Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pecan Tassies

Huzzah! I'm actually posting a Christmas cookie recipe before Christmas!! Minor detail: This photo is from last year. OOPS! Don't judge me. It's a miracle I remembered to post it this year! I will be making these this weekend, along with a slew of others that I will do my best to post pre-festivities.

So about the tassies! These are scrumptious little bites, and something different to add to your cookie tray for Christmas. They are essentially hand-held mini pecan pies…and there ain't nothing wrong with that!

From my recollection, I baked these a couple of weeks before Christmas and kept them in tins in a cool spot (e.g., unheated basement, garage). They're pretty sturdy too, so they travel well.

Pecan Tassies (makes 2 dozen)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
3 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temp.
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Pinch of kosher salt

With an electric mixer, beat the stick of softened butter and the cream cheese until smooth. Add the flour and beat until fully combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 24-cup mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter, egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Set aside.

Shape the chilled dough into 24 balls (about 1 inch diameter). Press each ball into the muffin cups, spreading evenly and pressing up the sides. Then spoon 1 tsp. of the pecans into each muffin cup. Finally, fill each cup with the egg mixture, about 1 tsp. in each cup.

Bake until the filling is set, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and remove from muffin pan.

Click here for a printable recipe!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Homemade Taco Seasoning

We are huge fans of Mexican and Tex-Mex in our house — even the little one! It brings a tear to my eye when I boldly decide not to "dumb down" the spice and she still gobbles it up. Win!

I used to buy packets of taco seasoning. But then I looked at the ingredients. Here's the list for Old El Paso brand: Chili Pepper, Salt, Maltodextrin, Spice, Onion Powder, Corn Starch, Yellow Corn Flour, Contains 2% or Less of: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Silicon Dioxide (Anticaking Agent), Sunflower and/or Cottonseed Oil, Natural Flavor, Ethoxyquin (Preservative).

It's hard to fantasize that I'm on the shores of Puerto Vallarta when I know I'm consuming things like maltodextrin, "spice" (come on, is that really specific enough for a label??), starches, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, silicon dioxide, and — my favorite — "natural flavor". Ahem.

So I upgraded to Penzey's Bold Taco Seasoning, which is super delicious and very convenient. But some time over the past year, I got a little bothered by the high salt content was listed as the first ingredient and that didn't seem right! So I decided that I would try homemade and see if the husband complained.


Another win.

I buy individual spices in bulk from Penzey's still, and it's super easy to mix together a container of this taco seasoning and leave it in the pantry for whenever the Mexi-mood strikes.

Try it. It's yummy. And it's free of things like malto-you-shouldn't-eat-this-dextrin.

Homemade Taco Seasoning
Makes about 3 tablespoons

1 tbsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you like)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt (or sea salt)
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Mix together all ingredients. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

If you are making taco meat, brown your beef and drain off fat. Add about 2 tbsp. of seasoning per 1 lb. of beef (or to taste) and about 1/3 cup water. Over medium heat, simmer until mixture thickens.

Click here for a printable recipe!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Poached Chicken = Lunch for a Week

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Said by my fellow Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin. Okay, so he's THE Philadelphian. At any rate, I dig his advice.

For the past several months, I've made time to plan my lunches for the upcoming work week. This has helped me to 1) save money, 2) save time each night trying to throw something together for lunch the next day, and 3) eat healthier. All desirable things!

One of the most efficient ways I've found to get a week's worth of lunch is to cook a large portion of something. Recently I began making a whole poached chicken on the weekend, and it's been a great source of easy meals during the week!

Poaching a whole chicken is low maintenance, so easy, and inexpensive (you can even splurge on an organic chicken). And it leaves me with a ton of healthy meal options for the week and a couple quarts of flavorful chicken stock that can be used for soups, cooking rice/quinoa, or braising veggies.

Once the chicken is cooked, you just pull all of the meat off the bones and store it in an airtight container (I like to scoop a few spoonfuls of the broth over top to keep it moist). There are a lot of things you can do with the shredded chicken:

  • Add to a salad of mixed greens and veggies to make it a meal. 
  • Make a chicken sandwich or wrap (the husband enjoys this). You can dress it up with whatever you like: avocado, mustards, roasted red peppers, arugula, etc. 
  • Add to a quesadilla or a burrito (so easy to whip up one of these on a griddle!).
  • Use in soups or casseroles.
  • Mix it with your fav BBQ sauce, heat, and serve on top of a salt/peppered baked potato with a little cilantro sprinkled on top (seriously, this is so good).
  • Add to stuffed peppers.
  • Add at the very end to a stir-fry or noodle dish.
  • Make chicken salad.

I'm sure there are more ideas — share if you have them!

Even though I have a recipe posted below, keep in mind that this is less of a recipe and more of a concept. If you don't have certain ingredients, don't fret! I tend to use what I have on hand. What you really want to be sure to add is things that will impart flavor: aromatics, herbs, spices. And as for the measurements, they are estimates. I tend to just toss stuff in and trust my gut on how much to add.

Whole Poached Chicken (makes about 1 cup shredded chicken per pound)

4-6 lb. whole chicken (preferably free range, organic, or both)
1 tsp. peppercorns (or a good pinch)
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, sliced into thick chunks
1 lemon, sliced
Several stems of parsley, whole
2 slices ginger (adds a lovely fragrance, totally optional)

Rinse your chicken and remove any parts from inside. Trim the skin around the opening of the chicken to reduce the amount of fat in your broth. Place the chicken in a very large stockpot and add all ingredients. Fill the pot with water, about an inch above the surface of the chicken, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 75-90 minutes (on the longer end if your chicken is on the large side).

Then turn off the heat and allow your chicken to mellow in its stock. You want the chicken/stock to cool somewhat so that it's not scorching hot. This may take a couple of hours and is a very important step — it's what keeps the chicken moist and yummy.

Once cool enough to handle, carefully remove the chicken from the stock and place on a cutting board with a well. Remove all of the skin and discard. Pull the chicken off the bones and shred the meat into bite-size pieces.

Place in an airtight container and spoon about 1/2 cup of the stock on top (skim the fat first so you're not adding any to your healthy chicken).

If you plan to use the broth, you can store it in airtight containers. Either skim the fat before storing, or refrigerate the broth and remove the fat that rises to the top once chilled.

Print this recipe! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chocolate Chia Pudding

I've finished my fourth month of Project Health. I'm down 20 pounds, have tons of energy, and feel stronger than ever (strong is the new skinny). All of this afforded me the opportunity to go shopping in my own closet — clothes from my pre-Katy days are no longer zipped up in a bag on the top shelf. My pre-baby jeans finally fit, and some are actually loose! Most of all, it's been great to feel like myself again.

All that said, I haven't deprived myself for the past four months — I hardly feel deprived at all in fact. I eat tons of veggies, lean protein, and whole grains. And for the times when I know I need something sweet, I try to plan ahead to have something made in the fridge so I don't go scrummaging for treats.

Enter the ch-ch-ch-chia seed.

I know I'm probably a little slow on the uptake of this wonderful ingredient (I never claimed to be current!). Just recently, I discovered chia pudding, and it's been a favorite sweet treat of mine since. The texture is a lot like tapioca pudding, which I love.

Touted a super food, chia delivers a load of nutrition (e.g., fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants, protein) for not a lot of calories. Plus, chia can absorb up to 12 times their own weight and expand — making for a more satisfying treat compared to something full of carbs/sugar.

I've experimented with both chocolate (recipe below) and vanilla chia pudding, and they both have their place. For both I used the same foundation of unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or whatever flavor unsweetened almond milk you prefer). For the vanilla version, I added a little cinnamon and sweetened it a little less. Play. Experiment. Enjoy!

If you're interested in trying Shakeology, please contact me (see "Contact" tab). I would love to tell you more about it!

Chocolate chia pudding (makes 2 servings)
Adapted from Free People blog

1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or your unsweetened non-dairy milk of choice)
1/4 cup chia seeds
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. honey (or use sweetener of choice and sweeten to taste)
Dash kosher or sea salt
Garnish (optional, I loved crystallized ginger)

Add all of the ingredients to a mason jar, stir to combine, and then put the lid on. Shake the jar for about 20 seconds to mix everything up. Refrigerate until thickened (at least 4 hours or overnight), shaking or stirring occasionally. Serve chilled w/garnish of choice (e.g., crystallized ginger, pomegranate seeds, dark chocolate shavings).

Click here for a printable recipe! 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Avocado Toast

So far, 2014 has been a year of recommitment for me. Recommitment to good health and positive thoughts. Big on the positive thoughts!

The one thing that I'm trying to remember throughout it all is this phrase: small consistent changes.

Small consistent changes…
Small consistent changes…

I've challenged myself to consistently eat a clean and balanced diet and to exercise regularly. As a full-time working mama, this means a lot of meal planning on the weekends and organization during the week. It means prepping my snacks and lunch each evening, even when all I want to do is vegetate and watch the shenanigans of Real Housewives. I've been drinking Shakeology each day for breakfast too, and I love it! It's easy, it's tasty, it's nutritious, and it's really helped me to work towards my goals.

I've also been waking up at 4:45am a couple days a week to go to the gym and keeping up with my weekly kickboxing class. And then a little yoga sprinkled in between for good mental health.

Have you ever had avocado toast? I was in need of a good, hearty snack, and I thought I would give it a try.

I had heard mentions of avocado toast here and there and couldn't quite picture how it would taste. Well let me tell you — it's so good!

Here's what you do…

Into a small bowl add the following:

  • 1/3 of an avocado
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • juice squeezed from about 1/4 of a lemon

Mash it together with a fork (I highly recommend leaving some chunks). Then use your fork to spread the avocado mixture on a toasted piece of good whole wheat or whole grain bread (something with a backbone). Lately I'm loving Vermont Bread Company bread — no preservatives or high fructose corn syrup.

This is a feel-good snack, thanks to the healthy fat from the avocado, the whole wheat, and the satisfying combo of creamy avocado and hearty toast.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Amazing Beef Barbacoa

A-brisket a-tasket
A green and yellow basket…

Isn't that how it goes?

We know the Superbowl can make us do crazy things. People splurge on ginormous TVs. Companies pay $4 million for a 30-second commercial. Americans eat 10 million pounds of guacamole. Danielle buys a brisket (gasp!).

It was my very first brisket. I saw a recipe for barbacoa nachos, which I decided must be our Superbowl grub. The nachos were complete with tender, tangy brisket, homemade cheese sauce, pickled red onions, and more. And even after the nachos we had several pounds of barbacoa leftover to make dinners throughout the week. You can use the meat in quesadillas, wraps, tacos, over polenta, etc.  Or you can eat it cold with a fork like my husband!

A before shot of my $20 slab of brisket bathing in its marinade:

An after shot, ready to be pulled:

Cooking meat like this (low and slow) is as easy as it can get — and you can eat for a week off of it! A little work goes a long way on this one...

Beef Barbacoa (makes a LOT — how's that for exact?!)
Adapted from Serious Eats

3-4 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of fat and shiny silver sinew
16 oz. diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. ancho chile powder
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 whole chipotle chile en adobo
1 tbsp. adobo sauce
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 bay leaves

The night before: Place brisket in a large resealable bag. In a blender, combine tomatoes with juice, cumin, chile powder, cocoa powder, oregano, vinegar, chipotle chile, adobo sauce, salt, and pepper. Puree until smooth. Pour marinade into the bag over brisket, making sure that all sides are coated. Seal bag tightly, removing as much air as possible, and place it in a baking dish (in case anything leaks). Place in the refrigerator overnight, turning at least once.

The next day: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place brisket and marinade in a Dutch oven. Add bay leaves. On the stove, bring just to a simmer over high heat. Then cover and place in the oven. Cook for about 4 hours, until meat is fork tender and shreds easily.

Remove meat from the cooking liquid (reserve), discard bay leaves, and allow meat to cool for about 15 minutes. Shred the brisket with two forks, and transfer to a bowl. Skim any fat off of the top of the cooking liquid and then pour about 1 cup of the cooking liquid over the meat to keep it moist.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownies

Let's address the elephant in the room. It's been a year since I've posted anything. Yeah, so there's that. During that time, though, I have been happily preoccupied with this little cutie...

…my sweet little girl who is now a budding, running, talking, giggling toddler.

It's not that I stopped cooking. It's just that I've been leaning more on the "old reliables" rather than experimenting with new ideas and recipes. I've also been working hard to shed the last of my pregnancy pounds, so I've tried to fall out of love with food just a little. Just for a minute.

So the brownies.

It was my dad's birthday. I wanted to make him something delicious for dessert. But it's a little intimidating because my dad's a food snob (he means well!). Bless him and his tempered eggs, his braised and smoked everything, his mirepoix, and his mise en place. He started cooking maybe 10-15 years ago, and he never looked back. It was amazing that as a middle-aged husband, he suddenly found a passion for food (frankly I have enjoyed supporting this passion!!).

I finally got out of him that he wanted something that was chocolate and sea salt for dessert, so I started looking for ideas on Pinterest (aka my favorite website ever). I found a recipe for Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownies — bingo! I made some modifications and served up these beauties.

These brownies are special, simple, rich, and fabulous! There's only 1 cup of flour 3 eggs in the recipe, if that's any indication of how fudgy they are. 


The best endorsement for the recipe? My dad called over a week later and said that they were still enjoying the leftovers. He may or may not have mentioned that they were the best brownies he's ever had. 

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownies (makes 16 squares)
Adapted from here

1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp.) unsalted butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened dark cocoa powder (Hershey's makes this)
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 tbsp. instant coffee or espresso granules
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla 
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
3/4 tsp. sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter or use cooking spray on a 9-inch square metal cake pan. Line the pan with a piece of parchment (foil works too), leaving the edges hanging over the sides. Then butter/spray the top of the parchment.

In a saucepan, melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate over low heat, stirring occasionally. When melted, set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar, flour, and instant coffee/espresso. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla to dry ingredients and mix just to combine. Then slowly mix in the chocolate/butter mixture until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate chunks.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and spread evenly with a spatula (batter will be thick). Sprinkle the sea salt evenly over the surface of the brownies, and gently swirl the salt into the batter.

Bake the brownies in the center of the oven for 35-38 minutes. You want the edges to be set and the center to be slightly fudgy and soft — when a toothpick is inserted into the center, it should come out coated with a little bit of batter. 

Let the brownies cool to room temp. and then refrigerate for at least an hour. Lift the brownies out of the pan and cut into 16 squares. Serve at room temperature.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cookie Dough Truffles

It never ceases to amaze me how sometimes the simplest of things can be the most impressive to the masses. This was the case when I made a couple of bite-sized desserts for my parents' surprise 60th birthday party.

I ordered a sheet cake, but I also made Birthday Cake Rice Krispie Treats and Cookie Dough Truffles so there were other options to jazz up the dessert table. Neither recipe even required baking, and I got so many compliments! Perfect!

These cookie dough truffles were something that I picked up from Bakerella, whom you can't help but love. Of course her confections are always adorable, and her photography skills are superb (especially compared to my last-minute photos taken in the dark).

The recipe is so easy, and I thought the presentation was really nice for a crowd. They're super easy to transport and serve, and guests can put them up by the stick, keeping their fingers from getting sticky. It was also the first time that I had ever used candy melts, and they were super easy to work with. The candy coating hardens up so nicely, adding to the ease of transport and consumption — all qualities that one wants in a party food!

If you'd like to eat cookie dough that doesn't carry the worry of poisoning, try these. They are yummy!

Cookie Dough Truffles (makes about 3 dozen)
Adapted from Bakerella

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp.
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
2 bags chocolate candy coating (sold at craft stores, among other places)
Popsicle sticks, trimmed (lollipop sticks might work too)
Sprinkles (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using an electric mixer), beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Mix in milk and vanilla. Add flour and salt and mix on low until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Chill dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes until firm enough to scoop into 1-inch balls (I used a 1-inch cookie scoop).

Quickly roll the scoops of dough between your hands to form a smooth ball and place on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Place in the freezer for 15-30 minutes. (Don't leave them in there too long — you won't be able to get the sticks in!)

Melt candy coating following the instructions on the package. Remove a couple of dough balls from the freezer at a time and insert the cut side of the popsicle stick into the ball. Dip into the candy coating, allowing excess chocolate to fall off back into the bowl so it is evenly coated.

Place back onto the baking sheet to set and add sprinkles (optional) before chocolate hardens. If the chocolate pools at the bottom of the truffle, dab it on the wax paper to pull some of the excess coating off and place on a clean spot on the baking sheet.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

Click here for a printable recipe!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Baked Brown Sugar Wings

The Superbowl. It's Sunday! It's the 49ers vs. the Ray Lewises!

Fact: Last year's game was a little more exciting for me. My team was in it (and won...ahem!).
Fact: This year I have no stake in either team and will use the game as an excuse to eat delicious, sporty finger food.
Fact: I've had a cold that has overstayed its welcome by about 4 days. It has striped me of my sense of taste! Sad trombone. It turns out that I eat strictly for pleasure.

If you like wings (and I mean wings where you can actually taste chicken, not just...fried), please make these! You will be astonished that they are so tender and full of flavor. And baked! So you're leaving behind all of the calories that oil adds.

Monday, January 28, 2013

White Bean Turkey Chili

Not only is there the momentum of the New Year, but I also have a serious desire to lose my remaining "baby weight." You know how there are those lucky b!$%*es women who seem to lose all of their baby weight without trying? Well, I am definitely not one of those women!

As a result, this mama is on a mission. I have been on the prowl for recipes that meet the following criteria: calorie conscious, WW-friendly, easily transportable and reheatable, and flavorful. This recipe for White Bean Turkey Chili is one of the healthy lunch recipes that I recently added to my repertoire.

I liked the list of ingredients and appreciated a chili that wasn't tomato-based. It also reheats nicely and tastes great with a spoonful of sour cream and a little fresh lime.

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