6 Reasons We Love a Night In

Grapefruit & Avocado Salad

Last week was my birthday, and I was lucky enough to spend the whole week celebrating with my friends, family and lots of food. It all culminated over the weekend with a visit from Keri and her fam. We spent an entire afternoon and evening in the kitchen together, cooking for a night in with the husbands. Don’t get me wrong, we love a good date night out. But we also love a night in. Here’s why: 

  1. Informality…or formality…you choose! You can come to dinner in whatever attire you want. You want to prep and eat in your PJs like Keri did? Do it! Prefer stretchy yoga pants? Awesome. Want to go full on glam in cocktail attire? 80s prom? The roaring 20s? Beachwear? Go. For. It. You can be as formal or informal as you want, and you don’t have to worry about being under or overdressed because it’s your night in. (I went with jeans and a sweater this time, in case you were dying to know). 
  2. No reservations. Getting a sitter, getting ready, and getting out the door is just hard right now. We work, the husbands work, the toddlers get tired, and remembering to make a reservation is hard, let alone make it to one on time! A night in gives us the flexibility to be on our own timeline. We don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time, and we can take as long or as short of time to eat as we please. We opted to start our dinner in peace after the kids went to bed, and we spread it out over a couple of hours.
  3. More social. From the cooking to the actual eating, it’s just more intimate and social. We get to enjoy cooking together. We can chat, tell stories, joke around – it’s fun for us. If you’re doing a night in for several people, it allows way more interaction amongst the group than sitting at a long restaurant table. We all know what it’s like to wonder what on earth the people at the other end of the table are saying! Cook with your guests, taste tests (we love little tasting spoons so everyone can share the love), and generally just enjoy the moment. 
  4. Way cheaper. There isn’t a lot to say here. Just like during the week you know you spend less money cooking at home, the same principle applies here. We did four courses for four people and spent less than $75 on food. You can’t beat that!
  5. Experimenting. We love any opportunity to experiment in the kitchen and play with our food. We really, really do. And nights in are a fantastic way to do that. You can try new recipes you’ve saved, make up your own, learn a new cooking technique, bring in friends or significant others to cook with you – the sky is the limit. We tried a new recipe for one course, and we made the rest up! See below for what we cooked and how to make it.
  6. You’re in control. With a night in, you can make it exactly what you want. You can control the cost, the guest list, exactly what’s on the plate, the number of dishes. If you want to do a course pairing (we did wine), you can – beer, wine, cocktails, mocktails, infused water, whatever you want! You can use it as a learning experience and try out complex dishes. Or you can keep it completely simple. We’re big fans of the 80/20 rule, in a lot of ways. We did a cake that had several steps, but the rest of the meal we just kept simple. This goes for prep and what’s on the actual plate. With a night in, we can pack in the veggies, make the most of the dishes healthy-ish, and still indulge too. Enter that decadent cake we tried! 

 A four-course wine pairing with our husbands, in our PJs, on the cheap, with no rushing – any day! Try it, we promise you’ll love it. Don’t stress about it, even if you aren’t comfortable in the kitchen. Again, it’s a great chance to experiment, socialize, relax and laugh off any mishaps, like reading three cups of powdered sugar instead of three tablespoons. Let’s just say our first batch of frosting didn’t make it.  

What We Made 

  • Grapefruit & Avocado Salad 
    • Salad: grapefruit slices, avocado slices, arugula mix
    • Dressing: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, whole grain mustard, salt and pepper (simply mixed to taste!) 
  • Seared Apples & Sharp White Cheddar 
    • 2 fuji apples, peeled and sliced 
    • ½ Tbs. butter
    • Juice of half an orange 
    • ¼ tsp. pumpkin pie spice 
    • ¼ tsp. vanilla extract 
    • Sliced sharp white cheddar cheese
    • Heat butter in skillet. Add apples, cooking for 10-15 minutes (we like ours extra crispy, so we seared a bit longer!). Add pumpkin pie spice and vanilla. Cook for another 3-5 minutes. Let cool. Place an apple slice on top of a slice of sharp white cheddar – it’s delish! 
  • Sweetheart Chili Burgers 
    • Burger: 2# ground beef mixed with 4 oz. can diced green chilis (drained) and salt and pepper to taste. 
    • Sweetheart sauce: 8 oz. whipped cream cheese mixed with ½ cup of your favorite pepper jelly (we used raspberry jalapeno) 
    • Build it: grill the burgers (we did charcoal because it’s our first love!), spread the sweetheart sauce on a brioche bun, add the burger, and top with caramelized onions.  
  • Baker by Nature’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake. We don’t really need to say anything else here – the title pretty much says it all. It was indeed as divine as it sounds.  

Are you ready for a night in? Comment below with questions or to share your menu ideas! 

Sweetheart Burger
Seared Apples & Sharp Cheddar
Salted Carmel Chocolate Cake

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Butternut Squash Soup-Er Bowl

Butternut squash soup

Did you know that January is National Soup Month? It’s cold, it’s dreary, and everyone is sick. Fitting, as soup can be the perfect antidote to the wintertime blues. This is one of my favorite recipes. It’s full of hearty vegetables and a little fruit, combined with the other ingredients it provides a savory flavor with just a tinge of sweet. And, it is easy and fast with minimal clean up. You can’t beat that!

My Vitamix helps make much of that easy clean up possible. I know, I know. Those suckers are expensive. BUT. You get so much more than just a regular blender. For this recipe (and any other soup you would use a blender for), it not only blends up the goodies, but also heats it at the same time. Leaving you extra time and less dishes. However, if you do not have a Vitamix or do not want to spend the money, an immersion blender or regular blender will work just fine (you may have to divide it though into two different blending batches, as not all ingredients will fit in a regular blender at once). 

Check out the recipe below and enjoy this soup-er bowl, then visit us next week as we share some of our favorite SUPER Bowl recipes in preparation for the big game!

Ingredients:

  • 1 3-4 lb butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 peeled honey crisp apple
  • 2 carrots, peeled
  • 1 small onion
  • 1-2 T. olive oil (enough to drizzle produce)
  • 2-3 c. vegetable broth (this will depend on how thick you want your soup)
  • 1/8 t. coriander
  • 1/8 t. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • Chopped cashews, toasted, to garnish
  • Toasted coconut to garnish
  • Creme fraiche or sour cream to garnish
Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 

2. Drizzle butternut squash, apple, carrots, and onion with olive oil and toss. Roast at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned.

3. Add roasted vegetables/frui, broth, and spices to blender. Blend at medium high speed fo 5 minutes, or until completely pureed. 

4. Add heavy cream and blend for 1 more minute. 

5. Garnish with toasted cashews and coconut flakes, add a dollop of sour cream or cream fraiche (these 3 ingredients look pretty, but they also add texture and impart great flavor when mixed). 

6. Enjoy! Makes 6-8 servings. 

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2019: Simple is HOT, Fad Diets & Gimmicks are NOT!

Fruit and Computer

Oh, the beginning of the year. For many of us, it signifies a renewal of promises we’ve made to ourselves. Maybe you said you would stop spending so much money on “stuff” and more on experiences. Maybe you said you would spend less time on social media and more time in real life. Or maybe you said this is the year you get healthier. Admittedly, this is something I personally focus on every year – improving my health. And why not? Our health is extremely important. Move more, eat better. Simple, right?

But health looks completely different for everyone. What I need may not be what YOU need. What works for you may not work for me at all. And what works today may not work a year from now! Nowhere is this truer than in the world of nutrition and wellness. I’ve spent the better part of 12 years trying to help people stay healthy or get healthy through nutrition education. And the biggest thing I’ve learned? There is no “one size fits all” approach. Sure, there are general guidelines – we all know them: eat your fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, cut back on bad fats, etc., etc. But is there one diet that is the best thing ever for all human kind? Nah. It just doesn’t exist.

As a result of our quest for wellness, we are losing the point. We throw billions (yes, billions!) of dollars into the weight loss industry. Even worse? TRILLIONS are thrown into the wellness industry. It’s great that people want to be healthy. What is not great are the gimmicks and fad diets that have become rampant, increasing those dollars thrown at that quest for a quick fix. And for what? Our waistlines continue to grow, our legs move less, and our bank accounts get smaller.

So, what’s the point? Simplify. Life is complicated. What we eat shouldn’t be. How we eat shouldn’t be. And getting healthier shouldn’t be a drain on our bank account or time. Am I saying that out of all the diets, programs and products out there, there is nothing good to be taken? Not at all. Many of them may have at least one good take away. But here are some things to ask yourself before buying into anything that can cost you not only money, but also time:

1. What is being sold? Do you have to continue to buy in (time or money) in order to be successful?

Note: This does not apply to someone you may be seeing to help you start a plan or program or a nutrition professional you choose to continue seeing. As a dietitian who saw patients regularly for follow-up, I tried to set my clients up for success from the beginning, with or without my future help. And if they chose to come back to see me for accountability, then that ball was in their court!

2. Who is selling it? Do they truly stand behind their service or product? Are they reputable? Do they have an ulterior motive?

3. How was the product or program developed? Is it science-based? Science helps us better understand our environment. It’s the movement forward toward a better understanding based on past and current research and principles. And nutrition is a science. Be sure the programs or products you choose are based on sound science.

4. How much time, effort and money are you willing to spend in order to be successful? Whether you are following a wellness trend or doing your own thing, this is always a great question to ask yourself. You get what you put in. But that doesn’t always mean the same thing for everyone. Baby steps may seem small but yield large results over a greater amount of time and usually cost less money!

Making an effort to eat better and exercise doesn’t have to come with expensive price tags, fancy food, crazy programs, silly supplements, cutting your favorites out, and spending loads of time (that, let’s face it, none of us have!) at the gym or just exercising in general. It can start with the SIMPLEST changes (see our 30 Days of Baby Steps for Your Health calendar). So simple, in fact, that you don’t even feel like you are changing anything. These changes create new habits (or break old ones), and these habits can make or break your goals.

So this month, as we celebrate the beginning of a brand new year, Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day, and Women’s Healthy Weight Day, let’s have a toast to simplifying. Real Food. Real Life. Real Simple.

Mis-Adventures with My Slow Cooker

Pastrami

I LOVE my slow cooker. I know, I know – I’m not the only one! But it is such a big part of my weekly meal planning and meal prep, I just have to give it some props. What I love about my particular slow cooker is that it isn’t just a crock pot. It roasts (it even has a cute little rack!), it sautés (for those recipes that call for a quick sear before you throw the meat in with your other ingredients) and it’s BIG (because I like to cook in bulk and freeze individual portions for chaotic evenings).

Needless to say, my slow cooker and I are great friends. But, like any relationship, we’ve had some bumps in the road. Sometimes I get the temperature wrong and my dish cooks too fast or too slow. Sometimes I get busy and completely forget to even start it – which is what happened to me last Thursday! See our Easy Peasy Instagram story highlight for a quick recipe to throw in if you forget to do this.

Sometimes a recipe just doesn’t work out the way it should. Maybe it’s user error, maybe it’s the recipe, maybe it’s a combination of both. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I had a beautiful corned beef brisket that I was going to turn into pastrami. I saw the recipe on Today Food on a show about tailgating. My husband is a college football fanatic, and his team was playing in the National Championship play-off. What a perfect opportunity to try out this delicious recipe.

It was indeed delicious…eventually. The cook didn’t go quite according to plan. I did all the prep – soaked it, rubbed it down, wrapped it, and put it on the cute little roasting rack. I stuck my favorite wireless meat thermometer in because I knew it 1) would be a long cook and 2) had a goal temp for maximum quality. Then I went on about my business. Several hours later, the temperature stopped rising. It stayed the same. And stayed the same. And stayed the same. Ok, I thought, it’s hitting a stall like meat does during smoking. And stayed the same. The recipe said it would be about 9-10 hours in the slow cooker. 10 hours came and went. Finally, at 14 hours, the game almost over, and me ready to go to bed, I pulled it out of the slow cooker and threw it in the oven to finish. I tasted it before I put away, sad that my pastrami sandwiches for the game did not come to fruition. It WAS delicious! Mouth-watering delicious.

 

Kitchen mishaps happen to novice cooks and to seasoned cooks. And that’s ok. Sometimes we have to be flexible. Adjust on the fly if you can, and never be afraid to laugh at yourself. We didn’t get our sandwiches for the game, but we had absolutely yummy leftovers for lunch the next couple of days. Laugh it off and move on. Sometimes we learn as much from our mis-adventures as we do from our successes!

 

P.S. Happy National Hot Pastrami Day!

 

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Lucky Salsa

Black-Eyed-Pea Dip

Happy New Year! The beginning of a new year often signifies a fresh start for most of us. Black-eyed peas have traditionally been a way to ring in the new year, signifying luck for the coming year. We have taken this traditional food and given it a bit of a simple twist, using it as a salsa and mixing it with a colorful combination of peppers, tomatoes, and corn. It is packed not only with luck, but yummy goodness as well!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes (can also use diced, fresh)
  • 1 can sweet yellow corn
  • ½ c. diced purple onion
  • ½ c. diced bell peppers, any color
  • ¼ c. cilantro, diced
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2/3 c light Italian dressing
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Toss all ingredients together.
  2. Refrigerate for at least an hour for fullest flavor.                                                                                                                                                                    Note: Can be served immediately, if short on time!
  3. Serve with your favorite chip or vegetables!