Counting My Pennies :: The Recap

February was the month we kept the debit cards tucked nicely in our wallets and spent quite a bit of time wielding Santoku knives in the kitchen. It required a little additional work each week and getting creative in order to stay under budget, but last month’s No Spend Challenge was a huge success.

I discovered Cooking Light’s Weeknight Meal Planner and it was the perfect tool to get back in the swing of cooking every night.

Cooking Light Weeknight Meal PlannerYou drag each image into the appropriate day of the week and then print out the recipe/ingredient list. It’s seriously idiot-proof and the recipes are super easy. Here’s a few of the winners and what I’d recommend tweaking:

Filet Bourguignonne with Mashed Potatoes Probably the best dish from the planner. You can’t really go wrong with steak in a wine sauce and velvety mashed potatoes. Double the sauce – it’s rich and fantastic.

Sausage, Tomato, and Arugula Fettuccine This one fell pretty short. It came together quickly but the flavor wasn’t impressive and the fettuccine overpowered the dish. For light ingredients like cherry tomatoes and arugula, angel hair or thin spaghetti would be a much better choice.

White Pizza with Tomato & Basil One of the quickest meals of the bunch and while it was good, it definitely could have used something else to take it up a notch. Prosciutto would have been a nice addition.

Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken This prompted me to finally invest in something I’ve been putting off for a couple years: a cast iron skillet. It’s not 100% necessary for this recipe but considering it’s been used three times a week since it came home with me from Target, I’d say it was worth every penny. It cooks food evenly and being able to go from a burner straight into the oven is a huge perk. Anyway, back to the recipe. This one is a keeper. I doubled the sauce and went a little heavy on the stone ground mustard so it wouldn’t end up too sweet. Skip the starch and serve this with crisp haricot verts.

Chicken Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese If you want to know what summer tastes like, it’s this. I’m ready to make this salad again already, it was that good. The flavors intensified as time went on and made it perfect for leftovers.

After the first week I got back into the swing of things and switched back into recipe development mode. Something about coming up with a dish on my own is so satisfying and I’d much rather start from scratch than follow a recipe line-by-line out of a cookbook. One thing I was worried would be an issue last month was lunch at the office. If I didn’t have time to throw something together in the morning before heading out the door, I’d grab lunch next door at Whole Foods. It’s a healthy and convenient choice. Obviously with the challenge in place, I wouldn’t have this option to fall back on. But since I was cooking dinner every night and most recipes served 4-6, there were plenty of leftovers to have for lunch. Crisis averted.

Overall, it wasn’t as difficult as expected and the month flew by. The extra time spent in the kitchen was enjoyable and we definitely appreciated the money saved by eliminating meals out. The hardest part was figuring out what to have for dinner on Friday nights. After working all day and grocery shopping immediately after, the last thing I want to do at 8pm on Friday is cook. I tried to plan ahead so there would be leftovers from Thursday night, but a couple times we ended up having either cereal or eggs for dinner.

cookbooks and spices

The purpose of this challenge was to save money and to get back on track after several months of excessive dining out. But in the process my passion for cooking was reignited and I’m looking forward to spending more time in the kitchen for the remainder of 2014.

How often do you go out to eat each week? Do you follow recipes or create your own?

Strawberry Shortcakes with Whipped Ricotta

Prior the the cookbook’s October 1 release, Runner’s World reached out to me to see if I was interested in a copy to review. There are several recipes from past issues of the magazine which are in our current dinner rotation (like this Smoky Black Bean Stew: add chicken sausage & quinoa or brown rice for extra staying power) so I jumped at the chance to check out the cookbook.


The book is organized by meal and each recipe (150!) is tagged with helpful labels like pre-run, recovery, and vegetarian. There’s even a grocery list to help you stock up your “Runner’s Pantry” with items necessary to keep you running strong and healthy. Overall, I was really impressed with the book and many of the pages are now marked with post-it flags so I can quickly navigate to the recipes I’m interested in.

Disclaimer: As mentioned above, Runner’s World provided me with a copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Now, on to the good part – an actual recipe! While there are several entrees and side dishes I can’t wait to try, our house is currently dessert-free and that is just not acceptable. Texas still won’t let us experience fall so I figured I might as well take advantage of the opportunity for a light & fresh summer dessert: strawberry shortcakes.


The recipe was very easy to follow, with each ingredient listed in the order used (important!) and the instructions listed in brief paragraphs. I could glance back at the book and find the spot I needed to be in almost immediately. There’s also nutritional information after each recipe, which is helpful if you’re counting calories or shooting for a certain number of grams of protein per day. Of course, these stats are irrelevant when it comes to dessert. Dessert is dessert – there are no calories. Right? Right.1-DSCN08732-DSCN08801-DSCN0905

These were a hit! The ricotta whipped up super creamy and light, which paired perfectly with the airy cake and sweet strawberries. From start to finish (including cooking time for the shortcakes) dessert was done is just under 30 minutes. Not bad at all!

And because I’m completely incapable of following a recipe, here’s my one tiny tweak: add mini dark chocolate chips to the ricotta. You won’t be disappointed.

Runner’s World has made a few of the recipes available here and the cookbook is available for purchase here

It Must Be Incredible

One thing I excelled at over the long weekend (besides putting a significant dent in the second season of Grey’s Anatomy) was spending time in the kitchen. In fact, I spent most of Saturday either in front of the Kitchen Aid mixer or with Santoku knife in my hand.

Bo the Spoiled Dog received another batch of treats made from scratch.

Bo the Dog

This time they were a mix of sweet potatoes, apple sauce, chicken broth, whole wheat flour, and cinnamon. Pretty sure he prefers this batch to last week’s, which doesn’t surprise me. Of course Bo would like the ones that were the hardest to make. The recipe measurements need a little tweaking, but the ingredients were definitely a winning combination.

I’ve been promising Brad a batch of cupcakes since I returned from New Jersey but couldn’t decide what kind. Finally we settled on Banana Bread Cupcakes with Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting. Oh and they had a pretzel crust on the bottom.


They were heavenly. And we’re not sharing.

For dinner I made 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken, which for the record – yes, it really DOES require 40 cloves of garlic and it IS as big of a pain in the ass as it sounds. But it’s really freaking good. As a side dish, I created a fontina and chive polenta. Whoa. Not sure why I never tried this combination before. Usually I go the goat cheese route, but I think this is a new favorite. Actually no, I don’t think. I KNOW it’s a new favorite.

After a long day of cooking on Saturday, we enjoyed leftovers on Sunday and I enjoyed not having to set a foot in the kitchen.

And then today rolled around. I wanted to cook a BBQ-esque meal for Memorial Day dinner.


I’m not interested in traditional hotdogs and hamburgers. Aside from the fact that I absolutely loathe hotdogs, I do NOT do traditional. Or homestyle. Or simple. Whether I’m loosely following a recipe or making the dish up as I go, the food that comes out of the kitchen must NOT be average.

It must be incredible. Mind-blowing, even. Just ask Brad. He knows I don’t mess around.

So our Memorial Day dinner will consist of Roasted Tomato, Pesto, and Mozzarella Burgers

Caprese Burgerssource

with a side of Bourbon Bacon Baked Beans

Bourbon Bacon Baked Beanssource

The beans require 12+ hours of simmering in the crockpot, so needless to say sleeping in didn’t happen this morning. Earlier I whipped up a batch of fresh pesto and currently grape tomatoes are roasting beautifully in the oven for the burgers.

I have a feeling dinner tonight will be anything but average.

Memorial Day

This Memorial Day, let us not forget those who sacrificed their lives for our country. We’re a land of the free because of the brave. Today we honor America’s fallen heroes.

Breakfast in Bed + A Few Bottles of Wine

Last weekend while we were out at Travaasa Austin we signed up for a culinary class and a wine tasting.



Executive Chef Benjamin Baker led a group of five of us in Jean’s Kitchen during the “Breakfast in Bed” themed culinary class.

We each had our own cooking station and immediately got down to work. First up on the menu: Almond & Cranberry Scones with Honey-Banana Cream Cheese and a salad comprised of Blueberries, Strawberries, Cinnamon Honey, and Fresh Mint.

Scones are a baked good I’ve steered clear of in the kitchen so I was excited to learn how to make them. They were much easier than expected!


Next was Seared Steel Head Trout with Grilled Heirloom Tomatoes, Asparagus, Basil and Toasted Pine Nuts.



Trout isn’t my favorite fish and asparagus is a vegetable I never eat, but I devoured every bite. We kept the flavors very simple (salt, pepper, white wine, lemon juice) and everything came together perfectly. This is definitely a recipe I’d recreate in my kitchen at home.



Huge thanks to Ben Baker for opening his kitchen to us Saturday afternoon and showing us how to prepare this sweet and savory breakfast in bed menu!

After the cooking demo we headed down to The Spur for our wine tasting.



Our master sommelier (or as he preferred, “wine geek”), Edward, was AWESOME. He was super knowledgeable, had a great sense of humor, and really kept the conversation flowing throughout the class.


We tasted two sauvignon blancs: Sancerre (France) and Jules Taylor (New Zealand). I preferred the latter, which is considered a New World wine.

New World: The Americas (United States, Canada, South America), Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa

Old World: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Austria

I’m a sucker for strong grapefruit notes in my SB and generally lean towards the bottles from New Zealand.


Next we tasted two reds: Chateau Laplagnotte-Bellevue (Bordeaux, France) and Deerfield Ranch “Merlot Cuvee” (Sonoma). Again, I preferred the latter, as did the majority of the room. It was a very smooth, rich red. (We were planning on ordering a bottle of the Deerfield with dinner but later decided on a bottle of malbec instead.)


Edward provided each of us with a packet of information that included the distinction between Old and New World, common questions + answers, detailed notes on each of the bottles we tasted, wine region maps, and a scent wheel.


Our discussion throughout the class ranged from glassware to sulfites to why wine hangovers can be so painful. For a reason I can’t remember (I blame it on the wine…) the conversation turned to Riesling and then Edward decided there was a bottle we needed to try. So we did.


Look at all those wine corks, we did some damage!

This was the first real wine tasting we had ever attended (there were a few informal ones I went to while bartending in Florida) and we were both really impressed. At first I was nervous it might be a bit too pretentious but once Edward introduced himself, my worries disappeared! He was very personable and is incredibly passionate about his job. I would love to attend another wine tasting out at Travaasa since their wine list is pretty extensive and unique. I highly recommend putting this on your to-do list during your stay.


Scenes from Sunday

As is the case with every Sunday, this owns my life from the second NFL Sunday Countdown begins and the minute the final 4pm game ends:

NFL RedZone

Red Zone Channel

If you’re a football fanatic, this is a non-negotiable channel to add to your current cable package. You can check their website to see if it’s available in your area. Even if you hate football but joined your significant other’s or office fantasy football league, this might just make you see the sport in a different light. No commercials, and you see every single red zone play in the NFL on Sundays. Get the channel. You won’t be sorry. Unless you absolutely can’t stand football, then I’m pretty sure you won’t get anything out of RedZone.

Naturally, I dressed the part of a New England Patriots fan in red, white, and blue. And while pulling my jersey on I realized I had something else to add:

Sparkly Soul Team USA

My Team USA Sparkly Soul headband! How convenient the colors of our flag are the same as the Pats uniforms.

Sparkly Soul

Oh, say hello to that Blue Moon beer in my hand:

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin AleI declared last weekend it wasn’t my favorite because it was too spice-y, but it’s growing on me. And the remnants of a 6-pack are in our fridge and we don’t waste beer in our house. That’s alcohol abuse. I’ll drink it and take one for the team.


Mmm… beer.

Where was I? Oh, FOOTBALL.

Sam Adams Octoberfest

I was partial to the early games since they were all SO close and fairly exciting. Although it was pretty sweet to watch RG3 tear it up again, even though the Skins ended up losing by 3 to the Rams.

Am I speaking Greek to some of you? Sorry.

Unfortunately, the Patriots couldn’t eek out a win against the goddamn Cardinals, losing their first home opener since 2001. Ouch. After several holding calls on Gronk and a Woodhead TD called back, they had a chance to win by one by making a simple field goal. NBD for Mr. Super-Reliable Gostkowski.

Except today it WAS a big deal.

Quite a few expletives were heard in our household, and then silence. I grabbed us another round of beers to mourn the embarrassing loss to a team with such a weak defensive line. Sad day.

Once the 4pm games kicked off, I decided I was in the mood for sangria.

Eppa SuperFruit Sangria

Eppa Sangria - Fruit

Fill glass 3/4 of the way with sangria, then add a splash of brandy & top off with sparkling water.

Eppa Sangria

Once my drink was made, I got to work on dinner. I adapted two recipes from How Sweet It Is:

Smoky Sweet Potato Burgers with Roasted Garlic Cream & Avocado

Quick Caprese Quinoa with Homemade Basil Oil

I tweaked them both a little (ie. omitting flour & panko from the burgers, and omitting basil oil & adding fresh basil + balsamic reduction to the quinoa) but both turned out amazing:

Spicy Sweet Potato Burgers and Caprese Quinoa

I came across her blog for the first time last week and already have a ton of recipes bookmarked to make. Jessica has SO many veg options!

And now I’m doing laundry. EXCITING! It pretty much downpoured the entire day so not once did I feel guilty holed up in the house for umpteen hours today. Football & beer. You guys, life was hard today.

How was your Sunday? More productive than mine?

Do you watch football or wish it didn’t exist?

Remind me to thank John for a lovely weekend {Ian Malcolm}

Base building for Philly is well underway and I’m really happy with the way things are going. Our Tuesday/Thursday runs have been pretty consistent pace-wise and as the Saturday long run mileage increases, the pace has been decreasing. Definitely headed in the right direction! There’s still two weeks until training “officially” starts, but going into it with a solid base will without a doubt help kick it off on a high note.

Believe it or not, the training plan for Philly is STILL under construction. I made the mistake of playing around with SmartCoach on the Runner’s World website and now I’m rethinking some of my training paces. However, it WILL be done soon and then I can finally stop obsessing (and stressing!) over it.

Saturday morning Brad and I ran a steamy six (well, 6.2) miler at Brushy Creek.

Brushy Creek 7 14 2012

We recently upped our intervals to 4:1 and surprisingly, we haven’t been struggling. Ideally I’d like to keep bumping up the intervals a little every couple weeks so eventually (after 10:1) walk breaks will be wiped out completely. Probably could have done this from the beginning, but after a few low mileage months I didn’t want to push it right off the bat.

Our running pace was in the 11-12:00 min/mi range, with a final overall (with walk breaks) pace at 12:43. Still not where I’d like to be, but getting there. Temps were at a comfortable 73 but the humidity was at 93% and the air was THICK. At one point we stopped to stretch, using a railing for balance.The entire railing was covered in condensation! The run was a certified sweatfest. BUT! We were done by 8:30 and had the rest of the weekend to do important stuff…

like stop for some caffeine to power us through grocery shopping with the crazies

iced coffee


and use a $3.50 coupon + rogue gift card in my wallet to update my summer nail polish collection:

nail polish

watch a Friends marathon


cook a super clean dinner Saturday night {I shared the giant piece of pork with Bo – he’s most certainly not spoiled. at all.}


read this bookJackie Warner

watch the CMT Top 20 Countdown {love the top 3}


prep meals for the week {asian turkey meatballs + fried rice}


wonder why our Body Issue of ESPN the Magazine had Jose Bautista on the cover instead of Gronk


uncork a bottle of cab mid-afternoon on Sunday {hello, cheat day!}

Simi Cab

inhale a delicious plate of Chicken Tikka Masala


and watch Jurassic Park for the 37893rd time.



After grocery shopping post-run on Saturday morning, we didn’t leave the house for the rest of the weekend.

And it was AWESOME.

How was your weekend? Do you like country music? What’s your favorite part of Jurassic Park?

Hits & Misses

An obscene amount of food has been coming out of my kitchen as of late. There’s been quite a few of “need to make this again” meals, some “ehh, it’s definitely missing something” items, and a “let’s not repeat this” breakfast.

Among the winners were the Banana Walnut Muffins


Dark Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (same recipe as the muffins, with chocolate chips instead of walnuts)


Grilled Pesto Chicken with Tomato & Mozz


Potato Leek Soup


Sweet & Fiery Pork Tenderloin with Mango Salsa


Then there were the recipes that were just missing something: Baby Red Potato Salad and Creamy Cilantro Tomatillo Dressing.

And then there were the muffins that we didn’t even finish, Mixed Berry Whole Wheat Muffins.

mixed berry muffins

I had high hopes for them but they refused to separate themselves from the muffin cups. The batter was really thick and baked up incredibly dense. I ate three or four but ended up tossing them mid-week.

Up this week:



2 red bell peppers
1 large red onion
4 tomatoes (on the vine, plum, campari – your choice)
1 large cucumber, seeded
1 jalapeno, seeded
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup of olive oil
3 cups of tomato juice
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

I’d recommend making this recipe with a larger food processor than I have. It’s definitely doable, but you’ll be able to finish in less batches with a 7 or 9-cup rather than the Mini-Prep.


Roughly chop each of the vegetables separately, combining in a large bowl. Then add the garlic, olive oil, vinegar, tomato juice and S&P. If you like your food with a little extra kick, swap out the tomato juice for my secret ingredient:


Yup, bloody mary mix. Same consistency as tomato juice but MUCH more flavor.

Mix all ingredients together, adding additional S&P if needed.


Garnish with a dollop of fat free greek yogurt and a few slices of avocado.

Chicken Enchiladas


Enchiladas are always on the bottom of my to-order list when dining at a Mexican restaurants. The sauce is generally pretty bland, and I’ve never been impressed with the dish as a whole.

I figured there HAD to be a way to make them enjoyable, so I set out on a mission to master enchiladas.

Mission accomplished.


4-5 chicken breasts, shredded or cubed

1 large yellow onion, diced


diced green chiles, small can

2 cans enchilada sauce

3-4oz sour cream

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

8oz shredded cheese

tortillas, small or fajita sized, corn or flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Poaching is the easiest, low-maintenance way to cook the chicken for this dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and then add the chicken. It should take approximately 10-15 minutes to cook through.

Once chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and set aside to cool.


While the chicken is cooling, dice your onion.



Toss the onion into a large pan and sauté over medium heat until translucent.


The amount of garlic added is entirely up to you. In the interest of time, I used a couple tablespoons of minced jarred garlic as opposed to fresh. I’d definitely recommend this brand, as it doesn’t have the bitter taste some other ones do.

Add to the pan with the onion and stir frequently so it does not burn. Decrease the heat to medium-low if necessary.


Add one small can of diced green chiles.

green chiles

Now that the chicken has cooled, you can dice or shred; then add to the onion mixture.


Next, pour in enough enchilada sauce to coat the chicken and vegetables. You want to err on the side of too much sauce rather than not enough.



Mix in 2 ounces of sour cream, as well as the chili powder and cumin, and then taste. If the sauce is too spicy, add more sour cream to cool it down. If it’s not spicy enough, add a splash of enchilada sauce. Adjust the seasonings also if need be.


Coat a deep baking dish with cooking spray. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Initially I thought “I don’t need to spray the pan, the enchilada sauce will keep them from sticking.”

This was not the case. So I repeat: SPRAY THE PAN! Then pour in a thin layer of enchilada sauce.



Take one tortilla, fill with 2-3 tbsp of chicken mixture, sprinkle with cheese, and then roll up. Place seam-side down into the baking dish. Repeat until the dish has been filled.



Spray the tortillas with cooking spray, and place in the oven for 10 minutes. This will get the top of the tortillas a bit crispy. Note: Skip this step if using corn tortillas.



After 10 minutes has passed, remove the dish from the oven. Coat with enchilada sauce and shredded cheese.


Place back into the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted.



Serve with additional sour cream, hot sauce, or guacamole, depending on your preference.



Planned vs. Actual

What I planned on doing today:

    sleep in until at least 9
    organize the bedroom / hang up clothes / do laundry
    12-miler at Town Lake with a fellow blogger from Reese’s
    break in my new sneakers

What I actually ended up doing today:

    woke up before 7 bc of the pooch we are dog-sittng
    host a Super Bowl Sunday party
    make spinach dip & cook a huge vat of chili
    no running, resulting in a goose egg for weekly mileage
    bought another pair of sneakers

I’m most bummed about missing the Town Lake run, I really was looking forward to meeting her! Hopefully we’ll be able to get together prior to the Austin 1/2 before we take on the hills of that atrocious course.

Okay, so I didn’t technically buy an additional pair of sneakers; I’m returning the ones I bought yesterday. I went to RunTex with the intention of purchasing the Asics Landreth. The salesman strongly suggested I steer clear of them since my overpronation (even with the orthotics) was terrible. I clearly needed a bit more support than those would provide me. I convinced him I surely wasn’t interested in the Kayano either, since spending $140 on a pair of running sneakers makes me want to throw up a little bit. So Saucony it was.

While online today reading reviews on the new kicks, I came across a website advertising them for $50 cheaper than what I paid. And in a better sexier color. With free shipping. And after some research, I discovered a 15% off discount code. Out came the credit card, and those babies were mine. I’ll be returning the other ones this week.


I also purchased a pair of black laces for them – hotness. AND with the money I saved, I have my eye on a new gym bag 😉

Currently I’m halfway through a bottle of Francis Coppola Claret and watching the Super Bowl halfheartedly. Not gonna lie, still bitter the Patriots couldn’t get it together against the Jets. Ugh. Anyway, Go Green Bay!!

How was your weekend? Any fabulous runs or PRs at races?

Well Read

I love Saturdays.

We knocked out next week’s grocery shopping this morning, grabbed a quick lunch, and I spent a bit of time at Barnes & Noble. Thanks to Groupon I was in possession of a $20 gift certificate, which I purchased yesterday for only $10. I could spend forever in that store. In fact, I did just that today – I perused the aisles of books for just over an hour.

I also may or may not have bought another pair of running shoes today. Hi, my name is Melissa and I am addicted to running shoes. I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Tonight’s dinner was a one-pot wonder: Jenna’s Creamy White Chicken Chili. I substituted ground turkey & omitted the beans (since I had neither chicken nor cannellini on hand), doubled the cayenne, and tripled the garlic. Ah. Maz. Ing. Seriously if you have not made this EatLiveRun recipe, it’s a must.

I’m about to crawl into bed with a book, but I have to make a decision:


No, I didn’t buy all of these today! I love to read, and adding books to my shelf really makes me happy. These are just the ones I’ve bought since the beginning of the year. I also have “The Help” by Kathyrn Stockett (borrowed from a colleague) and “Be Your Own Best Publicist” by Jessica Kleiman (today’s purchase). Oh, and the new issues of both Runner’s World and Women’s Health. Decisions, decisions.

Goodnight all!

What are you currently reading? Have you read any of the ones I mentioned?