Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Weekend in Pictures

Yet another summer weekend has passed. This weekend we had a busy few days and a full house again, with my mom, sister and grandma staying with us to attend some family events. Within three days I had a bridal shower, engagement party, comedy show in the city with friends, and an overnight in Hoboken, all topped off with a Sunday afternoon lazing around the backyard. I ate out a few times, but also made time to cook some healthy(er) dinners for the fam at home. 

Starting with taco night! These were stuffed with spicy grilled shrimp, homemade refried beans and lots of other goodies.

Homemade marinara and garlic green beans also made it onto the menu.

McCloone's Boathouse in West Orange was a gorgeous spot for my cousin's bridal shower, and the food was awesome. Crab bruschetta and stuffed zucchini squash blossoms were my favorites.

Immediately after the bridal shower I zoomed over to an engagement party for our good friends Adam and Liz. The bride's sister made these cupcakes - aren't they so cute? I actually didn't eat any, but everyone raved about them.

Our night out in the city began with a show at Comic Strip Live. It was hilarious, as usual. Loved that the host made fun of his long mullet, since we were definitely all thinking it. :)

Sunday night dinner was a feast of summer, complete with grilled Italian chicken (for them, not me), sweet corn on the cob, a huge salad, and pasta tossed with fresh tomatoes, basil and brie - a dish that had been forgotten for many years and was way overdue to make an appearance.

And now, back to the grind for another week. Thank goodness the next one up is a 3-day, I feel like I need it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer Corn & Arugula Salad

We still have one week of summer left, and if you haven't eaten any fresh corn lately, go get it! I picked up some Jersey white corn over the weekend to have for dinner with the fam, and everyone was raving about how sweet it was.

My good friend Heather makes a fresh corn salad for nearly every BBQ during the summer, and it's loved by all. I took inspiration from her dish to make this really simple white corn, tomato and arugula salad. It's light, fresh and summery, with a slight kick from a jalapeno - perfect for a Labor Day party.

To grab the recipe, head over to Jersey Bites, and check out some of the other corn recipes while you're there. The corn cakes sound pretty intriguing to me...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Summer Weeknight Dinners Roundup

A few weeks ago I was contacted by iVillage.com to share some tips on healthy weeknight dinners, and it got me thinking about some of my summer go-to meals when I'm too tired to cook much but don't want to resort to takeout. We still have a few weeks left of warm weather and fresh produce, so without further ado, here's a roundup of some of my favorites - they're all healthy, easy, and of course tasty.

Fish "Tacos"

I always have some kind of flaky white fish in my fridge or freezer, whether it's haddock, tilapia or flounder. To make my "tacos," I bread the fish lightly with cornmeal or panko breadcrumbs and saute it in a pan. Then I stuff the filets inside a Tumaro's low carb wrap and top them with a quick salsa made with mangos (or any other tropical fruit you have on hand), fresh tomatoes, and some citrus. Protein, veggies and healthy carbs all rolled up in one. :)

Zucchini Tomato Quick Casserole

Having a garden means we always have an abundance of zucchinis and tomatoes around. When I want a hot summer meal, I'll saute the zucchinis with some onions and garlic, then layer them in a baking dish with thick slices of fresh tomatoes. I cover the whole thing with breadcrumbs and some parmesan cheese, then bake until bubbly. This "casserole" is done in a half hour, and goes great over whole wheat pasta or as a veggie side dish.

Thai Peanut Noodle Salad

Cold noodles! I love this stuff. It's great on a sweltering summer day and is filled with Thai flavors and crunchy veggies. I make mine with whole wheat spaghetti, but soba noodles are great too. Grab the recipe here.

Falafel with Tzatziki 

I've loved falafel since I was 12 years old and first became a vegetarian. It's smoky, slightly sweet and aromatic, and has great texture. You can get decent falafel mix at the grocery store - just add water, mix and then cook. Traditional falafel is rolled into balls and deep fried, but I just flatten mine out into little patties and fry them in a dry pan with cooking spray. They still come out slightly crispy and don't have all the grease. Then I stuff them into low carb, whole wheat pitas, and top with chopped tomatoes and cucumber-Greek yogurt sauce. Cool and refreshing, and something a little different.

Pan Seared Salmon

Grilled fish, the good ol' standby. Salmon is one of my favorites, and when I pan sear it, I start by picking a flavor, any flavor - a jam (lately I've been using a homemade habanero peach, but I've done blueberry and raspberry jams too), a spice blend, or a marinade. Then I coat the fish with the sauce/spices and sear it on medium-high heat flesh side down in a cast iron skillet. Once the fish is seared and starting to turn opaque, I flip it, transfer it to a 400 degree oven, and cook for another 15 minutes until it's just cooked through. The top ends up caramelized and the skin gets crispy enough to pull right off. We ate this last night with some fresh, garlicky zucchini rounds and (gasp!) white rice. Sooo good.


And without fail, sandwiches come up at least twice a week in my summertime rotation. Vegetarian BLT's or plain old cucumber tomato sandwiches are my favorites, but I also do veggie wraps with goat cheese and salads stuffed into pita pockets. When your veggies look that fresh and juicy, they don't need much!

Alrighty, back to work - gotta power through my to-do list if I'm going to finish it off my 6:00. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Blueberry Jam {Sugar Free}

So, blueberry season officially ended back in June, but I've had about 10 pounds of sweet organic blueberries from a Emery's, a local fruit farm, sitting in my freezer for two months now just waiting to be made into jam for the winter. Last weekend I finally got the chance.


You might not be able to pick blueberries anymore this season, but they will still be plentiful and fairly cheap in the grocery store for about another month, so grab a few pints of the sweet berries, pour yourself a mug of hot coffee and spend a Saturday morning in the kitchen whipping this up. It is so worth it.

Homemade jam is one of the best simple pleasures in life. It tastes amazing, is healthy, and I always feel so accomplished when I make it. I love giving jars of it to neighbors, friends and family. Best of all, it's so easy to make. 

All it takes is a little arm power to mash up the blueberries with some water and lemon juice. Once the berries are mashed, just bring it to a boil and let it cook for a few minutes until it starts to thicken. These blueberries were super sweet so I was able to make this jam sugar free. You might want to taste your berries first, though, since blueberries can be a little sour; if they are tart, I'd recommend using sugar or stevia to sweeten them up.

If you don't want to take the extra step of canning it and storing it for the next few months, you can just pour it into jars or Tupperware containers and store it in the fridge. It will keep for a few weeks. Blueberry jam thickens pretty easily, so if you are going to eat it right away, you can even omit the pectin.

Sugar Free Blueberry Jam 

Makes 4 1/2 pints

9 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
6 Tbsp. no sugar pectin (note: if you use regular pectin, you must use sugar or the jam won't set)
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 cups water

Wash and sort the blueberries to remove any stems, leaves or mushy berries. In a pot, use a potato masher to mash the berries until they're only slightly chunky (putting them in the food processor will also work). Add pectin, lemon juice and water and mix well; bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Continue to cook until the berry mixture comes to a full rolling boil (the kind that can't be calmed down when stirred). Boil hard for 1 full minute.

At this point, the jam can be poured into jars and stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

If canning and storing the jam, pour it into hot, sanitized Mason jars with 1/4 inch of headroom. Wipe the necks clean, and close with sanitized lids. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and let set on the counter until jars have completely cooled and sealed, about 12 hours. Jam will keep for about a year.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Coconut Lemon Lime Bars

So far this weekend is looking pretty similar to most summer weekends around here...lots of poolside BBQs, meals filled with garden veggies and beers by the fire at night. So, I'll spare you all the details and share this summertime dessert recipe with you instead.

Today we had a family reunion to go to with family from Matt's dad's side (most of whom I'd never met, even after 11 years of knowing him, crazy!), and we were asked to bring a veggie side dish. I had that covered no problem, but also wanted to bring a fun summer dessert.

I'd seen a few recipes a while back for coconut bars, and thought they sounded perfect. The addition of lemon and lime made these taste even more summery. They are sweet and citrusy, with a flaky crust and a little crunch from the toasted coconut and walnuts. Perfect for a Labor Day barbecue if you ask me!

Coconut Lemon Lime Bars

Serves 12-15

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. lime zest
Juice of half a lemon
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, confectioners sugar and 1 Tbsp. of the lemon zest. Cut butter into the mixture with a pastry blender (use two butter knives if you don't have a pastry blender), until mixture is crumbly. Press mixture into an ungreased 13x9 baking pan to make a crust. Bake for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle coconut evenly over the baked crust and set aside. In another mixing bowl, combine condensed milk, remaining lemon zest, lime zest and lemon juice. Spread evenly over the coconut, using your fingers to spread if necessary. Sprinkle the walnuts on top, pressing down lightly so they stick to the milk mixture. Bake again for about 15-20 minutes, until the mixture is set and the coconut starts to brown. Remove and let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No Time to Lose

When I set my alarm last night, I fully planned to get up early to get my workout in. By the time 5:30 AM rolled around, however, I ended up snoozing twice and then laying in bed checking email - yes, procrastinating - until I realized I needed to be showered and dressed within 40 minutes before Riker woke up. Keeping with my new goal of not skipping exercise time, I decided that a quick workout to get my blood pumping was better than nothing, so I threw on a tank top and pounded out a few exercises on my bedroom floor before jumping in the shower.


This little routine took less than 15 minutes, and although it certainly was no hardcore fat-blasting workout, it at least got my heart rate up a bit and put me in the right mindset for the day. 

Morning Meals

After showering up, it was breakfast time. 

I haven't been posting my breakfasts and lunches lately since they're usually the same day after day - Kashi with berries, yogurt with fruit, salads or couscous bowls - but today they were extra good so I thought I'd share. For breakfast I toasted a Van's light all natural waffle and topped it with half a sliced banana and a cup of plain, fat free Greek yogurt that I spiked with cinnamon. So good! 

Halfway through the work day I stopped for lunch, and since I'm working from home now, I took advantage of it by walking out to the garden and picking a tomato and a cucumber to stuff inside a whole wheat pita pocket.

I spread a little hummus on the bottom, then added some peppery arugula and sliced tomatoes, and stuffed a chopped up Gardenburger and a slice of cheddar cheese in for protein. I had crunchy cucumber slices on the side for some extra veggies. I ate my lunch outside on the patio enjoying this gorgeous humid-free weather; sometimes it's nice to get away from the computer screen for a few minutes and relax your eyes by looking at the blue sky and green grass. :)

It's almost Friday, friends...hope your week is flying by!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cookbook Giveaway

Dinner tonight was nothing fancy, so let's breeze through quickly and get to the good stuff!

I planted beets in our garden this year, and while they don't produce like crazy - nothing like the tomatoes and cukes - they are so worth the wait. They have a delicate, mild flavor and are only slightly earthy, and go really well in salads.

I wasn't starving this evening and didn't feel like a big meal, and since Matt was out coaching soccer and I was on my own for dinner, I was all aboard for a simple beet salad. 

I roasted a few beets in the oven for about a half hour while I finished up work, then chopped them into large chunks while they were still warm.

I finished them off with a drizzle of olive oil, a handful of garden pea pods, and some herbed goat cheese.

And now for the giveaway! I recently started writing for Jersey Bites, an online resource for NJ restaurants, foodie events and recipes. You can check out the team page here (including the bio of yours truly) and soon you'll be seeing some new recipes of mine over there. 

This week, Jersey Bites is giving away two copies of Melissa d'Arabian's brand new Ten Dollar Dinners cookbook, and you all have a chance to win! Melissa d'Arabian was a winner of The Next Food Network Star, which you all know I'm obsessed with, so it's pretty neat to see her taking off in the food world. 

Her new cookbook is filled with healthful, budget-friendly dinners, and would be a great addition to any kitchen. To enter for a chance to win, just check out Melissa's Black Bean Nacho Burgers recipe on Jersey Bites here, and leave a comment with your email address. You can earn extra entries by posting about the contest on Twitter and Facebook. You have until August 17th to enter. Good luck!


Unless you're living under a rock you probably know that it's Shark Week, and being married to a biology teacher means we are learning about Great Whites all week long. Off to dig into my coveted pint of Ben & Jerry's banana Greek yogurt and plop myself in front of the Discovery channel. G'night!

Locally Grown Weekend

Good morning! How was your weekend? The weekend here started with dinner at El Familiar with Matt's parents, a Mexican place right down the street. I had been planning to redeem a Restaurant.com coupon I bought a while back to check out a new Greek place, but when we got there, a sign on the door said it went out of business. It makes me so sad when restaurants close. I wasn't thrilled about switching to Mexican since there are usually few healthy choices, but I spotted a few great shrimp dishes on the menu and went with one of those.

The chipotle shrimp had the perfect amount of spice and was cooked with sweet onions and peppers. It was served with garlicy steamed vegetables and rice, and was definitely a winner. I ate about half before calling it quits, since movie snacks were definitely on the agenda.

After dinner we headed to the movie night at Silverton Farms. They served popcorn with nutritional yeast, which got me unbelievably excited. Never have seen that outside of VT!

We watched the movie, Food Inc., in the greenhouse, which was really neat. The documentary is a film about corporate food production in the U.S., and is really a must-see for any food lover. It was very eye-opening and re-inspired me to buy organic and locally grown foods whenever possible.

We also poked around the farm store and I walked home with a huge, sweet organic cantaloupe. At checkout, the owner told me it was "on the house." Can't get better than that!


After a workout, some house cleanup and a few errands on Saturday morning, Matt, Riker and I jumped in the car to head down to Cape May for the first annual Crab and Craft Beer Festival, which featured local foods and brews. Unfortunately traffic was terrible and it took over 3 1/2 hours to get there, so we were all a little cranky when we arrived. And right when we pulled in, it started downpouring.

After such long a drive we weren't about to let some rain stop us, so we braved the storm and walked onto the festival grounds. I ordered scallop ceviche for lunch, which was citrusy and refreshing. For drinks, I had a Goose Island IPA and a Victory Hop Devil. The Hop Devil was oh so good.

Matt tried the new local Tuckahoe Marshallville Wit, which was pretty good. While waiting in line we chatted with one of Tuckahoe's founding partners and learned some interesting info about the brewery and their beers.

The festival was fun, but unfortunately Cape May Brewing didn't show up and we were really disappointed about that. It's in their hometown after all! They also ran out of crab cakes after about two hours, and the craft beers were kicked by around 4:00. Think they better make some adjustments next year! The live music and jugglers made up for it though. :)


Yesterday was beautiful here, so around 10:30 we abandoned the Sunday to-do list and went out on the boat with a bunch of our good friends - Dan & Jen, Heather & Kevin, and Cathleen & John.

We grilled on the boat for lunch, and I made a tortellini salad with garden tomatoes, cucumbers and basil, and pesto gouda cheese to share. It took less than 15 minutes to make, including cooking the pasta, and was pretty tasty.

Good friends, good food, sunshine and ocean swimming = one perfect summer day.

Great weekend!