Holiday Favorites 2015 Collage

Holiday Favorites

Recently I asked the followers of NOLANRYYAN to share some of their favorite things about the holidays. Christmas is right around the corner and it is easy to become child-like and allow the spirit of gratitude and excitement to fill our life during this time. A few of you responded in a such a way and I've made a little collage with the comments.

I'd like to share with you a few things that I am excited about at the moment but also some things that remind me of Christmas, possibly translating into a gift idea for you.

Follow NOLARYYAN on Facebook or use the hashtag #nolanryyan on Instagram and share some of your holiday gift ideas, experiences or favorite things with the rest of us. Happy Holidays!

Couch Potato Soup with Garden Salad

Crockpot Comfort / Couch Potato Soup

Fall has arrived. Halloween has faded away and once the cooler weather begins to set in, a nostalgic excitement creeps up on the inside of me. 'Tis the season for warm hoodies, hot casseroles and lazy afternoons parked on the sofa. With a stack of magazines and a hot cup of coffee in hand, I can easily slip into a chill evening of reading and relaxation. The other night while mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed, I stumbled across a crockpot version of a potato soup. Immediately the bag of russets on top of the fridge came to mind followed by a concern that my spuds may have begun to grow sprouts and become weird looking. After considering what other ingredients were lurking around the kitchen, the question of 'What's for dinner?' began to answer itself.

Now I understand that for some technically trained chefs that the use of a crock pot can be a bit controversial. Just as some might argue that Sandra Lee and Rachael Ray are not 'true' chefs, those same people may contend that crock pot cooking is not 'true' cooking; the equivalent of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" to let's say, "Breaking Bad."

Years ago I would have sided with the food snobs of the world and shunned the crock pot just as I once did the Kardashians. These days, however, I approach life with a much more open mind (team Khloe!). Although I find great fulfillment prepping and spending time in the kitchen, sometimes I need a break. It is during these moments when I unashamedly pull out my slow cooker, toss in a few items from my pantry and let dinner work itself out.

Potatoes are one of the most accessible and available vegetables to the home cook. Who doesn't have a bag hanging out in their cupboard? Inexpensive and versatile, one can enjoy them fried, boiled and mashed, whipped, pureed, sliced thin and layered in a gratin or simply salted, baked and served with a pat of butter.

The following soup combines a few minimally prepped ingredients along with a crock pot to achieve an effortless, any-day-of-the-week meal. Whether you're an amateur in the kitchen frightened by the idea of spatulas and sauté pans or a seasoned chef simply needing a night away from the stove, this recipe is for you.

Using a few of the cooking methods mentioned above you can get back to your Netflix queue or that book you've been meaning to finish.

Couch Potato Soup ingredients

Couch Potato Soup

Couch Potato Soup

Directions /

Pull out your medium sized crock pot or slow cooker. You'll want one big enough to hold six cups of liquid and 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes comfortably. Add your liquid (broth and water) to the crockpot and set to high temperature. Add prepped veggies along with seasonings and close the lid.

Total cook time for this soup is four hours. At this point you're basically free to go about your day doing whatever you'd like. Be sure to leave your cream cheese on the counter so that it can soften and become room temperature. An hour before cooking is finished, cube the cream cheese and add it to the what should now be a boiling pot of soup. Give it a good stir and come back in an hour.

By this time the cream cheese should be melted and well incorporated in the liquid. Taste and adjust the seasonings as you'd like. I added a bit more salt.

The final step adds a creamier texture to the soup but is not necessary. I take three cups of soup from the crock pot and puree them for about 30 seconds. The liquid will be very hot so make sure to allow air to escape your blender by removing the center piece from the lid and covering it with a towel so that you do not end up with a disaster and third degree burns. Add this puree back to the crock pot and stir. Ladle soup into a bowl, top with some shredded cheese, crispy crumbled bacon, some green onions and dinner is ready. I paired mine with a small garden salad but some nice crusty bread would do as well. Feel free to adapt and make this recipe your own. I've included some tips and suggestions below. Cheers to lazy-day Couch Potato Soup!

Tips and Suggestions /

Just as with apples and avocados, potatoes will oxidize and turn brown with exposure to the air. To avoid this, simply keep a bowl of water nearby and drop your peeled potatoes in and keep them submerged until you are ready to dice them. I use Russet potatoes for this recipe because they are starchy and give a thick comforting texture to the soup.

I chose to take the traditional route regarding toppings with this particular soup; shredded cheddar cheese, diced green onions and a bit of crumbled bacon. Turkey bacon might be a more favorable and leaner option. However, whichever type you settle upon, I would recommend Ina Garten's tried and true method for your crispy topping.

This recipe is intended to be a basic recipe. Feel free to tweak and adapt to your liking. Checkout NOLANRYYAN on Facebook and Instagram and let me know some of your variations of the recipe.

Tofu Breakfast Scramble

Vegan Breakfast Scramble

I spend a lot of my free time reading articles and food blogs from all over the web. Toward the end of the week I sort through different recipes and eventually come up with a grocery list. It is often the highlight of my weekends and a welcomed routine in my life. Years ago during one of my weekly grocery trips, I stumbled across a selection of entrees produced by Amy's Kitchen - organic, vegetarian, healthy, frozen dinners. After browsing the small selection, I settled for the tofu scramble with hashbrowns and veggies.

At this point in life I had just become somewhat conscious of my diet. The vegetarian food world was unfamiliar and strange to me. My expectations were low as I had no prior experience with this weird thing called tofu, that and the fact that this was, after all, a frozen dinner.

However, my expectations were exceeded and upon first bite have been a tofu scramble advocate ever since.

With that in mind, I must say here that I am not nor have never been a strict vegetarian. Sure, I dabble here and there but it is not a move I have dedicated myself to just yet. The world is moving toward a more mindful eating approach as a whole and it only makes sense to embrace that change.

Some of you may have found this post because you are actively seeking out a tofu scramble recipe. I hope that the following recipe satisfies that request. But I am writing this post for those out there who have never thought about enjoying a meal completely free of animal byproducts.

First - a small introduction to the vegan/vegetarian food world. Vegetarians eat mostly vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts but will and can also eat eggs and dairy products but would not eat something like chicken stock or beef broth. Vegans take things a step further and exclude ALL animals byproducts so things like goat cheese, milk and even honey would be unacceptable because they come from an animal. This is extended out to clothing as well such as fur or leather.

I think most people have this idea that we have a right to eat animals and dammit we should eat animals. I certainly love the flavor of a nice well cooked medium rare leg of lamb or flame-broiled beef patty right off the grill. I actually had lamb last night. However, I do feel the need to be more concerned about the life that lamb had before it was slaughtered for my consumption. Because of this I have been looking for more ways to switch out animal proteins for plant based proteins such as tofu. With a little bit of manipulation you can create an animal-free meal with the same texture and flavor of your favorite animals proteins which you may even find more enjoyable and easier on your digestive system.

Below is a recipe for a completely vegan tofu breakfast scramble. If you are scared of or intimidated by tofu, this would be a great introductory recipe for you. It is a recreation of the Amy's Kitchen version that so many years ago inspired me to include more and more vegetarian meals into my life. Have it paired with your favorite coffee and switch out your normal creamer with an almond milk for a true vegan experience.

Tofu Breakfast Scramble ingredients Tofu Breakfast Scramble ingredients

Vegan Breakfast Scramble with Tofu and Veggies. Inspired by Amy's Kitchen's tofu scramble with veggies and adapted from Minimalist Baker's Southwest Tofu Scramble.

Directions /

This recipe comes together quickly, kind of like a stir-fry. You'll want to make sure and have everything chopped and ready to go. First, drain and place tofu between either a couple of paper towels or kitchen cloth, then place a plate or something semi-heavy on top to help push out some of the moisture. While tofu drains, prep your veggies.

Heat your skillet to medium/medium-high and add the oil. Add the zucchini, mushrooms and carrot and sautee for about 4-5 minutes, until softened a bit. During this process, I add a bit of salt and pepper. While the vegetables are sautéing you can take a fork and crumble the tofu. The reason for this is to resemble scrambled eggs which is the protein we are switching out. At this point I like to add the garlic because the bed of vegetables helps prevent the garlic from burning. Once the garlic smell becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds, throw in the chopped spinach. Spinach wilts rather quickly, give it a stir and about a minute or so.

Push your vegetables to one side and add crumbled tofu to the skillet. Combine cumin, turmeric and chili powder in a small dish and add just a bit of water to form a watery paste. At this point you are basically just heating the tofu through but can stir it a bit and leave it on the heat for a few minutes to give it a little texture. Pour the spice mixture over the tofu and stir together with the mixed veggies. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve with tortillas and hot sauce. Enjoy!

Tofu Breakfast Scramble

Magazines on floral background

Magazine Love

I am a magazine whore. Well, used to be anyway. There is nothing I love more than having some down time paired with a nice cup of joe and a stack of magazines. I can spend hours perusing through the pages, getting caught up in inspiration. I've become frugal over the years and have found that I replace paper editorials for those published digitally. Browsing my favorite blogs - skimming through the online publications of say, The New York Times - are lighter on my wallet and save me from my addiction of hoarding magazines.

It began way back when with Disney Adventures, then VIBE magazine of which stacks upon stacks could be found in my bedroom closet that was shared with three brothers. Eventually, as I matured and became interested in clothes and food, GQ and various food magazines began to take over. The excitement of opening my mailbox to next month's issue was like no other.

Reading has always been a form of escape for me, and through magazines specifically, a way to live vicariously through the seemingly successful lives of familiar faces on television; images from the pages exuding a certain power and envy, a desire to be beautiful and different; articles attached giving you a peek into the secret life of your idols. Deep inside the heart of a publication, I've learned, lies a whole team of people, well respected in their own light; photographers, writers, glam squads, designers, choreographers, interior decorators. A well shot cover will have my brain salivating. What is happening beyond the pages? I want to know what is inside and before you know it a stack of magazines are in my hand and I am ready to make purchase.

Forever I have dreamed about being involved in the world of food, fashion and editorials. I am interested in the way things work. How does all of that come together? How do I get my foot in that door? What school of study leads one in that direction? Because of this desire I began investigating the lives of those involved behind the scenes, many times finding those behind the veil of our favorite media outlets to be more interesting and brilliant than the people on display. And they come from all backgrounds; some with degrees, others with simply a hunger for expression.

This is how NOLANRYYAN was birthed. A platform to express art and create, each new idea opening up a sea of welcome challenge, each new post documenting growth and expression. I promise this venture will include much more than simple links for you to visit but for now I want to point you in the direction of some of my favorite online editorials.

First, an article about the uprising of independent magazines over at Vogue, The Great Indie Magazine Explosion: A Survey.

For more reading and inspiration, check out these links:

Houston sewer or manhole

The Debut / What is Inspiration?

Inspiration is able to come from a variety of sources. It can be anything really; an instrument heard deep in the background of a song, a random photograph shared by a friend on social media, the first gasp of air that lets you know summer will be over soon and fall is arriving, or a piece of dialogue between two strangers on an elevator - a harmless eavesdropping that most of us actively participate in.

Just as personal style and dress are unique from one individual to the next, the same can be said of inspiration. What motivates and gets you moving today may not speak to you tomorrow, or speak to another at all. Often times it can be a choice of actively keeping an open eye and ear to the environment around you in place of simply waiting for a wave of ideas to stir something up inside of you. For the past few years I have been living in Houston, Texas. I am fortunate to live in a city that is culturally diverse but still holds the Southern charm and influence that I was raised with. As a teenager and not unlike the aspirations of most people at some point in their lives, I dreamed of moving to a large city in New York or California. I craved something new and unfamiliar, a different environment to either change the way I felt about myself or to help me accept myself for exactly who I was. Although I've yet to travel abroad, many small trips around Texas and furthermore to New Orleans, Louisiana, Alexandria, Virginia, Washington D.C., New York City, and Portland, Oregon have shown me that the work of personal growth begins where you are now.

As a result I am taking the time to explore the personalities and spaces around me. I am inspired by what the people of Houston are doing. It is my hope and intent to take these normal day to day conversations and experiences and transform them into original content that will in turn inspire you.

For my debut blog post I am sharing a few of my favorite finds from around the web. The initial inspiration for this list comes from Heidi Swanson, author of the enviable 101 Cookbooks, a widely popular vegetarian food blog. Her favorites lists' are something that I look forward to and have come up with my own to share. There is certainly fresh material on the way, in the meantime I hope that you enjoy these websites and the resources within as much as I do.