4th of July Weekend Recap

This 4th of July weekend was one of, if not the, best I can remember. From beginning to end, I can’t think of a single thing I would have changed. Okay, one thing. I would have (and should have) put sunscreen on my face. Whoops. Sorry, dermatologist and future self. 
The weekend ended with a 10 mile bike ride from our house to the Old Village, a historic waterfront neighborhood here in Mt. Pleasant. We somehow managed to avoid any rain, despite the gloomy skies. 
Backing things up to earlier in the weekend…
Zoey explored some marsh land and let her ears flop in the wind. 
We continued to harvest vegetables from our garden, this time picking our very first cucumbers. 
We ate out at my favorite Sullivan’s Island restaurant, Taco Mamacita. And we grilled out at home, three times. Ironically, the tacos shown below were from our cookout, not the restaurant. As much as I love a TM taco, our homemade grilled jerk chicken tacos were simply amazing. Topped with jalapeño pineapple/mango salsa, corn, guac, and chopped romaine for added crunch…WOAH. Speechless. 
We found our new favorite spot to watch fireworks, which happens to be the same place pictured above from our bike ride. The view over the water while watching the sunset, paired with the unseasonably mild temperatures outside made for the perfect night. 
What was the highlight of your 4th? How were the fireworks?

Roasted Italian Potatoes

Tender Roasted Italian Potatoes served over a bed of crispy greens, topped with pine nuts and fresh lemon juice is what I like to call my solution to wanting a hot meal with almost as little effort as possible.

As I’m typing this, my Zo-girl Fresh (that’d be my dog Zoey by the way), is snoring up a storm while flopped on the couch next to me. I swear that girl sleeps more than she’s awake, and snores louder than most humans. And now that I’ve given in to her sneaky ways of climbing on the living room couch and into our bed in the past several days, she’s becoming quite the spoiled princess. Not that she hasn’t always been one, but she acts so distraught when I don’t let her up.

She’s all, “What? You think I’m going to lay on this shaggy rug when I know perfectly well there’s a cushy couch or bed filled with blankets to keep me warm?”

And I’m like, “Zoey, I know you’re fricking adorable and I want to snuggle but you’re too big and it’s just not going to….” (as she nuzzles her head into me)…”Ok, come on. Get up here.”

She’s just a dog. I won’t be so easily persuaded with my children one day, I swear.

Okay so all of that dog talk was just a completely random side note to the main focus of this post. POTATOES! These potatoes are the star of the show today.  Just thinking about the generously seasoned potato chunks has me craving them all over again right this very minute. That’s saying a lot considering I just ate a tiny piece of homemade brownie and trying my best to resist going back for another piece. With the taste of chocolate still lingering in my mouth, it’s not often I would also have a desire for real food. But these potatoes, both crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, are oh so savory and simply perfection.

Roasted Italian Potatoes

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:
10 small red potatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chopped romaine lettuce, for serving
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, add potatoes and olive oil. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to coat potatoes evenly with the oil.
3. In a small bowl, combine oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary and salt. Stir well to combine and add to potato bowl. Mix well to evenly coat potatoes with the seasonings. Gently shake potatoes onto the foil-lined baking sheet in an even layer. Cover the entire pan with a sheet of foil and place in oven.
4. Let cook for 30-40 minutes or until fork tender, removing pan from oven about halfway through to gently shake/turn potatoes. Remove from oven and let cool about 5 minutes. Divid potatoes among plates of lettuce, then top with a squeeze of lemon juice and a heaping tablespoon of pine nuts.

Sunday Blessings – Productivity

I started watching Scandal on Netflix this weekend, but that’s not what I mean by “productive.” Don’t you worry.

Besides succumbing to a total of eight episodes of the dramatic, can’t-stop-watching-I-have-to-know-what-happens-next show, I was able to take a class at the gym, take Zoey for a couple of walks, grocery shop, clean the house, get a wedding picture framed, talk to my grandma on the phone for almost an hour, teach Sunday school, bake cookies, and plant a garden.

Yes, a GARDEN. Who am I?!

I’m not-so-secretly scared of my capability to successfully grow a garden full of vegetables. My past experiences with flowers, herbs and other plants around the house has given me a bad reputation. Greg says our house is “where plants come to die.” It’s true. I have never cared enough about/for the plants to remember to make sure they’re getting the water and sunlight they need. I’m hoping after putting this work into our garden today and slowly…very, very slowly since it turns out asparagus takes TWO YEARS until it’s ready to harvest…seeing some growth, I’ll be inspired to keep it going.

I’m also counting on my organization skills to come in handy so I can create a calendar to keep track of the days I need to water, when things are ready to harvest, etc.

Greg’s dad who is very knowledgable when it comes to gardening has given us plenty of tips and advice through these first steps. We’ve planted asparagus, like I mentioned, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and a variety of peppers.

Now we wait.

Well, we WATER and we wait.

This pup right here…

Well, let’s just say it was a sad and confusing day for Zoey as we fenced off part of her royal highness’s territory (aka our backyard). 
Oh! And you have to see this. How does one mark off and label where each of the different seeds are planted when one is a complete amateur at this kind of thing? With frozen yogurt spoons to be exact! 
We forgot to buy the appropriate sticks/markers/labels/whatever you call them. Greg awarded me the task of finding something in the house that would work. Maybe I should be embarrassed, but I’m not. In fact I think it’s very fitting for someone like me who lives on vegetables and frozen yogurt alone (okay, not really people…but kind of).  
When this idea takes off and becomes well-known in the gardening world, don’t forget where you saw it first 😉
After a long work week, my weekend was not your traditional “lay around and do nothing” kind of weekend. But in the end, it was almost just as relaxing to be productive. Getting things done around the house, running necessary errands and bonding with my husband over garden-planting does wonders for my soul. Goodness, I sound like such an adult! When did this happen??

Ultimate Green Smoothie (and a giveaway winner!)

“It looks better than it tastes.”
Fortunately in the case of this Ultimate Green Smoothie it’s the exact opposite. Before we look at the smoothie itself, let me be the first clarify. IT TASTES BETTER THAN IT LOOKS. 

See all of those pretty, colorful ingredients? Packed full of nutrients, I aptly named this an “ultimate” smoothie because it really can’t get much better. Greens, berries, healthy fats and more make this smoothie the perfectly well-rounded breakfast, lunch or snack. I suppose you can eat it for dinner or dessert too – no reason to discriminate which meal suits it best.

Okay, so now you see what I mean? It’s not the most appealing color once you blend everything together. If you’ve ever had a green smoothie before, I’m sure you’re familiar with a not-so-pretty result and are okay with this. If you have never had a green smoothie before and expect a smoothie to be bright magenta, pink or orange, then…well, it’s time to try something new. Don’t let the looks of this fool you. Just do it. (insert Nike swoosh here).

Changing subjects now.

Did you watch the Oscars? I know those award shows are always hyped up, but for some reason I felt like this year, the Oscars in particular, got a TON of attention. I get the past year has been full of great movies, but isn’t that always the case? Maybe I’m naive and this year really was much better than past years. To be honest, I haven’t seen many of the movies that were nominated – Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, Wolf of Wall Street – I know, I have some catching up to do. So maybe that’s why I don’t fully realize what a great year it was. I enjoy seeing celebrities on the red carpet, being interviewed, and presenting and accepting awards. But still.

After an hour of watching the pre-show, I was bored. Plus Greg had about zero percent interest. So we turned on a movie, Nebraska instead (a Best Picture nominee after all!) and I didn’t even watch a minute of the award show. I figure I’ll catch the good stuff online and on E! News this week. I’m sure I can count on Robbin’s blog to keep me informed as well. Or you can tell me in the comments…what were the highlights?

Ultimate Green Smoothie

Makes 1 large smoothie

Ingredients:
1 ripe banana
2 large handfuls of spinach
1/2 medium yellow squash
3/4 cup frozen strawberries
2 tablespoons oats
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut milk

Directions:
1. Add add ingredients to a blender. Blend on high speed for 2-3 minutes, stopping to scrap down sides and stir as needed.
2. Pour in a large cup, find a straw and slurp away!

****************
GIVEAWAY WINNER

I want to thank everyone who participated in the Food Lion giveaway last week! I used Rafflecopter to run the giveaway and randomly select a winner:

Congrats, Shannon Finer! Please check your email for a message from me to claim your gift card!

{Award-Winning} Spicy Chicken Fiesta & A $250 Gift Card GIVEAWAY!

Welcome to a new week! A weekend with almost no set plans sure can be refreshing and I’m ready to rock this week. 
Like I told you on Friday, I participated in Food Lion’s Frugal Cook-Off and was the co-winner of the competition. My partner Valerie and I created a spicy Mexican meal consisting of seasoned and lightly sauteed chicken breasts with a yogurt sauce, simple rice and red beans, and a vegetable saute of corn, onion and bell pepper. 
Without further ado, here are the recipes for our meal…(hint: you have to scroll all the way to the bottom for the giveaway!)
{Award-Winning} Spicy Chicken Fiesta

Created exclusively for Food Lion’s Frugal Cook-Off Charleston 2014

Makes 4 large servings
Cost of meal: (not including chicken and spices) $12.98

For the Spicy Chicken Breasts
Ingredients:
1 pound chicken breast
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons pepper
2 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, additional lemon slices for serving if desired
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped scallions 

Directions:
Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat on stovetop over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, add seasonings to a small or medium bowl and stir to combine. One at a time lay chicken breasts in the bowl to coat evenly with the seasonings. Flip to coat both sides. When oil in skillet is hot, add all chicken breasts in the skillet in an even layer. Cook about 6-8 minutes on medium heat. Turn over and continue cooking another 6-8 minutes or until cooked through. Lightly squeeze half of the lemon over top of the chicken breasts. 

Remove chicken from heat and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle each piece of chicken with about 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Place in oven heated to 300 degrees for 2-4 minutes or until cheese just starts to melt. Remove from oven and serve overtop of rice and beans, along with spicy Greek yogurt (recipes below). Garnish each piece of chicken with about 2 tablespoons of the chopped scallions. 

For the Rice and Beans
Ingredients:
3 cups dry white rice
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

Directions:
Prepare rice on stovetop according to package directions. When almost finished cooking, add kidney beans and seasonings to the pan. Stir well. Cook on low for another 5-6 minutes, until heated through. Remove from heat and serve. 


For the Vegetable Sauté
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 10-ounce bag frozen corn kernels 
1 medium yellow onion, sliced and roughly chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:
Add olive oil to a large skillet and place on stovetop over medium heat. Once hot, add all ingredients and stir to combine. Stir occasionally while letting cook for 8-10 minutes or until vegetables become tender and start turning brown. Remove from heat and serve. 

For the Spicy Greek Yogurt Sauce
Ingredients:
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well to combine. Serve alongside or on top of Spicy Chicken Breasts. 
*Optional: serve the meal with chopped romaine and a lemon wedge for garnish


GIVEAWAY 


Food Lion was so generous and awarded me with two $250 gift cards! One for me and one for YOU! I very much wanted to put this to the best use. I was thinking for a long time how I could give this gift card to someone who truly needed it. However, I wanted to do something nice for you as well. I ultimately came up with a compromise and decided to do a regular giveaway for you, then pay if forward with the other card. After going through the check-out line with groceries for Greg and I, I handed the card to the person in line behind us so she could use the balance for herself. 

Whoever wins, I hope you will consider doing the same, or using the card in a way that will impact others. However, it is completely up to you how you use it.

Enter the giveaway by doing the actions below: 

**Giveaway ends Sunday, March 2nd at 12:00am**Winner will be announced Monday, March 3rd**

Chicken Fajita Chowder

For someone like myself who lives and breathes by lists and schedules, the past week or two have felt very scattered. I can’t seem to get in a solid routine, but somehow I’m managing just fine. Turns out maybe an unorganized life is good for the soul every now and then.

My blog posting has been off for a couple of days and I’m quickly trying to play catch-up. I feel like I say that all the time, but…real life beats internet life when it’s all said and done. Hashtag sorry I’m not sorry.

My mom and step-dad were in town this past weekend, and I had the day off of work Monday for Presidents’ Day. My days are still thrown off from the long weekend, and with a few after-work events this week, it’s not about to slow down.

One of these events is a cook-off hosted by Food Lion tonight. This experience will be completely new to me and I’m fairly anxious about the whole idea of it. I’m trying not to think or worry too much right now and go with the flow of things when I arrive. I’ll be posting more about that after the competition though. Pray for my cooking skills and knowledge to shine as much as possible!

A lot of the ingredients and rules of the competition are still unknown, but if I get a chance to make this fajita chowder, you can bet I will. I would put money on this any day. 
Between the nutty brown rice, tender vegetables, chunks of chicken and crusty bread for scooping, a bowl of this will leave you, well, wanting another bowl. 
Fun fact – This was the first time I have cooked with chicken since I transitioned to a heavily plant-based diet almost two years ago. In case you’re wondering, I do still eat meat occasionally, but mostly only while eating out if the vegetarian options on a menu don’t appeal to me. I can’t handle meat in as large of portions as normally served though. It just doesn’t sit well with my stomach. A few chunks of chicken throughout these bowls was just enough. 

Chicken Fajita Chowder
(Adapted from Taste of Home, February-March 2011)

Makes about 6 servings

Ingredients:
1/2 pound chicken
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 medium yellow onion
1 jalapeno
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup brown rice
2 cups corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
A few strong shakes of Tabasco
1 cup enchilada sauce
1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

Directions:
1. Add olive oil to a large, deep skillet on a stovetop over medium-low heat.
2. Once hot, add chicken, bell peppers, onion and jalapeno. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
3. Add vegetable broth, dry rice, corn, seasonings, hot sauce and enchilada sauce. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low, cover and cook for about 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add about half of the shredded cheese and gently stir to incorporate. Spoon into serving bowls and top with additional shredded cheese as desired.

Pasta Primavera with Spicy Marinara

Question: What would life be without hot bowls of savory, saucy pasta?

Answer: Sad, very sad.

Don’t worry. We won’t even discuss the next level of sadness which involves a life lacking of hot bowls of pasta and red wine. 
I trust you have most of the ingredients for this pasta primavera already in your cabinet and fridge, and you most definitely already have a bottle of red wine laying around too. If not, substitutions are easy enough. Do what you need to do. Sadness isn’t even in your vocabulary today. 

Did you realize February is the last full month of winter before the seasons change and Spring’s flowery warmth fills the air? It’s true. Springtime is just around the corner. You can make it! WE can make it! While we wait for the cold to pass (don’t hate me for calling mid-50’s cold), we can fill our bellies with comforting pasta noodles and steamy healthy vegetables for good measure.

As much as I love pasta and Italian cuisine in general, I don’t/can’t eat it often. Portion control is virtually impossible when it comes to eating Italian dishes at a restaurant. Even when making it at home, it’s easy to chomp down on more than a single serving size of noodles. So. delicious. I end up avoiding it altogether to spare myself over-indulgence on a regular basis.

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.

I mean…….

I don’t always eat pasta, but when I do, I close my eyes, let out an “mmmmm”, savor every bite, and dream of Italy.

One day I will go to Italy. Have you been? Yes? Oh. I’m a tiny bit jealous.

This is one dreamy, happy bowl of pasta. Winter blues can get lost.


Pasta Primavera with Spicy Marinara

Makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:
For the pasta-
1 package of Trader Joe’s Garlic Basil Linguini Pasta (or 8 ounces of your choice of pasta), cooked according to package directions
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced and roughly chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced and roughly chopped
2 cups broccoli florets
1/4 yellow onion, sliced into rings and cut in half
1 medium tomato, sliced and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian blend seasoning (or any combination of basil, thyme, sage, or rosemary)

For the sauce-
2 cups marinara sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Shaved Parmesan cheese for topping, if desired

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
3. While pasta is cooking, add bell pepper, broccoli, onion, tomato, and garlic to a large cookie sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with olive oil. In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and Italian blend seasoning(s). Mix well and sprinkle evenly over the vegetables. Cover pan with foil and roast in the over for about 30 minutes, stopping half way through to give veggies a gentle stir.
4. In a medium saucepan, add marinara sauce, Sriracha and red pepper flakes. Place on stove top over medium-low heat. Cook until sauce beings to simmer.
5. To serve, add about 1 cup of noodles to a bowl, top with about 1/2 cup of the roasted vegetables, and 1/2 cup of sauce. Sprinkle with with shaved Parmesan if desired. Stir everything up and enjoy!