Opal Apple Dessert Party

Opal Apple Party 2014

I absolutely love making desserts. One of the biggest reasons I miss the holiday season is because of the holiday baking. Our mixers (yeah, I’m crazy…I said mixers) and oven were going like crazy, and after the holidays (and a bit of weight gain), I decided to just stop baking. It’s been a couple of months, but I’m confident enough in my will power to give baking another shot. Since I’m a brand ambassador for Opal Apple this year, I was asked to throw a party featuring these awesome apples. So, I decided to throw a dessert party and get to baking!

Opal Apple Party 2014

Opal Apples were discovered in 1999 in Europe, but were brought to the states in 2010 and are sold exclusively through FirstFruits Marketing of Washington. They’re a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Topaz apple.

They are very crunchy in texture, and are super sweet with a slight tang. They also don’t brown as quickly as other apples, so when you’re serving slices at a party, there’s no need to dunk the slices in citrus juice. They’ve quickly become my favorite apples, and they’re available in stores from December through April.

Opal Apple also has their “Youth Make A Difference Initiative“, which awards funding to organizations that help the community, where the youth in the community take on a leadership role within the organization. If you know any organization in your community that follows the criteria listed on Opal Apple’s site, they’re still eligible to apply for funding until February 28, 2014! More information can be found here.

Opal Apple Party 2014

For the dessert party, I wanted to keep everything mini, so everyone could try one of everything and not feel too guilty about it.

The dessert menu was simple, but so tasty:

  • Apple Spice Mini Cupcakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting & Salted Caramel Drizzle (recipe coming in another post)
  • Mini Apple Tartlets in Phyllo Dough Cups (recipe coming in another post)
  • Apple Bites, which were simply Opal Apple slices, white cheddar slices and grapes

Opal Apple Party 2014

Since two of the recipes from the party were from Opal Apple, I also placed recipe cards (made by the folks at Opal Apple) in a basket for guests to take home with them. :-)

Opal Apple Party 2014

All of the recipes were a hit, especially the cupcakes! I loved throwing this party together, and everyone had a great time getting together. :-) There were a few leftover desserts, but thankfully my coworkers were happy to take care of that. :-)

Thanks to Opal Apple for the opportunity to be a brand ambassador this year, and for the idea to throw this party! It was fun!

Disclosure: I’m a 2014 brand ambassador for Opal Apple. I was compensated in the form of free products, a party kit with all printed materials necessary for the party, and a gift card to throw this party. All opinions are 100% my own.

A Bunch of Randoms

1. Well, life has been a bit hectic lately. Some great changes are happening in my life right now (thank you, 2014….2013 stunk a big one!), and I’ve just been so busy getting ready for these changes. I can’t exactly explain what the big news is, but I will in a couple of weeks (hint: it’s not a baby). :-)

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2. Yesterday, Millie received her last BarkBox. I purchased a 3 month Groupon for her for Christmas, and she has LOVED everything that has been included in the box. I’m thankful that the toy included in every box wasn’t what we like to call a “5 minute toy”, meaning it’s shredded to bits in under 5 minutes. She also loved all of the treats that she has tried so far from her BarkBoxes. :-) We probably won’t continue though, because she still has about 10 bags of treats unopened, and she has a whole basket of toys. This gal is beyond spoiled. :-P

I took a picture of her when we got the shipment. You can’t tell in the picture, but she was in the middle of barking at the box. She doesn’t like boxes very much (she was found in a box as a puppy…poor thing), so she refuses to grab anything out of boxes and she won’t go anywhere near larger boxes. No worries…she got a treat and the rope toy a few seconds later. I just wanted a picture of her with her last BarkBox. :-)

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3. Last weekend was the Mardi Gras Mambo 10K. I’ve heard great things about the race, and at $25, it was a no brainer to register. I have to admit, I went into this race thinking it would be no big deal. I mean, I did a half marathon the month before. However, I haven’t gone for a single run since the half. Since my strength training program says to avoid cardio in the first month, I didn’t run at all. Big mistake..it’s amazing how quickly I lost my endurance and also, I had leg day at the gym a couple of days before….my hamstrings were on fire after mile 2. :(

4. Confession: Valentine’s Day candy (heck, ANY holiday candy) on clearance is my weakness. I totally purchased 6 bags of candy (I know…crazy), but I’m super proud of myself for not going over my calories with all of this candy in the house. I’m learning that two small pieces of chocolate is enough for a snack, and a good trick for me to make it last is to freeze the chocolate. It takes longer to melt in my mouth, so it feels like I’m getting more than two small pieces of candy. Totally a mental thing, but it works for me. It’s good to have some semblance of willpower back. :-)

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5. Last month, my husband and I went to a local shoe store to get him some new shoes. There was apparently a big clearance there, and we had a coupon for an extra 50% off clearance, so we figured it would be a great sale for him to stock up on shoes. We didn’t see that it was for ladies and kids only, though. :( While I wasn’t planning on getting any shoes before we got there, I couldn’t resist after seeing the prices. I purchased $190 worth of shoes for $50. I’m really excited about rain boots, which were $12 after coupon…my dog will NOT use the facilities in the rain without me standing out there (boo), and sinking in the mud in nicer shoes is not fun at all. Yay for rain boots!

Also, yeah…black flats…those are work staples. I’m not coordinated enough for heels, and frankly, at 5’10″, I really don’t need the extra height. :-)

Weekly Weigh-In

This week was the first full week that I was back on track. I’m admitting my weight for the first time since September, so yeah..it’s ugly. I needed to be completely honest with y’all about my weight. :-\ While I’m deeply ashamed of how much weight I’ve gained back since last April, it’s really really great to be back! I feel in control of things again, and while my loss wasn’t huge this week, I’m still proud of myself!

Starting Weight

Before: 298.5
—————–
Last Week: 260.4
This Week: 258.6

Weight Lost: 1.8 lbs.
Total Loss: 39.9 lbs.

Now, I know I probably should have lost a lot more considering it was week 1. However, I’m back into strength training, and the last time I started my strength training, I definitely didn’t lose much at first. I know I’m gaining muscle, because I was ridiculously sore last week. Like…couldn’t brush my hair, cough, laugh, take the stairs, etc. I know changes are happening, and I’m OK with the results being slow. :-)

For now, I’m aiming for a 1-2 lb./week loss. If I keep on keeping on, I could potentially meet my goal weight by the end of the year. I’m super excited!

I made some new rewards for myself, since I bought myself or got gifted a few things on the rewards list already (oops…). The big rewards will happen once I hit 100 lbs. (hello designer purse)!

~ 50 lbs. (Pedicure)
~ 60 lbs. or 20% (Flowers for me)
~ 70 lbs. (New pair of jeans)
~ 80 lbs. (Mini make-up spree)
~ 90 lbs. (New bottle of perfume)
~ 100 lbs. or ONEDERLAND!! (New designer purse)
~ 110 lbs. (Some fun, sassy heels!)
~ 120 lbs. or GOAL (New pair of designer jeans)

I can’t tell y’all how excited I am about a pedicure! I definitely need one after half marathon/half marathon training, and after my 10K race this coming weekend! :-)

How are your weight loss/health goals going so far this year?

French Apple Cake

French Apple Cake

Oh man. This week has been crazy. It’s the first real week that I’ve been back into calorie counting, and I just started a new strength training program as well. It hurts to reach to brush my hair, sneeze, walk, and pretty much exist. It’s a great sore feeling, because I like knowing that there’s actual muscle somewhere in there, but oh man, it’s aggravating! :-P

While the exercise is going well, I’m finding it much more difficult to stay within my calorie counts. Since I ate with no guilt for a few months, I can’t explain how hard it is to knock down the cravings. I’ve had a few good victories this week, though. Example: I went to a training seminar at work, and the instructor brought two large king cakes for the class to enjoy. Oh my gosh…the king cake smelled so good, and my coworkers totally dug in. I kept thinking…what’s one piece? One small piece won’t do anything, right? But then I told myself that I’ve stayed within my calories this whole week, and ruining it over king cake isn’t worth it. I had a granola bar in my purse for a snack (thank goodness), and had that instead.

Small victories. That’s what weight loss is all about, right? One meal at a time…one day at a time.

I got hit with the baking bug this week, too. I figured this would be a big test for my willpower, so I decided to bake with some Opal Apples that I just received in the mail. Usually, I go to town on snacking on these because it’s just an easy way to get fruit in (not to mention, they’re especially killer with a little chocolate spread or peanut butter). :-P However, I decided to give these a try with baking, and they worked wonderfully! As far as the recipe goes, this very simple to throw together (the peeling of the apples took the longest), and the resulting cake reminded me a lot of a rum cake from around the holidays with a ton of apples thrown in….just awesome! I had a small sliver, and it was worth every darn calorie. :-) I have to admit, I was proud of myself for not cutting a large slice and just going to town….it was just delicious!

Disclosure: I was sent a shipment of Opal Apples at no cost to me as a brand ambassador for Opal Apples. 

French Apple Cake
Source: Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 large apples
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp. dark rum
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Directions:

  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Grease or butter an 8-9″ springform pan, and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set this aside.
  3. Peel the apples, and core them. Cut the apples into 1-2 inch chunks.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the eggs well for a minute or so until they’re foamy. Add in the sugar, and whisk the mixture for another minute, being sure everything is mixed well. Whisk in the rum and vanilla extract. Then, whisk in half of the flour, and once that’s just mixed, add half of the melted butter. Repeat this one more time, stirring gently after each addition, ensuring that the batter is smooth. Add the apples to the batter, and fold them in gently with a spatula or spoon, making sure that all of the fruit is coated with the batter.
  5. Add the batter/apples to the greased springform pan, and gently move it around with a spatula to get the cake to an even height. Place the baking sheet/springform pan in the oven, and bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on the top and when the knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack for 5 minutes.
  6. Gently run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake, and open the springform pan to expose the cake. Pull the cake out of the springform, and place it on the cooling rack to finish cooling. Serve the cake slightly warm or at room temperature. The cake with keep for about 2 days, very loosely covered at room temperature.

10 Things I Learned About Half Marathons

It’s been a while since I’ve gone for a run. In fact, confession time. I haven’t gone for a legitimate run since the half marathon. I had a bout of sickness that took me over a week to get over, and then I jumped into strength training. However, it feels like that race was yesterday. I don’t remember much of the pain…I just remember the finish line. I guess that’s why people say you’ll get bitten by the running bug. You just remember those high moments. :-)

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However, I did learn quite a few things while training and during the race that I thought I’d share with y’all.

I have to insert this in this post, because half marathons (heck, running at all) is a huge deal.

DISCLAIMER: Now, of course before you start any type of workout program, it’s best to check with your doctor. I’m not a doctor…just some random blogger. Seriously, check with your doctor before taking on a workout program, especially if you have had injuries or you’re overweight. Running can be hard on your body, so you want to make sure you don’t make anything worse or hurt yourself…period! Also, these are tips from what I personally encountered. Everyone is different…you might not go through any of this (lucky). :-)

Mile 3

1. It’s going to be SUPER mental.

So many people told me this, and they were all right. Running long distances becomes a mental game. After mile 1, I surely didn’t think I had 12.1 more in me on race day. However, I took it one mile at a time. It was especially rough once I passed the 10 mile marker, since that was my longest distance in training. I kept saying to myself, but you did a personal best! You don’t have to hobble 3 more miles..but I somehow shut my brain up and finished it! :-)

2. You might get sick after. Like seriously…

I came down with bronchitis TWO DAYS after the half marathon. I was 100% on top of the world on Sunday, and then I slowly declined by Tuesday. I thought something was wrong with me, but apparently this can happen. When you’re exercising for such a long period of time, your immune system takes a bit of a dip, so I apparently was supposed to take vitamins, avoid exposure to a bunch of people and just become a hermit. Um…nope…that didn’t happen at all (Oops!). I seriously had NO idea about this…lesson learned.

3. Body Glide is my BFF (sorry real life BFF, I still love you).

It’s no secret that I’m a large gal. With that, things rub/chafe. In fact, it wasn’t until the 10 mile run that I learned about sports bra chafing. Yeah, that’s a thing and it’s PAINFUL. Worse than thunder thigh chafing. My good running friend recommended that I purchase Body Glide and put it everywhere. That stuff is wonderful.

4. Cotton is the enemy.

This goes with chafing. Cotton stinks…cotton clothes, cotton socks, cotton anything. Whenever I wore cotton anything during training runs, there was blisters/chafing. I love cotton for everyday clothing, but never again for workouts.

5. There’s this thing called a wall.

Yeah, that infamous wall happened for me at the bridge (around mile 11). I was thinking there’s NO WAY there’s 2 miles left in me. You just have to keep on, keeping on (unless you injured yourself, of course). Blast music. Count trees. Check out cool gear on marathoners who are running past you (some running shirts had hilarious phrases on them).

6. Always bring fuel.

Don’t depend on the race course to have what you need. Bring the fuel that you know and are used to. The last thing you want are stomach issues on the course. I had a pocket full of Gu Chomps (which I used for quite a few long runs previously) for the race. :-) I did pick up a free Gu at mile 8, just in case I needed a boost in the end, but I never used it.

7. Hydrate!

There’s a bit of a balance here. I wanted to stay hydrated, but I didn’t want to over-hydrate (it’s really dangerous to do that from articles I read). For me, I took a small swig of Powerade and a small swig of water every 2 miles. It worked for me, and I never needed the port-o-potties.

8. Full night of sleep before the race? I wish!

For me, I am a worry worm. I kept having nightmares before the race, and the night before was no exception! I think I got 4 hours of sleep the night before, but thankfully the afternoon before, I took an epic nap. :-) Carb loading = running fuel + a need to nap!

9. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just finishing is awesome.

I did this the whole race. I’d look across the lake and saw the first place runners passing mile 10 while I was pushing through mile 3/4. I felt sort of defeated when I saw that, but my friend reminded me that we were still doing this and finishing the race, no matter the time, is still doing the same distance everyone else did. We all finished the same race. :-)

10. Runners are friendly.

This blew my mind. I don’t know…maybe it stems from old school P.E. days of being called Shamu by kids, and constantly being last picked on teams ::cue tiny violins::. Whatever. :-P I just always felt like I was in the way when it comes to working out. I’d rather be invisible (I battle this at the gym all the time), because I don’t like knowing that people are watching me struggle. However, at the race, marathoners….FAST marathoners at that, took a second to pat me on the back and tell me “Good Job!” when I hit the wall. I needed that so badly. Also, throughout the race, we sort of kept up with the same people and we’d have conversations while having walk breaks (yes, I took walk breaks…many of them…I’m not ashamed).

Now, I’m sure there’s more….but those are the top 10 that stuck out to me. :-) If you’ve done a race before, what’s something that you learned?

A Bunch of Randoms

It has been quite an odd week in Louisiana. It has snowed twice within a week, and I’m just a tad bit tired of the cold weather. Remind me that I said this when it’s 110 degrees outside in a few short months.

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1. I became THAT runner. My car now has a 13.1 on it. As cheesy as it is, I think I earned it. :-)

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2. I’m falling more and more in love with Trader Joe’s lately. These chocolate covered powerberries are amazing. OMG..and they’re healthy, right? So I can feel no guilt at all for eating the entire bag over the course of three days? Great!

Also, my addiction to their dried mango is nothing short of ridiculous.

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3. Here’s evidence of the snow. This was just the start of when the snow started last night, and I couldn’t help but take a picture of the paw prints. It took Millie a little while to understand what this snow stuff was, but after a while, she was running through it like crazy. :-)

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4. This tank top just gets me. OMG. I just had to get it for my upcoming 10K, and while it’s a little tight right now, I think I’ll be OK in a few weeks for the race. Weight loss motivation? I’m gonna wear the heck out of this in the summer for my runs. :-)

5. I’m completely loving this song. I mean, it’s probably because Idina is singing it. I need to babysit someone’s child so I can watch this movie in the theater without being judged. I haven’t been this excited about an animated movie since “Princess and the Frog”! I just love Disney. :-)

Cruisin’ with Carnival

Carnival Cruise - 12/2013

Back in December, my husband and I took a cruise out of New Orleans in the Western Caribbean (Montego Bay, Jamaica…Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands…Cozumel, Mexico) through Carnival Cruise Lines. While we took this same cruise last year, we were excited to go on the Carnival Sunshine, since the ship was recently renovated. We were much more excited, especially, after spending a few hours aboard the Sunshine for the naming ceremony.

We went the week before Christmas, and while many people think that’s a tad bit crazy, I absolutely loved it! It was awesome to come home a couple of days before Christmas absolutely refreshed and stress free, especially since we were hosting my husband’s family for Christmas. There’s nothing to worry about when you don’t have a house to clean or any food to prep! :-)

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

We booked an aft balcony room, which is quickly becoming a favorite room type of ours. Aft balcony rooms are in the back of the boat, and it’s usually super quiet/serene, since it’s far from the parties/restaurants on the boat. We loved sitting out on our balcony every afternoon (or almost every afternoon, since I nap like a champ) and just snapping pictures. Sunsets are SO fun to photograph. :-)

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Also, the night sky. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, the moon looks especially amazing. This was as we were leaving Jamaica. The water absolutely sparkled under the moonlight…it was so serene and lovely. I stink at photographing it, though…none of my photos did this view any justice.

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Also, when I cruise, I eat. I’m sorry, but I threw calorie counting out the window. Warm chocolate melting cake was a must…a MUST. I also loved the dinner-time entertainment, as silly as it was. I’m a sucker for that stuff. :-)

As far as workouts go, I will admit that I did still train for my half on the cruise ship. Thankfully, the gym wasn’t crowded at all for my long run, so I had no worries about being asked to leave the treadmill for the 30 minute limit that is set for peak times. I ran 5.5 miles, which for me, on a treadmill, was a feat in itself. Sadly, no other runs happened on the cruise, but I was happy that I got the long run in!

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

We also regularly enjoyed the Punchliner Comedy shows every evening after dinner. We loved the adult comedy shows, and some of the comedians on the ship had me laughing so hard that it felt like I had an ab workout that night. Hilarious!

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

And, after everything was over, it was always nice to come back to our room at night to see our towel animal of the evening. Our room stewards absolutely rocked, and they had such a funny sense of humor…I mean, how cute is a towel monkey hanging from the ceiling?

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Also, this guy. He looks like he’s saying, “How YOU doin’?”

I could go on and on about things on the ship, but I definitely want to talk about what we did while the ship was in port. In Jamaica, we didn’t book an excursion, because we just wanted to shop (hi, cheap rum!) and have a relaxing day in the port. We had a busy day ahead of us in Cayman anyway….or so we thought.

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

We were super excited about our day in Cayman, because we booked an excursion with the stingrays. We packed our day bag (which we got at the naming ceremony…thanks Carnival!), and went out to the tender boat. We booked something called “Faster to the Fun” through Carnival, which was especially awesome for tender days. Not only do you get VIP check-in, you also automatically get on the next tender boat, no matter when you go downstairs. We felt pretty fancy getting escorted to the tender boat, and not having to wait at all. :-)

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

Here was the view of the Sunshine as the tender boat was pulling in to the island. Isn’t the water just gorgeous?

Now, here’s where the bummer came in. That day when we got off the ship, we were told that all stingray excursions were cancelled, due to high winds on that side of the island. Huge bummer. We were really looking forward to the excursion, but we understood that safety was a priority, and even if we did go, we were told that the stingrays don’t go in shallow water when the tides are like that. So, it would have been a waste of money. Ah well…

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

So, when life throws you coconuts, drink coconut water? Ok, maybe that saying goes a little differently, but this cart kind of made my day. How much more island-y can you get? :-)

Even though our excursion was cancelled, we didn’t want to waste our day on the island, so we ended up taking a driving tour of the island, and learned some interesting facts about Grand Cayman. Did you know that they don’t elect their governor? Great Britain just sends one every 4 years. They also only pay property taxes ONCE. We joked about moving here once we win the lottery. :-P Hey, they have a Popeye’s…I could survive.

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

The next day, we were in Cozumel. Our excursion in Cozumel was a Mexican Cooking Class at a resort. OMG…this beach…

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

My husband and I walked away from the beach for a while to take the cooking class, and it involved making an appetizer, an entree and dessert. What I enjoyed about this class is that these were dishes that I’ve never made before, like caramelized plantains with chocolate tequila sauce (OMG) and seared grouper with vegetables and tamarind sauce. It was insanely good, and the coconut rum/pineapple drinks that the bartender would bring made the class even sweeter. :-P My only issue is that the room was a tad stuffy with 20 burners going on, but they finally let us open the windows to let the breeze through the room. Whew!

Carnival Cruise 12/2013

While we didn’t get to do everything we wanted, I have to say that we had a great time, and we’ll definitely cruise again. We’re already looking into another Carnival cruise, but this time, I definitely want to check out different locations in the Caribbean. :-)

Disclosure: We paid for our cruise, “Faster to the Fun” and our excursions, but Carnival did provide me with some complimentary WiFi time on the ship in exchange for a blog post. All opinions are 100% my own.

Spinach Yogurt Pesto Pasta with Chicken

spinachyogurtpesto

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.

Apple Cider Caramels

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Happy Friday! Today is a snow day out here in Louisiana, believe it or not. I’m sure some of you up north are rolling your eyes right now, but we’re not at all equipped for snow or ice, so schools and some businesses shut down. I think there were 38 car accidents this morning, according to the news, and some of our interstates are shut down. It’s a mess! I was hoping to do some grocery shopping this afternoon, but I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen. :-\

Since I’m in the mood for something indulgent today (ahh gloomy weather), I thought I’d share these caramels with you. I made them for the holidays (for gifts), and completely forgot about them until I went through my SD card this week! I was pretty skeptical that these wouldn’t turn out well. First of all, I’m not good with candy (I always either overcook or undercook them), and also, because these caramels aren’t made the standard way. However, I should always trust Deb of Smitten Kitchen….these caramels were delicious, and they turned out perfectly! They were like apple pie in caramel form, and I couldn’t stop eating them haha! It was the one treat I just kept snacking on, actually. No willpower when it comes to these. Also, another bonus besides having a ton of caramel candies? Your house will smell fantastic after making these!

Apple Cider Caramels
Source: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. flaky  sea salt
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Place the apple cider in a 3-4 quart saucepan, and boil it over high heat for about 35-45 minutes (stirring occasionally), until it has reduced to about 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume and turns into a dark, thick syrup.
  2. While the cider is boiling, prepare an 8×8 inch square pan by fully lining the bottom and sides of the pan with 2 sheets of parchment paper. Set the pan aside. Then, stir together the cinnamon and flaky salt in a small bowl or dish.
  3. Once the apple cider has reduced, remove it from the heat and add in the butter, sugars and heavy cream. Stir the mixture well, and place the pan over medium-high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side. Allow the mixture to boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, which will take about 5 minutes.
  4. Once the mixture reaches temperature, immediately remove the caramel from heat and add the cinnamon/flaky salt mixture. Stir well to distribute the cinnamon/flaky salt mixture evenly. Then immediately pour the caramel into the prepared 8×8 pan. Let the caramel cool in the pan fully, for about 2 hours, until it’s firm.
  5. Once the caramel has cooled enough, use the parchment paper to move the block of caramel to a cutting board. Add oil to a pizza cutter or knife, and cut the caramels into 1″ squares (being sure to oil your knife/cutter as often as necessary, since the caramel is very sticky). Wrap each 1″ square into a 4″ square of wax paper, and twist the sides to close. Keep them stored in an airtight container (they’re good for about two weeks, according to the cookbook…I have no idea from experience because they were probably consumed within a couple of days).

 

Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro & Eat Fit NOLA

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A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by Copeland’s PR Manager to check out Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro’s new Eat Fit NOLA menu. Since I’m a big fan of healthier eating, I was excited about sampling some of their offerings.

Since I’m from Louisiana, I’m used to food that is definitely full of flavor. However, what makes that flavor is usually going to break a diet. Unless of course, you order a side salad and a bland grilled chicken breast. Copeland’s and Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro are restaurants that I’m very familiar with for offering food full of flavor, but whenever my husband and I go, we know it’s going to be a splurge day. I mean, check out this last restaurant review I did for them. (OMG, right?!) You just can’t enjoy Copeland’s without breaking diet….until now.

Molly Kimball, a dietician with Ochsner Health Systems, along with her team, came up with Eat Fit NOLA. This is a partnership where local restaurants offer dishes that comply with certain dietary standards (highlighted below). Because they follow these standards, you know you will be enjoying food that is not only low in calories, but is also lower in sodium, fats and sugar. Copeland’s & Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro are among the first to roll out a new menu, featuring Eat Fit NOLA choices.

Entree Standards:

  • less than 600 calories
  • less than 800 mg sodium
  • less than 10% of calories from animal-based saturated fat
  • 0 grams trans fats
  • no white, refined starches
  • less than 5 grams (1 tsp.) of added sugar (honey, agave, sugar, etc.)

Kids Entree Standards:

  • less than 300 calories
  • less than 400 mg sodium
  • less than 10% of calories from saturated fat
  • less than 10% of calories from animal-based saturated fat
  • 0 grams trans fats
  • no white, refined starches
  • less than 5 grams (1 tsp.) of added sugar (honey, agave, sugar, etc.)

Yes, that’s right. There’s even kid menu options for Eat Fit NOLA…no more fried foods & french fries as your only choices for your kids. They can eat healthier just like the adults. :-)

Now, with these standards, I will admit that I was skeptical. I knew that it wouldn’t be too hard to meet caloric expectations (a ton of restaurants offer calorie friendly choices), but the other standards were much more complicated. I mean, a can of cajun seasoning is mostly salt! We love our salt down here. :-) However, in speaking to the chefs that developed this menu, they mentioned that they had to use multiple techniques to get the most flavor (naturally) out of the ingredients vs. just adding seasoning to the ingredients. They definitely didn’t want to sacrifice flavor in these dishes (since it’s a Louisiana based restaurant), and it’s evident that they put a good bit of research into developing these recipes for the Eat Fit NOLA menu.

Another thing I was skeptical about was portion size. I thought we’d end up with a dessert-sized plate for the entree. They were actually pretty generous, and served on normal sized plates!

One of the first things we tried was their Bistro Tacos (pictured above). The order came with two normal sized tacos on corn tortillas (just wanted to clarify that these are NOT mini tacos). You can choose any two proteins (out of chicken, shrimp, steak & fish), and we had the chicken and steak tacos. I loved the fruity salsa with the tacos…it was such a wonderful combination, and the meats were so flavorful.

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Next, we tried the Seabream with Herbed Lump Crabmeat. The fish filet on this was HUGE. I was shocked that all of this met the standards. The fish was so flavorful, and the vegetables below complimented the dish perfectly.

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I was excited about this dish, because I’m such a pasta gal. This is their Seared Salmon & Shiitake, which was served over a decent portion of whole wheat pasta. I usually don’t go for fish with pasta, but this was a wonderful dish!

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This is their Salmon Cobb Salad. This salad was HUGE. I was constantly surprised by the portions of fish. These were large pieces of fish, and it was a normal Cobb salad with hard boiled egg and bacon. It was delicious!

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Here was the huge shocker of the evening….a margarita made the Eat Fit NOLA menu. This is a Ginger Margarita, and I absolutely loved it. It had a hint of heat from the ginger, and tasted just like your typical margarita (you would never know this is a diet-friendly drink!). I was honestly shocked that this met the standards…I could have sipped on these all day. :-)

If you’d like to give this menu a try, this special menu is in every Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro nation-wide. Copeland’s (a different restaurant) also has their own Eat Fit NOLA menu, which features entrees like Garlic Shrimp Seabream, Tuscan Chicken Pasta, Fresh Fish & Crab Claws (over pasta) & they also have the Salmon Cobb Salad (pictured above)..to name a few. :-)

Also, every Wednesday in February is “Heart Healthy Hump Day”, which means 10% of the proceeds from those who order off of the Eat Fit NOLA menu goes to the American Heart Association!

If you’d like to try any of these great menu items, now is the time to go. This full menu is only available for a limited time. In May, the most popular dishes from the Eat Fit NOLA menu will become a part of the PERMANENT menu for Copeland’s and Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro, though. So, the Eat Fit NOLA movement is here to stay! :-)

Another thing I wanted to mention is the new Lagniappe card that both Copeland’s & Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro offers. If you’re a fan of these restaurants, this is something worth looking into. You pay $10 for a Lagniappe card & you automatically get $15 loaded on the card once you register it. Then, along with receiving information about deals/offers, you will also accumulate points for every dollar that you spend. 300 points = $25 reward. More information is available here.

FTC disclosure: My meal was covered by the restaurant, in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions expressed are 100% my own.