Tag Archives: recipes

April showers bring May flowers – and life updates!

It’s crazy that today marks the end of April and tomorrow May will take its place. I feel like it was just yesterday that I rang in the new year and decided I was going to make 2013 my best year yet. I must say, four months in, I love the way 2013 feels. I thought I’d give everyone a brief update on what’s been going on in my life.

april update

In these past few months, I’ve checked twenty-five things off my 213 in 2013 list. Some of them have been small but meaningful – like spending a perfect sunny afternoon at a farmers market, buying up local art. Others were a bit intimidating, like skiing down a mountain for the first time. And some were absolutely life-changing, like finally go skydiving after years of only daydreaming about it.

Free-falling.

In just two weeks, Mike and I will be boarding a plane to Houston, Texas to visit his family. He hasn’t seen his dad, his stepmom and his adorable brothers and sisters in years, which is why I knew two plane tickets would be the perfect Christmas gift. I’m excited for my first official “vacation” since I joined the working world and look forward to stuffing myself full of authentic Texas barbeque. And to celebrate Mike’s 26th birthday in a big way. Because everything in Texas is bigger, right?

Mike's big Christmas gift this year - two tickets to Texas to see his family.

Mike’s big Christmas gift this year – two tickets to Texas to see his family.

Also – somehow over the past few months, I went from having a year until the wedding to only 142 days! That’s less than five months. Mike and I have been busy locking down hotel rooms, rehearsal dinner, guest transportation, suits for the groomsmen and a dress for my mom, you name it. In between all of the big stuff though we’ve been having a really great time working on the fun little details – like table numbers and invitations and centerpieces.

Cute little touches like this make me happy. Here is our "seating chart" sign.

Cute little touches like this make me happy. Here is our “seating chart” sign.

I think we’re now a couple thousand over budget, even with all of my DIY projects and bargain hunting. It’s crazy to me how expensive weddings can be, but I keep reminding myself it will all be worth it in the end. We have a meeting with our caterer in the coming weeks to nail down floor layouts, linen colors and dinnerware. If planning this wedding has taught me anything – it’s how to be more decisive. I’ve never had to make so many decisions in my life!

Only 143 days to go. Not like I'm counting.

Only 143 days to go. Not like I’m counting.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard – Mike and I booked our dream honeymoon. We’re going to Paris! And we leave the morning after the wedding. As in our flight leaves at 9:15am. And then we get to spend the next seven days in the city of love, canoodling over croissants and Chardonnay and everything magical that Paris has to offer. Thank you, tax return.

Awesome piece that appeared in USA Today on our Be Cruelty-Free campaign.

Awesome piece that appeared in USA Today on our Be Cruelty-Free campaign.

My one year moveiversary (May 12) and workiversary are also quickly approaching (May 21). It’s crazy how much can change in just a year. I’ve kind of fallen in love with my new home and the people I’ve met, although it has been a long, a bumpy road. My job continues to challenge me every day (in a good way!) and I’m unbelievably proud of myself for everything I’ve accomplished – from coverage in the biggest media outlets to growing as a professional.

New dining room paint job - still a work in progress.

New dining room paint job – still a work in progress.

Updated coffee table centerpiece - sans flowers. Can't you tell I love pink?

Updated coffee table centerpiece – sans flowers. Can’t you tell I love pink?

As for the day-to-day, Mike and I are working to make our apartment feel more like a home, between more Pinspiration and a few fresh coats of paint. We’re also putting down the takeout and opting for cooking healthier, fresher meals, which is making both our wallets and our waistline happier.

I made a homemade flatbread with low-fat/skim mozzarella, skim ricotta and some sundried tomatoes and basil. YUM.

I made a homemade flatbread with low-fat/skim mozzarella, skim ricotta and some sundried tomatoes and basil. YUM.

Which brings me to my point. I’ve been living by a mantra so far this year. And it’s working.

“You are the creator of your own happiness.”

After I graduated I fell into a slump. I was lonely. I felt disconnected. I wasn’t myself. I was unhappy.

april update happy

It’s amazing that the second you make the decision that all of those negative feelings stop, that pessimism won’t win, you regain your balance. And ultimately your happiness.

I’m loving life right now.

Because I choose to.

What exciting things do you guys have to look forward to in the coming months? Any big life changes you want to share? I’d love to hear!

Advertisements

#6. throw a fabulous dinner party

I love entertaining and consider myself the ever dutiful hostess. There is nothing more satisfying than cooking up a delicious dinner, wrapping around a table with friends and enjoying each other’s company over a bottle (or six) of wine and a heaping pile of pasta. So, with the new friends I’ve been making, I thought it would be the perfectly opportunity to throw the fabulous dinner party I’ve been wanting to have on my 213 in 2013 list. It doesn’t get more fabulous than carbo-loading and wine-guzzling with a group of newly acquainted people.

One of my favorite parts about dinner parties? The table settings.

One of my favorite parts about dinner parties? The table settings.

The guest list in the week leading up to the party grew from four to six to at the last minute, seven people. The more the merrier, I figured. And luckily, as an Italian, I always cook too much food anyways so I ended up having more than enough.

After spending the entire afternoon cleaning every crack and crevice of the apartment, I started whipping up a feast. Sundried tomato, ricotta and pesto torta with garlic pita chips to munch on. Fresh oven baked bread to soak up olive oil and fresh herbs. Seven layer lasagna smothered with fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and crushed tomatoes. Green beans with sundried tomatoes, garlic and shaved parmesan. And a delicious, creamy, chocolate peanut butter pie. (Sorry there aren’t really any pictures…was too busy stuffing my face and having a good time!)

Mmm, peanut butter pie.

I was admittedly a little nervous about having all of these newly-minted friends over to my apartment. Not only did I barely know them, but none of them really knew each other. It had the potential to be incredibly awkward but I was convinced that good wine and food would be the ultimate icebreaker. And, I was right.

For five hours we talked, laughed, ate until the plates were empty and drank until the bottles ran dry. I didn’t fret about the lasagna not presenting itself perfectly on the plate. Or the fact that we were all so crunched together at the table we could hardly lift our elbows. I didn’t sweat about the sink not draining or the large pile of dishes in the kitchen.

Just one of a few (several) bottles of wine from the evening.

Just one of a few (several) bottles of wine from the evening.

Instead I spent the night talking about books and movies and restaurants and life. Taking pictures of my cats, starting book clubs and planning vineyard tours. I got to know each of these girls a little better than I did before and realized how lucky I was to stumble upon each and every one of them because they help make this city feel more like home. Because they are incredibly funny, kind and wonderful people. Because it feels amazing to genuinely connect with a group of people after feeling disconnected for so long.

The wine was good. The food was delicious. But the people…the conversation…the memories, they were perfect.

#5. make a pizza from scratch

As you read yesterday, this past weekend Mike and I knocked two things off my 213 in 2013 list thanks to the purchase of one Groupon deal for a painting and pizza making class. Since I’ve already told you all about the fun we had channeling our inner Picassos, today I’m sharing our experience channeling our inner Mario Batali.

The spread -- I had to try hard to resist eating the mozzarella before putting it on my pizza.

The spread — I had to try hard to resist eating the mozzarella before putting it on my pizza.

Immediately after drying our canvases, the painting instructor walked us across the pavilion to Oro Pomodoro, an authentic Neopolitan pizzeria and Italian restaurant. When we walked in the hostess greeted us with a cheery “Buongiorno!” and showed us to a long row of tables facing the kitchen. In front of us were all the ingredients you’d need to make a perfectly authentic Naples pizza: vibrant crushed tomatoes imported from Italy, chunks of silky, fresh mozzarella, aromatic basil leaves and the most incredible olive oil I’ve ever tasted.

Michael teaching us the secret to a good pizza dough.

Michael teaching us the secret to a good pizza dough.

The chef, Michaelo, came out from behind the coal pizza oven covered in flour and greeted us with a warm smile. In broken English, with the occasional slip of an Italian phrase or two, he began demonstrating how to make the pizza dough. I laughed as he went on a rant about Americans ruining pizza with their overly processed and enriched flour. He goes on to say that it’s the flour that is the true secret to making a fantastic pizza.

He’s truly an artist, although his medium is not paint but rather the spread of ingredients before him; sculpting the perfectly thin and round dough, caressing it as he gently molds the crust. He pours the marinara onto his canvas and begins to swirl it, painting every inch until he’s satisfied. Mike and I follow along, kneading and molding our dough. For a moment I forget I’m surrounded by others in my class and throw down a pinch of flour onto the table and yell “BAM!” as if I’m Emeril Lagasse. Michaelo just laughs.

My pizza before it went into the 800 degree coal oven.

My pizza before it went into the 800 degree coal oven.

After our dough has been sculpted and our marinara perfectly swirled, Michaelo comes over to inspect our work thus far. He nods as he walks down the length of the tables and gives me a “Brava” as he walks by my pizza. I beam with pride at his compliment. We then take the basil leaves and spread them over the sauce, followed by the mozzarella and a sprinkle of parmesan. Someone decides to not use all of their mozzarella, and being the opportunist that I am – I quickly grab it and spread the extra cheese on my pizza as others look at me, both envious and impressed that they hadn’t thought to do it first.

Watching Michaelo throw my pizza into the oven that he built.

Watching Michaelo throw my pizza into the oven that he built.

Michaelo walks us over, one by one; to the coal oven that cooks the pizza at 800 degrees. He smiles as he tells me that he built the oven with his own hands. He shoves my pizza into the oven and immediately I watch as the cheese begins to bubble. Michaelo is amused with how excited I am, laughing as I clap my hands in delight. The owner of the restaurant offers to take a picture of Mike and I with my pizza and tells me that if I’m ever interested, I could easily have a career as a pizza chef. Who knows… it could happen!

Mike and I with one of the two pizzas we made.

Mike and I with one of the two pizzas we made.

We rush back to our seats and I bring the first slice up to my mouth and sink my teeth in. I’m not going to even bother to try to put into words how absolutely incredible it tasted, because words honestly can’t do it justice. To put it into perspective, you know how you eat certain foods that transport you back to a particular place and time? The moment I tasted that pizza, I immediately found myself in Naples again, on the brick patio of the tiny trattoria where I had my first experience of true, authentic Neopolitan pizza. It was sensory overload… the smell, the taste, the memories, all cultivating into the perfect bite. I finished the entire thing. Not even a crumb was left over on the plate.

Bellisima... the finished product.

Bellisima… the finished product.

Call me crazy or overly sentimental… but that pizza, that moment, helped me find my appetite for life again. And I’m hungrier than ever.

(lack of) veggie tales

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about my road to healthiness – and just I’ve been neglecting it on the blog, I’ve been neglecting it in my day-to-day life as well.

Now that doesn’t mean I went out and ate and entire Pizza Hunt pizza with extra cheese by myself (I’d be lying if I didn’t say I kind of wish I had), but my vigor and ferocity from the beginning of October has slowly come to a bit of a crawl. Like today for instance… I’ve been drowning in a mental fog, coupled by a killer headache since 2 because I haven’t eaten a single thing today.

I’ve been doing the whole, “I’ll skip lunch because I’m so busy at work, blah, blah, blah…but it’s okay… I’ll grab dinner when I get home,” routine.

But, but the time I get home I’m so worn out and exhausted that I’d rather set myself on fire and jump off a bridge than cook myself a decent, balanced meal. So naturally, that turns into me snacking on things like chips and salsa, or maybe a few handfuls of goldfish. The ol’ trusted blue box of Kraft macaroni has even made a few reprises these past few weeks and I’m honestly not proud of it. I mean really, if I’m going to eat junk I know I can do better than neon orange cheese powder.

Oh and the three-a-week workouts? Yeah… they’ve become one-a-week workouts thanks to the “ugh, I’d rather rollover and hit snooze a million times than get out of bed to do jumping jacks and lunges across the apartment at 6 AM.”

I’m not discouraged though. Yes, I’ve maybe wandered down some roads that would have been better left untraveled, or cookies left uneaten, on my journey to becoming the best version of myself, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed and that I can’t pick myself back up.

Here’s where I’m struggling. Big time. And I realize this is totally a Catch 22, so please don’t think the irony is lost on me, because it isn’t.

I’m tired on a constant basis. I yawn far too much and I always find my eyelids a little heavier than I’d like. This turns in to laziness with working out and cooking a good, nutritious meal. It’s easier to sleep in, obviously and it’s easier to reach my hand into the bag of tortilla chips instead of whipping up some nice veggies and chicken.

Yet, I’m fully aware that if I get in the habit of working out and eating better meals, I’ll have more energy and won’t be so tired all the time. Which will allow me to put more time into making healthy meals and working up a sweat.

Here’s where I need your help. I’m a total novice when it comes to healthy cooking. My entire life I’ve been told that the only way to eat anything is to slather carbs with marinara and cheese. And although I’ve spent hours surfing the web for “easy to make healthy meals,” usually they stay on my Pinterest board and rarely make it to stomach.

veggietales

So I’m outsourcing. I’m asking pleading you to send me your favorite healthy recipes that are simple, and easy to make. I’m talking something I can whip up in 30 minutes when I get home at 6:30/7 at night after sitting in an unhealthy and ludicrous amount of traffic. I’m also talking affordable, too. You know those nasty, little things called student loans? Well, they’ve found me and they’re demanding I pay up, which leaves me with little money to grocery shop with. But I want (need) to learn how to put the little money I do have into good use, to make mouth-watering, delicious meals that are chock full of nutrients and vitamins and all that other healthy jazz.

Please send your favorite recipes my way in the comment section below. I’d also love great blog recommendations for places I can find some recipes of my own to try out.

I’ll update this blog with how the different recipes have turned out once I’ve attempted them. Don’t be surprised if I come back with something along the lines of “Ewww” or “Gross.” I have the palate of a toddler whose main food groups are chicken nuggets and spaghetti.

https://i0.wp.com/www.mommyq.com/wp-content/uploads/Picky-Eaters.jpg

But… I’m getting there. One yucky green vegetable at a time.

Bon Appetite!

home is where the heart is

I’m not a fan of Mondays by any stretch of the imagination… quite frankly, I don’t know anyone who is. But Mondays after a nice, relaxing four-day holiday staycation? Those Mondays are the absolute worst. After four days off, your pajamas are perfectly worn in, you’ve found the groove on the couch that’s just right and you’ve established a new schedule for yourself: sleep in, eat, watch TV, nap, shop, dinner, drinks, repeat. And then Monday has the nerve to come knocking with its 6:45 AM alarm clocks and skipped breakfast and annoying commute.

Okay – end of rant.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving – I know I did. I was a little saddened when I woke up on Thursday to a quiet apartment, sans my two cats who were busy trying to eat doorstoppers (weirdos). Thanksgiving at my parents’ house always involved waking up early to the hustling and bustling of my mom and dad in the kitchen. My dad muttering something about the name of the turkey, my mom making a fuss about the mess in the kitchen and my brother, sister and I ripping up loaves of bread for the homemade stuffing. I missed the chaos.

But Mike and I were excited to start some “chaos” of our own. Mike was off to the grocery store to pick up the “fattest chicken he could find,” while I started prepping the apartment with pumpkin scented candles, setting the table and creating a schedule. Once Mike returned, hilarity ensued.

Martha Stewart in the making… you can’t have a holiday feast without a floral arrangement.

Neither Mike nor I have ever cooked a whole chicken before. I knew that he’d have to clean out the “giblets” inside the chicken and made it very clear that I’d cook everything else if he took care of that one task.  After several failed attempts to “man up,” he finally took the plunge and got starting on cleaning out the chicken.

One of my favorite parts of the day… watching Mike become a man.

We found a simple, yet mouthwatering recipe from Pioneer Girl that called for a few ingredients: butter, lemon, garlic, onion, thyme, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Our mis en place for the chicken — I love the smell of fresh herbs.

We stuffed the inside of the chicken with a whole lemon, a few cloves of smashed garlic (to release the aromas and juices), and a few slices of onion. Once she’d be stuffed, we gave her a bath in a coat of butter to crisp up her skin and slathered her with the fresh herbs. After she was dressed up and ready to go, we shoved her in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

This was absolutely the best chicken I’ve ever had. Not to brag or anything.

As the chicken was browning in the oven, I started the arduous task of making homemade mac n’ cheese. Mac n’ cheese really is a labor of love. I decided to make a copycat recipe of Panera’s white cheddar stovetop macaroni since it’s one of my favorites (who doesn’t love Vermont sharp white cheddar?) This involved a lot of whisking, yelling at Mike for dumping in the flour too quickly, more whisking, yelling at Mike for dumping in the milk too quickly, more whisking, yelling at Mike for the sake of yelling and finally a few cups of cheese. It turned out absolutely amazing. I could have eaten the pound of pasta myself. Luckily, I didn’t.

To accompany the chicken and macaroni we had your typical Thanksgiving sides – roasted baby potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans and rolls. It was quite a feast for two people.

Hard to believe all of this food was for two people! Good thing I love leftovers.

To wash down our yummy meal, I made homemade apple cider sangria. It was surprisingly very easy to make and absolutely delicious to drink. Using a bottle of Yellowtail Moscato, a few cups of apple cider, three chopped honeycrisp apples and a few splashes of cognac – it was the perfect holiday drink.

With a dash of cognac (or brandy) this is what fall would taste like in liquid form.

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without a sweet treat. While I absolutely love pumpkin pie – baking and desserts aren’t really my specialty. So I decided to try something different and make a lite pumpkin pie cheesecake mousse.

The perfect ending to a delicious meal.

I have never been happier about throwing tradition out the window because this dessert was to die for and it was so easy to make! All it called for was pumpkin puree, skim milk, light cream cheese, cinnamon, stevia, pumpkin spice and light whipped cream. And all I had to do was throw all of the above into a blender and let it sit for an hour. Amazing!

They weren’t lying when they said the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Judging by the look on Mike’s face… I think it’s safe to say we had a delicious first Thanksgiving meal on our own together. Sure it involved the smoke detector going off a few times and I may have found pumpkin puree in my hair later that day… but I wouldn’t trade any of it. Together, we made that day feel like home, even though we were hundreds of miles away.

gobble de-lite

I usually hate Mondays (who doesn’t?) but with this being Thanksgiving week, I don’t mind so much. While I’m saddened by not being able to spend the holiday with my family and friends, I am excited for Mike and I to take our first stab at starting our own Thanksgiving traditions.

This past weekend we solidified the menu and I’m excited because even though I’m the one that has to do all the cooking, I have total control over the menu and finally get to make Thanksgiving foods that I like. Which means there’s no turkey this year, thank gobble. (Yup, I went there.)

Instead we’ll be making a delicious rotisserie chicken, followed by homemade mac n’ cheese, green beans, cranberry sauce and of course, homemade pumpkin pie. I’m sure that with our first attempt at a menu like this, the chicken will probably come out dry and the mac n’ cheese won’t be cheesy enough, but I can’t wait to get down and dirty in the kitchen with Mike. This Thanksgiving will definitely be one for the scrapbooks.

While everything on the menu sounds absolutely delicious, it definitely gives me and my waistband a scare. I’ve been doing fairly well with my healthier new lifestyle (except my birthday weekend… I totally tanked on cake and carbs), so I wanted to see if I could find a way to make a mouth-watering Thanksgiving meal without having to go up a few pant sizes.

You’d be amazed at how many “healthy version of X” recipes you can find with a quick Google search. It just goes to show you with some creative substitutions, you can eat comfort foods without all the guilt.

Here are some of the healthier alternative recipes I’ll be whipping up for the holiday:

For my fellow turkey-haters, chicken can be a great Thanksgiving alternative. Check out this delicious recipe from Self Magazine.

If I could eat mac n’ cheese every day, I totally would. This lighter and healthier version of my favorite classic from Fitness Magazine cuts the calories without cutting out the comfort.

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without pumpkin pie and FitSugar gives 20 awesome ideas for ways to get creative while keeping the calories down.

What do you think of these healthy alternatives to staple Thanksgiving treats? I know my waist will be thankful that I won’t have to put on my elastic yoga (eating) pants at the end of the day.

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving recipes? I’d love to hear them!

the unbuttonable pants

An inch of progress can give you a mile of motivation sometimes. Like this morning – when I confronted the dreaded pair of pants that didn’t come close to zipping a few weeks ago… the pants that sparked my decision to stop making excuses and face the facts of my bad habits and decisions over the span of twenty-something years.

I guess I was feeling extra bold and courageous this morning when I opened the closet doors and carefully lifted the pants off the hanger. To be honest – I hadn’t been the best eater this weekend. Mike and I dared to enjoy a cupcake Saturday afternoon, and when one of our friends visited Friday night, we decided to order a pizza… with pepperoni. But I didn’t over-indulge. I had a bite or two of the cupcake. I had one slice of pizza. I behaved like a lady even though I really wanted to drown myself in buttercream and gooey cheese.

Sometimes… you just have to have a cupcake.

I had a good long stare-down with these pants. The pants that dared to tell the unforgiving truth a few weeks ago when I laid out on the bed, sucking it in as hard as I could – turning purple and blue as I tried to make the button and the hole somehow come closer together and resolve their carb-induced conflict.

I put my right leg in first, slowly followed by the left. As I pulled them up around my thighs the moment of truth drew closer. Have I made any progress these past few weeks? I decided at the very beginning not to make this about the number on the scale, because that’s how I got into so much trouble last time. This time I was going to base my success off of how good I felt about the way I looked. Because in the end – that’s all that really matters right?

I took a deep breath as I pulled the zipper up. So far, so good. But would my button finally find its way over to the opposing hole it had fought so hard against weeks earlier? To my surprise, delight and utter joy… it did. The unbuttonable pants had been buttoned. Albeit – while they are still a little on the snug side – I had conquered this small battle. I am elated.

The important thing to note is that while I am not perfect… I am making progress. I am moving in the right direction and while there are bound to be speed bumps and stop signs, even the occasional detour – I know what my destination is: a place of self-love.

I’ve been frugal and following the Weight Watchers program online for free (my student loans have come knocking…). It’s definitely been an amazing tool that helps guide me in making healthy choices and teaching me about portion control and balanced meals. I’m also making an effort to work out three times a week – lately I’ve been following the P90 program that my dad leant me last year. The downstairs neighbors are probably less enthusiastic than I am about me doing jumping jacks at six in the morning.

As a result of my little victory today – I think I’m going to treat myself to a new fall outfit this week since I haven’t been shopping in months. Sometimes a new cardigan is all you need for that extra boost of motivation.

Here are some of the recipes I’m going to be making this week. If you haven’t already – be sure to check out Skinnytaste – it’s an incredible blog full of delicious recipe ideas and even includes WW points information.

Chicken rollatini with prosciutto and provolone via Skinnytaste – click for recipe.

Baked potato soup via Skinnytaste – click for recipe. (I’m a bit of a soup-a-holic)

Here are a few of my own healthy snacks I made this past week… the photo quality does not do these healthy treats any justice!

The beginning stages of delicious homemade apple chips. Slice up 2 apples – sprinkle a little bit of cinnamon – bake for 2 hours at 200 degrees.

I’m a pizza addict – so this was a perfect snack – clocking in at 150 calories (for one…Mike had the other) Small pita pocket – low fat/skim mozzarella cheese – spoonful of tomato sauce – sprinkle of dried basil. Yum!

Do you have any little victories worth celebrating or delicious recipes worth sharing? I’d love to hear them!

Until next time – Bon Appétit!