Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cranberry Recipe Roundup + Healthy Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins.

When I think about Thanksgiving, the main dishes come to mind - turkey, buttery mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, and cranberries. Perhaps as a sauce for your turkey, or in a chilled cranberry salad. My huge family gathering {over 40 people!} usually includes one of those cool whip + fresh cranberry concoctions as a side dish, and cranberry sauce in a dish somewhere. I have to admit I usually don't go for either cranberry offering. The jelly-like canned version of cranberry sauce is too strange, and I would rather save my whipped topping fix for the pies!

However you use them, including cranberries is one way to pack a healthy ingredient into an otherwise decadent holiday meal. Cranberries are full of antioxidants, as well as Vitamin C and fiber. These red beauties are actually a "superfood" that should be enjoyed year-round. In the spirit of Thanksgiving week, I compiled a cranberry recipe round-up from other bloggers. Perhaps your family is still looking for a new recipe to add to the table this year, or you will be inspired to try one of these to get your cranberry fix after the big event on Thursday. I also have a new cranberry recipe to share as part of this round-up, for a healthy breakfast treat or snack - Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful week!

Cranberry Apple Walnut Stuffing from Thrifty Jinxy:

Splash O'Port Cranberry Relish from BonBon Break:

Cranberry Orange Quinoa Salad from Gal on a Mission:

Shredded Brussel Sprouts Salad {with cranberries!} from The Kitchen is My Playground:

Cranberry Vinaigrette from Healthy Seasonal Recipes:

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Bread with Cranberries from Andrea Meyers:

Acorn Squash with Cornbread Sausage Stuffing from The Farm Girl Gabs:

Last but not least, below is a new recipe for healthy muffins packed with dried cranberries - the oil and butter normally in a baked good is substituted with pumpkin puree and applesauce, and lower sugar is made up for by using pure maple syrup.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup {I used Grade A from Wisconsin}
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

How to~
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon.
*In a separate bowl, mix eggs, pumpkin puree, maple syrup and applesauce until smooth.
*Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to make a smooth batter.
*Spoon batter into muffin cups or a greased muffin tin. Bake for ~25-30 minutes.

{Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins adapted from Taste of Home's Apple Pumpkin Muffins}

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Q&A with Factor 75.

{I was not compensated to write this post and all opinions are my own. I received four free meals from Factor 75 to facilitate my review. This post contains affiliate links to the Chicago Jogger Landing Page, which means I receive credit if you purchase meals using the CHICAGOJOGGER code. Look for details below - thanks for supporting the companies I believe in!}
As the busy holiday season nears, I'm expecting all of us will have less time to cook. A local Chicago company, Factor 75, contacted me last month to see if I would be interested in tasting and reviewing a few healthy meals from their delivery service. Factor 75 meals are fresh, not frozen, and ready to eat or go into the fridge for another day. This was my first experience with a meal delivery service and it was an easy process! The meals arrived right on time, packed in a box with ice.

I ordered four meals for K and I to try, including Butternut Squash Lasagna, Pumpkin/Apple Hash with Chicken Sausage, Chicken Fajitas, and a Taco Bowl. All of the meals we tried were delicious, but my absolute favorite was the squash lasagna. Butternut squash is a fall staple in our house, and this version was cooked perfectly, paired with marinara, ground turkey, and spinach as a hearty lasagna. Factor 75 meals are intended as individual servings. However, the chicken fajitas ended up extending to two meals for me when K was out of town for work travel, with the addition or corn tortillas and extra avocado. Healthy fats! Check out this week's menu here.

Factor75 currently delivers to the whole state of Illinois, including the Chicagoland area. The company is developing plans to expand regionally in the Midwest in the next few months. Enter your zip code here to see whether the company delivers to your area. If you're interested in checking out Factor 75, you can get one free meal with the purchase of five items. Click here to check out the Chicago Jogger landing page - enter the code CHICAGOJOGGER to get your free meal. Purchasing any combination of five items qualifies you for a free meal {buy five, get one free!} - even breakfast and snacks.
Factor 75 is located in the neighborhood Pilsen, with a new kitchen in Northbrook, IL. I am impressed by Factor 75's tasty offerings and the company's dedication to healthy meals for busy people. The company even has an eBook: FiveSteps to Optimal Nutrition. I asked company founder Nick Wernimont to answer a few questions for readers, to provide additional background and throw my support behind a growing local company.

Q&A with Factor 75's Nick Wernimont

How was Factor 75 founded?
I had a full time job and was an MMA fighter so between 8-10 hour work days and 3-5 hours training a day I didn’t have time to eat healthy or make my own meals.  My body broke down after a short time.  Fortunately a trainer of mine introduced me to a personal chef who worked with athletes and she started making my meals for me.  The difference it made was incredible and almost immediate.  I had no idea how big of an impact what you put into your body was as to what you got out of it.  I found the biggest factor that impacted my performance, both physically and mentally, was food.

I immediately wished I had discovered nutrition earlier. I thought more people should know how it feels to walk around every day with the type of energy, focus and motivation that I did only from a change in how I ate. People are busy, though and most can't afford a personal chef. So I dropped everything and started working on a way to make it happen for them anyway.

Factor 75 isn’t about dieting. It is about Performance Eating. We want to help our customers eat optimally so they can perform at their best and get the absolute most out of their precious time. Whether you’re a marathoner, a tri-athlete, a cage-fighter; or a busy professional looking to perform better at work, a mom or dad looking to get more out of the time you have with your family, eating better means living better.

What is Factor 75's mission and inspiration? 
We believe people should spend their time creating moments that matter.  That life is not valued in number of years, but quality of moments you create. Our mission is to help people eat better so they can live better.

Our inspiration comes from our community.  These are people who lead by example, people who are always striving to improve and want to perform their best no matter the activity they choose.  They are athletes, professionals, mom’s and dad’s, anyone really who is passionate about living life to the fullest.  We respect that and are here to serve them. 

How often do your menu items change, and what inspires the changes?  
We add new dishes to our menu weekly, sometimes bi-weekly.  It depends on if we believe we have a dish that fits ours and our customers expectations.  The inspirations come from our entire team and our customers.  We all sit down and ask ourselves what dishes Mom and Grandma made that we would love to eat more often and can make healthy.  We take the dishes we all love and re-engineer them with healthier ingredients.  The result is comfort food that not only taste great but is incredibly nutritious.

Does Factor 75 use seasonal and/or local ingredients? 
Yes. We use a lot of seasonal ingredients as we rotate the menu through the year.  All of our ingredients are organic and whenever possible we use local farms to source them. 

What types of meals are available?
We have recently revamped our menu so there has been some changes.  All of our dishes are now Gluten-Free, Soy-Free and 100% Organic.  A lot of our menu is also Paleo.  We had vegetarian options but recently removed them for the time being.  Our nutrition philosophy does include animal protein and fat so we have taken them off.

What is the service area in Chicago?  
We currently serve anywhere in the state of Illinois.

How can Factor 75 help a busy lifestyle?
The average American spends 2.5 hours a day sourcing their meals.   Often these meals have very poor nutrition and frankly, taste like crap.  We save you 2.5 hours a day, delivery delicious meals that make you feel awesome.  Simple enough…

For more information about Factor 75, check out their blog and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Holiday Running Challenge.

Last year, I posted a Winter Running Challenge with the goal of running 100 miles in ten weeks, ending on New Years Eve 2013. I squeaked by with just over 100 miles, with my final run on the last day of the year. Ten miles per week may not seem like a lot, but 2013 was the first year I managed to run consistently over the winter months. Many of those miles were run on a treadmill, and there were weeks when I ran considerably less than average due to vacation, sickness, and busy nights.

My struggle every winter is getting the miles in and enjoying it. I love to run outside and it's tough for me to stay motivated in an overheated gym, waiting in line for a treadmill. Heading home after work and drinking hot cider generally sounds much more appealing.

This year I'm pushing the weekly average mileage slightly higher. Since I focused on training for the Hot Chocolate 15k up until last week, I decided to try something different - a shorter time period for the challenge, and more focus on motivation. What motivates you to run, practice yoga, or complete whatever fitness activity is your jam? I'm going to focus on one thing each week that's motivating - and stock up on better outdoor running gear so I can jog outside when feasible {I'm giving the Polar Vortex a side eye right now}.

I'll post an update every Monday on progress from the previous week. Comment if you'd like to join on your own challenge this season!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Five Step Treadmill Workout + Lately List.

I was smacked with a blast of freezing air yesterday morning on my way to work. What a reminder that I need to get back to creative treadmill ideas with unseasonably chilly temperatures in the area this week! Let's look on the bright side though - my brother lives in Minneapolis, and the city received several inches of snow a few days ago. At least all I see this morning is a dusting in the yard.

Regardless, I will not be running outside today. My winter running wardrobe is sorely lacking at the moment. Until I get that back on track, here is a quick treadmill workout that I ran the other night after work. I wanted to get in a short run so I did two cycles through this list, ending up with 35 minutes and 3.3 miles. I might try for three cycles on this evening's run.

I also have a fun "Lately" list to share that I first I read a few weeks ago on A Foodie Stays Fit. Teri is one of my favorite fitness blogs to read, and I wanted to play along. If you copy/paste this list on your own blog, leave a comment with your link! I would love to read what's going on in your world.

Making: A smoothie for breakfast this morning - with a banana, spinach, frozen peach slices, Greek yogurt, and lots of cinnamon.
Cooking: Purple Stokes Sweet Potatoes. I made them mashed and roasted this week, and I can't wait to try a vegetarian shepard's pie.
Drinking: La Croix Orange - daily. Sometimes twice.
Reading: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell- hanging on every word! {<-- not an affiliate link}
Wanting: A piano. I played from age 6 to 18 and we have a perfect spot in our dining room.
Looking: For home decor - curtains and rugs are at the top of my list.
Playing: Words with Friends. K are I are battling in a game or two most of the time. I usually lose. Boo!
Wasting: Time on Pinterest.
Sewing: Nothing. My sewing skills are sorely lacking! I got a B- in a button sewing exercise in middle school. I know.
Wishing: For a healthy and joyful holiday season.
Enjoying: All the squash - especially butternut. I have a few new recipe ideas in mind; coming soon if they turn out!
Waiting: For time to listen to tonight's episode of the Serial podcast. It's soo good! I wish episodes were longer than 30 minutes.
Liking: This pair of brown boots.
Wondering: When the first big snowfall will hit this season. I hope it waits for a day without work travel...
Loving: Everything from West Elm. All the things!
Hoping: For good weather to run outdoors this weekend {a high above 35 degrees, please}.
Marveling: That the holiday season is almost here. I refuse to join any Christmas-like activities until the day after Thanksgiving.
Needing: Nothing! Wanting, that's another story.
Smelling: An Apple Pie Filling candle, found at Home Goods. Can't get enough.
Wearing: Warm clothes - it's 24 degrees today. Yikes.
Following: Virtual running friends on Twitter. Who do I need to add next?
Noticing: The chill in the air.
Knowing: I need to run on the treadmill today.
Thinking: About my Christmas gift list for family. This season is sneaking up on me!
Feeling: Motivated to {finally} finish painting the trim in our upstairs hallway.
Bookmarking: Winter soup recipes. I'm still in denial, but I can't wait to try this recipe for Thai Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup!
Opening: My computer far too often. I need to figure out a day to unplug, stat.
Giggling: At photos of a newly rescued kitten on our family farm. So incredibly sweet.

Lastly, I'm happy it's almost the weekend! Have a wonderful Thursday.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap.

My longest race this fall finally happened over the weekend, after nine weeks of training. Sunday morning started in the five o'clock hour with coffee and almond butter toast, to wake up for the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k! I ran with two dear friends J and S, including S's dad who traveled from Iowa to run with us.

{I received a free race registration for the Hot Chocolate 15k race in Chicago as part of the Hot Chocolate Blog Ambassador program}.

We arrived bright and early by the recommended time of 6:40am, to get in line for wave 2 of the race. The Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k/5k series sold out with 40,000 {yes, thousand!} runners this year, and the race line-up was incredibly organized. We did a quick drop at gear check and made it to our designated letter with plenty of time to spare. A new "letter" of runners started every four minutes, leaving space for runners to avoid tripping over each other.

It was chilly at the start, and I learned my lesson to wear warmer socks the next time it's sub-40 degrees for a race. Thankfully we warmed up quickly once the run started. We ran underneath Randolph Street and around the Loop for a bit, before heading south on Michigan Avenue, through the South Loop neighborhood. The race circled back north along an inner Lake Shore Drive street and ended in Grant Park, where it began.

I ran the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k for the first time in 2010, and improved my overall time this year by more than 10 minutes! I'm definitely calling that a 15k PR. I run much more regularly these days, and sticking to the training plan for this race definitely helped. The first few miles were slower while we found our running groove with the crowd and started passing people. I think we would have finished a few minutes faster had we been in a higher letter (we were in the "N" corral). My goal was to finish with a 10:30/minute pace, but we finished strong and I'm happy with this result!

Overall time: 1:39:18
Pace: 10:40/mile
Overall place: 8,095th out of 14,164
Age group place: 897th out of 1,728

I can't forget the sweet medal - or the chocolate! The "finisher's mug" did not disappoint. Each runner received a steaming cup of hot chocolate with a side of fondue. I don't know how they kept the hot chocolate warm for so many thousands of people, but I enjoyed every sip. For fondue dipping, the mug came with a banana, mini pretzels, and a small wafer cookie. We finished the morning with brunch and a mimosa at The 3rd Coast Cafe in Old Town. I finished the afternoon with a nap!

For more information about the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k RAM Racing Series in other cities, click here. You can also follow Hot Chocolate on Twitter and like on Facebook.

Have you ever run a Hot Chocolate race?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Running Update + Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bites

This quick, no-bake recipe for Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bites is full of delicious pumpkin spice flavors with only 6 ingredients.

If you haven't already, please get out and vote at your local precinct today! For inspiration, check out this Huffington Post article on 27 Badass Images of Women Winning and Exercising the Right to Vote. Powerful images of an important civic duty.

{Image via Huffington Post, from Gabriel Hackett /Getty Images - "Vote baby vote."}

Now let's talk about fall running before I share a new, seasonal healthy snack recipe. I loved gaining an extra hour over the weekend {even though it meant I got out of bed even earlier than usual, around the 6:00 hour. I know.} However, I do not love darkness before 5:00 and the associated time I'll be spending on the treadmill instead of running outdoors. Sniff.

In early October, I posted a running check-in for the first five weeks of training for the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k. The last few weeks have continued mostly on track, and my monthly miles in October totaled 65.2! This is definitely a PR month for me. Here is an update on the final few weeks of training:

Week 6: Ran 3.5; Ran 7 (long); Ran 10k race = 16.7 miles
Week 7: Ran 5; Ran 10k race = 11.2 miles 
Week 8: Ran 3.1; Ran 8 (long); Ran 4 = 15.1 miles

I started the last week of training {week 9!} with a 9 mile long run on Sunday, and I'm planning to take it easy for the rest of this week with two shorter runs to prepare for the race. After my final long run I was starving for snacks, and decided to try out a new recipe I've been thinking about for awhile - healthy pumpkin spice bites with only a few ingredients. This recipe comes together quickly in a food processor, with no cooking required.

My Pumpkin Spice Bites are inspired by Larabars. I have been thinking about making my own raw date + nut concoction for months but couldn't decide what flavor to try. Word on the street is Larabar sells a seasonal Pumpkin Pie Bar, but I haven't been able to find it in stores yet. Their version includes dates, dried pumpkin, cashews, and traditional pumpkin pie spices. I thought it would be fun to make a copycat recipe, using raw almonds and pumpkin puree instead of dried pumpkin.

These bites are the perfect bite-sized snack with a sweet, pumpkin pie flavor. There are no added sugars, only spices mixed with dates, raw almonds, pumpkin puree and pure vanilla extract. Try one, won't you?

Healthy Pumpkin Spice Bites
Yields: 12 energy bites

15 dates
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

How to~
*Start by processing the almonds in a food processor. {I like to keep a few small chunks in the mix, so I did not process the almonds into a powder.}
*Add half of the dates, and half of the pumpkin puree. Process the mixture a few times. Stop the processor and use a spatula to re-combine the mix if needed.
*Add the rest of the dates, pumpkin puree, spices, and vanilla extract. Keep processing until the ingredients are evenly combined.
*Remove from the food processor and form into balls. I used a medium-sized cookie scoop to ensure even sizing for each bite.
*Freeze for 30 minutes to harden. Keep refrigerated in a covered container - the bites should last cooled for up to one week!

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: N/A; 15 minutes to process and put the bites together.
Total time: 20 minutes

These bites come in at ~85 calories a piece, calculated by SparkRecipes.