Simple Homemade Lasagna

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Today we’re going back to the basics with a simple homemade lasagna recipe. As much as I love the funky recipes like these melon and tofu spring rolls or this beef stew and french onion soup hybrid, I also love classics. When it really comes down to it, the food I most crave are the comfort food classics I grew up eating.

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Like lasagna. I’m such an addict when it comes to Italian food though. I could eat pasta with some sort of sauce, olive oil, crispy italian bread and proscuitto every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it. I’ve been all over the world and some of the most memorable meals I can remember come from my trip to Italy with my family in 2010.

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That trip was so special for a multitude of reasons, but it really changed the way I think of food and eating all together. I saw how much the Italians savored every bite, how meal time was a time to catch up with friends and family. Food wasn’t just something to eat to pass the time to get your nutrients, it was romantic and sensual. I came home with an entire new appreciation for eating, serving and cooking.

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I like to say I held onto that feeling, but when I was busting out recipe after recipe for the past 3 years of my life, I kind of lost it. I turned from cooking with love to cooking for money and income. Even though I’ve been out of that world for 3 months now, it’s still taking me time to find that happiness I once had in the kitchen.

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I will say, though, it’s coming back in spurts and certain foods really ignite that Italian mentality when I’m cooking, like this simple homemade lasagna. It’s not a complicated dish or an expensive one, but it’s one that just brings back so many amazing memories of growing up with my mom in the kitchen. It’s one that you can’t just shovel down in front of the tv. Every bite should be savored and tasted.

I realize how crazy, corny and “Eat Pray Love” that sounds, but it’s true. This was the first meal in a long time that my husband and I just ate, together, with a bottle of wine and no background noise. And if a dish can turn us away from our TV rut, it deserves at least a blog post, don’t you think?

Simple Homemade Lasagna

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CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 12. Inspired by All Recipes.
Prep time: About 45 minutes – 1 hour
Cook time: 40 – 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 16 ounces lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (I used 92/8)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots **
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 4 1/2 cups homemade marinara sauce (I used this recipe) *
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Dash of sugar
  • Dash of salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese (16 ounce jar) (or precisely one pound of low-fat ricotta)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature (I used brown ones)
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups sliced fresh mozzarella cheese

*Sub in store bought if you don’t have time to make it from scratch.

** Use onions if you’d prefer.

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and add a dash of salt. Add the lasagna noodles and cook until al-dente, about 8 – 10 minutes. Place in a colander and rinse in cold water, set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, add the ground beef to a large skillet and cook, over medium-high heat, until golden brown. Drain excess fat (reserving one tablespoon) and place in a large bowl. In the same skillet with the fat, add the shallots, garlic cloves and chopped mushrooms. Cook on medium low until fully caramelized and vegetables are softened. Return the beef to the skillet and pour in the sauce, chopped fresh herbs (parsley and basil), dried seasoning, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper and dash of sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until thickened.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, eggs and parmesan cheese. Stir until thick and mixed.
  5. To layer the lasagna, scoop about 1/2 cup of the meat sauce into the bottom of the pan and spread with a spatula. Top with 3 – 4 lasagna noodles. Top with 1/2 cup of cheese mixture, 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup of sauce and another 3 – 4 noodles. Repeat until the cheese and noodles have been used. Top remaining noodles with sauce.
  6. Cover the remaining sauce with slices of fresh mozzarella and a dash of pepper.
  7. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbly.
  8. Serve immediately with a dash of fresh parsley.

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories: 490
Fat: 16.5 grams
Carbohydrates: 40 grams
Fiber: 5.5 grams
Protein: 25 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 10

Red Wine Braised Pork Chops with Mushrooms

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These red wine braised pork chops with mushrooms is an easy, low calorie and a fun dinner option that adds some variety to your weeknight dinners. No more boring chicken breasts!

Red wine pork chops

It’s January 14th and I’ve still yet to put together a list of goals, or resolutions, or promises for the year. For many people, the idea of resolutions is stupid because as humans, we’re bound to screw up. And as humans, one screw up can completely derail us form our healthy motives to begin with. Trust me, I know this from personal experience. That’s why, as much as I love setting up goals in a new year, I’m always hesitate because i know i’m going to screw it up.

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However, that’s also why i’m not necessarily working on “goals” or “resolutions” this year, and instead more of a promise. Instead of telling myself that I have to lose 20 pounds, I’m going to promise myself that I’m going to find happiness in my body and focus more on health versus weight.

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But i’m still jotting down ideas. I’m hoping to have that published sometime this week, but knowing the way my life is going at the moment, it might not come out until March.

I will tease though, one of them includes a more healthy work/life balance. After joining my new job in November, I’ve been in a mad dash. The world I’m in now is so vastly different than the world I was in for 3 years, so even after 3 months, I’m still struggling to keep up. But I need to find a way to accomplish all of my work while still having time to blog, cook and work out. The last thing I want to see happen is this blog fall apart because I’m unable to balance.

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I can’t say it’ll be perfect and I’ll blog everyday, but I can say I’ll try. And I think that’s just as important.

Red Wine Braised Pork Chop with Mushrooms

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CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves 4. Adapted from First Home Love Life.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: About 15 minutes
Total time: 25 – 30 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless pork chops (I used Omaha Steaks!)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 – 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 sage leaf, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 ounces chopped baby bella mushrooms
  • 4 ounces chopped shiitake or oyster mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • Fresh parsley for garnish

Directions: 

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large an over medium high heat.
  2. Mix the flour, rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic salt and pepper together in a shallow mixing bowl.
  3. Liberally dredge the pork chops in the flour mixture, making sure to evenly coat all the sides.
  4. Add pork chops to the hot oil. Cook until browned on all sides, about 4 – 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add in the mushrooms, onions and garlic cloves. Toss them into the pan with the pork so they’re evenly touching the pan.
  5. Add in red wine and chicken broth. Reduce heat to low, cover and let cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
  6. To serve, garnish each pork chop with an assortment of onions and mushrooms, and top with fresh parsley.

Nutritional information per serving (1 pork chop):

Calories: 381.75
Fat: 16.4 grams
Carbohydrates: 14.25 grams
Fiber: 2.5 grams
Protein: 32.25 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 9

Whole Wheat Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

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Since Wednesday’s topic was a little heavy, we’re going to take it light today to celebrate Friday! I do, though, have to say thank you to everyone who read, commented and emailed me about my anxiety post. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy sharing, but I’m so at peace knowing my post help others bring their struggles to the limelight.

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But enough about anxiety, let’s talk about something that’ll never make you feel worried, sad or nervous; COFFEE CAKE! But not just any kind of coffee cake, one made with tart, plump raspberries, cream cheese filling and tons of buttery crumbles.

Whole wheat coffee cake

I know everyone and their mom is on some sort of “diet” for New Years, and I can completely understand that. I too am trying to cut back on calorie consumption so I can get dressed in the mornings without having a Julie Powell meltdown. However, I also just love food and it’s hard for me to replace my morning breakfast with a smoothie that tastes like a salad.

As much as I like salad, I don’t love it for breakfast.

Cream cheese coffee cake

That’s where this fluffy, sweet, tart, tangy and delicious coffee cake comes from. The beautiful berries give it a pop of color (and myriad of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants), and the whole wheat flour makes it a bit healthier than the kinds made with all purpose.

  Whole Wheat Cream Cheese Cake

And since each piece has less than 6 grams of fat, you can feel content and guilt-free enjoying it for breakfast. Because really, that’s my goal in life. To eat cake for breakfast and not immediately feel bad about it. And if I can share that with my closest friends, that’s just the icing on the breakfast cake.

Whole Wheat Raspberry & Strawberry Cream  Coffee Cake

Moist and fluffy raspberry c offee cake

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 16.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 – 45 minutes
Total time: 50 – 55 minutes

Ingredients: 

For the cake:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup plain, 2% Greek yogurt (not nonfat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 8 ounces light cream cheese
  • 1 large egg, room temperature

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard size 8 x 8 glass or nonstick baking dish with parchment paper and dust lightly with flour. Set aside.
  2. Place the raspberries in a bowl and gently smash with the back of a spoon to create a bit of a paste.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the flours and sugar together. Add in the applesauce and stir to combine. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles wet sand. Save 3/4 cup for the top.
  4. To the rest of the mixture, mix in the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, Greek yogurt and vanilla extract, stir well to combine.
  5. In another bowl, beat the sugar, cream cheese and egg together until combined and smooth (no lumps).
  6. Pour the  cake batter into the prepared baking dish. Carefully pour the cream cheese over the batter and then top the cream cheese with the smashed raspberries. To evenly distribute, carefully swirl the raspberries over the cream cheese topping.
  7. Top the raspberry filling with the remaining crumb mixture.
  8. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes in pan and then remove and serve.

Nutritional information per slice:

Calories: 179.5
Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 27.7 grams
Fiber: 2.2 grams
Protein: 5.6 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 5

8 Healthy Appetizers for NYE

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I’ve never wanted healthy food more in my life than I do right now. My jeans are tight, my coat barely buttons and I feel like I gained at least 56 pounds over the 4 days I was in Cleveland. Healthy is the only type of food I can manage to think about today.

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Which is why I’m actually excited to share these 8 healthy appetizers with you guys here. Not only am I craving them like mad right now, I’m guessing most of you are in the same exact boat I am today. Where you’re actually craving a power smoothie over a cookie and will probably burst into tears if you’re served another piece of prime rib. So friends, let’s do this whole “healthy new year” thing together by celebrating with apps that won’t bust that last button on your favorite jeans.

Crispy cauliflower bites

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If you want to know what my new favorite food is, you’ve found it. These crispy cauliflower bites are not only easy, healthy and perfectly portable, they’re to die for. When I first made these, I ate the entire batch. The second batch was eaten mostly by me. Finally by the third batch, I had to hide them so my husband could attest to their deliciousness. Trust me, your guests will adore these. Grab the recipe for these bites on SheKnows.com!

Bloody mary bacon jelly

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Now I’m completely aware of how bizzare the combo sounds in this recipe, but trust me, it works. The mix of salty bacon, spicy bloody mary mix and tangy vinegar creates a flavor that will have your taste buds singing. To update these for your fancy soiree, spread the bacon on crispy pieces of french bread and add a dash of freshly grated parmesan. Grab the recipe here on SheKnows.com!

Cheesy kale and artichoke dip

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You can’t have any cocktail party without a cheesy, savory dip, am I right? This lighter version is made with Greek yogurt, part skim cheese and kale, which makes it secretly lower in fat. I say secretly because no one will be any the wiser when they take a big bite of this dip. It tastes just like the kind you’d order in your favorite restaurant, only better. Grab the recipe here on my blog!

Black bean quesadillas with avocado cream

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When you think New Years appetizers, a quesadilla is probably the last thing you think of. Well friends, I’m here to change that. These darling little quesadillas, topped with fresh avocado cream and stuffed with a health mix of black beans and salsa, are cut into smaller portions, making them a perfect pair with a glass of bubbly. Grab the recipe for these bite-size snacks on SheKnows.com!

Fig and brussel sprout crostinis

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I know figs are a bit hard to find this time of year, but don’t let that deter you from making these stunning crostinis. In place of them, add some sliced pears, plums or even fresh berries for the same effect. I love the addition of brussel sprouts because they add just the right dash of bright green color. Grab the recipe for these on SheKnows.com!

Spicy BBQ baked chick peas

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It’s time to remove that sad bag of chips or pretzels from your rotation and sub in these zesty and crispy chick peas instead. These baked bites are as crispy and flavorful as a bag of chips, with more than half the calories and fat. Plus they’re perfectly probably and make a great bite for when you’re waiting for the ball to drop (as long as you have some mints handy for that romantic NYE kiss). Grab the recipe here on SheKnows.com!

Tuna spring rolls with melon

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If you’re one of those lucky ducks spending your holidays somewhere warm, these spring rolls are a must for your NYE party. Or, if you’re like me and you’re stuck spending your New Years in rainy cold, you can make these and pretend you’re on a beach instead. Either way, these ridiculously low calorie bites are super easy to make and are full of fresh Asian flavors. You won’t be able to have just one. Grab the recipe here on my blog!

Veggie loaded Thai pizza

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Even though I had my FILL of pizza this holiday (it’s our family tradition to enjoy it the day after Christmas), I’d still eat the crap out of this veggie loaded spicy pie. Because it’s loaded with rustic vegetables, a lower sodium sauce and lighter cheese, it doesn’t pack the same gut-wrenching punch as a normal pizza. To serve it for your holiday party, cut the slices into small squares for easy & portable eating. Grab the recipe on SheKnows.com!

Whatever your New Years plans are, these fun appetizers will make any of your parties simply delicious. Plus, you won’t need fat pants afterwards, which is a huge win in my book!

My Must Haves for Stress-Free, Organized Travel

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of TownePlace Suites by Marriott® for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Today’s post has nothing to do with food, but something to do with my other passion, travel! As most of you know, I’ve spent the last three years of my life traveling the globe as a writer and journalist. It’s been incredibly exciting, exhilarating and eye-opening, but it’s also been hectic, stressful and exhausting. The most amazing part of my journey is always the destination. As much as I love to travel, the actual act of traveling isn’t always my favorite.

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Now, that isn’t just because I have flight anxiety, although that plays a part. The real reason is that I’m not a very organized person, and if there’s one thing you have to be when you travel as much as I do, it’s organized. I will say I’ve gotten better throughout the three years I’ve done this, but that’s only because I’ve gotten a little smarter with how I pack.

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I was recently contacted by the folks at TownePlace Suites by Marriott® and The Container Store® to share a few of my tried and true travel organization must haves with you guys, and with Christmas and New Years coming up oh so very soon, I thought now would be the perfect time to share the three things I can’t travel without anymore.

Multi-purpose carry on bag

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Even though most of my trips are international, they’re also multi-city and country, which means I’m constantly hopping from airport to airport, hotel to hotel and coach to coach. Not only is there a lot of running from place to place, I’m always on a very structured itinerary, leaving me almost no time between transfers to get where I need to go. That means I have absolutely no extra time to spend lugging a giant suitcase around or digging in my purse looking for my phone, iPad or passport. This is why an all purpose, easy to use carry on has become my all-time favorite travel accessory. This striped tote from The Container Store® isn’t just cute, it’s perfect for hauling my computer, tablet, phone and passport. Plus, it has wheels, which means less stain on my already tense back.

All in one adapter

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This is probably the most coveted item in my travel bag and it’s one that so many people always forget when they go internationally (me included). Before I had this all-in-one adapter, I was constantly having to borrow adapters and converters from my colleagues or the concierge, and when you’re computer is at 3% and you have a story due that morning, having to go through 4 people for a charger isn’t exactly ideal. That’s why I absolutely love this adapter. No matter what country I’m in, I know I can charge up any of my devices as soon as I get to my plane seat or hotel room. To me, $50 for peace of mind is probably the best money I’ve ever spent.

 Neck and back pillow

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I simply can not travel anymore without a neck and back pillow. I am totally aware of how old that makes me sound, but when you’ve gone on as many 16+ plane rides as I have, you’ll immediately see why this is so necessary. Rarely do I fly anything but coach, and as many of you know, those seats don’t offer much comfort. That and those little pillows they give you offer almost no support for when you’re trying to sleep. That’s why I always travel with a two-in-one neck and back pillow. I love the neck pillow for when I’m reading or watching a movie and the back pillow is a plush and cushy dream when I’m trying to lay back and get some zz’s. I love the versatility you get with this one without adding extra bulk. It’s two pillows in one, which makes it easy to carry and so much better to use when you’re flying halfway around the world.

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These items paired with an amazing hotel with built in organization makes my life as a travel writer so much easier. Growing up, my immediate family always had to drive 4 hours to be with our larger family during the holidays, so I grew up spending December 22nd – 26th in hotel suites.

And I have to say, if the ones we stayed in looked like these with the amazing elfa® closet systems, I probably wouldn’t have had so many fights with my brothers over who got to hang their stuff in the rooms coveted 2 closets. 

If you’re interested in staying with TownePlace Suites®, here’s a few things they offer for their buisness travelers and families:

  • Huge studios and one bedroom suites (which are big enough for a family)
  • Free Wi-Fi! (A major bonus point for me)
  • Kitchens complete with major appliances, coffee maker and microwave
  • An easy to use map that connects you to the neighborhood you’re in
  • On-site laundry

…and much more to make your stay as pain-free as possible. Paired with your new travel goodies, the act of traveling might be something you learn to like a little more now too!

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To celebrate this new partnership (and their amazing new closets),TownePlace Suites® is giving one lucky reader a $100 gift card towards a stay at any of their hotels! What makes TownePlace Suites® different is that they accommodate long stays. TownePlace Suites® is specifically designed and operated to meet the unique needs of business travelers (or families like mine who need a room for more than just a few days). With Christmas just a few weeks away, this will totally come in handy for those (like me) who have to travel to see their loved ones! To enter to win, fill out the prompts below & check out the official rules. Learn more about the closet on the TownePlace Suites® Facebook.

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To enter, simply answer this question in the comment section below! “What do you do to stay organized on extended-stay travel?”

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