Hassleback Apple Crisp

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I don’t keep a diary, but I do have a small notebook that I write my favorite quotes and song lyrics in. This little book has been in my possession since I was 15 or 16, and I occasionally like to look back at the lyrics that meant the most to me in years past. I recently came across one particular verse that I scribbled in my little notebook the summer that I lived in Pensacola, Florida. I was 1,000 miles away from everyone I loved, and Ani Difranco’s words really resonated with me. “Strangers are exciting, their mystery never ends, but there is nothing like seeing your own history in the faces of your friends.” This past weekend, I helped celebrate the wedding of my sweet friend, Julie, and the extra time I got to spend with some of my oldest girlfriends made me realize how truly blessed I am. Not everyone can say that the majority of their closest friends have been a part of their lives for 10, 15, or even 26 years, but thankfully I can. There is something remarkable about friendships that are strong enough to weather the storms of distance, time, and the struggle of simply “growing up.” A few of these strong, incredible women have been by my side for my highest highs and lowest lows. In particular, my three best friends Annie, LT and Lo all stood next to me on my own wedding day to celebrate one of the happiest days of my life thus far. And all three of them have stood by my side during some of the worst times in life. I can still remember the day my Grandpa passed away and the look of love and compassion in Lo’s eyes when I gave her the news. She took one look at my tear stained face, ran towards me, and held me as I cried. And in high school, LT rescued me from a mortifying moment when I forgot all of the words to a solo I was singing in front of 200 people. Instead of joining our choir for the final song in the concert, LT walked me off stage, drove me home, and sat on my parent’s couch and cheered me up until my embarrassing moment was nearly forgotten. And when my first boyfriend broke up with me, Annie came home with me after school every day to eat ice cream and discuss why we were “absolutely done with men.” So although it is exciting to meet new people and form new friendships, there is nothing quite like having friends who have been by your side every step of the way. Even though months often pass between our visits, having these wonderful women by my side always makes me feel a bit more whole. I’m sad to see this weekend of togetherness come to a close, but theses three are always in my heart.

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And when the “Sunday blues” hit, I like to turn to the kitchen for a little baking. This recipe is a simplified and speedy apple crisp. Top with some vanilla ice cream, and your Sunday blues will diminish in no time.

Ingredients: Serves 2

  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut in half vertically
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted and divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 2 tablespoons old fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Starting at the outermost corner of the apple, cut most (but not all) the way through the apple in 1/8 inch intervals. Place apple halves cut side down in a 8inch baking dish, coated with cooking spray.
  3. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Brush mixture evenly over apple halves
  4. Cover pan with foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Remove foil, bake at 400 for 10 minutes, or until apples are tender. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes
  5. Combine remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, oats, flour and salt.
  6. Carefully fan open apple halves, and spoon oat picture evenly over apples. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Turn broiler on high and broil for additional 2 minutes
  7. Remove from the oven and serve topped with vanilla ice cream

Lightened Up Chicken Enchiladas

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In my job as a hotel sales manager, I used to work with brides to coordinate their wedding hotel room blocks. And though I no longer handle the wedding blocks, I often hear the many “bridezilla” stories that my colleagues share. We recently had a bride have a complete meltdown over the brand of Kleenex we offered to place in her guests’ wedding welcome bags. Part of me wanted to laugh, and part of me wanted to call this poor girl up and tell her to take a deep breath, slow down, and remember why she was planning this big party in the first place. Nowadays, with all of the wedding blogs and constant wedding Facebook posts, I can see how so many brides can get caught up in making everything “Pinterest perfect.” And it makes me so sad. Planning the celebration of such a big step in life should be an enjoyable, exciting time. And on your big day, the last thing you should be worrying about are those tiny details that no one will remember. The comment I get the most from guests at my own wedding is “You were the happiest bride I’ve ever seen.” That happiness did not come from wearing a perfect dress, or seeing perfect flowers everywhere. The happiness came from getting to marry my best friend. A year and half later, I’m sure very few people remember what our centerpieces looked like, or what our wedding favor was, but they remember how happy we were on that day. And I hope some of our future brides can share that happiness without getting caught up in the details.

As fun as our wedding day was, having all the attention on me was a bit overwhelming. Being a little shy, the role of “the bride” was a bit strange for me. But taking on the role of “the wife” has been absolutely the best. Eric does all the outdoor work, and I get to cook all of our dinners. And this easy dinner recipe got a big thumbs up. I like to make this recipe for chicken enchiladas on a Sunday when I have a bit more time. Typically I eat one enchilada for dinner, and Eric will eat two. I typically let the leftover enchiladas cool completely before placing in a tupperware and freezing. When you are ready to heat up the remaining portions, just place them in a baking dish and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, or until heated through.

Ingredients: Makes 8 enchiladas

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 3 cups shredded chicken
  • 8 6-inch flour tortillas
  • 3/4 cup shredded Mexican cheese

2.  Stack tortillas; wrap stack in damp paper towels and microwave at HIGH for 25 seconds. Spoon about 1/3 cup chicken mixture in center of each tortilla; roll up. Arrange tortillas, seam sides down, in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with reserved sauce and cheese. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and sauce is bubbly.

Parmesan and Sage Crusted Pork Chops

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I was lucky to grow up in a household where healthy dinners were the norm. I feel like sitting down each night with my family and sharing a nutritious meal really helped me set healthy habits that have stuck with me through adulthood. So it is definitely something that I want to keep up in Eric and my little “family of two”. However, cooking healthy for just myself is quite different than cooking for me and a boy. Although a baked sweet potato and a salad is a perfectly filling meal for me, it wouldn’t quite appease my 6 foot 2 husband. So I have already learned a few key things to create a healthy meal that keeps us both full and happy. First of all, I try to include a source of lean protein. And though Eric would be perfectly happy eating chicken every night, I try to make a good mix of chicken, fish or lean pork, just to switch it up a bit. And second, I always make three portions, one for me and two for Eric. That way I’ve made enough to fill him up, but I’m not eating huge “guy sized” portions. This is a recipe I found in Cooking Light magazine and I have a feeling it might become a regular recipe in our household. Quickly pan frying the pork chops give the breading a crisp texture, while finishing them off in the oven keep them nice and tender. And with a side of roasted asparagus, you have yourself a delicious, healthy dinner.

Ingredients: Makes four pork chops

    • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
    • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan cheese
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
    • 2 large egg whites
    • 4 boneless thin-cut pork loin chops
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

Preparation:

  1. In a shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, parmesan, sage, salt & pepper
  2. In a second shallow dish (or paper plate), place all purpose flour
  3. In a third shallow dish, combine beaten egg whites and dijon mustard
  4. To bread pork chops, place chops in the flour mixture and shake of excess flour, next place in egg mixture, again shaking off any excess, and finally, dredge pork chops in breadcrumb mixture.
  5. After you have repeated this process with all 4 pork chops, heat a large frying pan over medium high heat
  6. Place oil in frying pan and turn pan until oil coats it
  7. Place breaded pork chops in the pan and let cook for 2-3 minutes per side, or until chops are slightly browned
  8. Then place porkchops on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 180 for internal temperature of the chops.

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Healthier Mac n’ Cheese

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Another Sunday morning, and yet again our world has been dusted with fresh powdery snow. I always anticipate the first snow fall come December and love the way it sparkles on a chilly, cozy Christmas night. But once February hits, I am so over it. And here we are in March, the month that is supposed to bring some springtime weather, and we have been pummeled again with another snow storm. I’ve always loved Michigan for the four distinct seasons we get to experience, but this year it feels like we skipped over my beloved fall and catapulted right into this freezing cold eternal winter. And since the weather men are not predicting a big thaw anytime soon, I figured I would make the best of the cold by cooking up some warm comfort food. But rather than whip up a butter filled, heavy side dish, I went in search for a lighter alternative. And after some recipe perusing, a came up with this lightened up mac n’ cheese recipe. The dish is incredibly rich and creamy, but contains no butter or oil and is lightened up with the use of lowfat milk. It served as the perfect side dish to my BBQ pulled chicken, and though it looks and tastes decadent, it will not weigh you down.

Ingredients: Makes 4 servings

  • 1 1/2 cups cavatappi pasta (or noodle of your choice)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup 1% low fat milk
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta until cooked through, set aside
  2. In a large skillet, heat milk over medium high heat
  3. Stir flour into milk and stir continuously until mixture thickens
  4. Stir in cheddar cheese until mixture is smooth and creamy
  5. Stir in spices
  6. Add pasta to cheese mixture and toss until well combined

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Almond Bread

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Before I started my massive cookbook collection and before food blogs stormed the internet, my main source of recipes was Cooking Light Magazine. I used to carefully scour page after page of this monthly magazine and rip out recipes even when I was in grade school. I remember making their marshmallow peanut butter brownies for my 4th grade birthday treat (with a little help from my mom, of course). And here we are,15 years later and I am still a huge fan of Cooking Light. From easy dinner recipes to decadent (but healthy!) desserts, I am pretty much a lifelong fan. And this recipe for Almond Quick Bread is yet another Cooking Light Recipe. The bread tastes rich and decadent and is full of almond flavor, yet it is low in sugar, fat and calories. That’s a win-win in my book. I recently made this bread for “my big girlfriend” Alexandra, because she just had her adorable new baby, Alex…who by the way, is pretty much the cutest baby in the world. This recipe is great to give as a gift and a perfect feature at a Sunday Brunch. So next time, skip the decadent bakery bread and try out this recipe- you definitely will not regret it. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Makes 1 loaf, Recipe from Cooking Light

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 7oz package of almond paste
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preparation:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine first 3 ingredients (flour through salt) and set aside
  2. In a large bowl, place cream sugar, butter and canola oil together until just combined
  3. Add almond paste to sugar mixture and beat until well combined (about 3 minutes)
  4. Beat in egg, one at a time
  5. Beat in vanilla extract
  6. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk into sugar mixture, beating well after each addition
  7. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and sprinkle with slivered almonds
  8. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes

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Healthified Bob Evans Biscuits

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According to Eric, one of the things that he likes about me is that I am not a food snob. Although I certainly don’t mind eating at upscale restaurants when I can, I definitely do not turn my nose up at chain restaurants either.  I love the Asian Chicken Roll Up at Applebees and don’t even get me started on the Cornbread from Boston Market. And yet another one of my other favorite chain restaurant staples are the buttery, flaky biscuits from Bob Evans. And although I love these delicious biscuits, I know they are definitely more of a “now and then” food than something I should eat every weekend. So I was excited to find a lightened up recipe for flaky, homestyle biscuits in my latest issue of Cooking Light. This recipe uses a mixture of butter and canola oil to add moisture, whereas the Bob Evans classics most likely contain butter and *gulp* lard. And seeing as lard is not an ingredient I want to consume regularly, this Cooking Light recipe is a great one to have on hand. The result is a soft, slightly nutty tasting biscuit that is perfect when topped with a swirl of honey or jam. Serve with my Homemade Buffalo Wild Wings Naked Tenders and you’ve got yourself a dinner straight from chain restaurant heaven.

Ingredients: Makes 12 biscuits

  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

Preparation:

  1. Place dry ingredients (flours through baking soda) in a large bowl and mix until just combined
  2. Place butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute, or until butter has melted completely
  3. Add cold buttermilk into hot melted butter and stir until small clumps form
  4. Add canola oil to buttermilk mixture
  5. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until just combined (do NOT overmix, as it will dry out the biscuits)
  6. Drop batter in mounds of 2 tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 450 for 11 minutes

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Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna

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In about a year I will be a married lady. Which means” my single girl” dinners of baked sweet potatoes or a bowl of cereal may be behind me. Because although I find a bowl of oatmeal or a veggie burger to be a perfectly acceptable meal, my husband-to-be might require a little more on his plate. And since I don’t really see myself cooking two separate dinners every night, I thought I should start trying out some recipes that will appeal to both of us. Healthy and light enough for my tastes, but filling enough for Eric. And this lasagna recipe is the perfect combination of the foods we both enjoy. It is chock full of the spinach I love, but it is filled and covered with just enough cheese to keep Eric happy. The recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine, and with 8 servings, it would be a great meal to make on a Sunday afternoon to result in a week full of delicious leftovers. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Recipe Adapted slightly from Cooking Light

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup lowfat milk
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 lasagna noodles
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 (12 oz) package of fresh spinach
  • 5 (4 oz) Sweet Turkey Sausage links
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 ounce shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 ounce fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Preparation:

  1. Combine flour and next four ingredients (milk through bay leaf) in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk. Cook 8 minutes until thick and bubbly, stirring consistently
  2. Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper.
  3. Spread milk mixture onto the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking pan that has been coated with cooking spray
  4. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add in lasagna noodles, let boil until noodles are cooked through. Drain and set noodles aside
  5. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add two tablespoons water and fresh spinach; cook spinach for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts
  6. Remove sausage from casings and add to skillet with spinach
  7. Break sausages up with a spoon and let cook  for 5-10 minutes, or until cooked through
  8. Add garlic to skillet and let simmer for 2-3 minutes
  9. To assemble lasagna, place two noodles side by side in the baking dish
  10. Next spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese on top of each noodle
  11. Spread a third of the sausage mixture on top of ricotta layer and top with an additional lasagna noodle on each side
  12. Repeat layers twice
  13. Sprinkle top lasagna noodle with mozzarella and parmesan cheese and cover dish with tin foil
  14. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes
  15. Remove baking dish from the oven and turn the oven to Broil mode on high
  16. Place lasagna back in the oven and broil for 2-3 minutes or until cheese begins to bubble and brown slightly
  17. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting

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Classic Banana Bread with Brown Sugar Crust

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This weekend was filled with butter, sugar and buttercream frosting. Because this was the weekend that my mom and I made dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies to share with our family and friends. Every December we spend an entire Saturday dusting the kitchen with flour and sugar while  watching White Christmas. And though I have quite a few new Christmas cookie recipes to share, I thought I would share one last healthy recipe before the December sugar coma ensues. This recipe for Classic Banana Bread comes from Cooking Light. It is low in calories and fat and is a perfect use for those few browned bananas you have lying around. I did jazz the original recipe up a bit by adding a brown sugar topping. The topping forms a sweet crust to the soft bread and adds an extra little punch of sweetness. This bread is great with a smear of peanut butter but is perfectly sweet just on its own.
Now let the holidays begin!
Ingredients: Makes 1 loaf, adapted slightly from Cooking Light
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
  • 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar

Preparation:

  1. In a medium bowl, sift dry ingredients until just combined (flour through cinnamon)
  2. In a large bowl, beat sugar & butter together until creamy
  3. Beat in eggs, one at a time
  4. Add bananas, yogurt & vanilla to butter mixture and beat until well blended
  5. Add flour mixture slowly and mix until just combined
  6. Pour banana bread batter into a greased loaf pan
  7. For the topping, mix butter, flour & sugar together until crumbled and sprinkle over banana bread batter
  8. Bake at 350 for 1 hour

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