Off-Topic Tuesday :: Minimalism / Vegetarianism May Update

“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of what we most value and the removal of anything that distracts from it.”
–Joshua Becker

So we are halfway through the month of May and my twin journeys of minimalism and vegetarianism are going rather well!

To help me through Minimalism May, I found a 30-day minimalism task calendar on Pinterest that I started following.  Well I only got a few days into it before I abandoned it and started doing my own thing.  Oops.  The issue with it was that there was a day where the task was one thing, but I didn’t have enough time that night to do it.  And there was another day where it was like a ‘digital cleanse’ where you turn off all your electronic devices for the day, but I couldn’t do that, because all the recipes I was making that day were on Pinterest, so I NEEDED to use my electronic devices.  So by the time the weekend rolled around, and I was cleaning out my third bedroom (playroom/home office) so I could begin unpacking my barn, I decided I would attempt to do as many of the tasks on the calendar as possible, just maybe not on the day specified.  For example, maybe I can do my digital cleanse on a day that I’m home and will be busy doing other things and not need to access my phone for recipes or whatnot.

So with that said, I’d like to pat myself on the back for the progress I made so far with unpacking my barn!!  There are four ‘bays’ in my barn.  The first weekend of May, I was focused on the boxes in ‘bay 2’, which had mostly kitchen boxes and office boxes (boxes of books, photo albums, photography equipment, etc).  I unpacked my mason jars!!!  And even though I’d been wanting to do that, I was wondering where I was going to store them all.  I have a pantry at the top of my basement steps, but it’s pretty gross, and I try not to store stuff there.  I really only store canned goods and jarred goods in there, you know, things that farmhouse crawlspace basement creepy crawlies can’t find their way into.  BUT.  I had a ton of bags of specialty ‘things’ hanging out in there.  Bags of almond flour, arrowroot powder, dried chilies, etc.  I decided all those things would be so much safer in mason jars!  Killed two birds with one stone, woop!  Bonus: I discovered that some of those bags of ‘things’ were expired, so I tossed them.  Yay!  Maybe I killed three birds with one stone there.

As for the office/playroom stuff, my daughter and I spent an entire afternoon cleaning up that room together.  I helped her make decisions on what she should toss and what she should keep.  There were plenty of things (ahem ARTWORK!) she wanted to keep that I thought would be better off tossed, but we decided to give it a week or so until we get to the playroom boxes in the barn.  That’s when we’ll bring in that artwork storage box I told you about a couple weeks ago, the one that is already overflowing?  The one I told her I would never buy another one and she would have to fit everything she’d ever want to keep in this one box?  So yeah.  She’s gonna have some hard decisions to make once she has to start going through that.  But we DID manage to throw out a huge trash bag full of crap and clean the room up and organize it nicely.  (Side note:  I can’t wait till she’s old enough that I can get rid of some of these toys.  She never even plays with her kitchen set anymore but WE MUST KEEP IT.  Eventually though, she will be old enough that she will no longer even need a playroom, and then it will just be my office, and I will be sad, because she won’t be my little girl anymore.  Wah.  🙁)

I didn’t get to unpack the barn over this past weekend though because we were too busy with Mother’s Day and stuff.  I hope to get back to it this weekend, because I don’t want to give up now!!

I also signed us up for a donations porch pickup later this month.  So that’s my deadline to get all kinds of stuff out of my house – clothes, shoes, books, kitchenwares, etc.  I’ll be chipping away at that list over the next several days, and set it all outside my door and someone will come get it!  I don’t even have to lug it to a Goodwill!  #score

So, we are making progress with minimalism!!

As for vegetarianism, WOW.  I only have to say that I am SHOCKED that I have not yet missed meat – NOT ONCE.  In fact, just the other day I was scrolling through Instagram and saw someone cooking a cheeseburger, and he sort of shoved his spatula into the middle of it to push it apart to show it being cooked to a perfect medium, and I kind of got sick to my stomach.  🙁  I quickly kept scrolling.  But Aaron and I were talking about how neither of us have really missed meat; the recipes we’ve tried have all been very good, I have at least 3-4 new keepers so far; and wouldn’t it be nice if we could adopt a mostly-plant-based diet?  What if we could follow an 80/20 vegetarian rule?  I’ve all but given up on eating pork chops, and I may occasionally eat a single piece of bacon, on something.  We pretty much never eat chicken anymore.  If anything, we are big red meat eaters.  Steaks, cheeseburgers, tacos, etc.  But even then, it’s only a few times a week, tops.  I don’t see me ever giving up 100% on meat.  Sometimes you just want a basket of chicken fingers, ya know?  And it does help to add variety to our diets.  I made a sincere effort to make sure we were not eating pasta every single night during this month, and it hasn’t been as hard as I’ve thought.  I do feel as though the food I eat is more satisfying, somehow, too.  Bonus: I’ve been eating A LOT of Mexican food 🙂 there are so many vegetarian options in Mexican cuisine!

I am a little worried about what will happen to my digestive system the first time I eat meat again after not having eaten it for a whole month.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  I’m normally the kind of person where, if I’m depriving myself of something I love, I start to envision what it will be like when I can have it again.  But I haven’t done that yet this month.  So I don’t know, what will I eat to break my vegetarianism?  A steak?  A cheeseburger?  A cheesesteak?  I don’t really know.  I don’t really miss meat enough yet to be salivating after something specific.  Maybe that will change though.  We shall see!

BBQ Chicken Nachos

BBQ Chicken Nachos

Ever since I threw together these //BBQ pulled pork nachos// a couple years ago, I have been wanting to do a BBQ chicken version. I typically prefer BBQ chicken over BBQ pork. So I wanted to put a new spin on it.

These nachos feature my favorite //pickled red onions//, spicy pickled jalapenos, and a mild, smoky cheese sauce. And of course, once you top everything with fresh scallions and cilantro, the flavors are complete!

Here is my pledge to you: I will never stop making nachos. But, this was one of the last nachos ideas I had on my list.  There are a couple others, but I am working on perfecting them.  What kind of nachos would you like to see up here? Let me know and I’ll give it a go!

BBQ Chicken Nachos

For the cheese sauce:
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce, if desired

For the nachos:
1-2 cups shredded BBQ chicken, warmed in the microwave or on the stovetop
Pickled red onions
Pickled jalapenos
Creme fraiche or sour cream
Minced cilantro
Chopped scallions
Tortilla chips

For the cheese sauce:
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk quickly to combine. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the warmed milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Once it thickens, lower the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Add shredded cheese and whisk gently until completely melted. Finally, add hot sauce and whisk to combine. Feel free to add more or less to your heat preference.

For the nachos:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread tortilla chips onto a sheet pan in an even layer and place into the oven. Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the chips start to get warm.

2. Remove the sheet pan from the oven. Drizzle with cheese sauce. Layer on the shredded chicken, and drizzle with more cheese sauce. Then top with pickled red onions and pickled jalapenos. Drizzle with creme fraiche or dot with sour cream. Then sprinkle minced cilantro and chopped scallions on top. Serve immediately while it’s warm!

#52NewEats :: Week 19 :: French Onion Zoodle Bake

French Onion Zoodle Bake

This dish popped my zoodle cherry. I have been wanting to try zoodles for a while now, but I hadn’t quite found the right recipe until I found this one. I love alfredo sauce too much to cover zoodles with it. I might try a Bolognese sauce on zoodles, but for this month, we need to go meatless because it’s Vegetarian May!

I actually really, REALLY enjoyed this dish. Between my husband and I, we just about finished the whole thing ourselves. I might make a batch and a half next time! The fontina cheese on top makes it so scrumptious. The flavor in this dish was very good and spot-on with a French onion soup. I found myself wanting something crunchy on top – so I think the next time I make this, I will add some of those French’s fried onion strings. 

We liked this dish so much that it is on the menu for Vegetarian May, but I will be subbing out the beef stock for either vegetable stock or mushroom stock (which I have seen at Whole Foods). I hate mushrooms, but I am thinking the stock will give this dish the beefy flavor it needs to fulfill that French onion craving. I will also top with fried onions of some kind for a little crunch. 

You can find the original recipe //here//.

French Onion Zoodle Bake
Serves 2-3 hungry folks as an entree; 4 as a side

2 1/2 cups zucchini noodles
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fontina cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a skillet preheated to medium heat, melt butter. Place onion into skillet and cook for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme. Stir and cook for another couple of minutes. Add beef broth and cook until onions are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Make sure to stir occasionally to keep the onions from burning.

3. Next, spray an 5 X 8 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl combine zucchini noodles and French onion mixture. Pour the French onion zoodle mixture into the dish and garnish top with fontina cheese. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. If the cheese does not brown in the oven, pop it under the broiler for a few minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving. Garnish with fresh thyme if desired. Also, there is a probability that liquid from the zucchini will appear. If so, just drain it off carefully with a spoon before serving. Enjoy!

BBQ Chicken Quesadilla

BBQ Chicken Quesadillas

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, I have a yummy Mexican recipe for you!!

A little while ago I made a batch of slow-cooked BBQ chicken for my husband’s work lunches.  And it turned out I’d made just a bit too much.  Like he wasn’t going to eat it all before it went bad.  So I decided to use some of it to make some recipes I’d been kicking around in my head for a while – the first of which was BBQ chicken quesadillas.

I had a really good BBQ chicken quesadilla once at a restaurant downtown.  It was chock full of BBQ chicken and melty cheese and peppers and onions.  That’s kind of what I was going for, but mine are much thinner, because I have an inability to make big fat quesadillas and not have them fall apart when flipping.  I need one of those quesadilla grill baskets or something!  But whatever.  These were plenty good!

I used my favorite //pickled red onions// in this recipe along with some store-bought pickled jalapenos and the flavor was spot-on, exactly what I was looking for.  Little bit of sweet, little bit of heat.  I used pepper Jack cheese too, and a fresh sprinkling of cilantro both inside and on top of the quesadillas.  They were so good!

When Vegetarian May is over I may just make these again!!

BBQ Chicken Quesadillas
Serves 2

4 large flour tortillas (burrito or enchilada size)
1-2 cups shredded BBQ chicken (see Notes)
2+ cups shredded pepper Jack cheese (or mix 1 cup shredded pepper Jack + 1 cup shredded cheddar)
Pickled red onions, drained and dabbed dry
Pickled jalapenos, diced
Minced cilantro
Sour cream, if desired

1. Heat a griddle over medium heat. Spray one side of one flour tortilla lightly with cooking spray, and place sprayed side down on the griddle. Repeat with one more flour tortilla.

2. Top each tortilla with about a 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Then layer on 1/2 cup or so of shredded BBQ chicken on each tortilla, then pickled red onions, pickled jalapenos, and minced cilantro. Top with remaining 1/2 cup or so of shredded cheese on each tortilla. (I say “or so” a lot because these can be as big or as small as you want. Do it to your preference!)

3. Spray one side of each of the remaining flour tortillas lightly with cooking spray. Place each tortilla sprayed side up on top of each quesadilla that you’ve built.

4. As the cheese melts on the bottom tortilla, use a spatula to peek underneath to make sure the tortilla is not burning. When the tortilla is nicely browned, carefully flip the quesadilla over, and cook until browned on the other side. This can take several minutes, depending on the heat of your stovetop or griddle. Just keep an eye on it, and if it’s not moving fast enough for you, raise heat to medium-high, but then you REALLY have to keep an eye on it.

5. When finished, cut each tortilla into fourths or sixths, and sprinkle with more minced cilantro if desired. Serve with sour cream and enjoy!

To make shredded BBQ chicken: Place 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into a slow cooker and cover with a 12oz bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. When done, shred the chicken right in the slow cooker, then serve. Or, remove to differently tightly-sealed containers for leftovers and other purposes.

Off-Topic Tuesday :: Minimalism in May

“Clutter has a way of sucking the energy right out of you and replacing it with feelings of chaos.  Clutter is an often-unrecognized source of stress that prompts feelings of anxiety, frustration, distraction, and even guilt, so give your home and office a clutter makeover, purging it of the excess papers, files, knick knacks and other “stuff” that not only takes up space in your physical environment, but also in your mind.”
— Idk who said this, I saw it on Pinterest

This.  This right here, folks.  This is my personal challenge for May.

Before anyone calls me a special snowflake for feeling like this 👉🏽 Clutter is an often-unrecognized source of stress that prompts feelings of anxiety, frustration, distraction, and even guilt 👈🏽 consider that not everyone is the same as you.  I am the type of person that sucks up the energy from the people and environments around me.  I have always been this way, and I never knew why, until I discovered some things about my personality and its traits that lead to me being this way.  I am an //INFJ//, I am an //empath//, and I am a //highly sensitive person// (AND I am a Pisces, so I am the way I am to the power of four), and for as long as I can remember, my environment has had a major effect on how I feel on a day to day basis.  It is why, when my house is a mess, I feel angry and anxious and overwhelmed and unable to relax.  It is why I can’t stay at my mom’s house with my entire family there for more than a few hours before becoming “peopled out”.  It is why, in our first apartment in the city, I had a burning sense that I was not where I belonged, that where I was living was not my home.  I was burdened with the sights and sounds of daily city life, feeling like I never had any peace and quiet or a reprieve from the hustle and bustle.  It only worsened when we were living in Northeast Philly for the last 10 years.  Living and working in the city drained me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  There are any number of articles out there that prove I’m not the only one (try //this one// for starters), and SO much evidence that getting ‘back to nature’ is good for the soul.  About five years ago I started jonesing for a simpler life – a house, a barn, a few acres, out of the rat race city life, into the slow living of a rural life.  We worked our asses off and now here we are – and now it’s time to capitalize on it.  It’s time to make it mean something!

The idea of paring down my “stuff” and living a “clutter-free” existence began over a year ago when I started packing up my old house in preparation for selling it and moving into a new house.  I pretty much did this all by myself, which I will say until the day I die (sorry Pookie 😇) because I do believe it had a profound effect on me.  Maybe I needed to do it all by myself.  Maybe I needed to see how much I was hanging onto, and ask myself, WTF Cristin, why??  I took this process as an opportunity to lighten our lives a bit.  We were living in a cramped, 1300sqft rowhome at the time, with closets and shelves and rooms brimming with… stuff.  No joke – I packed up my office, and I found a tote bag with knick knacks from my desk at work at my old job – that I had left almost three years prior.  I had literally packed up those knick knacks on my last day and brought them home in a tote bag and never unpacked the tote bag.  I was cleaning out my daughter’s closet and found a board game that someone had given to us, who knows how many years prior, that had never been opened; still sealed with plastic wrap.  Seeing and experiencing all of this made me take a hard look at everything that I was packing into a box to take to the new house.  But even then, I would think about this – I was packing up items to go into storage for an unknown amount of time, and only leaving out our ‘essentials’ that we would need up until the day we settled on the sale of the house and moved out.  It dawned on me then – if I know I won’t need these things for an undetermined amount of time, if they are going to stay in my mom’s garage or a storage unit until we move into a new house, why do I even need to pack these things at all?

But quite frankly, there was so much going on at that time that I was managing by myself, and I couldn’t do it all.  So I donated and tossed what I knew for sure had no place in my new life at my new house, and packed everything else that was significantly questionable, or anything that gave me pause before tossing it into a ‘donate’ box.  I wasn’t sure yet, and I wasn’t in the right head space to make a decision on it.

As a result – fast forward 10-12 months – I am left with quite a few boxes in my barn at my new house.  Not as many as you might guess, maybe 20-30 boxes tops.  My guess is these are mostly items that I found questionable when packing up the old house.  Because everything I NEED has been unpacked and found its place in my new house shortly after moving in last August.  I went on an unpacking binge for a couple months, chipping away at it right up until our housewarming party in October.  I wanted to have some kind of décor in the house for that so I rummaged through boxes to find the things that meant the most to me.  But what’s left?  The only thing I know FOR SURE that I NEED out of my barn, are my mason jars.  Every time I need to make something homemade, I say to myself I need to unpack those friggin’ mason jars already.  I should probably start there.  Or maybe I should start with the massive box of DVDs, which I so eloquently labeled, “DVDs – Living Room – WHY DO WE STILL HAVE THESE?!”.

Other than that, I am not really sure what’s in those boxes out there in my barn.  I have considered the idea of throwing them all away.  But I’m not comfortable with that idea.  What I am comfortable with is taking a hard look at what’s there and asking myself, does this thing bring me joy?  Do I really need this thing if I haven’t needed it in the last year?  Could someone else use this thing?  I know I can spend more time doing that this time around, now that I’m not dealing with realtors and keeping my house clean for showings and coordinating contractors.  So this is what I am aiming to do every weekend in May.  If I finish the barn boxes before the end of May, I will move inside my house and do some minimizing in there as well.  There is actually much less to do there, because as I said, I really only unpacked essentials and most-needed stuff.  So we are in pretty good shape, but I need to get rid of the Piles of Paper that pop up all over my house.  First grade artwork, school worksheets (teachers, PLEASE STOP SENDING THIS STUFF HOME!), flyers from school, bills and invoices and receipts, oh my.

For a lot of this stuff, I need to get my daughter on board.  I can already see she is starting to become the pack rat that I once was.  Unable to part with drawings scribbled on the back of restaurant paper placemats, clinging to the math worksheet she got a 100% on, wanting to keep every. Single. Piece. Of artwork. She has ever. Created.  At the last house, I actually bought her a storage bin and told her she could keep all the artwork she wants, as long as it fits in this one bin.  I am not buying her another bin.  For the rest of her life.  While packing up the last house I realized it was already overflowing, and she needed to part with some stuff.  She did so begrudgingly, but she has a short attention span.

(You may ask, Cristin, why don’t you just go through it and toss what’s not important?  Well, when you attempt to do that and your daughter catches you and asks, horrified, why you are throwing away her artwork, and you say oh oops sorry it was an accident, and you take it out of the trash and wait for her to turn her back and you attempt to throw it away again, and she catches you AGAIN, and races to the trash to pull it out with tears in her eyes that her mother would do such a thing and looks at you like you are a monster… well… you might put the decision on your kid’s shoulders too.)

Anyway, this will be a long process.  And I will need to get the husband and daughter on board.  And I will probably need the husband’s help with getting the daughter on board because she is already starting to take an adversarial stance with me whenever possible, and only her father can sweet-talk her into doing what’s right (which is usually my way, duh).  My goal is to only have to store in my barn the most practical and specialest of things – my daughter’s special dresses and baby clothes, that she wants to keep for her daughter someday; winter gear during the summer; summer gear during the winter; seasonal gear and decorations; etc.  Our barn is bigger than our house.  I am fully mindful of the fact that our barn is not, nor should it become, a gigantic storage shed.  And if we ever move again, the very LAST thing I want to do, AGAIN, is pack up and sort through another house – AND A BARN.

So.  With ALL OF THAT said, this is just the first step in my desire to move towards a more minimalist lifestyle.  In the future this will include letting go of many things – everything from breaking up with my phone to breaking up with my career.  It will not all happen this year, but everything I’m doing is a step towards my ultimate goal – to wake up in the morning and not feel burdened by All The Things.  You know, every morning I wake up at the ass crack of dawn and drag my daughter out of bed, practically kicking and screaming

  1. just so I can drop her off at before-care at 7am
  2. just so I can get to work earlier
  3. just so I can sit at a desk and have about 8 different people tell me how to do my job 8 different ways while hoping my creativity doesn’t die on the vine
  4. just so I can leave earlier
  5. just so I can get to the gym and have some kind of hope of being healthy in my middle age
  6. just so I can rush and get my daughter as soon as possible from after-care
  7. just so I can rush home and make dinner as fast as possible
  8. just so we can eat so we can spend time together before she goes to bed at 7:30-8pm
  9. just so I can collapse into bed exhausted
  10. only to wake up and do it all again the next day

I’m over that life.  And granted, I don’t do every single one of those things every single day, my husband DOES help, and he is a fabulous help, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world.  But still.

Ideally?  My life would look like this.

Every morning I wake up and

  1. wake up my daughter
  2. watch her get on the bus
  3. go to work
  4. do something creative and meaningful for maybe 6 hours a day instead of 8
  5. go home
  6. watch my daughter get off the bus
  7. make dinner
  8. have family time
  9. bedtime for kiddo
  10. have spouse time

Don’t those 10 things sound so much better and less stressful than the first 10 things?

I’m working towards it.  Someday, I will get there.

#52NewEats :: Week 18 :: Black Bean and Green Chile Enchiladas

Black Bean and Green Chile Enchiladas

So here’s some news for ya – my husband and I are going VEGETARIAN for the entire month of May.  😱  *gasp*  😱  Yes!  We are!

Aaron adopted a project I did a few years ago, where instead of trying to abide by a few new year’s resolutions for an entire year, I tried to abide by a single one for an entire month – a different one every month – in the hopes of changing some bad habits and adopting a healthier lifestyle.  So far this year he has given up added salt (which was a MAJOR feat for him – as long as I’ve known him, he has salted EVERYTHING even before tasting it!), given up soda, attempted to do yoga or ROMWOD every day, and given up sugar.  I joined in with him during his yoga month and I definitely noticed a difference in how I felt!  Then we gave up sugar together – the month of Easter / Cadbury Crème Eggs – not quite sure what I was thinking there.  And this month we have decided to go vegetarian together.

In preparation for that I thought I’d try some vegetarian recipes so we had some new menu items to try this month.  This was the first one we tried and it was so good!  I’ll admit – it is hard to go wrong with enchiladas with me.  I love enchiladas.  The only thing that can really screw them up is the sauce (and I have made some questionable homemade enchilada sauces in my time).  But these were great and the BEST part about these?!  It gave me an excuse to make my daughter a cheese enchilada (there’s no way I’m getting black beans or green chilies in her at this time in her life), and she actually kinda sorta liked it!  She thought the sauce was too spicy (it was) but she liked it enough to ask me to make it again for her, but with a milder sauce.  WINNING.

So I did love these enchiladas but next time I would probably swap out manchego cheese for the topping with something a little more melty, like Monterey jack.  Or I could top with crumbled cotija cheese, another favorite.  She also mentions in her blog that she wasn’t a fan of the corn tortillas – I only had corn tortillas, but next time I would also make these with flour. This recipe is already on the Vegetarian Month menu for another round later this month!  Two thumbs up on this recipe – give it a try!  You can find the original recipe //here//.

Black Bean and Green Chile Enchiladas

12 small corn or flour tortillas* (she recommends flour and I would echo this)
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 4-ounce can diced green chilies
1 28-ounce can red enchilada sauce, such as Las Palmas (I got two 15oz cans and only ended up using one)
1/2 cup grated manchego cheese + more for topping (or sub another Mexican cheese, such as Cojita or Pepper Jack)
1/4 cup light sour cream or greek yogurt
Topping Options: Diced green onion, cilantro, grilled fajita veggies, avocado, salsa, sour cream, lime wedges, etc.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and position a baking rack in the middle of the oven.

2. Combine black beans, green chilies, sour cream and manchego cheese in a mixing bowl. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. Set aside.

3. Pour a small amount of enchilada sauce to lightly coat the bottom of a 9×13 dish.

4. Transfer one tortilla at a time to the baking dish, scoop in 2 Tbsp of the black bean filling and roll up. Place seam side down and continue until the pan is filled – should be about 10-12 enchiladas.
Top enchiladas with a bit more enchilada sauce down the middle.

5. Top with a bit more cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

6. Serve with toppings such as avocado, guacamole, salsa, fajita veggies, sour cream, green onion, cilantro or lettuce.

#12NewTreats :: April :: Chocolate Pie

Chocolate Pie

So.  Here’s what I have to say about the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Chocolate Pie.

  1. It was really friggin’ easy.
  1. It was really friggin’ amazingly delicious.
  1. I am already salivating at the thought of making it again.
  1. I might just turn it into pudding next time and skip the pie shell.
  1. I might just make two batches next time so I have pudding AND pie for breakfast and dessert every day of the week.
  1. You should make this. And soon.  For no reason at all.  For any reason you can think of.  For someone special.  Because you made it through another week at work.  Because your baby is now sleeping through the night.  Because you love your spouse.  Because you love your kids.  Because you love yourself.  Because you probably already have most, if not all, of the ingredients in your house, right this very second.  Because any reason is a good reason to make this chocolate pie.

I could go on and on and wax poetic on this chocolate pie for y’all, but please, just do yourselves a favor and go make it.  It’s so ridiculously easy, there is no reason NOT to.

Thank you, Pioneer Woman, for this amazing chocolate pie recipe!  You can find the original recipe //here//.

Chocolate Pie

1 whole pie crust, Baked And Cooled (or Can Use Oreo Or Graham Cracker Crust – I used a premade shortbread crust)
1-1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 whole egg yolks
6-1/2 ounces, weight bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely (I used semi-sweet and it turned out perfect)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
Whipped cream and berries, for serving

1. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir or whisk together.

2. Pour in milk and egg yolks, and whisk together.

3. Stir over medium heat until the mixture just barely comes to a boil and becomes thick, about 6-8 minutes (maybe less, maybe more; just watch it!) The second it starts to bubble and thicken (note: It should be thick like pudding!) remove it from the heat. Add the chocolate, vanilla, and butter, and stir until everything is beautifully combined.

4. Pour the pudding into the pie crust (if there is extra, spoon it into small dishes for pudding) and place in the fridge to chill for 4 hours uncovered.

4. Cut into slices and serve with whipped cream and berries, if desired!

#52NewEats :: Week 17 :: Crockpot Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

Crockpot Sausage Peppers and Onions

Who doesn’t like sausage, peppers, and onions?  It’s one of my favorite Italian dishes.  I was recently at a work teambuilding event and they had a catered lunch for us.  I have been following an 80/20 grain-free rule over the past couple of months and all I could eat at this catered lunch was sausage, peppers, and onions!  Everything else was grain- or pasta-based!  So I just filled up a plate with some sausages and the peppers and onions and ate with a knife and fork (instead of on a roll) and it was actually VERY delicious.  Everything appeared to have been simmered in a tasty tomato-based broth or sauce.  There were chunks of tomato in it, and it was seasoned very well with all your typical Italian flavorings.

It kicked off the wheels in my head and off I went to Pinterest looking for a similar dish, thinking maybe I could find something that could cook in the slow cooker all day and be ready for us when we got home.  And that’s exactly what I found in this recipe!  It’s exactly what I wanted.  I ate it that night without a roll, but I did top it with some provolone cheese and stick it under the broiler to melt for a bit (as pictured above).  It was just as satisfying as if I’d eaten it on a roll!

We used a mix of mild Italian sausages and hot Italian sausages, and found that we preferred the hot sausages.  Why?  Even though we browned the sausage links in a pan before slow cooking them, they still softened up enough that they didn’t have much of a ‘bite’ to them when you bit into them.  We found we didn’t miss that ‘bite’ as much with the hot Italian sausages, because the spice made up for it.  But it’s also something that maybe could be fixed by letting them brown a little longer in the pan before slow cooking them.

Either way, I was really happy with this recipe and will definitely make it again!!  You can find the original recipe //here//.

Crockpot Sausage, Peppers, and Onions
Serves 4-6

2 Tbsp oil
2 lbs sweet and/or hot Italian sausage links
2 bell peppers, sliced
2 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz can tomato sauce
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp brown sugar
Hoagie buns
Provolone cheese slices

1. Add oil to a large skillet over high heat. Brown the sausages well on all sides. Remove the sausages to the slow cooker. Add the bell peppers and onions to the same skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, getting them a little bit brown as well. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic to the veggie mixture for the last minute.

2. Add all remaining ingredients, except hoagie buns and provolone cheese, to the slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cook on LOW for 5 hours.

3. When you are ready to serve, toast your hoagie buns on both sides, then add the cheese to the inside of the buns and place back in the oven to broil until the cheese is melted. Add the Italian Sausage & peppers & onions to each hoagie roll. Serve with some of the tomato sauce on the side for dipping.

#52NewEats :: Week 16 :: Olive Garden Salad Dressing

Olive Garden Salad Dressing

Believe it or not, I never ate at an Olive Garden until I was well into adulthood.  I was in my early 20s and living in Spokane, WA with Aaron, and there is (or, was, rather) a major lack of non-chain restaurants in Spokane.  We couldn’t find a mom and pop pizza shop to save our lives, let alone a hoagie shop (ahem, “sub” shop) or a cheesesteak shop (Bruchi’s did not count).  So we worked our way through the chain restaurants on the scene – being on an opposite coast, many were new to us anyway.  And we finally landed on Olive Garden around the time they had some dish with balsamic-glazed steak medallions atop pasta with alfredo sauce, and it was THE.  MOST.  HEAVENLY.  thing I had eaten at the time.  So we began going pretty frequently.  We quickly found ourselves among the cult following of the neverending salad – mostly for the dressing, like everyone else in the cult.

So when I found this recipe, and I had all ingredients in the house but one, I thought, I gotta make it!

And the results were mixed.

It definitely tasted like a yummy creamy Italian dressing, but at my first bite I wasn’t ooooh-ing at the likeness of it to Olive Garden’s dressing.  You always kind of expect that first bite to be like, YEAH!  THAT’S IT!  But, in the recipe’s defense, it has been years since I’ve set foot in an Olive Garden.  And I will honestly say, that by the end of my hoovering this salad, that it really did taste like Olive Garden’s dressing.

So this one, I will leave up to y’all.  I didn’t not enjoy it, but I didn’t have the reaction I was expecting.  But it was a deliciously tangy, clearly Italian salad dressing that is nice to have in my back pocket, especially since there’s no super special ingredients!

You can find the original recipe //here//.

Olive Garden Salad Dressing

1 (0.7 oz.) packet Italian Dressing Mix
¾ cup olive oil (high-quality yields much better results in this recipe)
¼ cup & 2 Tablespoons white distilled vinegar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ Tablespoon mayo

Whisk everything together thoroughly and refrigerate. Store in a mason jar or other tightly closing container. Shake or whisk well before using.