Saturday brought an end to January and the start to the much-anticipated month of February for us. Of course, the reasons for that anticipation were twofold: first, it’s the month we get to start our renovations, and secondly, we successfully completed our month of eating only at home. So as you can guess, we had a few delicious meals out this weekend ;-)

I hope to continue to be conscientious about not eating out too much and to keep being creative in the kitchen. Sheer boredom with the same-old-same-old definitely aided in the culinary experimentation this past month.

Like most women, I spend copious amounts of time on Pinterest, pinning recipes and thinking how easy and delicious they look. This month, I actually tried a fair amount of them, so I thought it was fitting to re-cap and see how it went. I never remember to go back and update my pins so we’ll just knock this out in one fell swoop!

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smoothie addiction.

In the last few months I started trying smoothies out as a way to add more veggies and nutrients to my diet, especially in the morning. Breakfast pastries are my favorite but they just don’t do much for you nutritionally. I liked this recipe from She Knows but truthfully I’ve tried all sorts of concoctions.

I think my favorite are strawberry banana versions, but that just makes such an awful color when you add spinach. The lovely bright green ones don’t bother me at all but I’m not into the brown color you get from red (strawberries) + green (spinach). I know that shouldn’t matter but it seems to!

chicken potpie empanadas

chickenpotpie

I really liked this recipe, mostly because I am a carb-a-holic though. It definitely was not as much of a meaty chicken pot pie – it was all about the crust. Not sure that the hubs liked that has much but I thought it was good, and it heated up excellently for lunch the next day. Definitely not low calorie though! Recipe from Real Simple.

frozen strawberry treat

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I already blogged this one and I really loved how it turned out. Low-cal dessert? Yes please!

quinoa + spinach patties

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These were a surprise win, and super healthy. I had never really made anything like it so I was surprised they were at all successful. I think they could have used some more spices or seasoning, but they weren’t bad at all. I ended up eating them on a hamburger bun with lettuce and a little low-fat mayo and they were really good. Something different than the usual deli meat, which is nice. The recipe came from Skinny Taste.

tomato + fried egg + garlic toast

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This recipe from Martha Stewart was a win in my book. I made it with wheat toast and no butter for the fried eggs (just a little non-stick cooking spray works) so it was an excellent low calorie lunch / dinner. Plus I just love tomatoes & garlic!

cinnamon quinoa bake

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This one was slightly less successful for me, mostly because I think I just didn’t have time to cook it as long as I maybe needed to. The recipe said 20 to 25 minutes, and even though it was definitely set in that long, it wasn’t really cooked all the way through. I cooked it 35 minutes and ran out of time (had to leave) so I thought maybe it would set up better when it cooled, but not quite. We’ll have to try this one again! It came from FitSugar.

Tried any new recipes lately? Do share!

photo credits: smoothie | pot pies | quinoa patties | cinnamon quinoa bake

It’s almost cheating to call it a recipe, more just like of a clever idea that I can’t claim as my own :-)

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First, let me back up a bit. I came up with the idea last month to make January a no-eating out month. I love to eat out. I’m not a big shopper really – dining is where I spend my discretionary income. So since we just came off our big NYC trip, the holidays, and are about to head into a home renovation (more on that later), we thought it would be a good challenge to get creative with saving some money and cooking for ourselves.

We are 13 days into the challenge and it’s been a really great experiment so far. A few observations…

– One thing that I think is hard is that food is very social – it’s so nice to meet for coffee or grab a bite to eat, so it can be a bit limiting to cut that out of your life for awhile. I can’t help but chastise myself though because that has to be the very definition of a first world problem! But then, I’m also lucky to have really great friends like Jeni who eat lunch with me in the office and we had a grand time just the same.

– It takes a lot of planning. Planning what you need to buy at the grocery store so you have enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single night is not as easy. We are typically good about eating in on weeknights, but we kind of do whatever on the weekends because we’re often out all day. The last two weekends we actually packed lunch and brought it with us or coordinated our errands so we could come home.

– It makes you less wasteful. I think this is the first time in a long time that we are really eating all of everything we buy – produce, bread, milk, etc.

– It definitely means you get more creative with what you make, because if you’re the only one making it, no one else is going to serve you something gourmet if you don’t start getting fancy yourself.

Also, full disclosure, today I had promised a fellow BNI member that I would sub, so lunch is on that member even though I am eating out for lunch :-) (and much more appreciative than normal at not needing to pack my lunch!)

This yummy strawberry dessert pin has been on my “food to make” Pinterest board for awhile now and I decided to whip it up yesterday. It was too easy to call it a recipe, but here you go…

yummy strawberry dessert

You’ll Need
– Graham Crackers
– Cool Whip / Vanilla Greek Yogurt (or both)
– Strawberries (frozen or fresh)

Directions
– Throw the strawberries in the food processer and dice them up a bit. Just small enough so they are easy to mix into the Cool Whip.
– Mix the pieces up with the Cool Whip. I did about 1 cup of strawberries (before they were diced) with about 8tbsp of Cool Whip. You can try Greek Yogurt but I’m not as big a fan of that :-)
– Lay the graham crackers in a foil lined pan (I just used a Pyrex) and spread the mixture onto each cracker. Top with with another cracker to make a sandwich, lightly press down on them, and pop them in the freezer.

Such a yummy and low cal snack. I’m very glad I made four so I have another waiting for me this evening!

Happy Tuesday!

Hello everyone! I hope you have had a wonderful New Year’s. It’s been a whirlwind month of holidays and family time, hasn’t it? Thanksgiving was only a month ago!

Christmas in our family was really special this year. I hosted my side of the family on Christmas Eve and my cooking was mostly successful. I showed my complete lack of understanding of how coffee works and really flubbed that part up, but I think the rest was pretty seamless. I really like playing hostess and had a fun day on Christmas Eve scurrying around decorating, cooking, and wrapping the last gifts. On Christmas, we had a quiet morning just for us which was really the first time we’d ever done that and really nice to share Christmas as a couple.

As for the presents under the tree, we had planned to keep Christmas lower key this year, but we still had all kinds of fun opening gifts, laughing, and making a big ole mess. One of my favorite presents this year was from my awesome husband and it’s called “monbento.”

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monbento box review

Last year saw a lot of change for me personally in how I eat and exercise, so packing my lunch became a much bigger part of my world. I’d wanted something to make that a little easier, and R found this product. Let’s just re-cap real quick how much of a slam dunk this was:

  • It’s a French company. We know how I feel about France.
  • It’s blue and white and has a belly band.
  • Design wise, it’s thoughtful, efficient, and intentional.

So yeah, I love it. Before reviewing though, I wanted to make sure I used it a few days so I could give an honest impression. One of the coolest things about it is that you can actually microwave each “compartment” separately (it has a vent in the lid), so you don’t have to mess around with pouring soup from your tupperware into a bowl, etc.

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They also have all these cool accessories like sauce cups and cutlery. I have the sauce cups and they are so nice for dressing so you can easily make a quick salad that will stay fresh since the dressing isn’t on it. I also used one for hummus one day and that was nice.

When you get home, throw it in the dishwasher and you’re all set. I don’t know about you, but I dread opening my tupperware cabinet, so it’s nice that I don’t have to mess around with that anymore and I can just throw everything in the bento box and be on my way. I also got a cute little insulated lunch tote that it fits in so I can throw a drink or anything else in there with it.

what’s a bento?

Researcher that I am, I had to get a little more involved to find out about this company and the product. I knew a bento had Japanese origins, but apparently a “bento” refers to a meal in a container eaten outside the home. Of course, the container itself can vary I suppose based on what you buy, but overall there are lots of benefits touted to the “bento box lifestyle:”

  • Eco-friendly since it’s reusable as opposed to sandwich bags / brown bag lunches
  • It’s easier to eat healthy when you plan ahead and don’t end up at a fast food joint.
  • Saves you money and time since you’re not eating out / waiting in lines / etc.

Anyway, I’m excited to pack my lunch oh-so-stylishly this year and I’m already having lots of fun coming up with what would fit well into my bento box.

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Do you pack lunches for work / school? Any fun ideas to try?

It makes me laugh at this time of year because it’s sort of like pumpkins are rockstars. They are in every recipe (pumpkin bread, anyone?), craft project, color palette, drink – you name it. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of pumpkins and love a good Fall day at the pumpkin patch, but it’s just funny to watch the trends and see pumpkins as the main event on every blog I read.

So, without further ado, here is my pumpkin post.

pumpkin bread

Hehe.

Now onto real pumpkins. Over the weekend the grocery store had samples of pumpkin pie out and that little taste got the hankering started. It’s hard to get in the spirit around here because Fall doesn’t show up in a consistent way until December, and even then you’re liable to have days in the 70’s. We’ve had a few nice Fall days though so that + the taste of Fall in the form of pie got it started.

I picked up a can of pumpkin puree and decided to try something with it as I’ve never made a single thing with pumpkin before.

pumpkin bread

I love zucchini bread so much that pumpkin bread seemed like a great place to start, and I found a nice healthy recipe on 100 Days of Real Food. I am quite sure she would not approve of my canned pumpkin but you can’t win ’em all.

Here is the recipe, with a few notes / modifications I made…

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup chopped tree nuts (if desired)

*I replaced the oil with Trader Joe’s applesauce, which research indicates is a cup for cup substitution. I also did not have cloves or ginger, which I’m sure make it even yummier, but it was still good without it. I did not have nuts either and opted out of those.

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the dry ingredients (from the flour down to the salt).
3. Make a well in the center and throw in the eggs, oil, honey, and vanilla. Stir together but don’t overmix.
4. Fold in the pumpkin puree and nuts if you are using them.
5. Grease a loaf pan or put muffin liners in a muffin tin and pour in the batter.
6. Bake a loaf approximately 30 to 40 minutes and for muffins bake approximately 18 – 22 minutes. It’s done when a toothpick comes out clean. *Mine baked for 35 minutes and was ready to go.

It made a great breakfast component for the first part of the week, but I think with the applesauce and other organic ingredients it didn’t keep all that long. Or maybe I did a bad job covering it – also entirely possible :-) Check out the original recipe + all the great comments on 100 Days of Real Food.

Oh, and while we’re on blogs to read, you should definitely check out my friend and client Kate Neale Cooper’s blog Fits and Starts – she posted about an amazing Pay it Forward kind of movement taking place to honor a young girl who tragically died of epilepsy. It’s an inspiring read and an important subject.

Here’s to a productive + happy Monday!

For my dad’s birthday, I decided to make one of his favorites desserts: banana pudding. We’ve done strawberry shortcake, which is his other favorite (and mine too!) for the last few years, so I thought we’d change it up a bit.

delicious banana pudding

When I was little I would “make” banana pudding for him that involved a packet of vanilla pudding poured over bananas and Nilla wafers. Since then, I’ve had real banana pudding in a few different restaurants and realized there could definitely be more to it than that ;-)

I did some searching while R drove home from Athens on Sunday (what did we used to do when you couldn’t browse the internet in the car?) and came up with Paula Deen’s “Not Yo Mama’s Banana Pudding Recipe.” It had some interesting ingredients so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Seriously, this was so good. Delicious banana pudding.

And really really easy, you’re pretty much throwing together cream cheese, whipped cream, sweetened condensed milk, a packet of pudding, and milk, and letting the mixer go to town on it. Check out the recipe here. I didn’t do the Pepperidge Farm cookies, preferring Nilla Wafers instead, but I’m sure it’s good either way.

I have these two little vintage dessert serving pieces – I honestly can’t tell you what they’re called – that I inherited from my grandmother. While making the pudding and realizing that it was pretty tasty, I pulled those out and made “night before” servings for R and me. And plus it makes me happy to use those – kind of like I’m carrying on the life and traditions or something. Do you have any sentimental pieces like that? I wish I had more of them, but they’re perfect for now with just the two of us!

Enjoy!

Over the weekend, a new store called Southern Seasons opened up here in Mount Pleasant and it was just the talk of the town. A gourmet specialty store carrying all sorts of hard to find items, with a giant candy counter, biscuit making classes, and lots of free samples….yes, sign me up please.

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One of the free samples we snagged happened to be cookies from Grey Ghost Bakery, and I have to say, those cookies were amazing. Molasses Spice and Cinnamon Pecan…seriously, they were surprisingly good, and made right up the road from here in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina.

And of course it doesn’t hurt that they have completely adorable packaging.

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We got to meet one of the owners, and share a “Go Dawgs” moment with him before the big game on Saturday. With a UGA win and yummy “locally grown” cookies, it was a pretty fantastic Saturday.

Check out Grey Ghost Bakery online – they do ship!

4thofJulyCake

Hello friends! I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July. We kept it kind of easy, spending some time at the pool, some time at home during the rain showers, ate some delicious barbeque and made our traditional American Flag cake.

This cake is so easy to make but still so delicious I thought I would share it. This idea came from Robert’s family and ever since we’ve been “on our own” we’ve made one for the 4th.

I hope you like it – enjoy!

American Flag Cake

Ingredients:
1 box of white cake mix
1 box of Strawberry jello
Blueberries
Strawberries
Cool Whip

Steps:
1. Make the white box cake. (How’s that for instructions lol?) Obviously to do it in the shape of the flag a rectangular cake pan works best.
2. Let it cool some, and then poke holes all through it while it’s still in the cake pan.
3. Make the Jello the “instant” way, so it’s basically a hot liquid, and then pour it over the top of the cake.
4. Stick it in the fridge overnight and let it set / cool.
5. When you’re ready, “ice” the cake with the Cool Whip.
6. Cut up the strawberries and blueberries, decorate, and enjoy!

I’ll have to go back and snap a photo of how the cake looks when you cut it with the pink running down through it. The girly-girl in me loves that part.

Do you have any 4th of July traditions?

As R pointed out over the weekend, I am on a bit of a muffin baking kick. I think it’s mostly because of my new health conscious lifestyle and the fact that pretty much all of my favorite foods involve bread. It’s really hard to eat a muffin or a pastry out and about because you just don’t know what you’re looking at health wise. So, I have been working on getting better at making my own.

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These Banana Blueberry Muffins turned out really well. I had some blueberries in the fridge so I decided to put them to good use and make muffins for this week’s breakfast. In my search for health conscious options, I turned up a recipe from Martha Stewart. Because I can never let well enough alone, though, I modified it a fair amount so I’ll share it here.

Ingredients

1 cup whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup Quaker Oats oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup Splenda
1/3 cup Splenda brown sugar blend
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas (about 1 pound)
1/3 cup Skim milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup frozen blueberries (or fresh)

Makes 12 muffins.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together flours, oatmeal, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat butter, applesauce, and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, mash bananas with a fork (you should have 3/4 cup); stir in milk and vanilla.

With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and banana mixture to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Fold in blueberries.

Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, around 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Let cool in pan 10 minutes; transfer muffins to a rack to cool 10 minutes more.

*You could also make these with chocolate chips or other berries. I really like the way the muffin part itself turned out – moist and a little sweet.

Enjoy!

I also used SparkRecipe’s nifty nutrition calculator to figure that part out if you’re interested in that sort of thing – it’s a very handy feature! You can find it here.

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OH, and don’t forget the part where you hold a mini muffin photo shoot. :-)

Have you cooked up anything interesting lately? How was your weekend?

A few weeks ago I finished up a project for a friend and fellow blogger Carly Totten. Through the magic of social media and blogging, I met Carly about a year and a half ago when she came down to visit Charleston, and we have remained friends ever since.

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Recently we created a new home-on-the-internet for her called “Carly is Inspired” and I had the honor of helping her design it and make it a reality. Definitely go visit her as she has a wonderful writing style and great content!

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By the way, total fluke that she had me on her blog when I took this snapshot. Did not do that on purpose ;-)

When we finished the project, Carly very kindly sent me a baking cookbook by Cooking Light. Since we were lucky enough to have a three day weekend this past weekend, I took the opportunity to crack that open and try out a recipe…

Double Apple Bran Muffins

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I just had one for breakfast this morning and they turned out so well. I really like the apple taste and they really are much better for you than muffins you get from other places. I am becoming one of those annoying people that would rather make everything from scratch so I know what’s in it ;-)

Check out the recipe here. I pretty much made it as written except that I used Whole Wheat Flour, oatmeal for oat bran (who has oat bran around?!), and Splenda brown sugar. They came out great though, so I will be enjoying my breakfast this week!

Did you do anything fun over the weekend? Back to the grind today though, hope it’s an easy day for you!

Hello friends! I hope life has been treating you well lately. We have been busy as always, which is wonderful, and also taking time to enjoy spring too.

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Of course, beautiful weather means wedding season is here, so we have been busily sending out invitations and printing up fun day of pieces too, like these welcome kits for this weekend’s bride.

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I know I’ve mentioned before that, for whatever reason, the spark finally came alive and I’ve become really interested in food and cooking. I think now that I know a thing or two (albeit not much), it’s a lot more fun because I feel like I can get creative.

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I’ve also spent the last three and a half weeks really focusing some energy on health. I have to confess it’s not something I’ve spent much time on before in my life — I am a workaholic, so if there is time to be had, I usually work — but I’m really working on a lifestyle change. Making sure to exercise even just 20 minutes a day has made such a difference in my stress level. So it’s been fun to incorporate that into cooking and learning about food and nutrition and exercise. Wish me luck that I can stick with it :-)

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In that same spirit, I’m really excited about the upcoming Food Film Fest!

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A client of mine is involved in putting it on, so I can’t wait to check it out. Here’s what they have to say about it:

The Food Film Festival – the only film festival in the world where guests get to taste what they see on the screen – will debut in Charleston this spring with two events showcasing more than 15 food films! In Charleston, we will present a “Best of” exhibition of favorite food films from around the globe, along with the world premiere of a film about Lowcountry shrimping from Festival Director and Travel Channel Host George Motz.

Sounds really interesting doesn’t it? I will be sure to share some snaps and thoughts after the event!

In the meantime, though, if you want to check it out and are in Charleston that weekend, they were kind enough to share a coupon code with me that you can use (“MELT10”) to receive 10% off the ticket price. Tickets are on sale here. We hope to see you there!

So that’s all that’s going on around here right now. I’ll try to be better about posting – it’s just hard to find time sometimes between work, exercise, cooking, and play! Tell me what you’ve been up to in the comments…I love to hear from you!