Sichuan Leg of Lamb with Cool Celery Salad and Missouri Jasmine Rice (gf)

We love lamb in this house. Juicy, tender, versatile, and a flavorful departure from beef. I get a lot of blowback when I profess my love of lamb; look, I know they’re cute, but that cuteness is by far eclipsed by how delicious they are. Besides, baby chickens and cows are cute, too. I don’t hear y’all making a case for them.

a lamb & mutton-dotted field in New Zealand; we did our best to eat as many as we could, but the sheep:person ratio there is roughly 15:1

lambs we admired, mouths watering, in New Zealand last year

Another thing I unapologetically love as much as lamb is Sichuan food. Sichuan cuisine, Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛtʃwɒn/; Chinese: 四川菜; pinyin: Sìchuān cài or Chinese: 川菜; pinyin: Chuān cài) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan province in southwestern China. It’s famous for the use of chilis, chili oil, cumin, onion, and the delightfully tingly Sichuan peppercorn, which is my favorite spice found anywhere on the globe. Spicy? Yes. Savory? Yes. Meaty? Yes. Cooling? Somehow, yes.

spicy cumin lamb hand-pulled noodles at X’ian Famous Foods, my favorite Sichuan dish so far

And those peppercorns! They’re delicious and addictive- here’s a delightfully nerdy NPR piece about scientists exploring the frequency of the tingling caused by these magical little berries (!!!) as they tease the tongue and lure it back for more. If you haven’t tried Sichuan food, an ancient, prismatic world of flavor awaits.
Lamb is used often in Sichuan cooking- you may know variations of the Sichuan dish cumin lamb (my fave pictured above), so the Serious Eats Sichuan peppercorn-spiked leg of lamb that gave us leftovers during a busy week was a perfect fit for our home. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

SICHUAN LEG OF LAMB WITH COOL CELERY SALAD AND MISSOURI JASMINE RICE 

Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients: 

For the lamb

  • 1 3-lb butterflied leg of lamb
  • 2 tbsp cumin seed (whole)
  • 3 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns 
  • 2 tbsp red pepper flakes 
  • 2 star anise pods 
  • 2 tsp fennel seed (whole)
  • 2 tbsp brown or white sugar  
  • 3+ cloves garlic 
  • Kosher salt 

For the salad (I used a mandoline slicer to chop and ribbon these veggies):

  • 1 head celery, chopped thin on the bias 
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into ribbons 
  • 8-10 radishes, sliced thinly 
  • 1.5 c cilantro leaves 
  • 1/2 bunch green onions, sliced on the bias 
  • 2 cucumbers, sliced into ribbons 
  • Handful mint leaves, Whole or cut into chiffonade 
  • 3.5 tbsp rice vinegar 
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar 
  • 1 tsp white vinegar 
  • 2 tbsp soy or tamari (gf)
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic 
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced 
  • 1/3 c vegetable or other neutral oil 
  • Kosher salt 
  • Cracked black pepper

For the rice:

  • 1. 5 c Martin Jasmine rice (who knew the best jasmine rice comes from the bootheel!)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1.5 tsp vegetable or other oil
  • 2 1/4 c water 

Read more after the jump!

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Macros, Bikinis, and Comps- Oh, my!! 

Well helloooo, bloggosphere!! LC here. I am, in fact, alive and well, and still cooking up a storm. Where to begin to explain my extended a!g absence?? It all started with a dream and a bikini…….

 mrw fantasy wayne's world dream sequence GIF

dooledy doo, dooledy doo, dooledy doo

In 2011, a woman I know trained for a bikini division bodybuilding competition and posted her update photos on Facebook. She was tan and lean, curvy yet muscular and her inspiring photos struck a chord with me. Her competition suit sparkled under the stage lights, she beamed and strutted and posed, and I was hooked. Literal heart eyed emoji come to life. 😍

Related image

NOT the gal I know, just a photo of some pro bikini competitors to get an idea of the general aesthetic; abs, legs, guns, heels, glam

Fast forward 5 busy years and I found myself embarking on new horizons, starting a dream job at a firm I really, really wanted to be a part of. I was also a physical wreck from years of admittedly improper triathlon training and knew I had to get stronger to avoid further injury and the knee replacements my Dad has undergone. “Hey, self,” I thought to myself during the week between gigs, “remember that girl who trained to be really strong and looked super cute and still got to compete? You’re at a crossroads and in a period of reinvention; maybe you could do that, too.”

Lord knows I love an all-consuming hobby so dang if becoming a bikini competitor is not exactly what I set out to do, and DID. With a vengeance. At 33. I hired a coach, bought lifting gloves and shoes, and set out on my journey. Bootstraps pulled, chin up, first steps taken on my newfound bodybuilding journey. I trained for 6 months for my first show, placed in the top 5, and did 2 more shows for an exhausting total of 3 within 7 months. From finance to triathlon to cooking to diving to travel to life, I love sinking my teeth into a proper challenge. #noeasyhobbies.

What does this have to do with food and a!g? Well, seeing as my protein intake was incredibly low (readers may remember my occasional dabbling in veganism), much of what I consumed over those first six months was whey protein and chicken. Not super exciting to post about nor photo worthy, explaining my absence.

Image result for meal prep meme

That being said, the coach I worked with subscribes to the dieting theory of IIFYM (“if it fits your macros”), aka flexible dieting, which provides months worth of discussion fodder in and of itself.  IIFYM allows dieters to eat what they want within macronutrient parameters, hitting target grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein that add to a daily calorie count. Fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein each have 4. You track your macros and calories within those numbers and are still able to eat the foods you love. No standard bro diet, so if dieting boredom does not work for you and you don’t mind tracking your food intake, IIFYM may be a great fit.

My Net Diary is the tracking app I used- straightforward and intuitive.

A few takeaways from a solid year of IIFYM. I followed IIFYM religiously as part of my training plan, which meant weighing every meal from April 2016-present (I’ve become the lady at work shamelessly balancing her bowl of berries on a crack scale) and fitting in last-minute snacks like 1 tsp peanut butter and a tablespoon of oatmeal to round out my macros. I’d never dieted or tracked my food before, as I ate pretty clean and have a good sense of what my body does like (brown rice, avocado, salmon, sweet potatoes) and does not like (dairy, too much red meat, artificial flavorings, excess sodium), so this was all new to me. Image result for iifym meme math

Disclaimer: I’m taking a moment to enjoy some hater tots and wash them down with the haterade (yes, they fit): I don’t buy that a person can blow her macros on cupcakes and pizza, hit her numbers, and be healthy and energized enough to fuel an active life. I know I can’t. It will come down to this, always- if you’re serious about lifting, gaining, leaning out, prepping, what have you- there’s going to come a time when you’ll be forced to clean up your diet. There you go, I said it. I do not subscribe to true IIFYM.

http://realitytvgifs.tumblr.com/post/65953576136

As much creativity as IIFYM allows dieters, my body is happier with clean volume foods instead of fake-outs like sugar free cookies and the like. I’d rather have a plate of good clean whole food than force an allegedly brownie-flavored protein bar full of sugar alcohols into my diet because it *might* allow me to pretend I’m indulging. The bodybuilding diet I am happy with is essentially a hybrid: clean, bro-ish eating within macro parameters. It took me months and months to figure this out, but clean foods do a body good, especially mine. Skin, digestion, energy levels, hormones, sleep quality, so much more benefit from shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store. Stay on the outer grocery beltway, my friends.

Currently, I’m 3 days post show and reverse dieting to get my caloric intake back up out of depletion levels, so I’m doing my funky clean eating-IIFYM to hit those numbers. After I’m back up to a sustainable number of P/F/C where I can fuel muscle growth and tri training (I’ma be a busy girl this summer), I’ll see what feels right. I’ll likely drop my protein intake to 1g per pound of body weight. Anything above that seems excessive and tough on the kidneys, plus I’ll need some carbs to swim-bike-run and to acheive my fat burning goals. More posts on this strategy to come… I’m really excited to share my journey!

In the meantime, I’ll post a bit about the meals that fit my reverse macros and how I’m making them work for me. Writing again feels great- I have been so busy and missed blogging so much. Thanks for reading and let me know what experience you’ve had with bro dieting, IIFYM, eating clean, fitness comps, or competition diets!

~Lauren


Roasted Garlic & Cauliflower Soup (v, gf)

All I’ve been making and eating lately is soup. Vegetable soups, fish soups, more vegetable soups. I’ve spared you from yet another soup of late, a mushroom and wild rice concoction which was delicious, but… soup. This one, however, I had to post. Healthy, vegan and gluten free for those who swing that way, easy, and cheap (I am a sucker for saving money). Warming and hearty for a nice winter lunch and it’s even better the next day.

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ROASTED GARLIC & CAULIFLOWER SOUP

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cauliflower, chopped into florets 
  • 1 head garlic, intact
  • 1-2 yellow onions, sliced or diced
  • olive oil
  • 5 c stock or broth of your choice
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 c white wine, optional
  • 3 tbsp flour of your choice, optional
  • 1 c milk, half and half, or cream, optional

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Roasted Lemon-Dill Salmon (pes, gf) and Really Easy Butternut Squash Soup (v, gf)

You know those meals that look impressive but are super easy to throw together? The hands-off, Williams Sonoma photo shoot, break out your all-white everything serveware at your winter home in the Swiss Alps fancy? Yeah. Those are my favorite. Here’s one to add to your arsenal.

ROASTED SALMON WITH LEMON AND DILL

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 lb salmon plank
  • 1 lemon
  • 10-15 fresh dill sprigs
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt & cracked black pepper
  • parchment paper

Directions:

On a baking dish, place the salmon on a sheet of parchment paper. The paper isn’t a must but will simplify cleanup. Generously salt and pepper the salmon. Cut the lemon in half and juice one half. Slice the other lemon half into thin, crosswise slices.

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allez! gourmet: 2015 in review

What a year! Over 66,000 views! Continued Pinterest love! The peanut butter dip that stood the test of time! Thank you, hungry readers for a fabulous 2015; onward and upward into the new year we go.

A review of this year’s stats below; thank you for visiting and bon appétit!

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 66,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Seafood Chowda (pes, gf)

Making this soup really stepped up my annoying culinary joke game last week. Anytime I make/eat/order/think of chowder, I think of the Simpsons chowda/chower Freddy Quimby scandal episode, which makes me laugh out loud regardless of time or location:

And having been given a beautiful filet of Alaskan halibut that I used in the chowder, I also got to walk around saying things like this,

halibut

which, as you can imagine, made me very happy. Just for the halibut…. hahahahaha…. Oh, top hat crab! You so crazy.

On to the soup. I’d stumbled across the idea for salmon chowder, which sounded delicious but quickly changed when the halibut entered my life. I decided to make a halibut, cod, and shrimp chowder just for the- wait for it- because I wanted to. Gotcha.

soup8

This soup can be made with whatever sturdy fish fillets you have on hand. You want the fish to be thick enough to stand up to being cooked in hot broth- the goal is to have large, spoon-sized chunks of cooked fish in the soup, not flakes. Leave the fish out altogether if you prefer- shrimp, chunks of lobster, and scallops would be equally amazing. This was a really tasty dinner and improved, as most soups do, overnight. It keeps for a few days and travels well. All in all, a tasty, hearty, warming dish.

SEAFOOD CHOWDA

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs fish, skinned and boned, cut into 1″ chunks, or 2 lbs seafood and shellfish mix of your choice
  • large handful peeled and deveined shrimp, optional
  • 2 tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour, optional (leave out for gf option)
  • 1/2-1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • kosher salt, to tastesoup1
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 3 leeks, white and light green bits chopped into rings 
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and cut into rounds
  • 1 clove minced garlic, optional
  • 1 bulb fennel, stalks and fronds cut off, chopped into small pieces
  • large handful kale, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 6 cups stock or broth of your choice
  • 1 cup half-and half
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, optional
  • Crystal hot sauce, for serving – or (sacrilegious) Tabasco

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Quickie: Shiitakes & Soba (v, gf)

Mushrooms! So tasty, so good for you. Shiitakes, specifically, are a well-known source of iron and immune-boosting properties (hear ye, hear ye, vegans and vegetarians: rich veggie iron source). The ever-popular goop recently published a piece on the health benefits of mushrooms (more on that here) and ideas on how to work them into your diet; here’s my very quick, single serving, weeknight-friendly take on their “Stir Fried Noodles with Mushrooms.” Enjoy!

mushrooms 4

SHIITAKES & SOBA

Adapted from goop

Ingredients:

  • 1 bundle soba noodles or 1 cup cooked soba (note: soba noodles must contain ONLY buckwheat flour to be considered gluten-free) mushrooms 5
  • 1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp paper towel and sliced; Whole Foods sells an especially tasty 1/4 lb package
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • 2-3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • drizzle sesame oil
  • sesame seeds

Directions:

Cook your soba noodles according to package directions, drain, and set aside. Chop your aromatics while the noodles cook (love the word aromatics). Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until browned, stirring to ensure they don’t stick, about 5 minutes.

mushrooms 2

Add the ginger and garlic and cook another minute, stirring. Add the cooked noodles, green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil, tossing to coat and heat everything through. Remove to a bowl, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and enjoy! Really tasty 10-minute dinner! The best kind!

mushrooms 3


Party Food! Cashews with Shallots and Lime (v, gf)

Book club snack time! My book club met last night, so I thought I’d try out a new snack recipe ahead of the holidays. If it worked, great, and if it was bad, we’d have wine to distract us. Win-win!

cashews

They were nutty, salty, tangy, savory from the fried shallots, and addictive. Great party food. I apologize for the lack of photos; this was a hands-on recipe [involving hot oil, yikes] and I only have the before and after to share with you. That being said, here’s how to make it!

CASHEWS WITH SHALLOTS & LIME

Adapted from Food & Wine 

Ingredients:

FullSizeRender

original plan included sesame seeds…

  • 1 1/4 lb raw cashews
  • 3 limes, zested and juiced
  • 2 large shallots, sliced thin
  • 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • kosher salt

 

Directions:

Place the cashews in a large, wide bowl. Finely zest the three limes, setting the zest aside. Juice the limes and pour the lime juice over the cashews, marinating for one hour.

As these soak, slice each shallot in half lengthwise and finely chop the halved into thin half-moon-shaped slices. In a deep saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat; it will be ready when a shallot dropped in sizzles and immediately starts to cook. Add the shallots to the hot oil and cook, stirring often for about 2 minutes until they’re golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate and leave the heat on.

When the cashews are done soaking, drain and pat them dry. Add them in two batches to the hot oil, cooking and stirring until brown, about 5 minutes per batch. Remove with the same spoon to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to cool and sprinkle with salt, to taste (go heavy, they’re raw so they need lots of flavor). Pour the cooled cashews into a large bowl and mix in the lime zest; top with the fried shallots. All done! Go party!