Le Creuset Dutch Oven

After waiting and waiting and waiting, I finally took the plunge. I went to Williams-Sonoma and purchased my first-ever Le Creuset Dutch oven. My grandma had given me a gift card that had a substantial amount of money on it for Williams-Sonoma, and when I walked into the store last Saturday, the 3.5 quart Le Creuset ovens were on sale. It couldn’t get any better for me in that regard. I had been wanting one of these for a while, but didn’t want to fork over upwards of $300 for the oven. I brought it home and started thinking about what I could cook in it the next day.

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Me being silly, I didn’t take a picture of what I made because it smelled so good my husband and I just devoured it, but I made balsamic Brussels sprouts with bacon. They turned out delicious and I’ll be sure to take a picture of them next time, but you can see the Le Creuset Dutch oven I purchased at the store above.

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Ingredients

  • 1 bag of Brussels sprouts (I used the pack purchased at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 small red or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 strips of bacon, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

To Prepare

  1. Place Brussels sprouts in a microwave safe bowl. Fill the bowl with enough water that it’s covering the Brussels sprouts. Heat the bowl for 5 minutes (this will make the Brussels sprouts easier to cut).
  2. While the sprouts are heating, take your 2-3 strips of bacon and chop them up to your liking. I did little rectangle size bits. Place to the side.
  3. Once the Brussels sprouts are done, let it cool, then cut them in half and place in a bowl (they’ll cook better when they’re cut in half).
  4. Put the dutch oven on your burner on medium heat. Pour olive oil over the bottom of the oven and sauté your onions.
    1. Option: Cook the bacon in the dutch oven first, so the bits get super crispy then remove and begin cooking the Brussels sprouts in the bacon grease so they soak up the flavor.
  5. Once the onions have been caramelized, place your Brussels sprouts in the dutch oven and begin to sauté them, as well. Add your salt and pepper during this process to give them a little extra flavor.
  6. Add a little of the balsamic vinegar to the sprouts and onions and place the cover on the dutch oven to let cook more thoroughly, about 3-minutes.
  7. Remove cover, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the bacon bits. Make sure to mix often so they don’t stick to the bottom of dutch oven. Add the rest of the balsamic vinegar to coat the Brussels sprouts and the bacon. Once you see that the bacon is cooked and the Brussels sprouts have darkened, turn off burner and put the cover back on to let it cook a little more (another minute or two).
  8. Remove from burner (be careful as Dutch oven heat easily).
  9. Plate with chicken breast or on top of a salad.

I plan on making this again, so I’ll be sure to snap a photo next time. What’s your favorite thing to make in your Dutch oven? I’d love to know!

xoxo,

Leigh

 

 

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Recipe: Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Muffins

Now, I know today is St. Patrick’s Day, and while I don’t have a St. Patty’s Day-themed post, I do have a great foodie one. A majority of my food posts consist of soups or crockpot recipes, but little do people know, I truly enjoy baking. Come spring and summer it’s time to bust out my KitchenAid mixer and get to baking. Even though I love double fudge brownies, I try and opt for healthier baking options. While exploring the amazingness that is Pinterest a few years ago, I discovered these banana oatmeal breakfast muffins that were deemed healthy. Usually that means a Sucralose substitute, however, this recipe is a flourless, granulated sugarless, oil-free recipe. Super easy to prepare and bake, this is a perfect on-the-go snack. So when you’re running late and need a quick breakfast – or that mid-morning sweet treat – grab one of these. Note: these muffins are highly perishable, so be sure to eat them within a week or they will go bad. (Here’s the original recipe).

Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Muffins

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Ingredients

  • 2.5 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup plain low fat greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • Optional: unsweetened dark chocolate chips
  • Optional: walnuts, sliced almonds

To Prepare

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grab a cupcake baking tin and spray with non-stick cooking spray or line with 12 muffin tins (with silicone or foil liners).
  2. Place your 2.5 cups of old fashioned oats in the food processor (or blender) and pulse for about 10-15 seconds. Add the 2 eggs, 1 cup low fat Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup honey, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla and the bananas into the food processor.
  3. Process until everything is mixed together and oats are smooth.
  4. At this step, you can either add unsweetened dark chocolate chips (which is what I did), walnuts, toasted almonds or any other nut or chocolate you’d like in the batter.
  5. Divide batter among cupcake liners, and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Now if your bananas are getting too ripe, you can peel them and put them in a freezer bag and store until your next batch of muffins. These taste great with a warm cup of coffee. They are not high in caloric intake, so perfect for any bride-to-be or person wanting to curb that sweet tooth while trying to stay healthy with their diet.

Planning on making these? I’d love to see how yours turned out, so leave a comment below!

xoxo,

Leigh

Vegan Cran-Cherry Almond Power Cookies

Cran cherry cookies

During my 30 Day Challenge, I’ve been seeking out healthy snacks. While perusing the grocery store one day, I discovered these healthy cookies – they are so delicious, but I also thought that I could easily make them myself at home and control the ingredients (and of course it would be much cheaper to make them myself). I found this recipe online, and made a batch for my book club a couple of weeks ago. They had good flavor, but were very dry. I asked my friend Kelly (who happens to be vegan and an amazing cook) what I could do to help the cookies, and she suggested adding some applesauce for moisture, and a dash of vanilla for some more flavor and sweetness.

So I tweaked the recipe with her suggestions, and made a batch over the rainy weekend. I’ve got to say, the recipe is nearly perfect now. The added applesauce really helped to moisten them, and I decided to add in some dried cherries as well for extra flavor (I upped the amount of dried fruit and nuts a bit so the cookies had more texture). The biggest win was that they got the hubby stamp of approval 😉 I’m even going to make some for our long flight to New Zealand!

Tip: Besides using these as a snack, grab 2 or 3 for an easy breakfast, or pop one before a workout for an energy boost.


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats (traditional oats, not quick oats)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 3 tablespoons chopped almonds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together oats, cranberries, cherries, almonds, and cinnamon.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together almond butter, maple syrup, applesauce, and vanilla.
  4. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and mix well. Adjust accordingly by adding more oats or more applesauce if needed to get to desired consistency. All of the oats should be coated in the wet ingredients, and should stick together to form a small ball when rolled in the hand.
  5. Drop cookies (about the size of a golf ball) onto a non-greased baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The recipe yields approximately 15 cookies.

Let me know if you give this recipe a try! Do you have any favorite healthy snack recipes?

xoxo,
Veronica

Recipe: Ceviche Veracruz

A couple of weeks ago I spent a long weekend in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico at The Cape boutique hotel. I of course experienced lots of amazing scenery, weather, pool time, activities, and cocktails. But beyond that, I discovered that I really love the food in Cabo, specifically the food at The Cape. And even more specifically, their many different variations on ceviche that they serve there. I was addicted, eating it at every meal (even breakfast!). So when the opportunity to take a cooking class with Chef de Cuisine Alex Branch of Manta restaurant at The Cape, I eagerly said yes. And as luck would have it, he was teaching us how to make one of his amazing ceviche recipes. See his recipe for Ceviche Veracruz below!

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Ingredients (makes 4 small bowls of ceviche):

1/4 lb. white fish (should be very fresh and a semi-firm fish, no skin or bones)
1 Tb Kosher salt
4 limes (approx 6 Tb juice)
2 Tb white onion
1 Tb olive oil
1 tsp serrano chile (deveined and deseeded, chopped small)
2 tsp California pepper (sliced thin)
1/3 cup cherry tomatoes (quartered)
6 green olives (halved)
2 Tb capers
cilantro (loosely chopped)
1 avocado

Preparation:

  1. Dice fish into approx. 1/2″ cubes and add to a bowl. Cure by adding salt and half of the lime juice and set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, add chopped onion, the rest of the lime juice, olive oil, California pepper, and serrano chiles and mix well.
  3. Add in capers (with some of the juice), olives, tomatoes, and cilantro.
  4. Divide ceviche into 4 bowls and finish with cilantro leaves and a wedge of avocado.
  5. Serve while fresh – fish should only marinate in the lime juice 15-30 minutes or it will start to break down too much.

———-

IMG_0839And as if I had to give you another good excuse to make ceviche, Monday (February 22nd) is National Margarita Day! I think ceviche with some tortilla chips would pair perfectly with a nice, cold margarita, don’t you?! And don’t worry, one tip I learned from Chef Branch when it comes to ceviche is that it’s really hard to mess it up. Just add citrus to cure the fish, and any mix-ins that you desire, and you’ve got ceviche! For proof of how easy it is to make, here’s a pic (right) of the ceviche I made at home from Chef Branch’s recipe. Looks pro, right?

What do you think, would you give homemade ceviche a try?

xoxo,
Veronica

Recipe: Mom’s Baklava

finished-baklava

You can’t beat one of mom’s recipes, especially if that recipe has been handed down through generations. My mother’s baklava recipe, that she first learned while visiting relatives in former Yugoslavia, has become quite famous among family and friends and is always requested at dinner parties and celebrations. I have begun my own tradition with the recipe, making it for my husband on special occasions. He and his friends have claimed it is the best baklava they have ever tasted, and I have to agree.

If you’re looking for a treat to bake for your significant other this Valentine’s Day, why not take a break from the usual cookies or brownies and try this baklava recipe? There’s nothing like homemade baklava, and your sig other will appreciate all of the effort you’ve put into making something special for them.

{Mom’s Baklava}
Ingredients:
1 pound frozen phyllo sheets
1 cup melted butter

for the filling:
2 cups finely chopped walnuts or pecans or a mix of the two
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8  teaspoon cloves

for the syrup:
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

chopped-nuts

Directions:
1. Thaw phyllo pastry and separate the sheets according to package directions. Most packages will say to cover the phyllo with plastic wrap and a damp towel to keep the sheets from drying out.
2. Transfer half of pastry sheets one by one onto a greased cookie sheet or rimmed pan, brushing each sheet quickly and all over with melted butter (make sure to fully cover the edges with butter).
3. Combine nuts, 1/3 cup sugar, cloves, and cinnamon; sprinkle over buttered pastry (I made slightly more of the filling and did two layers).
4. Place remaining sheets on top, brushing each with melted butter.
5. Cut baklava pastry into squares or diamonds, but leave the bottom layers uncut. Bake at 350° until slightly  golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine remaining 3/4 cup sugar, honey, 1 cup water, and lemon juice; bring to a boil. Boil baklava syrup for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until syrupy.
7. When both the syrup and baklava have cooled a bit, pour 1/2 of the syrup over the baklava. Let it soak in for about an hour. Then cut thru the uncut layers of dough, and pour the rest of the syrup over the baklava.
8. Let the baklava soak up the syrup about 5 hours or overnight before you serve them, either on plates or in cupcake holders.

work-station

{Phyllo dough work station}

brushing-phyllo

{Brush butter over the edges and work lightly inward}

filling-mixture

{Combine chopped nuts with sugar, cloves, and cinnamon}

filling-layer

{Once halfway through phyllo sheets, add filling mixture}

cut-baklava

{Cut pastry halfway through before baking – it will make for easier and cleaner cuts later}

baklava-syrup

{Pour syrup over pastry after it’s finished baking}

baklava-plated

Let me know if you try out the recipe! Do you have any favorite desserts to bake for loved ones and special occasions?

xoxo,
Veronica

Recipe: Slow Cooker Turkey Chili

Did you watch Super Bowl 50 on Sunday? I’m guilty of dozing during the game, but enjoying the commercials and the half-time show. I mean, who doesn’t love Queen Bey, Bruno and Coldplay? While I didn’t bust out the bean dip I usually make to celebrate this sporting event, I did bring out my crockpot and make some turkey chili. I started at around 11:30 a.m., threw everything in the crockpot at around noon and the chili was ready by 4 p.m.

Just like the slow cooker balsamic chicken recipe I’ve shared, this, too, is a staple in my household.

turkey chili

Ingredients:

  • 1 package ground lean Jennie-O turkey (or whatever you have in the freezer)
  • 1 16 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 large can (24 oz.) of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of kidney beans
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1/2 green or red onion, diced
  • 6 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2-3 tablespoons cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicy)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • Up to 1/2 cup of water

To Prepare:

  1. In a large non-stick skillet, cook your ground turkey 90%.
  2. Once your turkey is cooked, place it in the crockpot along with the tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, kidney and black beans, onion, chopped celery and mix it together.
  3. Add the spices: chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper, and mix those in.
  4. If you see that it’s too thick, add a little water and mix again.
  5. Cook on high for 4 hours.

What is your favorite type of chili to make in your slow cooker? Let me know!

xoxo,

Leigh

Recipe: Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken

Anyone who knows me (and I think you all do by now) knows that I swear and live by my crockpot (see my hot cider recipe here). It’s super convenient – prep something the night before, throw it into the crockpot in the morning and 12 hours later you have a delicious meal waiting for you. Bonus: your home smells delicious all day.

One of my go-to signature crockpot meals is balsamic chicken. I first discovered this recipe on Skinny Ms while I was doing a low-carb diet and it turns out that this recipe is low-carb and low-fat, so double win for me. This chicken dish is good over pasta, rice or my personal favorite – Israeli couscous. This dish also pairs well with a side salad. I hope you try it out! Crockpot balsamic chicken has become a staple in my household, that’s for sure.

balsamic-chicken.jpg

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breast. I recommend the Eat Right chicken breast from Safeway. It doesn’t have as much fat on it.
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz) or you can use the 28 oz can
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil. I use extra virgin.
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, oregano, rosemary; 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar. I add a little more than a 1/2 cup because I’m obsessed with balsamic vinegar.
  • Black pepper and salt to taste
  • Cook time: 4 hrs (or longer)

To prepare:

1. Pour the 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of your crock pot.

2. Salt and pepper each chicken breast and then place into the crock pot. I tend to put salt and pepper on the bottom of the crock pot and flip the chicken breasts over after one side is salt and peppered.

3. Place the sliced onion on top of the chicken breast. Make sure the onion slices are spread across every piece of chicken breast.

4. Put in the 1 teaspoon of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, and the 1/2 teaspoon of thyme on top of the onions.

5. Place the 4 cloves of garlic on top of the dried herbs.

6. Pour the 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar over the chicken, herbs, onions, and garlic. Add some extra balsamic vinegar if you like the taste. (I tend to.)

7. Top with the 2 cans diced tomatoes.

8. Cook on high for 4 hours. The longer you cook the dish, the more tender the chicken will be.

The nice thing about this particular crock pot dish, is that it will last you two nights (if you’re just two people) and it even tastes better the next day, in my opinion.

Give this recipe a shot and let me know what you think in the comments!

xoxo,

Leigh

New Year’s Eve Recap

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone! I hope by now you’ve recovered from the New Year’s Eve festivities and are enjoying the rest of the holiday break before work starts up again on Monday.

My husband and I hosted a small dinner party for 6 people to ring in the new year and wanted to share the menu and table setting. Even though the table is set for New Year’s Eve, you can still take ideas away for future dinner parties.

Table setting 1

For the decor, I started by laying my favorite West Elm painted metallic table runner down the center of the table. I added sequin placemats (no longer available at H&M, but similar here) and silver charger plates to each setting. I topped the chargers with silver foiled napkins (no longer available at West Elm, but similar here) and added a party popper to each. I sprinkled the runner with festive confetti, added candles of varying heights, and put some festive fringe blowouts in a glass as a centerpiece.

Table setting 2

Table setting 3

As for food, we knew we wanted to keep the main course fairly simple so we didn’t have to slave away in the kitchen the whole night rather than visiting with our guests. We decided to do a slow-cooker meal so we could prepare it early and then just set it on a timer so it was ready and waiting when it was time for dinner. The salad and the appetizers were also easy to prep ahead of time, and about 15 minutes before guests arrived I set out the apps and threw the little smokies in the oven.

NEW YEAR’S EVE MENU
Appetizers
– Bacon wrapped little smokies (recipe here)
– Shrimp cocktail
– Smoked salmon served with cream cheese and capers on crackers
– Brie and salami with crackers
Main Course
Thai-style pork over steamed white rice (recipe here) with a seasame ginger miso cucumber salad I found on Pinterest (recipe here)
Dessert
Pumpkin pie (brought by a guest). Chocolate covered strawberries are also a great option and pair well with champagne.

What did you do for New Year’s Eve? I hope everyone has had a great start to 2016!

xoxo,
Veronica

Lucky New Year’s Foods

New Year’s Eve is only days away! Yesterday Veronica shared six sequin-inspired outfits to glam it up at your New Year’s Eve party. Next question is: what food to serve?

Growing up, there would always be bowls of different things to eat at the stroke of midnight: grapes, noodles, a lentil bean soup, something green, something sweet and others. As a kid, I didn’t understand why we had to eat a bite of each thing, but as a teen my godmother explained that each food brings forth potential luck. While I’m not really into the superstition behind it all, but it’s still something different to include in your New Year’s festivities. Reader’s Digest does a good job of explaining each one, but here are four of my favorites you might want to have on your coffee table next to the party poppers and champagne. Or – you can incorporate these into your dinner menu for the evening.

Greens resemble potential money to be made in the upcoming year.

greens-767692_960_720

Noodles resemble a long life, so be sure to find the longest piece of pasta and eat that one.

Tarako_spaghetti

Cake (specifically a round cake [go for bundt if you want!]) resembles something coming full circle. Be sure to indulge in this one.

Small_Bundt_Cake_on_yellow_and_white_plate

Grapes resembles how your year ahead will be. I would always eat 12, one for each month, and if I ended up eating a few sour ones, those were the months to watch out for in the new year.

Red_grapes

What are some of your New Year’s Eve traditions? Let me know in the comments.

xoxo,

Leigh

 

Recipe: Holiday Dark Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

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With Christmas Eve just two days away, you’re probably thinking about what desserts to serve at your holiday party or how to be festive without going overboard. This time of year, personally, I enjoy baking anything from brownies and muffins to cookies and mini cupcakes. A staple in my household this time of year is a great dark chocolate peppermint cookie recipe from AllRecipes.com. The original recipe is by Jackie Schmidt and features mini mint candies on top. I modified the recipe to include real peppermint candies. Here it is:

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups butter
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips (semi-sweet or unsweetened, your choice)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10-12 peppermint candies, crushed (you can add more if you’d like)

Directions

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the sugar, butter and water, stirring occasionally until melted. Remove from heat, stir in the dark chocolate chips until melted and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl (or electric mixer bowl if you have one) and beat in the eggs one at a time. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the chocolate mixture. Here’s the variation: add the crushed peppermint candies into the mixture. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or more.
  3. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease cookies sheets. Roll cookie dough into walnut sized balls (they can be a little bigger) and place 2 inches apart on the greased cookie sheets.
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven. Be careful not to overbake. When the cookies come out, some of the peppermint candy may seep out the sides, but that’s okay! It’s supposed to do that. Makes around 3 dozen cookies.

While it’s a little bit of a process to make these, they sure are a popular item at my holiday parties.

What’s your favorite holiday dessert? Let me know in the comments below!

Wishing you all a very happy holiday.

xoxo,

Leigh