Category Archives: Kitchen Tips

Five Things I’m Loving Friday: Christmas Edition!

Happy Friday everyone! Isn’t Friday the best? Although I actually prefer Saturdays since there’s no work involved on Saturdays 🙂

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This Friday I decided to do a Christmas gifts edition of ‘Five Things I’m Loving Friday’ to share some of my favorite things I got for Christmas this year – and that I think would make great gifts for other people! I tried to do a wide variety of both fitness and health related items, as well as just some unique gifts – it was hard to pick only five!

1. Gaiam “Everything Fits” Gym Bag

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I first read about this bag on PB Fingers and I’m so glad that she recommended it! It’s a good size bag – with a nice wide strap, lots of pockets and neat features like a separate vented compartment for your shoes and a strap on the bottom for a yoga mat (or I discovered my foam roller fits there too!). You can buy this bag in black or purple from Gaiam at this link. I’m super excited about this gift since before I was carrying my gym stuff in a free drawstring bag I got at the Run or Dye race last year. Also with GRIT starting I definitely needed more space to tote stuff around! 🙂

2. Salt Cellar

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This seems like such a simple thing but it was one of the gifts I was the most excited about! This particular salt cellar is from Crate and Barrel and I love the natural wood with the sliding magnetic lid. It’s perfect for keeping kosher salt out near the stove and being able to grab a pinch to add into dishes. Prior to this, I was just pouring the salt into my hand from the big kosher salt container which was a less than ideal situation.

3. Cookbooks – ‘Super Natural Every Day’ and ‘Tidewater Table’

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I’m always excited for new cookbooks! You can see a few others in my collection lined up next to the new ones. My mom gave me a copy of ‘Tidewater Table’ which is a new cookbook written all about the cuisine of my hometown – the Tidewater area of Virginia! I’m really excited to try out some of these classic recipes – just flipping through it I noticed tons of seafood! The other book was given to me by my best friend that I’ve known for 12+ years – ‘Super Natural Every Day.’ I cannot express how much I love this book. I’ve already read it cover to cover and there are dozens of recipes I can’t wait to try! The cookbook is vegetarian and features some of my all-time favorite ingredients – like coconut oil, chia seeds, and quinoa! I can’t wait to try these recipes and share the results with you on this blog 🙂

4. Origami Owl Necklace

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My mom gave me this necklace and I am absolutely in love with it. I had heard Origami Owl mentioned a few times in passing, but I had never really seen one before – it’s a really neat concept. It’s sort of a clear locket/pendent that you can buy and add charms to for your individual personality. My mom gave me three with the necklace – a cat paw, a running shoe, and a blue sapphire. So pretty! I don’t think I’ll add too much more than that – I think the simplicity is nice. I also love that the length of the necklace is a little longer so it sits really well on top of higher V-neck sweaters or crew neck sweaters. I’ve been wearing it a lot! 🙂

5. Fitness Gear!

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So I cheated a little on this one – it’s more than one item! I told you choosing just five was hard! My best friend Heather gave me an awesome pairing for Christmas – a “Strong is the New Skinny” shirt from the Strong Girl Clothing Etsy shop. I’ve been coveting this tank-top for a while and I have to say that it’s just as nice in person as it looks in her shop! I know with “homemade” stuff you can really be taking a chance on quality but I love everything about this shirt – the fit, the color, and the fabric! Definitely check out her shop because there’s lots of other awesome fitness apparel! Heather also got me a water bottle with a built-in infuser for fruit/herbs and a built in core to keep the water cold! I’ve been wanting one of these since water with lemon is one of my favorite things! I’m excited to try it with other combinations too – like cucumber and mint!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes & A Kitchen Tip!

Since it’s October I’m taking full advantage of the excuse to celebrate two of my favorite things: pumpkin and horror movies! Both of these things are October staples – and I had plenty of each this weekend! After Body Pump on Saturday morning I whipped up some Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Up first – a tip for cooking bacon!

I learned this tip for Rachel Ray and have since seen it on many cooking shows and articles online. Apparently, restaurants bake their bacon on sheet trays rather than cooking it on the stove top. This prevents 1) grease from splattering all over the stovetop and 2) keeps the bacon from having those “less cooked” spots as it cooks and crinkles up in the pan. Another great tip is that if you bake the bacon up on top of a cooling rack over the sheet tray – all the grease will drop down below! I recently purchased a new set of cookie sheets from Bed, Bath and Beyond so I took full advantage of baking my bacon this weekend – but I have yet to find a cooling rack that will work to put up on top. As soon as I do I’m definitely trying that method!

Bake the bacon in a single layer in a 375 degree over for 12 – 15 minutes.

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Tada!

And while the bacon was baking I moved on to making the pancakes!

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Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
Makes 7-8 pancakes.

    – 1 cup of my whole wheat pancake mix
    – 1/2 can of pumpkin puree (I’d say it’s about 1/2-3/4 of a cup)
    – 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
    – Enough milk (I used soy milk) to bring the mixture to a pancake batter consistency

Mix all ingredients together until smooth – don’t over-mix! Drop onto a hot skillet and cook until golden brown on both sides. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

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Yum! These pancakes were so delicious and filling on a nice, cool, weekend.

I spent most of the weekend being sort of a hermit and getting stuff done around my house while I caught up on TV shows and watched a few movies. And by “watched a few movies” I mean watched the Paranormal Activity movies in marathon format. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, and I swear I never learn my lesson. I absolutely love horror movies, and I enjoy the scary feeling they give me while I watch them but sometimes after a marathon like this (or a particularly scary movie) I wake up in the middle of the night seriously creeped out. Luckily, I’ve discovered that the Animal Planet show “Too Cute” is on Netflix Instant and it is seriously the best cure for a case of the late-night heebie-jeebies! I’m sure I’ll need it again soon, as one of my favorite horror franchises – the Halloween series – is on marathon all this week on AMC. Even though I own all the movies on DVD (except for that terrible third outing that doesn’t count because Michael Myers isn’t even in it) I cannot resist the urge to watch them and/or DVR them when they’re on TV!

Questions of the Day:
What are your favorite horror movies? Or do you like horror movies at all?
Are you addicted to pumpkin too? If not, what is your favorite fall treat?

Using Lentils As A Meat Substitute & Burrito Filling Recipe!

One of my favorite discoveries on my journey to healthier eating habits has to be lentils. They are now one of my go-to foods, when a year or two ago I definitely would not have been able to tell you what they were. Lentils are part of the legume family and come in a variety of colors (my personal favorite right now is red lentils). Lentils are a great vegetarian source of protein and are also an excellent source of fiber and iron – all important nutrients for proper health! 🙂

Although I love cooking lentils in dishes on their own (see my Indian-Spiced Vegetable and Lentil Stew), another great use for lentils is as a meat substitute. I’m not a vegetarian by any means, but I do try to take a “meat on the side” approach to eating in which vegetables are the focus. I haven’t entirely replaced meat with lentils in a recipe, but I do use lentils to supplement the meat in many of my favorite dishes. Here’s the general rule:

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Cook the lentils according to their package directions. For my particular brand, this involves boiling them for about 30 minutes. Drain and add to whatever meat you’re using. One cup of dry lentils makes approximately 2 to 2 ½ cups of cooked lentils. For example, when browning meat for tacos, or meat sauce I add the lentils at the point that the meat is browned – just before I add in other ingredients and spices. For dishes such as meatballs, burgers, or meatloaf – add the cooked lentils to the raw meat with your other ingredients before shaping into the final product. Usually I use lentils in a big batch of a recipe as half of the meat component. For example, the Bolognese recipe I use calls for two pounds of ground meat. I substitute one cup of cooked lentils for one pound of meat. This lightens up the final product, without affecting the flavor or texture of the finished dish. I promise you can sneak some lentils into your next lasagna without anyone noticing! 🙂 Some of the recipes that I’ve tried using lentils in so far are: burritos, tacos, Bolognese (meat) sauce, lasagna, and meatballs.

Last night, I decided to make one of my other favorite lentils-enhanced dishes – burritos! I picked up some ground chicken at the store and was once again shocked at how expensive organic meat is. I really should pay better attention and try to stock up when it’s on sale because this pound of ground chicken was $6.50. Phew! And a pound of ground meat just doesn’t go as far as it should, even in my household of one. But that pound of ground meat mixed with cooked lentils…now that’s a feast! I love that the lentils can really stretch the meat portion of your meal, while adding some great health benefits.

Check out how much the lentils bulk up this meal! Here’s a picture of just the ground meat:

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And then the meat with the lentils added:

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What a difference!

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Chicken, Lentil and Bean Burrito Filling
Makes enough filling for approximately 10 burritos.

    – 1 pound ground chicken
    – 1 cup dry lentils, cooked (approximately 2 ½ cups cooked)
    – 3 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning
    – 1 cup chopped onion
    – 3 cloves garlic, chopped
    – 1 can pinto beans

Brown the meat with the onions and garlic in a few tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the cooked lentils and seasoning to the browned meat and cook for 10 minutes. Add the pinto beans and stir to combine. Allow the beans to heat through (approximately 5 minutes).

Serve in tortillas with your favorite toppings – I went with cheese, a dollop of Greek yogurt and some sliced avocado!

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As usual, this recipe made a ton of food so I froze half of the filling mixture in a freezer bag for a later date. This mixture freezes really well and makes having a healthy dinner option on hand a snap! 🙂

How to Clean Your Dishwasher!

The other night when I was emptying the dishwasher, I noticed that my dishwasher was looking a little, well, disgusting. There was definitely a “not-clean” feeling going on with it. I think it has something to do with all the smoothie cups/mugs/etc. that I wash out on a weekly basis and smoothie bits do not clean up easy, let me tell you. Whatever the cause – it was time to clean the dishwasher!

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Yes, that’s right, clean the thing that cleans things. It sort of reminds me of that episode of Friends where Monica used the handheld vacuum to vacuum the normal-sized vacuum and then makes the comment: “If only there were a smaller one to clean this one!” I did always feel a kinship with Monica.

So I made a plan to clean the dishwasher. A combination of vinegar and baking soda is my favorite way to clean most things so I thought it would work for this occasion – but I knew better than to put them both in the dishwasher at the same time. That would result in a flood of suds in my kitchen. Actually, I will still nervous about my approach of running two cycles – the first with vinegar and the second with baking soda – but it worked out! And it worked brilliantly! My dishwasher is sparkly clean now.

So step one, empty the dishwasher and remove any food debris or other items that may have accumulated around the drain. Place a large bowl (I used a glass mixing bowl) of vinegar (I used about 3 cups…I didn’t measure but that’s pretty close) on the bottom rack and run through a full cycle. When the cycle is over, remove the bowl and scatter a cup or so of baking soda in the bottom of the dishwasher, then close the door and immediately run it through a second full cycle. Voilà! Clean dishwasher! 🙂

Kitchen Tips: How to Segment Citrus Fruit!

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So over the weekend I was about to segment a grapefruit to snack on (because eating it the other way – cut in half and with a fork – is such a time consuming process!) when I realized that this might be a useful skill to share with you all 🙂 So here we go…how to segment citrus!

First, cut off the top and bottom of your fruit so that the inner flesh is just showing (making sure you have gotten through the ‘pith’ which is the white part of a fruit closet to the skin). This also makes your fruit stand up nicely on your cutting board without rolling around.

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Next, slice gently around the curve of the fruit to remove the skin and pith – make sure there is no white pitch remaining, that you make it all the way down to the fruit.

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Finally, cut along the white lines separating each wedge of fruit. If you cut along both white edges of a segment – it should fall right out.

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Tada! 🙂

Then use the segments in salads, snacks, or whatever else you need them for. I hope this kitchen tip helps you in your culinary adventures!