Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Being Your "Best Self" and a Pumpkin Facial

We are so honored and thrilled to have been named Best Self Atlanta Magazine’s “Best Local Food Blog” for 2015. We are very thankful to all of you for your support and readership.
In writing this post, we have talked a lot about what being your “best self” really means. This blog has never been about fitness or dieting, and we have not hung out a shingle claiming to be life coaches. For us, being your best self simply means:
  • Being True To Yourself: Be introspective and don’t let others define you for the sake of acceptance. It is OK is have an opinion that doesn’t jive with your co-workers or friends. Listen to your body, follow your heart and trust your instincts. At the end of the day, you are the one with your head on the pillow trying to sleep at night. 
  • Being True To Your Family And Friends: Accept them as they are, as individuals, unconditionally. Be loyal, kind and forgiving. Share your honest opinions. Be genuinely happy when they receive, or achieve something that you truly desire. And, as important as it is for you to be there for them, sometimes you have to be willing to let them be there for you.
  • Maintaining A Healthy Diet: We are not registered dietians and every recipe on this blog is NOT non-fat, gluten-free, low carb or otherwise alimentative. A healthy diet includes eating a well-balanced variety of nutritive foods. Eat foods that are the best quality that you can afford: fresh, organic, natural, fewer preservatives, less artificial ingredients. Eat foods that are less healthful in moderation. It is OK to splurge and have a slice of coconut cream pie, just don’t eat the whole pie! (Believe us, we KNOW how hard this can be!)
  • Keeping Your Body Strong: Walk. Run. Ride your bike. Don’t stop moving. Research shows that regular exercise extends your life whether you are of normal weight, overweight, or obese. 
  • Learning From Your Mistakes: What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you make a mistake, own it, fix it and grow from it. That is the definition of experience. Make failure your best friend. Let it tell you where you go wrong so you can start-over from a smarter perspective.
  • Trying New Things: Don’t get stuck in a rut. Expand your mind and your palate. Be brave! Learn how to crochet or study a new language. If you always read fiction, try a biography. If you've never tried sushi, give it a go, you might even like it. Do the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle in ink. Play dominoes or learn backgammon. Never stop increasing your knowledge and exposure. 
  • Letting Go Of Anger: This is by far the most difficult task on the list. We all hold grudges over the times we have been betrayed, cheated, hurt or wronged in some way. You can’t know the amount of effort it is taking and stress it is causing in your life until you allow yourself to let it go. Remove the negative from your life. Use that energy to focus on the positive and what you can do today to be happy!
  • Getting Your Rest: This sounds like a no brainer, but sleep is the first thing you sacrifice when you are overworked or overscheduled. Know your limitations. Drinks with friends, dinner with colleagues and going dancing with hubby after a long grueling day might not be the best plan. Don’t be afraid to say, “No” and go home to have some chicken soup, do some laundry, give yourself a facial and catch up on your favorite TV shows.
Just as in cooking, using healthy ingredients in other areas of your life is important too. Using natural ingredients for your skin and hair adds to your overall health. With a little research, you will be shocked at how many DIY all natural (and inexpensive) skin and hair treatments you can make at home. A good example is this super nourishing facial made with a little leftover pumpkin from making that iconic pie. Packed with zinc, antioxidants, and vitamins, pumpkins protect your skin from wrinkles and age spots. An egg adds nourishment and a subtle tightening effect to sagging skin, and a few teaspoons of honey has antibacterial properties that prevents breakouts and seals in moisture.

Pumpkin Face Mask
¼ cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 teaspoons honey

Whisk ingredients together until completely combined and smooth. Slather the mixture over your face, and relax for 15 to 20 minutes. You will be surprised at how the mask dries and tightens like a commercial product. Rinse and lightly exfoliate to reveal a brighter, firmer, smoother complexion. This is particularly indulgent after that long overscheduled day!

Thanks again for following along. We genuinely appreciate your readership and hope this inspires you to be your “Best Self”!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Complete Thanksgiving Menu Planner

With Thanksgiving a week away, we are all in menu planning mode. As one of the biggest, if not the absolute biggest food holiday, we thought we would make it easier for you by compiling a round-up of some of our favorites, old and new. Last year we published a Thanksgiving e-cookbook with some Thanksgiving ideas, but this year we have gone a step further and expanded the list to include 40+ recipes with some morning noshes, turkey tips, condiments, side dishes and desserts. Many of them are healthy and some are a bit more indulgent. We even added a few ideas for what to do with those turkey leftovers.

Cranberry Financiers
Pumpkin Chestnut Scones
Mug Muffins
Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
Baked French Toast

Turkey Preparation:
     • Brining
     • Stuffing
     • Trussing
     • Barding
     • Butter-crisped Roasting

Two Cranberry Sauces
Pear Cranberry Chutney
Cranberry Zinfandel Conserve
Chardonnay Rosemary Jelly

Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins
Boston Brown Bread
Cream of Peanut Soup
Corn Pudding
Potatoes Fondantes
Bacon-braised Brussels Sprouts
Curried Cauliflower
Swiss Chard Gratin
Roasted Beets
Mashed Potatoes with Love
Broccoli with Lime Dressing
Charred Cabbage
Rice-stuffed Tomatoes
Green Beans Gremolata
Sorghum Caraway Carrots

Apple Crostada
Hasty Pudding
Chocolate Pecan Pie
Peach Almond Galette
Gingerbread Cake
Sweet Potato Pie
Bread Pudding
Pineapple Cranberry Cobbler
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Bobbie Sandwich
Turkey Enchiladas Verde
Turkey Jambalaya

We are honestly thankful to our all al loyal readers! Enjoy your Thanksgiving Holiday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Get Green with the OrganicGirl Flavor Craze

This is the time of year when our garden looks so sad. The tomato plants are shriveling and the peppers look like straggly weeds. The lettuces, kale and chard have been planted but it will be weeks (nay, months!) before they are ready to be eaten. Finding fresh, organic produce sounds simple, but is no easy feat. We have been buying OrganicGirl arugula and romaine hearts at our local Publix, so we were thrilled when they reached out to us and asked us to try their new salad mixes and dressings, we did not hesitate!

Our goodies arrived in a refrigerated box in which we were excited to find full-sized versions of their products. Their new “Peppergreens” has arugula (our favorite), baby mustards, cress, baby spinach, baby chard and other seasonal greens with a peppery kick. The “Sweet Pea” mix contains sweet pea shoots, baby green romaine, tango, baby oakleaf lettuces, baby green bok choy, lolla rosa (which may vary by season). All OrganicGirl greens are triple-washed and it is obvious. The greens were super clean, fresh and crisp and both had amazing flavor. The Peppergreens really do pack a spicy punch that was an excellent complement to a pre-game BLT. Conversely, the Sweat Pea mix has a great crunch and is indeed a bit sweet with the addition of the pea shoots.
OrganicGirl is a small group in California's fertile Salinas Valley who strive to offer the very best quality produce done the right way which means unique approaches to organic growing, triple washing their greens, and using earth-friendly 100% recycled plastic packaging. It also means no synthetic pesticides, growing and selecting only the very best quality produce, and getting products to the stores as quickly as possible to ensure ultimate freshness.

In addition to the gorgeous greens, we also received bottles of each of OrganicGirl’s new Salad Love Vinaigrettes: Fresh Tomato Italian, Kale Parmesan, Lemon Agave, and White Cheddar. Believe me when I say it was nearly impossible to decide which to try first! We went with the Lemon Agave (vegan) made with fresh lemons and lemon puree which originally we tried on the Peppergreens and WOW what a great combo! The contrast in flavors was absolutely perfect, spicy, tangy and a little sweet. We later served it over goat cheese for a healthy snack which was zesty and refreshing.

The vibrant green of the Kale Parmesan was so enticing, we opened that next. We had some leftover roasted cauliflower which rather than reheating, we tried cold with the vinaigrette drizzled on top. Again, WOW! With two of the top ingredients (kale and spinach) being #1 and #5 on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), we added extra nutrients to an already healthy vegetable dish.

The Tomato Italian made with Roma tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmesan, was wonderful over the Sweat Pea mix and was soon devoured on pizza night as a dipping sauce for leftover crusts. And, last but certainly not least (especially in the flavor department) was the White Cheddar. Initially we were hesitant to open this bottle, thinking it would be the least healthy (and most caloric), but with only 60 calories per serving and only five grams of fat, we used this in place of blue cheese dressing on a wedge salad. We may never go back to blue cheese dressing. Ever. And with Buffalo chicken wings – Awesome!

You don’t have to wait until next Spring to have fresh organic salad greens or fresh produce to make homemade dressings. You can head over to your local store (in Atlanta, head to Publix or Whole Foods) and pick up OrganicGirl products with the knowledge that they are produce-based, non-GMO, gluten free, contain no corn syrup, vegetarian and of course, organic. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!

While the products we sampled were complimentary, no additional remuneration was received. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Thanksgiving Back with Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi

This is the time of year when we are all planning our Thanksgiving feasts right down to the wine we will serve. While we are celebrating all we have to be thankful for, there are many less fortunate people with limited resources who will struggle to afford a Thanksgiving feast. With this in mind, the folks at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi continued Mondavi’s legacy of charitable giving and Woodbridge’s involvement in the Atlanta community by donating 250 turkeys to the Atlanta Community Food Bank to feed local Georgia families in need for the Thanksgiving season.

Kristin O’Donnell, Atlanta-area Marketing Manager, and her team of “Thanks Giving Back” volunteers arrived early on November 5th to the Atlanta Community Food Bank to unload the turkeys in an assembly-line fashion. “We are excited to be able to make this donation which is just one of our many initiatives dedicated to helping fight hunger on both national and local levels through contributions to local organizations,” said O’Donnell who added “While Woodbridge aims to give back to the community year-round, it is especially important during the holiday season as families and friends gather together to give thanks.”

In addition to Woodbridge’s “Thanks Giving Back” program, they have also created a Woodbridge Harvest Wine Set for which all proceeds will be donated to Inspired by the giving spirit of the harvest and the holiday seasons, these limited edition kitchen sets featuring an apron, potholder and wine tote are on sale through December 31st and are available on for $35. These Harvest Wine Sets are the ideal holiday or hostess gift for the wine lover or chef in your life, and a gift that truly keeps giving with all proceeds donated to the charity and helping support those in need by providing struggling American families with fresh fruit and vegetables from local gardens.

The set was designed to match the label of the newly launched Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Harvest Spiced Red Blend that embodies fall harvest flavors ($6.99 at major grocery stores nationwide). This limited edition red blend can be served at room temperature or warmed and served with an orange peel garnish to create a delicious mulled wine perfect for the holidays. You can also make the most of the season’s flavors with a batch of Harvest Spiced Punch, the perfect cocktail for get-togethers with friends and family.

Woodbridge Harvest Spiced Punch
 2 bottles (750 mL) Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Harvest Spiced Red Blend
1 cup orange liqueur (we prefer Triple Sec)
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, sliced into 5 rounds
1 lemon, sliced into 5 rounds
Seeds from 1/2 medium pomegranate

Combine wine, orange liqueur, orange juice, pomegranate juice, lemon juice and cinnamon sticks in a large punch bowl. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Just before serving, add orange and lemon slices, and sprinkle pomegranate seeds over top. Serve over ice, and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tavernpointe at Home in Midtown

We recently had the pleasure of visiting the new Tavernpointe located in the One Peachtree Pointe building in Midtown with members of the Atlanta Food Blogger’s Society. Tavernpointe is the newest culinary venture for Chef Drew Van Leuvan. This midtown neighborhood eatery (in the space formerly occupied by La Pietra Cucina) offers classic cocktails, a full wine cellar and a rotating selection of 16 local and domestic draught beers. Tavernpointe’s chef-driven menu includes items such as Smoked Peruvian-Style Chicken, Grilled Waygu Skirt Steak & Fries and Broiled Lobster Scampi with ingredients sourced from local farms.

Before sitting down to a sampling of menu items, we were allowed a quick tour of the kitchen with homemade bread rising in the back and giant carboys of housemade Ahi pepper sauce aging on the counters. Once seated the platters of smoked ruby beets and marinated golden beets, served with seared Bucheron cheese, sliced avocado, crushed dried strawberries and hazelnuts, balsamic drizzle and micro greens were set on the table. The flavor of the smoked red beets was the highlight of this dish.

Bowls of potato gnocchi with roasted mushrooms, white truffle oil, parsley, parmesan, and topped with toasted bread crumbs came next. The gnocchi were perfectly delicate and the mushrooms were delectable. Next came the Georgia shrimp and Geechie Boy grits with tasso ham, sweet onions, and pickled okra in poblano pepper broth followed by signature beef & bacon meatballs served over Geechie Boy grits with spicy tomato ragu and parmesan.

Even though our stomachs were reaching full capacity, along came plates of Georgia pecan fudge pie with chocolate crust, and Four Roses Bourbon ice cream, and a sticky toffee stack cake layered with apple butter and topped with brown butter ice cream.

It was a real treat to catch up with our blogger compatriots for this wonderful dining experience. If you are looking for a place in Midtown to have a few drinks and great food, head over to the new Tavernpointe at One Peachtree Pointe. It’s in a great location, the atmosphere is relaxing, the food is good, and the service is very friendly.

While the menu items we sampled were complimentary, no additional remuneration was received. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Savory Spice Club and Spanish Pinchitos

A pincho is a traditional tapa eaten in bars in Northern Spain. Pinchos are especially popular in the Basque region where they have a strong socializing component, and are usually regarded as a cornerstone of the local culture.

While the pinchos are related to Spanish tapas, the primary difference is that pinchos are served on a skewer or toothpick. In fact, the word pincho literally means "thorn" or "spike." In many bars, these snacks are served on self-serve platters and placed on the bar. Patrons keep the toothpicks to tally their bills at the end of the evening.

"Pinchitos" are a type of pincho that is prepared on a skewer similar to "kebabs." Pinchitos are typically made of diced pork or chicken that has been marinated with herbs and spices. Special spice mixes to make pinchitos are sold all over Spain, however, it can be quite difficult to find spice packets in the U.S…

So imagine my surprise when I received my first month’s delivery from Savory Spice Shop’s new Spice Club and found a packet of Southern Spain Pinchito Spice and a packet of Aleppo pepper along with a recipe card with detailed instructions and gorgeous photos of the completed dish. The Pinchito Spice blend adds a Spanish-influenced curry flavor to whatever you're using it in. It works both as a marinade for the meat and as a dipping sauce for the grilled kebabs.

The Savory Spice Club delivers a spice-of-the-month to your mailbox with new flavors & unique recipes that will inspire you to think about seasonings in a new light. Choose from three options depending on how many spices and recipes you want to receive for the year. The monthly kits are perfect for any level of home cook or spice lover and are enough to make a meal that will generously feed four people.

For Sauce:
2 teaspoons Southern Spain Pinchito Spice
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed Aleppo chiles

For pinchitos:
2 tablespoons Southern Spain Pinchito Spice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. beef, pork, lamb, or chicken
Choose at least 2 of these veggies:
       8 oz. white mushrooms
       2 bell peppers (any color), cubed
       2 small zucchini or squash, thick slices
       1 red onion, cut in wedges
       1 teaspoon crushed Aleppo chilies

For sauce: Whisk together all sauce ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve pinchitos.

For pinchitos: Soak some bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes or longer. Then in a gallon-size zip top bag or other sealable container, thoroughly combine Pinchito Spice, vinegar, and oil. Add meat and toss to coat all pieces with marinade. Refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Thread skewers with alternating meat and veggie pieces. Grill 5 to 7 min. per side, or to desired doneness. Transfer skewers to a platter and sprinkle with crushed Aleppo chilies to taste.

As a meal, serve over a bed of rice and drizzle with sauce. As an appetizer, serve on smaller skewers with sauce on the side for dipping.

For a vegetarian option: Use 14 oz. extra firm tofu or 1 lb. eggplant in place of meat. For eggplant, sprinkle cubes generously with salt and let sit in a colander for 30 min. to remove excess moisture before marinating. And, for a vegan option: simply use a non-dairy yogurt for the sauce.

Not sure about committing to a 6- or 12-month spice club membership? We are giving you a chance to try two of Savory Spice Shop's signature spice blends: Georgia Boys Rib Rub and Georgia Peach Spice! Enter to win below:

Recipe for Spanish Pinchitos with Yogurt Lime Dressing created by Mike Johnston, Savory Spice Shop founder

While we received complimentary spice packets from Savory Spice Shop, we received no additional remuneration. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Cooking with ALDI: Sautéed Pork Chops with Cider Sauce and Apple-Infused Carrots

We love a challenge. So, when the folks from Bon Appétit magazine reached out to us about preparing a quick and tasty meal for a family of four for under $10 using ingredients purchased from ALDI, we jumped at the chance. After reading Chef Mary Nolan’s ALDI-inspired recipe for Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Roasted Cauliflower, we were anxious to get started creating our meal.

I had visited ALDI once, but had not “shopped” the store before. I was glad I remembered a quarter for the shopping cart deposit before I went in ready to do my research. Our local ALDI store is not very large. It has wide aisles with minimal shelving and stock in boxes which I’m sure helps keep overhead and staffing costs down. There was a nice selection of items, all very neatly displayed. I headed first to the meat department, knowing from experience that would be the most expensive part of the meal. I compared the prices of beef, pork, chicken and frozen seafood. Wanting to make a seasonal meal, I decided on a family pack of eight pork chops.

I got a bit distracted in the home goods aisle with all of the bargains on small appliances (a crockpot for $20 – awesome!), storage items and even Halloween costumes. After finding a bottle of Nature’s Nectar 100% apple juice, I chose a recipe of sautéed pork chops with an apple cider sauce for which we would also need some oil for the pan and some seasoning for the pork.

I then headed to the produce section to find fresh vegetables to serve alongside the chops. There were some good-looking acorn and butternut squash, as well as bell peppers and cucumbers. I opted for baby carrots that I could boil in some of the apple juice and found some boxes of Rice Bowl brand rice pilaf that would round out the meal nicely. As any busy home cook knows, having all the elements of a meal done at the same time can be a bit tricky, All of these dishes are easy to prepare the same 30-minute time-window.

I headed to check out with my items where I was greeted by a sweet clerk who kindly reminded me that ALDI only accepts cash, EBT, or debit cards. We chatted as I packed the reusable bags I had brought with me. A quick and painless checkout experience always leaves me with a good impression of any store; my ALDI did not disappoint.

Our meal should take about 30 minutes to prepare. We recommend starting with the rice pilaf as it takes the most time to cook and requires the least amount of effort. Just like preparing plain white rice, boil the prescribed amount of water and follow the package directions. The pilaf will steam while you cook the pork and carrots.

Apple-infused Carrots
2 cups Peter Rabbit Farms baby carrots
¾ cup apple juice
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Bring apple juice and salt to a boil and add carrots, simmer carrots until crisp-tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain off excess liquid and add the oil to the carrots. Toss to coat and leave them covered in the pan until ready to serve.

Sautéed Pork Chop with Cider Sauce 
4 pork chops, 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick
¼ teaspoon Stonemill Steak seasoning (or other seasoned salt)
1 tablespoon Carlini pure vegetable oil
1 cup apple cider or juice

Sprinkle one side of the pork chops with seasoned salt. If you are using the ALDI brand “Stonemill Steak Seasoning“ be aware that it is a bit spicy, but it lends a very nice kick to the cider sauce. In 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pork chops to the pan and cook uncovered for 3-5 minutes depending on the thickness of the chops. When the chops are opaque and browned on one side, flip to the other side and brown. The chops are done when the flesh is opaque and the juices are clear. At this point, remove the chops to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add cider to the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to loosen browned bits from bottom of skillet. Simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced by more than half and is thickened. Add the chops back to the pan and thoroughly coat with the cider sauce. Serve the chops with pilaf and apple-soaked carrots.

This delicious home-cooked meal for four under $10 will definitely help to keep your budget on track. We hope this menu will inspire you to head to your nearest ALDI to find everyday essentials that won’t break the bank.

Disclosure: We received ALDI gift certificates in exchange for writing this blog post. While this post is sponsored, the opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Leftover Hack: Stuffed Peppers

According to United Nations Environment Programme, 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. So in celebration of World Food Day (held annually on October 16th), we are sharing one of our favorite ways to turn leftovers into a delicious second meal.

Peppers are an inexpensive and plentiful vegetable option and make a wonderful vessel for stuffing. In addition, peppers are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, which help prevent cell damage, cancer, and diseases related to aging, support immune function, and inflammation caused by arthritis and asthma. Vitamin K promotes proper blood clotting, strengthens bones, and helps prevent cell damage.

5-6 large peppers (bell, poblano, Anaheim)
4 cups leftover cooked grains and/or vegetables
1-2 cups sauce (optional)
1 cup grated cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Prepare the peppers by cutting the stem out creating a bowl shape. Remove all seeds and membranes from the peppers. You can reserve the tops for decoration if you choose.

Prepare your filling. The best fillings are leftover rice dishes like jambalaya, paella, quinoa, couscous, or farro which can be stretched with leftover vegetables like potatoes, squash, corn, beans, etc.

Fill the peppers with your leftovers being careful not to overstuff them. Place the stuffed peppers in a greased baking dish. If you have leftover tomato sauce, gravy or even soup, you can ladle ¼ cup over each pepper and sprinkle the top with some grated cheese (cheddar, Monterey jack, feta, goat cheese or Parmesan) if you so choose. The sauce and cheese are not necessary, but  are another way to punch up your dish.

Bake the peppers on the middle rack of your oven until the peppers are tender and browning and the filling is heated completely through, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow peppers to cool before serving with a simple fresh salad.

Celebrate World Food Day by toasting to the farmers that work hard every day to ensure that our food is grown with care and is healthy for us to eat and post a picture of yourself with your glass raised and include a personalized toast as your status or tweet on Facebook or Twitter with #ToastAFarmer and #WFD2015. And, continue to look for more easy and fun tips to prevent food waste at home.

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