Easy-Peasy Breakfast Nachos

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These breakfast nachos were made on a whim when my four year old noticed the bag of chips and asked to eat them for breakfast while I was frying some eggs.

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Vietnamese Noodle Bowls with Easiest Instant Pot Lemongrass Chicken

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I live in a city with several good Vietnamese restaurants, and one of my favorite things to order is Bun, which is a vermicelli noodle bowl with some veggies and herbs, and your choice of meat toppings or spring rolls. Naturally I had to recreate it at home. I make no claims to authenticity on this dish, but it was satisfying enough for this non-Vietnamese person to enjoy for an impromptu lunch.

I started a pot of water to boil on the stove, then prepped the chicken in the Instant Pot. While the chicken was cooking, I assembled the rest of my ingredients.

Easiest Instant Pot Lemongrass Chicken

Lemongrass Chicken Ingredients:

  • 2-4 tbsp finely minced lemongrass (I used pre-minced lemongrass sold in the produce section of my local Asian grocery store. You could also buy minced frozen lemongrass from an Asian grocery store, or mince fresh lemongrass yourself.)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1.5 – 3 lbs chicken thighs (I used boneless/skinless, but you can use bone-in – just add a few minutes to the cooking time)
  • 1 cup water

Lemongrass Chicken Directions:

Combine all ingredients in the inner pot of the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker.  Put the lid on the pot, make sure the vent is set to “sealing,” and set the Instant Pot for manual, 2 minutes. Once the cooking time is done, use the natural pressure release method.

Vietnamese Noodle Bowls
Serves as many people as you want

Noodle Bowl Ingredients (can all be prepared while chicken is cooking in the Instant Pot):

  • Rice vermicelli, cooked according to package instructions
  • Cucumber, diced, to taste
  • Green leaf lettuce, thinly sliced, to taste
  • Fresh mint leaves to taste, removed from stems
  • Cilantro leaves to taste, removed from stems
  • Carrots, julienned, to taste
  • Easiest Instant Pot Lemongrass Chicken

Sauce Ingredients:

  • Equal parts fish sauce, fresh lime juice, and white sugar.
  • Minced hot peppers if desired

Noodle Bowl and Sauce Directions:

Arrange bowl ingredients to taste in a large bowl. Use whichever proportions you prefer. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and season your noodle bowl to taste.

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Wintertime Salads Taste Like Sadness? This One Trick Will Transform Them.

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Do wintertime salads make you sad?

For those of us living in a four-season climate, produce can leave a lot to be desired in the winter. The cucumbers and tomatoes taste sad and flavorless, unless you are willing and able to shell out mad money on the premium greenhouse-grown versions.

One of the things that inspired Project Takeout Breakout was the salads at my favorite restaurant which serves Thai and Lao food. They taste bright and refreshing and amazing, not like diets and “clean eating” and sadness.

When I learned to make them at home, I realized that the secret is so, so simple. Not to sound like a clickbait cliche, but this one trick will transform all your salads into meals you can’t wait to eat, instead of sad reminders of the lost days of summer.

That trick is this: use a LOT of fresh herbs. Like, a lot. It may seem like way too much to a western palate, but fresh herbs can account for at least 1/4 of the total volume of vegetables. (Though you can certainly use more, or less, based on individual taste).

Many Thai and Lao salads rely heavily on scallions, cilantro, basil, and/or mint. Along with lime juice for tartness, fish sauce for saltiness, and a bit of sugar for sweetness to balance those flavors out. And hot peppers if you like them! Once I realized what made my favorite takeout salads sing, I knew I could do the same at home.

Right now, it is the middle of winter where I live. My lettuce comes from all the way across the country, instead of down the street from the local farm where I work. And yet I can still make my salads sing with plenty of fresh herbs and scallions. I’ve been doing this with all my salads, even the ones that aren’t following a southeast Asian recipe.

For salads with a Mediterranean accent, you can use basil, or parsley, mint, chives, and dill (either separately or any combination). For salads with a southeast Asian accent, you can add cilantro, basil, scallions, mint, or any of their cousins that can be found at Asian grocery stores.

The best tool to get fresh herbs in your salads quickly and easily? I use kitchen shears and snip them directly into the salad. You can use a knife and cutting board, but if you don’t feel like taking one out, kitchen shears work great.

As far as cost goes – herbs add maybe 3 to 10 dollars per week to my weekly grocery budget this time of year, depending on the quantities and varieties I buy.  During the summer when I receive herbs in my CSA share and grow them in pots on my porch, that will go down a lot. For me, it is worth the extra 3-10 dollars per week in my grocery budget. I use them in many recipes, not just salads….and they make my food taste so amazing that I feel satisfied with what I make at home and don’t miss takeout, so I end up spending less money in the end.

And…. did you know that herbs are a great crop for home gardeners to grow, even if you don’t have much space? They grow well outdoors or in containers, so if you are interested in growing your own, you can save some money that way. I’ll be doing that when the weather warms up.

Now that I know this trick, I can make salads exciting, all year round. This makes it easy to enjoy eating vegetables. Try it and let me know what you think!

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How to Start Your Own Project Takeout Breakout!

So you want to start your own Project Takeout Breakout? Welcome to the club!

I can think of several reasons why someone would want to cook at home more and rely on takeout less. Environmental reasons, financial reasons, dietary preferences (such as allergies, religious requirements, medical requirements, or simply a desire to know what is in your food).

My own primary reason for Project Takeout Breakout is financial. I love some of the meals I get from restaurants but I don’t love their impact on my bank account. I don’t love the stress at the end of the month about paying the bills, and I especially don’t love the guilt of knowing that I spent money on something I know was unnecessary and yet I couldn’t seem to kick the habit.

I wanted to free up some of that cash so my budget felt more free…and I didn’t want to give up the meals I love.

I had tried to cut back on takeout many times over the past few years. It was my one spending vice. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink frequently, I don’t gamble, I don’t shop for shoes or clothes or handbags, but I never seemed to be able to quit takeout for more than a couple weeks, even when the budget was tight. And the budget is often tight. My husband works at a non-profit organization, and I work part-time at a farm (and in agriculture, pay is often one step below that of a non-profit). One third to one half of my paycheck goes to childcare in any given week. My husband and I are pretty conservative spenders. We have no credit card debt and no loans other than our mortgage, and we only drive one car, but we still rely on family help at times. Especially when the car needed to be replaced or we got an unexpected large bill.

I share all that to show why I was motivated reduce our spending in the one area that was a challenge for me.

And I had tried many times.  Usually it lasted a couple weeks, until life got stressful or the kitchen was way too messy to cook or I just craved my favorite Cellophane Noodle Chicken Salad or Green Curry or Drunken Noodles. Even though I am a pretty good cook and know my way around a kitchen pretty well. It was a puzzle.

And yet the budgetary concerns still weren’t going away. I knew I needed to make a sustainable change. And I knew that my previous way of attempting to cut out takeout foods was not sustainable for me. If it was, it would have worked already.

But something was different this time. This time, I had two years of successful sustainable habit change under my belt. You can visit my other blog, Power Peace and the Porch Gym, for the details of that process.

Over the past two years, I had formed reliable and consistent self-care habits, and I knew I could apply the same principles to reducing my takeout spending and cooking more at home.

Principle #1:  All behaviors and habits (even undesired ones), are attempts to meet needs.

If I have a habit I’m trying to form or break and it is not working out for me, I always ask myself “why?” Not in a demanding way or a loaded way. Just in a genuinely curious way: “why do I do that? Why is it difficult to go for more walks even though I enjoy them? Why do I want to stay up late even though I know I feel better when I go to sleep early?”

Principle #2: In order to break an undesired habit, we must discover what need we are attempting to meet, and find an alternate way to meet that need.

Once I am clear on WHY I am having trouble forming or breaking a habit, it becomes easy to brainstorm a strategy that will help me through the trouble…..because I know exactly what the deeper issue is that I am trying to solve!

In the case of going for walks more…..when I asked myself “why is it difficult to go for more walks even though I enjoy them?” I came up with several reasons. I won’t go into all of them here, but one of them was that I didn’t like walking in the summer sun on city streets. Once I recognized that obstacle, I decided to drive to shaded trails to walk in the summer instead.

In the case of staying up late even though I knew I felt better when I went to sleep early, the reason I wanted to do that was because I was enjoying binge watching a favorite show on Netflix. Once I realized that, I was able to come up with other times to watch my show (I chose while I’m doing dishes in the kitchen). I also chose to remind myself that the show will still be there later in the week and I don’t need to finish watching it late at night.

In the same way, I realized why I was unable to abstain from takeout for very long every time I had tried in the past: because I wasn’t acknowledging the needs takeout was meeting for me, and since I wasn’t acknowledging them, I was either meeting them with takeout, or not meeting them at all. But even if I wasn’t meeting those needs, they were still there.

For me, takeout was meeting the following needs:

  • Ease and cleanliness: if the sink and counters were already full of dirty pots and pans, it seemed easier to get takeout than to try and think of something to make for dinner, and wash all the pots and pans. If my kid was whining, learning to cook something new seemed like an insurmountable task and the options were either eat leftovers, cook something I already know how to make, or order takeout. If the kitchen was messy AND there were no leftovers in the fridge AND my kid was whining…..well, what does that leave?
  • Pleasure: Some of my favorite foods came from the Thai and Lao restaurant across town. Even though I knew how to cook, I did not know how to cook those favorite foods, or how to improvise with the ingredients used in those cuisines.

There were two moments that led me to the idea of Project Takeout Breakout:

  1. I bought a programmable electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot brand) on a Black Friday sale. Suddenly I was able to cook a variety of tasty meals with the hands-off ease of a rice cooker at a speed that often took less time than ordering takeout and picking it up. Since I could suddenly cook delicious meals that had a lot of “hands off” time, I had time to clean the kitchen and do the dishes while we waiting for dinner to cook.
  2. I checked out a cookbook from the public library called “Simple Thai Food” by Leela Punyaratabandhu. Flipping through this book, I was shocked at how, well, simple the recipes were for many of the foods I liked to order out. And suddenly it dawned on me: if I wanted to eat the meals I ordered for takeout more than I wanted to eat what I cooked at home….why not just learn to cook the foods I actually want to eat?

And so, Project Takeout Breakout was born. I decided to make it my goal for the new year to learn how to cook my favorites, and to become so comfortable doing so that I could whip them up after work while tired, or at least prep them in advance.

In order to accomplish this goal, I did some preparation and study (as can be expected when you learn anything new). If you would like to learn how you can prepare for a successful and sustainable Takeout Breakout, download my free guide!

Happy cooking!