All The Veggies, All the Flavor!

It’s that time of year when the humidity decreases, the air cools and those cozy sweaters start to make their way out of the back of the closet. Fall is on it’s way! I know we still have a couple weeks until we officially declare it fall… but its enough for me to make my first chili of the season!

Chili is one of those meals that instantly warms and comforts the soul.  It brings me back to my childhood when my mom and grandmothers would make pots of chili and vegetable soup around the holidays. The process of making chili makes me especially happy.  It’s an easy one pot meal, packed with flavor and always a crowd pleaser!

I decided to go with a vegetarian chili tonight, and I did not hold back with the veggies! In a saute pan, I mixed diced onion, garlic, and jalapenos with some vegetable oil, a tsp of cumin, a tsp of coriander, a tsp of paprika, and a tsp of chili powder. I stirred all of this together and let the flavors blend with a bit of salt and pepper. Once everything soften and became fragrant, I added them into my large pot with vegetable broth. I turned the heat on and added some more of my fresh ingredients! These ingredients included: black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, diced zucchini, diced orange pepper, diced celery, canned tomatoes, yellow corn, bay leaves, oregano, and some more salt and pepper.  I added a dash more of my spice combination from earlier to further enhance the flavor of the chili (cumin, coriander, paprika, chili powder).  I stirred this all together, covered the pot and let all of the ingredients simmer together. I let them work their magic for about an hour (half hour for my husband because he couldn’t wait any longer). At this point, the beans were cooked through and veggies had softened.  The celery still had a nice crunch and the flavors had blended together nicely.

I served my hot vegetable chili with a topping of raw sweet onion and avocado slices. The avocado added a creaminess to the dish and the onions added some nice crunch. This was a home run meal! The best part is… I have leftovers! The chili flavors will enhance even more over night and I can’t wait to taste it!

Enjoy!

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Not Your Average Lettuce Wraps 

Guilt free, delicious eating is right at your fingertips (literally- you’ll be licking them clean), with my shrimp lettuce wraps! I am always looking for unique flavor/texture combinations that marry well together in a dish. I truly enjoy this exploration process and look forward to when a meal just hits the jackpot- like tonight! In addition to finding delicious food combinations, I also have a passion for healthy living and finding food alternatives that taste just as good! Here is a dish that mixes these two passions of mine. 

I started by cutting into my cabbage and gently peeling away the layers that I wanted to use as the base of my lettuce wraps. Next, I cut the fruits and vegetables for the salad or healthy “slaw” that would go into my lettuce cups. This included thinly sliced (julienned) mango, green apple, and red onion, diced orange pepper, jalepeno, cucumber and chopped fresh cilantro. I dressed this in some lemon juice and a drizzle of rice wine vinegar to add that Asian flair I love so much. Subtle Asian flavors will be apparent in my sautéed shrimp, creating harmony within the dish. I added a nice helping of this healthy slaw into my lettuce cups. 
Onto the shrimp! I purchased farm raised, raw, peeled jumbo shrimp (that’s a mouthful- and it’s about to be literally 😉) from my local grocery store. It’s at a great price right now and such a quick protein to cook! Considering that I started creating this dinner at 7:00pm, the time saver is a huge plus!  I tossed this shrimp previously in a spice mixture that included sweet Hungarian paprika, sea salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, chipolte, rosemary and thyme. I added some sesame oil to my sauté pan and got it nice and hot. I added my shrimp in with a drizzle of soy sauce and cooked them for 3 minutes on each side. 

I added this beautiful and tasty protein element on top of my slaw with some lemon zest, feta cheese and chives. 

This combination of ingredients was extremely fresh and texturally pleasing to the palate. The sweet, soft mango, the crunchy, tart apple, the acidic notes from the lemon and vinegar (which toned down the biter bite from the red onion), the creaminess of the feta cheese and the hint of heat from the jalapeños made for a delicious, balanced dish! Stay tuned for more creations to come!

Dinner Parties 101

I love to host a good party. What’s better than inviting friends and family into your home for great food, drinks and conversation?! As much fun as a party is, it can be quite stressful to plan and prepare for. I have 6 “game changer” hostess tips that can help you throw a party with ease! Okay, I will give you tip number 1 now as it’s a theme throughout this post- PLAN AHEAD. Plan your appetizers, and dishes ahead of time.  Do your research and have some fun with it! You don’t want to spend your whole evening with your head in a cookbook instead of spending time with your guests. Figure out your cooking timeline and how long each dish needs to cook. I selected my menu gradually throughout the week and looked up the best way to cook each dish, while jotting down some notes. Figure out what you can prep ahead of time to make the evening that much smoother.  Check out the rest of my 5 dinner party tips below! Continue reading to the bottom and you’ll see what dishes I served and how I was able to get ahead on them!

Tip number 2: Have an appetizer to hold your guests over and serve as a conversation starter. My menu started with a tomato and mozzarella crustini appetizer.  It included colorful grape tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, basil, mozzarella cheese and a french baguette.  I was able to prep some of this in advance! The night before I cut my tomatoes in half and tossed them with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper. I covered this combination and let it marinate.  All that was left for me to do on party day was to cut the bread and toast it in the oven with some olive oil, and add a slice of mozzarella cheese with a spoonful of my (already made) tomato mixture!

Tip number 3: Delegate what guests can bring wisely. Many times, guests will offer to bring a side dish, drinks or even a simple dessert to help out. This can be a huge help when you want to focus on making the main components of the meal. I let my guests take over some easy, non time consuming parts to the meal.  Someone brought the wine, another brought the salad and someone brought dessert. Each of these can be super simple (you cant go wrong with a fresh salad, and who doesn’t love sweets and wine??) , but each component allows the guests to get creative if they choose to!

Tip number 4: Clean and tidy ahead of time! Two days before the party, my husband and I cranked up the record player and got cleaning! We scrubbed and organized, did laundry and ran the dish washer so it would be empty for all of the dirty dishes to come during “party clean up”. Who wants to worry about a dirty house on the day of the party? All you need to do is maintain your newly cleaned home and it’s ready to host!

Tip number 5: Set up an aesthetically pleasing party environment. I chose my table setting ahead of time and made sure to set the table with glasses, plates, utensils, fun napkins and fresh flowers. I also set aside a spot where my appetizer would be displayed and laid out some plates and disposable napkins nearby. I lit the candles, chose my favorite music playlist and cracked the porch door open so guests felt welcomed to wonder onto the porch to enjoy a cocktail. Lastly, I set out my serving dishes and utensils that I wanted to use for each dish component so I could simply transfer it onto a plate and have it ready to go!

My Menu (and time saving tips)!

-Appetizer: Listed above^ under tip 2.

-Fruit: Watermelon pizza (see my last blog post for this beautiful picture). I simply cut a whole watermelon into discs. From here, I cut it like a pie- ending with triangular pieces that fit together and end up looking like a pizza. Remove any black seeds you can find and then top it with feta, mint and balsamic vinegar. This was all done right before guests arrived.

-Veggies: Roasted rainbow vegetables. I precut ALL of my veggies the night before and bagged them individually with a squeeze of lemon juice to preserve the color of the vegetables. So that evening I simply laid them out onto a pan and roasted them at 400 for about 25 minutes with some fresh time, garlic salt and pepper. I chose my vegetables so I would have (almost) every color of the rainbow (radishes, carrots, yellow peppers, zucchini, red onion). I served it in this order once finished to catch the eyes of my guests! I also cooked down some mushrooms stovetop with garlic, butter and thyme for depth of flavor and an added side component that works well with the steak. 

-Starch: Roasted potatoes. I diced all of my potatoes ahead of time. PRO TIP- submerge them in water and refrigerate to keep them from browning.  On the day of, I just tossed them with some olive oil, paprika, fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper. I cooked them at the same temperature as my veggies, except I stuck them in the oven to roast for 15 or so minutes longer. I served these on a nice white dish with some freshly chopped chives and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Meat: Flank steak. I marinated this a day before. This is a great meat to serve for a party! It cooks quickly, and doesn’t break the bank! Two pounds of this meat can easily feed six people. I marinated this beautiful steak in soy sauce, worchester sauce, garlic, lemon juice, sweet onion, pepper, red pepper flakes, dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar. This meat needs about 4 minutes per side (or until the thermometer reaches 130 degrees for a tender medium rare) and it needs 15 minutes to rest, so plan accordingly-do not skip the resting! This allows the juices in the meat to settle, creating an evenly cooked, juicy meat. Hit it with a bit of sea salt as it comes off of the grill to amp up the flavor. Once properly rested, cut the mean in slices against the grain and display it nicely. I laid the steak on a bed of arugula with some chopped chives on top for added color.

Sauce: Chimichurri sauce. I made this the day before and the flavors really settled in and became even more delicious the next day! This sauce was for the steak and included: fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, garlic, olive oil, cumin, oregano, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. This sauce was to die for and really elevated the dish. I would dip pretty much anything into this sauce….It was a huge hit! AND we made enough for the rest of the week! (Cue happy dance)

Enjoy these 6 tips and meal ideas, and go throw a rockin’, stress free party!

Shrimp Avocado Cups 

Okay food family, this recipe is to die for and one of my top favorite homemade recipes! I started with prepping all of the parts to the dish. First up, basil pesto! In a blender, I combined 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup pine nuts, juice of one lemon, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of shredded parmesean cheese and salt/pepper to taste. I poured this beautiful combo in a bowl and set it aside. Next, I cut up my veggies (orange pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, green onion, and  jalapeño). I put the peppers, red onion and jalapeño into a sauté pan with some oil and let them soften. Meanwhile, I sliced two avocados in half long ways and took out the pit. Using a spoon I took out most of the avocado (except for the rim) – creating a cup for the rest of my veggies and protein. I made guacamole with the extra avocado and added red onion, salt, pepper and lime juice. I set this aside as well. The peppers and onions were softened and fragrant, so I took this off of the flame and set this aside and started cooking my beautiful jumbo raw shrimp! This shrimp had been tossed previously with some olive oil and chipolte lime dry rub. I added this to a pan with some oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. I let them cook for about 3 minutes per side (or until pink and cooked through). Once cooked, I set these aside to cool. NOW the fun part begins! Time to assemble the avocado cups! Add a bit of your pepper/onion/jalapeño mixture, topped with some pico de gallo, a couple pieces of cut up chipolte-lime shrimp. Add as much pesto and guacamole as your heart desires with a topping of chopped green onion and a squeeze of lime juice. There you have it! One of my very favorites- a healthy, beautiful meal without compromising flavor!

Bippity Boppity Bacon Brussels

While we’re on the topic of 4 ingredient dishes and a perfect balance of flavors… this was a side dish for tonight’s “somewhat-random-use-what’s-left-in-my-pantry-and-fridge” kind of meal 😉 (Yes I am aware that mango salsa and brussels dont necessarily make a harmonious meal- but here we are 😂). Okay okay on with the recipe, Andrea. We have Brussels sprouts roasted with chopped green onion, bacon, honey and balsamic vinegar- salt and pepper optional or “to taste”. No exact measurements are needed, just make sure to toss the brussels so they have a coating of honey and balsamic. I added the green onion and cooked the veggies in my oven for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. While this cooks, I crisped up my bacon stove top in a sauté pan and added it to the mixture before serving (no judgement if you want to use quick microwaveable bacon or bacon bits- let’s face it, bacon is bacon 😋.. but stove top will give you the best caramelization and depth of flavor!) ~Sweet honey 🍯, acidic vinegar, bite of green onion, bitter brussel sprouts, salty bacon 🥓~ Just YUM 

Mad for Mangos

We have a 4 ingredient, “go to” summer salsa that doesn’t need to be dressed up fancy. The flavors just work on their own! The salsa includes mango, red onion, basil and lime juice/zest. You’ve got your sweet mango, acidic lime juice, the bite of the red onion and the fresh basil. No salt and pepper needed 😎

One Pan Fish and Veggies

One pan dishes >> 😍Okay guys, this delicious and colorful meal only took me about 30 minutes to make! That’s my kind of meal- especially when it’s pretty darn tasty 😋 There wasn’t much vegetable prep, so I washed my veggies (a colorful assortment of cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and zucchini). I tossed them in a square baking pan with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and some freshly torn basil. This went into a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, until the tomatoes were about to pop. While this cooked, I prepared my white, flakey fish- I chose Green Turbot, which is similar to a halibut. I drizzled both sides with some olive oil and lemon juice, then seasoned it with salt, pepper and fresh garlic. This fish went directly onto my veggies to cook for another 15 minutes. To serve, I laid the fish on a bed of fresh sprouts and added some more basil, chopped green onion, lemon zest, and finishing salt to top it off! Winning meal tonight 🙌🏻