Archive | December 2012

Australia lovin’…mid december

Brandon kindly told me my “week-count” is a bit delayed for my “things I’m loving” posts (what a gem…ha!) so I’ve decided to scrap the “weeks” and just go with a time-frame instead. This past week Brandon was out-of-town for work, and since I’ve arrived in Australia, this was our first week-long separation. However, since we’re pros at the long-distance thing, it was A-Okay. I have to admit though, I sure missed him…especially at dinnertime. I have gotten used to cooking for two people, so reverting back to recipes-for-one was interesting. Anyway, when Friday rolled around, I was so excited for him to be home! We had a fun-filled holiday weekend together, but we both had a hard time coping with the news of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. No words can express the sorrow we both feel for the victims and their families. Brandon and I grieved and prayed, and truly wished we were with our loved ones back home to hug them.

Now we have just 48 hours until we’ll be on a plane back to the U.S.A., and we couldn’t be more excited to see our families and friends. Life is so fragile, and we truly need to remember to be grateful for everyday. I’m grateful to be here, and so grateful that we can go home for Christmas. I’m also grateful for the things I loved in Australia over the last week-and-a-half:

1) Pretty coffee-wherever you get a latte here, they are always beautiful! It almost makes me want to not drink it….almost!
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2) Betty Blue Café- hands-down, this has become my favorite brunch spot in town. I can’t decide what I like better-the sourdough toast or the outrageous portion sizes. I gawk at each meal being brought out of the kitchen. Take a look at my scrambled eggs and Brandon’s breakfast burrito! If you visit Northern Queensland, this is an essential stop.
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3) Animal print sparkling water bottles. These.are.awesome. I’m also a firm believer that a fun water bottle makes water taste that much better!
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4) Discovering light Cadbury vanilla ice-cream. Best buy of the month, seriously. As you can see, our entire household agrees!
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5) Outdoor exercise (minus the humidity-please excuse my forehead sweat). It is still unreal to me that I can be outside in shorts and tank-tops in December!
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6)Healthy lunches and dinners – Including sherry beef, corn, veggie burgers, sweet potatoes…yum!
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7)Breakfast for dinner. Yes I ate pancakes out of a shaker…Yes they were AMAZING.
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8) Getting a pedicure. Finally, I really needed one!
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9)Holiday baking & holiday parties-I made the winter white chocolate and pretzel holiday bark in my previous post for the party we attended, and had lots of fun with my handsome date :)

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10) Skype with my favorites-can’t wait to see these two SO soon!

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Winter white chocolate and pretzel holiday bark

Well, it’s official. ‘Tis the season of sweets is here! Yippee!Although it certainly doesn’t feel like the normal December that I’m used to (we’re in the midst of 90 degree temperatures in Australia, instead of freezing 5 degree New England temperatures), I’m not letting that stop me from taking part in my normal December holiday baking activities. Really, any excuse to bake is a great excuse to me, and since we had a holiday party to attend this past Saturday night, I felt it was an opportune time for me to try out a new-to-me holiday recipe.  I’ve made various versions of“holiday bark” in the past, including peppermint, cake batter, oreo, and more, and these recipes always appeal to me due to their simplicity and because of my love of any type of chocolate.  However, this recipe really stood out to me because instead of just including chocolate or candy like a traditional “bark”, it includes pretzels too. A sweet and salty combination? Sold. All you’ll need is a cookie sheet, tin-foil, and the following 4 ingredients. It’s fast, festive, and fantastic. Ready, set, go!

Winter White Chocolate and Pretzel Holiday Bark

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups white chocolate chips (you’ll need about 2 (12-ounce) bags of chips)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk ( I used the light 97% fat free version and it worked well)
  • 1/2 (15-ounce) bag pretzels, broken (I crushed mine in a bag by hand)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
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Directions:

1) First up, crush your pretzels. I simply placed them in a Ziploc bag, crushed them with my fist, and set them aside.
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2) In a large saucepan, melt white chocolate chips with the condensed milk over medium heat on the stove until smooth, stirring frequently. Once melted, add the pretzels, stirring them in to coat with chocolate mixture.
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3) Then, immediately spread mixture  evenly onto your  foil-lined 10×15-inch pan or cookie sheet. Sprinkle  dried cranberries on top and press them down lightly with the back of a spoon, into the bark.  Place your tray into the fridge and chill until set (I chilled mine for a few hours. You can place them into the freezer if you need them more quickly). Then, break into chunks and serve.
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I’ll admit, I taste-tested a good portion of these before bringing them to the party. I really couldn’t help myself. The sweet-and-salty combination is spot-on, and the addition of dried cranberries really makes these a festive, holiday stand-out on a dessert table. Hope you’ll  include these in your holiday baking line-up this year, too!

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Things I’m loving in australia…week 4

Holy WOW time flies. As of this week, I’ve officially been in Australia for one month, I officially became a “Queenslander” due to registering my car, and I officially have a debit card with an Australian bank. Wooohooo! It’s the little things that make all the difference, I’m telling you.  Quite honestly, it has been little things every week that help remind me ( and Brand0n!) that we have so much to be thankful for, and help us not feel so far away from  home & our loved ones.  That being said, here are some little things I loved this week:

1) Finding American goodies in town (thank you, Tandy !) Although they were a bit pricey (fluff  at $6.99 and M&M’s at $3.00 per box),  it still made my day/week/month/year…seriously.week4.13

2) Taco salad nights. Doesn’t get much better for a healthy Mexican option than ground chicken taco mince meat, crisp lettuce, freshly roasted veggies and homemade tortilla crisps!
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3) Mini ice-cream cones (best portion control around if you ask me!)
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4) First Christmas tree sighting in Townsville!
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5)A weekend getaway to Magnetic island with my love.

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6) Watching Brandon eat gelato for breakfast…yes breakfast.
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7) Baking my first cupcakes here in the best cupcake liners around…thanks Julia!
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8)Healthy cooking: including overnight oats, coconut shrimp, stuffed peppers, and Greek pasta salad.
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9) Exercising in the sunshine
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10)Pandora and Michael Buble Christmas music… Enough said.

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What are you loving this week?

Crockpot mexican chicken stuffed pepper medley

Well, that recipe name is a mouthful…sheesh. Sorry about that. I really don’t know what to call it, but I promise you this was a delicious (and nutritious) meal . Since Brandon graciously bought me a crock-pot upon my arrival, I’ve been trying to use it once a week for two reasons: 1) because it’s so darn easy, and 2) so that he can’t say I don’t use it! Hahaha just kidding kind-of..not really.

Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed using a crock-pot for no-fuss dinners, but it’s particularly coming in  handy here in Australia due to the god-awful humidity we’re experiencing.  As much as I love cooking and baking, I can’t say I thoroughly enjoy it in 90 degree+ temperatures, so my crock-pot is coming to the rescue!

This week, chicken breasts were on sale (Amen), so I knew I wanted to make something that incorporated this source of protein. After searching Pintrest for inspiration, I stumbled across a “skinny chicken taco” recipe that I just couldn’t pass-up. After making a few tweaks of my own, and deciding that I’d incorporate it into "stuffed peppers” for dinner,  here’s what I assembled. 

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Keep in mind, you can make your own tweaks to this recipe; crock-pots are so versatile, that’s one of my favorite parts about them. If you don’t have kidney beans, use black beans. If you don’t have chicken, use beef, etc. Use what’s in your cupboard! This helps make it a budget-friendly and a waist-friendly meal.

Crockpot Mexican Chicken Stuffed Pepper Medley
Ingredients
-2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped
-1/2 onion, chopped
-1 16 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or your bean of choice)
-1 10 oz can salt-reduced diced tomatoes
-1 jar salsa (I used mild, but spicy would work too!)
-1/2 jar tomato sauce ( you can use the whole jar, but this is all I had)
-1 10 oz. bag frozen corn
-1 packet reduced-salt taco seasoning
-3-4 chicken breasts
-about 1/2 cup reduced-salt chicken broth (use enough to cover the chicken)
-1 TBSP of chile powder (optional—this is if you want it spicy!)
-Peppers for stuffing (optional)-I bought 3 large green and 1 large red
-Brown rice (optional)
-Part-skim shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Directions
1) Spray crock-pot with cooking spray, and turn it on (I forgot to turn mine on for 20 minutes, this is why I’m reminding you!) Chop sweet potato and onion.  Then add these, along with remaining ingredients through the taco seasoning, to the pot. Mix to combine.
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2) Clean your chicken breasts, then add them to the top of the pot (just mesh them in with everything else).  Then, add the chicken broth so that the chicken breasts are mostly covered with liquid.
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3) Cook on high for 5-6 hours, or low for 10 hours, stirring every hour or so, until chicken is cooked and fork-tender. Side-note: our crock-pot is new and ridiculously fast, so mine was done in 4.5 hours. Depending on your crock-pot, you may need 6+ hours, just judge the time based on the chicken.  Once tender, remove chicken and place in a bowl. Shred with two forks, then place back in crock-pot and stir-in. Turn off crockpot, and if you’re ready to eat now, dig in! This would be great as-is topped with low-fat cheese, and stuffed into a wrap, on a salad, or by itself. I wanted to stuff green and red peppers with the medley, so I’ll outline that next.
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4) Turn your oven to 400 degrees (about 204 degrees Celsius). Wash your peppers, then cut tops off and remove cores from inside. Assemble on a foil-lined cookie sheet.
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5) I had brown rice on hand that I needed to use up, so I added a small layer (about 2-3 tablespoons) of that to each pepper as a base. Then I filled each to the top with the crock-pot Mexican chicken medley, and topped each with part-skim shredded cheddar cheese (or your cheese of choice). Bake for 12-15 minutes, until cheese is browned and bubbly.

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6) Let them cool for a few minutes, and then enjoy! We ate ours with a side of steamed cauliflower and a garden salad. Healthy, nutritious, deeeelicious. The best part about this meal is the amount of leftovers you’ll have…perfect for lunch or dinner.  Hope you like it as much as we did!
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