learning to cook healthier & without a recipe!

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Italian Chicken and Mushrooms with Spinach & Kale Ravioli

So… I wasn’t going to post this recipe because I didn’t home make a lot of it but then I thought… sometimes it’s nice to just spice up easy eats like jarred pasta sauce and pre-made raviolis! Why not share it? So here it is (serves 2-3, but can easily make it for more):

  • 1 package of ravioli of your choice- I got a really great spinach and kale one from Costco!
  • 1 c of your favorite pre-made pasta sauce
  • 1 c of thinly sliced baby portabello mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 chicken breast, flattened to about 1/2 in thick or a little thinner
  • 3/4 c breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • parmesan cheese for topping

Cook the raviolis by the package directions and heat up the pasta sauce on the stove over med-low heat. Slice the mushrooms thinly and saute in 2 tbsp olive oil and balsamic vinegar until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Flatten the chicken breast and mix the breadcrumbs and Italian seasoning in a shallow bowl. Whisk the egg in a shallow bowl. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil in a small skillet of medium heat and dredge the chicken in the egg and then in the breadcrumb mixture. Saute in preheated pan for about 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through- take your time! Don’t burn the chicken before it can cook all the way through! Reduce to a little bit below medium if needed.

Layer it up! Pasta- sauce- mushrooms-chicken sliced into strips- more sauce- parmesan cheese- fresh basil… So easy but looks so fancy!


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New Orleans!

Well, better late than never… since it’s almost been two weeks since we’ve been there! New Orleans was wonderful… We did not love Bourbon Street and quickly exited it after about 5 minutes but all of the music and liveliness was incredible! We checked in at the French Quarter Suites which was really reasonably priced! The rooms were really neat, remodeled servants’ quarters with brick floors and high ceilings. We were in walking distance to everything so we wandered around for a while, went down to the river, listened to some jazz in the square and began to hunt around for some tasty dinner.

We had heard from the lady at the hotel that Frenchman Street was a little calmer and had great food so we headed that direction. We settled at Praline Connection which was seriously some of the best soul food I have ever eaten. O my goodness- fried chicken, collard greens, mac-n-cheese, cornbread yum yum yum. Michael got the fried seafood platter which he said was really great! Their hot sauce was really great too, we should have gotten a bottle…

After dinner we headed to the Spotted Cat where we had heard some really great jazz music as we walked past earlier. There was a band called the Orleans 5 (I’m pretty sure that was their name, I can’t find anything about them online) they were SO good! There were people swing dancing, the music was so much fun- it was wonderful.

Then the rain came. And it poured. We had to have Cafe du Monde though to get some beignets and cafe au lait- so good! We ran through the rain which ended up being really fun until we found a little store that sold umbrellas and headed to get some incredibly great dessert.

That ended our night, we rolled our stuffed selves back to the hotel to sleep and get ready to head towards home! What a wonderful trip! Whatever anybody says- road trips are awesome. We saw so many places, ate so much incredible food, and read some really great books along the way!

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Mom’s Homemade Biscuits

Stop 2: Table Rock, South Carolina to see my parents! My mom made us some incredible homemade biscuits this morning! The trick to these biscuits, unlike many other recipes, is to handle them a lot! They were fluffy and perfect.

The recipe:

  • 21/4 c self rising flour
  • 1/4 c cold butter
  • 1/4 c butter flavored Crisco
  • 1-11/4 c buttermilk (you can sub half-and-half for some of the buttermilk if you like)
  • A little cracked pepper

Cut butter into large chunks and work into flour with the Crisco using a pastry blender. Add buttermilk and mix in. Take dough out onto a floured surface and flatten with your hands. Fold into thirds. Flatten and fold into thirds about 6 times. Use a biscuit cutter to form biscuits (push down with the cutter and don’t twist!) Using a pastry brush, brush on a little butter on top of biscuits and top off with black pepper.

Bake at 450 for 15-18 minutes!


Blackberry Cobbler

Mmmmm I love blackberries and all sugary creations made with them! I got a giant carton of blackberries at costco and decided the best thing to do with them was to make cobbler… and making cobbler meant I got to bust out the cast iron skillet which always makes me feel fancy and rustic, I don’t know if those two things go together…

This recipe originally came from, see it here. I added a little whole wheat flour and flax to make myself feel better about all the sugar I was about to consume….

The recipe:

  • 1/2 c all purpose flour
  • 1/2 whole wheat flour
  • 2 tbsp ground flax meal
  • 11/2 c sugar (divided)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp cold butter
  • 1/4 c boiling water
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 c cold water
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 c rinsed blackberries

Preheat oven to 400 and cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil just in case any spills over.

In a medium bowl mix together the flours, flax meal, 1/2 c sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cold butter until mixture is coarse and crumbly. I chop mine into little squares then work in by hand or with a pastry blender. Add 1/4 c boiling water to moisten. (Does anyone else have water explode when they microwave it? I don’t remember this happening before but it definitely did when I microwaved it for this recipe… maybe stick with the kettle or put it in a mug…)

Dissolve cornstarch into cold water and add lemon juice, the remaining 1 c of sugar and the blackberries. Toss until the blackberries are evenly covered by the mixture.

Put mixture into the cast iron skillet (I used a 10in skillet which made for a thin cobbler).

Bring to a boil and drop in spoonfuls of dough until used up.

Place the skillet on the foil lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.

Serve it up with a little vanilla ice cream and enjoy!!


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Cheese Grits

So, I’ll admit… I didn’t change anything in this recipe or do anything to make it healthier… they were pretty delicious just the way the recipe had them! I got the recipe from Food Network’s Alton Brown, you can see the original recipe here. The recipe called for cornmeal instead of traditional grits which judged based on the ingredients list of what I had- Red Mill coarse cornmeal and the instant grits, the cornmeal seemed a lot healthier since the only ingredient in them was well… corn.

Here’s the recipe: (4 servings)

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups water (may need a little more)
  • 11/2 tsp salt
  • 1 c coarse ground cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (or if you’re like me 2-4 tsp pepper)
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese


Bring the milk, water, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat in a medium pot or deep pan. For some reason boiling milk is always strange and a little icky to me… but here’s a picture for you, you can judge…

Once the mixture begins to boil add the cornmeal gradually, stirring constantly. I had a hard time keeping mine from clumping, it might not be a bad idea to pour your cornmeal into a small bowl first and make sure there are no clumps in it and break it up really good if it’s been in the pantry for a little while.

Reduce the heat to low and cover. The recipe said to stir every 3-4 minutes and he meant it- make sure not to walk away from these too long! Stir very frequently and let cook until creamy about 25-30 minutes.

Once you’ve taste tested to make sure the consistency is right and the cornmeal is cooked through, remove from heat, add pepper, butter, and cheese and stir together. Serve right away! If you need to reheat them or people are going back for second- you may need to reheat them on the stove with some more water to remoisten them.

Finished product! With BBQ chicken for some reason, it’s what we had…

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Austin, TX

Mmmm Austin. Austin was pretty great. We got there late after a 13 hour drive from Tucson, ate what tasted like the best slice of pizza ever at a place called Home Slice and hit the sack. We stayed at a really great little hotel called the Austin Motel. It was the first locally owned motel I’ve ever stayed at and it was great! All the rooms were a little different, we stayed in two different rooms because we reserved them really late, here are a couple pics of our first:

We stayed mostly on South Congress where there is a lot of local music every night, fun shops, and lots of good food. The next morning we headed to Jo’s Coffee shop which was right next to our hotel. It had a walk up bar, good coffee, baked goods and breakfast tacos. It was a really nice laid back- outdoor atmosphere. I got granola and yogurt and Michael got a toast-your-own bagel (they had a toaster and other goodies on the side of the building).

Next we hit up a bunch of fun shops. They have really great antique/vintage stores in Austin and they’re all pretty organized which is impressive! Our favorite was Uncommon Objects. Some of the stuff was pretty pricey so we didn’t make any purchases but they had some really great items!

For lunch we headed to Hopdoddy. Dear goodness, it was good. All the ingredients they use are fresh and their burgers are incredible right down to the homemade bun!

We started with a Nutella Pretzel milkshake which was nothing short of amazing:

Then dug into some delicious fries and burgers! Mine was The Goodnight- minus the sassy sauce (includes mayo-ick.) It was full of the spicest jalepenos, bbq sauce, caramalized onions, and delicious cheese.

Michael had El Diablo- jalepenos, serranos, salsa, and other goodies:

Later that day we headed to an awesome movie theatre, The Alamo Drafthouse where we saw Beasts of the Southern Wild- awesome, awesome movie, go see it!

Hmmm other cool things about Austin… we passed this great ice cream place a hundred times but didn’t stop at it. There was usually a line (except when I took this picture I guess…) so it must be good, and their was an astronaut cow, another sign it must be good…

O right! And how could I forget! Their is a couple strips of food trucks that looked pretty incredible. The one I really wanted was Coat and Thai and the menu looked great but it was closed so I revolted and didn’t eat at any of them.

I think that’s about all for what we experienced in Austin! I’ll give all our fun details for New Orleans soon!

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Phoenix & Tucson

Playing a little catch up! Back to some yummy food!

Whenever you decide to go on a big ol road trip- be prepared that Sundays will be your most trying times with whoever your with… Most things are closed, you can’t make up your mind where to stay, you drive around a town for an hour just to decide to leave, all the while trying not to yell at your travelling companion for not making any decisions because secretly you don’t want to make any either. Or not secretly, depending on how vocal you are, or maybe that’s just Michael and I…

We stopped in Phoenix, I’m sorry everyone who gave us suggestions, we didn’t do any of them, it was still rainy as we went through Sedona and then it was 1000 degrees when it stopped. (We truly value your suggestions though and hope to do a lot more when we got back!) We read a one liner in a tourist magazine about Roosevelt Row and our way there. The street was really artsy and unique with a lot of great graffiti.

There was a little bit of a dank looking establishment called Carly’s that we passed. After driving around for a little bit we decided to head back to try it for lunch. We went in and it was awesome. There was a great saxophone player and the menu was really promising. I got an Arnold Palmer, Greek salad, and pear, prosciutto, brie, and balsamic Panini on focaccia. It was SO good!!! We have been so lucky with finding great food on this trip! We’re definitely making this when we get home!

Michael had a Gyro and said it was delicious- I didn’t try it- I was too focused on mine!

There was a high school jazz band and a couple of older guys, probably teachers, setting up to play with the saxophone player as we left, I wish we had stayed a little while to hear them all play together.

We walked down to a great art gallery/vintage/boutique store called Green Haus. They had some really interesting art and Michael and I found some great vintage finds!

After sitting at a Starbucks trying to find something to do that evening in Phoenix we decided to head to Tucson. We hit some of the craziest weather I’ve ever driven through. We pulled off, with just about everyone else about 5 miles outside of downtown because it was raining so hard. The lightening was intense and it started hailing- something I’ve never experienced in a car or maybe anywhere before. And- when they put out a flash flood alert in Tucson, they mean it. After the rain died down we had to detour around to get back on I 10 because a few of the onramps were closed due to flooding. Once we got to Tucson we drove around for like an hour- it was Sunday still- tried to find good authentic Thai food but it was all closed- and finally gave up and headed to PF Changs, ate good food, went to a hotel and called it a day. We did get this great and totally appropriate little fortune from our fortune cookie:

We decided to head to Austin today (currently on hour 11 of our 13 hour drive there…) so we got up early and got some delicious breakfast on 4th Avenue in Tucson at a place called the B Line. The place and that whole area- was really cute. They had delicious looking baked goods. We got our breakfast to go, I had an incredible egg and cheese sandwich on one of the best everything bagels I’ve ever had. It was ridiculously huge! (these pictures were taken on the go… sorry)

Michael had a egg, cheese, and Canadian bacon English muffin with chipotle sauce that he said was really good! 4th avenue will definitely be a place to explore if we go back to Tucson.

Now on to Austin!


The Grandest Canyon

Or as Michael continually said as we gawked at the beauty of the Canyon, “the canyon that is grandyon…” yep. It was incredible! The drive, although long, is incredible itself. On the way to the North Rim you get your first glimpse of the Colorado and the mighty canyon. You can’t help but let your jaw drop a little and wonder at how God set erosion into motion to make this incredible place.

We started out on the North Rim which was quiet and low key. All the camp sites were spacious , you could walk to everything, there was even a little grocery mart by the campsites in case you forgot anything.

On our first day at the North Rim we did a little two mile rim hike over to the lodge and back which was gorgeous! There were no railings and you can climb out onto rocks (safely mom don’t worry) and enjoy the incredible view. There are tons of little creatures everywhere that have no concern for you- mostly we were in their way- black and white squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and mice. We just about got caught in a storm but it blew over, just producing some heavy winds and some threatening thunder and lightening which it ended up doing every night we were there-pretty awesome, slightly scary considering all the lightening warnings they have posted everywhere!

The next day we started out early, around 6:00am. They say not to hike between 10am-4pm because of the heat and the sun comes up at like 5:00am so it’s easy to get up early. We hiked part of the North Kaibab down to the footbridge and back about 7 miles total from the campsite and got back around 10:30am. They have signs saying down is optional- up is mandatory- whew, it does get hard coming uphill at 8000 feet but the views are SO worth it!!

At 12:30 we had a ½ day mule ride scheduled which went down the same trail we hiked in the morning. We thought the mules would go down farther than we did but they didn’t. It was still a blast and we got to look around a lot more. Our guide was great and so was everyone else on the ride, it was a ton of fun. It was crazy dusty on the mules though, bandanas and sunglasses were a must, and all the poor people who made the decision to start hiking at 11am got to eat our dust as well… Here are our mules, Smerf and Slim:

The next morning, our last on the North Rim, we made the 5 minute hike to the Rim and drank our coffee while admiring the most amazing creation we’ve ever seen…

The South Rim was about as much a shock as arriving at the bustling, crazy Nashville from Jacksonville, FL… (the negativity will only last a minute… I promise…) Although the scenery was still incredible there were 100000000000x more people, it was- we think- a two mile hike to the rim from our campsite on unmarked paved walkways that went in every direction (it may have been two miles for us because we were so lost…) and you couldn’t park at a lot of the trailheads and they encouraged you to ride the shuttles everywhere- that took 40 minutes to go 7 miles because they stopped at every overlook! Ahhhh! Take me back to the North Rim!!

It was rainy and gross, too overcast to see very much so we decided to dive into tourist culture and pay $12 a piece to watch the 34 minute IMAX on the Grand Canyon just down the road in Tusyan. It was pretty cool although the cheesy 80s acting was a little much …. Since it was still raining we continued over to the Wendy’s to get fries and a Frosty and try to use some wifi to look at where we could find Anasazi ruins to hike but they seemed to be mostly in Utah…

When we got back we decided to hike to the rim since the weather had cleared a bit. Just when I was about to head back to the car and tell Michael I couldn’t handle Nashville part 2 we saw these folks…

2 GIANT elk hanging out and munching away really close to our campsite!!! They just stared at us (I think they were paid employees) as we snapped pictures at them and I made myself look like a total geek to the people walking by, whispering to them, “O my gosh! Elk!,” (like they couldn’t see), and “They are huge… that is SOOOO cool!” (like they didn’t already notice)

We settled down and ate some camp food (not reviewing food here since it was mostly prepackaged- noodles and sauce, Annie Chung’s healthy version of Raman, oatmeal, instant coffee, etc- it’s all delightful when you’re hungry) and settled in for the night.

O yeah! I forgot to mention how incredible the weather was! Every evening- North and South Rim- the weather was in the 50s in the morning and evening, and if the sun was out during the day in the low 80s- which is pretty hot with the sun beating down, but at the top of the rim there was always a cool breeze and it heated up slow and cooled down fast.

The next day we planned on hiking part of the Bright Angel trail. We toyed with the idea of going to the river which they tell you a billion times not to in a day and have signs up picturing healthy fit young men that they have to rescue out of the canyon by the hundreds each year. They also have pictures of a frantic woman over her man who is passed out from heat exhaustion. We totally understood these pictures and warnings as we watched people waltz onto the trails in the middle of the day on the North Rim with nothing but a bottle of water. They have refill stations but hiking up is hard, you need snacks and tons of fluids and most people seemed really underprepared.

So, to begin our hike the next day we decided to be over prepared- we both took our packs, carrying four bottles of water, a bottle of Gatorade, 2 PBJs, 4 protein bars, a bag of nuts, dried apples, rain gear, fleeces, flashlights, etc. Basically, if we had to sleep in a shelter somewhere along the trail that night we could still eat like kings and be warm! We headed out about 6:30am, an hour later than we wanted to start- they said to Indian Garden and back took between 6-9 hours total and we wanted to go 3 miles past that, adding 6 miles total to the trip. It was raining though so we got a slow start. Even in the rain the visibility was great and we got down to Indian Garden by about 8:45.

The Canyon, at least this section, makes you really hungry. The whole way down we smelled lemongrass and craved Thai food. Then we hit a section that smelled just like barley and hops, then back to lemongrass. Maybe it was just all the things we were craving…

We decided we would go for it, we both had secretly planned that we were going to go for it any way but it was really exciting heading out to see the Colorado! Once we were past Indian Garden, a beautiful oasis in the first decent into the canyon, it got even more incredible than we could have imagined. Here are a couple of pictures:

There is more but I don’t want to give you too many… I don’t want you to think you don’t need to see it with your own eyes because you do!!! It is fantastic!!

The rain drizzled on as we made the second decent into the canyon, switch backs that dropped off steeply and a trail you could see for miles which was a little daunting. We finally made it down to flat ground, following along Indian Spring and soon heard the whooshing sound of the Colorado. We rounded a corner and there it was- beautiful- tumbling over itself- holding thousands upon thousands of history  in it’s current and moving faster and more powerfully than we had imagined it would. Just then the weather cleared, for about 20 minutes, a perfect amount of time to enjoy a PBJ and gawk at the water. A few whitewater rafters passed by and we got to watch them hit the rapids right in front of us- next summer’s plan- a week long river rafting trip!

We high fived and began our accent back up the Canyon. It rained for another two hours and we hiked up just about as fast as we came down which was crazy. When we got back to Indian Springs there was a beautiful little mule deer munching away, she looked at us and continued on. We filled up our water bottles and continued on.

About 45 minutes later the sun came out… O my goodness. Up hill with sun was not fun. The first hour was ok but about 12pm it was sweltering and about 2:00pm with less than a mile to go I thought to myself, “they are going to have to carry me out of this canyon.” But with Michael’s encouragement, a vow to never wear Merrill barefoot shoes on a hike any longer than 7 miles, quite a few breaks and a bunch of water we made it to the top. 15.4 miles in 8 hours- we were on top of the world!!! Although more tired than we’d ever been we were more in awe than we had ever been and completely satisfied.

We ended the evening with a steak dinner from the Arizona Room, delicious. Then we half slept through pouring rain and headed out the next morning to head for southern Arizona. The main stop of our trip was now behind us and the road left was headed home. The Grand Canyon was so much more than we could have ever anticipated. Amazing.

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Nashville Part 2- Little Rock, AR- Okemah, Ok- Amarillo, TX

So, I had left the camera and the car and didn’t tell about all the greatness of Nashville in the morning! We went to a place that we found, I’ll admit, in a Southern Living magazine called the Frothy Monkey. It was excellent, here it is:

It was a little pricey for breakfast but it was so delicious it was worth it. Michael got a bagel sandwich and I got the Architect (go big or go home!). It’s an omelet that you choose one meat and two veggies for: bacon, spinach, and tomato. I didn’t even notice that there was no cheese until I was halfway done with it, it was that good. The fruit bowl was delicious considering your always taking a risk when you order a fruit bowl…

The coffee was also great and we took it with us to the Anchor Fellowship in downtown Nashville which is a church in a really old church building full of young people. It was really great, 95 degrees, no lights on (that would have made it hotter, besides, there was plenty of light from the windows) and super incredible worship.

Next we were on to Little Rock- it was a Sunday evening so there wasn’t a lot going on in River Market and we decided to walk from our hotel on River Market and 4th to Vino’s (thanks for the suggestion Lacy and Cole!!). It was a nice walk but the area of town was a little interesting to walk through…It was a grungy delicious pizza place. It was pretty cheap and we sat on the patio and listened a pretty good band practice in the apartment above the restaurant. I never found out who they were! I totally forgot the camera so I have no pictures… I’m sorry.

We walked back and sat by the river which was really peaceful and nice!

Next we headed to Amarillo. We took a gas and lunch stop in Okemah (a.k.a middle of nowhere) with a sign proudly exclaiming Woody Guthrie was from there. All towns in Oklahoma that country stars grew up in make sure you know it- we passed by a Carrie Underwood and Garth Brooks sign too! We decided to drive down a little stretch off the highway to see what there was to eat and found the old town strip- it was really quaint and cute:

As we were turning around defeated to go back to Sonic we saw the Hen House, a little place open only for lunch from11am-2pm, it was perfect! The little house was rustic and full of antiques, include a really awesome old stove on the porch:

Michael got a ranch chicken club sandwich and I got a bowl of tortilla soup with a southwestern chicken salad. It was pretty good! The soup was creamy and I kept thinking about how great it would have been to add some onions, chopped poblanos, corn, black beans, and fresh avocado… something to try when we get home! Lunch was cheap and satisfying!

When we finally made it to Amarillo (our longest drive so far that wasn’t really that long- 81/2 hours) we thought about skipping it and moving on after we cruised through a really quiet downtown. We settled at a Starbucks for some wifi and found that there was a minor league baseball game going on in a hour- minds changed!! We checked into a not so great hotel with a stopped up tub, a bathroom door that wouldn’t close and a faint hint of cigarette smoke, freshened up, if you could call it that, and headed to the ballpark! It was so much fun!

We got some chicken tenders to tide us over and during the 6th inning around 9pm decided to find some  good Tex Mex- and we did! We found Taco Garcias right by our hotel and it was really really great. The chips come out with three different salsas, mild, hot, and super hot. Michael got a chile rellenos, a chicken flauta, and one of those tostado things with cheese, refried beans and guacamole. He said it was super good!

I got the New Mexican chicken enchaladas in a blue corn tortilla with a really great salsa verde. SO good! It came with charros (pinto beans- I couldn’t figure out the difference), rice, and a little salad. We thought about dessert and decided against it. Another cheap and delicious meal!

Sorry for all the the cities at once, got a little behind! On our way now through the beautiful expanses of New Mexico, all new terrain to us! Food from Albequerque to come!