No-Bake Cacao Date Energy Bites

Hellooo everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve made an appearance on the blog, though I continue to be active on my Instagram. I try my best to be more regular here, but alas real life (aka PARENTHOOD) gets in the way. Most recently, my little one has been struggling with some food allergies. I won’t get into all the details here, but long story short, her allergist suggested cutting out dairy from my diet since she’s still nursing. It’s been tough, but of course I will do whatever it takes to help my babe. And to be honest, it’s been kinda fun exploring the world of dairy-free recipes, a world which I NEVER thought I’d be a part of before!

And that’s how I came across these delicious energy bites. I’ve been seeing these no-bake healthy energy bites/balls all over the ‘gram and vegan websites lately and was determined to try them out to help curb my serious sugar craving. There’s a plethora of variations all over the Internet, but here’s a quick recipe that I tried out based on ingredients that I had readily available in my kitchen. The key ingredients here are Medjool dates (richer than regular dates and with a slight caramel flavor), high-quality cacao powder (I got mine from good ol’ Trader Joe’s), and some sort of nut butter. Apart from that, you can really customize this recipe however you want. These are the PERFECT afternoon snack for a quick pick me up, though I can’t promise you won’t finish them all in one go…try to be more disciplined than my hubby and I are 😉

Ingredients (makes 6-8 bites) 

3/4 cup rolled oats
1.5 cups Medjool dates, pitted
1/2 cup cacao powder + 1 tsp for coating
1 tbsp smooth peanut butter
Pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp coconut oil

Directions

Throw all the ingredients in a food blender and blend, blend, blend. Add more coconut oil if needed to make more smooth. Take bite-sized pieces of the mixture and form into small balls with your hands. Place a teaspoon of cacao powder on a flat surface and roll the balls to coat them. Refrigerate and enjoy for a week! THAT’S IT.

Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia {Squid Ink Shrimp Spaghetti with Tomato Basil Saffron Cream}

Squid ink pasta has a special place in my heart, and I have a hilarious picture from my bachelorette party years ago to prove it (pro-tip: don’t try squid ink when you’re all dolled up for a night out). It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I just love the rich texture and earthy/sea-infused flavor of squid ink pasta. It’s something I always order at restaurants if I see it on the menu, because I imagine it’s incredibly complicated to make at home. Until I walked in my local Trader Joe’s and found Casa Milo’s Squid Ink Spaghetti on the “new products” shelves, that is. I immediately snagged it and decided to pair it with shrimp and a creamy, garlicky, tomato basil saffron sauce. Sooo delicious and luxurious. The spaghetti was simple to prepare (just followed the directions and boiled for ten minutes till al dente) and had a lovely, subtle flavor to it. Not super overpowering, and perfect for squid ink virgins. RUN, don’t walk to your nearest Trader Joe’s to give this a try! Immediately ups the ante of any pasta dish and makes it tres gourmet 🙂 Perfect for hosting, date night, or just a regular weekend meal if you’re feeling fabulous.

Ingredients (serves 3-4) 

1/2 an onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and then minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Two tomatoes, crushed
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Salt & pepper, to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Oregano or Italian spices, to taste
1 lb frozen shrimp, deveined
Pinch of saffron (optional, I had some lying around)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
12 oz (1 pack) Casa Milo Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, cooked according to directions
1/2 cup pasta water
1/2 cup parmesan or parmigiano-reggiano

Recipe

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and let brown slightly, then add the onions and then stir till soft and translucent. Add: the tomatoes, fresh basil, crushed red pepper flakes (a generous amount if you can handle some heat), lemon juice, salt & pepper, Italian spices. Stir and let this mixture simmer into a sauce on medium-high heat for several minutes. In the meantime, prepare the pasta according to direction and cook till al dente. Add shrimp to the tomato mixture and stir until fully cooked.

Lower the heat and stir in a pinch of saffron, heavy whipping cream, and pasta water fresh from the cooked spaghetti. Stir everything together and until the mixture has a nice yellow hue from the saffron. Add in more salt & pepper and spices as necessary. Simmer for a few more minutes until the sauce is thick and bubbly. Stir in the spaghetti and serve with freshly-grated parmesan/parmigiano-reggiano and fresh basil.

Guilt-Free Chicken Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce

I just got back from a wonderful trip to my parent’s house in Calgary, Alberta and feel so refreshed and energized for the fall! There’s a crispness in the air back home in Chicago that just makes me so excited for cooler temperatures and fall recipes. I used to SO not be a fall person (I grew up in deserts and the tropics and never had to wear a sweater), but now that I’m a legit Midwesterner, I really appreciate the beauty of seasons. And it’s much easier taking my baby out for walks now that it’s not ridiculously humid and in the high 90s. 🙂

ANYWAYS, I recently shared this pasta on my Insta Stories and decided it was too good not to share on the blog! I LOVE using sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil for pasta and chicken recipes. It’s such a good hack for easy-to-prepare sauces that immediately lends a ton of flavor to any dish. You can also check out my recipe for Chicken & Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Garlic Cream Sauce.

For this particular recipe, I used Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice & Quinoa Fusilli Pasta, which makes this dish healthy, gluten-free, and guilt-free. The pasta is a new find for me; it’s so good and so filling that I seriously cannot believe it’s not real pasta! Love the texture too. Hope you enjoy the recipe, and leave a comment if you plan to try it! It’s GREAT for meal-planning for the week. Just skip the chicken if you want to go veggie 🙂

Ingredients (serves 4) 

1/2 an onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, grated or smashed
1 box of baby bellas, sliced
6 oz spinach
6 chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
8.5 oz sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil (I used the Trader Joe’s brand)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice & Quinoa Fusilli Pasta, cooked according to packet directions
1/2 cup pasta water
1 cup parmigiano reggiano
Oregano, red chili flakes, and s&p

Recipe

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and let brown slightly, then add the onions and stir till golden. Add the chicken thighs and fry each side for a few minutes until almost fully cooked. Then add the mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil. Stir everything together until the chicken pieces are fully cooked and nicely coated with the sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil. Lower the heat and add heavy cream, pasta water, and salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for five minutes or so until the sauce is nice and thick. Finally, add the spinach, cooked pasta, 1/2 cup of parmigiano reggiano, and seasonings (oregano and lots of red chili flakes for extra spice!). Serve with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and enjoy for dayzzz!

Spicy Basil Shrimp & Turkey Rice Bowls

Of late, cooking has been a very calming force in my life. The past several months have been personally full of change and immense transition–I had a baby (the biggest change of all), I made the difficult decision to take a break from a wonderful job to focus on my daughter, my husband and I moved to the suburbs to be closer to his new job, and we bought a townhouse that is currently in construction. I view all these changes as positive and happy developments, but they are changes nonetheless. And change can cause momentary havoc and feelings of unsettledness.

It may sound trivial and silly, but being able to focus some of my energy on exploring new recipes and taking care of and feeding my family grounds me and gives me a sense of purpose during this period of transition. I’m no gourmet chef (not even close), but I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and I really love having more time to be able to think about the food I’m putting in our mouths. It’s a luxury I didn’t really have before, and I’m so grateful to have it now.

Our Friday nights in the city after a busy work week always used to be about ordering in greasy food and pigging out in front of the TV with Netflix. Now, I’m way more inclined to cook dinner even on a Friday night. Part of that might be because we’re in the suburbs and have fewer DoorDash/UberEats/Postmates options, but I also just feel so much better when we eat a good meal at home. And I don’t have to compromise on my cravings! This past Friday, I had some leftover shrimp, ground turkey, and tons of basil that I threw together for an Asian-inspired meal. Sometimes, these spontaneous dinners don’t quite work out, but the end result was surprisingly delicious and more importantly, SO quick and easy to make. Thirty minutes max. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve ordered Thai or Chinese takeout on a Friday night and just felt bloated, sick, and disgusting after devouring way too much food. Cooking at home give me the chance to enjoy the cuisines I LOVE in a much healthier way.

Anyways, not sure what the point of my little introduction to today’s recipe was–guess I just wanted to acknowledge the role that food & cooking currently play in my life 🙂 Hope you enjoy today’s quick and delicious recipe!

Ingredients (serves 2-3) 

1 lb ground turkey
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined (you can also make this recipe with just 1 lb shrimp and nix the turkey – the sweetness of shrimp pairs perfectly with all the garlic and basil!)
1 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp soy sauce (just 2 if you’re cooking with just shrimp)
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp Canola oil
Red chilli flakes, to taste
6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
Handful of fresh basil leaves (with the stems removed)

Recipe

Combine the sesame oil, soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp of Canola oil in a large frying pan or wok. Add the garlic and ginger paste to the pan and let heat for a few minutes. Once golden, add in the shrimp and pour half the soy glaze mixture over the shrimp. Stir well so that the shrimp is fully coated in the glaze and garlic ginger paste. Once the shrimp is fully cooked and slightly charred (a few minutes on each side), remove and set aside.

In the same pan (there should still be some of the leftover garlic, ginger, and soy glaze), add the remaining Canola oil. Add the ground turkey. Pour the remaining soy glaze mixture and mix well together. Continue stirring and frying the ground turkey for several minutes until fully cooked. Add the cooked shrimp back into the pan and stir everything together. Add red chilli flakes and additional soy sauce, depending on your taste. Remove from heat and immediately add the fresh basil leaves and stir until wilted.

Serve with brown rice and you’re all set! Enjoy your Spicy Basil Shrimp & Turkey Rice Bowl 🙂

PS. If you follow me on Instagram (@mrsgcg), you can view this recipe in my Story Highlights!

Seafood Saffron Risotto with Garlic Kale

Last night, my husband and I celebrated two major milestones: ten years since our first date and four years since our wedding day! It’s so crazy to think about all this time that has flown by since we first met. We sifted through old photos and videos last night ooh-ing and aah-ing over what BABIES we used to be! I feel like we were completely different people back then. Not necessarily in a good or bad way, just different. Age and parenthood has definitely changed us! 🙂

While we’re officially celebrating next week with a fancy schmancy tasting menu at Smyth, I decided to ring in our special occasion with a gourmet homemade meal. My blog recipes are usually all about quick & easy meals for people on the go, but sometimes it’s nice to slooow things down and get a little fancier. I’ve never cooked with scallops before and thought it would be fun to make a seafood risotto. I’ve made this amazing Mushroom Risotto from A Family Feast a million times (it’s delicious), but thought I’d switch things up a little bit and add more spice and flavor. So here is my gourmet anniversary concoction, a mish-mash of different recipes: a seafood saffron risotto with garlic kale. A pinch of saffron and a tiny bit of turmeric make all the difference for this delicious feast! Hope you try it for your next date night ❤

Ingredients (serves 2-3) 

The Rice

1 shallot, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
3-4 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan
A pinch of saffron
A pinch of turmeric
Salt and pepper, to taste (go easy on the salt)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

The Seafood

2 cloves of garlic, minced
18-20 medium-sized shrimp
1/2 pound bay scallops
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Garlic Kale

1 clove of garlic, minced
100 g baby kale
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Garnish

Lemon juice
Fresh basil
More cheese!

Recipe

The Rice: Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and fry for five minutes or so. Add the arborio rice and stir for an additional five minutes, or until the rice begins to turn golden. Stir in the white wine, a pinch of saffron, and a pinch of turmeric. Once the liquid begins to boil and the rice has absorbed the wine, stir in half a cup of chicken broth and stir constantly. Once most of the liquid has been absorbed, add another half cup of broth. Continue to stir. Keep adding a little more broth (half cup at a time) and constantly stirring for 20-25 minutes, or until the rice has softened. If you like your risotto creamy, then add more broth. Once the rice is fully cooked but there’s still some liquid left, stir in the cheese, a little bit of salt and pepper, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

The Seafood: Melt the butter on a frying pan on high heat. Once the butter is sizzling, add the minced garlic until they begin to turn golden. Add the lightly-salted shrimp and fry on each side for a few minutes until fully cooked. They should be nice and brown and coated with garlic. Add to the risotto. In the same pan, add some olive oil on high heat. Add the lightly-salted bay scallops (note that they should be washed and COMPLETELY dry before frying) and fry on each side for a minute or two. They should be a little golden on the outside. Add the scallops along with any remaining olive oil into the risotto mixture and stir together.

The Kale: Heat the olive oil on a frying pain on medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic until they begin to turn golden. Add the kale and stir just for a few minutes until wilted, but not soggy.

And you’re done! A labor of love, but such a lovely, impressive, and delicious meal. Plate your risotto with a generous helping of the kale and garnish with fresh basil, lemon juice, and as much cheese as you desire.

Just for fun – my hubby & I from our early dating years! 

Better-Than-Takeout Chicken Fried Noodles

For the longest time, I would throw every single Asian cooking sauce from my pantry into stir-fry dishes and hope for the best. For some bizarre reason, I thought that the more different flavors I added (teriyaki, black bean, sriracha, soy sauce–you name it), the more delicious the stir fry would be. Of course, I would always be disappointed by the taste, wondering what was missing from my very random soup of sauces.

I finally just decided to do my research (duh!) into what makes stir fry so delicious, and was pleasantly surprised to find how simple the sauce needs to be. The key is a little bit of sugar, and to make sure your pan/wok is super hot before throwing in all your ingredients. This particular recipe I tested recently from RecipeTin Eats is absolutely fantastic, and easy to customize depending on what you have in your pantry. I whipped up a lazy girl version of it on a random Friday night that I was craving Asian takeout, and it COMPLETELY hit the spot. Taste-wise it was better than takeout, and no bloating or guilt 🙂

Enjoy! I tried the noodles with shrimp as well, but personally preferred the taste with chicken thighs.

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

6 chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces (can easily be swapped out with shrimp)
1 tbsp Canola oil
Noodles of your choice, prepared according to instructions (*The type of noodles you pick makes a big difference to the taste of this dish–my personal favorite is Blue Dragon’s egg noodles. Three rounds of this is perfect for two very hungry adults)
Veggies of your choice–for my lazy, minimal prep version of this, I opted for 3/4 a bag of Broccoli Coleslaw, which includes shredded broccoli, cabbage, and carrots
1 shallot, cut into long pieces
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1/4 cup of water

The Sauce

1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1.5 tbsp oyster sauce
1.5 tbsp chicken broth
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
Pepper

Recipe

Stir together all the ingredients for the sauce in a separate bowl. Marinate the chicken thigh pieces with 1 tbsp of the stir fry sauce for at least 10 minutes.

Heat Canola oil in a large frying pan or wok. Once it’s on high heat, fry the garlic pieces until it begins to brown. Throw in the chicken and stir for a few minutes until partially cooked. Add the veggies/broccoli slaw/shallots and mix together until the chicken is fully cooked. Make sure the veggies are still a bit crispy and not too soggy. Add the noodles, the remaining stir fry sauce, and water. Stir the mixture with the noodles, remove from heat, and serve immediately.

Boursin & Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Thighs

I faced a rare conundrum the other day: an unopened pack of Boursin cheese that had been sitting pretty in my fridge for several days. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Boursin is this ridiculously delicious brand of creamy, flavor-packed French cheese that goes well with pretty much anything – eggs, crackers, you name it. It’s like goat cheese on crack. While brainstorming recipe ideas for using Boursin in a quick weeknight chicken dinner, I came across this Rachael Ray recipe that looked fabulous, but a bit too time-consuming.

Here’s my speedy version of her recipe, using three key ingredients: Boursin, ready-made pesto, and olive oil. THAT’S IT. Oh, and chicken thighs instead of breast, because they are so much more tender and better at soaking up that delicious garlic flavor 🙂

Ingredients (serves 4) 

12 chicken thighs
1/2 pack of Boursin Garlic & Herb cheese (~2.5 oz)
**the Rachael Ray recipe calls for a full pack, but IMHO half a pack is all you need since the cheese is so rich and flavorful!
3 tbsp pesto
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste
10-12 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Recipe

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the cheese and pesto until nice and creamy. Lay out the chicken thighs on a large baking tray and season with olive oil, and just a touch of salt & pepper. Add a teaspoon of the pesto cheese mixture to the center of the chicken thighs, and fold them over to enclose. Pour any leftover mixture over the thighs. You can then store this in the fridge for a few hours to marinate, or pop directly in the oven.

Bake the chicken thighs for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and add some parmesan cheese, and the cherry tomatoes. Pop back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until the thighs are done cooking. I like to broil them for a few minutes at the very end for a nice browned look!

That’s it! SO incredibly easy with virtually zero prep time, but so many complex flavors, thanks to the Boursin cheese. I’ve already made this twice (once for guests), and they’re a huge hit!