A Year of Recipes: #7

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Quinoa, eggs, onion, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, minced garlic, and a whole lot of spices.

I already had my big bag of quinoa, so I decided to try Quinoa Pizza Bites.  This involved spending a lot of time at the store figuring out what spices I needed to buy, but the good news is that I’m all stocked up for my future adventures.  Tip: I know not every store has quinoa, but I found mine at Target!

There’s not a lot to this recipe.  Chop an onion.  Cut some pepperoni into smaller pieces (that was strangely satisfying.)  Throw everything in a bowl and carefully measure out your spices.  I did not use fresh basil (I don’t think they even sell that at Target) so I used dried basil, and I used half as much since the the dried basil seemed pretty dense.

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I’ve been locked inside your heart shaped bowl for weeks.  (I think this caption is better than what I originally had…)

I did not have a mini muffin tin, so I just used a normal size one.  I’m not sure how this affected the outcome.  The ones from the recipe webpage look a little more fused together, mine are still quite granular looking.  I think adding additional egg might have helped on this end.  Mine held together fairly well but I wouldn’t call them “bites.”

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I’m at least better at food photography than Martha Stewart.

Taste: 2/4 – All I really taste is the spices (which isn’t awful) but I think perhaps if I make the again I’ll cut down on some of these.  I have not tried with marinara sauce yet, I’ll have to see if that helps.
Ease: 3.5/4 – Chop.  Mix.  Cook.
Guiltless: 4/4 – Seriously.
Leftovers: 3/4 – I think they are a little more prone to crumbling apart after microwaving, but nothing a fork can’t handle.

A Year of Recipes: #6

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Olive oil, sugar, flour, garlic powder, pepper, cumin, quinoa, cheddar cheese, eggs, carrot, green onions, cottage cheese, salt. I’m starting to have some of these ingredients on hand!

I wanted to do something a little different and looking at my list of potential recipes, I decided something with quinoa might be a nice change.  I’ve had quinoa several times, but I’ve never cooked it myself.  I knew it was a healthier grain choice but apparently it’s even more amazing than I thought.  Gluten free, high in protein, contains calcium…very worthy of the hype it has been receiving.  Since I had to buy a big bag of quinoa at the store, I figured I might as well do two recipes. Quinoa burgers were first up!

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Prep work was limited.  Regardless, I still bought a new kitchen gadget.

Cooking the quinoa wasn’t difficult, unlike making pasta I had to measure out an exact amount of water to boil.  It cooked perfectly and fluffed up just right.  While my quinoa was cooking I got to adding all the other ingredients in my mixing bowl.  The only real labor-intensive steps were chopping two green onions and grating a carrot.

After that I had to pan fry the burgers.  Now that was the scary part but it turned out okay, partially due to the fact that I kept a close eye on how the burgers were coming along.  Apparently my burner is uneven (I fixed that) because the olive oil kept collecting in one corner of the pan.  Due to my inexperience with pan frying I ended up using extra oil, which I’d like to avoid, but nothing outrageous.  My first set of patties didn’t stick together perfectly, and were a little difficult to flip, but by the end I was turning out some fantastic quinoa burgers.

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I’m proud of how these turned out!  And I’m giving myself a gold star for some halfway-decent food photography here.

And don’t do what I did – turn your heat down a little after you’ve done the first few batches, they start cooking quite a bit quicker by the end.  Again, I didn’t burn anything but I was surprised by how quickly the last set cooked.

Taste: 4/4 – I ate a few immediately after cooking and the flavors were so intense!
Ease: 2.5/4 – Pan frying.
Guiltless: 3.5/4 – these ended up being about 150 a pop even with the extra oil
Leftovers (new rating): 4/4 – Much to my surprise, these were so good reheated!  I just ate mine plain, but I could easily spice these up by using sauces or enjoying on a sandwich bun

A Year Of Music

I love tracking my listening habits with Last.fm. It’s a simple application you can use with music programs such as iTunes, Windows Media Player, or for the modern age, Spotify. Obviously there are things I listen to, such as the radio in my car or Pandora when jogging, that don’t get recorded, but it’s fun to see my general listening habits visualized (at least I find it extremely fun)

This post is simply me, sharing my top artists from 2013 (well technically past 12 months so you get a little bit of 2014 thrown in there) and some commentary on why the top ten fifteen are there.  Some of the results were surprising to me!

lastfmAs I’ll probably discuss at one point in a post, I really like when a band has a solid album as opposed to three singles and nine filler songs so I can just push play and listen all the way through instead of having to cherry pick the songs I enjoy and make a playlist for each band.  That has a definite influence on what bands made the top fifteen.

albums1-5I am amused that Lana Del Rey would be my top artist, she’s not necessarily the most talented artist I enjoy. However, I listened to a lot of her over the summer because she was different without being too out there. I always am looking for that in music. She was also the kind of artist I could just put on a dozen songs and enjoy.

Broken Bells has seriously become one of my favorite bands of all time. A beautiful blend of Danger Mouse and the Shins? – you can’t go wrong. They only have 16 songs total on Spotify but still managed to get enough plays to take my number two spot. Every song is good, no joke. Love, love, love them.

Phoenix had a new album come out that was pretty solid.  Like many of their albums, it starts of with several very catchy songs but the quality kind of drops off by the end.

Fairly late in the year I found Ivan & Alyosha and fell in love. The first single I heard, Be Your Man, is actually quite upbeat, a stark contrast to their other music, which skews beautifully existential.  I can’t say enough good about this band.

They’ve been around a while, but I listened to a lot of The Shins because of my Broken Bells obsession. They’re just a great band all around, even if they didn’t have a new album drop last year.

albums6-10Ra Ra Riot’s album Beta Love came out last year and it was different enough from their existing music to be very exciting. The music was still upbeat and catchy like we’ve come to expect from the band, but it had much more of an electronic feel. This theme even carries over into lyrics on songs like Binary Mind and title track Beta Lovethat’s why I need this binary mind, so I can forget how lonely feels. Hmm, the more I think about it, the more I wish this could have been a full-blown concept album. It would have been ridiculously awesome.

I randomly got turned on to Metric’s 2012 album Synthetica (try spelling that right…) which opens up with a few very strong songs – Artificial Nocturne and Youth without Youth – but grows a considerably weaker midway through the album. Enjoying that album encouraged me to listen to some of their older singles as well.

I didn’t feel like I ever went out of my way to listen to Fleet Foxes, but they are one of those bands I can always put on at work for a rainy day, leading to their high ranking on the list.

Sleeper Agent was actually suggested to me by Spotify (thank you!) and is a wonderful upbeat catchy band.  Looking at the other artists on this list, you’d probably like them if you’re into Phoenix, Ra Ra Riot or Vampire Weekend.

Number ten is The Decemberists, another band I can put on for a cold, rainy day. Their albums range from overarching themes to full out concept albums.  Hazards of Love and Crane Wife are my favorites.

albums11-15I’m surprised Ellie Goulding wasn’t higher. She has two solid albums without filler songs, she was huge in 2013, and her voice is amazing. Her music was also destined for dubstep remixes, not sure if that’s a plus or a minus.

Bend Sinister I think I heard about in Nashville *tear* and they’ve got an album with some insanely catchy songs, like Don’t You Know and Man of Faith and Virtue.  The only gripe I have is that only about half of the songs on the album are of this quality.

A new album from Vampire Weekend sent them skyrocketing up the list.  Not necessarily as good as Contra, the album is solid and Unbelievers is seriously one of my favorite songs of the year.

When you see someone in concert, you naturally listen to their music leading up to the event to get excited, and afterwards in fond memory. I had the chance to see John Mayer this summer (and he is amazing live, let me tell you) and he had a pretty good album come this year out as well.  I will always miss the John Mayer Trio/Continuum era music, but I still have hope for him yet.

Even though I’ve been aware of them for years, for some reason I am on a huge Arctic Monkeys kick right now. I always enjoyed them, but never considered myself a “fan.” Their earlier music is irreverent, adolescent, pop-with-punk-influences, which is what I’ve defined them by. But upon listening to their late-2013 album AM I realized over the years they have gradually matured into a much more complex band. Several of the songs on this album, such as Do I Wanna Know? or I Wanna Be Yours, are dark and insightful, portraying a view of how twisted love and desire can become.

I’m passionate about music, so as you can see, writing about it comes easily. I could have rambled on about my top 100. Let me know what you think of my top 15 and if you see anything on there you’re not familiar with, take a listen!

Brands I Love: Sheetz

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It is entirely possible to get excited about a gas station.

I am obsessed with Sheetz.  Now if you’re not from the state of Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio or Pennsylvania, you probably don’t know about this glorious gas station. Let me set you straight.

But first, some necessary background information: When it comes to making pit stops at gas stations, I consider myself well-versed on this topic, at least from the non-trucking perspective. When I lived in Nashville there were no direct flights home so it was easier just to make the 7-8 hour drive back. I am convinced I stopped at every gas station on that route at least once. I honestly knew which gas stations were acceptable and even what exits to hold out for.

So you might be asking, what does an “expert” look for in an acceptable gas station?

  • Location. When you have an 8 hour drive you want your stops to be as efficient as possible. The gas station should be visible off the interstate so you can get there and out in just minutes. Some gas stations trick you and you end up driving 3 miles down a country road, adding time to your trip you do not want to add.
  • Ease of access. Some gas stations are simply a pain to get to, even if they’re not far from the interstate. One way entrances, needing to cross multiple lanes to enter or exit, and a limited number of fuel pumps can make the process frustrating, which is the last thing you need during an all-day road trip, which has enough stresses of its own.
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    Here is a great example of a clean gas station. Surprise – it’s a Sheetz!

    Cleanliness/bathroom. Clean gas station bathrooms do exist, and believe me, they are a godsend. Some gas station bathrooms make me feel so dirty and the last thing I want to do is feel grimey when I know I still have 4 hours left sitting in the car. Clean gas stations can even make the stop a relaxing experience.

  • Food and drink selection. Sometimes when you stop for gas you want to get food there as opposed to heading to a fast food restaurant down the street. Quality and variety in food choices can really help your long trip become more bearable. Sometimes I feel better making a healthy choice and I want trail mix. Sometimes I need chocolate to keep me going. Sometimes I just need the duo of chips and a glorious Coke Zero. And if I’m feeling tired they better have some of my favorite disgustingly-tasty Diet Red Bull to keep me awake!

Now Sheetz, they can’t control the location or ease of access, but they keep very clean stores. Where they really shine, however, is the food and drink selection. Starting with pre-packaged items, the variety is plentiful. Numerous drink options, such as canned coffee, bottled tea, milkshakes and most soda varieties are available. The snacks are of high quality, with items such as Cracker Jack trail mix, Emerald nuts, high end chocolate, and even bakery items.

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Prepare yourselves. Your mind (and tastebuds) are about to be blown.

However, this is just the preamble to their “Made to Order.” Sheetz gas stations actually have a set of touch screen kiosks where you can order anything from their wide menu to be made there on site. Sandwiches, pretzels, burritos, breakfast sandwiches, hot wings, lattes, churros, the list keeps going…the selection is crazy. You can also customize just about everything. More lettuce!  No olives!  2% milk!  Add guacamole, oh yes!

Behold.

Behold.  Sheetz is even better for getting it your way than Burger King.

I never would have thought I could order a chicken wrap from a gas station and use a word other than nasty to describe it…but somehow they make good fast food.  And yes, it is fast food, you’re not going to get an organic, low-carb meal, but remember, this is a gas station and the quality is still miles away from any McDonalds I’ve ever visited.

It takes a few minutes for the food to be prepared, but it’s worth it (but hey, you know it hasn’t been sitting under a heat lamp.) Besides, If you order your food first thing when you arrive, by the time you use the restroom, pick out a snack and/or purchase a drink, your food will be nearly done anyhow!

I am usually strongly opposed to carrying another loyalty card around, but not when it comes to Sheetz.

I am usually strongly opposed to carrying loyalty cards around, but not when it comes to Sheetz.

Did I mention Sheetz has a loyalty card too? If you opt into e-mails you get gas discounts. Getting e-mails might sound annoying but they’re actually infrequent and you don’t mind, because they always have a great offer. The last e-mail alerted me to the fact that I could get an appetizer half price just by swiping my Sheetz card at the checkout. Yeah, I have no issue getting those e-mails. They’ve done other offers ranging from free lemonade to BOGO Slim Jims.

Maybe you’re picky, and you don’t want to get lemonade or Slim Jims. Well lucky for you, many products qualify for buy 10 get the next one free, such as fountain drinks or sandwiches. Just swipe that Sheetz card every time.

On top of that, Sheetz has a very friendly, somewhat offbeat, company presence, which I always appreciate. They have fun with their name, offering items such as “shweetz” and “Shmuffins.” Who doesn’t want to enjoy a shmuffin?

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I just want to thank Sheetz for making what was once a chore an enjoyable experience. I certainly do feel the love.

A Year of Recipes: #5

Potatoes, onion, carrot, chicken, butter, white wine, chicken broth, lemons, minced garlic, italian spices, lemon pepper, and salt.  Whew, that's a lot.

Potatoes, onion, carrot, chicken, butter, white wine, chicken broth, lemons, minced garlc, italian spices, lemon pepper, and salt. Whew, that’s a lot.

So as mentioned, I actually did two recipes this weekend.  The one I saved for Sunday morning was Lemon Crock Pot Chicken. I enjoy doing crock pot meals for my Sunday cooking because they mostly involve a lot of prep work, and then 6-8 hours later, dinner is ready.  I often don’t feel like eating anything heavy in the morning as well so the wait is actually preferred.

So pretty much I chopped.  I chopped and I chopped and I chopped.  Two giant potatoes, half an onion, and carrots.  Instead of buying normal carrots I just used the carrot chips I already had on hand, so I’m not sure exactly how much I used.

I also juiced two of the ugliest lemons I’ve ever seen.  They were organic have character.  At the store, I thought about buying lemon juice, but decided to man up and make it the right way. I can’t remember the last time I juiced a lemon (or if I ever have) but I had a juicing cup squirreled away in the cabinet and that step was actually fun.

I have to admit, when I was at the store and getting ready to buy an onion it didn’t go well. The recipe said a sweet onion and I had choices of red, white and yellow.  Maybe there were actual sweet onions in the produce section…but I didn’t see them. Instead of Googling what to do on my phone I panicked and grabbed a red one simply because I like red onions. Turns out they’re better raw and not always the best for cooking.  As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I’m starting this cooking journey with only very basic skills, like boiling water and preheating the oven. So don’t do what I did, but as far as mistakes go this one wasn’t too bad.

Browning up so the flavor won't wash away in the crock pot

Browning up so the flavor won’t wash away in the crock pot.  Oh, and this is just over half of my chicken, by the way.

You season your chicken and then brown the outsides with a little butter before adding to the crock pot.  I had the same problem as the last recipe – giant chicken!  Ended up making each breast into 3 or 4 pieces instead of 2, and I always appreciate getting extra servings for my week’s lunch.

So I did something else for the first time this weekend, I deglazed a pan.  I had to do a search to make sure I was doing it all right, but I managed to not splatter hot liquid all over, so I’d say a job well done.

Anyways, 8 long hours later the food was done!  The chicken didn’t pick up a ton of flavor, but that doesn’t matter because the potatoes soaked up every bit of lemony goodness.  The chicken was so tender it pulled right apart with my fork.

A happy, wonderful smelling, crock pot

A happy, wonderful smelling, crock pot

The next time I make this I’m going to want to add more vegetables (I felt like the potato to carrot ratio was a little high) and maybe do an additional lemon’s worth of juice.  I would definitely want to make this with a little extra chicken again to get the four servings instead of two.  However, I am very happy with how it turned out and at roughly 250 calories this is a wonderfully refreshing meal.

Taste: 3/4 – if you like lemon as much as I do, this meal is delightful.
Ease: 2/4 – fortunately I’m decent at cubing/dicing/slicing food, but this is one of the most involved recipes I’ve done so far
Guiltless: 3.5/4 – potato are an iffy food, but otherwise chicken and veggies make me happy

A Year of Recipes: #4

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Chicken, breadcrumbs, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, butter, marinara.

This past week of work was a little on the stressful side, so starting last Wednesday the thought of the weekend and another cooking adventure were on my mind. The thought of diving in and trying something new sounded so stress-relieving. I was actually inspired enough to do two recipes.  Both meals were a little more complicated than what I’ve done so far, and the first one I did was Baked Chicken Parmesan.

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Breaded and ready to bake – I had enough chicken to make two full trays, yeesh, leftovers for days…

You’re supposed to take 4 chicken breasts and cut them in half.  Apparently the chicken I bought was hulk-sized, because I ended up having to cut some into three, still generous, pieces.

After brushing your chicken with butter you coat them in a mix of parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.  I have to admit, this was my first time buying and using breadcrumbs in a recipe. I’m learning a lot from this experience already.

And today’s don’t do what I did…I had leftover breadcrumb mix and I sprinkled some of it on top of the chicken before putting it in the oven.  Bad idea.  The extra crumbs burnt but fortunately they could easily be brushed off.  So yeah, don’t do that.

Anyways, after cooking the chicken, you add your marinara and mozzarella on top and and pop back in the oven for a few minutes and you’re done!  It’s recommend to serve with pasta, I recommend using another tablespoon or two of marinara to sauce the noodles.  And I did a full 56g serving of pasta, and would probably have been fine using only about 2/3 as much.

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Done.  Served on a bed of pasta, add a little extra marinara or spaghetti sauce.

I’m happy with how it turned out, but it isn’t my favorite meal I’ve made so far. Nevertheless, I’m going to cook up some extra noodles and make myself a few tupperware containers to take in my lunch this week.  We’ll see how the leftovers go.

Roughly 200 calories each + pasta = not bad

Taste: 2/4
Ease: 2.5/4
Guiltless: 3/4

A Year of Recipes: #3

The lineup: chicken, small corn tortillas, taco seasoning, salsa, cheese, and toothpicks

The lineup: chicken, small corn tortillas, taco seasoning, salsa, cheese, and toothpicks

Today I made the Hungry Girl Exploding Chicken Taquitos. (One of the first things on my cooking to-do list is figuring out how to substitute fresh chicken for canned, by the way.)

The pack of tortillas came with 24, so if enough chicken is bought, it’s easy to make a triple batch. For a party that would be great, but for my lunch that’s a lot. I went ahead and bought the extra chicken so I can make more of these later in the week, which I plan on doing. I’m honestly not sure how they’ll reheat, one more reason to avoid making them all at once.

Spread the mix on the tortilla then roll it up

Spread.  Roll.  Secure with toothpick.  Repeat.

You mix the chicken and salsa and let that set a few minutes because some unwanted liquid will pool in the bottom of your container.  After you drain that out, you mix in the rest of the ingredients and then spread on tortillas that have been softened in the microwave.

I was worried I’d either have too much filling or not enough, but it was just the right amount for the 8 tortillas.  Spreading the filling on the tortillas and rolling them up was easy to do.

Overall these were pretty easy to make, however a little more time consuming than I expected. They needed to bake a little longer than the recipe called for, and I ended up eating my two as I headed out the door to church.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

They turned out pretty tasty, but I think there are some adjustments I will try on the next batch to boost the flavor.  I like spicy food, so I would probably use at least twice the taco seasoning, or maybe add something else, like cilantro or garlic.  A stronger flavor of salsa (I just used mild) might help too.  Oh, and I wonder how mango salsa would work…

Finished.  Crunchy and warm.

Finished. Crunchy and warm.

I can’t complain about the flavor needing a boost because the calorie count is so low on these (under 100 each…seriously), and they’re quite filling.  I ended up buying extra thin tortillas and my numbers ended up being even lower than the recipe, which is impressive to begin with.

Taste: 2.5/4
Ease: 3/4
Guiltless: 3.5/4.