When Quesadilla Meets Pizza

Happy Tuesday!  It’s a little chilly here.  I actually ran in a light snow yesterday.  Not my favorite, but it was a nice reminder that if you push forward, a run can feel great in just about any weather.  On the plus side, temps are trending to get a bit warmer.  Easter is just around the corner, and despite my 4 year old asking if the bunny would still come with the virus, we’ve managed to plan a decent holiday thanks to online ordering.

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Some flakes flying when I started.

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We also had a beaver visit our backyard!

I mentioned the other day that we have been trying to get creative with our meals.  I’ve been trying to be smart with my grocery purchases and be more resourceful with what we have.  The other day I discovered that several jars and cans in my pantry had expired (but were still good for consumption).  I decided to make it a priority to use these jars and cans first.

Years ago, I loved going to T.G.I. Friday’s and ordering their Pizzadilla.  It was the perfect meeting of a quesadilla and pizza.  A tortilla filled with sauce and cheese with a side of pizza sauce to dip.  Was I ever sad when it disappeared off of their menu.  Now that we don’t live near a Friday’s, it had been forgotten, until now!

The kids loved having two of their favorite meals combined, and the dipping sauce was a hit.  The entire family family enjoyed this meal and I was glad I made a few extra, because everyone asked for seconds.

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This is a super fast meal to whip up and you can easily add your favorite pizza toppings to your pizzadilla.

Ingredients:

Tortillas

Pizza Sauce

Shredded Cheese (We used a combo of Mozzarella and Parmesan)

Cooking Spray

Optional:  Your favorite toppings

Directions:

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Place a spoonful of pizza sauce on a tortilla and spread around.  Add a little more if you like your pizza extra saucy.  Sprinkle with cheese and top with another tortilla.

Spray a skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium.  Place pizzadilla on skillet and warm until bottom tortilla is slightly browned and crispy. Flip over and repeat.  Use a pizza cutter to slice into triangles or halves.

I put the extra pizza sauce in individual ramekins and heated in microwave for 30 seconds.

How are you getting creative while at home?  Anyone else think Mary resembles Mimi from the Drew Carey Show?

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Slowcooker Cheesy Ranch Chicken

I’ve been going through a salad phase lately and was recently looking to make a big batch of protein to top my salads.  At the same time, I wanted to find a family friendly recipe that could be used in versatile ways.  My three year old loves salads and my one and a half year old has yet to meet a food she doesn’t like.  I started looking at chicken with ranch recipes, hoping to appease our Midwestern tastebuds.

I found a few recipes that I liked and decided to switch things around and make one that I thought my family would enjoy most.  The result was that we ate one batch for three days straight and then made another double batch by request of everyone in our house.  The picture below doesn’t do it justice.  It’s not the prettiest shredded chicken.  Let me promise you, this is a crowd pleaser!

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My husband commented that the chicken tasted really decadent, and while it does have a lovely combo of cheese going on, it isn’t as decadent as it tastes.  It is delicious topped on salads, in wraps or burritos, or simply for dinner with some veggies and rice on the side.

This recipe takes less than 10 minutes to prep and then does it’s thing in the slow cooker while you are doing your own thing.

I threw down a bed of romaine and added diced tomatoes, red onion, a variety of beans, and corn.  When I make salads I chop up a variety of veggies and keep them in the fridge so I have quick options for dinners or lunches during the week.  You can also grab a microwaveable pack of rice and add a bit to your salads or wraps too.

The fun thing about salads is that you can change the fixings and feel like you are having a different meal every night.

Slowcooker Creamy Ranch Chicken:

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth (or water)

2 packets ranch dressing mix

1- 8 ounce package cream cheese

1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar)

Directions:

Spray the inside of your slow cooker and then place chicken breasts in the bottom.  Pour broth or water on top of chicken and sprinkle one packet of ranch on top.  Cook on low for 5-6 hours.  Remove lid and discard most of the liquid, leaving a few tablespoons inside.  Shred the chicken and then add cream cheese and another packet of ranch to the slow cooker.  Let cook for 30 minutes and then remove lid and stir ingredients.  Add the cheese and stir again.  Put lid back on and keep on warm until everything is well mixed and you are ready to eat.

Note:  I added the second packet of ranch because when you discard the juices, much of the mix is also removed.  Since most of the liquid is removed before the rest of the ingredients are added, it might not be necessary to use broth, as it doesn’t add a lot of flavor.  The liquid simply keeps the meat from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  If you are concerned about sodium intake, it might be helpful for you to skip the broth.

We also served this at a party as a dip.  Try it with crackers, pieces of tortilla, bread, or veggies.  A few people even made mini quesadillas.

If You Can Cook It Here, You Can Cook It Anywhere

…..ah New York apartments.  Right now we are living kitchen impaired.  But that isn’t going to stop me from making some decent meals.

turkey with puttanesca

This winter I whipped up a very quick and easy pasta dish and it was recently added to the request list for dinners this week.  We rarely eat pasta, not even the night before a race.  So when I do make it, I prefer to have the pasta share in the limelight with a protein.  If I can make this recipe in our studio kitchen, you can make this just about anywhere.

I usually prefer to make my own sauce, but when I go with the jarred version I like to do something different.  I love kalamata olives so I used a puttanesca sauce but you can really use any sauce.  I dare you though to try something out of the norm.  Don’t just use the plain old marinara sauce.  Spend a few extra cents to get a quality brand and try something with a few herbs or veggies.

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Rao’s is about as authentic old Italian New York as you can get.  They are known for their delicious food but don’t even think about trying to get a seat there.  They are booked almost indefinitely.  Years ago someone from the New York Times did a rave review of the restaurant and to avoid large crowds and losing loyal customers, they were given a standing weekly reservation.  That means you and I aren’t going to find a seat, but you can at least try their sauce.

Turkey Puttanesca Pasta:

Ingredients:

1 package fresh pasta (I usually go with linguini)

I jar Puttanesca sauce

1 pound extra lean ground turkey

1-2 tablespoons minced garlic

Seasonings to taste: oregano, basil, thyme, celery salt and rosemary are some of my faves

Fresh parmesan cheese to top

Directions:

Brown the ground turkey in a large pan (about 5 minutes).  If you are using extra lean ground turkey you will likely not need to drain it, but if there is any grease make sure you do drain it.  Add in the minced garlic and seasonings and simmer for a minute or two to allow the flavors to seep in.  Pour in your pasta sauce and turn down to low heat.  Continue to cook while you boil water and then your fresh pasta.  Once the water has boiled it only takes about 2-3 minutes to cook the pasta.  Drain the pasta and then stir in with the sauce.  Top with some cheese before serving.

The reason I love this sauce is because I am not a huge pasta fan.  But there is so much lean turkey and seasoning in there, it almost feels like a protein with a  side of pasta.  I prefer to serve this with my usual sautéed or broiled asparagus.  If you have leftovers you can toss the pasta and asparagus together for another meal.

Let me leave you with this amazing video.  It is a very inspirational and emotional tribute to the runners of this year’s Boston Marathon:

 

 

Ice Ice-Safety

The polar vortex came and went, and with its departure left piles of snow and then warmer weather.  The past few days I have been feeling like this on my runs:

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It is seriously no joke.  With the warmer air I can’t get enough running.  Add that to the mass amounts of puddles that were all over the running paths the past few days and I felt like Lolo Jones sprinting and hurdling all over the place.

And then yesterday arrived.  The air cooled a good 20º and where puddles had marked the path the day before, ice had taken over.  Bound and determined to get my run in I did 7 miles that consisted of some decent running, some penguin-like shuffling, and some ugly attempts at not breaking a body part.

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Moral of the story: ice is no joke.  If you are going to go for a run there is a good chance right now that ice will impede your travels.  Just as you would slow down if you were driving on icy roads, you are going to have to check your ego at the door on your way out and plan on a slower run.  Turn your music on low and take some extra caution to pay attention to each footfall.

Plan on having to stop and start.  If you live by the pace on your watch you might just want to leave it behind.  Yesterday I ended up relaxing and deciding this wasn’t going to get the better of me.  I chalked it up to a series of interval training; run a bit, slow down, repeat.

If you know that the paths you are going to be running on are snowy or icy, plan your route ahead of time and let someone know where you will be going.  Give them an idea of when you will be back and take your cell phone with you.  A few weeks ago I went for a run after a snow storm and I had to call my husband to let him know that I was ok but that I was going to take longer to get home because of the heavy snow.

I always carry a cell phone with me when I go for a run, not just for my safety but also for others.  I have come across several emergencies over the years that have required me to call 911 or be there to help others take care of a situation.

Pick a route that you know well.  Yesterday I ran a path along the Chicago River.  I know the area well and I know where the icier areas are.  In fact, some ladies from my running group told me in the fall that ice always forms under overpasses, so I know to slow down there.  They were right!  The picture above speaks for itself.

Bring some sort of identification with you.  Last summer a runner near my home town finished their run with a splash in Lake Michigan.  He had a medical emergency and rescuers were unable to revive him.  He had no identification on him and the police had to go from room to room at the local resort looking for his family.

I used to always carry my driver’s license with me, but I was lucky enough to place at a trail race a few years ago and was presented with a gift certificate for a Road ID.  If you don’t have one already, check them out.  They are very inexpensive and comfortable.  I wear mine all the time.  In fact I had to be reminded on my wedding day not to wear it to the ceremony!

This is the sample from their website.  They come in several colors.

This is the sample from their website. They come in several colors.

I have yet to try on Yak Trax or other forms of cleats but these are certainly another option to try out.  There are also some great YouTube videos that show you how to make your own spikes on your shoes with screws.

Be safe and happy running.

One last note on safety:  On January 13, 2014 fellow runner and mother of 3 Meg Cross Menzies was stuck and killed by a drunk driver while out for her morning run in Virginia.  I urge you to join the running community on January 18th for a run in her honor.  Take a picture and tweet it or post it on Facebook with #megsmiles.

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Today’s Slow Cooker Recipe:

Yesterday I also mentioned that I would add another slow cooker recipe to my post so today I am adding the delicious Spinach, Goat Cheese Cornbread my husband made the other night.

This was so good! Only 130 calories per slice.

This was so good! Only 130 calories per slice.

Ingredients:

2 boxes of Jiffy corn bread mix (or 17 ounces of mix)

3 eggs

1/2 cup almond milk (you can use milk but we are dairy free here)

1 ten ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1/2 cup goat cheese

Directions:

Coat inside of slow cooker with cooking spray.  Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.  Pour batter into slow cooker.  Cover and cook 1 1/2 hours on high.  Remove and place on cooling rack.

Enjoy!

Let’s Get Cooking- Pretzel and Mustard Chicken

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Yesterday was cold.  And by cold I mean frigid.  The past 10 years I was living out on the East Coast but I grew up in the Midwest and I certainly don’t remember days where the wind chill read -38.  I stayed in most of the day and did some work, did a few workouts, and ate some delicious food.  I was missing my daily run, but when I decided to take a walk to the mail box and to grab a few things at a nearby store, I realized running would have been a bad idea!

All of this to drop off some mail.  Remind you of someone?

All of this to drop off some mail. Remind you of someone?

I can't move my arms down!

I can’t move my arms down!

After doing a nice yoga workout, I decided to prepare a meal that my husband has been asking me to make.  Last winter I would often get home from work before him and loved preparing a nice dinner for us to share.  One evening I was tired of making the same old baked chicken night after night and decided to make something new with whatever we had in the kitchen (we watch a lot of Chopped here).  I made something I called pretzel chicken with a mustard blue cheese sauce.  The dinner was a hit, mostly because the mustard sauce was delicious.  This meal is super easy and requires very few ingredients.

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Ingredients:

Boneless skinless chicken breasts

Pretzels

Any and all varieties of mustard you have around (just don’t use the yellow stuff!)

Blue cheese (goat or feta would work well too)

Eggs (I used Egg Beaters because they are just easy)

Vinegar (I use either apple cider or balsamic)

1 minced garlic clove

Directions:

Preheat oven on to 350°.

Mash up the pretzels. I finally have a mortar and pestle thanks to my friend Anna and her husband (sweet wedding present) and this made the job so much easier.

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Thanks Anna!

Dredge the chicken in the eggs and then in the mashed pretzels.  If you have a mortar you can leave the pretzels in there and dredge the chicken right in it.  You can add anything to the pretzels.  Next time I might add some rosemary and garlic salt.

Place chicken in a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Bake for 30-50 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breasts.

While this is baking, put a small pot on the stove over low heat.  Inside the pot add 1/2 cup total of your favorite mustards.  I used some horseradish, spicy brown mustard and Dijon.  Add about 1/8 cup of cheese, minced garlic, and 2 tsps. of vinegar.  Stir until the cheese melts into the sauce.

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Once the chicken is done drizzle the mustard sauce on top.

Since we were inside all day, I ended up doing planks while I watched Bethenny Frankel.  She made her How Is This So Moist Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzle.  So I ended up making that for dessert.  I’m dangerous when I have too much free time!

I would say this was a hit considering there are only 2 of us in this house.  Good thing a slice only has 125 calories!

I would say this was a hit considering there are only 2 of us in this house. Good thing a slice only has 125 calories!

Stay warm and safe.  A shout out and good luck to all the runners heading to Orlando in the next few days to run Disney.  So jealous and looking forward to hearing your accounts!

I would run a marathon right now just to be out of this weather!

I would run a marathon right now just to be out of this weather!

Super Yummy No Bake Protein Bites

Protein BitesWhat these treats lack in beauty, they make up for in taste!

This became my go-to snack to make this summer. I was training for a marathon and I have a serious sweet tooth. I love candy and chocolate, and it seems that running makes me want it even more. These protein bites are a perfect after run snack and they also work as a great quick bite before you run. They are full of awesome ingredients all runners need, and they take less than 5 minutes to make!

Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup oatmeal
¼ cup honey
¼ cup flax seeds
¼ cup packed shredded coconut
½ cup mini chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chia seeds

Protein Bite Ingredients
Directions:
Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. If it seems too runny add more oatmeal and any other dry ingredients you prefer. I usually stick to adding more oatmeal and flax seed. The “dough” should be sticky but firm. Using a tablespoon scoop out dough and roll into approximately 1 inch balls. Place on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer for an hour. Then eat!

The best part of this recipe is that once you get used to making it a few times you can start adding in whatever you want or swapping ingredients to fit your mood. The possibilities are endless; below are a few options and swap outs.

Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein and other vitamins, including folic acid. It is a great fuel source for running. I prefer all natural peanut butter to steer clear of added preservatives.  If you are allergic to nuts or like to be nut free, you can swap the peanut butter out for sun butter. You can also try this out with almond butter, cashew butter, you name it.

As for the honey, it is a favorite of mine because of its anti-inflammatory properties and for helping our bodies store glycogen. If you are trying to steer clear of honey because you follow a vegan diet, you can perhaps swap it out for maple syrup or molasses. I have tried both and they offer a nice added flavor.

Coconut is not always one of my favorite things to eat, but it really does work in this recipe. I could go on and on about the benefits of coconut; it is so incredibly great for your immunity, high in calcium and electrolytes (catch your attention runners?) and so many other vitamins. I will admit, I get the sweetened version, which isn’t the best option….but hey I have to cheat somewhere!

As for the flax and chia seeds, both are just too good not to throw in. Flax is an awesome source of omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies need to function normally and help reduce inflammation.  Chia seeds are not only full of omega-3 fatty acids but also protein, antioxidants, and a whole host of vitamins.

So I am not going to say that if you eat the whole batch that you are going to turn into a super fit superhuman. Nor will eating these help you qualify for the Boston Marathon. However, these are an awesome fuel before your run in the morning with your cup of coffee, a delicious post run snack, or even a healthy option for your post dinner dessert.
Enjoy!

A Healthier Twist on Chinese Takeout- Cashew Chicken

I love Chinese food but abstained from ordering it for a long time because I felt like it was laden in grease and sodium.  I decided it was time to take charge and find a way to make my own version of one of my favorites.  This version is not fried, has just a tad of vegetable based oil, and uses reduced sodium soy sauce.  This is one of my husband’s favorite recipes and a go-to for me when I cook for a crowd because I know everyone will love it.

Prep Time: 5 mins.       Cooking time: 25 mins.  (Yes it is a 30 minute dinner!)

Ingredients:

1 pound chicken cut into cubes

1 cup diced onion

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup reduced sodium soy sauce (skip the LaChoy and get the Kikoman, it just doesn’t taste the same)

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1-2 tablespoons chili powder (depending on your preference)

1 cup cashews

Ingredients needed.  Oops I forgot the vegetable oil!  (I forgot to add the vegetable oil to this picture.  Don’t forget it!)

Cooking directions:

Place cubed chicken in a ziplock with the soy sauce, honey, oil, and chili powder.  You can keep it in the fridge for a few hours to marinate or you can simply massage the chicken in the bag to make sure it is fully coated and then get started.  Heat a skillet over high heat, the hotter the better.  Use tongs and take chicken from ziplock and place on the hot skillet.  Keep the reserve marinade for later, don’t toss it.  Cook the chicken on one side until the honey starts to give the chicken a nice carmelized crisp.  Flip each piece over and repeat.  Once the chicken is done on both sides remove it from skillet to a plate and leave aside, keep any remaining sauce in the pan.

Add the onion and mushrooms to the skillet and cook on medium high heat, adding the reserved marinade.  The marinade needs to come to a boil for a few minutes to ensure that it is ok to eat after having the raw chicken in there.  This also gives the marinade some time to thicken.  Once the marinade is done boiling, reduce heat to medium and add in the chicken and cashews.  Let simmer for a minute or two and then plate.

This is tasty over white or brown rice.  I often use the easy 90 second microwaveable rice packages when making this dinner.  You can also plate it over quinoa for an added healthy protein and source of fiber.

If you are making this for your family and they are not fans of mushrooms or onions you can always make this recipe without them or add in a veggie that they prefer.  I always encourage some sort of veggie in there, but this recipe can be altered for even the pickiest of eaters.  It is worth noting that the onions in this recipe get nice and carmelized in that soy-honey sauce, so many people who aren’t fans of onions will likely not even notice!

On a side note, honey is a go to for many runners and athletes.  It is an excellent anti-inflammatory.  Honey also is a natural sugar whose components aid in glycogen storage, and because it is easy to digest it is great for runners to consume before a long endurance event.  I love to have a piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and honey in the mornings before I hit the pavement.