Food & Drink

Instant Pot Mac & Cheese

HELLLLLOOOOO triumphant return! Typing this is so surreal. I guess I should rewind and take you back to the beginning. Blogging, especially blogging about food, is not new to me. I started blogging in 2014 as a stress relief when I was in grad school. It was my way of channeling my creative energy in a non-academic way. I kept at it off-and-on after I graduated, and in 2017, I stopped. I went back to school and did another graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania. Guess what? They make you earn that Ivy League diploma. I basically had no time to do anything creative. Did it drive me insane? Absolutely. Now, I’m on the cusp of starting my career, so I thought this is the perfect time to start over. Thanks for joining me :) Now let’s get to the good stuff.

If I got $1 for every time I tell someone to buy an Instant Pot, I wouldn’t need to rely on the lottery to win big. I love my Instant Pot so much (almost as much as my husband and my dog, combined). This past summer, it got insanely hot here in Philadelphia, so I cooked the majority of our meals in the Instant Pot. (I’m sorry, but I just can’t eat cold salads all day every day).

Now that fall is officially here and it’s sweater weather, I thought it is high time to reintroduce the mac and cheese, Instant Pot edition.

Since I’m “adulting”, I really shouldn’t rely on Kraft Mac & Cheese when I want a warm bowl of gooey cheesy goodness (although if you made some for me, I’d eat the whole thing). I really love this recipe because there’s nothing I hate more than standing over a hot boiling pot of pasta. The Instant Pot can perfectly cook my pasta. When it is done, mix in cheese and milk, tada! Dinner is served (or breakfast, lunch, and dessert. It’s that good).

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta (I used small elbow macaroni, but you can use whatever you have!)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 oz mild cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 2 oz parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 cup milk (or half & half)

Instructions

  1. Turn IP on to ‘Sauté’ function. Melt butter and sauté garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Turn off IP.
  2. Add water and salt. Make sure the water just covers the pasta. If it doesn’t, add more water until all the pasta is covered. Set IP to Manuel (high) for 4 minutes. (Do 5 minutes if you are using a larger pasta, like penne).
  3. Do a quick release when pasta is finished cooking. Drain if there is excess water. Stir in cheese and milk until pasta is thick and creamy.
Zero Waste

Sustainability Documentaries to Watch This Month

I’m going back to school this fall.  To get my gears running, I’ve been diving myself into documentaries.  As adults, when we are removed from the educational realm, it’s often really difficult to continually expand our knowledge.  I’ve always loved documentaries.  But with watching any documentaries, I always go in with the mentality of “take this with a grain of salt.”  Any good documentary will have a clear stance or a message it is trying to promote.  A good documentary won’t be wishy-washy on its point.  But I think it is important to not view these documentaries as the only truth, but watch it from a learning standpoint.  After watching, do some research of your own, and see if you can adapt any of the practices into your daily lives.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (2016)

The True Cost (2015)

Global Waste: The Scandal of Food Waste (2011)
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Food Choices (2016)

Fed Up (2014)

Cowspiracy (2014)

Mission Blue (2014)

Food & Drink

Stuffed Shells

DSC_3693This is my all-time favorite potluck dish.  You can do the majority of the prep ahead of time if you wish.  It is such a crowd pleaser.  I’ve yet to bring this to an event and come home with leftovers.  This recipe will yield two 13×9 dishes.  Make this for your next potluck, and I guarantee you will receive so many compliments and recipe requests.

You can use your favorite pasta sauce, or reach for the jar pasta sauce in your pantry.  Just make sure it is a sauce that you absolutely love, since the ricotta-stuffed shells have a mild flavor and will take on the majority of the flavor from your pasta sauce.

A 12oz package of jumbo shells will have anywhere between 40-45 jumbo shells.  I’ve accounted 3-5 for casualties during the stuffing or boiling process.  I usually will eat 3 shells with a side salad, and I’m happy as a clam.

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Servings: 10-12

Ingredients
– 12oz package jumbo shells
– 6 cups marinara sauce
– 2 (15oz) container of ricotta (or homemade)
– 2 eggs
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
– 3 tbsp parsley flakes

Method
– Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Cook jumbo shells at half the time as stated on the directions.  Drain and let cool.
– In a large bowl, whisk eggs with a fork.  Mix in ricotta until well-combined.  Add salt, mozzarella cheese, and 2 tbsp of the parsley flakes.  Mix until well combined.
– In the two 13×9 casserole dish, spread 1 cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of each casserole dish.  Take each cooled jumbo shell, spoon the ricotta mixture into the shell.  Place the shells filling-side up in the casserole dish.  Repeat until you used up all your shells and your casserole dishes are filled.
– Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the shells.  Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of parsley flakes over the sauce.  Cover the casserole dish with foil.
– Preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes.

Zero Waste

My Wardrobe’s Life Cycle

I talked a little bit about clothing I no longer buy in my last post.  But today, I want to dig a little bit deeper into the thought process of how I came to that conclusion.  Right now, looking into my closet, my clothes are probably 30% thrifted and 70% store-bought.  I imagine that percentage will slowly balance itself out and shift more towards thrifted in a few years time.

I always loved thrift stores.  I love finding weird knick-knacks and transforming them into something unique and beautiful to me.  But up until 2 years ago, I only thrifted furniture and home decor.  One day, I decided to peruse the clothing aisle.  That day, I was seriously overwhelmed since everything is unique, so I had to look at every item.  But observing the price tag, it did instill a little thought of, “hey, this is a good price!”

Today, I shop pretty much exclusively at thrift stores.  This will range from Goodwill and Salvation Army, to my local boutique second-hand stores.  The things I still buy new are undergarments.

My move towards used clothing and away from new clothing started when I online shopped a few years ago.  When I got my package, I was excited.  When I opened it, I was annoyed that every single item was individually packaged in plastic.  I used to think that if I shopped at a brick-and-mortar store, it would not be packaged in plastic.  But no!  Every single piece of clothing that ends up on the racks and shelves, an employee had to open it up in its individually-wrapped packaging to hang it.  Thinking back at how many items of clothing I bought from stores, that’s a lot of plastic packaging!

Beyond environmental reasons, I think the main reason why I love thrift stores is finding a great bargain!  My favorite find to date is a brand new, white cardigan from White House Black Market for $2.  Once you can find that kind of deal at a thrift store, it’s kind of hard to convince me to pay full price again.  Of course, the kind of clothes you find depend on where you live.  I currently live in a college town.  So beyond the townies, it is students and professors who donate the clothing.  I frequent the Goodwill store right by campus, knowing that is the store that students from the Chicago suburbs and professors would drop off their donations.  I like to go especially before winter break, spring break, and summer break, that’s when students do their closet clearout before going home, and that’s when really good stuff comes in!

So … where do my clothes go after they have served their purpose?  I try to mend any rips and tears on my clothes as much as possible.  But if it is damaged beyond repair, I will take them to a textile recycling drop box.  If you look carefully, you’ll find them all over your city.  A really common one is the green and white USAgain box.  If I no longer like an item but it is in good condition, I’ll either donate it or sell it on my Poshmark closet.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still like to occasionally window shop at the mall.  I don’t do it often, but I do like to see what is currently trendy.  I am now ruthless on fit and loving the item, so I rarely will walk out with something.  But for me, it’s a fun challenge if I see something I like on a mannequin, and I try to find a similar item at a thrift store.

Zero Waste

Things I’ve Stopped Buying

I’ve been living zero waste for a little over a year now.  Living zero waste has helped me grow and be more conscious in my living.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I learn from every single one and make sure that I don’t make them a habit.

I wanted to talk about the things I’ve stopped buying since I’ve gone zero waste.  There’s actually a lot of stuff that I no longer buy, but I wanted to keep the big picture for people interested in living more sustainably.  So I’ll separate them into categories.  This is a result of living zero waste, practicing minimalism, and using the KonMari method around my household.

Clothing

  • Fast fashion:  I was such a lazy kid growing up, so I had my mom buy the majority of my clothes until I was in college. But once I got control over my wardrobe, I became sucked into the world of fast fashion.  Looking back to my college photos, I noticed a trend.  Freshmen year, I was really into bright, pastel colors.  Sophomore year, I wore lots of graphic tees.  Junior year, I started hoarding lots of skirts and dresses.  You get the gist.  The problem with fast fashion is that they usually aren’t in great quality, and they go out of style so fast.
  • Repeated Styles:  If I have something in my closet, I no longer see the need to buy a duplicate style.  I’ve trimmed my closet down so that I have one or two of each thing, and they are all of high quality.  For example, I used to have 5 different blue sweaters.  Granted they are different shades of blue, but at the end of the day, I had 5 blue sweaters.  That is no longer an issue I have.  I’ve also dwindled down my shoes to under 10 pairs at all times.

Health and Beauty

  • Feminine Products:  I use a menstrual cup and I love it.  I’ve written a blog post about it.
  • Makeup:  As I’ve grown older, I no longer feel the need to cover up all my imperfections.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love to get dolled up every day, but I’ve minimized what I wear and streamlined it all to 5 items.  I only wear mineral foundation, mascara, blush, brow liner, and eye shadow.  I’m also looking into making my own version of these 5 items.
  • Hair Products:  I wrote a post on sustainable hair care a while back on the products that I make instead.
  • Face Wash & Moisturizer:  I use castile soap as a face wash and oils (rosehip, argan, or almond) as a moisturizer.

Household

  • Cleaning Products:  It is amazing how much cleaning power vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap have.  I use these three in different capacities as cleaning products around the house.
  • Paper Products:  I don’t buy paper towels, tissues, or napkins.  I use rags, handkerchiefs, and cloth napkins instead.  The one exception is toilet paper, which I still buy regularly.  We are looking into installing a bidet to decrease our toilet paper use.
  • Aluminum Foil, Saran Wrap, Wax Paper, Parchment Paper:  These are all staples in the kitchen.  I don’t buy any of them anymore.  For aluminum foil and plastic wrap, I used to use them to store leftovers.  I now use my homemade beeswax food wrap instead.  If I need to cover a baked dish that calls for aluminum foil, I cover it with a cookie sheet.  I use a Silpat for all my baking needs or I just grease the pan with oil.
  • Ziploc Bags:  We use stainless steel tiffins or glass Tupperware.
  • Trash Bags:  No trash, no trash bag.
  • Bottled Water:  Growing up, we always had a water filtered installed.  But we would always buy bottled water when we traveled because it was convenient.  Now, I use a charcoal water filter at home and bring my water bottle with me when I travel.   (I will buy a few gallons of emergency water to put in storage if necessary.)
  • Packaged Food:  The only packaged foods I buy now are ingredients that are packaged in paper or glass.  I buy flour and sugar packaged in paper.  I also buy condiments (mostly Asian condiments since I can’t find them in bulk) in glass, like soy sauce.  I don’t buy any canned foods or processed foods beyond what I’ve just listed.

This list is just a sampling of things I no longer buy.  There are more specific things, but that list is much, much longer.  I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that when you make a commitment to reduce your waste, it will snowball into minimizing in all aspects of your life.  Your life will be much simpler and happier!

Food & Drink

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

This year, I gave up flour for Lent.  That means goodbye cookies, cakes, bread, and pasta.  Hello rice and potatoes!  I’m surprised by how many delicious dishes I am able to eat without breaking Lent.  One of my favorites –  Vietnamese spring rolls.  I always order these when I go out to a Vietnamese restaurant.  Spring rolls, unliked their fried cousins, are light yet filling, filled with veggies, and is incredibly flavorful.

Spring rolls typically have mint leaves in the rolls.  However, I’m not huge fan of eating mint leaves, so I opt to leave that out.  What I love about this recipe is that you can be super creative with this.  You can put whatever veggies you want in them.  Just make sure they are chopped up in similar size.  This recipe will yield about 12 spring rolls, enough to serve 6 people (or 4 very hungry people).

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Servings: 4-6

Ingredients
Spring Rolls
– 4 cucumbers, cut into matchsticks
– 8 lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
– 1 bunch fresh cilantro
– 4oz rice noodles
– 8-10 spring roll wrappers

Crispy Tofu
– 1 package extra firm tofu (~12-14 oz), drained and pat dry
– 3 tbs cornstarch
– 3 tbs vegetable oil
– 2 tbs peanut butter sauce (recipe below)
– 1 tb soy sauce (use GF if desired)
– 1 tb brown sugar
Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce
– 1/3 cup peanut butter
– 1 tb soy sauce (use GF if desired)
– 2 tbs honey (use agave for vegan)
– 1 tb lemon juice
– 1 tsp chili bean paste (optional)
– 1/4 cup hot water
Method
1. Cook rice noodles according to package instuctions.  Drain and set aside.
2. Combine all the ingredients of the peanut butter dipping sauce.  Slowly add the hot water to thin this out.  You might not need all 1/4 cup.  The consistency should be easy-to-pour but still a little viscous.
3. Cut the tofu into thin slices.  Coat with cornstarch.  In a skillet over medium heat, pan fry the tofu in vegetable oil.  Cook each side until golden brown.  Take 2 tbs of the pre-mixed peanut butter dipping sauce and mix with an additional 1 tb soy sauce and 1 tb brown sugar.  Pour this over the tofu and cook until all the sauce is absorbed.
4. Prepare a shallow plate with hot water.  Soften the spring roll wrapper in the hot water (5-10 seconds).
5. On a dry plate, place one sheet of spring roll wrapper.  Place cucumbers, cilantro, lettuce, rice noodles, and tofu on the bottom of the wrapper.  Wrapping like a burrito, fold in the sides, then roll up.  Serve with dipping sauce.
Adapted from Minimalist Baker
Food & Drink

Slow Cooker BBQ Turkey Meatballs

I don’t really like handling meat, so on the rare occasion that I do make a meat dish, I try to make it as easy as possible.  When I was perusing on Pinterest, I saw a slew of meatball recipes for beef or pork.  But I typically only cook poultry at home, so I thought of developing a recipe for turkey meatballs that can be made in a slow cooker.

I love BBQ sauce in general, so I thought of cooking the meatballs in a BBQ sauce instead of the traditional marinara.  This pairs beautifully with vegetables and potatoes.  Using garlic and ginger is so important in this recipe.  I have found that turkey and chicken usually need garlic and ginger to counter the “smell”.

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients
Meatballs
– 1 lb ground turkey
– 1 egg
– 1 small onion, finely diced
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1 small piece of ginger, minced
– 1/3 cup bread crumbs
– Salt & pepper, to taste

BBQ Sauce
– 1 cup BBQ sauce
– 1 tsp paprika
– 1/2 tsp salt

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Method
1. Mix all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl.  Shape into meatballs.  Heat 1 tsp of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Brown the meatballs on all sides.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the BBQ sauce ingredients.  Place BBQ sauce and meatballs into the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 4-6 hours, until meatballs are cooked through.  Stir halfway through.  You can use additional BBQ sauce as a glaze when serving.  Garnish with your favorite herbs, if desired.

*Note:  I use a homemade BBQ sauce, so I added paprika and salt for extra flavor.  If you are using a store-bought sauce, you do not need to add paprika/salt unless you want a bolder flavor.  When you are browning the meatballs, they don’t have to be fully-cooked.  They will cook the rest of the way in the slow cooker.  Just make sure you get a nice color on them so they don’t stick together in the slow cooker.