A.C. LaRocco Winners & A New Giveaway courtesy of HSN!

Hi Everyone! First – before I announce my latest giveaway, I’d just like to congratulate Marthalynn and Kristen for winning the A.C. LaRocco Giveaway.

Congrats to both of you! Just send me your contact information and you should be receiving your coupons for free A.C. LaRocco pizza soon. Thanks also to everyone who entered!  You all have a chance to win again in my brand new giveaway – which I’m very excited to announce. I’m partnering with HSN to help raise awareness for their HSN Cooks Spring Weekend Event (Presented by Bon Appetit).

The HSN Cooks Event will feature products from awesome chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Padma Lakshmi, and Jacques Torres. As part of this event, the folks at HSN have sent me TEN $10 gift cards good for anything on HSN through the end of April. I’ve decided to turn their generous gift into an awesome giveaway for FOUR lucky readers: The grand prize winner will win 4 gift cards (a $40 value!) and the 3 runners up will receive 2 gift cards each (a $20 value!) This is an amazing prize – especially since the list of products available on HSN are so extensive and are great for foodies…

And these are just a few of the products available to buy with the gift cards!

Now the important part:

To Enter: You can enter in one of three ways –

  1. Subscribe to The Picky Eater via RSS or via email
  2. Follow me on Twitter (@pickyeaterblog)
  3. Like The Picky Eater on Facebook

Leave a comment letting me know which option above you chose! Note – if you already are a subscriber, follower, or like The Picky Eater on Facebook, just leave a comment indicating that – it will count as one entry :)

This giveaway will be open until Thursday, March 31st at 11:59pm PST. I will be selecting the winners at random (via random.org) and will contact them via email. I’ll be announcing the winners on Friday, April 8th. Be sure to enter today–the high value of these gift cards is totally worth it!

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Eating Our Way Through Palo Alto

Last week was just one of those insane weeks – where you’re so busy that you barely see your significant other (even if you’re married and living together). I remember there were like 3 days in a row where the hubby and I would wake up at different times to leave for work/school – so we wouldn’t see each other in the morning – and then we’d get home super late and have maybe one hour to hang out at home – max. So, on Friday of that week – I suggested that we disregard our responsibilities for the weekend (household chores, groceries, running errands, etc.) and spend the day eating around in Palo Alto. I think we both really needed a break – sort of a day vacation in our own neighborhood. Neither of us was in the mood to drive very far (e.g. go to SF or Berkeley), so Palo Alto was the perfect choice: no traffic, easy parking, short drive away, and tons of great restaurants to choose from.

We didn’t really plan out our day (other than buying tickets to see The Adjustment Bureau in the late afternoon), and so of course – on Saturday morning I woke up an HOUR later than I had planned, and we were already running late for our first stop – brunch at Saint Michael’s Alley. Luckily – somehow I pulled it together and we managed to arrive 15 minutes before brunch service was ending! Woohoo!

The cool thing about Saint Michael’s Alley – is that they serve brunch on the weekend in a totally separate location from their actual restaurant – so you could actually eat brunch at one of their restaurants and dinner at the other in the same day, and it feels like you visited two separate restaurants. Which is exactly what we did – but more on that later. I was so relieved that we made it on time. By that point, we were both starving so of course – we ordered with our stomachs and not our brains.

I started with hot tea – English Breakfast – served in this cool glass

I also ordered the Market fresh fruit plate – which had strawberries, sliced bananas, melon, cantaloupe, and pineapple.

The fruit tasted so fresh and juicy – it was the perfect side to my entree – which might be the best egg scramble I’ve ever had. I ordered an Egg White Curried Vegetable Scramble. It was served with cauliflower, caramelized onions, tomatoes, peas, sauteed tomatoes – all tossed with yellow curry spices.

It was SO delicious. The addition of the yellow curry spices and peas gave such a wonderful flavor to the eggs, and was a really unique take on a  scramble. If you ever visit Saint Michael’s Alley for brunch – you have to order this dish! The potatoes on the side weren’t bad too – they were seasoned with rosemary, salt and pepper – and roasted to perfection. The husband decided to order some of his own for good measure.

Don’t they look amazing? They were the perfect accompaniment to his French Toast made with Rich Challah / Egg Bread, topped with fresh strawberries and dusted with powdered sugar.

Yes, we ordered a lot of food. But it was such an awesome brunch that we polished off everything – even the extra potatoes! It was the perfect start to our day – we left Saint Michael’s Alley completely stuffed, happy and content, and ready for our next stop – Sprinkles Cupcakes.

For those of you who haven’t been to Sprinkles – you HAVE to try their cupcakes. These might be the best cupcakes I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten a lot of cupcakes. Their shop in Palo Alto has a nice whimsical feel to it and there’s always a line out the door on weekends, but the wait is totally worth it. When we got inside, I managed to snap this quick picture before we had to make room for other people eager to get in.

I love the little circle logo on their cupcakes – each circle color corresponds to a different flavor. We finally decided on the Banana Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting to eat in the shop itself, and took the Black & White and Chocolate Marshmallow cupcakes to go.

This was the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten. The cake itself has a rich banana flavor and a golden hue, the texture is moist and light, and the frosting – while creamy and delicious – isn’t overwhelmingly sweet. Eating inside the sprinkles store was also an experience: the walls are all glass so tons of natural light comes through, and the store is kept relatively not-crowded so you can enjoy your cupcake in peace.

The bar-like table by the window is also cool and creative, and has fun cupcake designs underneath the glass. They matched perfectly with the top of our actual banana cupcake.

After our amazing cupcake experience, we were all ready to sit for ~2 hours watching a movie. I just hoped my husband wouldn’t fall asleep in the movie from a food coma! (Which – I think he did for a few min here and there 🙂 ). Overall, I’d say the movie was ok. If you can get past the fact that much of it is incredibly unrealistic (to the point of being a little ridiculous) – and focus on the themes and the love story underlying it all – it’s a pretty interesting movie. I could get past the unrealistic stuff and thought the love story and the chemistry between Matt Damon & Emily Blunt onscreen was great. My husband couldn’t get past it – and really didn’t like the movie. So I’d say, averaging our two opinions: it was just ok. But it was still fun to go to the theater and see a movie – we are so Netflix Addicted and have a huge flat panel TV in our house – so it’s rare when we actually do see a movie in a theater these days.

After the movie, it was on to our favorite coffee shop in Palo Alto – Coupa Cafe for a quick drink before our dinner reservation at, where else, Saint Michael’s Alley (location #2).

My husband’s favorite drink here is the Elephant Vanilla Chai. It’s unbelievably rich, creamy and full of that great chai spice flavor (but if you don’t like sweet drinks you won’t like this drink). Both of us have huge sweet tooths – so we love it.

I ordered a simple Green Tea – which is served in the cutest tea bags.


We were having a great day – I couldn’t believe how fast it all went! It was finally time to walk to the second Saint Michael’s Alley location for dinner. We got lucky with great weather in the Bay Area that evening, so walking around felt really good. Both of the Saint Michael’s Alley locations have amazing ambiance – the brunch location has a cozy, homey, cafe feel; while the dinner location has an elegant-casual feel with a bit of rustic charm.

We only ordered two dishes to share between us since we were still pretty full from our indulgences earlier in the day! We ordered the Roasted Beet and Spinach Tart served with Toasted Walnuts and a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce.

The beet flavor in this tart was slightly sweet, and the combination of the gorgonzola and walnuts made for a really richly satisfying dish.

I loved all the layers in the tart too – the colors were so vibrant! We also ordered the Winter Vegetable Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Roasted Mushrooms, Fontina, Parmesan, and Ricotta Cheeses, served with Garlic Levain Bread

I really enjoyed the roasted mushrooms and the combination of cheeses in this dish. It was baked to perfection, so the cheese formed a nice crust on top of the lasagna. I wished there was a bit more chard – but overall it was very tasty and a great last meal for the day.

Throughout our dinner, I kept thinking about how lucky I was: not just because we were able to spontaneously take this day off from “regular life” with no consequences, and eat at amazing restaurants – but mainly because I realized that I had been with my husband for almost exactly seven years on that day, and the excitement from when we first met hasn’t changed. We even had a random “heated discussion” in the middle of dinner that lasted quite a while, but it ended up being one of the best conversations we’ve ever had. It just made me appreciate how much we’ve grown together as a couple and grown up together (since we met when I was in college), and I felt so lucky to be with my best friend: someone who knows me and loves me inside and out. The meals that day were a perfect complement to the time we got to spend together, free of responsibilities.

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Sweet & Spicy Carrot Bisque

I love soups that have layers of complex flavors. Where, in every bite, you taste multiple ingredients with bursts of sweetness and spice. It’s the sort of soup you’d expect a good chef to make, creating the flavors from the bottom up with wonderful innovative ingredients. Little did I know, when I decided to try this Sweet & Spicy Carrot Bisque recipe from VegetarianTimes Magazine, that I’d be creating that exact soup masterpiece. This might have been the best soup I’ve ever made – and it’s all thanks to my monthly subscription to Vegetarian Times.

The Ingredients

The secret ingredients are really the banana, coconut milk, ginger and lime in this dish. And here is the detailed list of ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tsp + 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups of peeled, sliced carrots
  • 1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced
  • 1 15oz can light coconut milk
  • 2.5 Tbsp lime juice

Directions

Step 1: Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt, saute 5 min until onion is soft. Stir in ginger, cook 1-2 min. Add curry powder, cayenne and 1/4 cup water. Cook 1-2 min, stirring to coat onion & ginger with curry mixture.

When the onion is fully coated it looks like this:

Step 2: Add carrots, banana, 1 tsp salt and 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered for 25 min or until carrots are soft enough to be pierced with a fork.

Step 3: Puree soup using an immersion blender or in batches using a regular blender. Return soup to pot and stir in 1 cup light coconut milk and lime juice.

After stirring in the coconut milk, the soup will look like this:

So creamy and delicious, and I loved how vibrant the color was!

Step 4: Simmer remaining 3/4 cup coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium high heat for 10 min, or until reduced by half. Ladle soup into bowls, and swirl 1.5 Tbsp coconut milk reduction into each serving

I thought the swirls made the soup look really pretty. I served this soup with my baked pita chips & masala lentil dip – it was the perfect complement to this sweet and spicy soup. All in all, it made for a wonderful, warming dinner.

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Guilt-Free Mini Apple Pies

Sometimes, there’s nothing more comforting than warm, gooey apple pie. I think Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because of all the pies – apple, pumpkin – they’re all so warming and tasty! I’ve never made pie before at home, but in my new attempt to broaden my baking skills, I decided to give it a shot a few nights ago. When I found this recipe from Hungry Girl for individually sized, guilt-free apple pies – I knew I’d be trying it out. I couldn’t believe that each pie has only 110 calories, 0.5g fat, ~10g sugars, and 2g protein!

The recipe starts with 3 cups of peeled, cored, and diced Fuji Apples

So, of course, apples are low in calories and good for you, but what else makes Hungry Girl’s recipe so guilt-free? I think she has 3 main secrets:

  • Using egg roll wrappers instead of pastry crust. Now – to be fair, the egg roll wrappers don’t taste exactly like puff pastry when you bake the pies. But it’s close enough, and with 1 scoop of fat free vanilla ice-cream, you can’t tell the difference.
  • Using butter spray instead of actual butter (each spray has 5 calories)
  • Using only 2 Tbsp of added sugar – trust me, you don’t need more than that.

You can find the full ingredients list at Hungry Girl’s website here.

Now – for the directions:

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Step 2: In a medium nonstick pot on the stove, combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt with 1/2 cup cold water. Mix until ingredients dissolve. Add apples and stir. Bring to medium-high heat and, stirring frequently, cook until apples have softened, 7 – 10 minutes.

This is what the apples looked like when they first started cooking

And after 10 min they looked like this!

Step 3: Reduce heat to low and, stirring often, cook until thick and gooey, 1 – 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool. I was amazed that it was so easy to make such gooey, yummy apple pie filling.

Step 4: Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with foil and/or spraying it with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Step 5: Place two egg roll wrappers flat on a dry surface. Set out a small dish of water. Dip your finger into the water, and run it along all of the wrapper edges. (Repeat as needed while preparing your pockets, as it will help seal them.) Starting 1/2 inch from the bottom, place about 1/3 cup pie filling along the bottom half of each wrapper, leaving a 1/2-inch border on the sides. Your open faced pie should look like this:

And now for the close-up:

Step 6: Fold the top half of each wrapper over the filling, so that the top edge meets the bottom and the filling is encased with a border on three sides. Dab each border with water, and fold each inward about 1/4 inch to lightly seal. Press firmly along the borders with the prongs of a fork to seal completely. Carefully transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat this process with remaining wrappers and filling, for a total of six mini pies.

Step 7: Spray the top of each pocket with 3 sprays of butter. Bake in the oven until edges begin to brown, 15 – 18 minutes.

Once they come out of the oven, they look like this:

Step 8: Allow to cool for 5 minutes. I decided to take another picture while I was waiting for them to cool. Aren’t they cute?

Step 9: Top with additional cinnamon and cool whip free (or Dryer’s Slow Churned Vanilla Bean Ice Cream – which is what we used). With the cool whip free, your pie will have ~110 calories. With 1/4 cup of Dryer’s Slow Churned Vanilla, your pie will have ~160 calories.

And it tasted as good as it looked! This was absolutely delicious – the perfect guilt-free indulgence.

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Foodie Friday Giveaway: Gourmet, Healthy Frozen Pizzas from A.C. LaRocco!

Who here doesn’t love pizza?? Pizza is one of those amazing, wonderful foods that’s comforting, warm, easy to make and pretty much available anywhere you go in the world. Trust me on that last one – I think my husband and I have eaten pizza in every single country we’ve ever visited. I love pizza, but I especially love when you can “dress up” pizza with fun toppings like gorgonzola cheese, pears, & walnuts; or feta and roasted tomatoes. I don’t usually eat pizza that often, because unless I make it myself it’s hard to find a “healthy” pizza that still tastes great.

Which is why, I was SO excited when A.C. LaRocco contacted me to try their gourmet, healthy frozen pizzas and partner with them on a giveaway! These pizzas are some of the best frozen pizzas I’ve ever tried. They come in eight delicious gourmet flavors like: Greek Sesame, Spinach & Artichoke, Tomato & Feta, Bruschetta Style on Sprouted Grain Dough, and Garlic Chicken Parmesan!

So why are these pizzas healthy? To start, ALL of the pizzas are made with all-natural organic ingredients. All of the doughs are made with organic whole grain / whole wheat or sprouted grain which makes the pizzas super high in fiber. All of the cheeses used are low fat and REAL (not processed, no additives). Most of the pizzas have TONS of veggies on them, and all of the pizzas can be eaten guilt free! The whole wheat dough variety average about 200-250 calories, 9-10g fiber and ~13g protein for 1/3 of a pizza; and the sprouted grain dough are about 350-450 calories for one WHOLE pizza (with about 2g fiber and 20g protein per pizza). How awesome is that??

And the best part is, A.C. LaRocco has given me coupons for free pizzas to share with all of you!

Two lucky readers will have the opportunity to win this giveaway:

  • The “grand prize” winner will receive 3 coupons (each coupon will get you one free frozen pizza) – so you can try out three of the A.C. LaRocco Varieties!
  • The “runner up” winner will receive 2 coupons to try two of the pizza varieties

Now the important part:

To Enter: You can enter in one of three ways –

  1. Subscribe to The Picky Eater via RSS or via email
  2. Follow me on Twitter (@pickyeaterblog)
  3. Like The Picky Eater on Facebook

Leave a comment letting me know which option above you chose! Note – if you already are a subscriber, follower, or like The Picky Eater on Facebook, just leave a comment indicating that – it will count as one entry :)

For Extra Entries:

  • + 1 Entry if you share this post on Facebook or Twitter
  • + 2 Entries if you invite 5 or more of your friends to like The Picky Eater on Facebook!

This giveaway will be open for TWO weeks. It will close on Thursday, March 17th at 11:59pm PST. I will be selecting the winners at random (via random.org) and will contact them via email. I’ll be announcing the winners on Friday, March 18th when I launch my next giveaway! Be sure to enter today–you’ll LOVE these delicious, good-for-you, gourmet, organic pizzas!

 

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Guilt-Free, Healthy 7 Layer Bean Dip

Can 7 Layer Dip actually be healthy? Absolutely! It’s usually filled with fat, calories, and not much nutrition – but with a few easy swaps you’ll get a dip that’s still FULL of flavor, but healthy enough to be a one dish meal. I was inspired by this recipe from Fannetastic Food, and made a few modifications to Anne’s recipe for dinner a few nights ago. My modified ingredients list is below, and you can find the original here. Thanks Anne for a great recipe! My husband totally loved this dish – and it’s great as a quick & easy weeknight meal, or as an appetizer for parties.

The secret swaps / ingredients that make this dish healthy are:

  • 1 15 oz can of Refried black beans, made with all-natural ingredients with no oil, sugar, etc. added (instead of the processed refried beans usually used)
  • 2 Mashed avocados (instead of avocado “dip”) Season them with 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 8 oz of 0% Fage Greek Yogurt seasoned with Taco Seasoning, or you can also use fat-free sour cream (instead of full fat sour cream or mayo)
  • Fresh veggies! I used 1 bunch of green onions and 3-4 roma tomatoes, diced (per Anne’s suggestion) – but you can use diced red onions, diced red pepper, etc – the sky’s the limit.
  • 1/4 cup low fat Mexican Cheese blend
  • I served the dip with homemade, baked tortilla chips: made using corn tortillas, olive oil spray, and salt – and broiled in the oven at 350 degrees

Directions

  1. Warm up refried beans in a small pot over medium heat. Add in taco seasoning to taste. Once all combined, set aside to cool
  2. Peel, pit, mash avocados in a small bowl – add lemon juice, salt, pepper and stir to combine
  3. Combine yogurt and taco seasoning mix in another bowl
  4. Cut corn tortillas into eighths, spread on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with olive oil cooking spray. Spray the tops of the tortillas with cooking spray, season with salt, and broil at 350 degrees on low until the tortillas are crispy & golden brown.
  5. To assemble:
    • Spread refried beans on a large, shallow serving platter
    • Spread avocado mixture over bean dip
    • Spread yogurt mixture over bean dip
    • Sprinkle with green onions and tomatoes
    • Cover with grated low fat Mexican cheese
  6. Serve with the homemade corn chips!

Here’s the mashed avocado ready to go…

And the yogurt dip (Note – my husband didn’t like this as much as low fat sour cream, but I LOVED it – so try it out and see what you think)

Aren’t the veggies pretty?

The bean dip, all assembled and ready to eat

Served with my baked corn chips

Doesn’t this just make you want to dig in and devour the dip? And the best part is – you can enjoy it totally guilt-free.


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Exciting News: I’m Hosting Prevention Magazine’s Healthy Eating Live Chat 3/1!

Hi Everyone! As all of you know – I’m very passionate about healthy eating and finding healthy packaged foods at the grocery store. Which is why I was really excited when I was contacted by Prevention Magazine to help them host a live chat about healthy eating!

I’ll be hosting the Live Chat right here on my blog: Tomorrow, Tuesday March 1st at 9:30am PST (12:30pm EST). We’ll be introducing the best packaged food award winners for 2011 – so join me to find out which foods made their list, and for a chance to win giveaways from Prevention!

Take a look at the intro video here:

Click on this link to take you to the live chat page:

http://chatroll.com/embed/chat/prevention-live-with-ali-vincent?id=aKyusvP-G2A&platform=html&w=$0

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