, walk back into the kitchen. On top of your milky bread crumbs add your turkey meat, sausage, cheese, spices, salt, and pepper. Mix it up (Ina’s recipe said to use your hands here but I didn’t because GROSS!) and then put the olive oil and eggs on top and mix it up more.

Now, you have two options. You can scoop and roll your meatballs, freeze them on a cookie sheet for one hour, and then put them into a freezer bag for safe keeping until it’s time to cook. Or, you can scoop and roll all of your meatballs, cook them all right now, and then freeze your leftovers on a cookie sheet for one hour and pop them into a freezer bag to reheat later. I chose option two, the cook-them-now-eat-them-now option.

Grab your scoop. Do you have a scoop? I use the same size for meatballs that I do for chocolate chip cookies. Or you can just use spoons. Anyway – scoop out your meatballs and line them up on the broiler pan so that any extra fat can drip out the broiler pan holes. (Sorry, there really isn’t a good way to write that sentence.)

Bake them for 45 minutes until they are golden and crispy. They will look like regular old meatballs, but they will be delicious. Like impress your inlaws delicious. Enjoy your new meatball-making fame.

This recipe is a modified from Ina Garten’s Spicy Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti recipe available at:

This post is number 21 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Using the Internet to Make Delicious Food

Food blogs are probably one of the best things about the internet. I mean, seriously. I can type “Chicken 375” into Google and it will tell me exactly how long to cook chicken at that temperature. If I run out of buttermilk I don’t have to remember that lemon juice or white vinegar in regular milk will work just fine, I can just type “substitute for buttermilk” into the search bar and the answer populates. Nearly all the guesswork is eliminated from my cooking.

But using the internet for cooking advice can be a little dangerous, too, because it’s hard to tell if the source of a recipe is actually the person who created and tested the recipe. Some bloggers swipe content from another blog, doctor it up a bit, and re-post the recipe as their own original work without letting you know that it was modified from another source.

There are two reasons I don’t like when this happens. First, I don’t want to make a recipe that is not actually great. Cookbook typos ruin a recipe, and the chances of typos popping up in modified online recipes are a bit higher. I’m not interested in wasting time and ingredients making something that was slightly tweaked if those tweaks have not been sufficiently tested and do not make the recipe more convenient or more delicious.

Secondly, I really LOVE the cookbook world and I want to build it up. If a cookbook author spends her entire day cooking and testing and tweaking a method, and a professional photographer captures the steps and the final product in a meaningful way, they’ve created something really beautiful. I don’t think it’s okay for other cooks to grab that info, make a few tiny changes, and take all the credit for the final product.

But this is also where it gets a little complicated. There’s no actual copyright of recipes* (as in ingredient lists), and who can really say they “own” a recipe? Don’t we all read recipes and watch our mothers and grandmothers and neighbors and Emeril make the same things differently, and then merge together those different techniques to create our own way of cooking?

Preparing and eating food isn’t just an individual art. Cooking is a community activity. Even though it’s just me and H here in Chicago, our cooking brings all the pieces of my family history and his family history and our culinary interests together. My Thanksgiving turkey is based on my mom’s recipe, but I switch out the apple in the turkey cavity for a sliced orange because that’s what Giada De Laurentiis does. Our roll recipe comes from H’s grandmother, but since I’m terrible at making gravy I throw together “fake gravy” using turkey drippings and a can of cream of chicken soup. This easy and delicious fake gravy recipe originated somewhere in Alabama and was passed to me by my mom’s sister. What comes out of our kitchen is tradition, technique, and trends all muddled together.

This week I’m sharing some of my favorite recipes that originated on the internet. I’ll link you to the source recipes but tell you how I make it my own. I never really use a recipe straight – I mix in my knowledge of certain techniques and my experience with different ingredients. As you get to know a recipe, it stops being that recipe and starts being something you do.

If you’re a newer cook, deviating from recipes may sound intimidating, but it isn’t as scary as it sounds.  The best part of cooking is when you start making the recipes you’ve tried even better.

Here’s the plan for this week:

Tuesday: Turkey Meatballs are not Lame

Wednesday: Lazy Homemade Tomato Sauce

Thursday: Emergency Chocolate Pie


I’m excited to receive your own links for favorite recipes too, so be sure to leave them in the comments or share through Facebook or Twitter. 


*The source of this information was, blog of Diane Jacob, food writer and author of Will Write For Food. It is not legal advice.


This post is number 20 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Crock Pot Sunday

Good morning, y’all. It’s Sunday and I have a crock pot recipe for you today.

But first I have a confession: I fought momentarily against kitchen shame before posting this. I purchased this pre-seasoned cabernet pot roast from Trader Joes. Because I did not technically make this pot roast from scratch my internal shame-brain tried to trick me into not posting this here. And that is crazy, and I don’t believe in letting shame-brain affect your life, so I wanted to start there.

Just like there is no shame in enjoying the food that your spouse prepares for you, there is no shame in using pre-seasoned meats or pre-packaged products in your kitchen. We all have different lifestyles and cooking time frames and it is fine to do what you do and do it proudly.

Also, Trader Joe’s marketing is so tricky and that cabernet pot roast just looked so cute! I couldn’t help myself. I know how to make a regular pot roast, but I wanted to eat THIS pot roast.

I promised you I would try to use my crock pot this month, and hopefully this won’t be the only time I use it, but we’re already 19 days into 31 Days in the Kitchen so no promises. Here’s how I made this pre-seasoned adorable Trader Joe’s pot roast. (I’ll put instructions for a plain pot roast in parenthesis in case you don’t have a TJ’s nearby.)

Crock Pot Pot Roast

Crockpot Sunday

Here’s what you need:

A beef pot roast of your choosing.

A bag of carrots (I accidentally bought the organic carrots but you can just get regular. Either way they taste like carrots.)

A big yellow onion. White is fine if that’s what you have.

Olive oil, salt, and pepper. (Big surprise, I know!)


Here’s what you do:

Chop your carrots and slice your onions pretty thin.

Grab a heavy skillet and heat up some olive oil (just enough to coat the pan) until it’s pretty hot. Drop some tiny water droplets in and if they sizzle when they hit the oil, you are ready!

(If you are using a regular beef roast, heavily salt and pepper each side of the meat.)

Sear each side of the beef roast in the hot oil for 3-4 minutes, so you get a beautiful crust on the edges. This takes some time and I usually get really lazy and just do the big sides but if you can do all six sides, it will taste better.

While searing, put half of your carrots and onions on the bottom of the crock pot.

Once seared, put your crusty brown beef in the crock pot. Pour any oil or extra bits from the pan on top of the meat.

Put your carrots and onions all around don’t forget to season those veggies. They need salt.

Pour in ½ cup of water or beef broth or whatever liquid you want. You can use a can of cream of mushroom too, but I never have that handy.

Set your crockpot and forget about it! You can do six hours on high or eight/10 hours on low. It will be done either way, so just choose the time that fits your schedule for the day.


So tell me, are you a Trader Joe’s shopper? Do you get pulled into their pre-packaged meals and products like I do? I try to only shop there once a month because I am HIGHLY susceptible to their advertising antics.

This post is number 19 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

It’s Okay: Just Take a Break

It’s Saturday, day number 18 of October’s 31-day series, and there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. It’s not your job to do everything in the kitchen, or frankly anywhere else in your family life. You are not the only person in the world who can buy groceries or make dinner or wash those dishes piling up in the sink. Just because you want your family to eat healthy and well does not mean that you have some kind of superpower or empty schedule that enables you to do everything perfectly all the dang time.

Take a break, my friend, and enjoy the kitchen efforts of the people around you. If no one is around, give yourself a break anyway! Order a pizza or grab takeout (we LOVE this place, and we order Chicken Tikka Masala and Lamb Curry at least twice a month). Devour a dinner that your husband (or maybe a friend or a parent or a child) makes for you. Sit back and savor a glass of wine while they do the work.

This week, after hosting guests for six straight days and three weeks of pretty challenging personal stuff, I did some cooking but I also enjoyed being cooked for. Thursday night, my husband made us this delicious steak dinner with crispy green beans and sweet potatoes sautéed in bacon fat. And it was awesome.

I did not cook any of these items and they all tasted delicious.  There is both steak and bacon on this plate.

I did not cook any of these items and they all tasted delicious. There is both steak and bacon on this plate.

And then today, we had some bananas going bad and H whipped up a loaf of banana bread. He used this recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence, but with walnuts instead of pecans.


Is this the banana bread recipe I would have chosen if I was making banana bread? No. Does it taste even better than what I would have made because I didn’t have to bake it? YES. 100 times yes.

It’s easy for me to jump head-first into something like 31 Days in the Kitchen and think that I have to make every meal from scratch, perfectly, with low calories and high flavor and fancy photographs and never go to sleep without mopping the kitchen and dusting the china. (What china?!?) But being thoughtful about what you eat doesn’t require such extremes. And this weekend, I’m thinking about how lucky I am to have such a great kitchen partner.

Do you take on all of the cooking responsibilities in your family? Do you ever feel like you can’t cook another meal or wash another dish? And if so — what is your favorite takeout?

This post is number 18 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.