The Easiest Dip Ever

I can’t believe I haven’t shared this with you yet! It is my new favorite healthy dip. I bring it to work with fresh veggies, and it is so tasty and filling.

Here’s what you need:

and:

Seriously, that’s it. One 18-oz (ish) container of plain nonfat Greek yogurt and one packet of Ranch dressing mix. (You can use regular yogurt too, but I’m obsessed with Greek yogurt).

Hidden Valley is always saying “Ranch dressing gets kids to eat their veggies!” but this homemade dip with the ranch packet is soooo much better.

And the best news? The serving size for regular Ranch dressing is 2 tbsp for 140 calories. The entire 8 oz container of Ranch Dip Yogurt has only 350 calories.

Go make some!

 

*This post is dedicated to one of my BFF’s Shelby, who loves ranch dip, and who inspired me to create this masterpiece when she couldn’t find Ranch dressing at the store to go with her pizza.

Braised Lamb Shank and Pureed Parsnips

Dave has a standing phone date with his parents on Sunday. “I’m going to call the parental units,” he’ll tell me, and when he finishes, I ask first how his family is doing and second, what his dad is making for dinner.

I figured he would be making something extra special for Easter, so I couldn’t wait to hear. “Lamb kebabs,” Dave told me. “With tzatiki sauce and naan.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?!” I groaned. Here I was, making delicious braised lamb shanks with pureed parsnips and complaining that I wasn’t brilliant enough to think of lamb kebabs. Foodies, I tell ya.

Slow-Cooker Braised Lamb Shanks with Pureed Parsnips

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup demi-glace
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 lamb shanks, external fat trimmed (in this case, I used one upper lamb shank, which was huge)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup red wine

Put the onion, celery stalks, carrots, garlic cloves, stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaves in a crock pot, and stir to combine. I was fortunate enough to have some of Dave’s homemade demi-glace to add at this point. If you don’t have demi-glace, I would recommend adding more wine and stock and an extra dash of salt and pepper later on.

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Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan over medium high heat, warm the olive oil until nearly smoking. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, about five minutes total. Transfer to crock pot.

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Add the wine to the saute pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the wine to the slow cooker, cover, and cook on high for two hours, then turn heat to low for about four more hours. (Internal temperature for medium done should read about 140 degrees).

Remove the lamb from the slow cooker and transfer to a large plate. Remove bay leaves from the sauce, and use a stick blender to puree the sauce until smooth.

Recipe adapted from: Williams Sonoma

Meanwhile, prepare parsnips.

Pureed Parsnips

  • 2 lbs parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt & pepper to taste

Heat oven to 425. Toss parsnips with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the edges are browned. Move parsnips to a blender or food processor and combine with water, milk, butter, salt & pepper.

Serve lamb shank over pureed parsnips and top with sauce.

You could also serve the lamb over mashed potatoes or egg noodles, but I highly recommend trying the parsnips. They taste like a cross between a potato and carrot–creamy when pureed, with a slight earthy, nutty taste. A perfect bed for lamb!

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Three Women and a Wine Bar

Earlier this week, I got a text from my friend Amanda asking me out on a date with her and my friend Emily. Like I could say no to that!

After I finished with work on Friday, I dressed up (not quite sure how dressed up we were going to me) and met the girls for a night at the Indulgence Wine Bar in Stevens Point.

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Since we all enjoy dry, slighty fruity reds, we decided to split a bottle of Sangiovese.

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The decanter the owner/server brought out was pretty cool, even if it was a little difficult to pour.

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The wine was quite good, and after the three of us polished off the bottle, we ordered a cheese platter to share.

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The space for the wine bar is really cool, and with a little help, I think it could be great.

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After our adventure with wine, we decided to walk across the street to Guu’s for a beer. I love that the city is so accessible for walking, and I don’t feel like I’m going to get shivved like I did in Green Bay.010

We were still a bit hungry so while we enjoyed our beers, we ordered the spinach artichoke dip, which was served in a bread bowl with chips.

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We were pretty excited about it.

Dave must have missed me, because he let me know that he was preparing a snack and invited us home for a bonfire, which we kindly took him up on after de-glamorizing ourselves.

This is what a Friday looks like in Stevens Point. It’s a good life.

The Secret Ingredient

I found out yesterday that one of my college professors passed away, William Bohne. I only had him for one class, but it was a memorable one: Sculpture. On the first day of class, he handed us a ball of twine and told us to go home and make something with it.

I was terrified.

I love art, but it was always more of a hobby for me; I didn’t think I was particularly good at it. I took art in college because I wanted to learn more about it, immerse myself in it, not because I saw myself as being a famous painter.

I went back to my dorm room incredibly nervous. What was I going to make with twine? I broke it down to the basics: Twine is string, string is fabric, fabric is used to create clothes. I had just taught myself how to use a hat loom—perfect. The twine kept breaking on my hard plastic loom, but I just kept plugging away at it, becoming more gentle with the twine after each frayed string.

Yarn Head

Dr. Bohne was impressed. He claimed I was both creative and great at executing my ideas. (Me? I thought.) I told him how scared I was whenever he gave us a new project, and he told me sometimes the best things happen when we are a little scared.

Since sculpture class was a 2+ hour class, one day he decided we had enough time to go on a food trip. We had to make a clay food piece, so we would garner inspiration from one of his favorite local restaurants: Chili John’s. “The secret is that they add chocolate!” He told us excitedly. “You won’t get that taste anywhere else.”

He took us on a much longer trip later that year to the Chicago Art Museum, but it was always Chili John’s that I remembered: how excited he was at something that was seemingly so simple. Food as art. And, not to get too philosophical, but isn’t that what makes life fun? Getting excited about things as simple as chili and sharing your excitement with those around you?

I’ve had a craving for chili since I read that he died. I’m not sure how or why it happened.

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Even though I remember Chili John’s chili being really good, I’ve never added chocolate to my own chili recipe. What if it was too much? What if it didn’t taste right? I don’t even know for sure that is their secret ingredient!

But then I thought, “Sometimes the best things happen when you’re a little scared.”

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So add that chocolate. We can be scared together right before we enjoy a delicious bowl.

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I used this recipe, along with 1/3 cup of cocoa powder.

Family & Food

I had the best weekend. I feel kind of weird saying that since Dave wasn’t with me, but I guess it’s good that we can have fun without each other, right? I know he had fun playing World of Tanks on his computer, building our fire pit, and ordering out food that I’m certain made him sick.

My weekend started Friday night when I left work, ran home and threw all my stuff in a bag, and made a two hour trip to Northeastern Wisconsin to see my family. As soon as I got to my parent’s house, I gave them each a big hug, and then Mom and I hopped in the car to head into town to see my uncle and aunt perform karaoke at the Oneida Casino.

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My cousin Amanda came back to Wisconsin for a two week break in between her travelS from Hawaii to Alaska. Lucky bum. Since I had to fly all the way to Alaska to see her last time, I figured this was a lot cheaper than flying to Hawaii next winter (although I would like to….) There was a great mixture of family and friends at the Oneida Casino, and my mom kept me up until 4:00 in the morning! We had no intention of staying out that late, but that’s the way it worked.

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At least I got to spend extra time with my family. It was especially nice when I came home and Dad had the spare bed all ready for me, then Mom built me a fire.

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This is the best kind of TV before bed.

The next day, Mom, Dad, and I drove to Manitowoc to look at mom’s new shop. Then we headed back to Green Bay for brunch at the Mustard Seed. There are so many good things on the menu that I never know what to order. I knew I really wanted some of Ken’s vegetarian chili, and I scored when I found out he added a new item on the menu: Chili Frittata.

062The three of us all ordered it, and it was delicious. Perfect for a cold and rainy day. I am very picky about eggs for some reason (I don’t like when the yolk and white are mixed together), so I don’t normally order or make omelets or quiche, but if it’s covered in enough other stuff, it’s fine by me. This frittata was topped with chili, cheddar cheese, scallions and sour cream.

Later, my friend Shelby met up with Mom and I to go see Divergent. Shelby had actually recommended the book to me way back when, before we were even good friends, so it was pretty cool that we got to see the movie together. Mom hadn’t read the book, but she didn’t have trouble following the plot and seemed to enjoy it just as much as we did.

Two of the same actors from this movie are going to be in the upcoming movie, The Fault in Our Stars, which I’m also really excited to see. Remember when I raved about the book? I’m glad I got over my fear of going to movies alone, just in case I’m flying solo for this one.

I had made reservations Saturday night for S.A.L.T. in De Pere to use a gift certificate I got on my last birthday. The whole experience there was just wonderful.

063The food was as good as ever, the staff was awesome, and the company was even better. Plus, I never get tired of the atmosphere. I took Shelby as my date and we doubled with my parents.

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Mom and I shared a bottle of Malbec, which Mom taste-tested first with a swirl of her glass and a sip before she approved it. She’s so cool.

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Mom and Dad let me take the reins on ordering again, so I ordered all at once and asked the waitress to pace our courses for us.

We started with Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese and Curry Hummus.

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Cheese = always good. Curry Hummus = awesome. Of course, with two of my favorite things mixed together, it was bound to be good.

072Next up, we had Mac & Cheese: Cavatappi pasta in a mac and cheese sauce. After my experience in Alaska, I learned it’s always good to order mac and cheese in nice restaurants. They know what they’re doing.

073We also ordered an Andouille sausage, served with creole mustard and “holy trinity” relish. It was a nice variation on “fancy food” with the perfect spicy kick.

074Truffle fries with aged parmesan and a poached egg. I don’t care if fawning over truffle oil is getting old, I LOVE IT. The fries were delicious and perfect with the creamy yolk broken over. And they’ve made me decide that I need to buy more truffle oil, damn the cost.

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Who needs crab cakes anymore? (Well, I do). These smoked walleye cakes with caper aioli were wonderful. I’d take seafood over red meat any day.

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Last up was the Mushroom Risotto. When our server first brought out this tiny plate, I was a little worried, but it turned out she had actually portioned this one all out for us. Ha ha! Not to toot my own horn, but I actually think my risotto is a little better. Shelby’s never had my risotto, so she asked me to prove it. You’re on, Shelby.

For the first time ever, I had room in my stomach for the S.A.L.T. sundae: salted caramel gelato with candied bacon and a whiskey sauce. Shelby and I shared this bowl, and Mom and Dad shared one as well.

077The sauce was a bit potent for me, but otherwise, the dessert was perfect. The waitress also brought out some complimentary White Russian shooters.

For anyone who lives or plans to travel to De Pere, Wisconsin, I highly recommend S.A.L.T.

We headed home right after our two hour dinner experience and promptly went to bed. Sunday morning, we started our day with a fried egg sandwich.

078Adorned with spinach, sharp cheddar, red pepper flakes, and Frank’s Buffalo Sauce.

Afterwards, Mom and I got to work making scones for Amanda’s homecoming brunch.

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082My mom’s side of the family was all there, and my aunt Colleen and cousin Amanda put on a lovely spread of food with sangria to drink.

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094Plus, I got to see my little Moonbeam!

Amanda also surprised my grandma with a birthday cake. She’ll be 90 next month!

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I had to force myself to leave just before 5:00pm. Fortunately, I had Dave and my kitties to look forward to, otherwise I may not have left.

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Lately

Look what Dave and I cooked up last weekend:

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Okay, Dave made the dough, but I sliced up all the toppings! Foccacia bread at its finest.

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Dave also made his famous ribs and I succeeded in making Dave like cauliflower, Win. I made this delicious cauliflower sauce, mashed up some baby reds, and mixed the two together for a super creamy and delicious side dish. If you haven’t made cauliflower sauce yet, I highly recommend it. I keep thinking how great it would be as a pizza sauce, too.

Monday’s thrown together dinner was the only one worth talking about this week.

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I cooked chicken, black beans, and scrambled eggs together to create a delicious burrito filling and topped it with diced tomato, arugula, and salsa. The bean mixture made a great addition to my salad the next day at lunch, too.

Wednesday, I got a wonderful surprise. I came home to a box on my doorstep from Seattle!

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When Facebook was in its infancy, I met a girl online who shared my moniker, and we’ve kept in touch over the years, even though she lives in Washington. We’d been talking about tea earlier, and she sent me the most wonderful care package.

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Tea, curry powder, chocolates, and thin mints spilled out.

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Cookbooks, too!

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This woman knows me well. She attached little notes with stories about why she picked certain things, and also added “I’m not sure if you’re a fan of chocolate.” Ha! I dug into a bar of chocolate right after dinner that night and gave the rest to Dave to sample.

It was such a nice surprise and a great reminder that there is good in the world if we look for it.

This week, I started working four ten-hour-shifts (as opposed to five eights) and get Thursdays off now. Today is my first day off, and I’m loving it!

It has been bright and beautiful, and I started my day with a lovely run at Schmeekle Reserve.

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Despite a few patches of snow at the trail head, the rest of the trail was nice and dry. I did an easy two miles and realized how slow I got over the winter. Ha! At least it was nice to get some fresh air.

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Weather has got me wrapped around its finger.

Later, I went to Goodwill to finally drop off the stuff that has been sitting in my car for months. Of course, I had to go inside, too. I’m ready for summer clothes!

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I didn’t have a lot of money to spend, so I mostly window shopped.

On my way home, I plugged Starbucks into my GPS in an effort to finally use the gift card I got from Christmas at work.

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Light Hazelnut Frappucino. I don’t really care for Starbucks coffee, but this frappucino was a perfect midday treat. Since we pretty much only have Ramen in the house for dinner (thus the non-exciting dinners this week), I stopped at Papa Murphy’s on the way home and picked up pizza for dinner.

I’m very excited to be heading home this weekend to spend some time with my family and friends, so I will catch you on the flip side!

Summer Lovin’

Things I am most excited for this summer:

  • Mangoes
  • Driving with the window down and the music up
  • Bonfires
  • A cold beer in the hot sun
  • Saturday Farmer’s Market
  • Sunday cookouts
  • Long walks (or runs)
  • The sound of mourning doves
  • Planting a vegetable garden
  • Making dinner with produce from the vegetable garden
  • Waiting for Dave to complain about the heat so that I can remind him how many days it was below freezing this winter

Oh! I also want to point out that I started listening to the Showtunes station on Pandora, which is pretty much like my ideal man in music form: it plays songs from musicals, Disney movies, and from the show Glee. So I’m basically belting out solos on the way to and from work every day and while I wash the dishes. But Grease gets overplayed so much that I actually had to skip the song Summer Nights which is a little sad, don’t you think?

Uncharted Territory: Roast Beef

So, the other week Dave and I were talking about roast beef. You know, like you do.

Dave was saying how it takes hours to make and is generally very expensive etc. etc.

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So, as I’m perusing my regular blogs, I stumble across Iowa Girl Eat’s “Easiest One Hour Roast Beef,” and my immediate thought is: “Ha! I’ll show him!”

Because nothing makes me want to do something like someone thinking or telling me I can’t. Just ask my mom. She still recounts the time I spent an entire summer day on my Grandma’s lawn teaching myself how to twirl a baton after my previous lack of hand-eye coordination suggested otherwise.

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So I write down the exact type of meat that she used, because going to the meat department of the store without the exact type of meat that I want written down will end in disaster. Why are there so many different types of pot roast? Is there really a difference between a beef brisket and corned beef? Where is Alton when I need him?

I have no idea what an English roast is. Was this cow born in England? Can a moo have a British accent?

I don’t know if I’ll ever understand meat. But I do understand recipes. Rub meat down with olive oil, Sear with a knife and stud with cloves of sliced garlic. Rub with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Put in a handy dandy meat thermometer and cook the roast over a bed of grape tomatoes at 350 degrees until it is 135 degrees. Remove and DON’T TOUCH.

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I may not know a lot about meat, but I am very familiar with the resting period, as Alton or Dave will cut off your hand if you try to cut into a steak right after it’s done cooking. Meat needs a nap before you can eat it.

The roast is done. I cut it thinly against the grain after it’s rested for about twenty minutes. The au jous is finished. It’s only 3:30. I ask Dave if it’s okay to put the roast beef back in the pan with the au jous and tomatoes on warm, and he says yes.

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Several hours later, we are invited out by our friends for a pint. I remove the roast beef from the oven and discover that it’s pale pink interior has darkened. I guess I should have put it in the fridge. Fortunately, it didn’t damage my sandwich.

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Thinly sliced roast beef, roasted tomatoes, arugula, red onion, and dijon mustard on a demi baguette. Uncharted territory is delicious.

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A Pasta Story

Pasta

Once upon a time, a girl’s method of dumping spices instead of measuring spices failed. What was supposed to be a 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes turned into more than a tablespoon.

Her attempts to fish red pepper flakes out of a pan full of uncooked spaghetti, water, and diced tomatoes did not work.

Her husband, once again claiming that his wife was trying to kill him, ordered pizza for dinner. And one pan pasta that normally served one woman and her husband suddenly became a woman’s dinner, lunch, dinner, and lunch.

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Luckily, she doctored up the pasta enough the next night that her husband would eat it, too. Two extra cans of tomatoes, a quarter cup of Greek yogurt, half a bag of spinach, and an entire bag of shrimp made for a still-spicy-but-husband-won’t-die dinner.

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Will she use a teaspoon next time to measure? Probably not.

The End.

 

First Cookout

Last weekend was wonderful. Midwesterners finally crawled out of hibernation to drive their salt-encrusted cars through the car wash, rev their motorcycles, enjoy leisurely walks in the sun, and grill out for the first time this year.

And pick up all the newspapers that finally crawled out of the tower of snow.

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One of Dave’s coworkers came to visit on Saturday with his wife, and we took them to a few antique places in town, Call It New, Call it Antique and Kurtweil’s. Feeling hot in the 40 degree weather while driving in the car certainly is a lesson in relativity. Dave found a cast iron pizza pan that he was ecstatic about; I found a 24 piece plaid plate set for my mom, who I knew had been looking for some new dishes.

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I also really wanted this wall mounted coffee grinder….

007But at $168, it will have to be an investment.

Sunday dawned bright and glorious and as it kept getting warmer, I knew we had to grill out. Dave and I went to the grocery store for a Just Bare chicken and a can of baked beans. Baked beans just scream ‘summer’ to me, since we almost always had a can with us when we went on picnics growing up.

After returning from the store, I went on my first bike ride of the year, which fell rather flat after I first got stopped by a train and later couldn’t find a place to get my tires filled.

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When I returned home from my 25 minute bike ride, I unearthed Charlie from the moving boxes in the garage and scrubbed him ’til he shone like the top of the top of the Chrysler building.

011Meanwhile, Dave marinated the chicken in lemon juice, za’atar, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cholula, spicy mustard, and olive oil.

I started on a veggie couscous salad for a potluck at work the next day and enjoyed my first summer beverage: a Twisted Tea. Dave suggested malt beverages in lieu of beer, and these teas really were a fun twist on the latter.

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We invited our friends Dan and Em over to grill out and they contributed some tasty Jalapeno Cheddar Bratwurst and Naan to our Marinated Chicken, Baked Beans, and Grilled Brussels Sprouts and Fingerling Potatoes. I only wish I would have remembered to take pictures of the food…Guess I was too excited drinking in the sunshine.