Grilled cinnamon and sugar banana

The weather was perfect for grilling last night, so that is what I did. I feel like it’s always a feast when I grill. A healthy feast, because I love to grill up a lot of vegetables…and sometimes some fruit.

Last night’s nights grilling included burgers, fruit and vegetables(and maybe a glass of wine for me):

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Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Peel your banana. On a plate, combine cinnamon and sugar. Roll banana in cinnamon and sugar. or pick up the cinnamon and sugar lightly press it into banana until banana has a light covering of mixture.

Put banana on grill over medium heat for a few minutes on each side until sugar caramelizes and banana softens.

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(Sorry about the bad picture. It’s the not overly appetizing thing on the left of my plate, but don’t let the picture fool you. It’s amazing.)

Cut in half and share. Or don’t. Eat the whole thing. It’s a low calorie and fairly nutritious dessert.

I think you could easily substitute a drizzle of honey or maple syrup instead of the sugar then just sprinkle a little cinnamon on it with similar results.

 

Fun and fantastic

This past weekend was awesome. The weather was great and Brian and I ended up doing some spontaneous things and really taking advantage of the city. Something I need to do more often. That’s why I live here, right?

Brian took me out to dinner on Friday night because our fridge was bare! We hadn’t really gone grocery shopping in 2 weeks and we had been squeaking by on pantry staples and freezer meals all week. The upside to this was that, our fridge was bare. How is that an upside? It was the perfect opportunity to pull everything out and wipe down the shelves. A task that was long over due! Look at its glowing beauty afterwards:

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After my speed cleaning fridge session, I headed out the door to walk to meet Brian for dinner. The weather was perfect for eating dinner outside and this place had a patio(no coincidence). We started off our meal with the bone marrow appetizer which came with a great arugula salad and pickled cherry. It was the perfect flavor combination.

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I had a delicious and dark beer made with 3 different types of coffee beans:

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And was only able to eat half of my Legend’s of the Daal wrap(very tasty):

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The place is mostly known for their burgers. Brian got Elvis’ Last Supper with house made peanut butter and bacon. Surprisingly delicious.

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On the way home, we decided to walk through Ribfest, which was happening right down the block. There was this sign:

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To which, Brian reacted like this to the thought of a deep fried Snickers:

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We continued walking, until we saw this sign:

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To which the possibility of deep-fried Oreos was too much for Brian to resist. We headed over to the ticket line and within 10 minutes had a tub of fried Oreos. To which, the man next to us in line got a deep-fried Snickers and insisted I take his picture.

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Because deep-frying candy and cookies isn’t enough, they top them off with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar:

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I tried one of the Oreos. It was actually pretty tasty. Like a funnel cake married and Oreo and made tiny funnel cake Oreo babies. Brian was in heaven.

A Friday night of indulgence meant a healthy breakfast and exercise Saturday morning.

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Followed by a trip to the garden. A very exciting trip where I would learn that all of my radishes had matured and were ready to be picked. I also got a few handfuls of kale and spinach and a lone strawberry. I think I’ve gotten more produce from my community garden plot in one month this year than I did all last summer!

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After lots of errand running we grabbed lunch and then hit up Margie’s for a scoop of ice cream. They were switching out containers on Brian’s chocolate peanut butter and he got a mega scoop. That got all over his beard and mustache, but loos at those abundant ribbons of peanut butter. I had some serious ice cream envy and Brian happily shared with me.

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Saturday we ate mostly vegetable for dinner. I grilled a ton of them for us to devour and a little chicken. I also made a delicious salad with the kale and spinach from the garden with a vinaigrette, hemp and sunflower seeds and blueberries.

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Sunday was to be filled with rain, but we were surprised by a sunny day instead.

I had a breakfast taco to start the day. The eggs ended up overwhelming the tortilla, but it was delicious!

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I slow cooked brisket in a marinade all day to make some delicious barbacoa for our tostadas for dinner.

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While that was cooking and making the house smell wonderful, I got to work on a big batch of pumpkin and chocolate chip waffles to use as breakfasts in the upcoming days:

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Made a tasty batch of tarragon chicken salad(can’t wait to share the recipe) that was the perfect meal of protein to sustain us on our 12 mile bike ride by the lake.

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I don’t think we could have packed much more into our weekend. It was a great one! Hope everyone had as much fun as I did.

4 ingredient peanut butter cookies

These are nothing to write home about but would do the trick if you needed a quick sweet fix and are somewhat healthier for you than a regular cookie. I personally think a few adjustments could be made that would make them spectacular. I might play around with the recipe this weekend.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of almond butter(or nut butter of choice)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place all ingredients in bowl.

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Mix well. I think this is where the hiccup in the recipe occurred. I used natural almond butter instead of peanut butter. Store bought peanut butter has a much different (more solid) texture than natural almond butter. Making these cookies was also an effort to use up this Costco sized container of almond butter that I bought that I didn’t particularly care for. It was too oily and runny from the start.

Next, roll the dough into golf ball sized balls and place on baking mat. Make those iconic hash marks in the top of your cookie with a fork. I love the way those look.

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I could tell at this point that my dough was much too oily(thanks crappy almond butter). I had a fear that these were going to spread terribly and I would end up with one giant sheet cookie. I considered adding coconut, oats or flax at this point to firm them up a bit, but decided to just bake them and see what happened.

Bake for about 12 minutes.

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Mine did spread, but most were identifiable as cookies and tasted pretty good. I really liked the chewy texture.

Best shish kabob marinade

Summer had officially arrived, then another cold front with lots of rain moved in, just as I was really getting into grilling. With hopes of good weather, I decided that shish kabobs were in order!

This marinade is delicious. I think I might start using it for most of my vegetables on the grill and it adds great flavor to meat.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 vegetable oil(or oil of choice)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup mustard
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • Meat(optional)
  • vegetables for grilling

Mix everything but meat and vegetables in a bowl/container. Not the prettiest picture, but you can see what the marinade looks like:

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Place meat, if using, in a container for marinating. Place vegetables in a separate container for marinating. I always marinate the meat and vegetables separately.

Pour half of the marinade over the meat(I used a thin cut sirloin). Half over the vegetables. For vegetables, I used portabella mushroom, onions, bell pepper, canned potatoes, tomato and zucchini. Mix/toss to coat well.

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Let marinate for 4-24 hours. Stir/toss every few hours to make sure everything is soaking in the good flavors.  I like mine marinated closer to the 24 hour mark.

Shish kabob preparation station:

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You can see that I added some pineapple into the mix. I would have marinated it with the vegetables, but didn’t pick it up from the store until right before I made the kebobs. If using bamboo skewers, make sure you soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before putting the meat and vegetables on them. Next, put the meat and veggies on skewers. Leave a little space between things to allow air to flow while cooking.

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Unfortunately, it was raining, so I had to broil these in the oven instead of grilling. I was sad to have to do this, but they turned out almost as well. When grilling I usually do 5-7 minutes on once side, then flip to the other side for 5-7 minutes. When broiling I did about 10 minutes on one side, pulled them out of the oven and 10 on the other side. They don’t get the pretty grill marks, but the marinade is super flavorful. Here are the kabobs being pulled out to be turned.

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Be careful not to burn yourself.

And the finished product:

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YUM! And as always, make a few extra to pack for lunches later in the week:

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Meal Planning 101

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about meal plans. I’ll give you a run down about how I plan our meals.

Brian and I pack and take our lunches to work most days of the week. It’s way cheaper and healthier. Even if you are getting an inexpensive meal out, just keep in mind that restaurants charge you at least 3x or more what it costs them to make it. Meaning: You can make it sooo much cheaper at home. Let’s do the math. If you spend $5 on lunch everyday eating out(which if you live in Chicago you spend more), that means that it’s costs that restaurant at most $1.66 to make your meal.

So $5 x 5 days per week is $25 per week on lunches.

If you made that same thing at home for $1.66 x 5 days a week, you would have spent $8.33.

$25-$8.33= a savings of $16.67 per week. Times 52 weeks per year = A savings of…

$866.84 per year

Wow. It really adds up, doesn’t it? Save almost $1000 per year just by packing your lunch instead of eating out. I bet you’d like an extra $1000 per year.

And really, it’s not that hard. It just takes a little planning.

I really like using paper and pen. Notice there is hardly any processed food on the list.

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First, break it down. How many meals do you need for the week? Check your fridge and pantry. What do you already have that you can use?

We both eat our breakfasts at work. So those need to be packed, too. Do you stop and buy donuts and coffee everyday? Don’t even get me started on how money wasteful that is. Make your own donuts/breakfast sandwiches/oatmeal and coffee for PENNIES. Seriously people. I bet it would take less time to make your coffee at home in a Keurig(yes, you can afford a Keurig if you stop buying your coffee everyday) than to stop, stand in line, order and buy it. So what do we eat for breakfasts? Cold oats, oatmeal bakes, tofu scrambles, egg bakes, donuts, muffins and waffles. Yep, make extra donuts, waffles, pancakes ahead of time and reheat. Just as good as the first time.

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Brian and I combined need 12 lunches. I only put 10 because I don’t usually plan the weekend out as strictly as the weekdays. The weekend is when we will eat 1 to 2 meals out. And if we are out running errands or have other obligations, we sometimes eat separately or we just have the leftovers from the week. I try to do one crock pot meal on the weekends. It saves time and makes a lot all at once. I don’t care if you are cooking for one or four, most recipes freeze well. Utilize your freezer, people. So, what are some of my favorite crock pot meals to make? Buffalo chicken, chicken curry, pulled pork, pork tinga, soups…or anything on pinterest. Start it in the morning. When it is done cooking, eat it for dinner. Then portion the rest out. Put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

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I have also made a very conscious effort for us to eat meat less. A lot less. I make veggie burgers often. They are simple, fast and incredibly inexpensive to make. They are also filling, low in fat, high in fiber and protein. Win, win, win, win.

Another thing that Brian and I love are macro bowls. I steam kale, cook black beans, roast sweet potatoes, cook quinoa and bake tofu. Then I divide it out evenly between bowls. These bowls pack a punch in the flavor department, are super healthy and filling. They are really easy to customize, too. You don’t like tofu, substitute meat of your choice. You hate black beans? Throw in any other bean or lentil. Don’t have quinoa, use rice. Kale grosses you out? Use broccoli. You get protein, fiber, veg, and antioxidants. Yes these take a little while to make since you cooking everything separately, but they come in at less than $2 per bowl, using all organic ingredients.

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Two other dishes that we love are rama chicken and orange chicken. Healthier versions of take out food, made at home. Both pack great for lunches, too. Substitute tofu for the chicken and they are vegetarian. Most things you order at restaurant can be made fairly simply at home.

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Are these too healthy of options? Make a pizza. Make your own crust. That’s an option that takes less than 10 minutes to make. Spread on some sauce, cheese and toppings. This makes a very large pizza or two, so you will have a few days of left over pizza, too. Another fast option. Kraft whole grain macaroni and cheese… add a source of protein and vegetables(a lot) to it when it’s done cooking. It saves you from eating the whole box, makes it much more nutritious and gives you 1-2 meals worth of leftovers. Win, win.

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Need a fast weeknight meal? Well, that pizza and mac and cheese come together in about a half an hour. Do you know what else cooks really fast? Fish! Seriously, it takes less than 10 minutes to cook most fish. While that is cooking, saute or steam some of your favorite vegetable(s). Tired of your same old, same old tuna sandwich? Make a tuna melt. Leave the sandwich open-faced, throw on a slice of cheese and broil it for a few minutes.

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Another thing I do that saves me a ton of time during the week is to prepare a lot of vegetables a head of time. It’s easy to cut root vegetables, potatoes, or brussies up and roast them while doing other things around the house. Then I have a quick side to go with any meal throughout the week. Or put some potatoes or sweet potatoes in your crock pot. I also peel and cut up the entire bag of carrots at one time to snack on throughout the week.

I also take full advantage of my weekends and get most of my cooking done then. Take 4 hours one day and see what all you can get accomplished. I bet you will be eating well for days. This weekend, I am going to try to make about 10 days worth of food so there are things in the house through next weekend.

What’s on the list? Crockpot buffalo chicken(some will go in the freezer), a batch of veggie burgers, macrobiotic bowls, pizza, grilled burgers, tilapia and asparagus packets and some sort of breakfast(donuts or waffles) to pack for Brian. There you go. Six recipes that will feed 2 people for 10 days, plus some fresh fruit and vegetables. Getting some done ahead of time sure beats scrambling to make dinner every night.

I can make all of that with less than $70 worth of groceries for about one week of food. That’s $10 per day for 3 meals for 2 people. That makes each meal average out to $1.66. Way cheaper than eating out. And much healthier.

You’ve asked. I’ve answered. A weekly meal plan to save your waistline and pocket-book!

Afternoon snack

I eat this almost everyday. It’s one of my favorite snacks. An apple with 10 almonds.

The trick to making it taste extra good? Take a bite of the apple. Put an almond in your mouth. Chew together. Tastes way better than almonds and apples separately.

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Mango lassi

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People! This is tasty and refreshing. Last month I went to an Indian cooking class. At the end, our instructor made mango lassi’s for everyone. YUM!

I had to attempt to recreate at home, of course.

The ones I made were much thicker and more smoothie like than was made in class, but I liked them that way.

For 2 lassi:

-1 individual container of plain Greek yogurt

-2 mangoes, peeled and diced

-1 cup unsweetened coconut milk(or whatever milk you prefer)

-dash of cardamom

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Blend away! Pour in two glasses. You can add more liquid(milk or water) to think them down more if you like. They are the perfect complement to a spicy dish. Or, we had ours with pizza and salad!

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Vegan gluten-free black bean brownies

I really, really liked these. I like them because they are vegan, you can slightly underbake them, leave them extra gooey and not have any raw egg illness worry. Mine were baked enough that they held together but gooey enough that they stuck to my teeth with every bite, leaving me looking like a hillbilly with a big goofy grin of brownie happiness.

I made these exactly like Minimalist Baker told me to. Or rather blogged about, but I felt like she was talking directly to me. Telling me to make them, so I did.

Let’s look at the deliciousness. The flax egg setting up:

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The other dry ingredients and draining and rinsing the beans:

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Bring it all together now:

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Scoop it to be baked:

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Hot and delicious:

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Take a big bite!

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Spring

This weekend’s weather made it feel as if spring has finally arrived. This made me extremely happy.

I spent as much of Saturday outside as possible. I was outside almost straight from 8-4 then 6-7. I couldn’t get enough of the weather! This led me to walking most of my errands and I walked a total of 9-10 miles. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a tan.

I started out the day by heading to Cafe Tola on Southport and Addison. I had walked by a week or two ago and they had some delicious looking donuts in the front window(they also make fresh empanadas daily). Getting there before 8 gave me the pick of the batch and I got a maple bacon and a red velvet cake donut for Brian and a big cup of strong coffee for myself.  The sun was so warm that the frosting melted a little on the way home.

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I tried a bite of each, both delicious, but too sweet for my taste. I recreated my restaurant leftovers of salmon with a bacon potato hash into breakfast. How? By adding and egg, of course. Savory. My preferred breakfast.

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With a protein packed breakfast, I was fueled for my walk to Home Depot to pick out some plants for my garden plot.

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Still not having enough of the fresh air, I stopped on my walk to Lincoln Square to have some tacos at La Amistad. Sitting outside to eat them, of course.

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I went on another walk to pick up a few things at Whole Foods to make food for the week. I threw together these “bowls” of quinoa cooked in vegetable broth, black beans, roasted sweet potato, steamed sesame kale and baked tofu. That made 5 of the 10 lunches for Brian and I to eat this week. These came together in less than one hour.

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Sunday, Brian and I got up and ran the Ravenswood 5k. I really loved the route this year and was happy with my time. We had a small miscommunication about breakfast, though. When registering for the race, you could buy a ticket for a pancake breakfast to support the local food pantry. Brian bought one. I didn’t. Wah wah. Fortunately, the pancakes were prepackaged, so he could take them to go. It was probably a good thing, as I was surprisingly not hungry after the race. I had coffee and a bite of a cinnamon roll, but didn’t eat the banana or mini bagel they were handing out.

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After coming home and relaxing for a few hours, I was hungry and made myself a mega lunch. I had a broccoli potato patty, two eggs, my mini bagel(toasted with butter), blueberries and an apple with mango ginger Stilton cheese. I put a little cheese on half the bagel and then a slice of apple on top of that. Heavenly. Absolutely delightful. I rarely eat cheese anymore. Or most diary for that matter. I try to make it a rule that if I am going to eat cheese, it has to be good cheese. This was GOOD cheese.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon going for walk, checking on my garden plot and making up food for the week. I started a batch of cold brew iced coffee on Saturday and was able to drain it off and jar it yesterday. Just the refreshing beverage I need to have on hand with temps in the 80s tomorrow!

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I have been trying to move to a more natural skin care routine. One of the hardest things from me to move away from is my inexpensive but very loved drugstore body lotion. I have tried straight coconut oil before and didn’t love it. I ran across a recipe for whipped coconut oil body butter last week and decided to whip(pun intended) up a batch this weekend. It is absolutely delightful. I can’t wait to share this recipe. A little goes a long way and it really lasts all day.

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Multitasking while I was making the body butter, I cooked up some more food to round out our lunches and some dinner for the week. Look at that well stocked fridge.

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I’ve had a few people inquire lately about meal plans. Hoping to get to a post soon about how I try to do meal plans. Have a great week everyone and get out and enjoy some fresh air!

Sunday, so far

It’s not even 10am and I have been on a roll today. My two real goals of the day are to make Momofuku’s compost cookies and to grill out dinner tonight. Neither have happened.

I have been busy in the kitchen, though. I made Minimalist Baker’s 5 minute espresso brownies earlier this week for me. Brian asked to try one and didn’t like it(I love them). But he ever so casually mentioned that he likes when I make black bean brownies. Well, what did Minimalist Baker have up? A new recipe for black bean brownies. And they are good! So fudgy. Or is it fudgey?

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In yesterday’s mail my copy of More peas, please arrived. I immediately earmarked several recipes that I wanted to make. Since I still have a load if mangos to use from last weeks sale, I converted the peach cornmeal muffins to mango cornmeal donuts. They’re ok, but nothing to write home about. I feel like my cornmeal may have been too coarse of a ground. Oh well. On to the next recipe.

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I also sliced and got some veg marinating to throw on the grill tonight. A big dinner of zucchini, eggplant and portabella will be exactly what I need after some baked good sampling this morning. Along with a nice run once the weather warms up this afternoon.