Summer Cookout Series: Chocolate Pretzel Bars

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Photo via Julie Craig

Well, would you look at that. We are already at the last week of July! Since this month is coming to an end, I want to share with you my favorite way to end any meal – dessert. And since we are still talking about summer cookouts, I dug up one of my favorite picnic desserts and tweaked it just a tad to make it a little bit healthier.

This gooey, chocolatey, pretzel-filled dessert has all the ingredients to appease any kind of cookout guest. Take on a sweet tooth with the melty chocolate and satisfy the salt-lover with the chunks of pretzels bursting from every bite. These pleasing pretzel bars are the perfect way to end the party.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups of whole grain wheat flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 sticks of softened unsalted butter
1 cup of light brown sugar
1/2 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
One 12-ounce bag of bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of crushed cocoa nibs
1 1/2 cups of coarsely chopped mini quinoa pretzels
2 tablespoons chocolate sprinkles

HOW TO MAKE THIS RECIPE

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9×13-inch metal baking pan with parchment or wax paper, allowing overhang on the edges of the pan.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a larger bowl, using a mixer, beat the butter with both sugars at medium speed until light, so only beat it for about 1 minute. Then add  in the eggs and vanilla and beat again. At a lower speed,  now beat in the dry ingredients. After, stir in the chips, nibs and pretzels by hand.
  3. Spread this concoction in the pan and dust the top with the mini chocolate sprinkles. Bake for a half an hour until golden and the center should still be still be a little gooey. Let cool completely. Just pull on the parchment paper to get the bars out of the pan. Cut them up and enjoy!

Summer Cookout Series: Glazed Bacon Cheeseburger

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Photo via Debra McClinton

Hello friends! We are hitting the middle of summer, so I hope your cookouts are roaring! With only a few weeks left in July, I would like to give you a quick main course idea, healthily upgraded of course.

This juicy stuffed burger is an upbeat and easy twist to the classic cookout meal. Complete with a bacon and cheese stuffing, this glazed burger is sure to keep you guests coming back for seconds.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons of dark brown sugar
1½ teaspoons of paprika
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
¼ teaspoon of chipotle powder (chili powder works too!)
¼ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 pound of ground turkey
½ cup of low-fat shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
6 slices of cooked, crumbled turkey bacon
4 whole-grain rolls

Directions

  1. Heat grill to a medium temperature. Mix the sugar, spices, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set to the side. Mold the ground turkey into 8 round patties. Combine the cheese and crumbled turkey bacon together in another bowl, and then place an equal amount of the mixture on only  4 of the patties.
  2. Place the remaining 4 patties over the cheese and turkey bacon mixture. Press the edges of the burger to seal. Generously pat and cover each burger with the sugar and spice mixture. Grill until it is as done as you’d like! Enjoy!

Summer Cookout Series: Parmesan BLT Salad

Tomatoes - Summer 2016

Photo via Alison Miksch 

Nothing says summer like a good cookout! For the rest of July I would like to share with you some family recipes that I love to see at cookouts I’ve attended in the past.

To start off the menu, here’s one of my favorite sandwiches turned into a healthier salad version! Behold, the Parmesan BLT Salad!

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups of cut-up, cubed white bread
3 tablespoons of melted butter
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of buttermilk
3/4 cup of mayonnaise
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/8 teaspoon of sugar
12 ounces of chopped romaine lettuce and spinach
1 1/2 pounds of sliced cherry tomatoes
6 slices of cooked, chopped turkey bacon
 Flat-leaf parsley and torn basil leaves to garnish

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Prepare Croutons: Toss together bread, melted butter, salt, and pepper in a medium mixing bowl. Place on a baking sheet, and bake 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven, and set aside.

3. Prepare Dressing: Combine shallot and vinegar in a medium mixing bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in buttermilk and next 5 ingredients.

4. Make Salad: Arrange romaine lettuce and spinach on a serving platter. Top with sliced tomatoes and chopped bacon, and drizzle with 3 Tbsp. of dressing. Add croutons, parsley and basil. Serve right away with leftover dressing on the side.

Wa la!

The tense topic of stretching

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Photo via breakingmuscle.com

I would consider myself a pretty active person. I am a kickboxing trainer, I bike, I play volleyball, I rock climb, I kayak. You name it, I have probably done it if it is an active sport. My biggest problem is that these are all get-up-and-go activities. If you’re also involved in active sports like these, then you might know what I go through every time it is suggested that I stretch before I start.

Ah, stretching. The most seemingly unnecessary waste of time holding you back from getting your groove on. What we really fail to see sometimes, though, is that stretching is the key to physical progress and being physically capable to do all these active activities that we love.

I’ve heard it time and time again, “Oh no, I don’t need to stretch. I never get hurt. I’ll be fine,” Alright, you may be fine now, but 20 years from now, your body might not feel the same way.

What happens when we don’t stretch? Well, at first, nothing. We get to go along with our workouts carefree and quickly, unworried about injury. We’ll see progress and get stronger or better. But one day, we’ll be sitting at our desk in the office and end over to grab that paperclip that just slipped off the desk when suddenly a shooting pain stings your lower back. Could blame it on age, could blame it on just twisting it funny, but these painful muscle pulls and tears can be prevented. How? Stretching.

Imagine your body as a rubber band. When you work out, your rubber-band-body is strung tightly around a stack of notecards, tensing to keep them together. If you were to leave that rubber band wrapped around that pile of paper, eventually the rubber would become brittle and snap. This works the same way with the muscles in your body. If you continue to exert force with your muscles for long periods of time without proper stretching, then your muscles, too, will become brittle and stiff, causing injuries.

I don’t know about you, but I really dislike being injured – even more than I dislike sitting around stretching and waiting to do something active that I love. It is important, though, to get those muscles nice and loose before I get my head in the game. By stretching, I am allowing myself the opportunity to workout to the best of my ability and giving my body what it needs to help me do what I want to do. Yes, stretching can be hard and boring, but instead of sitting there and thinking, “Gosh, I’m so tight,” or “Ugh, this is such a drag,” tell yourself that you are respecting your body and taking good care of it by stretching.

Stretching will definitely be a staple in my workouts from here on out. I want to take care of my body so that I can do all the sports and crazy activities that I love to do. Taking the extra time to loosen up your muscles will keep you going. Believe me, I think it is worth the time investment.

Hydration Station: tips on how to drink enough water

water-image1We hear it all the time. “Maybe you should be drinking more water.” “You should be drinking at least eight glasses of water everyday.” “Stay hydrated.” We are advised to make water a bigger part of our lives but how many of us are actually drinking enough water?

Water has unbelievable health benefits. Not only is it used for just about every internal bodily function in the human body, but it can also keep our skin clearer and our muscles stronger. So why is it so difficult to drink enough of this life-giving liquid?

I have had this problem in the past, too. I’ve tried it all – setting alarms  on my phone to remind me to drink more water, carrying around the biggest water bottle that I would possibly find, rewarding myself with a Reese’s every time I emptied a glass of water. None of those methods stuck. Trial and error, though, my friend. So here are a few hydration tricks that have worked for me.

First off, I bring my water bottle with me everywhere I go. Yes, it can be obnoxious at times to hold on to and can add some weight to my bag at times, but I have its physical presence constantly reminding me to take a sip of water here and there. The more I drink, too, the less weight I have to carry around.

Another thing that I have found makes me drink more water is having a water bottle with a straw in the cap. When I am sitting in front of my computer, typing away to you people, I can drink through my straw usually without even noticing. This has created an awesome habit of subconsciously drinking water and has also gotten rid of my bad boredom-eating habit!

Speaking of eating, you can also get more water by eating lots of fruits and veggies. Just like us humans, fruits and veggies are also mainly comprised of water. This means that a handful of grapes, a few stalks of celery and an apple could also help you stay hydrated.

Lastly, I sometimes get sick of water. In order to switch things up, I add some drops of Mio water flavor or Dasani drops. These tasty little drops work like food coloring – all it takes is one or two drops to completely change plain water into lemonade or fruit punch. These help me avoid sugar-packed sodas or juices.

Have more ideas on how to drink enough water everyday? Feel free to share by commenting on this post or hitting us up on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions!

Why you should be bananas for bananas

I know that I have been sharing a lot of food tips recently, but summer is the time to experiment with new meals to promote a healthier rest of the year! And now that the solstice has made it official, we can spend our summertime with another one of nature’s lesser-known super foods – bananas.

How many times have you told a loved one to eat more bananas when they complained about muscle cramps? It’s true, these yellow fruits do prevent muscle cramping, but they also provide oodles of other natural benefits to your body. Check it out. 

Bananas turn that frown upside down. As the original smiling fruit, bananas are chalked full of the nutrient folate. This chemical acts as a serotonin booster, which can help regulate the effects of depression and even reverse them.

 Bananas help deep clean out your body. We constantly hear all this hype about detoxing our bodies. Why not do it naturally? Bananas are rich in pectin, a fiber that acts like Jell-O to toxic compounds in your body. Pectin sticks to the harmful toxins, like extra fats, ammonia or mercury, and allows your body to flush them out with the pectin through urine or sweat. 

Bananas keep your stomach from rumbling. There are few worse things than a mid-morning starving stomach. Lucky for you and me, bananas again are here to save the day. First off, these yellow superheroes are a great grab-and-go snack that prevents a pantry raid that could (and usually does) end in unhealthy food choices. Bananas also contain prebiotics, which are non-digestible starches that feed the good gut bacteria. Since the good gut bacteria will be busy snacking on some nanners, your body will feel full and satisfied longer. The good gut bacteria also help regulate digestion.

Bananas act as your muscles’ pit stop crew. This is where the “helping prevent cramps” stuff comes in. Bananas are like your one-a-day workout vitamin packed with magnesium, iron and potassium. Iron helps your body get oxygen to your cells, especially hard-working muscle cells. Potassium acts as your muscles’ post-workout revamp, helping your muscles recover, develop and prepare to workout all over again. Magnesium works as a protein synthesizer, which helps you build lean muscle. This nutrient also plays a large role in contraction and relaxation of muscles.

Bananas knock you out. And after a hard day’s work, a banana will also help you sleep better. This fruit also contains tryptophan, which serves as a precursor for melatonin. Melatonin promotes relaxation and regular sleep. So if you’re suffering from restless sleep, you might want to consider peeling a banana before you hit the hay.

Coconut oil could change your daily life

Sometimes the littlest things can make the biggest changes. This holds especially true when it comes to diet and lifestyle. I recently made one of these little changes in my life, too. Introducing one of nature’s best-kept secrets: coconut oil.

Yup, all the hype is true. Coconut oil has all kinds of hidden attributes that make it a worthy replacement to more than one household item and a worthy addition to plenty of different meals. Organic, unrefined coconut oil has antifungal and antibacterial capabilities. It is a substance packed full of healthy fats, too, which help lower bad cholesterol. Here’s some of the easy ways I have used coconut oil to change my day-to-day routine. Give coconut oil a shot yourself and you would be amazed at the impact it has.

 

Boost nutrients in smoothies – Who doesn’t like smoothies? It’s quick, easy and pretty good for you. So why not make them healthier? Adding just a tablespoon or so of coconut oil to any smoothie and not only will you be adding lots of cholesterol fighting compounds to your go-to drink, you will also be improving the texture and mouth feel of the smoothie itself at the same time!

Natural throat lozenge – If you dislike the taste of cough drops as much as I do, then definitely start keeping a jar of coconut oil in your medicine cabinet. Coconut oil has lots of bacteria and virus fighting qualities, plus it is smooth and oily. Just swallowing a teaspoon of coconut oil once every four hours or so soothes sore throats just as well as Halls.

Replacement for butter, olive oil or cooking spray – Cutting butter and bad fats out our diets has been all the rave lately. But it is easier said than done. Lucky for us, coconut oil provides all the same frying qualities as your favorite cooking oil.

Skin moisturizer – Coconut oil has tons of moisturizing attributes that can keep your skin hydrated minus the grease all day long. Plus, with the added healing qualities of coconut oil, dry skin will shortly be a thing of your past.

Makeup remover – If you’re anything like me then you know how it feels to have constantly dry skin on your eyelids. With allergies on top of that, my eyes also always seem to be itching. The last thing I want to put on my eyes at that point is more chemicals, so coconut oil saves the day. The oil loosens up any eye makeup that I am wearing and also moisturizes the delicate skin all around my eyes. Coconut oil is also cheaper and lasts longer than most high quality makeup removers, which makes this even more of a hack.

Face wash – You may be thinking that putting more oil on your face is just absurd. But get this. Coconut oil has antibacterial properties which helps clear your skin. Since it is also oil, it keeps your skin hydrated at the same time, but it is light enough to soak into your skin and not leave an oily residue. Give your old, chemical-heavy cleanser a rest and try a dab of coconut oil to clean your skin for a week and check out the results.

 


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