Homemade Apple Butter

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After our recent trip to Fishkill Farms, I knew that this was going to be the perfect opportunity to finally make homemade apple butter this season. With fresh organic apples from the farm and a recipe from Skinnytaste, I decided to spend a Sunday afternoon making this delicious spread that reminds me of my childhood days. I was nervous with how it was going to turn out, but I have to say, it was pretty spot on!

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Ingredients:
 
  • 6 large apples, peeled, cored, finely chopped (honeycrisp, gala, ambrosia) – *I used a couple extra apples and the apple type was whatever we found at the farm
  • 1/3 cup raw sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, not packed
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg – *For all the spices, I had an Apple Pie spice that I used instead which had these ingredients

Directions:

Place the apples in a slow cooker. Top with sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and mix well. Cover and cook high 5 hours, or low 10 hours, stirring once halfway, until the apples are tender and dark brown.

Uncover and puree with an immersion blender. *(I do not own an immersion blender, so I actually had to spoon it out and blend it in my regular blender…not really recommended, as it’s hot and this is a difficult procedure! However, it got the job done.) Cook on high uncovered 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

Spoon into jars or containers, cover and refrigerate.

Makes 2 cups.

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Nico has been enjoying peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches for lunch as I did as a child, and he absolutely loves it! I have enjoyed some on toast as well. If you have other great ideas for how to enjoy apple butter, please share!

Hope you all had a fantastic Halloween last night. My boys dressed up as Curious George (Nico) and the Man in the Yellow Hat (hubby). Luca was a skeleton (with a pumpkin hat), and I was a panda (naturally). We enjoyed our neighborhood Halloween Parade, which was fabulous, and then took off for some Trick or Treating. Nico had his first candy this year, and had no idea what to do with a lollipop. It was a pretty funny experience to say the least. We let him have a few pieces…and then my husband and I had a few too many pieces…and now I need to GET IT ALL OUT OF MY HOUSE!

21 Day Fix Round 2 starts tomorrow as well as my Thankful for Fitness Challenge Group, and it’s healthy eating and living from here on out so that I am going into the holidays feeling happy, healthy, and strong.

Who’s with me?

Happy Sunday!

XO,

Gina

{34} Lately…

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Lately I’ve been…

reading  Caught up on some Health Magazine at the beach yesterday. Love their tips for healthy eating and exercise.

writing  Lots of e-mails, and catch up on blog posts before heading out to NASHVILLE on Thursday! if anybody has any good recommendations for while I’m out there, please let me know!

listening  The Coffee Shop (Ch. 31) on Sirius XM Radio. Puts Nico to sleep every time and he loves it.

thinking  That I need to get things together before this new baby arrives. I am 33 weeks today. Holy guacamole! I delivered at 38 weeks with my first babe, so it’s crazy to think that it’s less than 2 months before we will be a family of FOUR.

smelling  The yummy mocha that I treated myself to this morning.

watching  Finally saw the movie, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. The movie is based on the book by Cheryl Strayed with the same title. Being an outdoorsy person, I was a huge fan of the book as it depicted a woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for 3 months. I thought the movie did a decent job of portraying the book, but I definitely preferred the book over the movie. Although, I must say that is generally the case with me!

wishing  A very Happy Birthday to one of my favorite people in the world, Erin, who we spent the 4th of July weekend with at Seneca Lake. Her bday was yesterday, and I know it’s going to be an amazing year for her! Love you butt buddie!

hoping  For the internet to keep working. I have wasted a ton of time today hopping from cafe to cafe around the neighborhood and it’s like the internet is not working anywhere!?!?! What in the world is going on? Came back home and hoping it will stay on here so I can actually get some work done today!

wearing  Living in lots of dresses, maxis and flip flops on these hot summer days.  Whew!

loving  Speaking of these hot summer days, I actually love them…because that means BEACH TIME! Since we won’t be able to attend our family vacay to the OBX this year, I am going to try to soak up as much local beach time as possible this summer!

wanting  More space in my apartment! We are going to be doing lots of furniture rearranging in the next few weeks to make room for our new little roommate. Why do such tiny humans need so many things? lol.

needing  To finish planning Nico’s 2nd Birthday Party. We need to have it early this year, because his birthday is two days away from my due date. So I finally picked a date and ordered the cake. Now it’s time to figure out the food and decor. I seriously cannot believe he is going to be TWO.

feeling  SUPER excited for my upcoming trip to NASHVILLE for the Beachbody Coaches Summit! Excited to finally meet my team in person and for all the amazing events, workouts, and trainings that I get to be a part of. I’m sure it’s going to be an incredible experience that I will never forget.

craving  All the sleep I can get. Starting to get a little more tired again in this last trimester. Trying to get as much sleep as possible, because I know there are some all-nighters coming up in the near future again. Yikes!

clicking  On this adorable blog by Amaris, both mama and fashionista. Her outfits are chic yet casual, and her baby girl is sucha doll!

 Hope you all have a great week! I started off my morning with a Banana Chia Pudding breakfast, a Turbo Jam workout, and a walk around the neighborhood. Time to buckle down now and get crackin’.

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HAPPY MONDAY!

What have you been up to lately?

XO,

Gina

Clean Eats

After a week of preparation, our 5-Day Clean Eating Challenge officially kicks off today! I am so excited to have a fantastic group of challengers with my partner, Karen.  Everyone looks like they are off and running, fridges are stocked, and here we GOOOOOOO!

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So, what exactly is clean eating?  Basically it’s tossing all the JUNK.  We have decided to cut out the crap for a week and instead choose foods that are whole, natural, and REAL…without all that processed stuff.

Our group is sharing helpful info and tips for healthy eating, a meal plan, shopping list, and recipes.  At the end of the week, I am hoping we all feel healthier, lighter, & more energetic.  I can’t think of a better time to start loving your body than right before Valentine’s Day (call me cheesy if you must.)

The fam and I headed out to the grocery store yesterday to stock up on all our clean eats.  Here is a pic of my fridge below:

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I am truly hoping that this will make me and my fellow challengers more conscious of the food choices we make on a daily basis and instill more of a lifestyle change.  As one of my challengers stated, “I can do anything for 5 days, but my goal is to make a permanent change to clean eating.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself!  What an awesome mindset to have.

Well, as Day 1 kicks off, this was my morning Green Machine Smoothie!  I would love to have you join a future clean eating group with me, but in the meantime, here is a sneak peek of one of our recipes this week:

Green Machine Smoothie

1 Cup Almond Milk

1 Cup Spinach (packed)

1 Mashed Banana

6oz Plain Greek Yogurt

1/2 tsp Peanut Butter (I swapped for almond butter)

(I also added) 1 Small Apple

A Few Ice Cubes

*Many challengers swapped for coconut milk, different fruits and nut butters, etc.  Smoothies are so versatile which is why I love them dearly!

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So excited to start off this week on a happy, healthy note.  Hope everyone had a nice weekend, and hope you are staying warm out there!  NY is lookin’ pretty icy!

XO,

Gina

Chicken Mole Poblano

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Latin food is one of my favorite genres to both cook and eat, and this dish is on the top of my list.  I originally got this chicken mole poblano recipe from Top Chef Season 5 contestant, Carla Hall, when she was featured in Health Magazine.  I made it a few years ago and loved it, so I decided it was time to break this recipe out again this past week.  I’m not going to lie though, Carla would have been disappointed with the amount of “love” I put into this dish.  In the beginning of the week, I couldn’t wait to make it, and then reality set in.  I got home from work late, I was tired due to lack of sleep the night before, and the last thing I wanted to do was try to make a recipe I hadn’t done in three years.  I had planned on creating this post, but then I was in such a funk that I scrapped taking photos and glumly resumed my wifely/motherly duties with a sour look on my face.  I had promised my husband (and he was super excited) to make this delicious meal, but I just didn’t feel like it!  However, I knew it was the right thing to do to by making it.  You know those days when you really just don’t want to go to the gym or work out?  But then you do anyway…and you feel SO much better afterward???  Well, this is how cooking this meal went.  I really was not in the mood to cook in the beginning, and was super cranky about it (sorry dear husband).  But as I got into it, I started getting excited (more than likely because I was going to get to eat it)…and then after it was done, I was extremely proud of how it turned out.  I then rushed to grab the camera and take a photo of the final product.  I got back on board with doing a blog post about it, and wished I hadn’t been such a grouch in the beginning.  It’s amazing how making a little meal can uplift your spirits and shift your mood.  I’m still blaming certain mood swings on the hormones. 😉

As for this recipe, I think you will also find it delicious.  And it’s even better when you make it with a little love.  As usual, I made a few changes to my own liking (especially with the chicken – I tend to prefer white meat over dark), but for the most part, the sauce is the same.

Hope you enjoy!

What you need:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1.5 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

.5 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes

1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles

1 teaspoon tahini (I omitted this, because I couldn’t find it at the store)

3 oz dark chocolate chopped

1 tablespoon cilantro chopped

Carla used an already cooked rotisserie chicken, divided into 6 pieces and warmed – I used uncooked chicken breasts instead covered in cumin and cinnamon to taste and white cooking wine

1/2 avocado, pitted and sliced

1 tomato, diced

How to Make it Happen:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place uncooked chicken breasts covered in cumin, cinnamon, and white wine into a baking dish and cover with aluminum foil.  Bake the chicken for approximately 35 minutes (will depend on thickness of the chicken and how your oven cooks, so make sure to check it early to avoid overcooking!)

While the chicken is baking, heat oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add onion and cook for 3 minutes or until translucent.  Add garlic, and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in cumin, cinnamon, sale, and pepper; cook for 1 minute.

Add canned diced tomatoes and chiles to saucepan, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir in tahini and chocolate until melted.  Stir in chopped cilantro.  Remove from heat and cool slightly.  Put sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Spoon as much sauce as you like over the chicken.  Serve with avocado and tomato.

I also decided to serve it with some black beans and rice, which really completed the meal for me.  The cheese on top of the beans is cotija.

Happy to say, we blended everything all together to serve to our little guy as well, and he happily ate it as well!

Hope you are all having a great week!

XO,

Gina

Homemade Pesto Sauce

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Our garden has been a hit this year!  Especially for fresh, homemade pasta sauces.  This was my first venture at making my own pesto sauce, and I have to say, it turned out pretty darn good!  Not to mention, it was super easy to make.  Thanks Mom!

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What you need:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

3 or 4 garlic cloves

olive oil – I don’t really measure…enough so that the mixture ends up like a sauce and not chunky

1/4 pine nuts

1/2 cup Romano cheese

blender or food processor

1/2 cup heavy cream (if you want to make pesto cream sauce)

How to make it happen:

Put about half of the basil leaves in a blender or food processor with the olive oil to grind up.  Once it’s smooth, add the other ingredients (except the cream) and remaining basil and olive oil to grind up.  Make sure it is all well blended and smooth.

You can either freeze or use fresh.

Transfer the sauce to a small pot to heat it up.  If you want to make pesto cream sauce, you can whisk in the heavy cream right before turning off the heat.

Boil up your favorite type of pasta, and top it with this delicious sauce!  Once the pasta is boiled, I drain it and then coat it with a layer of the sauce so that it doesn’t dry out and stick together.  Serve it up in bowls, and then top with as much added sauce as you like.  I also add some extra grated Romano cheese to the top, because I’m a cheese fanatic.

Delish!

Hope you enjoy, and would love to hear if any of you try this recipe out.

Happy Monday.  Have a great week everyone!

XO,

Gina

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Garden Fresh Homemade Tomato Sauce

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It’s that time of the year!  The time when our tomatoes are coming up in the garden, and more importantly…time for fresh pasta sauce!  I typically make my own homemade sauce (carrying on the family tradition) all year long using cans of tomatoes, but there is something about those fresh tomatoes that really make the world go ’round.  I have tried both all fresh and all canned versions of this recipe, but my preference is actually a 50/50 method of half fresh, half canned.  For some reason, that packs the best punch of flavor in my book, and it’s just the perfect combo for an amazing sauce.

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The recipe is quite simple.  Most of it is all about taste and preference.  I hardly measure anything, and I kind of pinch and throw in as I go.

What you need:

4-6 cloves of garlic chopped (or whole, but I chop mine)

chopped yellow onion (or white or spanish) – I use about 1/4 of a medium size onion

extra virgin olive oil

fresh tomatoes from the garden (I used about 12)

canned tomatoes (my favorite brand is the Sclafani crushed, I used 1 can for this batch, because that was about how many fresh tomatoes I had, and I wanted it to be a 50/50 mix)

fresh basil from the garden to taste (I used about 10 leaves)

salt

pepper

dried italian herbs (if you have more fresh, the better!)

sugar (my secret ingredient)

How to Make it Happen:

First prep the fresh tomatoes by dicing them up to remove all the seeds (the more seeds you have the more bitter the sauce is, so I remove them all from the fresh tomatoes).  Then, you can either put them in a food processor to blend or keep them as is (again your preference of texture!) and put them aside.

Saute the garlic and onions in the olive oil in a large pot on medium heat for a couple minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add the fresh tomatoes and the can of tomatoes to the pot and stir, stir, stir.  Lower heat so it’s not popping bubbles of sauce all over the kitchen.

Next, stir in the basil, salt, pepper, extra Italian herbs, and sugar to taste.

Let it sit, stirring frequently, and tasting frequently.  You may find you want to add a few herbs, a little more sugar, etc. as it cooks.  You can really cook it as long as you want.  The flavors will change a bit as time wears on, and you may want to add more to it.  I am all about the quickness, so unless I have a very large pot of sauce, I don’t really cook mine for more than 20-30 minutes.  I am usually just cooking for two, so it can cook pretty quickly.

Boil up your favorite type of pasta while you are waiting for the sauce.  Once the pasta is ready, drain it, and coat it with a few large scoops of sauce so that it doesn’t dry out and stick together.  Serve it up in bowls, and add as much extra sauce as you like!  I top mine with grated Locatelli Romano cheese as well, and voila!  Dinner is served.

Buon Apetito!

XO,

Gina

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Easter Favorites

In celebration of Easter this weekend, I wanted to share some of my favorite things about the holiday.

1. Dyeing Eggs:

Nothing like the old school dye tablets in the vinegar.  My family has been dyeing our eggs with Paas since before I can remember.

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2.  Peeps

My absolute favorite Easter Basket treat.  My trick for getting them to stay softer longer is to keep them in a ziplock bag.  Of course, you can always pop them in the microwave to warm them up.  Just make sure it’s only for a few seconds or else they blow up!  Oh yeah, and the chicks are my favorite.

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Photo Credit: The New Forty blog

3.  Potato Salad

This dish is served at our Easter table every year, and it’s something I look forward to.  It’s simple, yet delicious!  Here is a recipe I found on Pinterest from Key Ingredient that is most similar to the one we use.  This one only serves 4, so you’ll have to pump it up if you have a large gathering!

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4.  Floral Dresses

My sister and I used to get dressed up in the most frilly floral dresses for church every Easter.  Although some years it’s tough because of chilly weather, I still love to put on a floral or spring-like dress to celebrate the occasion.  Here is a gorgeous vintage style floral dress I discovered on ModCloth:

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5.  Pastel Polish

Easter is the perfect time to switch up your polish from darker hues to pastels.  Essie is my favorite nail polish brand, and here is their Spring 2013 Collection for sale at Kohl’s:

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What are your Easter and holiday favorites?  Would love to hear what you have to share.

Wishing everyone a Happy Friday and a Happy Easter this weekend!  For those celebrating Passover, I hope you are having a great holiday as well.

XO,

Gina

Pizza With Pears

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Happy Friday everyone!

Sorry for my lack of posting this week.  I have been out sick most of the week, and haven’t felt much up to blogging (or anything else really.)  Been trying to work from home a bit, but mostly been watching endless episodes of Top Chef and Project Runway, and I’m finally caught up with my DVR.

I did make it into the office yesterday and for our 2nd week of our Race to the Oscars event.  I saw Zero Dark Thirty.  WOW.  Amazing.  Intense.  Well done Kathryn Bigelow.  If you haven’t seen this film already, it’s definitely a must see.

Anywho, back to pizza with pears!

While scouring through my recipe books for something new and interesting to cook, I came across a delicious looking recipe for pizza with pears.  I credit this original recipe to Maxine Clark from her book Pizza Calzone &  Focaccia.

Of course, due to time constraints and the inability to find all the ingredients in my local grocery store, I tweaked this recipe a bit–which is very typical of me anyway.

So here we have Pear, Pecorino, and Fontina Pizza with Honey and Sage

Ingredients:

Pizza Dough – original recipe has you making homemade dough, but I opted for a quicker, easier version and went with Pillsbury Pizza Crust (it’s no NY pizza, but not bad!)

2 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil, plus some extra to drizzle

4 oz. Fontina cheese cubed (original recipe called for Tallegio, but could not find in my local store – this was a great substitute!)

1 very ripe pear, cored and thinly sliced

12-15 small sage leaves

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1 tbsp. of honey (or more depending on how sweet you would like)

sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Pre-heat the oven at 425 degrees F.  Open the pizza dough package and spread it thinly onto a pizza pan.  Pre-heat the dough according to directions on the Pillsbury package.

Rub the pizza crust with the olive oil and scatter over the Fontina.  Arrange the pears over this, then the sage and the pecorino.  Drizzle with honey, then season with salt and pepper.  Finally, drizzle on a little more olive oil.

Bake until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden.

Eat & Enjoy!

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Pasta Fagioli

“When the stars make you drool, just like pasta fazool, that’s amore…” – Dean Martin

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On New Year’s Day, I spent my time exercising, doing laundry, and whipping up a big ol’ pot of pasta fagioli! (pronounced “pasta fazool” by us Italian Americans.)  Like a lot of other favorite Italian dishes, this one also started out as a peasant dish, being composed of inexpensive ingredients (i.e. pasta and beans).  Families have since passed down their recipes from generation to generation, and each family has their own little twist on this tasty little soup.

I remember eating this dish at my grandparent’s house when I was a kid, and this winter I had the sudden urge to recreate this in my own home.  My grandmother passed the recipe down to my aunt who then in turn passed it down to myself.  This was my first crack at making pasta fagioli, and according to my husband, it turned out wonderful!  Of course, being me, I added a few of my own twists and turns to the recipe that I will share with you.  Warning: I had to break out the lobster pot (my largest pot), and we ate this soup for an entire week (even after giving a large batch to my neighbors!)  Be prepared, this produces more soup that you might think!

Ok here we go…

1 – 16 oz. bag of navy or cannellini beans (or any white beans)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large diced onion

4-6 cloves crushed garlic

4-6 stalked chopped celery

4-6 chopped carrots

1/2 small boneless ham (cubed)

2 – 28 oz. cans of diced tomatoes

3-4 bay leaves

1 bottle white cooking wine

32 oz. chicken stock

salt and pepper

oregano

crushed red pepper

1 lb. small macaroni (or pasta of choice)

Romano cheese (topping)

Wash beans in a colander.  Put beans in a pot and cover with water 2 inches above the beans.  Boil for approximately 2 minutes.  Let it cool and sit for one hour.  Return beans to colander and rinse well under cold water.  Set aside.

In a large pot, saute the garlic, onions, celery and carrots in the olive oil for 3-5 minutes until onions are iridescent.  Add ham, beans, 1 can of tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper.  Also add some white cooking wine, chicken stock, and water to taste.  (You don’t have to use the full bottles at this time.  I ended up using it all eventually as the soup cooked down, but I started with just enough liquid to cover all the ingredients.  The original recipe just called for water to cover the ingredients, but I decided to kick up the flavor with the white cooking wine and chicken stock.)  Cook until the beans are tender.  This took me about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.  Keep checking!  As the liquid cooks down, add the second can of tomatoes (original recipe called for one can, but again, I wanted more tomato flavor), more cooking wine, chicken stock, and water to taste.  You can add as much or as little as you want depending on how thick vs. brothy you want the soup to be.  The important thing is to make sure the beans are fully cooked.

Cook the macaroni separate, then add as much of it to the soup as you want per portion.  I ended up putting all of the cooked pasta right into the soup pot, but some people might want less pasta in their portion.  Serve in bowls.  Last but not least, top the dish off with some freshly grated Romano cheese!  As you can see from my photos above, I like a lot of cheese.

If you decide to serve up some pasta fagioli using my family recipe this winter, please let me know how it goes!

Buon Appetito!

Gina

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