Beating the Winter Blues with a Girls’ Night

Beating the Winter Blues with a Girls’ Night

It’s no secret I’ve been a little MIA lately. I think I have fallen into a bit of a winter funk where all I want to do is hibernate at home and cozy up with a blanket while watching my favorite movies and shows. My recipes have been pretty simple and easy to put together after a long day at work, and they have definitely tended to fall under the comfort food theme of soup with buttered fresh-baked baguette, plenty of homemade pizza nights, anything and everything pasta (not of the spaghetti squash variety), and chili with honey-drizzled cornbread.

 Healthy Buffalo Chicken ChiliI remember having these thoughts every year at this time by the beginning of March when I start to dream of the warmer days of spring and long walks in the sunshine. I also can’t wait for the fresh summer produce to finally make its appearance, and I may be getting ahead of myself, but the thought of grilling out chicken and veggie kebabs, or filet with corn on the cob makes me positively giddy with excitement! I am looking forward to experimenting in the kitchen a bit more as well since the longer days with more light will produce better pictures for the blog.

Sunday morning run with TebowOne big thing that has been going on in my life though was a big house renovation! We had a contractor working on our upstairs level for two weeks and I am so excited that everything is just about done. Tim is going to do all the painting to save us a little money, but we got all new baseboards and trim, doors, closets, lighting and a fully-gutted and renovated guest bathroom done.

House Renovation - Tile for Bath TrimIt turned out so beautiful and I will be sharing pictures soon! As soon as we get the walls and trim painted, it will look even more fresh than it already does.

We were in a hurry Saturday to get everything dusted and swept and vacuumed and scrubbed because I had some of my closest girlfriends over for a girls’ night. As always it was such a blast spending time together! We celebrated a recent engagement, feasted on a cheese and cracker tray with smoked mozzarella, Wisconsin cheddar, and provolone cheese along with lemon-garlic hummus, kalamata olives and roasted red bell pepper. (So, so good! I could literally live off a good cheese tray and be happy!) We also popped champagne and snacked on chocolate cake and cheesecake while staying up to almost 2am chatting the night away. The next morning we started our Sunday with plenty of coffee, hot tea, cinnamon rolls and fresh fruit.

Breakfast of Cinnamon Roll + FruitI haven’t stayed up that late in forever, but it was so worth it to get as much time with my friends as I could. Needless to say though I have been feeling a little tired so far this week! 

Spending time with just the girls is truly so good for the soul. These are girls I have been friends with for 10+ years and although we don’t see each other as often as we would like, it literally feels just like old times whenever we’re together. We have been through so many life moments together from our time as kids to our first loves, from graduation to college, from first jobs to engagements to celebrating marriage, I couldn’t be more grateful to have these girls by my side. They are truly such amazing and strong women!

Red, White and Boom 2014

This picture was taken at Red, White and Boom in Columbus this past July! My girlfriend Abbie is the only one missing from this pic who was also over Saturday for girls’ night!

My Tuesday morning suggestion for all of you is that if you’re needing a little pick-me-up from the winter blues, have a girls night! Seriously, call up your friends today and pick a night where its too cold to even want to leave the house. I promise that a night-in filled with yummy finger foods, bubbly drinks, contagious laughs and plenty of chatting is just what the doctor ordered for beating that darn seasonal depression. Just make sure to throw that typical bed time out the window!

Conversation Time.

  • When was the last time you had a friends/girls night? Do you prefer to have these get-togethers at someone’s home, or out on the town?
  • What tips/advice do you have for beating the winter blues? Is anyone else starting to have that spring fever?
Date-Night-Out with My Valentine

Date-Night-Out with My Valentine

If anyone is still checking into my little blog and waiting on a new post, I am happy to report that I am alive and doing well! The past couple weeks have been pretty crazy, and I am honestly having a hard time finding energy at the end of the day to write a post. Also, it feels like right now all I am pretty much doing is working and sleeping, so I have nothing too exciting to report back to all of you. I tend to go through different season of blogging, some where I am posting multiple times a week and others where I am lucky to post a few times a month. Right now I am definitely experiencing the latter and I don’t want to simply publish posts for the sake of publishing posts, so I am trying not to push it if I don’t feel the urge to say something.

I will however be more than happy when winter hibernation is over and we can get back outside to enjoy a little warmth and sunshine. I know my pup is ready for spring as well, because an energetic lab cooped up inside does not make for a happy dog!

Tebow the Dog

Poor guy, I feel his pain!

I did however have a really nice Valentine’s Day and dinner out with my love, so although I chose to live more in the moment than to document for the blog (aka lack of pictures in this post), I still want to share some details from our fun night out.

If you are a regular reader, than you know how much I adore Valentine’s Day!

I know some people think dining out on Valentine’s Day is too cliche and a waste of money, but we really do enjoy going out and celebrating the holiday. (And no, we don’t show love ONLY on Valentine’s Day and we know love is for showing every day, but it is still fun to have extra special days too!) Last year we ate at Fleming’s, the year before that was at Jeff Ruby’s Carlo and Johnny, and this year’s fancy dinner out was to Ruth’s Chris in downtown Cincinnati. We have had these reservations since the first weekend in January because we knew it would be packed, so even though it was freezing cold and crazy windy, we decided to brave the weather and still go anyways.

Valentine's Day 2015 - Flowers

It actually turned out to be a really great night and I am so glad we decided to still go! It was so warm and cozy inside the restaurant that it made you not want to leave and instead keep ordering things and eating just so you could stay inside and enjoy date night a little longer. I was even greeted with a rose by the staff, and who doesn’t love more roses on Valentine’s Day? Tim and I love trying new restaurants and menu items, so we decided to get a variety of dishes and just split everything between us.

For an appetizer we ordered the Barbecue Shrimp, which was good, but it was much more similar to shrimp scampi with a butter and white wine sauce than it was to barbecue. Also, the cost was $16 for the appetizer and you only received five shrimp, so that in itself is probably a good reason to either order something else or skip the appetizer menu all together. It’s true, a lot of things on the menu are pricey, but most really are worth the extra cost!

There was a special going on for Valentine’s Day, which included a soup or salad, entree, side dish and dessert so Tim and I just split the meal for one, which actually ended up being more than enough for two people, especially after the appetizer, bread basket with butter, drinks and with the dessert.

We chose the chicken and sausage gumbo soup for our starter, which was so good! I would love to recreate the dish at home, and we both agreed that we love Cajun spices. This bowl of soup was huge for one person as just a starter and not an entree, so it worked out just fine by splitting. It also came with rice so it helped to balance out some of the spice.

For our entree we chose the 16 oz. ribeye, Tim had about 10 oz. and I took the other 6 oz., and we also split mashed potatoes as our side. If you ever wonder why your steak at home doesn’t taste quite as good as restaurant orders, it’s actually pretty simple, put some butter on top and it seriously takes the beef to the next level. I am a lady, but I am also not afraid to admit how much I enjoy a good steak, and this one was no exception. I swear it was even better because it was shared with my Valentine!

Even though we were stuffed at this point, dessert came with the meal so we couldn’t very well skip it! We accepted the minimal surcharge to order off the dessert menu (the dessert that came with the meal was a raspberry cheesecake) and we went with the special dessert of the night, which was basically a chocolate lava cake. It was really good, but the Creme Brulee and Bread Pudding were also calling my name so it was a tough choice! In the end though, chocolate usually just seems to win out.

Valentine's Day 2015 - Chocolate Lava Cake Ruth's Chris

Although we almost had to be rolled out of the restaurant, it was seriously such a fun and delicious night. Even better than the food was being able to spend that time with Tim. It is nice to go out to dinner and not be in a rush or not be on your phone or not be watching TV, but to instead be paying attention to the other person. Dinners that pricey are typically rare (usually a couple times a year), but I always feel like those date nights are so much more about the experience and the company than they are about the food.

Conversation Time.

  • What was the last fancy dinner you went to? Do you have a favorite restaurant to go to for special occasions?
  • Did you do anything fun for Valentine’s Day? Are you a fan, or do you prefer to skip the whole day altogether?
  • Which dessert would you have chosen – Chocolate Lava Cake, Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce, or the Creme Brulee?
Queso, Pies and Paninis for Days

Queso, Pies and Paninis for Days

I know today is supposed to be much colder than yesterday, but oh my goodness was Wednesday beautiful! The sun was so warm and it was definitely a spring-like tease that couldn’t last, but I will take whatever rays of hope (and sunshine) we can get.

There hasn’t been a whole lot going on around here lately. Life right now is filled with lots of work and early bedtimes right now, but with it being winter I really don’t mind the hibernation so much as I continue to learn to adjust to my new schedule. Who knows, hopefully by spring I will be feeling even more comfortable and the longer, warmer days will make these cold ones seem miles away.

One thing I have been doing quite a bit though is cooking. I took a little break from meal planning for a while, but I just find that grocery shopping is so much easier and our budget stays so much lower when I arrive at the store prepared with a list. We eat out less when we have meals we can make at home, which also keeps us from spending money and allows us to save for those special occasions and date nights.

We went over to my parents’ house for the Super Bowl and although my mom volunteered to take care of the main course, we came with a dip and dessert. I let Tim pick the dip recipe for us to make and he chose Easy Crock Pot Queso. This obviously is not the healthiest meal ever, but let’s be real, it was for the Super Bowl and its not an everyday splurge. Sometimes you just need a little Velveeta! Oh, and Fritos scoops for dipping! I used the Pinterest recipe as a base, but then jazzed it up just a little on my own and also doubled the serving.

  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 32 oz. 2% Velveeta cheese
  • 1 10 oz. can Rotel tomatoes with diced Green Chiles
  • 1 10 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes

Saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add in ground beef, cook until browned and drain off any grease. Salt and pepper to taste. Then place all the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low 2 hours until all the cheese is melted. I noticed if I cooked on low too long the cheese definitely melts fast.  I then switched the crock pot to warm just to keep everything melted.

For dessert I made Hot Fudge Pudding Cake topped with vanilla ice cream. I actually used a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, but this one from A Family Feast is pretty darn close.

Hot Fudge Pudding CakeSince it has been colder, soup has been a big winner in my house lately too.  One of my favorite soup recipes ever is this Turkey Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup from Skinnytaste. We didn’t have turkey sausage on hand, but we did have apple, Gouda and chicken sausage from Costco so I used that instead. We actually loved it more than the traditional recipe. We usually add Parmesan cheese at the end before serving, but there isn’t even a need to when using the chicken sausage that already has cheese as an ingredient.

Turkey Sausage and Kale White Bean SoupDinner last night was inspired by this Cheesy Pizza Panini from The Recipe Critic. I used french bread, marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, pepperoni slices and dried basil and oregano, but instead of making it ‘panini’ style I simply baked the sandwich in the oven.  This was so easy and I liked how it made for an easy pizza-inspired night mid-week. Plus, you could add mushrooms, onions, green peppers, olives, or anything you like on a typical pizza to mix-it-up.

Cheesy Pizza PaniniSticking with the sandwich theme, I made homemade BLT’s served alongside Green Beans and Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips Monday night. These sandwiches were easy-peasy and really don’t even need a recipe! I toasted sliced-in-half French bread in my grill pan and then seared up some bacon. I added Swiss Cheese to Tim’s, but I left mine cheese-less and just added a little light mayo. I topped both sandwiches with crispy romaine and thick sliced tomatoes topped with salt and pepper.

Other meals in our future include this Loaded Potato Soup recipe from The Wicked Noodle, which I will be making in the Crock Pot for dinner this weekend alongside homemade bread.

Loaded Baked Potato SoupI also have a frozen pie crust still in my freezer from the holidays and have been trying to decide what to do with it. I figured that now is as good a time as any, so I am going to bake a pie for Saturday night’s dinner at home to make the night a little extra special. The Cookies and Cream Chocolate Pudding Pie from This Gal Cooks immediately caught my eye because Tim is a huge Oreo cookie lover and honestly, what’s not to love about this beauty?

Cookies and Cream Chocolate Pudding Pie

Seriously, how amazing does that look? If you wanted to come over for Saturday night dinner, I wouldn’t blame you one bit!

P.S. – If you don’t follow me on Pinterest already, you can find me by clicking here! I am constantly pinning yummy recipes like these, along with fashion inspiration, home decorating and remodeling ideas, and holiday planning.

Conversation Time.

  • Tell me – Have you made any good recipes lately? Have you pinned any meals or desserts you can’t wait to try?
  • What is your favorite sandwich?  Do you like BLT’s, Pizza Paninis, Turkey Sandwiches, Country Clubs with Ham, Turkey and Bacon, Grilled Cheese, Roast Beef and Swiss or a Cuban?
  • Out of all the recipes I shared above, which one would you like to try the most?
I Love a ‘Swingy’ Dress

I Love a ‘Swingy’ Dress

On Saturday, Tim and I had a dinner date night at Montgomery Inn, a hometown barbecue restaurant which originated in Montgomery, OH, just north of Cincinnati. We had never been to the ‘Boat House’ location downtown on the river, so we decided to drive just a little further to experience a new place.

I love barbecue food, but I am not always a huge ribs fan. However, at Montgomery Inn, I almost always get the ribs because they are the best. The meat literally falls off the bone and there isn’t much fat to be found either. I ordered my half a rack of ribs with broccoli, macaroni and cheese, and a big pile of Saratoga chips we ordered as an appetizer to share.

The food was great and the company was even better, but the only downside would be that reservations actually mean priority seating (at least at the Boat House). When we arrived at 5:45 for our 5:45 reservation, we were then told it would be a 30-45 minutes wait. We actually ended up waiting about 50 minutes and it wasn’t a big deal since we had nowhere to go and just enjoyed our time together, but just a fair warning if you had plans to get to after dinner. Reservations may not always mean little to no waiting!

Backing up before dinner though, I had to decide what to wear! Montgomery Inn isn’t a fancy restaurant, but I sometimes think it’s fun to overdress up a bit. When Tim asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind a flowy dress or two. I love swing-style dresses because they are so cute and I can wear them to work or for play, but they are also super comfortable. Nothing is worse than wearing a tight, uncomfortable dress all day at work… Any other ladies agree with me??

Madewell Silk Tee Dress in Dot

He picked out this Madewell Silk Tee Dress in Dot and I fell in love the moment I tried it on. Per Madewell, ‘With its breezy cut and signature polka dots, it’s no wonder this easy silk dress is a design-team favorite. ‘ The dress is dry-clean only as its silk, but that is obviously also why it is so soft and comfortable. The dress was a little bit more moeny than I would usually spend, however it’s a classic print that I know I will get a ton of wears out of it. Just an FYI as well that Madewell describes this dress as being ‘nonwaisted’, and that’s true! The waist is not defined at all, but that is also why I want to wear it every day. So comfy! I paired the dress with black tights and my black Michael Kors boots and I think it made for a great combo of dressy and casual.

Conversation Time.

  • Swingy Dresses – What do you think – Love ‘em or hate ‘em?
  • What style staple is your current wardrobe go-to?
  • Are you a barbecue fan? What is your favorite meal to order at a barbecue restaurant?
Make-Ahead Lunches

Make-Ahead Lunches

When deciding to publish this post, I went back and forth on which day of the week I thought it would fit best. At first I considered Monday, but by then the work week would already be in full swing. I then thought Saturday, but honestly I know a lot of people don’t read blog posts since everyone is out enjoying the weekend.

So instead I decided on Friday, which I honestly think works out just perfect. I am sure I’m not the only one who creates her meal plan and shopping lists, and then goes to the grocery on the weekend. If you like this make-ahead lunch idea, I encourage you to take tomorrow to plan out your meals and shop, and then use Sunday to prep those lunches. It takes a bit of time initially, but you will be thanking yourself when all of your lunches for the week are ready and waiting for you come Monday morning.

Make-Ahead Lunches - Greek Salads and Spaghetti Squash

With my new job’s hours, I am literally awake and out the door within 40 minutes. This doesn’t give me much time to worry about anything in the morning, but it sure is easy to grab my entire lunch box straight out of the refrigerator, kiss my pup and hubby, pick up my coffee and run out the door.

In today’s lunch example, I packed three salads and two spaghetti squash meals for the week. I love using spaghetti squash because it’s such a healthy alternative to heavy pasta, and it also holds up well throughout the week. Plus, I can bake one entire spaghetti squash on the weekend and still have plenty of meals left. Depending on the size of the spaghetti squash, I usually get anywhere from 2 servings from the very small to 4-6 servings for the larger ones.

How-to Make Spaghetti Squash

On top of the spaghetti squash I layered cottage cheese for protein along with broccoli for a little green. I know this may sound a strange, but my mom always made lasagna with cottage cheese so the flavor combination reminds me of childhood comfort food. I top it with marinara sauce and salt and pepper. Sometimes I may use fresh mozzarella or a couple tablespoons of ricotta instead of the cottage cheese. I also add diced tomato or fresh basil leaves if I have it available.

IMG_1185

As for the salads, I decided to make it with a Greek theme. On top of a bed of mixed greens I added artichoke hearts, hummus, kalamata olives, feta cheese, shredded carrots, and purple cabbage.

Make-Ahead Lunches - Greek Salads and Spaghetti Squash

I have been asked a lot how these meals hold up, and I am going to be truthful – by Thursday and Friday the meal just isn’t as fresh as those eaten the prior three days. I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone though! For me, having the meals ready to go without spending much time during the week worrying about what I am going to eat is worth the trade off. If you prefer, feel free to make the first three Sunday night and set aside a little time Wednesday evening to finish up for Thursday and Friday.

Make-Ahead Lunches - Greek Salads and Spaghetti Squash

Here are a few tips I have for make-ahead lunches:

  • Use the freshest ingredients when making your meals! Think of it this way, if your lettuce and veggies aren’t fresh Sunday then they sure as heck won’t be any fresher by Friday! Buy your groceries Saturday or Sunday and make the meals Sunday evening so they are as fresh as can be for the week ahead.
  • Make sure the ingredients are really dry! If you make spaghetti squash, be sure to let the squash completely cool before placing in the container and then covering with a lid.  The steam will make too much condensation and you’ll end up with watery squash. This goes the same for your salads. When you wash your veggies, make sure to fully dry them to avoid wilted salads. When I took artichoke hearts from the can and black olives from the jar, I patted them completely dry before placing on the mixed greens.
  • Save creamy and oily dressings for the side! This is pretty basic knowledge, but I suggest not placing the dressings on the salad until ready to eat. This will keep the lettuce crisp and fresh!
  • Use a tight-lidded container! Make sure the to-go containers you are using close tightly. This will help keep air out and the food fresher. I like to use plastic with a lid (and then switch to glass at work when heating), because they are so cheap and I can have a lot of them on hand for meal prep. I also love Pyrex glass bowls with lids and mason jars closed nice and tight with a lid as well.
  • Be realistic! No, your three day meal is never going to be as tasty as fries from Five Guys or a burrito bowl from Chipotle, but it is (probably) going to be healthier, quicker and cheaper!! Save those delicious indulgences and your hard-earned money for a lunch out with friends or a date night with your love. I like to look at lunches during the week as a healthy energy session to help get me through the rest of the day, and less of a time to indulge and fall into a food coma all afternoon. You know yourself though so if packing three days and eating out two works for you, then that is just great! Find your own balance that fits your life and schedule the best.

Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl

Piada Salad Bowl with a Piada Stick

Conversation Time.

  • Do you tend to pack your lunches more often, or do you typically eat out at lunchtime?
  • What are your favorite lunchtime meals to pack?
  • What lunch location is your ideal splurge-worthy restaurant? I am such a sucker for Chipotle and Piada at lunch, but really anytime of the day I love those two quick-serve restaurants! So darn good!