We have the opportunity on the daily to make a positive impact on the world around us.
Whether one goes through their day searching for good deeds to be done,
or simply takes advantage of random opportunities to spread love,
every action (or inaction) has a resounding impact.
The question is: Is your impact today going to be positive, negative, or indifferent?
I have been told that one person can't make a difference.
I affectionately call these people "dummies"...
Those who actively try to hold the rest of us down,
those who would rather watch you drown than help you soar, those who can't grasp the power of positivity to create change.
Whether it's a great recipe found, or an uplifting story to share, you can be sure to find it here.
Let's start a Positivity Revolution, and drown out the dumb!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Staying on Budget

I love grocery shopping almost as much as I love cooking. I love slowly cruising the aisles, letting random ingredients create new ideas. I love using coupons, or price-matching, or scurrying back and forth between 2 items to get the best deal possible. I love the challenge of creating a weekly menu that's delicious and satisfying, as well as cost-effective.

Budgeting for groceries seems to be getting tougher, as produce prices constantly fluctuate and items that we purchase on a weekly basis never seem to have a sale or coupon available. It's easy to get a break on junk food, but health food is rarely sold at a discount. Not to be deterred, I have started couponing in an attempt to stretch our grocery dollars further, and planning for two weeks of meals at a time will allow us to buy some items in bulk.

Last night, we went shopping, armed with a scaled-down list, a few coupons, and an exact meal plan for the week (I thought of doing two week's worth this morning, when I saw how much meat we bought!). We ended up spending about 30% more than what I wanted, but after looking over the things that can be frozen to use next week, I thought there must be a way to save 30% next week to even our budget out.

My meals for this week are (I try to incorporate 1 chicken dish, 1 fish dish, and lots of veggies):
Maple-Glazed Chicken with Mashed Potatoes
Baked Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia with Garlic Bread and Roasted Broccoli
Baked Farfalle with Chicken and Broccoli
Stuffed Bell Peppers and Stuffed Mushrooms
Crock-Pot Pork Roast with Scalloped Potatoes

We bought so much meat this grocery trip, because almost every dish has a different protein! We ended up with:
  • 3 1/4 pounds chicken breast
  • 5 pounds of pork loin
  • 14 ounces of Tilapia
  • 1 pound ground turkey
After this week, I'll be left with:
  • 2 1/2 pounds chicken breast (no need to buy more)
  • 2 1/2 pounds of pork loin (ditto)
  • 3 ounces of Tilapia (I'll buy another pound of frozen fillets for about $5)
  • 1/2 pound ground turkey
So, even though we were slightly over budget this week, next week we can spend about $5 on proteins and can count on being significantly under budget with a little help from what we've already got in our pantry! Any tips for us to help stay within our budget? What have you found to be your best practice on staying disciplined?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

I am proud to say that I roasted a red pepper all by myself. Not a terribly impressive feat for most, but to me, roasting a vegetable to transform it into something even more delicious is amazing. I've fallen in love with roasting broccoli and garlic cloves, but nothing changes quite the way a red pepper does, and I thoroughly enjoyed this small experience! I followed Ina Garten's recipe for roasting, and set my oven to 500 degrees, placing the pepper on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet, and let it roast for about 40 minutes. It got pretty smoky in my apartment because I forgot to turn it over twice (as recommended), but still turned out beautifully! After the pepper had cooled, and while removing the skin, stem and seeds, I was surprised to find that this veggie had taken on a slightly oily feel, and was emitting a wonderfully flavorful aroma. I julienned the pepper, and drizzled some EVOO on top. This was to be the star flavor for my Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, which is also a first try!
Hummus is surprisingly easy to make, considering how fancy it tastes. Here's how to make enough for about 4 servings. 
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • dried parsley, for garnish
  • paprika, for garnish
    In a food processor, place the chickpeas, red bell pepper, garlic, crushed red pepper, water, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon EVOO, cumin, and ground black pepper and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Add 1/2 tablespoon extra water or lemon juice if needed to reach desired consistency and taste. Spoon to a pretty bowl for serving and use the back of a spoon to form a well in the center of the dip. Add the remaining olive oil to the well and sprinkle the top of the hummus with parsley and paprika. Serve at room temperature, with pita chips, carrots, and slices of cucumber for dipping. You can also refrigerate the dip if you're making ahead, and place in microwave for about 30 seconds to reach room temperature.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    Giada's Nicoise Salad Pizzette

    I watch a ton of Food Network, and my favorite time to do so is while I'm working out! I'll put the treadmill on a 10% incline at a speed of 2.5, which provides a great burn but still allows me to take notes if I see a worthwhile recipe. A few days ago, I was watching Giada De Laurentiis' show about a Spa Day menu, and she made these interesting, adorable little "pizzettes" with tuna salad, tomato, and olive tapenade. Lovelovelove all those ingredients, and it sounded like either a killer recipe or a bomb...in other words, it was a must-try for me. These were incredible!! I could eat them every day, and they were a hit with my boyfriend, too. When he came home from work, I had a plate filled with these scrumptious bites for a pre-dinner snack.
    As usual, instead of following Giada's Recipe exactly, I improvised based on what I already had in the kitchen and our personal tastes. Here's how I did it:
    • 1 cup pitted black olives, drained
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
    • 1 clove garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
    • 2 whole wheat flatbread, cut into fist-size circles
    • 1-2 roma tomatoes, sliced into eight 1/4-inch-thick slices
    • 1/3 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
    • Olive oil, for drizzling
    • One 5-ounce can tuna in water, drained
    • 6 string beans, blanched and each cut into thin 1-inch pieces
    • salt and pepper, to taste 

    Spread a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet (for easy cleanup) and coat lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
    For the tapenade: Place the olives, lemon juice, oil, italian seasoning and garlic in a food processor. Blend until minced.
    Spread about 1 tablespoon of the tapenade over each flatbread circle and place a slice of tomato on top. Add sprinkles of mozzarella cheese on top, then drizzle with olive oil and bake until heated through and slightly crispy, about 10-15 minutes.
    Place the tuna and 1 tsp olive oil in a small bowl. Using a fork, lightly mash the tuna. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Divide the tuna and spoon on top of the cooked pizzettes. Place 2 pieces of green bean on top of the tuna and serve.
    Easy Ingredients that I had on hand!

    Pizzettes ready to go into the oven!
    What's your favorite appetizer to make at home? If you send me the link or the recipe, I'd love to try it for a future post!

    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    First-Try Crab Cakes

    Stevie B., the head chef at the restaurant that I worked at in Colorado, was amazing. No matter what he made, I would devour it without question, and he was always willing to answer my culinary questions, of which there were many. He made these amazing, flaky crabcakes, which quickly became my boyfriend's favorite thing to order.  Alas, I never asked our chef how to prepare them, and so came about last night's experiment!

    I looked to my second-favorite chef, Tyler Florence, and found his recipe for Crab Cakes. They looked incredible, and the fact that I didn't have quite enough real crab meat didn't seem to be an issue, as I supplemented the rest with imitation crab meat (It's still fish!). Besides, since I wasn't sure what I was doing, I figured spending $3 on fake crab instead of $15 on the real deal would be excusable. I used my food processor to chop up the meat, and I used dried breadcrumbs instead of fresh. I also added a bit of Old Bay seasoning and Paprika, just to add some extra flavor. Not too much though, as Old Bay can get pretty salty! With about 10 ounces of total crab meat, I made about 5 large patties and set them in the fridge for 45 minutes (I got distracted by wine) to set. I cooked them for about 4 minutes on each side, but must have had my heat too high, because they came out a bit burned.

    The flavor of these crab cakes were fantastic though, and we ate them despite the slight torching. They had a nice, mild crab flavor, and were well seasoned, although they were a bit chewy for my taste (perhaps because they were essentially seared?) Plus, the Garlic Aioli that was included in the recipe was delicious and super easy to make. Not to be discouraged, next time I think I will use fresh bread crumbs, and maybe use Panko to coat these cakes to create that flakiness that we so love from back home. There is much more research to be done! If you have any suggestions for my next attempt, please post them!

    Monday, January 7, 2013

    Lazy-Day Beef Stew

    My boyfriend hates grocery shopping. He goes with me though, and more often than not, has terrific ideas for meals while we're meandering up and down the aisles. This time, he thought of beef stew. We've been dying to use the crockpot since we moved into our new apartment, and me being on a soup kick, this was just perfect!

    The wonderful thing about this stew is that it's so simple, it's satsifying without being loaded with calories, and it lasts for days or can be frozen. The recipe that we used for a guideline was from the Taste of Home Website, and it was incredible.

    Here's that recipe, including our modifications:

    • 1 pound red potatoes, cubed
    • 6 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch slices
    • 1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
    • 3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch slices
    • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 1 pound beef stew meat, pre-cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
    • 4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (2 cans)
    • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    • Place potatoes, carrots, onion and celery in a 5-qt. slow cooker. Place flour and stew meat into a large resealable plastic bag. Seal bag and toss to coat evenly. In a large skillet, brown meat in oil, then place over vegetables.
    • In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, beef broth, mustard, salt, pepper, thyme, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Pour over meat and veggies. Cover and cook on high for 3 1/2-4 hours or until potatoes are tender. Makes about 8 servings.
    Do you have a favorite stew recipe for the winter months? Send me a link or post the recipe in the comments!

    Sunday, January 6, 2013

    French Toast!

    I adore brunch. And I think the perfect brunch food is French Toast, which happens to be one of my boyfriend's favorites. The recipe that I lovelovelove is from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (this cookbook has been my go-to for everything delicious), and I tweaked it this morning to make it as healthy as can be.

    I use 1 large beaten egg (you could take it a step further and use just the egg white), and add to it a healthy splash of skim milk and OJ, and a tiny splash of vanilla extract with a dusting of cinnamon. The additions of the orange juice, vanilla, and cinnamon give my french toast a warm, citrus flavor that is addicting. Instead of the traditional white or brioche bread, I use 4 or 5 slices of honey whole wheat, which I admit tasted different the first time I tried it, but is actually pretty wonderful!

    To round out our meal, I scrambled 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg with a splash of milk, and added red pepper flakes and low-fat shredded cheddar cheese for flavor and spice. Add some sliced apples to make this meal healthy but sooo yummy, and something you could repeat every weekend.

    I want to try different variations of french toast, including Peanut Butter French Toast and Baked French Toast...What are some great recipes that you have found that are unusual and yummy? Please comment below and I'll give it a shot!

    Here's the link to the original recipe!

    Friday, January 4, 2013

    Cooking for Two

    For most of my life, I had viewed learning to cook as a burden; as something a woman does to get prepared for marriage. As a girl, I never thought about marriage, and therefore never thought about cooking. I didn't have the slightest interest in this wonderful activity that now happily takes up much of my time. It didn't cross my mind that someday I'd want to cook delicious food for myself, or that I would fall in love and want to cook for my man, and sadly I didn't learn to cook anything substantial until I moved out of my parent's house.

    My best friend and I somehow managed to host a Thanksgiving dinner when I was eighteen, in my tiny apartment with a half dozen people to feed. We dragged my patio table into the dining room for classy self-service, and I'm pretty sure we all ate on the couch or floor in front of my tiny TV. (This was before I had a digital camera, but I know I have a picture of this buried in a box somewhere!)
    That was probably the defining moment in my cooking life, when I realized that I could bring people together and make them happy with delicious food. I used to throw girls-only brunches on Sundays, and we would sip on mimosas and stuff ourselves into food comas on french toast. I would watch Food Network constantly, and try to recreate the insane dishes they featured on shows like "Chopped". Over the years, I have made delicious food that disappears instantly, and I have made disastrous food that the garbage disposal gets to eat. I am always amazed and proud when I can produce something out of my kitchen that someone loves (and I always pout when I destroy what was intended to be a terrific meal)!

    The holidays really kicked my butt on the diet front, and on more than one occassion, my fat girl triumphiantly won the battle between my waistline and a delectable dessert. So now, with the new year ahead and the yummy holiday food behind, I have made it my goal to get healthy. I by no means want to diet, but instead I'd like to try and tweak my favorite comfort-food recipes into healthier everyday options. I have a ton of unopened cookbooks, cooking magazines, random recipe clippings plus a few (or more) favorite cooking websites, and I could think of no better activity than to incorporate my good intentions of eating healthier into some experimentation in the kitchen!

    Good, Bad, or Ugly...Let the adventure begin :)

    Human "beings", not human "doings"

    I have made a valiant effort to live in the moment today...I had tiresome errands to run (like getting my oil changed and going to the BMV), and no one to accompany me, and so I made a point to not think about how boring the tasks were and just enjoy being.

    This is the hardest area of my life: Balancing ME with everything that "must be done" in my day. Everyone has a list of things to do during the course of their day, whether mental or written, at work or at home, and I have recently found mine to be overwhelming, even though most the things on my list are fairly unimportant (ie. setting up cable or faxing a letter).

    I was talking to my mom the other day and telling her about my To-Do list for the week, when she recited a quote that I immediately wrote down. I repeat this to myself when I find myself becoming overwhelmed by my day-to-day: "We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS."

    I Googled this phrase today, and found that there is a growing movement among human beings to be exactly that: Beings. People seem to be coming to the realization that stress is a man-made emotion, created by an unspoken expectation to do as much as possible in the limited timespan of a day.

    My mother is my "go-to" in my strive to improve myself and to live in the moment. She is a vegan (sometimes not) massage therapist (sometimes not) who lives in a studio apartment in Colorado; and she is the kindest person I have ever known. She wants for nothing, even though she has little. She has always been glowingly supportive of my dreams and what I want in life. Through her actions, she reminds me of the person that I try to be: someone who is giving to others, grateful of everything she has, honest about who she is, and unconditionally loving of her family and friends. Most of all, she reminds me to enjoy life to the fullest, appreciating even the boring or bad days for what they are. My mom is a true Human Being.

    My mother always tries to make every minute better than the last; from her quirky ideas to make the mundane exciting, to her commitment to being true to herself; and so I dedicate this blog to her.