saving dinnertime with hello fresh

I’ve tried other meal services like this in the past and wasn’t very impressed. There was so much packaging, it wasn’t very organized, and the recipes involved too many steps and didn’t end up being very delicious.

It’s been a couple years since I last tried it and I was intrigued by a newer company, Hello Fresh. Their meals looked delicious, healthy, and like something I would normally eat during the week. I also had a coupon for $40 off so I figured I would give it a try.

We’ve now been using Hello Fresh for three weeks and have really enjoyed it. We get our delivery on Saturday and we order 3 meals. We usually make a meal Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday and then either eat out or from the freezer on Thursday/Friday. This schedule has worked out really well for us and make the beginning of the week so easy. We just make a quick grocery store run for some breakfast and lunch staples.

So far we have loved 90% of the meals we’ve ordered. The ingredients are freshly packed, one box per meal, which makes organizing the ingredients so easy. Most meals take less than 45min to cook and they are recipes that I would definitely consider making again. Additionally, there is no waste which is usually my main complaint when making a complex recipe during the week. The portions are generous for two people.

I would definitely recommend giving it a try. I also have a coupon that will get you $40 off your first box which means you’ll only spend $20 on dinners for three nights! Use this code: U4P23G when you checkout.

the pure food cookbook

I was really not into cookbooks at all a few years ago. It may have been because I moved every year to a new place and I couldn’t stand lugging them around with me from place to place. It was probably also due to the explosion of food blogs and Pinterest. Recipes were now free all over the internet and I didn’t see a reason to pay for them.

It all changed about a year ago when I realized two things: 1) I LOVE reading cookbooks, like actually sitting down and reading them (the pictures are amazing as well) and, 2) I wanted to support the authors especially if they started as a blogger and I’d been enjoying their free recipes. So over the past year or so, my collection has really grown. Picking a favorite is hard because they are all so different. I love Seriously Delish and Date Night In which are two books that came out of super successful and beautiful blogs. When we got our slow cooker for Christmas, I picked up William Sonoma’s The Quick Slow Cooker and have loved every recipe we’ve tried.

The Pure Food Cookbook has been a great addition to the collection. It’s written by the creator of the Pure Bar and has a focus on healthy, whole, plant-based meals. I really, really like how it’s laid out by month so that you can maximize what’s in season and the recipes are geared toward that time of year. Making healthy food interesting can be really tough but this book has so many great ideas. It is plant-based so it’s definitely not C’s favorite but many of the recipes could easily be adapted to incorporate some grilled chicken or fish. I love that she also includes snacks, breakfasts, and desserts so it’s a complete menu!

My only con is that I wish there were more pictures in the book. There’s a section in the middle with select images but I love when you get to see every recipe.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

favorite cookbooks written by bloggers

I’ve always thought it would be really neat to write a cookbook. I’ve never really been interested in writing a novel but writing a cookbook seems like so much fun. It’s also the perfect combination of some of my favorite things – creating, designing, cooking, photographing. There is one small problem with the whole fantasy of writing a cookbook…I’d have to quit my job and spend all day recipe writing/testing. 
This being said, I’m constantly amazed by the AMAZING cookbooks written by some of my favorite bloggers. If I thought their blogs were a work of art, these books take everything to the next level. They are every bit as enticing, enchanting and mesmerizing as the blogs (and authors) themselves! 

Seriously Delish // Jessica Merchant of How Sweet It Is
This is my all time favorite food blog. I’ve been following her blog for several years not and I feel like we are best friends. Her photos are incredible and she writes the most hilarious commentary amongst outrageously delicious recipes. If you only follow one blog and only purchase one book, this is the one. Trust me.
An all-around great cookbook to have on hand. Everything is made from scratch and it’s a lot of comfort foods stepped up a notch. Hoping Santa puts this one under the tree this year!

Date Night In // Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt
I’ve been waiting for this cookbook for a LONG time. Her blog is stunning. The premise of her blog and cookbook is centered around date nights so each section of her book highlights a different date night menu with recipes for each item. This would be such a great gift for a newlywed couple. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. Also, by her cookie mix and put one in every stocking.
Dessert For Two // Christina Lane of Dessert for Two
I’m pretty much banned from baking unless it’s for an occasion because C feels like he has to eat everything I bake. This blog is adorable and perfect for anyone who just has a liiiiittttle sweet tooth. Her methods are easy and straight-forward because often time a recipe for 24 isn’t as simple as cutting it down to 6.
Top with Cinnamon // Izy Hossack of Top with Cinnamon
First things first, Izy is 18….18!!! She’s still pursuing her education full time while maintaining her blog and writing a freaking cookbook (and taking all her own pictures). Her book is beautiful and her recipes are wonderful. I could just stare at her pictures all day. Still so amazed that she’s only 18…
What are some of your favorite cookbooks? I think a great cookbook makes an awesome gift along with a few handy kitchen gadgets or a monogrammed apron!

book review // Bread & Wine

I just spent a few quiet moments on this beautiful Saturday finishing Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. I read the first 150 pages within hours of receiving the book in the mail last week. Then I tried to slow myself down because I didn’t want the book to be over so soon! That’s when you know you’re reading a good book. 
My sweet friend Mary first brought this book to my attention a few months ago. I heard about Shauna’s two other books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and this was her newest. I’d had her books on my reading list for awhile but kept pushing them to the side when I looked for a new book. I typically read on my Nook but I knew that I wanted to read the paper version of her books so that I could mark them up with all my thoughts. 
I finally ordered Bread & Wine and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long. it. is. so. good. I dogeared basically every other page because she said something awesome or because I wanted to try the recipe. Her writing is fluid, easy to read, and thoughtful. Each chapter is a short story, maybe just a few pages long, but her points are so well made. 
About 30 pages into the book, Shauna writes about being hungry. She writes about loving food and finally admitting that she’s “hungry”. Mostly for food, but also for life. And she goes on to say…

“To feed one’s body, to admit one’s hunger, to look one’s appetite straight in the eye without fear or shame – this is controversial work in our culture.

Part of being a Christian means practicing grace in all sorts of big and small and daily ways, and my body gives me the opportunity to demonstrate grace, to make peace with imperfection every time I see myself in the mirror. On my best days, I practice grace and patience with myself, knowing that I can’t extend grace and patience if I haven’t tasted it.”

Preach Shauna. And so, this is how the book continues. With Shauna’s wise, smart, and insightful remarks about our daily life. About gathering around a table, sharing a meal, the bread and the wine. She really hit the nail on the head with this book. I would have highlighted every line…but that’s just called coloring. 
And then there’s the recipes. Amazingly simple, but worth mentioning all the same. I found all her notes and anecdotes about the recipes so fun to read. I already have grand bread making plans for Monday. 
In lieu of finishing this book so fast, I went ahead and ordered her two other books. I’m sure I’ll have them finished by the end of next week. Thank goodness she writes a blog… 

our changing outlook on what we eat.

Curiosity got the best of us. After much discussion with our well-versed Paleo/Whole30 friends, Jessie and Brian, we decided to give it a go for one week. No grains (rice, pasta, bread, quinoa), no peanuts, no beans,  no added sugar. One week. Approved items consisted of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed butter, lots of veggies, some fruit, almonds/cashews, coconut milk, Larabars (in moderation, yay!), you get the idea. Protein, fiber, and (good) fat heavy diet.
I am no where near qualified to explain why this way of eating has become to popular or discussed. There are a million articles you can read (listed below). Brian blogged about his experience and it’s a great summary. I found this article very interesting and informative. You can also read more information here. Also, definitely check out this video which really explains what’s going on in your body.
My very, very, very basic summary would go something like this.
  • Grains are composed of carbohydrates, and those carbs are turned into glucose (a type of sugar) in our system to be used for energy and various other tasks to help our body function –any glucose that isn’t used as energy is stored as fat.
  • Our bodies are designed to operate on a lower amount of carbohydrates than what we’re used to eating, so less carbs isn’t an issue. When there is an absence of carbs (which is how we’re USED to operating), our body will take stored fat and burn THAT for energy in a process called ketogenesis.
Here’s what one week of a Paleo/Whole30/Whole9 diet might look like. We were not super strict so take this for what it is. This isn’t the Bible. Obviously.

Day 1 // eggs, bacon, black coffee, protein shake, salad, applesauce, larabar, spaghetti squash with meat sauce
Day 2 // coconut pancakes, coffee with coconut milk, smoothie (coconut milk, almond butter, protein powder, blueberries, strawberries), almonds, larabar, beef taco bowl
Day 3 // mocha espresso smoothie with coconut milk and protein powder, salad, larabar, coconut pancakes, chicken with sweet potato and broccoli, dark chocolate
Day 4 // mocha espresso smoothie with coconut milk and protein powder, Fadi’s chicken kabobs and cauliflower, larabar, chicken & salad, applesauce, dark chocolate
My thoughts at this point…
When lunch time rolled around on Day 4, I’m ashamed to admit some tears were shed. I was exhausted, cranky, frustrated, deprived and starving. We’d eaten all the lunch stuff so I wasn’t able to make lunch that morning and I was having a really hard time finding a place to get lunch that wasn’t going to be another salad. I couldn’t bear to eat another pile of lettuce, I just couldn’t. Honestly, I just wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That’s all. Or some greek yogurt with granola.
I then ventured to the office kitchen to fill up my water bottle only to find…donuts. Like honestly. I can could 4 or 5 times where someone brought bagels or donuts to the office since I’ve worked here. So it’s very rare. And yet it had to be the day that I was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
I settled on Fadi’s for a chicken kabob and cauliflower. No idea if it was approved because I don’t know what they put on it but I didn’t really care. When I opened the chicken, it was sitting on a lovely bed of fluffy rice. You know what? I took a bite. Yup. One amazingly gratifying and delicious bite of rice.
It wasn’t just food that was making me upset at this point, I was just generally moody. If someone so much as looked at me the wrong way on Day 4, I would have burst into tears. Talk about unstable.
But my small group had planned to get together for dinner so off to Kelly’s house I went. I used all my willpower to avoid the wine, cheese, crackers, and dessert. Instead, I filled up on chicken and salad. I survived. But I did go home and have a piece of dark chocolate and a bowl of applesauce.
Day 5 // mocha espresso smoothie with coconut milk and protein powder, Naked Green Machine smoothie, almond butter, pesto salmon with brussel sprouts and sweet potato, dark chocolate
Day 6 // mocha espresso smoothie with coconut milk and protein powder, pumpkin muffin, banana, eggs with bacon, cashews, chicken with sweet potato and broccoli, dark chocolate
Day 7 // mocha espresso smoothie with coconut milk and protein powder, pumpkin muffin, cashews, pineapple mango coconut water, paleo pizza (recipe to come), dark chocolate
In a somewhat symbolic way, C completed a triathlon on our “last day” of this diet. He finished the race feeling better than ever. Needlesstosay, he was jazzed about eating paleo and wants to do it foreverrrrrrrrr.
As you can imagine, it’s take me a bit longer to adjust (confirmed by friends that it can take women longer to “feel the effects”). As much as I’m starting to see a change, I still miss pasta and cupcakes. Lunch is the hardest for me because that’s when I would eat greek yogurt with granola or a PB&J. 
Ultimate Takeaway
  • We are more aware of what we’re putting in our bodies. We read labels and check for added sugar (which, bummer, is in everything). 
  • We feel “leaner” and feel like we might have already lost a little weight. 
  • Energy levels are becoming more stable and sustained. 
  • Less snacking because each meal keeps us fuller, longer. 
  • Good fat is good and keeps you full! (butter, coconut oil, animal fat, cream, coconut milk, eggs)
  • There are a lot more things we can eat with a little planning ahead. 

Going Forward: C is obsessed and wants to go Paleo full time. Ultimately, I think we’ll end up trying to make more of our meals Paleo Monday through Friday lunch. The weekends will be more lenient because, well, it’s the weekend. Obviously, there are a million occasions where it’s tough to choose a Paleo meal but I don’t plan to obsess about it. 

We are by no means qualified to explain all the ins/outs of this kind of eating plan. We did a lot of research and read a lot of information. Check out some of the links below for more in depth explanations. 

on my reading list

I love to read. I have a Nook and it has a permanent home in my purse. I love having it with me so that I can keep myself busy while waiting on a doctor’s appointment, at the car shop, waiting for a movie to start, you get the point. 
When I moved, I sold almost all of my books (except my beloved Harry Potter hardcovers) to Half Price Books. I’d already read all of them and they were honestly just taking up space. I love a good, well-filled bookshelf, as much as the next girl but there’s nothing I hate more than packing and unpacking boxes of books. 
However, there are some books that are better read on old-fashioned paper. These books might have recipes, pictures, great quotes and other things that I’m likely to refer back to. For this reason, I tend to prefer the paper version so that I can have the book on hand (lest I have something to decorate those bookshelves with!). 
There are a few books on my reading list that fall into the “must get my hands on the paper version” category. 
These books all have a similar premise – they offer up a personal story/experience wrapped around great recipes and inspiration. I can’t wait to spend some of my time off in May poolside with my nose buried in these books. I tend to favor a quick read, fiction book so it’s always nice to slow down and really dive into a book that makes you read a little slower and think a little harder. So far, each of these books has received wonderful reviews and feedback. Jenna Weber writes the most amazing blog titled Eat, Live, Run. I feel like we’re best friends from her adorable “virtual coffee date” series. Daphne Oz is the daughter of the infamous Dr. Oz made popular by Oprah, so we know her book has to be filled with tons of great stuff. The other two books have been widely publicized in the blogger world so I’m excited to see what all the buzz is about. 
What are you reading these days?

{recipe} easy basic frosting

A few weeks back, my friend’s sister asked if I’d be interested in making golf themed cupcakes for her son’s 2nd birthday. She remembered a while back when I casually mentioned on this blog that I wanted to get paid to bake things for people. I was so honored and flattered that she asked me (and that she reads this blog!). I of course agreed and got right to work planning.
Bethany requested “cupcakes-in-a-jar” which is a big trend these days all over pinterest. I had made them once before so I was confident I could pull it off for Palmer’s party.
The cupcakes turned out just right and from what I hear, they were a hit at the party. But I didn’t just want them to look good, I wanted them to taste good too. I mean, after all, Bethany wasn’t paying me to make cupcakes that looked awesome but tasted like crap.
I love sweet&savory things so I typically gravitate towards frosting flavors that have a bit of tang or zip. I can’t say no to Salted Caramel Frosting and I could even eat Butterscotch Frosting by the spoonful. For Palmer’s cupcakes, I chose to fill the jars with Chocolate Sour Cream frosting and topped them with (green) Cream Cheese Frosting.
The Chocolate Sour Cream frosting has the consistency of chocolate mousse without being overly sweet. Just a few simple ingredients creates the most delicious, smooth, creamy frosting that paired perfectly with the chocolate fudge cupcakes. The sour cream keeps the frosting light and fluffy and adds that delicious bite of tang. The bittersweet chocolate is so creamy and perfectly balances all of that confectioner’s sugar.
The Cream Cheese Frosting contains a scary amount of cream cheese and less butter. Keeping the cream cheese cold when whipping, creates a light, fluffy consistency instead of being very dense. A little splash of vanilla rounds out all the flavors.
These recipes make a TON of frosting so feel free to scale back. I have this irrational fear of running out of frosting when I’m making a cake so I like to have a lot of extra. Plus, you have to “taste” the frosting as you make it, so you’re bound to wind up with at least a half cup less in the end.
Also, these recipes are flexible. You could make Chocolate Cream Cheese frosting instead but adding cocoa powder. You could add peanut butter, butterscotch chips, peppermint extract…the possibilities are endless. Just know that every good frosting starts with a lot of butter and a lot of powdered sugar.