Three of my Favorite Skillet Recipes

Three of my Favorite Skillet Recipes

There’s nothing that seems more official to me in the kitchen than cooking on the stove in your cast iron skillet, and then throwing it in the oven to roast.  I don’t know why, but the whole process reminds me of being on a fast-paced cooking show.

Cast iron skillets are an extremely versatile tool to use in the kitchen, and I just purchased my first one last weekend.  They’re a little bit high maintenance, because you do have to keep up with oiling it regularly and seasoning it occasionally, and you can’t exactly just leave it in the drain board to dry (nor can you put it in the dishwasher), but I still think it’s worth having one.  The whole thing is a great conductor of heat, so it cooks your food fast and evenly, and offers the opportunity for a picture perfect sear.

Here are my top three favorite meals I made this week using my brand new skillet (no other pots/pans necessary!). Also note that I cooked each of these recipes in a 10 inch skillet, and each recipe made two servings.

I. Stuffed Chicken

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Ingredients

  1. Two chicken breasts
  2. Prosciutto (2 slices)
  3. Raw whole spinach leaves
  4. Goat Cheese (2 oz)
  5. Salt/Pepper/Spices of Choice
  6. Coconut oil

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Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Take your chicken breasts and cut a slice into them without cutting completely in half (this makes the pocket you will use for the fillings)
  3. Take the goat cheese and spread it along the inside of the pocket (1 oz per chicken breast)
  4. Take the prosciutto (1 slice per chicken breast) and fold it so it fits inside the pocket of the chicken breast, on top of the goat cheese
  5. Take some spinach and stuff the remainder of the chicken breast, using just enough spinach so that you can still close up the chicken
  6. Close up the chicken and use toothpicks to secure the pocket shut.
  7. Heat up your skillet with about 1 tsp coconut oil in it
  8. Place your chicken in the skillet and brown the outside of the chicken (about 5 minutes both sides)
  9. Place the skillet into the oven and cook for another 15-20 minutes (depending on the thickness of the meat).  Cut into the thickest section and make sure the meat is white before removing from the oven.
  10. Once the chicken is cooked, take the skillet out of the oven but allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting it.  (Otherwise you’ll lose all the goat cheese on your first slice!)
  11. Slice up the chicken, remove the toothpicks, and serve with whatever sides you like! (A side salad and/or veggies and/or sweet potato would go great with this dish).

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II. Baja Chicken 

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Ingredients

  1. Two Mangoes
  2. Two Oranges (One used for juice, one used for meat)
  3. Juice from one lemon
  4. Juice from 2 limes
  5. Half of a sweet onion
  6. One cup of black beans
  7. Handful of Cilantro
  8. Chicken (1 or two breasts, about 350g total)
  9. Fresh spinach (for salad)
  10. Coconut Oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat up your skillet with about 1 tsp of coconut oil in it.
  3. Dice the onion and place it into the skillet and cook until they begin to become transparent.
  4. Place the chicken into the skillet (feel free to season the chicken as you like it prior to placing it in the skillet) and allow to brown on the outsides (about 5 minutes each side)
  5. Juice the lemon and orange and put all of the juice into the skillet, put the beans into the skillet, and place the skillet into the oven.  Allow to cook for about 10 minutes.
  6. While the chicken is cooking, remove the skin of the mango and dice into small cubes, and peel the remaining orange and cut up into chunks. Juice the two limes and pour the juice over the fruit.
  7. Roughly chop the cilantro and put into the bowl with the fruit and mix it all together.
  8. After the chicken has been cooking for about 10 minutes, take half of the fruit mixture and put it in the skillet surrounding the chicken. Let the chicken cook for another 10 minutes, or until no longer pink.
  9. While the chicken finishes cooking, wash some fresh spinach and place it in a bowl as the base of your salad.  Pour the remaining fruit mixture over the spinach, dressing the leaves with the juice of the fruit and the limes.
  10. When the chicken is cooked, take the skillet out of the oven, slice up the chicken breast and place it over your dressed salad.  Use a spoon to take the cooked fruit, onions, and beans from inside the skillet and place that in your salad as well.

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III. Shashuka

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This is something I’ve been wanting to make for a while now, but had just never gotten around to it.  Now that I’ve done it once, though, I’m totally hooked!  Since the whole thing is basically veggies, it’s fine to eat the whole skillet, right?? Also, the instructions below are pretty vague regarding amounts of spices and timing, but that’s because this is a really easy recipe that you can cook as much or as little as you want, depending on your preferences.  Stick with me to the end on this one, guys – this dish isn’t the most photogenic but I promise you it’s delicious!

Ingredients (I cooked this recipe in a 10 inch skillet, and serves two)

  1. One can of peeled tomatoes
  2. Two red peppers
  3. Half of a sweet onion
  4. One tsp ghee
  5. Four eggs
  6. Paprika
  7. Cumin
  8. Chipotle Chili Pepper seasoning
  9. Chili Pepper seasoning

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Heat up your skillet with ghee in it on medium heat.
  3. Dice the onion and place into the skillet.  Cook until golden in color, fragrant, and starting to become translucent.
  4. Dice the peppers and add to the skillet.  Cook until softened (or whatever texture you enjoy!)
  5. Open the can of tomatoes and pour them into the skillet.  I used whole tomatoes, so I also used my wooden spoon to break them up a bit.  You can also use diced tomatoes if you like.
  6. Add spices to taste.  I find that the paprika and chili pepper seasonings are very strong, so a little goes a long way.  Add a little bit at a time, and taste the sauce as you go to make sure it’s seasoned to your liking!
  7. Cook the sauce for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You can add tomato paste if you want a thicker sauce.
  8. Create little wells in your sauce where you want your eggs to go.  Crack the eggs into the wells, and immediately place the entire skillet into the oven.  BE CAREFUL BECAUSE EVEN THE HANDLE OF THE SKILLET IS VERY HOT!
  9. Bake in the oven until the eggs are as firm or runny as you like them.  I baked mine for about 10-15 minutes.  The whites were no longer clear, but still a bit runny.  They firmed up once I broke the yolk and spread the whites around the rest of the sauce, though.

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Using my skillet this week was seriously fun, and a great learning experience because I had never used one before!  I hope you guys try out these recipes, and if you do please tag me in your photos 🙂

Stay fit and fab, all!

No Buns Challenge

No Buns Challenge

What is the No Buns Challenge, you ask?  It’s a thing that I completely made up whereby I try to eat sandwich/burger items all week without using bread or buns of any variety.

I’m going to immediately follow that description with the disclaimer that I don’t currently have any restrictions on my diet.  I eat dairy, meat, and gluten.  That said, the ‘No Buns’ challenge that I brought upon myself was motivated by a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve noticed that a lot of you are paleo/gluten-free, and I wanted to gain a little bit of insight into what those diets consist of.  I was by no means completely paleo or gluten-free for the week, but I did learn a lot about these diets, including what’s allowed and what’s restricted, and how difficult it can be to comply.
  2. I am currently in a pre-summer cut (nothing extreme, and I am not competing) which means a low carb and calorie deficit diet temporarily, so the no buns challenge was a fun way for me to out-of-the-box come up with some cool ideas for bread alternatives to help me get my beach bod in order.

In preparation for the challenge, for Sunday’s meal prep I used my George Foreman to grill up a dozen chicken burgers to get me through the week.  *Cue really dramatic photos of chicken burgers*

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These are regular.
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These are spicy.

I also got super into the burger theme for the week, and picked up some Bubbies Sauerkraut, Mother In Law’s kimchi, and pickles to have as sides/toppings for my burgers.  Without further adieu, let’s get into my meals for the week!

‘Bun’ 1 – Portobello Mushroom Buns

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Whoever thought to use Portobello mushroom caps as burger buns was a genius.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t me.  All you need to make this into a reality is two portobello mushroom caps.  Simply remove the stems and scrape out the gills from underneath the caps, grill them up (I used my George Foreman again), and you’re ready to go!  I also added a sunny side up egg, swiss cheese, avocado, lettuce, and tomato to the burger, and had some kraut and a pickle on the side.  The really amazing thing about using the portobello mushroom cap as a bun is that it’s so juicy and flavorful that you don’t need any additional sauce or spread to liven up your meal.  The only downside is that this is a messy dish, and I resorted to finishing it up with a fork and knife.

‘Bun’ 2 – Collard Green Wrap

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Let’s go ahead and add ‘wrapping a collard green leaf wrap’ to the list of things I’m not good at.  I made a huge mess with this one.  As messy as it was, though, it was still really delicious.  The collard greens leaf adds an earthy sweet flavor to the meal, and also gives it really good texture.  It’s also pretty easy to put together (minus the actual wrapping part) because you can use mostly raw veggies to fill it up.  I filled mine with a chicken burger, tomatoes, red peppers, mushrooms, avocado, kraut, kimchi, and goat cheese.

‘Bun’ 3 – Grain Free Cashew Bun 

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THESE. ARE. AMAZING.  Seriously, I highly recommend.  The cashews in this recipe make for a subtly sweet bun, and the texture really mimics that of actual bread.  You can find my original inspiration for these buns here.

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Ingredients:

  1. 1.5 cups raw cashews
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
  4. 1/4 cup of milk (any variety of regular or nut milk works)
  5. 4 tblsp melted butter or ghee (or coconut oil)
  6. 1/3 cup coconut flour
  7. 1/4 cup almond flour
  8. 1 tsp salt
  9. 1 tsp baking soda

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet in parchment paper.
  3. Place the cashews, eggs, vinegar, milk, and butter into a food processor and blend until smooth.
  4. Add the coconut flour, baking soda, almond flour, and salt, and blend again until smooth.
  5. Shape the dough into buns (I made 5 buns roughly the size of regular hamburger buns) using wet hands and place on your parchment lined baking sheet.  Wet hands ensures that the dough doesn’t stick to you, which ensures less mess.
  6. Bake for around 20 minutes.  Check on them around the 15-17 minute mark for firmness, and a golden brown color.  Once they’re firm and they have a nice color, they’re done.

In my recipe, I used skim milk and ghee, and my yield was 5 buns.  The resulting nutrition facts of each bun are as follows:

  • Protein – 13g
  • Carbs – 19g
  • Fats – 32g
  • Calories – 416

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Ok, so these buns are fairly high in calories and fat, but the up-side is that they’re full of healthy fats from the cashews, and they have a decent amount of protein.  I’m going to mess around with this recipe to see if I can make it a bit more macro friendly, but as it stands, I still think they’re worth it.  I used one bun and sliced it in half to make a top and bottom.  To this burger, I added lettuce, tomato, kraut, and goat cheese, and had a pickle on the side.  Overall, the cashew bun provided the best flavor and the most similarity in texture and functionality to a regular bun, but was slightly dry.

‘Bun’ 4 – Collard Green Pinwheels 

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Since I had so much trouble with the collard green wrap, I figured I would try a similar dish that was easier to assemble.  I layered the leaf with a chicken burger, tomato, peppers, and goat cheese (which was kind of the glue to hold it all together), and wrapped it up almost like a sushi roll. Then I sliced it up to make pinwheels.  The pinwheels were definitely easier to make and eat than the wrap.

‘Bun’ 5 – Paleo Parsnip Buns

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These had me a little bit nervous because when I tasted them, they were very sweet from the parsnips.  When paired with savory items, though, the sweetness actually works really well to balance out the flavors.  I smothered this burger with sautéed mushrooms and onions, and used two separate buns for a top and a bottom (I did not split them like I did the cashew bun).  I would also recommend pairing this with a sharp cheese.  You can find my original inspiration for these buns here.

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Ingredients:

  1. 1/4 cup coconut flour
  2. about 2.5 oz of parsnips
  3. 1/4 cup any milk variety, or water
  4. 2 eggs
  5. Salt/pepper/seasonings of choice to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Use a food processor to blend the parsnips and coconut flour.  Once crumbly, add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
  3. Using damp hands, separate the dough and flatten into rounds on the parchment paper. If you make these too thin they might fall apart.  I made mine about 1/4 inch thick.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, or until dry on top and slightly browned on the bottom.

In my recipe, I used water, and my yield was 5 buns.  The resulting nutrition facts of each bun are as follows:

  • Protein – 3g
  • Carbs – 7.5g
  • Fats – 1.5g
  • Calories – 56

Overall, these were a close second to the cashew bun in functionality as a bun to hold together my burger, but they did keep the flavor of the parsnips (you can also use carrots), so you have to like that sweet flavor to make these work.  Although, as mentioned earlier, the sweetness of the bun was well-balanced if you put savory ingredients in between.  Or, you can probably play off the sweet flavor and use them in a dessert!

In Conclusion… 

I would consider the no buns challenge to be a success!  My definitive ranking of ‘buns’ from most favorite to least is as follows:

  1. Cashew Bun – Pro: Amazing taste, amazing texture, high functionality, and super filling; Con: High cal
  2. Portobello Bun – Pro: Amazing taste, super juicy, low cal; Con: Very messy
  3. Collard Green Wrap – Pro: Low cal, great crunchy texture; Con: Messy
  4. Paleo Parsnip Bun – Pro: High functionality, makes a nice clean burger; Con: Tastes very much like parsnips
  5. Collard Green Pinwheels – Pro: Low cal, great crunchy texture, less messy than the wrap version; Con: You can’t fit as much stuff into a pinwheel as you can a wrap.

I hope you try these no bun options next time you’re in the mood for a sandwich or a burger!  Tag me in anything you make from my page, I’d love to see what you wind up doing with the inspiration!

Stay fit and fresh, all!

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4 Easy Easter Treats

4 Easy Easter Treats

The Easter holiday has always held a very special place in my heart.  Growing up, it was the one day of the year when I got to see basically my entire huge Italian family because my grandparents would open their home the whole day for anyone who wanted to stop by.  And EVERYONE stopped by.  It was a day full of pigs in a blanket, socializing, and playing out on the lawn despite being in our nicest clothes.  Our Easter celebrations have changed a lot since those days, but the holiday still holds that same nostalgic charm.

Now my parents are the Easter holiday hosts, and we open our home to the rest of the family for our own Easter brunch tradition.  With family time being my favorite part of any holiday, a close second is the unique food traditions involved, and of course, the adorable desserts!  Check out these Easter treats that I tried out this week to share with you guys for the coming holiday!

Carrot Garden Dirt Cups

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These are really easy to make, super cute, and even include fruit! (OK, the amount of fruit to chocolate in this recipe is negligible, but still..)  Added bonus, these would be a really great activity to do with kids.  With minimal mess and no use of the oven, they’re basically fool proof!

Ingredients:

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  1. Chocolate pudding (I used a pre-made pudding, but feel free to use whatever kind of pudding you prefer)
  2. Chocolate graham crackers (or chocolate cookie of choice as long as you can crumble it up)
  3. Strawberries
  4. White melting chocolate (about a cup will coat 6 strawberries)
  5. Orange food coloring (or red and yellow)

Instructions:

I made the amounts in the ingredient list above pretty vague, because it really depends on the size of your cups and how many you want to make.  2 cups of pudding and 1.5 graham cracker sleeves made 3 dirt cups for me (8 oz glasses).

  1. Using the instructions on the bag, melt the white chocolate.
  2. Using the orange food coloring, color the chocolate to your desired level of pigment you want your carrots to be.  (If you are using red and yellow food coloring, the ratio is 1:2 red to yellow).
  3. Take your strawberry (wash it and dry it really well) and fold up the green leaves at the top carefully.  You want them to remain intact, but you also don’t want to get chocolate on them.
  4. Using a fork, stick straight down into the strawberry, just under the leaves (don’t pierce the very top of the leaves).  This will help you dunk them in the chocolate without getting your hands messy, and without leaving fingerprints on your chocolate carrots.
  5. Dunk the strawberries into the chocolate, being sure to cover as much of the fruit as possible without getting chocolate on the leaves.
  6. Slide the strawberries off the fork onto a parchment lined plate.  Make sure you use the parchment here (or some type of non stick barrier) because otherwise the chocolate will stick to the plate instead of your strawberry.
  7. To make the ridges in the carrot, once all of the carrots are coated, add more orange food coloring to the remaining melted chocolate for contrast.  Then drizzle stripes across the carrots.  Once done, put the strawberries into the fridge or freezer to set.
  8. While the chocolate is setting, it’s time to assemble the dirt cups!  Alternate layering chocolate pudding and crumbled graham cracker into the cups.  The top layer should be the graham cracker crumbles.
  9. Once dirt cups are assembled, take the strawberries out of the fridge (make sure the chocolate has hardened completely) and carefully remove from the parchment paper and place on top of the dirt cups.

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Keep these refrigerated until ready to serve!

Bunny Butt Sugar Cookies

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I can’t even deal with how cute these turned out.  I used my go-to sugar cookie recipe from In Katrina’s Kitchen, and decorated with royal icing.  You can serve these as they are, or you can get creative with them and use them as toppers for cakes or cupcakes.  You can even combine them with the Carrot Garden Dirt Cups recipe by making a garden cake, full of carrots and bunny butts galore!  (If you do this, you can use coconut flakes died with a drop of green food coloring to look like grass!)

Here are the ingredients for the sugar cookie dough, taken directly from In Katrina’s Kitchen:

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  1.  1 cup of unsalted butter
  2. 1 cup of granulated white sugar
  3. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  4. 1/2 tsp almond extract (this adds a really nice layer of flavor, but I have made this recipe without this ingredient and they turn out just fine)
  5. 1 egg
  6. 2 tsp baking powder
  7. 3 cups of flour

Here are the ingredients for the royal icing:

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  1. 2 egg whites
  2. 4 cups confectioners sugar
  3. 2 tsp vanilla extract
  4. Red (or pink) food coloring (or whatever color you want to make your bunny butts!)

Directions to make the cookies:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a mixer or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until smooth (at least 3 minutes)
  3. Beat in the extracts and egg
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the baking powder with the flour and add a little bit at a time to the wet ingredients.  Once all of the dry ingredients have been added to the wet, you might have to knead the dough by hand to get it all combined.  Be patient with this dough because it’s very stiff, but it’s the best sugar cookie dough you will ever work with I promise!
  5. Divide up the dough into workable batches (I usually cut it in quarters) and roll it out onto a floured surface (flour the top of the dough as well, the side that is touching the rolling pin).  The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick once rolled out.
  6. Using a medium circle cookie cutter, cut out the circles that will become the bunny butts.
  7. Using a small oval cookie cutter, cut out the ovals that will become the bunny feet.  If you don’t have a small oval cookie cutter (which I didn’t), you can get creative.  I actually used a BCAA scoop that I had in my drawer (lol), and then used a butter knife to shave that small circle into an oval.  Remember you’ll need twice as many little ovals as you do medium circles.
  8. Bake the medium sized cookies for 6-8 minutes, and the smaller ovals in a separate batch for 5-6 minutes.
  9. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet until firm enough to move to a cooling rack, and then allow them to finish cooling on the rack.

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Directions to decorate:

  1. When the cookies are just about cooled, make the royal icing by manually mixing with a spoon the confectioners sugar into the egg white and vanilla extract.  It might take some time to get it all combined, and it looks pretty unappealing at first, but it all will come together the more you mix and the more sugar you add.  The icing should be fairly thick when you’re done.
  2. Set aside some of the white icing, which will be used for the details of the tail and feet.
  3. Dye the remaining icing the color you want your bunnies to be.
  4. Using a spoon or icing spatula, ice two of the small ovals, and then ice one medium round cookie.  Add two small dollops of icing at the bottom of the circle cookie, and place the two ovals onto those dollops of icing, allowing about 1/3 of the ovals to hang off.  The icing will act as glue to stick the ovals onto the main cookie.  Repeat this process with the rest of the cookies.  Make sure you stick the ovals on the main cookie before the royal icing begins to harden.
  5. Take the white icing that was set aside before and spoon it into a piping bag. Alternatively, you can use a Ziplock or sandwich bag if you don’t have a piping bag.
  6. Using a very skinny tip, pipe a circle at the middle of the main cookie, to be the tail of the bunny.  Then pipe an oval in the middle of the little oval pieces, as well as three dots running along the bottom of the ovals.  These become the feet of the bunny.  Repeat for all of the cookies.

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The decorating possibilities of these cookies are endless! I hope you really get creative with this one and tag me on Instagram with a super cute bunny burrowing carrot garden Easter paradise.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Egg Nests

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This one’s another dessert that also doubles as a craft to do with kids!  These are arguably even easier and more fool proof than the Carrot Garden Dirt Cups.  They are no-bake and even customizable (see below the recipe for additional ingredient ideas that can be incorporated).

Ingredients:

  1. 1 part peanut butter of choice
  2. 1 part butterscotch chips
  3. Pretzel sticks, broken
  4. Mini candy eggs (chocolate ones will taste best)
  5. Cinnamon to taste

Directions:

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I made the amounts in the ingredient list really vague, because it really depends on how many of these you want to make.  I used about a cup each of butterscotch chips and peanut butter, and 3-4 handfuls of pretzels, and it made about 8 nests.  You can also adjust the peanut butter to butterscotch ratio a bit if you like, but try not to reduce the butterscotch too much because it will help to hold the nests together.

  1. In the microwave (or over the stove) melt together the peanut butter and butterscotch chips (increments of 30 seconds) and stir intermittently until smooth.
  2. Stir in the cinnamon.
  3. Place your pretzel sticks into a large Ziplock bag and using a bowl or rolling pin, break up the pretzels into roughly 1/2 inch pieces.
  4. Add broken pretzels to the peanut butter mixture until all pretzels are completely coated, but there is still a bit of excess peanut butter mixture. (This excess will help the nests to stay together
  5. Stay with me, this is going to get a little messy now.  Using your hands, take a small handful of the coated pretzels and drop them onto a parchment lined baking sheet or serving tray.  Mold them into the desired nest shape that you want, making sure that there are no loose or straggling pretzels, or blaring holes in the nest (you want them to be fairly tight so that they don’t break apart later on).
  6. Press down on the top of each nest to create a well where the candy eggs will sit.
  7. Once all nests have been formed (make sure to wash off your hands because you don’t want the peanut butter mixture to get all over the candy eggs), take the candy eggs and place them on top of the nests.
  8. Place in the fridge to set.  Once hardened, these can be stored at room temperature.

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My ingredient list above is really the most plain version of these snacks.  You can also add dried fruit, Chex mix, chopped nuts, or oats.

Peanut Butter Eggs

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The peanut butter egg is such a classic, how was I not going to include it here? This recipe stands the test of time, because when it’s not Easter you can just shape them like circles and they’re delicious peanut butter snacks!

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup of peanut butter (your favorite variety)
  2. 1 tbsp coconut flour
  3. 1 tbsp honey (optional)
  4. 1/4 tsp salt (if your peanut butter is unsalted)
  5. 1/2 cup of chocolate of your choice (it can be any variety melting chocolate, or you can melt dark chocolate with 1 tsp coconut oil)

Directions:

  1. Combine the peanut butter, honey, coconut flour, and salt (if applicable) in a bowl.
  2. Using a spoon, scoop 6 balls from the mixture and use your hands to roll and shape them into the desired egg shape.
  3. Place the shaped eggs on a plate lined with parchment paper and place into the freezer to set (20 minutes minimum)
  4. When the peanut butter middles are almost set, begin melting the chocolate.  Either use the directions on the packaging (if you use melting chocolate), or combine dark chocolate and coconut oil and either microwave or melt over the stove.
  5. Once the chocolate is nice and melty, remove the peanut butter eggs from the freezer, carefully remove from the parchment paper, and dunk in the chocolate.  You can use a spoon or fork to move them around to make sure they get evenly coated, and then remove them from the chocolate and place back onto the parchment paper.  NOTE that if you put the eggs directly onto a plate, the chocolate will stick to the plate instead of the peanut butter and your eggs will be RUINED.  Speaking from experience here, so trust me!
  6. Once the eggs are coated, you can decorate them by adding sprinkles or chopped nuts, or drizzling different colored chocolate over the tops.
  7. Once they’re all finished and decorated, place them back into the freezer or fridge to let the chocolate set.  These will be best served directly from the fridge, as they might get messy if they sit out for too long.

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I hope you all try one (or two, or all!) of these recipes over the Easter holiday season.  Don’t forget to leave a comment, share my page, and like me on Insta for more recipes and fun fitness stuff!

Stay fit and floppy all!

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Meal Prep 101

Meal Prep 101

“Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing every single day?” is probably the number one question someone will ask me once they realize how extra I am about prep.  The truth is, there are a lot of common misconceptions about meal prep, and it’s not nearly as difficult or boring as it’s made out to be.  Sundays have actually become my favorite day of the week because I get to catch up on my Well+Good emails (one of the only email subscriptions I actually read), bookmark some cool new recipes and food trends, and plan out my week.

I started meal prepping when I was an intern at my now full time employer, after quickly learning that the ‘go out and buy lunch with the team every day’ lifestyle wasn’t going to work for me.  It started with just lunches, then I slowly started incorporating breakfasts as well.  Fast forward one year to full time employment during my first busy season, and meal prep included breakfast lunch, dinner, and every snack in between.  It was definitely daunting at first, sometimes overwhelming, and consistently time consuming.  But now, after almost three years of experience, the process has become way more efficient and hardly feels like a chore anymore.  It didn’t take long to get to this level of efficiency, and anyone can do it!  This is going to be a long post, so I’m going to split it into three parts:

  1. First, I’m going to clear the air on some of the most common prep myths, by answering the often sarcastic/hypothetical questions people typically ask me when they find out my prep schedule
  2. Second, I’m going to offer a few pro tips that I wished someone had told me a few years ago
  3. Lastly, I’m going to walk you through an example of an entire week’s prep (with pictures galore)

Let’s go!

Myths Debunked

“Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing every single day?”

I love food.  You can ask basically anyone who’s met me more than once – I am the type who lives to eat, not eats to live.  The idea of eating the same exact thing for every meal every day is an absolute nightmare.  Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to be repeating meals and foods, of course.  But prep doesn’t mean filling ten containers with the same exact spread of rice, grilled chicken, and baby carrots.  That said, this question makes the bold assumption that I eat the same thing day-in and day-out, which I definitely don’t.  What I generally try to do is prep two different meats (generally chicken and a fish), and two different veggies.  I don’t box all of my meals for the week on Sunday, but rather I throw all of the like items in separate containers, and box my lunches every night for the next day.  It doesn’t sound like much, but having the option every night to mix and match makes a huge difference.  Also, I always keep salad fixins in my fridge, so that’s basically a third veggie option to add to the rotation.

“Do you ever go out and have any fun?” 

Seriously, these are the things people ask me.  Yes, I go out.  Yes, I have fun.  Yes, I can be spontaneous.  For me, one of the benefits of prepping my meals is that I then have the flexibility in a social setting more than if I had wasted most of my macros for the day on an unnecessarily high-cal lunch.  A lot of purchased meals are full of fats and carbs that can be easily avoided and recycled on something more fulfilling.  Even salads can be deceiving!  (Check the nutrition facts of that Chop’t salad before landing on Chop’t as a healthy lunch option at work).  By making your own lunches (and bfast and dinner), you are controlling exactly what you’re putting into your body, which is ideal for anyone who has fitness and general health goals.

How do you get enough food on Sunday to last the whole week? 

Ok, this question is very valid.  Generally speaking, my cooked chicken or turkey lasts all week without any problems.  If I prepare fish, I will either freeze it to have later in the week, or eat it all within a couple of days of preparing.  Cooked veggies typically last about half the week, so I try to finish those up by the end of Wednesday.  I also usually buy additional veggies that last the full week (aka my salad fixins, alluded to above), like peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, so that I can use those once I’m all out of cooked veggies.  Fruit all has differing shelf lives, so I typically eat the more time sensitive fruits earlier in the week (blueberries, strawberries), and save the more resilient for later in the week (bananas, apples, citrus).  It also helps to have things like Greek yogurt, nuts, protein powder, oats, and nut milk on-hand for a quick and satisfying meal in a pinch if all else fails.

Some Pro Tips: 

Figure out a technique you’re good at and stick to it.  Don’t reinvent the wheel every week.  Are you really comfortable with baking your chicken in the oven?  Using a slow cooker?  Grilling it on the stovetop?  Do that every week then.  Obviously you can vary it up sometimes, but by doing something consistently that you are most comfortable with, you will become exponentially more efficient.  The variety in your prep comes with how you season your food, not necessarily the technique you use to prepare it.

Know your kitchen appliances, and make sure you have the proper gear.  I love to make my own nut butters, as well as baked goods as treats for the week, so staple appliances that I use every single week are my KitchenAid hand mixer and food processor.   I also recently got a Black + Decker slow cooker that I absolutely love.  It’s so important to have the proper tools in your kitchen if you want to conduct an efficient prep.

Have your grocery list planned out well in advance, and stick to one main grocer.  I have a note in my phone dedicated to prep ideas and my grocery list that I am incrementally adding to all week.  I have a list of staple items that generally don’t change from week to week (nut milk, Greek yogurt, eggs), and then a list of ideas that I stumbled on during the week that struck my interest to include in my prep.  Come Saturday or Sunday morning, I usually take these ideas, put the recipes side by side, see which ones have a few  main overlapping ingredients, and that’s how I narrow down my ‘ideas’ list into a list that’s reasonably executable.  Also, try to visit the same grocery store every week.  I fly through my grocery shopping in less than 20 minutes because I basically have the floor plan committed to memory.

Last Week’s Prep 

1 - all groceries
Yes, I recycled this image from the top of this post.

Prep officially begins at the grocery store.  The four main categories of necessities for the week are: protein, fruit, veggies, and snacks.  This week, my protein was chicken; my fruits were bananas, apples, oranges, and plums; my veggies were tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, and cucumbers; and my snacks were cashews.  Already in my fridge/pantry were: Greek yogurt, almond milk, limes, and a sweet potato.

The first thing I do is prep my protein, because this generally takes the longest.  This week, I cooked my chicken with tomatoes and portabella mushrooms in my slow cooker.

2 - chicken groceries
Chicken (3.29 lbs), tomatoes, and mushrooms
3 - chicken groceries
It’s all about the angles, right?
4 - cut tomatoes
Quarter the tomatoes…
5 - tomatoes in slow cooker
…and layer them at the bottom of the slow cooker.
6 - chicken in slow cooker
Cube the chicken and layer it on top of the tomatoes.
7 - spices
The spices I used are pink Himalayan salt, cumin, paprika, chipotle chili pepper, and black pepper.
8 - meat spiced
As you can see, I use my spices generously.
9 - liquid aminos
Drizzle liquid aminos to your heart’s content.  (Alternatively, you can use soy sauce and/or sriracha)
10 - mushrooms in slow cooker
Mushrooms go on top.
11 - finished chicken
Five hours later… delicious protein for the entire week! 3.29 lbs of chicken purchased (aka prior to trimming) made 12 roughly 4 oz servings.

While the protein is cooking, I prep my veggies and snacks.  This week, I decided to go with salads, so since there were no veggies to cook, I prepped two snacks.  The first was homemade cashew butter.  The recipe for this is literally just blended cashews, and I was originally going to rewrite the steps here, but I enjoyed reading the how-to article that I found so much that I encourage you to read it as well!

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Beautiful, glorious, raw, unsalted cashews
13 - blended cashews
About 25 minutes later
15 - cashew butter in spoon
Creamy and delicious homemade cashew butter!

My next snack was inspired by the Tastemade Snapchat discover page, and was taught by Jen of @JustEatLife (Twitter) and @JenEatsLife (Instagram).  These candied orange peels were clutch this week, satisfying my sweet tooth in a [possibly delusional] guilt-free way.  Either way, they were absolutely delicious.  Get the recipe here.

16 - oranges17 - orange peels19 - candied peels

And there you have it, a week’s worth of meals.  So, a typical day this week consisted of two servings of chicken and salad; fruit, protein shakes, and Greek yogurt as breakfast/snacks throughout the day; and a few of the candied orange peels after dinner as some dessert.  Easy, right?

Did I answer your questions?  Leave me a comment and let me know!  Head over to my Instagram for even more recipes and advice, and message/comment anything you’d like to see more of 🙂

As always, stay fit and fab all!

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Banana Avocado Brownies

Banana Avocado Brownies

You’re in the grocery store checking out the banana selection, and the bunch that has the nicest looking fruit has just one or two too many, but you throw it in your basket anyway because what’s too many bananas, right?  Then you move over to the avocados and choose a few of varying ripeness so you’ll have one ready any day of the week you might want one.  Sound familiar so far?  Fast forward to Saturday and you’re frantically Googling ‘recipes to use up overripe avocados and bananas,’ because time is quickly running out for your precious fruit.

Generally speaking, avocados are a great fill-in for fat-based ingredients (like mayonnaise, butter, or oil) in cooking and baking.  Similarly, bananas are a great substitute for sugar.  Since I had both, I decided I would try my luck at creating a recipe that uses them simultaneously.  #efficiency.

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(All ingredients not pictured here)

Thus, banana avocado brownies were born! I started by mixing together a mashed avocado and a mashed banana, because those were the two ingredients I knew for sure I’d be using.  Then I grabbed my cinnamon and vanilla, which are my go-to spices whenever I’m baking.  I considered adding a little nutmeg for extra flavor, or even something spicy to play up the savory flavor of the avocado to make a faux Mexican brownie.  I wound up keeping it simple, though, since this whole venture was an experiment to begin with.  I added eggs, which help in any baked recipe to bind the ingredients together, and baking powder to help the brownies rise.  And of course, a generous amount of cocoa powder.  I gave the batter a quick taste (eek raw eggs and all, don’t tell Mom!) and realized that one banana wasn’t going to be enough to sweeten the whole batch.  I decided to add honey instead of more banana, because I didn’t want the banana flavor to completely take over.  Since the batter was pretty wet, I also added some almond flour to thicken it up.  Lastly, and certainly not leastly, I added a generous amount of chocolate chips.

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And there you have it, brownies with only 10 ingredients that also incorporate your overripe fruit!  (See full recipe and instruction list below).

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Ingredients:

  1. One medium banana, mashed (100g)
  2. One medium avocado, mashed (100g)
  3. 2 large eggs
  4. Cocoa powder (3 tbsp)
  5. Vanilla (1 tbsp)
  6. Baking powder (1 tsp)
  7. Almond flour (1/2 cup)
  8. Honey (3 tbsp)
  9. Cinnamon (to taste)
  10. Chocolate chips (5 tbsp)

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients except for chocolate chips in a medium bowl.  You can use a mixer or mix by hand for this recipe.  Lightly grease a muffin tin (I used a mini-muff tin, which yielded 24).  Once baked, this is a light batter, so you have two options regarding your chocolate chips – if you stir them into the batter prior to baking (which is what I did) you will have to very carefully remove the muffins from your tin later on, as they might break where the chips change the consistency of the batter.  Your second option is to pour the batter into the muffin tins and then place the chips on top.  Bake for 12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely before removing from the tins.

So you can make whatever size muffin/brownie you want, the macros for the entire batch of batter were: protein – 31; carbs – 141; fat – 66.5.  Just divide those numbers by whatever your recipe yields to get your macros per serving.

The ingredients can definitely be played around with, for example vegan chocolate chips instead of regular ones, or regular flour instead of almond flour. I’d love for you all to try this recipe and even play around with it and let me know what you create!

Stay fit and fresh, all!

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Easy DIY Granola

Easy DIY Granola

Sundays have become my favorite day of the week, mostly because I get to experiment with new prep ideas to keep my meals fun and interesting.  Late last week as I was browsing Whole Foods (admittedly scoping out the Halo Top selection) I came across Sambazon frozen acai smoothie packets, which contained pure acai berry and no added sweeteners.  I obviously impulsively threw these packets, along with Justin’s almond butter, into my basket (which was already full of Halo Top) and headed to the register.  Fast forward to Meal Prep Sunday, and I realize I’ve been thinking all weekend of the amazing smoothie bowl possibilities for this week.  But what’s a smoothie bowl without a sprinkle of granola on top, am I right?  I’m often disappointed with store-bought granolas, as they are loaded with unnecessary ingredients and calories.  So I decided that this week’s experiment and featured prep item would be homemade granola.

For each week’s prep I try to incorporate a new recipe for a snack item in addition to the standard breakfast/lunch/dinner.  Since time was limited this weekend, my meals are looking like this: breakfast will be a protein shake or a pre-prepared portion of baked apple oats; lunch will be a salad with a turkey ‘muffin’ (inspired by Jamie Eason’s recipe on Bodybuilding.com); and dinner will be a smoothie bowl (with Greek yogurt being the source of protein).

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Banana Apple Baked Oats

I’ve never tried making granola before, so step one was Googling “how to make granola.”  And of course, I wasn’t disappointed.  I stumbled upon a really great article by Anna Stockwell on Epicurious.com, in which Anna offers a foolproof granola making ratio, which is more of a guideline than a recipe.  I loved this because it gave me the opportunity to use my own preferred ingredients and build my own recipe, while still using Anna’s guidelines and suggestions.  The key takeaway from this article is the following ratio:

“6 parts dry to 1 part wet”

That’s it!  Simple and easy.  Your parts can be whatever measurement you choose (in other words, you can make as much granola as you like in one sitting), but as long as you keep it within that ratio, it should turn into the crunchy and delicious granola you know and love.

A couple of additional helpful points from the article:

  • Wet ingredients will ideally be split between fat and sweet
  • A good addition to wet ingredients is an egg white, as a binding agent to get those crunchy clusters
  • Don’t forget to add spices as well to your dry mixture (or flavor extracts to your wet).  These add a really rich dynamic to the flavor palette of the finished product
  • The addition of dried fruit should be added after the granola is cooked, and doesn’t count towards the 6:1 ratio.

Let’s get to it!

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Ingredients:

  • Oats (1.5 cups)
  • Flax Seed (1/4 cup)
  • Chia Seed (1/4 cup)
  • Cashews (1 cup)
  • Coconut Oil (1/8 cup)
  • One Egg White
  • Honey (1/4 cup)
  • Cinnamon (2 tsp)
  • Nutmeg (1/8 tsp)
  • Vanilla Extract (1.5 tsp)
  • Salt (1/8 tsp)

Instructions: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the dry ingredients, and then mix in the wet. Once everything is well combined, place the uncooked granola on a baking sheet (I greased my sheet very lightly with coconut oil, but you can also use parchment paper).  Make sure the granola forms a thin layer across the sheet.  If need be, split the mixture across two different pans.  Bake the granola until golden brown and dry, stirring and checking on it every 8 minutes or so.  Once fully cooked, allow the granola to dry completely before placing in an air-tight container or jar for storage.

 

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With the ingredients and amounts that I mentioned above, this came out to 4 cups of granola, and the macros per tbsp are:

  • Protein – 1
  • Carbs – 4
  • Fat – 2.5
  • Calories – 45

Remember that this recipe is only a guideline, and as long as you stick to the original ratio you can use whatever ingredients you like! Vary it up across your grains, nuts, and seeds to find the recipe that suites your tastes best.  You can also experiment with various oils and sweeteners.  If you choose to use an egg white in your recipe, make sure you factor that into the one part of wet ingredients (in other words, the egg white isn’t extra).

For an added nutritional benefit as well as another layer of texture and flavor, I added some Goji berries to my granola.  Another option (and personal favorite) is banana chips.  Just beware of sweeteners and additives in your dried fruit – try to find brands that keep it clean and basic.

I hope you all try this recipe, it’s super easy, and granola is a great staple to have in the pantry.  Let me know what you think of this recipe, and what you’d like to see next in the comments! Stay fit and fab, all!

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Sweet Potato Muffins AND DIY Holiday Sunglass Warehouse Sunnies

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What says DIY Holiday Sunglass Decorating Party quite like healthy and delicious sweet potato muffins? Well, maybe just a few things…

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my very first DIY holiday sunglass decorating party, hosted by Pretty in Pistachio, with crafts supplied by Sunglass Warehouse.  My contribution to the event was a sugar-free and flour-free sweet potato muffin, inspired by this cookie recipe.  I’ll start off with the sunglass DIY, and I’ll finish off with the muffin recipe.

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Step 1: Plan and Materialize! Figure out the theme you want your glasses to be, and brainstorm with the materials you have to make it into a reality.  I chose a Christmas reindeer theme, and these are all of the materials I used for my design.

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Step 2: Execution.  This step is made WAY easier with a hot glue gun and plenty of glue.  I used a hot glue gun to get most of my materials onto the glasses.  I used two pipecleaners for each of the antlers, and they were a little bit tricky.  Take two pipecleaners and, keeping them together and even, fold them around the hinge of the glasses at the halfway mark of the pipecleaner.  Then, twist them like a twist tie very tightly for about a half inch.  Split the loose ends into two groups of two and then continue twisting.  I glued the antlers to the frame for additional security.  Get creative and make each point a different length!

For a little extra flair, I wrapped some gold and red sparkly ribbon around the temples of the glasses and glued it with hot glue.

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My reindeer nose was just a pipecleaner rolled up into a ball.  I also put some glue on the front of it and sprinkled it with red glitter.  Then I attached it with red wire to the bridge of the glasses, and tucked the wire behind the nose pads to keep the wire mostly out of sight.  Be sure to measure the wire while the glasses are on your face to be sure the red nose falls right at the tip of your nose.

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And voila! The perfect holiday reindeer glasses.  I can’t wait to be silly and wear these during the holiday season.  But wait – there’s one more step!

Step 3: Have fun! (Ok, that was cheesy.)  But seriously, this party took arts and crafts to a whole new level.  Get some friends and family together, eat and drink and have a blast with it. And don’t forget to bring your creativity!  Your glasses can be wearable, or you can decorate the lenses themselves and make ornaments or decorations out of them.

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Were you uninspired by my design? Check out Pretty in Pistachio‘s and Minnie in Manhattan‘s finished sunglass designs also!

Want to DIY for the holidays but don’t want to decorate sunglasses? Check out Sunglass Warehouse’s other DIY holiday ideas.

Now for the muffins…

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These were a delicious and guilt-free snack because they’re sweetened with honey, and the only oil in them is from almond butter.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup of almond butter
  • 1/2 cup of pureed sweet potato (Bake or microwave them to get them soft)
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup or honey (I used honey, and this is optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp of nutmeg)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 chocolate bar chopped, or chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl. Make sure your sweet potato is pureed well before you add the other ingredients.  Instead of blending the potatoes, I mashed them up with a fork and this worked fine.  Also, buy a little bit more potato than you think you will need, because it is difficult to measure a half a cup of pureed sweet potato when you’re looking at a whole potato in the super market.  It will shrink, when you peel it you lose some mass, and once you bake/microwave them, there are bound to be some parts that you can’t use.

I used honey instead of syrup, but after tasting the muffins I learned that this addition should be totally optional.  They were very sweet.  Also, the addition of chocolate chips and the amount you add is totally optional and up to you.  Other delicious morsels that would taste good in these muffins are shredded coconut, raisins, almond slivers, walnuts, or cranberries.

The original recipe is a cookie recipe, and it called for a lot more additives (the things I just listed above), but I scaled these down.  My dough, therefore, was a little more loose than cookie dough should be.  So that’s why I made muffins instead.

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They came out DELICIOUS, needless to say, because sweet potatoes can do no wrong.  If you add nuts or protein powder to the recipe, these could be a great breakfast item or post-gym snack.

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More DIY coming soon!  Get excited for it. Instagram your favorite DIY activity or healthy recipe and hashtag it with #fitnessandflorals.  I’d love to try and feature a recipe of yours!

Stay fit and festive, all!

The Mason Jar Lunch

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I recently bought my sister a book about Mason Jar lunches for her birthday, because I thought it looked healthy, trendy, and something she would love. The day I bought it, however, I leafed through it on my subway ride home, and began to regret not getting myself a copy!  Since then, I decided to try and make myself my own Mason Jar lunches for work, and here’s my first attempt.

Before getting into the recipe, it’s good to know a couple of the benefits of jarring your lunch instead of using a plastic container.  For one, the Mason Jar seals your lunch tight and keeps it fresher for longer, especially salad which always seems to get brown and wilty too soon.  Second, since Mason Jars are made of glass, you don’t run the risk of having unwanted chemicals leech into your food, especially if you bring a lunch that you want to microwave.  Also, glass is not porous, making it less likely to hold the aroma of your salad after you’re done eating.

The book provides more information about Mason Jar lunches, including step-by-step instructions and tips on how to most efficiently jar your lunch.  Check it out at Barnes & Noble here. Here’s my Mason Jar lunch recipe. It made three servings.

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What you’ll need:

1 cup Kidney beans (super nutritional)

1/3 of an onion

3 servings of Quinoa (check your bag or box)

1 zucchini

Green olives (I used whole olives, unpitted)

Artichoke hearts

Less than 1 cup of peas

Olive oil

Mason Jar

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Note that these measurements (and even ingredients) are very much subjective to my own tastes and preferences.  You can add more of less of something, or replace certain items with other veggies/grains/carbs.  The sky is the limit with these lunches!

Here’s what you have to do:

Chop up the onion and saute it in a little oil.  Also, cook the quinoa according to the directions on the packaging. Peel and slice the zucchini.  You’ll have to cook this one, too.  As soon as you have a free pan and an open stove top, saute the zucchini in a little bit of oil and you can sprinkle with salt and pepper as it cooks.

Once your onions are done cooking, you’re ready to begin jarring! I put a little bit of oil at the bottom of my jar, but I learned after I ate my lunch the next day that this step was unnecessary.  At the bottom of the jar you want to put whatever liquids will be in your lunch, such as dressing or oil. (The book also gives a neat trick for packaging your dressing inside the jar in such a way that it doesn’t touch your food at all!).  I layered the onions at the bottom in the oil.

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Next, I layered in the zucchini.  As a general rule, things that are already wet and have a low risk of getting soggy in the fridge overnight should go towards the bottom, and the more delicate items (such as lettuce) should be towards the top.

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Next came the quinoa.  I drained the quinoa in a strainer before I put it in the jar to remove all excess water.

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Next came the kidney beans and peas…

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And last but not least, the artichoke hearts and olives on the very top. Keep your lunch at its freshest by minimizing the amount of air in the jar by packing it tight with as much food as you can fit.

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This recipe turned out delicious, and it made three lunches for the upcoming week.  If you are taking these lunches with you on the go, I advise that you make sure there’s a bowl you can use at your destination.  I like to leave a bowl and fork on my desk at work so I never have to worry about packing that one extra thing in the morning.

Jarring my lunches this week was quick and easy, but if you don’t have jars yet or you just aren’t into the idea, I suggest that you still consider bringing your own lunch to work, school, or wherever it is that you spend most of your time.  A pre-prepared lunch is a smart lunch because it is not subject to impulsive purchases that one would only crave at lunch time.  It’s also a lot cheaper than buying your lunch every day.

Comment your favorite Mason Jar recipe!

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Stay fit and fresh, all!

Savory Sides For Your Labor Day BBQ

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Labor Day Weekend is here! I always look forward to a good BBQ, fun in the sun, and spending quality time with family and friends. During holiday weekends, however, it can be difficult to find a healthy alternative to traditional BBQ foods, which are almost too delicious to resist! That’s why this year, instead of putting my self control to the test, I introduced to our BBQ menu some healthy and delicious sides as substitutes.  Both of the recipes below adequately fed a party of three, and probably could have been plenty for four.  If you are looking to feed more than four, I suggest you increase each of the ingredients for the recipe to make sure there is enough.

Kale and Quinoa Salad

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For this recipe, you’ll need:

  1. 1 bundle of any type of kale
  2. 1/4 cup quinoa
  3. 1/2 bullion cube (optional)
  4. 3 cloves of garlic
  5. Olive oil
  6. 1 lemon

Boil the quinoa according to the instructions on the box or bag.  Add the half of a bullion cube to the water, if you choose to include this ingredient.  While you wait for the quinoa to cook, wash the kale really well and cut it into bite-size pieces.  Put it in a large pan or wok and drizzle some olive oil over it.  Sauté the kale until you are happy with its consistency (I like my kale a little crunchy, so I cooked it for about ten minutes).  While you are doing this (or you could do this first, as a preparatory step), mince the garlic and sauté it in olive oil until soft (approximately five minutes. This could take longer or shorter depending on how finely the garlic is minced).  When the garlic is soft, squeeze the lemon into the pan.  I saved two slivers of lemon for garnish.  Once the lemon is heated up, pour the garlic/lemon mixture over the kale.  Once the kale is cooked, take it out of the pan, or take the pan off the hot burner to prevent it from burning. Once the quinoa is cooked, drain excess water through a strainer if there is any, and combine the kale and quinoa into one bowl or container. You can garnish with lemon slices, and you can serve this delicious plate hot or cold.  Enjoy!

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Cucumber Salad

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  1. 3 cucumbers
  2. 1/2 vidalia onion
  3. 4 compari tomatoes (you can use whatever kind of tomatoes you like. The compari tomatoes are small, so that’s why I used four of them.)
  4. Olive oil
  5. Rice wine vinegar

This one is really easy! Peel the cucumbers (optional) and slice them into 1/4 inch slices, cut the1/2 Vidalia onion into strips, and cut the tomatoes into chunks.  Put all three into a large bowl, drizzle olive oil and rice wine vinegar to taste, toss, and enjoy!

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I hope you all enjoy your Labor Day Weekend! Stay fit and in the work force, all!

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Blended to Perfection – The Do’s and Dont’s of Smoothies

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A good smoothie can be the perfect breakfast, snack, or pre/post-gym pick-me-up.  Prepared carelessly, however, and it can be a source of unnecessary calories, sugar, and fat in your diet.  Here are a handful of tips and tricks that I follow religiously when I think about taking out that blender.

When thinking about what you would like your blended perfection to taste like, you should be thinking about the fruits that will go into it.  Then, you will need to choose a base, or liquid, to supplement the fruit.  Lastly, you’ll decide whether or not you want to add some dairy or extra ingredients to boost the protein content of your drink.

Picking and choosing which fruits to center your smoothie on can be difficult.  Some fruits, such as oranges and apples, can be high in sugar content, and hold most of their health benefits in pulp and skin, respectively, and might make it difficult to blend your smoothie to perfection.  I like to stick to berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, to name a few), because they are low/medium in sugar content and are high in antioxidants.  I also like to use kiwis, because though they are high in sugar content, they provide intense flavor even with a small amount of fruit, and are high in Vitamin C.  Lastly, I love bananas, which are high in potassium and low in sodium.  Beware, though, because bananas are surprisingly high in sugar.

With regard to choosing your base liquid, just keep an eye on the sugars in fruit juices.  I tend to stay away from all fruit juices and simply add ice, water, or skim milk.

The decision to add dairy to your creation is entirely up to you.  You can combine your base and dairy components by adding milk (preferably skim.)  You could choose to do without dairy altogether for a very light (but not very filling) snack, or you could add low or non-fat plain yogurt or kefir.  I like to add plain yogurt to boost the protein content of my smoothies and keep myself full for longer.  Sometimes I’ll add a little bit of honey or vanilla extract for extra flavor.  For a bonus protein boost, you can also add tofu, natural peanut butter, almond butter, soymilk, or almond milk.  Make sure that whenever you add dairy or a protein boost, it is a natural product, and it is nonfat or low-fat, and unsweetened/unflavored.

Protip: Craving the creamy milkshake consistency but want to ditch the calories of sugary and fatty frozen yogurt and ice cream? Freeze your fruit! I know it’s not the same thing… but after a while you’ll hardly notice a difference, and might even grow to love it.

A quick word on adding honey or sugar to your blended creation: Do this last, as fruit tends to be very sweet on its own.  A lot of times you won’t need to add any extra sweeteners, and doing so prematurely only adds excess calories and sugar that can easily be avoided.

Learn more tips about smoothie making here, here, and here.  Also, more about health benefits of certain fruits here, and here.  In addition, The World’s Healthiest Foods is a great resource if you need quick reference of nutritional facts for fruits, veggies, and more.

Recipes

I am always looking for unique smoothie recipes because I get tired of having the same smoothies over and over.  Here are a few of my favorites that I discovered this summer.

Magic Bullet

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First off, I use my Magic Bullet for all of my smoothies, with the 2 cup attachment and the four pronged blending blade.

Green Tea, Blueberry, and Banana

Green Tea Ingredients

Green Tea

This first one, and my personal favorite, is a green tea, blueberry, and banana smoothie. The ingredients include:

  1. 1/4 cup water
  2. 1 green tea bag
  3. 1 tsp. honey (you can easily forego the honey for this one)
  4. 1/2 cup blueberries
  5. 1 banana
  6. 3 ice cubes
  7. Skim milk (fill to top, or fill line of your blender)

Heat the water to a boil and steep the tea bag for approximately 3 minutes.  Then dissolve honey in the steeped tea.  Blend together fruit, ice, and milk until smooth.  Then blend in tea mixture.  Lastly, pour, and enjoy!

Banana Ginger

Banana Ginger Ingredients

Banana Ginger

This one is a unique blend of flavors, though is a little more tedious to prepare.  Also, if you’re not sure if you like ginger, make a small portion of this one for your first time.  The ingredients include:

  1. 1 banana
  2. 3/4 cup plain yogurt (I use Dannon)
  3. 1 tbsp honey
  4. 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  5. 1 to 2 drops of vanilla extract (Seriously, no more than this. Remember, you only put a spoonful in an entire cake.)
  6. 3 ice cubes

Blend all ingredients until smooth, pour, and enjoy!

Protip: Though delicious, the ginger makes this one not so great to have as a pre-gym snack, so save it for after the gym or for breakfast in the morning.

Strawberry, Kiwi, and Banana

Strawberry Kiwi Ingredients

Strawberry Kiwi

  1. 1 banana
  2. 1 kiwi, sliced
  3. 6 strawberries
  4. 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt (I use Dannon)
  5. 1 or 2 drops of vanilla extract
  6. Water (fill to top, or fill line of your blender)

Blend ingredients until smooth, pour, and enjoy!

Protip: There is no easy way to peel a kiwi.  Try this nifty method, or just peel it with a potato peeler like me.

For more recipes, check out these 20 Super Healthy Smoothies.

Stay fit and fruity, all!