Cookaholic Wife is going on Vacation!

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Vacation! It is finally here!

My mom and Rodney go on cruises nearly every year and they had been asking us to go along with them. We tried to pull something together for 2016 but there were too many expenses and not enough time to plan, so we decided to push it out until March 2017.

I have thought about this cruise for over a year. We're going on the Norwegian Dawn and our ports of call are Costa Maya, Mexico, Cozumel, Mexico, Harvest Caye, Belize and Roatan Island, Honduras. I chose the cruise because the ports of call weren't your standard ones and I thought it would be awesome to visit Belize and Honduras.

Harvest Caye, Belize - Caye created by Norwegian 
image courtesy of ncl.com

Initially we were going to be on another ship and we were supposed to leave out of Florida, but about six months ago we were contacted by Norwegian saying that the ship has been chartered (more on that later) and they were providing us with two choices; we could leave the same week out of the same Florida port and go to other ports of call, or we could leave a week later out of New Orleans and keep the same ports of call.

image courtesy of Wikipedia

The ports of call were the selling point of the cruise so in a matter of minutes, we all decided that New Orleans was the correct choice. Rodney mentioned to me never having been to New Orleans before and maybe we could go down a few days early to see the city. My cousin Rishelle, her mom/my aunt Mikey and Rishelle's friend Mallory all agreed that it would be amazing to get two vacations in one.

So we found a house on Air BNB, rented it and started taking suggestions of places to go, foods to eat and things to do while in the wonderfully colorful city of New Orleans.

image courtesy of Drodd.com

I've shopped, researched, packed and planned and now it is finally here! I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am for this trip.

As I mentioned, Tom and I recently (randomly) bought a house and if everything goes through at settlement and it really is ours, we're going to be spending the next few years on housing projects so this is really our last vacation to enjoy for some time.

So, I guess this is just a really braggy way of telling you all that I won't be posting recipes for the next week or so since we're doing a very limited internet package for emergencies (work and pet related) only. Okay, fine and Instagram posts because how in the world am I going to wait until we return back to Louisana and I get my regular cellular service back to post pictures?

If you want to see all of the cool stuff we do, and likely a TON of food, follow me on Instagram

#FillTheCookieJar: Lime Bars

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I don't know what the weather has been like near you, but we have had quite a few days that have been unseasonably warm and spring-like. For a year that has been filled with a lot of uncertainty and depression and a winter that has left everyone sick for weeks or months at a time, this little break to warmer weather surely seemed to improve everyone's moods.



People were out and walking around my neighborhood, grinning as they passed each other. People at red lights sang along to music with their windows down and damn near everyone I talked to seemed to be giddy at the prospect of an early spring.



It's time for #FillTheCookieJar again and the theme for March is green/spring, which I decided to really play into by making these green colored lime bars that are light and delicious and remind me of spring.

Fill the Cookie Jar is a monthly blogging event where bakers come together and share cookie (or bar) recipes based on a theme. Our host is Cynthia of Feeding Big.



Lime Bars
Source: Yummy, Healthy, Easy
Servings: 16
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Ingredients:
    • For the Crust:
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
    • ½ cup powdered sugar
    • ½ cup vanilla yogurt
    • For the Filling:
    • 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
    • 4 eggs
    • ⅔ cup fresh lime juice
    • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp salt
    • zest of 1 lime
    • 3-4 drops green food coloring
    • powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with an inch of overhang on two ends.
2. In the bowl of your mixer, combine flour, butter, powdered sugar and yogurt until crumbly. Press into the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
3. Bake for 20 minutes then remove from the oven and allow to cool
4. In the bowl of your mixer, beat sweetened condensed milk and eggs until fluffy, then add in the lime juice, flour, baking powder, salt, zest and food coloring.
5. Pour over the cooled crust and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust is a light golden brown.
6. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate 1-2 hours until the filling is fully set. Lift out the bars with the overhang parchment paper and cut into 16 squares. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and serve. 




Lime is a fruit that I definitely find being underused in recipes. I rarely ever bake with them and if you are like me, these bars might just change your mind. Perfectly sweet and tart with a crumbly crust, these lime bars will have your taste buds singing! 




#FoodieExtravaganza: Chicken, Sausage and Shrimp Paella

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Happy first day of March! I cannot believe we are already three months in 2017! Time sure is flying by, especially with how crazy busy I've been lately.

It's time for me to participate in #FoodieExtravaganza again, a monthly blogging event where each theme comes from a National Food Holiday. In celebration of Spanish paella day, the theme for this month is paella. Our host is Sue of Palatable Pastimes.

I first learned about paella in seventh or eighth grade during Spanish class when we began discussing foods. At the time, I had a very picky palette and I had no idea if I was going to like a dish that combined proteins together along with rice and vegetables. A few months later my family was visiting my aunt and uncle at their house at the beach and my uncle announced that we were having paella for dinner. I was super excited to try it since I knew what it was!



Does it ruin the story if I tell you I can't remember if I liked it or not? Sorry, but that's the truth. I'm fairly certain I did, but the memory I have is more about recognizing the dish and talking to my uncle about the ingredients included in it.

Now that I'm much less picky, I know that I'm going to the dish and was thrilled to be able to make it again for this event. Paella comes in different versions; vegetarian, seafood, Valencia and mixed, which means a combination of sea and land proteins. I decided to do a mixed paella simply because I had all three proteins in the freezer.



Chicken, Sausage and Shrimp Paella
Source: Cookaholic Wife creation
Servings: 6
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Ingredients:
    • For the Chicken:
    • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
    • 1 tsp olive oil
    • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
    • 2 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp black pepper
    • For the Sofrito:
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 white onion, diced
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 6 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
    • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
    • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
    • For the Rice:
    • 2 cups white rice
    • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
    • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    • 1 tsp turmeric
    • 1 bay leaf
    • zest of 1 lemon
    • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock
    • Other Ingredients:
    • 4 spicy sausage links, cut into ½ inch rounds
    • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails left on
    • 1 green pepper, diced
    • 1 red pepper, diced
Directions:
1. Combine the chicken, olive oil, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper together, tossing until well coated. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. In a large shallow pan, prepare the sofrito by heating the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, then add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Stir in the fresh parsley, paprika and crushed tomatoes and cook until all of the liquids have evaporated from the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

3. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to another pan over medium heat. Cook the sausage until browned on both sides, 3-5 minutes. Remove from the pan and then add the chicken. Cook for 5-7 minutes until the chicken is browned. Remove the chicken and add the shrimp, cooking for 1 minute on each side until just barely pink. (It will finish cooking later.)
4. Push the sofrito to the side of the pan and add the rice to the other. Cook for 1 minute, allowing the rice to become lightly toasted. Stir in the smoked paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, turmeric, bay leaf, and lemon zest.
4. Add the sausage, chicken and bell peppers to the sofrito and rice along with 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, shaking the pan but not stirring the rice. Add more chicken stock if it cooks off too quickly. The rice should be al dente in 20 minutes.
6. Place the shrimp on top of the rice, but do not stir in. Cover with foil and increase the heat to medium for 1-2 minutes to develop the socarrat, the caramelized crust of rice on the bottom of the pan, then remove from the heat.
7. Allow the pan to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. 





I know that looks like an insane amount of ingredients, but paella has a ton of flavor and that flavor needs to be developed over time. To make this a weeknight recipe I would prepare the sofrito, cook the sausage and marinate the chicken ahead of time. 




Paella is traditionally served in the pan it is cooked in so you can bring it right to your table as is, or your can divide out portions onto plates.





So, we bought a house...

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No, that's not a joke.

So I should probably start this off by saying that throughout the course of our entire relationship, Tom and I have always been very decisive when it came to purchasing things. We picked out furniture on three separate occasions in less than an hour. We go and cut down our own Christmas tree and do that in less than an hour too. So, in hindsight, I should not at all have been surprised that we would find --and want -- a house so quickly.

We've been renting for 7 years now. Personally, renting doesn't bother me, especially in our current apartment. We have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a ton of windows and natural light, a large kitchen, a laundry room in the apartment, a community pool that no one goes to in the summer, a fitness center right outside our window and most importantly - when something goes wrong, it is someone else's responsibility to fix it. Tom, however thinks renting is nothing but throwing away money, which I do understand that in a way, it is.

I've been signed up with Zillow for ages to get an email when new houses come on the market. Sometimes I look at it, sometimes I don't. Two Friday's ago, I did and there was a house that had a huge plot of land but was advertised as needing no money down. We knew we didn't have very much to put towards a down payment and definitely couldn't pay closing costs, so that's why we really haven't been looking. Anyway, the "no down payment" remark had me call in and as it goes when you call a real estate office, you get a whole spiel.

Monday the 20th we met with a lender who pre-qualified us. It was pretty cool to find out that Credit Karma makes up their own numbers and both of our credit scores were significantly better than either of us thought. Anyway, Jeff the lender gives us the numbers for that house and then asks if there is anything else we are interested in. Randomly I mentioned a duplex that I had looked at online the other day. He ran those numbers as well and we were shocked to find out how much we'd need for closing costs and how cheap our mortgage would be.

After seeing Jeff we headed over to the realtor's office and mentioned the other property. He managed to get us in that night. We visited the first house, which was nice but not functional for us. Then we went to the duplex. It's on a cul de sac, which I really like. The neighborhood is super quiet as well.

At first, I liked the house but wasn't sold on it. The original dining room is much too small for our new table and the kitchen doesn't have the counter space that I need to prep. Tom came up with the idea to use the current family room as a massive dining room, enlarge the kitchen into the small dining room and then use the fully finished basement as a living room. And then it was like light bulbs kept going off with new ideas.



The house is really nicely remodeled from top to bottom. It's a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath and 2,100 square feet. There are bamboo floors on the main level, the cabinets are the soft close kind, there's granite on the counter tops and all of the appliances are brand new. Everything has been painted as well. The basement is fully finished, painted and carpeted. The upstairs was also completely remodeled with new bathrooms, paint and carpet. In the basement we found a brand new hot water heater and HVAC. And promptly decided it had to be too good to be true.



We saw two more houses on Wednesday for comparison, but we both could not stop thinking about this duplex. Tom was ready to make an offer immediately but I wanted to see it in the daylight. In the process of getting that set up, our realtor found out the house had been remodeled by a contractor and that it also had a new roof and a newly paved driveway. Essentially a brand new house with 42 year old exterior walls.

I saw it again on Friday afternoon with the realtor and the biggest negatives are the lack of windows and the horrendous bush/brush piles in the back yard. On a sunny day, which it was, the house was not very bright. It could definitely benefit from another 4+ windows downstairs, which I think will be the first thing we do once we have enough equity to make it happen.

I might only be able to take photos in natural light in the mornings on the weekend when it comes in the front of the house or I might be taking the food outside and photographing it on the deck which seemed to get decent afternoon light.

By 3 pm we had received all of the documents to sign and had sent over an image of the deposit check. A little before 4 pm Tom and I had both signed off and the offer was submitted. We were told we would have a decision that night because the seller really wanted to sell the house. Our first offer was asking price with seller assist to cover closing costs.

The seller countered with half of closing costs or adding $5,000 to the list price of the house and enough seller's assist to cover closing costs.

We both felt the house was under priced to begin with so we agreed to adding $5,000 to the asking cost. I also asked for a garbage disposal since the contractor could easily do that and it would involve us finding an electrician, buying one, etc.

He agreed and around 8 pm on Friday night we were officially under contract.

With terrible timing. Today, the 27th I have jury duty and I have no idea how long I'm going to be there. But I need to talk to our apartment complex, set up a meeting with the lender again, find a home inspector and get that scheduled.

Then we go on vacation for 11 days. We'd close within 2 weeks of that and likely have a month after that to get out of the apartment. And in that month we have my birthday, an overnight concert trip, a Lularoe party I'm hosting and Easter that I'm hosting. Oh and Tom is going to be travelling a bunch for work.

There's already a list of projects that we need to do including something to make the driveway not so far from the street because my car scraped getting into it, adding a pantry wall, buying a washer and dryer and pulling at least clearing out all of the dead bushes and miserable landscaping.



Honestly, the landscaping has it's own list, but I really want to at least pull out all of the dead bushes and the two huge patches of ivy-like stuff on the ground that looks too inviting for critters. A bit of landscaping was done to the front so I feel like we could leave that for now, or do something really simple like a few plants and rocks, because that's my level of keeping green things alive. We could leave all of the built-in edging around the side of the house to deal with next spring and if we cleared out the flower beds in the back, I'd love to also start a small garden next summer.

I keep switching between looking at cheap decorating ideas and wondering what in the hell we managed to get ourselves into. I'm guessing that's normal? Also, does it count as stalking the house if you drive by it while under contract? 

#ImprovCooking: Chocolate Chile Brownies

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I hope you had a great Valentine's day. What did you have to eat?

Tom and I kept it simple around here and decided we'd go out some other weekend that's less crowded and get sushi. I guess this is what 6 years of marriage does to you lol. 😏



The ingredients for the Improv Cooking Challenge this month were chocolate and chiles. I rarely ever think to combine spice and chocolate together, but it's a really great pairing. I had brownies on the brain for over a week and finally decided to make some and incorporate cayenne pepper to give them a nice kick.

Per usual, my goodies get taken into work and every Monday morning I write down on a sticky note what I brought in so my coworkers know what they get to sample. I wrote "spicy chocolate chile brownies" and figured that was warning enough to stop anyone who didn't like spice from trying them.

It turns out I managed to baffle my coworkers because none of them expected the sharp kick of heat that comes along with the cayenne pepper. Most of them liked it and found the combination intriguing but a few were puzzled by the sweet and spicy combo and said it messed with their heads. Tom told me the same thing. So while it wasn't an all-around success, the tray was empty by the end of the day, which I consider victory enough.


Chocolate Chile Brownies
Source: Cookaholic Wife creation
Servings: 16 brownies
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Ingredients:
    • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
    • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips, divided
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 eggs
    • ⅓ cup all purpose flour
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 tsp instant espresso powder
    • ¾ tsp chipotle chili powder
    • ½ tsp salt
    • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 325. Spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
2. Combine the butter, bittersweet chocolate and ½ cup of chocolate chips together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until melted together and smooth.
3. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar and vanilla until combined, followed by the eggs.
4. Add the flour, cinnamon, espresso powder, chipotle chili powder, salt and cayenne pepper and stir until combined.
5. Stir in the remaining ½ cup of chocolate chips then pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, smoothing out the top.
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before slicing into squares.

While these brownies do pack a punch of heat, you could easily cut down the amount of chipotle chili powder and cayenne used if you would like. Personally, I think they're perfect, fudgey and with a kick at the end! 






 

If you'd like to join in on the fun next month (or any month thereafter) check out the Improv Cooking Challenge Facebook page!



#FoodBloggerLove: Summer Salad Sandwich

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Last year I participated in an event called Food Blogger Love where participants are assigned a blog to "show some love to" on an specified day. Well, it's that time again!

The event is hosted by Allison of The PinterTest Kitchen. I was assigned to Amy's blog, Amy's Cooking Adventures. Amy and I participate in a lot of the same blogging events so I am pretty familiar with her blog.

Amy is a mom of two and used to stay at home, but has recently taken a full-time position at her son's school. Now she's relegated to trying out new recipes on the weekend like the rest of us. :) As I was reading through her blog, I found out that we have a few things in common.

First, neither of us are horror movie fans and second, we both love reading. In addition to recipes, Amy also provides book reviews for all the books she has read on her blog, and believe me when I tell you there are hundreds! My Amazon list of books to purchase has a significantly increased recently, all thanks to her reviews.

One thing that cracked me up was how real Amy keeps her blog, whether it's a about a book or a recipe. In her recipe for buffalo cauliflower she makes sure to point out that it's cauliflower and not pretending to be something it's not. I can't tell you how many recipes I've read where a blogger claims a healthier version of something is completely comparable to it's less healthy counterpart.



Look, a cauliflower "steak" is never going to taste like a filet and a frozen dessert made with bananas is never going to become ice cream, so let's just stop pretending, okay?

For #FoodBloggerLove, we can make one of their blogged recipes, recreate a recipe in the bloggers style, make a recipe that fits their lifestyle, etc. This year I chose to make one of the recipes Amy has already shared.

It's funny because she made this recipe from a description in a book and thought it was great, which is exactly how I feel. The character in the book who ordered the sandwich isn't a fan, but I guess that's just his loss! :)



Summer Salad Sandwich
Source: Amy’s Cooking Adventures
Servings: 1 sandwich
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Ingredients:
    • 1 English muffin, halved
    • 2 tbsp garden vegetable cream cheese
    • 1 slice tomato
    • 1 lettuce leaf
    • 4 thin cucumber slices
    • 1 hard boiled egg, sliced
Directions:
1. Toast the English muffin until lightly browned on either side.
2. Spread the cream cheese on both halves on the English muffin. Top one with lettuce, tomato slice, cucumber and hard boiled egg. Top with the other half of the English muffin. 


*Note: to make compliant for the Fast Metabolism Diet, use 2 tablespoons of Kite Hill Chive Style Cream Cheese Spread and a compliant muffin or bread. 

This is such an easy recipe to put together. Hard boiling the egg takes the longest, but you could easily make up a batch of those for the week and simply assemble them onto your sandwich each morning for breakfast. Using a flavored spread instead of a mayo on the sandwich adds a new depth of flavor and lends it more to a breakfast or brunch time treat, but you could really have this when ever you wanted! 

While this recipe was the one to win me over, there are quite a few others on Amy's blog that I can't wait to try out, like Irish Nachos, Brownie Oatmeal Cookies and Strawberry Caprese Salad



You can read all of Amy's delicious recipes here on her blog, Amy's Cooking Adventures

Or check out her social media:


Pinterest: Amy's Cooking
Twitter: Amy's Cooking

If you're interested in signing up for #FoodBloggerLove next time, visit the facebook page - FoodBloggerLove


Fast Metabolism Diet Thoughts, Days 15-28

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Here are my daily thoughts on the final two weeks of the Fast Metabolism Diet.

Day 15, January 23 - 
Week 3 begins! I found compliant oat milk and Wegman's and it's delicious! Next week I'm going to look for cereal because I really want more of this delicious milk!
Day 16, January 24 - 
I think I'm finally no longer sick. Thank god! As much as I'd love to eat steak for lunch, its really hard to cook it to the right temperature so it doesn't become dried out when reheated. I seriously overcooked it and it's taking forever to chew.
Day 17, January 25 - 
The highlight of P2 today is that my Vitacost order came in and I got to try Nick's Sticks. They're tastier than I imagined but give me terrible heartburn like all jerky seems to do. Ah well, at least it's a change of protein.
Day 18, January 26 - 
Smoothies for breakfast seem to be the way to go. I was really hesitant on spinach, cacao, stevia, cinnamon, water and egg whites, but it tastes like chocolate. The color is horrendous however, so drink out of a colored bottle or glass if it bothers you.
Day 19, January 27 - 
The lack of cheese has been one of the hardest things about this diet. I decided to try out nutritional yeast today as well as the Daiya cheese that's made from almonds. While it's not cheese, they're both super tasty and I'm really annoyed with myself for waiting this long to try either one! Also, week 3 weigh in:
Day 20, January 28 - 
I decided to purchase Haylie's 10 day cleanse to follow these 28 days. I'm hoping to receive it by the 6th of February, but if not I'll continue the plan until I receive it and go from there. I've also decided that I might as well just continue the plan right up until we leave for vacation, although I am slightly concerned about changing my eating habits while I'm not at home. I don't think it will be too drastic, but there will be coffee and cheese included back in. (There's no way in hell  I'm going to NOLA without trying chickory coffee.)
Day 21, January 29 -
As usual, weekends are really hard to follow this plan because I don't have a set schedule. I'm also craving all of the things I can't have. Specifically, chocolate chip cookies, bananas, greek yogurt and ginger ale. At least half of my cravings are on the healthier side, so there's that, at least I suppose.
Day 22, January 30 - 
And the final week starts today. Honestly, not much to report.
Day 23, January 31 - 
I forgot to pull out dinner and ended up eating deli meat, spelt pretzels and a salad. Oops!
Day 24, February 1 -
Pureeing a vegetable soup to have as a snack was a genius idea. I'm always cold but more so on P2, so this has definitely helped.
Day 25, February 2 - 
I'd been incredibly hesitant to make the lemon spinach smoothie that people eat on P2 because it involves using the peel of the lemon. In my head, I can't get past the bitterness of the pith and I think it would just be super sour. I decided to suck it up and try it and now I'm kicking myself in the foot for not doing it earlier. Sure, it's still green because of the spinach, but it's so light and refreshing and citrusy. I actually like it better than the chocolate one!
Day 26, February 3 - 
When my iron levels get really low I find I stick my necklace in my mouth all of the time. I've been doing this all day. Unfortunately I don't have red meat planned for dinner tonight. My cravings are also back in full force. I thought I would have been over that by now, but I guess not.
Day 27, February 4 - 
Could I just not be sick for once, please? My cough and congestion has come back, along with a 102 fever. Eating was very minimal today. I got in all of my water but only managed some raspberries, carrots with kite hill chive cream cheese and chicken broth.
Day 28, February 5 - 
And we're done! I'm still sick and cannot wait until my doctors office opens tomorrow so I can get a prescription.

Final Results and Thoughts:
Weight: 8 pounds
Inches: 6 inches (2 hips, 2 stomach, 1 thigh, 1 arm)

If I could get rid of these cravings, I'd be golden to continue on like it's nothing. After 28 days, it's really not that hard to keep eating like this. Sure, it's a bit more expensive with all the fruits and veggies I'm buying, but those prices should go down as we get closer to spring and more ingredients come into season. Drinking enough water is something I think I'll be able to stick with. I've noticed if I don't get in at least 8 cups by 3 pm, I'm super thirsty now. Also, I didn't exercise during these 28 days due to a foot injury that I'm worried about aggravating and making walking around on my cruise next month impossible. I'm slowly going to add in exercise (mainly walking and strength training) after the cleanse.

Going Forward:
I'm giving myself Monday off and then going right into the 10 day cleanse, which will end on February 16th. I don't plan on indulging on Monday, but I am going to add back in some foods and see what happens. Here's my plan:

Breakfast: spelt pretzels, berries, 1/2 - 1 cup coffee with stevia
Lunch: ground beef tacos on oat tortillas with avocado and 1 tbsp cheese, apple
Dinner: filet mignon, baked sweet potato with a smidge of butter, salad with homemade dressing
Snacks: baby carrots, berries
Drinks: 10 cups water, 1 cup of wine

After the cleanse I'll follow P3 for the weekend and then continue 2 more weeks of the program until March 4th. We go on vacation in the middle of the next week, so I'll follow a maintenance diet for those few days and then as much as possible while on vacation.

As for vacation, I don't want to deprive myself but I don't want to go overboard either. My plan is to eat as many fruits and veggies as possible, enjoy a sweet here and there, avoid overly processed foods, and limit cheese and unhealthy fats.



#FilltheCookieJar: Heart-Shaped Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies

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It's time for #FilltheCookieJar again! I took a break from this group in January because after the holidays, I was a bit cookied-out. But with Valentine's day just around the corner and that being our theme for February, I simply had to participate!

Fill the Cookie Jar is a group of bakers who gather together each month and share cookie or bar recipes based on a theme. It's hosting by Cynthia of Feeding Big.



Thumbprint cookies were on my holiday baking list but I never got around to making them, so I was thrilled to finally be able to whip some up now. Thumbprints are such easy cookies to make and they're really versatile since you can add any flavor of jelly, jam or preserves to them. In light of Valentine's day I decided to go with the classic strawberry.


Heart-Shaped Strawberry Thumbprint Cookies
Source: Cookaholic Wife creation
Servings: 3 dozen
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Ingredients:
    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • ⅔ cup sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • ½ cup strawberry jam

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.
3. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined. Turn out dough onto a sheet of wax paper and wrap up. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
5. Scoop dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.
6. Using your thumb, press down two overlapping indents to create a heart shape. Fill each cookie indent with ¼ teaspoon of jam.
7. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to continue cooling. 




Buttery, perfectly crunchy and filled with sweet strawberry jam! I'm sure your Valentine would be more than thrilled to receive these for the holiday! 






#FoodieExtravaganza: Apple Oatmeal Breakfast Bake

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Can you believe it is February already? 2017 is going by rather quickly. On one hand I'm thrilled because it means we're that much closer to my cruise and then I'm also bummed because it means we're that much closer to my cruise being over with. #firstworldproblems


Anyway, it's time for #FoodieExtravaganza! This month is being hosted by Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm and the theme for February is heart-healthy fiber-rich foods. I debated on going savory and making a dish that uses beans or lentils but in the end, my sweet tooth won out and I decided to combine apples and oats into a breakfast bake.



Although, it could easily be topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and served for dessert if you'd rather go that route!



Apple Oatmeal Breakfast Bake
Source: Cookaholic Wife creation
Servings:6-8
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Ingredients:
    • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
    • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, divided
    • ¼ cup granulated sugar
    • 1 tbsp cinnamon
    • ½ tsp nutmeg
    • ½ tsp cardamom
    • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 cup milk (or non-dairy milk)
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • ⅓ cup toasted pecans, chopped

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9x6 baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Toss the apple slices in a bowl with ½ cup of brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl mix together 3 tablespoons of the brown sugar with the all-purpose flour and butter with a fork. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining brown sugar with the oats, baking powder and salt. Pour the milk into a cup and whisk in the egg and vanilla. Pour over the oat mixture and stir until combined.
5. Arrange a layer (approximately ¼ of the apples) of apples on the bottom of the prepared baking dish and top with ¼ of the oatmeal mixture. Repeat, finishing with the oatmeal layer.
6. Drop dollops of the brown sugar-flour-butter mixture on top and then sprinkle the chopped pecans on top.
7. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and the top layer is crispy. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before serving. 





I'm not a huge fan of baked oatmeals because I think they can tend to get mushy, which is why I didn't use very much liquid in this dish, knowing that the apples would provide a decent amount on their own. I managed to hit the mark as this is soft, but not mushy and the top studded with brown sugar crumbles and chopped pecans provides enough crunch if even soft oatmeal isn't your thing.



Check out what everyone else made! 

Fast Metabolism Diet Thoughts, Days 1-14

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As a way to hold myself accountable and let others know how the Fast Metabolism Diet is on a daily basis, I thought I'd keep a log of some thoughts for each day. This will be shared with you every two weeks until I hit my goal weight.

turkey avocado lettuce wraps for P3 - amazing! 

Day 1, January 9 -
Breakfast: It appears the "pinch" of salt I added to my steel cut oats yesterday was much larger than a pinch. May need to swap out tomorrow's breakfast for spelt pretzels because it's way too salty to eat and I can't add any more stevia.
Lunch: the P2 Caeasar dressing that is all over Pinterest is MUCH too sour and acidic for my tastes. I was gagging down the last of my salad because it was burning my tongue. Going to add more stevia tonight and see what happens.
Water: I believe I have peed 10 times today, one for every cup of water I drank.
Fail: I forgot peaches for my breakfast so I ate the berries from my later snack, skipped a fruit with lunch and then ate my apple that was supposed to go with lunch for my second snack, because it's better to follow the eating times.
Win: Free coffee and pizza were brought into the office. I found a Snickers in my desk. None of which was consumed.
Day 2, January 10 -
Pretzels were the perfect substitution for the too salty oats. Overall, not a great day. I got blindsided with a 3 hour conference call where I couldn't eat, refill my water or pee which messed up my whole eating schedule. It's just a really, really bad day overall and I'm super upset and stressed. I forgot enough fruit for snacks yet again. I'm hoping to master the mug cake and that it will provide comfort.
Day 3, January 11 - 
Well, if anything I'm being consistent with forgetting something. I forgot the veggies to go with my breakfast and had to take from both of my snacks, which meant I had less than a one-cup serving for both. I ate 4 cups at dinner to make up for it. Phase 2 is usually the hardest and it wasn't bad at all. Not sure if it's because I was super busy or what. I really wanted something sweet last night and ended up ordering powdered egg whites on Amazon to make a lemon smoothie. It won't arrive in time, but I'll be ready for next week!
Day 4, January 12 -
I'm happy it's the last day of Phase 2. Adding bell peppers to a salad really helps make it sweeter and makes me feel like I'm eating more than green veggies. I didn't realize I had compliant pickles in the fridge until last night and I am super excited to eat them as a snack. I can't stop thinking about gum or mints. I need to find something compliant.

vegetable and fruit prep for Phase 1 and 2
Day 5, January 13 - 
Friday, one of the hardest days for me because I work 9+ hours then immediately go grocery shopping for the week. I changed up nearly my entire meal plan for today.
Breakfast: cherry blueberry spinach smoothie, 1/2 an English muffin toasted and topped with a fried egg and slice of turkey bacon.
Snacks; carrots with guacamole and cashews with spicy green beans
Lunch; turkey avocado lettuce wraps with tomato, radish and carrots inside, spelt pretzels and raspberries.
Smoothies in 30 degree weather suck, but so does eating 2 cups of cooked veggies for breakfast. I wish I could find a compliant bread that doesn't taste like cardboard. Maybe I'll just buy all English muffins and use those instead. Prepping dinner (cashew chicken in the crock pot) nearly made me late for work. I should have done it the night before.
Day 6, January 14-
Weekends are hard. I feel the need to graze but I can't. I'm also annoyed today that we still have Christmas chocolate around that my husband is eating.
Day 7, January 15 - 
So I thought the scratchy feeling in my throat was because of the spinach I put in the smoothies (it always happens), yet instead I'm sick. Hacking cough, slight fever, just want to sleep, sick. Today is a fail. I've managed broth, pretzels and frozen cherries.
Day 8, January 16 - 
I can't find cough drops anywhere without sugar. I know this is going to hamper my weight loss but I can't handle this cough. Gargling with salt water does nothing. I followed the eating plan but everything tastes terrible and I'd rather sleep.

food prep for Phase 1 and 2
Day 9, January 17 - 
I still feel terrible. I'm still taking unapproved cough drops and medication because I can't function otherwise. At least the food is relatively bland and easy to eat.
Day 10, January 18 - 
Phase 2 while sick is miserable. I've had soup and gagged my way through a salad because the dressing is to acidic for my messed up taste buds. I'm less congested but the hacking cough is still there.
Day 11, January 19 - 
Phase 2 really is the worst. Meat. Vegetables. Meat. Vegetables. I'd steal a piece of fruit from a baby at this point. Almost over...
Day 12, January 20 - 
Phase 3 is really glorious after Phase 2. Despite it being cold I'm really enjoying smoothies as a way to get all the veggies down. I think pureed soups and smoothies are going to be the way to go.
Day 13, January 21 - 
I really have a problem with grazing on the weekends. I'm eating every 2 hours, but its small meals and not necessarily following the diet. I know this isn't good, but I'm still sick and just don't feel like eating much.
Day 14, January 22 - 
Well the first two weeks are complete and I'm about to start the third week. The scale is optimistically down nearly 10 pounds which I'm curious to see if it will stay that way. I haven't seen the scale under a certain number in 2 years and would really, really love to get there.



#BundtBakers: Sugar Cookie Bundt Cake

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The January theme for #BundtBakers is birthday bundts. Our host is Sue of Palatable Pastime.

#BundtBakers is a group of bundt-loving bakers who get togetehr once a month to bake bundts with a common ingredient or theme. We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme or ingredient. You can see all our of lovely Bundts by following our Pinterest board. Updated links for all of our past events and more information about #BundtBakers, can be found on our home page.



As a child, I was never a huge fan of cake, even birthday cake. I liked cookies, pie and ice cream cake, and even the occasional cupcake, but cake was never really my thing. I decided to play to that in this theme by creating a cake that has a sugar cookie flavor.



When I think of sugar cookies, I think of a moist, crumbly cookie flavored with butter, a hint of a vanilla and almond. I opted for that as a my cake base and then when I realized I was out of powdered sugar, I had to improvise on another recipe that uses flour, milk, butter and granulated sugar instead. And no birthday bundt can be complete without some sprinkles! 



Sugar Cookie Bundt Cake
Source: Cookaholic Wife creation
Servings:8-12
Printer Friendly

Ingredients:
    • For the Cake:
    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • ¼ tsp salt
    • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1 cup sugar
    • ¾ cup milk
    • 2 eggs, at room temperature
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • ½ tsp almond extract
    • For the Frosting:
    • 2 ½ tbsp flour
    • ½ cup milk
    • ½ tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • ¾ cup granulated sugar
    • sprinkles

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add in milk, then eggs, one at a time until combined. Add in vanilla and almond extract. Slowly add in flour mixture until just combined.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
5. Allow cake to cool for 30 minutes before inverting onto a plate.
6. Meanwhile prepare the frosting by combining the flour and milk in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly. When the mixture begins to thicken, 3-4 minutes, stir in the vanilla and almond extract and then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Mixture should be as thick as cake batter.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Once fully cooled, add in the milk/flour mixture and beat on high speed until fully combined and the frosting is light and fluffy.
8. Use a spatula to spread frosting over the top of the cooled bundt cake. Top with sprinkles if desired. 






I took this cake into work and my coworkers couldn't get over the flavor and icing choice. I'd say it was the perfect pick! 
BundtBakers

And don’t forget to take a peek at what other talented bakers have baked this month:


Banana Bundt Cake with Vanilla Caramel Glaze from All That’s Left Are the Crumbs
Bundt Cake de Bollo, Canela y Nutella from La Mejor Manera de Hacer
Confetti Birthday Bundt Cake from Palatable Pastime
Confetti Lime and Cheese Bundt Cake from Bizcocheando
Cookies and Cream Sprinkle Bundt Cake from Sew You Think You Can Cook
Doughnut Funfetti Bundt Cake from Kids and Chic
Eggnog Bundt with Hot Buttered Rum Sauce from A Day in the Life on the Farm
Lemon and Prosecco Bundt from Food Lust People Love
Piñata Birthday Bundt Cake from Patty’s Cake
Piñata Bundt Cake from I Love Bundt Cakes
Sugar Cookie Bundt Cake from Cookaholic Wife
Tropical Birthday Bundt Cake from Basic N Delicious

#ImprovCooking: Lemon Rosemary Lentil Soup

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The Improv Cooking Challenge is still going strong! We have an entire year of combinations dedicated to share with you!

The theme for January is lemon and rosemary. I was a little bit worried as to whether I could find a recipe that meets the strict requirements of the new eating plan that I'm on. Both lemon and rosemary are allowed at all times, but I wasn't sure what other ingredients I could pair them with until I found this soup recipe.



It was perfect, actually. Last month or so I bought a bag of red lentils on impulse even though I've never ate a lentil and I had no idea what to do with them. However, they worked out perfectly in this recipe.





Lemon Rosemary Lentil Soup
Source: Melanie Makes
Servings: 6
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Ingredients:
    • 1 large white onion, diced
    • 1 yellow pepper, diced
    • 4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 6 carrots, peeled and diced
    • 3 cups red lentils
    • 4 cups chicken broth
    • 2 ¾ cup water
    • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
    • 1 tsp pepper
    • ⅛ tsp cayenne
    • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
    • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Directions:
1. Add the onion, yellow pepper, garlic, carrots, lentils, chicken broth, water, salt, pepper and cayenne to a slow cooker. Stir to combine.
2. Cook on low for 6 hours, then stir in lemon zest and juice.
3. Divide into bowls and top with fresh rosemary.





Adding the lemon and rosemary at the end really brighten up this soup and bring out the flavors. Lentils are interesting and I think I'll try cooking with them again. If you are following the Fast Metabolism Diet, this recipe is appropriate for Phase 1 and Phase 3.





#StirringsMixologyContest - Lemon Bourbon Ginger Fizz

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On Tuesday I shared a Coconut Rum Watermelon Slush recipe with you that reminded me so much of summer! While not required for the contest, I decided to create a second "Simply Better Cocktail" as part of the Stir it Up Holiday Blogger Mixology Challenge hosted by the awesome people over at Stirrings.

For participating in the event and creating a "Simply Better Cocktail" I was provided with two cocktail mixers and two cocktail garnishes in flavors of my choice. I chose the Lemon Drop Martini and Watermelon Martini as my mixers and Lemon Drop Martini and Margarita Rimmers.



For years I absolutely hated ginger. The smell of powdered ginger, the color of picked ginger with sushi, the taste of it mixed into a stir fry...ugh. And then one day something completely changed. I LOVE ginger. As in, my first carbonated beverage choice is always ginger ale, I eat ginger candies and I immediately steal the pile of pickled ginger when Tom and I go out for sushi. It's pungent and sometimes harsh but an amazing palate cleanser and simply does wonders to calm an upset stomach.

I have also recently come to love bourbon, especially honey bourbon. I suppose it's because I drank a lot of different mixer liquors in my early twenties that I spent so long after shying away from them and preferring simpler choices like wine or beer, but as they say, your tastebuds are always changing.



While I'm still content to grab a beer or a glass of wine, a glass of straight honey bourbon on the rocks is another favorite choice. When I signed up to participate in this contest I knew bourbon was going to make its way into a drink somehow. Lemon is a great flavor that mixes perfectly with so many others, that it seemed a real no-brainer to add the lemon drop mixer with bourbon and ginger beer to create a drink.

Disclaimer: In exchange for receiving the mixers and rimmers I agreed to create a cocktail and submit it into the contest which comes with three cash prizes. Recipe creation, post content and opinions and solely my own and are not influenced by promotional items. 


Lemon Bourbon Ginger Fizz
Source: Cookaholic Wife creation
Servings: 1
Printer Friendly

Ingredients:
    • 2 oz honey bourbon
    • 1 oz Stirrings Lemon Drop Martini Mixer
    • 2 oz ginger beer
    • Stirrings Lemon Drop Martini Rimmer
    • ice
Directions:
1. Combine honey bourbon, lemon drop martini mixer and ice in a shaker. Shake until combined.
2. Moisten the rim of a glass and dip into the lemon drop martini rimmer .
3. Strain the mixture into the glass and then pour in the ginger beer.




For as carbonated as the ginger beer is, I was surprised at the lack of fizz I was able to create for the pictures, but don't let that deter you from making this drink. It's the perfect balance of sweet and tart with a hint of ginger spice to round it all out. 

My other drink was definitely meant for summer time and warm weather, but this combination works year-round. Feel free to use a plain bourbon instead of honey to reduce the sweetness of this drink. 




If you're local and looking for where you can find Stirrings products, check out Food Lion, Total Wines & More and Hunt Valley Wine & Liquors!



To see all of the awesome products that Stirrings provides, check out their website at www.stirrings.com and their social media sites:

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