Tag Archives: Cooking

Cookie Observations

29 Dec

I’ve been at the same job for almost four years. One of the perks of working in my office is that there are break rooms filled with snacks. The thing that I have been watching over the years is what gets eaten first. With each Peapod delivery – 100% of the time – the fresh fruit goes first and the pop tarts go last.

I’ve developed this hypothesis, given the option people will naturally gravitate toward healthy food choices. I accidentally ran an experiment over the Christmas weekend with some cookies.

For Christmas Eve I made these ‘Moon Cookies.’ I got the recipe from my mom, she’s been making these since we were kids. They’re my brother’s favorite so I try to make a batch for either Christmas or New Year’s Day. I brought these with me to my aunt’s house and at dessert time almost everyone ate one, a couple of people declined and my brother ate two.

Moon cookies

Moon cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter
5 TBS sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups chopped pecans
Powdered sugar

Step 1
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a mixing bowl sift flour and salt.
Step 2
In a separate bowl cream butter until light and fluffy. Then work in sugar and vanilla and mix well.
Step 3
Work in flour until combined then add chopped nuts. Roll the dough into small logs and shape into crescents about 2” each and place onto a baking pan.
Step 4
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cookies start to brown. Cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack for cooling. Arrange on a platter and dust with powdered sugar.

For Christmas Day I baked ‘Citrus-Kissed Honey Buttons.’ A recipe I found in the December issue of Eating Well Magazine, page 82. The recipe is from Teresa Ralston who was a finalist in their cookie contest. Take note that they’re lower in calories and fat and smaller than the ‘Moon Cookies.’ When I brought them over to my mom’s house she tried one right away and then had my aunt and brother try them before dinner. For my mom, that’s unheard of. There were close to forty cookies and not a single one was left over after dessert time.

Citrus-kissed honey buttons, prebaking

Citrus-kissed honey buttons, prebaking

Citrus-kissed honey buttons

Citrus-kissed honey buttons

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
4 TBS unsalted, softened butter
1 large egg
1 TBS honey
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp lemon extract

Step 1
Whisk flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt in a small bowl.
Step 2
Beat sugar and butter in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until lightly fluffy. Add egg, honey, lemon zest, orange zest and lemon extract and beat until blended. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating on low-speed just until combined. Cover and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes or overnight.
Step 3
Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line 2 large baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
Step 4
Roll the dough into 36 balls (about 2 level tsps each) with your hands. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
Step 5
Bake, one batch at a time, until puffed and beginning to crack, 6-8 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Maybe it’s time run some real experiments… stay tuned.


Wigilia Tradition

26 Dec

Wigilia (pronounced, Vee-gee-lia) is the traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner. My family is from Poland, my parents came to the U.S. one year before I was born. Almost everyone in my extended family still lives there and my parents have spent half of their lives there so naturally we follow all the Polish traditions. This one is my favorite.

In Poland the tradition is to put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve when the first star appears in the sky. Once the tree is up the table gets set for as many guests there are plus one. The plus one is for the less-fortunate traveler, almost always there is an extra place setting at the table. There is also hay under the tablecloth as a reminder that Jesus was born in a stable.

We formed our own family tradition and place small gifts under the table cloth. This year everyone got a lottery ticket!

Me with my lottery ticket

Me with my lottery ticket

I was the big winner this year with $7! Woohoo!

Each part of the evening is filled with symbolism and the food is without exception. There are typically twelve different dishes at the table to represent the twelve apostles. Another tradition of Polish Christmas Eve is that none of the dishes have meat, that means plenty of potatoes, starches, vegetables and fish.

Before dinner we exchange oplatki. Oplatek is a small wafer. Everyone at the table gets a piece and then we exchange oplatki wishing each other well wishes for the new year.



We start our dinner with barszcz (borscht) a beet soup with mushroom filled dumplings.

Barszcz z uszkami (Borscht with dumplings)

Barszcz z uszkami (Borscht with dumplings)

Then we move on to a second soup sauerkraut with mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

Sauerkraut soup with mashed potatoes

Kapusniak (Sauerkraut soup with mashed potatoes)

Next we eat a few different types of herring. My favorite is herring with marjoram and fresh chopped garlic.

Sledzie (Herring with marjoram and garlic)

Then we move onto the rest of the dishes like this Polish vegetable salad. It’s reminiscent of potato salad but with about ten more ingredients.

Polish vegetable salad

Salatka jazynowa (Polish vegetable salad)

There are always at least two kinds of fish, there’s one battered and fried and one in vegetables. The fish is layered and folded in between a carrot puree.



Of course a Polish Christmas is never complete without pierogi.



I also strayed a little from the traditional foods this year and made some roasted acorn squash.

Roasted acorn squash

Roasted acorn squash

Here’s my first plate.

Joanna's plate

Joanna's plate

Before dessert we finish up the dinner with homemade noodles with sweet poppy seeds, raisins and nuts.

Kluski z makiem

Kluski z makiem (Noodles with poppy seed)

We also open all of our presents on Christmas Eve.

Christmas presents

Christmas presents

My dad got the most presents this year.

Dad with presents

Dad with presents

I’m fortunate to have a close family that spends the holidays together and is able to maintain our cultural holiday traditions. Growing up I thought that everyone had Wigilia like we did. Now that I’m all grown up I know it’s a special tradition and I’m happy to share it with you.

Do you have any unique and favorite holiday traditions?

Working out and Feasting with Friends

23 Dec

I am a social being, I love being around people. This is a fairly new realization for me because most of my life I’ve spent thinking I was a loner. I have shy-ish tendencies. I wouldn’t consider myself shy by any means but I do get self-conscious at times. To understand why, we have to take a short trip to my past.

Our first stop is Kindergarten. When I was a little girl first starting school I didn’t speak English; Polish was my first language. I couldn’t actually talk to the kids so naturally I was a quiet kid. Although I’ve grown into a loud out-spoken adult, sometimes that child-like self-consciousness takes over.

Our next stop is my office, two years ago. After a series of reorganizations, moves and people leaving I was stuck in an office by myself. At first I thought it was the best thing that could possibly happen to me. After a few months, I couldn’t stand it when all I had to interact with was the computer screen. It became very clear to me that I thrive and am happiest when I am around people.

Let’s move along to the present, bringing our little trip to brief halt. This past weekend, I spent both Saturday and Sunday working out with people. On Saturday I went to the gym with my brother and his girlfriend and then they came over for dinner. I made this delicious meal.

Maple-glazed chicken, sauted kale & swiss chard with raisons and rosemary maple covered acorn squash

Maple-glazed chicken, sautéed kale & swiss chard with raisins and rosemary maple covered acorn squash

On Sunday I went to the gym with one of my best friends. Then after a stop at Whole Foods we made this delicious meal.

Clean montechristo sandwich and coconut carrot soup

Clean Montecristo sandwich and coconut carrot soup

When Monday rolled around I felt like I had been on vacation for a week.

As I drive along in life, I increasingly realize the importance for me to be around friends and family. Alone time is cool if I have to clean or read or study, but working out with a buddy is so much more fun and fulfilling.

What’s your workout style? Do you prefer to go alone or go with a workout buddy?

Breakfast Burrito Perfection and a Party

10 Dec

Good morning everyone. A breakfast burrito is the perfect thing to wake up to on a cold winter morning. Warm eggs and warm turkey bacon wrapped in a warm tortilla with some hot tea on the side, perfect. I’ve been making these for breakfast as least a few times a week for the last year and I have yet to get sick of them. Probably because the combinations of healthy options are endless. I think this is the best one yet.

Breakfast Burrito

Breakfast burrito

From the bottom up:
Spinach tortilla
Homemade arugula pesto
Organic baby spinach
1 slice of turkey bacon
2 eggs, over easy
Avocado slices
Valentina hot sauce
Toasted flax seeds

Later tonight I will be attending the holiday office party. I hear that there will be an amazing buffet and an open bar. Looking forward to it.

Breakfast Burrito is Back

5 Nov

Good morning everyone, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. Tomorrow is race day and I have plenty of resting, stretching and carbing-up to do before Saturday. I’m also going to be doing some baking tonight. My brother’s and my dad’s birthdays are tomorrow and I’m  making three dozen cupcakes for the party. Hope everyone has a great weekend, I’ll be sure to let you know how the race goes.

Breakfast burrito

Breakfast burrito

From the bottom up this one has:
Red chili tortilla from Whole Foods
2 farm fresh eggs, over easy
Green salsa from Trader Joe’s
Pine nuts
Raw goat’s milk cheese

Has anyone been inspired by these? Have you started to make your own? Or do you have a version of your own?

Recipe and Run

4 Nov

With the fall weather slowly arriving in Chicago, I’ve been in the mood for fall flavors. Earlier this week I decided to cook butternut squash, I’d never made it before so it was a fun experiment. I’m really lucky, because my coworker and friend Amanda likes to cook and she eats clean. We had a recipe brainstorm a couple of days ago and came up with this recipe together. It was delicious and I want to share it with you.

Autumn chicken, squash and quinoa

Maple Chicken, Butternut Squash with Quinoa

1 lb chicken diced into bite sized pieces
6 skewers
2 TBS Lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 TBS maple syrup, divided
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 TBS olive oil, divided
1 cup dry quinoa
1 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup water
1 TBS fresh mint leaves, torn (5-10 leaves)
1/8 cup raw slivered almonds
1/8 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400º. Dice chicken into bite size pieces and put onto skewers. Best to use disposable wooden skewers for this one so you can cut them down to size for your frying pan. Put chicken onto skewers and place onto a plate or pan and brush lemon juice over chicken on both sides. Sprinkle sea salt over chicken. Set aside.

Peel butternut squash, scoop it out and dice into bite size pieces. Spread out squash onto a baking sheet. Brush 2 TBS of olive oil and 2 TBS of maple syrup to coat the squash. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Place baking sheet into oven and bake for 15 minutes turning the squash every 5 minutes. Once baked remove from oven and set aside to cool

Cook one cup quinoa according to package instructions, substituting 1 cup water for 1 cup chicken stock. Once quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and add mint leaves, almonds and cranberries and mix together. Cover and set aside.

Heat skillet to medium-high heat and add remaining olive oil. Brush remaining 1 TBS maple syrup onto skewers. Cook skewers on each side for 3-5 minutes until chicken cooks through and remove from pan.

Scoop a spoonful of quinoa mixture into a bowl, top with squash and chicken. Garnish with mint leaves and enjoy.

If you make this recipe let me know, I’d love to hear how you liked it. I will be making this again soon, I may try a different squash variety next time.

Now about the run…
Last night we had our final running club before this weekend’s race and it was my worst run to date. Ten minutes into the run I got a cramp on my side. Not entirely unusual, I tried to breathe and run through it and I couldn’t. I stopped and walked after thirty minutes and tried to pick it back up, it just got worse. So I walked instead. I’m going to spend the next few days stretching, foam rolling and drinking plenty of water.

We’ll pick up running club again next weekend.

Halloween Treats

29 Oct

In the spirit of Halloween, we had our second potluck lunch and costume contest at work.


Lounging at the office

Mostly everyone plays and we had a full spread just like the last time.

Halloween Spread

Halloween Spread

We encourage everyone to make something from scratch and to refrain from just buying candy and cookies. I turned a layered dip into a healthy treat with this spider web guacamole and bean dip.

Spider web guacamole and beans

Spider web guacamole and beans

I used organic salt-free black beans for the bottom layer, my infamous guacamole in the middle, light Mexican blend cheese on top and organic plain  Greek yogurt for the spider web. I don’t think anyone missed the fat because most of it was gone by the end of lunch. If you would like the recipe, leave a comment and I’ll share it.

We also had an amazing ‘sandwich bar’ with cranberries, wheat toast, arugula, peanuts, tomatoes, cream cheese, cucumbers and turkey. The sandwiches were delicious.

Turkey sandwich bar

Turkey sandwich bar

Here’s my plate:


My plate

My plate


I also ate a few of the sweets and grazed on the dips and chips after dessert and have been full all afternoon. Chips and dips are my weakness. I can skip on desserts and chocolates, but I LOVE crunchy salty things. Sometimes I forget my commitment to healthy eating when I’m around a bowl of chips and dips. I definitely went overboard this afternoon.

If you’re observing Halloween, have fun wherever you go, and remember you don’t have to give in to the chips and dips.


Meal Planning & Breakfast Burrito

17 Sep

Good afternoon, to everyone. I’ve been eating like a queen this week and I owe it to stepping up my meal planning game this week. But before I get into the details of that, here is today’s Breakfast Burrito:

Breakfast Burrito

Breakfast Burrito

From the bottom up:
Whole wheat flaxseed tortilla from Trader Joe’s
Chipotle chili pepper hummus
Raw organic baby spinach
2 farm fresh eggs, sunny side up
toasted flax seeds
Part-skim mozzarella cheese

So about meal planning, every week I make a rough outline of what I’m going to be eating during the week. I decide what will be eaten for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. I incorporate seasonal ingredients and at least one recipe I have never tried. Once I decide on the menu then I make the shopping list. It’s very simple and usually I leave a couple days open for miscellaneous cooking inspiration. The problem that I’ve had with this method is I end up with extra produce that I sometimes have to throw away. It breaks my heart to see food and money go to waste.

Last weekend I created a menu for my entire week with zero gaps and I used carrots and coconut as a theme. It all worked brilliantly on many different levels:

01 Once I made the list I didn’t have to think about what I was going to eat,
just look at the list and prepare
02 Looking at the list it gave me something to look forward to each day
03 Nothing went to waste this week!
04 I spent less money on the ingredients

Here are a couple highlights from the week, both of these are the new recipes I had never made before (both are from Clean Eating Magazine):

Coconut curry shrimp

Coconut curry shrimp

This one looks awesome and the shrimp tastes amazing. The shrimp are battered and baked in a single egg and a mixture of flaxseed meal and coconut flakes. I wasn’t crazy about the sauce, it called for Stevia, and I really should have known better. I only like sugar and raw honey as sweeteners, should have gone with my gut. I’ll make this one again and modify slightly.

Carrot ginger soup

Carrot ginger soup

This soup is AMAZING! Mostly I followed the recipe, it called for silken tofu, instead I used light coconut milk for creaminess. The only thing I would do differently next time is make more.

Tonight I will be making Spinach, Mushroom and Chicken dinner crepes. I can’t wait to get to the gym and get back home.

Daily Actions, Day 18
• Logging my food intake everyday — done
• Doing my workouts and logging them everyday — done
• Getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night — done
• Ask at least one person per day one of a few questions: –  done
What are your dreams? What do you like about your life? What are you grateful for?

In addition to the daily actions I will take some other miscellaneous actions:
(These won’t get a check mark until I do them later in the month, but I’m keeping them here as a reminder)
• Host a ‘Clean’ dinner party at my home once a month — Hosted 1st party Sunday 8.29
• Get a Sub Max test
• Clean two closets — one closet is clean
• Paint bedroom walls

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