Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year, New Beginnings

Have you ever made a New Year's resolution and not kept it? Maybe the better question to ask is how many New Year's resolutions have you actually completely followed through on? 

Once the ball drops in Times Square many people vow this will be the year to lose weight, to get healthy, exercise daily, and the list goes on. But let's be honest, only a small fraction of people will ever actually follow through on said resolutions. So why not vow to make a New Year's resolution that is actually doable? 

Set a goal such walking for thirty minutes each day instead of aiming to go to the gym every morning before work. Thirty minutes a day can easily be squeezed into 10 minute increments and it doesn't seem as daunting as a fully hour before work. 

Maybe you want to eat healthier in the new year. Do not try to go cold turkey and cut out all "junk food." Chances are if you try to go cold turkey you will give up. Instead, try slowly cutting out junk food and replacing it with a healthy food instead. 

If you usually snack on Cheetos try snacking on baby carrots or apples smeared with peanut butter. If you normally eat a greasy fast food hamburger with fries and a coke for lunch try ordering a salad with grilled chicken, never fried chicken, and if you must have fries order a small and unsalted fries (these will also be the freshest fries because they will have just come out of the fryer and have not been salted yet).

By making a few simple changes you can make yourself healthier which will make you feel better, and more confident. Set an attainable resolution for the New Year and improve your life and your health in the New Year!

Happy (almost) New Year! Have a safe and fun night!

Fully Loaded Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore

Happy Crockpot Monday! It has been a few weeks since I've posted my usual weekly crockpot recipe because I have been home from college on break. Even though I am still on break this week I put a spin on one of my favorite crockpot recipes, chicken cacciatore, for an elderly couple my family is friends with.

If you have never had chicken cacciatore you're seriously missing out! Last fall I posted the recipe for a more traditional crockpot chicken cacciatore, but if you feel like being brave and spicing things up then try this version of fully loaded crockpot chicken cacciatore! There really are not many differences, mostly a few small tweaks but the flavoring is different than my traditional crockpot chicken cacciatore.

You will need:

  • 14.5 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes, go organic if you can
  • 1/3 cup organic low sodium chicken broth
  • pack of 6 chicken breasts
  • 1 yellow, 1 red, and 1 orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 2 packs, 8 ounces each, organic mini bella mushrooms, diced
  • pinch of sea salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • OPTIONAL: 1 diced green bell pepper for additional flavor

Pour chicken broth into crockpot. If you use a crockpot liner it does make clean up a TON easier. Crockpot liners can be found in most grocery stores, usually by the tinfoil and Ziploc bags.

Next, place chicken breasts in crockpot and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Then add in diced onion, then the diced bell peppers, and mushrooms.

Finally pour the can of petite diced tomatoes on top of all the vegetables. Do not worry it will sink down and flavor the chicken.

Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 6-8 hours. Make sure the chicken is fully cooked before serving. 

Serve over linguine noodles, mashed potatoes (I cannot personally vouch for this, one of my friends says it is delicious though), or spaghetti squash for a grain free alternative. 

*NOTE! I used 6 fairly large chicken breasts and because I broke the meat apart after it was fully cooked it makes more portions. There was enough food for seven servings, and because I served it over linguine noodles I was able to stretch the food even further and get eight servings for the elderly couple. The food can easily be reheated in the microwave, or even the oven, and will retain the same delicious flavor.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Post Christmas Update

I apologize for not posting anything recently, life has been crazy since Christmas! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and got a chance to relax. For my family it was really nice to be together as a whole family for Christmas. Christmas itself was fairly laid back, but we still enjoyed being together and of course there was plenty of good food. Of course my mom made her famous cranberry sauce, there was also turkey, delicious vegetables, stuffing, and plenty of other foods as well.

Two days after Christmas my brother and I ventured out to one of my favorite stores, Williams-Sonoma. My brother got me a gift card and I had so much fun browsing and drooling at all the fun kitchen tools. I didn't end up buying anything, but there were a ton of fun tools I would love to test out! I have my eye on a cake decorating set because next year I am determined to learn how to make a beautifully decorated cake. 

Williams-Sonoma also has a great selection of cookbooks. I spent a decent amount of time perusing several cookbooks looking for recipe inspiration and admiring the beautiful pictures. I am sucker for beautiful photography of food, if only the food actually looked like that when you made it. Wishful thinking right?

If you've never checked out Williams-Sonoma I highly recommend finding one in your area and checking it out. It is such a fun store for anyone who likes baking and cooking. 

Today we took down our Christmas tree, which always makes me sad. I love looking at the beautifully twinkling lights. Christmas is officially over :(

As you prepare for the New Year be sure to check back soon for ideas on how to make a New Years resolution that you won't give up on. Also, you won't want to miss my recipe for homemade healthy cinnamon rolls with a fraction of the calories of Cinnabon. Be sure to check back soon! I hope you had a great Christmas and hope you click back soon!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas filled with love, joy, and family fun. Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Rachael and Cora

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Crunch

Merry Christmas Eve Eve! With only two days before Christmas I know I still have a lot to do, and I'm sure you do too. There is shopping to be completed, baking to be done, wrapping, and the list goes on and on. The holidays can sure be a stressful time, but they are also be a lot of fun.

Yesterday I had a family Christmas party to attend. This was no ordinary Christmas party though, it was an ugly sweater Christmas party! I love ugly sweaters, I think they're hilarious, and there is nothing better than hanging out with the entire family while wearing ridiculous sweaters. 

We didn't do the traditional holiday foods, we had a taco bar instead and everyone brought various taco supplies, as well as appetizers and desserts. I brought two desserts, both of which were hits with the family. I brought Christmas Cake Batter Truffles, click the link to check out the recipe, and I also brought Christmas Crunch. Christmas Crunch is super easy, and relatively fast to make, and it is an easy party favor, dessert, or snack to bring to any holiday party this year! 

You will need:
  • 3 bags popcorn
  • 24 ounces white melting chocolate
  • 24 ounces melting milk chocolate
  • 12 ounces pretzel sticks
  • 12 ounces M & M's
  • OPTIONAL: red and green sprinkles for an added festive feel

Pop the popcorn in the microwave according to the directions on the popcorn package. Allow to cool and pour into two big mixing bowls.

In a microwave safe bowl heat white melting chocolate up for 1 minute intervals, stirring after each interval. Once the chocolate begins to turn to liquid reduce to 30 second intervals. 

After white chocolate is melted pour half of the chocolate over one bowl of popcorn. Using a rubber spatula toss popcorn with white chocolate. After tossing the popcorn with white chocolate for awhile to mix it in, pour in rest of white chocolate and toss popcorn again.

When the white chocolate is totally mixed with popcorn melt milk chocolate using the same method as white chocolate. 

Also mix in milk chocolate with popcorn in the second mixing bowl using same method as white chocolate. Once both milk chocolate and white chocolate have been mixed with popcorn set aside and allow to cool and dry. If you're including sprinkles add sprinkles in before setting popcorn aside to cool.

After the melted chocolate on the popcorn has cooled toss in both pretzels and M & M's. Use a rubber spatula to mix in M & M's and pretzels. Then serve or put in bags and tie with ribbons for a festive party favor! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Art, Snowballs, and Christmas Shopping

I have officially finished the melted crayon art pieces I was working on! As promised I took pictures of them totally done to share.

I am really happy with how both pieces turned out and I can't wait to hang them in my apartment. 

In case you're wondering how to make the pieces check out elephant melted crayon art and melted crayon art for full details.

And in other news Cora discovered the joy of snowballs. Cora loves when I throw snowballs and she tries to find them. Last night she brought one inside and proceeded to eat the entire thing before it turned into a melted mess on the carpet. 

Also, I finally started Christmas shopping today and I am almost done! Not only did I do it in record time, considering how crazy the stores were, I got some really amazing deals. I was on a tight budget because I am a college student, but I ended up with money still left in my wallet. I will make a post with some last Christmas gift ideas on a budget.

Christmas Cake Batter Truffles

With only five days left before Christmas I am finally feeling better; It must be an early Christmas miracle! It would be great if another miracle could happen and somehow my Christmas shopping could get started and finished, wouldn't that be something?

Sunday I have a family Christmas party to go to and everyone signed up to bring a dish. Of course I signed up to bring dessert and I immediately knew I had test out a new truffle recipe I have been toying with. I know I am a health food blogger, but my biggest guilty pleasure is baking, which is weird because I don't eat sweets. Anyways, not everything I bake is exactly healthy.

These truffles are not complicated to make at all but you do need about an hour to make them. And if your first few look like poop it's ok mine did too! 

You will need:
  • 1 cup yellow cake mix
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons red and green sprinkles
  • 1/2 (1 stick) unsalted butter, partially melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4-5 tablespoons Milk of your choice
For the coating:
  • 16 ounces chocolate chips, which will be melted
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • Sprinkles

First, in a large mixing bowl combine butter and sugar. To partially melt butter I heated it up on a plate in the microwave for thirty seconds. 

After butter and sugar are combined add in flour, cake mix, salt, vanilla, and 4 tablespoons of milk. Thoroughly mix together. If a dough consistency does not begin to form add one tablespoon of milk, stir again, and repeat adding milk if necessary. You do not want the dough to be too runny. 

Once the dough is formed add in the sprinkles and kneed them into the dough by hand. 

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or parchment paper. Roll dough into 1/2 inch to 1 inch balls and place them on cookie sheet. Repeat until all dough is used up. Refrigerate the cake batter balls for 15-20 minutes, just enough to firm them up.

After 15-20 minutes in the refrigerator take out of fridge. In a microwave safe bowl combine 16 ounces of chocolate chips and butter. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stirring between intervals.

Once the chocolate is completely melted use tongs or cake pop sticks to dip truffles into the chocolate. Or another method I used, once the chocolate had cooled a bit, was to scoop chocolate into my hand and roll the truffle around the chocolate giving it a nice coating. 

After the truffle is coated in chocolate place it back on the cookie sheet and top with sprinkles. Repeat the process for the remaining truffles. 

Refrigerate all truffles until you are ready to serve them. If you are going to place them in a container all the chocolate coating to harden in fridge for a few hours before placing in container. I was able to make 39 truffles in all.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hump Day and Melted Crayons

Its Wednesday one week until Christmas and I haven't even started Christmas shopping. Today was supposed to be my one day off of work but unfortunately I have been hugging the toilet all day. I have lived off of toast, eggs, and vanilla wafers for the past three days and it is getting a little old. I am praying for a Christmas Miracle because frankly I am really tired of feeling so sick!

In between rounds of toilet hugging I hot glued spare crayons I had to the extra canvas I had. I used a hair dryer to melt the crayons, be patient it does take awhile for the crayons to melt, and left it to dry for a few hours. Once the canvas is totally dry I am going to hot glue letters on that say DREAM. I will post a picture once it's officially done. 

This is a super affordable DIY gift for friends or family, or it can be a great piece of art to hang up in your bedroom/dorm/apartment. If you want another idea for melted crayon art check out my other elephant melted crayon art. Merry (almost) Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Crockpot Christmas Cheer

Happy Crockpot Monday to all! Christmas is fast approaching and it never fails that more needs to get done during the holiday season, but everyone has less time. Personally one of the ways I like to slow down my life is by giving back. Whether is be volunteering at a local organization or visiting the elderly volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to the community, but in all honesty you receive so much more by volunteering than you ever give. 

In the holiday spirit I decided to make this weeks crockpot meal and take it to an elderly couple. I have known this elderly couple my entire life and they are the sweetest people you will ever meet. The elderly man loves summer and summer fruits so I threw together my crockpot apricot chicken for a bit of summery inspiration. I served the apricot chicken over white rice with green beans and my mom made them some cookies for dessert. 

I apologize for not having a new crockpot meal for you this week, but being able to help out this elderly couple meant a lot to me. Please be sure to check back later this week as I am working on a few new Christmas posts. In the mean time check out my tips on how to easily seed a pomegranate and my christmas puppy chow recipe to get into the festive spirit! Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

S'mores Brownies

I apologize for not posting anything recently. Since moving home from college for break I have been struggling with migraines making daily tasks extremely difficult. I do have some awesome recipes to share with you that I just have to write up and post.

Anyways, I was looking back through pictures from over the summer with a friend and I found a picture of the s'mores brownies I made for a bonfire with my friends. Upon finding this my friend asked me to post my recipe so I said I would. My friends raved about them for days and begged me to make them for our next bonfire. I whipped these up because I knew how much my friends loved s'mores and brownies so why not combine the two? I promise whether it is for a bonfire or for warming up around a fireplace you cannot go wrong make these this holiday season, they are a guaranteed hit!

You will need:

For the Brownie
You can use a box brownie mix but I prefer to make everything homemade
  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips 
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
For the s'mores part
  • 1 1/2 cups mini marshmellows
  • King sized Hersey's Bar (1.5 ounces) chopped into chunks
  • 6 graham crackers broken into pieces

Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick cook spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees, or follow the instructions on the brownie box mix for temperature. 

In a large mixing bowl combine all brownie ingredients until batter forms. 

In a separate bowl mix together broken graham crackers, chopped Hersey's bar, and mini marshmellows. Set aside.

Pour brownie batter into greased pan and bake at 350 for 15 minutes. The brownies should still be a gooey mess. Take out and sprinkle s'mores mixture evenly over batter. 

Place back in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. To check if brownies are cooked insert a toothpick into the brownies, avoid bites of Hersey bar, if it comes out clean they are done. If the toothpick does not come out clean bake for another 3 minutes and check again. The edges should be a darker brown and look crispy when the brownies are done. 

Once brownies are done baking allow them to completely cool before cutting and serving.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

DIY Melted Crayon Art

I'm sure you've seen all sorts of melted crayon art all over Pintrest. There are so many creative ideas out there that finding inspiration isn't hard. I decided to put the crayon art to the test and I must say I am pleasantly surprised at how well it turned out! Not only was this an easy craft to make, it was super affordable, and it would make a wonderful homemade gift for Christmas!

You will need:
  • Box of crayons, any kind, any color
  • canvas of your size
  • paint brush
  • pencil
  • black paint, or color of your choice
  • a hairdryer
  • hot glue gun

I knew I wanted to draw, and then paint, an elephant blowing water out of its trunk. I browsed the Internet for some ideas and then sketched my elephant onto the canvas using a pencil.

After drawing the elephant on I painted over it with black acrylic paint, which I got at JoAnn Fabrics. I allowed the paint to dry and came back. You can take the hair dryer over the paint to make it dry quicker.

Before I did anything with the crayons I covered the space I was going to be working on with old newspaper. I did not want to have to scrap melted crayon off any surface and it made clean up a breeze. After laying out the newspaper I got to work. 

I selected the crayons I wanted, peeled them, and using the hot glue gun applied a DAB of hot glue to one end of the crayon. Use just enough glue to hold the crayon in place, you don't want a lump of hot glue in the middle of your picture.

Now comes the fun part! Turn the hair dryer on to a low speed but the highest heat setting. Over the newspaper I tiled my picture upside down, so the melting crayon would run away from the elephant. You have to be patient. It takes awhile for the crayon to melt and run. While the crayon is melting carefully tilt your picture at different angles so the various colors can mix together to make a really unique picture.

Before all the crayon was melted I carefully lifted the hot glue from the picture and the area was quickly covered in colorful wax. Removing the hot glue prevented any strange looking bumps in the picture. After all the crayon melted and I was satisfied with how the picture had turned out I left the picture to dry for a few hours.

I am going to find a quote and paint it to the right of the elephant so there won't be so much white canvas left. Overall I am really happy with how well the picture turned out. I still have one canvas left and a bunch of crayons left so I'm going to do a different design and make a Christmas gift for a friend. 

All together the crayons, twin pack of canvas, paint, brushes, and crayons I only spent $9.66! That's less than $4.83 a painting plus I will have plenty of crayons and paint for other pictures. That is a budget friendly DIY fun craft which would make a beautiful Christmas present for anyone on your Christmas list!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Home Sweet Home!

I apologize for the lack of postings this week. Finals week is officially over and I have officially moved back home for the holidays. I finished my last final late Wednesday afternoon and made the drive back home. 

Since getting home I have been on the go non stop. Thursday morning I went grocery shopping for myself so I can make lots of healthy food while I am home, I still have to make a trip out to Whole Foods eventually, another item on the never ending to-do list. While I was grocery shopping I picked up a gluten free and dairy free pizza, because I was tired and didn't want to make anything for lunch (3.5 hours sleep does that to a person). It wasn't horrifically unhealthy only 405 calories for the whole pizza and it was big enough for two meals for me. I had lots of fresh fruit with it so I didn't feel so guilty about eating it.

After grocery shopping I played Frisbee and ran around with Cora outside for almost an hour and a half. Running around helped me fend off the bitter cold. After coming inside Cora was pooped and took a nap. I spent the rest of the day unpacking, helping my mom with her errands, and wrapping up a few loose ends for school. 

As I type this I am putting together a few new posts that I am really excited about. I can't wait to share new recipes and a few DIY projects with you! Be sure to check back tomorrow for a budget friendly DIY Christmas project anyone on your Christmas list is sure to love! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finals Week

The struggle to survive finals is real today! Yesterday, in addition to having three finals we got a foot of snow, then this morning so far we have gotten another five inches. I'm sick of snow and it's only the beginning of December! It's going to be a long winter :( I am almost tempted to board a plane and go to Maui. I miss warm weather, the sun, and spending carefree days on the beach. Santa if you happen to read this a one way ticket to Maui would be a wonderful Christmas present!

After trudging across campus twice for my two finals earlier in the day Tuesday I was freezing and starving. So, before my night class last night I had my own mini finals feast. I heated up some leftovers from my crockpot cranberry turkey breast which I had over rice, and I also had green beans tossed with silvered almonds. It was nice to have a hot meal before I had to brave the snow, wind, and freezing cold again to go back to campus for my last final. I can't wait until finals are over and I can go home to my family and my puppy! 

Have a great Wednesday and be safe out in the snow!

How to Easily Seed A Pomegranate

Once the holiday season rolls around stores roll out a variety seasonal fruits and sweet treats. One of my favorite holiday fruits is the pomegranate. Pomegranates are sweet and delicious and they are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. However, for those who enjoy the fruit you probably know what a pain it is to seed a pomegranate! Normally I end up wearing more pomegranate juice than I end up consuming, and it is almost impossible to get those stains out of clothes! 

Recently I came across a list of ways to seed a pomegranate and thought I'd try a few. Lo and behold one of the methods actually worked! I knew I had to share because it really does make seeding a pomegranate a LOT easier.

First fill a sink with freezing cold water and add a tray of ice cubes into the water. There should be enough water that the pomegranate is totally underwater. Allow the pomegranate to soak in the freezing cold water for 15-20 minutes. The cold water loosens up the membranes making it easier to seed, so the longer you soak it in cold water the easier it will be.
After letting the pomegranate soak cut it into fourths. Over a bowl, to catch the seeds, lightly tap the skin of the pomegranate, the side without seeds, with a wooden or a solid spoon (I've heard a spatula works as well but I have not personally tried it). The seeds should fall out into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining sections of pomegranate until all the seeds are removed from the skin. 

Whala! You have officially seeded a pomegranate without making a gigantic mess. I hope this makes seeding easier for you and allows you to enjoy delicious and nutritious pomegranates more often this holiday season!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Crockpot Cranberry Turkey Breast

Happy Crockpot Monday and as an added bonus it's finals week! An even better excuse to breakout the crockpot in my opinion. Frankly while I'm studying like a mad woman and attempting to remember every fact I learned over the semester, gotta love cumulative finals, I don't want to waste a ton of energy cooking. I combined two of my favorite foods, turkey and cranberry sauce, into a delicious and easy crockpot meal that is perfect Christmas season meal!

You will need:

  • 12 ounces of my mom's famous homemade cranberry sauce- cut the recipe in half
    • 12 ounces fresh, or frozen, cranberries
    • 1/4 cup maple syrup
    • 1/4 cup organic orange juice
    • OPTIONAL: 1 Tablespoon zest of orange- I did not include this for this recipe
    • *NOTE! I made the cranberry sauce the night before so it could cool of and thicken in the refrigerator 
  • 1 Butter Ball Turkey Breast, I got the White Meat only one
  • 1 Cup Organic Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • OPTIONAL: 1 small sweet onion diced, it is delicious with and without

First, pour chicken broth into crockpot, add onion if including.

Cut open the turkey breast packaging. Discard the netting and gravy packet. Place turkey breast in crockpot.

Once turkey breast is in crockpot spoon chilled cranberry sauce onto turkey breast. Cover crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. Be sure to check the turkey is fully cooked with a meat thermometer, approx. 170°F internally, before removing from crockpot and serving.

Serve over white rice or mashed potatoes. Cooked green beans or assorted veggies make a delicious side!

Nutrition per serving (serves 5):
Calories: 199
Carbs: 21
Fat: 1 gram
Protein: 28 grams
Sodium: 84 mg
Sugars: 14 grams

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chocolate Fudge Protein Brownies

This is going to sound strange. You're going to think I'm crazy and you will raise your eyebrows. But, I promise before you get disgusted and think that you won't ever try these brownies hear me out.

The best part about making healthy recipes is getting to test out crazy ingredient substitutes all in the name of making healthy but still delicious versions of some classic favorite foods. I've learned to not tell anyone what they're eating is healthy so they won't question it and not try it. So, since you're going to read this before you try it be brave! I promise you won't even taste the healthy difference in these brownies. 

My mom saw me making these protein brownies and thought I had lost it. She did not think it was possible to make brownies from beans, let alone brownies that actually tasted like brownies. She was pleasantly surprised after trying a piece that she couldn't even tell the brownies were made from beans. 

You will need:

  • 7 tablespoons chocolate protein powder, any kind works
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt, approx. 1/4 teaspoon
  • 2 tablespoons agave, or sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3.5 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 15 ounces Black Beans, no added salt 
  • approx. 1/3-1/2 cup chocolate chips- don't have to include this

Rinse and drain the black beans. I found that using a colander works very well for this. Dump beans into blender.

In a blender combine all ingredients except chocolate chips. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Make sure no chunks of beans remain.

Grease an 8x8 pan. Pour the batter in the blender into the pan and spread evenly throughout the pan. Toss in chocolate chips, if including, and spread the mixture as evenly as possible.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes. The brownies should be slightly fluffy on top and look crisp around the edges when done. Promptly remove. Allow the pan to cool for 2 hours, or until fully cool, before cutting. I got 12 fairly large brownies. Keep brownies refrigerated for freshness.

Nutrition per serving (1 brownie):
Calories: 126
Carbs: 18
Fats: 5 grams
Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 105 mg
Sugar: 11 grams