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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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Road Trip: Baton Rouge edition.

Louisiana oak trees.

I took a road trip to Baton Rouge this weekend. Yes, it’s a route I’ve traveled many times before – however, I haven’t done it in a whole year. Truthfully, because I kept having to make that trip before (because of CASA volunteer obligations), I’m sure I turned myself off of it.

But when a friend announced he was making a big move (13+ hours away), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to hop in the car and go for a drive.

I needed a place to stay for one night, so I slapped in on Facebook, and within one minute I had an offer from a sorority sister whom I haven’t seen in several years. I took her up on her offer, and spent Friday night doing a little baking, packing road trip snacks (fruit, cheese, trail mix, of course), and packing my clothes.

I’d also given my car a little love with an extensive oil and three-filter change, plus a tire repair, and even a tire replacement. I was ready!

I hit the road at 8am on Saturday, which would put me in Baton Rouge around 3pm provided there wasn’t much traffic or bad weather. I’ve made this trip so many times to know it rarely takes the 6.5 hours Google Maps says.

But, I was in no hurry. I didn’t have to be anywhere specific until 9pm, so whatever. I used the car time to catch up on my favorite Radio Andy shows: Reality Checked, Jim Parsons is Too Stupid for Politics, and Dan Rather’s America.

I also listened to some Dispatch I got from the library (I’m seeing them in concert next week), and made it about halfway through an audio book.

The drive from Austin to Baton Rouge is mostly farm land – especially during the Texas half of the trip. Lots of cows, steers, and neatly rolled hay. I am a sucker for these types of views.

I made it to Baton Rouge a little before 3:30, and was so happy to see my hostess, Sarah, along with her son – both of whom had just survived his birthday party. We spent the afternoon visiting, and were treated to pork chops from Iverstine Farms, along with some fancy rose Sarah discovered on Instagram. It was a perfect Saturday evening.

Already buzzed, I headed to the goodbye gathering at a nearby bar, where I took advantage of the cheap, local beer. I do miss Abita!

It was fantastic to visit with my friend and see some familiar faces, I didn’t realize just how much I needed that feeling of comfort – that feeling of home.

The fact is, I wasn’t born and raised in Louisiana. I’m from Indiana, where I’m traveling at the end of this week. And while I have spent years calling Indiana home, I don’t know if that word is the right one.

Yes, I spent 18 years there. But I spent 12 in Louisiana. And you know… I grew up, big time, in Louisiana. I survived a culture shock, had my first serious heartbreak (on top of many others), endured multiple hurricanes, got my first apartment, my first job out of college… it’s easy to say that a lot of things about me where shaped in Louisiana.

So many of my friends there are like family, and when 95% of my family doesn’t talk to me – friends are all I’ve got.

I don’t regret leaving Baton Rouge – it needed to happen, for the sake of my career, my creativity, and still for my sanity. And I know the chances of living in Louisiana again are slim-to-none. But it’s always going to hold a really special place in my heart.

I left Baton Rouge at 10am on Sunday – and was met with some pretty heavy traffic and construction on the drive back. Pair that with a decent headache from my Saturday festivities (when in Baton Rouge…), and it made for a less than stellar trip, but I made it safe, and I even got a Diet Cherry Coke – so we’re putting that down as a WIN in my book.

It was a quick and fun weekend – a much-needed, heart-fulfilling trip. I’ve got another one coming up this week, and well, I’ve been sort of harboring the story around that for awhile. I’ll spill it here later (this week), but I’ve still got to find the words to explain it.

So, cheers to tired Mondays – as long as the soul is full.

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…

Yep, I just geeked out over groceries.

Introducing Whole Foods’ 365 stores.

Friday after work, I decided to venture slightly north to an area of Texas I’ve come to know well – Cedar Park, near where the Texas Stars hockey team plays. I’d recently learned about a new store opening there, a 365 by Whole Foods Market.

So, I took the 20 minute drive and ended up in a new, really nice shopping center, complete with the freshly minted market. Supposedly, the 365 versions of Whole Foods are a test for the company, and the one in Cedar Park is one of five in the country. These stores are smaller, and house more of the 365 brand products, and are supposedly more affordable than the Whole Foods megastores we’re used to.

I went to the store with a list of things I needed for the week, but also kept the mindset that if they didn’t have what I needed, I’d just get what looked good and hit up my usual H.E.B. later. As I was walking up to the store, I noticed nearly all of the picnic tables outside were filled with people having dinner and drinking fresh juice.

Once I got inside, I could see why: the store had two counters to order food, pizza sold by the slice, ready-made sushi, a coffee counter, and a Juice Land. Major score for those living nearby, and especially for those working inside the shopping center.

At first, I was thinking the place looked a little small (like a Trader Joe’s) and there was no way they were going to have the things I needed. But, I grabbed the produce I needed and then thoroughly checked out the bulk aisle, where I got a big bag of trail mix for $6.

Next up was meats and frozen goods, where they had a bin of Mochi – a Japanese treat made from rice flour. I had never seen it before – it looks like a bath bomb – but I Googled it immediately. Hmm, ok, cool, they’ve got new things here, I thought.

As I left the olive bar, I discovered there was an entire other side to the store that had aisles, along with a section for fresh-baked goods. I went down every aisle, checking things off my list one-by-one. I even picked up a few unique bottles of wine, and got some decently healthy crackers for the salmon salad I planned on making.

But, the geeking out didn’t truly happen until I rounded the corner for the ready-made aisles. There was the sushi (a favorite of mine – I love the rolls with brown rice), and also ready-made meals from Snap Kitchen.

And then, there, under the light from the heavens was the section for cold coffees and energy drinks. For the first time ever, I saw it: Blue Bottle Coffee – right in front of my face.

“Oh my God,” I whispered under my breath. “It’s here!”

There’s only three Blue Bottle locations in the US – two are in California and one is in the Northeast. I discovered it via Instagram and have only drooled over the thought of the stuff given its hefty price tag and that I’d have to have it shipped. But there, on the shelf, was their NOLA iced coffee packaged in small milk cartons, right beside little cans of their cold brew.

It took every ounce of my insides not to do two things: 1. squeal with delight, and 2. put my arm on the shelf and slide it across it in a manner that would place all 40 cartons and cans into my cart.

It was then I realized my life has really turned a corner: There I was, 7pm on a Friday, Cinco de Mayo, and I was talking to myself over gourmet cold brew. Sing it with me, “I don’t know about you, but I’m feelin’ thirty twoooo-o-o-o-o!”

Amirite?

My geeking out didn’t stop there, because I soon discovered bottles of Picnik’s paleo butter coffee, along with a wide collection of Evolution’s pressed juices.

Needless to say, my fridge is really happy right now… even opening it makes me smile. As I write this, I’ve been eating olives from the olive bar, cheese, sesame crackers, salami, and sipping some sangiovase rose. It’s fantastic.

So there. I don’t know how often I’ll make the trek (and fork over the money) to hit up the 365 Market, but it sure was fun while it lasted… and now I have the joy of eating all this delish, healthy stuff!

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!

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!

These chefs are on fire!

When is it not an okay time to think (and write) about hot chefs? I can’t quite recall what spurred the need for this post – perhaps that one of my favorite chefs was on this season of Top Chef, and was sadly one of the first to go (there’s always “Last Chance Kitchen”, though, no spoilers!).

I used to have this crush (okay, if I saw him today it would still be real, let’s be honest) on a chef that worked near where I lived in Baton Rouge. He made delicious, impressive, modern food that I loved, and he had fantastic, distinguishing tattoos – a mark of the culinary world I secretly love.

Chefs – they cook, they eat, sometimes have tattoos, and are sometimes sexy. Let’s go!

Chef Roble Ali

Known to many as simply “Chef Roble”, I first became aware of him on his Bravo TV series, “Chef Roble & Co”, which debuted in 2011. The show was mainly about his catering company, which often catered huge events surrounding celebrities.

The show also touched on the fact that Roble is super attractive, and during the show’s taping, he had a long-distance girlfriend, but could basically have anyone he wanted.

In the culinary world, he’s known for his Brooklyn street food, and for being young, talented, and charismatic. He lives, and apparently skateboards, in Brooklyn.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Michael Voltaggio 

You may recognize this chef as the winner from season 6 of “Top Chef”, where he beat his brother, Brian. While they were very competitive on the show, the pair wrote a pretty serious cookbook together called “VOLT Ink“.

Although he never went to culinary school (!), he’s earned himself a Michelin star, after years of learning the ropes by working alongside top chefs for years.

He owns two restaurants in Los Angeles: ink. and ink.sack – where ink. is New American, ink.sack. is known for its well-priced sandwiches.

Sam Talbot

Sam is the chef that I was SO excited to see on this season on “Top Chef”, after he’d been on two previous seasons. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and lives in Brooklyn. Hells yes.

Although Sam is known for his cooking, he’s also known for the fact that he has diabetes, and he works to help others who have it, too. He started a non-profit called Beyond Type 1, which helps to raise awareness around diabetes and help erases the stigma.

He also has a cookbook, “The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries“.

He has served as executive chef at many impressive restaurants in New York City, but owns Pig + Poet in Camden, ME, along with The Surf Lodge in Montauk (which he supposedly left), and has a new restaurant, Pretty Southern, in Brooklyn.

Michael Chernow

I’ll be honest here, at first glance, I wasn’t sold on Mr. Chernow. But… he’s known for his fantastic meatballs. No, seriously. He owns The Meatball Shop, which started in New York City, but now has six locations spread across New York.

I’ve never eaten one of Chernow’s meatballs, but I do know him from the show “Food Porn” on the Cooking Channel. The show goes inside restaurants that are popular on social media to see what the hype is about, and gets the scoop on their most popular recipes and dishes. It’s how I found out about Hopdoddy and Frank’s, right here in Austin!

If you can’t get to New York any time soon, you can make your own delish meatballs with Chernow’s cookbook from The Meatball Shop.

…There you have it, my roundup of hot chefs. Got any you’re admiring? Or maybe doctors are your thing? Police officers?

The only downfall about a chef is… technically they work in the service industry, and it’s really difficult to date someone in that industry without also working in it. The hours, the stress, the workload… it’s a lot. But, a girl can dream!

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)!

BBC: ‘Black Heels to Tractor Wheels’.

Hey, hey! I am back at the office today, and wow is that whole come-down after Christmas ROUGH. It’s like this month-long build up for a single day and then, it’s over. It’s honestly how I imagine me meeting John Mayer for the first time, only on a 16-year scale, with devastating disappointment (don’t tell him I said that though).

The good news is, there’s another long weekend on the horizon, so there’s that to look forward to – wow, my life isn’t pathetic or anything.

But! I did get some reading done over my lil Christmas break, and I’m really excited to talk about Blanche’s Book Club’s latest read, “The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels” by Ree Drummond.

I’ve had this book on my list for awhile, but I sort of forgot about it until I stumbled upon it at the library when I was looking for something else. I couldn’t put off reading it any longer; I figured I could probably use a good (and TRUE) love story in my life. Here’s the scoop from Amazon.com:

Wildly popular award-winning blogger, accidental ranch wife, and #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) tells the true story of her storybook romance that led her from the Los Angeles glitter to a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma, and into the arms of her real-life Marlboro Man.

I came across Ree, or “The Pioneer Woman”, for the first time on Food Network, and I came to absolutely love watching her show, “The Pioneer Woman”. She lives on a gorgeous ranch in Oklahoma, and she makes fairly simple (yet delicious) dishes for her family and friends. I’ve made her enchiladas many times, and they never fail to delight!

Her husband, Lad, makes some appearances on the show, and he is very handsome, and he seems really genuine and kind. So, I wasn’t surprised when I read this book and heard the many times she described him as such, only she referred to him as the “Marlboro Man”.

In fact, the book reflected what I assume to be her real-life personality, because it was just how she acts on the show. However, true fans of this Pioneer Woman may have been just as surprised as I was to learn that she was once a big city gal, living in Los Angeles, working in corporate America, drooling over high-end designer clothes, and spending her nights out guzzling martinis. Who would have thought?!

But she did, until her life took an unexpected turn and she ran into this Marlboro Man one night in her home town. A month later, they went on a date… and they’ve basically been inseparable ever since. This is really a love story that touched my heart; one that I really needed to read.

One theme that’s brought up a lot in this book is something I’m still learning and trying to understand about love: that it doesn’t matter how much you embarrass yourself, how silly you are, whether or not your mascara is perfect, or in Ree’s case, just how much you sweat through a gorgeous suit, the one you’re meant to be with is still going to LOVE you.

I’m really glad I got to read this lesson in this way – because Ree’s story is really beautiful, and the way she tells it is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

Another cool part about the book is that, of course, Ree talks a lot about food! While it doesn’t quite explain how she got involved in her cooking blog and her show, she discusses the meals she made for Lad when they were dating – many of which she flubbed due to nerves, or simply because she wasn’t an experienced home cook yet.

The back of the book contains recipes for most of the recipes she mentioned, but one stuck out to me the most – the Tagliarini Quattro Formaggi from Intermezzo in West Hollywood. Since angel hair is my FAVORITE form of pasta, I knew I was going to have to replicate this dish… so don’t be shocked if you see it on my social media feed in the near future. But, just in case you want to make it, too, here’s the recipe:

INGREDIENTS: 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 pound of tagliarini or angel hair pasta, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/2 cup of grated fontina cheese, 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of grated romano cheese,  4 ounces of goat cheese, salt and pepper to taste, 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 1 garlic cloved, halved.

DIRECTIONS: warm the cream in a saucepan over low heat. Prepare the pasta according to package direction, but undercook it just a little so it’s al dente. Drain the pasta and return to the pot and add butter. Next, add the warm cream, and all of the cheeses. Stire gently, allowing the cheese to melt and coat the noodles. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add the nutmeg. Stir to combine. Rub the bowls you’re serving in with the garlic, before scooping the pasta into the bowls. Yum!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman. Read it with us by following and chatting right here on the blog or on social media @OrangeJulius7. Happy reading, y’all!

My grownup Christmas list.

Naturally pretty.

Naturally pretty.

This isn’t about the Christmas song entitled “Grownup Christmas List”, where the singer (it’s been covered by many different ones over the years) wishes for world peace, healed hearts, togetherness, love, and friendship. Of course, I want ALL of those things + some.

But, today I’m talking about my material Christmas list – what I sent to Santa. I didn’t think much about what was on the list until one of my friends told me she laughed at what she told her parents to get her – “grownup things”. Hmmm, I looked over my list. It sure looks different from the lists I wrote as a kid, but I’m okay with it, and I’d venture to say I’m just as excited about these items as I was then. So, here’s what I asked for this year:

Lighted Mirror – For daily use, I’m good with my standard bathroom mirror. However, when I need to pluck my eyebrows or stare at my pores, I need more lighting! I also want something I can use pre-performance; I’ve learned by now that the lighting backstage is subpar. Here’s a portable light up mirror from Conair.

“Cravings” by Chrissi Teigen – If you’ve been following Ms. Teigen on Instagram over the years, you KNOW she is always whipping up something so delicious, it makes you wonder just how she keeps that model body. Amirite? According to the book’s description, her first cookbook has got recipes from fried chicken and Thai classics to breakfast and salads. Grab your copy here!

Birchbox Subscription – I’ve had a subscription to Birchbox for a few years now, and I can’t imagine my life without it! Each month, I get a small box that contains at least five luxury samples, based on my custom profile. This way, I can try beauty and lifestyle products before I decide to buy them. Over the years my Birchbox has sent me candles, perfume, hair care products, makeup, and nail polish, among other items. It’s a fun thing to get in the mail each month! Subscribe, or gift a subscription to your favorite guy or gal, here!

Glass Food Containers – I don’t know about you, but I’m freaking SICK of plastic tupperware containers. I pack my lunch five days a week, and I don’t think my little containers ever get as clean as they could be, and who knows what sort of chemicals go into my food when I pop the plastic sucker into the microwave. I’m ready to upgrade to glass, even if it means a heavier lunchbox. Here’s a set of various glass containers and lids from Glasslock.

“Hatching Twitter” by Nick Bilton – I’m teaching a course on Twitter Tips in March and I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the platform before then. I stumbled across this book by listening to a podcast, and cannot wait to read it! Supposedly, there was a lot of greed and betrayal in creating Twitter, and this is the first book to spill the beans. Get your copy here.

Donut Baking Pan – I always see the cutest donuts when I’m scrolling through Instagram, and while most of them are from bakeries, why not make them at home (and make them a tad healthier)? With my very own donut pan, I can turn all sorts of flavors into delicious donuts! Here’s a pan that fits one dozen of the yummy suckers.

Various Facial Masks – If you follow me on SnapChat (@OrangeJulius7), you know I love to test any kind of face mask – sometimes multiple in a single night! I really like to live on the edge 😉 I am always looking to expand my collection of face masks to keep my skin looking fresh. Here’s a pack of 11 sheet masks I found for just $10!

Over-Ear Headphones – You probably know that I’m OBSESSED with podcasts (and recently downloaded the Sirius XM app), and I listen to them all day long at work. Well, earbuds are starting to really hurt my ears, so I need a solid pair of earphones that block outside noise. Check out these cool white ones.

Various Makeup Sponges – I know the Beauty Blender is ALL the rave, but I like to try different things when it comes to makeup. And life. For awhile I was going with the brush sets to apply makeup and now I want to see if there’s a good sponge that will work better. Here’s a pack of various-shaped sponges, for just $5!

Rechargeable/Battery-operated Vacuum – I’ve lived in an apartment for 9 years, and one of the biggest downfalls is not being able to plug in your regular vacuum and use the attachments to clean out your car. Amirite? Because it’s like $10 to use the vacuums at the car wash. So, I need a portable vacuum. Here’s one that plugs into the cigarette lighter – smart!

…And there you have it, my Christmas list! I’d love to know what you all are wishing for this year, too!

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?

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?

See ya, summer!

Love that sky.

Love that sky.

They say that summer is a state of mind, and if you want to, it can be summer all year long. I suppose that’s why beach towns and tropical islands seem to have a different way of life – things seem a little more laid back.

I certainly loved summer as a kid; and through my teens – summer meant freedom and fun. Early mornings were for fishing or making it to the lake for a good spot to layout. Nights were for country drives and cool swims.

This was my first summer in Texas, and I can say with experience, that it was mighty hot. My fantasy of laying out at the pool each weekend quickly melted when the temperature was an easy 106, with a heat index of 112. No, thanks.

And truthfully, it was anything but easy. Work was busier than ever – here I thought these were going to be the lazy days, and it was more work than I’ve ever experienced. I also worked a lot on the weekends, paying literally thousands of dollars to the government, in the form of tax money and money for registration and all my Texas paperwork.

It’s all nearing an end, very soon, and I’m not sad about it. I can easily say I’m ready for a cool breeze; ready to shut off my AC.

Sure, summer is fun, but I easily love fall. I know many of us will be spending this weekend saying goodbye to summer, and I’ve got a few thoughts in mind over it.

I can say I unfortunately spent a majority of these warmer months upset over a guy, and working on my self-confidence. But I had a few things happen over the last few weeks that are moving things along quite a big faster.

It started with a dream I had about the guy in question. We were together in person, just talking. I asked him why he never responded to the message I sent him, and he told me that at first, he wanted to write me back. But, then he just realized that he hated me.

And while no one wants to be hated, and I have no basis of this being true, I know he won’t talk to me again, and the dream gave me this great sense of closure. There is nothing left for us.

So, last Friday night I was watching “Million Dollar Matchmaker” and Patti’s guest was Ashley (known for her endless tears on “Bachelor in Paradise). Ashley was still hung up on a guy from the show; a guy who put her in the friend zone and barely talked to her.

Patti explained to her that the worry over this friend zone guy was taking up room for the real Mr. Right. “You’re crying over some guy that won’t even talk to you!” Patti said to her, and I felt like she was talking to me. It is so true, and all I needed to hear – weird, I know. But, we can’t worry about those that don’t like us; only the ones that do.

So for me, saying farewell to summer is also about letting go of that guy, and all the guilt and frustration that came with him. Fall is coming; I’m going to enjoy this last official weekend of summer – even though it will no doubt be hot in Austin for at least another month or so.

Watermelon mojito popsicles!

Watermelon mojito popsicles!

How will I celebrate? For starters, I’m whipping up some “Adult Popsicles” – technically, I’m making them for a beach trip next weekend, but I’ll have to at least taste them, right? In one of my email newsletters, Fresche Squeezed, I talked about making upscale jello shots, but I keep seeing frozen cocktails turned into popsicles, so why not? I found this article from Huffington Post that links to 20 boozy popsicle recipes, including peach sangria and a dark and stormy! Yum!

I’m going to make the Costa Rican Watermelon Mojito popsicles – which seem so easy; a simple blend of fresh watermelon, lemon juice, simple syrup, white rum, and fresh spearmint leaves. You can use a standard popsicle mold, or make these pops portable with these zip-top heavy-duty bags (just like the Freeze Pops you remember as a kid, only with BOOZE).

What else will I do this weekend? If it’s sunny, but bearable, I’ll hit the pool with a book – and don’t worry, Blanche’s Book Club will still be in full swing come fall. There is also a free day of yoga not too far from my apartment, so maybe I will get my butt out of bed and check that out!

Lately, I’ve been slightly obsessed with food blogger Gaby, from “What’s Gaby Cooking?” – I stumbled upon her on SnapChat, and she does a weekly “Snapisode” where she shows you how to cook something fabulous. Last Friday, she made a peach and tomato panzanella with burrata, and she was saying how peaches and nectarines are going out of season, so she wanted to use them up from the farmer’s market.

This salad she made looked DELISH, and very easy! A panzanella is an Italian summer salad, usually made with tomatoes, day-old bread, and a simple vinaigrette; everything else is pretty much up to you! Gaby used peaches and nectarines (she said any stone fruit is good), heirloom and cherry tomatoes, burrata from Trader Joes, plus orange champagne vinaigrette (also from TJ’s), chunks of bread (go for a really sturdy bread), olive oil and basil leaves.

Simply toss the cubed bread in olive oil and toast it, wedge the fruit and tomatoes (halve any baby tomatoes), tear the basil leaves and the burrata, and simply plate it! It looks so good and I bet it tastes just like summer – it is just the excuse I need to go to one of these fantastic Austin farmer’s markets!

Who knows what else I’ll get into, but I’m down to have this one last weekend of summer, and then make the switch to fall; something new.

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!

What I would cook for Patrick Cantwell.

You may have recalled my mention of the Mr. Patrick Cantwell after I attended my first Round Rock Express game over Memorial Day Weekend. Cantwell is a fine, fine looking catcher and isn’t so bad at batting, either. He’s 26, from New York, and I wouldn’t mind cooking him dinner… more than once.

Sure, I bet he lives in the Austin/Round Rock area and could get a delicious meal just about anywhere – there is a Salt Lick right outside of the stadium, afterall. But who doesn’t love a good, homecooked meal?

And that, my readers, is what I’d like to give away today: organic ingredients for meals delivered right to your door, for FREE! I’ve been ordering from Green Chef for six months now, and I love it. You get to choose how many meals (by meal they mean serving) you want delivered, and set your preferences. You can change your food preferences as often as you want, or skip weeks if you’re not feeling it, and there’s NO penalty for it.

I generally have my preferences set on “omnivore” and I get ingredients for 6 meals each week; however, most of the time, it ends up being enough ingredients for 9 meals. Usually the box (which is right on my doorstep and packed with ice packs) has two recipes with meat, and one vegetarian. Some of my favorite meals I’ve gotten so far include:

  • Shrimp Fettucine Alfredo with Tomatoes and Snap Peas
  • Poached Tuna Salad, with Spinach Salad and Olive & Red Pepper Couscous
  • Chickpea Shawarma Salad, with Cucumber & Tomato Millet, Olives & Pine Nuts
  • Sweet & Sour Chicken with Black Quinoa, Edamame, Ginger, Pineapple & Pepper
  • Greek Gyro Flatbread with Baba ghanoush, Ground Beef, Tzatziki & Feta
  • Pumpkin-Stuffed Shells with Spinach & Walnut-parsley Pesto, Orange-chard Salad

So, you’ll get the ingredients and then you cook the meals at your leisure. All of the ingredients are pre-measured, and organized with color-coordinated labels. Some of the ingredients are even prepped for you (chopped, mixed, etc.), so it makes the meals pretty fool-proof. But seriously, no catch with the free meals – I really just want other people to try this delicious stuff!

I have one free gift to give away, so if you’re interested, shoot me your email address using the form at the bottom of this post. I’ll draw numbers tonight at 10pm Central time, and the winner will get an email from me with your code for the free meals.

In the meantime, I’ve got the recipe for this fantastic burger I’m going to make for Patrick Cantwell on our fantasy date, where of course, he’s going to fall madly in love with me.

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 ounces grass-fed ground beef
  • 2 whole-wheat hamburger buns
  • 2 slices nitrate-free bacon
  • Onion & shallot
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • ⅓ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Honey-mustard balsamic vinegar
  • Slaw dressing
  • Carrots & cabbage
  • Scallions & celery

DIRECTIONS

Place carrots and cabbage in a medium bowl. Thinly slice scallions at an angle; discard root end. Small dice celery into about ¼-inch pieces. Add scallions and celery to bowl. Drizzle with slaw dressing to taste. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat.

Cut root end off onion; remove peel. Cut into about ¼-inch thick slices. Heat about 1 tablespoon cooking oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; stir. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 4 minutes, or until edges brown, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 8-10 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut ends off shallot and remove peel; mince. Halve grape tomatoes. Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add shallot to hot pot; stir. Cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes, or until tomatoes begin to soften, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, place ground beef in a large bowl. Add mozzarella cheese. Season with about ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Mix to evenly distribute cheese. Form into two patties, about ½-inch thick. Halve bacon widthwise.

Add honey-mustard balsamic vinegar to pot with tomatoes. Fill container halfway with water; pour into pot. Stir. Cook 5-6 minutes, or until liquid has reduced by at least half, stirring occasionally. Gently smash tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 tablespoon cooking oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add burgers to hot pan. Add bacon to pan around burgers. Cook burgers 5 minutes on each side, or to desired doneness. Cook bacon alongside burgers until crispy, flipping as needed. Transfer bacon and burgers to a paper towel-lined plate.

Meanwhile, turn oven to high broil with rack 6-8 inches from the top. Cut whole-wheat hamburger buns open. Place on a baking sheet cut-sides up. Broil 2-3 minutes, or until toasted. Crumble (or roughly chop) bacon. Add to bowl with slaw. Toss to combine.

Divide caramelized onion between bottom buns and top with Memorial Day mozz burgers. Spoon tomato jam over burgers. Finish burger with top bun. Serve with bacon slaw on the side. Enjoy!

When I cooked this meal for myself, I ended up putting the bacon on the burger, instead of in the slaw – because bacon on a burger was just a match meant to be. So, enter the giveaway – and, if you don’t win, you can still get a HUGE discount on your first Green Chef order by using my link here.