Daily Grind

Since finishing my student teaching, I’ve been back to work at my old company on a part-time basis. Even though it’s part-time I’m still trying to work as much as possible, which means heading into the office almost every day of the week. While there are a lot of differences between working in an office and a classroom, I of course find some of the biggest differences when it comes to food (surprise!).

Prior to student teaching I was concerned with my lunch options – because I wasn’t familiar with the layout of the school and what most teachers did for lunch, I spent the first few weeks bringing only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Now don’t get me wrong – I love a good PB&J, but that doesn’t quite cut it for me when it comes to lunch – I prefer it as a snack. I brought creative leftovers every now and then, but for the most part my meals were less than inspired. Knowing that I would have constant access to a toaster oven, microwaves, and a refrigerator when coming back to the office did spark a little excitement.

Despite having grand plans for my lunches, I tend to gravitate towards the frozen section during my weekly grocery shopping trips. It doesn’t require much thinking when I’m at the grocery store, or when I’m packing my lunch. Of course once it’s actually time for lunch I’m disappointed I didn’t take the extra time to prepare something myself. Since I’m currently in a no-dairy zone, and I also stay away from meat, I’m currently living more of a vegan lifestyle, but I’m far from calling myself a vegan. Just in the past week I’ve been shocked to see how many seemingly dairy-free items actually have dairy in them (like Morningstar Farms’ soy crumbles) making my frozen lunch choices slim.

Yummy sandwich!

So what do I eat for lunch?
– peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (on a rare, uninspired occassion)
– wraps (typically filled with a smattering of veggies)
– salad (previousy topped with cheese, and I’ve since been experimenting with other toppings)
– cold-cut sandwiches (also rare, but I’m a big fan of Hormel’s natual line)
– frozen meals or quick microwave meals (Hormel makes awesome “Compleates” and I’m generally a Lean Cuisine fan)

One of my favorite snacks!

Of course the aformentioned lunches are not alone – snacks are important, too! My snacking habits are all over the place, but I try to make sure there’s some type of cracker/carb, a fruit, and either yogurt or a dessert-like treat. Since I particpate in Foodie Pen Pals, I can usually guarantee I’ll have a snack for at least a week that fits one of the criteria I mentioned.

Now that marathon training is about to start (more on that later), I need to make sure I’m eating the right stuff, and the right amount to keep myself fueled. Of course it’s been a little difficult due to all the tests I’ve been having recently, but hopefully I can get back to a normal eating schedule soon.

So, what do you usually eat for lunch? Any awesome bring-to-work friendly things I should check out? 

Lovely Earth

This month’s Hormel Extended Family Food Blogger post centers around something that should be near and dear to our hearts – the earth! I suppose you could say I celebrated earth day since I ran a half marathon, but I’d like to think I do a little bit every day to help try and keep us here, and enjoying what we’ve got. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I contribute every now and then to part of the problems, but for the most part, I try not to!

Since I’ve started running more, I’ve come to appreciate nature more. It’s still not my absolute favorite (I’d much prefer a hotel over camping on most days), but with simple views like this on my morning long runs, how could I not want to keep it alive?

Delaware & Raritan Rivers canal tow path

So, what do I do to try and keep nature beautiful? First, my husband and I always try to bring reusable shopping bags when we go to the grocery store. Some groceries even give you a little cash back (5 cents) for each bag you use! I’ve been collecting a few here and there, and of course have two obligatory cupcake related bags. Those usually bring a smile to the cashier’s face. The hardest part about using reusable bags? Remembering them.

Yes, I bring this bag to the grocery store.

While we’re at the grocery store, I try not to buy too many prepackaged foods, mostly because they’re more expensive. But in terms of the environment, they help keep excess papers and plastics away as well. I was happy to learn from Hormel that they try to use as little packing as possible. I love that their Natural Choice packaged deli meats come in recycled packaging! It also helps that it’s delicious.

Equally as important as bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, and buying products with less packaging, in my opinion, is the reusable water bottle. I’ve been using them for years, ever since Nalgenes became all the rage while I was in high school. I grabbed a purple Loyola College bottle on a visit my senior year of college, and I still use it today. The folks at Hormel sent me an awesome Camelbak bottle that I’ve used before and after two long runs and also after this past weekend’s half marathon. It has a straw that only lets out liquid when you bite it, like their backpacks. This feature is much appreciated since the wide mouth of the Nalgene usually results in water dribbled down my chin.

While you can’t call me “Mother Earth,” I’ve been making a conscious effort more recently to try and not only appreciate the earth and everything we have more, but to also make sure I’m not actively contributing to it’s problems. I’d have to attribute the majority of that to my husband who is a big fan of good ‘ole earth. I certainly have room for improvement, but I’m working on it!

Disclaimer: Hormel Foods sent me Camelbak water bottle as a member of their Extended Family Food Blogger program in order to blog about Earth day and the Hormel family. The opinions in this post are my own. 

Slow and Steady

Getting a slow-cooker has proved to be a successful meal maker on most Sundays. I love the idea of throwing a whole bunch of stuff into a big pot and letting it just cook for hours, without needing any attention from me. After trying slow-cooker lasagna for the first time a few months ago, I knew I wanted more of it, but I wanted to switch things up. So, I tried a buffalo chicken lasagna a few weeks ago that was amazing (I need to find that recipe so I can share it with you!), and then I made a Southwestern lasagna.

Even though this is the first year I haven’t filled out a March Madness bracket in awhile, I’m still interested in the games. So, throwing this in the slow-cooker and plopping myself on the couch was just what the doctor (aka myself) ordered on Sunday. It also made enough that the hubs and I will be able to enjoy it mid-week as well. I’m a big fan of making something that has leftovers, especially when the meal is a winner. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted in the lasagna, I realized there are so many different variations you could make. Ours was on the spicier side, but you can of course dial down the spices to your liking, or swap them out for something else!

Of course it wouldn’t be complete without some guacamole, so thanks to the wonderful Hormel, I picked up some Spicy Wholly Guacamole. It was the perfect addition to the meal, and they aren’t messing around with the spice! I would definitely try their pico de gallo and guacamole dip they have, too.

Southwestern Lasagna
– Serves 4 –

1 lb. ground beef, ground turkey, or soy crumbles (I used Jennie-O ground turkey)
1 green pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 15oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 10oz. can Rotel tomatoes & green chiles
1 10oz. can enchilada sauce
3 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp Adobo
1/4 tsp paprika
8oz. shredded cheese blend
6 burrito sized flour tortillas (I use Chi-Chi’s brand)
guacamole, sour cream, and salsa for garnish 

1. Brown meat until cooked through, and drain any excess fat (if there is any). Mix in spices (chili powder, cumin, Adobo, and paprika) until combined.
2. Combine ground beef, diced onions, diced green pepper, black beans, and tomato and chilies mixture in a medium sized bowl.
3. Layer 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce on the bottom of your slow-cooker. Follow with a tortilla, 1 1/2 cups of the meat/veggie mixture, and a 1/4 cup of cheese.
4. Continue layering, ending with a tortilla at the top. Finish it off with another 1/4 cup of cheese, and pour the rest of the enchilada sauce on top.
5. Cook on low heat for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Hormel Foods sent me a $50 gift card as a member of their Extended Family Food Blogger program in order to create a meal using products from the Hormel family, and to blog about it. The opinions in this post are my own. 

Curry in a hurry

I’ve been slowly but surely getting back into the swing of things in terms of running. After running the Philly Marathon in November and then turning around and completing the Goofy Challenge at the beginning of January, I had some trouble running right after that. It wasn’t for lack of wanting to run, but when push came to shove, I was much happier on my couch. After signing up for the Chicago Marathon (basically as an excuse to visit and eat my way through Chicago again), I realized that in order to make this training cycle a little less torturous, I needed to get back out there now.

So, with February coming to a close I’m finishing out the month with just over 70 miles. That’s nothing to write home about, since most runners that I follow on Twitter run that in a WEEK, but for me, it’s a good starting point. I’ve come to realize that I can’t be a high-volume runner, at least not yet. My little legs won’t allow for it, and usually revolt in the form of shin splints, tight hips, or weird foot pains. So for now I’m focusing on PRing a half marathon in April (it’s about time, since I’ve only had one good half marathon since I started running, and it was my first one ever), and just enjoying running along the way. Sometimes I get lost in the “chore” of running, but then I remember how lucky I am that I can run, and that usually carries me for a few weeks, until the whine cycle starts again.

After braving the 30+ MPH winds this past weekend on both Saturday and Sunday’s runs, the husband and I rewarded ourselves with Smoothie King, some  yummy treats I’ll be mentioning later in the week, and curry! I love curry because of how flavorful and spicy it can be, and also its versatility. I had planned to make a slow-cooker curry lentil soup all week, but never got around to it. So on Saturday, some quick spicy curry was just what we needed. This could easily be turned into a soup with more liquid, but it was perfect served alongside some garlic naan.

Spicy Curried Lentils
– Serves 2-4 –

1 cup uncooked green lentils
1 yellow onion, diced
1-2 jalapeños, diced (depending on your heat preference)
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ginger powder
3 cups water
1 chicken bouillon cube/packet of bouillon *

1. In a large sauce pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and jalapeños and sauté for about 5 minutes.
2. Add 1 Tbsp curry powder, ginger powder, and garam masala, and cook for another 5 minutes.
3. Stir in water, bouillon, and lentils. Simmer for 40 minutes, uncovered.
4. Add in tomatoes and 1 tsp curry powder, cook additional 5-1o minutes.
*NOTE: You can use 3 cups of vegetable broth OR chicken broth instead of the water/bouillon combination. I used a Herbox bouillon packet. 

Super Sides

Every year it takes me by surprise just how quickly the Holidays come and go. Only a few days ago I was echoing the sentiment I do every year; “I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. It doesn’t feel like it.” The next thing I knew we were at my husband’s parent’s house enjoying Christmas Eve dinner, and then in the blink of an eye we were leaving my family after Christmas dinner. This year has flown by and been one of the biggest years of my life yet. There will certainly be a recap of sorts coming tomorrow!

I had the honor of being a Hormel Foods Extended Family Food Blogger for part of the year, and our last challenge was side dishes. For me, side dishes are often times my favorite part of a meal, becoming the star on the plate. Growing up, we always had a few things on our plates (meat, vegetable, maybe a starch), but I’ve found myself in the kitchen mostly making meals that can all be enjoyed in a bowl, or on a small plate. This isn’t to say the dishes themselves don’t require a lot of pots and pans to get to the end result, but it’s usually just one thing.

After looking through Hormel’s website for some inspiration, I decided to make two side dishes. Growing up, I was (and still am!) a huge mashed potatoes fan. Call me crazy, but I love instant mash just as much as homemade mashed potatoes. Sure, the homemade thing is better, but in a pinch the boxed flakes aren’t half bad. So, I made bacon-ed up mashed poatoes, and a veggie loaded chili dish (because I love everything chili related). Even though chili is usually the key player, this is a perfect side to have with pork, beef, or some marinated and grilled chicken, or you can enjoy it as your main. Maybe even over some mashed potatoes!

I had seen a recipe for Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes on How Sweet Eat’s blog, and had been jonsing to try them. I was going to make it for Thanksgiving, but my mother-in-law’s plain ‘ol milk, butter, and hand mashed  potatoes just can’t be replaced. In honor of Jessica and her love for bacon, I thought she’d appreciate me adding some bacon to the potatoes. And let me tell you, this was a delicious addition! (recipe below).

As for the loaded veggie chili, it’s close to my heaven. Sauteed veggies (onions, peppers, etc.) are some of my favorites, smothered in spices and combined with some Hormel chili couldn’t be easier, or tastier. I actually think this would be a great burrito filler as well, or over rice or mashed potatoes if you’re looking to have it as the star of the show. But, it’s a great side dish as well, and sneaks in a lot of vegetables without you even realizing it. Of course I’m not one to hide my vegetables, but for those of you that are veggie shy or have dining companions that are, this is a great way to get them in.

Browned Butter & Bacon Smashed Potatoes – adapted from How Sweet Eats 
– serves 6 –

3lbs yukon or russet potatoes (I used russet)
1 cup milk
6 Tbsp butter
4 slices of bacon (I used hormel)
3 Tbsp of bacon fat
salt & pepper to taste

1. Chop potatoes (I left the skin on, but you can peel them first if you’d prefer) and put in a large pot, filling just above the potatoes with water. Boil for about 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are tender
2. Meanwhile, cook 4 pieces of bacon in a medium pan, about 4-5 minutes on each side until they’re nice and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate when done.
4. Keep the pan on, and add the butter, stirring it constantly until it begins to brown (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.
3. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and then return them to the pot. Using either a potato masher or hand mixer depending on if you liked smashed or mashed, mash the potatoes until they’re to your liking.
4. While mashing, add in browned butter, bacon fat, crumbled bacon, and milk. Season with salt and pepper

Veggie Loaded Chili
– Serves 4 –

1 yellow onion, diced
2 green peppers, diced
1 jalapeño, diced
1 15 oz. can of corn
1 15 oz. can of chili with beans (I used Hormel)
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp taco seasoning (I used Chipotle)
1/4 tsp Adobo
1/4 tsp ground cumin

1. Preheat skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil, and once glistening add in onion, pepper, and jalapeño. Cook until all is just about tender, 5-10 minutes.
2. Add in spices and allow to cook together, about 2 minutes.
3. Add in tomatoes and corn, cook an additional 5 minutes.
4. Add in chili and cook until heated through, about 2-3 minutes.
5. Serve over rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, or by itself. Top with cheese if desired.

Sweet Potato Chipotle Beer Chili

This month’s Hormel Extended Family Food Blogger theme was slow cooking, specifically with a Crockpot. They actually sent me one in order to create my meal – how awesome! Having only just made my very first meal a la slow cooker last week (it was this), I was psyched to give a new recipe a try. I really love the idea of a slow cooker, since it gives you the opportunity to set up your meal, go about your day, and come home to something delicious. I will most definitely be putting some type of slow cooker meal into heavy rotation in our house this winter.

Because it’s fall and the weather is slowly getting cooler, I first knew I wanted to make chili, and as an ingredient have what I consider to be a classic fall food – sweet potatoes! From there, all the other ingredients kind of fell into place based on what I invision a good chili to include. And, of course I had to add beer – its such a great cooking ingredient. This also made enough for leftovers, which is always appreciated. While I don’t mind bringing frozen meals for lunch, I would much prefer a leftover, and I can’t justify eating out more than once a week (if even that).

So, after a long run and making a trip to the Halloween store in hopes of finding a costume for my husband, it was great to come home to this!

Sweet Potato Chipotle Beer Chili… with Turkey
– Serves 4 –

1.25 lbs ground turkey (or leave this out, use ground beef, etc.)
1 large Spanish onion, diced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 15.5 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 8 oz. cans diced tomatoes with jalapeños
12 oz. Mexican beer (I used Corona)
2 chipotles in adobo, plus 2 Tbsp adobo sauce [or less depending on your spice preference]
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder 

1.  Combine all ingredients in your slow cooker
2. Cook on the high setting for 2 hours
3. Serve with your favorite chili toppings (shredded cheese, sour cream, etc.) 

Childhood Favorites: Monkey Stew

This month’s Hormel Extended Family Food Blogger post is in regards to childhood favorites. While it’s true I grew up loving hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and all the other things deemed “typical” for a child to like, there was one dinner that was my hands-down favorite. I think the name might have played a part in why I liked it, because it was fun telling people what I was having for dinner, and seeing the extremely confused look on their faces. But, it also tasted great. As you can guess by the title of the post, it’s Monkey Stew!

Monkey Stew itself is super easy to make, and versatile. In my house, it was usually served over pasta or mashed potatoes, with a side of peas. It could definitely be made into a sloppy Joe styled sandwich, or as a base for chili, and more. My favorite style of Monkey Stew was over mashed potatoes, and if an extra vegetable was needed, with peas. We always had salad with our dinners growing up, but we often had other vegetables as well. I’m not sure why, but peas seemed to always be the go-to with this particular recipe.

Now that I’m married, I’ve been thinking about recipes that I want to keep as “go-to’s” in my recipe arsenal for when I have a family. This recipe will definitely be on that list, since it was such a favorite growing up. So, of course for my re-creation I made mashed potatoes, and served it with peas. Instead of using ground beef, though, I went with Jennie-O ground turkey. When you put it all together, it’s a hearty meal that takes no time at all to make. This was just what my husband and I needed after Sunday’s long run, too.

Monkey Stew
– Serves 4 –

1 package Jennie-O ground turkey
1 15 oz. plus 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (I used Hunt’s)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
Salt & pepper, to taste

1. In a sauté pan over medium heat, brown the meat, and season with salt and pepper. 
2. When the meat is almost fully cooked, add the diced onions and sauté them together until the meat is cooked, and the onions are soft.
3. Add in the tomato sauce, cover, and let simmer about 5-10 minutes.
4. Serve over mashed potatoes or pasta. 

Can I Have S’more?

The Sandlot was a favorite movie of mine growing up. I remember we got to watch it one year in elementary school (either third or fourth grade) and they fast forwarded through the pool scene when Squints fakes drowning just so he can smooch Wendy Peffercorn. Of course, one of my favorite scenes was their “camp-out” when Hamilton “Ham” Porter asks Scotty Smalls if he wants a s’more, and he replies with “how can I have s’more if I haven’t had anything yet?” Ahh, classic.

So, what’s the point of all that blabbering? Well, I had s’mores this weekend! This month’s Hormel Extended Family Food Blogger theme was a camp-out. I was sent some graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate to help facilitate my event. While a camp-out wasn’t in my cards, I was able to make a s’mores pie, and hunker down with my fiancé waiting for Hurricane Irene to hit. Thanks to the generous folks at Hormel, I only had to supply the chocolate and butter for the delicious s’mores pie recipe I found over at How Sweet It is.

I mean, just look at that thing! I knew I had to make it before the storm hit us in New Jersey, just in case the power went out. While my fiancé was filling water bottles, I was making pie – priorities. I almost ruined the entire pie when I tried to roast the marshmallows, and they literally caught on fire. I was able to scrape off the char, and it looked like nothing had happened. After that almost fiasco, I set to have my first attempt at faux meatballs with pasta (recipe coming soon).

We had our own little camp-out by the TV watching The Weather Channel, enjoying our spagetti and “meat” balls, red wine, and s’mores pie. Thankfully, we never lost water or power, but the surrounding areas definitely got hit hard. The evening proved that indoor campouts can be fun, too!