Vacation: From Washington DC to South Carolina- Days 1 & 2

Hey all!

It’s been a while since I’ve ventured to these parts, and while I’ve missed my outlet to share what’s been going on, life and food wise, we’ve been busy!

We recently just came back from a much needed and wonderful vacation, with which I’d like to share with you all!

Vacation, whether it be going away or staying close to home, is needed in this busy, sometimes stressful world we live in. We all work hard, both inside and outside of our homes, and leaving the normal responsibilities of life behind, even just for a little bit, definitely puts some pep back in all our steps!

I’ll be breaking our vacation down into different posts, to not inundate you with loads of pictures and words. We really had a wonderful time, and I hope you all have some plans to do what you love this year, whether it be travel, or just stay home!

Day One: Washington DC Bound!

The week leading up to our road trip vacation was a little chaotic, which made us crave some freedom! We were so excited to hit the road, mostly in part because we knew my momma would be staying at our house and caring for our sweet pups. Love my momma!

Our day started out not so bright (rain, rain go away) but definitely early, and we hit the road excited to get to our first destination, Washington DC!

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We stopped to get our beloved Starbucks, because well, vacation mode!

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The drive was nice into DC, cloudy but full of sunshine from our car! Love driving with the hubs, we have some of our best conversations in the car.

When we arrived to Washington, just a little after five hours, we were hungry. Okay, I’m lying, I was hangry. So after driving around for a little while and not having a clue where we wanted to go for lunch, we ended up at a really cute restaurant on Connecticut Ave! The irony! Lillies Restaurant & Bar was a nice treat to start our trip, and we definitely would recommend this restaurant for anyone in that area.

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Lillies is a family owned-and-operated Italian local neighbourhood restaurant, located steps away from the Woodley Park Zoo. It features modern Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.

We shared an appetizer of their calamari served with a herb aiola sauce, and it definitely curbed the hunger beast that may or may not have come out 😉

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Since we felt like continuing our shared lunch, we opted for their Herb Chicken dish and it did not disappoint.

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Herb marinated chicken in the house sauce, served with wild rice and steamed vegetables

We licked the plate clean, the hubs eating the rice and I enjoyed the vegetables with the tasty sauce!

After eating, we decided to visit the Smithsonian National Zoo! The sun was shining and it was free, so perfection!

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After the zoo we drove to our hotel for the evening, the Hyatt House in Herndon, VA. We  picked this hotel based on location and a great price. I would recommend it, it was clean, spacious, and had a free breakfast buffet!

After relaxing for a little bit, we showered and got ready for our dinner reservations at the Founding Farmers. After doing some research, I really enjoyed what this restaurant company stands for and I’m so glad we got the opportunity to dine there.

The values of the American family farmer are at the heart of all we do at Founding Farmers. Like the more than 47,000 family farmers who own our restaurant, we strive to work hard and operate with a genuine concern for our land and our community. We believe that everyone should be able to enjoy high-quality food that is delicious, and grown with care.

(To hear more about the restaurant, visit their website and then go eat there!)

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We started our dining experience off with none other than a well deserved bottle of vino!

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Cheers to vacation!

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For our appetizer we ordered the Bread, Chips, Crisps. This was served alongside four different dips, Romesco, Pimento Cheese, Green Goddess and Onion Dip.

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Here is where my love of pimento cheese became a reality. Oh my word, if you have never had it, go get some. Better yet, just make it yourself. It is so easy to make! I see that in my future summer festivities!

For my entree, I tried to remain with a healthier choice so I ordered their Rotisserie Chicken with green beans. It was very good!

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We wrapped up dinner, finishing our wine and talking about what the future week would entail. Then we headed back to our hotel because we had a 7 1/2 hour drive the following morning!

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Day Two: Road Trip to South Carolina

Day two started off early (again) because I was super enthusiastic to head down south! We got ready, put our bags back in our car, and headed to the free breakfast buffet the hotel had to offer.

Trying to be good in my low carb lifestyle (for there were many meals consumed during this trip that didn’t live up to that hype, haha), I went simple with an egg omelette and sausage with salsa. It was rather good!

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Back on the road again, we left the dreary Washington and headed straight for our lunch destination in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The hub’s love for BBQ runs deep, so after driving for about five hours, we went to Fuller’s Old Fashioned BBQ for their well known BBQ buffet.

Here’s my take on the buffet, it was good! Although, a lot of the food I felt was off limits for me, since I wanted to stay somewhat on track to my healthy goals, they had a great variety of BBQ, Chicken, and all the good ole’ southern comfort foods.

My plate consisted of chicken, okra, shrimp, corn and I caved and tried my first hush puppy! Mmmm, I get it now. Oh that I do.

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After lunch we continued down to South Carolina taking a very scenic route, and it was such a beautiful drive through the country. I would do it again in a heartbeat. The sun was out, the music was on and we were crossing a destination off our bucket list!

We went from this….

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To this!

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We arrived to our final destination around 4:00 pm, just in time to check into the Plantation Resort. We settled in, we explored the area, then went to the grocery store to stock our refrigerator with water and snacks. Afterwards, we relaxed and hit the hay because our vacation was just getting started!

Stay tuned!

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Zucchini & Sausage “Baked Ziti”

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Mmmmmm…..just say that with me. Mmmmmm….

Now that we’ve established our favorite noise for the day, let’s get on with the good stuff.

Food. Be still my beating heart.

I will never be able to give up my passion for food. I may be on a journey to healthy, but that doesn’t stop me from creating good real food that both my stomach and heart purely enjoy.

They say weight loss is approximately 75% diet, 25% exercise. They also say that the 90/10 rule is a pretty good guide for eating healthy. Eating healthy and on point 90% of the time seems pretty decent, if you ask me. I believe in a cheat meal a week mentality. I don’t think anyone can be perfect 100% of the time, because let’s be real- who wants to live that life? I don’t.

That being said, I am all about changing what is meant to be a cheat comfort meal, into a healthy meal I can eat whenever I want!

For example, in walks pasta, dives head first into a steamy jacuzzi of sauce, then welcomes a cozy blanket of cheese. That is my love language.

I can’t have pasta though. So instead we use our trusty zucchini and spiralizer to make dreams come true. It’s amazing and my life is forever changed.

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Zucchini & Sausage “Baked Ziti”

Ingredients

  • 2 large zucchinis, spiralized
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 lb italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 tbsp italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (depending on level of heat you like)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese + more for topping
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese + more for topping
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large oven safe sauté pan, brown and crumble sausage.

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When cooked, add diced onion and pepper to pan. Saute 5-7 minutes until vegetables start to become tender. Add minced garlic and saute 1-2 minutes until fragrant.

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Then add diced tomatoes and marinara sauce.

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Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, italian seasoning and crushed red pepper flakes. Add 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese to sauce. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes and for sauce to thicken. (When zucchini is added and cooked, it will give off water).

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When sauce has thickened, add 1/2 cup ricotta cheese and mix into sauce.

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Pour in zucchini noodles and mix into sauce.

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Top with dollops of ricotta cheese and shredded mozzarella.

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Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until cheese is melted. Set oven to broil on high for 3-5 minutes until cheese is browned and bubbling.

 

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This dish is full of so much flavor! The zucchini noodles are cooked just right with a little bit of bite, leaving your palate feeling like you are eating al dente pasta!

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The cheese, oh the cheese. No description ever needed. I heart cheese, hard.

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Please make this. The husband told me he’d eat it once a week from here on out. That’s a big ole’ compliment in my book!

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Happy eating my friends!

 

Low Carb Italian Cookies

Can you believe that Christmas is really over?!

It just seems like yesterday that the season started and we pulled all our normal decor off the shelves and Christmas came exploding into our homes. What a wonderful season to be celebrated and I hope it was just as fabulous as you all imagined!

When the holidays come, what better way to indulge in the most wonderful time of year, than to bake our little hearts out! I love baking all year round, but there is something so amazing about making treats for all of your loved ones to enjoy on Christmas! This year, I sang Christmas carols and really enjoyed the whole process of making Christmas cookies.

I’ve decided, without a doubt, next year I will be hosting a christmas cookie exchange party, so my people better be ready! They do have a whole year now to prepare 😉

One of my favorite cookies from this year, is by far this Low Carb Italian Cookie. It is moist, buttery and I bet you won’t be able to stop at just one!

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Low Carb Italian Cookies

Ingredients

Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup swerve sweetener {or equivalent sweetener of choice}
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Glaze

  • 1/4 cup swerve confectioners sweetener
  • 2 tbsp half and half
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • sprinkles

Directions

Cookies:
Preheat oven to 325F and line a large baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with the Swerve until well combined. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.
Then beat in the almond flour mixture until the dough comes together.
Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. You will get 24 to 28 balls. Press the balls down with the palm of your hand to about ½ inch thick.
Bake about 12 minutes, until just barely beginning to firm up. Remove and let cool on the pan.
Glaze:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the Swerve, half and half, and vanilla extract. Dip the top of the cookies into the glaze and set back on the pan. Sprinkle as desired.

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Seriously, make these.

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I really wish Christmas lasted a little longer, but it unfortunately goes by so quickly! That doesn’t mean we can’t make these all year long, just change your sprinkles!

In my opinion, there are never too many sprinkles in life!

Life Lately…It’s Fall!

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The end of summer has come and gone so now it’s time to enjoy the beautiful season of fall! While I’m sure we were all sad to see the longer days of sunshine leave us, there is something so wonderful about this current season.

From the crisp, fresh air to the absolutely breath taking views of the leaves changing colors, these are just a few things that the lovely autumn has to offer us!

I know I am not alone in saying when fall rolls in so does my desire to be in the kitchen more. This is the time to make more hearty meals, bake more and time to slow down and enjoy the people in your life. Since fall is already here and the days seem to go by much faster as we age (thanks momma, for always driving that point home 🙂 ) I am trying to embrace all our moments. There is no better time to do something than the present because every day is such a gift. Maybe that is what fall is all about. Learning to slow down from the hot and busy summer, and to really be grateful for everything you have in this life.  It’s like a yearly reminder that the holidays are coming, and there is so much to be thankful for, every single day.

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There are many wonderful activities to do in the fall and I am hoping to cross these off my list this year!

Fall 2016 Bucket List

  • Big E  Done!
  • Apple picking
  • Make Low Carb Pumpkin & Apple Treats
  • Cornmaze
  • Haunted House
  • Pumpkin Carving/Decorating
  • New England Day Trip to see the leaves
  • Go on a fall picnic
  • Autumn Hike

These are just a few things I hope to do, I’m sure there are so many more!

Until I am able to cross off those activities, I’ll take a step back and reminisce about the past month or so.

There has been fun activities with some of my favorites…

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There has been some delicious eats….

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Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad…last salad of the season!
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Philly Cheesesteak Mini Meatloaves
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Low Carb Blueberry Cheese Danish Coffee Cake

There has been the continued hard work on our new deck…

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There has been many strolls with these lovelies….

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Quiet time too….

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We also celebrated 12 years of dating each other by going out to Marketplace Kitchen & Bar for dinner! While it was a bit noisy, the company was amazing and we shared this awesome appetizer that I will one day recreate. So simple, but yet, so tasty.

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Fresh mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto, over garlic spinach and vodka sauce

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There is nothing more that I love to do, than just spend time with this handsome face. He really has been my rock, my best friend, and life entertainer for these past 12 years. I feel so blessed to have spent these moments with him, and hope for as many more that we are able!

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What are some of your favorite fall activities?

 

 

 

 

Baked Pepperoni & Bacon Pizza Chicken

Life lately has been full of some wonderful but busy moments. We laugh quite often how just a few months ago we were talking about how bored we were. That is certainly not the case now.

Much hard work, fun, good eats and happiness have been going on around these parts, and I hope you all are enjoying this current season in your lives, just as much.

I thought I’d share some random things today, that have made my heart happy. This life is short, so no matter what it is, do what you enjoy!

Recent Eats

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Doggie approved treats! Made with whole wheat flour, carrots, applesauce, peanut butter and coconut oil. Healthy fats for my little pups!

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Those ears! Be still my beating heart. Now on to some people food!

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Memorial Day weekend was spent sweating and doing manual labor with an outdoor project, so easy meals was the plan. A glimpse into our weekend of food- Grilled chicken and steak with a delicious, simple vegetable side. Red onions, red bell peppers and zucchini always taste amazing with some garlic and italian seasonings. Not pictured was the other days of hotdogs, hamburgers, antipasto salad, BBQ pulled pork and spaghetti squash au gratin. So good!

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Oh sunny days, how we all love thee. More grilling goodness = less mess in the kitchen! I needed some Mexican flavors in our lives so this dish completely satisfied my mister. Grilled Carne Asada with Spicy Pico de Gallo, Cheesy Green Chile Cauliflower Rice and Roasted Onions, Peppers and Corn. Oh my, was this delicious.

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Last week, I was craving pizza in a big way. Pizza doesn’t agree with me though. I always feel like I have eaten the whole thing, even if it’s only been two slices. So this low carb alternative was made and it was a huge hit with the family!

This recipe is so versatile, I am hesitant to even write out a real recipe so this is what I did.

I marinated chicken breasts in 1/4 cup italian dressing, olive oil, salt, pepper, granulated garlic and italian seasonings for about four hours.

Then I took two shallow dishes, added two beaten eggs to one and grated parmesan cheese to the other. Dip the chicken in egg, then in parmesan cheese to coat. When all chicken was coated, I heated olive oil in a large sauté pan and sautéed for about 4-5 minutes on each side just so the coating was a crisp golden brown. Place chicken into baking dish.

You can use your favorite homemade or jar sauce for this dish. If you have some leftover from a previous meal, even better!

I love sauce mixed with onions and peppers, so I sautéed some up and added a tomato basil flavored marinara that was low in carbs. I topped each parmesan chicken breast with about 1/2 cup sauce mixture.

Then I layered with a mix of shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese. I ended my creativity with pepperoni and bacon.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until internal temperature of chicken is 160 degrees. Broil on high to add some nice bubbling color to the top.

The things you could do with this dish- different vegetables, cheese, meats, and sauces. I look forward to experimenting with different ingredients!

Made Me Smile

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My new friends. I just love animals and we talk about moving to the woods with a lot of land all the time. Just watching them enjoying their day, munching and hanging in the water, really made my day.

My new health journal. I am always on a mission to better myself. I always want to be the best version of myself and I love reflecting on each day. It makes me think of all the wonderful things I am grateful for, allows me to be positive towards myself and inspires me to keep motivated toward my goals!

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I will end this very long post with these beautiful yellow flowers I am loving! I can’t wait for all the flowers to open up! Fresh flowers are a must in my house! They seem to brighten up every day!

Wishing happy, sunny and beautiful days to you all!

Ohhhh Veggie….Lasagna

A few years ago I found out something that was hard for an Italian girl to stomach. The news was like a dagger to the heart. There was no sugar coating the truth.

My body hates carbs. ::shudder::

My love for bread, pasta, and sweets was going to have to take a lonely drive to nowheresville. Yes, I get to visit from time to time on holidays, but sometimes these visits are such a tease! The one day visits sometimes lead to weekends, then long weekends, so on and so forth. You get the picture. It is hard to give up what you truly love.

So instead of giving up my favorites, I have learned to make substitutions that allow me to eat what I love but still remain pretty faithful to my lower carb way of eating.

I know low carbohydrate diets are not for everyone and I think that is okay. We all must do what works best for us. For me, reducing sugar and carbohydrates allows me to feel awesome! Goodbye bloating, fatigue, heart palpitations and diabetes risk! Hello happiness, health and new delicious recipes!

So without further ado, I give to you….

Low Carb Italian Sausage & Vegetable Lasagna

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Ingredients

  • 4 medium sized green or yellow squash, cut lengthwise to make “lasagna noodles”
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • olive oil
  • 5 cups of homemade or store bought marinara sauce
  • 32 oz of ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 5-6 links of Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 6 oz of ground turkey or ground beef
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (or more if you like heat)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat in a large sauté pan. Add sliced onions and peppers to pan, sauté for 5-6 minutes until vegetables are becoming tender. Then add in mushrooms, cooking until mushrooms are fully cooked. Season with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp of granulated garlic (or to taste), then remove from pan and set aside.

In the same pan over medium high heat, add the Italian sausage with casings removed, breaking up with a spatula. Add the ground turkey or beef, combining with sausage, season with 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp granulated garlic, 1 tsp dried basil and 1 tsp dried oregano (or to taste). Cook meat until browned and cooked through. Side aside when fully cooked.

You may cook the sliced squash on the grill, in a grill pan or sauté pan. Brush both sides of squash with olive oil,  seasoning with salt and pepper. If using a grill or sauté pan, heat over medium high heat. Place squash evenly in pan in small batches, lightly marking each side before removing from pan.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp granulated garlic and 1 1/2 tbsp dried parsley. Mix together until well combined.

To assemble the lasagna, use a large casserole baking dish or your favorite lasagna pan.

Coat bottom of baking dish with 1/2 cup marinara sauce. Layer squash as you would lasagna noodles onto bottom of pan (you will need to divide squash into two layers). Spread 1/2 ricotta mixture over squash layer, topping ricotta with 1- 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Then add your sausage mixture. Next add 1-2 cups of marinara sauce.

On top of the sauce, add the vegetables (onions, peppers and mushrooms). Next, add the remaining ricotta cheese. You may reserve 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture to add on top of the lasagna at the end before placing in oven.20160402_173629

After the ricotta layer, place your 2nd later of squash. Top with marinara sauce and 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese. At this time you can separate the reserved ricotta cheese and place dollops on top of the lasagna.

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Cook for 35-45 minutes, uncovered until bubbling and cheese has melted. Turn oven to broil, allowing cheese to become slightly browned in color. Remove from oven and allow to   sit for at least 10-15 minutes.

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Pour additional marinara sauce on top and enjoy!!!

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Happy eating!