Extra Snark, Hold the Mayo

Because healthy food doesn't have to suck.

The king of pumpkin breads

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Also goes well with cream cheese.

Also goes well with cream cheese.

Autumn rules. So does pumpkin bread.

Get yourself some with this Amber-approved recipe, adapted from a Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread I found on Allrecipes.com. It’s pretty close, with just a few adjustments for extra spice and a little more health benefits (applesauce and whole wheat flour). Don’t worry, though — there’s still plenty of sugar to make this something you shouldn’t (but will) polish off in less than 48 hours. By yourself, or with the help of friends.

In short, this bread is moist, delicious and fit for a pump…king. Haha. Nailed.


• 1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
• 4 eggs
• 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil*
• 1/2 cup no-sugar-added applesauce
• 2/3 cup water
• 1 T vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 cups white sugar
• 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
• 2 t baking soda
• 1 1/2 t salt
• 2 t ground cinnamon
• 1 1/2 t ground nutmeg
• 1 t ground cloves
• 1/2 t ground ginger**

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together all wet ingredients (up to vanilla extract) plus the sugars until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, salt and spices until well blended. Stir the dry ingredient mix into the large bowl and mix until incorporated. Pour into the prepared pans and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaves comes out clean.

Makes two loaves.

*I used canola oil.
**I didn’t have ginger on hand, so I substituted pumpkin pie spice, which has all of the above spices and likely works just as well if you want to use it to replace all.

Written by Amber

October 6, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Vacation countdown = food budgeting? It does ’round these parts.

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Who has two thumbs and just bought groceries for an eight-serving dinner for under a sawbuck? This girl! (Also, a sawbuck is ten dollars, youngsters. Shame on you for making me feel old!)Vacation Countdown

Our vacation countdown is on. Thirty days, to be exact. We’re looking forward to the trip. We’re seeing family, taking my parents on their first-ever flight, spending time on the beach, visiting Disney World and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and seeing Kathleen, one of my dearest friends and the lovely cook behind “More than Easy Mac.”

We’re also being pretty budget-conscious as the days tick by. We’re trying hard not to eat out this past month and I’ve been cooking in for us most nights. We aren’t great at eating leftovers but we’re working on that and I’m trying to find recipes that can easily be switched up to feel like a new meal with very minimal cost.

Tomorrow night, we’re doing Sloppy Lentils in the slow cooker—eaten on rice cakes that I found in the cabinet (no, they’re not expired). Mechanic made a face when I told him what I was making but the recipe sounds tasty and I’ve been looking for a use for the lentils sitting prettily in our cabinet. I’ll blog about the Sloppy Lentils and let you know they are (including picky Mechanic’s reaction)!

I’m interested to see how this month goes. I’ll confess that we’re not big food budgeting people. I love to cook and try new foods and as a result, we spend a good chunk of change on food.

How do you keep your food budget in check? Do you have any budget-friendly recipes you recommend?

Written by Ashley

August 29, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Honey Garlic Pork

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Do you know that close friend you have who is amazing and hilarious and comes up with the craziest ideas (swinging in the park in the rain? who does that?) that always leave you laughing hysterically? But then, after a straight week with this friend, you just want to lock yourself (her, actually) in a closet and have some time alone?

Chicken is that friend for me. I get so. Sick. Of. Chicken.

Mmm. Garlic.

Mmm. Garlic.

Today I decided to give another white meat a try and made pork in the slow cooker. Mechanic and I are going on vacation in 35 days (but who’s counting?) and want to save money so we’re not going out to eat as often. He also spent the morning fixing my car and I wanted him to have something hearty when he was done.

Enter Honey Garlic Pork. I got the basic recipe and inspiration from Rachel’s Nest (hers was with chicken) but changed it up a bit to suit our tastes and my love of indiscriminately throwing spices into whatever I cook. And also to make up for the fact that we were almost out of honey yet I had decided to make a dish with “honey” as the first word in the title. Oops. The amounts I used are below.


1 pork tenderloin, cut into six pieces, fat removed
½ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
½ cup organic catsup
3 tablespoons honey
6 cloves garlic (adjust for the non vampires in your life)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
½ tablespoon onion powder

(As an aside: Do you call it “catsup” or “ketchup,” folks out in blog land? I’ve never taken a stance before but I suppose I just unofficially took a stance by siding with Big C in the ingredients list. I reserve the right to change this in future recipes although, come to think of it, I rarely use tomato-based condiments known mostly for hot dogs. Moving on….)

Mix everything but pork together. Throw pork in the bottom of your slow cooker (I used a 6-quart but a 4-quart would have been more than sufficient). Pour the ingredients over the pork. Cook for 4-5 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low. I went 7 hours and it was perfect.

When the pork is done cooking, take the sauce out of the crock pot. Throw it in a saucepan on the stove and bring it to a boil. While you wait for a boil (it won’t take long with such a small amount of sauce), mix a tablespoon of cornstarch with a tiny bit of water. Throw that into the sauce while it’s boiling and stir continuously for a minute. This will thicken the sauce up and make it more substantial when you pour over the pork.

This recipe was completely amazing. Savory and sweet with a big garlic kick. Mechanic made yummy noises all through dinner (and hopefully forgot that he spent the first four hours of his morning fixing my car in 90-degree heat).

With more substantial sides, this could feed four or five people. We served it with zucchini and got three servings out of it. For three servings, our nutritionals were: 326 calories, 3 grams of fat, 36 grams of protein, 39 grams of carbs. Disclaimer: Sodium counts in the recipe builder were sky-high (2,121 mg per serving) but I would estimate that we ate only 10% of the sauce in the recipe; sodium is a little bit of a mystery here but probably around the 500 mg range.

Oh, and another tip? Try not to lick the crock pot. You’ll burn your tongue but this sauce is so tasty, you’ll be tempted. Resist.

Written by Ashley

August 24, 2013 at 7:54 pm

2013: The Summer of Kabobs

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When I write my memoirs, 2013 will be known as the summer of kabobs. Hey, I didn’t claim it would be an interesting memoir!

Three nights a week, I go water jogging against the lazy river current at the water park by my house. (My all-time favorite mode of exercise, for sure – wicked hard and even better, no sweat!) I get home at 8 p.m. and after being in the water, am seriously hungry and not in the mood to cook. On these nights, I’m not into a cooking-for-12-hours-by-now slow cooker feast: I want summer on a plate. Enter the humble kabob.


There are millions of ways to make kabobs but here’s our go-to a few nights a week: Aidells chicken sausage, zucchini, red onion and cherry tomatoes, spritzed with olive oil and given a quick hit of Mrs. Dash. There are many flavors of both chicken sausage and Mrs. Dash, so we mix and match depending on the flavor we have going. Garlic and Gruyere sausage with Tomato and Basil Mrs. Dash is the current favorite. For those of you who do Weight Watchers like this girl does, the Points Plus value is 6 points plus.

I’m a girl who gets easily sick of chicken, so chicken sausage has been a good alternative a few nights a week. The brand we buy has only recognizable and natural ingredients and, while a little higher in sodium than I prefer for my proteins, pairs beautifully with sodium-free veggies and seasoning.


There’s nothing that makes for a happier summer than sitting at the table on my deck, hair still dripping from the pool, digging into a plate of beautifully grilled vegetables and sipping a cold Fresca (yep, my beverage choices lean toward the retro).

Happy summer!

Written by Ashley

July 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

What running means to me

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Finishing the 2013 Soldier Field 10-Mile, my longest race to date.

Finishing the 2013 Soldier Field 10-Mile, my longest race to date.

(This is a guest post for the Run for Boston 5k, which is being organized in part by my friend Kelly the Culinarian. The race takes place June 15 in Libertyville, Ill., but there’s also a virtual 5k option. All registration fees go to the “Who Says I Can’t Foundation” to provide rehabilitation for people who became amputees because of the Boston Marathon bombings.)

I’m a lot nicer person when I run.

That isn’t to say I’m mean, though some people who are around me frequently know when to fear me and when I am clear to approach. There’s an invisible stoplight that’s above my head at all times. Perhaps it’s my years in a newsroom that have hardened me, or my childhood turmoil of clowns. In any case, running — even the thought of it — switches that Amber light right to green.

People who run know this. The benefits of stress relief, weight loss and overall improved health leading to trickle-down effects of happiness. But there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the last year I’ve considered myself a semi-serious runner: I feel more connected.

I’m sporadically involved in stuff. I took up crocheting during college after a dorm arts-and-crafts session with my RA. That’s come and gone, along with other hobbies that I sometimes pick back up again (many have mixed feelings about my self-imposed karaoke ban after an eventful Journey superfan moment in 2011).

But I don’t think I’ll ever give up running. Even in Chicago’s angriest of winters, because I just get angry right back.

My first impossibly cold winter run in Chicago in 2013. 16 degrees and windy.

My first 16-and-windy bandito run in Chicago.

That connection I’ve gained with myself was slow to realize, but it happens every time I’m out on the road, plodding away to the same soundtrack from 2005 because I haven’t upgraded my 1st generation iPod Shuffle. Maybe it’s the old music that helps. While clearing my head mile after mile, I’m thinking of the ways I’ve outgrown (but not) some of my more embarrassing tune choices and also grown up.

Is it weird to be reflective during every run? Maybe. Does it sound tiring just thinking about all that thinking you might do? For me, it just happens. Sometimes I think about how I should be upping my pace or changing course, and I do, in more than the literal ways.

Running is my time to sort out life’s complexities and reward myself for my accomplishments. And surely, get better.

Written by Amber

June 3, 2013 at 12:39 am

Egg (and cheese) in every bite

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The cutest little egg muffins you've ever seen.

The cutest little egg muffins you’ve ever seen.

What’s for breakfast? This lady is excited to have these Quiche Bites to snack on in the car on the commute to work for the next several mornings.

This recipe is adapted from one I saw several months ago on Pinterest and never made (figures). I finally got the idea as I was cooking dinner tonight and noticed some other food that was starting to go bad in the fridge. Mmm, breakfast made of spoiled things! But none of it tasted spoiled. Promise.

What you need:

-6 eggs
-1/4 cup skim milk
-1 3/4 cup shredded cheese (I used Mexican blend)
-1 cup fresh spinach
-1 medium raw tomato, chopped
-1/2 tsp. (or more) of your favorite hot sauce
-Any other veggies you want to thrown in (I chose several chopped, large black olives)
-Salt and pepper to taste

Beat the eggs, then mix in your other ingredients. The modifications I made to the original recipe were to use fresh spinach, because it was getting pretty wilty, as well as all the eggs I had in the house that technically surpassed their best-buy date two weeks ago. I also added tomato and skipped the mushroom and onion, as I was already using both of those things in my dinner tonight.

You can't get away with filling real muffin batter this high.

You can’t get away with filling real muffin batter this high.

You’re certainly welcome to make your own adjustments, but I found adding that splash of milk (which also was near the end of its time, and I used it all! Huzzah) really helped loosen things up a bit. As you may have noticed, I added … quite a bit of cheese. See, I have this problem where I prefer the taste of cheese over eggs, well, 95 percent of the time, so … there’s that. I do like eggs, though. Just not enough to eat six at a time when they aren’t in a cake, or in a quiche. Or is this a frittata?

Anyway, after you’ve mixed up your egg slop, pour even amounts into a greased muffin tin. The original recipe called for aluminum foil muffin cups, but I didn’t have those. Spraying the tin down with some canola oil spray worked just as well. Bake for about 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven, until when you stab them gently with a knife, it comes out clean.

I let them cool a bit, then popped one out to try (the rest was frozen for later). It was a lot easier to slide out of the pan than I thought. Probably because of all that grease from the cheese. I should mention I also don’t believe in non-fat dairy, though that might appear contradictory with the skim milk I happened to have. Hey! This recipe is still pretty healthy. And a really easy way to get breakfast in your belly.

In case you were curious about the stats on this one, which serves 12, my handy-dandy calorie-only calculator put my recipe version at 115 calories a bite. Which, are really a few bites. Plus a napkin to soak up some of that cheese grease.

Written by Amber

May 28, 2013 at 10:38 pm

The summer of pasta salad

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The beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Pasta salad rules.

And, here are three rules to live by when making it yourself:

1. Always make it yourself.

Pasta salad is incredibly simple — cook (and cool) pasta, throw together veggies/meat/cheese, add dressing. Even if you don’t have a creative bone in the kitchen, everyone can boil water, and basing your own chilled pasta monster off a recipe you find online is more fun and cheaper than running to the grocery store before a barbecue to grab the last container of slimy elbow macaroni dipped in ham and mayonnaise. It’s also a little friendlier on the hips, at least if you’re light on or ditching the meat and cheese entirely (which ain’t so bad!). Take for instance this fantastically refreshing Mexican Orzo Salad I love to bring to summer parties. A couple of years ago when I went veg, I plugged in a few ingredients into AllRecipes.com and brought up that recipe and have made it a half-dozen or more times since. Don’t like kidney beans? Ditch ’em, like I do. Prefer olive oil over canola? Go for it. Experiment with flavors to find out what pleases you most and likely, it’ll make your taste-testers happy, too.

Fun, now with more pasta!

Fun, now with more pasta!

2. Get fresh.

I love vegetables. Not everyone does, but the keys to convincing them to is a) color and b) freshness. Some recipes, like the aforementioned orzo salad, call for a pretty palette of crisp, fresh veggies, with some canned or frozen thrown in. But it’s summer, so let’s get affordable-fancy. I could live at farmers markets, but not every city or small town has them, and many people mistakenly head to their big-box food retailer to pick  up a single apple for $2 and other ridiculously priced items. Some things you can’t control, but if you do a little research on Yelp and other sites, there may be hidden local grocer gems lurking nearby. ALDI and Trader Joe’s are generally cheaper options for fresh produce, but if I ever moved from Chicago, I’d want Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetables to come in my little Chevy Cobalt with me. If you live here and you haven’t been, get there immediately. This is an example of my weekly, $25-a-trip bounty (wine not included):

Stanley's is where it's at.

Stanley’s is where it’s at.

3. Stay cheap.

Another way to keep a few extra dollars in your wallet for your next monthly laundry drop (hey! It’s summer, so I can be casual and re-wear several clothing items … . Bathing suits = underwear) is to never buy salad dressing again. I mean, I suppose you can for real salads (but whooaaa, I just found the world’s most glorious attempt at recreating Trader Joe’s/Annie’s Goddess Dressing online!), but most pasta salads call for either an olive/canola oil blend or store-bought Italian dressing. These are most economical to make at home, like so. Make a few adjustments if you like less salt or don’t have a random ingredient, but what you end up with is a colorful container of mixed spices you most likely already have on hand — plenty of future salad dressing batches for a fraction of the price.

Party of spice.

Party of spice.

Have a healthy summer carb-chowdown favorite you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments section

Written by Amber

May 27, 2013 at 12:41 pm