Father’s Day Weekend in Photos

***If you didn’t last week, don’t forget to enter my Food Should Taste Good chips giveaway!! There are 2 days left to enter!***

Hope you all had a great Father’s Day weekend. Mine was certainly filled with good food, that’s for sure:

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On Friday night, we made a deeelicious dinner. Chicken and shrimp in this soy-marmalade glaze, accompanied with sesame grilled veggies (sauteed a ton of veggies & just added sesame oil at the end), corn, and cilantro-lime rice. I love being able to make a “fancy”, more involved dinner on Friday nights. Usually during the week I only have energy to cook a chicken breast, put some fries on the side and call it a meal.

We also enjoyed some great Pinot and watched approximately 283974 hours of Raising Hope and the final season of The Office.

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For the second week in a row, I trekked out (ok ok, it’s only 4 blocks from my house) to the Midtown Farmers Market. There were a few strange finds, including green cauliflower (there was also a yellow one) and a Kombucha truck that had several kinds of Kombucha on tap! I haven’t yet joined this health-food bandwagon, but if they’re there again next week I might have to give it a shot!

I also fought the urge to buy another $5 thing of Avocado-Cilantro Hummus from Zena Foods (possibly the best dip to ever enter my mouth), because I’m hoping to try to recreate it myself soon. Keep a look out 🙂

20130617-100147.jpgAfter some shopping and EDC DIY-ing with my friend Lisa (she’s the one attending EDC…I’m just helping her bedazzle her outfits!), T-Man and I saw This Is the End with our friend Amanda. Definitely worth seeing in the theater. An enormously stupid movie, but it kept me laughing the entire time! Afterwards, we grabbed a beer at a new-to-us dive bar, The Hideaway.

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Had a nice hearty breakfast on Sunday morning…scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, and some cherries from the market. Then, I went to get some ingredients for Father’s Day dinner and FINALLY found some Chobani Flip at Safeway!!! Wahoo! I snagged one at Blend Retreat last month and accidentally left it in our hotel fridge haha. I haven’t tried it yet…waiting for a morning when I don’t have time to prep overnight oats the night before. #ChobaniNerd

Quick stop at kickball: {click to view video}

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We almost won a game for once! We usually get creamed…like…shut out creamed. But we ended up losing 6-7 at the bottom of the 6th (which is the last inning). I think it’s because my dad came to cheer us on! 🙂 Also maybe because it was only 90 degrees outside, and not 113.

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Flash forward to Father’s Day Dinner. Much like last year, most of the meal was cooked on the grill: chicken, veggies (carrots, summer squash, and green cauliflower), and Pacific snapper…because my dad loves fish but never gets it at home! I brushed a mango-cilantro sauce onto the meat…it was soooo good. Might have to recreate it for the blog soon! Finished it all off with a kale salad with strawberries, gorgonzola & poppyseed dressing. Perfect summer meal! Hope my dad enjoyed it!

What did you do for Father’s Day?

When you have time to spend on cooking, what is your meal of choice?

Food Should Taste Good Chips + a Giveaway!

This giveaway is now closed! Scroll down to discover who won!

Told ya I had something fun for you this week!

So back when I was actively trying to lose weight, I was paying a lot of attention to food labels. As you do. I tracked my calories with Lose It — I still track pretty often, mostly just to make sure I’m getting enough protein these days. But when I was trying to lose my extra pounds from college and get in better shape, I was paying particularly close attention to my fiber and fat intake. Lots of fiber, not too much fat.

I was at home all day every day since I hadn’t yet scored my internship, so the desire to snack out of boredom was really high. I soon discovered a way to snack guilt-free: with Food Should Taste Good brand tortilla chips.

When I was trying to lose weight, I loved that their Multigrain tortilla chips only had 6g of fat and a whopping 3g of fiber. (the added fiber is really what sets these apart in my mind!)

Now that I’m no longer trying to lose weight, I still love how delicious these chips are, AND I love the ingredient list:

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Everything is all natural and recognizable! Plus, check out all those seeds and quinoa.

All of FSTG’s chips are gluten & cholesterol free, and many are vegan as well. And did I mention they’re delicious? It’s a pretty sturdy chip, so they even point out on the packaging that “it’s a cracker, too!”

I contacted FSTG to tell them how much I enjoy their chips, and was overwhelmed with joy at the arrival of a sample box on my porch!

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All four bags were new to me flavors, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. I instantly grabbed the bag of Jalapeno Tortilla Chips and tore in (typical for me, the spicy food lover!)

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These were hands down my favorite flavor. I described them to T-Man as a “healthy” dorito, which I think gave him unrealistic expectations for the chip haha. But what’s not to love about a chip that packs a ton of spicy flavor without leaving an unnatural orangey residue on your fingers afterward?

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They’re colored with beet juice! But I promise they don’t taste like beets 😉

Check out the other amazing flavors they sent:

Blue Corn Tortilla

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Loved these. They are pretty much the blue corn version of their original multigrain chip. Blue corn has a bit of a nuttier flavor…

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Or maybe that was all the nuts/seeds in the chip 🙂

Sweet Potato Kettle Cooked Chips

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I had tried their sweet potato tortilla chips before, but was excited to try these slightly lower-in-fat kettle cooked chips (which are my favorite kind of potato chip!). They have a special way of cooking them that uses less fat.

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You can’t tell in this picture because the only chips that were left after binging on them Friday night with friends were all folded…but they are slightly thick chips and though they’re perfectly crispy, they still have some chew to them. Yum!

And the kicker… get ready for this flavor, guys:

CHOCOLATE Tortilla Chips!

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Once I opened this bag, I pretty much made sure all my visitors tried it because I wanted to get everyone’s opinion. They’re definitely weird chips. The semi-sweet chocolate and dutch cocoa ensures a very rich chocolatey taste…

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But everyone seemed to like them! Even as we ate and kept saying “man these are bizarre”, we somehow kept on grabbing for more. They are highly addictive! But only 4g of sugar 🙂

I personally think the best way to describe them is like chocolate graham crackers. The unique thing about them, though, is that they’re also fairly salty! I love me a salty+chocolatey combo. I did have a stroke of genius, however, and found a perfect pairing for them:

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Ummm, chocolate tortilla chips + cinnamon flavored cream cheese spread = PERFECT!

I was so glad to sample this box and loved all the flavors. It will definitely ensure that next time I spot them in the grocery store I will go for one of their more unique flavors, instead of always sticking with my trusted Multigrain 🙂

Now for what you’ve been waiting for…the GIVEAWAY!

The lovely folks at Food Should Taste Good would like to give away another sample box to one of my readers!

All you have to do to enter to win a box of Food Should Taste Good chips is leave a comment on this post answering the question: “What is your favorite dip to enjoy chips with?”

Bonus Entries

1. Like Blonde Ambition on Facebook. Leave a separate comment saying you did so. 

2. Like Food Should Taste Good on Facebook. Leave another separate comment saying you did so.

The giveaway is open until Tuesday, June  18th at 11:59pm PST. Be sure a valid email address is included with your comment(s)!!! Winner will be chosen randomly and announced on this post. I will also be notifying the winner via e-mail. Product will be shipped by FSTG. Good luck!

The winner, as chosen by random.org: Entry #6! Cowboys & Crossbones! Check your email from a note from me! Congrats!

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Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post, however, I was provided with a box of FSTG chips to sample and review. All opinions are my own!

Summer Recipe Ideas

The season of barbecues and grilling is upon us, friends!

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We are officially moving into the high 90’s, and there’s no end in sight. Such is life in Sacramento during the summer months! We get an average of 22 days of 100+ degree temps every year, according to the National Weather Service. That first day might be tomorrow!

And fortunately, I’ll actually be able to enjoy the weather this weekend: included in this weekend’s agenda are at least two barbeques, Concerts in the Park tonight, and a pub crawl tomorrow. All of a sudden, my social life has seemed to perk up! Funny how a little bit of sunshine will do that 🙂

If you’re curious whether I followed my “Getting Back on Track” meal/exercise plan for the week, I actually did pretty awesomely! All of my meals were more or less planned out [except last night I ended up having fries before dodgeball T-shirt pickup, and a salad after…I was supposed to have chicken, fries, and veggies. Not too bad, right?], and I stuck with the workouts. I surprisingly managed to run 2.7 miles on Wednesday at a 9:15 pace (my longest/fastest run since my 5K in March), and did a pretty killer arms & core workout yesterday. I’m definitely feeling like I’m back on track, though we’ll see if I can carry it over into the weekend full of food, booze, and fun!

In celebrating all of our social lives becoming active again, I decided to put together a little collection of summer recipes. Some are recipes I developed, and others are recipes I’ve pinned over the last year or so. Some are entrees that would be perfect for dinner tonight, others are sides that will make you the hero of any barbeque. I’ve got desserts and drinks too! Enjoy!

Main Dishes

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Fried Green Tomato BLTs with Spicy Ranch Spread – I made these on my birthday weekend this past year and they would be perfect for a summer meal on the balcony!

Chipotle-Mango BBQ Sauce Chicken Salad – That sauce sounds out of this world!

Salmon with Lemon, Capers & Rosemary – This Giada recipe is the first fish dish I ever made, and it’s been my go-to ever since! Cooking salmon in foil packets on the grill is foolproof and so delicious.

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Spicy Smoky Black Bean Burgers – My most popular recipe, and one of my favorites. Once you get the hang of it, making veggie burgers at home is really easy.

Grilled Veggie Tacos – The perfect summer meal. I made this so many times last summer!

Asian Turkey Burgers with Spicy Lime Mayo – This recipe has been pinned on one of my boards for over a year now. I think it might be time!

Side Dishes/Appetizers

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Southwestern Quinoa Salad – definitely a recipe that should be in everyone’s repertoire!

Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Corn & Avocado – Finally I can make zucchini ribbons, now that I have a microplane!

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Roasted Garlic Hummus – Now that I’ve perfected my hummus recipe, I am totally going to make it all summer long!

Grilled Corn & Cheddar Quinoa – I couldn’t believe how delicious this was. Possibly my favorite quinoa dish ever.

Roasted Red Pepper, Artichoke and Olive Pasta Salad – Ashley has managed to develop my most perfect ideal pasta salad EVER!

Desserts

photo courtesy of Heather Christo Cooks

Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake – I’ve never made an icebox cake, but they sound so easy and perfect for warm weather…no oven required!

Orange Creamsicle Cookies – Quickly becoming my signature cookies! I am looking forward to revisiting this recipe this summer and updating my pictures.

Zucchini Almond Chocolate Bites – My favorite thing to do in the summer is sneak zucchini into everything. These bites are a perfect vehicle!

Coconut Shell Fruit Popsicles – What a cool idea. I might have to do this now that I got a huge amount of coconut oil in my Blend swag bag!

Drinks

photo courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

Whiskey Lemonade with Honey – Whiskey and lemons is a favorite combo of mine. It’s like a warm weather hot toddy!

Watermelon G&T – It sounds a little labor intensive to make the watermelon syrup…but I have a feeling it’d be worth it.

Iced Green Tea Mojito – What a cool idea. The healthiness of the green tea totally cancels out the alcohol right? AND there’s green stuff in it. It’s healthy!

Raspberry Beer Cocktail – This sounds like a hangover waiting to happen…and a delicious one, at that.

Citrus-Strawberry Green Tea – So you all can’t say I only included alcoholic drinks 🙂 Though this does sound like it’d be great with a splash of vodka!

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What is your favorite thing to make in the summer?

What are your plans this weekend?

Blend Retreat – The FOOD!

Hi everyone! If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably saw a lot of this this weekend:

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I spent the weekend in BEAUTIFUL Park City, Utah attending Blend Retreat. I expect to dedicate quite a few posts this and next week to recapping the event and sharing what I learned about all the great sponsors {and my fellow bloggers!}, but today I wanted to focus on one aspect I think you all will love: the FOOD!

The retreat included several hosted meals between Friday and Sunday: a Cocktail Hour and Dinner on Friday, and breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. There were also a few Snack Breaks throughout the weekend, which consisted of some of the event’s sponsors setting out goodies for us to sample. All the food was great {not to mention healthy!}, and I was super excited to learn a lot about some new-to-me brands!

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Snack Break sponsored by Justin’s Nut Butter & Attune Foods

After Carly and I arrived in Salt Lake City, we met up with Becky, who drove us to the Hyatt Escala Lodge. Soon after checking in {and freaking out at how much SWAG we got!} we headed to the first Snack Break of the weekend.

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I was pretty hungry at this point, haha, and had about 20 million graham crackers and entirely too much nut butter. Justin’s was sampling their regular and maple almond butters, regular and honey peanut butters, and chocolate hazelnut butter to spread on Erewhon graham crackers. My favorite combo was definitely graham crackers + honey peanut butter, but I know from experience that the maple almond butter is good enough to eat from a spoon!

photo cred: Becky at Olives n’ Wine

Becky, Carly and me!

Cocktail Hour sponsored by Silk

Next up, we all changed out of our travel clothes and into some nicer ‘duds.

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The hotel put out a pretty amazing spread of appetizers, including crudites with ranch or cilantro-lime dressing, AMAAAZING spring rolls with Thai peanut sauce, and spicy black bean cakes. If I didn’t know that we had a dinner immediately following, I totally would have just eaten this as dinner! It was all delicious.

photo cred: Carly at Snack Therapy

The only picture I think I have of me dressed up, oops! Carly and I traveled from Sacramento together, and can I just say that I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy? It takes a special person to keep things light and entertaining when you’re flying home from a fun weekend on like 2 hours of sleep 😉

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ANYWAY, back to cocktail hour! The restaurant at the Hyatt Escala Lodge is pretty gorgeous.

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On the Cocktail menu were three specialty Silkology drinks, all featuring Silk Almond Milk. Being a ginger lover, I of course went for the Ginger Refresher: rum, ginger liqueur, almond milk, bitters, agave & mint. It was one of the most interesting cocktails I’ve ever had, that’s for sure! But it all somehow seemed to work.

There was also a photo booth!

photo cred: our 4th roomie, Arlene

Dinner + Dessert

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Salads!

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Entrees!

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I ended up with (clockwise, from top): mixed greens with Chobani dressing, grilled veggies, Carrot Ginger soup, herb roasted chicken and fingerling potatoes, and a bulgur salad. And I later snuck a bite of Brittney’s quinoa cake, which was so. good.

I loved chatting over dinner with Debra from Miles to Run, and Gena who owns and operates Bake All the Things down in Southern California!

The dessert offerings were also pretty amazing:

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Panna cotta featuring Chobani

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Apple Cobbler

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And.. Berry Tart! Which is what I went with 🙂

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Obviously I couldn’t wait to dig in before taking a picture 😉

SATURDAY

Breakfast sponsored by The Laughing Cow and Muesli Fusion

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On the menu for breakfast was delicious bagels and Smooth Sensations Cream Cheese Spread from The Laughing Cow. I loved the savory flavors – chive/onion and garden vegetables!

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I went back to try a little bowl of muesli from Muesli Fusion and Silk almond milk. I had never tried muesli before and I may be hooked – it is basically granola without all the added sugar and fat!

Snack Break with Onnit Labs and Miss USA

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Here are Orlando and Whitney of Onnit Labs sampling their nut butters and hemp protein products. They were serving up their walnut-almond-cashew trilogy butter and macadamia cacao cherry trilogy butter on rice cakes, and blending up chocolate hemp protein shakes!

Oh, and you may have noticed that Whitney also happens to be Miss United States 2012! I had a lot of time to get to know her this weekend at dinner on Friday and out on the town Saturday night and she is seriously the full package – healthy, happy, fit, and hilarious! Um and obviously she is gorgeous 😉 Can’t wait to check out her podcast Women Against Mediocrity.

SUNDAY
Breakfast sponsored by Chobani

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Chobani was the sponsor of the entire retreat, so their products were sprinkled throughout most of our meals, but they got their moment to shine on Sunday morning!

In addition to fruit, they had a yogurt/granola/oatmeal station and pancakes made with Chobani in them.

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The pancakes were so good! Greek yogurt really made them light and fluffy. I also was super excited to FINALLY be able to try Chobani Flip, but I accidentally left it in our hotel room’s fridge! D’oh.

There was also an Omelet Bar, which I attempted to wait in line for but gave up after 10 minutes of waiting. I just went back for more yogurt and fixin’s!

So as you can see, I definitely did not starve this weekend!

A super special thank you to Lindsay, Katie and Janetha for again hosting this great event. It was so lovely meeting you all in person, and you did a great job!

Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks, including details about all the cool companies at the retreat, all the fitness events {AKA a really beautiful hike}, and a post about where we stayed and what to do in Park City!

Have you ever been to a blogging conference, or another kind of professional retreat?

Did we meet at Blend?? Leave me a comment so we can stay in touch, and feel free to ‘borrow’ my photos!

Lemony Brown Rice with Spring Veggies

Seems like every season, I make some kind of rice pilaf (or quinoa, couscous, etc) with the season’s veggies. It started in the SUMMER which included zucchini, bell pepper and tomatoes.. then continued into an AUTUMN version which featured an amazing mix of walnuts, dried cranberries, caramelized onions, and rosemary. Ohhh man both were so good.

I think, however, I may have topped it.

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I am lemon-obsessed, as you all know. Braided Lemon Bread, Skinny Lemon Poppyseed Muffins…it is definitely lemon season around here. Plussssss, spring produce is finally here! Color me excited. I went to my first seasonal Farmers Market last week and zeroed in on two things: peas and asparagus. It’s green central up in my fridge, folks.

So what better vehicle is there to transport those fresh, green veggies into my mouth than my favorite brown rice?

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Of course if I were really to be following tradition here, I’d be using Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend. I really wanted to make this into a quinoa salad, but thought I didn’t have any… Of course right after I finished cooking this dish, I found a box of quinoa that I bought on Saturday and completely forgot about in a mostly-empty grocery bag in my living room. D’oh. Regardless, I really do like TJ’s Brown Jasmine Rice. I buy a 3 pound bag every six months or so and make it all the time.

The other players:

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Farmer’s Market asparagus is really funny lookin’. Duly noted.

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Green!

This dish gets its lemony kick from a vinaigrette I added at the end. A little bit of honey balances out the zingy lemon, and it’s so easy to make; all you need to do is add ingredients to a jar and give it a shake!

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This is my one snobbish foodie thing – I don’t use any store-bought dressings or marinades. If you have oil, vinegar, and mustard/honey in your kitchen, you will always have the makings of a delicious and cheap homemade dressing.

Mix mix mix.

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DSC_0498LEMON!

I split this batch into two tupperwares for lunch. It is about 300 calories, lots of fiber, and nearly 10 grams of protein thanks to the peas (that apparently have lots of it!).

DSC_0503I didn’t get a chance to food prep this weekend (being that I was too busy drinking tequila and playing kickball and whatnot), but luckily (unluckily?) I was feeling ill Monday and Tuesday and didn’t have an appetite for much beyond avocado toast or almond butter + toast. I made this on Tuesday night hoping I’d regain my appetite in time to eat it for lunch on Wednesday and Thursday……wish granted!

Except that my stomachache promptly got worse after eating it, so I went to the doctor and the reason my stomach was acting up was because of acid indigestion-related issues. So yesterday morning I got a strict “no caffeine-alcohol-dairy-spicy-or-acidic-foods” order from the doc. Which means one of these is still sitting in my fridge at work, waiting to be eaten.

Any takers?

Lemony Brown Rice with Spring Veggies
serves 2, or 3-4 as a side dish

1/2 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 cup chicken broth, veggie broth, or water (for cooking rice)
1/2 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
~10 asparagus spears (this was about 1/2 my bunch)
1/2 medium zucchini, about 1 cup when sliced
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp oil, or as needed for sauteing

FOR DRESSING
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp oil (I used sunflower oil)
pinch of dried basil
pinch of dried thyme

Prepare brown rice according to package instructions using your choice of broth or water.

While rice is cooking, prepare veggies. Dice the onions and mince the garlic. Snap or cut off the woody ends of the asparagus then cut each spear into 3-4 bite sized pieces, shuck the peas (if using fresh ones still in the pod), and slice the zucchini into bite-sized slices.

Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Next, add asparagus, stirring to coat. Let asparagus cook for about 4 minutes. Once the asparagus starts to get tender, add zucchini slices and garlic, stirring again to combine. Cook for another couple of minutes. Add cooked rice and peas all at once, mixing everything thoroughly.

While waiting for the veggies to cook, combine dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine.

After peas and rice are added, let cook until everything is heated through and then add dressing, stirring well. Turn heat down to low and let everything simmer until ready to serve, being sure to not let the veggies overcook.

Would be great served with fresh crusty bread, or with chicken!

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What is your favorite season for produce?

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1-Year Blogiversary

I mentioned on Monday that Cinco de Mayo marked the anniversary of my “1st” recipe post (and 2nd post ever) on this blog. Well, my “first” post was back on May 4th, 2012…so I’m a bit off. But I figured I’d commemorate the event anyway.

I keep on using quotations because I have actually been blogging much longer than just one year. No, I’m not talking about Xanga or Livejournal (though…okay, yes, I had those too). But I started blogging at this address when I came back from France in September of 2010 as a jobless college grad. For a little more than 6 months, I blogged about living at home, setting goals for myself in my job search, and eventually I started posting recipes I was trying and creating myself.

my first soup created from scratch!

{oh my god you guys, i just found my Xanga. it is so bad. my username is sPeLLeD LiKe tHiS. i wrote in it until i was a sophomore in college. WTF?!}

When my internship started picking up and I was hired at my current job, I didn’t really have much to blog about anymore. Life was good, I got a boyfriend, and started making new friends in Sacramento outside of those I already had. It was about 1 year ago, when Hanna and I were preparing to move into our apartment, that I decided (finally heeding T-Man’s advice, I might add) to re-start my blogging, but with a different focus: food and healthy living!

1 year later, I took on an entire Cinco de Mayo meal!

Before I started blogging, I had been reading blogs and acquired quite the list of bookmarks on my bookmark menu at work. When I re-started my blog, I finally started commenting on those blogs and clicked through to fellow commenters’ sites to find more blogs to read.

While I definitely had unrealistic dreams about how many visitors I’d get and ad revenue possibilities I could utilize (My blog has netted about $15 profit this year, thanks WordAds), what I found was so much better. There is a huge community of bloggers who may not have the most Facebook likes or Twitter followers, but who diligently comment, like, and re-tweet! I feel so grateful for all the followers I have, and the friends I’ve made.

This time last year, I read about the Blend Retreat and thought it sounded so fun – I never dreamed that I’d be attending Blend 2013! But next weekend I will be in Park City, Utah meeting tons of bloggers in person, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Enough of the cheesy stuff. In honor of my 1-year Blogiversary, here are my top 5 posts and top 5 recipe posts!

Top 5 Posts
  1. Skinny vs Attractive vs Healthy — In which I pontificate on the need to be “skinny” and urge my readers not to compare themselves to others.
  2. Healthy Weight Loss: My Story (And Tips!) — A chronicle of my post-college journey to lose a few pounds.
  3. Throwback Thursday: My Weight Loss Before & After Photos — Written just last week, this post was clearly really popular.
  4. An Ode to my Cast — A silly rhyming post with pictures of me and my cast. I expected to be free of it the day after I wrote the post, but ended up in a removable half-cast for an additional 3 weeks.
  5. Making a Meal Plan, Part 1 — I’m laughing because this was called “Part 1” and there was never a Part 2. When T-Man was working on a busy political campaign, I helped him make a weekly meal plan that he…kind of…followed.
Top 5 Recipes
  1. Tomato Sauce from Scratch: Who Needs Therapy?IMG_1394This blog post was featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed, sending me over 2,000 views in 2 days (my best traffic ever!) Some lovely photos on Foodgawker have kept readers coming back.
  2. Meatless Monday: Spicy Black Bean BurgersIMG_2482My first foray into homemade veggie burgers remains my best to date. Another Foodgawker favorite!
  3. Post-Thanksgiving Banana Bread MuffinsDSC_0114Perfect muffins for when you need something that is healthy, but doesn’t taste healthy.
  4. Meatless Monday: Curry Chickpea FrittersIMG_2526Totally forgot about these bad boys! Based on a delicious Curry Hummus recipe from EdiblePerspective.com, I am totally going to revisit these soon.
  5. Meatless Monday: Chickpea and Red Pepper Veggie BurgersDSC_0391Chickpeas again! Apparently a lot of people are looking for chickpea recipes. These are definitely more “burger” like than the above recipe. Tasty too!

Again, thank you for reading my blog. Here’s to another year!

How long have you been blogging?

Are you ever surprised by which posts are the most viewed on your site? I was pretty surprised by some of these!

Weekend Food Prep

Soo I wasn’t so great on the healthy eating thing these past four days.

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the Six Pepper Pizza at the Dodgeball league bar – pepperjack cheese, jalapenos, pepperoncinis, bell peppers, pepperoni, and crushed red. SO GOOD.

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got a hankerin’ to bake m&m chocolate chip cookies on Friday night… so i DID!

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had an epic picnic for two on Saturday. sandwich fixins, cheese, crackers, mango, MORE cheese, hummus, and carrots/bell peppers for dipping

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this is how much cheese T-Man put in our eggs yesterday morning when i requested “not too much cheese” haha

It was bound to happen, since I had an insane week at work and was too busy enjoying a baseball game last Sunday to do any food prep.

Meanwhile, I’ve been quite good and have kept up with 1 gym trip and 1-2 runs per week, and due to T-Man’s work schedule I’ve been biking to work 5 days a week (holy mother my quads are getting BIG!), so I’m not too concerned about a few days of “gluttony”, if you can even call them that.

It’s not the worst mess-up in the history of people-trying-to-eat-healthily, but all the same I feel a bit guilty. Actually, that feeling might be indigestion 😉

In order to avoid similar mistakes this week, I made some food yesterday.

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A lotttt of food.

So here’s the thing: I don’t like to meal plan. There, I said it. I know some people get off on it, but it’s just not my bag. I am very finicky when it comes to deciding what I’m in the mood to eat (especially for dinner). It gives me anxiety to imagine choosing what to eat more than a few hours before the meal happens, let alone FOUR DAYS. But what if I’m not feeling like chicken that night? What if someone cool wants to go out to happy hour and grab a bite to eat?….you get the picture.

I can, however, get down with prepping a bunch of food that can go together in different ways throughout the week. Yesterday, I made a couple of plain chicken breasts – this week I can shred them up for tacos, slice one to put in a sandwich, or just saute one to eat with some veggies and oven fries. Three different options already! And the best part is, once I decide what I want to eat on Wednesday night, I’ll already have done most of the work days before. I like this food prep business.

Here’s what I did this week:

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I started soaking some dry black beans while cleaned the kitchen. Cleaning is my #1 procrastination tool. If I ever have a big task ahead, you bet your ass I’ll find something to clean before I can get started.

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Lots of clutter… which, with the help of awesomely bad music….

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Became slightly less clutter. (also, all the dirty dishes in the sink that I didn’t tell you about are now clean. Boom.)

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I put the beans in the Crockpot for two hours thinking that would be long enough. Hahaha, silly Katie. I used it as a timer to see how long it took to prep the rest of the food. The result: everything was finished in less than 2 hours! (except for the actual thing cooking in the Crockpot of course.)

First course: Breakfast. Frozen Yogurt squares it is!

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Yogurt, fruit, oats, honey, mix mix mix.

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I’ll deal with you later.

Next, vegetables. I decided on a kale and mushroom saute, and instead of spending 35 minutes making rice, I decided to get creative with my cauliflower.

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Cauliflower rice! I’m kind of excited to try it.

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Meanwhile, crappy music was still blasting on my iPad.

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Kale and mushrooms were sauteing.

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And a couple of chicken breasts were poached.

Let’s break down the results.

For breakfast:

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I am set for the week! I have 2 leftover Oikos, which I pair with Fiber One brownies. For the rest of the days of the week, I’ll have a Frozen Yogurt square paired with Fiber One bars. (The FroYo squares are fewer calories than a yogurt cup, so I pair them with a higher cal bar to even it out)

Next: protein!

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Two chicken breasts, and nearly 2 cups of black beans will be readily available to me this week. I also made a batch of my spicy peanut sauce. I kinda just want to dip everything in it. Is that bad?

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I split the kale and mushroom saute into two servings – I’m thinking I’ll pair one with beans (on a workout day, for protein) and the other with cauliflower rice.

Obviously this won’t last me all 5 days this week as far as lunches and dinner goes. So far, I only have evening plans on Wednesday and Thursday this week, so I will have enough time to make a normal dinner most other nights. Some other things I have readily available in my fridge/freezer that I can use for meals this week:

  • Enough Spring Mix for a big salad or 2
  • Sprouts and bread for sandwiches
  • Soup cup at work
  • A serving of frozen ravioli + like 4 servings of my mom’s pasta sauce in the freezer. It’s my emergency pasta stash, y’all!
  • Lentils + veggies and a can of diced tomatoes = lentil stew (if I have time. Plus I can make enough so I have leftovers!)

Do you meal plan or do food prep? If so, which is more helpful to you?

What is your go-to lunch to bring to school/work?

Homemade Tzatziki Sauce

As you all may have imagined with my days of silence, it has been crazy times over here at Blonde Ambition headquarters (<– totally a real place).

I worked 10.5 hours on Friday, received a staggering 100 emails between Monday and Tuesday, and worked another 10.5 hours on Wednesday, but now it is all over and done with. Breathing a sigh of relief until the next big thing (which is…a committee hearing on Monday. Argh)

Anyway, I know I bragged last week about being able to come up with meals even when I’m busy during the week. I’d be lying if I told you that I made every meal at home this week. (I had a Caesar Salad at our Symposium on Weds, pizza at dodgeball last night, and was belatedly treated to Administrative Professionals Day lunch today) But considering I didn’t have time to do Sunday Food Prep this week, my other meals weren’t so bad…in part, thanks to my realization that I can make a damn good tzatziki sauce:

This random sandwich came together on Monday and consisted of 2 fried eggs, alfalfa sprouts (one of my fave sandwich ingredients), and a heavy smear of tzatziki sauce. I ate it with a side of potato wedges that I dipped in the rest of the sauce. Aaaaamazing.

Our Legislative Symposium closed out on Wednesday with a Cocktail hour and, after a couple of glasses of Chardonnay and entirely too many crackers and cheese, I finally got home around 7pm and decided I needed more sustenance. Some roasted vegetables and my new favorite fresh, fat-free dipping sauce were exactly what the doctor ordered.

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I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a large tub of fat-free plain Chobani in my fridge. It’s a great healthy substitute for some not-so-healthy baking ingredients, makes sauces creamy and fresh, and if you love making dips, it is a perfect alternative to sour cream or mayonnaise.

Who wants hot dip when it’s 85 degrees outside? Tzatziki is a perfect warm-weather condiment. All you need to transform the sometimes-tart plain Greek yogurt into a fresh tzatziki sauce is a little bit of cucumber, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some herby dill.

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Just make sure you’ve got enough of whatever vehicle you’re scoopin’ at the sauce with…because you’re gonna want to use your fingers if you run out and there’s still tzatziki left 😉

Now who’s got a killer falafel recipe? I sense a perfect combo in the works….!

Homemade Tzatziki Sauce
makes ~1 cup

1/2 cup plain, fat-free Greek yogurt
1/4-1/3 cup cucumber, peeled & de-seeded, then either finely diced or shredded
~1 tbsp fresh dill – OR – 1/4 tsp dried dill
juice of 1/2 lemon

Prepare cucumber. If you want a chunky sauce, then finely dice the cucumber. If not, grating it is fine too. I actually like to do a combination of both!

Combine ingredients. Taste and adjust according to your preference. For best results, prepare sauce first and let it sit in the fridge while you prepare the rest of your meal.

Use as a dipping sauce or spread on bread as part of a delicious sandwich!

Note: if you use regular (non-Greek) plain yogurt, most tzatziki recipes will require that you strain the yogurt over a period of at least 1-2 hours. This is to avoid wateriness when it comes in contact with the cucumber.

.

Happy weekend!

Braided Lemon Bread

Springtime. Seems like most people associate Easter with Spring, and the fact that Easter came early this year means…so did Spring? Aside from an epic thunderstorm on Saturday night/Sunday morning, I’d say it’s been pretty springlike here in Northern California!

You know what else I associate with Spring? LEMON!

I love lemon everything. Lemony marinades and vinaigrettes in savory dishes…lemon poppyseed desserts…ANY kind of lemon dessert…you name it, I’m all about it.

So when my lovely boyfriend brought me half a dozen lemons fresh from his coworker’s tree last week, I knew I had to make something carby and lemony for Easter Brunch. All I knew was that I didn’t want it to be too desserty for 11 in the morning…and then I saw Deb from Smitten Kitchen’s Braided Lemon Bread.

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Bingo!

Besides pizza dough, I have only made a couple of breads from scratch before. One was Bacon & Cheese Bread last year on Easter, which I made the mistake of making with whole wheat flour and it ended up tough and dry. This year, I had a secret trick in my arsenal:

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White Whole Wheat Flour has the same taste and texture as all purpose white flour, but nearly all the nutritional value of regular whole wheat flour. Score.

In addition to whole wheat flour, I also used 1/3 less fat cream cheese in the filling, and nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. Not huge alterations that would change the integrity of the pastry, but it made it feel just a little less guilt-inducing.

Baking your own bread isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds. Just takes a bit of patience to wait for the yeast to activate, and the bread to rise. Not to mention a bit of elbow grease if you don’t have a stand mixer to knead the dough 😉

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All you need is your two hands. (complete with a reminder scrawled on one of them to pay your rent)

Try it yourself! And reap the benefits. This was so delicious.

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{note: if you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle will do juuuust fine}

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I was freaking out the entire time I was braiding this puppy. It is such a beautiful pastry; I can’t wait to try other fillings!

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One side was totally more flour-y than the other. Easily fixed by dusting it off with a pastry brush! {seriously, who has a pastry brush and not a rolling pin?!}

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Here’s how our entire Easter Brunch spread ended up:

The baked and stuffed bread joined a fruit salad (with a simple lime juice/honey/fresh mint dressing) and my dad’s famous Chile Egg Puff

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{also, adorable Peeps Sushi that my parents brought home from church!}

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Perfect balance of savory and sweet!

Braided Lemon Bread
adapted from smitten kitchen’s Braided Lemon Bread

Sponge
6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast {I actually added an entire packet of instant yeast, which worked fine}
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Dough
Sponge (above)
6 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt {or sour cream}
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, + 1 egg white to brush bread with
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Sugar, for sprinkling

Lemon cream cheese filling
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) cream cheese, softened {feel free to use 1/3 less fat cream cheese}
2 tablespoons (5/8 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (2 ounces) homemade or prepared lemon curd

To begin, make your sponge:

Combine all 4 ingredients (make sure water is not too hot) together in a small bowl, mixing well to combine. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until yeast has proofed and the mixture looks frothy and smells, well, yeasty.

To make the dough by hand: {see Deb’s original recipe for how to make in a stand mixer}

Mix together wet ingredients (yogurt, softened butter, egg, sugar and vanilla) in a large bowl until well combined. Stir in the sponge. Next, add both kinds of flour and do your best to combine it all with a wooden spoon. It won’t come together super easily, so your hands will probably work best here. Once most of it has formed into a shaggy ball, turn the dough and any other scraps out onto a well-floured space. Knead for 5-10 minutes until all the pieces are incorporated and the dough has become smooth. Add flour or water to your hands if necessary. Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and place in a somewhat warm spot to rise for 60-90 minutes, until it is puffy and nearly doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, make the filling (see instructions below).

Deflate the dough by pushing it down a bit, and roll it into a 10″ by 15″ rectangle. **Make sure the dough is on some sort of portable surface, such as parchment paper or aluminum foil, or you’ll regret it later!** Use your hands to press lines into the dough that equally divide it into three columns. Spread the cream cheese filling down the middle column, leaving ~2 inches free toward the top (see photos above). Next, spread lemon curd over the cream cheese filling.

To make the braids, cut 1-inch strips on each side of the middle column. Make sure each strip has an equal-sized corresponding strip on the opposite side. Cut off the “corners” that will be leftover – the space between the 2 inch flaps you left above and below the filling, and the strips. To begin braiding, flip the flaps (lol) over the filling. Next, fold first strip on the left side diagonally over the filling. Repeat with the corresponding strip on the right. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you’ve gone all the way down the braid. Set aside for dough to rise for another 45-50 minutes, until it’s puffy.

Pre-heat oven to 375F. After it’s done with its second rise, brush the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 25-30 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a bit before serving.

To make the filling:

Combine all the filling ingredients (except the lemon curd) in a small bowl, mixing until smooth and lump-free. Set both the cream cheese filling and the lemon curd aside until ready to fill the braids.

Notes: As Deb points out in her recipe, you can make this ahead of time and put the bread in the fridge overnight if needed. Just make sure you leave enough time to bring it back up to room temperature before proceeding with the next steps. I put mine in the fridge once the braids were done, then I brought it out on Easter morning and left it in a warm place to come to room temperature and do its second rise. Also, click the link in the recipe to see how to make homemade lemon curd- it is actually quite easy!

Have you ever baked bread?

What’s the coolest/most impressive thing you’ve ever made from scratch?

Meatless Monday: Chickpea & Red Pepper Veggie Burgers

Last summer, I was obsessed with 1) grilling vegetables and 2) veggie burgers.

It’s not quite time to break out the grill just yet – as long as it’s still cool enough in my apartment to use the oven without getting heat stroke, I will take my veggies roasted, thank you! But last week after seeing veggie burgers on both Ashley and Jessica’s blogs, I started getting a craving for them.

Last summer I tried a few different chickpea patties: one that was curry flavored, and a pesto variety. None were quite burgers though…maybe small patties, or fritters. I’ve always had trouble getting them to stay together any time I tried to make a patty bigger than a mini slider. My best ever attempt is my spicy black bean burgers, which happens to be one of the most viewed recipes on my blog.

When I got a craving for veggie burgers last week, the only legumes I had on hand were chickpeas. Inspired by the red pepper present in both Ashley and Jessica’s recipes, I was determined to make it work!

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Last summer, I didn’t have a food processor when I made my chickpea patties. This may have been the missing link!

The result was extremely flavorful, and the texture I got from adding crunchy red pepper and chewy brown rice was awesome. For the most part, the burgers stayed together, but they had their crumbly moments. It’s definitely easier to eat them with a fork, but if you’re really opposed to that, a bun will work nicely too 😉

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Next time I make them, I may try an egg as a binder instead of my usual tahini to see if that works better. But this time? I have no complaints!

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No bun? No problem!

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Chickpea & Red Pepper Veggie Burgers
makes 4 burgers

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed {if you aren’t using a food processor, you may want to peel the beans as well if you have time!}
1/4 cup onion, diced {about 1/2 of a small onion}
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup quick oats {many people blend oats into flour for veggie burgers; quick oats aren’t full flakes but aren’t as powdery as oat flour}
2 tbsp tahini
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chile powder
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
salt & pepper
about 1 tbsp oil, for frying

IF USING FOOD PROCESSOR:

Chop onion, bell pepper, and garlic into smaller pieces and put in the food processor. Pulse until everything is finely diced. Add about half of the garbanzo beans and pulse to combine. Once broken down a bit, add the rest of the beans and continue to pulse. You do not want this to turn into hummus, just pulse until most of the beans have been broken into pieces. See photo above. Then follow remaining instructions below.

IF NO FOOD PROCESSOR:

Dice onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Add to a medium-sized bowl. Add half of beans to the bowl and mash with a potato masher or (my favorite) a soup ladle. Add remaining beans and use a fork to combine everything, lightly smushing the beans together as you do.

NEXT STEPS:

Add remaining ingredients (rice through salt & pepper) and mix gently with a fork. Mix until ingredients are evenly distributed throughout. Gather about 1/2-3/4 cup of the mixture and shape into a patty, being sure to mold the outside edges so that it’s all compact and will stay together.

Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add first two burgers. Cook for 4 minutes on each side. For best results, keep saute pan covered while they cook. Repeat with remaining burgers. Serve with or without a bun, crumbled onto a salad, or however you please!

Notes: Patties reheat best in the microwave, but in a pan or the oven may work as well. Try and let me know how it goes!