Eating with the Armstrongs

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(perks of hosting a wedding shower: leftover flowers to brighten our home)

In true fashion, spring has been feeling quite full! Wedding showers, friends visiting, parties, and yard work have overflowed into our lives. We had a wonderful get away last weekend to a personal retreat center and we are excited to celebrate our third anniversary next week with a night spent in New Orleans!

The retreat last weekend was truly a gift. We spent two days at an amazing little bed and breakfast/counseling center about thirty minutes away from us with an incredible husband and wife who ministered to us, counseled us, and served us the best homemade Mexican food(thank you, Lord!) Coming up on three years of marriage, my teeny piece of marriage advice is this: get counseling even when you don’t feel like you “need it”. Honestly, Matthew & I are in a really sweet and peaceful season in our marriage, so we didn’t have a long list of issues to bring to our time of counseling. We went into the weekend asking the question: how can we grow in our marriage? I’m not sure why, but for some reason I expected to spend our time there weeping and hashing things out. Instead, our time was peaceful and refreshing, and our eyes were opened to some important things to work on and some revolutionary ways to communicate and grow closer as husband and wife. Even if you can’t get professional counseling, find a couple who is older and wiser than you and get time with them for advice and wisdom. However, if you can, find a professional marriage and family therapist to meet with! It is worth it!

In the midst of a full spring, here are some recipes we’re enjoying:

Smitten Kitchen’s Three Bean Chili. I love to try new chili recipes. Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite blogs and I always know the recipes will be delicious. My change is adding some ground beef to up the protein factor for my husband. If you do add ground beef, add about 1.5 pounds, sautéed with the onions. Also, when adding the water, you’ll need to double it so that it doesn’t dry up & burn during the simmering process. I may or may not know this from experience.

The Pioneer Woman’s Heavenly Hummus Wrap: really anything with hummus is a favorite for me. Homemade is best, but I also absolutely love Whole Food’s Original Hummus. Randomly, last night I dreamed that I read the ingredient list for their hummus and it included ground up pancakes. Don’t worry, this is not true.

Spicy Sriracha White Bean Dip from White on Rice Couple; My go to for appetizers and snacks is usually a good ole classic hummus. But I really enjoyed this switch up with white beans and an Asian flare.

My Roasted Vegetable & Brown Rice Bowl with Peanut Sauce: I will never get tired of that peanut sauce! Such an easy and delicious meal, use whatever seasonal veggies are available!

Rachel Ray’s Pasta Carbonara: This is quite a creamy meal but a little less heavy because she doesn’t use cream in the sauce.  A few changes: I used brown rice fettuccine, I did not use lemony breadcrumbs as a topping, although that sounds delicious! Instead of asparagus, I used spinach and instead of pancetta, I used bacon. Overall, this is a great restaurant-style meal that’s easy to make at home.

Raw Brownies from A Couple Cooks: wowowowoweeee. These brownies have gotten rave reviews from friends and from my husband. Topped with some simmered down berries or served over coffee ice cream, this is the perfect dessert. These are totally easy to make and much healthier than your average brownie.

I’d love to hear what recipes you are enjoying lately! I hope you try and enjoy some of these.

These are some photos from our retreat. Isn’t Louisiana beautiful?!

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Eating with the Armstrongs

The coming of fall has been a dream! A few things I’ve enjoyed lately…

My birthday was really special this year. I felt so loved by friends and family and specifically enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner at Frankie Marcello’s with my husband (get the chicken piccata!), tea with my girl friends at the English Tea Room  (the Earl Grey Supreme is divine) in Covington, dinner and drinks with Matthew and my parents at Galatoire’s Bistro (you’ve got to try the banana bread pudding!), and gifts galore!

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The pumpkin latte with house-made maple whipped cream at Magpie Cafe. Need I say more?

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The grand opening of Trader Joe’s. I won’t mention how many times I’ve been so far. But some of my TJ faves so far include: 21 Seasoning Salute (a salt-free blend of yes, 21 different spices, perfect for chicken, fish, burgers, eggs, etc..), Pumpkin Spice Rooibos Tea, Tuscan White Bean Hummus, Gorgonzola Crackers, and Coconut Bonbons, and my husband’s fave Cookie Butter (dangerous).

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Rollerblading with my puppy, Boone. Maybe the most fun and scariest form of exercise ever. I’m bringing rollerblading back!

My fall herb garden. I transferred most of my herbs from my larger garden into pots so that in the unlikely chance that it freezes this winter I can bring them inside. I love having fresh herbs right outside of my house to use in my cooking. I’m growing: rosemary & thyme, arugula, cilantro, chives & dill, sage & parsley, and not pictured, basil, oregano, mint, lavender and patchouli.

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Besides all these delights, lately we’ve enjoyed:

California Chicken Rice Bowls: this is a flavorful and delicious meal. I made it for a friend who recently had a baby, and they loved it! Also great with quinoa instead of rice. I topped it with feta cheese rather than blue cheese and skipped the walnuts.

Butternut Squash Pasta: husband approved! The sauce has a unique sweetness that changes things up a bit from your normal pasta sauce. I added a whole can of tomato paste as well as a de-seeded roasted red pepper to the blender when blending the sauce. I enjoyed the added savory and tomato flavor to offset the sweetness of the butternut squash. The recipe makes a ton, so I’m going to use the leftover sauce for pizza sauce later this week.

Lebanese Style Stuffed Eggplant: It may sound out of the box, but these stuffed eggplants are absolutely divine. The flavor profile is actually not as unusual as you might think. I used cous-cous instead of rice. Try it!

Balsamic Pot Roast: we enjoyed this out of the ordinary take on pot roast. Pot roast is a great dinner for a cold night after a busy day, as the slow cooker does all the work!

Homemade Granola: served as cereal with milk or a topping for Greek yogurt with maple syrup and fruit, this is one of our go to breakfasts. It is simple to make and much cheaper than buying from the grocery. Plus you can control the sugar content. I like to make a batch on Sunday afternoon and enjoy throughout the week.

Blueberry Upside Down Cake: an easy but impressive looking dessert. Perfect with vanilla bean ice cream or homemade whipped cream.


Nutella Hot Chocolate with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

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What could be better than a hot cup of hot chocolate on a cold rainy day? Topped with a cinnamon vanilla whipped cream, this is the perfect dessert or afternoon treat. Have some friends over and enjoy!

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Nutella Hot Chocolate with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

serves 4

Adapted from The Sweetest Occasion

For the Hot Chocolate

4 Cup of Milk (any milk will do, I like coconut milk!)

8 Tablespoons of Nutella

Over medium heat, warm milk in a saucepan. When warmed through, add Nutella and whisk to combine. Continue heating over medium heat, whisking as necessary, until cocoa is steamy and frothy. (Make sure not to boil or scald the milk!)

For the Cinnamon Whipped Cream

1 Cup Heavy Cream

1/2 Cup Sugar

1/2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, then beat using a hand mixer or an immersion blender with the whisk attachment. Beat until the cream stiffens and creates peaks. Dollop Whipped Cream on top of your hot chocolate and enjoy!

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Dessert Two Ways: Chocolate Dipped Pears & Sweet Strawberries

Spring has arrived!! With a million inches of rain, huge thunder, and lightning filling the sky! I love storms, but the one we had last night was a little too crazy for me. I am hoping that all this rain will mean pretty flowers, a bright green back yard, and lots of refreshing sunshine in a couple of days.

Do you like fruit for dessert? I love it!

I planned to bring fruit for dessert to dinner with some girlfriends on Friday night. In my head the afternoon prep time looked like this: make dessert, take photos of the dessert for my blog, clean up all the dishes so that the kitchen is spotless, heat up my husband’s dinner (leftovers from the night before), reapply  my make-up, leave early and arrive to dinner 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

Here’s what really happened: frantically made dessert and snapped a few pictures of it while destroying my kitchen and leaving a gigantic mess, rushed out the door while apologizing to my husband for not heating up his dinner, arrived 20 minutes late to dinner with my girlfriends, with remnants of the mornings make up.

Ah well. Maybe someday scenario one will happen.

At least they really liked this dessert! Right ladies?

And my amazing husband cleaned the kitchen for me! So thankful.

Pears dipped in dark chocolate. Really delicious.

Strawberries mixed with toasted almonds and a surprisingly sweet mixture of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.

Perfectly light. Perfectly sweet. Perfect for dessert.

Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Pears

Adapted from Power Foods Cookbook

Ingredients: 

3 pears, sliced into spears

4 ounces dark chocolate

1 teaspoon heavy cream as needed

To make: 

Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Add cream if needed to help with smoothness of the chocolate. Let cool slightly.

Dip bottom quarter of each pear slice into the chocolate, using a spoon or knife to smooth it out. Set each slice onto parchment paper and refrigerate until chocolate has set, at least 15 minutes.

Strawberries with Toasted Almonds & Brown Sugar Balsamic Glaze

Adapted from Power Foods Cookbook

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/2  cups strawberries, hulled and quartered

1/2 cup toasted almonds

To make: 

Combine balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, stirring until smooth. Add brown sugar & balsamic mixture over the strawberries until all are coated. Sprinkle toasted almonds on top.

Enjoy!