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!

All things weekend

Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day!

I started out my weekend by doing a new LUSH face mask. It had lots of mint in it and felt amazing.

green1Then I headed the the gym for a good workout. And thank goodness I did. The rest of the day was filled with some St Patty’s Day celebrating with friends. I did stop at Whole Foods to grab lunch after my work out, though. I grabbed some salad, bison chili and their amazing jalapeno corn bread. I don’t eat much bread, the WF’s corn bread is a carb that I make an exception for.

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I had leftovers of both and made them into a cowboy eggs “benedict” for breakfast the next morning.

green3Then I headed into the kitchen to make food for the week and weeks ahead. I double up on the meat purchases for the week and cooked it all up so I would have plenty to put into the freezer. Burgers for weeks!

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I realized after a very busy and social last week that I really have to have healthy meals on hand to make sure that it is easy for me to make good food decisions. I also made a batch of coconut butternut squash soup that is a little disappointing. But it’s healthy and cooked, so I’ll eat it. Slowly, but surely.

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I also make two big pans of oven baked chicken fajitas for a work lunch today. They were excellent and so easy. I got the idea here, but combined several different marinade recipes to create my own.

green5I tried my hand at Whole Food’s coconut date logs. My current post workout obsession. They turned out pretty close to the real deal and I’m set for a while!

green9Despite everything I got done yesterday, I still felt like I did a lot of lounging around, snuggled up under a blanket on the couch.

green10I hope everyone had a great weekend!

A mexican fiesta and pickled onions

I’ve pickled things before. Pickled pickles. Also called pickled cucumbers. Pickled carrots. Pickled vegetables for bahn mi. They’ve all been delicious.

Sunday, there was last-minute decision to change menu plans from pork tinga to some amazing honey lime fish tacos.  Last time I made the tacos, I didn’t have the energy to run to the store, so we just made do with what we had and topped them with lettuce and avocado.

Well, this time, I did them up right. A little crunchy and tangy goes great with fish. So we had the option of more toppings this time. Red cabbage, cilantro, jalapeno, avocado, limes, and pickled onions.

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The recipes of pickled onions I have made before took time. So a quick google seach returned a Bon Appetit result that I knew wouldn’t steer me wrong. With only a little over an hour of pickling time, these were ready just in time for that tacos. Quick pickled onions, indeed!

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Mmm mm mmm. I can’t wait to throw these on sandwiches throughout the week! So tasty!

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?

Summer salad trio

When I went home for a few days at the beginning of the summer, it was my mission to get my parents off of their boring daily lunches. They usually eat a turkey sandwich and chips or fruit and vegetables for lunch. Every. day. So. Boring.

So while I was home I made giant salads for all of us to dig into at lunch time. Super easy, mostly healthy and super delicious.

Faux Cobb Salad:

Start with a big bed of lettuce of choice. I made it a little healthier by substituting sautéed mushrooms for the traditional bacon.Then I added chopped hard-boiled egg, the sautéed mushrooms, diced tomato, diced grilled chicken, avocado and bleu cheese. It was a big hit with my parents.

Another day, I did an Iowa version of the taco salad:

I started out with a big bowl of lettuce, added lean ground beef cooked in taco seasoning, fresh corn, black beans, diced tomato, shredded cheese, avocado, and red onion. Ready for the special Iowa ingredient? Black olives. No where outside of Iowa have I ever been served black olives on a taco salad. Then I added a few chips to the edge to give a little crunch, but much healthier than an entire tortilla shell.

The final salad was a bit more random. Very similar to the faux cobb salad but I also added sautéed asparagus and black olives and left off the chicken.

So there you have 3 easy salads to make when you don’t want to be firing up the oven on a hot summer day. It’s an easy way to get in a few servings of vegetables, too. These salads are so flavorful you don’t need much, if any, salad dressing. Keep it simple and light.

Honey Lime Fish Tacos

Brian sent me a link to this recipe and I knew I would be making it soon. Like, for lunch that day, with a few minor changes.

These are absolutely delicious. Light and full of flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 2 4-6oz flounder fillets
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for dredging
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, plus more for dredging
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup brown rice flour(or white flour if not gluten-free)
  • tortillas
  • lettuce and avocado, or other favorite taco toppings

Make marinade by combining lime zest, juice, honey, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Add fish and marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. I let mine marinate for 2-3 hours and they had great flavor.

When ready to cook, combine flour and a little more salt and pepper in a bowl.

Heat oil in a skillet. Dredge fish in flour and place in hot oil.

Cook about 4 minutes on each side and until nice and brown and crispy.

While the fish is cooking, take the marinade that the fish was sitting in and bring it a boil in a small sauce pan for 5-6 minutes or until it thickens.

Place in tortilla, top with some lettuce and avocado and drizzle thickened sauce over. The sauce really makes these tacos.

Brian ate one taco, looked at me, and said, “These are soooo good that I could eat five of them.” They are a little sweet and a little tangy and a whole lot of delicious.

Hot mess enchiladas

When I was in Texas, the land of Tex-Mex food, a few weeks ago I had some really amazing vegetable enchiladas. So, of course, I wanted to recreate them. Well, mine didn’t come out quite like theirs. In fact, they were a hot mess, but they tasted good.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 yellow(or any color) bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small yellow squash, diced
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 4 oz baby portabellas, sliced
  • 1 15oz can black beans
  • 1 package 100% corn tortillas
  • 1 jar of enchilada sauce of choice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cook until translucent. Add garlic, cook for about one minute.

Add bell pepper, squash, zucchini and mushroom. Cook until veggies are fork tender.

Add black beans, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

In a large casserole dish, spoon a layer of enchilada sauce across the bottom.

Take a few spoonfuls of veggie mixture and place down the center or tortilla.

Roll and place in pan. Continue with tortillas until pan is full.

Pour rest of enchilada sauce over the top of the rolled tortillas.

Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through.

Serve with sides of brown rice and refried beans.

Why do I call these hot mess enchiladas? Well, they turned out looking like a hot mess. I was trying to keep them healthy, so I didn’t fry the tortillas the way enchiladas are traditionally made. My tortillas were breaking on me left and right. I also didn’t spray the pan before I put them in or add enough sauce to the bottom of the pan, so they stuck to the bottom when I was trying to lift them out. They may have looked bad, but they sure tasted good.

MEGA NACHO: a meal

What’s better than nachos? MEGA NACHOS!

That’s what I had for dinner tonight. I made tacos for dinner last night and had some seasoned chicken meat left over and didn’t want tacos again.

Problem: I wanted nachos, but they aren’t very healthy And I didn’t want to negate all the time I’ve been spending in the gym.

Solution: A modified version, now known as the mega nacho.

I started with the base of a half of a hard taco shell. I spread a small layer of jalapeno hummus on it, because I’m addicted to it, it’s wonderfully spicy and it will work nicely as a moisture barrier for the shell. Then a layer of chicken, topped with salsa. I placed some cheese on the salsa and some jalapeno on top of the cheese. I microwaved that until heated through and the cheese was melted. Then I topped everything with a little Greek yogurt(it’s healthier than sour cream).

So amazingly delicious. It’s plenty to eat and much healthier than a giant plate of chips and accomplishes the same flavor. Healthified nachos…I’ll tip my sombrero to that!

Taco meatballs

 

These are awesome! What’s better than a flavored ball of meat that oozes cheese in the middle? Not much.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb lean ground sirloin
  • 2/3 package low sodium taco seasoning
  • 1 green onion finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 block reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 425F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except cheese.

Once mixed, take a tablespoon amount of meat and divide it in two. Place a cube of cheese in between the two pieces of meat and form around the cheese in a ball form. Try to fully conceal the meat inside for minimal cheese leakage when cook. The recipe called for an entire block of cheese. I used large cubes of cheese and still only used about 1/3 of the block of cheese and the balls were sufficiently cheesy.

Once formed into a ball, place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 7-10 minutes.

These would make excellent party appetizers, in a wrap, a taco meatball sub or on a salad…as I ate a few of them(with some of my mom’s homemade salsa).