Mandy's Marvelous Meals

Recipes, tips, tricks, and my journey into cooking fabulous food!

The Sweet Taste of Success!


The following post, along with my previous three posts were written back in October/November but never posted. Here is the final outcome of my 21 day sugar detox!

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November 8, 2014

The past two weeks have gone by so fast and I am happy to report that both Hubs and I completed the 21DSD successfully (with not one “cheat” or “slip-up”!). Overall this has been a major game changer in our household. We both feel great, have a lot more energy and are really happy we did this.

As for me, specifically, I can say that I feel so much better and the best part is that I do not have those crazy cravings and I no longer get hungry every two hours (nor do I have that “I’m about to pass out if I don’t eat a damn candy bar in the next 30 seconds” feeling). After the initial first week my hunger evened out and I was able to go 4-6 hours between meals and only occasionally grabbed a snack…if I was hungry. After the 21 days I lost about 5 pounds, my skin improved and I was noticeably less bloated.

The end result is that I’ve discovered a love of real food. It is so good. Even before we finished the full 21 days Hubs and I decided to get rid of all of our processed food and continue to eat real food only. Of course, we are not going to eat completely without sugar, but we will not be eating anything with refined sugar…at least not very often; and we will try to limit our sugar intake. In addition to the sugar, we’ve decided to cut out bread, pasta, traditional and whole wheat flour, etc.. These are things I have learned my body does not tolerate well.  We’ve decided to continue to eat dairy (in limited amounts….the only thing different is that we switched to “full fat” dairy so that it is less processed and I try to buy local organic cheese and milk when I can. Occasional rice or quinoa is ok, and overall we are just trying to stick to meat, fruits and vegetables.

Packed up all of our processed food to donate!

Packed up all of our processed food to donate!

I am all for living this way most of the time, but I do feel that if we want a piece of cake or a bowl of ice cream, then we should not deny ourselves. Through this experience I have found that I don’t really “crave” those things anymore and when we did indulge in some molten chocolate cake to celebrate our success it tasted too sweet and was not as satisfying as it once was. Don’t get me wrong, it was freakin’ awesome! But a few bites were enough to make me happy…and then it was just too much sweetness.

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I know that by no means will I ever be perfect and eat a strict Paleo or clean diet. I won’t always shop at Whole Foods, buy organic or grass-fed. And I am ok with that! What matters the most to me is that most of the time I will do my best and try to avoid sugar and processed food and eat as close to the real thing as possible. If I do eat something I know is not the best I won’t let it get me down….those days of feeling guilty for not following a “DIET” to the letter are over. As a matter of fact I won’t feel guilty at all if I have a treat because I know that I am doing my best most of the time.

So my advice to those of you who may be a junk food junkie like me or stuck in the traditional ideas of “dieting” (i.e. low fat, fat free, processed ‘lean’ meals, whole wheat, etc.) would be to consider eating whole foods, listening to your body and finding what works right for you. Stop beating yourself up over that candy bar you ate yesterday and learn to just move on.

Eat to live and fuel your body. It’s that simple! You will love real food, trust me…

As far as completing the 21DSD, my body is definitely detoxed from sugar and I feel great. It was just the start I needed to living a better life. I would recommend this for anyone who is ready to change their ways and open to the facts about the harmful effects of sugar on the body. Do a little research, read some journals, read some blogs and choose what is right for you!

I leave you with one of my favorite recipes that I tried during the 21DSD. I love it not only because it tastes great, but because it is quick and easy! I recommend using fresh herbs (always) but I have made it both with fresh and dried and either way it tastes great! This makes a about 6-8 servings, which is more than enough for Hubs and me. However, I usually always make the full recipe because it makes great leftovers.

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Chicken and Artichoke Bake

Adapted from this recipe at Paleo Newbie.

1 cup cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. dried basil (if using fresh add more)

8 oz. jarred artichokes, liquid drained

20-24 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash the tomatoes and cut in half and cut the chicken breasts into cubes or bite size pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and basil.
  4. Add the tomatoes, artichokes, and chicken and stir to coat.
  5. Add mixture to a large glass baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
  6. Serve over rice or eat as is, you can’t go wrong!
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Time for New Year’s Resolutions


I am completely not into New Year’s Resolutions. You are probably wondering “why are you talking about new year’s resolutions a month after you’re supposed to make them?” Well it’s simply because I decided I did want to do something meaningful in 2014…I just don’t think it’s beneficial to try to do that on January 1st. Why not give yourself a month to adjust to the fact that it is a whole new year? Or maybe that’s just the procrastinator in me…or the fact that 2014 did not start out so great! In any case, better late than never!

Last year I set out to try to make myself a better person overall…I didn’t really set any specific goals, but I think I did pretty good with this. In 2013: I started grad school. I lost 25 pounds (let’s not count the fact that I gained back 10 between November and now!). I made some internal changes to have a more positive outlook and be a more pleasant and happy person. I worked to improve my communication skills (is this a job application?). I attempted to be a better wife. Some days were better than others, but I have to say I did show personal improvement…and even though there may have been days and even weeks and months that I reverted back to my old ways, I did not beat myself up about it or let it get me down. I just brushed it off and got back on the horse.

Enjoying a cinnamon apple martini @ Bonefish Grill!

Enjoying a cinnamon apple martini @ Bonefish Grill!

So for 2014 I want to continue my self-improvement but I don’t want to set “resolutions” which I will undoubtedly break. I am also a person who struggles with long-term commitment so when I came across some other blog posts that talk about “a month without”, I really liked the idea. (Be sure to check out my page with all 12 months!)

So I decided that starting February 1st (this was supposed to be written & published yesterday…still need some work on that darn procrastination!) I was going to give up one thing each month to improve my health and well-being. Most of the things I chose have to do with my terrible eating habits and poor nutrition. I am hopeful that the great feeling giving up my vices provides me after 30 days will ultimately lead me to cut down dramatically. The end result will hopefully be an overall healthier me I’ll be able to control myself better and not over do it with my favorite things (which are mostly bad for me!).

You see I’ve accepted a few things in 2013 that I will continue to follow in the years to come. I’m sure many of you may already know these things or follow them. Such things as, there is no such thing as a diet. You must be in the right mental state to lose weight. You must eat healthy normal size portions (I refuse to say “small” because that makes me think of deprivation) and you must eat whole foods. You can still treat yourself once in a while and it is not the end of the world. There is no such thing as a “restricted” food (or drink) so long as you do not over do it! You do not have to join a gym or hop on the crossfit bandwagon to get exercise…you can walk your dog everyday or run around like a lunatic with her in the backyard. You can feel better and less stressed out simply by getting enough sleep and maintaining a positive frame of mind.

So to start off my year of “withouts”, in February I am going a month without alcohol. I assure you this is not because I am an alcky…I enjoy a glass of wine (ok 2 or 3 glasses) with dinner on the weekends or as long as I don’t have work. I also like to try different martini recipes now and then. So this actually won’t be so difficult since I don’t indulge every day (like my #1 addiction…diet coke!).

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I leave you all with this Apple Cinnamon martini recipe. You will need to prepare this in advance, since it takes some time to infuse the vodka with the apples and cinnamon. I left mine sit for about a week, but within 3 days or so you will get a good flavor. Just remember the longer the better, but be careful that your apples don’t start to disintegrate.

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Apple Cinnamon Martini

Apple Cinnamon Infused Vodka

  • 1 bottle of good quality vodka (I used SKYY)
  • 3-4 apples, cored and sliced thin (I used my mandolin to get them really thin)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

            Divide the sliced apples between two large jars, filling about 2/3 of the way full. Add 1 cinnamon stick to each jar. Pour the vodka evenly into the jars. Seal. Let sit in a cool dark place for 3-7 days.  Strain vodka into a container and enjoy.

Apple Cinnamon Martini

  • 3 oz. Apple Cinnamon Infused Vodka
  • 1 oz. Honey Simple Syrup
  • Splash Domaine De Canton Ginger Liqueur
  • Ice

         Fill a shaker with ice. Add all ingredients, shake well and pour. Top glass with a slice of apple.

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I’m HIGH…on White Truffle Olive Oil


Gourmet Vinegars & Oils

Wow, I just discovered this amazing store in one of my favorite nearby towns that has the cutest little shops. According to the owner, this store has been there for 2 1/2 years so I am not quite sure how I missed it. They sell different flavored vinegars and olive oils (as well as regular) and have them on tap right in the store so you can taste everything. Using a good balsamic vinegar is extremely important in cooking (although I tend to use the cheaper versions for marinades) and I had just recently finished up the fancy $30 bottle Hubby & I picked up a few months back so I started looking around for somewhere more convenient than heading into the city, where I could get some good quality vinegar and came across the Tubby Olive. I tasted a few vinegars and made my choices and while I was there decided to try some of the olive oils…ended up with an Almond Olive Oil which I plan to use in baked goods…and then I came across the truffle infused oils! The black truffle oil was good, but the white truffle oil was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. I could’ve literally drank a cup of it (of course, heart attack would likely follow!). The owners (who are a nice older couple) started telling me all the different ways they use it….I started throwing around my own ideas and we were like a bunch of junkies hyped about our drug of choice.  I am so excited to use this stuff…that’s why I just had to share….and you can definitely look forward to some future posts using these awesome ingredients.

White Truffle Olive Oil

Like I’ve said before in past posts buying the best quality ingredients you can afford really makes a difference in cooking. This is not an original idea of course…I learned it from reading and hearing other chefs say it but until I actually started to look at cooking more as a “hobby” I never really listened to this. Now I buy better ingredients when I can and love to splurge on a special meal.

Can’t wait to make dinner tonight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Slimming Down


In yesterday’s post I talked about how I always give up on dieting and eating healthy.  Today I am completely back on track with a solid plan and goals in place. To help myself be more accountable and hopefully to get support from others in the blogging world and maybe even share some information that will help someone else (or even motivate someone) I have decided to start another blog devoted specifically to my weight loss/healthy living trials and tribulations. So, head on over to my new blog “Slimming Down”  to see my goals, cheer me on, share your own stories, and of course get some healthy food & recipe ideas.

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Whopper of a Zucchini!!


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Today I picked my first zucchini from my garden!!! It was so huge too! Perfect in every way!! Hubby thought I was pulling a fast one until we went to the garden & I showed him my mutant zucchini!! Tonight I chopped some of it up and put it in my grilled veggies. Yummy!
Tomorrow I plan to bake up some zucchini bread!
I’m so excited to have actually grown my own food! Such a great feeling!

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And the Garden Grows!!!


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Well my garden is actually growing!! Some things better than others! 🙂 The zucchini & tomato plants are flourishing! Unfortunately I didn’t know how big the zucchini plants get so they kinda hindered some of the growth of the herbs. I ended up transplanting most of my basil to pots and also planted some pots of oregano, rosemary & thyme.
I’m so proud of my little garden…can’t wait till I can start eating from it!!!

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Sharp as a Knife!!


So I really wanted to mention in my Mom’s Day post…but forgot (not sure how that occurred since I’m obsessed!) that even though I am not a mom myself, My Mom showed up at my house with a gift for me…a set of new knives. She claims it is an early birthday present…sure Mom!!! *Wink Wink*.

My new knife set! Quality knives at a semi-affordable price!

I am so thrilled to have these knives. They are awesome!! My mom has them herself and I’ve been coveting them for a while now. There is nothing like a good knife….even if you can’t afford the whole set at once it is important to have at least one good chef’s knife.

A few years ago I asked Mom to get me a knife set for Christmas. I chose a Kitchenaid set that again wasn’t top of the line but didn’t seem like a “cheap set” either. Plus, I figured since it was Kitchenaid, which is typically a good brand that I’d be ok. The first few weeks I was so excited because they worked great…but then they started to get dull really fast…I’m talking I’d have to sharpen not just before I started but in between chopping and cutting. I was careful to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and wash the knives by hand and dry them right away, but after only a few months they began to get rust spots both on the blades and the handles. So basically they turned out to be a pile of crap!!

Kitchen Aid Knife Set….this sucks!!!! Do not get these knives!

But Mom saved the day and got me the upgrade that I wanted!!

Thanks mom! (I promise not to cut myself the first time I use them like I did with the Mandolin Slicer!!) 🙂

So if you are just starting out with cooking and don’t have a good knife or set of knives…you should definitely add it to your wish list or save up for it. You will not believe how this will improve your cooking. My chopping, cutting, slicing skills have improved just from having good knives…of course I am getting more and more practice but with my old crappy knives, I couldn’t get a good technique down because I was too busy “sawing” away just trying to make a cut. Not to mention I can do it a lot quicker.

Here are few things to remember when you are ready to make a knife purchase:

  • Do your research…read online reviews!! Had I done this I would’ve probably saved myself the heartache of my first set of knives which were a huge disappointment. Also, look at all different brands and types of knives to see what will be the best to fit your own needs.
  • Stay away from cheap knives….Again, I tried to save mom some money and go for a cheaper set of knives (I believe they were around $80.00) but she ended up having to spend more only 2 years later. If you’re just an amateur at home cook you probably don’t need to spend $600 on  a set but don’t be afraid to go for the $200 or $300 one. Think of it as an investment!
  • Ask your friends/family…do you have friends or families who cook? Do you know any actual chefs or cooks? Get their opinion! Like I said, my mom already had the set she just got me and so I’ve had the opportunity to use them quite a few times. I’ve also been able to see that she’s had them for a few years and they’ve remained in good condition! So the next time you are at your neighbor’s for a dinner party…ask about their knives! Ask to try them out! Of course…do it tactifully…you don’t want them to think you’re some kind of serial killer in training! Yikes!
  • Start with at least a Chef’s Knife…the Chef’s Knife is the most used and versatile knife of all the knives in the set. After I gave up on my knife set I went out and purchased a good quality Chef’s Knife and this was enough to get me back on track.

And finally, once you do purchase your knife set make sure you know what each knife is best used for and use it for its intended purpose. Your set should come with a description of each knife and what the knife is meant to cut. This will help the longevity of your knives…as well as probably save you a few injuries! 🙂

Now get to chopping!!!

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Liebster Award!?!?


When I decided to start this blog, I had very minimal knowledge about blogs. I had never really read them or knew what they were exactly. It wasn’t until I started using Pinterest that I started checking them out and then I thought…”hey, I can do that!” What a great way to share your passion with others who like the same things that you do. I thought it would be a nice outlet for me to share my experiences with learning to cook…I had this number of “10” in my head…if I get “10” followers I’d be happy. If I get “10” views a day I’ll be happy.  I never even imagined that I would have people “liking” my posts (besides my Hubby and family) or leaving me nice comments..and I’m so happy to report that only a little over 2 months into my blog I already have over 60 followers. So as corny as it sounds I get SO excited when people tell me they liked my blog or enjoyed reading it or found it helpful.

So last Sunday, Terri from Terri’s Kitchen UK let me know that she nominated me for the “Liebster Award”.  Having never heard of this I immediately looked into it with not much luck on exactly what it is or where it started. It seems to have appeared suddenly from “Blog Outer Space”. But I really like the whole idea of it….whoever started it came up with a good idea to help spread the word about those of us who have “smaller blogs”.  Besides….I don’t need any bad blog karma!!

So the following is copied exactly from Terri’s blog in reference to how the Liebster Award works and I’ve nominated my Top 5 favorite blogs.

When you receive the Liebster award, you are supposed to do the following:

  • Choose five up and coming blogs to give the Liebster award to.  Blogs must have less than 200 followers.
  • Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
  • Post the award on your blog.
  • List the bloggers you gave the award to with links to their sites.  Leave a comment on their blogs to let them know they’ve received the award.
  • Share five random facts about yourself.

Here are my selections for the Liebster:

  1. Mostly Desserts…because I LOVE ME SOME GOOD Dessert!!http://mostlydesserts.wordpress.com/
  2. Fantastic Frugal Foods from Justa’s Kitchen…Justa shares yummy recipes that are inexpensive…and she keeps it real!  http://justafrugalfoodie.com/
  3. Sweet Pea 2200 shares a little bit of everything on her blog…from recipes to tips and tricks to how to make stuff! Who doesn’t love a well-rounded woman?  http://sweetpea2200.wordpress.com/
  4. The Skinny Pages…Sarah is a typical woman struggling with her weight…she shares delicious recipes and her journey to ‘cook herself thin.’ http://theskinnypages.wordpress.com/
  5. War and Yeast…a “self-taught” cook who shares some really awesome recipes!!  http://warandyeast.wordpress.com/

Ok…Five random facts about me…(which is kind of random in itself…what does this have to do with the concept of an award???)

  • I am a chocoholic
  • I am addicted to “Lucky Charms” cereal.
  • I had to stop watching “Dr. Oz” because everyday I thought I had the symptoms of a new disease!
  • I hate winter.
  • I love summer!

And again…a big thank you to Terri for nominating me. Make sure to check out her blog!!

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A Tribute to Mom


First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there! I’m sure you’ve all been pampered and cooked for or taken out to dinner….it’s not a true “holiday” without food involved.

Strawberries & Cream Dream Dessert

 For my mom this Mother’s Day I made her a nice dinner, but most importantly a “fancy dessert” that she’s been saying she wants forever now!  This is one of my “secret recipes” that may appear to look like strawberry shortcake, but believe me it is not even close to that and tastes way better! Maybe one day I’ll decide to share… 😉

Anyway…

Earlier in the week I had been thinking about what I wanted to do for my Mom’s Day post…thinking about sharing one of the recipes I learned from Mom.

I had made “Mom’s Mac & Cheese” a few days ago, (took pics too but randomly they disappeared!!) which is one of my own, as well as Hubby’s favorite meals.  It’s taken me a few years, but I’ve finally perfected it to be just like Mom’s. It got me to thinking…that maybe some things are just not for sharing. I mean, I have my own “secret” recipes, like the dessert above, but more importantly are those recipes passed down to me that I want to keep between Mom & Me.

So what is it about your Mom’s cooking that makes it so good and nobody else can compare? I am not really sure…I just know that whether it’s some plain old chicken nuggets or mashed potatoes or spaghetti or cookies or cake…there is nothing like Mom’s food. Sometimes you just need Mom’s home cooking. Even as I’ve become a decent cook and continue to experiment with flavors and consider my food to be pretty tasty…sometimes I just crave something from Mom. I grew up in a typical “meat and potatoes” family with nothing fancy about it…but I love it (well, besides the things I just genuinely do not like and refused to eat! Thank goodness for PB&J!)!!

So I guess what I am trying to say is I hope all of you Mom’s out there are sharing with your kids what I learned from my mom. Food brings families together. Food makes memories.  Food brings back memories. Food keeps those who have passed on alive. There is no other Food like Mom’s.

Most importantly what I want to say is “Thanks” to my Mom for teaching me how to cook (even though you thought I wasn’t paying attention!!) and for passing on food and recipes that I’ll be able to always cherish!

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Raised Garden Bed Part 2: Success!


Wow, am I sore today! When I started this raised garden bed project, I thought it was going to be easier than actually making a garden in the ground…it probably was, but it was still a lot of hard physical work. But totally worth it!! It came out just the way I wanted it.

I found this step-by-step guide  on how to make the garden bed. Hubby read through it to get the basic idea, but we did do it a little bit differently. I started by choosing the spot in the yard and measuring it off. Then digging up the grass and turning the soil, which was by far the hardest part.

Meanwhile, Hubby worked on cutting the wood. We used four 2x6x8 pieces for the longer sides, and two 2x6x8 pieces, both cut in half for the shorter sides. For the posts we bought one 4×4 post and cut it into four 15 inch pieces.  Hubby then assembled the longer sides only by attaching the 2x6x8 pieces to the post with 4 inches of the post above the sides to go into the ground.

We dug out only the first two holes for the posts and then put in the first side of the bed. We measured out 4 feet from the posts and dug the other two holes, repeating with the second longer side.

Once the longer sides were securely in place, we nailed the smaller sides to the posts.

Next, we lined the box with 1/4″ hardware cloth to help keep out small rodents.

Finally, we added the bags of topsoil. We used 10 bags (2 cu. ft.) of Miracle Grow Garden Soil. If you want to fill your box completely to the top you will need a few more bags. The website mentioned in the beginning of the post states that you will need 32 cu. ft. of top soil. We felt the 10 bags was adequate..it’s a good 10″ of soil in the box.  Once I start planting I may add more if it seems like this is not enough, but for now I think it will be ok.

Now all that is left is to finish planting the seeds. Due to some rain showers I am holding off on planting the seeds, but hopefully it will clear soon and I’ll get them in the bed. I plan to grow herbs and veggies (basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, zucchini, tomatoes, scallions, green beans).

I am very pleased with the final result! It definitely wasn’t difficult, but it was a lot of physical labor….and I never could have done it without my Hubby helping me out!

Hopefully in a few short months I’ll have my fresh herbs and veggies to add to my “Marvelous Meals”!  Stay tuned!!!

 

 

 

 

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