COCOZIA Coconut Water Smoothie

I was excited to be offered an opportunity to review COCOZIA Organic Coconut Water...especially once I heard that they wanted to send me the chocolate version. The chocolate flavour did not disappoint! It had a true chocolate taste, without seeming artificial or too sweet. The texture was smooth and very easy to drink. It's organic, kosher, gluten-free, and vegan...but still delicious for those of us without dietary restrictions.  I liked the chocolate coconut water on its own, but my kids (who are accustomed to chocolate dairy milk as a treat at their grandparents' house) didn't find it creamy enough. I decided to blend some up in this smoothie to see if they preferred it that way. Did they ever! Simon and Ruthie slurped these up in a flash!

4 ice cubes
1 ripe banana
1 Tblsp peanut butter
1 C COCOZIA Organic Chocolate Coconut Water 

Place all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth. (This recipe perfectly fits the Magic Bullet Single Shot.)

*This is a sponsored posts. I have received free product and/or compensation for this post. The opinions featured here are always honest and my own.*

Everything Pita Chips

A couple years ago, I saved a recipe for "Everything Seasoning" from an issue of Food Network Magazine (November 2013: Recipe listing here). As a lover of the popular Everything Bagel, I knew I wanted to make this seasoning and find some fun ways to use it. I've enjoyed experimenting with it in a variety of ways, but none as popular as these baked pita chips. My family gobbles them up like crazy, and they get rave reviews whenever I take them anywhere. I didn't realize that I hadn't shared the recipe until a friend asked me for it this weekend, which prompted me to share them with all of you. 

5 Pitas, split to create 10 rounds
3 Tblsp butter, room temperature
1 Tblsp Everything Seasoning (recipe below)

In a small bowl, mix butter and seasoning until evenly combined. Spread lightly over cut side of pita rounds. Cut into wedges. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400` for 7-9 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks completely before storing in an airtight container. (FYI: This amount of chips fills my largest baking sheet twice, so be prepared to bake these in 2-3 groups)

Everything Seasoning

1 Tblsp poppy seeds
1 Tblsp sesame seeds
1 Tblsp dried minced garlic
1 Tblsp dried minced onion
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Combine in a jar and shake until thoroughly mixed. Store in a cool dry place until ready to use.

pita chips

Food Blog Forum Orlando 2015

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure (seriously, such a pleasure) to attend Food Blog Forum in Orlando Florida.  In past years, I've followed along with Food Blog Forum by way of the Twitter & Instagram accounts of other bloggers in attendance. I decided to write this post to share the event in the same way with those who weren't able to be there. 

Food Blog Forum is an intimate conference with just 100 food blogs represented. It really gives you an opportunity to meet most other attendees and a chance to ask questions and get feedback from presenters. I was SO delighted to be able to get a ticket through the "Newbie Presales", and that I was able to score a family pass which allowed me to bring my husband along for the fun. (If flights from here weren't so expensive, we would have loved to bring the kids too!) Before leaving, I was absolutely delighted by the schedule of speakers and special events...and there were even more surprises waiting for me that added to the special experience.

Our accommodations were at the beautiful Grand Floridian Resort, right on the monorail in Walt Disney World. Staying on the monorail was so easy and convenient to get to the parks, and the hotel is simply gorgeous.

We checked in, and these items made me excited...

And then receiving this swag bag made me REALLY excited!
Our swag bags were full of fun and useful items from KitchenAid, Florida Dairy Farmers, Oxo, Sabra, and Bertolli. There were also some delicious nibblies like Goo Goo Clusters, Moose Munch Gourmet Popcorn, Moravian Chocolate Dipped Ginger Cookies.(In case you are wondering how I got everything home...I didn't. The KitchenAid Avocado Scoop and the Bertolli Olive Oil Spray were confiscated by airport security. Booooo!!!)

The events began with a meet and greet hosted by the stunning Four Seasons Orlando Resort. Recently opened in late 2014, this hotel is the only in central Florida to have received the AAA five diamond rating. We were treated to a variety of delicious dishes and drinks from various restaurants on property. What a way to kick off the weekend!

On Saturday morning, we met bright and early for breakfast, which included a strawberry tasting of several varieties grown in Plant City, FL. I know very little about strawberries, so it was fun (and yummy) to taste and compare them.

After breakfast, we moved into a conference room to hear from various presenters throughout the day. We had an array of session on topics like Repeatable Creativity, Food Photography & Food Styling, Monetization Strategies, Pinterest Best Practices, and Battling Blogger Burnout. Aside from the presentations, we were lucky enough to participate in small group round table discussions with each presenter. It was a great opportunity for everyone to ask questions and get more personal feedback from some knowledgeable experts. Scattered in among all these sessions were prize drawings...oh the prizes! I was blown away by the items they were giving away! KitchenAid gas range, KitchenAid French door fridge, Nespresso machines, sets of Oxo pots and pans, and $1000 Visa gift cards just to name a few! To say we were spoiled would be an understatement. 

Speaking of being spoiled, I need to share some photos of our Delicious Disney Lunch. We were whisked away to the California Grill on the 15th floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort. I was shocked and delighted to learn that 10 chefs from Disney's top restaurants were there, each with their own tasting station. Whhhhaaaaat?! So exciting. 

I have to share this photo of our menu, just so you can see how terribly spoiled we were. Everything was amazing! In case you are interested, my favourites were Narcoossee's Wild Striped Bass, California Grill's Braised Pork Belly, and Sanaa's Lamb Potjie. 

Sunday was our free day to enjoy the Disney Parks. Did we ever! We were incredibly fortunate to be given Media Fast Passes, which meant that our Magic Band could get us into the Fast Pass line at any time, without pre-booking. Woah! How can we ever wait in line again after this? It felt like we owned the place! 

 We rode a few rides so many times that we knew exactly where the cameras were and decided to take some silly pictures.

Food Blog Forum was capped off by an fantastic venture off Disney property to explore some of the awesome expanding food scene in Orlando with a visit to the East End Market. I can't even tell you how many tasting stations there were, because I didn't get to visit them all and I was still stuffed!

I need to take a moment to tell you about Olde Hearth Bread, which had THE most gorgeous display of their beautiful artisan loaves (pictured above). They served us a delicious Fruit Galette, and were sweet enough to send me away with some perfect pastries for Josh and I to enjoy en route to our early morning flight the next day.

 My favourite bite of the day was the Grilled Cheese Stuffed French Toast from La Femme Du Fromage. It was the ultimate pairing of comfort foods that I never would have thought of  combining. My other favourites included Shrimp Toast from The Rusty Spoon, Cold Brew Coffee from The Lineage Coffee, and the Earl Grey Tea Cake from Fatto In Casa. And have you ever seen a drink as gorgeous as this White Bloody Mary from Pharmacy?

The entire weekend was full of "pinch me" moments. I felt like a kid in a candy store the entire time! I can't thank the organizers, sponsors, and other attendees enough for making it an incredibly memorable learning experience.

I wanted to be sure to share a list of the attendees of Food Blog Forum 2015. I've been following some of these folks for years, so I have to admit that I was a wee bit starstruck a few times! Take a moment to check out some of these fantastic bloggers.

Cheesecake for Two

Even after the Molten Lava Cakes for Two and the Tiramisu for Two, you are still looking for dessert ideas for you and your valentine? about Cheesecake for Two? These two little cheesecakes come together in less than 5 minutes before baking. It couldn't be any easier. Please don't buy one of those bad generic frozen cheesecakes! Making it yourself is so much more delicious, not to mention less expensive!

2 Golden Oreos
1 tsp butter
1/4 C (2 oz) cream cheese
1 egg white
1 Tblsp sugar
pinch of salt
splash of vanilla

Crush Oreos. Melt butter and combine with cookie crumbs. Press firmly into the bottom of  2 lined muffin tins. Beat remaining ingredients very well until smooth. Divide between the two muffin tins. Bake at 325` for 20-25 minutes or until almost set. Allow to cool to room temperature before chilling. Top as desired with fruit, chocolate, caramel, chopped chocolate bars, etc. Use different crumbs for the crust to change the flavours further. The possibilities are endless!

Tiramisu for Two

Your response to the Molten Cakes for Two was fantastic! It made me think you must be hungry for desserts made for two, so I thought I'd give you another idea before Valentine's Day.

My husband doesn't like coffee, but he loves tiramisu. Go figure. The recipe below is scaled down from the tiramisu recipe that I shared a few years ago, a deliciously inauthentic recipe that is less expensive than traditional tiramisu but still has the same great flavours. I've omitted the egg here, as some folks are really hesitant to consume raw eggs. (For the record, I'm not one of them. Hello? Cookie dough?). This version still sets up well, and you won't miss the egg from the larger version of this recipe.

1 C ricotta cheese
1/3 C white sugar
1 tsp spiced rum
8 Lady Finger biscuits
1/2 C espresso or strong coffee
cocoa, for dusting (optional)

Combine ricotta, sugar, and rum until smooth. (A food processor or an immersion blender is perfect for this.) One at a time, dip Lady Fingers in coffee and lay in cross-wise in a loaf pan. Lay four coffee soaked lady fingers across the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the ricotta mixture. Repeat with remaining 4 lady fingers. Top with remaining ricotta mixture. Dust with cocoa, if desired. Cover and chill for at least 6 hours before serving. Preparing this the day before serving is ideal.

Lava Cakes For Two

Valentines Day is coming. If you are planning a nice dinner at home, don't forget about dessert! An impressive dessert doesn't mean making a huge cake (that you will eat for days) or spending hours of your time. These molten cakes for two take about 5 minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to bake. They are rich and decadent, and the perfect Valentine's Day dessert. Either using the recipes below or changing the flavours with different baking chips, surely you can find one to suit you and your sweetheart.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Molten Cakes

2 eggs, divided
2 Tblsp white sugar, divided
4 Tblsp butter (plus more for greasing)
3 Tblsp chocolate chips
3 Tblsp peanut butter chips
4 tsp flour, divided (plus more for dusting)

Grease and flour two 3-inch ramekins. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.

Whisk one egg with 1 Tblsp white sugar. Combine very well until light in colour. Place chocolate chips and 2 Tblsp butter in a microwave safe bowl, and heat for 20 seconds. Stir well to combine and melt chocolate. Heat longer if necessary to completely melt the chocolate. Add chocolate/butter and 2 tsp flour to the egg/sugar mixture. Whisk to combine. Divide between the two prepared ramekins.

Repeat this process to make the peanut butter layer. Whisk one egg with 1 Tblsp white sugar. Combine very well until light in colour. Place peanut butter chips and remaining 2 Tblsp butter in a microwave safe bowl, and heat for 20 seconds. Stir well to combine and melt chips. Heat longer if necessary to completely melt. Add melted peanut butter chips and remaining 2 tsp flour to the egg/sugar mixture. Whisk to combine. Divide between the two ramekins, pouring on top of the chocolate layer.

Bake at 450` for 8-10 minutes. The sides will be set, but you want to center to still appear sunken and jiggly. To serve, invert ramekin on serving dish. Dust with icing sugar or serve with a scoop of ice cream. Serve immediately.

Butterscotch Molten Cakes

2 eggs
2 Tblsp white sugar
4 Tblsp butter (plus more for greasing)
1/3 C butterscotch chips
4 tsp flour, divided (plus more for dusting)

Grease and flour two 3-inch ramekins. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.

Whisk eggs with white sugar. Combine very well until light in colour. Place butterscotch chips butter in a microwave safe bowl, and heat for 20 seconds. Stir well to combine and melt chips. Heat longer if necessary to melt completely. Add melted chips and flour to the egg/sugar mixture. Whisk to combine. Divide between the two prepared ramekins.

Bake at 450` for 8-10 minutes. The sides will be set, but you want to center to still appear sunken and jiggly. To serve, invert ramekin on serving dish. Dust with icing sugar or serve with a scoop of ice cream. Serve immediately.

Bean Salad for Days!

I have been eating bean salad every day for 2 weeks straight. I'm not kidding. Every day. I make a big batch to have in the fridge, and then it is SO easy to throw together a quick and healthy lunch or snack each day. This bean salad is an example of something very easy to play with and serve in many different ways, and it is SO inexpensive! Having delicious and healthy options ready in the fridge makes it a lot easier to eat a proper meal when the days are busy.

1 can chickpeas
1 can white kidney beans
1 can lentils
1 1/2 C hot salsa (I use Pioneer Woman's recipe)
Chopped peppers and/or green onion (optional)

Drain and rinse all canned beans. Stir all ingredients to combine in a large food storage container. Store in the fridge.

Alter this recipe to suit your tastes or what you have in the pantry. Add more vegetables or change the type of beans as desired. If you add an additional can of beans, add an additional 1/2 C of salsa. (I occasionally add a can of black beans to stretch this salad a little further)

This bean salad can be used in so any ways! Here's how I've enjoyed it this week:

Bean Salad

Twice Baked Bean-y Sweet Potato 

Piece sweet potato all over with a knife. Microwave on high for 6 minutes, turn over, and mircrowave 6 minutes more. Once cool enough to touch, cut in half  and scoop out the flesh. Mash flesh and mix with some bean salad. Refill the potato skins. Top with shredded cheese, if desired. Bake at 375` for 15 minutes or until hot.

Speedy Bean Soup

Combine 3/4 C stock or broth with some bean salad to make a super quick and hearty soup. Season as desired.

Three-Bean Quesadilla

Spoon some bean salad on one half of a tortilla. Top with shredded cheese. Fold over tortilla and place in a hot frying pan for several minutes until browned, turning to brown both sides.

Spinach and Bean Pizza

Using naan or pita bread as your crust, top with bean salad, baby spinach, and cheese. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Turn on the broiler for 1 minute to cause the cheese to bubble.

Three-Bean Nachos

Place tortilla chips on a single layer on a baking sheet. Top with bean salad and shredded cheese. Bake at 3751 for 10 minutes. Turn on broiler for 1 minute to bubble cheese and brown a few chips.

What are your favourite tricks to renew your leftovers? What do you keep prepared or on-hand to  help meals come together in a hurry? I'd love to hear your favourite strategies, or your feedback if you try this bean salad!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares

This recipe is so nostalgic for me. These squares were a regular recipe for my Nana, and we had them at just about every party growing up. When I posted on my Facebook page asking for suggestions using peanut butter, some of my cousins brought up the idea of this recipe. Once the seed was planted in my mind, I absolutely had to have them!

1/2 C margarine (not the spreadable kind)
1 1/2 C peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 C icing sugar
2 C Rice Krispies
1 bag (approx 2 cups) chocolate chips
2 Tblsp shortening

Melt margarine. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until well mixed. Add icing sugar and stir until evenly combined. Fold in Rice Krispies until distributed. Press mixture into a 8X8 pan, lined with greased foil. Press very firmly.

Melt chocolate chips and shortening and stir until smooth. (I find this easiest to do in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds. Stir, then heat at 15 second intervals, stirring after each, until fully melted.) Spread melted chocolate over peanut butter mixture. Chill until set. Cut into squares and store in the fridge, fighting the urge to eat a cold one each time you open the fridge.

Budgeting for Better Life

I interrupt all the recipe sharing to post about budgeting. I have shared before how I keep our grocery budget on track, but grocery spending is only a small piece of the pie (and because of this spreadsheet I know our groceries are 12.27% of the pie). After some prompting from friends, I'm sharing how I budget for our family.

Let me begin by saying that budget isn't a bad word! Having a budget (or a spending plan) can actually be very liberating! When you have planned to spend and you have the money in hand, spending is so much more enjoyable. Budgeting doesn't mean you don't take means you pay for vacations with cash. Budgeting doesn't mean that you can't go out for dinner, it just means you are a little more selective of when you go out. Our lives have absolutely changed for the better since we started budgeting. Who knew we could actually live a more comfortable and fulfilling lifestyle on one income? I am a firm believer than you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once

We are a single-income family. After my second maternity leave, I didn't return to work. Being a stay-at-home mom is something we always had in mind as part of my role in our family, but the timing wasn't carved in stone. We worked hard to pay off my student loan and our consumer debt before reducing our income. We also took a long hard look at what we were spending. For example, we drove an older vehicle at the time. It was paid for, but we weren't aware of how much we had been spending on maintenance & mileage. Once we added up 6 months of repairs, maintenance, and gas, we realized that we could be driving a new and more fuel-efficient vehicle for the same monthly costs! Our housing situation was similar. We lived in a home on the outskirts of the city, which meant our mileage was higher and our sense of community was lacking. The home itself also had significant costs in maintenance and repairs. We ended up building an efficient home in our ideal neighbourhood, close to friends, family, and Josh's workplace. Our daily life improved, and money was saved. We never would have made those big changes if we hadn't taken a good look at the numbers. 

The first page is the overall budget or master plan. 

This budget is based on 2 biweekly paycheques a month, even though there are 26 biweeklies in a year. We put those extra 2 payments directly into savings. It helps boost our savings, and it is easier to budget based on a regular income every month. Similarly, we don't include overtime, commissions, or incentives in our budget. Those incomes can also boost savings or be used for "extra" spending.

  • Step 1: Fill in your income. 
  • Step 2: Fill in your fixed expenses.  It automatically will calculate what percentage of your income is being spent on each category. 
  • Step 3: Note the "difference" (under net income). That's how much money you have left after your fixed expenses to fill in your variable expenses. 
  • Step 4: To begin figuring where you want to set those variable budgets, you should go back through the past several months to figure out what you have been spending. If you don't have the receipts, check your credit card or banks statements and look at your transactions in different categories. Once you add up these totals, ask yourself how often you think you've used cash at those stores and add a guesstimate of that amount. Likely, this total will scare you. That's okay - things will get better! And if you didn't know where you were coming from, how could you look back pleased with how far you have come? 
  • Step 5: If you want to have a real TV/Gail Vaz-Oxlade moment, put the amounts you have been spending into your budget sheet temporarily. Does it balance? Are you shocked by the percentage of your income that you spend in some categories?
  • Step 6: As you look at the figures from past months, decide if you are comfortable putting those numbers in your budget or if you want to reduce some categories. Again, as you fill in your budgeted amounts,  it will calculate what percentage of your income is being spent on each category.  Keep watching the "difference"...your budget has to balance!

Note: There is only so much you can do to cut back your fixed expenses, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how much we have been able to trim down our variable expenses just by putting it all on paper and being conscious of it.

The second page is where I track our variable spending. 

We bring home all of our receipts and every day or two I put the amounts in the tracker, so any given time we know month-to-date where we stand (groceries, entertainment, etc). This also allows us to know how much money we have left in categories that we budget for monthly, but only pay for a few times a year (hobbies/membership, Christmas, etc). For instance, when Josh goes to his basketball provincials, that expense will come out of hobbies/memberships. Most months we don't spend anything in that category, but the money sits in our account earmarked for those expenses when they come up, and that variable tracking sheet shows us how much we are supposed to be spending on it. If there are multiple receipts in a week to track in one category (and there always is with groceries), I just open a comment to list the totals, then add them up and put them in the cell.

The third page is net worth. 

This sheet is pretty self-explanatory. Fill in the amounts of what you own and what you owe. It is easy to feel like you are ahead of the game if you aren't living paycheque to paycheque or if you are looking at a pile of cash in the bank...but if you owe a lot of money, things aren't as great as they appear. Being realistic and looking at the cold hard facts is important if you want to live the good life and plan for your future.

This all may sound more complicated than it really is. Don't get overwhelmed! Once your sheets are set up, if doesn't take more than a couple of minutes here and there to input expenses on the receipt tracker. All you have to do is begin, and take one little step at a time. I started doing this practice out of necessity, but it has become a way of life that I really enjoy. I hope you find the same thing. I welcome any of your questions or comments below or via Email. Bring it on! :)

Italian Wedding Soup

I scored a great deal on lean ground pork the day before it expired ($0.99/Lb!). I put a few pounds in the freezer, but I wanted to use one my meal plan right away. A bit of searching on Pinterest lead me to this recipe from She's Cookin'. I adapted the recipe for both the meatballs and the soup to use what I had in the house, and the results were fantastic. I will be repeating the meatball recipe again as a stand-alone recipe  They were excellent!

1 Lb ground beef
1 Lb ground pork
1/2 C parmesan cheese
1/2 C dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced

Place Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, parsley and paprika in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add ground beef and ground pork to the bowl. Beat egg with minced garlic, and pour over meat. Combine all ingredients until well mixed. (Working with your hands is easiest for this.) Form into balls (using a cookie scoop makes for even sizes) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350' for about 30 minutes.

1 Tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp thyme
8 cups chicken stock
1 bunch kale, torn into pieces
2 cups egg noodles (or other quick cooking pasta)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions and celery in olive oil until softened. Add carrots and cook for approximately 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, and thyme and stir until fragrant. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and  simmer for 15 minutes. Add cooked meatballs.  Add kale and pasta, and cook until they are tender (approximately 6-7 minutes).

**To save time, you can prepare the meatballs in advance and freeze cooked meatballs. To use frozen meatballs in this soup, add when the stock comes to a boil and allow them too warm in the sauce while it simmers for 15 minutes before adding the kale and pasta.**


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