Friday, July 20, 2012

Make a Meal: Grilled Chicken Kabobs with Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad


While I was on the same grocery trip that inspired the Apple Banana Muffins, I also grabbed a recipe card for grilled chicken with cucumber relish while at the meat counter. It sounded light and refreshing for a summer evening so it made it home with me. Like kismet, the next day I stumbled upon another cucumber recipe on pinterest and decided to grab inspiration from each, adapting and combining the two for this dish. The chicken kabobs were easy, the cucumbers were easy, what more can you want in a week night meal? Health and nutrition? You are in luck, because this dish has that too.

I loved the sweetness and kick of heat to the cucumber salad. It was a tasty contrast and something that would work great on its own at a BBQ, a shower or like this for dinner.

Click here for the nutritional facts calculated at and 6 WW points for one serving.

Grocery List:
Recipe yields 4 servings

For Chicken

  • 1 lb chicken, cubed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
For Cucumber Salad
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and quartered
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup Mirin (rice wine vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes 
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. red onion, minced
  • 3 tbsp. feta cheese, crumbled
  • Baby spinach (optional for salad greens)

To begin, heat your grilling surface and brush with oil to help prevent the kabobs from sticking. Next, take your cucumbers and set in a colander. This next step I learned from the original recipe, it's very important to season with salt to help dry out the fruit. Otherwise, they will water down the final product. Salt and let sit for about 15 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cubed chicken with the minced garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Let marinate for about 10 minutes and then thread bamboo or metal kabobs with about 5-6 pieces of chicken, resulting in about 4 oz. on each kabob.

While the chicken is marinating and the cucumbers are "salting," you multitask and move on to the cucumber salad sauce. In a small sauce pan, heat the mirin, water, sugar and red pepper flakes over medium high. Whisk together and let reduce to about 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes.

Once reduced, set to the side, add the red onion and let cool to room temperature.

Toss with cucumbers and add feta cheese, then place in fridge to serve chilled.

Grill the chicken kabobs, about 6 minutes on each side.

Once done, bring inside and assemble your plate. We used a bed of spinach leaves to enhance the green factor and add nutrients to the dinner. Spoon the cucumber salad atop the spinach and grab a kabob, dinner is served my friends!

Tastefully yours,

Asian Veggie and Chicken Wrap


I told you we've been on a wrap kick lately! Following the salmon and veggie stir fry dinner, I had about half a box of left over veggie strips from the produce area of Whole Foods. I used half of them for dinner and decided to prepare and use the rest for lunches during the week. I was able to simply saute in just a pinch of olive oil and then pair with shredded rotisserie chicken. Equipped with whole grain lavash bread and baby spinach, I quickly assembled an easy and healthy lunch! To decrease the sodium levels, I sauteed these veggies plain, using only the stir fry sauce to add a little flavor in the end.

The benefits to using a whole grain lavash bread over a tortilla or pita is that it has less carbs, no cholesterol and lavash is higher in protein and fiber.

Nutritional facts can be found here, calculated at; one serving of this lunch is 6 WW points.

Grocery List:
Recipe yields 1 serving
  • 1 whole wheat lavash 
  • 1 cup baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup sauteed vegetable strips (bell peppers, squash, zucchini, carrots, red onions)
  • 1/4 cup shredded chicken
  • 1 tsp. stir fry sauce 

Just like with the Chicken Caprese Wrap and the Mexi-Texi Wrap we will want to leave about an inch from both ends and begin to layer the filling 2 inches into the wrap. Layer the lavash as follows: spinach, veggies, chicken. Take the stir fry sauce and drizzle a light layer across the top.

To wrap, fold the ends inward and try to tightly roll, starting with the end where the filling is. Set seam side down. Cut in half on a diagonal bias and enjoy!

Tastefully yours,

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Grilled Teriyaki Salmon and Veggie Stir Fry


This is an easy two part meal that is both delicious and nutritious! I had started to make a Teriyaki sauce from one of my first posts but right before I placed the salmon into the marinade, I remembered I hadn't tasted it yet. I'm glad I did because something in the ingredients was not good. There was a rancid taste to it so I threw out some things that may have been past their shelf life, oops! Lesson to why you always taste test in the cooking process...and clean out your pantries every few months.

I had used the last of my soy sauce with the bad batch, and threw out my rice wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar. I paced between my pantry and fridge to come up with an alternative and decided to combine ponzu, honey and hoisin, add some sriracha and call it a marinade. Stuck my finger in that bowl, that was a good taste, we can move forward with this goodness.

Nutritional facts can be found here, calculated at; one serving of this whole meal is 10 WW points.

Grocery List:
Recipe yields two servings
  • Two 4-6 oz. salmon fillets
  • 2 tbsp. low sodium Ponzu sauce (a citrus soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp. Hoisin
  • 2 tsp. Sriracha
  • 1 tbsp. Honey
  • 1 tsp. Ginger
  • 1 tsp. Olive oil
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables, julienned or chopped (squash, zucchini, bell pepper, carrot)
Start by whisking together the ponzu, hoisin, sriracha, honey and ginger. Make sure that it tastes to your liking and you don't want to add anything!

Reserve about 3 tbsp. of it and then use the remaining to marinate your salmon, skin up, in a bowl at room temperature. Let this soak for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat your grilling surface. We decided to use the grill, but if you are looking for less complicated cooking methods, you can pan sear or griddle the fillets as well. For the E-Grill, we used a grill pan, covered with foil and coated with non-stick spray. Place your fish on the heat and cook covered for 15-18 minutes.

For the veggies, I grabbed a pre-chopped box labeled as an Asian stir-fry in the produce section at Whole Foods. With strips of red onion, yellow squash, zucchini, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper and carrot, it was perfect for this dish. The veggies were fresh and helped me cut down on at least 15 minutes of chopping. When the fish goes on the grill, it is veggie time. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium and add your veggies. Take the reserved teriyaki sauce and cook into the veggies for about 8-10 minutes on medium heat, until softened.

When salmon flakes to the touch and a nice light pink color, it is ready.

Pile your stir fry veggies on a plate, top with the salmon and dinner is served!

Tastefully yours,

Apple Banana Muffins

I am posting about a baked good. This one earned me a real-world girl scout patch because not only was I able to accomplish the task successfully, I also pushed the limit and added ingredients that were not on the trusted recipe card. When I do that in the baking world I fail miserably but not this time people!

So there I was in Whole Foods gathering my food needs for the week.... as I passed by the bananas I saw a stack of recipe cards sitting there staring at me, calling out "take me, read me, make me." I looked at it, almost dismissed it because it was a baked good but I held onto it. I walked around finishing my shopping and still had it in my hand, just studying it; the recipe was for Banana Apricot Muffins.. However, there were a few ingredients that I wanted to remove. I didn't really want to use dried apricots and I'm not the biggest fan of walnuts in muffins. I have seen and read about using apple sauce in baking in place of butter, sugar or oils and decided that sounded even better, banana and apple muffins. My curiosity and sudden need to bake this won in the end, I grabbed some applesauce and almond flour, the only two things on the card that I didn't already have at home, and I was on my merry way.

I get home and I am still in the mood to bake. Sometimes I have these urges and then in the car ride home I snap out of it, but on this car ride home I decided that I wanted to make them into mini-muffins b/c I never can eat a whole muffin. Great thought, but ill-prepared. You see, I don't own a mini-muffin pan. It's on the wedding registry but that won't help me right now. Instead of going right up the street to get a cheap disposable version at Tom Thumb, I went to Target and I bought a real one. So now, I am invested in this process.

I start to bake, channeling my inner "Mr. Max" mindset of measuring everything perfectly, pre-reading instructions to make sure I follow correctly and all that left-brained stuff, while still not really following the recipe at all with my additions. A little oxy-moronic. As I grab for the apple sauce, I realized that I bought a cinnamon apple sauce and have a mini-dramatic meltdown to myself. OMG, of course, here's the downfall, hrmph. Then princess in my head gets slapped by reasoning and I come to the conclusion that I'm very content with this oopsie. We love Bananas Paradise and that combines cinnamon and banana. We love the Apple Crisp and that combines apple and cinnamon. So all I'm doing is marrying the two combinations to make us a love muffin.

I paced the floor as they baked. Ten minutes in, I could smell them and that passed the first test of "is this going to turn out well?" Then at fifteen minutes in, the smell permeated a richer aroma and they were rising correctly, passing test two. I removed them from the oven when the timer went off, toothpick tested and felt they needed 5 minutes more after toothpick tests. After that timer went off, I was confident. Just as I was thinking, this is too good to be true, I popped one into my mouth and burned the heck out of it. My personal baking flaw #27 - I can't let something cool long enough, too greedy for the first taste. Thankfully, this was the only flaw and we had some tasty muffin bites to enjoy!

Nutritional facts for this one can be found here; one bite sized muffin is 3 WW points. This took 35 minutes from start to finish and to avoid damaging the roof of your mouth, an additional 5-8 minutes outside of the tin to cool.

Grocery List:
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup unsweetened cinnamon apple sauce
  • 3 tbsp. agave nectar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees and grease the muffin pan. If you prefer to use paper cup liners, place those in the tin. In a large bowl, combine the bananas, apple sauce, agave nectar and eggs. Stir in the baking soda and salt, followed by the almond honey until just combined.

Using a large spoon, fill each mini-muffin cup until just above the pan line.

Bake for 20-25 minutes and poke with a toothpick to make sure they are done. Let cool and enjoy!

Tastefully yours,

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicken Caprese Wrap

Mr. Max and I have been on a wrap kick lately, this kind of lighter meal is just perfect for the summer. At our weekly grocery trip routine, I grabbed a package of lavash bread and set out to make daily wraps for the week, with this one loosely based on the beloved Caprese salad. I love to get a whole rotisserie chicken and shred it on Sunday, using the shreds for wraps and salads all week. Instead of basil, I used spinach leaves to add the green also giving it a more nutritious and full base. Does anyone else ever have the problem when you bite into a sandwich or wrap and the whole tomato slice slides out with that one bite? This is why I chop the tomato up into small bite-size chunks to avert that issue. Lunch or dinner, this dish is a winner :-)

Nutritional facts can be found here; one wrap is 7 WW points. If the chicken is already shredded, this takes all of 8 minutes to make.

Grocery List:
Recipe yields 1 wrap
  • 1 piece lavash or whole wheat tortilla
  • 1/2 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup chicken, shredded
  • 1-2 tbsp. part-skim mozzarella cheese (depends how much cheese you want to add)
  • 2 tbsp. tomato, diced
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Italian seasoning
  • Balsamic glaze or vinegar
Take your tomatoes and let them soak in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with some Italian seasoning and let sit for 5 minutes to really absorb the flavor.

For the best wrap technique, leave about an inch from both ends and begin to layer the filling 2 inches into the wrap. Layer the lavash as follows: spinach, tomatoes, chicken, cheese. Take the balsamic glaze and drizzle a light layer across the top. To wrap, fold the ends inward and try to tightly roll, starting with the end where the filling is. Set seam side down. Cut in half on a diagonal bias and enjoy!

Tastefully yours,

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fiesta Shrimp Salad

Easy as can be on a summer evening! Mr. Max and I got home from yoga one night and whipped up this salad in less than 15 minutes for a not too light, yet not too heavy, refreshing dish. Similar to the mexi-texi layer salad but better suited for two. We've made this several times in the past two weeks! I decided to post this in case you are looking for a delicious and nutritious salad combination to add to your rotation. I know I'm always looking for new ideas!

The nutritional facts can be found here, calculated at; one serving of this salad is 6 WW points. Does not include salad dressing, I used a great new bottle of dressing I came across, fat free without oil added, a spicy cilantro and citrus from Kozlowski Farms found at Central Market. This dressing was 20 calories, 180 mg sodium, 4g carbs, 4g sugars for one serving, equal to 2 tbsp.

Grocery List:
Recipe yields two servings
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup baby corn
  • 1/4 cup black beans
  • Avocado,chopped
To prepare the shrimp, you can kabob them, or lay them in a grill safe basket. Cook for 10 minutes, flipping to cook evenly on each side. Remove from grill and chop into smaller bits. 

Are you ready for how simple this is? Now dump all the ingredients into a bowl, toss with your dressing of choice and voila! Serve it out and enjoy.

Tastefully yours,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lessons in Wedding Planning

It's no secret that since April, the creativity and energy that I've put into this blog has been on the back burner. The reason for this is two-fold: my workplace blocked so I couldn't work on my posts during my lunch time anymore, and then when I got home at night I either had wedding planning activities to do or simply didn't want to stare at the computer screen after being at my computer all day at work.

I guess it has all worked out well because Mr. Max and I have been making a lot of repeat meals and things that haven't felt very sharable, very "blog worthy." We've also been on a wrap and salad kick - by we, I mean me, but he eats what I make, so it's now we. When I get the urge to write, I will create invitation wording examples, new tabs on the master spreadsheet for lists... lots and lots of color coded lists. As an event planner, my busiest times of the year are like school semesters. We have our spring event season running from end of January through first of June, then have a brief respite during the summer to gear up and prepare for the big fall event season starting middle of September through the first weekend of December, then have end of year wrap up and "winter break". So when are we getting married? The second weekend of December! I'm using this summer lull and lack of "crazy" at work to knock out all things wedding. The plan is that everything we can get done ahead of time WILL be done by the end of August, and proud to say that is right on track. Looking at my timelines though, there are just some things that can't be done until that three month stretch, so I make lists and write out plans to think through my strategy to do them when they will happen. That way it's already been thought out so when the time comes, I already have a plan in place. Sometimes the stressful part of planning is thinking through how to do something in order to get it done. Meaning you have to plan, to plan.

When you get engaged, there are a series of the "usual suspect" questions. One of the firsts you will get from every person you see: "so, how's the wedding planning going?" People who know me know that this is my trade! I've worked for six years planning events, I look at this as the biggest (by way of importance) and best event I'll get to plan. However, six years of non-profit planning experience doesn't fully prepare you for wedding planning, but it does help. So far I've been able to use my florist and my rental company contacts, my paper store and printer are ready when we say go, but when it comes to the dress, a wedding photographer, cakes, and a band.... these are things I haven't used in my work event capacity, so it was a new experience.

From engagement to the day we say "I Do," it will be just shy of 8 months for the planning process. For us as a couple, that is a perfect time frame but everyone is different! Aside from cooking, event planning is another big part of my life and at times can be a hobby when separate from work, so today I've decided to shed the apron and share my top three lessons so far in the Wedding Planning process.

Lesson #1: Negotiation

In the non-profit world, I am always working against a tight budget. Sometimes there isn't even a budget because there is no money to start with and what you spend goes against what you raise. To counteract that, you work to get as much discounted or donated as possible. I would say 8 out of 10 girls also have to work against a wedding budget and I do fall in that 80 percentile that need to be savvy and creative to wheel and deal. My experience in this professionally has been a helpful tool and lesson number one of wedding planning: you can always talk down the original asking price from a vendor.

From photographer to band, you can negotiate and lower the price, never agree to the asking price off the bat. For example, when we first reached out to the band, they quoted us $X amount. After going to see them, telling them what we need and asking about their lighting resources, after two weeks, we got our band to include a 9 piece set for 4 hours, audio tech and basic lighting with 30 room pinspots, the stage trellis, a spotlight and gobo less than the price they originally quoted us for just an 8 piece band and stage lighting.

With our photographer, we had such a great connection. The package that had everything we wanted was a little higher than we had set in the budget and it didn't include tax. After talking with them for about a week, we got them to come down and throw in the actual 18x20 bridal portrait print for no cost. They also come to the church rehearsal for their own rehearsal, walking the church, seeing where we will be, taking practice shots of view and meeting our family and friends to establish relationships with them.

With vendors, it's like retail. They will have some kind of upcharge but you can always get them lower than the asking price; if not the "at-cost" value, at least the "on-sale," discounted value. Work the relationships, get to know them, them you, and they will come to a compromise because they want to work with you!

Lesson #2: Time of Year

2.)  Going along with the first lesson, the second lesson is to be conscientious of the time of year because it can help or hurt your budget. People have started asking me if I had always wanted a winter wedding. I never really had a "set time" of year, just not the summer. When I began planning events, I quickly learned that fall was cheaper but since that time, it has become a more popular wedding/event season than spring and summer, so the rates are now much more comparable. When I knew Mr. Max was "the one" I kept thinking how dreadful it would be to invite all his friends and family from the Midwest to Texas during certain months. Leaving their comfortable 80 degree perfect summer to triple-digit, stifling heat; they would hate Texas, so my only thought was I couldn't do summer. Another trick I learned early on is that churches decorate for Easter and Christmas right? Well if you get married within 2-3 weeks of those holidays, your church will more than likely already be decorated with floral. Sure enough, the morning of our wedding, our church plans to install their annual Christmas flowers of white hydrangeas and deep red poinsettias in the alter area. We were able to save money by not needing any floral for the ceremony other than bouquets and boutineers!

However, we also ran into a problem that luckily did not end up effecting us, but it could have and it was one that I didn't even think about at the time. Quickly after setting our date, we were faced with the reality that our wedding date is a very popular corporate Christmas party date. Many of the venues I first reached out to candidly shared with me that the food and beverage minimums to book were higher because they were "expected to book" and they make more from corporate parties than weddings. So not only did we have a wedding price tag on us but this "expected to book" price tag that increased those minimums by $10,000 to $20,000! The venue we chose was an exception to this, fortunately we did not have this as a factor.

Lesson #3: The Two-Thirds Rule and Guest Lists

Finally, the third lesson to share is helpful in your guest list planning. This is one I learned six years ago on my very first event and it has held true with nearly all events I've done that receive formal invitations.

Your venue can hold 200 people. So, how many people do you invite? Two-thirds, or 65% of your guest list will be able to attend - leave room for those that cannot attend but you will still send an invitation to. This is deemed as the two-thirds rule, or 65% factor and it is what planners, caterers and florists will operate by when it comes to planning for a party, like it is the 11th commandment. There is always the exception to the rule but when you are working with mass numbers, take this into consideration!

For us, the list was possibly the hardest part so far. If your venue will hold 260, then this theory says you invite 400 people. Does that give you anxiety? Don't worry about it! Especially when you are looking at a large number of travelers, you have to think that some may not be able to make it in due to family, work or financial conflicts. Even people in town can have other things going on, fall ill or have circumstances preventing them from attending even though it is your big day.

Also, remember that you are typically inviting in two's. For Mr. Max and me, we are in our late 20's. Most of our family members, friends and family friends are married or are a pair. If one can't make it, the other probably will not either. If you really get into a crunch on the list, shave off the "+1" additions in accordance to the late, great Emily Post. It is better to nix the ability for someone to bring a date that you may not know, than to have to cut people that you do know and would want to have at your wedding.

Last, I will leave you with a little fun fact. Have you ever wondered what RSVP stands for? What does it mean, is it an anagram? It is French for répondez s’il vous plaît!

Until next time,

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