Classic Thumbprint Cookies

The holiday season is a free for all for overindulging in anything and everything sweet or savory. One of my favorite classic Christmas cookie recipe starts with a young Linda Lu (my mom’s nickname) who was determined to skip school on a cold December day in 7th grade. After coming up with a little white lie about feeling under the weather, she found herself alone for the day and the house to herself. Her plan had worked! Once everyone left,  Linda was determined to make the most of her time to herself which included admiring the family Christmas tree (see where I get it from?). To continue on with her Christmas themed day off, she cracked open the 1966 Better Home’s and Gardens “Cookies and Candies” cookbook. As she scrolled through, she landed on Thumbprint Cookies. One, because they looked scrumptious and two, because the recipe supported the ingredients they had in the house.  These little decadent cookies have been a classic Christmas staple ever since.

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Before writing this post, I wanted to make sure I had the facts straight. In my imagination, I always envisioned her and my Grandma spending time together to make these. A recipe that was passed down to my Grandma or even Great Grandma. Nope! This tradition was created based on a day of playing hooky.

My mom is the core reason why I love Christmas so much. Every year, I watched this talented woman string garland around the banisters, hang perfectly tied bows to the tree, and illuminate every corner of the house with a flameless candle. I still have no idea how she manages to wrap every present with perfection. She has always gone the extra mile to make things as magical as possible. Including one year, leaving a Nutcracker doll under the tree as an early Christmas present from Santa. I love and cherish the memories and traditions that we share but what I love even more now is watching her as a Grandma and passing down tradition, old and new, to my nieces and nephew.

Basic Thumbprint Cookies

Directions

  1. In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar. Beat until combined scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Cover and chill for about 1 hour or until dough are easy to handle.
  2. Preheat oven to 375. Grease cookie sheets.
  3.  Shape dough into 1 inch balls. if desired, roll balls in egg whites, then in walnuts to coat. Place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets. Using your thumb, make an indentation in each dough ball.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until bottoms are light brown.
  5. If cookie centers puff during baking, re-press centers with the rounded side of a measuring teaspoon.
  6. Transfer to a wire rack; cool completely. Just before serving, fill centers with jam or whichever filling you choose.

 

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Roasted Pine Nut & Kale Salad

Well, it’s safe to say that I have completely dropped the ball and have been MIA since September. In a blink of the eye, Fall made a brief appearance and just like that, Chicago’s cold and grey season has officially kicked in for the next six months. The fur blankets have come out of hiding and the hibernation has set in. Shorter days and longer nights set the tone for a more grounding and relaxing time.

What Chicago lacks in weather is made up in seasonal cooking. Rich aroma’s of sweet yet savory is key as well as being hearty and comforting. Root veggies and dark leafy greens add texture and color while also providing endless possibilities. However, unless you are super into meal prepping, cooking with these ingredients definitely takes time and planning. Not always ideal for a quick mid-week meal or side dish.

Yet, I have found a simple and yummy solution that is packed full of protein and super easy to make!

Ingredients:

  • One bundle or one bag of kale ( I have been using Tuscan kale but any will do!)
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Grey Poupon
  • 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • Salt & pepper

Prep: 

  • Place 1/3 of pine nuts in a small pan over medium-low heat. Roast until golden brown.
  • Thoroughly wash and prep kale leaves. I always make sure to remove the hearty stem along the middle of each leaf.
  • Pat down and dry leaves before chopping them into bite-size pieces.

Dressing: (this is a good go-to dressing for most salads. Ingredients can be added or subtracted depending on taste) 

  • Combine extra virgin olive oil, half of lemon, Grey Poupon, balsamic vinegar, garlic and a dash of salt and pepper.
  • Shake well

In a big bowl, combine kale, toasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, a squeeze of the other half of lemon and dressing. Give it a good toss and enjoy!

 

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Healthy Turkey Chili

Each year, my boyfriend and I make a point to get out of town around the end of August or beginning of September. Two years ago, we ate our way through Spain. Last year, we relaxed with family and friends on the sunny beaches of Key Biscayne, Florida. Just recently we have returned from a ten-day adventure in Southern California. Knowing that winter months are ahead of us, we made sure we got our last fix of vitamin D on long hikes, time spent at the beach, and exploring different cities along the California coastline. Almost feeling like we’ve cheated the system once more by adding a bonus week to summer. As much as it pains me to say farewell to long days and warm temperatures, I welcome with open arms the season of Fall and all the magic it brings!

For the next few weeks, Hocus Pocus will be on replay, pumpkin decor will spill out of every corner of our apartment, and plenty of Fall recipes will be consumed. Starting with one, in particular, my favorite take on Turkey Chili. Now, if you haven’t been keeping up with any of my recipes, this is just another really easy recipe to add or eliminate certain ingredients. I’ll provide a few alternatives ideas from different meat selections to keeping it veggie friendly. This chili recipe is perfect for game day Sunday or having a cozy night in with your loved one.

Another reason I love this recipe? It makes plenty of leftovers! Typically we get two dinners out of this. That’s a win considering Alex typically doesn’t eat leftovers. I have enough to freeze the rest which makes for an easy go-to dinner on a busy weeknight.

This recipe can easily be doubled if need be.

Ingredients:

1 lb Ground turkey meat (ground beef, chicken, or sweet potatoes make for a great substitute)
1 16oz can of diced tomatoes
1 can black beans in chili sauce
1 can kidney beans
1 Red bell pepper
2 Yellow bell peppers
1/2 White onion diced
1 packet of mild chili seasoning
1 packet of spicy chili seasoning (I like heat!)
1/2 cup of red wine (I use pinot noir but anything will do)

Garnish’s:
Sour cream
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped jalapenos
Chopped chives
Sliced avocado
Tortilla chips
Crusty bread

Instructions:

Turn your stove top to a medium heat.
Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a pot that will support all of your ingredients.
Add onions and saute for 5 minutes or until pieces become soft and translucent.
Combined 1 lb of turkey and chili packets to flavor the meat. Continue to break apart the meat until cooked fully through.
Add chopped bell peppers, the entire can of black beans in chili sauce, kidney beans, and diced tomatoes.
Once all of your ingredients have been combined, give it a good stir.
Add in 1/2 cup of red wine.

Reduce the stove to a simmer and  cook for about 2 hours or until ingredients have broken down and thickened up.
Serve warm with your favorite crusty bread or tortilla chips. Enjoy!

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Roasted Lime Salmon with Avocado Salsa

During the work week, I try to keep dinners healthy and easy. Not always as easy as said than done.  A simple rule of thumb? A protein paired with a veggie. Boring right? Wrong! Though I wish I could eat pizza every night of the week, healthy meals don’t have to suck! This flavor packed salmon doesn’t disappoint in taste and is a great go-to especially, on the busiest week nights.

*Dinner for two*

Ingredients:
– Two 6oz salmon fillets
– One avocado
– 1/2 cup chopped red onions
– 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
– Cilantro
– 1 lime
– 1/4 tsp. of sea salt
– A pinch of salt & pepper
– Extra virgin olive oil

Salsa:

– Slice avocado into cubes
– Add the chopped 1/2 of red onions and cherry tomatoes
– Squeeze in a half of lime
– 1/4 tsp. of sea salt
– A rough chop of cilantro

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Give ingredients a gentle stir just and set aside.

Salmon:

– Preheat the oven to 350
– Place fillets in a glass pyrex pan
– Drizzle on extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 lime squeezed
– Add salt & pepper to taste
– Bake salmon for 15 – 22 minutes

Once the salmon is done, allow it cool before placing a generous amount of avocado salsa right on top. Yum! In the mood for fish tacos? This is a perfect filler for any corn or flour tortilla.

 

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No Pain, No Champagne

For me, living a healthy balanced lifestyle means taking care of my body while still indulging in my favorite food and drink which include, any and every cheese under the sun and bubbly. Nutritionists and health experts would argue that alcoholic beverages are empty calories. However, sparkling wines like prosecco and champagne are considered to be a low-calorie beverage compared to most alcoholic drinks. Don’ be fooled though! Some champagnes and sparkling wines contain more sugar than others. Champagnes are classified by their sugar count. If you are looking to cut calories out, make sure to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of bubbly.

*Side note: For a wine to be actually considered a “Champagne” it must be a product of the Champagne region of France. It is made by using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. Proseccos’s and Cava’s may have a similar appearance as Champagne but production and taste are distinct. ALL are good in my book though!

Ultra Brut / Brut Nature / Extra Brut / Brut Zero: The driest sparkling wines — No dosage, No added sugar. (0-6 grams per liter residual sugar)

Brut: Dry with no perception of sweetness. This is the most common style of sparkling wine you’ll find sold in liquor stores. (Contains no more than 12 grams/liter residual sugar)

Extra Dry/Extra Sec: Off dry — tastes slightly sweet. (contains 12-17 grams/liter residual sugar)

Sec: Meaning ‘dry’ — Noticeably sweet. (contains 17-32 grams/liter residual sugar)

Demi-Sec: Sweet. (32-50 grams/liter residual sugar)

Doux: Sweetest. (contains 50+ grams/liter residual sugar)

My three favorite “go-to” bubbly?

 

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Mionetto Prosecco

Sparkling wines have become increasingly popular in the last few years and Mionetto is a very common yet delicious one to try. Served in most restaurants and bars, it can also be found on sale at any beverage depot like Binny’s for $9.99. That’s a steal for any bottle of bubbly!

Freixenet Sparkling Cordon Negro Brut Cava 

I have to admit, I had no idea what Cava was until I was introduced by my boyfriends family during a morning brunch in Miami a few years back.  I was pleasantly surprised with each sip and has sparked my love for Spanish bubbly ever since! Freixenet is a perfect Cava to be paired with morning lox and bagels or alone on a warm summer evening.
 
Veuve Clicquot
The only bottle of bubbly you will ever need in your life! This luxury Champagne has been around since 1772 and has a unique history. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was left to control the business in 1805 when her husband passed away. She became the first woman to take over a Champagne house. Her hard work and dedication to this business are the reason why we are still clinking glasses today! Her portrait can be found on top of every Veuve muselet.  For more information and history on this badass lady check out, The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzero.
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Flourless Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Monster Cookies

I am not a baker. I do not have the patience for baking or the attention span. However, I have discovered in the past few years that I am ironically not too bad at “healthy baking”. Taking a decadent desert and swapping out just a few ingredients to cut the calories is surprisingly easy! Plus, it’s a great excuse to justify eating two or three at a time!

After stumbling upon a pretty basic Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies recipe on Pinterest, I took their version and spiced it up a bit. Again, if you are someone who is tied to a recipe, this might not be for you. Like most of my recipes, this one especially is super interchangeable depending on taste or the ingredients you have left over. This is my take!

Ingredients:

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  • 1 cup Rolled Oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of Almond Butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • a splash of vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda

Bake:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease one cookie sheet
  • Combined all ingredients together into a big bowl.
  • Once ingredients are combined equally, take an ice cream scooper or big spoon and scoop batter onto cookie sheet into even proportion sizes.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes
  • Let them cool and enjoy!

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Healthy Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps & Bowls

I have some major weaknesses and one of them is my love for spicy fried chicken! Becuase we all need to indulge sometimes, one of my favorites go-to places in the city is The Roost Carolina Kitchen located in the River West and Lakeview neighborhoods. There you will find everything from bone-in fried chicken to tenders and tacos. Personally, my favorite is the spicy fried chicken tenders meal with a choice of creamy mac & cheese and hand cut potato chips.

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However, not even the stretchiest of yoga pants would allow you to eat such sinful meal as often as I would like. In hopes of curbing that spicy chicken urge, I have come up with my own lighten up twist to this Southern delicacy. Nothing will ever compare to the real deal but a healthy substitute for an easy weeknight meal? I’m in!

*Prep for two people

Ingredients:

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  • 2 lbs of boneless chicken breast
  • One packet of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning
  • One 12oz bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce
  • A head of green leaf lettuce
  • A bundle of green onions
  • 1 cup of crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of butter

Instructions:

  • Place  2lbs of chicken into a Crockpot
    • No crockpot? No problem! Chicken can be baked, grilled, or poached.
  • Add Franks Buffalo Wing Sauce (I like to keep a little extra for later), a tablespoon of butter and Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packet.
  • Give it a gentle stir until all of the ingredients are mixed equally and set on low for two hours.
    • * Each crockpot is bit different depending how big or small and the amount of meat being used*
  • Take the chicken out around the 1 1/2 mark. Shred into pieces and place back into the crockpot for an additional 30 minutes.
  • Make sure to peel, rinse, and dry lettuce before using them as wraps.
  • Drain extra sauce from the shredded chicken while assembling onto a lettuce leaf. Sprinkle blue cheese crumbles and chopped green onions on top.

Boom! There you have it! A guilt free spicy buffalo chicken lettuce wrap. The best part of this simple recipe? The leftovers!!! Take any leftover chicken and turn it into a quinoa/brown rice bowl (see below) or even buffalo chicken dip!

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  • Cut up whatever lettuce you have in your fridge ( I used leftover green leaf and kale)
  • Add in cooked brown rice/quinoa
  • Chop up 1/2 cup of green and/red onions
  • Crumble on blue cheese
  • Drizzle a touch a ranch/blue cheese dressing

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