November 2012 archive

November Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day!

It’s Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day!

This was my second month participating in Foodie Pen Pals and I am having such a blast with it! If you like what you read and want to join the fun, information about the program can be found at the bottom of this post.

This month I was paired with a reader named Kellie. Kellie is from Tennessee and she is super sweet! She was actually a big inspiration in my decision to include the new travel tab on here and begin to write about my travels. It’s something many of my friends have encouraged me to do over the years and Kellie’s enthusiasm for traveling made me realize that there is an audience out there that would be interested in reading about traveling! Big shout out to Kellie for that!

Can I start with a picture of the box my goodies arrived in?

Cucina Kristina | Foodie Pen Pals

LOVE the pink zebra tape!

Super cute! I love the patterned duct tape, it would make a really fun stocking stuffer. Don’t you think?

In my initial email to Kellie, I had mentioned that I loved all things fall so she made it a point to stuff the box to the brim with fall goodness. Where do I start? How about with breakfast.

Cucina Kristina | Foodie Pen Pals

Only 140 calories each!

It seems like I am constantly rushing out the door 5 minutes behind schedule so I am always looking for breakfast items that I can eat on the go. Last month, my foodie pen pal made me these amazing power balls. I tried to recreate them, but must not have used the same recipe because the ones I made were kind of a mess. But, mess or no mess they were quick, filling, healthy, and easy to grab and eat on the go. Sadly, my local Trader Joe’s no longer had these pumpkin bars in stock, but they had fig and strawberry which are both delicious as well!

Up next is tea. I drink a lot of tea throughout the day. My tea habit began when I had an office job. It was always so cold in my office that I started drinking tea for the sole purpose of warming my hands on the cup. One of my favorite teas on the market is the ginger tea by Yogi Tea, but both of these are becoming close contenders.

Cucina Kristina | Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day

Different in flavor, equal in awesomeness!

Continuing with the ginger theme, let’s move on to the ginger chews. This is an item I buy regularly at Trader Joe’s so I was über excited to see them when I opened my box. As luck would have it, I was down to my last few in the package I had purchased previously. If you like these, I would also recommend the mango ginger chews by Chimes.

Cucina Kristina | Foodie Pen Pals

Ginger chews from Trader Joe’s

Speaking of mango! I love tropical flavors, especially now that I live in Chicago. One of my favorite ways to combat the winter blues is to snack on tropical flavors and daydream about summer.

Cucina Kristina | Foodie Pen Pals

Dried mango is a perfect on-the-go snack

Of course, what foodie pen pal package would be complete without chocolate?! That dark chocolate with coconut caramel was tasty! The other I am trying to save for a rainy day. I have a feeling it would pair well with a full glass of red wine. But, with only 100 calories per bar, they are going fast when my sweet tooth strikes! :)

Cucina Kristina | Foodie Pen Pals

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”  Charles M. Schulz

Finally, Kellie made me some homemade pumpkin oatmeal cookies and included the recipe! I covered it up with cookies because I am going to be stingy with the recipe for a little bit. These had the perfect balance of sweetness and pumpkin. I definitely want to bring these to a few parties before I start handing out the secret ingredients!

Cucina Kristina | Foodie Pen Pals

Pumpkin oatmeal cookies with white chocolate and cranberries

THANK YOU, Kellie for all of the fall goodies. I loved everything! xoxo!

Join the fun! Find out how to become a Foodie Penpal below.

The Lean Green Bean

Easy Chunky Chicken Tortilla Soup

It’s soup season! I love soup for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I love it because you can make a ton of it for practically nothing. Second, I love it because it is quick and easy to throw together, very filling, and low in fat and calories. My favorite soup on the planet is tortilla soup. I make it with shredded chicken because my husband acts like I am trying to kill him every time I serve him something without meat, but you can make this vegetarian easily by omitting the chicken and substituting vegetable broth. This soup is so chunky and packed with flavor that you will not miss the absence of meat if you opt to omit the chicken. Sometimes I make the vegetarian version and lie to my husband; telling him there is meat in it. He is usually on his second bowl before he even realizes it!

If you are using chicken, I find it is best in this soup when it is shredded. If I have planned ahead, I cook the chicken breasts in a slow cooker overnight. Then, I let them cool in the fridge all day and shred right before making the soup. When you cook the breasts in a slow cooker, they practically fall apart in your hands. It takes almost no effort to shred them. I have a little slow cooker that I got at Target for $12 that fits 2 chicken breasts perfectly. It is similar to this one. If you do not have a slow cooker, you can boil the chicken breasts for about 25 minutes (or until cooked through), let them cool, and shred them. You can also buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, shred the breasts, and eat the legs and wings another night.

Easy Chunky Chicken Tortilla Soup

Cucina Kristina: Chunky Chicken Tortilla Soup

Note: I didn’t have black beans the night
I shot this photo, but I usually use them


  • 2 chicken breasts, shredded
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can hominy, not drained
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1/2 package of frozen corn
  • 1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 chicken or vegetable bullion cubes
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Handful of cilantro, minced
  • Juice of fresh lime – at least 1 or to taste. I usually use 2 because I like lime
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (optional)
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toppings (optional): 

  • Sliced radish
  • Sour cream
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Avocado
  • Sliced green onion
  • Baked tortilla chips (recipe to follow)


  1. In a large pot, cook onions and garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add one 15-ounce can of hominy, liquid and all. Add black beans, corn, tomatoes, bullion cubes, chicken, oregano, and bay leaf. Add as much water as needed to get the desired soup thickness and consistency.
  3. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to let flavors meld together.
  4. Just before serving, stir in cilantro and squeeze the juice of one lime into the soup.
  5. If using, add 1 tablespoon of chili paste and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve as is or garnish with any or all of the toppings above. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf!

Baked Tortilla Chips:

I use El Milagro corn tortillas exclusively. You can use whatever brand you like, but I would suggest only using tortillas that contain stone ground corn, water and lime. That’s it. Three ingredients. Nothing else. Trust me!

  1. Cut tortillas into wedges. I usually get six wedges out of each tortilla.
  2. Line tortillas on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 12-15 minutes.

I do not flavor the chips at all because I like them in their natural state. If you’d like to add salt or seasoning to them, do so before baking them. Simply spray them with olive oil and sprinkle desired seasonings.

I have an oil mister. If you do not have one of these, you can put a little bit of olive oil into a dish and lightly spread onto the chips with your finger. You might be able to use cooking spray; however, I have not tried this. If you use cooking spray a lot, I highly recommend getting an oil mister! I picked mine up at TJ Max for $5. It’s a great way to control the amount of oil you are putting into things without all of the additives that are present in cooking spray.

Cucina Kristina: Baked Corn Tortilla Chips

Corn tortilla chips about to hit the oven!

These chips are gluten-free and there are only 50 calories for every six chips. These are so easy and better for you than any store-bought brand. I can’t remember the last time I bought chips at the store.

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

Internet, this is quite possibly the highlight of my culinary experiments in the kitchen!

I love spaghetti squash. I always have one on hand. I usually use it as an alternative to pasta, especially now that I am trying to eat as gluten-free as possible. However, lately I have grown a bit bored with the same old sauce recipe. I started to think of dishes containing noodles that spaghetti squash might be a good substitute for. Phó? No. Fettuccine Alfredo? Ehh. Casseroles? Possibly. Just as I was running out of ideas, I drove past a Thai restaurant and it hit me. Pad Thai!

I got home and immediately began Googling pad Thai recipes. Sheese! Pad Thai is a difficult dish to make. It takes precise timing, accurate measurement, and all kinds of fancy ingredients that one normally does not have on hand. Tamarind paste. Fish sauce. Palm sugar. Who knew?

Some day I’d love to make it from scratch, but on this particular evening, I used a store-bought sauce. No need to reinvent the wheel, folks. A quick note on store-bought pad Thai sauces. If you are cooking for someone with a gluten allergy, be sure to read the labels! This particular sauce did not have soy sauce in it. However, some do, even though soy sauce is not used in traditional pad Thai. I imagine this is a less expensive substitute for fish sauce, but who knows. Companies put all sorts of wacky things into food that shouldn’t be there nowadays. Anyway, the point is that soy sauce would void this from being a gluten-free dish. Kikkoman now makes a gluten-free soy sauce so if you are interested in making pad Thai from scratch, it is possible to make it gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan by using that as a substitute.

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai
Serves 4

Cucina Kristina | Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai



  • 1 spaghetti squash, roasted
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 2 cups of bean sprouts
  • 3-4 stalks of green onion, sliced
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup of store-bought Pad Thai sauce
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Peanuts
  • Limes
  • Coconut oil

Note: Traditional pad Thai also calls for egg. I happened to be out of eggs when I made this and it still tasted great! I will probably continue to omit the egg when I make this in the future because I don’t think the texture of egg and the texture of spaghetti squash together would be very good. 


Prepare all of your ingredients and have them handy. Once you start cooking, this dish comes together in a few minutes.

  1. Roast and shred spaghetti squash. This takes about an hour, but can be done ahead of time.
  2. Shred carrots using a box grater. You can also buy carrots pre-shredded at the grocery store.
  3. Slice green onions and mince garlic. Set aside most of the green onion for garnish. Reserve about a tablespoon for the first cooking step.


  1. Melt about a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large fry pan. Cook garlic and green onion for about 3 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add the carrots and cook for 1-2 minutes to heat them through.
  3. Add spaghetti squash and pad Thai sauce. Cook until heated through, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the spaghetti squash/carrot mixture.


  1. Place spaghetti squash and carrot mixture onto a plate.
  2. Top with bean sprouts.
  3. Garnish with green onion, cilantro, and chopped peanuts.
  4. Serve with lime wedges for those that like extra lime flavor.

Weigh-In Wednesday: November

It has been one month since I started my weight loss journey, and I am here for my first weigh-in! I am trying to have a better attitude towards weight loss this time around than I have had in the past. Rather than looking at it as a chore, I’m focused on changing my unhealthy habits and replacing them with better decisions that will benefit me and my family in the long run. Below are a list of goals I have set for myself, but they are things I think are important for anyone trying to live a more healthy lifestyle!

Cucina Kristina | Weigh-in WednesdayChange habits. I do not want to be focused on what I can’t eat or what I can’t participate in. In the past when I was dieting, I would avoid anything that would tempt me with unhealthy choices. However, I now realize that this is part of the reason I keep going up and down in weight. I’ve never taught myself how to be in these types of situations. I’ve simply avoided them until I achieved the results I wanted. This was a short-term solution to a recurring problem. I’m no longer going to miss Sunday football gatherings with my girlfriends because I am trying to avoid bar food and beer. These are challenges I am going to be faced with for the rest of my life, and I need to learn how to navigate them appropriately.

Cucina Kristina | Weigh-In Wednesday

Find what works for meI am sure we’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle!” Yeah, I used to roll my eyes at that phrase too, but in all honesty, it’s 100% true! In order to be successful with any type of health or weight loss plan, you have to find what works for you. If it is not feasible for you to spend 90 minutes in the gym four times a week, find a fitness plan that fits your schedule. It can be as simple as walking during your lunch hour, taking the stairs everywhere instead of the elevator, or parking in the furthest spot at the store and jogging to and from your car. You shouldn’t think that you need to be in a gym in order to be making positive health progress. Every step you take is a step towards better health and every little bit helps! I have found that taking classes work the best for me. I push myself harder when there are other people around and one hour in an intense Zumba, boxing, Pilates, or yoga class goes a million times faster than a session on the treadmill or elliptical.

Cucina Kristina | Weigh-In Wednesday

Be nice to yourself. My girlfriend text me the other day out of frustration because she had been working out and eating right all week. However, when she weighed herself, she found that she had gained half a pound. This is a big reason I am only doing monthly weigh-ins. I find that my weight goes up and down practically in a matter of hours, especially now that I am in my 30′s. Why? Who knows? Stress, water weight, too much salt this week, the scale was off, etc., etc. The point is, I don’t need the stress of worrying about my weight on a weekly basis, and I need to put my energy into eating right and exercising. That doesn’t mean I do not want to see the number on the scale move down! I’d just rather focus on how I am feeling, how my clothes fit, and the progress I am making in my strength and endurance. We are our own worst critics. Don’t be too hard on yourself! If you slip up, give into temptation, and eat too much ice cream, don’t worry about it. Get back on the wagon and start again tomorrow. Do not beat yourself up for being human!

Cucina Kristina | Weigh-In Wednesday

Set reasonable goals. You are not going to start running today and run a marathon next week. Losing weight, getting fit, changing habits, and increasing your strength and endurance are difficult things to do. If they were easy, everyone would be fit and healthy already! I think one of the main reasons that most people fail with diets is because they try to completely overhaul their life overnight. I’ve done this myself, unsuccessfully, many times. I am going to try to focus on one major thing that I want to change every week in the beginning until it becomes a habit. For now, I am trying to plan my meals every week so that I do not give into convenience when I have just finished a workout and am starving. I’ve been trying to do my weekly shopping on Sunday and prepare my meals for the entire week as soon as I get home. So far, it has worked like a charm. Removing the guess-work from what I am going to eat for lunch or dinner has really helped me watch my calorie intake. It’s hard to justify grabbing a burrito on my way home from the gym when I have a perfectly good salad already prepared in my fridge!


Be an Elf for Health! When I started to draft this post I was thinking about awesome it would be to be able to tap into the internet community for additional support. There are so many resources and communities out there that it can be hard to weed through them all and find the one that works the best for you and aligns with your fitness goals. I was thinking about how beneficial it would be to be able to share progress, tips, and motivation with anyone who is interested. Just as I was thinking about this, I read about Elf for Health on Twitter. This idea was created by Lindsay from The Lean Green Bean (same blog that hosts Foodie Pen Pals!) and Elle from NutritionElla. This is exactly what I was looking for. I had to sign up! The full details for Elf for Health can be found by clicking the image to the right. It’s totally free to sign up and it serves as an additional layer of motivation to get you through the holidays.

You get paired up with another “elf” every two weeks and are charged with keeping them motivated throughout the holiday season. In turn, they help keep you motivated! You are asked to email your buddy 2 times per week:

  • Monday: Send your buddy an email to help them with the challenges for that week. Ideas of things to include/attach: your own personal tips & tricks, inspiring words and/or images, a new, healthy recipe or workout to try.
  • Thursday – Saturday: Any time during these days, check in withy you buddy! For example, ask them if they tried a new recipe, workout, or had fun with any certain challenges. Feel free to tell them how you did with your challenges, too!

There is also a list of printable daily challenges. Challenges can be something for the body like do a circuit workout today. Or, it can be something for the soul like buy a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you. Sound fun? Round 1 starts on Monday and Friday is the deadline to participate in the full-length of the program.

Ok… weigh-in time!

Cucina Kristina | Weigh-in Wednesday

Sorry about the socks. I still haven’t made time for a pedicure! Very bad.

Starting weight: 155.5 lbs.
Current weight: 152 lbs.

Down 3.5 pounds. Yay!

Springtime in Dublin

About a week before I left the country for the first time, I received this message in a fortune cookie.

Cucina Kristina |

11 countries to date. Still counting!

It has been taped on the back of my passport since 2002 and serves as a constant reminder to never stop exploring the world. I have learned so much through my travels, and I try my best to get out of the country at least once a year. Now that I am married and have changed my name, I need a new passport. I am having a really hard time pulling the trigger and getting a new one. Mainly because I do not want to have a passport with a ton of blank pages. I love looking at the stamps I have collected over the years and recalling the experiences I have had abroad. This page alone houses seven years of travel experiences from 2002 – 2009.

Cucina Kristina |

Upper left stamp from Dublin was the first stamp I got.

I have been meaning to post my travel stories for a while and just never got around to it. When I got in touch with my November Foodie Pen Pal (be sure to check back on November 30th when I reveal what she sent me!), I mentioned that I have done a lot of traveling. She wrote me back an incredibly energetic email asking about my trips and it lit the fire under me to start working on these travel posts. Thanks, Kellie! I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I am really excited to relive my experiences and look back on everywhere I’ve been. Stay tuned for posts about Dublin, England, Italy, Croatia, Switzerland, France, Spain, Costa Rica, Thailand, Australia, and the U.S.

The stamp from Dublin, Ireland in the upper left hand corner (November 18, 2002) was the first stamp to grace my passport. I acquired the same stamp on April 6, 2009. Dublin is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I hope to get many more stamps from Ireland in my lifetime.

Ella Fitzgerald has a song called I Love Paris where she sings,

I love Paris in the spring time,
I love Paris in the fall,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles,
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles.

While I am inclined to agree with her, I think springtime in Dublin is fantastic!

Cucina Kristina |

Tulips in the park

Cucina Kristina |

Cherry Blossoms in St. Stephens Green

Cucina Kristina : Dublin

An Irish government building

Am I right? The photos above are from a trip I took to Europe in 2009. I started and ended the trip in Dublin because it was cheaper to fly round-trip from the states to Dublin and then fly within Europe via Ryan Air. I have heard a lot of people complain about Ryan Air, and while it is not the most comfortable airline on the planet, the flights within Europe are short and you can’t beat their prices. Airfare fluctuates often, but currently you can fly from the UK to Italy for €18 Euros ($23 U.S. dollars).

I stayed at the Kilronan House, a cute little B&B located on a quiet, tree-lined street about 5 minutes from Grafton Street and St. Stephen’s Green. The man who ran the place, Cormac, was extremely friendly and accommodating. Upon check-in, he gave me a map, circled a few “must see” tourist attractions, brewed me a cup of tea, and sat with me in the lobby chatting until my room was ready. He told me all about his wife and how they just got back from vacationing in the Canary Islands. It rained the whole time they were there and he said that being stuck in a hotel room with nothing but books was a real test to their marriage. I thought that was funny! His wife was a flight attendant for Aer Lingus and prior to being in Dublin, they lived in Boston for 5 years. His wife was pregnant at the moment so she was not able to fly, but as soon as the baby came and she was assigned to an overnight/over the weekend flight, he hopes to get back to the states and visit Chicago. I don’t think Cormac works at the Kilronan House any longer because I do not recognize the man in this photo, but it has been over 3 years since I was there so my memory could very well be failing me!

Kilronan House - 70 Adelaide Road, Dublin 2, Ireland

Kilronan House – 70 Adelaide Road, Dublin 2, Ireland

Super cute, right? The room I had was extremely small so that is something to keep in mind, but the price, location, and atmosphere cannot be beat, and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again. I highly recommend it!

My first day out on the town, I decided to walk around and get my bearings. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is wander. It’s nice to have suggestions here and there, but I have always found amazing shops, pubs, bakeries, and sights by just walking around. It often makes me wonder what it would be like to be a tourist in my own city. Come to think of it, I have never taken the El to a random stop in Chicago and just wandered up and down the streets. I should do that, I will probably be surprised at what I will find hiding in my own backyard!

Cucina Kristina | Dublin

Antique shop where I almost knocked over
a VERY expensive china set!

I was on the hunt for a bakery when I stumbled upon Lord Edward restaurant. It was nearing dinnertime and it looked inviting from the outside so I popped in for some food and a pint. The hostess seated me at a small table next to two older gentlemen. As I started talking with them, I found that they were on vacation and that they were policemen from the suburbs of Chicago. Small world!

Cucina Kristina | Dublin

White Wine Mussels from Lord Edward in Dublin, Ireland

I LOVE mussels and these were no exception. I honestly wanted to order a second batch immediately after finishing these, but decided to be a lady and order another pint of Guinness instead. :)

Cucina Kristina | Dublin

A pint of Guinness, served extra cold.

Contrary to popular belief, Guinness is not served “warm” in Dublin. It is served warmer than traditional American draft beer (42.8˚ vs. 38˚) and it is also served extra cold (38.6˚) . While both of these temperatures are warmer than your typical Miller Lite, it is not as warm as people describe it. It still feels cold and will quench your thirst quite nicely. Guinness in Ireland is like liquid candy! It is sweet, goes down smoothly, and there is absolutely no bitter taste to it at all. It is 100% true that Guinness tastes differently in Dublin than it does in America.

While we are on the subject of food, if you are ever in Dublin you MUST spend an afternoon eating sweets and drinking tea at Queen of Tarts. I passed by and the smell lured me the way it does in old cartoons. You know what I am talking about, right? One  character puts a freshly baked pie in the window, instructs her partner not to touch the pie, and leaves the house to go shopping. Then, the pie scent turns into a pair of hands and lures in an animal who steals the pie off the windowsill and hilarity ensues? Yeah. It was just like that.

I ordered a pot of tea and a slice of chocolate fudge cake that I still think about to this day. When the waitress put the cake in front of me it was so moist that it glistened in the sun. It was the richest, most intensely chocolate tasting cake I have ever had. If they shipped overseas, I would order a piece right this second.

Cucina Kristina | Dublin

I was too busy eating the cake to snap a picture of it!

I am a big fan of Irish Breakfast Tea. There are several varieties over here in the states, but Barry’s is a popular Irish brand of tea that you can now purchase online. Isn’t the internet fantastic? Because the tea is strong and somewhat bitter, I like to enjoy my tea with almond milk and sugar.


Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Are there any curry lovers out there? I am dying to share this recipe with someone because it is hearty, comforting, and oh so tasty. It’s the type of soup that warms you from the inside out. I threw it together on a whim last night and apparently nobody in my life likes curry!  More for me, right?

Before we get to the recipe, I want to share a couple of notes about this soup and some substitution ideas. First, I used an acorn squash because it is what I had on hand. If you are new to using squash and do not have good knife skills, substitute with a butternut squash. The butternut squash is infinitely easier to peel and has a similar taste. If squash is not your thing, substitute with sweet potatoes. If neither squash nor sweet potatoes are your thing, try my chicken tortilla soup.

Second, this soup has an intense curry flavor. If you like curry, but you do not love curry, cut back to 1 teaspoon and use vegetable broth and water as the base instead of just straight water. As the soup is cooking, taste and add more curry as desired. Remember that it is easier to add more of an ingredient than to try to balance it out after the fact.

Third, do not throw out the squash seeds! The seeds are edible just like pumpkin seeds. For some reason, people do not think about toasting the seeds of other squashes, but they make a wonderful soup garnish or can be used on salads or as an on-the-go snack. I flavored my seeds with salt and Chinese five spice, but you can use anything you like to season your seeds. Some spices that compliment curry are cinnamon, ginger, chili powder, cumin, or cloves.

Now, on to the soup! This is the type of soup that you will want to make on a chilly winter day. The mere smell of curry warms my body as it seeps throughout the house. I almost can’t wait for the first real snowfall so I can make it again. This soup would be a great starter to a Thanksgiving meal even though the flavors are not necessarily traditional. By the way, how is Thanksgiving THIS Thursday? Where does the time go?

Just before serving, I added a tablespoon of chili paste. I use Huey Fong, which is the same company that makes Sriracha (aka rooster sauce). I think the chili paste adds a nice layer of heat to this soup. For you spicy food haters, I would not describe the flavor chili paste adds to this soup as spicy at all. It is not going to burn your mouth and make your eyes water, it just adds a little kick and enhances the overall flavor of this soup. Give it a try! If you are nervous about adding chili paste to the entire pot of soup, you can always put it on the table and have guests add it to their individual bowls as desired.

Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Cucina Kristina | Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Warms you from the inside out!


  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 acorn squash, peeled and cubed (see substitution ideas above)
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (see substitution ideas above)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (optional)
  • 1 1/2 quarts water


  1. In a large pot, cook onions and garlic in melted coconut oil, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add ginger and cook for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add carrots and squash and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add the curry and cumin and cook for about a minute. This will toast the spices and open their flavor.
  5. Add water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes or until lentils are cooked through and vegetables are tender.
  6. If using, add 1 tablespoon of chili paste just before serving.
  7. Serve warm and garnish with spiced acorn squash seeds.

Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds


  • Coconut oil
  • Chinese five spice (see substitution ideas above)
  • Salt


  1. Rinse and dry the seeds from 1 acorn squash.
  2. Melt coconut oil in a small bowl and toss the seeds to coat evenly. If you do not have coconut oil, you can use olive oil.
  3. Add 1 generous pinch of Chinese five spice and toss to evenly distribute.
  4. Spread seeds onto a baking sheet lined with foil and sprinkle with salt to taste.
  5. Roast in a 375˚ oven for about 12 minutes. All ovens vary so you will want to watch the seeds and check on them periodically. They are done when they look toasted and golden brown.

Five Senses Friday

Yeesh, I’ve had a busy week! I’m in the midst of final exams and I am taking my state certification test for teaching on Saturday. I feel very overwhelmed and am hoping I make out alive! :)

Five Senses Friday is something I’ve started to look forward to and really enjoy. Feel free to join me and share your week in five senses. If you are on Twitter, use the hashtag #5sensesfri.

Sight – I go to a lot of plays. There is something magical about the theater, I can’t get enough of it. My girlfriend and I got tickets to the pre-Broadway premier (in Chicago) of Kinky Boots through Groupon last week. It was FANTASTIC! If you are in New York in 2013 and are looking for a play to see, I would highly recommend it. The music was great, the choreography was unbelievable, the cast was energetic and brought the crowd to their feet with cheers multiple times. One of the best musicals I have seen in a long time.

HearEd Sheeran has been gracing my Spotify all week. I discovered him on Twitter. I love the internet.

Smell – I workout at a small studio in Lincoln Park called Pure Wellness. If you are in Chicago, you should check them out! Each of their classes ends with a short period of restorative yoga. I leave every single class feeling so relaxed, which is not always the case after a workout. At the end of each class as we are lying in our shavasanas, the instructor walks around with scented essential oils adding another layer of relaxation onto our practice.

Feel – Tuesday was my first time voting in Illinois and voting with my married name. I always feel empowered after voting and love that I have the opportunity to make my voice heard. Since I am sure we are all on election overload, I’ll just leave it at that. :)

Taste - A friend of mine is a reporter for Chicago Public Radio here in Chicago. This weekend she was facilitating a discussion at the Chicago Humanities Festival about chocolate. One of the speakers was representing one of my favorite chocolate shops in Chicago, Vosges Haut Chocolat. The owner, Katrina, used to run these amazing chocolate pairing events in her Lincoln Park store. Her flavors are inspired by her travels and she aims to share her experiences and allow her customers to travel the world through chocolate. The chocolate can be pricey (around $8 for a bar), but it is high-quality and unique. It makes perfect gifts and definitely can lift a girls’ spirits when she is having a rough day.

Five Senses Friday

Sight – I watched this beautiful time-lapse video of Chicago this week. I think it captures the city’s charm perfectly. 2:40 is the venue I was married in!

Hear – I received my student teaching placement for the spring quarter. I will be in a kindergarten classroom at the school that was my #1 choice. I am going to start visiting once a week to get acclimated to the classroom culture and get to know the kids. This week I went with them to P.E., Technology, and recess. Kindergarteners are LOUD, but I love it! The sound of kids playing, laughing, crying, whining, and talking is infinitely better than the hum of fluorescent lights or the drone of computers that saturated my old cubicle.

Feel – I had to see the endonologist today for a toothache. I may need a root canal. I am pretty nervous and upset about the idea of a root canal. It sounds super painful.

Smell – Today as I left for work, I noticed the last rose on our rose bush clinging to life. It is refusing to give into the chilly fall weather. I took a whif before snapping this picture.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Taste – Saturday was the last day of the outdoor Green City Farmer’s Market. It is one of my favorite Farmer’s Markets in the city. It does remain open year-round at an indoor location, but it is not the same. I love the changing of the seasons, but I hate saying goodbye to summer and fall.

Cucina Kristina: Ornamental Cabbage

Ornemental Cabage

The thing I love the most about Farmer’s Markets are the unique finds you can stumble upon. One of my go-to vendors, Tomato Mountain Farm, sells awesome salsa. My favorite is their Habanero Salsa. Don’t be fooled by the Habanero! The heat is very nice, not overly spicy, but definitely comes through in flavor. This is the type of salsa that dances on your taste buds as opposed to frying them!

The fire roasted salsa is tasty, too!

I also bought some Bogatyr garlic. Being from California, I love my garlic. Did you know that California supplies 90% of the garlic grown in the United States? I’d never heard of Bogatyr garlic, but the sign above it intrigued me.

The internet reveals that the correct spelling of this should be “Bogatyr” garlic.

As you can see at the bottom of the photo, this garlic is purple and white striped. So fun!

What is tickling your five senses this week?

Easy Pickled Banana Peppers for Salads or Sandwiches

Cucina Kristina: Garden Salad

A true garden salad!

I snapped this photo last week before diving into my salad at lunch. I grew everything you see in that photo except the banana peppers, the dried cranberries, and the pumpkin seeds. I will definitely get a plant or two of banana peppers next year because nothing makes me happier than grocery shopping in my own backyard!

If you are an inexperienced gardener and want to grow some greens, I would highly suggest arugula. If you came over to my house at all this summer, you would probably think to yourself, “Why on earth aren’t you eating all of this arugula? Who spends the time planting and cultivating a garden and then doesn’t use it?” I kid you not, I’ve eaten a giant arugula salad for lunch nearly every day for the past 4 months. I can’t eat this stuff as fast as it grows! I would bring in fistfuls of arugula like you see in the photo below at least every 2-3 days. I am going to try to grow some indoors over the winter. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Cucina Kristina: Garden Fresh Arugula

Armed with a fistful of bas… arugula!

One of my favorite additions to salad are pickled banana peppers. I don’t buy them very often because they are expensive, and I can go through an entire Costco-sized jar of them in about a week. While at my favorite grocery store in Chicago, A&G Fresh Market, I noticed fresh banana peppers were on sale for something ridiculous like .19¢ a pound. I thought to myself, “I wonder how easy it is to make those banana peppers I love so much.” Turns out it is absurdly easy, quick, and cheap (even when the peppers are not on sale) to make them on your own. The hardest part is waiting the 48-72 hours for them to pickle properly.

Pickled Banana Peppers
The recipe below is for a pound of banana peppers. A pound didn’t sound like that much, but it yielded about 3.5 quarts of pickled peppers! Keep that in mind when making these; a little goes a long way. Assuming you do not eat them the way I do, the good news is that they will last quite a while in your fridge due to the high vinegar content.

Also, you generally want a 3:2 ratio of vinegar to water, but you do not need exact measurements for a recipe like this. If you only have 2 cups of vinegar handy and you have to add more water, that is ok, but you should try to aim for no less than a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water when pickling since vinegar is what make things “pickle.”

Cucina Kristina: Homemade Pickled Banana Peppers

Perfect for salads or sandwiches


  • 1 lb. banana peppers
  • 3 cups vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 smashed garlic clove per jar – 1 lb. of peppers filled 3 and a half quart sized mason jars. Therefore, I used 4 cloves of garlic.


  1. Slice banana peppers into rings. Remove seeds if desired. Note: I do not remove the seeds because I like the small amount of heat banana peppers have. Banana peppers are not spicy like jalapeños or serranos. They have a Scoville rating of 100-900 (more than a bell pepper, less than a poblano pepper), but some people are super sensitive to heat. If you are, remove the seeds.
  2. Put the banana peppers into a glass jar(s) with an airtight seal.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the water, vinegar, salt, garlic, and sugar until it comes to a simmer.
  4. Simmer for 3-5 minutes to dissolve the sugar and salt, remove from heat, and cool to just above room temperature. If you pour hot liquid over your peppers it will cook them and they will get soggy. Let your pickling mixture cool. Be patient!
  5. When cooled, pour pickling liquid over peppers making sure each jar has a piece of smashed garlic in it.
  6. Store in the fridge. Let the peppers pickle for at least 48-72 hours before eating. The longer they sit, the better they are!