Calling to Chit Chat & Allergy-Friendly Potato Salad with Arugula

Just after graduating college, I had the privilege to move to New York City for a job with a brand new health and fitness startup. It was my dream job and my dream city. But it wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds: I took the train from Boston to NYC with two giant suitcases and moved into an illegal AirBnB apartment near Union Square with my new boss and another dude who was working with us (neither of whom I had ever met). The three of us worked out of that apartment with about five other 20-somethings for a whole summer before moving on to a “real” office (and separate living quarters). We spent all of our time together. Most days, we ate ate all of our meals together, worked out together, explored the city together. At one point, my parents were actually worried I was part of a cult rather than just working really hard.

It was one of the most transformative periods of my life. I became a more confident person, a more independent woman, and way more sure of myself. But probably the best thing about that time was the women I worked with and the friendships we were able to build. They’re not the people I talk to every week or even every month, but I know that even if a year goes by I could reach out to them to check in without it being awkward.

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Kelli (second from right) and me with our coworkers, Fall 2011

One of those awesome women is Kelli. Kelli is from Wisconsin and was brand new to NYC when we met, just like I was. When she walked into our apartment-slash-office on her first day, I knew pretty quickly we would be friends. She is kind, genuine, sarcastic, and has one of my top-five favorite laughs ever.

A lot has changed since those days, but one thing that definitely hasn’t is how much we both think about food. (And wine. Duh.) In fact, Kelli just started a new blog called Calling to Chit Chat with the whole purpose of getting to talk to people about food. So, naturally, when she asked me to chat for her most recent post about life with food allergies/restrictions, I was more than happy to oblige.

And that brings us to potato salad. Kelli asked me to share some easy ideas for feeding an allergen-conscious crowd, and I immediately thought of this potato salad. I’ve made countless versions of this salad to bring as a side dish to barbecues and dinner parties, and it’s a hit every time. Plus, the recipe is easy, you can make it ahead of time, and the leftovers will keep for a few days.

Allergen-Friendly Warm Potato Salad with Arugula

Warm Potato Salad with Arugula

What you’ll need:

1 lb baby yellow potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1/2 container baby arugula
2-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon dijoin mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry herbs of choice (or 2 tablespoons fresh herbs) — tarragon, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano would all work!
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper (2-4 turns of a pepper grinder)

What to do:

  1. Start by boiling the potatoes in super salty water. Cook until you can insert a knife into the center of the largest potato and remove it without resistance.
  2. While the potatoes cook, make the dressing. Combine the olive oil, mustard, vinegar or lemon juice, herbs, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk until combined.
  3. When the potatoes are done cooking, drain them in a colander and immediately dump the hot potatoes into the large bowl with the dressing. Use a large spoon to toss the potatoes in the dressing until they are evenly coated.
  4. Taste a potato and adjust seasoning with salt/pepper to your liking.
  5. If you’re serving it immediately, add the arugula, toss to combine, and serve.

    Note: To make ahead, stop at step 4 and store potatoes in a covered dish. Just before serving, add arugula and toss to coat. You may also want to add a bit more dressing, which you can make easily with a quick swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of vinegar or lemon juice.

Easy Warm Quinoa and Veggie Salad

Quinoa with Veggies

I’m not a turkey-sandwich-with-swiss-cheese-lettuce-tomato kind of gal. I sort of see lunch as a pick-me-up in the middle of the day, and un-inspired sandwiches that have been done 100 times before just don’t work for me anymore. Just look at my Instagram feed: apple and cheddar panini, tomato and mozzarella with prosciutto sandwich,  zucchini and red pepper quesadilla with pesto dipping sauce.

But, realistically, no one has the time to spend 30 minutes making lunch. (At least not every day.) But five or 10 minutes? That’s usually doable. This warm quinoa salad can be made two ways: in the microwave, or in a frying pan. I prefer the frying pan method, but in a pinch the microwave method works great, too. I’ll detail the pan method below, but the microwave method is so easy, I’ll tell you how to do it right here: Combine 1/3 cup cooked quinoa in a bowl with the raw vegetables listed in the ingredient list below, and microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until everything is heated through. Top with whatever dressings or cheese you like!

Since I’m currently working from home, I like to make single-serve batches of this dish (or a similar variation), but you could also make a big batch over the weekend and portion it out to take to work for lunch throughout the week.

Warm Quinoa and Veggie Salad

Warm Quinoa and Veggie SaladServes 1

What You Need:

1/3 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 tablespoons diced onion
1/4 red pepper, diced
2-inch section of zucchini, diced
4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small handful spinach leaves
2 tablespoons kidney beans
Salt and pepper
Optional toppings: salad dressing of choice, hummus, pesto, goat cheese

What to Do:

Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Once warm, add onion, red pepper, and zucchini to the pan. Sauté until vegetables start to soften, 2-3 minutes.

Once the onion, pepper, and zucchini begin to soften, add the beans, spinach, and tomatoes. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes.

After the spinach has wilted and the beans begin to burst open, add the cooked quinoa. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes, or until everything is heated through.

Serve, and top with whatever you like — simple oil and vinegar dressing, goat cheese, pesto, or hummus make great flavorings!

Veggie-Filled Mac n’ Cheese

Veggie Mac and CheeseApparently, I’m a bad blog-runner. Life gets just a little crazy, and I go three weeks without posting. Woops. But now I’m back in a normal groove, at least for a little while.

It’s been an interesting month. A month filled with comfort food to help distract me from certain stressors that’ve been on my mind constantly. In the last 30-ish days, I decided to move out of New York and in with a boy (ew, gross). I feared not being able to keep my job due to this move (but, thank goodness, I am!). I apartment-hunted via Skype with said boy. We chose an apartment.  I took a weekend trip to help him move in. We picked out (and fought about) furniture. And I set a moving date for myself (April 26th!) and started packing my apartment. That’s a lot of decisions in very little time for someone who hates being decisive. It’s been unbelievably stressful, but also overwhelmingly exciting. And I couldn’t have made any of these decisions without my  (very patient) friends and parents. Oh, and maybe that boy. 

While this recipe (and photos) is actually over a year old, it’s basically the same thing I’ve been throwing together regularly over the last month: A healthier take on classic comfort food. Sometimes that’s been stovetop mac n’ cheese with veggies (yes, I used Velveeta — deal with it), sometimes it’s been chicken-quinoa meatballs with homemade tomato sauce, and sometimes classic rice and beans. Those are all great things to throw together in 30-minutes after work, but this one… this one’s more special. Perfect to make on a Sunday afternoon. The cheese sauce is made from scratch (but is simplified, and super easy), your choice of fresh vegetables take center stage, and you can use whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta for added fiber (super important).

Veggie Mac n’ Cheese

What You’ll Need:

1 cup broccoli
1 1/2 cups spinach
1 cup tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
1 cup chicken stock (homemade is best!)
1 pound small pasta (I used gluten-free shells, but you could use any gluten-free whole-grain, or whole-wheat short pasta)
1 1/2 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

What to Do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a medium baking dish with olive oil.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a healthy pinch of salt. Add noodles, and cook until al dente (according to package instructions), about 8–10 minutes. Drain, and set aside.

In a medium frying pan, prep your veggies. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add broccoli and spinach to pan. Sautée until broccoli begins to tenderize. Add tomatoes and peas and continue cooking until heated through. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, warm milk and chicken stock over medium-high eat. Once simmering, reduce heat to medium. Add one handful of cheddar  at a time, stirring to melt in between additions. Once all cheddar is added, add ricotta and Parmesan and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Add veggies and pasta to the cheese sauce, and stir until everything is evenly combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. remove foil, and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and edges are bubbling.

Sunday Soup // Red Lentil Coconut-Curry with Spinach

One of my favorite things to do every weekend is cook up a big batch of something delicious to eat for dinner throughout the week. Sometimes it’s tomato sauce, sometimes a pasta or rice bake, but there’s something special about that recipe being soup. Whether it’s French lentil, meaty chili, or something curry-based (like this one!), having my little yellow Dutch oven on the stove top with soup bubbling away makes me feel so cozy.

Red Lentil Coconut-Curry Soup

The best part about soup, though, is its versatility. I never measure — always estimate, and adjust the amounts of spices based on taste (or just what happens to accidentally fall out of the container…).

I got the idea for this coconut red lentil curry soup from this recipe at Sweet Potato Chronicles. For my version, I doubled the ginger and garlic, added a bit more curry, and decided to puree the soup before adding the spinach ribbons for a creamier texture. Enjoy!

A word of advice: Yes, this ingredient list looks intimidatingly long. But I promise, this soup is actually easy to assemble, and took me less than an hour from first chop to first bite.

Red Lentil Coconut-Curry Soup with Spinach

Red Lentil Coconut-Curry SoupServes 6-8

What You’ll Need: 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon curry powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup tomato paste
5 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
1 can coconut milk
2 cups red lentils
4 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste

What to Do:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a big pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.

Add diced onions and carrots, and sautée until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, ginger, and spices. Stir to combine, and allow it to cook for another 3 minutes (or until fragrant).

Add the tomato paste and stir until evenly distributed.

Pour in the stock, water, and coconut milk. Stir to evenly distribute.

Add lentils. Give everything a good stir and let it simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Now it’s time to smooth everything out. Remove the pot from the heat and plug in your immersion blender. Blend until completely smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, than blend the soup until smooth in batches in a normal blender.)

Add the lemon juice and taste. Season with enough salt and pepper to satisfy your taste buds.

Time for the greens! Prep your spinach leaves for slicing: Roll a handful of the spinach leaves into a tight bundle. The best way to do this is to lay each leaf on top of each other, and roll up into a tight “cigar.” Next, slice crosswise to make super-thin spinach ribbons.

Separate the spinach ribbons, and add to the pot. Stir until the leaves just wilt.

*Note: If you’d rather, leave out the spinach and top the bowl with spinach ribbons just before serving.

Enjoy!