pumpkin cheese ball

I'm obsessed with fall and halloween. Have I made that clear yet?! Here's an easy and quick appetizer idea for your halloween spread! I was inspired by this blog post I found via pintrest. Such a fun idea! She's got a ton of great ideas, BTW. The only problem was in my mind, the cheese to cracker ratio was way out of proportion. 

There's not really a recipe here. I used my favorite sharp cheddar cheese spread and rolled it into a ball. With the back of a butter knife, I made the lines down the pumpkin. I inserted a giant pretzel rod and some cilantro (that's what I had on hand) and served it with pretzel crisps (again, that's what I had on hand). Make sure you insert the stem right before you want to serve it. Otherwise, it will get soggy. You can make the mold a few days before your party. I love things that can be done beforehand!

improv style:
use your favorite cheese spread…. smoked, with bacon bits and chives, pimento cheese, even a brie round, goat cheese  or white cheddar spread to mock a white pumpkin would be super chic. you can even add your own fresh herbs and fixins (think salami chunks or bacon, hello) to spice it up. 

for the stem and leaves you can use pretzels, celery sticks, a bell pepper stem, or green onion. For leaves you can use anything leafy… think spinach, herbs (cilantro, flat leaf parsley), celery leaves, kale, the list goes on…

if you want to get extra halloween-y, you could put cut veggies to make it look like a jack-o-lantern. about a month after i saw the food bloggers post, i saw this idea on food network magazine. they took it up a level and served it with blue (looked black) tortilla chips and rolled the cheese ball in nacho doritos. hello! such a great idea and it was orange and black! very festive!

i would serve with your favorite crackers, bread slices, pretzels, or even chips! anything you like cheese on! serving it on a chalkboard platter would be great way to show the halloween theme too! you can roll the bottom of the cheese in chopped or slivered nuts. 

what are you going to be for halloween this year? and more importantly, what are you going to make to nosh on for the big day?! 


carved peppers for halloween

Remember that Halloween idea I mentioned in yesterday's post?! In the spirit of Halloween, my favorite holiday, I carved some orange bell peppers to look like pumpkins! 

This is such a fun idea and a great way to get kids excited about eating healthy food! You could really stuff them with anything (sloppy joe meat, spaghetti, sausage stuffing, etc...)  but I did an improv version of yesterday's post with corn, black beans and chicken. 

I saw this carved bell pepper idea last year on spa bettie and had to share the idea with you guys. She did it with a carrot ginger quinoa dish. 

Step 1: cut the top off like you would a pumpkin

Step 2: scrape out the seeds and membrane

Step 3: carve your face *carefully* with a kinfe. even better if you have mini serrated pumpkin carving knives

Step 4: stuff with desired filling

You can bake these peppers depending on the filling but they won't hold their shape quite as well. I liked the crunch of the fresh veggie in contrast to the softer quinoa filling. If I were going to make them again, I'd use red or black quinoa to get more of a halloween feel. White was what I had on hand so I just went with it!

Happy Halloween! 


far from boring health food

I'm all about trying to make healthy choices when it comes to eating. Yes, you have to live and eat well but you also have to treat your body good. It's the only one you get. It's all about balance for me. One of my favorite lunch time restaurants is called protein bar. They have an amazing selection of wraps, salads and my personal favorite, quinoa bowls. Their prices are pretty steep so I've started making my own versions to bring into work. 

This is health in a bowl that tastes nothing like "health". Seriously, I'm very particular about what types of healthy food I'll eat. I have to trick my butter loving, fatty taste buds into the good for me foods. This quinoa bowl is super filling, flavorful and taste bud approved. 

Tomorrow I'll even show you how to turn this into a fun halloween themed lunch or side dish! Kids will go crazy for it. Or, if you're a halloween loving adult like me. Seriously, it's my favorite holiday! That or Thanksgiving. Pretty much anything involving food, orange, fall and dressing up!

mexican black bean quinoa bowl
inspired by protein bar

2 c. cooked red quinoa
1 - 15oz can of black beans drained & rinsed
4 oz can diced green chiles
½ c. salsa verde
1 TSP ground cumin
½ c. chopped tomatoes
2 TBSP shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 avocado diced
salt + pepper to taste
lime wedges to garnish

In a medium sauce pan, cook beans, green chiles, salsa and cumin over medium heat until warmed, about 5 minutes. Add in cooked quinoa and heat through. At the last minute, add in tomatoes and diced avocado. Stir, plate and top with shredded cheese and a lime wedge. 

improv style:
there are a MILLION ways you can improvise this dish! lets talk types of quinoa… there's white which is most common, red and black. I like the contrast that the red quinoa gives to the dish color wise. taste and texture are almost the same. white quinoa is a little more mushy but barley. any type you choose will be great! 

lets talk veggies. corn, jalapenos, diced peppers, peas, carrots, green onions, raw onion (preferably red or white), cilantro, and many many other ingredients would make great additions or substitutions to the dish. 

i love salsa verde but you could use any salsa here. additionally, chipotle would be fantastic if you're into smokey subtle heat. tabasco or your favorite mexican hot sauce would be delish too! also, no salsa? not to worry. you can use your favorite taco, fajita, or mexican seasoning mix and add a teeny bit of water to get it coated (try 1 TBSP of liquid at a time). 

i've made this with meat in the past too. chicken, steak, even marinated shrimp would work well. just make sure you season your meat!  it makes a great side but when you add in meat, it's a super hearty dinner or lunch in a bowl!

you can leave the cheese or avocado out but i think they make the dish. not into cheddar? chihuahua cheese or queso fresco would be delish. also, if you're feeling like a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, that would be fantastic too! this dish is pretty hard to mess up!

** note these images are missing avocado. mine went bad before i could shoot the recipe but i still prefer the dish with which is why i included it as an ingredient in the recipe!


bahn meatloaf sliders

So remember that post from a few days back where I told you about not being a fan of meatloaf… well, turns out, leftovers of that amazing bahn meatloaf make for REALLY good slider sandwiches. Remember that sauce you saved for later? Yep, slather some of that on a sweet hawaiian roll, a slice or two of your leftover loaf and top with your extra veggies. Hot or cold, these things are killer! 

bahn meatloaf sliders
adapted from bon appetit

leftover bahn meatloaf slices
hawaiian sweet rolls
leftover hoisin glaze
leftover matchstick veggies (carrots, cucumber, radish, cilantro)

you know how to make a slider. assemble and be happy!

improv style:

you can add all sorts of fun things to the sandwiches. how about some onion strings if you ate up all your fresh veggies? your favorite asian sauce would be great if you didn't have leftover glaze (think siracha, hoisin, maybe even a bit of dark soy mixed with ketchup).

no sweet hawaiin rolls? brioche, challah, plain white bread, whole wheat buns, pretty much your favorite chewy bread will do. trying to be healthy? make the meatloaf with ground chicken or turkey breast and do an open face sandwich on whole grain bread. your options are endless!


comfort with a twist

My man likes meatloaf. I hate meatloaf. I don't know why, I'm just not that into it. Even a "good" meatloaf is still just meh to me. I've made it my mission to find a recipe that gives Matt what he loves without making me curl my nose. Selfish, right?! I have to say, this recipe has me reconsidering this whole meatloaf thing!  With a little help from Bon Appetit, I've made a meatloaf we both enjoy!

No, it's not your traditional meatloaf, but it is technically a loaf made of meat so I'm going to call it a win. Matt LOVES bahn mi sandwiches and when I saw the hoisin-glazed mealoaf sandwhiches in their March issue, I knew I had to try it. Just enough Asian infusion to take a regular hunk of meat and make it dreamy. It's bursting with flavor and the fresh, crunchy veggies on top combined with the sweet and tangy glaze make this recipe memorable. While meatloaf (even bahn meatloaf) isn't ever going to be a meal that I could eat every day of the week, I'll consider this dish a win! 

bahn meatloaf
adapted from bon appetit

for the loaf:
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
2 c. bread cubes (I used white bread finely diced)
½ c. milk
1 tsp. ground star anise (was about 3 whole, ground up)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 TBSP olive oil
2 carrots finely shredded
1 celery stalks finely diced
1 bunch of green onions diced, including dark green parts
7 garlic cloves finely chopped
¼" of ginger minced
2 eggs
2 TBSP. hoisin sauce
salt + pepper to taste

for the glaze:
¼ c. hoisin sauce
2 TBSP ketchup
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP siracha
1 TBSP rice wine vinegar
1 TBSP soy sauce

for the salad:
1 c. matchstick sliced carrots
1 c. matchstick sliced radishes
1 c. matchstick sliced cucumber
½ c. chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 375º F. Line a medium baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil and set aside.

In a skillet, drizzle with olive oil and cook carrots and celery until they start to soften. Add in green onions and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more until softened and fragrant. Let cool in pan. In a small bowl, combine bread cubes and milk and let the bread absorb the liquid. In a large bowl, combine spices and eggs and stir until combined. Add cooled vegetable mixture and bread slices in with the egg mixture and stir. Add in your beef and pork and work together with your hands until well combined. Dump mixture onto baking sheet and form into a loaf shape. In this case, I made 6 mini loaves - do what you prefer.

In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients and top a few spoonfuls over your loaf. Put remaining sauce in the refrigerator (you'll want it for leftovers or if your man insists on over saucing his slices). Bake for 40- 45 minutes if doing mini loaves or 1 hr 20 minutes for 1 loaf. It should read 165º F internally when inserted in the center of the meatloaf. All ovens and loaf sizes will cook slightly differently. Temperature never lies! Let the meatloaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Top with fresh veggie salad. I like to serve it with a side of cilantro rice as well. 

note: this recipe can be made 1 - 2 days in advance and kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator before baking. it also freezes really well. 

improv style:

beef, pork, turkey or chicken. pick your  meat or your combo of meat. just make sure you have 2lbs. 

sweet challah, brioche or hawaiian bread would be a great substitution for white bread cubes. you can also use whole wheat if you like but i find it's a bit drier. use whatever kind of milk or cream you have on hand. i used non-fat. 

star anise?! it's a common asian spice that has anise like qualities. i hate licorice but this spice adds something special to the mix. if you don't have it and don't want to buy it you can substitute for chinese five spice. a hint of cinnamon might be nice here if you're into that sort of thing. lots and lots of fresh garlic makes this delish. i recommend you stick to it. if you don't have fresh ginger, you can substitue for 2 tsp. of ground ginger. i like to think fresh makes a difference though. 

i use carrots and celery because i like the added veggies. if you don't have one or the other on hand, leave it out. you can also add in your favorite veggies like bell peppers and maybe even broccoli chunks. 

for the glaze you can choose your own adventure. keep it sweet or make it spicy. this recipe is right in the middle. matt's not a big fan of spicy so i keep it on the milder side for him. you can adjust the measurements here very easily. this one isn't science, just yummy sauciness.