Pumpkin Spice Arctic White Hot Cocoa

pumpkincocoa

We know, the name of this concoction is quite a mouthful. Pumpkin Spice Arctic White Hot Cocoa. But trust me, your mouth (and tastebuds) will be thanking us once you try this deliciousness. This was a joint effort on mine and Tracey’s part. I helped her discover the Land O’ Lakes hot chocolate last year. Then she said to me, a couple weeks ago, “Dude. Land O’ Lakes Arctic White hot cocoa mix and pumpkin spice creamer. It will change your world. Go. Now.” So I did. And she was right. It changed my world. I haven’t even attempted to make any other hot chocolate variation since trying this one. But, I added my own little twists to Tracey’s recipe too.

Here’s the final recipe: Make Arctic White according to package directions. Add about 2-3 tablespoons pumpkin spice creamer (depending on how pumpkiny you like it). Add 2 dollops of cool whip (generally I use a good ol’ spray bottle of whipped cream on my hot cocoa, but I didn’t have one at the time, so I used cool whip instead, and boy am I glad I did). Top with mini marshmallows and a couple sprinkles of ground cinnamon.

I think I’ve had one of these bad boys every day since I first tried it. It’s perfectly warming to the soul and tastes incredible.

beverage

Pumpkin Muffins (Tracey’s Muffin Musts)

Pumpkin Muffins

Up today: Pumpkin Muffins.  But not just any pumpkin muffin.  We are talking about:

“Oatmeal-Filled-Chocolate-Studded-Struesel-Topped-Bursting-With-Fall-Spices Pumpkin Muffins”

Do I have your attention? Good.

How have we not talked about muffins yet?!  (Also, am I the only person who giggles immaturely when I hear the word muffin? Just sayin.) I love muffins. However, there are a couple of rules that must be followed when making muffins. 

Tracey’s 5 Rules of Muffin Making

1.  Muffins are essentially cupcakes for breakfast. In order to get away with this, you need to make sure there is at least one redeeming ingredient in said cupcakes muffins.  This can include: fiber, fruits, berries, nuts or vegetables. This recipe includes pumpkin (fruit) and oats (fiber). Check and check.

2.  Due to it’s cupcake-like nature, it must contain something tasty and preferably sweet. Fruit or berries can fulfill this requirement or you can just throw caution to the wind and toss in some chocolate chips as I did with this recipe.

3. Struesel is highly-recommended. If there is any sort of berry involved, it is almost universally required. Crunchy, sweet topping?  Yes, please.

4. A muffin must be larger than your average cupcake. Again, if this think is going to be my breakfast (as it has been for the last four days) it better keep me full for a couple of hours.

5. Muffins should be served warm. I’m not saying make a fresh batch everyday (although I don’t know why you couldn’t . . . ) I’m just saying throw that little treasure in the microwave for 45 seconds to let it reach it’s full potential. Also, warm muffins make your house smell good.  There is nothing more inviting for a house guest than the smell of warm baked goods. 

In my quest for the perfect pumpkin muffin I came across this great little recipe. However, I have rules so a couple of changes were required.  First up, it calls for raisins.  I am not a huge fan.  The movie “Benny & Joon” perfectly described this in a way my 14 year old mind could appreciate.

“They used to be fat and juicy and now they’re twisted. They had their lives stolen. Well, they taste sweet, but really they’re just humiliated grapes. I can’t say I am a big supporter of the raisin council.”

So, I added substituted chocolate chips.

Next, I went heavy on the oats.  It’s breakfast people. Get your fiber. Also, since I love me some streusel, I tripled the amount required and increased the flour. Finally, I don’t mess around with average sized muffins.  I used my large muffin tin and got exactly 12 beautiful muffins out of the batch.

So here you go my friends, the perfect Pumpkin Muffin. Keep this little gem in your back pocket for any time you need to feed people over the holidays. Halloween party?  Pumpkin Muffins.  Thanksgiving breakfast? Pumpkin Muffins.  Black Friday? Christmas Morning? New Years Day? Holiday Brunch with the church ladies?  PUMPKIN MUFFINS!

Enjoy!

 

Super Easy & Delicious Halloween Treats

Wanna be the nice neighbor who gives out Halloween treat platters to those mediocre people who live next door? But, let me guess, you probably don’t have bunches of extra time just lying about in which to participate in such activities. Right? So, what you do is you put together these super quick and easy treats, pile ’em on a cutesy Halloween plate, secure it all in some plastic wrap and tie a pretty bow on it. Easy, quick, delicious, and just enough to show Mr. and Mrs. Mediocre a couple houses down that you’re actually a step above the mediocre neighbor that they think you are. And who knows… maybe one day you all might be friends. Just maybe one day you guys will all play Yahtzee together. Here’s to hoping!

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The first Halloween treat is one my mom has been making for as long as I can remember. And I am probably this treat’s biggest fan. The best part is you can customize for any holiday, depending on the candy you put on top. M&Ms are available pretty much any holiday — Easter, Christmas, Halloween. And the other best part is that these taste good no matter what time of year you make them. So for our purposes today, we’re gonna Halloween-ize them.

ritzbitsYou start with vanilla almond bark and melt according to the instructions on the package. Then, take the peanut butter Ritz Bits sandwiches and dip them in the melted almond bark. I suggest using a fork because the melted bark will probably be too hot to touch. And also, whomever you give these to will probably appreciate your fingers not fondling all over their treats.

Lift the treats out of the bark (using said fork) and place onto parchment or wax paper to cool. Immediately add M&M treat of choice (we used the white chocolate candy corn flavor for festive reasons). And you can get crazy and add other treats you like also. I happen to be in this ongoing love affair with candy corn that I can’t seem to quit. So, yep.

5The next Halloween treat is a tale as old as time (an aside — did you know Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie?). You make peanut butter cookies as normal. Homemade is always preferable, but if you’re lazy like I am, just use a package. Plus, the words “super easy” are in the title of this post, so for the sake of that, I’m a big proponent for the package. Then, instead of adding chocolate kisses when they come out of the oven, just add the pumpkin spice flavored ones (Hershey’s, of course). Bam. Classic treat, Halloween style.

3The third and final Halloween treat involves lollipops. And who doesn’t love lollis?! Ghost lollis. I’m sure you’ve seen these before, but my mom has been making these for as long as I can remember, just like the Ritz Bits treats. So I’m including them here because mom trumps everything, always. And did you see what I said up there? GHOST. Ghost lollis! Trust me, you can’t possibly get more Halloween-festive than this. And it’s probably the easiest of all my treats today. Here’s what you need:

ghostlolliA box/bag/collection of lollipops. I prefer to use the Tootsie Pops because, how many licks? You know? And because it’s what my mom used. Old habits die hard and things like that. A box of tissue. A spool (? — what is the correct terminology here anywho?) of ribbon. I used black this time, to keep in the spirit of the season. A sharpie.

Take one lolli. Take one tissue. Wrap tissue around lolli. Tie tissue onto lolli using ribbon. Draw eyes onto tissue. Voila! A ghost!

Now take all your treats and arrange on a cute Halloween paper plate. Pull some Saran wrap up around all the goodies so as that they will stay in place. Tie Saran wrap closed with some of the leftover ribbon from your lolli project and there you have it. Easy, delicious, Halloween treats that will make your neighbors love you.

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Now go find those Joneses or Smiths and start spreading that Halloween cheer! And please remember to let us know how your Yahtzee game goes!

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Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

So maybe I’m being lazy with this post. And maybe this is one of the easiest posts I’ve ever posted. And maybe I should feel kind of bad about how little effort actually went into this post. But maybe I am going to call it OK because I think it’ll be worth it. Because, you guys, this recipe. It is so easy. And it is so soo worth it. And thus continues our unqualified love affair with fall, with this so-super-simple-it-should-be-illegal recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls. Huzzah!

I got this recipe from my mom originally. And lemme tell ya, Momma Porter can bake. So you know it’s a good recipe. But I digress. I’m not sure where she got the recipe from, but she sent it without the pumpkin in it. So I took the liberty of adding that part. Mostly for the blog, because I wanted a good fall recipe to share. And, gosh darn if I haven’t been eating pumpkin cinnamon rolls for breakfast all week. Oh, the sacrifices I make for this blog ; ) So anyway, if you love fall. If you love pumpkin. If you love cinnamon. If you love sugar. If you love bread. If you love any or all of those things… I can pretty much guarantee you, you won’t be disappointed by these here festive pumpkin cinnamon rolls. And have I mentioned how easy they are?

Pumpkin-Cinnamon-Rolls

And just so you all know, if you’re like my sister-in-law who said to me, “Wait, your pumpkin cinnamon rolls don’t even have pumpkin IN the dough?”, this recipe has husband’s approval AND husband’s-coworkers’ approval. So, I mean, they really are quite tasty. It’s just the right amount of pumpkin flavoring. And anyway, this concludes my lazy, easy, but oh-so-worth it recipe post. Thanks for reading! : )

Also, don’t forget to enter Monday’s giveaway! It ends on Friday.

Malva Pudding

I know I’ve mentioned before, I had the incredible opportunity of spending 4 of my growing up years in South Africa. I was 13 when my family moved to Pretoria. When I first found out, in the comfort of my family’s home in Gilbert, Arizona, that they were dragging me to literally the other side of the planet, I thought my life was over. Turns out, quite the opposite was true. My time in Africa helped mold me into who I am today. And how’s that for cheesy? I know. But seriously, it’s just the cold, hard truth.

I love so many, many things about that country. The people. Their accents. The places. Cape Town and Durban and Knysna. Pilanesberg and Kruger. Safaris. Lions and tigers and bears. Well, lions anyway. The sights. Jacaranda trees in the spring. My memories go on and on and on. And on. But, oh, the food! Biltong and chutney and boerewors. Milk tart and potjiekos (pronounced: poi-key-cos) and bobotie. Rusks and wine gums and Appletiser. And my personal favorite, Malva Pudding.

Go on and get ye over to South Africa at some point in your life and try the Malva Pudding. But until then, here’s a recipe my family uses.

malva pudding

If you like things like Flan, or Tres Leches, or any sort of bread pudding, you’ll love Malva Pudding. I can’t remember exactly where we got this recipe, but I know we got it while we were in South Africa 😉 It’s the perfect combination of sweet and moist (I hate that word, but that’s just what it is). It’s spongy and caramelly in color. Generally, in South Africa, they serve it with custard (which, down there, is more like a pudding consistency than it is like an ice cream). Occasionally they serve it with ice cream. I personally like to eat it with a dollop of whipped cream.

And I had a thought I haven’t tried yet, but if you want to add a little bit of cinnamon (perhaps 1/4 tsp or so) to the sauce, I’m sure that’d be quite delicious. If you try it, let me know if it’s good or not.

Serve with a cold glass of milk and you’re all set!

Mugged: We try (almost!) all of Buzzfeed’s ’18 Microwave Snacks You Can Cook In A Mug’ PART TWO

Aaaaand, we’re back! Parte dos of this marathon of microwaving is now available to you! Let’s get started, shall we?

Cinnamon Roll In A Cup

photo(10)Two disclaimers: One, you have to mix up the frosting as well as the batter, and if I haven’t made it clear enough, I am lazy. Two, this doesn’t really taste like a cinnamon roll. It has cinnamon and sugar and cream cheese, but the effect is decidedly un-cinnamon-roll-like. With that being said, this is one of the most successful of the microwave cake items I’ve tried. The crumb is tender and moist, which I think has a lot to do with the applesauce, so don’t skip it. Eating this brought me back to my (gluttonous) childhood, when I would take Hostess snacks carrot cakes from the freezer and heat them in the microwave. Mmmm, nutrional ignorance.

Coffee Cup Coffeecake

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Pretty big dud, I’m afraid. First of all, the process is far too tedious: mix the crumb topping with your fingers in a separate small bowl, then mix the batter in a large measuring cup, then put them both in a mug to cook? Not to mention the fact that ingredients list is a little long, including the real nuisance of “half of an egg”. Again, why not just make a regular coffee cake if you’re willing to go to that much effort? Finally, the results were mediocre at best, hardly warranting the work that went into it. The topping tasted nice, but the cake itself was dense and chewy, and tasted a little too eggy. If you’re really determined to have some microwave coffee cake, may I suggest taking the crumb topping recipe and using it with the Cinnamon Roll in Mug recipe? And did I mention this thing has 655 (?!) calories? No thanks.

French Toast In A Cup

photo(13)
Pretty simple, though you do need to use an extra dish. This one yielded some very serviceable French toast, though it was more of a bread pudding/French toast hybrid. I’d certainly recommend this as an easy way to use up that last little bit of bread that’s no longer very fresh.

Baked Oatmeal In a Mug

photo(11)
This one baffles me. It was bland, with an unappealing spongy texture, and I don’t understand why you wouldn’t simply make perfectly delicious microwave oatmeal rather than ruin it in a mug. If baked oatmeal in a pinch is high on your wishlist, use this recipe instead (which is very, very easy) and keep them in the freezer. Then, just thaw or reheat and your good to go!

Instant Blueberry Muffin

(Sorry, but there’s no matching pic for this, because this was the first recipe I tried, and by the time I remembered that I needed to take a photo, my sweet children had devoured it.) While not bad by any means, this tasted absolutely nothing like a muffin to me. I think that has much to do with the fact that it contains flax instead of flour. Again, not bad, just not muffin-y. The results were nutty and not too sweet, with a pleasant texture from the flax. Use this one when you want something healthy on a cold winter morning.

Cheesecake In A Mug

Totally not gross-looking. Totally.
Totally not gross-looking. Totally.

I’m afraid I couldn’t get this one to work, though I tried. The mixture was always lumpy for me, and honestly, it didn’t taste that great even if it had been smooth. I say just stir together some cream cheese and sugar, dip in some strawberries and call it a day.

Strawberry Mug Pie and Meatloaf in a Mug
I refused to do either of these. I apologize and offer my excuses to you for your consideration:
Regarding the strawberry pie, I think I’m justified, because nowhere in the recipe does it say to use your microwave. And if I’m starting up my oven to test a pie recipe, then what has all of this been for, anyway? So, I deemed that one disqualified.

And the meatloaf? Setting aside the fact that few people have small amounts of ground beef hanging around waiting to be cooked in a mug, I have to tell you that I have microwaved ground beef before. I’m not exactly proud; it was college. You understand. I was trying to make meatballs, and the results were terrible. Scarringly so. I took one look at this recipe and my stomach lurched. So the more intrepid among you, feel free to try this one and report back. As for me, I’m far too frightened and skeptical. Again, apologies.

However, because I felt a little bad, I decided to test an extra recipe to make up for it. And what better way to celebrate the end of these taste-tests than with some funfetti cake? This recipe is super quick and very tasty, though I heartily recommend a dollop of whipped cream on top. This is also a good one for making 3 year-olds’ eyes light up. The link to it is here.

Hey, we did it! High fives all around! While I personally don’t plan on microwaving anything other than popcorn and water for a while, I wish you luck in your nuking endeavors. Be sure to let us know if you try any of these out!

 

Mugged: We try (almost!) all of Buzzfeed’s ’18 Microwave Snacks You Can Cook In A Mug’

Microwave SnacksThis. Post. It’s a beast you guys. I had no idea what I was signing myself up for. I thought – “This will be so fun! I’ll try all these easy recipes and I’ll share my findings and everyone will be wiser and happier and have full bellies. I will be the patron saint of microwave snacks.” It was going to be perfect. Until I tried to do all of the recipes in one day. Oh my goodness, NO ONE try to do that. At least not by yourself. Form a team, and attack it a more organized manner than I did, for sure. Otherwise, you will undoubtedly suffer from mug fatigue.

You see, the whole premise of “5 minute mug-whatever” is incredibly deceiving, because it implies that the prep is somehow easier than traditional baking. But that’s not the case at all – the cooking time is greatly reduced, yes, and the amounts are smaller, but you’re still lugging out all the same ingredients, taking roughly the same time to measure and mix them. In fact, traditional baking gives you more down-time while it bakes, which I view as a plus. If you’re mixing all the ingredients directly in the mug, clean-up becomes simplified, but even that’s not always the case. In short, most of these recipes are fine if you need a warm, sweet snack RIGHT AWAY. However, very few hold up as truly useful or even tasty in their own right. But there was one – a wonderful, savory surprise that just about made all this madness worthwhile.

But I’ll get to that. First, please realize that for your sakes, I’m splitting this post in two, because there are eighteen different mugs to judge. At first it may not seem like much, but let me tell you, it becomes overwhelming fast. And hey, no laughing at my iPhone photos of everything. You want pretty food photos I suggest you check out Tracey’s delicious cookie post. Now with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the reviews:

Nutella Mug Cake, Chocolate and Caramel Mug Cake, Chocolate Fudge S’mores Cake, Chocolate Peanut Butter Mug Cake

Microwave Snacks - Chocolate Cake

These recipes are grouped together because 1) Apart from various toppings, they look identical coming out of the microwave, and 2) The idea is the same: gussy up that standard chocolate mug cake recipe with whatever flavors suit you. How do they taste? Fine, across the board, but fine was as good as it got for me.  The s’mores cake lost point for having SO MANY steps. In that instance and with the peanut butter cake I found myself preferring the ease of an actual s’more or a batch of homemade peanut butter cups. The Nutella cake tasted surprisingly little of Nutella, and the caramel from the chocolate caramel sank to the bottom, leaving the rest of the cake spongy and kinda boring. Would I make any of these again? Can’t say I would. However, I will note that my children happily devoured each one of these after I was done tasting them, so you might keep these in mind as an extra-special after school snack.

Chilaquiles

I had insanely low expectations for this one. Salsa, chips, and cheese did not sound particularly good to me at the time. (What’s wrong with me? I don’t know.) Looking over the recipe, I thought for sure I would end up with a mug of overcooked egg dotted with soggy chips. When it came out of the microwave, I still wasn’t very optimistic.

Microwave Snacks - Chilaquiles
It’s so…appetizing…

Though with the recommended garnishes it certainly perked up a bit.

Microwave Snacks - Chilaquiles
Amazing what a little makeup can do.

And then I took a bite. Guys. This one is good. Really! The chips add a variety of textures while the cheese and salsa give it plenty of flavor – more than the sum of its parts, for sure. It’s satisfying and very simple to throw together. Admittedly, I’d call it more of a cross between migas and chilaquiles – like a tex-mex breakfast casserole – but you can bet I’ll be turning to this in the mornings for something fast, hot, and filling. Also – 180 calories? Please and thank you, Microwave Miracle.

Cookie in a Mug

Microwave Snacks - Banana Bread

Pretty solid. I liked how the whole recipe was mixed in the mug itself, with ingredients I already had on hand. The end result was a cross between a cake and a cookie, but would certainly satisfy a pizookie craving once a scoop of ice cream is added. Not a bad option for a sweet midnight snack, and unlike most of the cake recipes that towered like souffles and easily made two servings, the amount filled about half of my 12 oz mug – not too much, but still plenty.

Banana Bread in a Mug

It's even uglier in person, trust me.
It’s even uglier in person, trust me.

This was a DISASTER. It is quite possible that I did something wrong, but I’m afraid I’m just a bit too traumatized to try this one again. Everything about it was unappealing, from appearance to smell to texture to taste to the fact that I had to mix the dang thing in separate bowl only to end up with some horrible slug monster on my kitchen counter. I made the mistake of promising banana bread to my daughter only to have her poke the thing suspiciously and promptly return to her memory game. For what it’s worth, I am reasonably certain I followed the instructions correctly, but the recipe makes a large amount of batter, so maybe my smallish mug couldn’t cook it properly. From what I could gather, even if this had somehow turned out right, I doubt it would have tasted much like proper banana bread as much as a banana snack cake. Consider yourself warned!

Sticky Date Pudding in a Mug

Microwave Snacks - Sticky Date Pudding
Just like the picture, guys.

Kind of a random dish to translate to mug cookery, don’t you think? But it is an Australian recipe, so I’m guessing this is a popular dish over there. At any rate, I did not have dates on hand (although I often do, so I might try this again when I do have some) so I attempted this with raisins instead. Also, I’ll admit I cheated and simply drizzled on some caramel sauce from the fridge rather than making my own. And? Not bad. The crumb was tender instead of spongy, and the raisins added a homey sweetness, like what you get from an oatmeal raisin cookie. This is another recipe that would benefit from some ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream on top. Would I make this again? Maybe, if only to see if it’s markedly different with dates.

Mac-N-Cheese in a Mug

Microwave Snacks - Mac-N-Cheese

I’ve seen this done with some success on another blog, but I gotta tell ya – no such luck. While this is definitely the right recipe – there’s one floating around Pinterest that tells you to microwave the pasta, milk, and cheese all at the same time, but don’t do it! – I still couldn’t get the cheese and milk to blend together to make a proper sauce. The pasta did cook fine, and I’ll probably use that in the future to make a fast noodles-and-spaghetti-sauce snack, so there’s that. Also, if you’re the type that likes their mac and cheese with literally just macaroni with some melted cheese, then this should make you happy. If you use evaporated milk instead of the called for 1%, I’m pretty sure it would work much better (because science), but who has small amounts of evaporated milk waiting to be used up? Finally, if you do attempt this, I suggest adding in some salt, because I found it very bland.

Allllll right! We’re halfway there! See what I mean about this taking a long time? Stay tuned for microwave snacks 10-18 to find out which one tasted like something entirely different from what it advertised, which one is actually pretty healthy, which one should not even be on the list, and what bonus recipe I give you instead! Have you tried any of these recipes before? Did they turn out better or worse for you?

Update – Part Two has arrived! Check it out here.

Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Treats

So here’s my thing. And I probably shouldn’t admit this, in writing, to a blog whose target demographic is women. Because, will this information make me less of one? But I’m going to share it anyway. And before I divulge my little secret (not so much a secret, really… most people close to me already know this), you should know that I have an intense sweet tooth. Nay, sweet teeth. All of them. I love sugar. As in, I really luuuuurve it. In fact, my husband told me so much and so often that I eat way too much sugar that I am currently trying out a sugar-free diet. For the sake of trying to be healthier. It’s been 3 days. Who knows how long it’ll last. But who cares about that. So anyway, here it is. I don’t like chocolate.

Yeah, you read that right. I’m not a fan of chocolate. Chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate bars, chocolate chip cookies. It’s bitter! It doesn’t leave a good aftertaste in my mouth. I’m just not a fan. When I make chocolate chip cookies, I always pull a little bit of the dough aside and substitute white chocolate chips instead—and everyone knows, those are my designated cookies. I always, always will pick a fruity candy over a chocolatey one—starbursts, skittles, gummy bears, hi-chews, sour worms. You get the idea. And when I make s’mores, I substitute a Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar for a regular Hershey’s bar. (You guys have got. to. try this, by the way.)

Ah, the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme bar. So much delicious in one candy bar should probably be illegal. And then they debuted the Cookies ‘n’ Creme cereal. The first time I saw it, it literally stopped me dead in my tracks. I was just meandering down the cereal aisle, when I saw the Hershey’s logo out of my periph. I stopped dead and thought, “What is that logo doing in the cereal aisle?” I turned to see what it was and, without hesitation, put the box in my cart. That box has been in my cart at least once a week since.

And one morning, as I was eating my favorite candy bar cereal for breakfast, I thought, This needs to be my afternoon snack too. Because, clearly that much sugar at 8 am isn’t enough. Enter this recipe. It’s a copycat of the well-known Rice Krispie treats we all love, but with a my chocolate-hating, personal spin to it.

Also, note that there are two recipe options. The first makes the treat a little stiff, because the chocolate is melted into the marshmallows, and once the treat is cooled, the chocolate gets a slightly hard. I like it that way. If you don’t, try number two. And most of all, enjoy! Tell us what you think 🙂

hersheys2

300 Calories Or Less – Fitness Magazine’s Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Photo from fitnessmagazine.com
Photo from fitnessmagazine.com

Listen, I love food. It’s no secret. Eating and cooking are givens, of course, but I certainly don’t stop there. Food history, food science, food lifestyles – it’s fascinating. Also, I enjoy what might best be described as “food matchmaking”; listening to others tell about their cravings or dietary restrictions or favorite restaurant and being able to say, “Try this recipe,” or “Go here, too!” It’s not that I’m flawless at it, but I find it fun! I once overheard a friend say (lovingly), “She’s totally indecisive until you ask her what you should eat, then she’s all business.” Hopefully an exaggeration, but perhaps not much of one…

So. With Tracey being awesome and meeting her running goals, (Go, Tracey!!!! I’m seriously so proud of her!) she talked about wanting to make some eating changes, too. Right now that means meeting certain caloric goals each day. And, as with most people adjusting to something new, she soon found herself on the hunt for recipes that worked with her goals.

Enter, me! While I’m not a registered dietitian by any stretch, I do my best to stay informed nutrition-wise. But really, it comes down to pretty simple stuff: Eat whole, plant-based foods in abundance, and add things like meats, dairy, oils, and processed starches in moderation. This approach guarantees filling, nutrient-dense meals with fewer calories than your “typical” American meal. Furthermore, I’m not really the type to exchange diet versions of ingredients in order to make a dish more “healthy”. These things can work in a pinch to cut back on calories when you simply can’t fight a craving, but I tend to like the idea of eating a small, reasonable amount of your not-so-healthy food, and rounding it out with plenty of vegetables and some fruit.

Plus there are tons of great recipes that are simple, inexpensive, and not “diet-y” at all, yet still manage to be great low-calorie options. I’ve collected some great ones, and I’ll be sharing them in this new series. First up? Chicken Lettuce Wraps! So easy to make at home, and easily adaptable. I’ve changed Fitness Magazine’s recipe slightly, including swapping cashews for almonds and taking out the snow peas and radishes for ease of preparation – but feel free to try the original version! Chop up green beans instead of snow peas, or add some shredded cabbage – whatever floats your boat!

Back to School Giveaway! {CLOSED}

Bento-Blog

That’s right! School is starting up once again and we here at OUO wanted to ease the bad news (or augment the good?) with a chance to win a handy little prize package. While getting it ready for photographs, I told Tracey that I kind of wanted to keep everything, and she told me that she had felt the same about our last giveaway. Point? We like you guys, and we’re very grateful to you for reading! And we back up that gratitude with some sweet loot. Observe:

One bento lunchbox from Bentgo in blue

This bento has two layers that can nest for storage. It’s big enough for grown-ups, but a perfect size for little lunches, too! Reusable silverware and an elastic strap are included. Learn more about the Bentgo here.

Fred and Friends Crustache sandwich cutter

Yes, yes, I know mustaches are everywhere, but it’s a mustache sandwich cutter. You can simultaneously cut the crusts off of a sandwich and make that sandwich into a disguise. I know. Check it out here.

Good Food to Go by Brenda Bradshaw and Cheryl Mutch, M.D.

A lunchbox is only as good as the food that’s in it, and this book keeps the good recipes coming, including Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Cucumber Pinwheels and Spanakopita. Plus it has nutrition guides, tips on organizing your kitchen for easier lunch prep, and clever ideas like using straws instead of skewers to make school-friendly fruit kabobs. We liked that idea so much, in fact, that we included a package of Bentgo-sized cakepop sticks that you can use instead. See? Thoughtful.

Eager to win this? Because we are! Like, maybe I might have considered entering under a false name…perhaps…just saying. Are there penalties for blog fraud? Anyway, entering is easy! Comment below on what your favorite school lunch was growing up (from home or school), and fill out the Rafflecopter form. The giveaway will run until next Monday, August 19, at 9:00 pm Central Time.  Good luck!

Full disclosure: Ain’t none of these prizes provided by a sponsor. These are things we like and picked out on our own, and chose to share them with you!

UPDATE (8/21/13): Thanks to all for participating. You can find the winner here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway