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

applecidercaramels

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.

copelandseatfitnola1

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.

copelandseatfitnola5

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.

The Louisiana Marathon (The Half) Recap

halfmarathon

Um. Y’all? As of late Sunday morning, I became a half marathoner, thanks to The Louisiana Marathon (The Half)!

I’m sure many of you knew just how nervous I was about this race. My last run was terrible…..9.4 miles and my pace was embarrassing. I thought for sure I’d get swept. For sure.

I had various dreams the week of the race, proving how random and crazy my subconscious is. Here’s two that I can still remember:

  • One was about how they closed the course for 2 hours to allow Mike the Tiger (LSU’s mascot) to go for his morning walk on the campus streets. I remember being at mile 9 and feeling great…then we got a text 2 hours later that we had 30 minutes left to finish the race or you’d get no medal.
  • Another was about how I ended up waking up on time, but I just couldn’t get moving (hate those dreams). By the time I started to leave the house, it was 6:50 and the race was going to start at 7!

Crazy, stupid dreams. None of them ended with me in a medal. :-\ It was really messing with me, mentally.

Also, at the expo on Friday, I wore BOOTS. Stupid stupid stupid. I ended up with some blisters on my feet, and I texted my friend hoping that it wasn’t a bad sign. Don’t wear boots (no matter how comfy you think they are) to an expo. ::sigh::

Saturday night, I laid out everything that I would need on race day, so I could just wake up, eat my banana with PB, get dressed and be done. It’s a tip that I’ve read on blogs, and I’m so glad I did. One less thing to worry about!

On Sunday, my husband and I went downtown, found a great parking spot, and I slowly worked my way to the starting line with him. My husband was SO awesome for going with me at 5:30am. I saw a few friends who were also doing the half, and before we all knew it, it was time to line up for the start. My old college roommate, Sarah, generously offered to run the whole race with me. She wasn’t looking to PR (thank goodness), and since this was her 10th half marathon, I was relieved to have someone with me who has done this rodeo before. :-)

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The half marathon basically went from downtown Baton Rouge, to LSU campus and back. At least that’s what I told myself to make 13.1 miles seem less daunting. :-)

halfmarathonmap
Photo credit: Bing Maps (through Garmin Connect)

I’m going to admit right now that mile 1 was terrible. TERRIBLE. I think that mile 1 for me is one of the hardest miles to run in any training run/race. Everything is screaming at me to stop now, and my pace was looking terrible. I seriously thought…well, that’s it. I’m gonna end up swept after mile 1. That smile below is relief…SWEET relief. I hate mile 1 forever and ever. (Trust me, I’m not alone…google it. Mile 1 stinks.)

Mile 1
Photo Credit: My friend, Sarah

Mile 2 wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the darn overpass that we had to run on. That bridge killed me for the 5K last year, so I was ready for it. My strategy was to walk the up and run the down. :-) It worked out OK for me, since I didn’t feel too too bad afterwards. Just in case, though, I ended up eating a couple of Gu Chomps, and downing some Powerade at the water station (I did this every 2 miles).

Once mile 3 hit, I was sort of in the zone. I was making great time (for me, that is), and my muscles were no longer in pain. Look at that cheesy ol’ grin! 5k down, 10 to go! I also saw a good friend in college who made a sign for me! Definitely a pepper upper!

I felt like this until about mile 7.

Mile 3
Photo Credit: My friend, Sarah

At mile 7, my left ankle was super sore. I have ankle issues from an old injury in high school, so I have to wear shoes with more support. They usually do the trick, but I think running the roads with those potholes in the Garden District finally caught up to me. Thankfully, my best friend came to see me at this point, and we talked a good bit, while walking of course.

At mile 8, my feet started to rub. Even though I used Body Glide, and tied my shoes on tightly, I felt the pain in my heels. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty when those shoes came off.

As you can see here, I’m running in place for the mile 9 marker. I reached a point where if I stopped, I had a feeling things were going to cramp. So, no stopping!

Mile 9
Photo Credit: My friend, Sarah

Mile 9 & 10 were pretty rough, but what kept me going is that after mile 10, we were going to meet up with the marathoners, which was SO inspiring. Also, after mile 10, like my friend Sarah said, would be the longest distance I’ve ever done! Just after mile 10, I saw my college friend again who made another sign for me! I mean c’mon…the support was AWESOME.

At mile 11, I saw my best friend one last time for a quick high five and hug (sorry it was probably so sweaty!). Right after, I used the last burst of energy I had before facing the same overpass. Once the bridge came, I was really dragging. It burnt out my muscles, and I didn’t think I had anything left in me.

Thankfully, at that point, the marathon and half marathon course merged until the finish, so I ended up running near some of the faster marathoners. I thought they would give me funny looks since I was really hobbling the next couple of miles, but quite a few of them slowed down to pat me on the back, told me I was doing a great job and encouraged me to keep going. (I definitely told them great job as well….because 26.2 miles…holy moly!)

At mile 12, I was still a tired, limpy mess. Right after the bridge, there were some ladies with coke & king cake for the runners. I didn’t think much of it, but my friend Sarah insisted that a tiny bit of coke would give me a quick jolt to finish.

Oh man, my left ankle was sore again, and my feet were on fire. At one point, my foot started feeling like pins and needles (which I kind of appreciated). It was the LONGEST MILE EVER. I guess this was my wall. Sarah kept encouraging me (thank goodness) and we joked with a few cops to just drop us off at the finish festival haha! There were also a ton of race finishers walking to their cars who were so encouraging! I also saw another friend and her husband who had finished the half earlier but stuck around to cheer on friends who were still doing the half/full, and they gave me a quick high five before I turned that last corner to the finish. :-)

We turned the last corner to where I could see the finish line before mile 13, and my friend Sarah said I HAD to run in for the finish. So, I sprinted (at least in my head I sprinted haha). NO IDEA where that came from….maybe the coke did the trick? LOL! Seriously….but I ran as hard and as fast as I could for the finish line!

I just teared up and smiled. (hopefully there’s no picture of that ugly mess haha) I was in disbelief. I took a water, banana and chocolate milk and thanked Sarah for being there for me  that day. I really didn’t think I had 13 in me after mile 1. She reminded me that I needed to go get my medal (oops!), so we picked up our medals and took our pictures.

halfmarathonfinish
Photo Credit: My friend, Sarah

Here’s the Garmin break-down of things. You can definitely see that mile 12-13 was the worst. :-\ Also, for 13 til the finish, I forgot to turn off my Garmin at first, so the time isn’t super accurate. My official chip time was 3:39.

halfmarathon

Here’s my new medal next to the 5K medal that I earned last year in the same race series. It’s a reminder that the human body is an amazing thing. Truly amazing. Back when I weighed 298 lbs., I had no idea my body was capable of a half marathon. No idea.

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Now, the big question. Will I do it again? I think I want to, but it would definitely have to be at a lighter weight. I really loved how the half marathon varied from a 5K. At random points, we’d all talk to one another about our running journeys, and there was a small group of us who sort of stuck together. It felt like a small community that morning. :-) I really liked it!

I will also admit that this race was perfectly organized. I loved how gorgeous the race course is, and everything in my experience went off without a hitch. Thanks to the organizers and the multiple volunteers who made The Louisiana Marathon possible!

Also, a huge thanks to:

  • my husband Joey, who sent me encouraging texts every mile and dealt with my complaints during training
  • my family for their supportive calls/texts
  • my friend Sarah, for running the entire half with me and dealing with my weak points…there were a lot of them
  • my friend Jenna for being there during those tough mile points and just being the most amazing best friend a gal could ever ask for!
  • my friend Melanie, who constantly dealt with my half marathon questions and doubts haha!
  • other friends who made signs or gave me a high five during the race
  • my food blogger friends, especially Kristen, Katrina & Sarah for their guidance, texts, FB messages, etc.
  • you guys!! Oh man….your comments/tweets/emails have been amazing! Y’all are just so kind!
  • and…..last but not least, those random strangers who had no idea who I was, but knew I needed a pat on the back or a “You Can Do It!” after mile 11.

(I hope I didn’t forget anyone…)

I will never forget this race. Ever.

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!

Happy Gotcha Day, Millie!

Four years ago today, we picked up a sweet Border Collie mix named Amelia from a local organization that helps the parish shelter. :-) She got the name from her foster family, because she was the explorer of the litter. We just call her Millie, for short. It rolls off the tongue easier when she’s chewing on a sock or something…

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::cue the awws::

I’m sorry, but she was an adorable little pup.

It’s so crazy to think she’s our age in dog years. She has calmed down quite a bit since her puppy days of ripping pants, socks and shirts to herd me around the house, but there are some nights where she’ll randomly start nudging my calves if she wants me to sit down. Her herding instincts will never go away, I guess. I’m halfway tempted to let her go in a field of random farm animals and see her herding instincts go wild.

Millie 5/12/2010

Since we’ve moved to the new neighborhood, I’ve discovered that Millie loves kids. She’s so good with them, even if they’re petting her a little roughly or pulling her ears or tail. The kids are toddlers, so they don’t mean it…to them, those rough pets and ear pulls are affectionate, and she gets SO excited over it. I’m pretty confident that if we have kids, she’s going to be wonderful around them. :-)

Happy Halloween!

I mean, how can you not walk up to her and want to pet her like crazy when she’s wearing a pumpkin stem hat? Poor thing…I’m a terrible puppy mom lol!

She’s also awesome around other dogs. This is my family’s dog, Dixie, and she’s gonna be 14 this year. They’ve had a couple of fun play sessions in the past, but I’m not sure if Dixie can take Millie’s energy anymore. :( However, every time Millie sees a yellow lab somewhere or hears “Dixie”, she goes crazy! I love how great her memory is…such a smart dog. :-)

I look up to my elders. Literally.

Happy Gotcha Day, Millie! Here’s to many more Gotcha Days together. :-)

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)!

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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.

 

2013’s Weight Loss Update

I’ve thought a lot about this post, and wanted to be completely honest with you guys about 2013.

You may have noticed that my milestone posts have stopped, and I haven’t blogged much about weight loss since last summer.

My total weight loss for 2013 was:

0.0 pounds.

Yep. That’s right. I lost absolutely nothing in 2013, and as embarrassing as it is to admit it, I need to face it.

Let’s rewind back a bit. In the beginning of 2013, I lost 24 additional pounds (I was 1 lb. away from my next milestone post of 75 lbs.). I was doing SO great..I won a couple of DietBets, and I was feeling super fantastic. I had a few events happen after the DietBets were over, and usually I can bounce back after splurges, but this time, I sort of just stopped. I got a bit lazy in my calorie counting and slowly started gaining. I really only gained 7 or 8 lbs. at the time, until August. It wasn’t too bad…I knew I could get back on track, especially since I was working out fairly consistently to get ready for half marathon training.

Then our lives changed. The lightning/fire happened in our house, we had deaths (yes, plural…deaths) in the family and my emotional/binge eating habits came back.

I honestly didn’t care about calorie counting anymore. There were more important things to care about, and honestly, there was about a month there where I kept throwing the “what ifs” and would randomly just break down. I kept saying next week I’ll get back…next week. Well, obviously that never happened. Before we took our cruise in December, I went to try on swimsuits and the only one that fit was the swimsuit from 2012’s cruise. My two motivational suits couldn’t even get over my thighs… Then, I started to become more aware that my everyday clothes were ridiculously tight (when they used to be on the verge of being given away from being too loose). I’ve been so embarrassed by my gain that I have been wearing huge cardigans over everything to hide the bulge.

However, no more hiding. Here’s a picture to show everything (left April 2013, right January 2014).

2013

It’s a little hard to tell from the color of my sweater (and pardon the no make-up look…these are DietBet pictures), but yeah….

Now, while it hurts to have to take a huge step back, I know that I’m not perfect. I also know that we had a terrible, stressful year, and it’s time to dust off and go forward. :-)

Here’s a bit of positive news, though. While I admit that while I didn’t show progress on the scale, I’m ridiculously excited that I was able to stick to my half marathon training through all of this. A year ago, 5K races were my challenge and in less than 2 weeks, I’ll be attempting to finish a 13.1 mile race. I won’t be able to make that “120 lbs. down” shirt that I so badly wanted to make and wear, but I’ve been training hard and I’m doing this race. I might not be as fast as I wanted to be, but as long as I end up with a medal and 13.1 on my car (heck yes…I’m CHEESY!), I will be super proud of myself.

This race is going to be my big kick-off into 2014, and I just know that 2014 is going to be fantastic! I have about 80 lbs. to go to my goal weight, and I firmly believe that it’s doable (it’s 1.5 lbs./week). However, if I just make it to Onederland, I will be a happy camper. :-) Seeing the 100s on the scale would be SO amazing. :-)

Top 10 Recipes of 2013

Tomorrow is the start of 2014. :-) It’s completely crazy to me that we’re already here, but it seems like time flying is becoming the norm in my life. It’s been a rough year for us, so I’m hoping that 2014 brings better news. At least it’s a fresh, new start.

I want to thank y’all for reading this blog. Next month will be my 6 year blogiversary, and I’m thankful for each and every one of you who take the time out of your day to read this blog. Your comments, tweets, etc. make my day, and I’m excited to share more with you guys in 2014.

Here’s the list of the top 10 most popular recipe posts of 2013:

10. Peanut Butter Cup Cookies 

These cookies are a favorite of mine. I’m a sucker for Reese’s, and these cookies are just SO good!

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

9. Fireworks Cupcakes

I started challenging myself to use cake decorating tips more often this year, and these were just so fun. You could make these for the 4th of July or hey, if you’re looking for something to make tomorrow, these would be perfect for the New Year, as well!

fireworks_final_text

8. 20 Minute (Pressure Cooker) Beef Stew

One of my favorite new appliances this year has been our pressure cooker. Meats that you cook low and slow are no big deal in this cooker. It’s so much quicker than a crock-pot or conventional cooking in the oven!

20 Minute Beef Stew

7. Banana Biscoff Protein Shake

I make this protein shake all the time. It seriously tastes like a milkshake, and is such a treat before/after a work-out!

Banana Biscoff Protein Shake

6. Pumpkin Bread Pudding

I think I’m going to have to make this before the fall again. Oh man…this was insanely good!

pumpkinbreadpudding

5. Whipped Chocolate Pudding Frosting

Pudding in frosting? Oh yeah…this fluffs up beautifully, and while it doesn’t taste like conventional buttercream, it certainly has has won me over for a new type of frosting to make!

Whipped Pudding Frosting

4. Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

Boozy cupcakes….there’s nothing wrong with boozy cupcakes. :-)

Strawberry Margarita Cupcakes

3. Melting Chocolate Cake (for two)

Since we just came back from our cruise, I’m itching to make these again. I miss that warm chocolate melting cake so much! This tastes JUST like the cake from the cruise ship!

Melting Chocolate Cake for Two

2. Red Velvet Cookies

I was pleasantly surprised by these cookies. They baked up perfectly, and really tasted just like red velvet!

Red Velvet Cookies

1. Holiday Spritz Cookies

This was a quick favorite of y’all’s! The most popular recipe of 2013, and it was just posted in November! I love that you don’t need a cookie press for this…a large piping bag and a large star tip — that’s it! These are just so tasty. I can’t keep them in my kitchen whenever I make them, or I’ll just snack on them like crazy. :-)

bakingbook2

In case you want to see what was popular in past years, check out my top recipe posts:

Top 10 Recipes of 2012

Top 10 Recipes of 2011

Top 10 Recipes of 2010

Thanks again for a wonderful year, and I hope you enjoy the start of the new year surrounding by the ones you love! :-)

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!

[Read more…]

Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Carton Smart for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

triplechocolatepumpkinpie

With the holidays just days away, I'm starting to make my to-do lists and finalize the menu for the big Christmas dinner. We're hosting my husband's family this year, which is about 20 people, so the menu is getting a bit crazy. Thankfully, we have some family members willing to help out, and bring some dishes, but you guys know me…I'm all about the desserts! :-)
 
When it comes to the holidays, I always enjoy a good homemade pumpkin pie, and this year, I wanted to try something different since chocolate & pumpkin are a match made in heaven: triple chocolate pumpkin pie.
 
Yup…that's pie with bittersweet chocolate spread on top of a graham cracker crust, along with chocolate in the pumpkin pie batter, topped with a milk chocolate drizzle. If that doesn't scream holiday decadence, I don't know what does!
 

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I was recently sent a package of products from Pacific Foods, and was asked to use one of their products to make a holiday dish. I chose the organic pumpkin puree to make this pie.
 
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They also sent me a container of organic cranberry sauce and chicken stock.
 
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One of the great things Pacific Foods has is their packaging. Their products are packed in Tetra Pak cartons, which is great for many reasons…the main one to me being that there are no preservatives. For example, the cranberry sauce ingredients are organic cranberries, organic cane sugar and water. That's it!
 
Here's more information about Tetra Pack packaging on the graphic below:
 
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Based on the information above, how do you think you can be #CartonSmart this holiday season? You can also learn more by checking out their Carton Smart page (link below), as well as their social media sites:
 
triplechocolatepumpkinpie2
Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Pie
Source: Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

For the crust:

 
  • 2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 oz. bittersweet (61%) chocolate, finely chopped

For the filling:

  • 6 oz. semisweet (55%) chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
  • 15 oz. pumpkin puree
  • 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves

For the drizzle:

  • 1 oz. milk chocolate, melted

Directions:

  1. To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugars, salt and cinnamon. Evenly press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a deep 9 1/2 inch pie dish. Bake the crust until firm and fragrant, for about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Remove the pie dish from the oven and immediately sprinkle the bittersweet chocolate pieces over the bottom of the crust. Return the pie dish to the oven for about 1 minute, until the chocolate is melted. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate in a thin layer on the bottom and up the sides of the crust. Allow the crust to cool on a wire rack and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  3. While the crust is cooling, make the pie filling. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the semisweet chocolate and butter together in 30 second increments on 50% power, stirring well between each cycle, until the chocolate is smooth and melted.
  4. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, brown sugar, eggs, cornstarch, vanilla, salt and spices together until everything is well-mixed. While whisking the chocolate, slowly add in 1/3 of the pumpkin puree mixture to the chocolate mixture. Once that's mixed well, add in the rest of the pumpkin puree mixture and whisk until everyhing is well incorporated.
  5. Place the pie dish on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the pumpkin/chocolate mixture into the crust. You may have some extra filling (you could bake this in ramekins for mini servings…it will take less time to bake, though), so only fill the pie dish until you have about 1/4 inch of space left at the top (for rising).
  6. Bake the pie until the center is set, but still wobbly, for about 55-60 minutes. Allow the pie to cool in the pie dish on a wire rack, and then refrigerate the pie until chilled (at least 8 hours or overnight). Before serving the pie, drizzle the milk chocolate over the top. Enjoy!

Disclosure: I was compensated by SocialSpark to write this post, and was sent product samples from Pacific Foods at no cost to me. All opinions are 100% my own.

 

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