Bacon Quinoa Mac n Cheese

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This creamy, cheesy and absolutely delicious bacon & quinoa mac n cheese is the perfect recipe for when you’re craving pasta but don’t want all of the carbs!

bacon mac n cheese

I don’t think there’s enough coffee in the world to get me through my daunting to do list today. I’ve got about 20 more Kenya photos to edit, an African travel story to finish, 4 recipes to make, a workout to squeeze in, a book proposal to begin and about 10,000 dishes to do. Granted these are things I could have done all week, but I’m nothing if not the world’s best procrastinator. In my defense though, I’ve had the worst case of writer’s block. I can’t tell you how many times this week I just stared at a blank computer screen with a blinking cursor, struggling to find anything to say.

Cheesy quinoa

Most of my writers block has passed like a thief in the night, but it’s not all gone. In fact, I’ve had trouble finding words to say since early this year. Writing is still my passion, still what I love, but I’ve stopped writing for me. I’ve been so focused on writing for work, writing for traffic or “viral” shares, and not for me. I can’t tell you the last time I sat down just to write what was in my heart. And I miss it so incredibly much.

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I miss sitting down at my computer and pouring everything I had into dark poems, short stories and meaningful sentences. I had so much passion as a writer when I was younger, and I can’t seem to find it again.

super cheesy mac

There are things that help, like traveling, quiet weekends and peaceful moments where I don’t have any noise in my head. But those are only temporary cures. In a few days I’m back to staring at a blank screen again, trying to find the words that used to come so easily to me. And that’s embarrassing to admit, a writer who can’t, well, write. But it’s a part of life, sometimes you need to ask for help or find your own inspiration. I’m hoping to do both because the words aren’t gone, they are just having trouble coming to the surface.

Bacon Quinoa “Mac” n’ Cheese

Best quinoa mac n cheese

Serves about 6. Inspired by Bakeaholic Mama.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: about 15 – 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup 2% milk
  • 3/4 cup light cream
  • 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 ounces part skim mozzarella cheese
  • 3 cups cooked quinoa
  • 5 slices of low-sodium bacon, chopped
  • 2/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, add the butter and melt. Whisk in the flour until a paste forms, about 3 minutes. Add salt, pepper and chili powder. Whisk in the flour and cream. Increase heat to medium high and stir until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted.
  3. Mix in the cooked quinoa until it’s fully coated in cheese sauce. Stir in chopped bacon. Scoop the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
  4. Mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese together. Sprinkle over the top of the quinoa. Bake for about 16 – 18 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories:
Fat:
Carbohydrates:
Fiber:
Protein:
Weight Watchers Points: 

Banana Smoothie (with Homemade Honey Roasted Peanut Butter)

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This flavor & protein packed banana smoothie (with homemade peanut butter) is a simple, easy and deliciously healthy way to start even your busiest of mornings!

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I’ve never been happy with my weight, even when I was at my all-time smallest (a long 25 pounds ago). Even though I had a near perfect body with chisled abs and a very strong and sleek profile, I wished I was smaller. I had this goal weight in my head, and no matter what I looked like or what I was told by other people, I knew I wouldn’t be happy until I reached that number.

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It’s almost shocking when I look back on that Claire and remember how much self-hate I had for myself. As I stare at those photos of a body I worked my ass off for, I can’t believe how little I respected it. I’d give anything now to be as “fat” as I thought I was back then.

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But the grass is always greener on the other side, right? As much as I like to think I’ve changed my mindset completely, I know the moment I start to shed these pounds, that voice will come back. The one that says “5 is nothing, try for 10.” The one that even when I reach my happy weight, it’ll repeat “oh, come on! You’re just 10 more pounds away from your goal, get moving!” The one that I think will never actually be satisfied with what I look like, even when I do hit that magical number. I wouldn’t be lying if that’s one of the reasons I’m truly hesitant to lose weight.

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I don’t want that voice to take over. I actually want to be happy with what I look like, even now. Sure, I’m not at a weight I’m really happy with, but this is my body for now, and I have to find a way to love it. Instead of using my appearance and the number on the scale as a driving force to better myself, I need to use health and physical stamina instead. This is so much harder to do then say, but I’m going to give it my best college try anyway.

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We learn our best lessons when we try for the “impossible,” wouldn’t you say?

Banana Smoothie (with Homemade Peanut Butter)

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CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 2. Slightly adapted from Delightfully Made.
Prep time: >5 minutes

Ingredients :

  • 2 frozen bananas
  • 1 1/2 cup low fat milk
  • 1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons homemade peanut butter (see recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar or organic honey
  • Dash of cinnamon

Directions: 

  1. Place all of the ingredients (except for the cinnamon) in a blender. Blend for about 30 seconds, or until completely smooth. Pour into two glasses or jars and serve immediately. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh cinnamon.

Nutritional information per smoothie:

Calories: 525
Fat: 17 grams
Carbohydrates: 55 grams
Fiber: 9.5 grams
Protein: 28 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 11

Homemade honey roasted peanut butter

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This amazing homemade honey roasted peanut butter is a breeze to make, all you need are three ingredients and a food processor! After one bite, you’ll never buy store bought again, I promise!

Yields about 1 cup.
Prep time: >2 minutes
Blend time: 10 – 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups roasted, lightly salted peanuts
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 – 2 teaspoons peanut oil*

Directions: 

  1. Add the peanuts to a large food processor. Pulse for about 2 minutes or until they start to shine. Use a rubber spatula to push down the sides. Pulse another 4 minutes and then add in the honey. Pulse another 5 – 7 minutes, or until mixture is very smooth. Add in peanut oil to reach desired consistency (I used 1/2 teaspoon).

Nutritional information per serving (2 tablespoons):

Calories: 190
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams
Fiber: >1 gram
Protein: 3.5 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 5

Spicy Chicken Tagine

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This spicy harissa chicken tagine is the answer to your boring “what’s for dinner!” question. Plus it spices up any ol’ Monday, don’t you think?

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E and I are, officially, saving up to buy a house. This not only makes me feel very adult, but it’s also the most exciting prospect in all of the land. As much as I love the townhome to which we currently reside, we’ve already completely outgrown this two-bedroom, one-bath unit. As much as I try to hide how much stuff we have, our closets are, quite literally, busting at the seams and we have things toppling over on us constantly. That and one bathroom? No thank you. I could fill just one bathroom alone with all of the hair products I use and fancy hand towels I have.

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I do like the kitchen, but it’s more than half the size of the one I used to cook in. And if you’ve ever been to my house, you know I have 15,000 different props, 4 blenders, 2 kitchen aid mixers, 3 food processors, 4 coffee makers…such things don’t fit into the confines of a 250 square foot kitchen. That and there are only wall units for AC (hello, 1939) and really old-school heaters, so the house never actually cools down or warms up, which is tricky in both August and January.

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With all of the things that I don’t love about it, I’ll truly miss this little nugget we’ve started to call home. For one, it’ll always be the place that rescued us from the hellish “fire” apartment. We came here at a time in our life when we were broken, sad, scared and traumatized. This place made us feel safe and comfortable again. Places really do have the ability to help you forget what you’ve been through, and this little townhome did that and more for us. For the first time since we moved from our first little rental house, we finally felt like we had a place we could settle for a bit.

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The location is also incredible. We live right across the bridge from a bustling little annex of Arlington that has rows of shops, restaurants and bars. Plus, I can walk to the grocery store, which does wonders for my waist and wallet. We also live near two of the main highways, so getting anywhere is easy. Well, as easy as it can be in Northern Virginia. That and there are tons of young couples, dogs and families near us, which make it seem like a great place for mid-late twenty somethings.

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Honestly though, I’m so incredibly excited for this next big step. I’ve been on the go for the past 2 years, and it’ll be amazing to have a place that we can stay in for more than 1 year. A little piece of real estate that we can make ours completely. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the three top contenders I’ve found all have open kitchens, 3+ bedrooms and a swimming pool.

Spicy Chicken Tagine Thighs

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CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4. Adapted from Spiceame Cooks.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: About 90 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 3 pounds chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 3/4 – 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons spicy red harissa
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Morrocan seasoning
  • 2/3 cup olives, pitted*
  • About 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • Chopped herbs for garnish

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks and garlic. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until onions start to sweat and garlic is fragrant. Add in the chicken and mushrooms. Cook another 3 – 4 minutes, or until the skin starts to brown on each side of the chicken. Mix in the harrisa and liberally coat the vegetables with the spicy paste.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and add in chicken broth, water, Moroccan seasoning, salt and cracked pepper. Toss in olives and stir to coat.
  4. Place in the oven and bake for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is fully cooked inside (165 degrees F in the center).
  5. Serve over cooked quinoa with chopped herbs.

Nutritional information per serving (1/2 cup quinoa + 1 chicken thigh):

Calories: 300
Fat: 11.75 grams
Carbohydrates: 22.5 grams
Fiber: 6.8 grams
Protein: 19.5 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 6

Bakery Style Blueberry Muffins

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Sometimes, a girl just needs a muffin.

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A big, crumbly topped, super fruity and fluffy bakery style muffin. Such a craving hit me two weeks ago and instead of spending over $5 on a muffin, I decided to make some at home instead. For one, that $5 would double because I’d have to order a fancy no-whip flavored mocha and water to go with it. Of course, after waiting in line for about 10 minutes, I’d clearly pick up a few packets of those over-priced mints and ridiculous biscotti to enjoy after lunch. Before I even realize it, I’d be out $20. And when you’re trying to save up to buy a house in the third most expensive city in the country, ever $20 counts.

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Which is also why I made pizza last night instead of ordering out. Trust me, homemade pizza beats out delivery every second of the day, but when you’re feeling lazy and have been in the kitchen all day, ordering just sounds SO much better. But I won out and my homemade pizza was incredible (I should know, I had 3 slices). The $20 I would have spent on pizza is now shoved nicely into my little “house” piggy bank.

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Sadly though, in this area, my little piggy bank needs to be 6x the size it is now in order to afford anything remotely appealing, safe or desirable. Which is why every single dollar bill counts now. That’s why I’m trying even harder to find a more steady income, just so I can buy a house with a refurbed kitchen and a fenced in backyard. I know, this sounds a little crazy, but I want to settle. Well, not settle, but have a place of my own to call home. As much as I love to travel the globe and leave every few weeks, I love having a place to come home.

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Which is why we’re going to throw away WAY more money than we should on a perfect little home, complete with three bedrooms (one for an office and one for the future heartbreaker/crazy child of ours), a beautiful kitchen and a backyard with a fence and a little deck. I’ve been running for so long, I just want a place I can plant my feet for a little while, that’s all.

Bakery Style Blueberry Muffins

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CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Yields about 12 muffins. Inspired by Baked Perfection.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 16 – 18 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

For the topping:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
  • Dash of ground cinnamon

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the flours, baking soda, brown sugar and cinnamon. Make a well in the center of the flour and mix in the eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla and Greek yogurt, mix to combine. Carefully stir in the blueberries and lemon zest.
  3. Fill each liner about 3/4 the way full with batter.
  4. To make the topping, mix the sugar, flour and cinnamon together. Using a pastry knife, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse sand. Top the batter with the crumble topping.
  5. Bake for about 20 – 22 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Nutritional information per serving (1 muffin):

Calories: 276.5
Fat: 10.1 grams
Carbohydrates: 41.6
Fiber: 1.7 grams
Protein: 4.75 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 7

Summer Fruit & Rose Sangria

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I’ve decided that Monday needs to be official cocktail day here on my blog. For many reasons, but the biggest being that, well, it’s Monday. Even doing a job I love, Mondays aren’t my favorite day of the week. I used to love them, I used to get excited about the prospect of a new week. Now, my weeks are the same. I wake up, cook, photograph and write. Every single day. Even though the dishes change and the articles are different, it’s still the same exact thing. I hate to complain about a job many people dream of, but it’s becoming a little monotonous.

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Which is why I’ve started applying to full-time jobs in the travel/food industry! I know, big shock, but I’ll be honest, there are many things I really miss about an office setting, and a more “traditional” job. For one, I miss the interaction. Right now, my colleagues only communicate with me in the form of a loud, annoying bark. Another thing I miss is shopping for work clothes and dressing up everyday. Sure I could dress up now, but what’s the point of wearing a cute pencil skirt and blouse when it’ll be doused in flour in 3 minutes? I also miss the exciting possibility of promotions, of working your butt off and working your way towards the top of a company. I really miss bonuses, steady income, having my own health insurance.

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These sound like little reasons, but when you add them all up, they make a huge difference. I love my job, and I have no intentions of quitting once I get a new one, but I want something else in the meantime to really challenge, push and excite me.  Plus, this whole “food writing” gig isn’t doing my waistline any favors. And because I’m a bit of a masochist, I decided it might be fun to try on my old pencil skirts and cute skinny work pants this weekend. Let’s just say a bottle of wine and more tears than I care to admit followed after they didn’t zip up. So the idea of going back to an office where I’m not tempted with mac n’ cheese and boozy milkshakes everyday sounds even more appetizing.

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I also hope this doesn’t make me sound like I’m complaining about this job I have. I love it. I do, but I just need something else right now, especially financially, since we plan to buy a home in the third most expensive city in the country. I’m grateful for my job and my life, I just need a little change of pace right now.

Summer Fruit & Rose Sangria

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CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves 4 -6.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Chill time: 1 hour

Ingredients: 

  • 1 bottle dry rose wine
  • 1/2 cup whiskey (I used Makers Mark)
  • 1/4 cup triple sec or raspberry/citron vodka*
  • 2 nectarines, sliced
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 cava oranges, sliced
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups ginger ale
  • 1/3 cup sugar

*I used triple sec, but flavored vodka would also work.

Directions:

  1. Thoroughly wash the fruits completely. You want the nectarines sliced thinly into small wedges and the oranges sliced whole (so you have circles, not wedges). Hull the strawberries and slice.
  2. Place all of the fruit (reserving about 1/4 for garnishes) into a large pitcher. Add the vodka/triple sec and whiskey. Carefully stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Chill for about an hour, stirring the fruit occasionally.
  3. To mix the sangria together, add the bottle of rose and ginger ale, stirring to combine. Mix well and serve immediately.

Nutritional information per serving (1 glass):

Calories: 300
Fat: 0.5 grams
Carbohydrates: 37 grams
Fiber: >1 gram
Protein: 1.3 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 3

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