Top 13 Recipes of 2013

Hey guys! Can you believe it is the LAST day of 2013? When I sit here and think back to the last day of 2012, I am stunned to realize how fast time has passed by and how much has happened in the last 365 days. This year has been one of growth and change for me (I hope I can say that about most years), and I am so excited to see what lies ahead in 2014.

Starting this blog was one of the most out-of-the-ordinary things for me to do, and I’ve truly enjoyed sharing with you guys my favorite healthy (for the most part) recipes, some parts of my fitness routine, and my love for running. As the year comes to a close, I thought a round-up post of your favorite recipes I’ve put on the blog would be a fun post to do. So here goes!

1. Homemade Tortilla Chips

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2. Bang Bang Shrimp – Lightened Up!

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3. Homemade Pizza

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4. Balsamic Chicken Caprese

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5. Minestrone

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6. Mango Strawberry Banana Smoothie

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7. Honey Vanilla Overnight Oats

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8. Blackened Tilapia Tacos

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9. Peanut Butter Granola

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10. Hummus at Home

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11. Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

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12. Baked Chicken, Penne and Vegetable Pasta

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13. Banana Walnut Loaf

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I wish you all a safe, happy and healthy New Year!

Is Christmas Really Over?

Hey friends! I hope you all had a WONDERFUL Christmas week! Although Christmas has again come and gone, I am really enjoying celebrating the season in any way that I can. In addition to celebrating with my family all week, my celebrations  included a Christmas get-together with several high school friends of mine. I may or may not have mentioned this before, but I attended an all-girl high school, and it was one of the best experiences of all my life. I’m still very close with almost all of my high school friends (several are in my wedding party!)  and a  couple of weeks ago, we all realized we would all be in town and available on the same night (a rare occasion). Obviously, we decided to have a little Christmas party and gift exchange! We all brought appetizers and drinks, gifts for a gift exchange, and hungry stomachs! photo 2 (16)

For the party, I prepared a couple of appetizers: one was a no-cook appetizer, featuring gorgonzola cheese and a fig jam Derek picked up for me at a farmer’s stand in Alabama a couple of weeks back. The easy no-cook appetizer came together like this:

Ingredients

24 pieces of crostini (I bought mine from Publix Bakery)

1/2 cup of fig jam

6 oz.  gorgonzola cheese

Directions

Spread fig jam on each crostino. Next, spread gorgonzola (or just top with gorgonzola if using crumbled cheese) on top of fig jam. Serve at room temperature.

Easy enough, right?

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Because the get-together was being held at Derek’s house, I wanted to make use of the oven and prepare something a little heartier than crackers and cheese for all of my friends. I found the following recipe on Food Network and prepared my flatbread with  the homemade dough we use for pizza, instead of store purchased.

Directions
On a floured surface, roll out 1 pound refrigerated pizza dough into a 10-by-15-inch rectangle; press into an oiled rimmed baking sheet. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary and/or oregano, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and a big pinch of sea salt. Brush half of the herb oil over the dough, then set aside until puffy, about 1 hour. Make dimples in the dough with your fingers and top with thin onion slices and shaved parmesan. Bake at 400 until golden, about 20 minutes. Brush with the remaining herb oil.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/onion-herb-focaccia-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

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I couldn’t get enough of any of the dishes that the girls brought, including my fair share of cheese and jam, artichoke dip, stuffed mushrooms, and a delicious rosemary + fruit Sangria!
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After we ate at the house and exchanged gifts, the only appropriate thing to do next was go get the best dessert in town. We ended our night with chocolate and drinks at Harry Waugh Dessert Room at Bern’s Steakhouse. If you are ever in Tampa, you have to check this place out. The Dessert Room is on the 2nd floor of the steakhouse, and guests are seated at tables in massive redwood wine barrels. It sounds weird, but it’s perfect. photo 3 (16)

This holiday break has also given me plenty of time to attend some group fitness classes (ahem, Bodypump) go on long runs with Derek, and just veg around the house. Some of my favorite things to do!

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And I really hope to be able to spend some more time in the kitchen while life is a little more slow-paced than usual!

Black Bean and Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Boy oh boy do I have a recipe to share with you all! Remember last week when I mentioned Derek was out of town and it gave me the chance to spend time with my family and cook up an awesome dinner while watching my man Jameis Winston win the Heisman? Yes, all in all it was a wonderful night, and our dinner was the icing on the cake of it all. I was browsing one of my favorite recipe bloggers, Skinny Taste, and stumbled upon a deliciously rich enchilada recipe and I knew I had to recreate it. Below is the recipe, which I made a few tweaks to!

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  • 1 cup red enchilada sauce (I used canned)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut 1/2-inch-dice
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 10 oz can Rotel tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced sodium canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 8 medium low-carb whole wheat flour tortillas
  • 1 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese
  • reduced-fat sour cream, for serving (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place 1/4 cup enchilada sauce on the bottom of a large baking dish.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in large skillet. Add onions, garlic, and jalapeno and cook 2-3 minutes until onions become translucent and garlic is fragrant. Add cubed butternut, Rotel tomatoes, black beans, water,  cilantro, cumin and chili powder and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.

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Place about a generous 1/3 cup filling in the center of each tortilla and roll, place on the baking dish seam side down. Repeat with the remaining filling. Top with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese and bake, covered with foil until hot and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. Top with scallions and eat with sour cream if desired.

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These were by and far the most delicious enchiladas I have ever made, and probably one of my favorite uses of butternut squash. The dish definitely had a little bit of a spicy kick to it, and it all froze and reheated beautifully for lunch the next week. And by beautifully, I mean that it looked like a mess but tasted even better than the first time I ate it.

Please, do yourself a favor and make these enchiladas!

Photo Share 12/18 and Chinese Chews by Spaniards

Hi friends! How are you all? Please bear with me because I promise this post will be all over the place! I know this is a little out of the ordinary that I am posting a photo share in the middle of the week, but I realized I never got around to one of my favorite weekly Monday posts, and better late than never, right?! Plus, part of my weekend included baking up a storm with my Abuela, and I wanted to share one of my favorite Christmas cookies with you guys. They are called Chinese Chews, and my Abuela has been making them since she learned the recipe in Home Ec. class she took in college almost 70 years ago. Yes, she has been making these cookies for SEVENTY YEARS – so you know they’re delish!

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Chinese Chews

Ingredients

1 c dates

1 c walnuts

2 eggs

1 c sugar

¾ c flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 stick of butter

Directions

In a large bowl, mix dates, walnuts, and a well-beaten egg. In a separate bowl, mix sugar, flour and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to first mixture. Melt butter and add to the combined mixture.

Pour the batter into a greased pan and bake at 350 degrees until brown (about 15-20 minutes for my oven). Remove from oven, let cool a bit (but not completely) for several minutes, and form into balls. Roll balls in sugar or powdered sugar.

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Pack them up and pass them out to your favorite friends and family😉

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Rewinding a little further back from our afternoon in Abuela’s kitchen.. I spent the entire weekend with my parents and it was awesome! Derek was out of town for the weekend to attend his sister Davis’ graduation in Auburn (yay DAVIS!!!), so it gave me several days to catch up with my family.

The picture below basically sums up my weekend. Shopping with Mom and Dad – I begged them to bring Lou since we were shopping in Hyde Park (a very dog friendly environment!!!)
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Dad got stuck with the awesome job of holding Louie while Mom and I shopped. At least Pottery Barn was considerate enough to provide him with a place to sit back and relax!

photo 4 (9)Some delicious (if I do say so myself) butternut squash and black bean enchiladas. BOY OH BOY did these HIT. THE. SPOT. as enjoyed them while we watched our man, Jameis Winston, win the Heisman on Saturday night! I can’t wait to share this recipe with you later this week!

photo 1 (5)A Christmas Mani. Because how else do you expect me to look at my fingers at work every day before Christmas unless said fingers are festive?!

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A treat I have been enjoying recently out of Santa’s head is almond milk dark hot chocolate! I have a hot mug of this almost every night – and it’s even (somewhat) healthy!

And one of my FAVORITE pictures from the last week….photo 1 (13)Derek and I have a Christmas tradition of an ornament exchange every year. We typically have the exchange 1-2 weeks before Christmas, sitting by the tree, with a mug of hot chocolate.. This year was a special year, as we got our first house and I got Louie! Derek and I both surprised each other with custom made ornaments – I got him one modeled after our first home, and Derek got me Louie’s face painted on an acorn🙂 This year’s ornaments are definitely my favorite!!!

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the week  – only 7 days left until Christmas, let’s enjoy this joyous season while it’s right in front of us!

Spotlight on: Junior League of Tampa + Bunco Jumble Recipe

Hi everyone, I hope you all are doing well! My oh my I am getting so excited for Christmas next week and all the festivities that go along with the joyous holiday. I love all the gatherings of friends and family that occur during the holiday season, and I’m looking forward to several get-togethers with friends, both after work this week and this coming weekend!

As you may have read on the blog before, I’m a provisional member of the Tampa chapter of The Junior League. Joining The Junior League this year has given me so many opportunities to volunteer in the community in ways that I didn’t know were available to me, as well as meet some wonderful young women. The Junior League of Tampa’s mission is to “promote volunteerism, develop the potential of women, and improve communities through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers”.

One way in which the Junior League mission is funded is through sales of our award-winning cookbooks. In addition to the classics, The Gasparilla Cookbook and Tampa Treasures, JLT released a Culinary Collection featuring 4 unique volumes. I found the following recipe in Volume 1 – Life of the Party, and absolutely LOVED this mostly sweet, and a little bit salty, party treat! I prepared it for a Junior League holiday party that took place last week, and plan to make it again this holiday season.

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Ingredients

1 box of mini Ritz peanut butter sandwiches

1 cup dry roasted peanuts

1 bag mini pretzel sticks (12 oz.)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp baking soda

1 bag mini or regular M&M’s

Mix the sandwich crackers, peanuts and pretzels in a large roasting pan. heat the sugar, butter and corn syrup in a pan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour over cracker mixture, stirring to coat well. Bake at 250 for 45 minutes, stirring mixture every 15 minutes. Remove to waxed paper to let cool completely. Add the chocolate candies. Break up the mixture into small pieces as needed.

Makes handfuls of fun”

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Crowd Pleasin’ Cheesy Bruschetta

Around the holiday season, I find that short-notice entertaining of friends happens more often than the rest of the year. And trust me when I tell you, I have absolutely no complaints. There truly are few things I love more than preparing food and feeding people. But when I’m in a time crunch, Bruschetta is one of my go-to appetizers.

I’ve already shared with you all how to turn the bold flavors of basil, garlic, and tomato into a main dish by pouring it over chicken. But how could I forget to talk about the simple appetizer version of these favorite ingredients of mine?

Ingredients

3 large, ripe tomatoes

1 clove garlic, chopped

4 fresh basil leaves, chopped or shredded

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2  tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Pepper to taste

1 long baguette

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Chop tomatoes, and place them in a large bowl with garlic, balsamic vinegar, pepper and basil leaves. Set aside for at least 30 minutes. Cut baguette into circular rounds, about 1-inch in thickness. Drizzle rounds with olive oil. Top rounds with tomato mixture and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and return to oven for 2 minutes. Serve hot🙂

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I love serving dishes that seem fancier and more difficult to prepare than they actually were. This bruschetta dish fits that description! These ingredients serve 3-6 people as an appetizer, so make sure to double it if you have a bigger crowd to feed.

If you give this recipe a try, enjoy!

Half-Marathon Recap!

Hi friends! I’m excited to share with you a big item I checked off my bucket list – we ran our first half marathon! Our weekend kicked off Friday afternoon when Derek picked me up from work and we made the drive to Orlando, where our half marathon was taking place the next morning. Since the race began at 7 a.m., we agreed it was a good idea to stay in a nearby hotel the night before so we wouldn’t have to worry about making the drive early Saturday morning. The Embassy Suites in downtown Orlando was 2 blocks from the race start – talk about convenient!

After checking in at our hotel and enjoying a complimentary happy hour…

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…we ventured over to 310 Lakeside to take in some serious carbs. We shared a zucchini flat bread and each got the Chicken Piccata pasta. It was the perfect ore-race meal.

After dinner, we took a walk around Lake Eola, and enjoyed the Christmas celebration that was taking place , before calling it a night.
Our alarm went off around 5:30 Saturday morning. I get a little anxious when it comes to things like races, flights etc. and feel the need to get up a little earlier than necessary. We both had some cereal, coffee and a Gu energy gel and left our room for the race around 6:35.

As soon as I lined up at the starting line, I immediately got the jitters. I’ve wanted to run a half marathon since the day I began running, and we’d trained so long for this race that I couldn’t believe it was finally time to actually get the job done.

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[Full of jitters when Derek snapped this pic]

Our goal for the race was to finish in “around” 2 hours, and my gut feeling was that we would come in a couple minutes over the 2 hour mark. As this was our first half-marathon, our training really was focused on just getting the miles in, and we were never too concerned with tracking our time or splits during our training runs. Because of this, I knew I couldn’t put too much pressure on myself to maintain a 9-minute mile to come in under 2 hours.

We ran each mile somewhere between 8:40 and 9:20ish, and fueled with Gu at mile 7 and mile 11. Derek also grabbed a beer that was passed out by spectators around mile 9, and he insists it’s what got him through the race (I’d most likely throw up if I drank a beer during a run). Around mile 10 we realized that we were on pace to complete the half-marathon in under 2 hours, and that all we needed to do was maintain a 10 minute per mile pace for the next 3 miles.

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I was mildly annoyed when we came across several hills during the last few miles, but was surprised when I found that the hills made my sore knees and ankles feel a little better.

We rounded the corner and saw the finish line in the distance, with about 2 minutes until the 2 hour mark. I definitely can’t say that I sprinted to the end, but a light jog took us through the finish line at 1:59:22! I was so excited to be done with the race, and stuff my face with muffins, bananas, and H20 as Derek chugged chocolate milk after chocolate milk.

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Soreness set in immediately, and we made sure to stretch as soon as we got some food and water in our bodies. The soreness lasted through Monday night, and we took our first post-race run first thing Tuesday morning. It felt good to shake things out, and I’m already looking forward to running another half in the spring!