Full of Heart(s)- A Breakfast to Remember!

Whether you feel Valentine's Day is a dumb "Hallmark Holiday" or a perfectly delightful reason to make love & not war-these thoughtful, inexpensive and romantical breakfast ideas will keep things warm & fuzzy, if you know what I mean... ;-)

Me and the hubster have been together for over 11 years now- more than 1/3 of our lives! And I can honestly say I can recall many of the Valentine's Day's we've spent together. It's a bit of a struggle for us in February because his birthday is the 13th & mine is the 21st, so often we have smooshed all the Feb events into 1 large celebration together. And let's face it- all this stuff costs money. Chicks want jewelry, flowers & expensive dinners for their birthday's, so it goes double for Valentine's Day!! And on the contrary, guys want a great meal (regardless of price) & something sport's related, like a new golf club or dry-fit shirt.

What are the commonalities? FOOD! It always goes back to food, as it should- and when it roles around to Valentine's Day, it doesn't matter if you think its a lame occasion or a perfect justification to devote all your love & attention to that someone special.

Breakfast, overall, is a very overlooked meal! Imagine on Tuesday, sneaking out of bed a little early in the morning to prepare a few of the following ideas, then turning on the coffee pot and letting the aroma awaken your lovie. I can almost promise the rest of the day will feel fantastic, and full of love:)

Ingredients & Recipe: (printable link)
Heart-Shaped Hard Boiled Eggs-
(idea from http://www.annathered.com/)

~ Eggs (as many as desired)
~ A milk or juice carton (cut open, washed and dried) -OR- ziplock bag box covered in a piece of plastic wrap.
~ A round chopstick or another round utencil
~ 2 rubberbands

  1. First cut the milk carton or ziplock box in half, lengthwise. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap to keep things nice & clean.
  2. Hard boil your eggs. Peel once it's cooked & slightly cooled. Set aside and keep warm until your "contraption" is all set.
  3. Place the egg lengthwise (while it's still warm) into the box/carton. Place the chopstick or round utencil across the center of the egg, then place rubberbands on both ends.
  4. Set the "contraption" into the fridge for a minimum of 10-15 minutes.
  5. Finally, remove the egg from the "contraption" and slice in half. Your heart is now ready to serve to your love.
Other Great "Heart"-filled ideas for Breakfast:

Serve your warm egg with some yummy heart-shaped bacon. Perfectly place your uncooked bacon strips into the shape of a heart on your skillet. Cook it low and slow so it doesn't lose it's shape.
  • Use cookie cutters to cut a heart shape from a piece of toast, a few blueberry pancakes, or a slice of melon.


Renewed Sense of Self

It is been a helluva long time since I have sat down and given attention to the blog & my lovely followers. I don't know how you might feel, but when there is something in your life that you really feel passionate about, I feel its important not to "push" yourself to do it. I have had a lot going on this year and I have felt spread pretty thin, and though the blog is generally a wonderful outlet for me, very often I would sit down at the laptop to post my dinner and I'd feel a sense of frustration or tiredness. I'd think, "oh man, I don't think I can look at this damn computer screen another moment after this long day", or "I just don't feel like explaining myself right now", or other variations...

I decided to give myself a break and then return to it when I really felt free-at-heart again, and when I could breathe deeply and feel that excited tickle in my tummy about sharing my creations!

So...here I am, I'm back. I have that tickle again and I'm feeling excited and rejuvinated about my friendly outlet!

Now, don't get me wrong- I didn't give up cooking or baking over the last year- heck no! I have been a busy beaver! I am quite proud of myself and the food-related things I have learned/gained this year despite putting the blog on the back burner (haha, no pun intended).

First of all, I reconnected with a fun gal from high school that I am so grateful to now call a wonderful friend! Good ol' Facebook gave us a way to reconnect and after a few months we were able find a date to start an "Intro Cake Decorating Class" at Sarah's Cake & Candy Supplies. I must say, it was so fun and we learned A LOT! We couldn't believe all the weird tools we needed to purchase, and then by the end of class, we really felt "cool" knowing what the heck their respective purposes were. I am so proud that we also did the Intermediate/Advanced class, and ya know, we rocked it! So technically, Andria & I are both "Advanced Cake Decorators" now. Of course, we aren't super amazing pastry chefs with decades of experience from our time studying in Paris. BUT we are passionate, dedicated to learning and practicing our techniques, and we are definitely GOOD (not to toot our own horns or anything):)

I've also started juicing- initially my interest came from drinking a glass of amazing mango/orange juice some of our best friend's made with their Jack LaLanne power juicer after the holiday's last year, and now I get motivation from my beautiful girlfriend who is battling the $&%@ out of breast cancer and juices daily in order to give her body as much of the natural nourishments mother earth can offer!

This summer I purchased a sweet deal from Groupon and brought home some amazing olive oils from Giuseppe's International Oils & Vinegars. My favorite has been the Mushroom & Sage oil, but it has been so fun to try out different flavors with different meals- seeing what works and what doesn't! Cooking is all about trial & error, 100%!

COFFEE has become a giant part of my life-I say "giant" because I don't think I've gone a day without it in months now, which was a very humongous change for the girl that wasn't supposed to drink coffee/caffeine in my early twenty's due to some medical stuff. I will say that my daily cup of joe is half decaf and half regular, so at least I sort of try to not be a total addict [insert rolling of your eyes here]. Anywho, my father-in-law is a coffee addict and gave us his Krups espresso/coffee maker last winter when he got a newer replacement. I remember telling him, "oh thanks, I'm sure I'll use the hot water feature for my caffeine-free tea". Well, those were famous last words, and slowly but surely over the next several months the hubby and I have been mixing & matching coffee bean flavors, making lattes, cappucinos, shots of espresso & basically creating our very own home-version of Starbucks (way better on the pocketbook too, let me tell ya)! So fun!

Lastly, I have recently given up cow's milk. I'll go into that with more detail after I do more of my own weird/crazy research but I think it's been helping my body feel better AND veinly I must be honest in that I was sick of having such wacky adult acne and wanted to test if my diet could be a part of the skin inflammation. I still can't go without cheese, I love me some cheese-but I have made the switch from cow's milk in my breakfast cereal to almond milk, and I really love it! I thought I was going to really miss a big glass of milk with dinner, but honestly the almond milk is good and satisfying! More on that later!

Well, there are certainly many more food moments and cooking experiences I have had over the last year since I hung the blog up on the coat rack temporarily, but I'm back now and feeling renewed and exciting to share my crazy thoughts & ideas with you. Happy New Year! Thanks for being there:)


Wintery Warm Collards W/Bacon & Onions

I've been really meaning to try out a recipe with Collards- I always seem to let them go bad before I get to using them, and for that, Mother Nature, I am sorry! I'll tell ya what though, Mother Nature has created a wonderful, nutritious food within the Collard Green- full of cancer protecting factors, cholesterol-lowering abilities, and my personal favorite charactristic-they have many anti-inflammatory properties!
I combined a few recipes I found online to create my own version of a classic Southern side dish. My hubby had never had Collards before and was quite skeptical when he saw the tough, raw leaves- so he was very pleasantly surprised with the outcome of this warm, wintery dish- and I was too!!
Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe

  • 1 Bunch of Collard Greens (you can also use Kale), de-stemmed & chopped into 2" pieces
  • 4-5 slices of bacon, chopped into 1" chunks
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thin
  • 1 cup of water
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar (optional, I really encourage!)

Set your Dutch Oven or a deep pan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in your 1" pieces of bacon and cook until almost crispy, then drain on a piece of paper towel and set aside.

Next, toss the onions & garlic into the bacon fat which was leftover in the pan, and cook gently for 5 minutes. Pour in 1 cup of water, the nutmeg, cayenne, regular pepper and vinegar, stir to incorporate everything together, and then begin to fold in the raw collards. Cover the pan and simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the collards are tender and edible.

Finish by removing the lid for the last 5 minutes or so, and let as much of the liquid evaporate as possible. Toss the bacon back in just before serving to warm through, then serve!

You Could Also Try...

  • You shouldn't need to add salt to this recipe, the bacon has enough salt already.
  • Use Kale instead of Collard Greens!
  • Use as a Holiday side dish!


Prep for the Winter: Oven-Drying Your Own Fresh Herbs!

Sadly, the bountiful spring and summer fruit & veggie season has come to an end, but luckily the fall brings another crop of amazingness! The crisp apples, versatile yams, onions at their peak, and who could forget pumpkins?

To prepare for the changing seasons, my hubby so helpfully snipped & brought in an abundance of fresh herbs from our herb garden. They were really growing out of control (in a good way), and seemed to be hanging on to life- a perfect time to snip and reap the benefits of these puppies for the winter!

Drying your fresh herbs to use all winter long is not only a great way to prevent wasting the herbs, but also facilitates creativity and continued fun in the kitchen! This winter I need to make sure I got my grip on fun in the kitchen:)

Here is what I've tried so far for Oven-Drying my fresh herbs...I used this method thus far for fresh Rosemary, Oregano & Sage...

Printable Recipe

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 150-200 degrees.

  2. Wash your herbs with cold, running water to remove any dirt, bugs, dust or other yuckies. Spread the clean herbs out on clean kitchen towels, blot with paper towel and let the herbs air-dry for 20 minutes or so. (Herbs need to be totally dry before you place in the oven)

  3. Use your fingers to strip the leaves from the stems and spread the leaves out on a baking sheet prepared with a piece of parchment paper.

  4. Bake the herbs for about 15 minutes, with the oven door cracked open.

  5. Test the herbs for dryness; take a few leaves and crush them with your fingers-a.) if they crumble very easily then the herbs are done! or b.) if the leaves do NOT crumble very easily, hence there is still some moisture within the leaves, bake for 2-3 more minutes, test again...until the herbs crumble easily...(see video)...

6. Continue to crush the dried herbs and store in a tightly sealed container! Enjoy!

You Could Also Try...

  • I washed and dried some old dried herb containers, labeled them correctly with their new contents and filled them with MY dried herbs!
  • You could also use small ziplock-type containers for storage!


Apples Galore

Well, its just about that time, people! Time to put the flip flops away and bring out the comfy boots, time to exchange your spring flowers for earthy mums, time to plan a trip to the cider mill and stock up on the seasons crisp apples, gallons of cider and dozens of sugary donuts!

Apples are plentiful late in the summer and during the early fall, and recently I found a wonderful article from Food Network Magazine about all the awesome things we can do with them; I'll list a few of my fave's today!

  1. For breakfast, mix chopped apples, brown sugar, ground cinnamon and a touch of maple syrup into your oatmeal.
  2. Shake up an apple mojito! Shake 3oz. apple juice, some lime juice, some mint and some ice in a cocktail shaker- pour in a glass and top with ginger ale.
  3. Fill an omelet with sliced apples, ham and brie cheese!
  4. Butter a whole-wheat pita bread, top it with apple slices and cinnamon. Toast it for 10 minutes in an oven at 350 degrees. Finish by drizzling with honey.
  5. Any MY favorite!! Make an apple s'more!!! Put a marshmallow on a gingersnap, microwave 10 seconds and top with an apple slice and another gingersnap.


I'll Link You Up...FitDay Counter

Hey ya'll! How ya be? I'm doing good here but still trying to bulk up my muscles from the waste down in effort to continue my knee rehab, and I'm doing that my really boosting my protein allotment everyday. (Need a good protein shake recipe?) But, lemme tell ya, it's getting a wee bit difficult to keep track of all this protein and some days are better than others, so I searched the web and found a pretty easy-to-use and FREE website, called FitDay Calorie Counter.

Once you create a free username and password, you can login and enter all you've eaten during the day, and it will create a pie chart for you dividing up Fat, Protein, Carbs and Alcohol percentages. You can even create custom nutrition goals, so I am able to enter in my daily protein goals to make it easy for me to see how I'm doing!

Try FitDay Calorie Counter for free and see if it helps you with your nutritional goals!


The Sneak Attack Protein Drink #1

I'm increasing my protein by double the daily allotment as I am on a hot'n'heavy plan to rehab my notorious knee. The average male needs about 50-63 grams of protein each day and the average woman needs about 36-50 grams per day. A chicken breast has only about 20-30 grams depending on how you prepare it so, I really have my work cut out for me as I try to get about 80-100 grams of protein per day.

Here's a great site to get an approximate on the protein count certain foods may contain!

So in my protein power efforts, this is probably one of the most random posts I think I'll EVER post, but perhaps- just maybe there's someone out there that is looking for a new protein drink recipe and perhaps-just maybe I'll make your day!

I prefer a Whey based protein powder- the one from Trader Joe's doesn't have any weird additives or stabilizers, or any other secret ingredients, and it is low in fat and sugar, which if you do any comparing, this is usually not the case. Most protein powders are, yes, high in protein, but then also high in fat and sugar--not good! Trader Joe's also has a Soy based powder but I haven't tried it yet.

Anywho, I call this my "Sneak Attack" drink because I didn't want this shake to taste like a yucky protein drink...it's really quite sneaky with the smoothness of coffee and whatever favorite coffee creamer you have. You might like this as you're morning drink and get used to it- not just after a work out!!

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe

Follow the directions of your protein drink. Mine calls for;
  • 4 scoops of Vanilla protein powder to 16oz./2 cups of milk

You'll also need;

  • 5 ice cubes
  • 1 Tbls. your favorite coffee creamer
  • 1-2 Tbls. instant coffee

Begin by adding the ice to the bottom of a blender, top with the milk, then the protein powder, then the coffee creamer, then the instant coffee. Please follow the order I have listed here to save you a lot of trial and error. I have had lots of clumpy, non-dissolved protein drinks in the past, and the order listed here is nearly "no-fail!" Place the lid firmly on your blender and go to town on that puppy until you feel like your ice is well crushed into the shake. Pour and serve, enjoy right away!


I'll Link You Up...Double Duty Food Scale

This is the food scale to top all food scales! Not only can you measure your portions and calculate how much of this and that- but this fine scale will also tell you much more about the item, including sodium, sugar, carbs, fiber, fat...IT'S AMAZING! It basically does all the hard work for you and makes healthy portioning much easier! Another awesome tool is that it will track your entire daily food intake which is great if you are trying to monitor your protein intake, etc., or just trying to stay within a healthy caloric guideline. It's about $60, so slightly more expensive but with all the useful things you can do with it, I think it's really worth it!

Check it out more here!


Buffalo Chicken w/Blue Cheese Filling & Light Panko Breading- say that 10 times fast...

So this isn't necessarily quick or easy, but when you're feeling ballsy and ready for a good home cooked meal with some intense flavor, THIS IS IT! It uses simple chicken breast and some basic ingredients you may have in your fridge & pantry, and allows you to practice your chicken pounding skills, and the "breading" technique/method which you can embrace with so many different dinners! I've given you some good tips to make the process easier, so it won't feel as intimidating, so give it a shot and soon you'll be a panko breading genius!

Ingredients & Recipe:

  • 4 chicken breasts, skinless/boneless
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs (Japanese style breadcrumbs), in a shallow dish
  • 1 egg, beaten, in a shallow dish
  • about 1/4 cup flour, in a shallow dish
  • about 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • pepper
  • 4 toothpicks or small wooden skewers
For the sauce:

  • 2 tabs of butter or margarine
  • 6 Tbls. roasted red peppers from a bottle, drained very well & finely minced
  • 1 garlic glove, finely minced
  • 2 Tbls. water
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce (more or less to taste)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place a piece of foil on a baking dish and spray it very lightly with cooking spray.
Trim each chicken breast of the excess fat and cover each with plastic cling wrap, and place each on the cutting board. Use the flat side of a meat tenderizer (or the flat side of a coffee cup, just something you can beat your chicken with, even your rolling pin), and begin to pound the chicken forcefully, but evenly, to flatten each breast out. You want each piece to be uniform in thickness, so somewhere between 1/4"- 1/2" is perfect.

Now for the filling and the breading part: Place the blue cheese in a small bowl and lightly toss it around with some fresh ground pepper. Have your beaten egg in a shallow dish, your flour in a shallow dish, and last but not least, have your breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. This allows you to dip your chicken into each bowl and get each piece covered quite easily- but don't worry your pretty or handsome little head, I'll explain in a second... By the way, you just set up your "station" so you can easy assemble everything and you're not looking around for ingredients with messy chicken hands!

Okay, now just place a decent amount of blue cheese about 1-inch away from one end of each chicken breast, and begin to roll up the chicken breast tightly, stuffing in any cheese that tries to escape, and use the toothpick to hold the roll-up in place. Tuck in any ends of the chicken around the filling to enclose the filling. Complete the rest of the chicken breasts just like the first one!

Now, working with one rolled up chicken breast at a time, dredge the chicken lightly in the flour, then submerge in the beaten egg, and then dredge the chicken into the breadcrumbs to form a crust. Place the chicken on the baking dish, seam side down and the gently remove the toothpick (otherwise it might burn in the oven). Repeat with the remaining chicken- flour, egg, breadcrumb, seam-side down, remove toothpick. Bake about 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown and chicken is firm to the touch. If you need to cut into a middle piece to check doneness, make sure the chicken is no longer pink inside, but 25-25 minutes should do it!

For the sauce:

While chicken bakes, in a small saute pan over medium/low heat, combine the butter, water, peppers, worcestershire, garlic and hot sauce. Use a small spatula to stir and bring up to a simmer so the butter melts. Give it a taste, add more hot sauce if you like. Take off the heat and set aside until the chicken is ready.

When you slice into the chicken, you should see that warm blue cheese running through the center! Serve the sauce with the chicken! Enjoy!

You Could Also Try...

  • Feel free to add some seasonings to your breadcrumbs when they are in the shallow dish (before dipping the chicken in there)-I like to add a little kosher salt & cayenne pepper but it not a necessity.


Refeshing Watermelon Mojitos

For once it wasn't a sauna in our house- it really cooled down since it wasn't 90-something degrees in the Detroit area, thank God! And to celebrate this and several other extremely happy things going on with some friends of ours, we decided to "cheers" last night with a few glasses of Watermelon Mojitos! Our kitchen was a total disaster area from some construction going on, and my friend, Dee and I, who were trying to make them, (both of us on crutches-we looked like a couple of hot messes), were having a not-so-typical time throwing these drinks together. Not because of the recipe, but mostly because of our gimpee-ness. But we made it, and they were refreshing and oh-so-summery!!

Ingredients & Recipe:

  • about 4-5 (1-inch) chunks of fresh watermelon
  • 1/4 of the juice of a lime
  • 2 tsp. of sugar
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 2 shots of white rum (we used watermelon flavored! regular is fine too)
  • ginger ale

Begin by really smashing the watermelon chunks down into the bottom of your glass- really smoosh and smash them good- I used the bottom of my meat tenderizer (sounds really weird but it was flat and worked well). Then squeeze in the juice of the lime. Rub the mint leaves together in between your fingers to get the odors flowing and toss them into the glass. Top with the sugar, and next throw in a few pieces of ice to your likings. Pour in the liquor and then top with ginger ale, gently stir and take a sip. Add a little more lime juice if needed, and garnish with mint. Put those feet up and enjoy!!

You Could Also Try...

  • You can definitely make this without the alcohol- skip it and just add the ginger ale! No problem!

  • Our mojitos got slightly chunky, the watermelon was so yummy to eat while we were sipping, but if you don't like a cocktail with little chunks, you may want to strain out the fruit before serving.

  • You could totally make a pitcher of the cocktail, omitting the ginger ale and then just topping each individual drink with the soda just before serving!


Don't-fail-me-now 'Nanar Bread!

It's a travesty, but it's common- so don't be hard on yourself! And until now, it even happened to one of my oldest friends from elementary school, Billie Jean. It's the sloppy, slappy, soupy banana bread batter that just doesn't do it for ya. You work so hard to keep those bananas in your kitchen, all ripe and brown, near the point of attracting fruit flies- you get your cute little bread pan out or perhaps your mini loaves or muffin tins- you spend your hard earned cash on some decent looking eggs from the market- and then you work diligently as you measure all your ingredients and stir everything just so! Finally, you have a nice batter ready and you begin to bake! You sit down after you wash a few dishes & pour yourself a nice glass of Gew├╝rtztraminer, because, well, you know, that will go so good with your piece of banana bread after it comes out of the oven- but wait---sniff...sniff again...what the hell is that? Is something burning? Uhh, is that frickin' smoke? And you realize that there is your beautiful banana bread batter is spewing and bubbling about, and smoking & nearly catching fire in the oven!
Why must banana bread batter be famous for this debacle, and why can't there be No Fail recipe? Well, perhaps there is! Yes, perhaps there is!

This one is for you, Billie Jean!

Ingredients & Recipe:

  • 2 cups of flour (all-purpose preferably, you could try whole-wheat but it'll be a little drier consistency)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • dash of ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, or equivalent in "egg beaters"
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed well
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans) (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly spray a large loaf pan or fill a muffin pan with 12 paper/foil cups.

In a large bowl, mix the the sugar and butter together with a small rubber spatula until creamy. Then add the eggs, one by one, combining well, followed by the vanilla & banana, and again, combine well. (You would also add the nuts at this point).

In another medium bowl, use your fingers to just lightly combine together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, & dash of nutmeg. Now, gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients to create the batter. It can sometimes be helpful to switch to a wooden spoon at this point.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour. If you are doing muffins, check the muffins after about 25 minutes (but your oven will vary so keep an eye on them). Cool slightly and enjoy a warm piece with a tab of butter or a drizzle of honey.


Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Dessert Bars

In case you had doubts, I am passionately in love with chocolate and anything that resembles a chocolate chip cookie. I LITERALLY had a dream once about taking a bath in a tub of liquidy chocolate (more like the consistency of water than melted chocolate) and it was the best dream ever! Anyways, maybe I need to think outside the box a little more with my dessert selection, but this is my blog, so for now I'm happy with my choices!

Along with healthy fruit salad I have been eating this "dessert" for breakfast the last few days- I know- "really healthy, Nichole, really good!" But I just can't stay away! And I don't think you will be able to either! And with a little whole-wheat flour, and the oats, you can feel pretty good about it- or at least pretend!

Ingredients & Recipe:
  • 1 stick butter, unsalted, softened at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature (how to get your eggs to room temp in a hurry)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup milk (at room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc) (optional)

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Next, dump the butter and sugar into a large bowl...

...and mix & mash it together with a fork until combined and smooth. Next, add the eggs and vanilla, and stir well.

Now, in another large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the flour mixture into the sugar mixture in thirds, alternating with the milk, then stir in oats & chocolate chips (and nuts). Use a spatula to transfer the batter into the pan, smooth out the top and bake until the sides are golden and the top feels set when you tap it, approximately 27-30 minutes. Set the pan on a cooling rack if you have it or away from the oven to cool. Cut into squares to triangles to serve!

Things You Could Also Try...

  • I did not put nuts in my bars, but YOU COULD!! Like the recipe notes, you could throw in chopped pecans, walnuts, or even dried cherries!


Everyones Best Friend- Homemade Ranch

I had the distinct honor & privilege of witnessing the creation of, and gobbling the most fantastic homemade pizza and cheese bread YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE on America's birthday. I mean, words do not express this one, people! I have spent a decent part of today looking for homemade pizza contests for my friend Greg to enter because, honestly, his creation, which he has had spent many hours perfecting, is simply outstanding!

Greg and his fantabulous fiance, Dee, brought all the ingredients to a mini-BBQ we had at our place on the Fourth and while I was just simply honored to have him and his impressive ingredients inside my home, I couldn't bring myself to do a Special Feature for the blog because I just couldn't imagine letting the world know about something so incredibly special. I want this pizza and cheesy bread all to myself - well, and obviously Dee and Greg can have some too, and maybe my hubster, and I guess whoever Greg says is okay to know about it- but THAT'S IT- no one else! Unless of course, I find a contest for Greg to enter- then he can be the winner and make tons of money and we'll go into food-business together and all will be right with the world.

Anyways, Mike and I were in charge of one of the pizza toppings, salad and dessert (recipe to be posted soon), and since Greg isn't the biggest fan of lettuce, I thought I'd try to see if there was something yummy I could do to entice him. (Greg is pretty famous as his first green leafy salad was actually on our wedding day at the reception, lol). Since we have a plentiful herb garden kickin' I thought I'd try my hand at making some homemade ranch dressing, and I mean, what could go better with pizza but everyones best friend!?

This is definitely the type of recipe you need to constantly be tasting throughout so you get to the desired consistency and flavor you love, and word to the wise- skip the healthy stuff just this once for this one- I used the olive oil mayo and I wish I would've used the regular.

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe

  • 1 large garlic clove, or 2 smaller cloves, minced as finely as you can
  • 4 Tbls. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
  • 2 Tbls. fresh chives, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 cup mayo (regular)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk (or more to get to desired consistency)
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
Begin by sprinkling the minced garlic with a little bit of salt and mash it with a fork, or smash it with the back of a sharp knife until it looks more like the consistency of a paste (don't worry, there will still be chunks of minced garlic- it won't totally be a paste, but you are just trying to get it a little more smooth looking).

Use a small spatula or a fork to mix together the mayo and sour cream in a bowl. Combine in the garlic. Now combine in the parsley, chives and oregano (optional). Add in a little salt and pepper, give it a stir and taste. Add in more S & P as needed. Refrigerate to chill until serving.

Just before serving add in the milk and stir with a fork rigorously to combine. Taste to be sure your flavor is where you want it to be, and if necessary add in a few tablespoons of milk to thin the dressing out even more. (Some people like it really runny, some like it thicker). Serve and enjoy!

You Could Also Try...

  • Stick with the basics of flat-leaf parsley and chives, but aside from that you could add in whatever kind of herbs you like; oregano, fresh dill, curly parsley...

  • Make it HOT ranch by adding cayenne pepper or hot sauce, to taste...


Ginger-Almond Fruit Plate

What can be better than fresh fruit during the month of July when pretty much everything is fresh and ripe? Then add the fabulousness of coming in from the hot summer heat and sitting down to a plateful of crispy, cold, tangy, sweet fruit! MMMmm, delic!

Now, I'm kind of a weirdo and I don't really have a taste for certain fruits so when I made this I used the stuff that I like! You need to do the same! This is really just about the method of incorporating the gingery dressing and the crunchy almonds to a beautiful fruit salad, and at the end of the day YOU need to love it and whatever you put in it, i.e., don't use fruits you don't like! Duh! :-D

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe
  • about 1 pint of strawberries
  • 3 clementines, peeled & sliced into rounds
  • 1 pint of blueberries
  • -OR- whatever fruit you prefer, perhaps 1 yellow grapefruit instead of the clementines, 1 pint of raspberries instead of the blueberries, etc.

  • 1/2 cup honey (local honey from a cider mill or farmers market is always best!)
  • 2 Tbls. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger root; (peel about 1-2 inches of fresh ginger root and grate it on a fine grater or a microplane/zester seen here)
  • 1/3 cup of slivered or sliced almonds, toasted (toasting the almonds is quite easy- place the almonds on a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, tossing around frequently, until just fragrant & lightly browned)

Arrange your fruit decoratively on a plate, or just toss together in a bowl. Combine the honey, lemon juice & ginger in a small bowl, using a fork or a small whisk. Drizzle the dressing over the fruit & top with the almonds. Eat, smile, then make comment on NICHe in the KITCHe about how much you loved this! ;-)


Parsley Pesto in a Presto!

My fabulous hubster has been wanting to mimic his mama's awesome veggie garden for a long, long time now, and if you've ever been over to our home, you know we have an excess of space in the back yard for one. Well, this was the year, and though it's the very beginning, things are progressing quite nicely! We have lettuce, zucchini, peppers & broccoli growing (although there are some weird bugs on the broccoli leaves that Mike is trying to safely kill), and then there is a cute little area for my herb garden, which is my forte'. Last year I went crazy stuffing herb seeds and herb-starters into pots, only so that they could overgrow each other and become entangled and messy- not ideal for a 'type A' home cook! So, my 3 X 4 rows and columns of herbs that the hubster organized and planted for me (I am not a green-thumb person, my place is IN the kitchen, NOT in the garden), are perfection!!

Last year I got a little of every herb out there- well, not EVERY herb in the world, but the most common. And though that was fun, I really didn't end up using the lemon verbana too much or the marjoram- just not enough varieties of recipes to use them up. This year, I figured I would replace the the ones I didn't use much with a few extras of the herbs I wished I had had more of, so I ended up with; 2 big flat leaf parsley, 1 curly parsley, 1 dill, 2 gigantic rosemary (I seriously have rosemary for days so if you need some, let me know!), 1 oregano, 1 chive, 1 mint, 1 sage, and 1 thyme. I normally get a lot of basil as well to make basil pesto, but I haven't been able to find any good looking basil plants around town (do you know where I can find some?).
Well, pretty much everything is growing out of control in my cute little 3 X 4 garden except for my dill (which is disappointing because usually dill doesn't need much love or attention), so I have a ton of flat leaf parsley- perfect for a fresh pesto to; toss with a whole-wheat pasta, spread on top of a crusty bread, stuff inside a deli sammy, drizzle on some fresh veggies, stir into a vegetable soup for added flavor, or mix with some olive oil to create a sparkling salad dressing.
Here are the basics...

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe
  • 1 large bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, enough to creative about 1 cup (packed) when it is all chopped up (p.s. It is okay to use some of the stems of the parsley!)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 2 tsp. lime juice, or to taste
  • 2 Tbls. olive oil
  • kosher salt, pepper- to taste

There are 2 ways to go about this;

A) Coarsely chop all the parsley and combine all the ingredients in a bowl- simply mash everything together with a fork.

B) Kind of rip apart the parsley a little as you throw it in your mini-chopper. Chop the garlic in 3 pieces and toss it in the chopper, followed by the other ingredients. Pulse until you get to a desired consistency/texture-kind of chunky yet smooth.

You Could Also Try...

  • Set aside a specific ice cube tray JUST for pesto- fill the little compartments with your homemade heaven and then cover with plastic wrap, followed by a freezer bag. Freeze your ice cube tray full of fresh pesto and save it away for for your next special use! When you're ready to cook with it, just pull the tray out and thaw in the fridge for a few hours, or defrost for 30 seconds-1 minute in the microwave, and use however much pesto you need. Again, freeze the leftovers for another day!
  • Ideas for ways to use pesto; toss with a whole-wheat pasta, spread on top of a crusty bread, stuff inside a deli sammy, drizzle on some fresh veggies, stir into a vegetable soup for added flavor, or mix with some olive oil to create a sparkling salad dressing.

SPECIAL EDITION! Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? Is it a Train? It's Super Cookies!!!!! 4th Of JULY COOKIES...Compliments of a Rockstar!

One major advocate of the creation and implementation of NICHe in the KITCHe comes from one of the most delightful, resourceful, sassy, elegant, tenderhearted, classy - (okay, okay, I'll stop there, but you get the point)- friends I have ever had the deep pleasure of having! Little Miss Sara is the gal that always provides that confidence boost & support you may need when contemplating a dream or considering a new endeavor! I am forever indebted to Sara, A.K.A. "Rockstar", thus it is only appropriate that she assume the position of the first SPECIAL EDITION!

So I received the cutest email from my friend & fellow rockstar and this is a how it went...I present to you, the readers of NICHe in the KITCHe, "4th of July Cookies...Compliments of a Rockstar"...
"Hi Niche in the Kitche! I thought of you yesterday while I was in the kitchen doing my wifely duties by baking (obviously!). What better a way to spread love and excitement for the summer than to share my (stolen) 4th of July cookie recipe with you and all of your loyal followers?!

After almost two hours on my feet (I made a salad and cleaned the stove, too...), $12 bagged r/w/b M&M's from the dreaded Times Square store (thanks hubby!) and a lot of butter later, we think they turned out great -- and can't wait to share them with our family when we travel to Canada for the blessed Independence Day weekend!
And yes...you heard right...this is year #2 that we've traveled 659 miles out of the country to Magnetawan, Ontario to celebrate our great nation's birthday (luckily they have fireworks there...but we're usually the only ones setting them off...yah!). And also year #2 that I've upheld the tradition of the homemade cookies traveling by plane and car to get there with us. (May I interject that these delightful cookies will ALSO be traveling by boat this weekend, probably more traveling that most of us lazy bones!)

So without further adieus and my rambling commentary -- here is the recipe stolen off some random site months ago. It's basically a chocolate chip cookie mix but with M&M's instead of chocolate chips. Enjoy! AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!

Ingredients & Recipe: (Note: this recipe makes just about 40 cookies!)

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark, but light works well too)
  • 1 scant cup sugar (I didn't know what scant meant btw...and they still turned out delish)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon each - salt, baking powder, and baking soda
  • 3 cups flour (you can use whole wheat if you'd like)
  • 1 (11 oz.) bag of M&M's -- red, white and blue of course (just pick out of a bag if you don't have the $12 to spend)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugars. When creamy, add in eggs and vanilla. Sprinkle salt, powder and soda over the top. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until well blended. Stir in HALF of the M&M's.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheets (Silpat mats are the BEST! I don't know what I did without them. Oh, yes, that's right...BURNED everything! Yum.) Bake for 8-10 min. (I did 10...) or until puffed and just beginning to brown on the edges. Remove from oven. IMMEDIATELY press a few M&M's into each cookie, tucking them into the dough a bit so they will stick. The colors stay really vibrant and visible, plus you have all of the ones that were mixed in with the dough!

You Could Also Try...

  • FUN post-bake TIP from our lovely friend Beth Maxwell: Adding pieces of bread slices (1 or 2) to the Tupperware container helps to keep the cookies moist, soft and fresh! You can improvise with hamburger buns like I did, too :-) I heart this tip!!

  • What the heck is "a scant" when it comes to baking measurement?--- Well, it basically means, No More Than. So if you have a recipe calling for 1 scant cup of sugar, it is basically telling you that you don't have to be so specific when measuring but just don't go OVER the 1 cup.


Protein-Packed & Fresh Veggie Tabbouleh

So a few months back I started my venture on eating more "anti-inflammatory" foods, in order to help my body become the best it can be in all facets of life. (Check out this post to review where this all came from...) Well, long story short, it turns out I needed another knee scope last week to see what the heck was going on with this knee of mine that wasn't healing from a scope-gone-bad from December last year. So to continue my "anti-inflammatory" journey and prepare my body for the outpatient procedure and long recovery ahead, I sought out some high protein and high fiber recipes to give my body a good fighting chance!

Why do you need protein, and why do you need more of it when you're going under the knife and/or about to need your body to really work well for ya? Well, think of of it like this; Your muscles are like a factory you are building- and the bricks to assemble the building are found within protein-rich foods. So you have to have enough of the bricks to properly assemble your building, right!? And when you're body is already feeling slightly defeated, it deserves for YOU to be on top of things and give it as many bricks as you can!

Well, I'm NICHe in the KITCHe of course, and I'm not just going to cart in plates full of meat to eat- no way! There ARE ways to combine really great, tasty, low fat proteins with other recipes I love, and reep the benefits!

One recipe I came across combined the basics of the popular Middle Eastern parsley salad, and the protein benefits of the popularly growing, grain-like, quinoa. And I must say- I'm hooked! All the veggies provide tons of fiber and vitamins, and the quinoa is awesome for protein & antioxidants! This is a very well-rounded salad and it really is perfect to go as a side to a piece of grilled fish, BBQ chicken, shish kabob, shrimp stir fry, summery gazpacho soup...well, you get the point...

(You'll want to eat this all up within 2 days or so, otherwise the veggies will start to get a little mushy)

P.S. This is totally Gluten-Free too, so safe for all you GF'ers out there!

Ingredients & Recipe: (adapted from Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Health)
Printable Recipe

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa (I like this Ancient Harvest brand)
  • kosher salt
  • juice from 1/2 of a lime
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, diced finely (skins are okay to eat)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced very finely or grated
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • about 3 Tbls. fresh mint leaves, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp. dried paprika

Begin by preparing the quinoa; stir the quinoa and water in a small pot, add in a pinch of salt and bring up a boil. Once boiling, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the quinoa has absorbed all the water and is fluffy & tender. Set aside to completely cool.

Meanwhile, do all your chopping of the veggies and combine them all in a large bowl. Stir in the lime juice and olive oil, and add the paprika.

When the quinoa is cool, gently stir it into the veggie mix. Chill the salad for at least 2 hours to let all the flavors merry together.

Chocolately Magic Bars- "GF" Style (Gluten-Free)

I've been meaning to post this recipe for over a month! It's a crime that I haven't been posting more lately- maybe not a crime to you readers, but it feels like a crime to me because the blog has become such a place of solitude and stress relief for me that I have NOT been utilizing during the past couple of rough weeks. Sometimes things get away from you because of one reason or another- but you just do what you can to pick up where you left off!
Anyways, no more excuses- Here is a wonderful Gluten-Free dessert bar recipe that I feel like is better than the "regular" recipe and is definitely more nutritious, AND you can feel good serving it to an array of people (with or without food allergies) at a party or BBQ! It uses healthy almonds instead of cookies for the crust to give you added nutrition & awesome texture! I'll give you some added suggestions at the bottom of the page, but you can totally play around with this recipe by adding dried fruit, other candies, etc., to personalize these bars! You'll need a mini-chopper or a food processor for this one too.

Go ahead, make the full batch, you'd be crazy not to:)

Ingredients & Recipe
Printable Recipe
  • 2 cups whole, raw almonds
  • about 3/4 cups of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • about 1/4 tsp. (or "a pinch") of ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2- 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips (I prefer the mini chips, but regular will work just fine!)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, whatever you prefer)
  • 1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup flaked coconut

Start by creating the crust for the Magic Bars by simply toasting the almonds; Toss the whole almonds onto a dry skillet and toast them over medium-high heat on the stove for about 3-4 minutes- be sure to shake the pan frequently so the nuts don't burn but are lightly browned.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and spray a 13 X 9 baking pan with cooking spray.

Place the toasted nuts into your food processor or mini chopper and process until finely ground, like the consistency a little thicker than sand. Add in the sugar, cloves & salt, and give everything a pulse to mix well, followed by adding the butter- again, mix well. Press the moist, sandy mix into the bottom of the prepared pan to form the crust, using the back of a flat spatula to keep the crust even across the bottom.

Now the easy part (and creative part depending on your tastes!)- Begin to layer the chocolate chips all over the crust, followed by the chopped nuts. At this point you could also add a cup of dried cherries or another dried fruit, or go with a whole different variety of candy/chips like caramel, white chocolate, etc. Now, pour the can of condensed milk as evenly as possibly across the whole deal and top with the flaked coconut. Use the spatula from earlier to lightly pat down the coconut- this just kind of packs everything together.

You are now ready to bake the bars- bake them for about 30 minutes or until they are getting a little bit golden on the edges and somewhat bubbly. Be sure to allow the bars to cool completely so that they "set" before cutting them into squares or triangles.

Enjoy at room temperature or keep them cool in the refrigerator for a cooler magic bar!

Pics to come soon...


Make This!! Strawberry Vinaigrette Dressing

Have you noticed that strawberries are ridiculously cheap all the sudden? I love it because fruit choices in the winter can get pretty boring when you try to stay on a budget! But do you know why? I learned it is because Florida's strawberry crop came a lot later than usual because of the late spring, which in turn has overlapped into the California strawberry season so now we have those precious red berries from both areas being transported all across the country for less expensive prices than if each area had their own season to maintain.

So, go ahead and get that extra pint of luscious strawberries when you're at the market. Sprinkle slices all over your yogurt in the morning, pop them in your mouth for a healthy snack at lunch or better yet- save a few slices and create this awesome salad dressing to ooze over a bed of mixed greens! You'll be feeling spring-y & fresh, and proud of yourself that you created such a masterpiece- it really feels so good to switch up your typical salad fixings once in a while!

Ingredients & Recipe:

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 6 strawberries, sliced or chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar -OR- 3 Tbls. honey
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white onion, chopped finely
  • 1/4 fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Bring the two vinegars & strawberries up to a boil in a small saucepan, and let the liquid reduce by more than half, so that you end up with about 1/2 cup of sauce. (When you "reduce" a sauce of some sort, you are basically cooking a liquid down, letting the parts that can evaporate do just that, and then you are left with a very rich, flavorful sauce).

Now, add the sugar -OR- honey, onions and parsley, bring the heat down and let everything simmer about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Once the sauce is cool, use a whisk to blend in the olive oil. Serve or store in an air-tight container until use. (Because this has fresh fruit in it, I would use in the next few days, not much longer than that).


Parm & Thyme Rolls, No Need to Knead!

Well, its no secret that I love to cook and bake, but honestly, bread is something that I have yet to master, so when I saw this recipe in Cooking Light magazine, the whole "NO KNEADING" really excited me! If you don't know or haven't tried to make bread from scratch, it has about 129,298,876 steps- including mixing the ingredients, waiting, kneading the dough, waiting, letting the dough rise (more waiting), "punching" the dough down, letting it rise again (waiting some more), sometimes more kneading and then finally baking! I just don't have the patience or the technique (evidenced by a rough past experience) for all the waiting and kneading, but there is something really pure & authentic about the smell of fresh yeast & hot bread in your kitchen.

Like I said, I copied this recipe from Cooking Light magazine, but like I often enjoy doing, I switched up the herbs a little to my likings. And even though I didn't have to "knead" the dough, there was just enough work involved to give me some appreciation about homemade bread!

If you're on a low-carb diet, I highly recommend you cheat (just a little) for one of these rolls, especially if you're putting in some elbow grease!

Ingredients & Recipe:

  • 1/2 tsp. dry yeast (like Fleischmann's brand, comes in a little packet in the baking aisle)
  • 2 Tbls. warm water (not hot, not cool)
  • 2 Tbls. olive oil (divided, meaning you will use 1 Tbls. at one time and 1 Tbls. at another time in the recipe)
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 Tbls. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

The Day Before:

Take out all your refrigerated ingredients (milk, cheese, egg) and let them get to room temperature). Spray the inside of a medium-large glass bowl with cooking spray.

Begin by placing the 2 Tbls. warm water in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water; let it stand about 5 minutes until it is bubbly. Right away you should be able to smell the distinctive "yeasty" smell- the beginning of bread!

Heat 1 Tbls. oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the thyme to the skillet and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant and percolating. Take the skillet off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes.

Add the thyme mixture and the milk to the yeast mix and stir with a whisk, followed by adding 1/4 cup of the cheese, the sugar, the salt, and the egg. Whisk until well combined.

Now, bust out a wooden spoon (ditch the whisk), and begin to stir in the whole-wheat flour into the mixture. Next, slowly start to mix in only 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. You will start to see a very sticky, gloppy dough forming. Finish this first part of the recipe by stirring in the rest of the all-purpose flour (1/4 cup), but stir in a few tablespoons at a time. The dough will still remain quite sticky but it will be smooth.

Place the dough in the glass bowl (the one you already coated with cooking spray) and spray the top of the dough very lightly with cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate overnight.

The Day Of:

Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a floured work surface (you do not need to "punch" the dough down), and sprinkle it with a little flour. Roll the dough out to a rectangle, about 12 X 7-inch size. Brush the dough with 1 Tbls. of oil and sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup) over the dough, followed by the garlic powder and pepper.

Now, start to roll up the dough in "jelly-roll fashion", starting at the long side, and when you get to the other end, pinch the seam shut. Cut the roll into 8 equal slices and place each piece, cut side up onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and set the baking sheet aside in a warm place away from drafts and/or cool air for about 1-2 hours or until you see that the rolls have risen a bit.

When you are ready to back and your oven is preheated to 375 degrees, place the baking sheet in the oven for 12 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown.

Place the hot rolls in a basket wrapped in a kitchen towel so they can stay warm, or serve right away!

You Could Also Try...

  • Use the same roll-baking method adding or subtracting whatever herbs you like. You could try rosemary, oregano or a mixture of herbs!

*P.S. Thanks to my hubster for taking pictures of these rolls! Not only did he eat them, he waited to take their photo:)

Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Chicken

We switched it up this year for Easter! Although a honey-glazed ham has benefits and is the traditionally served meat for this spring holiday, we opted for a healthier chicken breast recipe. And boy- the house still has the sweet aroma of roasted garlic and fragrant rosemary sprigs.

And I can't express to you how easy this was- I literally marinated these bad boys the day before, then slapped them on a baking sheet to roast- and POOF, look how gorgeous these birds turned out!

I do love a good slice of ham, but this tasty, garlicy, herby chicken wasn't missing ANYTHING on Easter Sunday!

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe
  • 4-6 bone-in chicken breasts, with skin
  • 2 heads of garlic, 1 head-cloves peeled and smashed, 1 head- cloves just separated (no need to peel or smash)
  • 2-3 Tbls. olive oil
  • 1 Tbls. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (I promise it won't be hot, it really adds good flavor though)
  • 2 Tbls. dried rosemary
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh rosemary

The day before, marinate your chicken for optimal flavor! Rinse each piece of chicken briefly and place them into a large zip top bag (it's okay if there is some water from the chicken in the bag, it will actually help keep the meat moist!). Pour the oil into the bag, followed by the kosher salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and the dried rosemary (Tip: lightly crush the dried rosemary before you toss it in the bag, do this by rubbing the rosemary in the palm of your hand with your opposite thumb, it breaks up the rosemary and allows all the fragrant oils to percolate). Also add in the head of peeled/crushed garlic cloves. Close up the bag, gently shake the chicken around to coat evenly (be careful not to poke the bones through the bag), and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight is best!

The day of, remove the chicken about 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come close to room temperature (remember, cooking meat that has been given time to get the chill off of it, cooks much more evenly)! Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place a piece of foil on a baking sheet.

Remove each chicken breast from the bag of marinade, leaving any marinated garlic cloves stuck in the chicken's crevices back in the bag. Place each breast, skin-side up, on the baking sheet. Now, place the sprigs of fresh rosemary all around & in between the chicken breasts, and finally, toss on the separated garlic cloves (not peeled) on and around the chicken. Place the baking sheet in the oven and roast for 50-60 minutes.

Use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast to check for doneness (you want the meat to reach 160 degrees). Once you remove the chicken from the oven, let the it rest with a foil tent over it for at least 10 minutes before serving or cutting into it. (Patience, my friends, patience! Plus this gives you time to finish up your side dish). Remove the chicken from the bone before serving or serve the whole bone-in breast, whatever you prefer!

You Could Also Try...

  • Now what do I do with all that roasted garlic? It's too delicious to toss so get some crusty bread or rolls, squeeze the garlic out of the skin and spread it like you would butter!
  • Save your chicken-bones to be boiled with veggies to make your own chicken broth.
  • Of course you don't have to eat the skin on the chicken- peel it off before eating, but definately roast WITH it on- it helps keep the juices inside, i.e. keeps the chicken beautifully tender! And all you had to do was an easy marinade and slap the birds in the oven!


Roasted Asparagus with Popping Tom's

I love lots of color on my plate- it just looks so appealing and gorgeous when you have a dinner with a variety of shapes, sizes & colors all over it. You are also getting a wide variety of nutrients and vitamins when you color your plate with the rainbow!

This side-dish is super easy for a week night but is elegant enough to be served for a group- in fact, I'm making this one on Sunday for my family for Easter dinner. The freshness of the lemon zest and the parsley will really impress! And even better is that you basically let the oven do all the work- but YOU take all the credit!

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe
  • about 2 lbs. of trimmed Asparagus (Trim each piece by breaking off the woody end. Do this by holding each end of the asparagus & start bending it in half until it breaks- it will naturally break off where it needs to-discard the end piece)
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes
  • 6 garlic gloves, smashed
  • 1 Tbls. olive oil
  • S & P
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • the zest of 1 lemon
  • cooking spray

Begin by heating your oven to 450 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with a piece of foil and spray very lightly with cooking spray.

Lay the asparagus on the baking sheet, drizzle the olive oil and some S&P to taste- toss the asparagus around to coat evenly. Roast for about 15 minutes total- except for the last 5 minutes of roasting, add the grape tomatoes & give everything a small toss. Once the asparagus begin to get brown and that tomatoes are starting to pop (hence, "Popping Tom's), pull the baking sheet out of the oven- you are almost ready to serve.

While the veggies are roasting, mix the pine nuts, parsley, lemon zest and a little more S & P. Transfer the veggies into a nice serving dish and then sprinkle the mixture over the top, serve and enjoy!


Leek, Spinach & the Kitchen Sink Soup w/Tofu (Vegetarian)

Well, you'd probably think with the weather getting nicer (yesss!) that I'd stray away from soup but there is just something so soothing and simple to me about a bowl of soup. I love that you can make a big pot of it on a Sunday and rely on it all through the week- maybe for lunch with a half sandwich, or for a super fast dinner with a green-leafy salad! Soup just knocks my socks off-winter, spring, summer or fall! This soup is full of so many healthy veggies that I've been learning about to help me reduce the inflammation in my body-(if you have no idea what I'm talking about, refer to this post.)
For example, the spinach in the soup is an awesome antioxidant (which help to repair our cells in our body), and is really high in vitamin K (which helps our blood do what it needs to do & protects our bones)
Leeks are great for us because of the way they help our cholesterol levels, and the vitamin C levels inside a tomato is through the roof!! I've just touched on only a few benefits of the ingredients in this "Kitchen Sink" soup- give it a shot!

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe

  • 5-6 cups of vegetable stock or broth (use the kind with No MSG, 98% fat-free, low sodium)
  • 6-7 white mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 1 large leek, or 2 small leeks, rinsed well then sliced thin
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped (optional)
  • 1-2 green onions, chopped (optional)
  • 2-3 cups of fresh baby spinach
  • 8-10 oz. extra firm tofu, pressed, then cubed
  • Kosher salt, Pepper
  • 2 Tbls. fresh parsley, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Cooking spray

Begin by heating a drizzle of olive oil on the bottom of a Dutch Oven or a large pot, over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, leeks & garlic, and saute for 5 minutes just until they begin to get a little tender. Stir in the stock/broth and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a small skillet up to medium heat. Spray it lightly with cooking spray and give it a very light drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper directly into the pan, then place the pressed/cubed tofu into the skillet to brown for about 3-4 minutes on each side.

Once the tofu is seared, finish up by performing the "kitchen sink" technique; toss in the cooked tofu, the tomatoes, zucchini, green onion, baby spinach (as is, no need to chop, it will wilt down), parsley, and a little salt and pepper to taste. Give it a stir, let everything heat through for about 5-8 minutes then give it a taste (do you need more salt? more pepper? more parsley? add whatever you need). Now it is time to enjoy!

You Could Also Try...

  • Add in 2 Tbls. of "Tom Yum" paste from the Asian Food Market or aisle, right at the end during the "kitchen sink" portion, to give the soup an Asian-flair.
  • Instead of tofu, sear pieces of Tilapia in a skillet (just like we did with the tofu), and add it to the soup for a delicious Omega-3 Kick!


Muffaletta Pinwheels with Olive Tapenade

Mmm, I'm still licking my chops from this one (& I think Claire is too, hehe).

I served this "Big Easy inspired" appetizer at a Spanish Tapas couple's wedding shower a few weekends ago and personally, & it was my favorite! Yes, I mean, New Orleans inspired--which may sound a little wacky, and you might be wondering, "Spanish Tapas? How does that go with The Big Easy?" New Orleans is famous for more than just spicy creole crawfish, in fact, the area is filled with a "salad bowl" of cultures. These Muffuletta Pinwheels come from a Italian/Spanish-inspired "Muffuletta sandwich" that looks like this , which is typically quite large for the party I was hosting. So, utilizing a frozen puff-pastry sheet was what I decided to do to interpret the Muffuletta flavors for the Tapas shower!

Also, note to party planners: assemble these, bake them a few hours before serving, and then heat on a baking sheet just before serving- they will still be crispy and delicious!

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe
  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
  • 10 slices of salami (I prefer Genoa, sliced thin)
  • 4 slices of Provolone cheese
  • 3 Tbls. Olive Tapenade a.k.a. olive salad (I used store bought, but here is a great recipe)

Bring the sheet of puff pastry out from the freezer about 30 minutes before you're ready to assemble to defrost. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees & prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Spread the puff pastry sheet out on a work surface (like a cutting board), and begin to overlap the slices of salami so it covers the bottom portion of the sheet. Now, cover the salami with the slices of cheese. Finally, evenly spread the olive salad all over the uncovered puffy pastry.

Starting with the bottom portion, begin to roll the puff pastry up, as tightly as possible. Working with the seam-side down, use a sharp knife to to slice 1/2-inch slices. Carefully transfer each slice onto the prepared baking sheet, giving each some room in between to "puff up". Bake for about 12-14 minutes, or until golden & toasty brown. (This makes about 15 pinwheels)

You Could Also Try...

  • Like I mentioned above, you can bake these earlier in the day and then toast up in the oven before serving!
  • Double or triple this recipe very easily for a bigger group.


Grilled Thyme-Pesto Swordfish Steaks

Well, I'm learning a lot, my fellow foodies! In my quest to reduce the inflammation in my body, I've learned that eating more fish (which I love) helps to increase our levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids (which are the healthy fats we need)! Omega-3's generate molecules in our bodies to basically reduce inflammation, so they can be thought of as little inflammatory-fighters! So the more foods we intake that have healthy Omega-3's, the better!

I've learned that many common herbs have anti-inflammatory impact on our bodies, including but not limited to, thyme! Actually, the oil that makes thyme leaves smell so good, contains very similar properties to the ingredients in Motrin & Aleve and other meds that reduce pain and swelling! Check out this article to learn about a few other great uses for thyme!

(If you make the pesto and marinate your fish early in the day, it will only take you about 15 minutes or so to get dinner on the table after work...not bad for a healthful and DELIC dinner!)

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe

  • 2 Swordfish steaks

  • a large bunch of fresh Thyme (about 20 sprigs, which is about 1/2 of the little plastic containers you can buy at the grocery store), get the leaves off of the stems by holding one end and scraping them off with your fingers or a knife (carefully)
  • 2 tsp. chopped walnuts (contain tons of omega-3's)
  • 1 tsp. grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbls. olive oil or canola oil
  • S & P to taste

Use a small "mini-chop" food-processor to process the thyme & walnuts until ground up quite small. Now add in the cheese (optional), juice, oil, S & P, blend until smooth consistency, yet still has texture.

Get your hands dirty by rubbing the pesto all over your fish (top & bottom), and place them in a shallow dish, cover with a piece of plastic wrap, refrigerate for 2-4 hours to marinate!

When you're ready to cook, take the fish out of the fridge a good 20 minutes ahead of time to get the chill off (anything you cook will cook much more evenly if you allow it to get to room temp before slapping it on the stove or the grill). Heat your grill pan over medium heat, spray it very lightly with cooking spray, and begin to grill your fish, about 4-5 minutes per side, or until it is opaque and flaky. Be sure to monitor your grills heat- to keep inflammatory properties down in your food, you do not want to over cook or burn while grilling food- see more here.

You Could Also Try...

  • Try this with Halibut, Tilapia, Cod, Bluefish, Mackerel or any other white fish, but just adjust your cooking time to the thickness of your fish. All of these fish have healthy amounts of Omega-3's!


Spanish Keen-Who? Quinoa!

I know, I know, we all keep hearing more and more about this wacky grain called Quinoa (pronounced Keen-Wah). Well, as I've posted before in this Mexican Quinoa recipe, Quinoa is a wonderful option for those with a Gluten allergy or with Celiac disease, because it is totally Gluten-free, and it is perfect for vegetarians because it is ridiculously full protein! You cook it much like rice and can serve it hot or cold, and really, you can do pretty much anything with Quinoa- it's basically like a miracle food! Rowe & Davis tell us in, "Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Health", that not only is Quinoa full of protein but it is also full of iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, folate...basically all great things our body needs to stay balanced!

Where can you find this miracle food? I've purchased it at Kroger or Meijer- usually in the "healthy food" section, and I've used the red & the white varieties (they tasted the same to me).

This Spanish recipe was the perfect filler dish for a Spanish Tapas party we had this past weekend, and with just a few ingredients you're able to keep cost down, flavor up and tummy's full!

Ingredients & Recipe:
Printable Recipe
  • 1 cup quinoa, (check the brand you purchase to see if you need to rinse it before cooking)
  • 3 (10 oz.) cans of Rotel chopped tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced or pressed through garlic-press
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbls. cumin
  • good pinch of Kosher salt

Begin by heating a soup pot over medium heat, add in some olive oil and begin to saute the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, until the onions begin to get tender.

Meanwhile, drain each can of chopped tomatoes, but drain all the juice into a large measuring cup. Add enough water into the measuring cup to equal 2 cups. Add the liquid into the onion & garlic mixture and bring everything up to a boil.

Once boiling, stir in the salt and quinoa. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and let the quinoa simmer, about 20-35 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. (The time varies so much depending on the brand of quinoa you purchase.)

Once the liquid is absorbed into the quinoa (it looks fluffy and soft), stir in the tomatoes, chili powder and cumin, allow everything to heat through, give it a taste (check to see if you need to add a bit more salt or not), and you are ready to serve!

You Could Also Try...

  • This recipe can be cut in doubled for a crowd, and it also can be made the night before, stored in an air tight container and warmed up before serving.