Okay, So continuing on last week's post I thought I might make it a little easier for you this Valentine's Day.
If you're planning an outing you might want to get your reservations in today if you haven't already.
- Odyssey Night Cruise (Boston, Chicago, & Washington DC)
- White Castle Table Service Valentine's Day (Check With Your Local Restaurants For Participation and Reservations)
- Weekend Cruise To The Bahamas (From Miami)
- Las Vegas Shows & Stays
- Theatre Show
- Live Music
Romance At Home
Get Your Preferred Champagne- My preferred is Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs. It is absolutely perfect to pair with strawberries, chocolate covered or not.
If Champagne isn't your thing then grab a bottle of your favorite wine. I'm personally a very picky wine drinker and any time someone tries to pick out wine for me it usually isn't something I enjoy. So, my suggestion, if your special person is picky about their wines too stick with what you know, tonight is not the night to experiment. If you want to experiment make sure you have a back up.
Non-alcoholic Beverages: In case you or your special person are not alcohol people, I highly encourage a little bit of a fancy virgin cocktail. I am a total sucker for hot cocoa. Especially a fancy hot cocoa. Clear mugs or mason jar mugs make this especially fancy. Check out the video below. Another great mocktail is a Sangria- instead of red wine use a mixture that is 3 parts pomegranate juice, 2 parts pineapple juice, 1 part apple juice. Add in some orange slices, peach slices, raspberries, apple slices, pretty much anything you like in your sangria. Serve in fancy glasses of coarse.
Are you a fantastic cook? Awesome!! You're probably already way ahead on this part of your evening. If you're not, well then this is for you.
Pasta Carbonara is very impressive, delicious, and extremely easy plus it sounds extravagant. If you can boil water and stir a pot then this is for you. The thing I love most about this dish is that this is one of the hardest dishes to mess up. I prefer this recipe the most, but I do want to mention that you can add other ingredients to this as well, I tend to enjoy a small bit of pesto or sun dried tomatoes.
Another idea is lasagna, there are many different versions of lasagna ranging in difficulty and time required for preparation. But regardless of which version you choose there are tips that shouldn't be overlooked. For example, soaking the lasagna noodles in a large dish or very large plastic dish with some slightly warm water. The noodles for lasagna don't need to be boiled as we often assume, just let them chill out for a few hours while you're busying yourself prepping with the fillings. Another tip I love to mention is you don't have to make your own tomato sauce, you can go semi-homemade. Take a jar of pasta sauce from the store, pour the contents in a nonstick skillet, chop some fresh onions and add them in, squish some extra garlic cloves in, add mushrooms, fresh herbs....doctor however you like and now you have a semi-homemade pasta sauce, better than it was at first. Keep all of this in mind as you look over these recipes. Ina Garten has one of the best recipes I must say. Giada isn't one of my more favorite chefs, but her recipe for lasagna roll ups is very good.
Above All, remember, dessert is what leaves the lasting impression and anyone can forgive any aspect of a meal as long as the dessert is delicious. For dessert ideas check out last week's post.
I'm sorry to say this and please don't think less of me, but it's just an honest person's honest opinion. So many people say that Valentine's Day has become a Hallmark Holiday. Yes, Okay, We get it. Well, I'm sure you'll be surprised, but I COMPLETELY DISAGREE! And your view on Valentine's Day is 100% your own, just please, please, please, hear me out. (And the dessert ideas are towards the bottom in hopes you will hear me out).
First, I tend to think that the people who say Hallmark Holiday about Valentine's Day are doing it wrong. It's not about cards or presents or spending bunches of money- it's about showing the person you love just how much you love them. News Flash: "RELATIONS DON'T COUNT". Do something special that leaves a lasting memory. Note, I didn't say expensive. If you want to go expensive, by all means go expensive, but you don't need to do expensive to leave a beautiful memory and have a fantastic evening.
Second, Tell me, when was the last time you did something to show the person you love how much you love them? When was the last time they did something to show you how much they love you? Actions speak louder than words and I don't see anything so wrong with a day that reminds us of this. That's how I think Valentine's Day should be viewed- as a giant post-it note of a reminder. Reminding us to show the people we love that we love them. In my mind there aren't enough of these days.
Balloons: Balloons are always fun, blow up a bunch and fill your special person's car or closet or even the shower with them. Balloons are cheap but fun. You can even take this idea just a little romantic, and put a cute rolled up message inside just a single balloon and strategically place this single balloon somewhere. Make sure the note is obvious in size or might be missed.
Treasure Hunt: Something that I don't see or hear a lot of anymore. It's hard to put together a good treasure hunt at any time, but especially on Valentine's Day, and what the heck do you do for a prize right. Well, first of all, one has to know that a treasure hunt is really all about the suspense. Check out this how to.
Roses: Rose petals are never overrated, NEVER. And these are easy, no one needs to know where you bought them from. Even Wal-Mart has roses. If not roses then use another flower. Break apart the rose heads and sprinkle the petals all over. Anywhere. Everywhere.
Notes: Love notes, so much of our lives is electronic now that I sometimes think we've all forgotten the good old days of paper and pens. Notes can be so much fun, mysterious, alluring. Get a small pieces of paper, or a couple of them, write something sweet, leave it somewhere. "I love you", or if you're doing a couple of them "I love you because....." and write the reasons on separate pieces of paper left strategically placed (coffee pot, refrigerator, steering wheel, purse or wallet, bathroom mirror, closet door, briefcase, etc.......).
Picnic & An Old Movie: This is probably one of my favorites. Pushing back the couches, a Big Blanket spread out on the floor, picnic basket (very important) filled with berries, delicious goodies-wine-or champagne. Put an old black and white movie on the television and there's a fabulous night.
Valentine's Day Ideas A Little More Extravagant
Planetarium: Planetariums are a little different and a little out of the norm I know, but they are something different in a good way. Something about looking at stars and contemplating the vastness of the universe brings people together. I suppose I would go so far as to say this about most museums in general, but a planetarium is something really special and is a generally quiet place. I can't speak for all planetariums, but I think some of them do special things on Valentine's Day. You may wish to call and find out if you need a reservation.
Dinner Cruise: Being here in Chicago we are fortunate to have this as an option. If you've never heard of the Odyssey Cruises you may find it a good fit for your evening out. There are similar cruises in most large metropolitan cities that are waterfront.
Hotel Room & Room Service: A little Pretty Woman-ish I know, but still a classic move, just make sure to check that the hotel actually has good food- you can find the room service menu for most hotel's online and tripadvisor is usually pretty helpful.
Tourist For A Day: It absolutely astounds me sometimes, my own box of a world that is. Sometimes I forget that we live in a beautiful area with so many wonderful things to experience. Walking down the river front, through the parks or forest preserves, exploring a restaurant I would never think to try, going to museums. Do you know how many tours there are here in Chicago? There's even a food tour, so many other metropolitan areas have this also, all you must do is google.
Okay- Now down to the desserts, I know how you've been waiting and waiting for these. lol.
Zabaglione [pronounced ZA~BY~OWN] With Berries And Chantilly Cream: A completely delicious classic. Yes, the berries are the healthiest part of this dessert, but remember we're not going for healthy-ISH not health-crazed. Zabaglione is basically a custard, mostly eggs. Don't you dare start imagining scrambled eggs, it's nothing like that, It's smooth, rich, creamy, and delicious with fresh berries. Chantilly Cream is a fancy way to say whipped cream that didn't come out of a can. Make sure a large mixing bowl is in the fridge chilling out for this. Check out this Zabaglione Recipe from Food Network, it's pretty good, but I don't agree with portioning the cream into individual custard cups to cool when doing this assembly. Personally, I would allow it to cool in a bowl with plastic wrap pushed down on top of the Zabaglione to prevent any skin from forming. Wash the Berries and allow them to dry while waiting for the zabaglione to cool in the fridge. Do not whip the cream until the last possible minute. When cooled grab some goblets (big fancy glasses) put some berries in the bottom of the glasses, topped with some of the zabaglione- just enough to have the mixture draping over the berries- we don't watch a huge puddle going on after all. Repeat this a couple of times. When you feel that's enough put the fancy glasses in the fridge. Now start on the Chantilly Cream - take your large mixing bowl out of the fridge and pour in heavy whipping cream- add some sprinkles of powdered sugar and a tad of vanilla extract. Using a hand mixer whip that cream like crazy, the higher the speed the better. Whip it until stiff peaks form. Add a spoonful or two on top of the berry and zabaglione layers. Save the rest for some fun later.
Angelfood Cake: Angelfood cake is one of the lesser waist-line hating cakes out there and are super easy to make, but also super easy to F*#% Up. So here's the basics, clean pan, I Mean Clean - no grease, no oil of any kind. Do not over mix. The point of an angel food cake is light and fluffy, the more you mix the more you're cutting down the possible volume and this also effects the baking process, as in making the cake sticky and wet and dense instead of light and fluffy. Try this Angel Food Cake Recipe from the food network. It's one of the best. Top Your angel food cake with just about anything you think you would like, from berries to ice cream, to chocolate sauce, to honey, pretty much anything goes with angel food cake. Angel Food Cake is also one of the best gluten free desserts. Try this G-Free Angel Food Cake Recipe from king arthur flour.
Fruit Tarts: I don't know why, but fruit tarts get this reputation for being super difficult. They are one of the easiest desserts out there. Can you bake cut out cookies? Can you make pudding? Then you can make a fruit tart. Heck you can even make it sound all fancy and call it a tarte de fruite [pronounced: TART~DUH~FWEE], say it fast and it sounds impressive, lol. Check out this Fruit Tart Recipe from joy of baking. One thing I feel necessary to mention is that I don't agree with the use of Apricot Glaze. Apricot Glaze is a coating applied at the very end meant to preserve the fruit, and if I'm making these a day ahead I will hold off on assembly until the last hours rather than using apricot glaze. The super sweetness of it is just too much for me. To add a bit of a fresh taste to the cream in the center I usually add some citrus zest, either lemon or orange.
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This week I wanted to continue on last week's entry a little bit and expand on one of the easiest ways to keep the healthy eating goal alive and kicking. Not all of these are necessary machines or tools, quite simply just pick what works right for you and your lifestyle.
Having the right gadgets to make your healthy meals is a big deal. As an example in last week's blog we linked to the Breville Juice Fountain. If you're interested in going for a juice cleanse like the one mentioned in last week's blog it is vital to choose a machine that is easy to use and more importantly is easy to clean. If a machine is only one or the other then you'll be less likely to use it. And-let's be honest, beginning any healthy eating regimen is difficult enough without throwing excuses at it. Now, that you won the battle with the right machine it's time to wager in on the war. Make sure your beautiful new machine gains some counter space. If you're limited on counter space you may like to give one of your other counter appliances a vacation. The thought is to put it in front of you so you are inspired when you see it, and even when you clean it and put it back in proper status on the counter it's inspiring and you're proud. Not too mention, everyone that comes in the house and sees it is going to ask you about it and even talking about this amazing thing you're doing for yourself is inspiring and you may end up inspiring others who want to join you.
Now as great as the Juice Fountain Plus is it's not a smoothie machine, smoothies are one of the best tricks to fight a hunger craving. The Ninja Blender is definitely one of my more preferred machines simply because it comes with many different sizes of canisters/cups, and the blades go up into the vessel for pure ice crushing power. Of coarse the same thought applies, put it on your counter, don't put it in the cabinet. Put it where you would use it.
To keep myself off the sodas and unhealthy store bought fruit juices I do a lot of water infusions. When I'm at the grocery store I don't hesitate to buy a lot of fruit, meaning I'll take advantage of the sales and buying the bigger bags, although most of the fruit I'll eat or juice fresh, the rest I will slice up and put into ziploc bags in the freezer. That way they're like fruity ice cubes. I do the same with veggies, like cucumbers, peppers, and carrots. An extra way to make this interesting is to use a soda stream and instead of using the soda stream syrup just use your fruit slices.
Last little tidbit. I'm a bit of an ice cream addict. Okay, honestly- custard. It's my true vice in life. Completely unhealthy and totally full of fat I know, but I love it. Boy do I love it! Well, in order to get anywhere with any healthy eating goal I needed a new vice. I started to jump on the Zoku Pop bandwagon. My first pop was kind a sloshy mess, but the second one was much better. I started to fill them with bits of pineapple, kiwi, raspberries, blueberries and then I topped them with some of the fresh juice I made in the juicing machine. Some of the recipes I've seen involve greek yogurt and milk, I personally avoid those only because I won't eat store bought yogurt and milk is not really any help to a healthy eating regimen.
Last Words: Just to repeat, there's no need for you to go out and buy all of these gadgets, they are merely suggestions and things that I've done that seemed to have a good effect on me.
New Year's Resolutions, We all make them and a lot of us even make the same ones. Of course I think we can all admit to forgetting about these resolutions once March or April comes around. Is there such a thing as a fun resolution? Or at least one that doesn't feel like a chore? The Truth: Yes. But- if you're attempting a life change then it's probably going to involve some work. I think it's all about the wordage we use when we make these resolutions. I thought it might be fun to go over some of the ones my friends and I made over the past couple of years and show you how we succeeded, how we failed, how we had fun, and more important how we kept the pace past March. So This Is The Story Of Our First.
The first year was an EYE OPENER in many ways. First, we never talked about New Years Resolutions in our little group before- we talked about everything else, but for some reason that particular subject never arose. Over a bottle of wine (or two) on movie night a few years ago we were watching a youtube movie, you might have seen it, Fat-Sick-And Nearly Dead, anyways, our mouths just about dropped at watching this. Although, it was purely coincidence that we were watching this in January. We were all just completely mystified by this man who got rid of so many chronic body issues and diseases just by changing his lifestyle to a healthy one. We were discussing our admiration for this man taking charge of himself and one of us said 'I wish I could' and we all agreed and then it was as if the light bulb went off in all of us at the same time and we all just looked at each other and said - 'why can't we?' After a few hours more of intense discussion of 'why nots' we decided that we would be more successful if we all do this challenge together. Of coarse all of us being women who plan most things in our daily lives- we ended up with a full calendar by the end of the night. It was agreed that within one week we would all purchase a juicing machine similar in function to the one we saw in the video and start juicing. We agreed to share our juicing recipes and once a month we would go out to a nice luncheon and treat ourselves for our good behavior. BIG MISTAKE; that first luncheon out was a complete disaster. Don't misunderstand, the food was delicious and we all assumed we were eating mostly healthy, but truly didn't realize that once you've been eating CLEAN eating anything that isn't can really goof up your digestion. It was almost comical in a way. Well, after that disaster we decided we would have to cook our own luncheons so we could be sure not to have a repeat restroom parade. By the time spring came along we were all experiencing the same benefits: sleeping better, more energy, weight loss, skin tone improvement, etc. More importantly we were all more determined than ever to continue improving and we decided to have a once a week get together and do yoga. You have to understand, none of us have ever done yoga in our lives, I did dance and gymnastics in my youth and was used to stretching exercises or at least thought I was. We got this DVD called Yogalosophy. HOLY CRAP, all of us were dead halfway through. We were texting each other all week about our sore achy muscles. The next week we made it though but were still sore. By the third week we were on target and actually enjoying ourselves a little. By May we were loving the progress and decided we needed to go further. We were juicing every day, yoga once a week and now what? Well.... the common complaint about juicing was that we would go through so much spinach, kale, cucumbers, etc that we would be at the grocery store almost every day so it was fresh and going to the store everyday was a pain. So we decided we should grow our own and at least for the summer we might have enough in our gardens to not need a grocery run every day and it might even bring us better results. All I can say is I'm glad we were at least a little realistic about this part of our experiment as none of us have green thumbs. We decided each of us would take on one of the most common ingredients we used and we would divvy some up every week. So M. got Kale, E. got Spinach, I took Cucumbers, R. took Peppers and S. took Tomatoes. This was actually one of the best ideas we had. We each just focused on our one little bit and we all benefited. After a few weeks we decided to add an herb to each of our gardens so we could add another health benefit to our juicing and this is how we split it:
M. - Kale & Oregano
E. -Spinach & Chives
Me- Cucumbers & Dill
R- Peppers & Cilantro
S- Tomatoes & Basil
Again, every week when we met for yoga we would divvy up the goods. Something I have to pause to mention is that I'm really impressed with how our group did with this challenge, from January to November we only cancelled two of our weekly meetings. I don't know if that's because we were loving the yoga or the exchange of veggies and herbs or if it was just fun because we were all in it together and we could see the changes in ourselves and each other every week, but whatever it was- I'm just amazed, it's not that common in today's world to keep this kind of a New Year's Resolution going.
We may have gone a little overboard with our gardens because even though we would divvy up there would still be leftovers. Not a lot, but enough to notice. So we started another divvy in the works, we would each make a healthy dish using the garden leftovers and would bring it to share. I can honestly tell you that I've never tried so many different ways to eat Kale, I don't even think Chef Ramsay has ever tried Kale so many ways. M. really outdid herself inventing new interesting ways to prepare it that I was proud to try cooking for my husband.
It was October before we realized we couldn't garden outdoors in the snow so we skipped a week of yoga to clear all of the veggies and herbs from our gardens and had a sort of free for all party. We each took what we wanted or thought we could use and headed home with our garden haul. I actually asked the girls to dig me up some of the herb roots so I could put some tiny pots in my kitchen window and have fresh herbs all winter. That lasted all of 3 days before I bought of these Aero Gardens. Took me a little bit to get used to but it is amazing and really does come in handy. I dried quite a bit of the herbs, but the basil I turned into pesto sauce, and I turned the tomatoes I got into sun-dried (or oven dried) tomatoes and pasta sauce. Spinach I used in making lasagna that went into the freezer, peppers I used in making stuffed peppers and jerk chicken, both of which went into the freezer. Cucumbers were turned into cucumber sandwiches, cucumber ice cubes (frozen cucumber slices) for water, and of course a couple were sacrificed to beauty (cucumber eyes).
So, in the end we kept this going until two weeks before Thanksgiving when our busy lives caught up with us. I would say it was overall a success, during those few months I was down to a Size 4, no adverse side effects, full of energy and had great concentration as well as gained a lot of flexibility thanks to all of the yoga.
Ending Note: Keeping a resolution to loose weight isn't specific and can leave you discouraged especially if you're going to do it yourself. Change the resolution to 'this year I will try to get healthy' there are so many ways you can succeed that you're immediately setting yourself up for success. Get some friends involved with you, make it fun, keep adding to the challenge.