Monday, April 17, 2017

Favorite Things {April '17}

I love reading about new things on other bloggers "favorite" posts, so I decided to join this trend by starting an occasional Monday favorites post. Monday works well because the weekend is when I tend to discover new things.

This post contains affiliate links.

We had a wonderful Easter weekend - the weather was gorgeous and we celebrated the holiday with my parents' who visited from Iowa. Weekend highlights included teaching baby C about the Easter bunny:

K also planted our raised garden bed and I planted our window boxes and a few potted flowers on the deck. We also admired plenty of spring flowers on walks around the neighborhood:

Scroll below for the rest of my recent favorites!

Favorite Snack

My absolute favorite new snack is a limited edition Banana Chocolate Chip Larabar. I have only seen this flavor for sale at Target. Whenever I find it in the store at least two boxes are purchased. The bars are that good. I want to make these bars at home but I can't figure out how to avoid mushy chunks of banana.

Favorite Caffeine Boost

I finally started drinking matcha green tea. Trader Joe's sells individual matcha green tea packets that taste amazing. I whisk mine with half water and half almond milk, and add a few teaspoons of maple syrup for sweetness. The packets are $1 each, but this is much more reasonable than the $4+ iced green tea lattes from Starbucks that I love to indulge in.

Favorite Outdoor Walk

Two weeks ago Baby C and I visited the Garfield Park Conservatory for an outdoor walk with friends. The Conservatory has 12 acres of outdoor gardens. The first blooms of the season were out, with hundreds of daffodils lining the garden path. I can't wait to go back when summer flowers are blooming.

Favorite Cookbook

Last year before baby C was born, K and I planned a handful of "pre-baby" dates. One of these dates was a dinner at Fat Rice in the Logan Square neighborhood. Fat Rice is described as "comfort food from around the world" though I think it has an Asian flair to its flavors. I bought K the Fat Rice cookbook from Valentine's Day and we have enjoyed several recipes --> The Adventures of Fat Rice: Recipes fro the Chicago Restaurant Inspired by Macau. If you have the cookbook, my favorite dish so far is Lacassa {Macanese Rice Vermicelli Stir-Fry}. The marinade is extremely good and the dish is paired with beet pickled ginger.

Favorite Baby Product

I have a "baby favorites" post coming soon with my favorite items for baby C's first four months of life. This baby wrap is at the top of the list - the Baby K'tan Original Baby Carrier. This carrier is very easy to use and he falls asleep almost immediately. It's cotton and washes easily too. We received it as a gift but I would definitely purchase it myself.

Favorite Breakfast

Last Sunday morning K and I went on a long walk with baby C and stopped for brunch at Baker Miller in Lincoln Square. I had the prettiest avocado toast on their sunflower seed bread, topped with scrambled eggs and slices of watermelon radishes. Watermelon radishes don't have much flavor but they're lovely and add a nice crunch to any dish.

Favorite Spring Find

Oakley reached out to me a few weeks ago about reviewing a complimentary pair of polarized sunglasses. I have been looking for quality sunglasses for years - in the meantime I keep buying {and breaking} cheap pairs. No longer. I love the Oakley Drop In Polarized sunglasses in tortoise - pictured below on a lakefront walk.

My dad always wore Oakley sunglasses when I was growing up, but this is my first pair. I am a huge fan! They are very lightweight and perfect for spring. Check out more Oakley's women's sunglasses at this link.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies

This healthier dessert or snack recipe for Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies is flourless and sweetened naturally with dates. Adding crunchy coconut flakes and almond butter reminds me of a buttery pie crust.

Chicago has experienced a few beautiful spring days so far, with temps in the 60s and 70s last weekend. This has me dreaming about seasonal summer produce, especially berries. Since blueberries won't be on the seasonal list for a few more months, I settled for using dried blueberries in this recipe instead.

My favorite dried berries are Dried Wild Blueberries from Trader Joe's. Dried blueberries are combined with a few of my favorite baking ingredients in this recipe: almond flour, old-fashioned oats, dates, and almond butter.

I created a homemade "date paste" to sweeten the cookies, by combining California dates and almond butter in the food processor. I used the same method in my Meyer Lemon Cookies.

The taste reminds me of blueberry pie - the coconut and almond flavors are similar to pie crust. K and I demolished this batch of cookies in two days. These cookies are particularly delicious microwaved for ~15 seconds and topped with extra almond butter.

Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies
Yields: 18-20 cookies

1 1/4 cups almond flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 egg
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tablespoons melted coconut oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup dried blueberries
10 California dates
1/4 cup almond butter
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Mix dates and almond butter in a food processor, until it forms a paste.
*Add the date paste to a mixer, and combine the wet ingredients - egg, lemon juice, applesauce, and vanilla extract.
*Add the dry ingredients - almond flour, oatmeal, coconut flakes, baking soda, and salt. Mix until combined.
*Use a medium cookie scoop to place cookies on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Lightly press each cookie with a fork to flatten.
*Bake for 11-12 minutes.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Shamrock Shuffle 8k Race + Potbelly Sandwich Shop

This weekend I ran the Shamrock Shuffle 8k race in downtown Chicago and had lunch at Potbelly Sandwich Shop to refuel afterwards. Read below for a brief race recap and details on using the Potbelly app.

How did you spend the first weekend of April? I ran my first race of the year and the first race since baby C was born - the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k. This was my sixth time running the Shamrock Shuffle race. The weather was perfect for a spring run on Sunday - temperatures in the 50s and sun at the finish line.

My friend P and I ran the race together. We started in wave 2 at 9:00 am - the later start time was much appreciated. The Shuffle was P's first road race event and she did an amazing job! I am not back to a consistent running routine yet but I felt good during the race. My legs are still sore today though - second day soreness is no joke when you're not used to running 5 miles.

Many people consider the Shamrock Shuffle the start of racing season in Chicago. More than 20,000 people participated in the race this year. Even though we are a few weeks past St. Patrick's Day most people were decked out in green. P and I missed the green shirt memo. ;)

After the race, I was starving and ready for an early lunch. I was given the opportunity to check out the Potbelly Sandwich Shop app this weekend so K and baby C met me in Lincoln Square at Potbelly.

Potbelly is one of my favorite stops for a quick lunch. The shop has an app where you can pre-order a meal. On my way to Potbelly I placed our order on the app, which is linked to my credit card. The app gives you all of Potbelly's meal options, including sandwiches, salads, sides, desserts, and drinks. Here is what a meal selection looks like:

I think it's great that the Potbelly app includes nutrition information as well as detailed food options. I'm always wondering what days specific soups are available and now I can figure that out easily. If you use the app and order your meal in advance, you can jump the line and head straight to the counter to pick up your order. After I placed an order, the app said our meal would be ready in 10 minutes.

Another benefit of using the Potbelly app is access to Potbelly Perks. For every $2 spent, you earn "smiles" that go towards future perks like free treats.

I frequently eat lunch at Potbelly, especially while working downtown. I appreciate that they use fresh ingredients and have a large menu of options. For lunch this weekend, I had the Classic Tomato soup {my favorite} and Powerhouse Salad. The salad came with grilled chicken, avocado, hummus, hard-boiled egg, cucumber, grape tomatoes, and spinach.

K ordered a toasted chicken salad sandwich with a side of chips. If you're a fan of chicken salad, the Potbelly version is my favorite. While I was pregnant with baby C I had a chicken salad flatbread sandwich from Potbelly several times a week. I think he's made up of at least 30% chicken salad!

Click here to download the Potbelly Sandwich Shop app. Using the app is an easy way to customize your meal order and jump the line to save time. You can also order delivery through the app, which I definitely plan on using in the future.

Check out my Shamrock Shuffle race posts from previous years:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Golden Cinnamon Raisin Bread

This recipe for Golden Cinnamon Raisin Bread is perfect for a sweet breakfast and makes delicious toast. Add frosting for the best breakfast dessert that tastes like a cinnamon roll.

My mom is an expert at baking bread. I have a very large extended family and the request for holiday potluck meals is often "please bring your dinner rolls!" Baby C and I were in Iowa recently for a visit and I asked her to teach me how to make raisin bread from scratch.

Who doesn't love raisin bread? Especially when it includes a heavy cinnamon swirl. In college, back when my meals were super simple and often included a Lean Cuisine, I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on store-bought raisin bread to take to class with me. I think this homemade version of raisin bread is so much better!

We modified the original recipe by substituting white whole wheat flour, using golden raisins, and adding chopped walnuts. After the dough rises, split it in half and flatten the dough into two rectangular shapes. This step is similar to making a huge cinnamon roll loaf. We added melted butter, ground cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and brown sugar.

Each loaf is rolled up and baked in a generously oiled bread pan. Before baking, make sure to tuck in the end of each loaf so there is no cinnamon sugar mixture exposed to the bread pan.

My Golden Cinnamon Raisin Bread could easily become dessert with a drizzle {or pour} of frosting. This recipe makes plenty of bread for leftovers - we sliced the extra loaf and froze it for future breakfast meals.

Golden Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Yields: 2 loaves

3 cups bread flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 Tablespoons soy flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons canola oil
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup golden raisins

Cinnamon Swirl:
2 Tablespoons melted butter
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped raw walnuts
2/3 cup brown sugar

*Add 2 cups of bread flour, 2 cups of white whole wheat flour, yeast, soy flour, wheat bran and salt to a stand mixer with the bread hook attachment. Mix until combined.
*Add canola oil and warm water to the flour mixture. Add golden raisins. Mix until combined.
*Slowly add one additional cup of bread flour, as the dough is mixing. If the dough feels stiff, add more water a Tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too soft, add additional flour.
*Mix the dough for approximately 10 minutes. The dough is ready to rise when it feels spongy to the touch.
*Let the bread rise for 2-3 hours, in a covered bowl. If you don't have a slightly warm place for the dough to rise, fill a container with lukewarm water and place your covered mixing bowl inside. I let my dough rise for 2 1/2 hours, until the dough reached the top of the bowl.
*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
*Remove the dough from the bowl and cut it in half. Roll out each half on a floured surface until the dough is an inch thick and in a rectangular shape.
*Spread melted butter, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and brown sugar to each rectangular piece of dough. If you want a sweeter bread, add extra sugar.
*Roll up each loaf and bake in a heavily buttered or oiled bread pan. Make sure to tuck the ends of each loaf under so that there is no cinnamon-sugar exposed to the pan.
*Bake for 30 minutes.

{Adapted from the Raisin Bread recipe in the Baba a Louis Bakery Bread Book: The Secret Book of the Bread by John McClure}

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chicago Birthday Week Eats

I celebrated my birthday last week with family and enjoyed eats at an old favorite and two new {to me} Chicago restaurants.

On my birthday, my mom and I visited Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits for a late breakfast with baby C. The Ravenswood location {4947 N. Damen Avenue} opened last spring and I have been wanting to try their breakfast for months. Bang Bang is famous for their biscuits and pie. This breakfast did not disappoint! I had an Avocado Biscuit which was topped with fresno chiles, queso fresco, mole spice, and cilantro. I loved that the biscuit was served in a unique rectangular shape. We shared Key Lime Pie for breakfast dessert. Their Key Lime Pie is one of the best I've tried. Check out the menu here.

Later that night we went out for a birthday dinner at Spacca Napoli Pizzeria with K and my in-laws. Spacca Napoli is my favorite Neapolitan-style pizza with an amazing, wood-fired thin crust and authentic Italian toppings. We shared a burrata cheese appetizer to start - the cheese is flown in from Italy weekly. My favorite Spacca Napoli pizza is the Diavola, with blended San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte {cheese}, calabrese soppressata {spicy salami} and basil. Spacca Napoli is located at 1769 W. Sunnyside Avenue. Check out their menu here.

We shared a few bites of tiramisu for dessert and went home for cake. Specifically From Scratch Carrot Cake by I am Homesteader. With cream cheese frosting, obviously.

After a decadent birthday day of eats, I wanted something lighter. My mom and I stopped by Lyfe Kitchen the next day for a lunch out while running errands. We visited Lyfe Kitchen in Lincoln Park {1538 N. Clybourn Avenue} but there are a number of locations in the Chicago area.

I was very impressed with the food! Lyfe Kitchen is an American-style fast casual restaurant with healthy menu offerings. I had the black bean burger which came with a side salad topped with the best lemon vinaigrette. My mom had fish tacos and we also shared baked sweet potato fries. The weather was warm enough to be summer that day so we tried "Lyfe Waters" with lunch. We both had the Cucumber Mint, which includes cucumber juice, mint, lime and agave.

I'll definitely head back to Lyfe Kitchen again for a quick and healthy lunch. Check out the menu here.

I can't resist sharing one photo of our littlest lunch date. He's not eating "real" food yet but he certainly enjoys being out and about!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cinnamon Crunch Protein Waffles

This breakfast recipe for Cinnamon Crunch Protein Waffles is healthy and full of flavor. The extra kick of protein comes from protein powder to keep you full all morning.

I have been creating a lot of new breakfast recipes this year, so I'm especially excited to share my first experience cooking with protein powder.

I used a Quest Cinnamon Crunch Protein Powder Packet in this waffle recipe to increase the protein content and create a healthier breakfast. Quest Cinnamon Crunch Protein Powder Packets are available for purchase at GNC.

I stopped by my local GNC and the packets were available right at the counter. Full sized Quest Protein Powders are also available for purchase. One scoop of this protein powder contains 20 grams of protein, less than 1gram of sugar, and only 100 calories. Quest Protein Powder is also gluten and soy free.

I love anything cinnamon-flavored, especially for breakfast, so the Quest Cinnamon Crunch flavor could not be more perfect for this recipe. I used a waffle iron, but you can easily adapt this recipe for pancakes too.

The best part is this waffle recipe contains less sugar than a typical cinnamon-flavored cereal, with extra protein and delicious flavor. I topped my protein waffles with pure maple syrup and extra ground cinnamon.

Cinnamon Crunch Protein Waffles
Yields: 10 waffles

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 packet Quest Cinnamon Crunch Protein Powder
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons honey
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Pre-heat a waffle iron.
*Whisk wet ingredients in a bowl: eggs, honey, coconut oil, vanilla extract, and milk {I used unsweetened almond milk}.
*Add dry ingredients: white whole wheat flour, protein powder, cinnamon, and baking powder. Whisk until the ingredients are mixed well, with minimal lumps in the batter.
*Spray a heated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray or oil. For a four-waffle iron, add approximately 1 1/4 cups of waffle batter.
*Cook until golden brown: 3 minutes for softer waffles and 4-5 minutes for crisper waffles.
*Top with maple syrup and extra cinnamon.

{Adapted from allrecipes recipe for Waffles.}

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes + South Naples Citrus Grove

This dessert recipe for Chocolate Orange Cupcakes is made healthier by using whole grain flour and old fashioned oats. The cupcakes are naturally sweetened with honey and include an Orange Glaze made with the zest from Honeybell oranges.

K and I traveled to southwestern Florida in February for a long weekend to visit his family. This was baby C's first flight and he could not have been a better traveler. It is so true that 3 months old is a great age to travel. He's very portable right now and like our pediatrician told me, don't worry about the flight because the baby is too young to lick the airplane seats. :)

We visited the South Naples Citrus Grove on our trip, located outside Naples, and ordered a box of baby honeybell oranges to be shipped home. The citrus smell at the grove was unreal - like a whiff of fresh squeezed orange juice, times ten.

Honeybell oranges {also called Tangelos} are very sweet and juicy and the most popular fruit at the South Naples grove. We ordered the "baby" version which are slightly smaller in size than regular Honeybells.

Our box arrived a few weeks ago and it's almost gone. I sacrificed one of the last oranges to create a new dessert recipe: Chocolate Orange Cupcakes. These cupcakes are made healthier by using whole grain flour {white whole wheat flour} and old fashioned oats. The cupcakes are sweetened with honey and contain applesauce and coconut oil in place of vegetable oil.

The orange flavor comes through by adding orange juice, lots of orange zest, and orange extract to the cupcake batter.

Any orange will work in this recipe, but find a Honeybell if you can!

I added an Orange Glaze and sugar sprinkles, but these cupcakes are healthy enough for breakfast if you leave them plain. I might even call them "muffins" without the frosting.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
Yields: 12 cupcakes

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned oats, ground into flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 egg
1/3 cup orange juice
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
2 Tablespoons orange zest

Optional: 1 teaspoon espresso powder

Orange Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon orange zest
3 Tablespoons milk

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Make oat flour by processing 1 cup of old fashioned oats in a food processor. 
*Mix wet ingredients in a bowl: egg, orange juice, applesauce, coconut oil, and honey.
*Add dry ingredients: cocoa powder, white whole wheat flour, oat flour, and baking soda.
*Stir in vanilla extract, orange extract, orange zest, and espresso powder.
*Add batter to a muffin tin. Bake the cupcakes for 20-22 minutes.
*When the cupcakes have cooled, whisk together powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk and orange zest to make the Orange Glaze.

{Cupcake recipe adapted from allrecipes recipe for Moist Chocolate Muffins. Glaze recipe adapted from the epicurious recipe for a Basic Sugar Glaze.}

Looking for more Chocolate Orange recipes? Try my: