My beautiful Aunt Karen celebrated her 50th birthday not too long ago, and my cousin orchestrated a surprise party for her. 

You can't have a party without awesome hors d'oeuvres, and I wanted something that looked fancy, tasted delicious and would be healthy. 

Enter: delicious Cucmber Cups with Salmon Whip. 

These Salmon Cups do come with a bit of prep, and an afternoon in the kitchen with my dear cousin getting the fruit kabobs, pita chips and spinach artichoke dip prepared made it easy. 

I will definitely make these again for a special occasion!

You will need:
2 large English cucumbers
1/2 c. low-fat cottage cheese
1 Tbsp nonfat milk
4 scallions, white parts only, chopped
4 oz. thin-sliced smoked salmon
1/4 c. whipped cream chees
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
White pepper
chopped fresh chives

1. In a food processor, add cottage cheese & milk until smooth. 
2. Add scallions, salmon, cream cheese, lemon juice & pinch of white pepper. Process until smooth & creamy. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. 
3. While mixture is chilling, slice cucumber into 3/4-inch rounds. Get rid of the ends. 
4. Use the small end of a melon baller to scoop out the flesh of each cucumber round to form your cups. 
5. Fill cucumber cups with 2 tsp. of the salmon whip. Arrange diced chives to garnish. 

Refrigerate until ready to serve, up to an hour. 
Be prepared to give out this recipe! It's sure to impress. 

Poached eggs were always so mystical to me. Then Kevin got us a fabulous cook book for Christmas: Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. This recipe is adapted from what I learned in that amazing, beautiful book. Yesterday, as Kevin departed for Qatar for three months, he made me promise I would learn how to poach eggs before he came back so I could make them for him. 

For this meal I steamed green beans, made roasted red potatoes & baked bacon. Recipe for the roasted potatoes is coming soon!

You will need: 
Eggs (I like the cage-free brown shelled kind)
1 Tbsp White vinegar (this helps the egg whites stay together when dropped in the water.)


Bring about 6 cups of water to a boil
Add 1 Tbsp White vinegar to boiling water.
Reduce heat so water is simmering
Crack egg into a small dish - the smaller the better, I've found.
With a wooden spoon, gently stir twice along the outside of the pan to get the water going. 

Close to the water, slip egg into the center of the water. (This is when you hope it stays all together!)
Your egg will be done in a couple of minutes. Leave in the water a little longer if you like a harder yolk.
Gently lift egg out of the water with a slotted spoon. 
Use a small sieve to remove egg white left behind in the water and repeat until you've got enough eggs to feed everyone! 

The beauty of this meal is its simplicity, really. Fresh cracked pepper over the eggs, salt and pepper on the green beans, and the potatoes have garlic & olive oil + whatever seasonings are handy to me. This meal is perfect on a Sunday after church.

I found this recipe online, allrecipes.com to be exact. This is ineffably one of the most delicious things I've made - especially for fall weather. Get your chopping knife, soup pot and can opener ready. Make sure your freezer is clear so you can freeze half and have delicious easy lunch when it really starts getting chilly. I never add any extra salt because the canned goods have plenty. I purchase one can of tomatoes that have green chiles. I always add a little cilantro to mine, too, because I love it. Trust me, it's easy once you have everything chopped. Here's my ever-so-slightly modified recipe for The Best Vegetarian Chili in the World! (Did I mention it's healthy?)

You'll need: 
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 med. red onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped - leave seeds if you want spice!
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (12 oz) packages vegetarian burger crumbles
2 (28 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1/4 c. chili powder
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
1 (15 oz) can whole kernel corn

1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. 
2. Stir in onion, drop in bay leaves, cumin and oregano. 
3. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in celery, green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and garlic. 
4. When vegetables are heated, mix in veggie burger crumbles. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 5 minutes.
5. Mix in tomatoes and cilantro. No need to drain, unless you like a thicker chili. 
6. Season chili with chili powder & pepper. Stir in kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans. 
7. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes. 
8. Stir in corn, and continue cooking 5 minutes before serving.
9. For non-vegetarians, top with low-fat sour cream and reduced fat cheddar cheese. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Tip: Spoon leftover chili into individual containers & freeze them. Put a container in the fridge the night before to have a super delicious meal thawed by lunchtime! I also bring a small container with cheese & sour cream too! 

Normally I'd actually cook the chicken and attempt making the pesto, but tonight I just didn't feel like it.

I discovered Flatout flatbread today. They're delightfully thin and are only 90 calories each. A fabulously perfect size for a personal pizza.
You'll need:
1 Flatout flatbread in Light Italian
1/4 c. Pesto (optional)
4 oz. Grilled chicken breast
6 mini fresh mozzarella pearls
10 grape tomatoes
Basil leaves to taste
Pam Olive Oil Non-stick spray (not pictured)
Fresh cracked pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Lightly spray both sides of Flatout flatbread with Pam.
3. On a cookie sheet, bake sprayed flatbread for 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, dice tomatoes, discarding the pulp.
5. Slice chicken into small cubes
6. Make a chiffonade of basil.
7. Remove flatbread from oven.
8. Spread pesto on flatbread with a spoon.
9. Arrange chicken, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil evenly.
10. Add cracked black pepper if you wish.
11. Bake for about 7 minutes or until the mozzarella is melty!

Serve on a big fancy plate and enjoy your Lazy Night!

It's no mystery I like Italian-esque food.

I adore pasta, but sometimes it's just too much at the end of the day. I'm always trying to get in more veggies, you know, because More Matters and all.

Zucchini is actually a wonderful substitute for the carb-backed noodles.

You'll need:
3 straight Zucchinis (I used two green and one yellow)
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 c. Baby Bellas mushrooms
2 Roma tomatoes
1/4 c. red wine
1/2 T. Minced Garlic (I use jarred when cooking for myself)
a few basil leaves (of course!)
1/2 c. Prego Mushroom tomato sauce (I cheat a little)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Shredded Asiago cheese for garnish
1. Measure EVOO in a sauté pan and put on low heat.
2. Slice tomatoes, basil and mushrooms to sauce-sized pieces and place in a saucepan. 
3. Add red wine, garlic and Prego to saucepan and then turn to Low-medium heat.
4. With a vegetable peeler, start making "noodles" by peeling zucchini. Yes, you can use the skin. Peel zucchini until you almost get to the seeds. Discard core.
5. Stir sauce in between peeling zucchini.
6. When all zucchini is peeled, turn heat in sauté pan to Medium.
7. Add zucchini "noodles" to oil and stir often. Zucchini will only take 2-3 minutes. It's done when it begins to turn translucent.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste, then strain excess water from zucchini.
9. Place in the middle of a pretty plate, top with your "homemade" sauce and Asiago cheese.

The smell of basil makes me hungry for tomato + mozzarella. With basil of course.

Try this quick & easy lil' recipe for a salad that is a good way to change up your greens grazin' repertoire. I add spinach to give this plate a little bit more substance. Make a chiffonade to make it a little fancy - because you know how much I like my food all fancy-like.

All ingredient amounts are to taste - or whatever makes your plate full of the colors of the Italian flag. Start with a little of everything, and add more if you need to! Use the most fresh ingredients you can find.

You'll need:
Fresh Basil (you can get your own basil plant at your local grocery store)
Fresh Tomatoes (your favorite kind - mix and match is scrumptious!)
Fresh Mozzarella (shreds will not be good with this recipe)
Kosher salt
Fresh-cracked black pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar
Baby Spinach (optional)

From here it's easy.
1. If you're using spinach, make this the base of your salad. You want to see all the pretty tomatoes, basil & mozz when you're done!
2. Slice up your tomatoes, place over spinach.
3. Strain your mozzarella and scatter all over.
4. Use a pinch of Kosher salt, a few turns of a pepper grinder.
5. To make a chiffonade: stack up the basil leaves, roll 'em really tight and slice into thin strips. (Click either word "chiffonade" to get a better idea.)
6. Fluff up your pretty basil and adorn your nearly-finished caprese!
7. Drizzle EVOO (not too much!) and Balsamic vinegar (careful!)

Ta da! Beautiful. Delicious.
Grab a glass of Pinot Grigio and sit on your patio to enjoy your creation.

P.S. If you must make this in advance for your fab dinner party, don't make the chiffonade until you are ready to serve it!

One of my most favorite desserts to make is Berry Trifle. It is always a crowd pleaser! You can find a pretty trifle dish almost anywhere. It's most effective when it's clear glass - so everyone can see the layers. I made this one for Mother's Day!

It's best when you allow the berries to soak overnight in the Orange Liqueur mixture.

You will need:
1 pint each: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries
1/4 c. Orange juice
1/4 c. Orange liqueur, like Patron Citronge
1/4 c. Sugar in-the-raw or granulated sugar
2 loaves pound cake or angel food cake- I used
                                        pre-made strawberry angel food cake
1 package Jell-O Instant Sugar-free vanilla pudding

2 c. cold skim milk
2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. powdered sugar: more or less to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract
Sweetened cocoa powder for garnish, if desired

1. Slice strawberries and toss in large bowl. Set aside one for garnish.
2. Rinse blueberries & blackberries, then add to strawberries. Set aside a few of         each for garnish.
3. Add OJ, liqueur and sugar-in-the-raw and gently toss berries to mix. Cover and         refrigerate.
4. Meanwhile, cut off dark outsides of poundcake with a bread knife, then slice into      cubes. Set aside.
5. Prepare pudding according to package.
6. At this point, you can cover everything and assemble the next day, or continue and     put together the trifle!
7. Combine heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until cream         forms stiff peaks. (Use a cold metal bowl to make this process go faster!)
8. Cover bottom of trifle dish with cake cubes. Spoon berries over cubes. Next, add     pudding, then repeat until dish is nearly full.
9. Top with fresh whipped cream. Arrange berries into a pretty design. Sprinkle             sweetened cocoa powder on top.

You've just created a beautiful and easy dessert!

Quaker Berries and Cream instant oatmeal was one of my favorite breakfasts growing up. This is my super easy, mostly healthy, big-kid version.Bonus: it keeps you full all morning!

1c. Steel-cut oats
1 3/4 c. milk or soy milk
1 tsp. brown sugar (more or less to taste)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. Strawberries
1/2 c. blueberries

1.  Measure oats in a microwave safe bowl.
2. Add milk, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir.
3. Top with berries. No need to stir 'em in.
4. Microwave on 50% for 5 min.
5. Enjoy!
(How easy was that!?)

You can even experiment with different fruits and extracts. Other favorites: apples & cinnamon, maple & brown sugar.

Sweet potatoes have fabulous nutrition content. The trick is not to douse them with butter and sugar. That practically negates all the good stuff!

I LOVE sweet potato fries, by the way. I get them EVERY time a restaurant offers them. (Cafe Hollander has some of the best.) But there's gotta be a healthier way...
Baking it is!

Spicy things make you drink more water while eating, which makes you feel more full.

Voila! My sweet potato wedges were born.

(I enjoyed them with BBQ Salmon and wilted spinach, shown here)

You will need:
Big Sweet potato
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Cayenne Pepper
Black Pepper
Kosher Salt

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Cut sweet potato into wedges. I got 16 pieces from mine. It was ginormous. (Be careful, uncooked sweet potatoes are tough to cut!)
3. In a bowl, toss wedges with EVOO, just enough to coat.
4. Sprinkle in seasonings: about a teaspoon of each will do. Use more or less to taste.
5. Toss wedges making sure the seasonings have coated each piece.
6. Arrange on baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes.
7. Turn down heat to 350 degrees. Bake another 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them. Sweet potatoes burn easily.
8. Let cool, or they're burn your mouth!
9. Pair with your favorite protein. Sooo delish!

Serves 2 Sweet Potato Lovers

Sometimes you need something a little out-of-the ordinary. Monday night was one of those nights. I needed comfort food. Really delicious comfort food. One of my favorite comfort food meals is none other than grilled cheese and tomato soup. But plain just wouldn't do. I needed a little extra pizazz!  Enter herbs, avocado, tomato, garlic, chicken and "fancy" cheese (okay, fancier than American).
Literally everything in this recipe can be substituted for something that you like better.

You will need:
2 slices Oat Nut Brownberry bread
3 slices of your favorite cheese (I used Colby and Muenster, pre-sliced because I was lazy that night)
A few tomato slices, deseeded.
1/4 Avocado, sliced thin
6 slices Oscar Meyer Deli BBQ seasoned chicken
Salt & Pepper

Campbell's Tomato Soup
Garlic Powder
Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Pepper
Optional: Milk instead of water for soup

1. Start your soup (read directions on can) in a small saucepan on Med-Low heat.
2. Add desired amount of seasoning: garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, etc.
3. Butter one side of "bottom" piece of bread. Place it butter-side-down in a small omelet pan (don't start heat yet).
4. Build your sammich:
         2 pieces of cheese, tomatoes, avocado, a little S&P, chicken slices and one more piece of cheese.
5. Butter another piece of bread and place on sandwich butter-side-up.
6. Stir soup! (And continue with stirs in between checking your sandwich)
7. Grill sandwich on Medium heat. Be patient, you don't want this beauty to burn!
8. Carefully flip to check for browning. I had to use TWO spatulas so it wouldn't fall apart. Be careful!
9. Once cheese is melty and bread is browned, cut in half and make it look even more fancy by stacking it.
10. Pour yourself a cup of your fancy tomato soup. (It's fancy because you put seasoning in it.)
11. Voila! Beautiful AND delicious fancy grilled cheese & tomato soup.

Consider yourself comforted. And fancy.