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Friday, May 30, 2014

The Best Tasting Protein Shake Ever


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I am a huge hater of all things exercise. I am admittedly lazy. I joined a gym back in February to try and get myself in a little better shape. I have it set up with childcare so if a 2 hour break from the kids isn't motivation enough to exercise I don't know what is. Even if I'm not feeling well the place has a hot tub so I can always just go sit and read. So I've been doing this for a few months now and I'm actually sort of liking it. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not enjoying exercise at all. It still sucks, but I've gotten into a routine and I'm feeling better.

My sister is getting married in July which means the countdown is on to look good in those pictures. My little sister is like 5'10" and the size of a model. Going wedding dress shopping with her was both incredibly fun and incredibly painful. Every dress fits her perfectly and looks spectacular on her. That's the fun part. The not so fun part is being surrounded by mirrors as your frumpy self sits and watches your model-esque sister look gorgeous in everything. It was in that painful moment that I decided to get serious about the gym. I've started Body Pump, a high intensity weight class that is kicking me butt. I couldn't walk for 4 days after the first class. Body Pump 3x a week plus another 6 to 8 hours of cardio a week should get me bridesmaid ready, right?

With high intensity weight lifting in play I decided I needed to get involved with some protein shakes. A lot of protein powders and shakes don't exactly taste good. I did my research and found a protein powder that I can work with. After a lot of experimenting I have found what I call "The Best Tasting Protein Shake Ever." I actually feel like I'm eating a tasty shake, instead of something that is supposed to be healthy for me and helping me build muscle. I have found myself going to the gym just so I can have an excuse to drink a shake. Seriously guys, that is like really messed up for my lazy world. Sometimes I don't even go to the second floor at the gym because I'm too lazy to walk up the stairs. Going to the gym so that I can enjoy a protein shake? That's just crazy talk. But it's the truth and I love this shake!


Time To Make It: <5 minutes
Yield: Serves 1
Calories: 360


Ingredients

1 banana, frozen
1 rounded scoop protein powder
1 TB peanut butter
1 cup unsweetened almond milk

Instructions

1. Place all ingredients into a blender in the order listed. Blend on high until smooth (30-60 seconds depending on how powerful your blender is).


Notes

* For protein powder, I use Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard, Extreme Milk Chocolate, 2 Pound

*Remove the peal from ripe bananas (with a few spots is the best) and lay them out on a cookie sheet. Stick the cookie sheet in your freezer. Once the bananas are frozen, pop them into a freezer ziploc bag.

*This shake is meant to be a meal replacement. 360 calories isn't exactly low, but it is a solid number for a meal when it comes to weight loss.

*There is research that supports both eating the shaking before your workout as well as after. You have to do your own research and make your own decision as to what will work best for you.

*I use unsweetened almond milk because it is low in calories and I'm trying to lose weight as well as build muscle. You can use cow's milk, but note that 2% will result in an additional 90 calories.

*Sometimes I add in 1 TB of nutella when I feel like I really deserve an extra treat. Note that this adds an additional 100 calories.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Slow Cooker Ancho Chili Shredded Beef over Corn Fritters




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I went to Miami a couple of weeks ago for the annual BlogHer Food conference. Many of your favorite food bloggers out there all convene on a selected city for 2+ days of stuffing our faces, picking each other's brains, learning all sorts of cool stuff, and very little sleep. Notice the first thing on that list was stuffing our faces. I ate, and ate, and ate, and ate. Before I left my husband said, "If you don't gain 5 pounds then you didn't do it right." Let's just say I did it right. The hotel chef was responsible for quite a bit of food for this variable group of food bloggers. No pressure, right? I mean, honestly, I can't even imagine how much anxiety the poor man must have had over the whole thing. Not only did he have to make impressive dishes for hundreds of critical eaters, he also had to cater to gluten-free and vegans. I made sure to find him and thank him for cooking for us, because let's face it, I'm just glad he didn't run away screaming. 

One of my favorite things that the hotel served was short rib tostones. If you've never had tostones it is a fried piece of plantain that makes a great platter for a tasty topping of flavorful shredded beef. Now, I know a lot of you don't have the same access to plantains that they have in Florida or where I am in California, so I made my own spin on the dish using ingredients that you can more easily find. I used ancho chili powder because I love the sweetness that it adds. You should be able to find that in your local grocery store. I know McCormicks makes it and they are pretty much everywhere. You can always use regular chili powder, but I do encourage you to give ancho chili powder a go because it is most definitely tasty.

This dish utilizes the slow cooker which makes it super easy. We ate it as our main dish for dinner at home, but in Miami we had it as an hors d'oeuvres. I love versatile dishes! The corn fritters come together really quickly making this a totally easy dish that is sure to impress!


Hands On Time: < 15 minutes
Slow Cooker Time: 8 to 10 hours
Yield: 16 fritters


Ingredients

Beef
1.5 lb beef chuck roast
1 TB olive oil
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 onion, sliced
1 jalapeno, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper

Fritters
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup 2% milk
1 1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 jalapeno, minced
1 cup vegetable oil


Instructions

1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the beef chuck roast with salt and pepper. Put 1 TB olive oil in the skillet. It will heat quickly. Sear the beef in the olive oil for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. 

2. Place the beef in the slow cooker and season with ancho chili powder, cumin, and a little more salt and pepper. Top the beef with onion slices, jalapeno, garlic, and diced tomatoes. 

3. Cook on low 8 to 10 hours until beef can easily be shredded with a fork.

4. Just before serving, making the corn fritters. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet to about 375 degrees.

5. In a mixing bowl, stir together cornmeal, milk, sugar, salt, and eggs until thoroughly mixed. Add in the cheddar cheese and jalapeno and stir until combined.

6. Take a spoonful of the cornmeal mixture and flatten it between your hands. Carefully slide it into the hot oil, making sure not to splash yourself. Oil hurts and I have the scars to prove it! Fry for about 2 minutes, then flip and fry the other side for 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel covered plate. 

7. Serve shredded beef mixture over the fritter. Eat hot. 


* When frying it is always a good idea to do a test run with just one item for frying. In this recipe, each fritter should be a nice golden brown. If it gets dark brown too fast then your oil is too hot. 

*A squeeze of lime juice over each fritter adds a nice touch. 




Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Perfect Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes


We have a bit of a love affair with sweet potatoes in our house. We'll take them in almost any way shape or form. The twice baked sweet potato is a classic. I've found that you don't need much to dress up a good sweet potato. I don't overload it with butter because it has a creamy richness all on its own. Add in a little brown sugar, cinnamon and just a hint of nutmeg and you've got yourself a killer twice baked sweet potato that is full of flavor and feels indulgent while still leaning towards the healthy side. Win, win, right?

Now, it's time for a little cooking lesson.  In America the terms "Sweet Potato" and "Yam" are used interchangeably and refer to that potato looking thing with the red skin and orange flesh. Yet, you have probably seen something else in the grocery store labeled sweet potato with a light yellow skin, while your orange flesh variety is labeled yams. Guess what? Both of them are sweet potatoes! The kind of sweet potatoes you think of as yams are simply dark skinned sweet potatoes. You won't commonly come across true yams in an American grocery store. True yams have brown or black skin and the flesh is either red, purple, or off white. Crazy, huh? You thought you've been eating yams all these years! Now you can impress your family at the dinner table when someone inevitably says, "pass me some more yams, please!"


Hands On Time: <10 minutes
Bake Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: 6 sweet potato boats


Ingredients

3 large sweet potatoes
3 TB butter
3 TB brown sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch nutmeg


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Scrub the dirt off of each sweet potato and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet to catch the juice that will inevitably leak out. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour until soft.

3. Carefully remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and unwrap. Slice them each in half length-wise. 

4. Scoop out the flesh of the sweet potatoes and place in a small mixing bowl, making sure to leave a layer against the skins so they still have some supporting structure. 

5. Add in the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the mixing bowl and use a hand mixer to whip the sweet potatoes until smooth.

6. Lay the 6 sweet potato skin boats on the lightly grease baking sheet. Scoop the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture back into each skin.

7. Bake again for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Colombian Passion Fruit Ceviche



Remember my trip to Miami? Perhaps the best thing I ate there was an amazing ceviche which I am now replicating just for you. I loved it so much I even made a video! 


Actually, I'll take this moment to put in a plug for my new video series. If you liked that video, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel so you can watch all the upcoming ones. I promise I've got some good stuff in store for you!

Back to the ceviche. When I had this dish in Miami I was immediately blown away upon first bite of the ceviche. The fish was so fresh. Living in San Diego, I'm used to Mexican ceviches where the cut of the seafood is much smaller. The ceviche had both lime and passion fruit as the acids and I found it to be an amazing combination. Can you ever go wrong with passion fruit? 

The key to any ceviche is the freshness of the fish. When you go to buy the fish (if you aren't catching it yourself) ask to smell it first. It shouldn't smell fishy at all. Frozen/defrosted isn't the best option, but I know that most people don't live right next to the ocean so it can work. I tried it with frozen/defrosted just to prove to you that it works. 

Ceviches are incredibly simple, but also incredibly flavorful. The passion fruit adds a burst of flavor that is unexpected and satisfying. It gives this bright flavor that is killer. I admit that I live in the land of passion fruit, but guess what? It is out of season right now! Since you may not have access to fresh passion fruit in your local grocery store I decided to go with a passion fruit juice. Mine was actually a passion-guava-orange blend. Still tasty. But if you can find a fresh passion fruit, go for it. Just cut off the stop and scoop out the insides and stir it right in! Whatever you do, serve it fresh!



Time to Make it: About 5 minutes
Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

1 lb fresh white fish (sea bass)
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup passion fruit juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup sliced red onion
pinch of salt


Instructions

1. Cut the fish into bite sized pieces.

2. Place the fish in a bowl and squeeze lime juice over the top. Pour in passion fruit. Throw in a pinch of salt, and cilantro. 

3. Serve on a bed of fresh greens (optional) garnished with red onion slices. Eat right away!


Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: Miami Culinary Tours (South Beach)

Last week I had the pleasure of going on tasty little stroll through South Beach with Miami Culinary Tours. I'll walk you through the tour with me. You may be heading to South Beach yourself, or perhaps you just need a little vicarious vacation. Either way, I'll take you with me every step of the way.

I was in Miami for the big food blog conference called BlogHer Food. I took the C bus down to the meeting location and decided that Miami public transportation was super useful as a visitor to this crazy city. Don't be scared people. Take the bus. Taxis will only lead to a leaky wallet.

We were directed in to Bolivar, an unassuming Colombian restaurant. We were served a mixed drink, a crunchy empanada with one heck of a spicy sauce, and a ceviche. I don't drink alochol so I enjoyed the original beverage which is apparently popular in Colombia. It was quite tasty and reminded me of a cream soda.


I was immediately blown away upon first bite of the ceviche. The fish was so fresh. Living in San Diego, I'm used to Mexican ceviches where the cut of the seafood is much smaller. The ceviche had both lime and passion fruit as the acids and I found it to be an amazing combination. Can you ever go wrong with passion fruit?


The empanada was crunchy, making it slightly different than what I have become accustomed to. It came with an incredibly spicy habanero sauce that I wanted to drink. Some of my fellow bloggers did and I can't blame them!




We took a short stroll down the street to Manolo's where we enjoyed a dulce de leche stuffed churro. Seriously, it was just as good as it sounds.  I could have easily eaten the entire plate. I have got to figure out how to replicate this wonder because it was incredible! Melty dulce de leche oozing out of a crisp churro is simply a culinary life experience everyone needs to have.


I'll take the whole plate to go, please!



As we made our way through the streets of South Beach our gracious tour guide pointed out local architecture and history that made me feel as if I were on much more than just a culinary tour. I feel as though I know everything about South Beach now. Mirka was absolutely charming. She took particular care to watch over us and make sure everyone made it to each destination safely. 

We stopped for drinks in an Ocean Drive hotel lobby. Once again, I don't drink but I was immediately accommodated with what can basically be described as a mango smoothie, while everyone else enjoyed theirs margarita style.



You can't go to Miami without experiencing Cuban food.  I mean, where else are you going to get it? Cuba? Good luck with that. We were taken to Polo Norte Cuban Restaurant for some hand-cut plantain chips and a mojo pork sandwich. 

I don't particularly care for plantain chips in my life so those were unremarkable. They were served with a mojo sauce and they were good, I just don't care for them.



However, that dang Cuban sandwich made me clean my plate. Sour orange mojo slow cooked and marinated in cumin, olive oil, and garlic all served on the most delectable fresh Cuban-style bread that is crisp and soft all at the same time. 



I'm not joking guys. I cleaned my plate.


Next we headed to Block's Pizza Deli where they use a 300 year-old mother dough straight from Italy to make their pizzas and pizza pockets. They don't even have a freezer in the place so everything is as fresh as possible. We had the sun-dried hippie pocket stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, feta, baby spinach, basil pesto, and kalamata olives. 



While it was certainly tasty, I think I would have enjoyed one of the other menu offerings. A straight meatball pocket would have hit the spot at that point for sure.



Next up was one of my favorite spots, a very modern gelato shop called Milani Gelateria. The girl behind the counter clearly spoke Italian as her first language and hardly any English so you immediately knew you were in good hands. They had an amazing spinning gelato display case to keep the gelato at the ideal temperature, which is just above freezing. 



We got to choose two flavors which was an incredibly difficult choice, but I ended up landing on the Nutella (of course!) and pistachio. For the first time in my life, I think the pistachio beat out the Nutella in flavor. It was incredible! The gelato itself was extremely high quality and absolutely smooth and creamy in a way only an Italian seems to know how to make. 



I ducked out of the tour at this point as the last stop was for Cuban Coffee. That is something my dietary restrictions just couldn't accommodate. Really though, we were on Espanola Way and it was so gorgeous and charming I just wanted to stay and take it all in for a little longer. 

If you are in Miami for a visit, or even just have a long layover, I'd highly recommend taking a tour with Miami Culinary Tours. It'll give you a good sampling of the local restaurant offerings as well as educate you a little bit about the history behind the city. 



View the website HERE to book your tickets and check out their other culinary tours in Miami.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Asian Spaghetti and Meatballs


Thai meatballs with a filipino panci style noodle? It totally works. My kids are still young which means they like familiarity. So when it comes to food I like to introduce them to new flavors by making it in a form that will be visually familiar to them. You see where I'm going here? My kids are guaranteed to eat spaghetti and meatballs. They love it. So, I decided to try out a completely new version of spaghetti and meatballs on them and see what they thought. I made a thai style meatball using bright thai flavors, and then made a spaghetti noodle pancit to serve with it. The result was a tasty pasta dish that my kids ate and loved. I can't even tell you how much I love it when we have a dinner where no one complains! Granted, my kids are only 3 and 5 and are easily fooled. I still revel in the success of having them try new flavors and get a little taste of the far reaches of the world.


Time to Make it: 35 minutes
Yield: Serves 4 to 6


Ingredients

Meatballs
1 lb ground beef or pork
2 TB minced lemongrass
1 TB sesame seeds
1 lime, juiced
1 jalapeno, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 large basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
5 fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 TB fish sauce
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs

Pasta
1/4 cup + 2 TB olive oil, divided
1 onion, minced
2 tsp. soy sauce
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups chicken broth
1 lb spaghetti noodles
2 cups thinly sliced carrots (optional)


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9x13 glass pan or jelly roll pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, make the meatballs by combining all meatball ingredients util thoroughly mixed. Form into about 20 meatballs and place in the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. 

3. While meatballs are baking make the pasta. Bring chicken broth to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add in spaghetti noodles and cook until al dente according to package directions).

4. Meanwhile,  eat 2 TB olive oil in a large skillet over medium-heat.  Add in onion and carrot and sautee for about 5 minutes until onions soften and begin to become translucent. Stir in soy sauce and garlic and cook an additional 1 minute.

5. Drain pasta and add into skillet with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Stir to coat. 

6. Serve pasta hot topped with meatballs. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Copycat Olive Garden Salad Dressing



A few months ago a cute young couple bought the former hoarder house down the street. Can you imagine? Yikes! They tore out all the flooring, replaced practically everything, and moved on in. They have two adorable little kids including a little girl who is just a few days older than my little girl. My daughter is in heaven! A friend! That is a GIRL! It is kind of a big deal for her. We don't have any young children on our street so this is huge. This wonderful new family invited us over for dinner on Sunday evening. I brought a last minute salad. I knew I had pepperocinis, tomatoes, and lettuce....and that was sort of it. Since all I was really missing was some thinly sliced red onions and olives I figured I could bust out a copycat Olive Garden Salad. The tangy, zesty, zip of Olive Garden salad dressing is practically addicting. It is totally simple to make and you probably even have all of the ingredients on hand already. 



Time To Make It: 5 minutes
Yield: about 1 cup salad dressing

Ingredients

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1 TB. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 TB grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

1. In a small bowl whisk together mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt, and parmesan cheese.

2. Pour into a salad dressing container. Drizzle over salad. Recommended salad composition: mixed greens, black olives, pepperoncinis, diced tomato, thinly sliced red onion, grated parmesan cheese, and freshly cracked pepper. 






Thursday, May 8, 2014

Honey-Garlic Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks


You gotta love a finger-licking good drumstick, especially when it is lathered in barbecue sauce. You get to eat with your hands, rip your teeth into some meat, tear it from the bones, and all the while sport a barbecue sauce mustache. It is primal and delicious. Nothing like eating meat off the bones to remind you where you fall on the food chain, am I right? Yes, this comes from the girl who only eats meat a couple times a week. It's like those giant turkey legs sold at county fairs or amusement parks like Disneyland. They always look delicious and you always feel like a indulgent slob while gnawing away at the delicious meat. This recipe is no exception.



A variation on this barbecue sauce can be found in my upcoming Slow Cooker cookbook slated for release September 2nd. Yes, you can preorder it now and yes, it is awesome. All of my taste testers who ate their way through the writing of the book are eagerly anticipating it and now you can too! End of shameless plug.



Back to the recipe at hand. Drumsticks are one of my go-to easy meals. They are as easy as season, bake, eat. This time I have you whisking up a quick homemade barbecue sauce. A little extra love and lathering goes a long ways so I have you doing a second coat of sauce mid-bake. So we'll call them as easy as lather, bake, lather, bake, eat. Did that even make sense? This sauce will have everyone at the table eating primal and licking their fingers all along the way. Serve with napkins, of course! Unless you were raised in a barn and then more power to you!






Prep Time: 5 minutes
Bake Time: about 45 minutes
Yield: 12 tasty drumsticks

Ingredients
1 cup ketchup
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 TB. Frank's hot sauce
2 TB. honey
1 TB brown sugar
2 tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp.. salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
12 chicken drumsticks


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together ketchup, garlic, hot sauce, honey, brown sugar, liquid smoke, cornstarch, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, salt, onion powder, oregano, basil, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Whisk until smooth.

3. Spray a 4 sided baking sheet or 9x13 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Lay the drumsticks out on the pan and brush with the barbecue sauce.

4. Bake in the 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes, brushing with additional barbecue sauce halfway through.


***Note: If you have extra time and a little extra sauce, sauce the drumsticks one last time before serving and broil for a couple of minutes until the sauce begins to caramelize a bit. Oh baby!




When you buy chicken with the skin on it often comes all jumbled up like this:


But if you want to get that great chicken skin that is crispy and full of flavor you need to pull that skin back over the meat. This also helps keep in the moisture which prevents your chicken from drying out. It's easy. Just pull the skin up over the meat so the skin is taut again.


Then you can lay your chicken out and it looks all nice and neat and purty and ready to season and cook! The same thing applies to any skin-on chicken. Pull that skin back up over the meat!



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