Category Archives: The Recipe

Green Chef is BACK (A giveaway)!

That’s right, I took a little break from ordering weekly boxes of Green Chef, but it’s baaaaack and I want to share it with you! But, details on that in a bit.

You see, when I moved to Texas almost two years ago, I ventured to the oh-so-popular H.E.B. But what I found is a lot of people who don’t have a grocery list, so they are left wandering aimlessly through the aisles and even forming LINES at the milk fridge.

My anxiety just couldn’t handle it, so I signed up for a meal delivery kit: Green Chef. I picked this one in particular because it’s the only one that’s truly organic, and I’m not a fan of eating pesticides. Since then, I pretty much ate my Green Chef meals until I felt ready, and even a little excited, to get out to the grocery again.

If you’re not familiar, many meal delivery kits such as Green Chef, send fresh ingredients right to your doorstep. My Green Chef plan sends enough of the good stuff to make at least six meals (two meals per included recipe) – but often, it’s enough food for extra meals, depending on how hungry you are.

Originally, I chose the “Carnivore” plan, which included all sorts of different meat and fish. However, I recently switched (you can switch at any time) to the vegetarian plan, as I have moved to a more plant-based diet.

I skip the meals that include tofu or tempeh (I’m just not a fan), but have had some delicious meals along the way. And this is why I’m so excited to share a free week of organic meals with FOUR of you!

There really is no fee, and no obligation to continue the service, just accept your free box, and then cancel the service if you don’t want to continue. If you decide to keep the service, remember, you can skip weeks at no charge – I skip all the time, and it’s really no problem.

So, if you want to win a free box of organic food, simply follow me on Instagram @OrangeJulius7 and fill out the quick form below. If you win, you’ll receive an email with your Green Chef code.

Easy enough, right?

If you have any questions about the service in general, feel free to comment on the blog – I’ve used it long enough I should be able to handle it 🙂 Happy contesting!

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Holiday weekend EATS.

Delish summer treat!

You guys!! We are on the cusp of one of my favorite times of year – summer! In Texas, the later months of summer are waaaay too hot to enjoy much of anything, so this beginning part sure is something to celebrate.

Before my Vegas vacation, I know I talked a lot about my efforts to eat right, exercise more, and drink less. And I did! Honestly, I still felt a little pudgy in my bikini, but… 31. I ate and drank pretty much everything in sight on vacation and then got back on my healthy eating once I returned.

Ever since, I’ve been feeling better and am starting to see a little bit of a difference in my figure, but being healthy and feeling good is my top priority. It’s still a constant struggle, though, to find recipes and things to cook at home that make me excited to eat healthy.

I have been eating 1 hard-boiled egg, an oatmeal English muffin (it has double the protein), and half a bottle of Naked juice for breakfast for the last three weeks and I’m still not sick of it. In week’s past, I’ve made vegan chili, veggie rolls, sausage and grits, and Hawaiian chicken sewers, among other things for lunches and dinners.

But I wanted to find some festive, special things to cook this weekend to deter me from eating out (I am still letting myself have a cheat meal at the Drafthouse to see “Baywatch”). So, I am really excited to share with you these two recipes I found on Pinterest. Here goes:

Shrimp Boil Foil Packets

Photo + recipe from Damn Delicious!

I was really excited when I saw this recipe – it was in a collection of recipes that all involved a foil packet. I have been craving some Louisiana food, and this is a really easy way for me to fulfill my wishes while still staying healthy. I think I’m going to eat this as-is, but it would also been good served with brown rice, or other veggies such as asparagus or okra (yum!).

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 (12.8-ounce) package smoked andouille sausage, thinly sliced
2 ears corn, each cut crosswise into 4 pieces
1 pound baby red potatoes, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons cajun seasoning
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat a gas or charcoal grill over high heat.
  2. Cut four sheets of foil, about 12-inches long. Divide shrimp, sausage, corn and potatoes into 4 equal portions and add to the center of each foil in a single layer.
  3. Fold up all 4 sides of each foil packet. Add olive oil, cajun seasoning, salt and pepper, to taste; gently toss to combine. Fold the sides of the foil over the shrimp, covering completely and sealing the packets closed.
  4. Place foil packets on the grill and cook until just cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.*
  5. Served immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.

Note: This can also be baked for 15-17 minutes at 425 degrees F.

Black Bean Butternut Veggie Burgers

Recipe + photo from Peas and Carrots!

I really love a good burger, especially in the summer. While a regular burger is perfectly fine, I have been making a conscious effort to eat less meat and focus on plant-based foods. I’m hoping this recipe turns out great – I’m planning to add a little cheddar to my burger, and serve it with sweet potato fries and maybe some watermelon!

INGREDIENTS

1 flax egg (1 TBSP ground flax + 3 TBSP water) or 1 egg
1 cup mashed black beans [refried black beans work too!]
1 cup pureed butternut squash
1/3 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced celery
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
1 TBSP olive oil [or butter]
3/4 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend [like mrs. dash]
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried parsley [or fresh if you have it!]
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1.5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats [not instant]

Optional toppings: 4 burger buns (I used a bakery poppy seed onion bun – amazing!), 4 slices of pepper jack cheese, romaine lettuce, fresh baby spinach, mayo (store-bought or homemade) mixed with sriracha chili sauce

DIRECTIONS

  1. Whisk together 1 TBSP ground flax with 3 TBSP water and pop it in the fridge to set.
  2. Next mash black beans in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Add your butternut squash to the beans and set aside.
  4. Next saute onion, celery, and garlic in olive oil until tender and near-translucent, adding the minced garlic towards the end to prevent burning.
  5. Season the veggies with your Italian seasoning blend, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and parsley and stir to coat.
  6. Add the freshly sauteed veggies to your beans and squash and stir in your oats.
  7. Remove your flax egg from the fridge and add it to the bowl.
  8. Stir to fully incorporate and roll mixture into four balls.
  9. For optimal burger shape, cup each ball in your hands and squeeze tightly, rotating as you gently, but firmly, press it into a disc.
  10. Giggles aside, pop your burgers onto a plate, cover with foil or cling wrap and refrigerate as you prep your buns [or lettuce wraps!] and toppings. This will give them a little while to set. You can even leave them overnight and cook them up the following day.
  11. Pour a tablespoon or two of oil in a skillet and heat to medium-high, so the burgers sizzle when you add them to the pan!
  12. Cook for a few minutes on each side until you’re left with a golden crust. and a warm center. Repeat for each burger, or cook two at once if you have a big enough pan!
  13. Slather your buns with sriracha mayo, pile them high with lettuce, spinach, pepper jack and top each with a yummy butternut burger.

That’s what I’ll be cooking up on this gloomy, rainy weekend – I’d love to know what recipes you’re looking forward to this weekend, or this summer!

Queso me crazy?

Queso Fundido from ‘What’s Gaby Cooking’!

I know I’ve written a few posts about my resolutions and goals for 2017, but there’s one tiny thing I haven’t mentioned: I kind of wanted to enter some sort of contest, particularly a cooking contest. I don’t really know what brought it on, although I’d be lying if I said the episode of “Real Girl’s Kitchen” where Haylee enters a Texas pie contest really had me curious.

Sure, I’ve entered in writing contests all the time (and happily lose them one-by-one), but I also love to cook, and I’m always saying that I’m getting tired of impressing MYSELF in the kitchen, right? What better way to see what you’re made of than by entering a contest?

A few weeks ago, I randomly came across a Tweet that was advertising a local food contest, with all of the money going toward charity. Sounded right up my ally, so I saved it for a later day.

Upon further inspection, this contest is the 7th annual “Quesoff”, allowing anyone to enter, and all of the proceeds and donations go to the Austin Food Bank. Umm, yes! If you remember, another one of my goals for 2017 was to “Just go for it”, so I did, without really considering it.

Yep, it’s official, Team Bitter Lemon is a contestant in the 7th Annual Quesoff, which takes place at the end of August.

…Which is probably a good thing, because… I’ve never made queso. That’s right, I entered a contest to make something I’ve never made. Awesome.

Of course, it doesn’t seem that competitive and it’s for a great cause, so it’s whatever, but you better believe I want my queso to be delicious. It should also be noted that I’ve entered my (so far non-existent) queso into the “Meaty” category, so it’s got to have meat.

While I do not consider myself a queso connoisseur, I already know that I’d like to make a white queso that features lean, shredded meat with a smoky flavor, possibly duck. I also want it to be nice and spicy (edible, of course).

I haven’t tried recipes as of yet, but I have recruited some local foodies to my team, and I’ve rounded up several folks to help me taste recipes as I jump into this cheese wave of summer. It’s gonna be a fun one, I can promise you that.

In general, we use the term “queso” to describe a delicious bowl of melty cheese, often enjoyed with nacho chips. But of course, queso refers to cheese; queso blanco is white cheese; queso fresco is fresh cheese.

There are so many different ways to make queso – with several cheeses, meat, beans, spices, tomatoes, chiles… the possibilities are endless!

While this endeavor doesn’t really go with my current diet, I’m going to have fun testing out new recipes for the contest. The Bitter Lemon will NOT be embarrassed showing up in Queso country with a first timer cheese dip! Let the cheesing begin…

Hello, vegan food.

Plant-based and delishhh.

Plant-based and delishhh.

Okay, so I’m not going totally vegan, but I’ve been incorporating much more vegan meals into my life than ever before. I’ve been eating on a pretty strict diet for the last five weeks, plus prancing around the dance studio nearly every day, and I’m finally starting to see some results.

I didn’t make a conscious choice to start eating vegan, but rather, I found a ton of delicious-looking recipes to try and they have been actually REALLY delish. I started pretty simple, with the homemade brown rice veggie sushi, and graduated to the red pepper Buddah bowl. I’m not a fan of anything too complicated, or any of the cashew-based “cheese” products.

Despite all of the restrictions of eating vegan, I’ve managed to find a lot of recipes that are easy, and affordable (and tasty). I thought I’d post them for you, because you just never know…

Vegan Chocolate Pudding – I saw this posted by Whole Foods as a quick video, which made me see how easy it was to make. It’s just dates, vanilla, banana, avocado, and unsweetened cocoa powder, blended and chilled… and it’s legit. It is very fudgy and cures my sweet tooth. I have been enjoying it with unsweetended coconut sprinkled on top. I bought ingredients to make a second batch, and I think I will blend in some PB2 powder for a peanut buttery taste. Yum! Get the full recipe here.

Vegan Roasted Brussels Sprout and CousCous Salad – Since I liked the Buddah bowl so much, I was looking for recipes that would be similar, but with new flavors. I saw this bowl stuffed with greens, avocado, couscous, and topped with hummus and was SOLD. I like eating these things for dinner for two reasons: 1. I’m usually starving because it’s after dance rehearsal and this is very filling, and 2. since it’s a mix of cold and hot ingredients, it gets too complicated to pack for lunch. Get the entire recipe here.

Vegan Lentil Mushroom Tacos with Mango Salsa – I love tacos and have always loved finding ways to make them healthier. I’ve replaced the ground beef with ground turkey or chicken… but this?! This recipe uses lentils and chopped mushrooms as the “meat” portion, and tops it with sweet and spicy mango salsa. I honestly didn’t even notice the fact that there was no cheese. I served it with another batch of my favorite thing: Chrissy Teigen’s coconut rice. Omigod. These tacos were honestly better than any meat taco I’ve had. I will for sure be making these again. Get the full recipe here.

I’ve also saved several additional vegan recipes I’m looking forward to trying (all of which you can find on my Pinterest board) including Balsamic Garlic Grilled Mushrooms, Quinoa and Kale Protein Power Salad, and Eggplant Parmesan.

Now, I know I said I’m not going full vegan, but I have been reducing my meat intake greatly, and when it just takes a small tweak to go vegan, I’ll do it. Why? Because there are SO many health benefits to eating vegan. Some of the health benefits are (but not limited to) reduced saturated fats, reduced chance of getting colon cancer, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a lower body mass index, healthy hair and nails, longer life, and allergy relief – among many others!

If you’ve got any good vegan, or even vegetarian recipes you’d like to share, feel free to put them in the comments – I’m always looking for new foods to keep the variety going!

Things I’ve tried on Pinterest.

It’s been around a month since I resurrected my Pinterest account. I started back on this social channel for several reasons: 1. because I’m really trying to tighten up my diet and I wanted a place to keep track of all the cool recipes I come across and want to try (outside of my several binders on my pantry shelf), 2. I always have ideas swirling around for the blog or for crafts I want to make, and Pinterest helps me organize them.

In the last month, I’ve tried only a small portion of the recipes I’ve saved. I have purchased items to make a few essential oil roll-ons, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten with anything other than food. But the food items I’ve tried have really excited me, as I started with the Veggie Brown Rice Sushi from the Minimalist Baker, which was easy and so freaking YUMMY.

Orange Chicken – This recipe was part of an article listing out easy ways to use your crockpot. It listed this orange chicken recipe that was four ingredients, and looked totally yummy. How healthy was it? It probably wouldn’t be approved by any nutritionists, but I paired it with steamed rice, edamame, and steamed Asian veggies to help even things out. It was so good, and very easy.

Cherry Almond Granola – I’m not a huge granola lover, but when I find a good one that’s decently healthy, I love eating it with yogurt. This one looked easy to make, and actually pretty healthy. So I whipped it right up on Saturday night (aren’t I so cool) while listening to podcasts. I ate some the next morning with almond milk and it was yummy. I also bought some plain greek yogurt that I might eat it with. To boot, making this granola made my house smell awesome.

Cinnamon Sugar Protein Donuts – I got a donut pan for Christmas and I cannot get enough recipes to make all kinds of donuts. I had success with regular, powdered-sugar donuts, so I tried my hand at “Protein” donuts… and not only was this a massive fail, as in, it didn’t really bake or look like a donut, but it just tasted like shit. Yuck. If you’ve had a successful try with protein donuts, let me know!

Vegan Buddah Bowl – From what I understand, a Buddah Bowl is anything that you can just eat a giant helping of so your belly resembles a Buddah’s. I’m trying to avoid that altogether, but what I love about food this healthy is that you can eat a good portion and not feel guilty. I whipped up all of the ingredients for this bowl on Sunday and am eating them for dinner this week – it’s full of new flavors for me and is filling and so yummy.

BBQ Chicken Chopped SaladThis pin was advertised as a copycat from a salad at California Pizza Kitchen, and I used to live within a block of a CPK, so I totally get the obsession (hello, mango margaritaaass). I made 7 lunch-sized versions of these salads and have been packing them in my lunchbox and they are very filling and tasty.

Weight Watchers Cookies – This came up on my feed as a suggestion, and I’m always down to make something that’s going to taste decadent but not make me feel guilty. These seemed a little too good to be true – as the recipe contained two tubs of Cool Whip – but I made them and the batter was amazing… but they were just flat and rubbery-like. No thanks. #FAIL

What are some things you’ve tried on Pinterest that worked, or hey, even ones that didn’t. I’m always looking for new ideas!

What’s cooking.

In these last few weeks, I’ve been having a lot of fun cooking at home. Don’t get me wrong, I usually cook my own meals, but of course, as everything, it goes in waves. Sometimes I’m really excited to cook and I look up recipes, sometimes I just get chicken and veggies and eat it until I can’t anymore, and other times, well I skip the grocery altogether and order Green Chef for weeks on end.

Right now, I’m really trying to eat healthier meals at home, and instead of eating out, I am attempting to make more fun meals at home that I look forward to eating. I’m on a mission to feel better, look better, all by eating better, and of course, dancing my butt off.

So, I’ll share some recipes I’ve been living off of lately, most of them are from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook, “Cravings“, and one is from “What’s Gaby Cooking” – one of my favorite food bloggers as of late.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

When I got my first apartment as a single woman in Baton Rouge, I lived within blocks of a P.F. Chang’s. I ordered takeout probably once a week, and I usually got their chicken lettuce wraps. I also gained weight, because even though they looked healthy, they were NOT.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw a very similar-looking recipe in Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook. I made them, and packed them in my lunch right alongside coconut rice (recipe below) and it was to DIE for.

INGREDIENTS

  • Sauce
    3 Tbsp. Thai sweet chili sauce
    3 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
    3 Tbsp. light soy sauce
    2 Tbsp. Sriracha
    2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
    1 tsp. sesame oil
    1½ Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
    2 Tbsp. minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
    1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • Filling
    1 lb. ground chicken
    3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
    8 scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens kept separate
    1 Tbsp. minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
    1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
    ½ pound white mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned, and finely chopped
    ½ cup finely diced canned water chestnuts
    1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
    2 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated

DIRECTIONS

    1. Make the sauce: In a bowl, combine the chili sauce, hoisin, soy sauce, Sriracha, vegetable oil, sesame oil, vinegar, garlic, and ginger.
    2. In a bowl, mix 2 Tbsp. of the sauce into the ground chicken.
    3. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When shimmering-hot, add the chicken and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.
    4. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the skillet, then add the scallion whites, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
    5. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they release their liquid, 3 to 4 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan, then add the water chestnuts, bell pepper, and the rest of the sauce and cook, stirring, until cooked through and the liquid has reduced and thickened slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the scallion greens.
    6. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set out with the lettuce leaves.

Sweet and Salty Coconut Rice

…I mean the name pretty much says it all, but this shit is so good, and shockingly pretty guilt-free. I made the first batch of this for the chicken lettuce wraps, and then and second batch to go with a recipe I found on Pinterest (I’ll talk more on this next week). I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of this rice – yum!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups jasmine rice
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

DIRECTIONS 

  1. In a dry saucepan, toast the coconut flakes for a few minutes until they brown.
  2. Place toasted coconut to the side.
  3. Add full can of coconut milk, 1 can full of water, sugar, rice and salt to saucepan.
  4. Stir and bring to low boil.
  5. Cover and cook just like you would any other rice. Once done, fluff and add toasted coconut to the top. Serve!

Sweet Chili and Mustard-Glazed Salmon Fillets

It’s been a long time since I’ve treated myself to homemade salmon; it’s always kind of expensive, but it’s really healthy and filling. Since I have been doing so well not eating out, I decided to put my extra dollars toward the good stuff, and it was well-worth it. I’ve been eating it for dinner this week with brown rice and broccoli and am loving it.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 (6 ounces ) skin-on center cut salmon fillets
  • Salt and pepper for taste
  • 2/3 cup of Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 2 tbs sambal oelek (I couldn’t find this in my usual grocery store, so I skipped it)
  • 2 tbs large grain mustard

DIRECTIONS

  1. Position rack 4-6 inches from the heating element and preheat the broiler.
  2. Season salmon all over with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl stir together the Thai sweet chili sauce, sambal oelek, and mustard.
  3. Pour the mixture into a large cast-iron skillet. Set skillet over medium-high heat until the mixture boils.
  4. Lay the salmon skin side up, in the sauce. Cook the salmon until it turns pale pink about 2 minutes, then move the skillet to the oven and broil until the skin gets crispy about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of water to the skillet and cook over high heat, stirring and scraping until the sauce thickens. Pour the sauce from the skillet onto the salmon. Serve immediately.
Healthy loaded sweet potatoes from 'What's Gaby Cooking'.

Healthy loaded sweet potatoes from ‘What’s Gaby Cooking’.

Healthy Loaded [Southwestern] Sweet Potatoes

As I mentioned earlier, Gaby, from “What’s Gaby Cooking?” is one of my favorite food bloggers. One thing I really love about her is that she hosts weekly Snapisodes on her SnapChat @WhatsGabyCookin and she presents a yummy recipe step-by-step.

She is also completely available to ask questions! I’ve sent her countless cooking questions via SnapChat, and she always helps me out. I try to pay her back by sending her snaps of all of her recipes I’m making!

Anyway, she made this recipe on a Snapisode a few weeks ago, and it looked so easy and yummy, I added it to my list of things to try. Here’s what you’ll need:

INGREDIENTS

    • 4 California Sweetpotatoes
    • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
    • 1 cup frozen charred corn (I used canned ‘Mexicorn’)
    • 1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1/3 cup salsa (any variety will work)
    • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
    • 3 tablespoons chopped chives (I used red onion)
    • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Optional Garnishes:
  • Finely chopped red onion
  • Cilantro
  • Chives
  • Pico de Gallo
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole
  • Sour Cream

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Using a knife or a fork, carefully poke holes all over the sweet potatoes. Place the California sweet potatoes onto a baking sheet and transfer to the heated oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes until fork tender.
  3. Remove the California sweetpotatoes from the oven and slice them open. Scoop out a bit of the inside to make room for the stuffing.
  4. Season the interior with salt and pepper and set aside.
  5. In a medium bow, combine the corn, black beans, cheese, salsa, chives and cilantro and toss to combine.
  6. Using a spoon, stuff each sweetpotato with equal parts of the mixture until overflowing. Add extra cheese on top if desired.
  7. Transfer the stuffed sweetpotatoes back into the oven and let bake for another 10 minutes to melt the cheese.
  8. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and sprinkle with optional garnishes. Serve immediately.

See? So easy! And you can pretty much put anything you want on it. I kept it meatless, but you could add shredded chicken or taco meat… whatever! I’m no expert on kids, but I think this would be a good way to get them to eat veggies. I made five of these potatoes and have been packing one to eat for lunch each day, along with 1/2 an avocado that I mash on top. It’s divine!

This week’s menu…

I set several goals for 2017, and none of them included anything about being healthier or skinnier, or more fit this year. But I’m definitely trying to clean up my act after completely letting go during the holidays. I don’t eat out much (unless it’s going to be really, really worth it). I truly believe you can make delicious meals at home, and I love taking meals that might be a cheat and adding healthy twists to them.

Last week, I mentioned two things: 1. I’ve resurrected my Pinterest page, and 2. I have a long list of recipes from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook, “Cravings” that I want to make.

Since then, I’ve kind of gone nuts on Pinterest – I check it daily, and have been pinning all sorts of ideas, from blog stuff to crafts, and of course, recipes.

Now, don’t get be wrong, I don’t pin the ridiculous stuff. I am realistic about the fact that I’m not hosting a dinner party any time soon, or getting married or having a baby. I don’t like to save stuff that requires unnecessary effort.

For example, when Pinterest first came out, I had a friend who pinned all sorts of crazy recipes even though she didn’t really enjoy cooking. One of these recipes was for “Lasagna Cups” – I think you boiled the lasagna noodles before putting them into muffin tins and filling them with traditional lasagna goods. “Or you could just make lasagna,” I thought.

On the one hand, if it gets you in the kitchen and excited to eat homemade things, then sure, make the lasagna cups. It’s just not for me.

One of the recipes I saved was for “Brown Rice Veggie Sushi” from the Minimalist Baker. I’ve heard good things about the Minimalist Baker – all of her recipes are 10 ingredients or less – from people I follow on Instagram. I decided that was going to be my healthy recipe for the week – I like to have at least one thing for dinner, and one thing for lunch (a perk of being single is that one recipe is usually enough for 4-6 servings).

I chose Chrissy Teigen’s “Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe” from her cookbook, as she said it was the most popular recipe, and it looked super easy to make, not to mention affordable.

So, off to the grocery I went! I have never really purchased Asian ingredients, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the ingredients I needed were available and inexpensive. The recipe calls for brown rice, rice vinegar, and nori (seaweed sheets), and basically any veggies for the filling. I got roasted red bell peppers (which have a very similar texture to raw salmon), avocado, carrots, and cucumber.

To make it, I followed her instructions exactly, only I doubled the recipe because I wanted to have plenty of leftovers to eat during the week. I didn’t have a sushi mat, but I found an inexpensive sushi-making kit on Amazon for next time. My sushi came out super yummy, and delicious! I have a few other sushi recipes that involve shrimp, and now I know I can actually roll it, so I’ll definitely be adding this into my recipe rotation.

For Chrissy’s spaghetti recipe, I tried to make it a little healthier by buying organic whole wheat pasta, and also folding in extra arugula. But yes, I know this recipe is a little bit of a treat – I need carbs for my six dance classes this week, right?!

 Other than that, I followed the recipe as listed in the book and it turned out pretty fantastic! It was spicy, cheesy, and the arugula was crunchy and spicy, too, yummy! Plus, it was very easy to make, and I have lots leftover.

What kinds of things are you cooking up this week? I’m sure you’ll be seeing lots of my homemade meals this year (not promising they’ll all be healthy) and I’d love to hear what’s on your menu!

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Drool-worthy: ‘Cravings’.

Photo Credit: The Daily Meal

Photo Credit: The Daily Meal

I got lots of great gifts for Christmas this year – and I love when you actually get the change to start using the gifts you got, and see just how great they are! One thing I was really excited to get was Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook, “Cravings: Recipes for all the food you want to eat“.

Like her husband John Legend, most of us fell in love with Chrissy on Twitter – she’s the saucy, smart-mouthed chick we all wish we could be. And hey, it wouldn’t hurt if we could also have a body like hers and be a supermodel, jet-setting to the coolest places on earth. But, who’s jealous? Not me. Just kidding, so jealous!

If you follow Chrissy on Instagram, there’s a large possibility you’ve been hit with a pic of one of her amazing homemade concoctions, whether its the pan-roasted bacon, crispy baklava, or creamy tomator soup – it all looks delicious.

I sure thought it was cool that Ms. Teigen not only cooked, but was whipping up some impressive stuff! But the truth is, I didn’t really take her seriously until last Christmas, when John Legend bought her a massive cheese wheel so she could serve pasta, tableside.

If you’ve never been to Italy, perhaps you haven’t seen a cheese wheel in action – I haven’t been to Italy, either, but it is a method of serving pasta. The center is cut from a large cheese wheel, where warm pasta is placed. As the pasta is stirred, the fresh cheese melts into the pasta and then is served. Yum!

Chrissy’s excitement over the cheese wheel was perfection – I knew she was a real foodie. And in her cookbook, she talks a lot about her food experiences as a child; how she helped her mom in the kitchen from a very young age. She also was lucky enough to experience all sorts of foods from her Thai mom and American father.

“Cravings” reflects that, even featuring a Thai chapter with some of her mom’s recipes. And there’s tons of other unique things, such as a tuna casserole topped with jalapeno chips, and how to make a Frito pie bar. Yes!

…So, there’s way more than five recipes in the book that I’ll be cooking, but I didn’t want to give too much away. And probably a majority of these picks are clearly reflective of the fact that I’m still in my “Winter Body” phase and am in no hurry to get skinny. Oh well!

Did you get any cookbooks over the holidays? Or perhaps you’ve dusted off your old ones in attemps to tackle a New Year’s Resolution? I’d love to hear what recipes you’re working on this week (or year)!

My Thanksgiving menu.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

Thanksgiving is one week away! I know everyone is saying it – but it’s come up so fast, and before you know it, Christmas will be here! But, let’s not skip Thanksgiving, as it’s pretty much the most important meal of the year, and it’s truly a holiday to be savored.

I really do love Thanksgiving. Think about it, it’s a meal that embraces the flavors of fall, and we get two days off of work to celebrate it! Then there’s the Macy’s parade (complete with terrible lip syncing), the drinking… really, nothing beats it. 1014001_hm_holiday_hosting_associate_300x250

Today at work, we’re having our potluck Thanksgiving lunch. I’m not a fan of potlucks, but it is the company tradition that the CEO provides the turkey, so you can at least count on that. Last year, for my first Thanksgiving in Texas, I discovered that even on Turkey Day, Texans eat BBQ-style – the turkey was sliced and served with thick, white toast, BBQ sauce, and crinkle-cut pickles. Because why not?

I am hosting a low-key Thanksgiving meal this year, and wanted to share my menu with you, in hopes that you’ll find some new ideas for your table, even if it’s not for this meal in particular. Out of all the great recipes I’ve got in my stash for Turkey Day, it was really hard to choose a few for my menu, but here’s what I’m cooking up:

Starters: New Orleans Baked Brie

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

On Thanksgiving Day, I’m a really huge fan of having the large meal later in the afternoon, and serving up yummy, filling snacks and appetizers until then.

I am obsessive over homemade meat and cheese trays, serving various textures and ages of cheese with meats, mustard, olives, fruit, jam, and chocolate. It’s a perfect excuse to sip on wine while watching the parade and checking on the turkey.

If you want step-by-step help with building the perfect cheese tray, hop on over to What’s Gaby Cooking – she is always whipping up complex snack platters.

One thing I wanted to make this year was baked brie – it’s easy, delicious, and it’s really impressive.

I’m making a “New Orleans” baked brie, named because of my topping choice of pecans and Worcestershire sauce for a lil kick. Should be delicious.

For the baked brie, you’ll need a wheel of brie (any size will do), 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of mustard, and 1 cup of chopped pecans. If you want to wrap your brie in pastry, you will need to add a frozen sheet of puff pastry to your list, along with one egg, and a little bit of all-purpose flour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, wrap brie in foil, top with the mixed toppings, and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese gets soft (you don’t want it to melt).

If you’re baking it inside the pastry, you need to thaw the pastry, then wrap the brie with it, sealing the edges with the single beaten egg and brushing the top for browning. Bake in a 425 degree oven until golden brown.

Serve warm with sliced pears and apples, along with crackers, and pepper jelly if you really want to stick to that Southern theme.

Entree: Turkey & Cranberry Sandwich

Can't be a Thanksgiving sammy.

Can’t be a Thanksgiving sammy.

I found the recipe for this sandwich in the latest issue of Better Homes & Garden, which listed it as a way to spruce up your Thanksgiving Day leftovers. However, it seemed like the perfect entree for my low-key Turkey Day, as I was trying to find something that wouldn’t require me to bake a huge turkey and a ton of side dishes.

This sandwich captures nearly all the flavors of Thanksgiving – stuffing, cranberry, and turkey, all in one bite. I say, serve it up with some sweet potato fries and you’re good to go!

For the sandwich, you’ll need 1 cup of halved and sliced red onion, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 cup of cranberry sauce, 1/4 cup BBQ sauce, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, 3 cups shredded cooked turkey, pretzel buns or other sturdy bread, bibb lettuce, sliced mozzarella cheese, and sliced jalapenos, if desired (YES),

Cook and stir the onion in the oil over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the cranberry sauce, bbq sauce, and the chipotle. Add turkey, toss to coat, and heat throughout.

Add lettuce to the bottom half of the buns, and top with the turkey-cranberry mixture along with the sliced cheese. Add bun tops and serve with additional cranberry sauce and jalapenos. Yum!

Sides: Chopped Green Bean Salad

Green bean salad.

Green bean salad.

I love a green bean casserole, and this “salad” from Better Homes & Garden is a great twist on a classic that I’m really excited to try.

For this green bean salad, you will need 1 1/4 pounds of green beans cut into 1-inch pieces, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1/3 cup minced shallots, pinch of salt and pepper, 4 ounces of shredded manchego or parmesan, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 cups of cooked farro, 3/4 cups toasted almonds, 3/4 cup golden raisins, and 2 ounces of chopped manchego or parmesan.

Cook the beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes before transferring to ice water. In a blender, combine the vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper, along with the 4 ounces of cheese and olive oil. Blend until smooth and then add to the beans (after you’ve taken them out of the ice bath).

Finally, add the farro, almonds, golden raisins, and 2 ounces of cheese. Finished!

Dessert: Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

I am a sucker for pumpkin pie. Seriously, I love the stuff. But, I heard that a sweet potato pie is actually sweeter and more flavorful than pumpkin, so I want to give it a try. It better be good, or else I’l be running to the nearest open store Thanksgiving night to get my fix of pie!

Remember last year when everyone lost their shit over Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie at Wal-Mart? Truthfully, no one cared much about the desserts until a YouTube-r made a video of himself tasting the orange pie and broke out into song because it was so delish. See the video here – it’s worth it.

The video got more than 5 million views and Wal-Mart was selling out of Patti’s pies left and right, and Ms. LaBelle even expanded her dessert business to include other options, including apple cobbler and pecan cake.

So, I’m making my own sweet ‘tater pie and I hope it’s as good as Patti’s (even though I’ve never tried hers, or anyone’s). For this pie, you will need a piecrust, 1 1/4 pound of sweet potatoes, 1 cup of whipping cream, 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup of whole milk, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Prepare the piecrust as directed (I will probably get a frozen one) – although don’t let it get brown. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Wrap each tinfoil, and roast for about 70 minutes or until tender. Reduce oven heat to 375.

Let sweet potatoes cool before peeling and placing in a bowl and mashing with a potato masher. Combine the mashed potatoes with the cream, brown sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. You can use a food processor or a blender if necessary.

Pour the filling into the pie crust. Cover the crust edges with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes until evenly puffed. Let cool before serving.

And there’s my menu (aside from the wine, wine, and wine). What are you guys cooking for the big day?

Happy Election Day!

Happy Election Day! Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about the candidates or who you should vote for today. I know all of us have heard enough of that already, and many of us are just ready for it to be over. But no matter how annoying the campaign trail can be, nothing beats election day and the news coverage that follows it.

I know I love watching TV at pretty much any given moment, but I REALLY cannot wait to get home tonight and plop myself in front of the tube with a cocktail. I love seeing the prediction maps and calculating the “what if” electoral votes.

So, I’ve got a few things on my agenda for this 2016 Election Day. Of course, the top priority is to VOTE. I cannot say it enough: please do not let today pass without making your voice heard. Sure, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass, but it’s our priviledge to be able to vote – take it!

I voted early this year, for the first time ever! This was also my first time voting in Texas. I’ve voted previously in Louisiana, and have always voted on Election Day – I love the excitement of it. But it was still exciting this year, and I didn’t have to wait in line.

So, onto the other fun stuff! I’ve been catching up on “House of Cards” this past week, and finally watched seasons three and four. Below are my recaps.

‘House of Cards’ Seasons 3 Recap, Review

I got “House of Cards” season three for Christmas last year and started watching it right away. I got about halfway through it and realized, I was bored. It just wasn’t as riveting as the previous seasons.  So, I stopped watching it. But, a few months ago, I discovered the library had season four, so I put my name on the list to reserve it, and got to watching season three again (I started from the beginning, just in case).

FU 2016!

FU 2016!

Luckily, season three was a little better once I restarted it – I don’t think I was fully invested when I started it the last time, and if you’ve watched this show, you know you’ve got to pay attention to every little detail. Here’s the scoop from the DVD case:

In Season 3 of “House of Cards”, President Underwood fights to secure his legacy. Claire wants more than being the first lady. The biggest threat they face is contending with each other. This Emmy®-winning original thriller series stars Golden Globe® winner Kevin Spacey as ruthless and cunning Francis Underwood, who will stop at nothing to conquer the halls of power in Washington D.C. His secret weapon: his gorgeous, ambitious and equally conniving wife Claire (Golden Globe® winner Robin Wright).

Fair warning, there are spoliers ahead. I won’t be offended if you skip along – but you should watch this show!

At the start of the season Frank Underwood has secured his spot as President of the United States, and he’s already doing what he can to keep up appearances.

Poor Doug is in recovery, and Remy (hottness) is filling in as Chief of Staff in Doug’s absence. Claire has set her goal to be the Ambassador to the UN. Meanwhile, Doug enlists help to find Rachel’s whereabouts, and also breaks his sobriety.

Frank is set on his “America Works” program, which takes a huge amount of funding from FEMA and puts it into the job market, to create opportunities to employ more people. Naturally, this does not go over well at first, and takes several tactics to get it to pass.

While Claire does not get the nomination for Ambassador, she plans to override it. When U.S. gay activist is captured in Moscow. Claire and Frank fly to negotiate and see if they can help him get released. They agree on a statement the activist can say, which includes an apology, and he will be released. He refuses to say it, and Claire stays with him in his cell overnight, and he hangs himself while she sleeps.

This is probably one of the more important moments in the season, because Claire starts to detatch herself from Frank and his campaign. When she returns to the US, she speaks openly about her frustration with the Russian government, and blames them for the activist’s death.

Meanwhile, Doug has recovered and feels a bit left out from Frank and the team. He does some dirty work and provides Frank’s opposing candidate some dirt to throw on the Underwoods. When it works, he goes back to the White House and takes his job back. He also succeeds in finding Rachel, and sadly, he kills her.

As the campaign for Frank’s reelection contines, Claire joins Frank on the campaign trail… until she doesn’t. It’s clear she’s unhappy in their marriage, and a writer for Frank brings the point home when he writes that the only reason these two ended up together is because they wanted to succeed politically.

At the end of the season, Claire tells Frank she wants to separate.

On to season four! Here’s the scoop from the DVD case: They’ve always been a great team. But now in Season Four of “House of Cards”, Frank (Golden Globe TM Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Golden Globe TM winner Robin Wright) become even greater adversaries as their marriage stumbles and their ambitions are at odds.

I was on a list at the library for at least a month before I was able to check out season four, which was just last week. At this point, I’m halfway through and plan on finishing it this weekend. So far, it’s taken some veeerryy interesting twists and I’m certain it will end on a cliffhanger.

Nate Silver & FiveThirtyEight Election Forecast

Working as an SEO Analyst for the last year and change, my job is pretty much data, numbers, and statistics. So, yes, I know about Nate Silver – a statistician and a writer who currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of ESPN’s “FiveThirtyEight”.

Silver is known for his ability to predict the performance and careers of Major League Baseball Players, can foresee the outcomes of many a sport competition, and has predicted several of the last presidential elections based on state-by-state analysis.

Cool, huh? Silver has authored several books, his most well-known being “The Signal and the Noise“. He is also a part of three podcasts, “What’s the Point” covering the data age, “Hot Takedown” on sports numbers, and “Elections” covering the 2016 election.

In the 2012 presidential election, Silver predicted the winner of all 50 states. So, let’s see what he’s thinking will happen today (as of 10:26 am CST on Monday) – you can get live updates here. At the time of this writing, Silver is predicting that while the popular vote is quite even, Clinton will gain the electoral vote, giving her the presidency.

Nate Silver's predicted election map.

Nate Silver’s predicted election map.

All of the states I’ve lived in – Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana – are clearly Trump states, whereas Silver has predicted Clinton will win states on the west coast and in the northeast. Florida, Nevada, and North Carolina are a toss-up (however, Silver is predicting Trump takes Florida).

On Monday morning, Silver told “Good Morning America” that Clinton is favored 2-1 to win the presidency, despite Trump being the likely winner of Florida and North Carolina. We will just have to see, won’t we?

Festive Cocktails & Snacks

Yum!

Yum!

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to need a satisying snack to make it through hours of election coverage tonight.

I will never be the person who waits to get the result on Wednesday morning – I need to know ASAP, and I need to see the road to getting there, state by state.

So, I saw this recipe from Tablespoon for a festive red, white, and blue snack mix, and think it’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty – kind of like this entire election!

For this recipe, you will need 3 tablespoons of butter or margarine, 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, 3/4 a teaspoon of seasoned salt, 1/4 a teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/4 a teaspoon of onion powder, 4 1/2 cups of Corn Chex™ cereal, 2 cups of pretzels, 2 cups of mini marshmallows, 1 cup of red and blue chocolate candies, 1 pound of white almond bark, and red and blue gel food coloring.

In large microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on High about 30 seconds or until melted. Stir in seasonings. Gradually stir in cereal and pretzels until coated. Microwave uncovered on High 4 to 5 minutes, thoroughly stirring every 2 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes. Stir in mini marshmallows and chocolate candies, and toss to combine.

USA Sangria!

USA Sangria!

Divide the prepared Chex Mix™ into three even portions, and spread each portion in an even layer on a foil-lined plate or baking tray. Heat the almond bark in the microwave or in a double boiler until melted. Divide the almond bark into three equal servings. Color one serving with red gel food coloring. Color the second serving with blue gel food coloring. Then leave the third serving plain (white).

Drizzle each portion of Chex Mix™ with one color of chocolate. Then let cool for at least 15 minutes, or until the chocolate returns to room temperature. When it’s ready, toss together the three colors of Chex Mix™ until combined, and serve. Pretty easy! 

For my patriotic cocktail, I’m giving you my own recipe for white sangria! Simply mix a bottle of your favorite white wine with a cup of sugar, along with a can of lime seltzer water.

Pile in the fresh cut fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries will give this a red and blue twist. Feel free to add in your favorite berry vodka – I’m not a fan, so I prefer to skip that step. Serve chilled or over ice. Cheers!

Dealing with the Outcome

I know it might sounds silly, but it can be really upsetting when your candidate loses. I’ve had my candidate win, and I’ve had one lose. It’s emotional, as we are essentially pulling for the things we are passionate about, and we spend time choosing the one that’s going to make the country the one we want to live in.

Yesterday, USA Today released a 12-step plan to overcoming this type of loss. Step 1 is, of course, to scream. By step 2 though, it’s time to accept the outcome (not necessarily to like it). Step 3 is probably my favorite: take action. Just because your candidate lost, doesn’t mean you can’t help make a difference that you want to – look for opportunities to spread the word or to volunteer for the passion you’ve got.

Steps 4, 5, and 6, involve seeing the signs to know when you’re getting worked up over a specific conversation, creating an exit plan to get yourself out of the conversation, and to limit your exposure to possible conflicts in this arena, such as Facebook.

Step 7 – try to broaden your horizons and see the other side. Step 8 – build a support system of people who let you vent but refill you with positivity. Step 9: meditate. Step 10 – be thankful, even if it’s just for nice weather.

By step 11 you should get some perspective. Watch a movie or a TV show that lifts your spirits and helps you to understand that life will go on, and thins will be okay. And step 12: be a model of good behavior. No one wants to be the sore loser, right? Show others how to handle loss in a manner of grace.

…So, there you have it! I’m sure I’ll be Tweeting up a storm tonight, so feel free to join me @OrangeJulius7! Happy Election Day, everyone!

‘Tis the season… for chili.

All hail the perfect chili!

All hail the perfect chili!

So, fall is here, and I know it was official about two weeks ago, but it doesn’t ever feel real to me until I make my first batch of chili. Why? Well, because I love chili, I love making it, and it just seems like the perfect thing to have simmering on the stove or in your crock pot all day before curling around a bowl of it before the day’s end. Right? Plus, most chili is pretty healthy – and for that, I’m really thankful!

I made my first batch of chili on Sunday, and I happily made enough for me to eat leftovers all week – everyone knows leftover chili is even better than the first bowl! There’s so many different types of chili, and thousands of recipes out there, but I wanted to share three that I’ve made, and love, with you: a vegetarian option, my signature chili, and a paleo option. I’ve got it all!

Vegetarian: Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili

This is the recipe I made this weekend! It’s the first time I made this particular recipe, from “What’s Gaby Cooking”, but it was very similar to a recipe I had in my kitchen notebook from Self Magazine. At first thought, sweet potatoes don’t sound great for a chili option, but since they’re simmering in spices all day, they really don’t taste like sweet potatoes, and they end up adding to the texture, in a good way.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced (I definitely am too lazy so I didn’t peel mine)
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipolte pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes (I got the one with the chilis)
  • 1/2 cup dried quinoa
  • 4 teaspoons of lime juice
  • Any toppings: avocado, cilantro, cheese…

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat a large heavy bottom pot with the olive oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the sweet potato and onion and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is softened.
  3. Add the garlic, chili powder, chipolte, cumin and salt and stir to combine.
  4. Add the stock, tomatoes, black beans, and quinoa, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir everything to combine.
  5. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
  6. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the quinoa is fully cooked and the sweet potatoes are soft and the entire mixture is slightly thick.
  7. Add the lime juice and remove the pot from the heat. Season with salt as needed.
  8. Garnish with avocado, cilantro, cheese… and serve!

I definitely doubled this recipe so I’d have plenty of leftovers for the week ahead. I also wanted to note that I used my own vegetable stock – if you don’t already make your own stock, it’s really easy, saves money, and you know exactly what’s in it. Simply keep your “food trash” (i.e., chicken bones, carrot tops, celery stalks, onion ends) in a freezer bag in the freezer. Once the bag is full, dump it in a pot with water and salt and cook for as long as possible. Strain, and freeze! I haven’t bought stock in years, and it’s amazing how much you can use for chili, soups, and sauce bases.

Signature: Turkey & Bean Chili

I hate to play favorites, buuuuut this is my FAVORITE! Why? Because I have spent YEARS perfecting this recipe. I got the original recipe from Real Simple Magazine, and have been tweaking it along the way, so it has the best amount of heat, a nice dark color, rich flavor, and a thick texture. I love it! I know, all the guys are groaning at the turkey choice, but it takes to the spices so well, I just love it – plus, there’s bacon in there, too!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 slices bacon cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 pounds ground dark-meat (7% fat), turkey (NOTE: this is one tweak I’ve made. I get a lean turkey breast, and shred it once it’s cooked to get a thicker texture. But if you like ground meat, go for it!)
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic cloves
  • 2 medium fresh jalapeno chiles, ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) whole tomatoes in puree
  • 2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (If you don’t have molasses on hand, use brown sugar or honey)
  • Coarse salt
  • 3 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) pinto beans, drained and rinsed (I use dark red kidney beans)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, sliced pickled jalapeno chiles, reduced-fat sour cream, crumbled cornbread, grated cheddar cheese (all of these are optional toppings)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat a Dutch oven (or other heavy 5-quart pot) over medium heat. Add bacon; cook until crisp and brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Raise heat to high; add turkey. Cook, stirring and breaking up meat with a spoon, until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.

  2. Add onion, garlic, and jalapenos; cook until soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cocoa powder, and cumin; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute.

  3. Break up tomatoes with a spoon or your hands, and stir them in along with the puree. Add molasses, 1 cup water, and 4 teaspoons salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, partially covered, 30 minutes.

  4. Add beans; continue cooking, uncovered, until meat and beans are very tender, and chili is thick, about 30 minutes more. Serve with desired toppings.

So, I pretty much make all of my chili in the crockpot – that way, I don’t have to worry about the gas stove (I don’t like keeping it on longer than necessary), and I can store it right in the fridge. If you want to make this recipe crockpot friendly, cook the bacon and the chopped onions in a skillet before adding to the crockpot. I like to start the meat (turkey breast) in the oven, but that’s up to you.

Paleo: Spicy Chorizo Chili

Several years ago, I went Paleo for about three months. In general, I enjoyed the experience, and I really liked finding recipes that fit my diet and tasted delicious. This recipe was one I found online, and made it one night when I had some friends over. They were a little skeptical when I said it was “Paleo friendly”, but pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted. It’s definitely one for the books – and if you’re looking for something meaty to impress your guy, this one is for the win.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound of grass fed beef
  • 2 fresh chorizo sausage links, casings removed (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (omit if you want the chili less spicy)
  • 1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1 can of rotel, spicy was used but you can limit heat by using mild
  • 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon of cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • avocado, red onion, and cilantro optional for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium skillet brown off beef and chorizo.
  2. Drain and toss into a crock pot
  3. In the same skillet add 1 tsp of fat and cook the onions and garlic just until the onion get a bit of color. You can skip this step if you like and just throw it into the crock pot. I just like giving the onions a bit of color before putting them in the crock pot.
  4. Add remaining ingredients, stir together, and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6.
  5. Garnish with diced avocado, minced red onion, and cilantro.

If there’s a chili recipe you go-to every year, I’d love to know about it! I never get sick of this fall favorite, and I’m already looking forward to my next batch!

The skinny: What I’m eating.

Real Simple

Deep-dish pizza with turkey sausage and brussels sprouts.

Last week, I announced that I’m getting back on track with my life. I’m getting sleep (when possible), exercising six times a week via dance classes (and shopping, of course), and I’m eating right. So, this weekend, I pretty much took everything Trader Joe’s had and spent a lot of time in my kitchen prepping meals for the week.

If you’re anything like me, each new week presents a challenge of what to eat. Why? Because if I’m going to keep eating healthy (which I’m planning on it), then it’s got to be exciting – no eating chicken and veggies for every meal, because I’ve definitely done that, and although I looked great, I hated it.

So, I’ve found that eating something for lunch and then something different for dinner helps keep things fresh. I usually pick something easy to pack for my lunches, and then something perhaps a little more complicated for dinner, since I usually eat at home during the week. Here’s what I’m eating this week:

Breakfast: Pumpkin Waffles

No, I’m definitely not up making these suckers from scratch – I bought frozen pumpkin waffles from Trader Joe’s (they have pumpkin EVERYTHING out now). Pop two in the toaster, slice up a banana, drizzle with a little raw honey, and bam, breakfast is served!

Lunch: Salmon & Apple Salad Wrap

Salmon and apple salad wrap.

Salmon and apple salad wrap.

If you’re looking for easy, yummy, healthy recipes, sign up to get the email newsletter from Self magazine. I have found so many awesome recipes there, and this is my latest try.

INGREDIENTS

1 can (5 oz) skinless, boneless wild salmon

1/4 cup chopped apple

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

Black pepper

1/2 cup chopped lettuce

1 8-inch whole-wheat wrap

1/2 cup broccoli

3 tablespoons hummus

DIRECTIONS

In a bowl, mix salmon, apple, celery and red onion. In another bowl, combine vinegar, olive oil and honey; season with pepper; toss with salmon salad. Spread salad on whole-wheat wrap; top with chopped lettuce; roll up. Serve with broccoli dipped in hummus.

Please note that the recipe above is only for one wrap. To make a week’s worth, which I did, I completely eyeballed the ingredient-measurements and just tasted along the way. And yes, I even got hummus and veggies to eat with it! Yum!

Dinner: Deep-Dish Pizza with Turkey Sausage & Brussels Sprouts 

You might be thinking – okay, this isn’t really that “healthy”, but truthfully, it’s not so bad. I got this recipe from an old issue of “Real Simple”, and catered it to what I could find. I used whole wheat pizza dough and chicken sausge (because I already had some in my freezer), so it’s really a pretty wholesome meal. Plus, I love brussels sprouts!

INGREDIENTS:

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ pounds store-bought pizza dough, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup prepared pesto
  • 1½ cups shredded provolone (6 ounces)
  • ½ pound uncooked turkey sausage, crumbled
  • ½ pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 425° F with a rack in the lowest position. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
  2. Press the dough into the pan, covering the bottom and sides. Top the dough with the pesto, cheese, sausage, and Brussels sprouts. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
  3. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the sausage is cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Snacks & Extras

I’ve been going to dance after work for two hours at least three times each week. So, I definitely need a good snack in the late afternoon to keep me moving until 8pm when I can get home to that pizza. This week, I stocked my kitchen with the following:

  • Apple sauce with cinnamon
  • Celery (leftover from the salmon salad) and peanut butter
  • Organic nut & dried fruit mixes

Usually a combination of two of these, plus a cold can of La Croix, and I’m good to go.

Yaaaassss!!

Yaaaassss!!

I also did some baking over the weekend, as one of my coworkers found a new job. I wanted to get her a little goodbye gift, so I bought her a coffee mug and baked some decadent cookies to pack inside of it. And yes, I saved a few back for myself – remember to treat yourself! Plus, these things looked so good, I couldn’t resist. I made Double Chocolate Chip and Caramel cookies using a recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking:

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 ½ cup dark chocolate chocolate chips

½ cup caramel bites

1/2 cup Oven Roasted Sea Salt Blue Diamond Almonds, chopped

Maldon salt for dusting

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips, caramel bites and chopped almonds. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto parchment lined baking sheets and dust with Maldon salt.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are puffed. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
  4. Enjoy immediately, or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 weeks.

What are you cooking up this week?

Hand-Picked: Toga time.

Sorority recruitment (left); toga mixer with my big sis (right)

Sorority recruitment (left); toga mixer with my big sis (right)

Just in case you weren’t here yesterday… here’s the scoop on “Hand-Picked”:

I’m really excited to share a special series with you this week, “Hand-Picked”, because it’s exactly that: hand-picked memories in the form of photos (actual ones that were developed), notes, ticket-stubs, and other random findings I’ve kept over the course of my life thus far.

These are mementos I store in decorative boxes on shelves in my coat closet, and at times, I pull them down and spend hours looking through them, and remembering some of the best times in my life. What’s below are real, original things from my life, my home, and they have not been edited. They are not presented in any particular order, as I’m not that organized. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do, and perhaps you’ll start to travel down your own memorable past.

 

Holler for 8th grade yearbooks.

Holler for 8th grade yearbooks.

Yep, I still have my middle school yearbooks laying around! I started going to dance classes when I was in 7th grade, and made the school dance team in 8th grade. It became a big part of my life then, and all the way through high school. I took a 10-year break, and am right back in it! I will actually be performing on stage for the second time this year, in November!

Best card ever!

Best card ever!

Remember when “Awkward Family Photos” were popular? What happened to that? This is a birthday card one of my best friends, Angela, got me!

Another mixed CD...

Another mixed CD…

Apparently I made my then-boyfriend so many mixed CDs I had to label them by month! Looking at the songs now, I remember why I loved making these so much – I really tried to make them a true MIX and find different stuff to put on their. Austin and I both loved Marc Broussard:

And even went to see him live after we broke up (I’d gotten us tickets when we were still together), which was super awkward. We pretty much fought the entire drive there, got drunk at the concert, and then fought the entire way back the next day.

All sorts of goodies here!

All sorts of goodies here!

On the left, the bark-heart, is something my very first boyfriend (when I was 16) put on my doorstep one night – so cute! On the right, top, is my high school ID. The fact that we had to have IDs is comical to me, and its construction is really shitty, which makes it even better. Bottom right is my name tag from Ritter’s, one of my favorite jobs ever, and if there was a Ritter’s in Austin, I’d be working there. I really love that place!

...so sweet...

…so sweet…

In college, and for a little while afterward, I worked as a bartender, and met some pretty awesome people. One of my coworkers left Baton Rouge to volunteer in The Peace Corps. We were growing close when he left, so we wrote each other, and I sent him a few packages. I definitely feel like I missed the boat with this guy – he’s smart and really handsome – and he was off learning and doing all of these things to grow his knowledge of culture and I feel like I probably was beneath his intelligence level, and thinking about some of the things I said to him makes me sad. He’s married with a baby, and I will always wish him happiness.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Celebrating Halloween behind the bar! My coworkers called me “Hollywood”, so I ironed the letters on the back of my outfit, and the bar’s name on my hat. I always hated working near Halloween because patrons would come in the bar with masks on – and that is my biggest fear ever. Scariest mask I served? Donny Darko. YIKES.

The decision-maker.

The decision-maker.

This came in a birthday card I got a few years ago, and it’s one of those square-things that has the numbers on the inside, and you pick a number, count it out, and then ultimately your fortune, or your future is on the inside. A Justin Bieber future forecaster is all I needed!

A letter from my pen pal.

A letter from my pen pal.

I started learning French in 8th grade, at school, and as part of the program, we got pen pals in France. My pen pal and I shared a love for the Backstreet Boys, so she often sent me covers of the French-version of Teen Bop, along with general pictures and info about her life there. All of her letters were on colorful stationary, or decorated with sequins. I have kept them all!

Yes, those are TAPES.

Yes, those are TAPES.

I got a video camera for Christmas, I think my senior year in high school, and I used it to pretty much document everything, as you can see. I don’t have the camera anymore, but I saved the tapes – even though now I have no way of watching them… smart.

I’ll see you all tomorrow for a new batch of “Hand-Picked” goodies!

Affordable, delicious eats!

Vegetarian lasagna!

Vegetarian lasagna!

I am still on a very tight budget, although I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but as a foodie, lowering my budget on groceries has been tough. I love digging through my books and clippings of recipes, making a grocery list, and spending time cooking it… and of course, eating it. And, as you probably know, lately it seems like eating homemade meals is just as expensive as going out.

But my budget has only allowed for very simple, cheap meals, made from what I can find from the aisles of my local discounted grocer. And admittedly, many of those foods are less healthy, which is not something I am used to.

I went from eating mostly fresh, organic foods, to processed carbs, probably full of GMOs. But, before I sound like a privileged asshole, I have found a few meals I’ve enjoyed. I found that I can get most of my items on discount and then splurge on one “fresh” item at the grocery.

So, I made spaghetti -purchasing the noodles and sauce at Big Lots, and getting grass fed beef at the grocery. The entire meal was still under $10 and had at least 4-5 servings. I also made brown rice and beans, which I often ate with salsa and tortilla chips, I splurged on a rotisserie chicken, which I ate with baked sweet potatoes. I haven’t been eating out, so when I craved Chinese takeout, I made my own version of fried rice with brown rice, frozen stir fry veggies, and a fried egg on top (plus soy sauce and sriracha) – it was pretty good!

But last week, I saw a recipe in my email inbox from Bethenny/SkinnyGirl. It was for Vegetarian lasagna, with an added twist of pesto sauce. I decided to make it, provided the pesto and cheese wasn’t expensive.

To my surprise, all of the ingredients were very cheap! Almost all of them were at Big Lots – the whole wheat noodles, red sauce (which was optional in the recipe), and shredded mozzarella. I went to the grocery for the pesto, which was $1.99 for the store-brand, and the ricotta, which was also around $2. The entire meal was around $10, and offers at least 5 servings, and it is delicious!

I had fun actually making something from a recipe, and eating something that I know wasn’t absolutely terrible for me. Here’s the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

– 8 ounces whole wheat lasagna noodles
– 15 ounces part-skim ricotta
– 1/3 cup chopped basil
– 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (I left these out, and threw in a handful of spinach I already had)
– 1/3 cup packaged pesto
– 4 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella

Optional: Add your favorite red sauces between layers

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Set aside.
  2. Combine the ricotta, basil, and pine nuts in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray. Spread 1/3 of the pesto into the bottom of the pan. Cover with half the noodles. Spread half the herb-ricotta mixture over the noodles.
  4. Repeat with another 1/3 of the pesto, the remaining noodles, and the remaining ricotta-herb mixture, then cover the whole thing with the pesto. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top.
  5. Bake for 30 – 45 minutes or until heated through and bubbling.

If you’ve got go-to, budget-friendly meals, I’d love to hear about them!

Single Girl Recipe: (Paleo) Lemon chia seed muffins.

Mine didn't quite look this cute...

Mine didn’t quite look this cute…

Over the weekend, I was in search of simple – and cheap, if not free – joys. I’m sure I’ll talk more about this at some point, but I’m currently in a personal budgeting crisis. At the same time I lost two of my good freelance gigs, I owe a massive tax bill,  like now.

Money stresses  me out more than anything, and every extra penny I’ve got must go to paying off this bill. So, I needed to have a weekend full of free stuff (I see a lot of weekends like these in my near future).

On Friday night,  I hit up the laundromat, which didn’t cost me anything since I had money loaded up on my Washatopia card. Score! I did go to the grocery store afterward, as I needed eggs and something to drink at the pool on Saturday. I found this organic cucumber-lime and chile Italian soda that I figured would go perfect with some tequila I had in my freezer. I escaped the store in $7.

On Saturday, I spent a little time looking for freelance work, and then I hit the pool. I packed a small cooler with some snacks – chips, hummus, cheese, and grapes – and enough tequila and Italian soda for three large drinks.

For two hours, I was the only one there. I sat, and I read – finishing one book and starting another. I stayed out there for almost five hours. Cost: $0 and I even improved my tan.

I came home and tended to my plants, replanting some grass for Blanche, watering all the other plants, and sweeping the patio. I also made dinner instead of going out – I made brats and fries – and had a few beers that were already stashed away in my fridge. I watched a few episodes of “Dexter” before I was sufficiently freaked out (I only have a few more episodes before I’ve watched the entire series twice) and had to switch to “The Vanilla Ice Project”.

On Sunday, I slept in, enjoyed some coffee, searched for more writing jobs, and then I went to a library that’s pretty close to my house. I’d been there once before to tutor someone, and it’s really nice. I decided to get a library card and spend a few hours hunting for more good reads for Blanche’s Book Club.

The library is really nice, but I will say they checked my address twice to make sure I actually lived within the district. I had no clue libraries were so exclusive. After about an hour of searching, I got “The Friday Night Knitting Club” by Kate Jacobs and “The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating” by Carole Radziwill.

I spent the remainder of Sunday reading, looking for writing gigs, cooking, and I baked these paleo lemon chia seed muffins to eat for breakfast during the week. I found the recipe on The Iron You, and I’ll say that even though he calls them Coconut Lemon Chia Seed muffins, there is no coconut flavor in them.

They were pretty easy to make, and for paleo muffins, they turned out delicious – better than anything I tried to bake when I was actually on the paleo diet. The only other thing I’ll say is that my batch didn’t rise that much, so they look like “half muffins”. I will probably make another batch, and I think I’ll use the mini muffin tin to make them look more muffin-y.

The good news? One muffin is 92 calories, with only 3g carbs and 3g of protein! Yes!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup of coconut flour
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • Pinch of fine grain sea salt
  • Zest of two lemons
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of milk of your choice (I used coconut)
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of coconut oil, melted

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine coconut flour, chia seeds, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, milk, honey, coconut oil, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix very well until fully incorporated, the mixture has thickened, and there are no clumps of coconut flour left. Pour the batter into the lined muffin tins, 3/4 the way to the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Carefully remove from muffin tin and let cool on a wire rack. Makes 12 muffins.

Let me know if you make these muffins, or have any other great healthy recipes!