Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stuffed Peppers

Can you believe how quickly October has flown by?  Halloween is just a few days away and I'm ready!  I must have succumbed to Mike's Halloween spirit this year.  It's hard not to when he started quizzing me about my costume choice back in July.

I'm all about a theme, and after I decided to make stuffed peppers for dinner this week, I knew I just had to carve them up like the little pumpkins they were meant to be.

Stuffed peppers are super simple to make, and you can really use whatever filling your heart desires.  Since I'm still on the Weight Watchers wagon, I opted to use fat free ground turkey, fresh veggies, tomato paste for rich flavor, and a cheddar cheese topping for good measure. 

* 6 peppers
* 1 lb. ground turkey or beef
* 1/2 onion, chopped
*1 plum tomato, chopped
* 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
*2 tbsp. tomato paste
* 1/4 c. water
* 1 c. spinach, roughly chopped
*salt, pepper
* 10 oz. brown rice, cooked (I used a frozen pouch of Trader Joe's brown rice)
*4 oz. cheddar cheese, grated (I used white cheddar)

To carve the peppers, use a small pairing knife or pumpkin cutter to cut faces in the whole peppers.  After you make the faces, cut off the lid as you would a pumpkin and remove the seeds and as much of the ribs as possible.  Boil the peppers in water for 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. 

Preheat the oven to 375.  To prepare the filling, spray a large skillet with cooking spray, heat to medium high and add the onions.  Saute until the onions are translucent, then add the turkey.  Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and use a wooden spoon to break up the turkey as it cooks.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and spinach, and saute until the spinach has wilted and tomato paste is totally mixed in.  Stir in the brown rice. 

Fill each pepper with the turkey mixture, and top with grated cheese.  Place the stuffed peppers in a casserole dish and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is totally  melted and bubbly.  Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pumpkin Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting

I have to admit, i'm not one of those people that gets super excited about pumpkin.  You know the type - the ones who anxiously countdown to the day Starbucks brings back the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or the people who buy Trader Joe's pumpkin bread mix in bulk, for fear they may one day sell out.  

These Pumpkin Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting are the exception.  My mother has been making these for years, and it just doesn't feel like fall until I make my first batch.  With lots of pumpkin goodness and just the right hint of warm spice from the cinnamon and nutmeg, these muffins make the perfect breakfast, dessert, or mid day snack.  

In my opinion, the cream cheese frosting puts them over the edge, but sometimes I leave a few unfrosted and eat them warm with butter for breakfast.  

Ingredients (makes 18 muffins):
* 1 cup canned pumpkin **
* 1 stick butter, melted
* 1/3 c. orange juice
* 2 eggs, at room temperature
* 1 2/3 c. flour
* 1 1/2 c. sugar
* 1 tsp. baking soda
* 3/4 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

* 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, at room temperature
*2 sticks butter, at room temperature
* 1/2 box powdered sugar
* 1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375.  To prepare the muffins, beat together pumpkin, juice, and eggs.  Add all remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray (you can also use paper liners) and fill about half way with batter.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack. 

To prepare the frosting, beat together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla, until well combined.  Add the powdered sugar in gradually while the mixer is running.  Taste the frosting and add more sugar if needed.   Top each cooled muffin with frosting.  Enjoy!

** Blogger confession: about every other time I make this recipe, I put in a whole can (15 oz) of pumpkin (instead of one cup) by mistake.  If you make the same mistake, cook the muffins up to 18 minutes.  They will still be delicious, but a bit more dense! 

If you're looking for some more Halloween inspiration, check out my post for Focus on the Coast - Forbidden Apples!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekend Update: Double Weddings

Happy Monday!  I'm moving a little slower than usual after a big weekend of fun - including tag teaming two fabulous weddings in one night!

My sister came in Friday night from Atlanta and we decided to have a chill night by the fire pit.  I'm loving the cooler weather!  I used my leftover Greek Dressing to marinate beef and chicken, then whipped up some homemade tzatziki for dipping.  It was the perfect casual Friday night dinner, served with pita bread, feta chunks drizzled with olive oil, and carrot sticks (because you need as many vessels as possible for the tzatziki).  

My brother-in-law, James, came by as well, so we had a big family picnic table party!  We're in the process of building a patio.  I can't wait to have a better outdoor space for the firepit and picnic table. 

Saturday night we had TWO weddings to go to.  I hate that we had to miss a bit of each, but I think we did pretty well considering.  Fortunately they were only about five minutes away from each other, so we didn't have to miss too much.

Saturday could not have been a more perfect day for a wedding.  There was a gorgeous golden hour and the temperature was so ideal.
 My only regret was not taking my real camera!  Both weddings were absolutely stunning, I wish I had better pics to share.
 I have to throw this photo strip in for good measure.  My friends Stephanie and Jim just moved to Japan and really hated to miss the wedding.  I brought along cardboard cutouts of them for photo ops - everyone was so excited to see them (even if they were on popsicle sticks!).  We ended up adding the cutouts to the photobooth props so everyone could get a pic with them.  Too funny!
Now if only I had one more day to recover.... a girl can dream!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Parmesan Roasted Butternut Squash

This week is all about cleansing for me.   Do you ever just reach a point where you realize you need to wake up and make some changes?  Sadly, for myself, that means some letting go of some friendships that aren't encouraging to me.  I'm looking forward to focusing on the things make my life a more positive place: God, my husband, my family, and the quality friends that i've had for years.  All people who encourage me to be who I am, and do what I love (like sharing my love of food on this little blog of mine).  

On a lighter note, another important part of this cleanse is making healthier habits.  I feel like i've been on a binge of overindulgence for the better part of life after my wedding, and i'm ready and excited to get that in check.  Don't worry - I'll still share some great recipes along the way, it's all about moderation after all. 

This week, i've been amping up my vegetable game, and I'm loving roasted butternut squash.  It just tastes like fall, doesn't it? I like to balance anything sweet with a bit of savory, and a little parmesan cheese goes a long way in this hearty, healthy veggie dish. 

* 32 oz butternut squash (I buy the precut package), chopped
* cooking spray
* 2 tbsp. parmesan cheese
* 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
* salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 450.  Spray a cookie sheet generously with cooking spray and add the squash.  Spray with a bit more cooking spray.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of parmesan, garlic powder, salt and pepper overt the squash.  Roast for 15-20 minutes or until soft. Stir the squash with a spatula. 

Increase the temperature to broiling and move the oven rack to the top portion of the oven.  Broil for 5-10 minutes, or until the squash starts to brown.  Serve immediately, garnished with another tablespoon of parmesan.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Grilled Cheeseburger

Before you start a diet, do you ever just go for an all out, ridiculous splurge?  I know I shouldn't, but it's not all bad because that's how this Grilled Cheeseburger came into existence. 

Inspired by my favorite grown up grilled cheese, this burger edition just might be a game changer.  The burger itself is pretty similar to a patti melt, with two types of cheeses, plus a layer of sweet, delicious caramelized onions. 

Since this is quite the hearty indulgence, I created six smaller sandwiches by halving the larger pieces of italian bread and using smaller beef patties.  That's a moot point because I ended up eating two and a half of the sandwiches, but my intentions were good! 

*1 lb. ground beef, 85% lean
* 6 pieces (depending on the size of the loaf) crusty italian bread, halved
* 4 oz. gruyere cheese, grated
*4 oz cheddar cheese, grated
* dijon mustard
* 1 onion, thinly sliced
* 2-4 tbsp. butter
* 1 tbsp. olive oil

Begin by caramelizing the onions.  Heat a skillet to medium heat and add olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter.  Add the onions and cook until golden brown, stirring often (about 15-20 minutes).  

Heat a griddle to medium high heat.  Divide the beef into six even patties (press them thin) and season each side with salt and pepper.  Add a tablespoon of butter to the griddle and then the beef patties.  Cook roughly 3 minutes per side, or until done. 

For the sandwiches, spread dijon mustard on one side of half of the bread slices (or all of the slices, if you're into mustard!).  Wipe down the griddle to remove any of the beef drippings, then add another tablespoon of butter.  Add all of the bread to the griddle, then divide the gruyere among half of the slices.  Top with a spoonful of caramelized onions, then the burgers, and top with cheddar cheese.  When the bread is lightly toasted and the cheese is starting to melt, top the sandwiches with the second bread half and carefully flip, adding more butter to the griddle as needed.   Continue cooking until the cheese is completely melted.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Grilled Chicken Pitas with Homemade Greek Dressing

If you're looking for a healthy, simple weeknight meal, look no further than this delicious pita with homemade Greek dressing. 

I find myself craving Mediterranean and Greek food a lot.  With just a few ingredients you probably have on hand, you can easily whip up a super flavorful homemade dressing, which acts as both a marinade for the grilled chicken, as well as a dressing for the rest of the pita. 

In the pita, I added tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta, but it would also be great with olives, pepperoncini, or any of your favorite veggies. 

To make my weeknight cooking a little easier, I made the dressing in advance.  I also used about half of it to marinate the chicken, but you could also brush on the dressing while you grill the chicken if you don't have time to marinate it.  Keep in mind the olive oil will solidify in the refrigerator, so leave time for the dressing to come to room temperature when you're ready to serve. 

*1/4 c. lemon juice (about 2 juicy lemons)
* 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
* 1/2 c. olive oil
* 1 garlic clove, grated (or very finely minced)
* 1 tsp. dried oregano
* salt, pepper

For assembly:
* pita bread
* grilled chicken
* chopped romaine
* chopped tomatoes
* chopped cucumbers
*feta cheese

To prepare the dressing, combine all ingredients in a mason jar.  Shake vigorously until all ingredients are combined.  

To serve, toss dressing with romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta.  Add to a warm pita, top with grilled chicken, and additional feta.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weekend Update: Charleston

Hello and happy Monday!  I hope everyone had a great weekend and a chance to enjoy the impeccable weather.  I spent the weekend in Charleston on a ladies vacay with two of my best friends, Magen and Megan. 

The trip was everything I hoped for.  We enjoyed amazing meals, afternoon cocktails, perfect weather for exploring the streets, and of course made time for a bit of shopping. 

There's nothing better than traveling with Magen.  She's super organized and always knows the best hotels and restaurants.  She even brought party favors!  Magen knows i'm really cranky if I don't have my morning caffeine or a late night snack.  She came prepared with these adorable totes, filled with all of our favorite things (Coke, Dove Chocolates, Gatorade and Munchies!). 

As soon as we arrived, we headed to High Cotton for cocktails.  I had a cocktail with honey and fig infused vodka - I would highly recommend it! We also had a great cheese plate. 

For dinner, we went to Stars (I had to go back after a great experience last time I was in Charleston).  I had the lobster and grits - how great is this presentation?

Afterwords, we hit up Republic, which was a really awesome bar.  Outside there was a really fun band, and inside it was more of a clubby experience.  Best of both worlds!  I would recommend getting there a bit early (before 10).  By the time we left it was one in one out! 

Saturday we headed to King Street for some shopping!  I loved the Savannah Bee Company.  They have a huge selection of honey and you can taste them as well.  I picked up a jar of cheese honey - can't wait to use it! 

I like to buy local cookbooks when I travel as well.  After some serious thought, I went with Callie's Biscuits and Southern Traditions.  The recipes look phenomenal (homemade oatmeal cream pies anyone?).  I can't wait to try a few. 

Saturday night we headed to Fig for dinner. If you're a foodie, this should definitely be on your list when you visit Charleston.  Thankfully Magen knew how in demand it was - we made our reservations a month in advance and still had only a few slots to choose from.  That's what happens when the chef is a James Beard winner and also happened to cater Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds' wedding I guess?

Fig absolutely lived up to the hype.  I ordered the Riccotta Gnocchi with Beef Bolognese and it was on another level.  They were like little cloud puffs in a decadent sauce! 

All in all I'd say it was a pretty fabulous trip.  Now back to work, here we go!