Peanut Butter Swirl GF Brownies + Baking in a Cast Iron Skillet

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Morning my lovelies!

I hope your week has been full of joy and fabulousness. Mine has been a bit crazy, as my husband threw his back out yesterday, our dog had to go to the vet and have an X-RAY OF HIS STOMACH because he swallowed our bathroom drain, my husband’s favorite baseball hat, and the back end of two of my razors, and our dishwasher almost fell out of the wall.

Yep! I know what you are thinking, bless our hearts! Praise the Lord we made it!

Now, as part of this month’s one recipe four ways series, it is finally time for me to give you a full-throttle indulgent recipe that is the epitome of comfort food. If you’ve had a stressful week (#puppies #hubbies #life) then this is the PERFECT way to unwind. Baking is my stress therapy, and these brownies, along with a glass of white wine and Jane the Virgin episodes- that’s a pretty perfect wind down on a Friday night.

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Also this week I discovered the awesomeness of BAKING in my cast iron skillet. Cue childhood drama and/or a bit of a back story on my relationships with cast iron skillets:

Growing up in the South, one’s relationship with the cast iron skillet was, and still is, a status symbol. Inevitably, you invite your neighbor/Southern friend over to eat at your house and, very politely, albeit inconspicuously, said person would start to wander around your kitchen, eying your cookware, looking for your skillet- only to judge it’s state of readiness to fry a piece of bacon or chicken at a moment’s notice. Seasoned and ready to go? You obviously know your way around a biscuit.

Rusted and/or hidden from site? Good luck with your future.

But a great cast-iron skillet is a bit like having a puppy. It requires a good amount of care, training, and persistence to function at peak performance.*

CUE Bigbsy (our puppy) and I’s YouTube video here!

That’s why baking in a cast iron skillet is pure brilliance. I first learned about all the reasons why this is awesome from Serious Eats‘ J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and his book The Food Lab. This has become my BEST cooking and food styling resource- it is one of the best purchases I’ve made in my career as an at foodie girl boss. I highly recommend it.

Kenji explains that cast iron’s specific heat capacity is lower than aluminum (what some cookware is made of) and because it is so dense you get double the amount of heat retention (for the same size pan). Which means- the pan DOESNT COOL DOWN when you add food to it. Other pans may drop in temperature up to 300 degrees, but cast iron should stay at about it’s original temp. In other words, your cornbread, pies, rolls, even brownies- get a crisp, evenly browned crust around the batter. Also, if you have an ahem, older…. oven like myself it’s ability to maintain heat even when your oven temp fluctuates is awesome. It ensures that even if the temp sways, your dark, fudge brownie crust will not.

These are all great things! However- here is the trick with cast iron. Until a great layer of seasoning has built up in your pan, things (baked goods, eggs, vegetables) will stick to it. So you have to take lots of care, especially when baking, to make sure the surface of your pan is properly greased.

And this leads me to this week’s recipe from @thekitchn. This is why their team knows what they are talking about and are brilliant in baking. They understand a Southerner’s pride in their cast iron skillet and the science of proper lubrication on the cooking surface. In their gluten-free skillet brownies, you melt the butter in the cast iron skillet, THEN use that butter to prepare the pan’s surface and stir into the batter. Perfect.

So, in the spirit of all things warm and Valentinesish (yes, that is a word), I want to encourage you to whip out your cast iron pans this weekend as  they are the BEST way to feed your guests a bunch of brownies while they are still hot.

Peanut-Butter-Swirl-Skillet-Brownies-026In fact, choose to invite those people over who may be eying your cookware, looking for a skillet. They’ll be surprised to find that you thought ahead- and, at the end of the meal, pulling your skillet brownies out of the oven pretty much qualifies you as a cast iron rock star.

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Peanut Butter Swirl Skillet Brownies (adopted a bit from The Kitchn Speculoos-Swirl Brownies)

This brownie is amazing on two levels: first, it utilizes a cast iron skillet for baking, which ensures an evenly crisp brownie crust and fudgy center. Second, the bake time is around the 35 minute mark, and you can wow guests at the end of the meal with a dessert everyone can dive into.

What You Will Need:

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup almond flour, sifted
3/4 cup peanut coffee nut M&M’s (Any M&M will do, but the coffee flavor is fun here. If you are concerned about gluten contamination, you could do the standard M&M just in case!)
2 heaping tablespoons peanut butter (Nutella or almond butter would be awesome too)

What You Will Do:

  1. Melt the butter in an 8- or 9-inch cast iron skillet over a medium heat.

2. Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl, leaving a film of butter on the pan (make sure you swirl the butter around in the pan to evenly coat the surface and a bit of the sides).

3. Whisk the cocoa powder into the bowl with the butter. Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla, and whisk until well combined.

4. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then sift in almond flour through a strainer (this avoids lumps). Whisk well. Fold in the M&M’s.

5. Pour the batter into the pre-greased cast iron skillet.

6. Melt the peanut butter on high for 30 seconds; stir, then 15 more seconds, until it is runny. Drop dollops of the melted nut butter over the top of the pan, from around the rim to the center of the brownies. Using the pointed tip of a steak knife, gently swirl the speculoos into the brownies, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise, and making swirls too- really any way you feel!

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test the brownies by inserting the tip of your steak knife into them to make sure the tip comes out clean.

8. Either serve the brownie in scoops to your guests and top with ice cream, or allow to cool completely before cutting into wedges and eating. ENJOY!!!

*This example, and all of the verbiage on cast iron cooking and science, taken from The Food Lab!! Can’t say enough about that book!

4 Ingredient PALEO Brownies + Brownie Eating Philosophy

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It’s Friday, it’s Friday! That is a cause for celebration. And, we get to take the celebration up another notch because YES it’s time for brownie recipe number two!

This week’s brownie recipe is a huge treat because this has been the best way to get me to eat protein powder during the week (in a dessert) and Gimme Delicious, this week’s recipe creator, is a healthy brownie genius.

Did I mention, like her site says, these treats are also gluten-free and vegan? So everyone can get in on the party!

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And as some of you know, healthy eating does not come naturally to me. I grew up in a Southern household, which means that the four main food groups were casseroles, pretzel salad (yes, this counted as a vegetable), sausage and/or bacon, and Cocoa Puffs. Those were the glory days.

But now that I am a bit older, I’ve realized that it’s probably better to practice some balance in my everyday life. And for my hubs and I, eating Paleo during the week has been the easiest transition for us. It involves meat, of which I am a fan, and lots of vegetables, of which my hubs is a fan, and sweet potatoes. Which I love. So, it works!

However, we are all for the weekend splurges, so get ready because next week’s recipe is going to be a party in a pan!

But for this week, and the every day, I highly recommend these paleo brownies. They only involve FOUR ingredients (which you probably have in your pantry right now), have a quick bake time, and taste fudgy and nutty, with the addition of the almond butter. I threw a little coarse kosher salt on top for that salty/sweet combo that heightens the cocoa powder flavor.

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AND check out this week’s video for my current brownie eating philosophy:

There you have it my loves! Paleo brownies. Next up, the Southern/homestyle/splurge version. Happy weekending!

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4 Ingredient Paleo Fudge Brownies from Gimme Delicious 

These gluten-free, vegan, and paleo brownies are the closest I have come in gluten-free baking to that cake-y, yet fudgey, consistency I love in a decadent brownie. With only four ingredients (well, five counting the sea salt on top), you probably have all you need in your pantry right now!

What You Will Need:

  • 2 cups mashed banana (about 6 medium, overripe bananas)
  • 1 cup almond or cashew butter
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate protein powder
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • coarse kosher salt, for topping

What You Will Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a dark metal, 8 by 8 baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the mashed bananas and nut butter and use a fork to whisk until fully combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the protein powder and cocoa powder.
  3. Pour batter into a greased pan, and gently smooth the top with your spatula. Top with a smattering of coarse kosher salt.
  4. Bake for about 25-27 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cover the leftovers and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  6. I highly suggest enjoying these with a tall glass of vanilla nut milk! Soooo good!!

Month of BROWNIES!! This week: Vegan Chocolate Chip

 

Vegan chocolate chip brownie close-up
Vegan chocolate chip brownie close-up

Y’all!!!

It’s February!! My second favorite month of the year (second only to December=Christmas), which means it’s the time of the year where we ALL get to celebrate my favorite thing in the entire world: love.

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That’s right- the mushy, flowery, glittery, pink-red-and-white everything kind. My heart is for celebration and hospitality, and this is the time where we get to take a second, think about the people in our lives we adore, and write their names on Valentines in gold sparkles. It’s the time to bust open the craft kit, pull out that glitter pen, and get to gluing my friends! It’s also time to treat show yourself some love. AND, as I’ll show you this month, with food (my preferred love language) it can look however you choose! Whether it’s vegan, Paleo, Southern/homestyle, or a inspiring list of recipes from the interwebs- you are going to be inspired to get your brownies on.

Let’s also discuss briefly my deep, abiding, let-me-send-you-a-Valentine level of affection for brownies.

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Oh brownies. The reasons why I love this dessert could take an entire post, but for your sake’s I’ll keep it short. First, you are made almost entirely of chocolate. More than likely your recipe involves a combination of a few levels of chocolate- a fat (oil, butter, nut butter), cocoa powder (the darker, denser, and higher quality, the better) and a binder of some sort (eggs, flax eggs, bananas, coconut flour), with chocolate chunks either topped or stirred inside. In fact, the simpler, less-ingredient recipes I’ve tried have tended to be my favorites.

And speaking of favorites, this recipe, by Beaming Baker, is one of my favorite vegan brownies. EVER. These dense, chocolate squares have a beautiful balance of texture and richness from the coconut oil and cocoa powder, and a pure level of sweetness from the maple syrup. This recipe also uses flax eggs (Bonzai Aphrodite) and whole wheat flour as the binders, which is super healthy.

Also, y’all- check out her DESSERTS! Oh my gracious, beauties!

So, my loves, my readers, my friends. Enjoy the start to your month of love! I want to hear about all the ways you plan to enjoy it in the comments below:) You can reach me on Facebook and Instagram too.

For me, this week’s love looks like these brownies, a giant glass of cold almond milk, and a lazy Saturday with this book.

Much luv!!

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Best Vegan Brownies by Beaming Baker **

This is the best, most fudgey and delicious vegan brownie I’ve EVER tasted!! It’s fantastic, only has a 30 minute bake time, and is pure delight served warm with a cold glass of almond milk.

What You Will Need:

  • ¼ cup natural peanut butter
  • ½ cup organic dark brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • ⅓ cup pure golden maple syrup
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons melted butter flavored coconut oil
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons ground golden flaxseed + 6 tablespoons water whisked together, set for at least 15 minutes in the fridge)
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate chips
What You Will Do:
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray an 8×8 dark metal baking pan with olive oil spray.
  2. Prepare your flax eggs by whisking together 2 tablespoons ground golden flaxseed and 6 tablespoons water. Cover, and put back in the fridge to set for at least 15 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and hot, melted coconut oil. Whisk until it resembles caramel (This process is easiest if you do it right when the coconut oil is hot and melted! Otherwise get ready for an arm workout!)
  4. Add cocoa powder in ¼ cup increments, whisking until shiny and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add in vanilla extract and salt. Stir just a few times to gently incorporate.
  5. Add flax eggs, whisking until well incorporated. In thirds, whisk in the flour. As the batter gets harder to whisk, switch to folding with a rubber spatula. Fold until well incorporated and no flour patches remain.
  6. Pour batter into pan, and spread to the sides of the pan. Using a rubber spatula, smooth batter into an even layer. Top with chocolate chips.
  7. Bake for 30 mins, or until a knife inserted in the brownies comes out relatively clean. Cool for 1 hour, or until completely cool. (I put mine in the freezer to speed up the process; I couldn’t wait!) ENJOY!!

**This recipe is by Demeter, I just made a few tweaks:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January’s SMOOTHIE recipe inspirations + Freelance Success Lesson #1

 

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My friends!!

It’s Friday, it’s been an awesome month of January Luv Cooks smoothies, but now it’s time to end the month with an internet recipe round-up. Yeehaw, this word sounds a bit like a cattle call, but it’s actually going to be my monthly recipe secret inspiration stash I’d like to share with YOU!

Here’s my “Top 5 List” of the yummy smoothies left up for you to discover yourself.  Comment below and tell me what you think!!

  1. Banana, Coffee, Cashew and Cocoa Smoothie from Bon Appetit Bananas, cold brew coffee, cashews and cocoa powder: YES.
Coconut-Blueberry smoothie from Bon Appetit!
Coconut-Blueberry smoothie from Bon Appetit!

2. Coconut Blueberry Smoothie by Bon Appetit: Creamy coconut milk, frozen blueberries, mint leaves, honey… (sorry, I was daydreaming about this one).

3. Vegan Vanilla Milkshake Smoothie by Pop Fitness: This smoothie inspired me to start putting silken tofu into my morning routine. SO good, so much vanilla, so much creaminess, yummmmmm.

Spinach-Avocado Smoothie with Grapefruit by Epicurious!
Spinach-Avocado Smoothie with Grapefruit by Epicurious!

4. Spinach-Avocado Smoothie with Grapefruit by Epicurious: This smoothie TOTALLY intrigues me. Plus- look at their food photography! Hello, this is AMAZING.

Peachy Chia Chai smoothie by Epicurious!
Peachy Chia Chai smoothie by Epicurious!

5. Peachy Chia Chai Smoothie by Epicurious. Ok, you had me at chia chai!! I love the way chia seeds thicken a smoothie, plus the spices of chai (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves) with frozen peaches sounds increddiblleeee.

Also, as part of our Luv Cooks effort to post every Friday, I think that it’s time for me to start passing along a little something extra to you guys every month. Every month I’ll plan to share a work/life/entrepreneurship lesson of sorts; a way to encourage you guys and make your life better! I’ll honestly share from my treasure trove of business and styling mistakes in an effort to encourage all of you to pursue your dreams! You were MADE for this abundant, creative life!

And sweet readers, know that I come to you completely humbly with these words of advice. When I began food styling all I had was a dream, a prayer– and a fierce, fiery desire to prove to everyone that we don’t have to live like the status quo. My favorite quote of all time is Helen Keller’s:

“Life is either a grand adventure or nothing else.”

Let’s LIVE that adventure everyone. It’s our destiny.

With that said, here it is, drumroll on lesson #1! In order to succeed as a food stylist/artist/creative entrepreneur, I believe you must have one quality above all else.

GRIT.

No, this is not the Southern side dish that I love to boil with whole milk and garlic cloves, then once it’s soft and rich, top with warm butter and cheddar cheese.

This is the OTHER kind of grit. The internal kind. It’s the gumption, the integrity, the strength, the resolve, the FIRE inside of you that REFUSES to give up until you accomplish your dream. It is a KEY determining factor  to your life success, no matter the field.

In Angela Duckworth‘s TED talk that will rock your socks (it has almost 10 million views, #lifegoals), Angela says “GRIT is passion and peserverence for very long-term goals. GRIT is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future. Day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working REALLY HARD to make that future a reality.”

 

“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Angela says. Or as Forbes magazine says it, “Optimism + Confidence + Creativity = Resilience = Hardiness =(+/- )Grit.”

Y’all- in our social media driven world, sometimes it looks like people just arrive places. They show up on the coolest photo shoots, with the coolest celebrities, rocking the coolest outfits. We think it was luck, or chance, that they got there. Or, like I struggle with sometimes, we think it’s the universe’s way of telling us we weren’t cut out for the big time like they are.

BUT THIS is a LIE!! Run screaming from this deception!! This voice does not tell you the TRUTH!

The truth is, as I have learned from YEARS of pushing my spirit, body, and my mind to go past my comfort zone- that a thriving, growing business IS NOT instant. Your triumphant success, whatever that looks like to you,  most likely will not happen in a year, or two years; it might take five. But that is OK. Because food stylists- like many stylists and other talented professionals I know- recognize that we are in this for the long haul. We are working for the long term goals, influence, and the 10,000 plus hours it takes to become an expert and walk in the quality and strength of our work.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be an expert. I want to work hard and diligently and rest my head on the pillow at night knowing that I gave it my best. And that attitude- that “Wow, today may have sucked, but tomorrow I live to fight another day and accomplish my dream”- THAT is grit. Like Angela says, people with grit DON’T believe that failure is a permanent condition.

And GRIT is the mindset that all of this hard work is worth it. It will pay off in the end. It honors what we were made to accomplish.

So everyone- pluck up. YOU’VE GOT THIS. Pursue why you were put on this planet. And if you feel discouraged- well, I say you make a big bowl of cheesy grits (or blend up a smoothie) and rest in the fact that you gave it your all, and you WILL live to fight again tomorrow. And because you stuck with it, you WILL be a success.

LOVE YOU DEARLY my readers. Happy weekend!

PB & Jelly Smoothie + 5 Peanut Butter Brands I LUV

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So, this is a fresh week- a new start- it’s January!! However, I’m having flashbacks.

Flashbacks to this time a year ago, when I set really high goals at the beginning of the year, and, fast forward a month to February 2016- hadn’t kept a single one.

You guys!! This year has to be different!! So, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching, a lot of praying, and learning from the AMAZING Michael Hyatt– and realized that you can really only focus on 8-10 goals A YEAR.

What?!! This is the key. I start my year with 27 goals, feel overwhelmed, and b/c of the overwhelm, run screaming into the night eating Reese’s cups (See last week’s post- I seem to be using Reese’s cups to describe many things these days, hah!)

You know what resolutions I can keep? Those that involve peanut butter. I remember as a kid LOVING the moments I spent at school, unzipping my water-resistant (That’s right, it was the 90’s and it wicked away MOISTURE, people) lunch box to reveal the soft, white bread peanut butter and jelly sandwich my mom made me, warmed through from the Alabama heat with a bit of the jelly leaking into my Ziplock bag. Days where my dad and I came home from the hunting camp to peanut butter sandwiches and salty potato chips with a tall glass of caffeine-free Coca-cola (my dad’s fave). Those were the good old days.

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But I think comfort food doesn’t have to be synonymous with peanut butter and jelly, exactly– though, don’t get me wrong, those things have their place-the love for a classic sandwich can still be incorporated into a smoothie! And this week’s smoothie tastes like a comfort-filled, creamy, peanut butter berry shake. I think you are going to love it almost as much as that smushy, lovable peanut butter and jelly classic in your own lunch box.

ALSO I’d love for you to check out this week’s video, where I discuss my favorite 5 peanut butter brands. Be assured that I am a life-long peanut butter aficionado. My first word was “juice” and my second was either bologna or peanut butter (I kid, I kid- but how awesome would that be). You have your enophiles, cicerones, chocolatiers- I’d like to refer to my self as a peanut-butter-ateer, sort of like a Three Musketeer, but more of a nut butter pioneer. There’s no official certification quite yet- I’ll keep you posted.

So, in NO particular order, the five peanut butter brands I keep in regular rotation and why I love them:

  1. ALDI SimplyNature Organic Peanut Butter: A roasty flavor profile is one of my favorite things about this PB. It’s super creamy and blends beautifully into smoothies (I used it for this week’s recipe) and also goes great with buttery crackers for a snack.
  2. Whole Foods 365 Brand Creamy or Chunky Peanut Butter: I LOVE this peanut butter! My favorite thing to do is eat it straight out of the jar on my sofa. Treat yo’self.
  3. Market Pantry Natural Creamy Peanut Butter: YES!! This has been the discovery of my year. I was in a pinch recently and at Target, and thought- why not? I’ll give it a go! #REWARD. This is my new favorite pantry item.
  4. Kirkland Signature Organic Peanut Butter: Ok, I know, I know that 16 ounces of peanut butter sounds like a lot. BUT ITS NOT when it tastes likes this. Kirkland uses Valencia peanuts, which have a natural sweetness to them. Plus, it has what I want my ingredients list to read for peanut butter: peanuts and salt.
  5. PB2: Ok, this isn’t technically peanut butter, but it is still ground peanuts minus the oil! I love the chocolate flavor AND the plain PB2, the texture of it is great in baked goods and in smoothies. In fact, I even eat it with almond milk mixed in (you guessed it, on my sofa.)

Now TAKE all of that peanut butter knowledge into your fabulous PB & J smoothies this week!!

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And in case you forgot– LUV Y’ALL!

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie

A perfect after-school snack or breakfast treat, this smoothie reminds me of my favorite childhood sandwich! It’s  full of healthy fats with the nut butter and coconut oil, and using frozen berries instead of fresh gives it a great, thick texture. Utilizing stevia to sweeten as needed can help bring out the berry flavor too!

What You Will Need:

  • 8 ounces unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or unsweetened coconut milk)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup blueberries, frozen if you like!
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, frozen if you like!
  • 3 ice cubes
  • 1-2 packets of stevia, to taste

What You Will Do:

  1. Blend the almond milk, peanut butter, coconut oil, vanilla, and cinnamon on low in a blender until combined.
  2. Add banana, blueberries, strawberries, and ice cubes. Blend on medium speed until no large chunks remain, then on high until nice and frothy! Taste and add stevia if you like it sweeter!

SECRET Coffee Routine + Spicy Chocolate Coffee Smoothie

Spicy + chocolate + coffee = yes please.
Spicy + chocolate + coffee = yes please.

Helloooooo my precious readers!! I’m pumped! I’m caffeinated! I have nutrition flowing through my veins!!

Why? You ask. Coffee smoothies!! And you know what else? Ladybird Coffee Bombs.

Happy cacao. Vanilla Thunder. FOCUS. The flavors of these grass-fed butter, coconut oil, and collagen butter coffee “pucks” (they look like a beautiful Reese’s cup, but wayyyyy healthier) are intentionally crafted to bless your body AND mind.  All you have to do is blend them into coffee, hot tea, milk- They taste SO good. And they each have as much protein as an egg!!

And one of my favorites- HOLY CACAO- is in this week’s smoothie!!!!

Like we mentioned earlier- I love the benefits of these flavors. Holy Cacao’s description: “FOCUS + METABOLISM BOOSTER + BLOOD SUGAR STABILIZER.” Umm, yesss to all of the above in my morning mug!

Especially if you are up at the crack of dawn, dog biting your toes and/or any limbs hanging off the bed, while emitting a very high-pitched bark squeak. #bigsbyblount

These bombs are the SECRET to my daily coffee routine and have changed my relationship with coffee forever. The way they help you clear your head, bind the effects of caffeine, and deliver even energy for four hours- truly awesome, and truly needed in my world.

In fact, let me count ALL the ways that I love these guys:

That’s right. A dose of clear-headedness, healthy fats, and energy for your day- all in one convenient spot. Like a Reese’s cup but wayyyy betteerrrr. You’ve got to try them, and if you are interested in learning more, just visit check out Ladybird Provisions site! I’m SURE that Sara and Nicole would love to hear from you.

Also- my favorite way to use coffee bombs are 1. Blend it with hot coffee until it is nice and frothy; 2. Freeze coffee cubes+blend with coffee bombs for a smoothie!!

So, this leads us to this week’s smoothie recipe. It’s week #2 of our January Smoothie focus and here’s one guy that’s going to help you focus EVEN more than you already are. It’s full of healthy protein, features a delicious HOLY CACAO coffee bomb, and tastes like a spicy chocolate shake. Deliciousness. Now go get those resolutions accomplished, people!

I wish it was morning so I could drink this.
I wish it was morning so I could drink this.

Spicy Chocolate Chili Coffee Smoothie

This smoothie involves little prep; all you need to remember is to keep some iced coffee cubes in the freezer. Use your favorite protein powder (mine is in the Amazon link below) and feel free to use a Happy Cacao bomb if you want less spice!

Serves 2

What You Will Need:

  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 Ladybird Provisions Holy Cacao coffee bomb (or Happy Cacao if you desire less spice:) )
  • 8 ounces coffee, frozen into small cubes***
  • 1/2 banana, frozen

What You Will Do:

  1. Pour almond milk, protein powder, and coffee bomb into blender. Blend on low until ingredients come together and no chunks of coffee bomb remain. Then blend on medium speed until combined.
  2. Turn off blender. Add frozen coffee and banana. Blend on low, then medium speed until thoroughly combined.
  3. Blast smoothie on high for a few seconds until nice and frothy! ENJOY!

***I like to make a double-dose of my morning coffee, then pour tomorrow’s portion into ice cube trays. Pop those babies in the freezer, and voila!

 

Your Best Smoothie EVER (TIPS+VIDEO) + Easy Greens Smoothie

Fresh green asparagus!
Fresh green asparagus!

It’s JANUARY!! I don’t know about y’all, but I could not be more excited about a fresh start to the year. As we have talked about on the blog, 2016 had a lot of highs and lows, so I am setting my intentions on a steady, thriving year ahead.

You know what else that means? Adding things to our lives that make it easier and more enjoyable. Ways to help us all feel better and live abundantly. And for me, that is- SMOOTHIES! As my friends will tell you, I am a smoothie fiend. I am also a chocoholic and lover of anything that involves candy. However, as I have learned, all that energy (some may refer to this as sugar) is not so awesome to eat for breakfast every day so here is my solution: smoothies.

And in my effort to share with you guys the cooking tips that have worked, and haven’t, here is what we are focusing on in January- smoothies! Smoothie tips, favorite smoothie recipes, and favorite smoothie add-ins will be our topics of interest. This week’s recipe- a greens smoothie.

Did I mention I also don’t love leafy greens? Well, unless they are of the collard variety, bathed in glorious pork fat and served with cornbread.

I’ve tried lots of recipes to get myself to eat more kale, turnip greens, collards, all of those “bitter is better for your liver” plants- those just don’t make my taste buds to a happy dance. BUT what I’ve figured out is that smoothies do- so what if I froze the greens and blended them in with other yummy things? Sold.

So, in an effort to bless you guys with what I’ve learned and get YOU pumped about making your own smoothie creations, here are my Top 4 Smoothie Tips!

  1. ORDER is important: I didn’t realize this until I started making smoothies  daily that there is a rhythm to it all! Steps:
    1. Dry ingredients + liquid: Blend together, on low, your liquid of choice (milk, non-dairy milk, water, juice, coffee) with your dry ingredients (cinnamon, protein powder, peanut butter).
    2. Add frozen ingredients next: It’s helpful if your frozen goodies are in smaller chunks so your blender doesn’t explode (Hah! Several times mine had a distinct burnt metal smell. Probably not so good). So, I like to break my bananas in half, slice my strawberries, pick smaller ice cubes, etc.
    3. Set speed from low to high: After you have added your frozen ingredients, put the blender on low speed until no more large chunks appear. Move to a medium speed setting until you no longer see any fruit/veggie pieces. Then, blast that sucker on high for about 10-15 seconds, or until your smoothie is frothy and ready-to-drink!
  2. Freeze ALL THE THINGS: Texture is so important in a good smoothie! I want mine to be thick and frothy. So, I freeze pretty much every ingredient I put in my smoothies and stash them in large ziplock bags in the freezer. So- kale, bananas, berries, coffee in ice cube trays- ***Tip, frozen coffee cubes cab make your smoothie taste like a Frappucino!***– all of it goes in the freezer box.
  3. Bring the FLAVOR: Check in and see what your taste buds are in the mood for. Is it spiciness? Try cinnamon, chili powder, pumpkin pie spice. Something creamy? Vanilla or almond extract. Sweetness? Try stevia, coconut sugar or honey.
  4. Prep Yo’self. Making breakfast in the morning can be overwhelming, so let’s make it easy!
    1. Make individual baggies of your frozen ingredients. Just put your frozen veggies and fruits for the day in a pre-measured plastic bag and throw that in the freezer.
    2. Measure out your dry ingredients and put them in a small bowl by your blender.
Easy green's smoothie!
Easy green’s smoothie!

Alright, let’s use those tips to make our Easy Greens Smoothie!

What You Will Need:

  • 1/4 cup filtered water*
  • 1/2 cup orange juice*
  • 2 cups frozen kale
  • 1/2 large banana, frozen
  • 1/2 green apple, chopped
  • 1/2 cup filtered water ice cubes
  • Powdered stevia, to taste

What You Will Do:

  1. On low speed, pour juice and water into blender and blend together until combined.
  2. Switch off blender. Next, add kale, banana, green apple, and ice cubes. Blend on low until no large chunks appear. Move to medium speed, and blend until no pieces remain and a uniform color is achieved.
  3. Now, blast that baby on high for 10 seconds until nice and frothy. Taste; if you want it sweeter, add in some powdered stevia. Stick a straw in and enjoy!!

**You can reverse the ratios on your orange juice and water (1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup OJ) if you like things less sweet. In that case, I would add more stevia, to taste.

SIX New Years Eve Party Tips +Hormel Holiday Party Hacks Video!

 

A beautiful Holiday Gatherings spread with something for everyone at your table!
A beautiful Holiday Gatherings spread with something for everyone at your table!

It’s here!! The most sparkly day of the year!! Which makes it one of my favorites- only second to Valentines day in the amount of glitter, goody bags and streamers you can get away with.

I also ADORE a fresh start. I mean, let’s be honest- 2016 was a hard year. Lots of things happened in our world that made us feel rough. But you know what? We made it. And not only did we make it, here on the blog and in your kitchens there was lots of great food that happened along the way.  I think this is cause for celebration, and for throwing the most fun New Year’s Eve party ever. Lucky for us, Hormel has made it EASY to put together a holiday party worthy of the sparkliest of occasions!

In honor or this special party day of the year, I’m going to share with you my SIX (in honor of 2016) NYE Party Tips with coordinating recipes featuring Hormel ready-to-eat products. I think New Year’s Eve is one of the easiest parties of the year to make people feel celebrated and special!

Let’s do this! New Year’s Eve Party Tips:

  1. Keep it simple. When your hosting a later-in-the-evening shindig, most people have already eaten a full meal, so keep the snacks easy to hold and access!
Hormel roast beef au jus makes it easy to create your sliders!
Hormel roast beef au jus makes it easy to create your sliders!

Solution: French Dip Roast beef sliders au jus. The Hormel Slow Simmered Beef Au Jus is perfect for this. All you have to do is toast some slider buns, warm the beef au jus, and pile the beef on top of a bun with a slice of Pepperjack cheese (one of my favorites!) Drizzle some au jus on the beef and cheese, and sandwich the the two buns together. Sandwiches are one of nature’s perfect foods, and making them bite-size means they are the perfect party snack. Plus, you can hold a slider in one hand and a fancy beverage in the other.

2. Give appetizer options! For example- at my New Year’s Eve party tonight we will have everyone from vegans to carnivores to vegetarians. Hormel even makes it easy and quick to feed people on veggie friendly diets- or those who just want a lighter option!

Veggie skewers a plenty with choice of guacamole dips.
Veggie skewers a plenty with choice of guacamole dips.

Solution: Veggie sliders with Wholly Guacamole dip: I suggest including classic and spicy guacamole for this app; Wholly Guacamole has a ton of flavors to choose from! Just thread fresh veggies like cucumber, cherry and yellow tomatoes, broccoli, etc. on wooden skewers and serve alongside bowls of delicious guacamole to dip.

3. Plan a party playlist! One of my biggest party pet peeves is a lack of music. I went to a baby shower once at a swanky space and there was NO MUSIC. As in, dead silence! It was so awkward! Music helps set the tone for a great night and keeps people energized. You can even look online for suggested NYE playlists- and use those as a starting point to create your own. The great thing about hospitality is that you get to think about the people at your party and what they will vibe to. Like Carlton below, I’ll dance to that!*

carlton-dancing

4. Increase the flavor! Music plays a huge role in creating a festive mood, but so does the food! I like to keep things interesting and upbeat by making sure I bring the flavor.

Cracker stack heaven!
Cracker stack heaven!

Solution: Create-your-own cracker stacks by serving a Hormel Gatherings Party Tray with fresh dip options. In the video, we used the hard salami and pepperoni party tray. I love that these trays come ready-to-go with your meat and cheeses already sliced! The prep work is done for you. Just add the flavors you like for your guests to create-their-own sandwich cracker stacks. I like to offer spicy mayonnaise, high quality mustard and fresh pesto alongside. You can even slice up some fresh apples for a gluten-free snack option!

Another styling tip: serve your dips in complementary (either colored or textured) bowls to complete a pretty look for your tray. Fresh herbs (like basil and rosemary) also add to the visual of it all!

5. Make your guest list special. And by that I mean- have an intention behind why you invite each guest to your celebration. Think about their personalities, how much they mean to you, their interests. By keeping this in mind, it makes for easy conversation starters between friends- and gives you the chance to tell them how grateful you have been for them this year. To me, there is nothing like words of affirmation to make someone (myself included) feel loved! For example- “Emily! I am so glad you made it. I was thinking this year about how much I’ve enjoyed working with you and you totally deserve a chance to celebrate tonight!”

6. Think outside the box. I love a sweet treat, and my husband can tell you that I literally plan my days around when I can have ice cream! But not everyone is quite as thrilled about super-sweet desserts as me. Thinking outside of your normal dessert repetoire by creating something savory and sweet gives party goers the chance to get their hit of sweetness while savoring the moment.

Goat cheese stuffed dates for the win on the marble platter. LOVE!
Goat cheese stuffed dates on the white marble platter, in the mix with all of our yumminess!

Solution: Bacon-wrapped goat-cheese stuffed datesThese are such a brilliant party food! And Hormel is awesome because using their Black Label Fully Cooked Bacon cuts your prep time way down! Just cut a small slit in each date, fill with goat cheese, then wrap each date in a half slice of bacon and secure with a festive toothpick. Put your dates on a parchment-lined, or cooking-sprayed, baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of honey. Bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes, or just until the dates are cooked through.

Also, a styling tip on serving those: Put them on a white marble or other light surface platter! That highlights the rich tones of their bacon-y goodness!

Y’all, parties are all about having fun, and with Hormel ready-to-eat products you can get out of the kitchen and celebrate with the ones you love!

****************************************************

My wonderful friends!! Thank you for being a part of Luv Cooks in 2016. I believe 2017 is going to be our best and most fun year yet. From the bottom of my heart- go get your sparkle on tonight and have a blast! Love y’all!

Celebrate good times, come on!
Celebrate good times, come on!

 

**This image is from Reddit.com:)

2016 Top 5 Kitchen Fails and Successes + Video!

One of my favorite holiday cakes EVER.
One of my favorite holiday cakes EVER.

Whew!! Y’all-2016 is almost behind us, PRAISE!

For me, this was a year of a lot of highs, and some lows. My husband and I bought a house together (a dream of mine since I was a kid), I got to work with more amazing food styling clients than I could have dreamed, and I rediscovered my passion for being on camera and helping people navigate this journey we call home cooking.

But 2016 also had its frustrations- recipes that FLOPPED hard in our kitchen; cooking burnt food for some of our first-time dinner guests; and a fight against all-out frustration throughout the year that life wasn’t perfect (in lots of areas) like I had envisioned and wished for.

Then, lightbulb moment. I realized-thank you Lord- that the imperfections- the things that go wrong, my own lack of knowledge, my zoodle FAILS and the frustrating feeling that nags me daily to err on the side of perfection with food and forgo the real relationships that should be fostered instead- those are the things that I hope to share, and help you, work through.

And that’s what I want 2017 to be about for Luv Cooks. Sharing honestly about what didn’t work, what DOES actually work and the tips that have helped me along my journey toward thriving in the kitchen. And I’d love your input! Please comment or shoot me a Facebook message on what questions you have and what you want to see on the blog.

With that, I give you my Top 5 Cooking FAILS and TRIUMPHS in 2016:

Let’s give the bad news first: FAILS!

  1. Trying new recipes with “company”: Growing up in a Southern household, whenever we had friends and family over my parents always referred to them as “company.” For the longest time I questioned this- “Why on earth are business people coming over? This is just Harvey from down the street.” But what they meant by that was “These are people that deserve love, respect, and taking the time to make them feel special while they are with us.” Now that I am older, I appreciate and treasure that lesson. So, don’t be like me and attempt to make vegetarian curry for friends that you’ve never tested and it turns out feeds TWO instead of SIX. Also, make sure you have ice cream in the freezer for “company” and that your apple crisp doesn’t actually taste like lemon juice surprise.
  2. Zucchini Noodles: For the LOVE, I can not figure out how to make these work. I have tried Paleo style, Blount family style- and geez louise every time I make these they taste like soupy veggie water.
A better use for cucumber and/or zucchini than what I made this year.
A better use for cucumber and/or zucchini than what I made this year.

3. Water in chocolate: I was cooking for an event this year that required lots of my Gluten Free Toasted Pecan and Coconut Brownies, which I love. Well, you know what chocolate doesn’t love? WATER. Batch after batch was seizing (turning into a crumbly mess) and I had no idea why. I would make a batch, throw it out, wash my bowl, and start again. Lightbulb. Because of my frustration, I wasn’t taking the time to fully dry my bowl and water was wreaking havoc on the melting chocolate step. KEEP YOUR BOWLS DRY!

4. Flax Eggs. Y’all, flax rhymes with AXE. That’s what happened to every recipe that I tried to use flax eggs as a substitute for the aviary variety. Literally, my blueberry coconut pancakes looked like coconut mush dog food.

5. Inadequate cooking spray: **Embarrassment alert** I was on a food shoot this year making Vivian Howard‘s (who I loooveee) pecan pie. Well, I diligently stirred together the homemade pecan crust, carefully patted it into my pie pan and filled it with yummy pecan filling. Fresh out of the oven, it was beautiful. I arrive at my shoot and go to slice the pie- not happening. It felt like a brick had hijacked the spot where my crusty pie should be. In response, I began hacking at that pie like a deranged sugar addict. Yes, you guessed it, the pan was improperly sprayed/greased and the photographer ended up having to PHOTOSHOP the crust on the pie. Yep, I’m that professional.

Heed Elevated Kitchen's advice and your pie WILL come out of the pan.
Heed Elevated Kitchen’s advice and your pie WILL come out of the pan.

Hope abounds! Successes WERE had and here are my top 5 favorites:

  1. Coconut flour. I love, love coconut flour. It’s a great fit for gluten free recipes. It tastes rich, is great for you, and has a nice texture. It’s also awesome to “bread”/toss veggies in before you roast them, and I like to add about a tablespoon of coconut flour to my smoothies to give them a coconut flavor.
  2. Kerrygold butter: One of my dreams came true this year as I got to work on a commercial for Kerrygold Butter! Praise. The theme of the commercial was holiday baking with Kerrygold butter, and before this shoot, I wasn’t very particular about my butter. I am now changed. THIS BUTTER IS AMAZING. It’s a totally different shade of yellow, makes all the difference in shortbread cookies, and makes things so wonderfully tasty and flaky, especially when a recipe only calls for a few ingredients. Love it!
Brownies with glorious coconut.
Brownies with glorious coconut.

3. Homemade broth: Making homemade broth has become both therapeutic and stress-relieving for me. It’s also an amazing use of leftovers. Just throw some chicken or turkey bones and skins in a slow cooker or large stock pot (preferably bones you have pulled from a roasted bird that week, or have in the freezer from a past recipe), leftover veggie scraps (whenever I chop for recipes, I throw my onion scraps, garlic skins, extra carrots in a plastic bag in our freezer) and enough (filtered) water to cover your goodies. Let that simmer for 24 hours, then strain and pour into a glass jar. It should keep for a week in your fridge, or you can put it in a freezer-safe bag in your freezer. If your birds were organic, you can even skim the fat that collects on the refrigerated broth and use it to saute or roast veggies or other meats! SO AWESOME.

Side angle shot of chef's knife illuminated on wooden platter with fresh green beans, raw carrots, and red and orange bell pepper.
Save those veggie scraps for homemade broth this year.

4. Veggie bowls: Making these has radically upgraded our weekly lunches and made me feel like a healthier human being. A great recipe for them is on Jen Riday’s page.

5. Frozen Peas: Frozen peas are life-changing. Turns out that frozen snap peas are more than likely fresher frozen than they are at your local market. Peas begin losing their flavor the moment they are picked, so frozen ones tend to retain that flavor (and avoid the shelf-life starchiness) that grocery store peas can have. One of my favorite peas recipes is from America’s Test Kitchen: Gravy Training Blog

Ok, that’s this week’s tips and tricks my amazing readers! I hope you have such a great holiday weekend and amazing start to your New Year.

 

Hormel Holiday Dinner Hacks + Video!

Orange Glazed Ham

WOW.

Umm- are you guys busy these days? I mean- is your holiday season flying by like Santa on a jet ski? Yep, #sameboat. I actually just had to practice some deep breathing a bit ago to calm down about ALL that awaits me on my to-do list between now and December 25.

But you know what? There is HOPE. That’s right, there is a beacon of light that lies across that sea of gift wrap on your living room floor. It’s going to simplify your life, take one MAJOR requirement off of your shopping-bag laden shoulders, and allow you to breeze through the most pressure-filled of Christmas feats- the holiday dinner.

Ham Dinner

That’s right. The once-a-year celebration that involves your family, your friends, and those relatives that you haven’t seen in years but somehow arrive at your doorstep hungry and ready for ALL the egg nog. The people that you truly love and want to feel special around your table. The people you text on the daily. That dinner. The solution? Hormel is here to save the day- and help you feed everyone on your gift list with no host-stress. Pun intended:)

This season I had the chance to partner with Hormel to utilize all I’ve gleaned from my work as a food and prop stylist to create a holiday menu that is both easy to do and will formally establish you as the Holiday Hosting Queen or King. These dishes make simple, fresh tweaks to Hormel foods that are sure to please your fave people. It’s a menu that includes:

  • Orange and Rosemary Glazed Hormel Cure 81 HamThis ham is already cooked, and our glaze only has two ingredients! All we have to do is glaze and bake.
  • Golden broccoli and cheddar rice cupsPerfect for portioning out your buffet- especially when your relatives really love the sides; as in, ahem, maybe don’t leave much for those people behind them in line.
  • Fresh Sautéed Asparagus with Lemon ZestFresh trimmed asparagus + butter+ lemon zest. Voila!
  • Salted Maple Butter Sweet PotatoesUtilizing ready-to-go, mashed potatoes takes the boiling and the pulverizing out of the equation for you. Save that bicep strength for unwrapping presents later!
  • Sautéed Apples with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Candied Pecans: Sweet apples with creamy ice cream and candied pecans. Yessss pleeeassee!

To see the WHOLE menu and all of the how-to tips, click here: Hormel Holiday Ham Dinner Hacks!

Oh AND surprise!! The Hormel team also took some sweet behind-the-scenes photos I thought you guys would dig.

Let the film roll begin!

Sharing my love of ham with the camera!
                                                   Sharing my love of ham with the camera!
Broccoli Cheddar Rice Cups
Our broccoli-cheddar beauties baking up in the oven.
Our Cherrywood Cure 81 ham and glaze ingredients awaiting their glorious debut.
Our Cherrywood Cure 81 ham and glaze ingredients awaiting their debut.
Warm cinnamon apples with vanilla ice cream melting into the fruit, topped with candied pecans for our dessert. Yummmmmmm.
Warm cinnamon apples, vanilla ice cream and candied pecans for dessert.
Fresh sautéed asparagus with butter and lemon zest deliciousness.
Fresh sautéed asparagus with butter and lemon zest deliciousness.
Sweet, caramelized glazed ham in all it's glory.
Sweet, caramelized glazed ham in all it’s glory.

You guys, my amazing readers and watchers- I couldn’t be more thrilled to share this video, and this season, with you. You and my friends and family- you guys are the ones that make holiday food special for me. And the fact that Hormel has made an effort to make this easy for all of us- well, I’d say that’s Luv Cooks style: having a blast, cooking delicious food, and making the people around us feel special.

So, from my kitchen to yours, may your table be full of the food, sparkle  and loving warmth of a hope-filled season. I can’t imagine anything more delicious.