Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cranberry Orange Muffins {Lightened Up}


They don't often grace my breakfast table since, while delicious, they are typically oversized and full of fat and calories. As my favorite comedian would say...muffins are just bald cupcakes. :)

Not these muffins, though. When I was home last week, my mom made a batch of these muffins based on a Cooking Light recipe she found. They were light and flavorful, not heavy like most muffins. They were perfect with a hot mug of tea and a piece of fruit.

They don't look like much on the outside (don't cook them until they get golden brown - they're  perfectly cooked and moist when they're just done). But, they are beautiful on the inside, and they're slightly sweet and packed with the bright flavors of cranberry and orange. The kitchen smelled warm and homey when they were baking.

Perfect for the holidays or any winter weekend!

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Lightened Up)

Makes 1 dozen, Adapted from Cooking Light's Fresh Cranberry Muffins

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped fresh cranberries (frozen will also work)
2/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla 
1 heaping Tbsp. orange zest
1 egg, beaten
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. coarse or turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in bowl; mix together. Stir in cranberries. In a separate bowl, combine milk, butter, orange zest, vanilla and egg; add wet mixture to the flour mixture, and stir just until combined (do not overbeat).

Spoon batter into muffin tins lined with wrappers or sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle tops with coarse sugar. Bake 15-20 minutes, until muffins spring back when touched in center or toothpicks come out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No Place Like Home

Well we're back from another wonderful weekend in Vermont. We were always doing something and I never seemed to have a chance to jump on the computer (not necessarily a bad thing, right?), but I always have the best time going home and this time was no different.

The days were filled with lots of homemade comfort food...

Local craft beers, and not one, not two, but three trips to my new favorite place, Positive Pie. Talk about becoming a creature of habit!

Playground time and long, brisk walks to burn off some of the comfort food...

And card playing while watching the snow fall outside.

We took drives through the country, watched movies in the middle of the day, read books and played games, went to a craft fair, did some shopping in the cute town of Montpelier, and had lots of coffee pit stops.

We caught up with friends, both from home and from the Jerz.

And best of all, I got to meet my 2-week old nephew!

Isn't he a little peanut? He only weighed 5 pounds when he was born, and he's still just a little dumpling.

We got back home around dinnertime tonight and although I'm sad to have left my family, I'm ready to get back into my routine tomorrow - starting with a good workout and a big salad. :) Hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Log Jammin'

Yesterday we made the long drive to my home state for the holiday weekend. It was actually a beautiful drive and we hit very little traffic, so made it to Vermont by around 8 PM. Around 5 we were all hungry and ready for some time out of the car, so we stopped at one of our favorite pit stops for dinner, The Log Jam in Lake George.

It was already all decorated for the holidays and looked so warm and inviting.

We were early enough that we were able to snag a table right by the fire. Riker loved watching the wood crackle and I loved sipping on a Vermont brew all warm and toasty by the flames.

So cozy! We've had lunch at Log Jam before and love the salad bar, but had never had dinner there before. We were definitely impressed with the food - this place is quickly becoming our favorite stop on the drive back and forth from VT.

The salad bar came with our meals, so we loaded up with veggies and their homemade green goddess dressing. They offered lots of homemade breads as well, but I couldn't resist their homemade garlic croutons, so declined the bread.

For my entree, I ordered the maple, mustard glazed salmon with pecan & apple crust. On the side I had a serving of roasted Brussels sprouts. Can't get enough of these things lately.

I loved that they offered half portions of many entrees, so I could get a meal that was a reasonable size and I didn't leave feeling stuffed.

A few hours after dinner, and we were home, unpacked and curled up on the couch chatting with my parents. My mom is a huge Survivor fan, so after visiting they put their show on and I laid on the couch reading my book; I'm deep into Sharp Objects (same author as Gone Girl, which was great), and had a hard time putting it down last night to go to sleep. Hoping to finish it tonight!


We woke up this morning to freshly baked cranberry orange muffins and coffee waiting.

Ah, it's good to be home. :)

Bellies full and hands warm, we're bundling up now to go for a nice long walk before coming home to cook with the family. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bar Snacks & Festive Food

The last week or so has been hectic whirlwind. After we got back from our relaxing mini vaca to Amish Country last weekend, my work week kicked into full gear. So many of our clients were down for a few weeks due to Hurricane Sandy, so now we're in catch-up mode. One of my biggest projects was writing an entire one week. That was fun! :) I knew I'd be working late every night, so meal planning was top priority early in the week to make sure we had yummy but healthy things on hand to make quickly.

Whole wheat pasta w/ veggies and Laughing Cow came in really handy, as it's quick, low-cal, high in fiber and protein - and it doubles as a lunch the next day.

Luckily I have a husband who likes to get crafty in the kitchen, so although I'd made a list of easy meals to throw together after work, one night I came home to some spinach, black bean and soy chicken enchiladas. He cooked them with some green tomato salsa I made over the summer and canned for just such a day.

These were so delicious - the spinach was such a good addition - and he made them with some great new low carb wraps we found at the grocery store. These babies have only 75 calories, but 7 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber.

And now moving onto the fun stuff. Bar snacks and festive food!

Matt had some of his friends from work over for happy hour one night, and put out quite the spread of goodies. I wasn't able to hang out unfortunately (still holed up in my office busily writing website content), but I did snag a few treats to nibble on while I worked. Like homemade jalapeno poppers. Um, yum.

He made these by cutting jalapeno peppers in half, then stuffing them with low fat cream cheese he'd doctored up with garlic powder and chili powder. Then he coated them in panko breadcrumbs and baked them until crispy. They were spicy and crunchy with a nice coolness from the cream cheese. Perfect!


The weekend zipped by with more work to be done, but thankfully this is a short week and I'm off to Vermont this afternoon to spend the long weekend with family. Although last week was exhausting, it felt really good to get so much work off my plate so this week I could head out for the holiday with a clear head, and also enjoy the last few days of work with my coworkers - we had some festivities planned!

Every year my agency does a potluck Thanksgiving lunch the day before we close the office. The company provides the main courses, and we all bring appetizers, side dishes and desserts. People went all out this year, and everything was delicious.

How cute are those little tent cards our office manager made? For my contribution, I brought an appetizer my sister introduced me to one year during a fall wine tasting we had at our house. Brie with pumpkin butter and roasted nuts.

It's so easy to make, but looks like a showstopper - everyone was raving about it. Just take a wedge of brie (leave it out for a while until it comes to room temperature), and put it on a serving dish. Then take a jar of pumpkin butter and microwave it for 1-2 minutes; pour the warm pumpkin butter over the brie, and top with toasted pecans or walnuts. Serve with crostini or crackers, and you've got a 2-minute app to die for. This time I actually used a medley of fruits & nuts I found at the cheese counter instead of plain nuts since it looked so pretty and festive. 

Great end to the work week!

Now I'm off to finish packing up the car and head up to New England for a few days. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Recipe ReDux: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dried Cranberries

This month's Recipe ReDux was all about revamping vintage side dishes. What better theme right before we head into the holidays?

As I was thinking about what to write for this post, I realized I don't actually make a lot of side dishes. I love making creative main dishes, but simple veggies, brown rice and quinoa usually serve as the sides. But adding a little twist to your mainstay veggies and healthy carbs is sometimes all you need to make a meal amazing.

I completely hated Brussels sprouts up until a few years ago, when Matt forced me to stop being a baby and try them again. I'd only ever had them out of a frozen bag and boiled to death, then served up looking slightly mushy and very unappetizing. Vintage Brussels sprouts = blech. But roasting them brings them to a whole new level.

I actually love them roasted plain with salt and pepper, but for this dish I added some dried cranberries as well in honor of the season. Toasted walnuts would also be a great addition.

These are so good that I actually ate an entire bowl for dinner one night when I was home by myself. No carbs, no protein, just a big bowl of dressed up sprouts. Delicious!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dried Cranberries

Serves 2

4 cups Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and cut in quarters
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine quartered Brussels sprouts with all other ingredients; toss to combine. Make sure all sprouts are equally coated with olive oil.

Transfer mixture to a sheet pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sprouts become caramelized and slightly crisp on the edges.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Vacation Twins

Yesterday morning was a lazy one. Riker let us sleep until 8 am (!!), which was glorious. Must be the black out curtains in the hotel room. Maybe I should get some for his room at home?

Rather than showering and heading out for breakfast, we decided to hang around the room for a while and then throw on clothes and head down to breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was.

I opted for the buffet since it included lots of fresh items and a made-to-order omelet bar. I ordered an egg white omelet with tomatoes, broccoli, peppers and cheese, with a side of homemade sourdough toast, and coffee of course. I also nabbed a mini fruit and yogurt cup. I actually gave my yogurt to Riker, so went back for a big bowl of fruit with a sprinkling of granola.

Funny side story: ever since we arrived at the hotel on Friday, we kept seeing this one couple and their young son everywhere we went. They checked in when we did, stayed in the room next to ours, went to the pool when we did, had breakfast at the table next to us, checked out when we did, and went to the same sightseeing spots at the same time as us. They even parked their car right next to ours in the parking lot! Weird right? Vacation twins!

Once we were fueled up, we showered, packed up the room and headed out for the day. There were tons of cute little shops in town featuring handmade furniture, toys and home decor, so a little shopping had to be done.

I love crafty shops, and left with a few pretty winter wreaths and some new mittens. Riker also left with a few treats of his own.

Matt was dying to visit a toy store and buy some wooden toys for Riker. We found a toy shop on an Amish family farm and bought a few different things, but that walker up there is Riker's favorite. He played with it non-stop today. I love how old fashioned it looks, and that it's made by hand.

Midway through the day we stopped at Miller's, which was touted as having the "best Amish food" in Lancaster. When we walked in, we were greeted with yet another huge buffet. Kids eat free from the buffet, so Riker gorged on broccoli, chicken and buttered noodles (an Amish tradition).

There were literally no vegetarian options on the menu, and very few on the buffet, so I went with just the salad & soup bar. My body was craving veggies after the carb & cheese fest the day before.

I had a big salad and a homemade roll, as well as a cup of veggie chili. The chili was so good! Miller's was serving beers from a local brewery, so you know what that means...

I wouldn't normally order a beer with a salad lunch, but I'm a total sucker for local brews. I ordered the Amish Four Grain by Lancaster Brewing Company, which was light but toasty.

Shoo-fly pie was another specialty we'd been seeing all over town, so we couldn't leave without trying some. It's basically a pecan pie, but instead of pecans it's topped with cinnamon crumble. I actually don't like the bottom of a pecan pie (I like to pick off the candied nuts and leave the sugary filling alone), so I only had a few bites.

After lunch we took a drive through the countryside looking at the rolling hills and watching the Amish men plowing their fields. And then we spotted a winery. :)

We stopped in to taste a few and bring back some bottles for Matt's parents, who were taking care of Butters for us while we were away. Before hitting the road, we had one last stop to make...

The Strasburg train village! We didn't end up having time to take an actual train ride, but we did take a tour of the largest model train village in the world. I wasn't expecting to be dazzled, but it was actually pretty cool. It took years to build, and all the animations are custom made, not store bought.

It's actually modeled after Lancaster, so it was fun to see all the little recreations of the real town.

And with that, the sun was setting and it was time to head home. My sister actually invited us to come for dinner since we were passing Philly on our way home, so we took a short detour to stop at her place to visit and enjoy some homemade corn chowder. Perfect little pit stop.

And when we arrived back home last night, our power was on! We're now nice and cozy, caught up on housework and refreshed for the work week ahead. Time to get back into the swing of things tomorrow.

Hope you had a great weekend!