Monday, March 28, 2016

Twice Baked Potatoes


On Oscar night, my husband and I had our own little Oscar Viewing Party {for just the two of us}. Since it's a glamorous night of beautiful ladies in gorgeous gowns and handsome men in stunning suits, I thought I would cook a fancy dinner for us. This gave me the perfect opportunity to make the best twice baked potatoes!

Believe it or not, I had never had a twice baked potato until about 2 years ago. I was always more of a “plain baked potato with butter on the side” kind of gal. Then I had a twice baked potato at Wildfire restaurant and was hooked!

I’ve been searching for a worthy stand-in that I can make at home ever since then and finally found one after about six months. I believe the original is here on I Heart Naptime. I made a few changes to the recipe based on my husband's dietary restrictions and to taste more toward the potato I had at Wildfire.  Here is my version - enjoy!

Twice Baked Potatoes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes | Difficulty: Medium
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes 
Serves: 8 people

Ingredients:
6 baking potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt

For filling:
1/3 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheese
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Bacon bits

Directions:

1.     Pre-heat over to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil. 
2.     Prep potatoes by washing them under cold water. Pierce the potatoes with a fork several times and place on pan. 
3.     Brush potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake potatoes for one hour. Allow potatoes to cool.
4.     Cut potatoes in half and scoop out most of the inside of the potato. Leave a little bit so the skins don't tear.
5.     Mash the inside of the potatoes in a large bowl. 
6.     Mix in the butter, half and half, sour cream, salt and pepper.
7.     Scoop the potatoes back into the skins. Top with cheese, bacon and green onions. {Note: The original recipe has you use all 12 potato skin halves, but I prefer to use 8 potato skin halves for more filling in each potato.}
8.    Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.

Image via I Heart Naptime

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Zesty Steak Marinade

Who doesn’t love a good steak full of so much flavor that it melts in your mouth. I know I do!

On Sunday evening, my husband and I had our own little Oscar Viewing Party {for just the two of us}. Since it's a glamorous night of beautiful ladies in gorgeous gowns and handsome men in stunning suits, I thought I would cook a fancy dinner for us. This gave me the perfect opportunity to try out a new steak marinade recipe. 

There have been numerous versions of a similar recipe floating around on the internet. I believe the original is here on All Recipes. However, I changed quite a bit of the ingredients and quantities. Honestly, I don’t think I would call it the best I’ve ever made, but it was pretty darn good. Here is my version - enjoy!

Zesty Steak Marinade
Total Time: 20 minutes | Difficulty: Super Easy
Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: Approximately 15 minutes  
Serves: 4 people

Ingredients:

4 12-ounce petite sirloin steak
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tablespoon garlic powder
1 ½ tablespoon basil leaves
1 ½ tablespoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper

Directions:
1.     Combine all ingredients.
2.     Put steak into a gallon size zip lock bag. Pour marinade into bag with steaks. Seal securely and shake gently to cover steak in marinade.
3.     Refrigerate in gallon bag for up to 8 hours.
4.     Cook meat as desired.

Image via Kansas City Steaks


Monday, February 29, 2016

Oscar Viewing Party for Two

For those of you who don't know, my husband has a passion for acting. Even though he is not a big-time celebrity, he has done quite a bit of work regionally. So it shouldn't seem like a big surprise that the Oscars are a big event that he must watch every year. However, there is a catch... he doesn't like to watch it with a group of people, thus I can not have a viewing party. Since this is his passion I respect his decision and haven't ever tried to plan a party... until this year!

Last night, I hosted an Oscar Viewing Party... for just the 2 of us! Of course I still didn't try to have a big party but I wanted to have a viewing party for so long, so I finally did it just for my husband and I. Here are some of the highlights from our evening!

I dressed up our viewing area a little bit for this special occasion. The clapboard, feathers and crystals are actually items we used in our wedding décor. The clapboards came from Party City, the feathers from Fabulous Feathers, and the crystals from a dollar store.

This was a great opportunity for a nice steak dinner with twice baked potatoes and steamed broccoli to start off the evening. I’ve wanted to try a recipe for the twice baked potatoes and a new marinade for the steaks, and both turned out great. I'll post both of the recipes soon!
 What would a movie awards party be without popcorn? Not okay. So I made popcorn drizzled with dark chocolate and white chocolate for dessert and put them in these old-fashioned looking red-and-white striped containers. The containers were also used for our wedding gift bags but I had tons of extras. You can order them from Oriental Trading.
 I got these Oscar ballots on Moviefone and we each filled them out with our chosen winners...
 ...and the winner got their own version of an “Oscar” that I had lying around the house... the 2014 Best Oscar Guesser! Just for fun, I also made one for the 2014 Worst Oscar Guesser, since it was just the two of us, and found it funny that the gold star piece wouldn't stay in the base. I totally thought David would win because he's so good at this stuff, but I actually won this year!
 All in all – it was a perfect evening for two!


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Chicken & Broccoli Cheddar Casserole


At the end of a long work day, I'm not always in the mood to cook a big meal. Plus, you can only order Chinese takeout so many times in one month {it's probably too much when the delivery guy knows your name and that you have 3 dogs that always bark when the doorbell rings}. 

One of my go-to weeknight recipes is this Skinny Chicken & Broccoli Cheddar Casserole!

A few things to know in advance… This tastes best fresh out of the oven and not as leftovers. For a smoother taste, I prefer to remove the broccoli stalks and only use the broccoli heads. The more Ritz cracker topping, the merrier!

Chicken & Broccoli Cheddar Casserole
Total Time: 45 minutes | Difficulty: Easy
Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4-6 people (depending on serving size)

Ingredients:
2 cans Cream of Mushroom soup
12 ounces frozen broccoli, broken apart
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crumbled

Directions:

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 13x9 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
2.     Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Cook chicken in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the chicken is cooked through.
3.     In a large bowl, mix Cream of Mushroom, broccoli, and cheddar cheese.
4.     Add cooked chicken to broccoli mixture and mix until everything is evenly coated. Pour mixture into baking dish.
5.     Sprinkle crumbled Ritz crackers over the top of the mixture.
6.     Bake for 25 minutes uncovered or until cracker topping is golden brown.
 

Recipe adapted from Skinny Mom
Image via Skinny Mom 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Take your Lunch Break… It’s Good for You!

In today’s world, it is often believed that if you put in more hours at work and take less breaks, that it makes you a more dedicated employee. That you can get more accomplished.

This couldn’t be further from the truth!

Research shows that only one-in-five employees takes an actual lunch break, leaving approximately 81% of employees eating at their desks or not eating at all. But why do we do this?

The truth of the matter is that not taking a lunch break can be both mentally and physically bad for you. Tom Rath, author of the book Eat, Move, Sleep said “What you do at lunch can either make or break the rest of the day.”

So myself and a couple of my coworkers decided to start taking a regular lunch break {#lunchclub} and see what the benefits are. Here are four things that I discovered:

1. You’ll Feel Recharged, Happier & More Productive

When you plough through your lunch break while sitting at your computer, your brain doesn’t get a chance to switch off and regroup. When this happens, you can almost guarantee an afternoon filled with being tired, not thinking clearly, and lowered productivity. Stepping away during your lunch break can help your brain refresh and fire on all cylinders.

An article on productivity published by the New York Times captured the importance of taking breaks perfectly. “The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.” In short, by taking a break you will feel refreshed, invigorated and ready to take on the afternoon’s challenges.

Not only does taking a lunch break allow you to recharge, but it also allows you to spend time with friends and co-workers. Sharing a laugh with them is a guaranteed mood lifter. Getting to know them better builds a closer bond for the future. By taking a break with colleagues, you also build strong relationships at work that will lead to increased productivity, as well as higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement.
   
2. It’s Good for Your Health & Body
I'm sure most doctors will tell you that sitting for extended periods of time is not good. It not only impedes your circulation and puts strain on your spine and muscles, but it can also lead to poor posture and overall discomfort. A University of Leicester study also found that the more you sit, the higher your risk will be for diabetes and heart disease. Hence why it is so important to get up, move around, stretch and burn some calories during your lunch break.

Stepping away from your computer is also great for your eyes.  Staring at a bright computer screen for extended periods of time can not only irritate your eyes, but can also cause tension headaches and some serious migraines.

On top of the physical strain on the body, a recent study also found that eating while continuously distracted led to consuming more during that meal. Not only do you eat more, but you tend to eat less healthy. The reasoning behind this study is an application of a broader approach to living called "mindfulness." It involves being fully aware of what is happening within and around you at the moment. By paying attention to what you are putting into your mouth, you are more likely to make healthier food choices, and you will enjoy meals and snacks more fully.

3. You Don’t Have to Eat Lunch during your Lunch Break
Just because it’s called a lunch break, doesn’t mean you have to eat lunch during that time. If it’s a nice day out, take a walk around the neighborhood. Grab a coffee with friends. Run some errands. Go to the gym. Since I work for an animal welfare nonprofit, sometimes I’ll visit some of the dogs and cats available for adoption at the adoption center (#workperks).

Of course, you can actually eat lunch during your lunch break. My coworkers and I don’t have many options, so we will eat in the conference room or the kitchen. However, every Tuesday we will walk to Starbucks in the afternoon for a coffee instead. Once in awhile we will go out to eat. Sometimes we will do our own thing if one of us has a different schedule that day. The main goal is to step away from your desk!
It is worth noting, that if you choose to eat lunch outside of your lunch break, make a conscious decision of what you plan to eat in advance. Otherwise, you may fall into a poor state of "mindfulness" as described above in #2, thus eating too much or unhealthy.

4. The World Will Not End
My main reason for often not taking a lunch break was because I thought no one else was doing it. I thought I would feel guilty. The truth is that nobody really cared. If anything, my coworkers would say how they wish they took more breaks!

So for those who wish they could take a lunch break but feel that they can't, I pose this question: What do you think is going to happen if you don't take your break?

Moral of the story? Take your lunch break... It's good for you!

Image via Michael Graydon for Bon Appétit

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Party Hit Taco Dip


Invited to a Super Bowl party this Sunday and still need a party dish to bring?

One of my all-time favorite party dish recipes is this Taco Dip!

Every party or potluck I go to, I make this dish. It’s super easy to make and only costs about $15. Not to mention that everyone always raves about how amazing it is {not to toot my own horn}. I will make this dish just to have around some times, and almost always end up eating it for dinner every night until it’s gone.

I know there are 100 kinds of taco dip recipes out there, but I like to keep this dish simple. I customized it by combining the Frito Lay bean dip into it. Feel free to customize it as much as you would like. Others have used green olives instead of black olives, or both, added sliced peppers or green chilies, etc. Salsa is a popular addition, although I prefer to offer it on the side as it can make the dip watery. Which ever way you make it, I’m sure it will be a party hit!

Now I’m going to go eat the dip I made for the accompanying photo. Enjoy!

Taco Dip
Total Time: 15 minutes | Difficulty: Super Easy
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: N/A
Serves: Small party (10-15 people)

Ingredients:

1 can refried beans (regular, fat free or vegetarian)
1 can Frito Lay bean dip
1 16-ounce container of sour cream
1 bag of shredded lettuce
2 2.5-ounce cans sliced black olives
1 16-ounce bag shredded Mexican-blend cheese
1 bag of nacho chips

Directions:
1.     Mix refried beans and Frito Lay bean dip in a bowl. Spread mixture on the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan. I use a glass casserole dish so it doesn’t stick.
2.     Spread sour cream over the next layer.
3.     Spread shredded lettuce over the next layer.
4.     Spread black olives over the next layer.
5.     Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the top.
6.     Serve with nacho chips.

Image via my husband, Jonny Blackstone Productions 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Musing Monday: Puppy Bowl


I'm not a big football fan. It doesn't get my blood pumping like other sports I enjoy watching. I do like to watch the Super Bowl for the commercials and half-time show. 

But I definitely make sure to watch the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet! 

What could be more adorable than cute puppies playing with toys, a cat half time show, chicken cheerleaders and Stanley the Skunk as an assistant ref? You can even create a Fantasy team online and earn points based on their goals, steals and tackles. 

And for the first time ever, we {PAWS Chicago} has not one, but TWO, puppies in the Puppy Bowl! Check out Cooper on the starting lineup and Athena as a back up! Make sure to vote for Cooper so he wins MVP!

Check out our PAWS pups, my Fantasy team picks, and my overall Top 9 picks below! Don't forget to also follow Meep the Bird on Twitter for live game updates.  

So for this week's Musing Monday...

Who do you want to win the Puppy Bowl: #TeamRuff or #TeamFluff ??

Top 9 Picks & Fantasy Team



Top Row & Fantasy Team:
Cooper | Great Pyrenees/Collie | Male | PAWS Chicago 
Ranger | Springer Spaniel | Male | Alamo Rescue Friends
Bijoux | Great Dane | Female | Florida Little Dog Rescue

Middle Row:
Carolina | American Staffordshire Terrier | Female | Mr. Bones & Company
Rixton | Shetland Sheepdog | Male | Florida Little Dog Rescue
Wrinkles | Shar-Pei | Male | Florida Little Dog Rescue
    
Bottom Row:
Tate | Beagle | Female | Humane Society for Greater Nashua
Piper | Border Terrier | Female | Animal Aid, Inc.
Brooklyn | German Shepherd | Female | Canine Companions Rescue Center


Cooper from PAWS Chicago
 
Athena from PAWS Chicago
Not sure what Musing Monday is? Check out the first post HERE!

Images via Animal Planet

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