What we’re {still} eating

So, I’ve been on a cooking kick lately.

<—Not like a literal kick…

{That’s my little bro and his adorable girlfriend. We got to see them cheer at their college game this week! Mad skills…}

This new culinary dedication is partially due to the fact that after being away for the holidays I missed my kitchen.

Partially because we decided to make a concerted effort to stay in a focus on our home, and home cooking this month.

And partially because Pinterest is taking over the universe.

And so, we now have a freezer that looks like this:

Lovely, yet dangerous at the same time. A TON of quick leftover meals, and a TON of ways to get hit in the head by a falling rubbermaid containers while fishing for something in the fridge. It happens.

At any rate, we’ve lucked out and hit the jackpot with some AWESOME new recipe finds. They were too good to keep to ourselves. And to our freezer. And so, here is my list of things you’ve just gotta try…

  • Eggplant Lasagna: I added a single layer of mashed sweet potatoes mixed with Italian herbs and spices. Perfect addition. Try it!
  • Tempeh Tamale Pie: The Husband was NOT a fan of the vegan cheese I used as the topping (should have done half and half) but couldn’t tell that the filing wasn’t ground turkey. Perfection with a few chips and Greek yogurt. Yum!
  • Turkey Sloppy Joe’s: This was delish, but for the sauce I ended up pretty much squirting in a mix of every bbq-esque sauce we had in the fridge until it tasted good. Whatever floats your boat!
  • Kale Chips: The BEST way to eat this slightly-scary veggie… perfect with a sandwich (love that c.r.u.n.c.h.)
Drum roll…
Best of the Best….
This:
  • Slow Cooker Chicken Tiki Masala: Best. Thing. We’ve. Eaten. In Months. I substituted a mix of Tofutti cream cheese and plain almond milk for the cream at the end – you couldn’t tell! The dish was so rich and delicious and creamy and decadent. A total MUST.

And, here’s a deep, dark secret.

I also made this….

{A box of cake mix, plain yogurt and fat free cool whip: So bad. So good.}

In my defense, it was for a “Trailer Trash Tragedy” Murder Mystery party….

See, it totally fit in. Cheese puffs on a toothpick, Funyuns, spray cheese, dirt pudding…

My dip was practically a health food.

But truthfully, I just wanted to eat gobs of it on an off-brand Nilla Wafer.

Yep. Did that.

Enjoy!

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{Warm up} Spicy Carnitas Chili

It’s freezing.

As in, the temperature stood at a grand total of 5 degrees yesterday morning as I headed out the door to work. Yuck.

The Husband and I had planned on swimming after work this week, but because of the wet, blustery weather we decided against it.

My feet had already been damp all day long, and the thought of jumping in a pool made me want to die.

So instead, I made chili.

So worth it.

This recipe is based off of my favorite Turkey Chilli recipe from Eat, Live, Run, and was inspired by Alexandria’s Tacos De Puerco – A braised pork belly taco with tomato-ancho sauce, queso fresco and cilantro… that is to die for.

And so, Spicy Carnitas Chili was born… Try it!

Spicy Carnitas Chili

Ingredients:

Makes about 8 servings

(Don’t be intimidated by this long list – it’s easy!)

  • About 2 cups (a little more or less works just as well) of cooked pork loin, cut into bite-sized cubes (I used leftovers that I had roasted with cranberries, rosemary and apples. Great flavor!)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large green (or red or orange or yellow…) bell pepper
  • 8 cloves of garlic (yeppers – e.i.g.h.t.)
  • 1-2 Jalapeno peppers, or 1-2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped (depends on how HOT you like your chili! The chilies add an amazing depth of flavor, but can heat things up pretty quickly. Watch out!)
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1T ground cumin
  • 2T brown sugar
  • 1 t oregano
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 1 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 regular cans of black beans
  • About 2 cups of corn, fresh or frozen
  • Chopped cilantro, shredded cheese and plain Greek yogurt for garnish

Directions:

  • Chop onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeño pepper (or chilies). Sauté everything in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium/low heat in a large pot/stockpot.
  • After about five minutes, add cooked, cubed pork loin (or add pound of lean ground turkey). Cook until the meat begins to form a crust (or has browned if you are using raw – about 8 mins.). Stir to keep things moving!
  • Add chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, oregano and tomato paste. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly (Don’t worry – the crunchy stuff on the pan is flavor!).
  • Add red wine , stir – this will “deglaze” the pot.
  • Add crushed tomatoes, beans (drained and rinsed), and corn.
  • Give it one last stir, then cover and let simmer for about an hour. Check and stir occasionally.
  • Serve piping hot with a hearty garnish of chopped cilantro, shredded cheese and plain Greek yogurt. A few tortilla chips would be a nice addition as well…

Enjoy!

This soup is thick, and almost has a smoky BBQ flavor that is out of this world. The meat is tender and falls apart – each bite is full of rich, fresh flavors and textures (and, like most soups, it just gets BETTER sitting overnight in the fridge!). Awesome for a group, perfect for a snowed-in weekend, and just different enough to keep your taste buds entertained.

You, on the other hand, might need a few Lifetime movies, nail polish, a good book and a backrub.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Team {Playas}

Being a literal “team player” doesn’t really come naturally for me.

I’ve attempted soccer, softball, swim team…

{<–Yes, that’s me. Not my little brother.}

Let’s just say that even with my mom as coach, I scored one goal, I NEVER made a hit at a single at bat all season, and we celebrated when I came in second…to last at a swim meet.

Yeah. I’ll stick to running by myself.

Anyhow, while playing on an actual team isn’t part of my day-to-day routine, being a team player in my marriage is totally vital. Like breathing. like blinking. Like not ruining every weekend with bickering. Like actually speaking to each other during car rides. Like having people over without them opening the door to that awkward “No, we haven’t been having a ‘discussion’, my face is always this red” moment.

Don’t deny it. It happens.

It really wasn’t until after a few months that I realized that I wasn’t necessarily as good as I thought I was at working together with my husband.

It’s WAY easier to say that “it’s just us against the world!” with your significant other, or even your best friend, when things are easy. It’s when the real life happens that you realize where your strengths are (or are not) in the whole “working together” scenario.

Well, after more than 2.5 years of wedded bliss, I’ve learned a thing or two about teamwork. Ladies – take a look. And get real with yourself:

1. You’re not a Team Player if you’ve only got this “teamwork thing” down when you both agree.

I went into marriage pretty dang sure that I was ready to do everything with my husband-to-be: work together, play together, pick out curtains, hang things on the wall (even those that required a level) and defer to him when appropriate.

I was wrong.

I discovered that I’m pretty much a selfish brat any time I know I’m right (which is about 97.9% of the time if you were wondering). It took the poor man, my mother and several innocent bystanders more than a year to (mostly graciously) lead me to understand that I need to just take a step back and “let” him be right, and make the right decisions sometimes. In reality, he IS right a lot. And I’m often…. *cough* wro..ng. It’s better for us. It’s better for our relationship. It’s better for our friends that visit and just want normal conversation.

{That was one heck of a fight! Kidding. Warrior Dash. But happy endings are always a good thing. We always wrap up any conversation on a high note.}

2. Martyrs aren’t Team Players.

One of my lines is “I know I sound irrational and like a jerk right now, but it’s how I FEEL, and I’m mostly mad at myself, and I already know what you’re going to say….blah, blah” (alll while sobbing… usually).

Don’t steal it.

Saying these things doesn’t help the situation. The ice cream brand won’t pick itself (Him: Kroger processed frozen dairy ice food, $.03 Me: Graeter’s elite gold label limited special edition european dark chocolate-packed new rare flavor, $27.99).

Saying these things makes me a victim. Maybe a victim of my own PMS / over-tiredness, but at any rate, it doesn’t give my dear husband a moment to say anything even remotely helpful, rational or true. To make decisions about ice cream, or – more importantly – finances (true underlying issue being discussed) I have to keep things above the belt. Save the martyr stuff for sympathy from a sibling at another time.

JK. Don’t play that card. Ever.

{Don’t ask.}

3. Team Players know “Different isn’t Wrong.”

When we were in premarital counseling, our wise, wise pastor passed on some advice that we’ll never forget: Different isn’t wrong.

When you have different opinions, different morning routines, different family backgrounds, different learning styles and different tastes in snacks: Virtually ALL of the time, different does not = wrong. Different = just plain different.

Accept it! Move on.

4. Team Players drink wine together.

When you work things out productively with your significant other, or your best friend, it is best to do it in a relaxed, easy atmosphere. Our pastor said that you should sit down at a nice dinner, have a glass of wine, and approach sensitive topics when you’re well-rested and in an fun, easy mood.

It can be hard to broach those subjects when you’re happy, but I can tell you that our best conversations, and brightest revelations have happened when we’ve used this approach. Try it!

5. Team players practice.

Even after you’ve been to the mountaintop, it can be easy to forget what you’ve learned. Remember practice makes perfect!

Some of our proudest moments have been when we’ve put what we’ve been working on in our relationship into practice in a real-life setting. We’re entertaining, we’re making travel plans, we’re calculating a shoe budget, we’re visiting family and we’re “playing” together. As a TEAM.

It’s work! But whether it’s your husband, sister, girlfriend or co-worker, it’s worth it.

After all, how can you stay mad at that?:

Awwwww…

What are some life lessons you’ve recently learned? Please share!

Favorite Things {Snacks}

2011 was pretty good to us.

We saw some beautiful places, spent time with friends and family, went on adventures, ate amazing food, tried new things, enjoyed our little house and each other…

{This pic is from the inside of a car wash. Sweet, huh?! It has nothing to do with 2011.}

Every bit of it was great, but I do have some yummy little discoveries I’ve made in 2011 (or grew to love even MORE) that are my favorites

Okay, okay. If you ask the Husband, he might even go so far as to say obsessions.

Nah.

Well, maybe just a little bit.

A few are little odd (I mean, If I say “I love hummus”, you’ll just roll your eyes and say, “duh!. You and everyone else on the planet!) So, get ready to find some new things and branch out a little bit… totally worth it.

1. La Croix Sparkling Water – Coconut and Pamplemousse flavors:

I discovered this delightful, bubbly water in a can a few years ago, and I have one almost every day. No sugar or artificial sweeteners, no sodium, no artificial flavors or colors: just pure water, natural hint of fruity flavor and bubbles. Gotta love bubbles. I often mix half of a can with a dash of fruit juice and a handful of ice for a late-night TV watching snack. Easy to pack for lunches, good for you, and a great way to “quit” a pop habit. Find them a Kroger, Wal-Mart and lots of other stores in the “drink mixers” section!

2. Pineapple Chobani Greek Yogurt:

This yummy treat packs protein AND a grandma’s-amazing-marshmallow-fruit-fluff-salad-like flavor that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. We love a lot of Chobani’s flavors (lemon and blood orange are also favorites. But beware – passion fruit has funky crunchy seeds in it…).

Great 3:00p.m. office snacks and easy to pack. Grab ’em on sale for just a buck, or get a coupon here. Beware. Your man might ALWAYS steal the last one. Not that I’m bitter…

3. Morning Wheat Grass Smoothies:

I originally hated the cliche, and hated the taste. That is, until I tried one that was perfect for a “long weekend detox”!

And may or may not have tasted like an old favorite from Arby’s.

“JaMocha” Detox Shake

Makes one shake

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop wheat grass powder (I like Amazing Grass Wheat grass powder. They have a lot of great products for kids and adults who need a little green in their lives. Or, substitute a few handfuls of fresh spinach)
  • 1/2 to 1 scoop chocolate protein powder (I’ve been using Designer Whey – 100 cal per scoop, no artificial sugars – but there are a lot of great options out there)
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin (Weird, but totally necessary for texture. You can’t taste it!)
  • About 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 T instant coffee powder
  • 6-8 Ice cubes
  • Splash of water
  • Directions:

Just toss everything in and blend until smooth! A ton of vitamins, protein and fiber, with  a slightly “green” mocha flavor. For a richer chocolate flavor, add a little unsweetened cocoa powder or use chocolate almond milk. It might take a few tries for you to adjust or find the right mix, but I wake up craving these quick little meals!

4. Sweet-Potato-in-a-Bag:

Sounds weird, but it’s the been the best thing for my lunchbox since sliced bread. Just wash a sweet potato, cut off a little of each end, poke several holes, then place in a heavy-duty Zip-Loc bag. When you’re ready to each, just open the bad a little at one corner to vent, and pop in the microwave for a few minutes until tender. I like to chop it up with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a little salt and pepper – filling, easy and delish with a side salad, an icy cold La Croix and an apple for dessert.

5. Thinly Sliced Apples with Cinnamon:

Simple, yet so, so good.My “yay for good life decisions” movie snack of choice, I love to slice a huge apple (Honeycrisp!) as thin as I can and sprinkle it with heavy dose of healthy cinnamon. It fills a whole plate and I can eat is slow…

Love that crunch!

6. Plain Yogurt with Starbucks VIA dust or Powdered PB:

You know of my love for zero fat FAGE – just mix in a quarter of a packet of Starbucks VIA  or a 1/4 t instant coffee (note: it won’t be sweet – tastes like black coffee! Add a drizzle of honey or agave for a little sweetness) and you have an awesome treat with maybe just a couple of added calories! PB2 is a fun, quirky product made of peanuts that have had the oil squeezed out of them. You end up with a powder packed with peanut flavor, but with 85% less fat! Nothing artificial and perfect for smoothies, sauces, spreads and… making PB “mousse” with plain or vanilla yogurt. Mmmmm….

7. Justin’s Maple Almond Butter – On anything.:

I’ve tried a LOT of great nut butters over the years, but Justin’s Maple Almond Butter is my favorite. All of Justin’s  butters are available in cute, perfectly portioned to-go packs that are ideal for traveling or packing in your lunch to take to the office. Add it to hotel oatmeal or an apple at the airport for a great snack and a filling breakfast, or use it in your “emergency stash” for when you get stuck at work late… don’t be too proud to eat it right out of the container.

8. Homemade Mocha Protein Bars:
I love me some bars. Of the granola, protein, chocolate, I-might-not-even-really-need-a-snack variety. Sadly, a lot of those chewy little suckers also pack a list of ingredients my little sister can’t pronounce. And that’s the rule: if your nine year old sister can’t read the ingredient list, you shouldn’t be eating it.

Try these instead….

Mocha Protein Bars

Inspired by MaMa Pea’s Chocolate Chip Zee BarsMakes 10 bars

Ingredients:

    • 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
    • 1/2 c. oat flour (aka old-fashioned oats ground into a flour)
    • 1/2 c. chocolate protein powder
    • 1/2 t. salt
    • 1 T. baking powder
    • 1/2 c. + 2 T. sweetened applesauce (if you use unsweetened, add sugar to taste)
    • 1/2 c. + 2 T. almond milk
    • 1 t. vanilla
    • 1/4 t. cinnamon
    • 1/4 c. + 3 T. chopped dark chocolate
    • 1 T instant coffee powder (do you see a trend here?)
    • For topping, if desired: 3T dark chocolate, 1t. coconut oil

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or spray an 8×8 pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine oat flour, oats, protein powder, baking powder, salt, coffee and cinnamon.
  • In a smaller bowl, combine applesauce, vanilla and milk.
  • Add applesauce mixture to oat mixture and stir until just combined. Add stevia to taste. Fold in 1/4 c. of chopped dark chocolate.
  • Pour mixture into baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until bar is set and pulling away from edge of pan.
  • Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.
  • For chocolate drizzle (optional – you may, like me, choose to put all of your chocolate inside the bars!), place 3 T. of chocolate chips in a resealable plastic bag and microwave in 30 second increments, kneading bag until chocolate has melted.
  • Add coconut oil to melted chocolate and knead again.
  • Snip a tiny corner of the bag with a pair of scissors. Pipe chocolate across cooled bars and stick bars in fridge or freezer to allow chocolate to set, if desired.
  • Store remaining bars in the fridge, or freeze for later!

The Husband totally thought I was kidding when I told him these puppies were good for him. At about 135 calories a piece and more than 10g of protein, I’m not lyin’!

9. Frozen Grapes:

Ok, kind of a “duh”, but always so good! The perfect snack to eat while reading a good book… or any time you shouldn’t mindlessly eat chip after chip… (grape after grape isn’t nearly as bad).

Speaking of chips:

10. Baked Hummus Chips, or Sweet Potato Chips Dipped in Greek Yogurt:

Tie. I love both for the crunch… sometimes you’ve just got to have a little snap with your sandwich or wrap (that isn’t a carrot. Let’s face it. They don’t always cut it.). Try Humbles Lemon and Feta or Sesame Garlic nestled by your next lunch (TONS of flavor, 55% less fat than potato chips! Find them at Whole Foods, or… TJ Maxx, like me!). Another fav is to grab some more FAGE and a few Food Should Taste Good sweet potato chips to scoop just like a sour cream dip. Touch of salt, bunch of crunch, hint of creamy… just do it.

Well I hope these ideas inspired you to branch out a bit with your snacking and lunch items this fresh, new year. Dive in. It’s so fun!

Do you have any healthy snacks to share?

Here are a few other “Best Snack” lists to try:

Peas & Thank You: Snacks and Treats

Eat, Live, Run: A Good Snack

Oh She Glows: Kid-Friendly Snacks

Iowa Girl Eats: Best Healthy Snack Ideas

_____________________________________

On a totally different note, here are my favorite Christmas presents:

{Ahhh – who knew they made Nutella “To-Go”?!}

And yes, the camera did beat the cocoa-hazelnut spread by a small margin.

Get ready for some beautiful new photography…. as soon as I figure out how to turn this thing on.

Jk.

Asian Lettuce Wraps {for a Crowd}

Every once in a while, you stumble upon a truly great recipe. It’s simple. It’s healthy. It’s tastes great. Even boys like it…

In my experience, these rare and wonderful dishes usually come from a single source: A mom.

This surprising dish is no exception. Thanks to my good friend Steph’s lovely and talented mama, the Husband and I were introduced to her lettuce wraps at a Birthday party. It was Cole’s 25th Birthday, to be exact, and there was football, beer and lots and lots of boys there. And, they loved each and every healthful green-wrapped bit of the stuff.

Impossible, you say? Just try it.

Asian Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4 as written. Quadruple for a crowd!
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/2 lb. hot Italian turkey brats
  • 1 lg. yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1/4 C Hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. Asian chile pepper sauce, opt.
  • 1 – 8 oz. water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  • 1 green onion bunch, chopped
  • 2 tsp. Asian dark sesame oil
  • Head of  bib, romaine or iceberg lettuce
Directions
  • Rinse whole lettuce leaves & pat dry, set aside.
  •  In a med skillet over high heat, brown both kinds of turkey together, stirring often, drain.  Break turkey up into small pieces when cool to touch, set aside.
  •  Cook onion (til opaque) in skillet used to brown turkey, stirring frequently.  Add garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar & chile pepper to onions & stir.
  • Add turkey mixture to skillet, coating turkey with onion mixture.  Stir in chopped water chestnuts, green onions & sesame oil. Continue cooking until onions just begin to wilt, about 2 min.
  • If you plan to eat immediately, arrange lettuce leaves around serving platter & pile meat in the center. For a crowd, simply transfer the mixture into a crock pot and set on low until you’re ready to serve!
  • It’s magic. Tasty, “a-mom-must-have-made-this!”, magic.

You might not wean party-goers and guests off of artificial cheese dip and buffalo chicken flavored pretzels all in one foul swoop… but this is a start.

I made this dish as an appetizer for our recent family Christmas party, and it got rave reviews. I made the filling a few days ahead, and popped it in the freezer. The morning of the party I put it in a crock pot, and it stayed warm and had an amazing flavor (it had time to “marinate”). No fuss, no worry that my dish would get cold, and it looks totally impressive…

AND, I made that delightful looking little treat above to accompany them. Lettuce wraps and dark chocolate drizzled, candy cane sprinkled, homemade rice crispy treats on a stick = a match made in party heaven.

Thank God for Pinterest.

Enjoy!