Crockpot Chicken Pot Pie

14 Oct

Crockpot season is officially upon us!  As soon as the weather starts to turn colder and grey, I love to pull out the crockpot (or slowcooker depending on where you’re from), throw everything in the night before, have it cook all day and have dinner ready when we get home from work the next day. (Yes I know you can use them year round, but something feels wrong about using the crock pot in the middle of the summer to me.) It’s so easy and really nice to not always have to cook every night! I do feel bad for Maggie sometimes though since she has to smell the food cooking all day long, then never gets to have any.

We both love chicken pot pie, it just feels like a comfort food to me. I remember eating Marie Callender’s mini pot pies when I was growing up on cold fall and winter days, so it brings back memories of growing up in upstate New York and all the snow we got.  After searching for the perfect crock pot chicken pot pie recipe, we ended up combining elements of a few different ones. Instead of pouring the filling into a pie, we decided to make some refrigerated biscuits and serve the pot pie filling over the biscuits. I’m sure it would have been just as easy to make the pie but the biscuits were a fun twist.

Now, I get skeptical with any crock pot chicken recipe.  I have a horrible track record with the chicken turning out dry, so naturally I was nervous, but it turned out great! The chicken was not dry at all and it was the perfect warm and hearty dinner for a grey and rainy day.

Crock Pot Chicken Pot Pie
3-4 chicken breasts, chopped into bite size pieces
4-5 red potatoes, chopped into bite size pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups frozen veggies (I used 1 c of corn and 1 c of peas)
1 large (family size) can cream of chicken soup
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans refrigerated biscuits

1. Chop and dice the chicken, potatoes and onion. Place into the crock pot.

2. Add in the frozen veggies, cream of chicken soup and salt and pepper. Stir all the ingredients together so the soup evenly coats all the  ingredients.

The chicken pot pie mixture, all stirred up and ready to go!

The chicken pot pie mixture, all stirred up and ready to go!

3. Cook on low 6-8 hours, until chicken and potatoes are cooked. We cooked it on low for 8 hours and everything was done when we got home from work.

My mom bought me this crock pot as a Christmas gift last year…I have never been more excited to get kitchen gadgets as a present! It has a fantastic feature that allows you to set your cook time, and after the cook time is up, it automatically switches the heat to warm so you dish doesn’t get cold, or keep cooking.

4. When it’s time to eat, bake the biscuits according to the package directions.

5. When the biscuits are done, open them up and serve the pot pie mixture over the biscuits.

Chicken Pot Pie over Biscuits

Chicken Pot Pie over Biscuits

It tasted delicious! I loved having the flavor from the onion in there, plus the heartiness of the potatoes. The chicken was not dry at all, and it fell apart easily. There was enough pot pie filling for us to have dinner that night,  plus leftovers for at least 2 more meals.  The one thing  I would do different though is season the chicken before putting it into the crock pot. We thought the flavor was good but it could have used a little more pepper. Seasoning the chicken as well as the entire mixture might help kick up the flavor just a little bit. This recipe is definitely being saved and made again sometime this winter! Anyone have any variations on chicken pot pie that they have tried before?

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Pasta with Basil Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes

11 Oct

The weather is slowly turning to fall, which means our garden is just about done for the year. I really enjoyed all the fresh herbs, cucumbers and tomatoes all summer long. For some reason though, our basil and cherry tomato plants  are still growing! I was pulling plants the other day and I think I picked at least 2 cups worth of cherry tomatoes! I needed to figure out something to do with all the tomatoes and basil, quickly before they spoiled sitting around our house. It was perfect timing too, we ran the Twin Cities 10k last Saturday as our race for October and I was still searching for a good pre-race meal. Well with all the basil and tomatoes, what better than homemade pesto with oven roasted tomatoes and chicken over pasta!

Pesto
I’ve always loved Giada’s peso recipe. It’s fairly easy to make and really hard to mess up.
1 garlic clove
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
Salt and black pepper
1/2 cup – 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1. Add garlic, basil, pine nuts, salt and pepper into a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped.
2. While the blender is still running, slowly pour in 1/2 c of the olive oil. You want the pesto to have a thick but smooth consistency. You can always add more oil if necessary.
3. Add the Parmesan and blend until the cheese is mixed in.

I know pine nuts are expensive, so I’ve substituted walnuts and even almonds in a pinch. I couldn’t really tell any difference in taste between pesto with pine nuts and pesto with walnuts. I know the recipe calls for toasting or roasting the pine nuts, but I always forget this step! I’m sure the flavors would be different, so someday I’ll have to remember to roast whatever nuts I’m using.

Roasted Tomatoes
This could not have been easier to do, and you could use any seasoning you feel like.
As many tomatoes as you want
Olive Oil
Balsalmic Vinear
Salt and Pepper or other seasoning to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400°F
2. Chop all the tomatoes in half or bite size pieces depending on what type of tomatoes you are using. I also cut up some of the extra roma tomatoes we had sitting around.
2. Place into a large mixing bowl. Toss with olive oil, vinegar and seasonings.

Seasoning the yummy tomatoes from the garden

Seasoning the yummy tomatoes from the garden

3. Lay out onto a greased roasting pan or cookie sheet. Roast in oven for 8-12 minutes, or until the skins on the tomatoes begin to shrivel and brown.

Finished tomatoes

Finished tomatoes

While I was roasting the tomatoes and making the pesto, I boiled half a box of rotini (it was all we had left in the house for pasta choices) seasoned some chicken breast with Italian seasoning and baked it in the oven. When the pasta was done, I mixed in the pesto and topped it with the roasted tomatoes, chicken and some more parmesan cheese.

Finished dish

Finished dish

The pasta tasted amazing. All the flavors came together really well with the fresh basil, tomatoes, rosemary and oregano in the Italian seasoning. The flavors were pretty light but it was a filling dish! The whole combination must have been perfect pre-race fuel too. Both Jason and I beat our goal times and set new PRs for a 10k! It was a beautiful course, starting by the capitol building in St. Paul, past the Cathedral, down Summit Ave with all the old houses and back. The best part was finishing on a downhill, running toward the capitol building, what a beautiful view. It might have been the course that helped us PR, but the dinner couldn’t have hurt either! I think we’ll be making this again the night before a race.

After the race with our medals and the capitol building

After the race with our medals and the capitol building

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FOCUS T25 Success Story – How I lost 23 pounds in 10 weeks

3 Oct

When I started FOCUS T25, I weighed in right at 250 pounds. I’ve easily weighed that much since my first year in college sometimes ballooning up a few pounds and sometimes a little less. The lowest weight I remember seeing was roughly 245 pounds even though I was “actively” running. I give actively the quotes because I would run about a mile or so once or twice a week and then give up before really getting any distance going.

Here is what I looked like prior to T25:

This is what I looked like before starting T25.

This is what I looked like before starting T25.

During T25:
FOCUS T25 is a high intensity full body workout that leaves you sweating like crazy. Here is what the T25 website says about the program, “It’s a 25-minute, full-out attack on your body, without any rest.” It’s not easy, but it is well worth it!

The one huge benefit for me was that the workouts were just 25 minutes! I found it was easy to fit the workout in during the day, after all it was only 25 minutes, I had no excuse not to workout. There are two phases to T25, Alpha and Beta. Each phase lasts 5 weeks, you workout 6 days a week, and there are different videos that you rotate through out each week. The videos all have a specific focus too, cardio, lower body or speed for example. There is even a stretching/yoga video for the off day.

Worried you can’t handle the high intensity nature of the workout? That’s ok, in the beginning I had to do the modified moves that are provided to you in the video until I had the strength to do the full moves. You will still get an amazing workout even doing the modified moves, just keep the goal for you to progress to the full moves before long.

After T25:
Through T25 I lost 23 pounds, so about 2 pounds a week for the 10 weeks I did the program. Upon finishing, I weighed less than I have in the 12 years since I left high school. Not only that, but I built muscle in my chest and my arms where I’ve previously been lacking. I feel like I have more energy, and going out for runs is much easier now. If you’re curious about how my stats changed, I’d be happy to let you know, but I won’t post them here. I’ll just leave you with the end result of T25. Here is what I look like 23 pounds later:

This is what I look like after T25.

This is what I look like after T25.

I have plans to do T25 again in the beginning of next year, after the Holidays and hope to get in even better shape. That’s right, I liked it so much that I want to do the 10 weeks AGAIN!

If you’re interested in trying FOCUS T25 yourself, I recommend my Beachbody Coach Chris. He can help you with any questions you might have and even help you get the program. Contact him here: Summers.CW@gmail.com

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No-Bake S’mores

19 Sep

We went camping a couple of weekends ago at Mille Lacs State Park to check camping off my list of “Things to Do in Summer 2013.” It wasn’t my first time camping, but my first time really using my new backpack. We had a 3/4 mile hike out to our campsite on a small lake, beautiful, quiet and not too far for my first time backpacking. I loved it! Packing everything in the pack was a struggle for me trying to fit everything, (note to self, I need a better sleeping bag! One that is meant for backpacking.) but we planned ahead with clothes and meals so we had the right amount of food and all our supplies fit just perfectly. Maggie came along too and got to experience her first weekend camping. Being a beagle, she LOVED all the new smells and that we went on lots of long “walks.”

Big smile from Maggie on our hike

Big smile from Maggie on our hike

I insisted that we bring stuff to make s’mores, even though we were trying to save room in our packs. I love roasting marshmallows over the campfire, trying to get them perfectly toasted. I end up burning the marshmallow most of the time though. Plus, s’mores have chocolate so they’re an automatic delicious treat in my book!

Since we don’t have a fire pit to roast s’mores at home, Jason found a recipe to satisfy my s’mores craving…no bake s’mores! Making these were so easy and quick; it took about 30 minutes total, including the time the s’mores spent in the freezer. Here’s what you’ll need:
Graham crackers
Marshmallow fluff/creme
Chocolate to melt
Sprinkles or chopped nuts to add as a topping (optional)

1. Take the graham crackers and break them into quarters.

2. Using a knife or spatula, spread about a tablespoon of the marshmallow fluff/creme onto one graham cracker. Set aside on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

Graham Crackers and Marshmallow Fluff

Graham Crackers and Marshmallow Fluff

3. Top with another graham cracker quarter. The fluff was a little runny, so we put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

4. Melt your chocolate. We used about 3/4 of a bag of Toll House’s milk chocolate chocolate chips. They melted fairly quickly, and were ready when we pulled the graham crackers out of the freezer, but you could use whatever chocolate you prefer. We used our “double boiler” set up, a metal mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water.

Melting the Chocolate

Melting the Chocolate

 

5. Dip half to 3/4 of the graham crackers in the melted chocolate. Leave some plain graham cracker so it’s easier for people to pick them up and eat!  The bowl was deep enough that it worked out easily for us to just dip the s’more and put it right back on the cookie sheet. The trick to this step is to dip as quickly as possible. The heat from the chocolate will start to soften the marshmallow fluff, and we didn’t want it dripping into the chocolate.

Dipping the s'more!

Dipping the s’more!

6. Sprinkle your desired topping onto the chocolate. (Totally optional!) We were hosting a game night and wanted to be festive. Do this while the chocolate is still soft so the topping sticks.

Adding the sprinkles to the s'mores

Adding the sprinkles to the s’mores

7. Put the cookie sheet back into the freezer for about 10 minutes. This will help the chocolate harden and the marshmallow re-harden if it started to melt.

8. Enjoy! Everyone at game night LOVED them and by the end of the evening they were all gone. If you do have any leftovers, I would suggest storing them in the fridge, the marshmallow fluff started to run again as they sat out during the evening.
I might have to make some more of these soon to re-live our camping weekend!

Finished S'mores

Finished S’mores

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Rosemary Ranch Chicken Kabobs

16 Sep

Now I know it’s after Labor Day, but I’m still trying to hold on to summer by grilling until I can’t stand being outside in the cold! (Then Jason graciously volunteers to go outside and man the grill.) This is one of my absolute favorite chicken kabob recipes. The marinade is so easy to prepare, flavorful, and the best part is, I’ve never had the chicken turn out dry! Plus, who doesn’t like ranch dressing? I’ll marinade a couple of chicken breasts, skewer up some peppers, mushrooms and onions to throw on the grill and dinner is ready in about 30 minutes (well more than that if you count marinading the chicken.) A quick meal is key at our house right now, Jason’s been busy with work and I’m still in the middle of training for my half-marathon (only 5 more weeks to go! I love running, but it will be nice when I don’t have to spend hours each day training) and the last thing either of us want to do is cook an elaborate meal that takes hours.

Ingredients
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c light ranch dressing
1 1/2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T dried rosemary
1 t lemon juice
1 t white vinegar
salt/pepper to taste (although I’ve never used them)
2 chicken breasts

1. Mix the marinade together
In a medium size bowl, stir together the olive oil, ranch dressing, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, lemon juice, white vinegar and salt/pepper if you like. Because the olive oil and ranch don’t want to play nice together, it will take some stirring to get everything to come together.

2. Chop the chicken into pieces and add to the marinade
Chicken in the marinade

3. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes
I love to prep the marinade and chicken the night before and let it sit over night. I think it helps make the chicken more flavorful!

4. Preheat your grill to medium to medium-high heat.
While you’re waiting for your grill to heat up, thread the chicken onto skewers and discard the marinade. No reusing marinade that has touched raw meat!
Time to Grill!

5. Time to grill!
Grill the skewers for about 8-12 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle and the juices run clear (the usual disclaimer for cooking chicken)

We usually put the skewers of veggies on the grill at the same time as the chicken so they have enough time to cook.And while we’re waiting for the food on the grill, we’ll cook up some rice. The debate is usually what type of rice, white or brown, and it seems since Jason’s been cooking the rice recently we’re always eating white… hmm, I think we’ll have to change that.

Hot off the grill

Important Healthy Facts
(just the chicken and marinade, all veggies and side dishes are up to you!)
Serves: 4
Prep Time: 40+ minutes (10 minutes to prep the marinade and chicken, at least 30 minutes to marinade)
Cook Time: 8-12 minutes
Calories per serving: appx. 228 (that is if all the marinade was on the chicken while you cooked it)

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Cold Brew Coffee- Cold and Hot New Trend

5 Sep

I’ll never forget the first time I tried coffee. I was probably in middle school, helping my mom at a volunteer event early in the morning. All the adults were drinking coffee and it smelled so good I asked my mom if I could try some. She laughed, told me I probably wouldn’t like it but helped me make a cup with plenty of milk and sugar anyway. She was right (as she usually is), I hated it. But, she said I’d probably learn to like it over time, eventually would be able to stop adding milk and sugar to cut down on the bitter taste, and she guessed I would be having some before work everyday.

Now, I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to coffee, but I do really enjoy it, and I don’t think there have been many days since entering the working world where I’ve gone without. We usually brew our own at home in the mornings, and over time I’ve slowly been upgrading the coffee makers. I started with a little 4 cup coffee maker, bought a grind and brew so I could have freshly ground beans, was given a Keurig (thanks Mom and Dad!), then Mom introduced me to the French Press and donated her espresso machine to the growing collection!

There are quite a few ways you could make coffee around the house depending on your mood! Now I keep seeing advertisements for cold brew coffee, and tried it for the first time when I was on vacation with my mom in Arizona. It was delicious! So smooth, not bitter and I could actually taste some of the flavors of the coffee.

Basically to make cold brew coffee you let your grounds soak in water for a long period of time, at least 12 hours, at room temperature. Then you filter out the grounds and are left with a coffee concentrate that you dilute, usually with water or milk. From what we’ve read, using hot water to brew coffee draws out oils and the bitter flavors from the coffee beans. But, using the room temperature or cold water produces a different reaction with the coffee beans, so no oil or bitter flavors. We decided the process sounded easy enough to try making it at home. Now you can buy special equipment to do this (like the Toddy for example), but we thought they were a little expensive when we could make our own set up at home.

Materials:
Coffee beans
Coffee grinder
Jug for “brewing”
Sieve
Coffee Filters
Bowl to collect the filtered coffee
Container to store the coffee

1. Grind the beans
I found a recipe from the NY Times to help make sure we got  it right, and they suggest a coarse grind. You’ll need 1/3 c coarse ground beans for every 1 1/2 c of water. We used some beans from our new favorite coffee shop, Beans and Leaves in Long Grove, IL. If you’re in the area, you need to stop. It’s a small little shop but they have some amazing flavored whole bean coffee at really reasonable prices. We’re planning on calling an order in and having them ship us some of our favorite blends.

Beans and Leaves Almond Amaretto Blend, yum!
Beans and Leaves Almond Amaretto Blend, yum!

2. Combine beans and water
1/3c of ground beans for every 1 1/2 c of water. Stir so everything is mixed in well. Any dry patches of grounds are wasted coffee, so make sure you mix it well. We like to make big batches (six cups at a time) so we can drink it all week.

3. Cover the container and let it sit
We let it sit covered on the counter for at least 12 hours. 24 hours is the recommended amount but you can get away with 12 in a pinch.

Letting the coffee brew
Letting the coffee brew

4. Strain the coffee
We put a coffee filter in a sieve over a large metal bowl to help collect the coffee more easily. Then we transfer it to a smaller container for storage in the fridge. It seemed easier than putting the sieve over a funnel into our smaller container. Someone would have had to stand there holding the sieve waiting for the coffee to strain. With the metal bowl we can simply pour the coffee into the sieve and walk away. This step can take some time as you wait for the coffee to filter through the grounds.

Strainer with the coffee filter
Strainer with the coffee filter

5. Enjoy! 
Since the cold brew process makes stronger coffee, or coffee concentrate, use a 1:1 ratio to mix your cold press with water or milk. When it was really hot last week, we were using milk and pouring the coffee over ice, it made a delicious iced coffee! Not diluted down at all like it was when we just poured hot coffee over ice. Now that it’s a little cooler in the morning, I’ve been mixing mine with hot water and it still tastes great. I love being able to taste all the flavors, especially the little amaretto taste of this batch!

We’ll have to go out and buy some flavored syrups now. I’d love to try adding some caramel on those days I’m craving something sweet! Has anyone else given cold brew a try yet?

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Mmmm Ribs!

30 Aug

There’s something about all the summer holidays that makes me want to grill, mix up some potato salad and buy local sweet corn from the farm up the street. And of course it’s around the same time that the grocery stores put racks of baby back ribs on sale! With Labor day coming up, I picked up a rack to enjoy on the “unofficial last day of summer.”

Honestly, I was legitimately scared to cook ribs at home for a long time. It seemed like too much work, and I was nervous about over cooking them to the point where they would end up being dry. I was flipping channels a few years ago and Bobby Flay was on the Food Network (a frequently watched channel at our house in case you hadn’t figured that out yet)  talking about cooking ribs on the grill. Now I get that he is skilled at grilling everything under the sun, but he made it sound easy enough that I had to give it a try! The first time around was a success, so I invited some people over for a second try. There are a few people (Jason included) that get excited when they hear I’m cooking ribs!

I modified Bobby’s rib rub recipe (I’m a little bit of a wimp when it comes to hot spices), prepped the ribs and after about 2 hours on the grill, dinner was served! Here’s the step by step:

1. Mix the dry rib rub together in a separate bowl
1 T cumin
1 T paprika
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T chili powder
1 T brown sugar
1 T sea salt
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t black pepper

Mixing together the spices

Mixing together the spices

Don’t put the brown sugar away yet! You’ll need about an additional 1/4- 1/2 c when it comes time to season the ribs

2. Prep the ribs
After I take them out of the package I lay them on a cutting board covered in paper towels and pat them dry. There is a membrane on the back of the ribs that needs to come off. I’ve heard if you leave it on, the ribs come out tougher and prevent the rub from really getting into all of the meat. To do this, you can take a finger or a butter knife, and slide it under the membrane/over a bone. Lift the membrane until it starts to tear (it’s a pretty audible noise.) Use a paper towel, grab the membrane and slowly pull across the rack of ribs until it comes off. You might be able to get it all in one piece, or it might take a few tries, but just be patient with it, you’ll eventually be able to remove it all.

Starting to remove the membrane

Starting to remove the membrane

3.  Season the ribs
The dry rub will cover about 2 1/2 to 3 lbs of ribs. I start with the back (bony side), pour about half of the rub across the rack, then rub and pat it in until it covers the back and sides of the ribs. Flip it over, and repeat on the front (meaty side). To help balance the heat and keep the ribs moist, I pour anywhere from an additional 1/4 to 1/2 c of brown sugar onto the front of the ribs and pat this in so it covers the ribs evenly. You don’t have to do this if you’re trying to watch your calories or sugar though (1/2 c of packed brown sugar is about 415 calories!)

Rubbing the spices into the ribs

Rubbing the spices into the ribs

 

Adding the brown sugar to the top of the spices

Adding the brown sugar to the top of the spices

4. Wrap the ribs in tin foil and let them sit
This helps the seasoning really get into the meat. I leave mine in the fridge for at least 2 hours. When it’s almost time to start cooking them, I let them rest on the counter for about 30 minutes to an hour so they come up to room temperature.

5. Pre-heat the grill

I always cook the ribs at 250°F over indirect heat. (I accidentally cooked them over direct heat once, they were fine, just not as tender as I like)  We have a gas grill so it makes keeping an eye on the temperature very easy!

6. Cooking time!
I’ve learned that it usually does not take as much time to cook the ribs as the package recommends. The USDA recommends that you cook pork to an internal temp of 160°F, so I absolutely make sure I get the meat up to temperature! But on average, my 2 1/2lb rack of ribs takes about 2 hours to cook.

Every 30 minutes I flip the ribs over to the other side for even cooking. When I get to the 1:50 minute mark, I go check the temp of the ribs and if we’re close to 160°F, I’ll baste the top of the ribs with bar-b-que sauce and let it cook for the last 10 minutes, or until it’s up to temperature.

7. Let the ribs rest
After they are done, I have to exercise a lot of patience to cover the ribs in tin foil and let them rest for about 15 minutes. In reality, it helps us set the table and make sure everything else is done.

8. Cut the ribs along the bone and enjoy!

Cutting the ribs

Finished Ribs all ready to eat

Finished Ribs all ready to eat

It does take about 5 hours total with prep time, but since a lot of the time is spent with the ribs resting, the entire process is really pretty easy! So what’s your favorite food to cook on the grill?

Important Healthy Facts:
Time: 3 hour prep time, 2 hour cook time
Yields: 3-4 servings (4-5 ribs per/person)
Calories: appx. 232 (this is just for the meat and does not include the brown sugar or bar-b-que sauce if you used any)

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The 2013 Milk Run at the Minnesota State Fair

27 Aug

This past May, Laura and I set a challenge for ourselves, one 5k a month for 12 months to help keep us in “running shape.” This weekend was run #4, the Milk Run. The Milk Run is a 5k that is put on at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds during the Fair. We had the privilege of joining 18 other people as part of Team Dairy, a group of runners who work to promote dairy to help fuel active lifestyles. They hooked us up with team shirts and the entry into the race! It was going to be an extremely hot and humid day, so Laura and I tried to hydrate as much as we could in preparation for the race. It didn’t really help that we were at a wedding reception until late the night before the run.

We got to the fairgrounds around 6:45am after only a few hours of sleep, and it was already 84 degrees and super humid. Luckily there was a pretty steady breeze that helped a little bit. At 7am we met our team for a couple of team pictures and to get ready for the race to start.

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At 7:45, standing amid a large group of excited and anxious runners, we heard the gun sound and we were off.

Now, my pace is about a minute per mile slower than Laura’s, but we decided to stay together for this run and actually forgo the norm of wearing our headphones. Plus, since Laura is in full on training mode for her half marathon in October, she wanted to take it easy. However, while running the race, I apparently started to get a little overzealous, sped up and tried to go for a Personal Record(PR). Sorry honey!

Here is what the course looked like:
2013-08-26 20_35_42-www.mnstatefair.org_pdf_13_MilkRunMap.pdf

The tough part about this course was that the first 2 miles or so was predominantly uphill. However, that means the last mile was almost all downhill and you could coast to the finish line. Some very nice homeowners had also aimed their sprinklers over the road to help keep all of us runners cool. As we neared the finish line, Laura challenged me to sprint it out to the end. I was doing fine until then, but I’m still glad I did it. All in all, it was a really fun run that we would enjoy doing again. The atmosphere was very relaxed, care-free, and fun! Funny thing is, we also both won door prizes which we totally didn’t expect!

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After the run, we hopped into the fair for a few hours to eat the calories we just worked off. It wasn’t long before the massive crowds and the temps chased us back home to rest. Here are a few of the foods we tried:

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If you’re interested in more information about the Milk Run, please click here.

Vacation Memory Box

22 Aug

I love to travel. I think my parents gave me the “travel bug” when they started driving my younger sister and I to our grandparent’s house every summer. Eventually our trips turned into road trips to different places in the US, then flying to Mexico or the Caribbean. I’ve even been able to join my parents on a few trips to Europe! So far my favorite city is London and after being in Italy, I eventually want to buy an apartment in Riomaggiore. I’ve also learned to appreciate just walking around cities looking at the architecture and visiting little shops.

After the trip to London I decided I was going to try my hand at scrap-booking. I was so excited to put it all together with pictures, notes and stickers! I was pretty impressed at my first attempt, so I said would make a scrapbook of every trip over seas. Well, let’s just say I’m still working on my scrapbook from Zurich… and we went in December 2011. I didn’t realize how much time and work it took to put together a scrapbook!

Earlier this year I got invited to join Jason’s family on their trip to Aruba (no complaints here!) Since I love to take pictures, I of course took over 200 of our week-long trip. I wanted to find a way to display some of the pics but knowing I was still working on a scrapbook from 2011, I did not want to embark on starting another one!  I had seen some cute ideas on Pinterest, where you basically create a shadow box with mementos from the trip, and cut out letters to spell the name of your destination using photos that you took. This sounded much easier to put together and easier to display! (My London scrapbook is sitting in a cabinet, I honestly can’t remember the last time I pulled it out.)

A quick trip to Target to print the pictures I wanted, and Michael’s for the supplies, I was ready and armed with an x-acto knife (I think that scared Jason a little, I can be a little klutzy.) Editor(Jason)’s note: A lot klutzy… 

Supply List
Shadow box
Scrapbook paper to use as a mat
Photos
Alphabet Stencil
X-acto knife
Cute vacation stickers
Mementos we saved from the trip (boarding pass stubs, postcards, brochures)
Double sided photo tape
Super Glue
Glue Stick

I started by gluing the scrapbook paper to the back of the cardboard “mat” that came with the shadow box to help give it a little more strength. Jason and I went through some of the photos we printed and picked out different ones we thought would look good as letters. We ended up picking all scenery shots, something about having a part of a person in a letter just didn’t seem right to me. From there it was all trial and error. I just held up the stencil to different parts of the picture to see what I thought looked good. Then I flipped the picture over, turned the stencil backwards, and traced the stencil to the back of the photo. Somehow my mind knew to trace the letters backwards, which I was very grateful for! Knowing how spacey I can be, I’m surprised that I didn’t do this step wrong! The X-acto knife was perfect for cutting out the letters too. I went slowly so I had straight lines, and this way I didn’t slip and cut myself. (I’m happy to report, no injuries occurred in the making of this shadow box!)
Photo Aug 20, 8 38 29 PM

The next step was the layout. After I placed the letters, I arranged some other photos, stickers and coins we had saved, and just kept moving stuff around until I liked how it looked.  I probably annoyed Jason with the number of times I asked him to come look at the layout, but he did say he does stuff like this for a living so I wanted an “expert opinion.” The letters got glued down using the glue stick (it was too hard to try and get the photo tape on every part of the letter so I gave up), the other photos got placed using the photo tape, and I had to bust out the heavy duty super glue to glue the coins down.
The Final Layout

It took about an hour to do all of that actually, I was pretty happy with how quickly it went! The most time consuming part was tracing and cutting out the letters. I left it out overnight to dry and let the super glue set. I had to put it in the frame the next morning, I was too curious to see how it turned out that I didn’t want to wait until after work. I’m really happy with how it turned out! All the stickers represent some part of our trip, and the coins were fun shapes with cool printing so we had to include them.
Finished Product!

Now I just have to get Jason to hang it up! I still haven’t done anything with all my mementos from my Barcelona trip last November…I think I’ll be making another one of these soon! I’d love to fill the wall on the way upstairs with a bunch of these from all the trips we’ll go on, this way we can remember all the fun times we had whenever we walk by!

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Penne Pasta with Spinach and Goat Cheese Sauce Recipe

19 Aug

If there is anything you need to know about me, it’s that I love pasta and chocolate (not necessarily together though.) I could probably eat pasta 7 days a week. I’m part Italian and I’ve been lucky enough to have my mom and uncles teach me what they know about Italian cooking and wine making. But, I’m always on the lookout for a good pasta recipe to try. My college roomies and I used to watch Giada on the Food Network after class and talk about how one day we would try out her recipes, especially the one for prosciutto wrapped asparagus (hmm, I still need to try that.) I love her pesto recipe and always make a ton of it during the summer when we’re growing basil in the garden.

So, when I found a Giada recipe for a penne with spinach sauce that looked easy and was healthy I had to give it a try. All I needed was whole wheat pasta, spinach, and a few types of cheese. Jason was excited as soon as I said “cheese.”

Ingredients
1 box whole wheat or multi grain penne
3 garlic cloves
2 ounces goat cheese (I accidentally bought garlic and herb goat cheese)
1 ounce reduced fat cream cheese
6 ounces spinach leaves
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Simple ingredient list!

Simple ingredient list!

Instructions

1. Start boiling a large pot of water. I usually add a pinch of salt and a splash of olive oil to the water.  Add the penne and cook until it is al dente, stirring occasionally.

2. Mince the garlic in a food processor. I adore my food processor, it makes it so much easier to make sauces and pesto! Add the goat cheese, cream cheese, and half of the spinach leaves. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Set the cheese and spinach mixture aside.

Finished spinach cheese sauce

Finished spinach cheese sauce

3. Put the rest of the spinach leaves in a large bowl.

4. Save about 1/2 cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta (this will help distribute the cheese mixture over the pasta.) Put the pasta over the spinach leaves in the bowl.  Scrape the cheese and spinach mixture over the pasta mixture and toss until the pasta is coated. Add the reserved pasta water while you’re tossing the pasta, just enough to moisten the pasta. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and serve!

Final pasta dish

Final pasta dish

The entire recipe did not take long at all, about 20 minutes total! Perfect to throw together after a long day at work. It looked pretty when it was all done, and tasted delicious too! The sauce was creamy, the goat and cream cheese together was yummy. I’m not a huge fan of strong cheeses (I can tolerate blue cheese, but in small doses.) You couldn’t tell that you were eating a whole wheat pasta either, it did not taste dry at all!

Jason and I always vote on new recipes, either keep it or pitch it. We are definitely keeping this one…but we’d change a few things. I thought it was a little strong on the garlic…probably because I used all 3 garlic cloves AND the garlic and herb goat cheese. (Sorry hon!) Jason thought the sauce could have been creamer, so we decided to double the amount of cream cheese and/or use more pasta water next time. I only ended up using about 2 tablespoons of the pasta water so next time I’ll be sure and use more.

If you give this a try, let us know what you think!

Important Healthy Facts:
Yields- 6 servings
Appx Calories per serving- 326

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