Best Ever Brownies & a Giveaway

Disclosure: I received a copy of “Comfort Food Made Easy” and a container of LouAna coconut oil at no cost to me, for review. All opinions are 100% my own.

besteverbrownies

Goodness. Brownies are a weakness of mine. Warm, slightly under-done brownies…I have no willpower. None. And sadly, brownies are a baked good that whips up super quickly. No need for a mixer…just a large bowl and a whisk. It’s too easy.

Southern Living recently came out with “Comfort Food Made Easy”, which simplifies your favorite comforting dishes. It makes comfort food, which usually takes a good time to cook, easily accessible to cooks with little time to spare in the kitchen. While there were quite a few heavy dishes in there (like macaroni and cheese), there were also quite a few lightened comfort recipes in there for the summer! It’s a really versatile book.

I immediately skimmed through my copy, and my eyes were just drawn to this recipe for the “Best Ever Brownies”. I mean…that’s a big claim, so I had to try it out!

These brownies whipped together rather quickly, and they were just a great recipe. Super fudgy, rich and so tasty. I brought a pan of these to work, and they were gone by 10am. Brownies for breakfast, anyone?

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Peanut Thai Quinoa Salad

Disclosure: I received a selection of whole grain products from the Whole Grain Council to sample, as a whole grain ambassador for “Whole Grain Sampling Day”, but was not compensated for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.

Thai Quinoa Salad

There’s nothing better than finally feeling in control of things again…at least diet-wise. Sure, I still have my splurge days, but for the most part, I don’t go over my calorie count. I have to admit, it really helps that the new office discourages eating at your desk. Walking to the break room for a handful of dried fruit or a granola bar makes me think twice before snacking. I actually like it….mindless snacking while at work was one of my biggest issues, and the new job sort of figured it out for me. :-)

I’ve also started trying new food items again. I was recently approached by the Whole Grains Council about being a Whole Grains Ambassador this year, along with some other fantastic food bloggers. I definitely jumped at the chance, because one thing I’ve learned throughout my weight loss journey, is that there is nothing wrong with giving new foods a try. One of my favorite whole grains is quinoa, which I wouldn’t have ordinarily tried when I was almost 300 pounds. I was looking for other options for lunch at the office, and there were so many great recipes out there involving quinoa…I just had to give it a try! I know it’s all the rage lately, but I can’t get enough of it. Not only is it tasty (it reminds me of brown rice, but with a nuttier taste), but I also think it’s versatile. You can serve it hot or cold, savory or sweet, and you can easily enjoy it anytime of the day!

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Taffy Plus Size Activewear Review/Giveaway

Disclaimer: This review/giveaway is sponsored by Taffy, in conjunction with Fit Approach/Sweat Pink. All opinions are my own.

Since I’ve gained some of my weight back, I’m gonna admit that I’m back in plus sizes. A 1X is my usual size, and while some of my XL clothes still fit, most of my closet isn’t being worn right now. It’s sort of depressing.

I know it’s just a tag, but eh…it’s still a tough pill to swallow. A while back, a good blogging friend sent me a link about reviewing this brand of plus size activewear: Taffy. Since some of my workout clothes are a bit snug right now, I went for it.

I was sent the Taffy Essential Jacket (in white) for review through Sweat Pink. Since it tends to still switch between cold and warm lately, this jacket is still getting some use! I mean, last week we had weather in the 30s and just Saturday when my husband and I were doing yard work, I couldn’t stop sweating…it was HOT. Anyway, for chilly afternoons/evenings, I like to wear a light jacket to say, go for a run, walk the dog or heck, just wear on the way to the gym!

Taffy review

 

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Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta with Chicken

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Thanks so much for your comments in my blogiversary post! It seems like quite a few of you would love more ideas for healthier dinners, and I’m happy to oblige! I’ve been meaning to get back into meal planning, and so here’s the start of more savory dishes on this blog. :-)

This recipe is part of a virtual cooking party that Jessica of My Baking Heart is hosting, along with the folks at Stonyfield Yogurt. Ever since I started my weight loss journey, I’ve been slowly, but surely paying more attention to what I’m eating. One of my biggest struggles is with snacking, so I try to keep our fridge full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is actually one of the easiest snacks for me, since I can just grab a container and go to town. Some fruits are grab and eat, too, but I find that greek yogurt is filling (seriously, check out how much protein is in greek yogurt!) and takes care of my sweet tooth. I recently noticed that Stonyfield has a greek yogurt line, and gave it a try. It was absolutely tasty, and a bonus–it’s organic!

I’ve recently become more aware of organic foods, and one thing that I found interesting is the difference between “natural” and “organic” on food labels (this is with the exception of meats). I always thought natural was a good thing, but not necessarily. For example, foods that may contain pesticides, growth hormones or GMO can still be labeled as “natural”, but it cannot be labeled as “organic”. It’s really interesting — here’s an infographic about it.

Besides just grabbing a container of yogurt to have as a snack, I really like using greek yogurt in my cooking and baking. Personally, I really don’t like mayonnaise. If a recipe calls for mayonnaise, I usually can replace it with plain greek yogurt (hello, chicken salad!). I also use it in baking, and I’ve noticed it works especially well in quick breads/muffins. This recipe uses greek yogurt to make pesto into a creamy sauce, and it works beautifully. The greek yogurt addition to the spinach pesto makes it seem more like a pesto alfredo sauce (without the added cream/butter). I decided to add some grilled chicken to the pasta, and it made for the perfect weeknight dinner. If you wanted, you could even make the spinach yogurt pesto sauce in advance (up to 3 days), and all you would need to do is grill the chicken and boil the pasta. Easy peasy!

Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta with Chicken
Source: adapted from My Baking Heart

Ingredients:

  • 3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 oz. organic Italian dressing
  • Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 3/4 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain Stonyfield Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. organic whole wheat pasta

Directions:

  1. Marinate the chicken in the Italian dressing for 2-4 hours.
  2. Once the chicken has marinated, sprinkle Cajun seasoning over both sides of the chicken breasts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Place 1 tbsp. canola oil in a cast iron skillet or grill pan, and wipe the oil with a paper towel to evenly distribute the oil over the surface of the pan. Preheat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium heat, until hot. Gently place the chicken on the cast iron skillet, and sear the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side. Using oven mitts, place foil over the cast iron pan and then place the pan in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked all the way through.
  4. While the chicken is cooking in the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water is coming to temperature, make the spinach yogurt pesto sauce. Place the garlic, spinach, basil, pine nuts, lemon juice & zest in the bowl of a food processor or blender and chop the mixture until everything is finely chopped. You may have to stop to scrape down the bowl a couple of times. Once the mixture is finely chopped, allow the processor or blender to run on low, and slowly add in the olive oil. Pour the mixture into a small bowl, and add in the Parmesan cheese and yogurt. Season the pesto with salt and pepper. Cover the pesto with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  5. By now, the pot of water should be boiling. Add in your pasta, and cook the pasta until al dente (following the directions on the box for your specific pasta). Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Then, drain the pasta and return the pasta to the pot, tossing in the pesto sauce. If the pasta appears to be too dry, add in the reserved pasta water, 1 tbsp. at a time.
  6. To serve, place some pesto pasta on a plate, slice up 1/2 of a chicken breast and place that on top. Garnish the dish with either some lemon zest or Parmesan cheese. (Serves 6.)

Since this is a virtual cooking party, there are 5 other bloggers who made this dish as well, putting their own unique spins on the recipe. Don’t they all sound delicious?

My Baking Heart – Garlicky Shrimp & Pasta with Spinach Yogurt Pesto
Kasey’s Kitchen – Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta over Chicken Milanese
Apple a Day – Penne with Spinach Yogurt Pesto, White Beans & Tomatoes
Mrs. Regueiro’s Plate – Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta with Sausages
Sunny Side Up – Chicken and Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta

Also, it wouldn’t be much of a party without something fun for you guys, right?

The generous folks at Stonyfield want to offer one lucky reader of The Nifty Foodie a case of their yogurt and a cookbook!

It’s a giveaway prize that would definitely get me excited about cooking with yogurt (or hey, I wouldn’t blame you if you want the yogurt to snack on…have you seen the new Cafe Latte flavor? I feel like I NEED to find it in my store to try it!)

To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This giveaway is sponsored by Stonyfield and is open to readers in the continental US only. Entries will be accepted until February 4th at 12:00am (central standard time). Winner will be emailed (make sure you leave an email address in the form), and will have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.

DISCLOSURE: Stonyfield supplied me with free products in exchange for a post in the Virtual Cooking Party, as well as the prize being offered in the giveaway. All opinions are 100% my own.

Blood Orange Sangria & 6 Years of Blogging

bloodorangesangria

This is the time of the year where I eat a ridiculous amount of citrus fruits. Mother Nature was very smart to allow citrus to grow during the cold season, because I eat about 2-3 satsumas or oranges every day to avoid catching whatever tends to go around. At about 30-50 calories each, it’s also a wonderful snack option for me in my calorie counting.

I’ve always been curious about blood oranges, because they are such a gorgeous ruby red color on the inside. The lovely folks at Frieda’s Produce, who I met at PMA back in August, sent me a bag of these oranges to try since the holidays were approaching. Since it was the holiday season, I knew I had to make something boozy. A sangria sounded perfect since I could prepare it the night before, and just bring it over for my family’s party. Super simple!

I ended up adding some blood orange juice to this simple red sangria recipe, as well as a few sliced oranges in the pitcher. It really made for a nice presentation, and I have to admit that the orange slices leftover after the sangria was gone was pretty darn delicious.

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This is just a great drink to bring over for a celebration. Like I mentioned before, it’s easy to throw together and it’s so cute to fill a glass with sangria and add in a few fruit slices. It just makes for a nice presentation, and it’s super fun.

Blood Orange Sangria
Source: adapted from Food & Wine

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of fruity red wine (I used Chianti)
  • 4 oz. brandy
  • juice of 2 blood oranges
  • 3 oz. simple syrup
  • 3 blood oranges, sliced

Directions:

  1. In a pitcher, combine the red wine, brandy, blood orange juice & simple syrup. Stir until well-combined. Add in the orange slices, and place the sangria in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours, or overnight to chill it well.
  2. Serve the sangria chilled. Enjoy!

Since this drink puts me in a celebrating mood, I figured it would be perfect to share with y’all today. Today is my 6 year blogiversary! I can’t believe that it’s been 6 years since I blogged about turkey meatballs, diet coke chicken & biscotti (forgive the pictures). From the bottom of my heart, thank you for every comment, email and tweet. I love getting to know y’all, and I completely appreciate your support, especially lately with my weight loss journey and my upcoming half marathon!

As a thank you, I want to offer you guys a giveaway! One lucky reader will have a choice between a gift card to Target or Amazon.com (e-gift card sent via email)!

blogiversaryprize

To enter the giveaway, please use the Rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This giveaway is is open to readers in the continental US only. Entries will be accepted until January 23rd at 12:00am (central standard time). Winner will be emailed (make sure you leave an email address in the form), and will have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen. The winner will be sent an e-gift card for either Target or Amazon (winner’s choice).

Disclosure: The blood oranges were sent at no cost to me by Frieda’s Produce. The gift card giveaway is provided by The Nifty Foodie.

 

Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies & A Giveaway

pbchocchipcookies

One of the hardest things about the holidays is facing the scale. I’ve been watching those numbers creep higher and higher, and well….it’s sort of depressing. Usually I can catch myself, and just go back to hardcore dieting. However, training for this half marathon has turned me into a crazy, hungry person. I’m hungry for junk food, too. It’s a real struggle, especially with all of the holiday baking that has been going on in our house!

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked if I wanted to review a copy of Southern Living’s The Slim Down South Cookbook. I was definitely intrigued, because I feel like this book (just based on the title alone) totally gets me. Living in Louisiana, most dishes aren’t the healthiest. While I was hardcore calorie counting, I would have one cheat meal a week to enjoy those comforting southern dishes that I missed. With this book, I’m super excited to try lightened up versions of my favorites. No cheat day necessary!

Some of the recipes that stuck out to me are baked cheese grits, buttermilk biscuits, bourbon balls, and baked smokin’ mac & cheese…I mean…seriously? Every recipe (there’s 120 of them) also has the nutritional information below it, and the book is full of tips/tricks for slimming down. There’s also a whole chapter dedicated to healthier eating, and there’s even a 14 day eating plan, featuring recipes throughout the book.

Since I’m all about cookies lately, I decided to make these flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies out of the cookbook first. I was skeptical, because I’ve never made a peanut butter cookie without flour. However, these cookies were fantastic. and at 137 calories a cookie (vs. well over 200), it’s not a bad indulgence at all!

slimdownsouth

The generous folks at Southern Living/YC Media are offering a giveaway for a copy of The Slim Down South Cookbook to one lucky reader!

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Holiday Cards from Minted & A Giveaway!

As much as I love Christmas, one thing I’ve always gone back and forth on was our Christmas card. Since it’s just me and my husband, nothing really changes in the pictures from year to year, and we don’t really take many posed photos together. Since we never have a picture of us for a Christmas card, who were we going to feature?

Well, one year I decided to take pictures of our dog, Millie. I wasn’t sure if it would be well-received or not, but people loved them! It became our little tradition. Every year, I found it so fun to put Christmas decorations around her (closely watching her, of course), and take probably 100 pictures, praying that she didn’t move since there was a large treat above the camera lens for her to stare at and drool over (which usually resulted in the perfect puppy smile).

Time to fill my stocking, Momma!

This was last year’s picture. I mean seriously…how adorable is that?

So, this year, when I was looking for Christmas cards, I was hoping to find a card with a more pet-centric message. Usually I’d buy something that said “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” from (our last name) and leave it at that. However, this year, I discovered these holiday cards from Minted.com, and included in that are some cards that are specifically meant for pet photos!

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Christmas Cookies & A Giveaway!

handmadeholidays

It’s now socially acceptable to decorate with all of the Christmas things! I just felt like stating that to you guys. :-P

Since it’s now officially the holiday season, I think I’m going to ask a certain husband who isn’t afraid of heights to go in the attic and grab all of the Christmas decor. ::fingers crossed:: I seriously can’t take 3 steps on a ladder without taking deep breaths and telling myself “I think I can…I think I can…”.

I just love making cookies for the holidays. I bake so many for gifts, since it’s always a winner with coworkers and neighbors. I learned a great trick when it comes to baking in bulk for the holidays…make your dough in advance to freeze and then bake them all later. It makes things a lot easier when you’re making dozens of cookies at once. :-)

What also makes things easier while baking is knowing that your favorite recipes will always come out the same when using quality ingredients. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that good, quality ingredients really do make a difference in your baking. For example, I used to grab store brand flour, and the results of my baking weren’t always consistent. I really thought it was me making a mistake in the recipe, but when I switched to a bag of King Arthur Flour, my favorite recipes come out the same way every time. I will admit that King Arthur Flour is slightly pricier than store brands, but to me, it’s worth it to use a brand that has such high quality standards when it comes to flour. You don’t have to order their flour online only either…they carry their flour at so many stores now (I recently saw their flour at Walmart for $3.95/bag!). Also, I’ve seen quite a few of their baking products, like espresso powder (which is so hard for me to find anywhere else…is it just me?) and specialty extracts, at Sur La Table. :-)

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Peppermint Swirl Sugar Scrub & A Giveaway!

handmadeholidays

**NOTE: This gift is NOT edible. This sugar scrub is NOT for consumption…it’s a bath/body product.**

I just thought I’d get that out of the way, since all of the other gifts in this blog series are food related….this one is not, due to the use of essential oils.

I love this time of the year, but one of the biggest issues I face is how drying the winter is, especially on my hands. I use so much lotion throughout the winter, and sadly, with all of the cooking/baking that I do, the constant hand washing doesn’t make things any better. It’s probably because the winter sucks the humidity out of Louisiana, but I’m always prepared with shea butter hand lotion and some sort of moisturizing scrub. I know a scrub sounds counter-intuitive, but a sugar scrub exfoliates with the sugar and also moisturizes your skin using the oil. It always leaves my hands feeling nice and soft. I thought that it would be a great gift idea to make these for the other women in my family, since we all go through the same thing this time of the year!

When I saw this idea for a Peppermint Swirl scrub on Dixie Crystals’ website, I knew that this was going to be a winner. I just love minty scents around this time of the year, and since I’m making it myself, I’m able to control the scent (which is great, because some mint scents can smell too overpowering).

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Cinnamon Rolls & A Giveaway!

handmadeholidays

It’s amazing how quickly one can go through butter for holiday baking, so it’s essential for me to stock up when it goes on sale! Usually $2/lb. is my stock-up price, and when I stock up, I usually buy 10 lbs. at a time. I have to wonder what the cashier thinks of me when I purchase all that butter, and I’ve been asked if I own a bakery once. Nope…I just LOVE to bake!

This recipe for cinnamon rolls goes through some butter, y’all. At first, I thought there was no way all of that butter was going to go in the cinnamon rolls…no way. However….yup…I used over a pound of butter in a batch of cinnamon rolls. 4 sticks alone served as part of the filling! Now, this recipe isn’t just for 8 rolls…I got 48 rolls out of this recipe. It’s the perfect recipe for gift-giving, and it comes from someone who is always cooking for a crowd: The Pioneer Woman.
cinnamonrolls1

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about her cinnamon roll recipe, but since it’s such a large recipe, I felt like I needed an occasion to make these. Well, how about the holidays? When this recipe makes 6 pans worth, you could totally get away with gifting this to neighbors, family, friends….whoever you want! I took a tip from The Pioneer Woman, and baked them in cheap disposable baking pans. While they aren’t the prettiest, you can totally dress up the pan by dying the icing, adding sprinkles on top of the rolls & wrapping the pan in holiday cellophane paper! How awesome would it be to give something like this to a loved one?

cinnamonrolls2

These cinnamon rolls were divine. Just…divine. This is my first time making cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I firmly believe that the scent of butter/sugar/cinnamon/dough needs to be in a candle. Holy moly…it smelled like king cake in our house! The rolls themselves were a tender, fluffy texture, thanks to Red Star Platinum yeast. I first heard about Red Star Yeast when I attended a King Arthur Flour seminar a couple of years ago. We were given samples at the seminar, and when I baked with the yeast, I was so surprised at how well the dough rose! I ended up purchasing a full 1 lb. block of Red Star Yeast the next week. I’m definitely a fan of their yeast.

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