Holiday weekend

Maybe it wasn’t technically a holiday weekend, but with the 4th falling so close to the weekend, it seemed like one. Thursday we had a few people over to grill out and enjoy the back yard. There was a ton of food and festivities(maybe a little too much for some of us).

We now have oodles of left overs that I have been trying to recreate into other dishes so that we aren’t eating burger after brat after burger.

Saturday I woke up at 5:15am and couldn’t go back to sleep. So, I headed up and did some work in the garden and headed to water aerobics, only to learn that it started at 11am, not 10am. I didn’t want to wait around so I headed home and started creating some calzone dough. I made two different fillings, one being ground taco meat, corn and black beans with cheddar cheese and the other of chicken, pesto, tomatoes and swiss. I thought they turned out pretty tasty.

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Saturday afternoon I spend relaxing and watching a Law and Order: SVU marathon. Delightful. It’s amazing how crimes can be wrapped up neatly in a one hour TV segment. Saturday night I headed to Michael’s craft store and browsed their clearance. I got some fun glitter paint and goods to make some bracelets. A wonderful little night at home.

I had recently heard in a podcast that if you want really fluffy eggs for omelettes to put them in the blender. It will also make your eggs go farther, needing you to use less. So, after making a batch of almond milk, I cleaned out the blender and threw in one egg and 3 egg whites. I also threw in a few handfuls of spinach(who not???). It made my eggs super fluffy and green! I had a 12 inch skillet full of eggs. I topped them with marinara. Delicious and colorful.

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Once my food settled, I headed to meet some friends for an aquatic exercise class. Get a tan and exercise? Yes, please! Lunch consisted of BBQ chicken salads and fruit. I topped the salad with grilled corn, black beans, carrots, cucumber and some crushed tortilla chips.

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After realizing that yesterday was National Chocolate Day and being a little tired of eating meat at every meal, I decided that we would have chocolate chunk waffles for dinner. Well, Brian would. I had half of a waffle, veggie patty and some fruit. I don’t care for sweet breakfast foods all that much and I would have been really cranky later if I didn’t eat some protein.

Brian:

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Me:

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I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend as I did. So happy it finally felt like summer!

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.

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!

Pumpkin pizza dough and bbq chicken pizza

I love the blog {Never} homemaker. She is constantly being creative with what she has. Which, I try to do, but she seems to do it much better.

I recently planned to make a hybrid of her Pumpkin Garlic Knots and Pesto Garlic Knots by making Pesto Pumpkin Garlic Knots.

So, I made the dough.

pizza5 pizza6pizza7And then I let it rise. I put half of the batch in the freezer to use later(genius to have spare bread/pizza dough on hand) and went to grab my pesto out of the fridge. Uh oh. There wasn’t near enough left to make the pesto garlic knots. But there was enough left for me to make a delicious flat bread(you know, less surface area to cover than multiple knots).

So, that’s what I did. I pressed the dough out real thin, spread some pesto on it, topped with slices of tomato and a nice blend of Italian cheeses.

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About a week later, I pulled the other half of the dough out of the freezer and made some of Brian’s favorite pizza with it. BBQ chicken. Our favorite BBQ sauce to use is Sweet Baby Ray’s honey chipotle. It has a little heat and smokiness that perfectly compliments the sweet. Top with lots of cooked chicken. Then load on the cheese. Bake until bubbling and has a crispy crust.

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I pulled off a little ball of dough to make an individual pizza for myself, too. I rolled mine out extra thin, cooked it until slightly crisp in a dry skillet, topped it and finished it off on a pizza stone in the oven to melt the cheese.

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This is a super easy pizza dough recipe and I like that it has the added nutrients of the pumpkin. I have also made neverhomemaker’s beet pizza dough with good success. I love that it makes enough for 2 huge pizzas, so I have leftovers to use when I’m short on time.

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!

A healthier enchilada

I have professed my love for Mexican food several times over. One thing I rarely order or make is enchiladas. Mostly because they aren’t that healthy. And they have such little nutritional value.

So I decided to cook them up at home to try to make them a little healthier. There is the never-ending battle between the flour and corn tortilla in our house. Brian likes the flour, I like the corn. I am still trying to limit my gluten intake and corn have way fewer calories than flour. So this is a tale of two different plates of enchiladas.

So start by making the enchilada filling. And preheat your oven to 350F.

I added about a half tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet on medium to medium-high heat. Once hot, I sautéed one small onion(diced) until it starts to soften and turn glassy. Then I added in a pound of 93% lean ground beef and a packet of fajita seasoning(or seasoning of choice). When that is almost cooked through I stirred in 1 diced zucchini and one can of drained and rinsed black beans. Cook until heated through. Then add in a few handfuls of spinach. Stir until just starting to wilt.

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Now you have a very tasty and nutritious filling. From here, you can use it to top a salad, make a taco or make enchiladas.

In the bottom of an 8×8 pan, pour a little enchilada sauce on the bottom of the pan ans spread it around. I used flour tortillas for Brian. I put 3 big spoonfuls of enchilada filling in the center or a tortilla then rolled it up and placed it in the pan.

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I continued to do that until they were neatly rolled and tightly packed. Then I took pre-made enchilada sauce and generously poured it over the rolled enchiladas. Top with cheese.

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Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve.

I wanted a lower calorie meal. So I took a mini loaf pan and placed a corn tortilla at the bottom of it. Then I topped it with a good amount of filling, a healthy pour of enchilada sauce and cheese. I placed this in the oven next to the bigger pan for about 20 minutes.

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For a nice healthy side I made one avocado worth of guacamole and split it between the two of us. A perfect compliment to the hot and filling enchiladas.

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Which was a perfect meal to eat last week during the snow storm.

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The leftovers are amazing, too. I sauteed up some more onion and an orange bell pepper and topped with some more of the filler and enchilada sauce. So tasty!

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Reinventing leftovers is great! How do you reinvent your leftovers so you don’t get bored?

Portabella mushroom pizza

The other day I was wanting pizza. I had also regained strength in avoiding gluten products. I’ve made a few attempts at the cauliflower crust pizza and didn’t want to buy a standard gluten-free crust at the store.

So I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. That was to use a portabella mushroom cap as the base for the pizza. A healthier alternative that the other two. And I love mushrooms on my pizza.

Start by scraping the gills out of the cap of a cleaned portabella. I also cut out the stem. They were a little woody.

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Then I chopped up some spinach and mixed it with pizza sauce and put it in the mushroom caps.

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I topped it with a little more sauce. I like sauce.

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For one of the mushrooms I topped with 2 pieces of pepperoni and some mozzarella cheese. The other one got some blue cheese then mozzarella.

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It would be very easy to make these vegan by omitting the pepperoni and using a vegan cheese.

I baked them at 400 for 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese was melted.

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They were absolutely delightful! Satisfied my craving for pizza without falling off the health wagon.

Easiest baked potato soup

I saw this pinned and thought it had to be too good to be true. I am so glad that I did!

A few years ago at Christmas time, my dad and I set forth in the kitchen with the goal to make loaded baked potato soup. Ok, so maybe it was my goal, I just drug him along for the ride. He was a good sport about it. It started with a roux and cooking things in bacon fat. All things that sound wonderful and delicious. It was a painstaking and time-consuming process and highly disappointing when we ended up with a blah product. So blah that we just kept adding things to it to try to give it flavor. It ended up turning out acceptable tasting after a lot of tinkering and no where close to the original recipe.

This soup is much different from that soup. Flavorful and couldn’t be easier to make.

I got the original recipe from here, but these were my measurements:

  • 3 pounds of russet potatoes, diced(I did not peel)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 32 oz chicken broth(you could sub veggie)
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon seasoning salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced dried onion
  • 8 oz cream cheese

Put everything but the cream cheese in your crock put. Set on low. Let cook for 8-10 hours.

When you come home from a day at work, it will look something like this:

If you like your soup a little chunkier, pull 1-2 cups of the diced potato out and set to the side. If you want smooth soup, leave everything in the crock. Add in cream cheese.

Use an immersion  blender(much easier and less dishes) or a regular blender(in batches and be careful due to steam) and blend until desired consistency reached. Stir in potato chunks if reserve don the side for a chunkier soup.

Top with bacon, cheese, sour cream(I used plain greek yogurt), chives or anything else you like on your soup.

This soup is honestly almost too easy and too delicious to be true. it would be perfect to serve for any sort of gathering with a toppings bar for people to top their own bowl. I can’t wait until lunch to dive into a bowl of leftovers. Mmmm.

Chicken pesto sandwich

The inspiration for making fresh pesto…the chicken pesto sandwich.

Take some nice bread for your boyfriend. And a slice of sprouted grain for yourself.

Heat cast iron grill pan until nice and hot.

Slather some fresh pesto onto the bread.

Layer on some fresh mozzarella.

Top with some nice chicken.

Add some tomatoes(optional for boyfriend) mandatory for me. Add some more pesto to the other side of the bread.

Butter outside of bread. Place in grill pan and place something heavy(and non-flammable) on the other side to weight it down a bit. I used a heavy dinner plate.

After a few minutes, flip sandwich. Replace heavy object on top.

After a few more minutes, take off stove and pair with homemade tomato soup. So hot and melty inside with crisp and crunchy bread on the outside.

Capresedillanini

A what? It’s a cross between the caprese salad, a quesadilla and a panini. And it’s AWESOME!

Do you know what else is awesome? Going to a White Sox game with your coworkers:

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole wheat tortilla
  • fresh mozzarella
  • 1 home-grown tomato
  • fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper

I essentially make a caprese salad down the center of a tortilla.

Just layer slices of tomato with slices of fresh mozzarella. Add basil and salt and pepper.

Then I folded the rest of the tortilla over it. I put it in a hot skillet with a little oil to make it hot and crispy and melty. I put a heavy plate on top of it in the pan to help press it down.

After a few minutes, I flipped it over(be careful, the plate will be hot) and put the plate back on top of it for a few more minutes.

Slice and eat. I had it with a side of berries.

It was the ultimate summer meal. The tomato was from my garden and the basil was out of my living room. Yum.