Dinner For Friends: BLT Pizza & Four-Herb Pesto Pasta

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It’s finally beginning to warm up again! The snow is melting (slowly) and I am ready for Spring. I’ve been ready. You know when you buy a new article of clothing but it’s not time to wear it yet so all you think about is wearing it? That’s me right now with these blue and yellow shorts I bought a few months ago. I am DYING to wear either pair. I need a 75 degree day like nobody’s business. 

The past few nights have been very laid back. Last night we had a friend over for dinner and I made BLT pizza. I actually made this pizza for just Luke and I last Friday but forgot to take a photo. I know, I’m super lame. Good thing it was one of the best things I’ve made since I’ve started this experience because I cooked it again for the picture. With center-cut turkey bacon, fresh romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes, this is one of my new favorite pizzas. The sauce is a spicy caesar dressing and the mozzarella cheese folds everything together perfectly. I was not expecting this to taste as good as it did when I first found the idea. And seriously, how simple is this? Add this on your list of “must makes”.

Tonight is “beer night” in the apartment. Luke has started brewing his own beer and tonight is some really big super important step in that process. I have no idea what they’re doing with it, but it smells really good in the kitchen right now. My brother came over and joined us for a four-herb pesto pasta. Again, this was incredibly easy to make and so fresh. Luke’s friend used the word “herbacious”. Yes, I know it’s not a real word, but it sounded perfect. Using all fresh ingredients, this truly made me want summer. It’s like I could taste it in every bite. I served this with a french roll! Tomorrow night is shrimp night; I’m already excited.

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

BLT Pizza

slightly adapted from Bev Cooks

 

yields 2 small pizzas

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pieces of naan bread
  • 1/2 cup creamy caesar dressing (of your choice)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 slices center cut turkey bacon
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups roughly chopped romaine lettuce

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place turkey bacon on an aluminum foil covered baking sheet. Place in cold oven and turn oven on to 450 degree. Cook bacon for 20-25 minutes; slice into small chunks once cooked. (If you prefer to fry your bacon, please do!)
  2. Mix red pepper flakes with caesar dressing and spread over the naan bread, followed by 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Add bacon and tomatoes, then the other 1/2 cup of cheese.
  3. Bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your bread. Once finished, remove and add chopped lettuce. Then devour it.

 

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Four-Herb Pesto Pasta

slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma

yields 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 Tbs. fresh tarragon leaves
  • 2 Tbs. fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

DIRECTIONS

  1. Bring a large pot three-fourths full of lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. Finely chop the basil, parsley, tarragon and sage and place in a bowl. Sprinkle in the lemon juice and stir to coat the herbs with the juice.
  3. Combine the garlic, Parmesan and pine nuts in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream and process until the mixture is creamy and blended. Pour the oil mixture into the bowl with the herbs and stir to combine.
  4. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the pasta is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes or according to package directions. Drain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Toss with the pesto, add a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper. 

A Day In The Life: Beef Tenderloin with Pepper Salsa and Roasted Tomatoes

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For those of you who may not know, I am currently a nanny for three boys (ages 6, 5 and 16 months). I started working for this family in August and have completely fallen in love with all three boys. Sam is the baby, well he’s more like a toddler now, and has brought so much joy to my life. I love I didn’t think was possible. While he’s obviously not my child, I do care for him for 11 of the 13-14 hours he’s awake every day. Which is actually a lot. A few months ago he would only call me ‘mommy’. I hated it. It felt weird and made me feel really old. Not that being a young mom is unheard of…just creeped me out. I work really hard to give these boys everything they need to be successful years down the road. They may not realize it now, but the care they receive from both the parents and myself are the tools they’ll use in life later. 

Usually it’s just Sam and I during the day. We hang out, read books, play with cars (his favorite thing in the whole world) and all kinds of other cool stuff. We’re basically best buds. But for the past week I had the wonderful pleasure of having all three of them for Spring Break. I’ve done it before, nothing too difficult. Or so I thought. This is a basic run down of how my day went yesterday (snow-day prolonged Spring Break…I was not a fan).

Arrive at 7:30am.

Make breakfast (cheerios for Sam, oatmeal for Chris, bagel for Will…never changes).

Watch Phenias and Ferb. This is their new addiction. We don’t watch TV a lot but on a snow day, there isn’t much else to do.

Do a load of laundry.

Clean kitchen.

Change laundry.

Change diaper.

Feed Sam.

Sam naps.

Feed Will and Chris.

Another load of laundry.

Sweep kitchen floor from lunch. Chris likes to eat his Triscuits like a squirrel. You can imagine the mess this creates. 

More Phineas and Ferb.

Get Sam from nap.

Change diaper.

Feed Sam.

Eat myself.

Change laundry.

Put all laundry away.

Change diaper trash.

Put boys in snow gear.

Deal with Sam’s meltdown from not being able to play in the snow. 

Clean up melted snow boys tracked in from outside. 

Feed Sam. 

Feed Will and Chris.

Sweep kitchen floor.

Unload dishwasher.

Load dishwasher.

Breathe.

Change diaper.

Deal with more meltdowns over who didn’t share what.

Drive home.

It might not sound like much, but a day like this kicks my butt. It is a constant whirlwind, non-stop, always something happening. It’s only Tuesday and I’m already exhausted. Thankfully, today marks the end of Spring Break and the boys are back at school. Sam and I are going to have a lay-low kind of day. There’s still so much snow on the ground and the temperature isn’t warm enough for little man to be outside. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up here soon so we can start walking to the park again. That’s our favorite activity!

The best part about working a long day? Coming home and cooking a good meal. I actually don’t mind coming home and still cooking dinner. Especially when company is involved. Luke’s friend was over most of the day and decided to stay for dinner. On the menu was beef tenderloin with a roasted pepper salsa and some roasted cherry tomatoes. Delicious. Amazing. Wonderful. Luke’s friend, who works at a very well-known restaurant here in St. Louis, told me it was excellent. He even said that was a big compliment coming from him. 

Baked in the oven for 25 minutes, the beef tenderloin is rubbed in a mixture of olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic and herbs de provence. After sitting in the oven, I pulled it out and covered it with foil allowing it to continue cooking a little bit longer while I popped in the cherry tomatoes for a few minutes. I tossed those in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them on a pan with garlic cloves. The pepper salsa consisted of roasted red and yellow peppers (pre-roasted from a jar), fresh parsley, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The flavors of this dish came together so perfectly. There was a little sweetness, a little tang, a little kick and tons of juices running from the tender beef. And it was so easy to make. Do yourselves a favor and save a night to make this meal. I can almost guarantee you’ll turn a few heads.

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Pepper Salsa and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

slightly adapted from Sugar and Spice and Katie’s Cucina

yields 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

Beef:

  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 tbso extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried herbs de provence
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 lb beef tenderloin

Pepper salsa:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 oz each roasted red and yellow bell peppers, jarred, drained and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide strips

Roasted Tomatoes:

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 3-5 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1.  Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a heavy baking sheet with cooking spray. Mix olive oil, herbs de provence, garlic, salt and pepper into a small bowl. Rub mixture over beef and place on prepared baking sheet.
  2. Roast beef, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until internal temperature registers 130 degrees. 
  3. Meanwhile, slice cherry tomatoes in half. Mix in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and toss to combine. Lay tomatoes on a parchment paper covered baking sheet and roast in oven with beef. 
  4. Remove beef from oven when finished and loosely tent with foil for 10 minutes. Leave tomatoes in the oven until fully roasted (they will shrivel up when ready).
  5. In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, balsamic vinegar, parsley, salt and pepper until combined. Add peppers, toss until coated. 
  6. Slice beef into 1/2 inch thick slices and arrange on platter. Serve with salsa and roasted tomatoes.

 

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels and Skinny Brownies: A Perfect Snowstorm Sunday

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It’s snowing. A lot. I woke up at about 9:30am and there was already 4 inches on the ground. I did end up making the trek to Trader Joe’s this morning with the company of my little brother who is in town from college. He lives in New Orleans now where it’s currently 80 degrees and sunny. I’m sure he’s super thrilled to be home for his SPRING break with what appears to be now 7 inches (at least) out there. It’s literally pouring snow from the sky. I’m looking outside my window right now and I can’t even tell the different between the sky and the white top of the apartment across the lot.

It’s not even really that cold outside. It’s just wet and gross. But it sure is pretty out there. The trees are catching the perfect snowflakes and the hill outside the window hasn’t been touched by the young sledders yet. I’ll be sad when the first footprints show up. That always ruins a hillside for me this time of year. What am I talking about? This time of year there should be green grass and flowers outside! Doesn’t the sky know it’s the end of March?

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

I’m currently making cinnamon raisin bagels. The dough is rising and I can already smell the cinnamon. It’s taunting me in there. I want to go in there and just eat the dough; why bother even baking them? Okay…fine. I’d probably regret that when either my stomach feels like crap or when I realize I don’t have any breakfast this week.

We’re having dinner tonight at my parent’s house. With my brother home from school and requesting dinner, we couldn’t really pass up good company and a delicious meal. With the snowstorm going on outside, it’s going to be a perfect evening to be with my family and my dogs sitting by the fireplace (in their new furniture that was delivered yesterday!).

Tonight I will be baking “skinny” brownies, a dessert that will only have about 120 calories per serving. When I read that, I knew I had to give them a try. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m all about my favorite sweets being on the healthier side. I love that I can still enjoy good food without all the processed ingredients. I ate Taco Bell with my brother this afternoon and I’ve felt disgusting since. My stomach is torturing me for putting that in my body. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?!” I can hear it screaming. I know, I know…quit eating that shit. I get it people. Sometimes you’re just in a rush and theres 6 inches of snow falling from the sky and your brother is saying he’s hungry and you just pull into the closest, fastest place you can think of. Okay? Geez.

Eat these bagels. Eat these brownies. And have a very very happy Sunday.

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Homemade Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

yields 12 bagels

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1-1/2 cups warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, divided
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3/4 to 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of raisins

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place warm water in a large bowl and add yeast, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and salt; mix well. Next, add in enough flour to form a soft dough that doesn’t stick to the bottom of the bowl.
  2. You can use a dough hook or your hands, but continue to knead, until dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Next, place dough in a bowl coated with oil, and cover the top allowing it to rise in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
  3.  Punch down the dough and shape into 12 balls. Push your thumb through the center to form a 1 inch hole. Strech the dough to form an even ring. Cover, place in warm place and let rise again for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.
  5. Fill a Dutch oven two-thirds full with water and add remaining brown sugar; bringing water to a boil. Drop bagels, two at a time, into boiling water. Cook for 1 minute on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain well on paper towels. Place on baking sheets and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and cool on wire racks.
  6. Eat with COOKIE BUTTER and a dash of cinnamon sugar. It won’t disappoint🙂
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Photo by Allyson Grillo

“Skinny” Brownies

adapted from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice

yields 16 (2-inch) brownies

INGREDIENTS:

  • non-stick olive oil cooking spray
  • 2/3 cup mild honey like clover or orange blossom
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder like Ghiardelli
  • 1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour like King Arthur Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment and spray with olive oil.
  2. Measure the honey into a deep-sided small bowl and microwave on high power 45 seconds. Whisk in the cocoa powder and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile in a small bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
  4. In a large bowl whisk applesauce, oil, egg, and vanilla together until well combined. Whisk in the cooled honey-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add the flour mixture and stir until all the flour is incorporated. Stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips if using.
  5. Add the batter to the prepared pan and spread out evenly. Bake until the surface looks dry around the edges and a toothpick in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 25 minutes or 30 minutes if you added walnuts and chocolate chips. Don’t over bake.
  6. Cool the pan on a wire rack. Once cool refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Remove the brownies using the parchment to a cutting board and slice into 16 squares. For clean cuts wipe the knife clean after each cut and dip in hot water. Store in an airtight container in a cool place 3-4 days.
Photo by Allyson Grillo

Photo by Allyson Grillo

A Lazy Saturday With Hummus Chicken

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I did absolutely nothing today. I have a lot to do, but when I went to bed last night I thought to myself, “I’m just going to wake up when I wake up.” And that’s exactly what I did. Noon was about the time I finally rolled over to look at my phone and check my messages. I thought about going grocery shopping. I considered getting my car door fixed at the Chevy dealer. I considered going home and doing laundry. I didn’t get out of bed to do anything productive until 7:00pm. Not kidding.

It felt great. I haven’t had one of those days in a long time. Luke came home from work and lounged with me for a bit before I decided to finally get out of bed and cook dinner. While my handy boyfriend ran to the store for a lemon, I whipped together this hummus crusted chicken with some left over zucchini I was in desperate need to get rid of. I had a spicy hummus on hand, but I think any flavor would work really well with this dish. I baked the chicken on top of the zucchini, leaving a ton of juices to serve with the vegetable.

It’s supposed to snow here in St. Louis tomorrow. 5-8 inches during the day and then another 1-3 expected at night. I plan on going to the store tomorrow and possibly having dinner at my parent’s house. I thought it was Spring? I have enjoyed winter but I am ready to admit it is time for sunshine and green grass. Anyone else with me? Stay warm, readers!

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Hummus Crusted Chicken

slightly adapted from Gimme Some Oven

 

yields 2 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 baby zucchini, or one large zucchini
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup hummus of choice (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and set aside. Toss zucchini with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  2. Place zucchini in an 8×8 baking dish then place chicken breasts on top of zucchini. Top chicken with hummus, making sure to cover entire breast.
  3. Squeeze juice from half the lemon over the chicken and vegetables, then sprinkle with paprika. Finally, thinly slice the other lemon half and place slices on top of chicken.
  4. Place baking dish in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. 

 

Another Week From Me To You

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I made a promise to myself I was going to get back in the habit of writing after I cook, but I failed yet again. Is it too late to make it my Lenten promise? Ugh. To make this short and sweet, I’m just going to post the recipes I made this week. I’m hoping to get back on track with the whole posting after a meal thing. No complaints on anything I made this week🙂

Sunday night I made chicken sausage with broccoli and brown rice. It was my first time trying chicken sausage and I was really pleased with it. They have different varieties of flavors so I’m anxious to try some different things with it now that I have discovered how delicious it is!

Monday night I cooked a few stuffed peppers. They were super filling and I probably made way more than I should have. We each only ate half of a pepper, but it was so darn good. The flavors of the ground turkey, corn, salsa and pepper blended together perfectly. Oh, and the fancy picture you’ll see below is courtesy of my boyfriend. He thought it’d be a fancy shot. He was right.

Tuesday I did what I promised myself I would do. I re-attempted spaghetti squash. I SUCCEEDED! I cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds and placed them center side down in a baking dish with about an inch of water. I cooked mine until it was tender all the way to the skin, hoping to make it softer this time like spaghetti. After letting it cool, the squash basically came right out of the skin on it’s own. It was perfect. I dug a hole in the center and filled it with chicken, tomatoes and feta cheese. Topped with fresh basil, this was unbelievably good. I am so happy I figured out how to cook this the way Luke and I both liked it. He was even thinking of different sauces we need to try by the end of the night.

Wednesday I babysat till midnight so I ate the leftover squash. Thursday night I made chicken enchiladas. Using tomatoes instead of the classic red enchilada sauce, these were more up my alley. I’m not really a fan of the red cause but can always work with a verde style. I was looking for something healthy but still full of flavor and this was absolutely perfect. The shredded chicken is mixed with a creamy cheese sauce in which I substituted greek yogurt for sour cream to lower a few calories. Everyone should try this style; in my opinion it was way better than a classic enchilada.

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Chicken Sausage, Broccoli and Parmesan Brown Rice Dinner

slightly adapted from Picky Palate

yields 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lb roasted garlic chicken sausage, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups broccoli florets, steamed
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Saute bell pepper for 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in garlic; cook for 1 minute then add chicken slices. Cook for 5 minutes or until chicken is browned on both sides. Add broccoli, rice and parmesan cheese. Cook for 2 minutes or so, then season with salt and pepper.
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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Stuffed Peppers

a Cricket’s Cooks recipe

yields 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb ground turkey, cooked
  • 1 tbsp taco seasoning (I made a homemade one, but a packaged one will work just the same)
  • 2 cups brown rice, cooked
  • 4 bell peppers, halved and seeds removed
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 12 oz fresh salsa
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • fresh cilantro for topping

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat the peppers in olive oil and roast in a baking dish for about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool before adding stuffing.
  2. In a bowl, add the taco seasoning, ground turkey, corn, rice and salsa. Mix well.
  3. Spoon the mixture into each half of the peppers and place back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes. About halfway through, add cheddar cheese on top of each pepper, being sure to cook until cheese is melted through.
  4. Remove from oven and top with fresh cilantro.
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Photo by Allyson Grillo

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash with Tomato, Chicken & Feta

slightly adapted from Heat Oven to 350

yields 2 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise with seeds removed
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

DIRECTIONS

  1. Arrange the spaghetti squash halves, cut side down, in the bottom of a shallow, microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high until flesh is tender (minimum of five minutes here but I cooked mine a little longer for a softer squash).
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned on all sides, 3-5 minutes (if using already cooked chicken, skip this step and add the chicken with the tomatoes and seasonings). Add the tomatoes, basil and oregano, bring to a simmer, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about another 5 minutes.
  3. Preheat the broiler.
  4. Flip the spaghetti squash over and, using a fork, pull the strands from it, making spaghetti-like pieces. Season the spaghetti with salt and pepper. Make a slight “hole” in the center of each squash half to make room for the filling, then spoon the filling into squash halves. Sprinkle the top of each with feta cheese. Transfer the stuffed squash to a baking sheet or roasting pan and place under the broiler. Broil until the cheese is golden brown, about 2 minutes, then serve.
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Photo by Allyson Grillo

Chicken Enchiladas

slightly adapted from Diethood

yields 3 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, reserved 1/3 for topping
  • 1/2 cup original greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 6 (8 inch) tortillas

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease a 13×9-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  3. Heat olive oil over medium-heat in a large skillet.
  4. Stir in garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute.
  5. Add chicken, 2/3 of the diced tomatoes, and greek yogurt; season with oregano, basil, onion powder, salt and pepper, and chili powder.
  6. Cook for 5 minutes, or until heated through.
  7. Mix in 1/2 of the shredded cheddar cheese.
  8. Spoon mixture down the center of each tortilla and roll up.
  9. Place seam side down in prepared baking dish.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Top with the rest of the diced tomatoes and shredded cheese.
  12. Return to oven and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
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Photo by Allyson Grillo

“Babe, we should make homemade bagels…”

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This is what Luke said to me Sunday afternoon while we were meal planning together. It’s this new thing we started doing. On Sundays when he is off work, we sleep in, lounge around till we feel fully awake, then seize the day by heading to Trader Joe’s and Schnuck’s for our weekly grocery needs. I whip out my laptop and hop on Pinterest and stalk a bunch of other blogs till I find exactly what I want to make (or read enough of the same concept to make my own version). This Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day! Our routine was a little different this week–we celebrated the Irish holiday with Luke’s family at the Missouri Veterans Home. His grandfather, who has alzheimer’s, is living in the home now and the family gathered there for a small lunch and to hang out. We were out late the night before and family time took a toll on our energy so we came back to relax before we made our trip. This was when Luke said the soon-to-be famous line. 

Homemade bagels? I’ve never even thought to do such a thing. I mean, it’s possible. But how do I do that? Pinterest is my new Google.

The recipe is claimed to be from a baker who made bagels for years. I went with a basic bagel this time, hoping I could at least figure the plain version out. I was so nervous. I actually don’t think I have ever been so nervous about cooking something before in my life. It was a combination of something new and not wanting to disappoint Luke that got me all jittery. I made these while I was making gluten-free cookies and granola bars so that I was in the zone and could put all my attention to the food and not to my worries. 

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

And here they are. The best freaking bagels I’ve ever had. Seriously. For a plain bagel, this did not disappoint. They are nice and crunchy on the outside with a soft center. And they are huge. Perfect for an on-the-go breakfast. We ate two right out of the oven, nice and warm. I’ve been toasting mine when I get to work and adding a tablespoon of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter. If you have never tried this, you need to get in your car and drive to a TJ’s right this second. It is heaven in a jar. This recipe made 8 bagels, so next time I’ll probably double the batch to make enough for the entire week. I’m also going to figure out how to make different flavors. This is the most exciting thing I’ve done since I started cooking on my own! Please make them. I’m never buying store-bought bagels again. Ever.

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

 

Plain Bagels

adapted from John D Lee

yields 8 bagels

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Mis all the ingredients in a bowl. The dough should feel stiff, but add extra water if it’s really stiff, or you can’t get all the dry flour incorporated.
  2. Plop the dough down onto the counter, and knead for about ten minutes, or until the dough is uniform and smooth.
  3. Cut the dough into 8 equal sized balls, and let rest for 10-20 minutes.
  4. Pre-heat your oven to 425.
  5. Take each of the dough balls and using two hands, roll it into a little snake on the counter. When the snake is longer than the width of your town hands, wrap it around your dominant rolling hand. The dough rope should be wrapped so the overlapping ends are together at your palm, near the start of your fingers. Now take the two overlapping ends, and use your palm to squish/roll these two ends together. 
  6. Let bagels rest on the counter for about 20 minutes, and meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and grease a large baking tray lightly.
  7. After the 20 minute wait, your bagels will start to look puffy. Add them to the boiling water, as many at a time as you can fit without crowding them. Boil for about a minute, turn over, and boil for another minute. Take them out and let dry for am inute and then place them on your oiled baking tray. Repeat until all the bagels are boiled.
  8. Add the tray to the over, bake for 10 minutes, flip, and bake for another ten minutes. 
  9. Add cream cheese (but really, you’re missing out if you don’t have cookie butter!).

 

 

 

I’m also throwing in the recipes for the gluten-free cookies and granola bars I made. OMG, both are so stinking good. I like the granola bars because I know exactly what went into them and they taste way better than anything I’ve had from a store. Honestly. The cookies are really good too. A peanut butter dark chocolate chip combo makes my mouth water. I might go eat one now…

And I won’t feel guilty about it because they don’t have any flour, white sugar, or butter!🙂

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Photo by Allyson Grillo

 

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Averie Cooks

yields 12-16 cookies (depending on size–I got 12)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 6 oz dark chocolate chunks (I found morsels and just used those!)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until well-combined and the sugar is fully incorporated and the mixture is no longer grainy, about three minutes.
  2. Add the baking soda and beat to incorporate. Add the chocolate and stir well. Transfer dough to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 5 days, before baking.
  3. Preheat oven to 350, line baking sheets with foil and spray with oil. Make about 2 tablespoons worth of dough into a ball and place on baking sheet. 
  4. Bake 8-10 minutes, until edges are set and the tops are barely set, even if slightly under-baked in the center. The cookies will firm up as they cool so leaving them in too long will burn them and give you a crunchy cookie.

 

Image

Photo by Allyson Grillo

 

Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

adapted from Shugary Sweets

yields 24 bars

INGREDIENTS

    • 4 Tbsp butter
    • ½ cup brown sugar
    • ¼ cup honey
    • 2 cup granola (mine was a Praline Granola…delicious)
    • 1 cup Rice Krispies
    • ½ cup lightly salted peanuts
    • ½ cup pretzel sticks, broken
    • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

DIRECTIONS

  1. In large saucepan, heat butter, sugar and honey over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook about 2-3 minutes (until sugar is completely dissolved).
  2. Remove from heat. Add in granola, rice Krispies, peanuts and pretzels. Quickly add in chocolate chips. Press into a parchment lined 13×9 pan. Refrigerate for about 15-20 minutes. Cut into bars and enjoy!

 

Busy As A Bee

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I can finally breathe. I feel like this has been the longest week ever. Which I know is not true because once upon a time I was in college. And I never had time in college. I haven’t blogged in over a week. And I’ve been making food. So I feel like I’ve been letting my few readers down. My sincerest apologies to anyone who actually reads this gig. I’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours at work and babysitting on the side to help pay my loans. The real world is definitely winning lately.

I’ve been doing pretty well on the whole eating thing. Since November I’ve lost about twenty pounds and I’m not even really trying very hard. I’ve just been eating mainly organic foods to be honest with you. I never thought I’d be someone to focus this much on the right things to buy and cook but it makes me feel ten times better. I feel healthier, even if I wasn’t losing any weight at all. I wake up and I notice I feel more refreshed. I’m still insanely tired but that would be due to my 6 hours of sleep. I need to work on that too but I can’t seem to sacrifice my time after work! Anyway, what this post is basically about is this: if you are looking for a change in your life or want to feel better about yourself, start eating this stuff. You don’t even have to use my recipes, I could care less. Eat your vegetables, eat your protein, eat your fruit. I promise you, you WILL notice the difference.

Here’s a recap on the last week of cooking. Everything I made was amazing. Happy week to you all! Enjoy the food!

 

Image

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Last Wednesday was Luke’s birthday! The big 2-5. It was already decided that we weren’t going to do much the day of because it was a week night. We sound really really old, right? I got us tickets for a Blues game (there is an extremely embarrassing story that goes with this, but I’m literally too ashamed to tell) and made some paninis! I made the chicken ahead of time to make this a really quick and easy dish. I took the time to make some tomato soup to go with it, creating the perfect duo for a chilly evening. The soup is incredibly healthy with only 76 calories per serving. I plan on making both of these again soon!

Image

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Southwestern Chicken Panini

adapted from Heat Oven to 350

makes 6 sandwiches (I saved the leftover chicken and made a second meal!)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups chopped, cooked chicken breasts
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 12 1/2 inch slices Italian bread
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Colby or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic on low until soft, about 3 minutes. Add chicken, salt, cilantro, cumin, oregano, chili powder, water and tomato sauce, and cook 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Season to taste with more salt and stir in lime juice.
  2. Preheat panini press or cast iron skillet (or George Foreman!). Brush one side of 6 bread slices with olive oil. Turn over; place about 1/2 cup filling on each. Top with 1/4 cup cheese, 2 tsp chopped cilantro and bread slices; brush top slice of bread with oil.
  3. Place sandwich(es) in panini press and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until bread is golden and cheese is melted. If using a skillet, toast both sides until golden. Serve.
Image

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Skinny Tomato Soup

slightly adapted from Women’s Health Magazine

yields 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz each) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1/4 c almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat olive oil in medium saucepan. Cook onion and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, sugar, rosemary, bay leaf, tomatoes, and 2 cups water. Stir together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes.
  2. Remove bay leaf. Use a handheld blender to puree the soup in the saucepan, or transfer soup to a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. (If you’re using a standard blender, allow the mixture to cool first; hot liquid may cause the blender to squirt out contents. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to do this in batches.)
  3. Heat milk in microwave for 30 seconds to warm, and then stir it into the pureed soup along with yogurt. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

 

 

 

Thursday night I made shrimp scampi. I have had versions of this before over pasta but I wanted to cut out the carbs. I’m trying really hard to not eat as many of those little suckers. This would be really good in the summer when the weather is warm and you’re looking for a refreshing dish. It was also really easy to throw together. If you’re not a carb counter, please pour this over some angel hair or spaghetti. Or get a big hunk of bread to soak up all the extra sauce.

Image

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Shrimp Scampi (served with zucchini) 

adapted from Weight Watchers

yields 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds medium, shrimp
  • peeled and deveined
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 4 lemon slices

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Sauté the shrimp until just pink, 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. With a slotted spoon transfer the shrimp to a platter and keep hot.
  3. In the skillet, combine broth, wine, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the parsley, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Boil uncovered until sauce is reduced by half; spoon over shrimp.
  4. Serve garnished with lemon slices and sprinkled with the remaining tbsp of parsley.
  5. If making zucchini, simply cut to your liking and toss with some of the juice from the shrimp in a skillet over medium-high heat till tender.

 

 

 

I am here to tell you about spaghetti squash. I have been wanting to make squash as a substitute for pasta for awhile now. I keep hearing how wonderful it is and have officially accumulated enough recipes to try it out. I knew it was going to be tough to get Luke on board so my first attempt was with an alfredo sauce, one of his favorites. He was willing to cooperate with my health kick so I researched how to cook this bad boy.

After reading a hundred ways to make spaghetti squash, I settled with placing it in the oven whole for an hour at 350 degrees. I made sure to stab some slits into it with my knife to prevent an explosion (that was the number one disclaimer I read about while Google searching). I was relatively satisfied. The taste was good, I could barely tell the difference. But the texture was a little more crunchy than I expected. I went back and read some more Google stuff (cause that’s how I learn everything) and realized I had made it correctly. It is supposed to be a little bit crunchier than regular pasta, however, there are different ways to try and make it as similar as possible. Next time I want to see if I can make it a little more soft. Other than that, this was great and I already have another squash recipe for next week!

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Photo by Allyson Grillo

 

Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

slightly adapted from Food Doodles

yields 2 servings (or 4 as a side)

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium sized spaghetti squash
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 1/2 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp low fat cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus a little extra for topping)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • crushed red pepper flakes to taste (for topping)

DIRECTIONS

  1. First prep the spaghetti squash. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Keep the spaghetti squash whole. Poke a few holes deep into the squash with a large knife. Place in the oven whole. Bake for 60 minutes, remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes before slicing in half with a large serrated knife like a bread knife. Scoop out the seedy inside leaving the spaghetti strands. Once cooked, use a fork to gently scrape the “spaghetti” strands into the center. (If you have a different way you prefer to cook spaghetti squash, simply cook accordingly. I plan on trying a few different methods!)
  2. For the sauce, melt the butter in a small pot. Once hot add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes over medium low heat. Add the flour and whisk into the butter. Cook for another minute while stirring. Add the cream cheese, warm it up and stir it in to the butter mixture.
  3. Add the milk and whisk well. Bring up to a gentle simmer then remove from the heat. Add the freshly grated cheese and salt and stir until melted, just a minute or two. Pour half the sauce into each spaghetti squash half (or less if using a smaller squash). Gently stir to combine. Top with an extra sprinkle of Parmesan and red pepper flakes and place under the broiler of your oven for 2-3 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.

 

 

I love pizza. I know I already told you all this when I made a chicken, spinach and feta naan pizza. I really want to make my own dough. I’ve done it before and it has turned out great but now I want to try whole wheat dough. I came across this pizza with a recipe attached so I went out and bought some yeast and thought I’d give it a try. However, by the time the weekend actually rolled around, I was in no mood to make some pizza dough. In fact, I didn’t have the time to do so. SO I ended up running to the store really fast and just picking up a whole wheat thin crust pre-made pizza dough and threw all the toppings on top. This pizza was good. Like, real good. I would have eaten the whole thing myself if I wasn’t sharing it with three other people. All that was left were a few crumbs and some burnt cheese that fell on the stone. Always a good sign🙂

If I had made the dough like I planned, this pizza would have literally been perfect. But with the thin crust and a lot of toppings, it ended up being a thicker pizza. Hopefully next time I can make the dough myself and enjoy it they way it was meant, but for now this will have to do. I’m including the dough recipe in case any of you want to make this and do it the right way! (Trust me, if you take the lazy route you will not be disappointed.)

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Pesto Veggie Pizza

adapted from Oven to 350

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pkg (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 T canola oil
  • 1T sugar
  • 1T dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 1/2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
  • 1 3/4 cups coarsely chopped fresh broccoli
  • 3/4 cup chopped green or red pepper
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chopped cooked chicken breast
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the Parmesan cheese, oil, sugar, basil, salt, all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining whole wheat flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).
  2. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Roll dough into a 16 inch x 12 inch rectangle. Transfer to a greased baking sheet: build up edges slightly. Prink dough with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.
  4. Meanwhile, in large saucepan, bring 1/2 in. of water to a boil. Add spinach; cover and boil for 3-5 minutes or until wilted. Drain and place in a food processor. Add pesto; cover and process until blended.
  5. Spread over pizza crust. Top with broccoli, green pepper, green onions, garlic, chicken and mozzarella. Bake 10-12 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

 

 

 

Luke usually doesn’t request food when I’m planning ahead. He kind of just goes with the flow and lets me do whatever I want. Which is nice because I enjoy having free range and experimenting with different ideas. But it’d be nice to have his input. He always tells me his opinion on whatever I make (at least I think he’s telling the truth) but I recently told him he needs to step up his game and start helping me think of recipes! We have since started shopping together on Sundays (cute, right?) and he helps me pick out meals for dinner. Last week he spotted some chicken nuggets on my Pinterest page. “Wait, scroll back up. That, there. I want those.” Done. See how easy that was? The nuggets were slathered in buffalo sauce and rolled in crunchy breading then baked in the oven. And they’re healthy for you. So what’s not to like about these little guys? We had a friend over that night who brought some macaroni and potato salad to go with the nuggets. I’m totally making spicy sweet potato fries with these, and soon. Yeah, I already have plans in my head.

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Baked Buffalo Chicken Nuggets

slightly adapted from Oven to 350

yields 4 servings

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne) (1/8 tsp is mildly spicy; use more if you want your nuggets to have a little more kick.)
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper sauce (like Tabasco or Frank’s)
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat ranch dressing

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. In 1-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag, place cereal; crush with rolling pin. Add flour, sugar, paprika, seasoned salt and red pepper; mix well.
  2. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with aluminum foil and placing a cooling rack on it.
  3. In small bowl, stir together oil and pepper sauce. Coat chicken pieces with oil mixture.
  4. Shake about 6 chicken pieces at a time in bag of cereal mixture until coated. Shake off any extra mixture. Place chicken pieces in single layer on the cooling rack set in the lined baking sheet. Spray with vegetable oil spray.
  5. Bake about 10-15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center. (If coating looks dry, remove chicken, turn, and spray with more vegetable oil spray halfway through baking.) Meanwhile, in small bowl, stir together greek yogurt and dressing. Serve sauce with chicken.

 

 

FINALLY, the last meal I made this week: turkey meatballs! Again, this is something I had done in the past and really enjoyed so I wanted to try some different styles out. I wasn’t upset with these results, however, I know I can make them taste even better. Look out for a re-do on this very soon. I threw mine with some spaghetti, but you could use spaghetti squash and cut out the carbs or eat them solo with a salad. Have an excellent week my readers and keep cooking!

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Photo by Allyson Grillo

Turkey Meatballs

slightly adapted from Eat, Live, Run

yields 4-6 servings

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.5 lbs ground turkey (lean but not *extra* lean)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

DIRECTIONS

  1. Puree your tomatoes in a food processor or blender until smooth. Pour into a large dutch oven or heavy saucepot and bring to a simmer with the oregano, garlic and a half teaspoon of the salt. Let simmer for about twenty minutes to thicken.
  2. Combine the milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and let stand for five minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the turkey, a teaspoon of salt, red pepper flakes, minced shallot and the soaked breadcrumbs. Mix well with your hands and form small balls.
  4. Bake the meatballs at 375 for twenty minutes. Once done, drop into tomato sauce and serve plain or with pasta!